Monday, June 29, 2009

Triana's Music Trivia (06.28.09)

It was literally months ago that my great friend Triana Caldera asked if I would perform live at a special event in SL. It was both the fourth anniversary of her "Triana's Music Trivia" and her fifth rezday ("rezday" meaning the day that a person first signed on to Second Life, kind of like a digital birthday or sorts). Backing up a little -- to Fall 2006, in fact -- Triana's Music Trivia was one of the first things that my darling Kat and I discovered in Second Life that we immediately enjoyed. It's a weekly trivia game that Triana hosts every Sunday evening, and rarely does a weekend come to a close without Kat and I being at Triana's. While the trivia game itself is fun, the real reason we enjoy it so (and have stuck with it for so long) is that the people are a terrific and hilarious group of folks. In fact, we became so close to Triana herself that earlier this year, Triana was visiting the west coast from her home in Minnesota, and she spent a few days hanging out with us. She's every bit as fun to be around in person as she is online, and we had a great time with her.

But I digress. On a usual trivia night, the game is played while a DJ (Samantha Poindexter) spins records as background music. On a few occasions, Triana has had me or Kaklick Martin -- another SL musician and trivia player -- perform live during the game. For this special event, combining TMT's fourth anniversary and her fifth rezday, she expanded the game to a two-hour event, and had both Kaklick and I play.

However, sometimes life throws you a curveball. A few days before the special TMT show, the world was rocked by the sudden passing of Michael Jackson. When a cultural icon with the impact of MJ dies, it's downright impossible to not acknowledge it in any setting that has anything to do with music. So, Triana quickly scrapped whatever plan she'd had for the theme of the trivia questions that night and put together an all-Michael trivia night. For my portion of the live music, which went from 6-7PM, I mostly did my usual show, but for the first time in my life, I actually covered a Michael Jackson song. Not very well, mind you; you have two strikes against you automatically trying to a) play a full arrangement of music as is found in most MJ songs on just an acoustic guitar, and b) covering any MJ song on voice when very few men can sing in that high range of his.

But it turned out to be pretty good, or at least better than the trainwreck it could have been, and I can't see myself having done a show without acknowledging the loss of the King of Pop. All in all, the entire night was a blast, and it was nice for me to be able to relax and play the trivia game for an hour after my portion of performing was done.

Song Sample #1: "Triana" (Zak Claxton)

Song Sample #2: "Off the Wall" (Michael Jackson)

My TMT Set List...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Triana (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
*Off the Wall (Michael Jackson)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Mary Jane's Last Dane (Tom Petty)
Nobody's Home (Pink Floyd)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Losing My Religion (REM)
Loser (Beck)

*Indicates the first time I have performed this song in SL

Many thanks to the folks who helped support my show!
Alchemy Epstein, Jordan Hazlitt, Jimi Seda, Nakira Tennen, Kaklick Martin, Horizon Darkstone, Eanya Dalek, Samantha Poindexter, Rey Tardis, Blues Heron, Julianna Lionheart, Kat Claxton, and of course my wonderful friend and terrific hostess of TMT, Triana Caldera!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bryant & Stratton College SL Orientation (06.22.09)

Yesterday was Father's Day, and I had a great one. I got to sleep in, and then Kat and I grabbed my son and went to a restaurant to meet my dad and my niece for brunch. When I got back, I found a note from a person in SL I'd seen at a few of my shows, Turn Pike (great name, huh?). Turn asked me if I was able to play a show on the following day, not at a club or other typical SL live music venue, but at an orientation party for an online college.

My ears perked up. This was an intriguing possibility, so I contacted Turn for more information. Turns out that Bryant & Stratton College has an online degree program, and has an island in SL dedicated to the college. They were going to be beginning their next term's online classes this Wednesday, and were holding a party for incoming students. The catch? None of them had ever ben in SL before. They were all brand spanking new noobs. Some people might view this as a bad thing... after all, getting into SL isn't exactly intuitive, and jumping straight into a live music show might have been overwhelming for them as they tried to navigate around SL for the very first time.

When I arrived, the first thing I saw was someone saying, "How do I walk???" UH oh! But the staff members were great... led them over to the stage area, and taught them how to turn on music. By the second song, all of the students were grooving to the tunes, so that was great. The set was a wee bit short, since we spent the first 10 minutes or so just herding the noobs to the performance area of the sim. I also geared most of the material to stuff that was relatively tame, and did more covers than I have recently. Most of the audience conversation was, understandably, in regard to their classes, their majors, and other relevant stuff for the event. However, a lot of them were digging the tunes, and I got to expose all of them to some Zak Claxton music for their very first experience in SL. If they're like most people who end up sticking around in SL, they probably won't ever forget that.

I had to laugh, since for much of the show, they were all doing the "brand new to SL trip out" thing. They all clicked a dance ball for the first time, and were all exclaiming about how well they danced. Hee hee. It was adorable. One lady was saying how her teenage kids were making fun of her for playing a video game, and I admonished the kids out loud for not supporting Mom. And of course, for me, it was great getting back to a point where just calling someone by their name elicited a response of, "OH MY GOD, HE'S TALKING TO ME!"

My set list for noobs...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrrow (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Sister Golden Hair (America)
I Am The Walrus (Beatles)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)

Thanks to the folks who attended my show! See you around the grid sometime!
Stephania Yifu, Bryant Stratten, Ralph Chiung, Antione Foxdale, Jules4 Riddler, Traylorman Lane, Starry Bloobury, Libra Sapphire, miah09 Static, JazzyJoy Texan, Thekidsmom Weirman, Mom2GarretandRyan Leissa, Mona Nissondorf, Jaqueena Edenflower, Jules4 Riddler, Meg124 Charlesworth, and Turn Pike, who hosted the party and wrangled noobs very impressively!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Zak's Debut at the Broken Rocker (06.20.09)

I was playing awhile back, and after my show, as happens occasionally, I was contacted by someone who was interested at having me perform at their venue. Despite my fair level of involvement in the SL music community, I'm not always up to date on all the places out there to play. And, to be realistic, there are hundreds and hundreds of them, just as there are musicians who do their thing in SL. One can't be expected to know them all. So, the first thing I did was to check out this place, the Broken Rocker. It seemed cool, and the folks who contacted me (Kat Keen and Horre Darkfold) seemed nice. So we set today as a date to play, and I'm glad we did.

Didn't have a huge crowd. At the time I was playing (noon on a Saturday), there were roughly 10,000,000 other shows happing at the same time. But the folks who were there were great. We really had some fun, and I think the music was pretty damn good today. My voice was working for me -- surprising at a relatively early show. So I dug it. Plus, we pulled out some Dylan that I've meant to do for a long time. I'm not much of a Dylan guy, surprisingly, but every so often, it's the right thing to do... especially if you find yourself standing around with a Martin guitar and a harmonica on your neck. :)

The set list du jour...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
*Tangled Up In Blue (Bob Dylan)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Waiting for This (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates first time I've played this song in SL

Thanks so much to the folks who helped support my show today!
Shellie Sands, Gracie Kendal, Rozie Violet, Lunarayne Sassower, Kat Claxton, and especially Kat Keen and Horre Darkfold!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The new new new Notes Shack (06.18.09)

It's not really called the "new new new" Notes Shack. However, poor Krakov Letov has had to move it so many times for various reasons (none by choice), this is literally the fourth of fifth place I've played where he's put his live music club. This was either my first time playing at the Notes Shack or my 15th, roughly. It doesn't matter which.

A fun show all around. I hadn't played in 10 days, so it felt good to get back on the horse, or guitar, or whatever, and start rocking the metaverse again. We had a fine crowd of about 25, and other than a very mysterious change of the venue stream in mid-song (we found it and changed it back within a few seconds), everything was smooth as silk.

El Listo de Seto
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Nowhere Man (Beatles)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Time Never Waits For You (Zak Claxton)
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)

Thanks to everyone who was there today, and especially those who helped support my show!
Triana Caldera, Mimi Carpenter, PatrickHufschmid Beaumont, Diana Renoir, Grateful Stryker, pamela Imako, Angelina Rhode, joel Telling, Aurelie Chenaux, Jeaninne Mathilde, Vanity Sugarplum, Fluffy Forwzy, Shagpile Spyker, today's hostess Aoife Marville, and a definite music lover and all-around cool guy, Krakov Letov!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 -- Review Part the Second

As you read in the first part of my review of Neil Young Archives Vol. 1, just opening this box set and cataloging its contents was a daunting task. Fun, but jeez... this is a serious retrospective from a guy who's been continually cranking out great music for well over 40 years. I knew it was going to be a great package, but I didn't know it would be this great.

Anyway, it's time to move on to the important stuff: the music and the extra goodies. The "Neil Young Archives Vol. 1" was made available in three formats: CD (yawn), DVD (not yawn), and Blu-Ray (wow). I'll say up front: I haven't experienced the Blu-Ray edition, for a simple reason. I do not have a Blu-Ray player, and if I was going to purchase the Blu-Ray player that made sense, it would be the Sony Playstation 3. But let me tell you, as the father of a kid who's going on 10, I'd have no hope of using the PS3, ever. My kid would abscond with it for video game playing purposes immediately, and no amount of parental threats or outright coercion would help my cause. Additionally, my music listening tends to focus around my Macintosh these days, and my Mac reads DVDs. Finally, the Archives were given to me by my wonderful ladyfriend Kat, and she chose the DVD set, and I was all too happy to receive this amazing gift. So no complaints there.

Blu-Ray? DVD? Whaaa?
I will tell you that the DVD and Blu-Ray content out of the box is exactly the same. However, the Blu-Ray edition has some very cool features. First, you can browse through the myriad of extra content while you're listening to the tunes, which DVD won't allow to the degree that Blu-Ray will. Second, and perhaps more important, purchasers of the Blu-Ray version will be able to download updated material from Neil directly to their Blu-Ray players, so it's a gift that keeps on giving. One other note: while the DVD version I have encodes the audio at a very respectable 24-bit, 96kHz digital audio resolution, the Blu-Ray edition takes it a step further with 24-bit, 192kHz audio. Not to criticize this aspect, but as a professional in the audio field, I can tell you it's pretty hard, even with the very best equipment in the world, to hear the difference between these two outstanding quality formats. Still, I'd highly recommend the Blu-Ray to anyone who can swing it. Barring that, get the DVD like I did.

Oooh, sounds goooooood.

So, this review is based on the DVD edition. Why did I give a "yawn" to the CD version earlier? It's simple. First, while the music is the centerpiece of this collection, a lot of the entertainment value comes from the tons and tons of video clips, full movies, photos and other memorabilia available in the DVD and Blu-Ray sets. Second, while the audio quality of the DVD and Blu-Ray is in high resolution audio -- so good, it's comparable to analog -- the CD is boring old 16-bit, 44.1kHz digital. Let's face it: if you're going to get this amazing collection, it is absolutely worthwhile to nab it with the best-sounding audio you can get today. Just don't waste your time with the CDs... get the DVDs or the Blu-Ray. I absolutely promise it's worth the difference in price.

What's in the Box, Man?
For the purpose of this part of the review, I'm going to give you an overall picture of the contents of the DVDs. Later on, we'll start to look at each disc in detail. As I mentioned before, the discs are cataloged by date. On each disc, you'll find several things:

1. Songs/mixes that you've heard before, on Neil's released albums, except in audio quality that blows away any version you've heard previously.

2. Songs/mixes/alternative takes that you haven't heard before (unless you got some kind of bootleg or heard Neil play them live at a show sometime). These songs are unreleased materials, and it's an amazing experience to suddenly hear a "new" song recorded with Crazy Horse or from Harvest that you'd never heard before. What a treat!

3. Audio interviews, video clips, and photos that correspond to the era of the disc. You also get some retrospective interviews with Neil that were filmed in the late '90s, with Neil commenting on various aspects of his career at the time.

Those are just the "regular" discs. Additionally, you get three discs that are complete live shows (Canterbury House, Riverboat, and Massey Hall), and on disc 9, there's the entire Journey Through The Past movie. Yes, many Neil fans already own this stuff (with the exception of the Riverboat, which was released with this collection for the first time), but in his defense, the quality of the audio and/or video in this set exceeds anything I've experienced in earlier releases.

Are You Experienced?
The actual experience of the NYAV1 is awesome. For the purpose of today's review, I put in the "Topanga 3 (1970)" disc, but the vibe is similar in all the others as well. When you pop a disc in, you get a main menu from which you can choose to play the entire thing, select individual songs, get more stuff (more on that later), or setup the disc's audio and video settings.

Should you opt to select songs, you are taken to what might be the coolest, funkiest system of content selection I've ever seen. Remember the file cabinet in the poster? Well, it's represented on screen as well.

Since the screen is only so high and the drawer is so deep, by clicking the screen the cabinet opens and closes accordingly, allowing you to access more songs.

When you choose a song, you get a close up of the folder of that track. Each folder contains slightly different things. In all cases, you can play the song and get the song's lyrics. Most song folders also have tabs for photos and for memorabilia, which range from handwritten lyrics sheets to posters and more.

If you're like most hard-core fans, the first thing you want to do is hear some tunes. When you press 'play', the screen changes to show a video representation of the recording playing back to you. These scenes are terrific. You see a tape reel rolling, or an old turntable spinning the actual track on the album the recording is found. Each song has its own video, all in a similar vein.

On some of the folders, you'll note that there's a sticker "pasted" behind the normal info area. These will usually contain extra audio or video content that pertains to the song you're checking out. Click it!

In this example, we find a cool video of CSNY performing "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" at the Fillmore East.

Happy Easter (Eggs)
I mentioned earlier that in addition to all the contact of NYAV1 that's laid out for you in obvious fashion, there are also easter eggs -- the software programmer's word for hidden features. Finding them isn't very hard... move your cursor around, and when something lights up, click it. You won't regret it. In this case, note that the roach clip turns white when I hover on it. When I clicked it, I found an alternate mix of "Don't Let It Bring You Down".

Misty Water-Colored Memories...
I mentioned that in each song folder, you get some cool stuff to look at in addition to the song itself. Note the "Photos" and "Documents" tab in this "Southern Man" folder.

When I click "Photos", I get a pic of Neil looking pretty Confederate.

In the "Documents", I find Neil's distinctive handwriting with the song's lyrics.

It's already been estimated by one reviewer that sponging up all the info on each disc will take about 2-1/2 hours, and there are over ten discs in this package. A little overwhelming? Sure, but trust me , if you're a fan of Neil, you'll relish every moment. I'm already starting to slate some "Archive Time" into my daily schedule. I can't think of a more valuable way to spend awhile each day, immersing myself in this wonderful collection.

That's all for Part 2 of the review! In the next part, we'll start to talk about the contents of each disc. A forewarning: please don't expect me to launch into any critical reviews of Neil's creative output. First, I'm biased as hell since I love almost everything, and second, I think it's a little ridiculous to put qualitative opinions on music and film that's been out for decades. But I would like the opportunity to tell you more about the details of all the discs. Stay tuned... and don't be denied.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 -- Review Part the First

My darling Kat was driving along last Friday, listening to NPR, and suddenly she couldn't believe what she was hearing: a review of newly-available Neil Young Archives Vol. 1. She and I had both spent many years being aware of and awaiting the arrival of this box set of Neil Young's music that had achieved mythical status years before being released. Since it was my birthday the next day, she swooped into a store and got their one and only DVD version of the set, which is being offered in three different formats (more on that later).

For those of you who are blissfully unaware of the trials and tribulations that preceded the release of this package of Neil Young music, let's just cut to the chase and say that this little project of Neil's was started in the 1980s, was expected to be released in the mid-90s, and came out on June 2, 2009, some 13 years after the expected point of delivery. I'm not going to dwell on that here. In fact, there's so much to talk about in regard to the Archives, I'll go right ahead and tell you to go by Thrasher's Wheat or some other online resource dedicated to Shakey. I'm not going to waste too much time here with the background info; the point is, the Archives have indeed arrived.

For this initial part of the review, I'm not going to bother too much with the amazing content in the package. In fact, heh heh, I have time to maybe tell you most of the details of the package itself, for now.

Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 comes in a big shrinkwrapped box. You remove the wrap and you're left with... a big box.

You open the lid of the box, and a cornucopia of stuff awaits you inside.

I started by pulling out a promising-looking block. At least it was the easiest thing to get out of the packaging, so perhaps that's why I went for it first.

Then I found that this block folded into two. A quick side note: all of the parts of the package that have opening lids seem to have a small magnet that's integral to the box, so they all open and close with a reassuring click.

Inside the block, I found two small tabs that opened up to reveal 10, count them, ten DVD discs, each in individual cardboard sleeves with cool artwork. Resisting the urge to ignore everything else while devouring the content of these magic plastic discs, I pulled the rest of the stuff out of the box.

The next thing out was some kind of poster. I unfolded it to see that it resembled the world's deepest filing cabinet. Each file in the cabinet listed a song, and there were a lot of them. Wow. This is going to be even more intense than I thought.

Moving along in order of "ease of getting out of the big box", I pulled out something that reminded me of a stash box, if I happened to know about such illicit things. The first thing I saw in the box was a copy of Neil's recent release Sugar Mountain, Live at Canterbury House 1968. While I'd purchased this already on iTunes, I was quite happy to get it in CD and DVD media for the much higher audio quality.

Also inside the stash box, I found a credit card with a code number on the back. Conveniently, buyers of the DVD and Blu-Ray versions of the Archives can go online and get the MP3 files (encoded at a respectable 256kbps) of the entire set! Very nice for the quick load to the iPod or similar devices.

Next to the card was a notepad with an old design from the Whiskey A Go Go here in Los Angeles. The top note reads, in Neil's handwriting, "If you are a speaking pad - why don't you say something?!?!?!?", and beneath that it says, "Uhh?"). Too cute. I don't think I'll ever bring myself around to using one of the notes in the pad unless it's a really special occasion.

Apparently I'm not the only one who felt this container had the "stash box" vibe. Look closely in the lower corners and note the seeds. They're part of the graphics. Love it.

Next, I pulled out this impressive "leather" bound book. The cover is actually really cool and is engraved with what I think might be a tree on Neil's ranch. It's 236 pages, and is full of... wow, man. Stuff. Lots of cool stuff.

What kind of stuff? Photos, handwritten lyric sheets, letters, news clippings, and more, in addition to information on the content of the DVDs. It's just fucking spectacular.

As I said above, we'll do another post with more information of the contents of the DVDs (or Blu-Ray, if you're a lucky bastard who has that set). For now, let's wrap up Part 1 with a basic list of the 10 discs inside.

Disc 0 - Early Years (1963-1965)
Disc 1 - Early Years (1966-1968)
Disc 2 - Topanga 1 (1968-1969)
Disc 3 - Live At the Riverboat (Toronto 1969)
Disc 4 - Topanga 2 (1969-1970)
Disc 5 - Live At the Fillmore East (New York 1970)
Disc 6 - Topanga 3 (1970)
Disc 7 - Live at Massey Hall (Toronto 1971)
Disc 8 - North Country (1971-1972)
Disc 9 - Journey Through the Past - A Film By Neil Young

As I said, it's pretty deep. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we look and listen to what this Archives has to offer.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Closing of Bay Vista (06.08.09)

Damn! Another good SL venue, locking the doors and throwing away the keys. Actually, in the case of Bay Vista, I think the massive time commitment by Charm March, Gretchen Capalini and their pals just got to be too much for them. They've been terrific supporters of live music in SL, so they deserve a hand for their great efforts.

They held their final shows today, and I was honored to be on the bill with some other really good SL musicians. My show went smoothly, and I felt it was pretty strong all the way through. Had a nice sized crowd -- audience numbers are rising lately at most of my shows, for some inexplicable reason. So today was cool, and I enjoyed myself, and despite it being the end of a fun place in SL, I think the people in the audience dug it too.

The set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Old Man (Neil Young)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
What I Got (Sublime)
Mother (Pink Floyd)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Time Never Waits For You (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)

Thanks to everyone who helped support today's show!
AnnieBlue Octavia, Kat Keen, pamela Imako, joel Telling, BackHome Soon, Aurelie Chenaux, and most of all, Charm March and Gretchen Capalini!