Friday, October 31, 2008

Frightened Rabbit at Holocene

I headed over to Holocene last night to catch Glasgow's Frightened Rabbit. These guys have been getting a lot of press lately, so much so that it would seem they might just be the biggest thing to come out of Scotland since Franz Ferdinand. What with Holocene being just a few blocks from my house, there was no excuse to not have a look. I got there just in time to catch the last few songs of the opening act, Portland's own Blue Skies for Black Hearts.

I'm a little behind the eight ball with regard to BSFBH, so it was good to finally catch 'em live. They served up some good intelligent indie pop... Imagine Elliott Smith shoving Elvis Costello into John Lennon's swimming pool, disrupting a water polo match between the Shins and the Kinks (if you can work out what they sound like from an analogy as messy as that, I'll be really impressed). Having only caught the last few songs of their set, I may have to keep an eye out for 'em at some point in the future. Frightened Rabbit were up next.

When I first heard FR, I picked up on a sort of forced earnestness that I found a little off-putting. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on, but it brought to mind all those britpop bands I could never devote more than five minutes to. But after a few listens to their latest, The Midnight Organ Fight (for those of you not up on your scottish slang, "midnight organ fight" is a euphamism for, shall we say, the physical expression of love), I started to warm up to 'em. And at Holocene last night, they really sold their schtick. They were clearly having fun, and didn't miss an opportunity to "take the piss" out of the crowd, as they say over there. The funniest thing about the evening, though, had to do with being the night before Halloween. There were two girls at the front of the crowd wearing homemade backpack-mounted giraffe costumes:

Imagine yourself at the back of the room, looking out over the crowd toward the band onstage, with two giraffes bobbing around up front. You can't help but laugh at that, nor could frontman Scott Hutchison, seen here working the crowd solo (sans microphone!) toward the end of the set:

For all the talk these days about Frightened Rabbit, they weren't headlining the show. That role was filled by Delaware's Spinto Band. I didn't stick around to see them, as I was operating on four hours of sleep, but Frightened Rabbit made for a worthwhile, if short, evening. Now I don't feel so bad about missing the Jesus and Mary Chain show at the Wonder a few weeks back.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Does Satan Wear a Suit and Tie?

My friend Kevin is in town this weekend on business. Kevin, whom I used to work with at REI, now works in the Denver office of Columbia Sportswear, which is headquartered right here in Portland, so he gets to come back to town a couple times a year on the company dime. This time around he added a couple days to his trip so he could round up a bunch of us to see Martin Sexton at the Aladdin Theater last night. I hadn't seen Martin before, but have long been a fan and have downloaded a few of his live shows from The Internet Archive, so I knew to expect a good performance. Martin did not let us down. Nor did his opener, fellow Massachusetts singer/songwriter Ryan Montbleau:

Ryan's got a band back in Cambridge, but is touring with Martin as a solo act. This was not a disappointment, however, as it allowed him to fully showcase his amazing guitar work. He looks all of 19, but he's clearly been playing for a while, and can sing as well (his range is pretty impressive). His sound is somewhere between David Gray and Jason Mraz, with a little Stevie Wonder breaking through in places. Great stuff. Next up was Martin:

Now that's an awfully blurry photo, I realize, and here's why that is, apart from the fact that I don't have a very fast lens: After I got the above shot of Ryan, the gestapo, I mean ushers, at the Aladdin threatened to make me erase my memory card if they caught me taking any more pictures. Apparently, it's just fine to take all the photos you want with a cell phone, but if you bring in a real camera, you're breaking some sort of WTO copyright agreement or some such... So long story short, I kept my eye on the ushers, and when they were both downstairs, and the lights were dark enough that they wouldn't see me, I snuck up to the balcony and ripped out a few illicit shots. None of which turned out very well, so if you want to know what Martin really looks like (and sounds like), check out the video at the top of the post.

If you're not familiar with Martin Sexton - and odds are you're not - all you really need to know about him is that he's just unbelievably good. He's eclectic to say the least, a little bluesey, a little jazzy, soulful and improvisational. While his recorded ouptut is great, a live setting is where he really shines, and last night was no exception. He opened with "Candy," and halfway through the song, busted out his trademark talk-box solo, which he repeated a few times through the set. In addition to his newer material, he offered up a number of crowd favorites like "Diner," "The Beast in Me," "Freedom of the Road" and "Hallelujah" (there's no way he could get out of the building without doing that one). Being a Massachusetts boy, he went into a couple of political diatribes, which some folks might find a little off-putting, but here in Portland we've come to not only expect but welcome this sort of thing. One highlight of the show was a rendition of "America the Beautiful" which was entirely appropriate given our current political scenario. He pulled it off with a perfect balance of earnestness and angry irony, a little reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix' famous version of the Star Spangled Banner.

He wrapped up with two encores, one of which was a duet with Ryan Montbleau on a song I wasn't familiar with. At any rate, fantastic show, check these guys out if they come to your town. You might also want to have a look at this funny Scrubs montage set to "Diner."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Meet the Sextuplets!

Many of you know that from June of 2007 to June of 2008, I did some work as a volunteer with the Eastside Egg Co-op. We harvested eggs from a flock of 50 barred rock hens who lived in a coop at Zenger Farm, and sold them at the Lents farmers' market, and to Pok Pok as well. I gave up my Thursday night shift after a year, but have remained involved with the co-op on an adjunct/pinch hitter basis. The barred rocks are almost three years old now, which means that while there are still a few miles left in the girls, their egg production is dropping. So Patrick and Holly, the chief instigators in this project, ordered up fifty chicks to serve as an eventual replacement flock. And as Patrick and Holly have their hands full with Anastasia, their recently adopted newborn Seattlite, they've farmed out the raising of these birds out to us volunteers. I took a half dozen of the four day old chicks off their hands this afternoon.

These chicks are a different breed from the hens currently out at the farm; they're called black australorps. You no doubt noticed from the photo above that they're not the yellow chicks we've all seen, but rather are mostly black. Hence the name. Once they've grown up, this is what they'll look like, as contrasted with the barred rocks we've been working with for the past year or so (black australorp on the left, barred rock on the right):

They really won't look very different from what we already have, actually. They shouldn't act much different, either. Both breeds are fairly docile and are a good choice for egg production. Here are a couple more photos of the chicks:

So I suppose the question that hangs in the air is, "What's going to happen to the current hens when they're replaced?" Some of them will make their way to backyard hobbyists, while others could conceivably end up on dinner plates; if that happens, they'll make for some tasty fricasee or cacciatore to be sure. These girls have eaten well and are as free-range as they come!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Desperately Soliciting Captions!

"As the candidates took to their respective podiums, Senator McCain briefly mistook Senator Obama for Kiichi Miyazawa."

You remember Kiichi Miyazawa, he's the Japanese Prime Minister that got puked on by Bush the first... Anyway, that's my caption. Think you can do better? Great! Add your own in the comments. Now, I watched the third debate and while I can recall a number of interesting moments, I don't remember this one.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Some Good News Re: the Economy... Finally!

A couple of welcome developments after last week, which was pretty damn harrowing: Neo-Keynesian economist Paul Krugman won the Nobel prize in economics today; in other news, the Dow rallied 11% today. Coincidence? I think not!

Okay, so it was coincidence... At any rate, you can read the good news here and here. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the Dow pass 10,000 once again in my lifetime. Funny how it took the Europeans to do what Paulson couldn't... Could it be that we have something to learn from them?

Update: Check out this very funny Onion-esque piece by Andy Borowitz!

They're Really Just Trying to Break Into the Movie Business...

The Portland Mercury and Guilty Carnivore beat me to the punch on this one, but no matter. You'll get a kick out of it, even if I am serving up the dish a bit cold... And is it me, or does that monkey bear a striking resemblance to Michael Hebb?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Enormous Gravel at the Doug Fir

So I headed out last night to catch Giant Sand at Portland's favorite space age log cabin of rock, the Doug Fir. Jenni was down from Olympia for the weekend, so we met up with a couple of "the Johns", in this case Jon the architect and John the Irishman. Here we see the architect and Jenni:

They sorta look like they should be on that "Stuff White People Like" website, don't they? The first band to go on was Tracker:

Tracker is the recording and performing project of local producer John Askew. They had a good sound, a little rootsy, a little twangy, with just enough punch to keep things interesting. And although we couldn't be 100% sure, the Irishman and I were convinced that they had Amanda and Paul from Point Juncture, WA ("it's a band, not a town") sitting in with them. If that wasn't who they were, they sure looked like 'em. And really, how many people in Portland play the vibraphone? Next up was Calgary, Alberta's Chad VanGaalen:

VanGaalen's recorded output is best characterized by dense and unconventional instrumentation (an inveterate basement tinkerer, VanGaalen is, like Askew, a record producer), as well as a quirky style of singing which brings to mind a yodeling contest between James Mercer and Ben Bridwell, officiated by Jeff Mangum (stop me before I name-check again!). He came to Portland with just a drummer, however, and the two of them made their way through a set of enjoyable, if spare, numbers.

Last up were the evening's headliners, Giant Sand. These guys have been around since 1985. They've put out sixteen records. And somehow they've managed to stay more or less off my radar for most of that time. I'd heard jagged shards of them here and there, but like most people, I'm more familiar with Calexico, an offshoot formed by a previous GS rhythm section. Based in Tucson and anchored by singer/guitarist Howe Gelb, Giant Sand has had a fluid membership over the years, and guest musicians on GS projects read like a who's who of Americana's eccentric garde: M. Ward, Victoria Williams, Vic Chesnutt and most of the members Poi Dog Pondering have all lent their talents to the band at various points in its history. Last night's performance was delivered by the current line-up of Gelb, slide guitarist Anders Pedersen, bassist Th√łger Lund (I guess there are more Scandinavians in Tucson than one might imagine) and drummer Peter Dombernowsky. Here's a shot of Gelb in action:

Gelb keeps chickens in his backyard, by the way, so he's not wearing that feed cap purely out of irony... I was really impressed with their set, as were Jenni and the architect. Giant Sand's sound is all swirling dust and hot wind and prickly pear, uniquely evocative of their Southern Arizona surroundings. Appropriately for a man who's spent a good deal of his adult life with too much sun and too little water, Gelb's vocals provide a dry, spiny delivery for his elliptical peyote-esque lyrics, not unlike Chester the Cheetah channeling Lou Reed channeling the beat poets of 1950s North Beach, with a little Leonard Cohen thrown in for good measure (the Lou Reed comparison is not lost on Gelb, incidentally, as the band encored with "Satellite of Love"). Both he and Pedersen make heavy yet judicious use of signal processing, building then tumbling juxtapositions of sound which turn any given song from one mood to the next on the proverbial dime, all the while backed up by a rhythm section at once firmly grounded and subtly improvisational. As a songwriter, Gelb comes out of a place just a few blocks down the way from Townes Van Zandt or James McMurtry. A place a bit more mercurial and abstruse, but within the same zip code.

The Irishman took a little while to warm up to Giant Sand. I think he was a little put off by Gelb and Pedersen's reliance on their effects pedals, while I thought they were used to good... well... effect. But he eventually got behind 'em, if reluctantly. At any rate, if you get the chance to see these guys, consider them highly recommended.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Enjoy the Ride Back Down, Boys!

That there is Theodore Roosevelt IV, managing director of Lehman Brothers. Or should I say, former managing director...

In what has to be a contender for the best blog post ever, courtesy of, the vacuous foiblery of Wall Street is laid bare by way of its own imagery. The schadenfreude of this is just priceless. The best thing about it is imagining each and every one of these half-witted frat boys in their ill-fitting Men's Warehouse suits desperately scrambling to find work at their local Starbucks.

I'll have a venti half-caf skim white chocolate mocha with 2% foam, Teddy. And hop to it, boy, I have a job to get to!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Turns Out, I Don't Hate Poets After All...

I should probably apologize in advance, as you're not really gonna find a whole lot of meat in this post, until the end, but bear with me here for a bit, folks. I need to vent my spleen.

You may have noticed that the Dow Index closed at below 8600 today, from a high of somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 earlier this year. That's a drop of more than a third. After the crash of 1929, it took months, if not years, for the stock market to lose that much of its value. Nowadays it's happening in a matter of weeks. Days, actually... The fallout of all this, aside from the foreclosure nightmare of course, is that nobody can get any credit right now (including employers - yours, perhaps - who rely on short term loans to make payroll), or that none of our retirement accounts will be worth anything for a good long while. I could go on, but I'll spare you. This is scary stuff, and one of the questions that's rattling around in my head right now is "What the hell have these people done to us?" And by "these people," of course, I mean the Reagan Revolution, Republicans and Democrats alike, and its bastard neo-con spawn: the deregulators, the Friedmanites, the free market evangelists...

Then again, maybe there's another way of looking at this. Maybe, as Pogo said, we have seen the enemy and he is us. While we should have been paying attention, we instead did what we were told. We studied hard. We paid our taxes. We obeyed the law and we even sent our kids off to war. And we consumed. In short, we closed our eyes and put our faith in the system. We ignored the warnings of our poets, our philosophers, our rabble-rousers, and put our collective nose to the grindstone, all for the privilege of having the rug pulled out from under us yet again. And truth be told, we've earned it. You would think we'd know better by now. And yet there are still people out there who plan to vote for McCain and Palin, despite the best efforts of Tina Fey! Not that Obama and Biden are in any position to help us now, even if they wanted to... But at least we've still got Andrei Codrescu.

I've been thinking recently that it might not be a bad idea to acquire some skills in say, the blacksmithing arts. Or the coopering trade. Or cobblery. This afternoon Codrescu put these thoughts of mine into some very amusing, if not necessarily reassuring, words. Worth a listen for sure. Funny how our poets have a way of reminding us, now and again, just why it is that they're relevant...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Putting the Lie to the "Drill, Baby, Drill" Myth...

Back in July, I caught an interview with Canadian journalist Naomi Klein, in which she discussed, among other topics, energy poicy. About halfway through the interview Klein laid out why lifting the congressional offshore drilling ban would, in fact, not lower oil and gasoline prices. It's an issue I hadn't understood very well up to that point (truth be known, I still don't understand it all that well), and it was quite an eye-opener. One of her arguments against increased drilling revolved around the industry's practice of stockpiling and trading drilling leases as a means of controlling prices on the world market. This is, of course, only one facet of one side of a complex argument, but I found it a fascinating one nonetheless. As the debate over drilling emerges as a major point of contention in the current presidential race, on the face of it the logic of increasing the supply of oil to put downward pressure on gasoline prices would seem fairly straightforward. The reality of it, naturally, is much more complicated and as it turns out, largely counter-intuitive.

I would try and explain it here, but there's no way I could do justice to the complexity of the subject. Antonia Juhasz, of the Institute for Policy Studies, on the other hand, can. She made the rounds on the interview circuit today, appearing on both Fresh Air and Democracy Now. I highly recommend following the links and having a listen to her take on all of this. Then tell everyone you know whose vote may actually be swayed by the "Drill Here, Drill Now" argument to check it out as well.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Little McCain/Palin Inspired Poetry...

You're gonna love these. But first, some backstory:

I got a phone call about a couple weeks back from my 98 year old great aunt, Virginia Paris Campbell. "Jinj," as we in the family know her, is a lifelong Republican who's become so disenchanted with the Neo-con takeover of the party that she changed her party affiliation to Democrat this past spring so that she could vote for Obama in the Oregon primary.

Allow me to reiterate that: 98 years old. Lifelong Republican. Changed her party affiliation and is now an ardent Obama supporter!!! Her husband, my great uncle Herald, is also a lifelong Republican (and served for a number of years as mayor of Lake Oswego - an affluent suburb of Portland, for those of you not familiar with the area - where the two have lived, and raised three daughters, since leaving Portland's Irvington neighborhood in 1946). Now Jinj and Herald, it should be noted, were liberal Republicans. Yes, there is such a thing, and it's a tradition particular to Oregon politics, more or less what we now know as "Libertarians." Think Mark Hatfield, Tom McCall, etc... But they were dedicated Republicans nonetheless, so for Jinj to take that kind of a bold step is really something in my book.

You'll notice from the photo above, by the way, that Jinj's left hand is abnormally large. This unusual trait, passed down through the Paris family for generations, earned Jinj in her youth the nickname of "Lefty." Oh, and speaking of photos, here's a composite of two of Jinj and Herald that I dug up on Reed College's online archive (both of them, like my grandmother Emilie - Jinj's little sister - are alumni of the school):

Jinj looks a little Bjork-like in that photo, wouldn't you say? She always was ahead of her time...

At any rate, the reason for Jinj's phone call, and the reason for this post, is that in recent weeks she's been spending her time writing limericks about John McCain and Sarah Palin. LOTS of limericks. She's apparently cranking out five or six of these a day, and wanted to know if I'd post a few of them on my blog. Why she doesn't just set up her own blog I can't quite figure - Lord knows she could do it - but of course this was a request that I couldn't refuse. So I've picked out a few of my favorites to share. Enjoy:

As Republican I am appalled
By the cynical pandering, bald,
Of McCain in his pick,
A bootlicking trick;
If he could be, he should be recalled.

Well, we’re hearing the “maverick” refrain
In the young woman picked by McCain,
Right out of his hat,
A circumstance that,
Underlines his bad judgment again.

She’s smack in the media spot
And admiringly touted as “hot”
But she hasn’t yet felt
The polar ice melt
And she claims global warming is not.

A pit bull with lipstick is she.
A bull dog unmuzzled is he.
Their kind of campaign
All teeth and no brain,
Is one I’m disgusted to see.

Copyright Virginia P. Campbell

Yes, you read that right, she even made reference to Palin's "hotness." Jinj is so much younger than her 98 years... And yeah, I was kidding about her left hand. That photo was obviously taken with a very wide angle lens. Anyway, hope you enjoyed these, and feel free to pass them along (just make sure to include the copyright when you do).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Too Many Headlines To Choose From... are just a few:

"Sarah Palin: the William S. Burroughs of Contemporary American Politics" (due to her rhetorical style of cutting and pasting her talking points)

"Will Somebody Please Tie a Tournequet Around Sarah Palin's Neck?" (because Biden hit not just the jugular, but the carotid as well)

"Nice To Meet You. Hey, Can I Call You Joe?" (uh, that's his name)

"Drill, Baby, Drill!" (kinda speaks for itself, don't you think?)

Take your pick...

I caught the vice presidential debate last night at Beulahland, which as it turned out was a great venue for it, even if the sound and video weren't synched up perfectly. And I've gotta tell ya, I think it was an absolute bloodbath for Palin. Biden was on point and in full command of the facts, and generally focused his attacks McCain rather than Palin herself, alleviating fears on the left that he'd come out of the whole thing looking patronizing or condescending. Palin, to her credit, managed to avoid falling down or comparing herself to John F. Kennedy, but she was scattered and evasive at best, and wrapped all of her points up in dodgy grammar and bizarre Alaska-speak. An interesting exchange came about eleven minutes in:

Gwen Ifill: "Governor, please, if you want to respond to what he (Biden) said about Senator McCain's comments about health care?"

Sarah Palin: "I'd like to respond about the tax increase..."

Joe Biden: Flashes first toothy grin of the evening.

Then she did it again two minutes later! Another notable punt on Palin's part came almost thirty minutes in when, after mangling her answer to a question on the current economic meltdown ("It's a toxic mess on Main Street that's affecting Wall Street"), she changed the subject, for the third or fourth time up to that point, to energy policy.

It pretty much went on this way for the next sixty minutes.

I'll give Palin at least one thing, though. She did call Biden on his support of "clean coal" technology, asserting that Biden himself had said that there is no such thing as clean coal. His response that she was taking his position on exporting said technology to China out of context wasn't very persuasive, and I haven't been able to dig up anything to confirm whether or not he's denied the existence of clean coal, but I will say that no matter how you slice it, coal is ultimately a very dirty energy source. Of course, offshore drilling isn't the obvious answer to rising energy costs as many assume it is, but that's another subject altogether...

All things considered, I'd definitely call the debate for Biden, and not just because I'm firmly planted on the far left of the American political spectrum (if anything, Biden and Obama are a little too close to the center for my taste; I'm particularly disappointed in their stance against gay marriage). Not that being on the far left really means anything in the context of American politics, but hey, Bob's yer uncle.

Incidentally, a friend recently sent me the Sarah Palin Debate Flow Chart, which is hilarious! Have a look: