Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama and Clinton

You know its an unusual political season when I can see both former president Clinton and Sentator and presidential candidate Barack Obama within 7 days of each other. Bill Clinton turned up at the ball field around the corner from my house quite unexpectedly and with as much ado as the small town of Hillsborough could muster. Speaking from the back of a pickup truck the Hillary campaigners were trying to look folksy. Its no secret that I am an Obama supporter, but I went to give the ex-president his due. The hype man for the event before Bill spoke was going on about making the "Kool-aid" of the event sweeter. How does he do that? By throwing out t-shirts of course. After throwing a few out he said "man, this Kool-aid tastes a whole lot better." Not a great metaphor, Kool-aid and politics. So having said that he went on to say that the men in the crowd should look around at the women there as they were our future congressmen, senators, mayors and county commissioners. Ummm, its not 1943 anymore. Chapel Hill councilwoman Sally Green was in attendance as well as Francis Dancy from the Hillsborough town board, and the woman who wound up introducing clinton was the mayor pro tem of Charlotte. So another goofy phrase from this guy. After the crowd spelling H-i-l-l-a-r-y alot Bill Clinton swooped in an hour late and gave a fact filled, friendly stump speech. He was touting the Pennsylvania win and urging everyone to go to the early voting location next to the ball field. This is smart campaigning. The attendees could leave and vote for Hillary right there. Bill Clinton has a command of facts and figures which cannot be denied, but when he talks about job creation and the economy I tune him out. Ever since NAFTA and GATT the twenty five dollar an hour job in America went away. Then President Clinton promised these two important trade agreements would strengthen our economy and they have gone on to play a role in most decent factory jobs in the USA leaving the country.

Barack Obama came to Chapel Hill's Dean E. Smith center and brought along 19,000 of his supporters. In one of the biggest indoor events in the Obama campaign, the liberal stronghold of Chapel Hill was indeed a welcoming location for the candidate. (Jesse Helms once threatened to put a fence around it) The evening began with Music from a live band while people showed up hours early for the late night speech. The early speakers on the podium offering support included Congressman Mel Watt and Senatorial fixture David Price. A parade of speakers between 9 and 10:30 that night made the wait for Senator Obama seem interminable. Sam Perkins the NBA and former UNC standout was the next to last speaker. Seems they covered all their bases culturally at Carolina. Finally Senator Obama came out to raucus applause smiling and waving. He went straight to work and kept the platitudes to a minimum. Senator Obama covered the economy (the Bush tax breaks withdrawn, new incentives for the middle-class), the war(S)(let's get out of Iraq and win Afghanistan), restoring American foreign relations and goodwill abroad, strengthening and rebuilding the military, and reminding us all that ultimately this election was about alot of things but it was mostly about the people of America. Senator Obama is not about the quick-fix that solves nothing. Case in point the federal excise tax on gasoline. He was not for removing it. The short term gain would only be about twenty five dollars and the long term cost would be not conserving energy and not developing new energy resources. Hillary Clinton supports removal of this tax for the summer driving season to show her support for the middle class, but I am with Senator Obama on this. No short term "feel good" fixes. Let's solve the problem. All in all not alot of new ground here, not as many facts as Bill Clinton could muster in a nano-second, but very effective and inspiring stuff indeed.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Cruel and the Kind: Nick Lowe & Ron Sexsmith at the Artscenter

Last night saw two very different philosophies d'amore share a very strong common musical bond. Nick Lowe and Ron Sexsmith have more in common than just being on the same label (Yep Roc). The most obvious gift they share is a love of songcraft; which was fully on display last night.

Ron Sexsmith started the evening off with a terrific set of songs both old and new. The very first number (one of my favorites, "Former Glory") set the tone for a heart-on-the-sleeve performance. A significant portion of his set was material from his new U.S. record "Time Being" which will be released this summer. A particular standout from this section of the show was "Jazz at the Bookstore." Which speaks about the search for authenticity in the contrivances that are coffee shops and bookstores these days.

Jazz at the bookstore
And Blues in the coffee shop

There's a man standing at the crossroads
With a dark roast in his hand
Living in white yuppy hand
Over by the milk and sugar stand

Other memorable songs were "Cheap Hotel" (the story of an abused wife and mother making her getaway), "Never Give Up" and two chestnuts from the early Ron Sexsmith catalog; "Strawberry Blonde" and "Secret Heart." Opined Sexsmith, "Everybody has covered this song (Secret Heart) and I'm still not rich yet..." With clear voice and nuanced, evocative guitar playing this was an amazing opening set.

The ever dapper Nick Lowe followed up with a set of old and new material as well. A striking difference in style, if not form, made this set musically lean and focused. Harkening back to classic songs and song stylists like George Jones, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, Nat Cole, to name but a few, all factor into the Nick Lowe style.

Some of the old up-tempo classics helped keep this mostly crooned set lively. Songs like "I knew the Bride", the 1979 "Cruel to Be Kind" (which made the US Top 40) were in direct counterpoint to songs like "All Men are Liars" and "Where's My Everything" (featuring the bitter lyric "Where is the beautiful family home / That I was promised on the news at 10.")

Alot of Lowe's lyrics are directly observational. Songs like "People Change" or "Lately I've Let Things Slide" are straight up reporting from the trenches of experience. Particularly effective among the slower numbers were "The Beast in Me" (written for ex-father-in-law Johnny Cash) and the brand new "I Read Alot."

So after lifting you up and sending you crashing back down thematically, Nick makes it alright after all by closing with the ever true, not even remotely ironic "Whats So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding."

Practically the highlight of the evening was the encore called "My Baby's Gone" (by the Louvin Brothers) featuring these two great singers harmonizing together. I would gladly pay to see that for an entire show.

ADDENDUM: props to Lintqueen for the encore songtitle.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Wembley, Shakermaker at the Local 506

Thursday the 17th saw a lively triple bill at the Local 506 of Wembley, Shakermaker (with a CD release party besides)and Hundred Air. I missed Hundred air, but what I did see was good homegrown pop. Wembley kicked things off very nicely with a short, tight, energetic set. I love any band with a song called "Death Incarnate" that can be one of their livelier numbers. While older songs made an appearance here (notably "crumbs" and a rocking version of "Jeanie") the newer material really (available on a giveaway CD that night)really made an impression on me. The new songs "Moon", "The Quiet Life" and "40 Hour Week" were well constructed and memorable. This band gets better and better and singer/guitarist Neven J. Carswell's singing is remarkable. Neven is integrated neatly in this unit with Elizabeth Hull (piano), Elizabeth Hammond (drums) and Tracy Summer (bass) this band is well worth your time to check out.

I stuck around to catch Shakermaker play songs from their new eponymously named new CD. I found this 5 piece band to be even better than their very good tracks on their myspace page. Energetic, up-tempo pop with the added texture of Tom Moorefield (father to guitarist Jesse) on pedal steel. Songs like "Sunday Ladies" epitomize what is nice about Shakermaker; catchy melody, good singing and interesting lyrics, oh and bridges in the songform. Unmistakable songcraft, keep an eye out for them.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shine a Light

I was expecting Martin Scorsese to do a Last Waltz-type summing up of the Rolling Stones in their new film Shine a Light. But what we got was a look at a vibrant working band some 40 years into their career. There were some considerations for age (Mick evidently burns up under too many lights)and status (the royal attitude of the Stones kept the set list elusive until the last minute). This concert film clocks in a a nudge over two hours. My instinct tells me (having seen that tour in 2006) that the show itself was much longer. So what do we learn that we don't already know? Keith says that
he and Ronnie together "make one pretty good guitarist." Mick expends himself on the crowd while the others can stay in the head space of the music. Charlie Watts is the calmest maniac on earth. I think we knew this stuff. But what I hadn't noticed was the
complete authority and authenticity the Stones bring to Rock 'n Roll. They have transcended the bravado and reach of their early records to mature mastery of the form.

Monday, April 14, 2008

NC Symphony with Michael Collins

I went to the a remarkable program with the NC Symphony featuring basset clarinetist Michael Collins. The program was bookended by two Mendelssohn pieces without the clarinetist. The overall tone of the evening was uptempo as all the music was emphatic. The Mendelssohn Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream was an agressive start, energetically played and well executed.
This was followed by the entrance of Mr. Collins and a note-perfect performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A Major. Tonally beautiful throughout there was a substantial ovation at the end of this piece. The second half of the program began with a world premiere of Elana Kats-Chernin's Ornamental Air for basset clarinet. Agressive tight note clusters powered this piece along. The comparison I made as I was listening was a very modern extension of Gershwin. The composer was attending and the piece was recieved very well. The concluding music for the evening was the Mendelssohn "Italian" Symphony. An uplifting and amazing piece of music. Especially interesting for its minor key last movement. Again well played and conducted. A good night of music all around.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I'll Take (Hamburgers in) Manhattan....

The inevitable NYC blog post. Having recently returned from Gotham here are a few musings about my trip. Staying in midtown (yes, midtown, it worked out to be a nice place to stay--really) the launching pad for this visit was well situated for site seeing and dining. I must say I have never seen parts of the city look better or the people be friendlier. Central park was as well kept and beautiful as I've ever seen it. The hotel location was just a few short blocks north from the Empire State Building and a few blocks south from Rockefeller Center. Walking from this location, I quickly became aware that the end of March can still feel like a bit of winter in NYC (at least this year).

The hotel location on W 39th put it right in the border area between Times Square and the Garment District (think giant sculpture of a button). Now everybody I know in the city told me there was not anywhere to eat in midtown. I found a couple places worth mentioning. First off Carmines on 44th. Family style Italian in rich, full of character surroundings. Good service, nice price, some saltimbocca alot of raviolli, my my... Also ate at Johns Pizza on 44th for lunch which is inside an old church/tabernacle gently remodeled into a restaurant. The stain glass ceiling in this place is worth going in just to see and the food is perfect for lunch. Brick oven pizza, great salads and bread.

The Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art are 3 of my favorite places to waste alot of time in in NYC. Too much to ever see in one lifetime, I am always amazed what I missed the last time when I go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What's great is now you can take non-flash photos in many areas of the museum. I noticed this last year at the National Gallery of Art as well.
Timeless beauty this, from an ancient Egyptian temple (the Temple of Dendor) to Van Gogh and Warhol.

Now for the hamburgers, On our way to look at the NYU campus around Washington Square (where my daughter got admitted to school, although she says she is ultimately attending UNC), we ventured on into Greenwich Village and had dinner at the hamburger restaurant RARE first(vegans beware of the next bit). I am given to understand there is a RARE location uptown as well btw. OK, the proverbial $20 hamburger but what a hamburger. I had the Murray's (one of the oldest cheese shops in NYC) burger and it was amazing, loaded with the cheese of the week (Some smoked gouda fabulousness) ummm, bacon, lots of bacon, red onions etc. That with a pint from the bar and some of the amazing fries (they have 4 kinds of fries) will hit you right after a long day of schlepping around the city.

The arch at Washington Square featuring that very promising Presidential candidate George.