Rockers East Vancouver…and a bunch of other places

I recently returned from a two week, four city trip out west. I spent time primarily in Vancouver, British Columbia, Seattle, Portland and Minneapolis. In order to get there, I took an Amtrak train, since I don’t generally prefer to fly. Also, because it’s awesome.

Here are the first few days of my journals and photos.

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1/21/10 10:58 PM CST – Minneapolis, Minnesota

The sleeper car room is actually pretty cool. I don’t know how else to explain it other than it’s an oversized closet. There’s two seats on the bottom, then a top bunk that pulls down, a table in the middle that folds out so you can set drinks, computers or even play checkers with the checkerboard pattern built in. There’s a nice set of toiletries in a bag – soap, shampoo, etc, and and a box of Kleenex. It’s private and quiet. Happy to be in here.

1/22/10 7:24 AM CST – Rugby, North Dakota (approx.)

So, turns out a sleeper car is not entirely conductive to sleeping. I took a Tylenol PM last night to help aide me in napping, and instead, it just gave me these wild hallucinations you get from staying up too late with night time cough medicine. I just ended up tossing and turning a lot, and compulsively checking my phone and trying to find music on my iPod. I think I tried to turn on Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” on several occasions. I don’t remember a lot of it, and that’s probably because I was really tired.

I dared to look out the window in the morning. If there’s one thing about the Dakota’s – at least North – there is absolutely nothing but land. Hardly any trees in site. I’m looking forward to Montana, seeing some mountains and feeling like we’re getting somewhere. The Midwest is like one big vacuum. I always thought it was special that Illinois didn’t have mountains. I always wished it did. It was always kind of a treat to see them. I haven’t seen any substantial western ones since I went to visit my grandfather in New Mexico ten years ago.

It being nearly seven thirty without a sunrise sort of freaks me out. I don’t really ever recall it being this dark out ever so late in the morning. It doesn’t even look like it’s coming up anytime soon.

Eating on the train has been an experience each time. To conserve space, they group you into fours at a table. Last night for dinner, it was me, two Minnesotan women in their fifties (likely) and a slightly larger college freshman girl going to visit her friend at Winona State University. The Minnesotan women were returning from a ski retreat in Michigan, and it seemed that they were generally interested in hearing about my Minnesotan girlfriend. The Winona girl tried out for American Idol in Chicago, making the second cut before she got eliminated. She attends UW Milwaukee.

This morning, I sat with two older men and this completely green-behind-the-ears kid traveling to Minot, ND from Fayettville, NC. He asked a lot of questions about politics, the underwear bomber and other stuff people don’t generally bring up in a conversation. The man next to me – whom I’ll call Jerry, because I don’t really remember his name – was a former band teacher in Manhattan. We talked about jazz and he told me about Gene Shepard and some other radio guy I can’t remember the name of.

Both the Minnesotan women and this man Jerry were very interested in talking about Apple. The man across from me was a machine parts repairer or something. He was from near Milwaukee. Nice enough people.

1/23/10 1:52 AM PT – Sandpoint, Idaho

I’m way past the expiration date on this train as we accidentally took a two hour break due to some wheel trouble. This was doubly aggravating, considering that no one was available on the train to talk to about this particular incident. I think I freaked myself out awake because of it.

Either way, I’m likely in Idaho now, waiting for one last stop before the final one hour and 45 minute trek to Spokane. I don’t anticipate being there anytime before 4 am, which means it’s about six am my time. Ugh.

There is one cool thing about this whole situation though. Being insulated by the mountains in this train car. I can’t necessarily see anything outside, mind you, but I feel like we are the pigs in a very big blanket. That’s kind of cool.

This woman that I met on the train along with this guy Liam who I met in Chicago (he effectively drank all the way from New Jersey to Montana.) Anyways, the woman wanted me to call her MA (for Mary Alice or Mary Ellis?). I don’t know. She had a new white MacBook and the first two Beatles Anthologies. She said being on this train was like it’s own little town. I liked that.

1/25/10 10:26 AM PT – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

As Friday bled into Saturday and the train trip continued, we made a scheduled stop in Libby, Montana and ended up not leaving for over two hours. Turns out there was some issues with the wheels or the engines on the train that resulted us dropping an engine in Montana. I dozed off for an hour when we had stopped. When I woke up, I was slightly delirious, trying to find a conductor or an attendant for no luck. I was with this older woman named Nancy who was coming back from her mother’s funeral, and some older headstrong guy who claimed to be a former conductor. He was wearing a brace on his arm.

We got to Spokane two hours late. Kelly picked me up and we got to the hotel where we talked for a bit then got ready for bed. I was so amped up from the ride that I didn’t end up falling asleep until 5 AM PT (7 AM CT). Needless to say, after a few interrupted hours of sleep, I was still pretty tired.

With that, we set out on the road for Vancouver. First was a stop at Jack In The Box where I got a decent chicken sandwich and curly fries.

I’m amazed at how “not present” I feel on this trip. It was no different on our way back up to Vancouver. I found myself constantly in awe of the mountains, how big and frankly, perfect they looked. They weren’t like those on the east coast – these had more definition – pine trees, rockier cliffs. In the decent towards Seattle, these mountains bordered the water (which was impossibly blue) and were punctuated by great blue and grey cloudscapes. It’s truly Pacific Northwestern. There’s something so inherently free and open and goddamn clean about the whole thing. I just consistently can’t believe that this is my life at this moment.

Also, we stopped at a Starbucks on the way and i had my first London Fog, which was absolutely terrible. Subsequent ones since then have been much better. Don’t trust a Starbucks in it’s home state, it’s bound to disappoint.

After four hours of driving, Kelly and I decided to stop in Seattle for lunch. (This was a decision we weren’t sure we were going to make, as we had a scheduled White Denim concert at the Media Club that evening. Because of our 8 + hours of driving later, we didn’t end up going, but that didn’t deter us.

I don’t think that there’s a much better place to go for an introduction to Seattle other than Pike Place Market. It’s incredible. Kind of like a flea market on steroids, with fresh food. Also, it’s a complete sensory overload. Fresh fruit and veggies everywhere. The seafood is at every corner. I saw enormous shrimp for sale, so fresh that I just wanted to pick one up right off the ice. I saw the guys throw the fish at the Fish Market. There is so much going on in every corner of the market, it’s like a different world with each space. I’m excited to go back this weekend to discover it even more. With this little bit, Seattle seemed very, very livable. Hopefully next weekend does more to persuade me in that direction. Note:

It’s here I have had the biggest and some of the best sushi I’ve had. HUGE California rolls with REAL CRAB MEAT. Not the imitation stuff. Delicious.

(I should note, when we parked the car, we accidentally parked next to human feces. It’s very clear that it indeed was human feces, mainly because the person used a paper plate or some sort of paper product to wipe. It was pretty gross. It also prompted my mother to send me an email saying she saw some people doing crack by the market when my parents were in town there. Hilarious.

I took some of my best photos by the market – the sky seems tailored to for really vibrant photos. The colors are amazing at sunset.

After a few hours in Seattle, we decided to head back to Canada. This, on the last few trips I’ve made has always been my favorite thing: Crossing the border. This trip, it seemed a bit more labored. We were both kind of concerned crossing the border with an American passport and a Canadian one. Lucky for us, we didn’t have a lot of trouble.

First impressions of Vancouver: It’s probably the least Canadian city of the three major Canadian cities I’ve been to. Perhaps I feel like it’s more of an extenuation of what I saw in Seattle – but with a different flag and kilometer signs. It’s still pretty, but not in the ways I thought when I was entering. It seemed kind of ho-hum, but after the Sea To Sky Highway drive on Monday (more on that later) I got shut up pretty quick.

Sunday, we went downtown. First stop was a place called “Honey’s” that Kelly swears by. They have these gigantic, homemade donuts that were unlike any other donuts I’ve had before. They’re more mini cakes than anything. Delicious. We also had the “Coveman” breakfast, which was your standard eggs/bacon/potatoes with some amazing potato bread. Well worth it.

Going downtown on Sunday was cool enough. I liked the Hudson Bay Department Store with all of the Official Olympic Merch – kind of reminds me of a Canadian Marshall Fields – not Macy’s, natch.

We visited a couple of lackluster record stores, Gastown (nice steam clock), dodged into some decent coffee shops, stopped by the Amsterdam Cafe (The legal weed cafe. You can’t buy it, but you can smoke it there.) Not that it mattered.

At dinnertime, we met up with Kelly’s friend Tess, someone I have been a casual acquaintance with through messaging for a couple of weeks now. We went and got late night sushi at Shima Sushi. It was a great hole in the wall place that Kelly and I visited the next day after. I must put a Negitoro roll (Tuna belly and green onion) on my list of favorite rolls. Hopefully I can track it down when I get back. Probably – definitely – won’t taste the same.

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View over 200 photos of the entire trip here, and check back for more entries from the trip!

St. Vincent at Metro, 2/18/10

St. Vincent is for lovers.

Or, that’s what it seemed like Thursday night Metro, a post-Valentine’s smattering of pairs, tall and short, black and white, fat and skinny. To the guy behind me: I swear, if I overhear you again telling the obviously bored chick you’re with about how awesome your music collection transitions from Billy Holliday to the Dead Kennedys, I’ll smack you. The stench of your smugness discussing your Yo-Yo Ma jams was equally disgusting.

St. Vincent at Metro, Thursday February 18, 2010

All asides, Annie Clark’s nom-de-plume return to Chicago was nothing short of gorgeous. By that, I mean both the tunes AND the performer.

Her two albums – 2007’s Marry Me and last year’s Actor are two gems of strangely damaged pop music. They’re lush with jagged, uneven soundscapes, nestled with her delicate falsetto. It’s like an angel narrating your nightmares.

I suppose that’s part of St. Vincent’s appeal. She’s pretty, diminutive even, and she makes a lot of noise. Big noise.

What’s great about her music is that is contains a “this-could-go-off-the-rails-at-any-moment” energy without entirely deviating from conventional song structure. The arrangements on her records are meticulous. That insularity doesn’t always translate live.

Quite the contrary. It was striking to find how wide open each song seemed to be. They were airy and almost malleable. This was put to the test very early on.

Her band, (four scruffy dudes) started with a diaphanous version of “The Strangers”, where Clark struggled with the volume malfunction of her guitar during the song’s midpoint. It didn’t really seem to matter though, as the swell of brass instruments easily compensated for the guitar’s absence.

One of the night’s best moments was “Marrow,” a stomp full of guitar squalls and an uneasy, audible tension. Clark’s plea of “H-E-L-P, help me, help me”, followed pounding her guitar’s body during the song’s breakdown showed some of her uncharacteristic wickedness.

Unexpectedly, she eventually abandoned her guitar in favor of keyboards during a gentle version of “The Bed”, a mellow ballad. It was quiet enough to hear the conversation of those inconsiderate enough in the back of the club.

Clark’s music commands seriousness, it’s a relief to find she has a sense of humor. As her band left the stage briefly so she could perform solo, she explained her love for “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube, which was the song that proceeded her on stage. She gave a quick narration of the song, then played another song she considered similar in theme, a sterling version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days”.

St. Vincent at Metro, Thursday February 18, 2010

The breadth of Clark’s powers were on display with the encore of “Your Lips Are Red”. A tension filled mess of guitar, bass and brass instruments, Clark attacked her guitar with the same gesticulation Gena Rowlands displayed during one of her psychotic episodes in John Cassavetes’s “A Woman Under The Influence”. Both were unnatural, unorthodox and generally terrifying.

I suppose there’s another parallel between those two. In the film, Gena Rowlands is a woman who looked crazy and tried to convince everyone she wasn’t. Here, St. Vincent is a woman who doesn’t look crazy and wants to convince everyone she might actually be.

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View more photos from the show at our gallery.

The End of the Beginning

This is a brand new decade. It can’t be any newer. The one that ended yesterday seemed to go at a traumatically brisk pace. The 1990s seemed to exist way longer than they actually were. This, in part because there was a mélange of cultural moments, styles and ideas that shaped each year and still make them easy to define. This decade? Not so much. Every cultural phenomona seemed to hit at once, and then linger. There were so many things happening, they packed every square inch of calendar space.

The two-thousands are the first decade I can remember from beginning to end with clarity. Most of my formative years- the things that shape your life and set you on the course you’re on now happened. It was a unique time to be growing up, because instead of the glacial change and relative peace of the decade before it, the world seemed to rise and fall just as I hit highs and lows as well.

This decade was a hyper intense cycle of life and death, war and despair, hope and loss and and an overwhelming amount of information coming all at once. So much, I’ve struggled writing this because I don’t know exactly what to include.

It was an insane time to grow up – both good and bad. The wars, the endless stream of controversies, the first two presidential elections are some of the least proud moments – but at the same time, there was the music, the movies, and the people who worked to make this world (and my life) a better place.

I feel privileged to have had a front row seat. I got to form my opinions on a world that was experiencing growing pains just as I had mine. I learned nothing was easy, dreams can die, and things don’t always turn out the way they’re supposed to.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit fatalistic. If I’ve learned anything else: there’s almost always second chances. There are ways to get the things you want. There are ways to better yourself and the world around you.

There’s always the time to dream bigger and make them a reality.

I now know more than ever, this is my chance to.

2009

I felt like Lewis and Clark traveling in a sedan caravan.

I suppose what I remember most about my first excursion this year was that endless stretch of Ohio that bleeds into Pennsylvania – the precipice between the hills that age and become mountains when you cross the border. It’s like watching the evolution of nature with each mile. These memories are at the crux of every road trip. You have the enthusiasm at the get go, then the reward at the end. The middle – that’s where the magic is.

I find myself thinking about these middles a lot more than what bookend them. I think that’s what I like most about traveling – getting there. There’s nothing more than getting to lay your eyes on things you haven’t seen before. Sometimes it’s boring (ie: cornfields) or exhilarating (ie: the Appalachians). I constantly find myself in awe that I’m actually doing it, escaping from my house and making a future for myself. When I was younger, I don’t think I afforded myself that kind of freedom in my head. I had my own restraints. I honestly didn’t think I was going anywhere – nor did I really know I had the power to.

I guess that’s why I do it now. That’s why I’ve been to so many different states (and one other country) in this past year. I’m making up for lost time. I want to experience it now, not wait for some other time that I don’t know that I have. I understand how that may sound morose, but it’s true. I constantly feel I’m working against a clock.

I feel I’ve woven a pretty nice tapestry: Baltimore, D.C., New York City (x2), Albany, Buffalo, Urbana-Champaign, Bloomington, Iowa City, Toronto, Minneapolis (x3), Madison, and Memphis. The problem with this is that I haven’t gone that far West of the Mississippi, but I’m working to rectify that as early as January.

You’ve been a part of these memories – reading, encouraging, experiencing with, filling in the blanks.

Coloring in between my lines.

Higher and Higher

I’ve been to shows, but not THAT show.

Sure, I could expound forever on the trope of a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show being likened to a religious experience, but I won’t because I feel I can do better than that.

Forget it. Who am I kidding?

If I didn’t before last night, I BELIEVE now.
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It’s a pastiche of images swirling through my head. You have Bruce’s first descent into the middle of the crowd for ‘Hungry Heart,” crowd surfing back to the stage to continue the show – or the abscess of horns magically bringing “10th Avenue Freezeout” to life.

A marathon lasting over three hours; it felt as if no stone was left unturned, from first album classics (“Growing Up”) to the prowling, elemental (“Kitty’s Back”) to the ‘WTF?’ (“Jole Blon”?)

Of course, the main attraction came with the complete performance of the group’s 1975 stone-cold classic, Born To Run. Any way you look at it, the album is colossal. Every track has a mammoth emotional hook. The way the piano dances in “Thunder Road” as Bruce’s vocal gets more urgent each verse, his shredded vocal in the chorus of “Backstreets,” and the mournful trumpet that wades through “Meeting Across The River”. These moments are at every turn.

There’s the album’s title track, which really is the only song to actually capture the naïve, blazing intensity of being young and in love – so powerful, so hopeful, one wrong move and it could crush you under its weight.

All of these emotions translate live. The songs feel otherworldly – Clarence Clemons’s majestic solo on “Jungleland,” – yes, THAT solo – is something I could live in. It peaks and valleys with grace and complete effortlessness from it’s performer. It’s the end of a musical journey, and a hell of a fitting epilogue it is.

That wasn’t even the end of the evening; an entire set of songs followed the album. The award for “Too Soon?” goes to “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” based on a Christmas tree (complete with working lights) cardboard sign request collected by the Boss during the “requests” segment. Fans in the pit threw Christmas hats at the band, and both Clemons and drummer Max Weinberg obliged them. (Also, it should be said, Max wearing a Christmas hat does nothing to overwrite his classic perv supreme image on The Tonight Show in my mind.)

The one-two punch that really brought the evening full circle came at the end of the evening – the jubilant (and personal favorite) “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” which has been documented by us before, and it was great that we finally heard it by the person who wrote it. Jaw dropping. No other words other than those are coming.

The night’s final song – a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” was the other moment. The normally three minute rave up expanded to an epic thanks to Bruce and his band, taking advantage of this by making their way to the center of the arena to sing the chorus amongst the faithful.

At that moment, it was clear: together, we were already on a higher plane, if only for a couple hours.

These Projectors Need Cleaning

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Dirty Projectors at Bottom Lounge, Friday, November 13, 2009

Dirty Projectors’s Friday night show at Bottom Lounge was a definite contrast to the other two bands we’ve seen in the past few days. John Darnielle and his Mountain Goats teeter on the line between celebratory and morose, and Art Brut remains indie rock’s funniest (and musicially exceptional) inside joke.

With vocalist/guitarist Dave Longstreth’s group, there is no humor. It’s a collective of very serious musicians that conciously take the fun out of rock and roll. It’s impossible not to detect a cultist vibe that runs through the Dirty Projectors when they’re on stage. Longstreth is clearly the leader, and everyone seems to be under his spell – the girls especially. Singers Amber Coffman, Hayley Dekle shimmied unconvincingly like 60’s girl group backup singers. Rarely did anyone else challenge his stage presence or his acrobatic guitar stills. This was painfully apparent as his guitar essentially drowned out Coffman’s soaring vocal on “Stillness Is The Move”.

What was terribly disappointing is the lack of the camaraderie between the group. None of them really seemed to enjoy what they were doing on stage. Multi-instrumentalist Angel Deradoorian, a talented solo musician in her own right, remained far stage right all evening and hardly cracked a smile.

On Bitte Orca, the band’s latest record, the songs are infectious. They breathe. They have great hooks and incredible vocal interplay. Live, they’re a mess of noise that is opposite the album’s calculated synchronization. For what Longstreth and Co. have finally accomplished on record, they’ve got a ways to go with their live performance. There are glaring rough edges, and perhaps with a little more collaboration live – stretching the songs with the same kind of elasticity that permeates their singer, they’ll have a more engaging live show. Until then, they’ll continue to sound like a gaggle of sound without a clear direction.