More Disjointed Thoughts

Songwriting Story - "Every Last Time Is like the First"  

The first time I saw La Joconde was 1999.  (English speakers generally know her by a different name.)  She was small and dark, but out there in the open, and you could get as close to her as you wanted.  Things have changed... she is still small and dark, but is now protected by some thick glass and special lighting and a railing, and you can't get close anymore.

A couple of years later I wrote a song about her.  By this time, I had learned some rudimentary bass skills, and I wrote a lot of songs.  Most of them were garbage, and were discarded as such.  This one, I liked enough to actually type it and print it... and I wrote the chords on the sheet in pen.  The song didn't have a name at the time.  It disappeared.

Many many years later... in fact, I don't even remember when exactly... at least ten years had passed.... anyway, I was doing some cleaning, and I found this folded up piece of paper.  I unfolded it, and behold!  Lyrics.  Chords noted.  I didn't have a song title, and didn't even remember writing it... but I knew who it was about because I had included an inside joke for myself in the lyrics, calling her "mysteriously jocular", a play on words with her name.  There is only one person I would describe that way.

When I finally got around to making an album, I felt like this song had to be on it.  This is really what drove me to come up with a title.  Why is it called "Every Last Time Is like the First"?  Well, like the lyrics say, I have come around again and again, walking through those marble halls... and she's always there with that sly little smile, surrounded by dozens of people taking pictures with their flashes turned  off.  The last time I saw her was in April.  (This was the first time for my wife.)  I stayed at the back of the crowd, I had no reason to attempt to get close... I'll never be able to get as close as I did the first time I saw her.  But every last time I get some small measure of satisfaction from being back in her home, in her city.

 

 

Restaurant Review - Arrivaderci, Paris 5ième 

When I was in my early twenties, I stayed with a friend a couple of times in the 15th arrondisement in Paris.  Because I spent so much time in that part of town, I became familiar with an Italian restaurant there, and I would visit them on every return trip.  This was one of my go-to lunch spots in Paris.  I liked it because it was out of the path of the crowds of tourists... a normal neighborhood restaurant, and at no point had I ever seen any other Americans there.  It is, therefore, with just a little bit of sadness that I must admit this restaurant has been replaced.

On my spring trip to Paris, my corporate colleague Guido was kind enough to take the time to meet me for lunch one day near our apartment in the 14th.  (We ate at a Lebanese place, but that's a story for another blog entry.)  Guido lives in Paris, but he is Italian, from the north, near Lake Como.  I showed him a picture of the pizza I had consumed at the aforementioned Italian restaurant in the 15th.  Guido was disappointed in my selection.  He then recommended an alternative.  He said to go to Arrivaderci.  He's Italian.  I'm not.  He would know better.  

I dragged my wife and my in-laws with me to Arrivaderci on Thursday 11th April.  It's in the 5th.  We arrived near the end of lunch time, but managed to get there before the restaurant closed.  Upon entering, I was greeted with a hearty "Buon Giorno!".  I replied in kind, and then said that there were four of us in the best Italian I could manage.  Then, I immediately switched back to French and apologized for not speaking decent Italian.  

We were seated.  We were brought menus.  Dish names in Italian.  Descriptions in French.  Ok.  

I started with the salmon carpaccio.  THIS salmon carpaccio:

 

It was outstanding.  

The folks here take pride in their pizza, and an actual Italian told me that it was good, so I had to try it.  Mine looked like this:

 

Now, I've read about Neapolitan style pizza, mostly due to pizza enthusiast Keith Law.  This was my first experience with the real thing.  I had always wondered what the taste and texture was like when he would describe the center as being "wet"... well, now I know.  Also, LOOK at that char on the crust.  This was the best pizza I have ever had.  Not close.  So yeah, apologies to the folks in the 15th, but I won't be visiting you for pizza anymore.  This is my new favorite Italian restaurant in Paris.

We were there well after closing time, and we saw the staff leave one-by-one.  Some of them might head back to the restaurant for the dinner service, some of them perhaps had other jobs.  I apologized on our behalf for keeping them there well past when they would normally have closed up shop, began cleaning, and taken their afternoon rest.  Upon mentioning that I am a musician, Gaitano and Antonio immediately found my album and started streaming it on the restaurant speakers.  That was a very cool life moment.

I listened to the staff talk to each other... yes, all in Italian.  Antonio told me that the only ingredient they have in the place that is French (local) is the water... which comes out of the tap.  All of their ingredients, they import from Italy.  I totally understand why my colleague Guido comes here.  If he is feeling homesick, this has to be the spot.

There is no shortage of Italian restaurants in Paris.  There are surely hundreds and hundreds of places you can get pizza.  I strongly doubt you'll find a better one than here.  Outstanding food, very friendly staff.  I can't wait to go back.

 

 

 

Ohio Spotlight - Shrug 

I am nearly 100% certain that I first heard this band in 1997, driving home to Xenia from my call center job in Kettering.  On Sunday nights, one of the local radio stations had a local music program.  I recently wrote about another local band I first heard on this program.  Today, I write about Shrug.  One of the songs in rotation just about every week on the program was "Diary".  I didn't know it at the time, but that's the lead track to Shrug's second album, Everything Blowing Up Roses.

I found out that Shrug was going to play at show at Canal Street Tavern.  I liked what I had heard from them on the radio, so I went to see them play.  This was my first experience with live local music.  I don't remember all that much from the show... I can't tell you who else was on the bill.  I don't remember how much it cost, though if I were to guess, I'd say five dollars.  I don't even remember which songs they played... maybe I heard "Diary" that night, maybe I didn't.  What I do remember was meeting the three members of the band... Tod Weidner, Dan Stahl, Adam Edwards.  They were nice to me.  I wandered into a music venue alone, without knowing anyone, feeling slightly out of place, and was well received.  Between that and enjoying the music, I decided to see Shrug again.  And again.  And again.  Eventually, as is the case in a tight-knit music community when you see the same face a few times, the guys in the band remembered my name.

Fast forward to now.  On 6th July, Shrug will release their sixth studio album, Easy is the New Hard. This is the first time they are releasing music on vinyl, and this one will be a double album in that medium.  If you want to pre-order it, you could do that here.

Like the sticker says, Shrug has been a band since 1994.  There aren't many rock bands in these parts who have been around that long.  They have had their lineup changes, their instrumentation changes (at one point they didn't harm any electric guitars on stage), and of course we are all much older... but they still play like they mean it, and they're still nice to everyone.

Personally speaking, this band has had two major influences on my life in general.  First, I have been introduced to a great deal of music through Shrug shows that I otherwise might not have listened to.  They used to do a fantastic cover of "Dancing Barefoot" (please bring that one back), and that's how I discovered Patti Smith.  They would cover a few Elvis Costello songs, and this moved me to check out a few of his albums.  Their blistering version of "The Seeker" made me pick up The Who's greatest hits album.  Second, I might not have ever gotten around to recording my own music were it not for Shrug.  I clearly remember Tod saying this brief phrase at some point about folks who are timid about sharing their music: "if it sounds good, it is good".  I threw away so many songs over the years, but sometimes I would write something, and think to myself "that sounds pretty good"...  eventually, I gathered the courage to share my art with others.

Of course, since I consider the gentlemen in Shrug to be friends, it's hard for me to be objective about their music.  That said, sometimes they make artistic decisions that I don't necessarily like.  A few that come to mind are the Wilco-ization of "Age Nowhere" (does anyone else remember the original version of that song?), the disappearance of any of their original songs written before 2000 from their live shows, and the fact that I don't own a recording of "Cling", "Media Blackout", "Frozen Gasoline", or "Cosmonaut".  It's ok.  I still love them just the way they are.

Do you like your music to feature intelligent, carefully chosen lyrics?  How about a serious approach to songcraft?  What is your feeling about a sing-along chorus that gets stuck in your head?  If you like these things, go find Shrug's music.  You won't be disappointed. 

June 2019 Album progress update 

Here's a brief progress update on album #2. I have the first mixes back for two of the songs, "Bright Ideas" and "She Speaks in Metaphor". At this point, I'm not sure if either one of them will even make the album, but I love the way these sound. Patrick Himes continues to do great work.

We are almost finished tracking the drums for all of the songs that are in consideration... I expect to get that done this week. As usual, Brian Hoeflich has been professional and brilliant at that task.

Between now and the end of the month, I have 4 studio sessions scheduled. The plan is for a great deal of bass to be played, and some guitar/keyboard parts to be added. Hopefully by the time July begins, I'll have a handful of other songs ready to be mixed.

As far as naming the album is concerned... well, I have some ideas on that. I'm not ready to share them yet, but maybe I'll make a poll and get some feedback?

Concert Memories - Sleater-Kinney in Newport, Kentucky 

I bought tickets a few days ago to see Sleater-Kinney when they come to Columbus this fall.  I've seen them before, 19 years ago.

For a few years in my youth, I had a subscription to Rolling Stone.  That particular magazine helped me to discover a lot of bands that weren’t getting played on mainstream radio.  That’s how I learned about Sleater-Kinney. I seem to remember very favorable reviews of Dig Me Out, which was their third album.  I bought the album. I loved it. I then bought their first two albums, Sleater-Kinney and Call the Doctor. I was hooked. 

I picked up each new album as they were released… and then they went on tour in support of All Hands on the Bad One.  They were going to make a stop at Southgate House, which was my favorite venue at the time. (A brief aside about Southgate House.  It was a house built in 1812… no, not just a house, a big old mansion. The person who invented the Tommy Gun was born in this house. I don’t mention this to glorify firearms or warfare, just to point out that this is a genuinely historic building.  Shows were usually held in what was called “the ballroom”, but there were plenty of other rooms in the house where music would happen during the larger festival-type events.)

The show ended up being sold out.  I got to the venue incredibly early, as is my normal habit, and there was a line down the sidewalk out front of other folks waiting to get in.  I remember not knowing who the opening act would be... it turns out that the opener was a regional band from a few hours' drive up north on I-75... they were called The White Stripes. I was kind of surprised that there were only two of them when they took the stage... and I was a little dismayed because they didn't have a bass player, and you know, that's my instrument.  Then again, Sleater-Kinney doesn't have a bass player, and I liked them just fine.  That said, I was puzzled by the overwhelming simplicity of the drums, as I was used to Janet Weiss. I didn't realize at the time that the simplicity was the point.  I'll be honest, I wasn't all that impressed with the openers, but I thought it was interesting that they coordinated their outfits.  (When they were done playing Jack and Meg retired to the side of the ballroom - not backstage - and were just kind of by themselves for awhile.  If I had known what was going to become of them, I probably would have gone and made friends... then again, maybe not.)

Sleater-Kinney were great.  Here's the setlist from the show. Fantastic.

I watched this show from the balcony, and this was the first time I'd ever done that for an entire show at Southgate House.  The venue was small enough that being in the balcony still had you rather close to the stage, and it sounded great up there as well.  After the show, I made my way down to the stage, as I wanted to tell the ladies how much I enjoyed their show.  Now, I was a great deal younger then, and these days I know better than to bug a band full of strangers while they are trying to load out... but there I was over at the side of the stage... and Carrie Brownstein was headed in my general direction.  I will also mention that at this point, I hadn't been playing music longer than a couple of years, and I was still generally in awe of professional musicians, seeing them less as actual people than as otherworldly talented beings.  I expressed how great I felt the show was.  Carrie walked over, shook my hand, said "thank you very much", and asked for my name.  She was striking in person in a way that the pictures in the CDs do not capture.  I was kind of awestruck.  Looking back on it, she and her bandmates were quite busy, and she certainly didn't need to take the time to acknowledge me, but acknowledge me she did.  That's something I will always remember.

So yeah, Sleater-Kinney are back on the road, with a new album dropping soon, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again.

My first professional football match 

Aux amis et aux autres lecteurs francophones, je m'excuse pour écrire en anglais.

I begin by mentioning that in this blog entry, I will refer to the world’s most popular sport as “football”.  It is called this because it is played with a ball that is moved around by foot. If you happen to be from the United States and think that I should refer to this sport as “soccer”, perhaps you should know that the word “soccer” comes from a shortened form of the word “association” in the sport’s formal name, to wit, “association football”. 

The idea 

My wife and I were planning a long-overdue vacation to my favorite city, Paris.  I have been there enough times that there are few tourist activities that I have yet to experience.  We did our research, attempting to make some new memories. I knew that Paris has a football club that plays in its country’s highest league, Ligue 1.  The club is Paris Saint-Germain. If you are not familiar with French football, I will use a baseball analogy… you could consider this club to be the Yankees of Ligue 1.  They have won the most trophies, they spend the most money, they probably have the most fans. They were also playing a home match during our trip. 

Here was our chance to have a unique experience.  In the United States, football is not played at the same high level as in Ligue 1.  (Not that Ligue 1 is the world’s top league, but it is a higher level of play than we have here.)  This was a chance to see some stars in person who I’ve seen on television competing at the World Cup… Neymar, Cavani, Draxler, Mbappé.  The process to buy tickets was simple… the match was sold out, but tickets were available on PSG’s official website. It was kind of like using StubHub, but officially sanctioned by the club. 

The stadium 

PSG plays home matches at Parc des Princes.  This stadium is in southwest Paris, the 16th arrondisement, and is easily reached via Métro.  Well, let me clarify… the nearest Métro stop to the stadium is easy to reach.. .the stadium, not so much.  We arrived early on the day of the match because our tickets were in a section deemed to be “free seating”.  Now, all of the tickets have a row number and seat number, but this is apparently not enforced unless someone in attendance insists... so in practice, you can sit wherever you like, and your chances of sitting where you like increase if you arrive early. 

 

 

The route to the stadium from the Métro stop was circuitous.  We were routed through a residential neighborhood, along with thousands of other people who were headed to the match.  On the way, we noticed a great deal of security folks… some of them appeared to be employed by the club, and some were the armed national police.  The approaches to the stadium and the entry gates are not well marked, and we had some trouble finding the correct entrance for our section. (This was different than my experience going to baseball games in the United States, as you can generally enter the stadium anywhere you wish.) The problem was exacerbated by the club crowd control staff, from whom we received conflicting vague instructions. 

We eventually made our way inside and to our section. The stadium was much smaller than I was expecting.  The Internet tells me that the capacity is 47,929. That’s awfully tiny. For any readers who do not live in the United States, I say this because the university American football stadium in the capital of Ohio seats more than 100,000 people, and NFL stadiums also tend to be larger than 47,000 capacity.  That said, our seats were rather comfortable, given that we were probably in the least expensive part of the venue… and it’s not like we sat in them very much anyway… at kickoff, everyone is on their feet. 

 


 

 

The sight lines were glorious.  There didn’t appear to be any obstructed seats.  The design of the stadium is simple, there appear to only be two decks, and it’s a bowl shape.  The ends of the stadium behind each goal are farther away from the pitch than the seats on the sides… there is a great deal of empty un-used space between the stands and the goal.  The pitch was immaculate and the stadium lights made the bright green really pop. 

 

The atmosphere 

Briefly, French football fans are insane. 

Each end of the stadium - the cheaper seats - is filled with the more rowdy supporters.  Thankfully for us during our first experience, the side opposite ours was definitely rowdier, as it seemed to be the home base of a few supporters clubs.  Well before the match began (even as we were outside attempting to make our way in), groups of supporters were cheering, singing, chanting, banging on drums and other noise-makers, and putting up all kinds of ruckus.  I was thinking that these locals were enthusiastic and amped up… and that’s when the visiting team’s supporters began to arrive. 

The folks who supported Strasbourg either took a train across the country from the East, or live locally, but perhaps generally hide their support.  There is one section that appears to be reserved for visiting fans, and it is rather conspicuously separated from the cheap home seats by a fence and a few dozen security staff members.  (It told me a great deal about our section that PSG felt the need to fence off the visitors from our section of the stadium, but not from the section on the other side.) Every time another group of visiting fans arrived, they would be mercilessly harangued by the more rowdy people in our section… chants consisting of some words that I won’t repeat, chants made up of some words that I’m glad I didn’t know, and all sorts of obscene gestures from a variety of cultures, just to make sure the point got across.  Now, I’ve been to Strasbourg, and it’s a lovely city with lovely people, and I didn’t support that kind of abuse… really, nobody deserves that kind of treatment. Good-natured ribbing about sports is one thing, and abuse with threats of violence is something completely different. However, as the visitors filled their section, they seemed to collectively gather strength and hurl shouts and gestures back toward the Parisians. 

The stadium video boards (quite small by the standards to which I am accustomed) showed inspiring highlights from earlier matches in the season.  The players were warmly cheered every time the camera showed them on the pitch during their warm-up session… and then came the introductions… the stadium announcer hypes up each home player, shouting the player’s first name, and allowing the crowd to shout back the player’s last name.  When it was time to introduce the lineup for Strasbourg… well, I couldn’t hear any of the players’ names, as they were drowned out by the whistling and booing. 

The jumping and shouting and general craziness increased until kickoff… at which point it continued through most of the match.  The folks at the opposite end zone from ours were the loudest, starting cheers and chants that would then be picked up around the stadium… waving flags of all kinds.  For all the enthusiasm of the home folks, supporters of the most successful football club in France, they were outdone by the visitors. The visitors, outnumbered and confined to one small wedge in the stadium, never sat at any point during the match.  Not only did they never sit, they never stopped chanting, singing, cheering, jumping, clapping… even when the match was not going their way. (More on this later.) For most of the night, they were led by a portly gentleman who thought it prudent to not wear his shirt even though the temperature was probably 11 degrees (Celsius) and falling.  This gentleman stood down front of the visitors section with a megaphone in hand, and was, quite literally, a cheerleader. I don’t think he saw much of the match, as most of the time he was facing his fellow Strasbourg supporters, or occasionally gesturing toward our section. I have never seen anything like this level of crazy at a sporting event… I mean, I stood the entire match as well, but I didn’t pogo and scream for two hours.  I don’t know where these people find the energy. 

All of us - even those of us in the group who do not speak French - learned the main cheer.  It helps that the words are written on the inner stadium façade. “Ici C’est PARIS!” In order for this to sound authentic, one should first shout “Ici C’est!” and then wait for another party to shout back “PARIS!”... if you happen to be from Ohio, well, it’s just like the “OH!”, “IO!” cheer. 

 

 

By the way, “La Marseillaise” is not played before Ligue 1 matches, which is another difference from sporting events in the United States. 

 

The match 

PSG is the stronger club.  My dear friend Priscille, who accompanied us, told me before the match “Strasbourg n’est pas trop fort”.  Some of the PSG stars were missing. Neymar was injured with some kind of foot issue. Cavani and Di Maria weren’t around, and I still don’t know where they were.  Mbappé was there in warmups, but he started the match on the bench, as did Draxler. Hey, I get it… PSG were about to wrap up another league title, and figured that they could probably accomplish that while getting their stars some rest.  Strasbourg had other ideas. 

PSG players looked faster and more capable on and off the ball than the visitors.  Strasbourg apparently only had one striker on the pitch, and he looked very tall for a footballer, but incredibly slow.  (Note that I am not a football expert by any means, so take any of my observational analysis with lots of salt.) However, he seemed to get plenty of opportunities on the ball, because PSG didn’t appear to be that interested in playing defense.  They were awfully sloppy. 

After relentless attacks, PSG put one in the net down at the opposite end of the pitch.  1-0, home team. The sloppiness would come back to bite them rather quickly though.  Strasbourg kept looking to counter-attack when PSG would make errors in the midfield… and on one of those occasions, if memory serves, they had a 2 on 1 against the keeper on our side of the pitch and put the ball in the net to equalize the match.  The player that scored immediately ran toward the wedge of visiting fans to celebrate, and the group of white-clad visitors went even more berserk. As the kids say, “it was lit”. 

The home team managed to mess up a sure goal at the other end… one player had beaten the goalie, and the ball was going to go in the net, but a second player apparently wanted to tally the goal in the book and tried to touch it in… and he missed, and managed to allow the visitors to clear.  Strasbourg kept the pressure on with some more counter-attacks, and scored a second goal off a corner where the ball bounced around a bit. This player also ran toward those folks in the corner of the stadium, and they were going out of their minds. As for the home crowd, their energy completely dissipated.  The ultra supporters on the opposite end were still waving their flags and chanting, but the rest of the stadium seemed stunned. Strasbourg led 2-1 at the half. 

Fifteen minutes into the second half, PSG apparently decided to stop messing around, and sent Mbappé and Draxler into the match.  These guys no longer had a day off. PSG’s attack improved immediately. Let me talk a bit about Mbappé… I was aware of him before the World Cup from playing FIFA Mobile on my tablet… he’s fast… and then at the World Cup, he showed casual football viewers around the globe how talented he truly is.  You could almost see defenders quiver in fear if he had a chance to run at them in the open. I enjoyed watching his contributions to France’s World Cup victory last year, and he was so impressive to watch on television, but that is nothing like seeing him in person. Saying that Mbappé is fast is like saying the sun is hot… you’re understating it.  I was amazed to see this young fella easily run right past other people, all of whom are also professional athletes. There was no question that he was the best player on the pitch. Every time he touched the ball, it felt like PSG were in danger of equalizing the match. 

PSG attacked in our direction for the second half… and once the substitutions were made, they spent the vast majority of the time in possession and applying pressure on Strasbourg.  The match was almost tied by a bicycle kick (this looks incredibly athletic and near impossible in person), but the ball hit the bar. Our entire section thought it was going in. A few minutes later, PSG managed to level the match on a header… the header was a result of a corner won by Mbappé, taken by Draxler, and finished by Kehrer, who was the 3rd substitute.  I don’t know PSG, maybe all of these guys should have started the match? 

PSG missed a couple of very close opportunities as the match drew to a close.  It ended in a 2-2 draw. At no point did the visiting fans stop jumping and making noise… and when the match ended, they kept right on cheering.  For them, a draw was a great and unexpected result. For the hosts, they would have to wait for another match to claim the league title. 

 

The conclusion 

This was a fantastic life experience.  The crowd was energetic, the match was entertaining, and I have memories that will last a lifetime, as well as a plastic souvenir cup.  If you ever have the chance to catch a professional football match in Paris, I strongly suggest you go.

Songwriting Story - "Little Light" 

Does anyone remember 1996?  That was the year I graduated from high school.  Shortly after that, on 17th September to be specific, I wrote what you see in this image:

 

I always intended for most of the things I wrote to end up as song lyrics... but at the time, I didn't play any instruments.  

Fast forward to spring 2017.  I had just finished my first album, and I was getting it ready to release.  However, when you write songs, you can't stop writing songs.  I started looking through some of my older writing to find something that would make a little pop song... and I found this.

So, I had to change the name.  "Television Love Obsession" became "Little Light".  I had to update some of the references.  "Letters" became "email"... and, well, you can compare the current lyrics to the old ones by watching this video.

I wouldn't visit the studio with this song until 20th January 2019.  On that date, the lovely and talented Jeremy Raucci was kind enough to play the guitar for me, community drummer Brian Hoeflich knocked out all of the drums, and all tracking and mixing got knocked out in an eight hour session at Reel Love Recording Company.  (Shout out to Uncle Patrick.)  The end result is a slightly creepy pop song.  Please click the link above to listen and watch the lyric video if you haven't already.

Concert Review - Johnnyswim at Newport Music Hall, 24th May 2019 

Johnnyswim is the husband/wife team of Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano.  I first discovered their music when they appeared on the Tiny Desk show on NPR.  Shortly after, I bought their album, Diamonds.  At the moment they are on tour in support of Moonlight, their newest album that came out this year.  I love their sound, and loved the energy they showed in the aforementioned Tiny Desk show, so really wanted to catch them on this tour.  Usually when I go see a show, I am familiar with the artist's entire catalog... in this case, I only knew one of their albums and I've heard a couple of singles from the latest one, so there was a great deal for me to discover.  

I was surprised at how long the line was for entry to the show.  Now, I am just about completely disconnected from the current musical zeitgeist ; other than the name of the occasional pop artist or rapper, I have no idea what is popular at the moment.  In my circle of musicians, friends, acquaintances, and family, Johnnyswim is rather unknown, so I was unprepared for the size of the crowd.  This is good, it reminds me that we need to step outside of our bubble every now and then... and also, these are musicians and songwriters who I respect, so it was nice to see that they are well supported.

 

Before I get into the music, let me discuss the visual aspect of the show.  I don't know much of anything about fashion, but this group of musicians took the stage with a look that seemed to be a mix of old and new.  See, the drummer, bassist/keyboardist/noise-maker, and guitarist who travel with Abner and Amanda were dressed in sharp three piece gray suits... white shirts, gray vest that buttoned up quite high.  (Of course, the drummer dispensed with his jacket and vest and rolled his shirt sleeves up about three songs into the set.)  This reminded me of pictures and video I had seen of Motown artists, where the band dressed in matching suits.  As for Abner and Amanda, they were both striking dressed in white... Amanda in a simple and elegant shin-length dress with spaghetti straps, Abner in bright white pants (that looked like a fantastic target for wing sauce) and white shirt, topped off with a wide-brimmed hat.  It seemed to me that white and gray were the colors they had chosen for their brand on this tour... and of course, I am not following them around the country, so I don't know if they are all dressed this way each night, but it wouldn't surprise me if that were the case.

To the songs.  I really enjoy the songwriting from Abner and Amanda.  Now, I must admit that I am not always a fan of their lyrics - although I think they are getting better at that - but I quite enjoy the music.  It is a mix of influences from multiple genres... folk, soul, rock, blues, latin sounds.  It features a great deal of male/female vocal harmony. You know the old adage that "you write what you know"?  Johnnyswim are a textbook case, as the vast majority of their songs are about their love for each other or their relationship. (There was even a song where Abner serenaded his wife alone onstage, appropriately called "Amanda".)  Abner spent most of the night playing acoustic guitar, while one of the gentleman in the back who tours with them filled in atmosphere or little lead licks with an electric guitar.  There were a couple of occasions where Abner played what looked like a hollow body Gibson with one of those Bigsby whammy bars, getting a reverb heavy surf-rock sound.  He tagged the intro to one song with the beginning to "Besame Mucho", and that one was played with an older-looking acoustic guitar that was not plugged into any amplification... they put a mic right in front of the guitar to pick it up... also, for that bit, the vocal microphone was a vintage-looking one of the style where the microphone is suspended inside a ring.  As I am not a microphone expert, I don't have the name or model number, but I think this is one of those ribbon microphones they used to use on AM radio back in the day... indeed, whether due to the mic or the effect that their mixing folks added, an old AM radio sound is what his voice came out sounding like.  I thought this was very cool, a bit more on this later.

Abner and Amanda have undeniably great chemistry, and this was on display often during the show, as they would share a microphone, forcing them to stand very close to each other.

 

This is clearly an experienced and savvy touring band.  After the first two songs of the night, Abner whooped "O-H!" into the microphone... there is probably no easier way to ingratiate oneself with an audience in Columbus than to start that particular cheer.  I counted at least three different styles of vocal microphones used during this show, possibly for different desired sounds on the songs.. also, Abner and Amanda were not static on stage, switching locations between stage left and stage right a few times, showing some fantastic stage presence, and not forgetting to acknowledge the folks up on the balcony.  They had been to Ohio before, and Abner remarked on two different occasions how there were "only 26" people there to see them the first time they had come here, and how they certainly didn't take this big crowd for granted.  In what is surely a memorable moment for many of the folks on the floor, after mentioning that they missed the intimacy of their previous visit and they wanted to get closer to the crowd, Abner and Amanda made their way to the center of the venue, accompanied by a couple of members of their crew, bringing the microphone along.  Abner sang from here, at one point accepting a beer he was offered by someone in the crowd and taking some deep gulps, while Amanda gladly accepted mobile phones handed to her by audience members in order to take selfies or quick videos.

 

 

The crowd was enthusiastic, gleefully singing along to just about every song.  Sadly, I could not participate in most of this shared experience, because as I mentioned earlier, I am only familiar with one album's worth of their songs.  Johnnyswim were expecting a sing-along on some of their hooks, and even encouraged it at various points... on a couple of occasions, they seemed genuinely surprised that their lyrics were being sung back to them.  (A brief aside: as a musician, I find it hard to even imagine how great it would feel to have a thousand people singing along to one of my songs.  This no doubt makes the hard work of touring quite worth it.)  Although the crowd was enthusiastic and supportive for the most part, there were a couple of moments that left me shaking my head.  During some of the more quiet parts of the show, a great deal of random conversation could be heard.  Most unfortunately, all of that conversation drowned out the "Besame Mucho" tag, at least the guitar part of it...  to their credit, several folks in the crowd made an attempt to hush everyone up, but it was to no avail.  Are you people not paying attention?  Do you not see that this guitar is not amplified, and he's playing it directly into a microphone, and he's playing it quietly?  This annoying moment made me miss the much better (albeit smaller) crowds we have at Yellow Cab in Dayton.

Two song encore,  the first of which was "Take the World" from the Diamonds album, one of a number of pretty songs about their relationship.  ("They don't make fairy tales sweeter than ours" is one of the lyrics.)  On the album, this song has some subtle drums with brushes and some strings... for this performance, it was just Abner and Amanda and a guitar.  After that, the gentlemen who back them up on tour came on down front for the last song.  I didn't know this one, and the setlist hasn't been posted anywhere online yet... but it was clear that everyone was enjoying themselves.

If Johnnyswim visits your area, go see them.  They know how to write a hook.  Their songs are bigger and punchier live, trading some of the studio prettiness for a bigger sound to stand up to the size of the venues they are playing.  (I noticed this most in the rhythm section.)  Abner and Amanda are both beautiful singers and energetic performers.  I recommend familiarizing yourself with the songs on Moonlight if you catch them this year, as they are playing most of the songs from that album on tour.

Ohio Spotlight - Real Lulu 

The song is called "You".  That's the first  I heard of Real Lulu, late at night, driving home, listening to the radio.  Catchy, and those were some really high notes sung there at the end.  Eventually, I got the album on CD... this one:

 

 

We Love Nick, released in 1996, which was before I had started going to local shows.  When I did get around to attending local shows, I made sure to go see Real Lulu as often as I could.  In these days, Jim Macpherson was the drummer accompanying Kattie Dougherty and Sharon Gavlick.  (You might know him better from his other band.)  There weren't very many bands in the area fronted by a woman, let alone two... this made Real Lulu unique among their contemporaries... and really, it's too bad that's notable. The songs are hooky and punchy.  My favorite of their songs to hear at the shows was always "Bobcat", probably because of the bass part.  I also really love "Let Me", which ended up on a movie soundtrack.

Alas, Real Lulu are no more.  I am fairly certain they released another album, but I don't have a hard copy of it, and couldn't find it after a cursory search on Spotify.  Perhaps there may be a reunion some day.  In the mean time, do try to find this album and give it a listen... also, check out Kattie's current project, Somersault.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on the Major League Baseball season thus far 

Let’s veer away from the topic of music for just a moment.  I’d like to briefly talk about one of my other interests, baseball… but first, some history. 

I suppose I love baseball because my dad loved baseball at some point.  As he got older, he stopped watching baseball in favor of golf for some reason, but I remember watching many games with him as a child.  Something about the cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and hitter appealed to me… I liked that unlike most other sports in this country, there is no clock… I imagine that like a million other boys and girls, I played catch with my dad whilst pretending to be one of the pitchers I would see on TV. 

Speaking of TV… this particular device greatly increased my love of the game.  The closest Major League Baseball franchise to where I grew up is the Cincinnati Reds… and of course, going to school, just about all of the other kids were Reds fans.  Not me. See, we had cable, and just about every day during baseball season, the Atlanta Braves were on our cable, because their owner also owned his own TV station. I watched the games just about every night… clearly, when the Braves were on the West Coast, I couldn’t watch the games that were past my bedtime… but I watched just about all of the home games.  Now, this was in the 80s when the Braves were awful. Awful teams, hideous uniforms, but I loved them anyway. I remember watching Dale Murphy (he used to be my favorite), Bob Horner, Kent Oberkfell, Rafael Ramirez, Ozzie Virgil, Zane Smith, Rick Mahler, Bruce Benedict, Glen Hubbard, Deion James… so many mediocre players, but I didn’t know it at the time. 

Ok, enough of the past, let’s talk about NOW.  I am still a Braves fan, and although I like to travel and see baseball games, I don’t think I’ll be seeing them at home anymore.  See, they moved out of town a couple of years ago, and their new ballpark is way out in the suburbs in a very high-traffic area without public transportation, which makes it very inconvenient for someone to fly in to catch a game.  That’s ok, the last couple of times my wife and I went to see the Braves, they were in Toronto or Milwaukee or elsewhere. 

Currently, the Barves (sic) are 18-20, and sit 4 games out of first place.  The offense is pretty good. Some of the young starting pitchers are pretty good.  The bullpen is a dumpster fire, and the front office didn’t do anything in the offseason to improve it.  The lack of quality relief pitching has cost them several games this year already. It’s a long season, but I think I’m already running out of patience. 

Some positive things about the baseball season… Mike Trout is fantastic.  This is something that you already know if you watch baseball, but I love to see him play.  Back over in the friendly NL, I love watching Acuña hit...I love watching Albies hit, but I wish he would be a bit more selective at the plate… I love watching Freeman hit...I very much love watching Christian Yelich hit. 

This past weekend, I was able to cross another ballpark off the “baseball parks I’ve seen a game in” list… it was Coors Field in Denver.  It isn’t my favorite park, but it is a very nice place to catch a game (even if that game happens to be between the Padres and Rockies as ours was), and I recommend stopping by if you have the chance.