Marc Maron at the Comedy Cellar, and the General Greatness Of Podcasts

What a strange weekend.  Sometimes it seems the earth woke up spinning the wrong way, a little bit too early, after eating 2 bags of Doritos for dinner and feels really dehydrated.  There were signs saying “don’t leave the house!” and there were others saying “Get your ass out there!”

We began with a plan.  The band I play with was supposed to travel to North Carolina, but it fell through for reasons beyond control.  Such things happen.  Recording was supposed to take place saturday afternoon, but a sudden blizzard descended upon the northeast, and made travel impossible.  Lovely.  But let’s focus on pre blizzard conditions.

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I’m a huge Podcast enthusiast.  I’d venture to say I’m one of the biggest podcast enthusiasts out there.  For years and years, I’ve listened to everything I could get my hands on.  Yes, This American Life and Radiolab, but also some non hipster shit.  KCRW’s The Treatment, Chicago Public Radio’s Sound Opinions,  Jesse Thorne’s The Sound Of Young America.  There’s some great stuff out there, and it will make your commute fly by like one of those bullet trains now outlawed in several states due to environmental corruption regulations (I completely made that up.)

But the main show sweeping the nation and beyond, is WTF with Marc Maron.  Maron, a stand up comedian, interviews all sorts of performers.  Mostly comedians, some writers and actors.  He’s so intriguing.  It might be because so many creative type neurotic Jews identify with his tendencies, but he’s a fantastic interviewer.  He not only asks exactly the questions you want to hear, but get’s to them in a way that doesn’t seem like some pretend journalist on an entertainment show.  It’s a dark and disturbing show at one moment, and completely hilarious the next.  He made Ira Glass erupt with high voiced anger.  That alone is worth the price of admission.

So on Friday evening, we learned he would be at the Comedy Cellar, and figured what the hell.  Its in a douchey neighborhood, probably filled with assholes, but we might get some laughs out of it, so why not.  Its always tricky seeing someone you are so familiar with in one area fairly out of context.  Yes, we know Maron made his name doing stand up, but the majority of people know him from his show. Well, whatever the outcome, we were in it, stuck at the very first table in the tiny basement that is the Comedy Cellar.

It was a typical night of standup, 5 performers and an MC, an experience I’m not at all used to.  Jim Norton showed up and had some great moments.  Others I can’t remember….did not.  It’s really just like watching a musician, only with absolutely no protection.  It’s far easier to hide behind an instrument.  Play a few chords, if you don’t know what to do next, just make some noise, throw in a few extra notes.  These guys have nothing.  If you pause…it’s dead silence.  That would terrify me more than anything.

Maron performed third, and seemed to be a little flustered.  He had just gotten in an argument with another comic beforehand…which no one who listens to the show would be surprised at.  But it seemed to throw him off a bit. A vein in his forehead looked like it was going to explode, and he kept making steady, direct, almost psychotic eye contact with me.  This was noted by others around me as well.  I had no idea what to do.  Do you laugh?  Do you just smile?  Do you look uncomfortable and keep drinking your surprisingly not overpriced beer?  Guess which one I chose.

But still, I was in it with him for the long haul.  I want to see where it goes.  And I mean, I kind of want it to be funny.  It what looked like a millisecond of panic, he told his story of falsely beating mouth cancer.  Yes it’s hilarious, but you have to figure, the show sold out most likely because of this guy.  He has rabid fans, both of the show and of his stand up.  He’s done this story both on the podcast, and Conan O’brien’s show.  Maybe it seemed like the room was full of unfamiliar ears?  We’ll never know. Look, you can even google Marc Maron Mouth Cancer and it comes up:

Is that how comedy works though?  I really have no idea.  Is that like a band playing a song on various media outlets a few times?  Or are jokes a different animal altogether?  Could it also be a product of this rapid availability of information?  If someone were just on late night TV, you have the chunk of people who watch it live, but the majority had no idea it ever happened.  But now, no one sees it live, it floats around on youtube, millions download the podcast….you have to know it’s out there!

Maron is kind of like the Nels Cline of comedy.  Shows up out of nowhere later in his career, and is suddenly a hero.  I wonder what kind of effect this has on one’s performance.  You’ve been honing your craft for years only getting the occasionally spotlight, and suddenly, all eyes are on you.  We all wonder how it will play out.

Sunday, through the magic of thegearpage.net crazy gear head message boards, I drove to Southern NJ and swapped my Swart Spacetone 6v6 for a Fender Deluxe Reverb Reissue.  This went very smoothly, and would have been a fantastic journey, had I not become violently ill on the trip home.  And let me tell you, if you’re going to get violently ill anywhere, I’d say a Honda Fit on the NJ Turnpike is probably at the top of anyone’s list.  It’s a mad dash to the next rest stop, and those things are about 36 miles apart.  Good thing I had some angry ranting Jews talking about literature and the downfall of American society cranking out the speakers.  What a lovely way to end the week.

Dawes at Webster Hall

We all get discouraged from time to time, at the lack of amazing young songwriters.  We troll the music blogs, hoping to hear something other than the frantic yell/sing dance type vocals, so watered down with reverb its like a white wine spritzer.

When historians look back at this generation, for the books they will write on some unforeseen invisible tablet type device, it is my opinion that they will focus on the technical prowess, rather than songwriting skills.  Can you think of any truly beautiful songwriter type albums in the last 5 years, that weren’t overly produced/auto-tuned to tell (either for effect or necessity?)  There are less than a handful.

So despite my traditionally Jewish and cynical outlook, I would like to talk about Dawes, their Webster Hall show last night, and how good it feels to know they are out there making music.   This band is made up of 4 young dudes, the singer/guitar player and drummer are brothers, the drummer has a FANTASTIC afro, which bobs as he plays.

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I heard about them a few years back on WFUV, at the time of their North Hills album.  Something was said kind of like “here’s a new band, they recorded this album all together in the same room”  which is always a lovely thing to hear.  The single “When My Time Comes” is pretty much perfect.  I don’t care if it’s a bit cheesy, I’m singing along to it, god damnit, and if you don’t like it, you can come back to Webster Hall on Halloween club night and catch chlamydia at a foam party.

So Webster Hall is an interesting venue.  Its used most nights of the week as a dance club for underage guido/guidettes and the various shiny new jersey types.  Occasionally Bowery Presents books shows there, and you can hear thumping bass from other rooms in the building.  Lets start off with a few problems before we get to the music.

First, if you leave during the headlining band’s set, don’t expect to return to your spot.  If you try to get through with 3 beers while wearing a backpack, I hope one of those lions from Ohio miraculously escaped capture, somehow made its way across the Ohio Tundra to New York, and bites off your dick.  The problem with the live music experience is that you have to interact so closely with so many people you have no interest in being close to.  Where is Steve Jobs to solve these problems, we truly need him.

But enough of my whining, let’s discuss the music.  Blitzen Trapper opened. Some people love this band, some people also love unflavored rice cakes, because they’re not necessarily bad for you, and there are much worse things out there.  All I’m going to say, is that someone needs to get Blitzen Trapper a metronome, and turn it to something other than 86bpm, ok?

Seeing Dawes, felt as though all of the well dressed and slightly annoying people in Webster Hall suddenly disappeared, a cool breeze began flowing, and an easily accessible bar without 8$ bud lights was lowered down.  They were so fucking tasteful.  Just four people, drums, bass, guitar and keyboards, with some lovely harmonies.  No one threw too many notes out there, every solo was well placed, and the harmonies were like the ice cream sandwiches at the Meatball Shop.

The Goldsmith Brothers, on drums, guitar, and vocals are just so complimentary to each other.  Griffin on the drums has this slightly nasal voice which fits so well behind the slightly gruff lead, kind of like the Graham Nash of the band.

What came through most though were the songs themselves.  I had not heard about half the songs played, but still, the melody and lyrics carried weight.  You could tell the songs meant something to Goldsmith (either that or he’s the world’s most convincing performer.)  By the end of the set, his voice was a little shredded, but no one seemed to mind.  Fantastic lyrics, delivered with sincerity and not too much flash, I was all about it.

The next show will probably be at Terminal 5 or something equally as cavernous, so if it is by chance a smaller venue…I encourage you to go, but also to buy tickets after I do, because lets be honest, as the great Rodney Dangerfield once said…we all need to look out for number 1, and don’t step in number two!  (RIMSHOT!)

Sorry about that last one.  Really.

Damn you, Klosterman!

I just came across this review of the Lou Reed/Metallica Album “Lulu” by the one and only Chuck Klosterman

Go and read it this moment, it will make you a better person.

First off, I feel great that people like this are out there. Klosterman is still thrashing through the dense jungle with his magical word related machete, stalking the predator type invisible beast, and he is probably on fire while doing so, literally, and has no plans to stop, drop, and roll.  You know what I mean.  It’s as if the thoughts he conveys are slightly out of reach to normal folk.  Anyway, what I’m saying is, I want to steal some shit from him.

He makes such an interesting point though, this is the type of music industry we asked for.  No label wanted something like this to come out.  No manager heard this and thought it was a good idea.  For some reason, these people put this thing out there for all to hear, open to all the ridicule the internet provides.  Can someone please revisit the “Money Good Napster Bad” era cartoon style for this?

Anyway, I’m not going to rehash his points, give it a read.

Theory Of Triangles, Stop Half Assing It, and Jon Brion

You know kids, in the 10 years I’ve been working at becoming a better engineer, you know what thought came to mind most often?

“Wouldn’t it be fucking awesome if I could do none of this work, never show up early or do any research, and just take a 1 hr workshop to learn everything I need to know?”

You know what happened next? I woke up and realized I had zoned out in the middle of an intersection and one of those delivery dudes on an electric bike was coming straight at me.

I was asked to do a “Cliffs Notes” type article about some engineering related matters.  And for some reason, it just hit me the wrong way.  It made me think of this “Everything Right Now Right Away” time we live in.  Maybe not even that, but just the lack of desire to learn to do something the right way.

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At the studio where I work, I often encounter people wanting to do things on the quick and cheap, who refuse to spend money to get it done.  The eternal rule, as we all know, is “Good Quick Cheap, pick Two” and this is certainly a rule to live by.  Technical things are complicated, regardless of the industry.  Video, audio, photography, graphic design, gardening,  it’s all in there.  Sure, there are ways to state things simply, but often a comprehensive guide is required.

Part of me wants to just blurt out:  “There really is nothing complicated to being an engineer. Just read an article somewhere, buy some shit at Best Buy, and you’re there! Also, don’t spend too much money, you really don’t want great gear, just buy whatever your cheap ass thinks looks cool. Also, be really mean to anyone who tries to hire you, that’s essential. Annnnnd you’re set! Get ready to start raking in the cash! OH YEAH.”

What happened to our desire to do things the right way?  What made us seek the shortest and quickest route to whatever destination we fell like reaching?

A few weeks back, I went to see Jon Brion at Le Poisson Rouge in the West Village.  Brion, an eccentric producer and composer, had scheduled a rare run of shows in New York.  It just felt like one of those occasions where you knew you were in the right place.  The stage was filled with instruments.  Synths looking wobbily, stacked on a grand piano, tons of guitars, a vibraphone, drum kit, it was all there.

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How long do you think it took this guy to become proficient on any of these instruments?  That’s not even mastering them as he has, just to be able to play them kind of well?  From the skill he exhibited, I’m going to guess CENTURIES.

People would call out requests, of any type, by any artist, and Brion would launch into them.  Very little preparation, maybe 10 seconds to think.  At one point, he moved to the vibraphone, uttered “um, how do I play this one on the vibes….”and proceeded to play a jaw droppingly beautiful version of “This Will Be Our Year” by The Zombies, A song which I must confess, I did not know previously.  He stumbled through it with some off notes, some mildly forgotten lyrics, but it was still perfect.

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This is no asshole looking for the easy way out, he’s challenging himself live in the moment, no net, no plans.  Just a completely blank slate, and some giant balls.  We left the show feeling so wonderful and energized, that a cheeseburger at Minetta Tavern seemed like the only thing to do.  A week later, it was announced that Brion would add one last show “…so why the hell not?” we thought.

This evening was even more whimsical, if possible.  Someone yelled “Tom Waits!”  someone else yelled “Blondie!”  So he played “Heart Of Glass” at the piano in Tom Waits voice.  He performed “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” with a vocoder, mellotron, and grand piano. We need to make this man the fucking president.

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There are Two things we should take from this situation.  First, if Jon Brion is in town, go to the show, I don’t care where it is or who you are.  Second, stop half assing things.  Some important person at one point, said something kind of like “do the best you can with what you have where you are, and if it doesnt work out eat a grilled cheese and watch American Pickers”  I believe that’s a direct quote.  But come on kids, stop looking for the easy way to create something.

There are a billion iPhone apps that can let you fart out some good sounds, but that doesnt mean what you create with those sounds will be any good.  Put the time in.  Spend the money.  If you have less of one, invest more of the other.  That’s my theory, someone back me up.

Ipad, Animoog, Filtatron, and Garageband. An Odyssey Into The Unknown.

OK, it’s no secret that yes, I love technology, always and forever.

Recently I purchased an iPhone, and left my average intelligence flip phone alone in the dust.  While fantastic for communication, photos, maps, and other silly things, for music creation, it leaves a little to be desired.  The interface is just too small.   Its a phone, surprise.

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If you are a fan of Parks and Rec, perhaps you have heard of Entertainment 720.  A company that has no clients, and gives out fabulous swag to all who dare to mention its name.  Well, lets just say my girlfriend recommended someone to work there, and received an iPad2.  Somehow, she couldn’t introduce me to Aziz though, wtf.

Anyhoo, the ipad arrived yesterday, coincidentally on the same day Moog released their ipad only synth “Animoog” and the rest of their apps for $1.  Well, if thats not a sign from the great mysterious octopus in the sky with powers of telepathy and time travel, THEN WHAT IS!?  Immediately upon receiving the Moog news, i purchased the Filtatron iPhone app, and had about an hour of fun.  Later in the evening, once the ipad was unboxed, it was massive app time.

It might have been the best $7 ever spent.  Animoog, Filtatron, and Garageband.  We’ve discussed the potential of the iPad before, as has the entire internet and 90% of people alive.  But this was my first tactical interaction on a musical level.  I’ve seen it done, but never experienced it first hand for more than a few minutes.  Lets start with the good.

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I hooked it up to the absolutely fantastic Jambox.  A badass little speaker that all electronic based musicians should know about. (full disclosure – the aforementioned girlfriend works with Jawbone, but it does not diminish the product’s greatness) I went through the many presets Animoog provides, and the sounds themselves are versatile and usable.  There are of course the crazy noise producing and freakout modulations, but there are also some classic leads/lovely synth brass/emotional pads meant for the coldest of 80’s revival ballads.  It has a fun interactive component – Each key modulates as you change from the bottom to top, and there is an XY axis that manipulates other parameters as well.  This is the kind of thing that could not really take place on an analog keyboard, without spending thousands of dollars.

The downside is I guess what any computer interaction is.  It just doesn’t feel real.  There is a slight delay when hitting a few keys, its not as instant as the real thing.  I own a Moog Lil Phatty, and love it to death, so I won’t be selling it just yet in exchange for an iPad based setup.  Manipulating the controls in real time also leaves a bit to be desired, it’s just learning a new interface and how you have to touch it exactly right to get the desired results (yes, i know, thats what she said, now lets move on.)

Lets discuss Garageband, something I have had a full fledged freakout about on the pages of this blog in the past.  I initially imagined it could replace many synths and drum machines, becoming the all in one home recording god we have all been waiting for.  Well kids, let me be the first to tell you, The Singularity is a little bit of a ways away.  The sounds themselves are pretty good.  Pret-tay, pret-tay, good.  But, they’re not the best.  Again, I will not be selling my Elektron Machinedrum in place of this anytime soon.  It has the standard stuff, again, none of it is bad, much of it is highly usable, but its not amazingly stellar.

Same as with the Animoog, the real challenge is the interaction.  You kind of do need some type of Midi keyboard to go with it.  I know, I know, this should not be a surprise to me or anyone, but I guess I expected it to be pure magic, and an instant universe changer, leaving me free to show up wherever I wanted with just an iPad and some headphones.  Sadly, not the case.  Apogee makes some good looking guitar/microphone interfaces, Alesis has the “IO Dock” which many musicians seem to be turning to, but I’ll bet other manufacturers come out with a similar and possibly more high end interface in the near future.  (At least according to Analog Industries)

This did not stop me from creating some fun little tunes, but I will wait until I have mastered all things ipad before I post some jams.  Lets just say, the Quantize feature is very nice, the Sampler can be hours of fun, and I really do enjoy the internal garageband synth sounds – they’re very simple, don’t have a billion controls, and have a lovely visual aspect, as all things Apple tend to.  (except logic, which we’ve also discussed before)

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Those are the thoughts for now.  More on technology in the developing world in the next episode.