Monthly Archives: June 2011

Attention Linux: Stop making me rip songs in ogg format. Nobody gives a crap about Ogg Vorbis!

I promised to post reviews of three more CDs I bought recently, but I have a cold and I’m in a grumpy mood. I have been playing said CDs however, and just got them ripped to my laptop so I can deal with the songs better. Which brings me to two subjects I will talk about: Linux and Ogg Vorbis.

It took me at least an extra half hour to get my CDs ripped because of something that happens every time I get a new operating system installed: All my songs ripped as Ogg Vorbis files instead of the standard mp3. Then I had to figure out how to change the setting in Banshee (my music player) and if I had installed the codecs I needed. In between all that were a few text message exchanges with a more Linux-knowledgeable friend.

That annoys the crap out of me every time. I know to expect it, but I always forget. Why do I forget? Because NO ONE uses Ogg. Ogg is worthless. I need files I can play in my car stereo or play in an mp3 player, or give to someone who doesn’t use Linux. As far as I can tell, the only reason Ogg Vorbis exists is for Linux purists who hate using proprietary software. Even when not using that software is a huge pain in the ass.

Banshee says Ogg is higher quality and makes smaller files than mp3, but it’s not enough of a difference to overcome that problem of trapping your music on a Linux computer. The whole point of a music file should be portability. Just found an amusing blog post by someone else who agrees Ogg is worthless. (His blog is called the Linux Hater’s Blog. His main goal is to piss off linux users. He’s surly and funny and reminds me of Maddox. I wonder if he IS Maddox?)

So with all the bitching, why am I using Linux in the first place? Believe it or not I love it. Or at least like it. I used Windows on my first PCs and I got fed up with all the crashing and virus attacks. No matter how hard you try or how much you pay for anti-virus software, it still gets in. The guys making the viruses are just too good nowadays. Even the best anti-virus services are just playing catch-up.

I got tired of being pushed around by Microsoft. I actually switched to Linux because I didn’t want to switch to Vista and pay a bunch of money for another OS I knew I would just be lukewarm about at best. I like some of the programs available on Linux. I definitely like not having to pay for them. They do almost everything I need (who are we kidding though? Gimp is not as good as Photoshop. It’s just good enough, sort of, and doesn’t cost a fortune).

I also like being contrary — to a point. I hate monopolies and giant corporations as much as the next guy, but I’m not going to let that keep me from getting things done that I need to get done. It helps a lot that Linux Mint is user-friendly and not as purist as some other distros I’ve tried.

I am not a programmer or a hacker. I am passably computer literate, but to me a computer is a tool, a means to an end. I can learn to do things in the terminal if I try hard enough, I just don’t want to. I learned a little code (mostly forgotten now) when I was using Ubuntu. I had to, because while it was user-friendly to a large degree, updates kept breaking things and I would have to figure out how to fix them. I would have things working just right and all of a sudden something would happen — sound would quit working or something.

Linux Mint on the other hand, works so well that I haven’t needed to figure out things to put in the terminal. Main reason why I’m so rusty. If I wanted to, I could bury my nose in Linux manuals and spend hours and hours learning code just like the “big boys.” I just don’t want to. It’s like mowing the grass. I hate that shit.

I have a limited amount of free time when I’m not working and I don’t want to use it on things I don’t enjoy. I would much rather do things I do enjoy, like listening to music, going to concerts and writing about them, interviewing interesting people, discovering new favorite bands and sharing them with others.

Now this ought to get me some comments, although maybe not happy comments 😉

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Tune-Yards – Whokill: not just another Graceland homage

Just got several really good CDs in the mail. Immediate gratification is nice, but so is that feeling of anticipation, waiting for something to turn up in my mailbox.

Tune-Yards – Whokill

This is the sophomore album from Tune-Yards – one of my best discoveries from my set of unofficial South By Southwest shows back in March. I like the album as much as the show, if not more.
It’s odd, funky, upbeat and at times really beautiful.

Merrill Garbus, singer and multi-instrumentalist, really has a unique vision as well as a great voice and a great team of musicians. Loops, ukelele, plenty of percussion and a definite African vibe. My reaction when I first heard her weird yodeling and drumming at SXSW was, “What the hell is this?” Then it sunk in: She knows exactly what she’s doing and she is brilliant.

When an indie rocker makes music with an African influence it usually reminds me of something I’ve heard before – like Paul Simon’s Graceland. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love that album and Vampire Weekend.)

Whokill doesn’t really remind me of anything. The African influence is there (I know Garbus studied music in Africa for a while), but it doesn’t really define the music; it just sounds weird, unique, and very good. Catchy even. It’s indie rock, not some kind tribute to an African style. Yet it doesn’t come across as a fusion. It sounds natural, like Garbus is just writing what she feels, not trying to put an ethnic spin on the music.
Every song is a winner, but “Gangsta,” “Bizness” and “You Yes You” are my favorites. Very funky. The album’s hits if anything can be a hit nowadays.
The delicate lullaby “Wooly Wolly Gong” is also growing on me. Really beautiful. Makes me think of Modest Mouse.

I’ll talk about the other CDs in my latest batch after I get through covering Elgin’s Western Days Festival, which will keep me busy for a couple of days, but I’ll go ahead and list them now: SheLoom – Seat of the Empire, Figli di Madre Ignota – Fez Club, Balkan Beats 2.

Leave a comment

Filed under funk, indie, indie pop, indie rock, review, video

Chubby Knuckle Choir – upcoming shows

Just got an update from my new faves, the Chubby Knuckle Choir, about upcoming shows (I’m on the mailing list). If you’re lucky enough to live in Central Texas you might be able to catch them.

They’ll be at Quoffer’s Pub tomorrow night, June 23, starting at 8:30 p.m. No cover. I have to cover something for the paper, but I’ll try to catch at least part of that show.

Friday, June 24, the Choir will be in San Marcos for the Cheatham Street’s annual Bigfest. Bigfest will raise money for the Cheatham Street Foundation. Other bands performing include: Tournpike Troubadours, Kyle Park, Jamie Richards, James Lann, Jason Allen, John Evans, Greezy Wheels, The McKay Brothers, Doug Moreland, Red Volkaert, Big John Mills, and more.  (I won’t make it – Western Days in Elgin will be getting under way.)

Saturday night, June 25, the Choir will peform for the first time at Floores Country Store in Helotes, startng at 9 p.m., followed by Scott Wiggins.

Wednesday, June 29, the Choir will be at Billy’s Ice House in New Braunfels, starting at 9 p.m. No cover.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Time to hang up the camera phone and watch the show?

I found an article a few days ago about a plan by Apple to make iPhones unable to film live music. Promoters and venues get tired of  making exclusive live recording deals with bands only to see the shows turn up in a jillion different Youtube videos. Apple is creating technology that would detect the fact that a live musical performance was going on and shut off the camera. Phoning and texting would still work.

I had several thoughts after reading the article, the first one being, I’m glad I have an Android phone. The idea of having product features and then having them taken away pisses me off. I also have a few questions: What about indie bands that need the publicity and WANT the audience to film them? How “smart” would the technology be? Would it stop you from filming a robbery or a cop beating a suspect?

All interesting questions, but it also raises another issue with me: Rudeness at concerts. Is technology making us forget our manners? Just because your smart phone can film a concert, does that mean you should? It’s probably a little annoying for a musician to look down from the stage and see nothing but a sea of iPhones instead of people like, paying attention. At some point you should probably just put the phone down and watch the damn concert.

I’m guilty of it myself. I’m always trying to get shots for this blog, even though my camera and smartphone pretty much suck for concert pics. I try to hang it up and watch the show once I get what I think I can use, but maybe I do irritate some people. I get annoyed (and a bit jealous) when I see people in front of me with smart phones that have cameras better than my actual camera, snapping away through the whole concert, but for all I know they could all have blogs too. At the very least, they’re putting pics up on Facebook, which isn’t much different. Maybe I’m just a hypocrite.

It’s not just smartphones that lead to rude behavior. Some people are just rude. You always have a few bad apples. (The Austin-American Statesman recently had an article about the problem.)

The guys who were deliberately loud and disruptive during John Pointer’s show come to mind.

I saw an otherwise great show from Slim Bawb in Bastrop the other night that was disrupted by a table full of oblivious loud-talking women. Yap yap yap. They never shut up. Didn’t even look at the stage. They texted, laughed, posed for pictures, talked all about their shallow little lives and basically ignored the show. I don’t know why they were even there.

The crowds at Psych Fest were pretty well-behaved in general, but there were a couple of instances where groups of people would wait till everyone was in place before a show, then rush through everyone right to the front. Tends to be guys too big to beat up and girls who know they probably won’t get beat up.

Then there was the guy at Emo’s several years ago who threw a plastic water bottle back over his head and hit some girl in the face. That could be construed as rude.

Always a few bad apples out there. That’s life. The smart phone thing isn’t just a few people though. It’s a LOT of people at every concert. Maybe even most. Are we all turning into jerks when it comes to smart phones at concerts? Or are we just changing as a society and it’s just something we all have to get used to. Technology certainly does change us, mostly for the better, but not always. I think smart phones and social media both have a downside: We get so busy trying to document our experiences we forget to live them.

7 Comments

Filed under commentary, Uncategorized

John Pointer plays in Elgin and talks about Patronism – an idea that could save music


John Pointer is a talented songwriter, guitar player and beatboxer. He also has an idea that just might save music.

When Quoffer’s manager Kevin Smith dropped by the office last Thursday, June 9, saying “The Great John Pointer is playing in my bar tonight!” My first thought was “John who?” Then I remembered John Pointer’s interview on KOOP 91.7 FM about his “crowd-sourcing” website for musicians called Patronism. And the amazing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” I had been wanting to get hold of him for a couple of months so I could write about him. Now here he was, about to perform in a pub just a few doors down from where I work. It was like fate.

I was glad I went. John Pointer the musician put on a hell of a show. John Pointer the idea man was also pretty inspiring.

First, the show…

Pointer has some unusual techniques. He stands on a wooden box that he stamps on for rhythm. He has a percussive guitar playing style — he recently had had his guitar reinforced to keep it from cracking. He also picks with both hands on the neck. Very unique. I’ve never seen anyone play like that. He performed with confidence and humor, teasing and joshing with the audience.

My favorite song of the night was “Abraham’s Disciple,” a fierce song about religion-inspired violence. “I don’t care what you’re teaching Brother, I’m gonna study war…” He also sang some beautiful more delicate-sounding songs like “Annalisa,” a song inspired by Portland songwriter Annalisa Tornfelt; and “Sleep Well,” a song he wrote to comfort his terminally ill father.

His take on “Kashmir” was pretty awesome as well. There was some unwelcome competition from some basketball fans at the bar who wanted to make it known as loudly as they could that they came for the game, but he handled it gracefully, making a joke out of their outbursts rather than going off on them (like they would’ve deserved, frankly). “Please hold your applause…. Let’s see him do this.”

His cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” impressed me as did his version of Blackstreet’s “No Diggety.”

Pointer gave some great beatbox performances (including, after much begging from a fan, a pastiche of Chili’s ‘Babyback ribs’ commercial) and even taught the audience how to get started beatboxing: Repeat “Mississippi, Mississippi, Mississippi, Pississippi, Pississippi, Pississippi, etc.” (Just the basics. To get as good as he is takes 30 years of practice.)

The beatboxing was popular and he got a lot of audience participation. “James Brown rules: When I say ‘Ain’t it funky?’ say ‘Yeah!'”

John Pointer the Musician

John has been playing music since he was 5, starting out on the piano. He learned to play cello using the Suzuki Method, learning to play percussion and then guitar at age 12. Back then his heroes were guitarists like Steve Vai, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour and Joe Satriani. When he was studying music at the University of Texas in Austin, where he got a degree in cello performance and composition, he found that “nobody wanted to hear shredders.”

His uncle gave him a Stratocaster and he began playing the blues, like Austin folks wanted to hear. He began playing with guitarist and singer/songwriter Michael Hedges. Then he played cello with a group called Woodwork featuring guitar virtuosos David Lee Hess and Chris Downey. He credits Hess and Downey as major influences on his guitar style. “They still perform occasionally as Seahorse,” he said. “They’re so good they can’t find their audience. I’m nowhere near as good as they are on guitar. They do it more precisely. I’m a bull in a china shop.”

Pointer got into beatboxing and performed with Schrödinger’s Cat – Big Beat A Capella. It was with that group that he got the idea to perform atop a percussion box.

He has had success in the theater. He recently performed in Rent at the Zach Scott Theatre.

Patronism

Patronism is a subscription-based company that allows fans — or patrons — to subscribe to artists they love. In exchange for subscribing, a patron gets access to all kinds of creative content. That could include downloadable songs, videos, guitar tabs, or lyric sheets — whatever the artist decides. “The idea is to get the patron actively involved in the creative process,” said Pointer. “It will stabilize the artists income so they can keep creating.”

Pointer wants musicians to get out of the album/T-shirt/CD-selling business and devote more time to their art. “I don’t release CDs anymore,” he said. “They’re pretty worthless.” The subscription system on the other hand, allows artists to partner with fans so they can keep making music. “You have to be a musician to understand how radical this change is.”

Pointer is confident his way is the way of the future. “This is going to sink the rest of the music industry, or what’s left of it. But it will save music. In three years I’ll be known as the one who changed music. I’m not making any money, I’m just making sure musicians can keep making music.”

Patronism went live in September and is still in beta, but it has already gained attention from the media. It was a semi-finalist in the Harvard Business School and Berklee College of Music Business Model Competition and has been has been written up by numerous publications, including Time, Hypebot and Wired Magazine.

Patronism is different from Kickstarter, a “crowdsourcing” website that helps people fund projects such as album releases. Kickstarter projects have a definite beginning and end. Patronism is ongoing. “We don’t ‘kickstart’ projects,” Pointer said. “What we do is keep the engine running.”

The website uses a “pay what you feel” model, similar to the one Radiohead used to sell downloads of In Rainbows in 2007. “It’s more like a fan club with lots of content,” Pointer said. “An artist could have special shows for patrons, for example. Music is not a commodity. It should be shared by people who are most moved by it and want to ensure it’s survival.”

If John Pointer’s Patronism saves music it will be ironic, because it’s actually a very old concept. Pointer sees the current “record deal” model as an aberration, something that’s only been around for 100 years. “The future of music is ancient history. We would not have had the Rennaissance without the Medicis. Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Boticelli – they were all supported by the Medici family.”

Musicians are accepted based on talent and ability to use the web. “We are curating it one band at a time,” said Pointer. “They have to be compelling and be able to communicate online. If we deny a band, we have an incubator program. We’ll help them grow their e-mail list.”

Pointer has two business partners: Dave Kuster and Michael Torkildsen. Right now, they are working in the U.S. only, but they plan to take it worldwide.

There are two types of music fans according to Pointer:

1. Super-fans or “patrons.” These are the people who are moved by music and find value in it and are willing to support it. They actually have a relationship with the music and the musicians that produce it.

2. Consumers. These just want to be “fed” or entertained. Music might be fun, but it’s not that important, worth downloading maybe, but not worth paying for.  (“To the people who just want everything I do for free, I say fuck them, because that’s what they’re saying to me. I practiced for 32 years to learn how to do this. But if you value what I do, I’ll give it to you.”)

Let’s hope there are enough people in the first category to make Patronism and companies like it successful.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Chubby Knuckle Choir: roots music from a country that never existed – but should have

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ever mix foods that don’t sound like they should go together and find out they really really do? Like peanut butter ‘n’ banana sandwiches? Sounded weird at first, but trust me, it’s a combination that was meant to be.

I recently discovered a musical example: The Chubby Knuckle Choir, a band with a funny name and an even stranger combination of styles, with members from Bastrop, Cedar Creek, Elgin, Waco and Liberty Hill.

It’s almost impossible to pin down their sound. Americana doesn’t quite do it. Blues, bluegrass, country, rockabilly, Cajun, R&B, funk… They’re all part of the mix. It’s such a weird combination of styles, but it sounds rootsy and natural, like folk music from a country that never was, but should’ve been.

The band has five members: Rory Smith of Elgin on vocals and percussion; Perry Lowe of Bastrop on percussion; Tres Womack of Waco (formerly of Bastrop) on guitar and vocals; Slim Bawb Pearce of Cedar Creek (by way of Sacramento, California) on mandolin and other stringed instruments and vocals and Dave Gould of Liberty Hill on string bass.

The percussion is a bit unusual, with Rory pounding on congas, scratching on a frottoir (rub board) and at times a Jew’s harp given to him by his Swedish mother-in-law. Perry plays a Brazilian box drum known as a cajón (that doubles as his chair) and an African drum called a djembe.

Each member brings something into the mix — styles, instruments and songs. Tres adds a country music flavor. Slim Bawb adds Louisiana and bluegrass influences (although he’s from California). Rory and Perry contribute R&B, funk and soul. Dave Gould, who also plays in the Watts Brothers Band, brings his skill on the bass fiddle.

“People compare us to the Gourds, but I think we’re more unique,” said Tres, who helped kick start the band. He hosted  an open mic night that featured Rory and a CD release party where both Rory and Perry turned up to sing harmony. They enjoyed working together so much a musical relationship was born. In time they picked up Slim Bawb Pearce and Curtis Farley (the previous bass player).

“Tres, Rory and Perry had been playing together for a while and they needed a picker,” said Slim Bawb. “I played some slide mandolin and we meshed really quickly. It’s fun to play in this band. We have a lot of harmonies and you never know what’s gonna happen. There’s a lot of improvising going on.”

Slim Bawb moved to Cedar Creek from Sacramento five years ago. Before he became a transplanted Texan, he spent 20 years with a group called the Beer Dawgs, which was inducted into the Sacramento Area Music Hall of Fame in 1998.

Curtis, who owns Twisted Twig Studio, is still involved with the band on the production end. He came up with the name Chubby Knuckle Choir while poking fun at the musicians’ middle age spare tires and chubby hands. The musicians were having a jam session and singing harmonies. “Curtis was picking on us and said ‘y’all look like a chubby knuckle choir’ and the name stuck,” Rory said.

Rory and Perry chose their percussion instruments for two reasons: 1) their cars weren’t big enough to hold trap sets and 2) they provide rhythm without overwhelming the vocals.

Tres also liked the idea of using those instruments to make the band’s sound more unique, and offset his strong country influence. The frottoir was a nod to Slim Bawb’s Cajun influence.

“What makes it work is we all like each other,” Rory said.

The Chubby Knuckle Choir has had its share of local success, performing at South By Southwest in 2008, 2009 and 2010. They have also opened for Austin musician Guy Forsyth, former member of the Asylum Street Spankers at Nutty Brown Café outside of Dripping Springs.

Most of the time they perform at the Lumberyard in downtown Bastrop or in Quoffer’s in Elgin, but they also play in other venues around the state and are slated to play in Elgin’s Hogeye Festival next October.

They are not trying to become a national act — although they are open to possibilities if they somehow strike it big. “We’re all at that age where we have responsibilities,” Rory said. “Perry has a couple of toddlers. If we get a following that’s great, but  it’s not on the agenda. We just love what we do.”

The band is working on songs for the debut studio album, which should be finished by the end of the year. In the meantime, you can buy CDs of their 11-track album “Live at the Lumberyard” for $10. E-mail rolow86@yahoo.com.

The Chubby Knuckle Choir’s next show is at the Lumberyard is 8 p.m. Friday, June 10. The band will perform at Quoffer’s at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 23.

This one may be my favorite:

Ethylene

These are quite impressive as well:

Herville

It’s Always Something

The Live Experience

I caught the tail end of one of their shows at Quoffer’s bar in Elgin and went to see them again a few weeks ago in Bastrop in a really cool venue called the Lumberyard (it actually used to BE a lumberyard).

The audience was a mix of old and young who from time to time got up and danced. The band obviously a small but dedicated following (that recently grew by one).

Their set list featured some great original songs, along with some inspired covers. “Freakshow,” “It’s Always Something” “Farmer’s Tan” and “Ethylene” were among my favorite originals.

They did excellent covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” the gospel standard “Jesus on the Mainline” and Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.” Venue owner Jeff Brister joined the band on trumpet during “Ya Ya.”

Another highlight was Storytelling, a band tradition. Band members take turns telling stories from one concert to the next. The stories are supposed to be true. Rory told one about raccoons taking up residence in his attic.

Every story ends with “and I heard a song on the radio,” followed by a cover song. The one that night was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Never expected to hear a bluegrass version of that, but it really worked.

Very entertaining live show. I’ve been looking for a band to fill the empty place in my soul left by the breakup of the Asylum Street Spankers and I may have finally found it – right in my back yard.

Check out The Chubby Knuckle Choir Reverbnation page for announcements of upcoming shows.

And here’s a sample of their live performance:

2 Comments

Filed under alt-country, blues, country, folk, indie, interview, live show, one to watch, r&b, review, roots, Uncategorized, world music

Most awesome, most tinnitus-inducing song I ever heard

When my friend played this song at my request, his then-wife went running into the room, thinking he had done something horribly wrong and the computer was ripping itself and the house around it into pieces. That’s sort of what this song sounds like to me too. I love it. I found it on MySpace a couple of years ago and was utterly captivated by the way it deliberately sounds as awful as possible, yet totally works. It makes me think of the sounds my ears make when I’m at a really loud concert and forget to put my earplugs in. Like they took that squelchy sound out of my head and made a song out of it. Talk about abrasive. It makes me smile that they would even think of doing this, much less put it out on an album. As punk as it gets.

Leave a comment

Filed under experimental, indie, punk