Dar Williams, The Jayhawks, Mouths of Babes oh, and some movies too

 Ah, a week away can do wonders, especially when most of that time is spent in my hometown of Cleveland, or as some locals seem to be calling it, the 216 (the primary area code). It sounds weird, and strangely un-Cleveland-like, but let's go with it. I have been arranging trips home around concerts, but please don't tell my mom. It was a great week that found me seeing two documentaries at my favorite theater, the Cedar-Lee; two meals at my favorite restaurant, Tommy's; and two concerts (three if you include the one in Minneapolis). I had great weather, spent quality time with my little brother and my mom, had my car towed. Wait, what? Oh yeah, that was fun. At first I thought the car was stolen, and that would have really sucked, but no, it was just towed. Two hundred and fifty dollars later, my first Uber experience, and a trip into a corner of Cleveland I did not know existed, and I learned my lesson. Thank you Heinen's. But, all's well that ends well.

 Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, 2015
When my brother and I decided to see Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, we thought it was the film with Michael Fassbender, and didn't realize it was a documentary. That wasn't a big deal, we both like documentaries, it was just a little disorienting at first. I am not an 'Apple-ite' or whatever Apple fans call themselves, so I have never understood the cult of Apple or Steve Jobs, and maybe this documentary was made for people like me, because director Alex Gibney starts out asking how this Jobs became such an iconic figure that when he died people around the world were in tears and created memorials to him in front of Apple stores and in the virtual world. Gibney takes us back to when Jobs encountered his first computer on a field trip, met Steve Wozniak (Woz), and started Apple. While it's easy to see that Jobs possessed a drive that many creative geniuses before him did, and you'd have to be one arrogant SOB to ignore that his talents, Gibney also shows us a narcissistic and egomaniacal side that drove people away from him as well. I found the documentary full of information and history, there was something about it that annoyed me; it just seemed really long. I think because I formed a dislike of Jobs early on, it may have been when he tried to totally deny his daughter that he had with his girlfriend and did not want to pay child support, that I just wanted it to be over, and I was glad that I had not really bought into the Apple mystique. Alex Gibney has done several documentaries, two of which I have seen and thought were really well done, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side, but this movie did not move me like those two films did.

Meru, 2015

People be crazy. There's a part of me that would love to be a mountaineer (not Mouseketeer, although that might be cool, too) and climb to the top of Mount Everest or Denali or just a really big hill. But then I think about the risks, and climbing those peaks is fraught with potential danger, and I'm not a gambler and I have too many responsibilities, so I really admire those people who put on a backpack, strap on the crampons and the oxygen tanks and climb in the Himalayas. Meru is a documentary about three men's attempts to climb the "Shark's Fin" route on the Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayas, and it is filled with ups and downs, a little suspense, a lot of danger and craziness, a dash of inspiration and incredibly beautiful photography. I'm not a fan of making IMAX moves for the sake of doing it and the extra dollars, but this would have been awesome on an IMAX screen. Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk try to climb Meru, a peak that and route that has not been successfully done by any climbers (I mean, Everest is so yesterday); it's done without the help of Sherpas, and sometimes your camp is hanging off the side of the mountain. Anker and Chin have been climbing partners for many years and they bring Ozturk with them even though he is not as experienced in this type of climbing. The movie integrates the climbs (there are two and that's all I'm going to say) with interviews with the climbers and their families as well as Jon Krakauer (Everest climber and author) who knows the climbers but also gives the viewers some insight into the world of climbing and I appreciated his commentary. The three men were also the videographers so the views we get are their views. Where I didn't really care during Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, I cared about these guys and their journeys, which were as much psychological and emotional as they were physical, and I wanted to go buy some hiking boots. You may have to look hard to find this in your theater or at the library or wherever, but it's so worth it, and the bigger the screen, the better.


9/18/15 Dar Williams and Mouths of Babes, The Ark, Ann Arbor, MI

This was my fifth Dar Williams concert in four states since August 2013. You might be inclined to think I am somewhat obsessive. Maybe. Or I just like good music. I have never been to The Ark, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of the Wolverines, but a friend of mine told me it was a great place to see a show. He was right. It has a capacity of roughly 400, the seats are in a semi-circle around the stage and there's really not a bad seat in the house. It seems Dar has played here before and the audience was like other Dar audiences I've encountered, familiar with her music, appreciative of her between song musings and humor and very friendly. Dar is touring in support of her new album "Emerald" which I really love and find it a lot more accessible and easier to listen to than "In the Time of Gods". She did many songs from the album, including "Here Tonight" (co-written with Angel Snow), the haunting "Empty Plane", "Something to Get Through", "FM Radio" which recalls the time when we listened to the radio and to deejays and had this shared experience; "Mad River" and "New York is a Harbor" which Dar co-wrote with her keyboardist, Bryn Robertson (Bryn has been accompanying Dar for the last several years). Dar also played several older songs including "Buzzer", "Storm King" and the rousing singalong "Iowa". In addition to Bryn on piano, Dar had the assistance of Josh (sorry I did not catch his last name) on drums and electric guitar; the drums were a nice addition and I don't think she's had drums on the previous shows I've seen. There is something about a Dar Williams concert that is part hootenany, part monologue, part a gathering around a campfire that makes everyone feel like they are old friends. I was really hoping she would play "Iowa" and she did and the whole room was singing, loudly. It was so fun. She also did "After All", another of my favorites, and she brought out Ingrid and Ty from Mouths of Babes to help, and it was so amazing I wish I had a recording of it.  Dar doesn't always have an opening act, but she did this night and it was a duo called Mouths of Babes. Ingrid Elizabeth and Ty Greenstein are Mouths of Babes and they brought terrific harmonies, literate, sensitive and humorous lyrics together with musicianship (it was only two of them but between them there was an harmonica, upright bass, a percussive cube, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and some percussion that Ty played with her feet - I can barely walk and talk on the phone at the same time, so I was impressed). They opened with "Thing with Feathers" and continued to play almost all of their EP called "Faith and Fumes" including the title track. Ingrid has a light and fun feeling, dressing in frilly dresses and plucking her bass (at one point breaking into "It's All About the Bass" to the delight of the audience); Ty is a little more serious (she is aware of her tendency for heavy songs and sometimes apologized for having to do a serious song). She performed a song she wrote after she learned a friend of hers committed suicide, and I apologize for not remembering the title, but it was so beautiful, it just broke my heart, and that of the audience. Ingrid and Ty had great rapport with the audience and instead of being impatient for the headliner, which can happen with an opening act, everyone seemed attentive and based on the comments people made to me (I didn't ask, they offered) Mouths of Babes made some new fans that night. As I mentioned above, Ty and Ingrid joined Dar on "After All" which is a powerfully emotional song anyway, but Ty's added vocals took it to another level. It was a fabulous night in Ann Arbor.

9/19/15 The Jayhawks and Greg Hyde, The Arcada Theater, St. Charles, IL

Some may think it's weird that I traveled to St. Charles to see The Jayhawks, one of the Twin Cities' favorite homegrown bands. Not weird, really, I enjoyed seeing them a year ago at the First Avenue, and wasn't sure when they would be playing again, and St. Charles is on the way to and from Cleveland. I was really excited to see The Jayhawks in a theater that I have visited a couple of times before, and the night before in Ann Arbor was awesome, I may have set the bar a little high. There were a lot of empty seats in the theater which surprised me and did not bode well because this apparently means it's fair game to move around and seat or stand wherever you choose. Yes, I know it's a concert and people should be grooving to the music, but there is a point where you are just obnoxious and you cannot be that oblivious that you are a better door than a window (to quote my dad). Also, there seemed to be some issues with the lights and the sound; at one point the sound totally failed to the band, unbeknownst to them. Now that I have my gripes out of the way, the band played many of their more well-known songs, including "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me", "Waiting for the Sun", "Save It for a Rainy Day", "Blue" and "I'd Run Away", as well as deeper cuts like "Tampa to Tulsa" sung by drummer Tim O'Reagan, "Nothing Left to Borrow", "Broken Harpoon" (which has become one of my favorites) and more. However, what made all of the shenanigans from the clueless audience tolerable was the band also played EIGHT new songs, and they were awesome. The band is going into the studio to record a new album, and I cannot wait. The audience seemed open to the new songs, which doesn't always happen. The band was in good form, Karen Grotberg on backing vocals and keyboards (I was hoping she would sing "Last Cigarette", but, alas, she did not); Tim O'Reagan on drums and backing vocals; Marc Perlman on bass; Kraig Johnson on guitar; guest mandolin and fiddle player, John Jackson; and of course, Gary Louris on lead vocals and guitars. Kraig Johnson seemed more animated at the First Avenue show and when he teamed up with Gary at their show in Northfield this past January, where he was in rare form and fun; he was restrained and maybe it was because of playing the new songs or the sound problems, but I missed his fun loving presence. I think this review is probably more reflective of my pissy attitude at my fellow concertgoers and the problem with the venue (which I don't recall experiencing before), not any dissatisfaction with the band. I would love to see The Jayhawks at The Ark or The Kent Stage (where they have played before), so I may be traveling again next year after their album comes out.

9/26/15 Mouths of Babes, Bryant Lake Bowl, Minneapolis

I'm really not a stalker, I swear, it's just serendipity that brought Mouths of Babes to Minneapolis a mere week after I saw them in Ann Arbor. I wasn't sure if I was going to go, but at the last minute I asked a friend and we decided to go (she had never heard the band before). I think I was last at the Bryant Lake Bowl over10 years ago to see local artist Marlee MacLeod (has anyone heard from her? I haven't been able to find any current information; she was an amazing performer who opened for Joan Armatrading). Anyway, if you have not been to the Bryant Lake Bowl, it seats about 40 people, there are tables and movie theater seats, so there isn't a bad seat in the house. I think it was almost sold out. Ingrid and Ty expanded on their set from Ann Arbor (and I am sorry, but again, I cannot remember all of the song titles). They had more time to chat with the audience, and Ingrid had a funny moment trying to say "Minneapolitans" which is what residents of Minneapolis call themselves; she also had to leave the stage after the first song to add a layer of tulle to her outfit, neither Ty nor the audience knew what was happening. There were two singalongs and the audience was there all the way. This is a seriously fun band (as they say "All of the emotions, all of the time"), and I love that they sing serious songs but don't take themselves too seriously, I think it makes the music more accessible. I'm tired of big box music and this is not that at all. If you can catch them in your part of the country, I can't tell you strongly enough, BUT GO. You will not regret it, I promise. If you do, let me know, and we can chat.

Whiling away the time while staying at home

There is no denying that these are very strange and tumultuous we're living in. Obviously I haven't been blogging too much lately, i...