Monday, June 23, 2008

Ashland or Bust

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The Metal Shakespeare Company is playing this Tuesday and Wednesday at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It's one of the biggest Shakespeare festivals in the world, so it's a really big deal.

We're really excited that they're going to have us, but It's both the perfect match and a complete gamble. This clip of an interview with Green Show (opening act) coordinator Claudia Alick pretty much sums it up.



Image: The Elizabethan Theater at OSF by T. Charles Erickson. Audio Clip from Jefferson Public Radio, Southern Oregon and Northern California's NPR affiliate.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Best of '08: Blue Giant at the Wonder Ballroom June 20, 2008

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After Blue Giant played, I heard another music critic refer to them as Americana. Forget it. This is not Munly & the Lee Lewis Harlots*. This is not a throwback. This is it. This is American music.

Just to get you up to speed here, since tonight was the band's first show, Blue Giant sounds like the June Carter of a parallel earth who can totally shred, married Michael Martin Murphy and with him is fronting the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Playing June and Michael in this movie are Anita and Kevin Robinson of Viva Voce.

Blue Giant puts Kevin up front and center where you can watch him breathe and really lets Anita's full range of guitar virtuosity come out. There's piano, banjo and fiddle but not all at once. The lyrics are a little corny, but Kevin sells them. It rocks sometimes. It's not old fashioned; it's honest.

Bass player Seth Lorinczi swore up and down that the band didn't plan to wear blue and that I was the first person to mention it. I guess I believe it. I mean, they're that kind of band, just perfectly in synch and confident. Since it was their first show, the confidence and charm seemed almost supernatural.

On stage, Kevin said that he learned before the show that Jaws was released today in 1975. Speilberg thought it was gong to flop, but when someone vomited 10 minutes in, he knew he made it. "No one's vomited yet, so I guess we're alright," Kevin said.

But man, if eyes could puke. You should have seen the looks on people's faces.

Oh, and Corin Tucker played a couple of songs with them too. That was sort of like the part of the morning's dream narration where you start losing your friends. "And then Corin Tucker showed up," you say. "Yeah yeah whatever man," your buddy says. You reply: "But listen dude!"

No, really, listen.

*I do like Munly by the way. I just wouldn't call it life changing. I seriously think Blue Giant is going big time. Get ready America.

This is part of my best of '08 series in which I name the year's best as it happens 'cause year end lists are so last year.

Image by elspop of Anita singing with the Shins.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Deliver This Creature

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The current issue of Spin has a review I wrote of mr. Gnome's new album, Deliver This Creature. It's kind of an amazing phenomenon. mr. Gnome got small write ups on Rollingstone.com and Pitchfork the same week that this came out. It's like everyone's paying attention to them, but only a little.

Anyway, it's always great when I get to cover a band I completely believe in for a major publication. The first time I saw mr. Gnome I was floored. It's a shame the review doesn't cover their live show, which is amazingly tight and full. They're the best two piece I know of, hands down, and one of my favorite bands altogether.

Extra thanks to Randy Bemrose for introducing me to mr. Gnome in the first place and for offering the Scout Niblet/SOD comparison off the cuff in his basement.

Image by Eric Clawson.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tour Recap

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And so, all in all, the Metal Shakespeare Company tour was a very successful trip. We didn't lose money and that was our goal. Here are some interesting numbers:

Days: 12
Shows: 11
Miles: 3850
Average price per gallon: $4.26
Press write ups: 8
Radio appearances: 1
Dreams come true: 3
Van break downs: 0
Hand jobs: 0

Here are all the major press write ups we got. My favorite is the one from SLC weekly.

Idaho Statesman
SLC Weekly
Albuquerque Alibi: Calendar listing, not online (like a WW-style listing)
LA Weekly: Calendar listing, not online (like a WOW! in the Mercury)
Eureka Reporter
Times Standard (Eureka)
North Coast Journal (Arcata)
Live interview on KSLG (Humboldt County)
Eugene Weekly

If you wish to relive the adventure, here is the chapter selection:

Boise in which mr. Gnome doth bewitch our brains!
Salt Lake City in which we perfourme for ghosts and spiders!
Albuquerque a tale of debauchery and intrigue!
Tucson a hard-won battle for the hearts of travelers!
Laguna Beach in which Lord Simms is kidnapped by pirates!
Los Angeles in which there is much Dionysian madness!
Long Beach in which we are thwarted from ballroom dancing!
San Francisco in which much merriment is made!
Arcata in which victory is won!
Eugene in which there are explosions!

541: Two for One Special

0608081748aOn the way to Eugene, we swam in what we're told by locals is the cleanest river in the country, the Smith. You can see fish and bottom, even where it's 20 feet deep.

Too bad that at this time of year, it's also the coldest river in the country. We enjoyed some cliff diving nonetheless, which I was glad to have survived considering omens before our departure.

Our visit to the river and an underestimation of how treacherous and curvy (and therefore slow) the terrain on the drive would be, made us incredibly late for our last show of the trip at the Samurai Duck in Eugene.

When we arrived at 10:30, the first band had already been playing for half an hour. They were an improv metal band called Speculative Harmony Volunteers* which I thought was going to be two different bands. Unfortunately, it was just the same sucky band twice.

Apparently they had been told they could do two sets before we were added to show. This put us playing at 1 am and neither us, nor Purple Rhinestone Eagle were happy about that. We tried to talk the sound guy into talking some sense into them but he wasn't having it.

So as they were playing their second set, I suited up for another duel. If I won, they would stop. But then they stopped, ending their set with, "Sorry everyone, we were supposed to do two sets but the venue fucked up and booked another band. Sorry."

That was pretty much the most professional move of the tour. But we'll come back to that. Purple Rhinestone Eagle RULED. They're a heavy all-female metal trio from Philly via Portland. Outside I heard people complaining about how Speculative Harmony Volunteers only got to play one and a half sets. Am I insane? Who the fuck plays two sets? Seriously. What the fuck?

Anyway, we got on stage and everyone was drunk which is always better for us. After our first couple of songs, I apologized for being the "fuck up" band that got added "last minute" and then got out the paper and pretended to read it and discover the article about us. "Goodness, how could anyone have known we were coming? If there is one for us, surely there must be two for Speculative Harmony Volunteers?" Matt made a joke about masturbating in public being legal in this strange kingdom. These antics cost us some audience members, but we couldn't take that shit lying down. What kind of band complains about the other bands that are going to play after them? What happened to, "Hey, there are a couple of out of town bands here tonight so stick around?" Geez.

Once we got that off our chests we rocked out really hard since it was the last night. Plus Purple Rhinestone Eagle was standing up front laughing their asses off the whole time and there's nothing better than impressing a band you respect.

Afterward we were treated to a lavish end-of-tour party by our friend Mac, who booked us last time we were in Eugene. I even got to play bartender! Another dream come true.

We left sometime after three and launched some mortar shells in the street. Then the whole posse (minus Mark, Merideth and her friend who went home to sleep or something) went to Amber's house, another friend from our last time in Eugene. There I sword fought on the roof of the house with a lass I developed a crush on on our last visit. I lost my sword but made the pressed-up sword kiss move. Two dreams come true in one night!

"Hey," said Randy. I was stuck to a leather couch. It was morning. "Let's get out of here."

Above: me cliff diving by Mark on his phone. Below: foreign movie poster demonstrating pressed-up sword kiss move.

*Speculative Harmony Volunteers doesn't exist online BECAUSE THEY AREN'T A REAL BAND.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

707: Fuck Yeah

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"Nearly a fortnight we have travelled, and when times were tough, we said, 'There is Arcata down the road!'" I told the crowd at the Alibi.

We played there in January and went over quite well. Better than I realized, in fact, until I saw several people already wearing our shirt and singing along to all the choruses. Arcata is definitely the most rocking city of 15,000 people on Earth.

Last time we visited, they gave us bottomless beer and we each drank two pitchers. Then, because it was my 24th birthday, people kept buying me shots. I broke a table, a microphone, a lot of glass and a few hearts.

This time I stayed relatively sober. We got great write ups in the Eureka Reporter and The Times Standard, and I knew there would be a good crowd so I didn't want to be too slobbering.

Before the Alibi, we did a radio interview in costume on KLSG, the local commercial rock station, which strangely sits in the middle of pastures. The DJ, Ashley Ramone, reminded me of a metal Amy McCullough and was really cool. She plays a game called 4 degrees of Tool where she can connect any band to Tool in 4 steps. She didn't do one specifically for us, but ours would be the same as thirtythreeandathird because we've both opened for Blood Hag and that's where theirs starts.

We played with those dudes last time, thirtythreeandathird, and they requested to do their set of instrumetal before us this time. Sober, I noticed they are all really, really talented musicians. I can't wait to see their swampy stoner rock at the Red Room on July 18.

Then we played what everyone agrees was the best show of the trip. The crowd was rowdy, but not in a silly way like at Spaceland. They just fucking loved it. Every minute of that show was a pleasure to play.

Afterward, we went and partied at thirtythreeandathird drummer Grant's house where his significant other, Tessa, made us margaritas. For the first time Matt admitted he would like to turn our band into a Vegas show, something he's expressed reservations about before. If every show were like Arcata that night, we'd be the Blue Man Group of metal in no time.

Photos: KLSG. Not pictured: the visually reclusive Ashley Ramone.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

415: A Show I'd Like to See

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My expectations aren't unreasonable. I don't ask much of a show. And the Metal Shakespeare Company's show in San Francisco wasn't much, but it was everything I could ask for.

First, everyone at Kimo's was incredibly nice. They were really happy to have us there and the British door guy even said our accents were good, which has never happened before.

Then all the bands were AMAZING. Thunderhorse, an instrumental power metal band from San Jose who I got added to the bill last minute, pretty much melted my face. That face melting thing is such a cliche, but I never actually got it until those guys played. I was watched them shred and went, "Oh, this is what people are talking about when they say their face is being melted." I think it had something to do with excessive smiling.

Then we played and the dozen or 14 people got up front and rocked the fuck out. There was a really cute hippie girl dancing really hard the whole time and I thought, "As long as she keeps dancing, everything is right in the world." That's a thought I borrowed from one of my favorite Portland bands, Pure Country Gold.

The Metal Shakespeare Company


Then a band called Lady Superior went on. They had been sitting around drinking water in pointy shoes while we were playing so I got all up in their face with my wireless guitar, which they didn't seem to like. But when they started playing, my mind was blown.

With an injection of originality, Lady Superior could be the best band in the world. The frontman is both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. His voice sounds like a perfect recording and his guitar playing is flawless and virtuosic. If he had something to say, the world would listen.

Wyld Youth closed out the night with a set of female-fronted butt rock that recalled the Valkyries for me. They're great performers with great style and I can't wait to book them in Portland.

Without a doubt this was the best lineup of the trip. I saw three fantastic bands I'd never seen before. Who cares if no one was there or if I had to have emergency dental work and fainted before we left Anaheim the day before.

Video of "Coriolanus" guitar harmony and photo of Matt by Shanna.

Friday, June 13, 2008

562: The Joke's on You

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Every tour needs a show that reminds you that even without an audience, you can travel hundreds of miles and amuse yourselves.

When we arrived at DiPiazza's, it was obvious that we were at the Rock N Roll Pizza of Long Beach and that we were totally screwed. A few people were there to see the two poppy opening bands but we were to play last. Although John from CleanBox put up fliers at the University and passed out handbills at the club, no one came to see us.

So we got high. Then I tried to ballroom dance with some people next door and got kicked out (pictured). Then I started to worry about the few people who were there leaving, so I went in for a duel.

I interrupted the singer of Countless Thousands introducing his last song to challenge him to a duel. I said that the laziness of the crowd did offend me (they were seated) and if I were to the duel, they must stay and stand. If he would be the victor, then they may nap here or elsewhere.

Somehow while I was standing there it came up that it was his birthday, so I decided to lose. I thought his friends would like that more anyway and I figured I could do a better death scene too.

But of course, most of them left. With two tables in the back and one of Mark and Randy's friends, most of whom had seen us before on this trip, we decided to entertain ourselves. As John put it: "When the going got tough, you went pole dancing." I discovered something resembling a stripper pole and discovered I had some decent moves.

With two songs left, we gave the audience a choice, half speed or double speed. They chose double speed, so we played a blast beat version of "The Trooper." Then someone yelled, "Now do half speed." So we did "Holy Diver" at half speed. It's probably one of the funniest and most obnoxious things we've ever done.

Randy went to LA and had some sort of dress up time/orgy which left him with a polka dot coat. The rest of us got high and watched a TV show about stamps in Anaheim.

Photo by John Bovenizer. Note how displeased the man we suspect is the lady's husband is.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

323: Bike Fun, LA Style

spaceland2

Frank is a four and a half foot bike made of two frames welded together. It has no brakes so you drag your foot on the back tire to slow down. The handle bars were neon green but now are dirty and worn. It makes a "love fart" or clicking noise about once a second while you're riding it.

I rode Frank from a house in China Town to the show at Spaceland and Randy rode another tall bike made of three little girls' bikes. We were in costume and the 30 or so members of the Midnight Ridazz were as in or not in costume as they are on any given day.

One flat tire and lots of circling the crowd at lights (easier than stopping) later we arrived. There was a lot of pressure on me for this show since I convinced Spaceland to have it very last minute and picked all the bands myself.

When we arrived there were only a few people there who weren't on the ride. Funderstorm started right away. They are the unofficial band of the LA bike scene and they are the best sucky band I've ever seen. It's one guy, B-Rad, who dresses in some sort of space age drag and sings and raps while another guy, Marcus, plays beats and minimal music on a $15 Casio. The crowd throws confetti that says "FUN".

spaceland4

So the music is OK. Pretty funny and catchy at times. But the crowd response is tremendous. All the Mightnight Ridazz were jumping and dancing hysterically. When Funderstorm handed over the stage to us, the crowd kept going. When I laid down on stage for a second, they formed a dog pile on me. We've played for more people before, but never people who were rowdier.

spaceland

Then a band called Pleasure played and almost no one watched them. I felt bad because I know they worked hard to promote the show.

Michele Appel (it rhymes), who helped me set up the show took me to her house in China Town which has a view of downtown and seems like where I would live if I lived in LA. The next day I rode Frank with her to her coffee shop. It was a lot scarier to ride Frank in the daytime with all the traffic but a group of uniformed school girls laughed at us, which made me feel good.

Photos: By Annie Dimas.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

949: I Am a Kraken from the Sea

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On the drive to Laguna Beach, I decided to send postcards to a lot of people. Highlights include an explanation of "the peculiar wildlife of New Spain" sent to a girl I have a crush on and a picture of a giant Arizona cactus sent to my parents:

Mother and Father -

I always forget that cacti like this really exist. They look so fake. I went to Shakespeare, NM, and met a zombie dog.

Love,

Jason


And on the same aforementioned Southwestern wildlife card to Nikolai, our keyboard player who can't tour:

Niq-

I got the tackiest card I could find. It looks like a shirt Matt would wear. No hand jobs to report yet, I'm afraid.

- Jason


See, we have a running joke about hand jobs that started on the last tour when one of my ex-girlfriends mentioned that giving and receiving hand jobs doesn't count as cheating. Since then we've had a competition going to see who can get more hand jobs. If it goes further than an HJ then it doesn't count. So far we're all tied at 0.

The club we played in Laguna Beach, the Sandpiper, is a block from the beach so I went swimming in the ocean in the last minutes of daylight. It was healing for a sore throat I've been battling all tour. I brought some seaweed out of the water and walked down the street wearing it and my underwear and holding my arms out like a zombie.

This is how I greeted Sequoia, who just put out our record and who set up the show for us. A lot of people came and they were all named Brad and Tina. We had a good time though. A dude who hand paints hats made me a green hat which I love and a drunk guy kept bugging me so I kicked him in the chest. We let some drunk girl play keys with Mark even though she sucked. Sequoia said the show was even better than the only other time he saw us, in Portland at Dante's last February.

We put the seaweed on the ladder on the back of the van and it made it all the way back to Mark's house in Anaheim where we slept.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

520: Meet Me in My Room

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Our van is now littered with chile seeds because Matt and I bought chili restras in Hatch, New Mexico, imagining they would survive the trip to hang on our porches.

On the way to Tucson, we also discovered a place called Shakespeare Ghostown. We travelled a few miles off the path on a dirt road to find it. It was closed and there were 9 No Tresspassing signs. A caretaker appeared to live there. It freaked Matt out, but I got Mark to agree to film me as I went inside in character.

We filmed a few scenes and met a dog who appeared to be a zombie and disturbed the caretaker, who I believe thought we were really English. "Out here in the West," he said, "you have to be careful of rattle snakes. I killed 24 of them over there the other day."

We arrived at the Hotel Congress where we were to stay and play. It's a bitchin' hotel that feels like Europe and has no TVs in the rooms.

Our set was a free show following a going away party for a local DJ featuring a popular local latin rock band. The room has a nice and well-lit stage, almost like the set of a television program.

We set up as quickly as possible so that we'd lose as few people as possible, but almost everyone left. My friend Ian and a friend of his, Mark's cousin and a woman who's a friend of a friend and came to talk to me about journalism stayed in the room. So we went out to yell at the masses throughout the hotel.

It worked. With each song our crowd grew. As expected in Tucson, I sweated a ludicrous amount. I also realized I had a rare opportunity to give a cute girl the key to my hotel room. So I threw the key at a group of babes against the wall. When I went to change out of costume, they weren't there.

It was a hard-won battle and the hotel was impressed. They paid us well and a lot of people bought things.

Ian took me to a roof at the U of A where he's a grad student and we drank vodka. Then one of the girls from the key throwing called me from Mark's phone. I laughed it off and stayed on the roof. Mark said she wasn't that cute anyway.

Above: Mark filming me at the ghost town. Below: Hotel Congress.
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Friday, June 6, 2008

505: Where 4 am is Party Pooping

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I forgotten that Randy's dad was a long haul trucker. He drove from 4:30 - 11:30 am.

Aside from the fact that I only had to drive for 2 and a half hours, driving all night was the best idea ever. We got into Albuquerque just after noon, which gave us time to take naps, check email and eat at Padilla's my favorite restaurant in the world. The green chile blew Matt's mind.

Our show that night at Stove was Mark and my first show in our hometown in five years. Both our bands played: the 54 Pages of What opened for the Metal Shakespeare Company. It was a bit rough. Even though we had just recorded, the songs are so hard that Mark and I were a little loose. My guitar amp freaked out near the end so we did the last song a cappella. It went over well, but we were frustrated.

We changed into costume and about 30 people came inside when we went outside to yell about "a production of the playes of William Shakespeare, the likes of which you have ne'er seen!" It took about three songs for Mark and I to recover, but when we did, we played well. I slow danced with someone during our power ballad, drawing laughter.

Then we went to a small party at a friend of Mark's. There was beer pong and I remarked that beer pong was the official mode of drinking in New Mexico, I was corrected by a young man in a cowboy shirt who loves Dio (my long lost brother?) that the official drinking game of New Mexico is drinking. People gave me shit for wanting to leave at 4 am.

The next day I went to get my amp fixed while Randy and Matt explored. One of Matt's friends made him a hilarious hand-drawn map of Albuquerque including places to drink 40s in alleys so he did some things on the map. I went to Hurricane's for dinner where all my friends used to work. I don't know anyone there now.

As we set up at the Atomic Cantina, a crowd began to amass. Usually we begin the set with the drunken Porter scene from Macbeth, giving people time to filter in. That night we took the stage to applause after our costume change and jumped right in with our scene from Coriolanus.

We played one of the best and most fun sets we've ever done together. We were dead on musically and very relaxed. I didn't pick anyone's nose because the crowd was already into it. I had to ask the audience to pack in tighter to make room for more people twice.

Then we climbed the Albuquerque Convention Center roof with some friends and drank a bottle of port that Matt had brought for a special occasion. By the time we got back to the club, they were closed and pissed at us for being late. The bartender said, "You made $75, but you made we wait," he dropped one 20, "you left your gear," he dropped another, "and that guy freaks me out for wearing all white," referring to Randy, "so you get $15." He had me going, but paid us all of it. If it seems like small pay for such a packed show, keep in mind the show was free.

There was another small after party, this one with fireworks. Once again people gave me shit for leaving at 4 am. When Matt, Randy and I got in the van, Matt said, "We forgot our bottle of Jager in the freezer. Should we get that?" Randy answered, "We could drink it and walk home." So they did. They didn't sleep at all.

Above: Randy selling merch in all white. Below: NM is my homeland. They made a sign for me.
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Monday, June 2, 2008

801: Pool in the Back

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About 68% of Utah is Mormon, so if you see a white person, it's pretty safe to assume that he or she is a Mormon. This is a strange sensation. Mormons are cool. I like the strange alphabet and outer space afterlife thing, it's just odd to be able to assume that the people around you are religious. It makes swearing seem really inappropriate, even at a private table at the Red Iguana.

Over mole and jalapeno margaritas, Randy Harward, my old editor at HARP, explained that SLC is home to a village for little people and garden of statues that includes Joseph Smith's face on a sphynx. We took turns reading the great write up for the show Randy put together, which we agreed is probably the best write up we've ever had.

But, as I know well, write ups don't necessarily bring people. When we arrived at Burt's Tiki Lounge, there were about 10 people and only a few more trickled in through the night. It was a rough show. We only played for 25 minutes. Playing to no people sucks, but it really sucks when you're in a costume band. Oh, and we forgot the merch shield we made in Boise.

Near the end, I realized there were a few people in an upper level not paying attention to us so I walked up there while playing guitar (I have wireless) and played on the pool table in the middle of their game. One of them bought a CD.

Burt's apologized profusely and said they don't know why no one showed up, they promoted like crazy. They gave us $60 even though they lost their shirts. Gas to Albuquerque would be nearly $150 though.

Although my friend Aria's fiance Clay (8-8-8, congratulations!) graciously offered us a place to stay (and were awesome audience members), we decided to push on through the night and left town listening to Michael Martin Murphy, whose song "Cowboy Logic" has to be about our drummer, Randy.

Images: Just because your name is on the marquee doesn't guarantee a crowd. And the SLC skyline. Everyone we met there was nice, but...just sayin'.

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