Sunday, June 29, 2008

Perigrinations north with music (Ninja Gun) and both scheduled and chance meetings: Pt. 1, Athens

One winces anymore at the numbers tumbling up and up on the Pilot and Roadway and BP marquees as we approach five dollar gas and each trip becomes a tough decision, so I feel for all the troubadours wandering the country in vans and trailers filled with amps and instruments and merch as they try to bring us live music while they worry about the next few gallons. Wednesday, I went north to see Ninja Gun in Athens and Atlanta. Yes, they're from here, but they were finishing their tour in Atlanta, and I missed their send-off, so I decided to welcome them back to Georgia and to visit former students Kaleb and Ashley in Athens and Tara and Kenny in Atlanta, and to check in on Amy's parents in Waleska (They're loving the Lake Arrowhead life).

The Athens show was fun as much for the company as the music. I've seen NG many times in a bar with a less than stellar sound system, and the Transmetropolitan is one of them. The opening band (Timber?) played an enthusiastic acoustic set, and Ninja Gun followed up with a fun but quick set of songs from the new CD, Restless Rubes (scroll down). Ace reporter Ashley Fielding was there, putting the band up (or up with the band?) for the night. It was good to catch up with her and hear that she's doing well, and to see that the boys had survived the long days on the road without too many scars and smelling reasonably clean, though they'll get home broke and tired and unemployed. The major Athens surprise was the presence in the bar of Patrick McKinney (Langtry, Iron and Wine), who enjoyed the show and who glowingly endorses the Transmet's Tofu sandwich. A virtuoso musician of considerable accomplishment, he complimented NJ on their sound and Coody for his stage presence. We ran into him later in another bar that specialized in Belgian-style beers, and he suffered Kaleb's girlfriend's abuse (sometimes drunk guys in bars are more than just drunk guys in bars; sometimes they're musicians or even poets) as he was trying to recommend that I stay in town for the Sun City Girls tribute show. (Alas, no one was around to take care of the kittens, so I had to head home Friday.) We ended up the evening on Kaleb's balcony with cheap red wine and Kaleb's puppy to mollify her mortification after she found out who Patrick was ("I really like Iron and Wine," she offered penitently). Finally to the couch at around 4:00 am. Thanks for putting me up (or up with me?), Kaleb, and the Thai place the next day was lovely.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin vs. My Senior Prom

I stumbled through my late last semester at Fresno High as I suppose most people stumble through theirs, wondering what adventures lay ahead while feeling the first inklings of what we would later identify as nostalgia. (The French must have a word that means "prescient nostalgia.") That is, my future had been decided--I was moving to Berkeley for college--and everything else that mattered in school had come to a close--high school basketball, my senior romance. We were just living out the final weeks attached to our familiar cliques, performing our class duties, eating lunch at the same hangouts, everything that until then had defined us as we approached that looming, transformative (we hoped) cusp. The end game for most students revolved around the prom, who would go with whom, which parties would offer the most debauchery, boutonnieres and cumberbuns and orchid corsages and waxed cars, or maybe even a limo for the Fresno wealthy. I don't know. I didn't go.

Instead, shy as I was, I accepted an invitation from the lovely and intelligent Cristina, a talented musician, to avoid the teenage atrocity that was the prom and see George Carlin instead. It was one of the great evenings of my youth. We'd of course heard the seven words bit from Class Clown. Everybody had. The funniest thing about the bit is its pure reasonableness, its demystification of language in a way that would later help inform my move from physics to poetry in college. Cris and I laughed so hard that warm spring night that we were sure no one at the prom had an evening that approached ours. Carlin was funny and intelligent, pacing the stage, delivering his lines perfectly, varying enough so that those who'd heard the record would still be surprised. Carlin was a master, an accessible genius.

Cris and I left, tears in our eyes from the laughter, and talked for awhile about the show, about music (I remember trying to make some argument about keyboards being superior; she was into brass and had even jammed with Tower of Power. Obviously she made better points), and about the future (the cusp and all) that would take us away from Fresno and from what for me had become a wonderful but too brief friendship. But the evening remains, in all its polysemously profane glory and celebration of the language of the Angles and the Saxons, and "shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits" became a generation's mantra against fake propriety and, for me, a doorway to nostalgia of a wonderful evening. So, thanks George for your wonderful assaults on our disingenuous culture, and to you, Cristina, wherever you are and whatever you're doing. I hope your memories of that night, our little anti-prom, are as fond as mine.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Loaf Will Tear Us Apart

My own private sourdough (and this concludes post-punk punning for this post), baked in my own oven with my own home-grown sourdough starter. I added no baking soda, as many recipes call for, and it turned out fine, with a chewy crumb and a mellow sour flavor. The other half of this batch became a fine pizza crust.

Making sourdough is easy. Mix about a cup of organic rye flour with a cup or so of spring or filtered water and a little salt, stick it in the fridge in a container with room for the starter to grow, and go on a trip for a week. When you come back, the near batter should be bubbly with a slight sour odor. To achieve a stronger sourdough taste, it helps to let the starter you plan to use sit out at room temperature for awhile (overnight or most of a day, depending on your baking schedule). I keep my starter in the fridge and feed it about once a week. (You only need the rye to get it started. You can feed it all purpose after that.)

To make a loaf, I mix several flours (usually King Arthur all purpose, about a cup of whole wheat, a little extra gluten, and a couple tablespoons of flax meal), add water and about half my starter, blend and knead thoroughly until it feels good and springy, and let it rise 8-12 hours before I work it gently into a loaf and proof it for one to two hours. I bake it on parchment and pizza stone in a preheated steam-treated oven (500 degrees F, then drop it to 450) until it looks right, about half an hour, and let it sit a couple of hours to finish the loaf.

Note: I don't measure anything, so don't ask, or check out the reference below. To steam, put cast iron pan in the oven before you preheat; and carefully pour a cup or two of hot water in it after you place the loaf on the stone. I read Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers By Daniel Leader, Lauren Chattman (Thanks Elizabeth) before I started, but I've modified most of the instructions to fit my kitchen and taste preferences.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

This is What We Do

Why wait to book a bar when you can call your friends and play music loud and sloppy on a warm Georgia night? Jack and Taylor called some friends in bands and put the word out and people showed up at Jack, John, and Maybeth's place across from the graveyard and assembled around a makeshift stage, an old deck under the stars, under gorgeous black silhouettes of long-leaf pines next to a shed out back.

Fancy Blood's "salsa bossa nova glam" stylings opened as Zach's fine ironies and dark observations barked out over nervous complex guitar licks, while Chris throttled his bass and Steve laid down a raucous beat support on drums. It was raw geek-angst chic of the best sort, and sloppy. Sure, Zach had to stop a time or two ("Sorry, fuck!" maybe an album title?) as someone missed a bridge or forgot lyrics, but that was part of the charm--intelligent music for friends, lots of laughter and cold beer on a hot night. They're very new, but show a lot of promise in their urgency and lyrical cleverness. I think they're leaning toward a Fugazi meets Pavement aesthetic, though they might cite more obscure musical references. Feel free to correct me.

False Arrest, the youngest band of the night, changed things up with classic 80's-style hardcore skate punk. They machine-gunned through their set, finishing in a sweaty heap by the end of their irreverent 20 minutes. I suspect they woke the dead across the street. One highlight was the perfect punk minimalist party narrative "More Beer." Between furious guitar licks, they chanted "more beer, more beer, more beer" all through the minute-long song until the last chorus, "more pot." Funny and honest. I enjoyed talking to the bass player, Bo, after, who spoke enthusiastically about Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Woodie Guthrie.

Jack plays guitar for No More Analog, next up, which features Taylor Patterson on drums and The Captain on bass and vocals. The trio modulates between witty punk and heavier post-rock. "No Vacancy" is my favorite so far, while "Anasazi," offers smart punky social commentary. The set ended prematurely when the police arrived to shut down the party. The officer, reasonable even in the face of The Captain's miked anti-establishment banter ("Dude, he can totally hear you!), said he'd have preferred to join the crowd rather than shut it down. Nevertheless, despite John's patient persuasion and offer to continue the show inside the shed, there was no way to talk around some new ordinance. Apparently one of the dead across the street who maintained a posthumous antipathy toward the Anasazi called to complain.

People didn't want to leave, so the party moved to a nearly vacant house a few blocks away so Cyclops could have their turn without a blue light show. They kept it inside, but they cranked through their precise prog-math rock influenced set in front of a receptive crowd. I never thought I'd live long enough to hear King Crimson's influence throb back into the music scene, though their guitarist, Nick, mentioned Yes when I asked him about it. Made me want to go home and fix the turntable so I could pull out primordial Genesis' Trespass and crank up "The Knife" again.

The party broke up, and everyone headed to Rachael's to swim. I headed home, but with music in my head from the night and from the previous shed show a few weeks back that featured a reunion of the Honest A's, local heroes who put out a great ep a few years back. Carson was back from Okinawa to visit, and she and Rachael and Dustin filled up the hot shed with their standards, my favorite among them ending with the perfect Zen punk chant, "This is what we do! This is what we do! This is what we do!" Everybody screaming it over and over. This is what we do.

Note: Most of the Myspace sound quality on some of the links is lousy, but you might get a hint.