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The Last Day of Summer

August 3rd, 2015

PHINEAS AND FERB

An altogether too short summer ended today. School starts much earlier now than when I was a child. I remember going back to school the week before Labor Day but now it is the first week of August. August is my least favorite month of the year. It seems to drag on forever. It is hot. Football is still a month away (no, preseason NFL most definitely does not count) and yet we are out sweating every evening at cheerleading practice. Now we get to add to all of the hassle of signing forms, remembering to pick art supplies, homework, and all the other fun of school. At least we’re not trying to plan a trip to London on top of everything else this time around. That nearly broke me.

We didn’t do very much this summer which is fine. We enjoyed being lazy for a little while. We sent the girls off to each grandparents’ house for a week and did a little bit of housecleaning and date night dinners. We did a family trip to Myrtle Beach. I shamelessly played a lot of video games with the girls. We laid around on the couches a lot because we could. Now it’s time to get back on the merry-go-round and everything is going to revert to spinning out of control again.

Also poignant at the end of this summer was the end of one of our favorite tv shows. I had to endure a lot of awful childrens’ shows to placate the children when they were younger, but Phineas and Ferb was always a delight to watch. I’ve sung the praises of My Little Pony before, but Phineas and Ferb is on another level with humor, clever plots, and slapstick gags that make me guffaw as much as it entertains the girls. I loved the relentless optimism of the kids and the comedic violence reminded me of Looney Tunes episodes with maybe just a little bit of a gentler touch. The series aired the last episode this summer with the children returning to school. While the final episode was bittersweet, I can’t help feel like the co-creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh picked a good time to go out before the show become too creatively stale. (Hopefully, they will be returning with a new series in a couple years and I hope it is half as funny as Phineas and Ferb.) The series has left a pretty massive body of work. The girls and I started a marathon at the beginning of the summer watching every episode and we still have a way to go before finishing.

The last episode, though, was a tangible reminder that time continues to march on and on despite whatever we do to slow it down. My friend Sam remarked that when he started the series with his oldest daughter, she was a little older than a toddler and now at the end she is only a couple years short of middle school. I am reminded that this is a tangible end to an era in our children’s childhood and even an end to a little bit of re-living our own childhood.

So here we are in August. Autumn is approaching but I am going to have to grin and bear it through August first. I don’t want to rush the month too fast however as this summer has once again reminded me that the time with our children is all too limited and ebbing away.

The Oh Hellos at Terminal West

July 24th, 2015

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Last night, I went to see The Oh Hellos at Terminal West and it was a whole lot of fun. Terminal West is a relatively new venue in an old industrial part of Atlanta that has become a hipster haven. There is a great coffee shop (Octane) over there and lofts and apartments popping up overnight. Terminal West is a relatively simple room that still feels new, it’s not nearly as dank as Variety Playhouse or terrifyingly spooky as the Masquerade. There’s a nice balcony (I didn’t venture up to the patio on the roof but I kinda wish I did.) and a restaurant next door. I hung out mostly by the bar where I had a decent view. The show was sold out and it was snug, but there was still room to move around if you weren’t up next to the stage. The crowd was mostly 20’s-30’s, maybe slightly more girls with their boyfriends in tow, but there were a couple of groups of bros, too. There were a few older couples, too. The crowd was generally speaking well behaved.

The show started at 9 PM, which feels so freakin’ late now that I am old, with Ruston Kelley who was ok, mostly nondescript ballads on acoustic guitar. He brought this sister out to sing some duets and they sounded nice together. The most interesting part of his set was when he told a story about breaking into a publisher’s recording studio and living there for seven months, even borrowing some of the artists’ clothes while there.

The Oh Hellos came on stage around 10:15. The downside of these bands with 10 members is that even a brief soundcheck seems to drag on forever. The violin player moved quickly around the stage to check all the instruments and mics but with that much stuff, it seemed to take a long time. The band itself is essentially a brother-sister duo Tyler and Maggie Heath and they are pretty static, but behind them is a swirling chaos of eight musicians playing two drum kits, violins, banjos, guitars, and other percussion and they are all leaping around the stage and whooping and hollering and generally having a good time. I liked how they introduced each member of the band with a generic 80’s sitcom soundtrack in the background and each member would pose like they were in a 80’s sitcom intro when their name was announced.

Their sound isn’t particularly original, they play a blend of Irish and American folk music similar to The Lumineers or Mumford and Sons, but it is singable and enjoyable. Their first album _Through the Deep, Dark Valley_ has a couple songs loosely based on the creation story. Those songs were the most popular with the crowd as they sang along, but the new stuff from their upcoming album _Dear Wormwood_ sounds really good as well. The title track was apocalyptic with a cathartic yell at the climax. The crowd was really chatty during the opener’s show and quieted down a little bit during The Oh Hellos, but after “Dear Wormwood” you could hear a pin drop.

By this time it was late and I didn’t want to get caught in traffic getting out of the parking lot so I bolted before the encore. I had heard everything I wanted to hear plus some new stuff so I was satisfied. All in all, a really enjoyable show, even if it was late for this old man. The last time this band played Atlanta they packed out Eddie’s Attic and now they’ve filled up a bigger venue and the new stuff sounds great, they seem to be a band on their way up. They are currently very independent, it will be interesting to see if they get corralled into a label or if they just keeping doing what they do. They kind of remind me of Caedmon’s Call around 1996 before they got pulled into the CCM machine, being from Texas with a large ensemble (though maybe not at as didactic as Aaron Tate’s lyric writing) playing folk music. I like having a new band fill that niche for me.

RIP Chris Squire

June 28th, 2015

One of my favorite bass guitar players passed away. If you want to see some over-the-top, goofy and amazing bass guitar playing for ten minutes, watch this:

The video doesn’t convey it accurately, live in concert, the bass would rattle your teeth, it was a sight to behold and hear.

Chris was always a man of excess, both on stage and in his personal life. One of my favorite instruments that he would bring on stage was a TRIPLE-NECKED guitar (4 string bass, 6 string standard electric, 4 string fretless) for “Awaken” It was a gigantic monster that only he could tame.

One of the songs that Chris would play during his solo was “Amazing Grace” inspired by his youth as a choir boy in England. I don’t know what his relationship with the Lord was, like I said he was a man of excess, though it wasn’t his hard living that killed him, it was cancer, but I hope he has found peace at the end. And thanks for all the music, I can’t wait to see Yes in August and see what they do to honor his life.

The 10th Anniversary of The Everglow

May 20th, 2015

MAE in concert

In 2006, I posted about how a concert reenergized me when I was weary. I wrote that before I had children and truly learned the meaning of tired. The band was MAE and the album they were performing was The Everglow, my favorite album from the year 2005 and maybe one of my all-time favorite albums. Only a few years later, the band lost momentum and faded away. I had good memories from the concert, but I didn’t think I would ever hear those songs in concert again.

Surprise, surprise, the band reunited, all 5 members from the album, and announced they would tour and play the entire album from beginning to end. As it turned out, our own group reunited for the show. Jerry and I were no-brainers for the show, but to our delight Chuck even traveled from Tennessee and it was the same as the 2006 show even if we are a little longer in the tooth.

We used to eat a Jaqbo’s over by Georgia Tech when I was in school, but that is long-gone. In it’s place is a “little Italy” section with a pizzeria, gelato store, bar, and open seafood grill. We enjoyed Antico, where the room is as bare-bones as possible, we sat on a large metal bench and ate pizza right off the pan. On the other side of the large room were the large ovens and kitchen staff that cheered loudly when Pachuca scored a goal.

After the delicious dinner, we made the short dash over to The Masquerade. If anything hasn’t changed in the last ten years, it is The Masquerade. It is still as dark and terrifying as ever with it’s random mill equipment still hanging from the ceiling and mysterious dark corners that I don’t want to know what is hiding there. The concert was in the top floor, the “heaven” part of the venue, the exact same location as the 2006 show. It’s not uncommon for The Masquerade to have more than one show at the same time and I joked that there is probably a death-metal band in the “Hell” part of the venue and the fans there would be waiting to beat us up before or after the show, but there was only one show that night.

Mike Mains and the Branches opened the show and while they lacked a little bit of the “anything could happen here” vibe they had at Cornerstone, they were still really fun. They played a couple songs from each of their two albums and I was familiar with just about everything they played and sang along. The second band was All Get Out and they really weren’t my thing and I didn’t know any of their songs so I kinda checked out while they played. I would have greatly preferred that they were the first band and Mike Mains and the Branches got the second longer set.

Finally, MAE took the stage. I really liked their stage setup with posts and Christmas lights strung up between the posts. The light gave the appearance of tiny stars behind them and changed a couple of different colors for a couple different moods. They started with a couple more recent songs, but it wasn’t until they started the intro to The Everglow that the room figuratively and literally lit up. The crowd was in it from the start, singing loudly as the band went into “Someone Else’s Arms.” Dave Elkins declared “MAE is for lovers!” and perhaps he was right as there were plenty of couples arm-in-arm in crowd. The girl next to me wiped away tears at the end of “The Ocean” as she pressed into her beau’s side and who could blame her? It was beautiful. “Breakdown” had a great moment where the girls and guys in the crowd each sang a different part and it made a great 3 part melody. After the band wound down “The Sun and the Moon” they exited the stage to the “The Epilogue.” They came back for a short encore before the night was done.

The show was a little uneven, the Everglow material sounded a little more polished than the rest of the set, but that’s the part I wanted to hear so I left pleased. The best part is that the band is together and touring again and I’m hoping this means there will be new music in the future. There have been so many endings when it comes to my favorite music that I would welcome some beginnings and renewals.

Bandwagon

April 17th, 2015

I grew up on Mark Price, John Salley, Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and other NBA greats. The first NCAA Tournament that I remember was the famous 1985 one when Villanova beat Georgetown, but also in that tournament Georgia Tech made a run all the way to the elite 8 before losing to Georgetown. I had a giant piece of paper up on the wall in my bedroom with the brackets meticulously drawn out. In 1990, I watched Tech beat Shaquille O’ Neal and LSU and then watched Kenny Anderson hit a last second shot (after the buzzer maybe?) to put Michigan State out of the tournament on the way to the Final Four. I used to practice free throws in the back yard and pretend I was making a last second shot to win the NCAA Championship. I took classes with Drew Berry and Matt Harpring. I participated in revolt at a couples’ wedding shower to sneak all the guys downstairs to watch Georgia Tech get into the 2004 Final Four. I have followed a lot of basketball in my lifetime.

There was another team in Atlanta, but I didn’t pay attention to them. I knew who Dominique Wilkens and Spud Webb were, but for whatever reason the Atlanta Hawks did not capture my imagination. I kinda disliked The Omni, and didn’t really have much interest in watching games there. The Hawks had a pretty good run in the 80’s and then again under Lenny Wilkens, but they never made it to the NBA finals and never stirred my interest enough. Ten years ago, the Hawks were bought by the reprehensible Atlanta Spirit, LLC group who also bought the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team. My low interest in the Hawks reached an all-time low when Atlanta Spirit left the Thrashers to wither on the vine and then shipped them off to Winnepeg. I vowed to never put a dime into the Hawks as long as they were owned by Atlanta Spirit and I have not been to a home game since.

In the last year, Atlanta Spirit managed to show everyone what a horrible group of owners they were with a series of revealed group e-mails between them. The e-mails fretted over things like whether the crowd at Hawks games was “too urban” (read: too black) and how they could attract suburbanites back to Philips Arena, clearly lusting after the disposable income that the Atlanta Braves were about to rake in by moving to Cumberland. The national media caught on to what we knew in Atlanta, the Hawks were owned by an incompetent group that was only slightly more progressive than Donald Sterling. However, Atlanta Spirit did do two smart things; they hired two smart people. The new CEO, Steve Koonan, has worked hard to make Hawks games entertaining again and brand them with a new image that reflects what Atlanta is now, a tension of urban and rural that actually can coexist and enjoy each other’s culture. The new head coach, Mike Budenholzer, brought an attitude that reflected the coach he worked under, Greg Popovich, and created a team that played smart and as a cohesive unit and to everyone’s surprise, they roared all the way to the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference this year.

Then the news I have been craving came out this year, Atlanta Spirit would sell 100% of their ownership in the Hawks As of this post, the Hawks have not been sold yet, but once they are I will lift my boycott (and I look forward to the new owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Dikembe Mutumbo, at least that’s who it would be in my dreams.) In the meantime, however, I’m on board for these playoffs. I’m going to watch all the games on TV and openly root for them through this post-season. Cheering for Atlanta sports is an act of humility as they inevitably disappoint (we are still hanging on to that one lone World Series championship in 1995) and my fandom most definitely will put the stink on the Hawks, but my expectations are low. A series win would be fantastic and a ride to the NBA finals would be greater than anything I could hope for, but let’s do this. Let’s cheer for #eventhehawks.