Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rascal Flatts Concert (12/3) -- Review

This group writes some great songs, and singer Gary Levox performs them with such unbelievable skill, that I had to see the Rascal Flatts live.

Keith Anderson and Blake Shelton (two acts that I had never heard of) were the openers. Their acts consisted of pretty standard rock grooves with overlaid country vocals, the occasional attempt at a guitar solo (more on that later), and too many shoutouts to the audience.

Performer: D'you folks like beer??
Audience: Yea! Wooo! Beer! Woo!

Performer: All the redneck girls in the audience, make some noise!
Chicago suburban chicks with cowgirl hats: *SCREAM* YEAAH!!!

ad nauseam. It annoys me when performers ask the audience to "make some noise" too often and too early in the concert. Let your music and your performance inspire the noisemaking. Overall though, the opening acts sufficed; they did what opening acts are supposed to do -- Inspire eventual cries of "Get off the stage! Let's hear some Rascal Flatts!"

The Rascal Flatts sounded great. Their harmonies were amazingly tight, considering the guys were busy playing instruments while singing. Gary sang well -- You could tell that he was a bit fatigued, though, and he let the crowd sing quite a bit.

When the Flatts weren't playing their standard radio songs, they pulled out some interesting stuff that revealed a lot about them to me. The violin player had a giant improvizatory solo number that could have been a sideshow act for Yngwie Malmsteen (a 1980s shred guitarist). It was amazing, but I couldn't help but think how out of place it was at a country music concert. There were several other jam numbers that sounded like YES songs, too. It became really clear to me that these musicians are not finding enough of an outlet in the tightly structured, ultra clean radio singles of the Rascal Flatts.

And yet, it is a bit of a precarious balance... too many 80s hair band jams, and a large body of fans get alienated. Not enough jamming, and the musicians will be unfulfilled.

Don't believe me about this 80s phenomenon? Then you won't believe this encore:

"Pour Some Sugar on Me, You Give Love a Bad Name, Born in the USA" MEDLEY.

I was amazed at how overtly they were pushing their audience towards classic rock. Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen -- I mean, damn. I definitely enjoyed it, but I can just imagine some chump in the front row with acid-washed ambercrombie jeans and a cowboy hat having an identity crisis.

"B-b-b-but this isn't country... am I supposed to like this music or not? Someone please tell me how I'm supposed to react!!!"

I never thought I'd say this, but country music is quietly filling the space left by the disappearance of rock 'n' roll. Yes, you heard me - Country is turning into classic rock.

And it's not just the Rascal Flatts -- the opening acts were trying the same stuff. So many of their songs had the design and instrumentation of regular rock songs, with nothing but a cowboy hat and a southern twang to differentiate them. Once you start regularly using overdriven guitars with screaming 10 second sustains, it's not long before the "country" label becomes little more than a semantic distinction.

And speaking of cowboy hats... I was amused how Gary Levox gently put one on his head for about 15 seconds (taking care not to ruin his gelled hair), and then threw it out into the crowd. A nice, symbolic gesture. Next assignment -- kiss a baby in front of the camera.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

GREECE 2005 (continued)

One of the exports of Naxos is marble. This marble quarry seemed like a piece of abstract mega-art, carved out of the side of the mountain.

This is an unfinished statue that has been laying near another marble quarry on Naxos since the 7th century BC. It is about 35 feet long, and apparently it cracked while it was being carved. The sculptor just left it and no one has bothered to move it since. We see so many sculptures from the golden age of Greece, but how often do we get to see failed attempts? To me, this sculpture was more interesting than many of the finished ones.

And here is one of my favorite shots of the famed Santorini sunset. The colors never get as fiery and wild as they do in more polluted atmospheres; sunsets here are more subdued, but very peaceful. One can see vauge, misty outlines of neighboring islands in the distance, the calm sea below, and the Santorini "skyline" hugging the cliffs. It feels like a Greek myth.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Just a few shots from the beautiful Greek isles from this summer. The two seascapes are from Santorini, a small volcanic island most famous for its sunsets and its wine (there is almost no rainfall, I learned; the grape vines get nearly all of their water from the nightly dew).

The interior mountain landscape is on Naxos, a larger, more functional island. I know what you're thinking -- is that a "functional" road? Indeed, we drove around for hours on roads like this one, snaking back and forth between mountains, without really going very far as the crow flies. It was beautiful, though, and thrilling (God bless my dad and his nads of steel for navigating our teeny stickshift 6-person "minibus" through this landscape).

I say "functional" because Naxos is actually capable of sustaining itself without tourism -- the inhabitants even recently voted down a planned airport on the island to curb the tourist influx.

(My family and I visited Greece this summer -- These photos are from our digi album, taken by various family members.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Briefly about my current goings on:

- I had my audition/interview for the School Of Music at UIUC this past friday. The audition (voice) went well... but the interview with the chair of the composition department was a bit of a slap in the face. The guy looked through my three compositions for a total of 30 seconds, and told me that my music was unsophisticated. Should my portfolio be placed alongside those of last year's applicants, I would probably not get admitted, he told me. He was looking for something more "modern" (ie. experimental, not tonal).

So, right now my future at this school is completely up in the air. There is a "bachelor's of arts in music" degree which is my fall-back option -- I may very well end up doing that, with an emphasis in composition.

- Xtension Chords have a concert this weekend, Nov. 12th. It's called XFEST, and it's a fest because we're bringing in the creme de la creme of a cappella groups from all over the midwest. Visit the website for more details.

- I have not done laundry for a very long time. The situation is bad.

Monday, October 17, 2005


The greenery bathing in the summer sun
has tanned itself a gentle autumn brown
and the leaves descend contented
having seen the sights on high
the smooth fall breeze it eases slowly
it gives way, lets them fall to rest.

I watch, through the window, waiting,
seeing them gather and grow in number upon the grass,
soon the rusty snow of autumn is a carpet on my lawn.
The leaves, they sleep, unsuspecting, nothing do they know of my intent.
I step outside, rake in hand, the cool crisp air rushes in as I breathe,
I am the shepherd. With a swift stroke the slumbering ones are tossed
they awake, disoriented, they are flying! only to tumble back down
in a jumbled heap. Deftly maneuvering the rake I bring them in
from far and wide, until the haphazard mound grows to a mountain
of leaves upon leaves, a mighty brown fortress of foliage.
Not another one dares to descend from above,
lest it share the fate of its fallen brothers.

A deep breath, the rake tossed to the ground, beside me lying.
step, step, step, pump, pump, pump, pump
the leaf pile I am eyeing
my feet race thump thump and jump!
I am flying!

This is something I wrote a while back for an English class in high school. It was supposed to follow this odd, antiquated poetic form, called a "bob and wheel", or "box and whisker" or something of the sort. It goes with the season. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Kiss My Grits, Katrita
Sorry about the erratic blog updates, but I came across this photograph, and I'm just going to let it stand for itself. Alright, I think it's brilliant.

Reprinted here with(out) permission from The Washington Times (which I found through a wonderful newpaper front page database at

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Books -- A musical group ahead of its time

My last update was about a mediocre album. This one is about a group that I am fairly nuts about. They're called the Books. This is the cover of their latest studio release, Lost and Safe (2005). Does the cover look like a piece of shit? Yes. All of their album covers have an ironic crappiness to them that is reminiscent of David Shrigley's art.

But the music... is unlike anything you're likely to have heard before. Basically, the songs are built from dozens of snippets of audio from random sources. Taped conversations, old radio broadcasts, samples of various sounds... they are all pieced together and overlaid with some vocals, guitars, and other instruments. All in all, you could call it "collage" music.

And, as you begin to listen, it hardly sounds like music (this is especially true for their older releases, such as Lemon of Pink). It is bewildering, as your ear struggles to make sense of what it is hearing. It takes a while to acclimatize, but eventually you stop searching for the meaning of the songs (how does this all fit together? what does it mean?) and settle into a cozy spot right on the surface - you just soak in the sound and marvel at the super-crisp production.

It's just about the most postmodern listening experience possible. And though I can't pinpoint where any of the source material came from, each sound byte conjures up vague images. It stimulates (maybe I should even say emulates) my stream of consciousness so much that I find it damn hard to focus on anything else while listening to the songs.

Anyway, they're one of my favorite groups currently, and I recommend them for anyone who really wants to stretch his or her musical mind. Check them out online at their thoroughly unnavigable website.

Of course, it's always more of a joy to listen through some high quality stereo speakers (I highly recommend these, and there are online outlets that beat the manufacturer's price by $80+.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Jason Mraz: Mr. A-Z -- 1.5 stars/ 5

To those of you who paid money for this album, my condolences. I grabbed from the ol' BitTorrent, and am in the process of deleting it. Here's why:

1. NO energy. The mood of the entire album is wierdly subdued. Choruses don't have that that rockin' sing-a-long feeling. The single "wordplay" has the big radio sound, but it feels as if it's done that way just for the purpose of getting the song on the radio. No real power behind it. Can't really blame the performers -- there isn't that much emotive weight in a song about how good you are at making puns.

2. I'm tired of wordplay. The mraz formula is gibba-gibba-gibberish-and-really-fa-fa-fast-lyrics that end on a WORD that also makes se-se-se-sense in the next lyrical la-la-line which ends with another WORD that also makes sense in the next la-la-la-RALF **

Someone should tell Mraz that sometimes less is more. I read all of his lyrics, and most of it is the most prosaic, un-poetic stuff I've seen in a while. I just don't buy his lyrics, as hard as Mraz tries to legitimize them with his vocal elaborations and scatty melismas.

3. Bad sexual references. For someone who proclaims himself to be so artful with words, I'd expect more graceful, less braggy, lyrics about making love. Here's a Mraz lyric from "forecast": "

Well I can taste, I can taste, I can taste, I can taste you all over my face"

The album is littered with this stuff, as if he needs to announce to the world, "Yeah, that's right, I'm getting ass now cuz I'm famous."

Then, there's this one from "Clockwatching", in which Mraz sings about finishing early:

Who knew I'd come/cum so fast.
Well so what if a two pump chump can't last.
I finally made it to three, and I foreclose a five minute, fantasy.

Chuckle. Sorry Jason, even you can't make premature ejaculation seem cool. Don't try.

4. Ineffective dabblings in other genres. "Geek in the Pink" tries for hip-hop. "Curiousity" throws in an ambient operatic voice track near the end. "Bella Luna" and "O. Lover" both start latin, and then phase it out as the song develops.

Sorry, but his fo-fo-formula-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la for wr-wr-wr-wr-wr-wr-wr-wr-wri-ting songs is stale.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

It's now been a while since I've written. There were moments in these past weeks where I've thought to myself, "I should write about this in my blog." But I never got the chance to really sit down and write something good. And after a few busy days, that thought you once had is no longer so fresh in your mind. And you feel wrong about writing about it, when it's not even a strong impression in your mind anymore.

So now, to talk about the freshest of experiences in one's mind, to talk about the present... I'm a week into school. I'm a music major. Came to Urbana, and realized as soon as I stepped onto this campus that I can't do this philosophy major bullshit anymore. I needed to switch to music. I'm the director of the Xtension Chords, and I'm struggling to pump out music I can be proud of as fast as the group is gobbling it up. In short, I'm taking 12 hours of coursework, which is nothing (especially when music classes hardly even seem like school anyway). But I'm still feeling like I could use a few more hours in the day. Living a life of quality is time consuming, and right now is the first time in a very long time that I feel myself really trying to live a life of quality. I'm trying to create quality work! Kinda sadly, for me it's something I haven't always done.

I went to the bars for the first time last night, and it was just as it was 5 months ago, when I last went. Just plain dumb, drunken funhaving in a sensually irritating setting. I guess it's kinda comforting that some things will always stay the same, just gives that reassuring anchor to my life *sniffle sniffle, then (fondly) : "I love them ol' campus bars!"

Monday, August 08, 2005

The image directly to the left is an example of walking a fine line between science and shock-value entertainment. This weekend I went to see "Body Worlds 2" at the Great Lakes Science Center while visiting Cleveland. Body Worlds 1 is showing at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

Basically, it's a display of real preserved human bodies in various "creative" poses, with various layers of tissue removed so visitors can see the inner workings of the human anatomy up close and in person.

This particular dude (from Body Worlds 1) is carrying his own skin in one arm.

The exhibit is definitely worth seeing. Seeing the musculature, the organs, the circulatory system (JUST the circulatory system with no tissue!) of real people is a biology lesson unlike any other.

But, a part of me cringed during the entire two hours I spent at the exhibit. Each body is posed -- kicking a soccer ball, doing yoga, skateboarding, etc. And the poor guy who died of cancer probably never touched a skateboard in his life. And here's his body, skinned, gutted, twisted upside down into some skate trick pose, on display for thousands to peek into his butthole to see the intestinal tract. It's the gimmick that bothered me -- the expectation of visitors to have an aesthetic appreciation for real bodies of once living people, contorted and cut up. Marketing this as a "creative" and "artistic" exhibit seemed wrong.

But it goes to show that people will swallow anything if you present it in the right context. Put these figures in a SCIENCE museum, and people come in droves. But if I were to dim the lights and stand behind the bodies in a hockey mask, just start rolling the camera and you've got a horror film.

I personally ignored the "art" of the exhibit and focused on the anatomy. I did feel a sense of awe, but it was because I saw what an intricate and well-designed machine the human body really is. Check the exhibit out -- it's worth it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Watching kids' shows as an adult (or even near adult) is wierd. When there's nothing to do in those oh so boring early afternoons, check out what PBS is showing. And, like, seriously watch an entire episode from beginning to end.

I just watched this show called ZOOM ( today. and it was really strange. The entire cast of the show is kids.... but if my lil tyke was basing his behavior on what he saw in this show, there's a chance he could turn out a bit strange.

Two of the girls have smiles so giant and forced that after about 10 seconds i start wondering how much pain they're in.

Don't get me wrong.. it's not a bad show, I actually rather enjoyed it.

There are kids of every possible ethnicity... goodbye are the days of "the cast is 4 white boys and girls and 1 black kid! yay, now the minorities will be happy!". Oh no, now we've got -- just to name a few -- Claudio, Estuardo, Francesco, Kaleigh, Keiko, Lynese, Maya, Pablo, and... Shingying!


I guess it's a good step, but I won't be happy until one of the characters on a kids' show is named KESTUTIS, bitches. Then, I'll finally feel like all minorities are included. ;)

Oh, and there's one kid who has to be gay... watch it, and see if you can figure out which one I'm talking about.

Not a bad thing necessarily... I guess a child's never too young to learn that in life, there are tops and there are bottoms.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Ok, so here I am. At home, sitting by my PC, listening to Medesky Martin & Wood tease the limitations of sound, in the midst of cleaning my room. Ain't nothing like a good deep houseclean to really kill a good chunk of otherwise meaningless time!

I am currently in a meaningless time chunk, having quit the NY Film Academy 6-week summer program I was in. I stayed in NY for a total of 8 days, attended three full days (9-6) of classes, and by the time I had walked the short distance back to my dorm @ NYU on that third day, I had that feeling. I started searching the policies on early withdrawal and refunds online.

Luckily, I got the full tuition (a big chunk of cash) all back from the NYFA. A day and a half later I was on an airplane to Detroit, on my way to Camp Dainava. What was that feeling, you ask, that made me decide so abruptly and assertively to leave after only a week, and probably fuck over the members of my small group who were counting on me for the first film?

The thought of spending the next six weeks (almost exclusively) with the 16 kids of my class was quite depressing to me. I quickly saw that this program allowed little time for anything else besides itself. Weekends would be spent scouting locations, pre-prod. stuff, and shooting our films. Weeknights would be spent writing, setting up storyboards, brainstorming. And the kids were all so foreign, so scattered throughout manhattan (and who knows elsewhere), so on completely different pages socially, that it didn't take a genius to predict that few friendships would be forming here. And for me, the work was not rewarding enough to offset the social difficulties. I just didn't see this as my life's work.

And that's all for today, folks! Tune in next time for less wordy and more interesting reports!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Well guys, I did some thinking... People actually commented to my first post, which to me was surprising. I can't be responsible for these poor people being bored -- my concience won't let me do it. And that book review stuff, my friends, would be reeel boring for people who don't care about the books. So, I'm switching formats yet again, and just writing about whatever the hell I want. Now if you're bored by that, well then I'm sorry, you're just gonna have to leave.


And who knows, maybe i'll put up the reviews on a separate page, just for kicks... never know, someone could pass by who would be quite interested... can't deny them, now can I?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Just for kicks, I've been writing about books/movies that i've consumed, and also some other random stuff. The masses have begged to see what I've written, so i'll be periodically tossing y'all a crumb. What's that you say? -- "dude, i don't think anyone even knew you were writing this stuff." Well, maybe YOU didn't know. I can't help if some people are out of touch with the mainstream.

Feel free to comment on anything that strikes your fancy ;)