Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mini-Reviews

"F.U. Penguin: Telling cute animals what's what"
****

A funny witty book that talks about cute animals in the most sarcastic form of humor. This book will open your mind as well as your sense of humor. The author tries to explain his weird obsession with Penguins, followed by his odd obsession with cute animals. Feeling sick of being sucked into these animals cute and cuddly looks. He decides to write a book and exploit these animals as if they were doing this image for attention. "F.U. Penguins" starts off very humorous, but as you gradually read on in this novel.  The humor feels as if it were forced. There's nothing wrong with it. Although you'd wish that most of the short stories didn't feel forced to be funny. This approach sort of takes the edge out of the book in many ways. While at the same time leaving you wanting to read on. This book is highly recommended and does contain strong language.

Radiohead "Pablo Honey"
***

Radiohead's first album seems somewhat stellar compared to their other albums. This album contains their most overplayed song "Creep". This song became popular because guitarist Jonny Greenwood felt the song was too soft and decided to play his guitar very loud and aggressively during the chrous. Somehow this gave the song that angry tone and was considered the best. But there's more to this album that just that song. "You" (the first song on the album) has a very nice approach in terms of melody and lyrics. Very dark and moody track, Thom displays more emotion in this song than he does in "Creep". The lyrics aren't as depressing as "Creep", but they're a bit more dark and disturbing. "Anyone Can Play Guitar" and "Ripchord" are two other tracks that are very well worth listening to. Radiohead's guitar heavy days are well far behind them. But their first album could arguably be the least favorite by fans. With some songs sounding similar to Nirvana. Even in this case, Radiohead manages to put together a album that's entertaining to listen to and worth buying on iTunes.

iPad just an oversized iPod Touch
Apple iPad ($499)
**1/2

Likes: The simplistic approach to touch screen technology, plenty of apps to choose from, light weight design makes carrying it more portable than your conventional laptop.

Dislikes: Priced very high, even with Wi-fi from At&t, not enough memory to justify asking price, can't fully replace a laptop, battery life is just down right horrible, looks like an oversized iPod Touch.

Overall: The iPad is a good stylish chooses to the tablet PC. There's plenty of apps and much fun is offered with the iPad. But the lack of memory and the high asking price may push some away from it. Plus it looks like an oversized iPod Touch.

Devon test drives a Jeep
2010 Jeep Cherokee 4X4 ($37,400*)

Likes: Solid on road feel, comfortable well adjustable front seats, great veiw out, plenty of passing power when you need it, plenty of cargo space and all-wheel-drive system that intelligently shuts on and off when needed to save gas.

Dislikes: Engine sounds gruff when pushed, some road surfaces sends shivers into the cabin, interior materials are just plain horrible for a vehicle near $40,000, even with all the technology - there are competitors that offer it all in a better package.

Overall: Check out the 2011 Jeep Cherokee, which addresses all the complaints that I've made about this one.

Devon M

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Summer Live Part III: Against Me! @ JBTV



Felipe M


The following is part of a series to wrap up the 2nd half of my 2010 concert calendar. It is proving to be a long winded afair, but DAMMIT, I will finish it up. By the time you read through this story, we would be half way done with this journey. Coming up next: AGAINST ME! on JBTV.


July 3rd, Against Me! Live @ JBTV Studio:



Well, well, well Against Me!, we meet again! I've seen this band 5 times in my lifetime, more than any other band (I have seen both Thrice and Bad Religion 4x's). The 5th time left such a bad impression with me that I decided that I would never follow this band again. Seriously! I was going to be done with them. Their major label debut known as New Wave was pretty solid, but for Against Me! standards, it would be pretty subpar. I can sit here and talk about how mediocre New Wave is, but that would be stating the obvious. The fact is, I wasn't going to even give the new, much anticipated album White Crosses a chance either as I decided to completely turn my back on this band--well, not too complete... maybe 3/4 of my back was turned....

... Made it a lot easier to face forward when Ricardo's brother, Gabe informed me that he had an extra pass to see Against Me! perform an acoustic set at the JBTV studios, but wasn't sure who he should take.....

For those who don't know what JBTV is, it is a local TV show here in Chicago starring a hippie-looking, Gandalf the gray wizard look-a-like, Jerry Bryant. The show is awesome as it showcases local and established music acts and other bands in the world of underground, indie, punk, alternative, or simply put non-mainstream music world. The show also airs live performances from their sweet-looking soundstage where a few lucky people can see a band live perform in the most intimate of settings--and lots and lots of cameras. And it gets juicier music fans, especially if you do not live in the Chicagoland area, as not only are the previous aired episodes of JBTV availabe FREE OF CHARGE on i-Tunes, but their website is full of videos of performances, interviews, episodes and more! It's the coolest thing since All Ages Radio aired on Friday nights with Kevin and Gordon!



The most beautiful phrase in the English language is as follows:



Against Me! to perform a live acoustic set


If at any point in your lives you come across these words, your first reaction is to pounce at the opportunity like a Love Smith Bears defense pounces on a football after a forced turnover (NORTH DIVISION CHAMPS!). There is nothing like an Against Me! acoustic set. Heck the band started off as an acoustic band and to this day, there are fans out there that are still mad at the band for switching to electronic guitars for Reinventing Axl Rose. So after trying to convince my friend Gabe that I was the right person to go with, I won out because it turns out Gabe is a loser and has no friends whatsoever!
Good weekend so far: Streetlight Manifesto the night before, Against Me! the following afternoon.
Based on the episode that was aired on November 10, 2010 and based on my fuzzy memory, the set went as follows:
  1. High Pressure Low
  2. I Was a Teenage Anarchist
  3. Pints of Guiness Makes You Strong
  4. Spanish Moss
  5. White Crosses
  6. Sink Florida Sink
Initially, before the band even got on stage, the coolest part of it all was Brendan Kelly from the Lawrence Arms was on stage introducing the band. How cool is that? Turns out, he actually is one of the hosts on JBTV. Tre cool!
If you have never heard any Against Me! songs before in your life, they're easy to get into as sing-alongs are a plentiful. For example, the first time I heard the song "Thrash Unreal" was in April of 2007 before I even knew it would come out in the very mainstream album New Wave, as I made the misguided notion that the song was a track released pre-Axl Rose days. Turned out it was a new song, and even then fans at the show were able to sing along to it because that's just the way the songs are structured. Hell, I used to hate the song "Walking is Still Honest" until i heard it live at my first Against Me! show in DeKalb, IL (the very same one where I first heard "Thrash" and found out that I can sing along to the "whoa, whoa, whoa" parts (Observe). First time I heard "High Pressure Low," I found myself in the same situation as I was, at the very least, able to sing along to the "whoa" part of the chorus. You can't help but to sing-a-long with the band.
"Teenage Anarchist" came up next and even though I never considered myself an anarchist when I was a teenager (or even through my college years), I easily found myself relating to this song. I do remember when I was young and was ready to set the world on fire, but the revolution never came because it was indeed a fucking lie!!!!!!! I almost cried listening to this song. That's the other thing about Against Me!, besides their catchiness, they write some really good songs that people like me can actually relate to. (That's why I still look for bands "who play loud and hard every night").
Despite the new songs being great listens theretofore, great disappointment in the set came when one of the band's staple songs "Pints of Guiness Makes You Strong" was next on the list. Before the show started, we were told by Brendan Kelly I believe, that this was a real concert venue and just because there were cameras around, that we should feel free to liberally do what we normally would do at "real" shows. Unfortunately, we as the audience must've either forgotten that rule, we were tired from the night before, maybe we are nervous when there's cameras around, or maybe we were all critically judging this band as only this band can get judged, but I was gravely disappointed when we all pretended that we didn't know the song that the band was performing on stage. I mean, I sang along, but even then, if I were to really sing, you could have probably heard my voice on one of the many live mics. After the song's performance, a stellar job as always by the way, Tom said something that you will not catch on any of the online episodes (and I paraphrase): "Fuck, even when we decide to play an old song, you guys just stand around like zombies. So we're just gonna keep playing the new songs." I'm sure it was meant to be half-serious, half-facetious, but it's insulting to get called out by one of the most influential people in punk rock today. But Gabel was right.

We move on to "Spanish Moss" and following "Guiness" is a tough task, but following "Guiness" AND being called out by Gabel, I still haven't gotten over it and I really don't enjoy "Moss" when I listen to it because of it. Gabel then introduced the next song "White Crosses" as a personal song based on an event that occurred to him in St. Augustin, Florida and had to do with abortion clinics. The final reason why people get into Against Me! is that the band, and most notably Gabel, wear their hearts, their social and political views, on their sleeves. They finish the set with "Sink, Florida, Sink," another fan favorite, to little fanfare as the band finished the set and left the stage faster than you can ask, "is walking still honest, Tom?"

The crowd, was one of the worst crowds at a show, but with the cameras around, I can see how people were more reserved with their actions, but with a band that is action packed like Against Me! why would we do that to ourselves? Maybe we were just in awe of a band that was not on the decline on the heels of releasing their second major label album, rather at the pinnacle of their careers. Regardless, the moral of the story is that I went out and bought White Crosses a few days after the set (along with The Gasligth Anthem's American Slang. YES, both self-titled tracks from both ablums sound extremely identical). So far, I have been pleasantly surprised on how much I have enjoyed Crosses. As cheesy as it will sound, the album has become the soundtrack to my 2010 summer. Unfortunately, this show is nowhere near a contender for SHOW OF THE YEAR. Hope they had a better crowd opening up for the Silversun Pickups that night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Summer Live Part II: Streetlight Manifesto




Felipe M



The following article is part of an ongoing series to wrap up my 2010 second half concert calendar. The next band to be featured is ska band (the term ska will be used interchangeably to describe the genre of ska-punk music) STREETLIGHT MANIFESTO.




July 2nd-Streetlight Manifesto @ The Metro: I’ve been waiting for a very long time to see this band live and finally had the pleasure of catching their performance over the summer. In an effort to hype this band to get more of my friends to attend this show, I created a few taglines to generate interest:



  • THE BEST SKA-PUNK BAND IN THE BUSINESS
  • IT’S SKA MUSIC WITHOUT THE SIDE-EFFECTS OF LISTENING TO SKA MUSIC
  • SKA MUSIC FOR THE THINKING EVERYMAN
  • PROGRESSIVE SKA MUSIC AT IT’S BEST
  • NOT YOUR OLDER BROTHER’S SKA MUSIC
  • THE ONLY SKA BAND THAT MATTERS


For those that don’t know who Streetlight Manifesto are, they are obviously a ska-punk band (that’s how I would categorize this band) whose biggest contribution to the scene is how easily their music transcends and streamlines from one music community to another. Their musical releases have received very high critical acclaim and strong word of mouth from not only the “ska community,” but also from music fans who loathe the musical genre (including this particular author). I believe the thing that separates this band from other ska bands like Reel Big Fish (I hate those guys) is that Streetlight have a more intricate, complex sound with relatively dark lyrics and subject matter, ironically done from an upbeat rhythm, that go beyond the typical ska songs (the ones that I have heard at least) about love, partying, and white, middle class, teenage angst. It’s like listening to Rancid, but--with a horns section (just kidding)—without the over-the-top Joe Strummer-like vocals. Their latest release is a collection of cover songs called 99 Songs of Revolution.


Coming at the heels of success from having so many people come out for the Thrice concert, I was able to talk a co-worker and her boyfriend to come out to the show, only for them to cancel at the last minute, which left me with two extra tickets in my hand. That would open the door for my girlfriend to come out for our SECOND SHOW EVER AS A COUPLE! Wow! After 5 years not attending a single show, we’re together for two in a row? “Wow” is definitely the word! So she was able to snatch one ticket, and I was able to sell the other ticket to a friend of a friend of a friend—of a friend? Plus my usual posse, Ricardo and Devon, were there as well bringing the total to four in the group.


For this show, I just stood on the sidelines and watched from a flanked position. It was hot at The Metro that night. I wasn’t even in the pit area and I was profusely sweating. Naturally, as the show went on, it got muggier, more boiling, sweltering, sultry, scalding, oven-like, (add your own adjective here). And of course, the reason it was so hot for the standing-room only crowd was because Streetlight Manifesto was lighting The Metro on fire from the stage.


(For this show’s setlist, click here) The band did a good job balancing out the song selection from both Everything Goes Numb, Keasbey Nights, and Somewhere in the Between. (If I were this universe’s sultan, I would proclaim that every band that wants to perform live HAS TO find a way to balance their setlist in this manner). The only song done from Revolutions was a cover of the Dead Milkmen’s song, “Punk Rock Girl.” During their performance of the song, I slyly used that time to serenade my girlfriend:



Punk rock girl give me a chance
Punk rock girl let's go slamdance
We'll dress like Minnie Pearl
Just you and me punk rock girl



Not even an artist would have been able to erase the smile from her face as I sang to her. Take notes fellas. Other highlights of this show was something that has gone on without much of my attention as it has become clearly empirical that the songs “Point/Counterpoint” and “Keasbey Nights” sound pretty damn similar. Observe if you will:


  • Point/Counterpoint-- “I've got a gun in my hand but that gun won't cock
And my finger's on the trigger but that trigger seems locked
and I can't stop staring at the tick tock clock
and even if I could I would never give up.
With a vest on my chest, a bullet in my lung
I can't believe I'm dying with my song unsung.
And if and when I die won't you bury me alone?
'Cause I'll never get to heaven if I'm singing this song.”
  • Keasbey Nights—“ When they come for me, I'll be sitting at my desk
With a gun in my hand, wearing a bulletproof vest singing
"My, my, my, how the time does fly, when you know you're going to die
By the end of the night." And said hey”


Streetlight did a great job putting both songs together and seamlessly streamlining from “Point” to “Keasbey” and finishing strong with “Point.” It was a very cool experience to have both songs played together in that manner.


Another highlight of this show was when they played “We Are the Few,” which starts out in a fast-paced, verse-chorus-verse-chorus pattern before it slows down. Right before it gets to the “slow” part, I turn to my girlfriend and tell her, “This has been the best night of my life.” She grinned and asked, “Why? Because I’m here with you tonight?” The timing of the whole sequence was perfect as lead singer/guitarist Thomas starts crooning “This has been the best night of my life…” The look on her face as she rolled her eyes away from me was priceless. It is little things like this that makes going to these shows so enjoyable.


One exchange that occurred during the show happened between my girlfriend and I when frustrated and bothered by the heat and the long, unfamiliar songs, she turned to me and asked “All these songs sound the same! How can you tell them apart?” I thought about it for a second and replied “Repetition. How else do you tell apart one shitty Brittney Spears song from another? You hear the songs 40-50 times per day on the radio. The same rule applies.” I don’t think she was satisfied with that answer, but by the end of the night, my bubblegum pop-oriented girlfriend was observing how the people in the pit were dancing along to the songs and she picked up on it rather quickly and started emulating the dance rather well. She’s such a closet skank.


Overall, it was a great show, but I do wish they would have played “Failing, Flailing.” I also thought I could go on without having to listen to Keasbey Nights, but now I’m more curious about this album and will probably go get it. This show has potential to end the year in the top 5 of my rankings.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Summer Live Part I: Thrice



Felipe M

The following is an installment for my wrap up of my 2010 second half concert calendar. I've been in the process of moving for the past few months or so, but I finally have Internet and my own laptop! So without much further ado, here's THRICE.

June 12th-Thrice @ Chicago House of Blues: I have seen the band Thrice live, thrice in my lifetime, but the first two shows, coming on back-to-back tour dates at The Metro a couple of years ago came on the heels of them releasing the weird experiment known as The Alchemy Index. As a punk rocker, it was a very surreal experience seeing a band go from traditional guitars, bass, and drums to using keyboards, drum and other electronic machines, and other musical instruments that one would expect at a rave or some other similar form of entertainment. The third time I saw this band, they opened up for both Alkaline Trio and Rise Against at the Congress Theatre, but I was too drunk to enjoy the band as I was starting to grow fond of already-mentioned album. Needless to say, I was too immature to appreciate the talents and musical progression of this band.

In comes the fourth installment of my Thrice experience and this time, I came with an open mind and with a different outlook on this band as Beggars proved to be a memorable album for this band and I couldn't wait to see them live. Also going for me that night was that my usual running mates, Devon and Ricardo were with me that night so the show is already off to a good start before it even begins. Plus our friend Donnie ("Wood Sugars" reference!) was joining us that night as he, outside of yours truly, is the biggest Thrice fan I know. Plus my co-worker and her fiancee were there too. However, the biggest news of the night is that I got my girlfriend to attend marking it the first concert we've ever attended together. After 5 years! She might just be the one! All in all, SEVEN people from my circle showed up for this show. That's a new record for me, but the real winner is mankind as I believe that I'm doing my small part in introducing good music to the rest of the world, one person at a time.

Predictably, Thrice played mostly new songs from their Beggars album and with songs like "All the World is Mad" and "In Exile" thank God! One of the few times in my life that I actually want to hear a band's new material at a show.

From The Alchemy Index, "Child of Dust," "Firebreather," and "Daedalus" were part of the setlist. Vheissu was well represented with songs like "Dust of Nations" and "The Earth Will Shake."

However, just when I thought the night couldn't get any better, they played one of my favorite songs ever from one of my favorite albums ever, "To Awake and Avenge the Dead" from The Illusion of Safety to end their set before the encore. The only song that Thrice still plays consistently from this album is "Deadbolt" as the crowd ALWAYS begs them to play that song, but I had a feeling that they would play "Awake and Avenge." Nevertheless, it was one of the most pleasant surprises ever! I've seen clips of them playing this song live and I have longed to be part of that experience. It definitely was everything that I expected and then some! There are songs that you listen from underground musical acts that change your life from a personal and, of course, a musical level and as soon as you hear it live, it transcends your being to an even higher level--this was one of those songs and moments. Without a doubt, one of the most special moments from a live performance I have ever experienced in my life.

Thrice at the House of Blues, Chicago definitely is in a heated competitiong for Show of the Year. Will definitely look forward to seeing them live for a 5th time.