Spend a Couple Hours »Apple TV

A better Netflix instant experience

We loved our Roku – I think it’s a fantastic product – but when we decided to add a Blu-ray player to the mix (watching the Shining and 2001 back-to-back on Blu-ray one afternoon at Brittany’s dad’s house totally convinced me to switch formats) it just made sense to go with the Samsung model that integrates the Netflix instant player, the BD-P2500, and pass the Roku along to the brother-in-law.

This was a huge mistake. While the Blu-ray player itself is fine (actually, it’s sub-fine: not all discs will play and more often than not ‘enhanced viewing features’, like Ron Weasley – or Lafayette – appearing in a huge Picture-in-Picture window, are impossible to disable), the Netflix instant portion was a disaster. Despite being hard-wired (vs the wireless Roku), movies would take forever to start, the audio would often be out of sync and, most frequently, the picture would vanish and just the audio would play prompting at least one reset of the whole system; sometimes as many as half a dozen. About once a month ominous error messages appeared about registration issues and I’d have to hard-reset. It was terrible…

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Posted on November 27, 2010

Movies »The Lord of the Rings

Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the RingsDirected by Ralph Bakshi (1978)

Believe it or not (I’m hoping my facetiousness is apparent), I was a huge Tolkien fan when I was a kid. I’m sure I can’t remember what year it was, but the night my dad brought home our first family VCR we rushed out to the (sadly now defunct) Video World and grabbed the two tapes my brother and I would watch again and again over the next several years: the Rankin/Bass Hobbit and John Boorman’s the Emerald Forest (for years that was his favorite movie, go figure… BTW: Boorman nearly adapted LotR himself, he reused the sets he built for Excalibur).

I actually had two maps of Middle Earth hung on my bedroom wall (one was next to an image of the members of Public Enemy hanging out in a maximum security prison; pretty sophisticated juxtaposition of the kind of things boys in their pre-teens are drawn too – thanks for offering the tools needed to create such a dynamic collage, Prints Plus!).

I hoarded copies of the author’s books, which wasn’t all that easy considering that until the advent of the Book Barn years later, there really was no local spot that dealt in used books, though occasionally the Booksmith in New London would have an unusual looking pressing of Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham.

And in an gesture I’m still in awe of, the first time I met my father-in-law he presented me with a hardcover copy of the edition of the Hobbit he himself illustrated (awesomely).

But of all things Tolkienian, the Bakshi movie has made the deepest impact.

I’m not going to list to list its many inaccuracies (Tolkien enthusiasts have already complied lists taking care of that), and I’m not going to compare it to Peter Jackson’s films (plenty of articles are out there for the reading); while there’s no way to deny that this movie has its flaws, it’s an amazing work of art and it’s the imagery I’m really, really into.

I’ve collected a number of stills below/after the jump giving special attention to what I think is the film’s finest sequence: Frodo’s encounter with the Black Riders just outside Rivendell; it’s here that Bakshi’s impressionistic vision is most successful. As the wounded Hobbit breaks away from his party, the background dramatically fades to an expressionistic, nightmarish landscape, partly rendered in slow motion. It’s an absolutely amazing series of shots that truly captures the terror of the Ring Wraiths and Frodo’s almost submarine decent into their world of shadow.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Books »The Book of the New Sun

The Book of the New Sunby Gene Wolfe (1980 – 1983)

Gene Wolfe‘s imagination is truly formidable. A industrial engineer (and devoted Catholic) who has become a living SF legend, Wolfe’s work is rich, dense, and not always exactly what I’m looking for. But that’s no slight: when Wolfe’s writing what I want to read, it’s amazing; when he’s not, it’s still fine, it just tends to get a bit… overly complicated and less than satisfying – but a return to form is always just a few pages away.

Brittany will be posting her impressions of Wolfe’s early short story compilation, The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (not a typo, FYI), and I imagine her take on Wolfe will be equally conflicted.

But the Book of the New Sun is the big one: the magnum opus (he’s since spun off a coda and two additional series, the Book of the Long Sun and the Book of the Short Sun).

The four novels that make up the tetralogy are packed so densely with episodes alternately incredibly compelling and kind of… kind of like you just want to get through them as quickly as you can, that, sitting here now recalling the bits I remember, I’m truly astounded at the way the story is so compartmentalized in my brain.

The plot unfolds in a distant future inspired by the work of the writer who has appeared more times then any other on this blog, the great Jack Vance. The first novel, the Shadow of the Torturer, opens with its protag, Severian (who is blessed/cursed with a perfect memory), serving as an apprentice in the guild of torturers. His kind of weirdly idyllic childhood is interrupted by a key chance meeting in the nearby necropolis and the professional discipline he’ll expertly develop over the next few years is kind of slow-burn compromised.

While I suppose I could offer a more comprehensive plot synopsis, I’d really be doing everyone (particularly you, dear reader) a disservice. Suffice to say, a lot happens very quickly: Severian makes a judgement call that ultimately results in his exile from Nessus (the capital city), is challenged to an alien poison flower duel, demolishes a church, meets a young lady who’s been submerged in (for lack of a better description) internment water for who knows how long, meets another young lady who’s definitely hiding something, gets a crazy note from a bus boy, and becomes aquatinted with a fairly unique traveling acting troupe. Oh, and he’s given an awesome sword called Terminus Est and dispatched to a place called Thrax: the city of windowless rooms.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Songs »Reba

Phish at UNH 5.8.1993Phish, live at the UNH Fieldhouse May 8, 1993

Phish has never been an easy band to love, it takes hard work and an extremely specific social context for the music to take hold – but once it does, once it becomes the official soundtrack to youthful good times, it never fully leaves the lives of its long-time listeners.

The concept is pretty straight forward: stoned nerds meet up in the late ’80s in the Burlington, VT area. Channeling the sounds of the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa, they become the ultimate bar band on acid, then they cross over to playing colleges. Over the next ten or so years they produce some of the most popular and enduring music of the ’90s (yet never really appear on MTV or FM radio) with a serious bent towards goofiness and a penchant for mind-bendingly intricate musicianship. Constantly touring, they close the decade out as one of the world’s highest grossing live acts.

What’s so appealing about this music is that it’s always in good spirits – it’s always ready to affect your mood in a positive way – and the song I’ve selected here is a prime example of the band at their finest… or, more accurately, phinest.

If you spent any time at all around a high school parking lot or university hacky sack green in the early to mid 1990s, you’re probably familiar with the refrain ‘Bag it, tag it, sell it the butcher in the store’. If not, I’m sorry because you totally missed out.

Reba is comprised of three distinct movements (and a parenthetical fourth: the final, whistled refrain), the first, which includes the lyrical portion of the song, tells the children’s booky tale of an over-eager cartoony home-chemist (kind of betraying Trey’s roots as the son of a woman who wrote songs for Sesame Street); the second portion sounds like what you might expect if an early 1960s eastern European master of animated film commissioned an avant garde jazz quartet to score an unfinished film he created based on the first part of the song (the narrative of Reba mixing all these crazy ingredients in her bath tub); finally, at around the 6 and a half minute mark, the song opens up and… well, you really ought to hear for yourself.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Albums »Chronic Town

R.E.M. Chronic Town album artR.E.M. (1982)

Sure, R.E.M went on to become a pretty big band, but I’ve always thought their first EP contains some of their best work. I hadn’t listened to these songs for a long time, but a fairly recent interview with Tucker Martine on All Songs Considered put me back in the mood and I dug up my copy of Dead Letter Office.

All the elements that would propel the band first to the top of the college charts and then onward and upward to the real big time when they signed with Warner Brothers (the first time, back in 1988 and then again, for like $80 million, in 1996) are pretty much fully formed: Peter Buck’s signature urgent, jangly guitar tone, Stipe’s mumbly and oblique lyrics, Mike Mills’s thoughtful – even occasionally playful – bass lines, and Bill Berry’s masterful fills would serve the band well up to the release of Document; and that’s partially what’s so wild about this record: the point of view comes across so complete, so… so wholly developed that the only other debut recording I can draw a comparison to is that of another jangly-toned guitar player and enigmatic front man.

The first two tracks have always been favorites of mine with Stumble edging out Wolves, Lower as a song I can listen to over, and over, and over again – and they’re both overlong, which is something I absolutely love about them. Mitch Easter‘s ahead-of-their time production techniques (weird sound-scape breakdowns with almost Native Americany undertones) and the insistent mystery these songs evoke make them endlessly re-playable pieces of pop music – even with the advent of online lyric databases, the meaning of these songs still eludes me.

The images below/after the jump harken back to a special time when buttoning your top button was totally de rigueur.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Hunks »Chhom Nimol

Dengue Fever's Chhom NimolDengue Fever’s lead singer

We saw Dengue Fever at South Paw a few months ago and I was blown away. Not only is musical mastermind Zac Holtzman’s beard absolutely amazing, singer Chhom Nimol is totally adorable!

A few more photos, culled from Flickr, are below/after the jump.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Style Icons: Male »Keith Morrison

Keith Morrison of NBC's Datelineof Dateline NBC

While I truly do love Jim Morrison (not only do we share the same birthday – we also have the same name! I’ve even been to his grave!), I’m also a huge fan of Dateline NBC correspondent Keith Morrison. It’s not smugness or incredulity (exactly) that you’re detecting in his voice; it’s just his unique aristocrat-specializing-in-drama tone. Love it!

Little did I know that Bill Hader is also a fan! Below/after the jump are a compilation of clips, the top three feature the man himself (for those of you unfamiliar with his work); the last two are Hader’s not-quite-spot-on-in-but-accurate-enough impersonation. Enjoy!

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Restaurants »Baoguette Cafe

Baoguette Cafe37 St Mark’s Place (between 2nd Ave & 1st Ave)

While sitting down to write an essay about my favorite sandwich has me feeling a smidge like Liz Lemon, banh mi (a French/Vietnamese sandwich served on a baguette stuffed with pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, chile peppers, pate, mayonnaise and more) is something I love so much that I honestly don’t care if I’m betraying a deal-breaking character quality (I’ve already written about Phish – twice this week…).

I’ve long been a fan of Vietnam Banh Mi So 1 on Broome Street and Nicky’s on 2nd Avenue, so when Silent H opened its doors on Berry Street and banh mi became available locally, I was totally psyched. Sadly, the price, service and hours they chose to serve sandwiches during (weekdays noon to 4), made me less than happy…

Recently, An Nhau’s banh mi shop on Bedford and North 7th has changed my life (I must eat at least one meatball sandwich a week). The sandwiches are cheap, delicious and prepared in about three minutes, but when Brittany and I were out in the EV a few nights ago, we grabbed dinner at Baoguette Cafe.

I automatically ordered the classic #1 banh mi sandwich (pork terine, pate, pulled pork, fresh herbs) and it was amazing – but totally heavy duty, I was actually having a hard time finishing (the pulled pork is no joke) – and Brittany totally scored with beef vermicelli noodles (the waitress recommended the beef over the chicken bun dish).

We got to the restaurant at around 6:45 and it was gloriously devoid of any other diners, but by 7:15 dudes were beginning to pack the tiny interior – so go early!

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Spend a Couple Hours »See Phish

Phish at MSG 12.3.2009Fall/ Winter 2009 Tour

There’s a real difference between armchair analysis and actually being a part of the crowd, and when Dan and I saw Phish at MSG the other night, the experience differed, as you can probably imagine, rather tremendously from listening to a bunch of MP3s on Nugs.net.

I hadn’t seen a Phish show since Astrid and I went our during our last year of school – practically another life: this was back before the Providence Civic Center was re-christened Dunkin’ Donuts Center – so I was a bit out of step and a couple things struck me right away.

First of all, the music is front and center – for hours. Without a cluttered desktop full of stuff to do, Outlook’s auto-receive scheduled for every 3 minutes and, of course, coworkers, there are relatively few distractions (though there are definitely a few distractions) and the takeaway isn’t in the details (obviously you can’t scrub back to that amazing moment at 12:39), but the entirety of the experience.

Ebb and flow, tension and release, lighting effects and glow-in-the dark-bracelet-throw-cues; the whole thing kind of melds together, laying bare the structure nearly every song adheres to and the band’s truly unique sound-vision. Absolutely no other rock act so successfully fuses what is essentially contemporary jazz, good old fashioned crooning, traditional rock blues, tone-based alien landscapes, overly ambitious college-level compositions and unadulterated white, duct-taped-brimmed embroidered collegiate cap funk. After a couple of hours the distinct aural experience becomes more than familiar.

‘Precocious’ may seem like an unusual descriptor for someone who’s a well established virtuoso, but the personality of the playing, which I can best sum up as kind of a nerdily frustrated musical theory major (they’re just not teaching what I want to learn, dude) who happens to be super into showing off (which I guess probably isn’t all that unique a character combo), makes for alternately sublime and confounding music.

The continual escalation, the nearly infinite ratcheting up of every song, results in one ‘Can you believe I’m even playing this?!’ moment after another. This can go one of two ways: it can blister and ultimately kind of numb, like the incredibly intense David Bowie that closed the second set, or it can truly wow, like the breathtakingly necessarily over-complicated Fluff’s Travels, which was just absolutely stunning to behold as the band navigated its way through what felt like dozens of sound-scapes drawn in cartoony broad-strokes, literally turning on a dime several times a minute.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Spend a Couple Minutes »Suscribe to the WTF with Marc Maron podcast

WTF podcast with Marc Maronat the iTunes Store

You don’t have to send him any money, and you don’t have to use the justcoffee.coop coupon code he keeps talking up, but this weekly, hour long podcast by comics and for comics is worth listening to. It’s true, Maron himself is a bit much and yes, he does comes on strong (though you’ll get used to him soon eventually), and yes, there are definitely times you won’t feel like listening to him talk about how he told off a jerk in the airport for lacking even the most basic human decency, but once you become familiar with Maron’s point of view and wrap your head around the show’s core concept: an angry, former alcoholic (he’s also divorced) comedian interviews some of today’s most popular comedians – some former alcoholics themselves – with an occasionally contemptuous tone and a constant self-absorption that’s so real and unnerving it cannot be faked, I think you’ll really like it.

A steady stream of really, really funny people including Patton Oswalt (whose success Maron is almost okay with), Zach Galifiakis (always charming), Sam Lipsyte (author of the novel Home Land), Jerry Stahl (who, next to founder George Dawes Green, is the best story teller I’ve heard on the Moth in awhile), David Cross, Maria Bamford (who I never really appreciated until Maron had her on the show and I took in her performance in long-form), Eugene Mirman, and Matthew get into really entertaining conversations mainly about themselves…

It may take a couple of episodes, but it’s definitely worth getting in to.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Web Sites »Tickets & Music

Tickets and MusicScouring the web for music tix

When it comes to purchasing tickets to live music events, sometimes StubHub and TicketMaster are your only options – but just as frequently someone’s trying to dump tickets through Craigslist and using a whole different rate structure. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a one-stop resource (that defaults to a home page showcasing immediately upcoming shows in your geographic area) that automatically returned all the available ticket options?

Enter Tickets & Music (the brainchild of our friend Marcus), an incredibly useful site that does exactly that.

A couple of days after Halloween, I was thrilled to discover that the one and only Blues Traveler was playing locally – but I was (understandably) stunned by the prices TicketMaster was charging. I checked T&M and discovered that some dude was getting rid of tickets through Craigslist for just $12! Armed with that kind of bargain basement price info, I quickly got in touch with Fred, who had worn a Blues-Traveler-themed costume just days earlier.

Of course, he firmly rebuked me for even suggesting that he’d want to attend such and event but, thanks to T&M, I was able to get the conversation going. Just wait until the Spin Doctors come to town!

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Posted on December 6, 2009

TV Shows »Wicked Attraction

Wicked AttractionOn the Investigation Discovery channel

Visually, it definitely takes some getting used to (the first time Brittany and I watched an episode we found the overuse of kinetic video techniques incredibly overwhelming – and distracting), but the concept behind Wicked Attraction is undeniably intriguing: the show profiles couples (usually romantically involved, but not always) who have gone on (usually murderous) crime sprees.

The great Honeymoon Killers examines the bizarre, but not unique, relationship of a pair of crazies who probably would not have been killers if they hadn’t met each other but, through some crazy shared world view (usually founded upon the romance of the outlaw lifestyle), became serial killers. Badlands is a pretty wonderful portrait of this kind of relationship – so is Natural Born Killers, for that matter.

What’s great about Wicked Attraction is that it examines tons of similar cases – as a tease, a photo of Karla and her husband Paul flashes across the screen in the over-done intro – most of which are not nearly as infamous, though no less horrific, than the few high profile couple-killer cases we’re all familiar with. One particular episode, about two guys who met in prison and bonded over their mutual interest in abducting, assaulting and torturing women then, upon their respective releases, went out and bought a van and murdered an untold number of young girls, is truly chilling.

The production staff is always saddled with too few photos to work with (see below/after the jump), so I can almost understand the use of all the stylized digital fire, spazzy zooms and quick blurs; the over-saturated dramatic recreations (told almost entirely in close up) are an entirely different matter.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Laughs »Ghost Hunters Academy

Ghost Hunters AcademyAiring weekly on SYFY

Let me just start off by making it clear that Ghost Hunters is a show that, unless you’ve seen it, you really can’t believe it. If you’ve seen clips on the Soup where a traditionally good looking guy is, in the parlance of McHale’s writers, “taunting the air”, that show is not Ghost Hunters but the free-wheeling, tongue-in-cheek Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures. Ghost Hunters, which airs on the newly branded SyFy, is a dour, sour, extremely self-serious program that follows the TAPS team (former RotoRooters – I kid you not, watch the animated intro) Jason and Grant as they travel the country proffering their special blend of dickish skepticism.

I’m not sure how to put this without sounding like a dick myself (I’d certainly like to suppose that I’m not without a base-level belief in the supernatural), but a television show about the (pseudo) science of ghost detection is, at its very core, problematic. I suppose what I have the biggest issue with is the way that a bunch of scowly douchebags have thoroughly stripped away the mystery and wonder of the spiritual realm and replaced it with a bunch of hard and fast rules they simply shat out over years and years of know-it-ally conversations. Ghost stories are always fundamentally people stories: once you’re dead, you can’t really do all that much – it’s the human element that makes tales of spookings and hauntings so compelling – and Ghost Hunters occasionally succeeds when it profiles individuals experiencing paranormal activity in their homes and places of business.

The interviews with the afflicted are always the most genuinely interesting parts of the show because, more often than not, the interview subjects cannot help but betray that the haunting is something that they’re kind of proud of, a fact that sparks a series of essential, and rather heavy, human experience questions: why do these people think they have ghosts in their lives, what’s going on psychologically? Why aren’t all of us affected by moving plates and dimming lights, bumps in the attic and visions of people not there? Ultimately: is there really an afterlife or are we doomed to haunt some tourist attraction for the rest of eternity?

After the interview and case history are established, a  bunch of DV cams, EMF detectors and rigid, jerky attitudes take center stage as the team tries to ‘scientifically’ establish whether or not the place is actually haunted. This ‘evidence gathering’ phase of the show is always tedious, once it’s completed the team studies the A/V record they’ve made and looks for pieces of the tape where they can almost detect a voice straining to say something like, ‘Help me”.

But I filed this under Brittany’s Laughs category for a reason: this show is hilarious.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Spend a Couple Hours »The Parlour

parlour greenpointThis week Jim was so taken with a new salon here in Greenpoint that he volunteered this post:

I’ve never actually felt comfortable in a salon; I’m sure my own issues are a big part of the reason why but, personal hang-ups aside, I’ve always genuinely perceived a mild disinterest radiating from the staff, as if they didn’t exactly want me in their club house – like I was some kind of interruptive intruder.

Never again. The other day, under pressure from Brittany to trim my beard, I booked an appointment up the street at The Parlour (it’s on Greenpoint and Franklin, right next door to Brouwerij Lane). I’ve never in my life felt more welcomed in a place of hair dressing. Everyone is super friendly and I didn’t at all feel like I was disrupting whatever they were up to the second before I walked in.

For $25 I got a shampoo, neck and beard trim with a hot towel, which is both super relaxing and a pretty good deal – but what’s really key is that I was able to get my beard trimmed by someone who totally knew what she was doing – which has not always been the case at other local shops that boast of their tonsorial expertise.

In fact, the last time I got a trim I was so displeased with the results that I had to tinker with it at home for some time and, in an (ultimately ineffectual) effort to make it look even and regular, I gradually shortened my beard far more than I would have liked to; so I’m sure you can imagine how pleased I was that I walked out with a great looking beard.

But the Parlour offers far more than mere man maintenance packages, Nackie (who runs the salon) is a major hair stylist. She worked for a number of years at the Chelsea Hotel before opening The Parlour just a couple of months ago. She trimmed my hair and it looks excellent, so I’m sure that whatever kind of style you’re looking for, she and her team can totally deliver.

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Posted on June 8, 2009

Drinks »Chicago Fizz

Honestly, I don’t like the taste of booze that much. My taste skews away from what you might consider more sophisticated adult beverages like Old Fashioned (and wine) toward Mudslides (which are all I drink on tropical vacations) and Pina Coladas. This usually isn’t a big issue, beer tends to be on the menu most everywhere, but with the recent rise of the expensive cocktail bars, I’ve found myself in a couple of real jams.

Hotel Delmano offers St. Regis cocktails, which are certainly drinkable in copious amounts, but it was on a visit to Little Branch that I discovered this delightfully potent potable. Rum, port, lemons, sugar, carbonated water and an egg combine to make this frothy treat which I highly recommend for those of you not wanting swill a G&T.

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Posted on December 8, 2008

Songs »Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain – May 8 1977

Grateful Dead in 1977 This is it, the best Grateful Dead song ever – ask anyone, it’s true! Well, maybe not everybody agrees (quibbling and trifling sometimes may appear to the true hallmarks of Deadheads the world over) but this show, recorded live at Cornell University’s Barton Hall on the 8th day of May, 1977 is widely considered be one of the band’s greatest achievements. In fact, the show was so good that 30 years later the mayor of Ithaca declared May 8th to be Grateful Dead Day (which is not too dissimilar to a mayor declaring a pizza to be awesome).

I didn’t initially intend to write a bunch about this, it’s not like any more internet ink needs to be devoted to these particular 25 minutes of bootleg Grateful Dead history (believe it or not, this legendary show has never been released commercially, this sound-board tape has been going around for decades, but this performance will not, for legal reasons ((I think?)), appear on any From the Vault or Dicks Picks collection), and besides what can I really say…

Actually… I can’t help myself, I’ve got tons to say! And besides, I’m about to turn 30, there’s no better time to affect the point of view of an effusive 19-year-old hooked to mixed metaphors – but you don’t have to take my word for it, not only are there are scholars out there proffering far more enlightened assessments than my own, you can click here to listen for yourself (make sure your iPod has some space, it is 25 minutes long, after all). As far as live Dead sets go, it’s pretty accessible – this is the fun side of the Dead, both of theses songs create a kind of vacationy atmosphere, like the ultimate Hawaiian shirt Friday – and I’m sure you’ve heard both of these songs independently; Scarlet Begonias gets more air time than Fire on the Mountain, for sure, but (at least when I was a kid listening to WHCN) classic rock DJs are occasionally kind to these songs (mainly when they can’t find their copy of Skeletons from the Closet).

An extremely celebratory Scarlet Begonias starts with a bang, and the sky turns yellow; the sun: blue. Donna Jean adds some stylized wailing into the mix after the final chorus winds down and at around five and a half minutes the transition begins. To my ears, this particular journey isn’t accomplished so much by seamlessly transporting the audience from one psychedelic shore to another via some inter-dimensional slip stream (standard practice, pretty much), but by forceful keyboard playing on the part of the late, great Keith Godchaux (despite the fact that the shows played this season are universally acknowledged as the Dead’s finest hour, Keith and Donna Jean were out of the band by 1979 – and within a matter of months after that Keith passed away in a tragic car accident). The movement has clear beginning and end points, moments so crisply delineated that it becomes quite clear that there’s a definite destination – and Keith (for one) is in a hurry to get there.

The playing is anything but subtle (while metaphorical scalpels are invoked regularly throughout the band’s long live career as transitionalists, there are just as many occasions where hatchets are pulled down from their hooks and wielded with great ferocity), Keith marches the band along (much like he motivated the latter portion of Jack Straw earlier in the evening), which lends the lead guitarist’s inquisitive playing a preoccupied tone: even as Garcia shines his mind-light into the cosmic caverns the band hurtles past, stuttering on the precipice of exotic sojourns, the anxious pounding at the piano reminds him there are places to go, people to see, and so the passages he plays drop hints of potential trips and foreshadow the mind-blowing things to come. Even Weir, consummate colorist, seems to be chomping at the bit, then the break happens; the destination is reached right about at the halfway mark.

Familiarity is restored and Phil and the drummers slide right into place and establish a rhythmic structure strong enough to sustain the explosive launches that are coming shortly – though not too shortly, now that the band has gotten where they’re going, they can stretch their legs a bit before the real heavy lifting begins. As the signature wah wah key notes emerge from beneath emerald waves, the song takes on a bit of a submarine quality, sound waves flutter through a flooded dreamworld, watery notes reverberate off of walls of light.

As the old psychedelic warlock finishes up the story of a disaffected, lazy messenger service employee and an impotent dragon (complete with a big sing-along chorus) and begins his first guitar solo, he’s transformed into a kind of benign aural-astral educator, outlining some initial principles then wading waist deep into heavier concepts before recalling (having nearly forgotten) that there’s still another verse to sing. The crowd responds accordingly, now that they have a firm idea of what’s in store. Donna Jean throws some of her trademark hard/soft vocal stylings in and before you know it the second solo has begun.

Garcia picks up pretty much where he left off, assuming that the groundwork he just set down is still fresh in your mind and, at about 20 minutes into the piece, the mind-blowing passages begin. Everything he’d been so diligently setting up for the last however many minutes falls into place and suddenly he’s painting with solar flares?– locating the fiery mountain high in the heavens. This kind of guitar playing is typically referred to as spiral latticework, which is an incredibly accurate description. Sound helixes wind and wrap around each other, climbing ever higher into far off starscapes.

After the blaze, a reasonable holding pattern is established before Garcia launches into the stratosphere a final time, straining to reach the top of it all, the highest peak imaginable, when suddenly the explosive apex is attained and, in Icarian fashion, everything comes crashing down. Foundations shake, crystal palaces shatter and the jolting ride back down to earth comes too fast and too furiously. The band synchs up for a succinct sign off and before you even know what hit you, they’re tuning up for Estimated Prophet.

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Posted on December 8, 2008

Places to Visit »Muttontown Preserve

King Zogs Castle - Muttontown PreserveComposed of over 550 acres, the largest natural preserve on this half of Long Island boasts a well preserved estate and plenty of equestrian paths, but by far the most interesting portion of the park is the ruins of King Zog’s castle.

The deposed Albanian king bought the 60 room mansion (and walled garden –which is now hauntingly overgrown) known as Knollwood back in 1951. Since Zog fled with a substantial portion of Albania’s gold and jewels in his possession, local yokes and adventurers assumed he must of hidden great wealth in the walls of his newly purchased property. So, while Zog was negotiating with the US government to obtain citizenship for his 120 person court (which ended up being a no go, Zog settled in France), treasure hunters looted the home, inflicting so much damage that the building had to be demolished in 1959.

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Posted on December 8, 2008