Thursday, March 27, 2008

Concert Review: Explosions in the Sky at The Belly Up in Aspen.

I grew up in a small town in Nebraska. The vast corn stock plains provided many advantages over those in metropolitan areas; “Cruising” the “ones”, boredom that spawns creativity, and most importantly, high school sports serving as a monarchy. All of these things can only be found in the place I called home. What couldn’t be found was a cool rock show. In my teen years I had to drive at least four hours to the east or the west to be able to find a good rock show. On certain occasions I would load up in a car, usually a gas guzzling 80’s Buick Le Sabre or a 1995 Pontiac Grande Am, and head on a mini road trip in search of rock, as long as my mom and dad said it was okay and I, with my Eddie Haskell charm, convinced my friend’s parents it was okay. These trips were filled with wide eyes, atlas’s, and truck stops, all the while listening to our favorite band at the moment screaming angsty lyrics in anticipation of our moment to “rock out,” and if were lucky, meet the band we saw on the sleeve of the CD as we sat in our basement bed rooms late at night memorizing every word.

I moved to Denver when I was 18 years old because of all the shows I could see in a given week. I remember reading the Westword and thinking, “Man, every week can be like my last road trip.” In light of this it might seem ironic that on Tuesday night right after getting home from class I decided to hop into a car and drive 3 hours to Aspen to see Explosions in the Sky, especially since they were going to be in Denver the following night. I set out on this road trip because I figured I wouldn’t have the time to see them the following night, and the fact that my friends told me I would only have to pay $5 in gas didn’t hurt either. This was my first time in Aspen, ever! When I was a kid I’d watch Dumb and Dumber incessantly and repeat all the lines. My only knowledge of Aspen was what Loyd Christmas told me, “A place where the beer flows like wine, and the women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano.” When I walked into the Belly Up on this night the beer was definitely flowing, but the women weren’t flocking. From what I could tell from my bar stool before the show, every woman in Aspen had a boyfriend. If you are single, don’t move to Aspen. Loyd thought John Denver was full of shit. Well I’ll tell you, Loyd Christmas is full of shit, man. Not that this normally bothers me much, but this dynamic resulted in a lot of girlfriend/boyfriend banter. This is obnoxious enough in it’s own right, but the banter carried over into the show.

Explosions in the Sky are an instrumental post-rock band that gained major recognition after being featured in the film, and subsequent soundtrack, of the 2004 film and television show Friday Night Lights. Without a lead singer the band seemed to struggle to gain the crowds attention at first, which is odd considering they were the headliners. During the atmospheric intro to their first song, "Memorial", the banter of the burnout couple to my left was nearly as audible as the band. The band was configured in a simple, yet dramatic stage set up with bassists Michael James standing in the middle of the stage, with the two guitar players Munaf Rayani and Mark Smith kneeling with their heads down. As the crescendo of the song built, the two guitar players rose and seemed to bloom like flowers. When the song entered a soft bridge, one of the local ski bums yelled, “Why are you so sad?” To which Rayani flipped off the crowd. After this, the rest of the song and set took on a stronger tone. While the burnouts in the front where channeling the spirit of Timothy Leary, the Texas natives Explosions seemed to be channeling the spirit of Sam Houston.

Nearing the end of "Memorial", the band went into a thundering two minute jam that was as violent as the Battle of San Jacinto. It felt like the band was out for blood, playing with reckless abandon and rebellious chord progression.

After the cataclysmic opening the band settled into a brilliantly crafted set. As an instrumental band Explosions did a fairly decent job of present a compelling stage show. There music to me, however, always seems better suited as a compliment to something else than the main focus. During the set my eyes were consistently drawn to the crowd. This might have to do with me inheriting a deep-seated people watching genre from my Grandpa, but Explosions’ music can make everyday moments look like movie moments and give normal interactions an epic feel, whether it be taking a shower or walking a dog.

The crowd was populated with annoying pseudo-hippies, this was a mountain town after all. The Belly Up was booming with the 3 B’s (Beards, Beanies, and Burnouts). And the couple to the left of me broke out the glow sticks early in the set, officially making them walking clich├ęs. Despite the stereotypes in the crowd there was actually a little diversity that made for great people watching. Behind me there was a short guy wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates hat, who looked a lot like a kid I grew up with named Jay Williams, that was a guitar ventriloquist, an airguitar Edgar Bergen if you will. This normally might sound annoying, but seeing the guy drunkenly rockout to Explosions in the Sky was actually kind of cool. To my right there was a young high school couple, I assume they were in high school judging by the black Xs on their hands, old navy attire and bad hair cuts, standing in the oh so high school lovelorn way (The guy behind the girl with his arms draped around her waist) slowly swaying to the ambient guitars with their eyes closed. Their sway even appeared to be in slow motion. As, what I consider Explosions signature song, “Your Hand in Mine,” which was featured prominently throughout the film Friday Night Lights, echoed through the small mountain venue I saw two girls in front of me slow dancing. This scene in my memory could have easily been taken out of Friday Night Lights.

As the final blaring notes of “The Only Moment We Were Alone” hummed through the speakers the show ended with the same tenacity it began. No encore. I don’t believe this was done out of spite for the crowd that they seemed to hold in contempt. I believe the band knew that an encore would be disingenuous, it would complete go against the mood they created. And I couldn’t have been happier. I have long lamented the self indulgence and absurdity of the “planned” encore and it was refreshing to have a show end on literally the perfect note. With seamless segues Explosions in the Sky were able to create a show that felt like one long song, a score to people at a concert. As I sat in my friend’s car at 2 am going over my notes, still listening to Explosions, I could picture the quaintly attractive Brazilian waitress at the Belly Up wiping down a table and finishing up closing the dank mountain bar before turning off the lights and heading home. On the way home I might have been driving through the mountains as a 22 year old critic, but with Explosions providing the score to my journey, I strangely felt like the wide eyed 17 year old in the back seat of a 1995 Pontiac Grand Am traversing the vast corn stock plains of Nebraska.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

SXSW '08

Surviving SXSW '08
here is my radio story about SXSW, The link will only be active for 14 days. If I can get a new one I'll update it. Until then enjoy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Paddy's Day

The best day of the year. Although I'm exhausted and wayy behind on work after SXSW I will be drinking during the day and playing Irish folk songs on my radio show today. I'm working on a piece about SXSW it will be up on Weds. in audio form. I saw Billy Bragg on Thursday and although he is English not Irish I found his lyrics
"I was twenty one years when I wrote this song
I'm twenty two now, but I won't be for long
People ask when will you grow up to be a man
But all the girls I loved at school
are already pushing prams" on "A New England" particularly relevant to my own life.
Top St. Paddy's Day recommendations

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Go West Young Man

Horace Greeley is often cited with the quote, "Go west, young man." This quote has often served the mystique of the great west, the realization of manifest destiny. This concept has become so ingrained in the American conscious that today some of the most beloved and influential authors' works (specifically, Kerouac and Thompson) focused on finding themselves, or something in the west, often in a car. In my transitional state, a college senior on my last spring break who recently turned 22 years old, sought out the west for my last hurrah, in a car. There seems to be a myth that road trips are this amazing experience of fun and self realization that can only happen when one spends more than 6 hours in a car, especially in an unfamiliar land. I'm not saying that this myth is completely unwarranted. I have had a number of incredible road trips, but it was on this particular trip that I came to a completely new realization. When on a straight shot road trip, where there is no stopping for sleeping before the initial destination, it is always best to go with three people.

I went on this trip with just my friend Marcus and we spent a lot of the time falling asleep at the wheel and more importantly just worrying about getting to our immediate destination as fast as possible. John Steinbeck once wrote in Travels With Charley: In Search of America referring to the U.S. interstate system that it's "possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing." This concept of travel completely goes against the folklore of "the roadtrip." Thus, the importance of having a third driver. The additional driver allows more time for rest, which gives way to less emphasis on time and being able to stop and experience what the road has to offer. Case in point, In November I drove with a group of friends from St. Louis, Missouri to Columbus, Georgia. There were more than two of us. So, we created our own route, not what google maps recommended, and had a fulfilling journey through the south. We experienced Memphis, the Loraine hotel, Sun records, ate at a greasy spoon diner in Potts Camp, Mississippi (and yes I had to say the rhyme to remember how to spell that), and actually looked at an atlas to determine which roads to take along the way. This trip, however, was filled with Del Taco and "we better hit the road." I was in the southwest grazing the Mexico border like a 15 year old boy trying to cop a feel while making out with his first girlfriend, and just like him I never got to paradise.

Despite not entering Mexico and having an average time, at best, in America's suburb (Arizona), I still held on to the hope of attaining the roadtrip I was looking for with Horace Greeley ringing in my head, "Go west, young man" as I approached California. However, it wasn't Horace Greeley who originally said that, he paraphrased the quote from the title of an editorial by John B. L. Soule, "Go west, young man, and grow up with the country." Yet, when I went to San Deigo I soon found out that in the west no one had grown up. For two days in San Deigo I was surrounded by materialistic sexist homophobes who cared about little else than drinking beer and establishing their status on Mission Beach. Being around these people ignited an aspect of anger in me that I hadn't felt in a long time. The first night there I got into a verbal confrontation with a freshman named Alex from the University of San Deigo where we traded insults, never a good idea when I'm involved, that led to the kid grabbing my hair and tauting me by saying, "What are you going to do about it you hippie, sign a petition?" This kid is lucky that I am mostly a pacifist, I say this in the least egocentric way possible because I am not exceptional strong or vicious but my friend Marcus is and was ready to "go" as he put it. Instead of starting a fight over a verbal pissing match, I told him I thought we got off on the wrong foot and introduced myself. But, this bowl cut in a Bob Marley shirt wouldn't shake my hand and mockingly congratulated me on taking the "high ground." Although not as satisfying as knocking his teeth out everyone there looked at him like the low class cliche he was. The following night I nearly got into another confrontation where I could have easily got my ass kicked by a Real World reject who used the word f*g three times a sentence. I'll spare the details as the story isn't especially interesting, much less so then the last which was weak in it's own regard. However, the reject did get arrested later in the night for being belligerent in public.

This similar theme carried over the next night in San Dimas, which by the way is not as cool as Bill and Ted made it seem but I did see the San Dimas High School football field. I was continually frustrated by one individuals cocky bravado and his consistent references of homosexuality about inanimate objects. However, later in the night I had a long conversation with him about a number of things and he began to get really open up about his personal life. Normally this is an uncomfortable situation, but I have noticed recently that when talking to someone I'm constantly searching for a narrative. My conversations have become interviews. After talking with him I realized he was just lost in a transitional time in his life and didn't no who he was, as a result he masquerades his true self with the ultra cool Eddie Haskell persona.

As I was driving along the pacific listening to "7/4 (Shoreline)" I heard the words, "And you're walking away, But where to go to?" Those words struck me because I ran away to the coast, I wanted to escape responsibility and reality. I wanted to avoid "grown up" issues, but where did I end up? On Mission Beach surrounded by the kind of people I might have partied with as a freshman. My mind was enthralled by these feelings and consequences, until I was driving through Utah on I-15 as the sun was rising over the mountains on Sunday and I heard Nico sing, "Sunday morning and I'm falling, I've got a feeling I dont want to know." I realized the feeling I had, I needed to accept my maturity and adulthood. I can't go back to the apathetic freshman playing beer pong, I had to embrace being a "grown up." I journeyed west in search of my last hurrah, a collection of beer bongs and sleeping on kitchen floors, my farewell to college and youth. Instead, I found myself consistently in confrontations with a population of phoney douchebags and myself. I had not hit the road in search of finding myself as so many do, I hit the road to escape. I wasn't trying to be Kerouac, I was trying to be Boon from Animal House. In the process I did find myself, well the part I was avoiding at least, and said farwell to my youth in a way I didn't expect. Like Horace Greeley I will paraphrase Soule, "Go west, young man, and grow up."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dog Tired

Trying to recover and stay on top of "life." Full post on spring break trip by Wednesday. Then I'll be at SXSW on Thursday. Until then ponder this question, "If Jesus were a Christian, would it be a self fulfilling prophecy?"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

If You Are Going to San Diego...

...Eat at Hodads. They have burgers the size of my head, literally.
San Diego is nice enough, especially when witnessing Biological Luminosity in person.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Gnome Country for Old Men

I am in the great Southwest for Spring Break '08. I finally saw No Country before I left. Good stuff, really. I'm working on some post about this trip, but I'm saving them until next week. Until then here is a movie poster I made awhile back.