St. Vincent at 9:30 Club

St. Vincent

St. Vincent played her second sold out night at 9:30 Club this Sunday. I went. It was great. Forgive the heavy consonance. Gonna jump right in here.

The performance had many theatrical elements. The set looked like an 80s living room. Lots of pastels. Very foggy. After every few songs, Clark stopped to give brief monologues that set up another set of songs with light foreshadowing. In this way, the performance was divided into acts. There were even choreographed dance moves with her guitarist (there was no bassist). And she had a costume change before her encore. It felt rehearsed and robotic—like science fiction.

Q: Are we not Devo?
A: We are St. Vincent!

Lady can shred. I underestimated the possible influence of My Bloody Valentine on her guitar work, and am mystified by her restraint on her recorded releases. Live, she let loose with intense solos and heavy pedal effects, very arena rock, almost in a Phish jam band way. (I may be alone in this comparison.) I see a lot of arena potential. As a songwriter, she has the rare-ish ability to be personal without melodrama, and has successively grown more sonically experimental on her releases with risky rhythms, structure and synths. I would love to hear her make a through and through guitar record, although that may not be her M.O. I am glad to see musicianship and experimentality together in the indie-music sphere, where flashy fashion often fades fast.

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A highlight was her encore opening “Strange Mercy”, which she performed solo atop a pink pyramid.

Holly Herndon, the opener, was fun. According to her website, Herndon is a multi-disciplinary artist pursuing a doctorate in Computer Music at Stanford University. Her setup being mainly a laptop, it was initially laughable to watch her loop breathing noises with BOOMING bass, but as her set progressed, I enjoyed it more. I think her music would better suit a smaller space more oriented towards dancing. Her performance was good pallette prep for St. Vincent.

Antarah Crawley’s eulogy for the District

Just found Antarah Crawley’s blog, DISORDR, on which he is posting his collected writings.

Below is an excerpt of his lament on the changed state of the District.

Those who are coming into the city call themselves “Branding Executives,” “Social Media Experts,” “Congressional Aids;” some call them “Millennials” with an idealistic inclination to shake up the system. And, me, I look at them, people near my age and intellect, and I want to be able to welcome them into my home even though they’ve already let themselves in; I want to find some common ground.

Common ground is scarce to come by between the NIMBYs and those who curse anyone standing in the way of progress.

Pekka Kuusisto and Nico Muhly at the Phillips Collection

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Following a successful performance at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge on Jan. 3, Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto and American composer Nico Muhly brought spontaneous whimsy to a Sunday evening performance at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. The duo’s program included selections from Phillip Glass, Johann Sebastian Bach, Muhly’s 2012 album Drones, as well as traditional Finnish folk songs. It was absolutely delightful.

Kuusisto’s vocals with his and Muhly’s sparse instrumentation reminded me of Iceland’s Sigur Ros. The Director of Music at the Phillips, Caroline Mousett, said in her introduction that Kuusisto enjoys improvisation. This got me thinking about classical music and performance in a post-rock era. These two young performers incorporated improvisation, a quality most often associated with rock and jazz, into a musical style which I associate more closely with rote performance. (I can’t say I pull from as broad an experience with classical performance as I do with more contemporary genres.) Improvisation makes live performance more exciting, as the element of surprise should never be undervalued. I enjoyed the juxtaposition between Muhly’s contemporary compositions and Kuusisto’s folk songs. It was a performance the could have taken place only in 2014.

Kuusisto and Muhly are very funny and endlessly energetic. Yesterday evening’s performance was the first I have seen at the Phillips Collection. It was pretty formal, but not stuffy. There were moments I wanted to scream out, like at a rock concert, but I controlled myself.

Muhly wore multiple layers of flowy, black Alexander Wang-style garments, which he removed toward the end of the performance to muffle the piano.

Included here are two photos of sketches I drew during the performance.

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Five graphic novels I read in 2013

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I read Rep. Lewis’ “March: Book One” as well, but I’m sure you’ve heard enough about that one already.

Another lil’ wrap-up of things I read in 2013. As a sometimes-member of the Politics & Prose Graphic Novel book group, I have enjoyed discussing graphic novels/comics/graphic narrative/sequential art/whatever with others who enjoy the genre. It has been fun to read different works and discern what I like and don’t like within the genre.

Siegfried Vol. 1 (2012)
By Alex Alice

Volume 1 of a three part graphic adaptation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The French just know how to do comics. The art looks very Disney, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Neverending Story to me. Unnecessary section on the creative and development process in the back. I don’t read much/any fantasy, so this was a nice departure from my usual picks. So very Franch.

Marbles (2012)
By Ellen Forney
The best book I’ve read about mental illness. (I haven’t read many on the subject.) Solid graphic memoir that isn’t weepy. Very practical story about her illness and career. One of the top three books I read this year. Highly recommended.

The Nao of Brown (2012)
By Glyn Dillon
Big volume lushly published. I like the immensity of the work. Good art. Lazy ending. Twee. Odd. Plot aspects, like the protagonist’s Buddhist faith, don’t lead anywhere. Everyone in the book group was confused by this one.

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (2004)
By Bryan Lee O’Malley
Great story. Fun art. The first graphic novel I’ve read on Kindle. Loved the movie. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Makes me want to visit Toronto.

Optic Nerve #13 (2013)
By Adrian Tomine
As good an artist and writer as Tomine is, I wish he could lighten up a bit.

Literary journals I read in 2013

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I do not like to buy print books unless they are unavailable on Kindle. Space is a luxury, so all the better if I can keep my library in the cloud. I’ve enjoyed reading literary journals because I usually do not know any of the writers published in them. The content can be a mixed bag. Because my brain isn’t primed by social media, reviews, or marketing, it is easier for me to distinguish what I like in them. Below three I read this year and two I have not yet finished.

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Art Spiegelman’s Co-Mix: A Retrospective at the Jewish Museum

photoArt Spiegelman is different than other artists whose work is considered at the height of the comics craft. He didn’t have a daily newspaper strip like Bill Watterson or Charles Shulz. Neither was he a pure writer like Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore, whose respective works have solidified their places in the comics (as opposed to comix) pantheon.

In the comix tradition, Spiegelman’s work is not innately commercial. Rather than fitting into an industry with a broad distribution and devoted customer base like traditional comic books or daily strips, Spiegelman’s art goes deep and tells stories, more often for adults, that are so compelling that their merit cannot be ignored. They aren’t really fantastical or cute. For his commitment to his vision and craftsmanship, it is fitting that his work be on exhibit in a museum of fine art.

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Bat Country @ Burning Man

PoloLoungeThe most fun time I had at Burning Man was Wednesday afternoon, August 28.

In Burning Man’s What Where When guide, a Hunter S. Thompson happy hour was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at Bat Country, the HST themed camp. The members of the camp style themselves after a biker gang and wear matching embroidered leather vests. At night, their bar was lit by tall gas flames, where bartenders slice any lemons or limes with a machete.

Bat Country was located on the edge of Black Rock City at the 10 p.m. radial bordering the playa, across the street from Funky Town, a dance camp from Montana and Wyoming.

I remember that the happy hour started at 2:45 p.m., but only two people dressed at Hunter S. Thompson showed up. It turns out the listing was misprinted, and the real happy hour was the day before—”Hunter S. Tuesday”. In about half an hour, though, there were about a dozen Hunters at the circular bar, many in character. Some took turns reading aloud from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Below are my favorite drawings I drew during the week. Continue reading

Captain Al

Captain AlAnother story from Burning Man.

On Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 27, I was roaming around and found a bar at a camp. Sitting there was this guy who called himself Captain Al.

We chatted for a while and he told me about himself while I sketched him. Captain Al works at the Maritime Museum of San Diego and rigged the tallest ship in Black Rock City. Although he looked like he walked off the set of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the Captain was very natural and did not have a put-on persona like other people I would run into that week.

He points behind me and tells me he wants to climb this structure in another camp. This thing was at least 40 feet tall, but I trusted Al since he knows his way around high altitude rigging. We climbed up and took these photos.

He corrected anyone who called him a pirate. “I am not a pirate.”

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In search of a float

FloatingTanks may be rolling into a town near you sooner than you think. Neima Jahromi‘s feature article, “In The Tank”, contextualizes the burgeoning floatation therapy movement (9/24/13, The Nation). I expected more reporting on the culture surrounding the practice, but I was happy to consider Jahromi’s ideas about floaters’ motives in a chaotic, digitally-native decade.

Floatation therapy, also called sensory deprivation therapy, is a practice where people float in warm, salty water in a dark, silent chamber that could be a repurposed refrigerator. It’s supposed to be very relaxing, like meditation, or sudoku (so I’m told).

After reporting on the growth of floatation businesses in Portland, Ore., Jahromi draws connections between floaters and 19th Century Transcendentalists, like Henry David Thoreau, and newer writers seeking sanctuary from sensory overload, like Sherry Turkle and Bill Powers. Powers’ book Hamlet’s Blackberry (2010, HarperCollins) is referenced frequently in the article. Jahromi also employs his method of drawing similarities between the desires of older thinkers’ with people today. He writes:

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