Video Fridays: Ayron Jones & The Way

AyronJones_02-ACOne of the joys of summers here in Bellingham, Washington is the abundance of live outdoor music. From concerts in the park to concerts in the street, from harborside venues to, of all places, the top, uncovered level of the downtown parking garage, when we finally get reliably sunny and dry weather people go absolutely nuts and flock to the music, all adding up to a very fun, festive vibe.

One of my favorite concert series is Downtown Sounds, which takes place on five consecutive Wednesdays from 5:30 to 9:30 pm on a block of Bay Street that is temporarily blocked from car traffic. It’s free, it’s all-ages (though there is a 21+ beer garden), there’s food and other vendors, and there’s a state of the art stage where bands from around the region and beyond put on consistently great shows to large, appreciative crowds.

The band that headlined this past Wednesday, Seattle’s Ayron Jones & The Way, was a timely gift. I’d been getting burned out on the proliferation of R&B/Soul/Funk bands, locally as well as bands passing through, and so it was incredibly refreshing to see a young, edgy, raw power trio, simply electric guitar, bass, drums.

I had more fun, by magnitudes, headbanging in the crowd of headbangers in front of the stage than I have had watching/listening/dancing to the latest in a seemingly endless stream of dance-oriented bands I’ve seen these past few years.

Ayron’s music is described on his website thusly:

[Infuses] the raw energy of punk with the inner-city attitude of Hip-Hop. The result is a soulful reincarnation of that iconic Seattle sound. Think, Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Nirvana.

Those seem like odd juxtapositions, but it works. The band is young and rough around the edges, mostly in a good way, but Ayron is a monster guitar player, loaded with confidence, and to my eyes and ears his future is very, very bright.

Oh, and he can also play his guitar with a drumstick.

Which is awesome.

So, without further ado, here’s this week’s Video Fridays installment, by Ayron Jones & The Way.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Pavement

pavement-quarantineSo, it’s happened again.

I’ve written before about how I fancy myself quite the student of music, and yet, despite my diligent efforts to know what’s going on, I occasionally discover that a particular band or artist has somehow escaped my attention.

Well, this time it’s ’90s indie, alt, rock, or whatever you wanna call it band, Pavement.

Yeah, I know, I’m only just getting into a band that officially broke up in 1999 and was insistent during their 2010 reunion tour that they were not getting back together again.

I’ve heard of Pavement for all of these years, heard just as much about their frontman, Stephen Malkmus, and his other projects, but it took coming across a video clip of one of my favorite bands, Wilco, doing a cover of a Pavement song for me to finally get it.

I’ve been listening to their stuff all day and find I really enjoy their punk-attitude-infused sound, very electric-guitar-centric, and yet melodic at the same time.

Only time will tell as to just how deep I’ll plunge into Pavement, however painful that sounds, or how long I’ll be as into them as I was today, but for now I’m happy to discover some great music that is new to me.

For today’s Video Fridays installment then, I hope you enjoy, as much as I did, this full show from the 2010 reunion tour.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Oh, England. You’re No Fun Anymore!

monty-python-copIf you are a heterosexual guy and you reached puberty when I did, in the 1970s, and you were lucky enough, as I was, to have a public television station that, late at night, would play reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus , not only were you introduced to some of the best comedy ever produced, but you could also catch precious, hormone-stirring glimpses of female … um … as the Pythons would say, naughty bits, such as the image here, taken from one of Terry Gilliam‘s amazing and hilarious cutout animations.

If you were extra lucky, as I was, you had another channel available to you, like WOR TV 9, that, also late at night, played reruns of a second British comedy program, The Benny Hill Show, which contained rarer bits of nudity, but plentiful moments of scantily clad women.

Consequently, my impression of England and British culture was that it was more liberal and open-minded than it was here in the U.S., and I loved them for it!

Disappointing then, to come across this item in today’s New York Times:

Ad for Rolling Stones Exhibition Banned from London Underground

A poster for the coming Rolling Stones exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London — showing a bright pink tongue on the front of a pair of women’s underwear — has been banned from the London Underground until adjustments can be made to make it less explicit.

Here’s the image from the poster:

rolling-stones-exhibit

Really, England?!

The Rolling Stones have been raunchy for decades, while becoming one of the greatest bands in the world, and you’d be hard-pressed to prove that they are in any way to blame for any perceived decline of the United Kingdom.

Let’s face it, you’re no fun anymore!

Fare Thee Well, Grateful Dead

GratefulDead-fare-thee-wellSo, last night, at Soldier Field in Chicago, the Grateful Dead played what was billed as their last ever concert, which is to say that the “core four”, the four surviving members of the original band — Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart — claim they will never again all play together after the run of five shows they just did.

I was fortunate enough to be able to watch the show via Pay-Per-View at a friend’s house, it was a very emotional experience, and today I find myself still reeling with feelings.

I’ve written numerous times, here at Fish & Bicycles about my longstanding love of the Grateful Dead and my unapologetic identification as a Deadhead. I’ve gone VERY deep with the Dead’s music over many years, and I’m so grateful for all of the fun, inspiration, and meaning it has given me and will continue to give.

One of the things that was so special about the Grateful Dead, and which partly explains why I’m so emotional about their grand finale, is that the band members were never rock stars. Instead, they felt almost like friends. After all, they cut their teeth at the Acid Tests, where they thought of themselves as participants in a communal experience, rather than hired musicians up on a bandstand, there to simply entertain the party guests.

Eventually, of course, they graduated to larger and larger venues, and were, by necessity, up on a huge stage at a distance from much of the crowd, but they weren’t egomaniacal showmen, prancing and strutting around the stage for attention, as if it was all about them. They simply made music and cared deeply that their shows should be meaningful, exploratory, and uniting experiences.

Another thing that contributed to the Grateful Dead’s appeal, especially to aspiring musicians like myself, is that, due to the improvisational approach they took to their music, pushing the envelope every night, exploring new ideas in front of a live audience, not every idea worked, a flub here and flub there, just often enough to remind you that they were human, so that you notice you still love them, warts and all, and they always pulled themselves out of the occasional train wreck, eventually.

Again, for an aspiring musician this is a powerful, powerful thing, it’s the thing that encouraged millions of people like me to pick up a guitar, learn some Dead tunes, and to stick with it, in many cases long enough to get good enough to play with other musicians, where the real fun starts.

Finally, the last element of Dead appeal derives from their hippie roots. I’ve mentioned my fondness for hippie culture before, and I still long to be surrounded by people who truly believe that love; peaceful, supportive, inclusive community; and freedom of expression are the most important things.

Last night, then, was decidedly NOT just another concert. It was a fond farewell, the end of a long, strange trip, it was friends saying goodbye to friends in all directions, it was the band saying goodbye to each other, it was Bob Weir choking up and struggling to get through the lyrics of his song Throwing Stones, and then Phil Lesh doing the same thing on his tune Unbroken Chain, at the realization that this will be the last time they will ever sing those songs with their bandmates of 50 years, it was the conspicuous and painful absence of Jerry Garcia who had been the heart and soul of the Dead, and it was the reverent, loving tribute that Trey Anastasio paid to Jerry, filling his shoes as best as he could, emulating some of Jerry’s classic tones, riffs, and licks, while bringing his own touches and voice, just as Jerry would have wanted him to do.

The show ended with one of the band’s more obscure songs, Attics Of My Life, a haunting hymn from their classic 1970 album American Beauty, a song about the power of music, and about how music is even more powerful when partnered with love and shared.

In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear
You sang to me

I have spent my life
Seeking all that’s still unsung
Bent my ear to hear the tune
And closed my eyes to see
When there were no strings to play
You played to me

Here, then, is that performance, which, even with crappy sound quality, moves me deeply once again. And, just to make up for the crappy sound quality, I’ve included the original studio recording, so that those not familiar with the song can hear more clearly the sublime beauty and lovely harmonies.

Fare you well, Grateful Dead, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell…

Video Fridays: Belated R.I.P. Chris Squier

chris-squierI’m WAY late in acknowledging the passing of a monster bass guitar player, the now-late, great Chris Squier of the band Yes.

I don’t love all prog rock, and I don’t even love all Yes music, but the Yes music that I do love has stuck with me for nearly 40 years, via powerful memories of songs like Yours Is No Disgrace, Starship Trooper, I’ve Seen All Good People, Roundabout, Long Distance Runaround, Close To The Edge, and And You And I getting regular airplay in the 1970s, and then, once I bought the albums, regular airplay at home, where I was entranced by what sounded like Classical music being played with Rock&Roll instruments and Rock&Roll sensibilities.

As The New York Times‘ Peter Catapano declared in his wonderful eulogy, of all the members in the band, Chris Squier Made Prog Rock Rock:

Squire, who was well known for being the band wild man, was a virtuoso of sorts who also poured a Stones-like street fighting spirit into Yes’s ethereal music, and saved many a song from descending into Hobbit-land (being human, he wasn’t always successful). Out of the mist of organ tones and castrati vocals would come a growl, disconcerting, oh-so-low, almost too low to be music, a primordial beast raising itself from the mud with a giant yawn. It was impolite, indelicate, wrong, and soon to be funky.

Indeed. Like I said. A monster bass player.

It took me no time to decide what song I would feature in this Video Fridays installment, as a testament to Chris Squier’s artistry and bad ass-ry, the first song I always think of when I think of him, Heart Of The Sunrise from the 1971 Yes album Fragile.

The song kicks off with a quintessentially wicked-fast Squire bass line, which it comes back to several times, the intro moves into a lush, slower, synth-drenched segment with seriously funky Squier bass, and there’s just wonderful bass throughout the whole song.

R.I.P., Chris, and thank you SO much for all of the wonderful music you left behind.

Video Fridays: Father’s Day Weekend Edition

Me & Julian, Father's Day, 2013
Me & Julian, Father’s Day, 2013
Since I likely won’t be able to post anything on Father’s Day this Sunday, and since my son, Julian, is now 17-1/2 years old and his days in the nest are painfully dwindling away, I thought I would dedicate today’s Video Fridays installment to him, for I wouldn’t be a father if he hadn’t come along.

Today’s video, Ben FoldsStill Fighting It, featuring touching homemade-movie-esque footage of Ben and his son Louis, and lyrics about the experience of fatherhood, on one hand, and growing up, on the other, never fails to choke me up.

The song was released in 2001, when my son was about the same age as Louis, and as much as I’ve loved and cherished some aspect of every age Julian has attained, there was something particularly special about that age, when walking wasn’t so new and treacherous, when verbal communication was beginning to get easier thanks to a growing vocabulary, when the innocence and infinite sense of wonder of childhood was in full bloom, when playing was so much damned fun, and when simply holding hands as we strolled in public felt like I had an umbilical cord connecting me to an infinite pool of love.

Being a parent is an experience of extremes. There’s the infinite pool of love and the unbridled joy of play, but there’s also the anxiety concerning the future, the fear of terrible things happening to your child, the frustration when your child has the gall (wink) to remind you that they are an actual person, with the right to self-determination, the pain you feel when they feel pain, the excruciating guilt you feel for the mistakes you’ve made raising them, particularly when they pick up any bad habits that you have been unintentionally modeling for them, and the emptiness at the thought of them one day flying the coop.

Ben Folds captures this all so perfectly:

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It’s so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We’re still fighting it, we’re still fighting it
And you’re so much like me
I’m sorry…

It was pain
Sunny days and rain
I knew you’d feel the same things…

You’ll try and try and one day you’ll fly
Away from me

Somebody get me a hanky, stat!

Anyway, it might seem that that list I wrote above, of the goods and the not-so-goods, suggests that the not-so-goods far outweigh the goods, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When you love someone as deeply as you love your child, you never, EVER see it that way, you would NEVER prefer the alternative — losing your child, or not ever having had a child. You just hope that the Buddhists are right, that if we practice mindfulness awareness we can be totally present for them despite our fears, and if we practice non-attachment we can celebrate their departure when they come of age, feeling satisfied and sustained by all of the years of glorious memories, and excitement for the possibilities that life will present to them.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Vinyl Records Are Magic!

recordplayerWAY back in December 2009, in a post titled Nostalgia: Vinyl Records Edition, I wrote about a trip with my son to a local eatery, an eatery known as much for their Russian dumplings as they are for the record player and vast vinyl record collection they have in the main seating area, available for use by customers.

In that post, and in a subsequent follow-up titled Vinyl Update, a year later, I described how my son, 12-13 years old at the time, discovered the joy — dare I say magic? — of vinyl records at that restaurant, and then at home, when I purchased a used turntable and dusted off my collection of 200 or so LPs.

Well, it seems I’m not alone in finding vinyl record technology to be magical.

Casey Chan, over at Gizmodo.com, in a post yesterday on this subject, wrote:

I don’t care that I supposedly understand how vinyl records work because I still totally think they’re the work of at least some low level sorcery. Trapping sound and music and voices? Come on!

Sorcery indeed! I mean, just look at this GIF footage of a record player’s stylus traveling through the groove in a vinyl record, as seen through an electron microscope:

vinyl-at-work

What the what?! That makes music come out of a speaker, filled with instruments and voices, melodies and rhythms?

That’s some crazy magic!

Casey also includes a 9+ minute video that explains how the footage was shot and how vinyl record technology works, you can watch it if you want, but I chose not to, agreeing with Gizmodo reader JoshMC in the comments section:

Don’t anyone try and explain it, it’s all magic to me. Dark sorcery? Yeah…