Monday, June 29, 2009

St. Vincent Live

A couple of weeks ago.I went to see St. Vincent in concert. I had been looking forward to this show ever since hearing her latest album, which came out in early May.

Although I had been hearing about St. Vincent for a couple of years now (she’s originally from Dallas, and the local media has been singing her praises a lot over that time period), I had been resisting checking her out. You see, I have a tendency to regard with extreme skepticism anything that receives general acclaim. That’s how I ignored Radiohead for 12 years. Despite this tendency, however, I actually do try to decide for myself whether I like something or not. And when I finally got around to checking out St. Vincent’s latest album, Actor, I liked it. I liked it a lot. It’s one of the strongest albums I’ve heard in a long time.

I showed up early enough at the venue to ensure that I could be right up front again. I got there about 50 minutes before the doors opened, and there were only 3 people there already.

The opening band was called Pattern Is Movement. They consisted of 2 somewhat large, hirsute gentlemen, one of whom played the drums while the other one played keyboards and sang. I liked them. They had kind of a rock/blues/funk thing goin’ on. They were quite loud – I had to put my earplugs in. Interestingly, they did Beyonce and DeAngelo covers, and actually did a good job pulling them off in their own style.

In between sets the giant curtain was lowered while the stage was set up. All of us up front were peeking under the curtain to see if we could get a glimpse of Annie (St. Vincent is the stage name of Annie Clark). The angle of the stage and the heaviness of the “curtain” were such that you could really only see people’s shoes and a little of their legs. It soon became clear that Annie was on stage when a pair of red open-toed sandals/shoes and textured black stockings appeared and started futzing with one of the guitars. There was a large group of teenage girls next to me who were going nuts when they figured out that those shoes belonged to Annie. I thought it was interesting that there was a healthy mix of genders who all seemed equally excited to see this show.

When the curtain rose the band was all in place including Annie, and they launched into “Marry Me”. It was a thrill to see the source of that amazing voice in person, and Annie owned that crowd as soon as that curtain rose. I had agreed to only shoot photos during the first 3 songs, so I was trying to take lots of photos while still enjoying what I was listening to.

The band included a violin and saxophone in addition to drums and bass, with the violinist joining Annie on guitar for a couple of songs. All of the songs were performed with the band except for “Paris Is Burning”. I wouldn’t have minded a couple more “solo” songs. There’s something I find really enjoyable about a singer out there by themselves with only a guitar and maybe a harmonica. Some of my favorite Dylan and Springsteen stuff is when they do that. The band was pretty good, although I think the drums could’ve used just a touch more “pop”. Some of the songs were altered a bit from their album versions, but they all sounded great.

One of the things about St. Vincent that people are constantly noting is the duality of her work. Namely that she manages to blend lushly orchestrated music and a beautiful voice with buzzsaw guitars and lyrics that frequently tend toward the darker side of life. The very first song on Actor hits you right in the face with this, with an intro that could be from a classic Disney animated film but a chorus that insists “make the black hole blacker”. One of her songs is titled “Laughing With a Mouth Full of Blood” fer cryin’ out loud. As to the Disney aspect, from the first time I ever heard “The Strangers”, and coupled with the wide-eyed album cover photos, the opening of the song makes me think of Snow White. This duality is very Blue Velvet, with the perfectly manicured lawn absolutely crawling with insects when you take the time to look a bit closer.

This duality shows up in a physical way in St. Vincent’s live shows. She positively attacks her guitar when it’s time to play the heavy parts. She seems to treat it like an animal to be tamed, like it won’t respect her unless she really shows it who’s boss. She almost appears to be possessed, and that the only way to exorcise her demons is to coax a racket out of her guitar. She slapped it, strummed it violently, and bent it to get some vibrato out of it. It was absolutely fascinating, and sometimes even a little bit scary, to watch. Which of course suits her music perfectly. This duality is at play in her physical appearance as well, with her beauty and diminutive frame seeming to belie the darkness of her lyrics. Not to mention that her speaking voice sounds so cheery.

She seemed a little bit nervous on stage. She knocked over a water bottle on top of her amp, knocked off the capo clipped to her guitar’s headstock, and overall just seemed a little amped up. I’m not sure if she had hometown nerves or whether she’s just naturally fidgety. She was telling a story about running into David Byrne in a truck stop after Bonnaroo, and being “more nervous than usual”. In any case, it was actually kind of endearing.

Overall it was a really good show, and just about as good as I was hoping it would be. The sound was really good, and for the first time in a long time I could understand most of what was being spoken in between songs. All but two of the songs from Actor were played, as well as four from Marry Me (whose title comes from the genius that is Arrested Development). There was one encore of two songs, and the total show was about an hour and a half. For me the highlight was “The Bed”. I really love the lyrics in that song.

I had been eyeing the setlist at Annie’s feet all night, so as soon as one of the stage hands came out after the show I asked if he would grab it for me, and he did! I hung around out back for about half an hour (as did many others) in the hopes of possibly getting the setlist signed, but I was pretty tired so I left before Annie appeared.

Overall a great show, and I recommend checking out St. Vincent if you get the chance.

Here's the view under the curtain before the set started.

Videos (not shot by me, and mostly included for their excellent sound quality. Visuals could use some work. Like, oh I don't know, using the zoom!)

Pattern Is Movement:

Gawd, The Bed is frickin' genius (plus, you can totally see the back of my head!):


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Lens!

I finally got a new lens that I have been saving up for for quite some time. Now I feel like I need to retake every photo I've taken for the last few years! I haven't taken too many shots with it yet. These are all from my back yard.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Grizzly Bear Plays Dallas

Monday night I went to see Grizzly Bear in concert. I am a relatively new GB fan. The first time I heard of them was as the opener for one leg of the Radiohead tour last year. I actually was interested in seeing them because I figure if the Radiohead guys like them there must be something good there, but despite going to 5 Radiohead shows I didn’t go to any of the shows opened by GB. Anyway, when I heard that they had a new album coming out I thought it would be a good time to check them out. So I bought the new album, Veckatimest, and the more I listened to it the more I liked it.

The show ended up being a sellout, so I wanted to get there early enough to hopefully be able to be up front. I got there about 50 minutes before the doors opened, and there were already maybe about 30 people in line. The line quickly grew behind me, and soon it was out of sight around the corner of the building. The next day I found out that the band delayed their start from 10:15 to 10:30 because there were still people trying to get in at 10:15 (doors opened at 8!). Side rant: The Granada’s policy of doing all-will-call tickets is dumb & slow. Do they do it to save money on printing tickets? It seems like they would make more money through alcohol sales by having more people inside sooner.

I was able to get a spot up front on the left side of the stage, which suited me fine. The opening band was Here We Go Magic. I thought they were pretty good. They played for about 50 minutes. In between sets they lower a big curtain to shield the stage. I could see underneath it if I ducked a little due to the curvature of the stage. I was surprised to see the band members set up a lot of their own equipment. Usually techs & roadies do most of that stuff.

By the time GB took the stage, the place was pretty packed, but there was actually a good bit of room in the area I was in. I wasn’t being smooshed at all. I was right in front of bassist Chris Taylor, which actually was great because he’s doing so much stuff that it’s fascinating to watch. Besides playing bass he played flute, clarinet, a radio, and did all kinds of stuff with effects pedals. He’s pretty much the Jonny Greenwood of Grizzly Bear. And the vocal stuff that he did on “Knife” was amazing.

I had read a couple of reviews of recent shows, and it looked like the setlists were not changing from stop to stop. So when they opened with “Southern Point” it was exactly what I expected. Here is something I didn’t quite expect - the band was able to translate their lush sound incredibly well into the live environment. Add the fact that I actually prefer the lack of choral accompaniment on the handful of songs that have them on the CD, and I was a very happy camper with the sound. I think I’m going to stop being surprised that bands can pull off complicated stuff live, because if RH and GB can do it, anyone should be able to.

This really was a great concert experience. To hear these songs performed live in such an accomplished manner was a transcendent experience for me. Judging from the enthusiasm of the crowd and the band’s response to it, I don’t think I was the only one who felt that way. “Knife” was a definite highlight, as was “Two Weeks”. When Dan Rossen started playing his Wurlitzer part on “Two Weeks” before the rest of the band was ready, the crowd went crazy. “Ready, Able” and “Foreground” were also great to hear. Unfortunately I didn’t get to hear my favorite Veckatimest song, “About Face”, but you can’t have everything. The harmonies that you hear on the record were present and accounted for. The Grizzly Bear sound is heavy on atmospherics and evoking moods, and for me this effect was intensified greatly in the live setting. For me, what this show lacked in spontaneity was more than made up for in the way it created a mood.

The band really did seem pleased and even to an extent surprised at the reception they received from the crowd. We even got an after-the-fact Twitter shoutout. It was very warm inside the theater, and I think everyone was sweating eventually. The band was positively drenched. Maybe this shared suffering encouraged increased bonding?

I suspect that mostly due to the fact that I knew from the reviews that the show would only be about an hour and 15 minutes long I really didn’t feel disappointed in the length of the show. Also, the heat (seriously Granada, ask House of Blues how to do air conditioning!) and the fact that tickets were only $17.50 including service charge probably contributed to this feeling. So yes, by some standards it was a short show, but I didn’t feel ripped off at all.

I do know that unless I get hit by a bus, I will be there the next time Grizzly Bear comes through town. If you’re inclined to like their music, I highly recommend checking them out live.

Southern Point
Little Brother
Fine For Now
Two Weeks
Ready, Able
I Live With You
While You Wait For The Others
On A Neck, On A Spit

Fix It

Luke Temple of HWGM

Here We Go Magic

Chris Taylor

Edward Droste & Dan Rossen

This is the first band I've seen rocking the Autoharp in concert.

This setlist was written by Chris Taylor

I found some videos on YouTube. The sound quality is great (for live Youtube videos)!


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

These Boots Were Made For...Something

Every Texan has a pair of cowboy boots, right? Right.

They're surprisingly comfortable, and great for tramping around the countryside.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Nice Discovery

In my last post I mentioned that I discovered something unexpected because the scene I planned to shoot was not as I wanted it. When I found that the field of flowers had been mowed, I went to my regular bird-watching spot to check for flowers because it usually has a few. When I pulled up I was amazed to see a brightly-colored blue bird right next to my car. I fumbled for my camera, rolled down the window, and took the next 2 shots right from my front seat.

And yes, it drives me nuts that the shot in which the bird is looking at me is out of focus. I was so flustered trying to roll down the window, check my camera settings, make adjustments, focus manually (my extender means that I can only focus manually, which is not easy, especially if you're in a hurry), that that was the best I ended up doing he flew away.

I guessed that it was a male indigo bunting, which I confirmed in my bird book when I got home. It was the first time I had seen one.

I decided to try and go back the next day to see if I could see him again, and when I pulled up this is what I saw in front of my car:

This shot was actually taken through the grimy windshield of my car.

This shot and the next one were taken from my car, but without a window in between us.

These birds like to sing, and that is what he's doing here.

I got out of the car and the bird flew off, as I expected. I waited for a few minutes to see if he would come back. And he did.
You can tell it was a really windy day by the way his feathers are ruffled.

This is about the same spot he was in when I got there, but from the other direction.

After a few minutes I also saw a painted bunting, which is one of my favorite birds, and I have also blogged about before (too lazy to find the links!).

I would kill for a 600mm lens, but I don't have a spare $7600 lying around.
So, as you can see although there was some disappointment in my last post, I discovered something that I had never seen before, and I probably wouldn't have done so if things had gone according to plan. Sometimes serendipity is good.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Finding The Unexpected

I had been making plans for a couple of weeks to photograph a field of Indian Blanket wildflowers that I saw every day on my way home from work. This field was almost completely covered with flowers. I finally planned to head out there on Saturday evening to take some photos. I even stopped by on Friday night to see whether I needed to plan for wearing long pants to keep the chiggers at bay.

This is an Indian Blanket:

So I drove over there on Saturday only to find this:

Yep, they mowed the whole field on Saturday morning. I was quite disappointed. I decided to stick around and see what else I could see.

I saw a roadrunner. They aren't something that I actually see very often. I kept slowly creeping closer in between shots, but as I did the roadrunner kept moving away from me. This was about as close as I could get.

I saw a mockingbird swoop up to this branch right over my head.

There were still a few flowers left on the edge of the field.

I went home (literally only a couple of minutes away) to get my telephoto extender to see if I could get a closer shot of the roadrunner. Upon getting out of my car a skunk flushed out of the brush and started (thankfully) running away from me. I still couldn't get a better shot of the roadrunner.

The roadrunner is like: "Dude, don't come over here!"
There were lots of other birds around.

So, although I didn't get to see what I came for, I still saw lots of stuff. And it led me to make a discovery that I will blog about later!

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