Monday, March 25, 2013

Key West (03.23.13) & ROMA (03.24.13)

We might as well get the only sad news of this post out of the way up front: I sprained my damn wrist. It happened late Friday afternoon, and as is the case in many of these kinds of injuries, it happened in a very non-memorable way. I lifted a bag of trash that was heavier than I'd realized it would be, and picked it up "wrong" (i.e., with my hand twisted oddly). I knew I'd done something to tweak it immediately, but it wasn't until later that night that the pain, rather than subsiding, was getting worse.

Had it been my left wrist (the one that I use for fretting notes on the guitar), it would have been pretty much impossible for me to consider performing over the weekend, which would have, in a word, sucked. I had two cool shows lined up: Saturday evening at Key West, and Sunday noon at ROMA. When I got up on Saturday, after grousing a bit about the pain, I gingerly picked up the guitar, and was very relieved to find that the motion of strumming wasn't causing any pain. Perhaps I was also using the "mind over matter" trick that I hear professional athletes who play in pain use all the time. But in any case, there would be no cancellations of shows, and in retrospect, that's a really good thing. Both shows were good. Really good.

I don't always do themed shows, but as I've written about before, sometimes I get in a particular mode and enjoy putting together a list of songs that have some kind of tie-in with each other. On Saturday at Key West, I'd spent plenty of time of the past week or so listening to the new Bowie album, The Next Day (which I recently reviewed). I decided to make it a "mostly Bowie" show for no other reason that Bowie fucking rules. I played a few songs for the first time, which I always enjoy (when they go well, which they did).

Key West always brings an enthusiastic crowd of people who really like live music. Photo by Kat.

Key West Set List...
*Golden Years (David Bowie)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Valentine's Day (David Bowie)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
*Spirits In The Material World (The Police)
Starman (David Bowie)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
*Heat (David Bowie)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Thanks to the Key West crowd who supported my show!
Triana Caldera, Alexis Fairlady, Rosinante Vinson, Kat Claxton, TheaDee, Sesh Kamachi, Diana Renoir, Rock Doghouse, my manager Maali, and Key West owner Liz Harley!

ROMA is one of the more interesting places at which I've performed in SL. My manager Maali Beck is part of the community at this role-playing sim based on ancient Rome, and she first had me do a show there in April 2011. I'd performed at ROMA a couple more times since, and in addition to admiring the quality of their amazing build, the people there are very cool and appreciative of live music. I did my best to throw in some Roman references during my banter as to not entirely spoil the theme of their sim, though I must admit that my Latin is pretty rusty. Still, I happily donned my toga and enjoyed playing to this very committed role-playing audience.

The citizens of ROMA enjoy their feast while I rock. Photo by Kat.

I look good in a toga. I should wear one in real life. Photo by Kat.

It was their Bacchanalia feast, and the mood was indeed festive. We had a nice-sized crowd, and since I'd been playing so often recently, I reached a little deeper into my repertoire to do some tunes I hadn't been performing much lately.

ROMA Set List...
Wonderwall (Oasis)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crafts)
Creepin' (Stevie Wonder)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Raised on Robbery (Joni Mitchell)
Mary Jane's Last Dance (Tom Petty)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
Across the Universe (Beatles)

Gratias vobis ago to all you fine ROMA citizens! Thanks to those of you who supported my show!
Melanippe Karas, Airedale Magic, Triana Caldera, Guillaume Mistwalker, Tonina Rodenberger, Kat Claxton, Celeste Ewing, the event manager Angelia Rees, and my great friend and manager Maali Beck!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Islands of New England (03.21.13)

This will be a good opportunity to discuss a contrast between real-life live music shows and Second Life shows, and the challenges and benefits of each.

At a real-life show, all manner of things can go wrong. You can get stuck in traffic on the way to the show. You can throw your back out while loading amplifiers and drums onto the stage. Your gear can decide to stop working right before your set. These are but a few of the perils of real-life performing. At a Second Life show, you never need to worry about travel time to the gig. You probably don't have to do much setting up at all. And chances are that your gear will be well behaved when you're not slinging it around town in the back of a van.

But real life has at least one big advantage over the virtual world: real life tends to have 100% "uptime". While Second Life is slightly more well-behaved in its general performance now than it was when I got involved in 2006, we do have to remember a basic tenant of computers and software: they break sometimes.

Typically, my show begins an hour before my scheduled start time. That's when I stop whatever I'm doing, and begin to get warmed up to sing and play guitar. I then get my microphones and music stand set up. At 20 minutes before the hour, I get in world and go to the venue, so I have plenty of time to do whatever I need to be settled in and ready to play at the start of my show.

All this assumes one important detail: that SL is functioning. Last night, as I got ready to play at the Islands of New England, I fired up my Firestorm viewer and then... loading... loading... loading... nothing. Uh oh. I popped onto Facebook, and already had a message from my manager Maali Beck.

"I can't log in...been trying for 28 minutes. Will continue to try. Grrrr."

Uh oh.

I looked around some more, and saw this heart-wrenching (for me) announcement from Linden Lab:

"We are currently performing unscheduled inventory server maintenance. During this time, some residents may be logged off and will be temporarily unable to log in, or experience inventory loading issues. This maintenance may also disrupt transactions and logins. Please check back here for updates."

Uh oh.

Not to spoil the end of this tale, but all came out well as it usually does. Photo by Kat.

So, as far as I could tell at that moment, I couldn't get into SL for my show. My manager couldn't either, nor the person who manages the venue, Christine Haiku. And perhaps most important, nor could any of my friends/fans who I'd invited. This wasn't shaping up to be one of my better shows. However, I've always been a big fan of "the show must go on", and fortunately the gods of technology must agree, since a few minutes later, I managed to log into SL. My avatar never rezzed for me; I looked like a little orange cloud the whole time I was there. To me, that is; to most others, I looked "ruthed", meaning I was some weird small being that had both male and female gender characteristics. Lovely!

Yes, that's me, not quite looking myself. Top Ruth photo by Kat, bottom photo by Triana.

But that didn't really matter much. The point of all this is that once I got in, I didn't despair. Instead, I went to the venue, got the stream rolling with the few others who'd managed to get in, and started my show right on time. I didn't care that there were just four people there; it didn't matter. I had a show to do, and I was going to do it regardless of anything else. Sure enough, as people who'd been trying to log in eventually made it, the crowd increased, and before long we had a nice happy audience at the Islands of New England.

Islands of New England set list...
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Take Me To The River (Al Green)
Old Man (Neil Young)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Man on the Moon (R.E.M.)
Just Like Starting Over (John Lennon)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)

Extra special thanks to the people who somehow made it into SL and came to my show (including a few that crashed and came back in multiple times... you all rule!)
Curious Ireman, Sassy Nitely, Triana Caldera, Aurelie Chenaux, Barbara Mixemup, Celeste Ewing, Benjalina, Richy Nervous, Sesh Kamachi, Kat Claxton, my great manager Maali Beck, and my friend and IONE manager Christine Haiku!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Relay for Life -- Paisley Park (03.16.13)

It's early Monday morning, and unlike many people (including my neighbors who were still loudly partying at 11PM last night), I don't have a hangover from yesterday's St. Paddy's Day festivities. Being that I don't drink, it's pretty easy for me to avoid being hungover, though I seem to still have some degree of food coma from last night's devouring of corned beef and cabbage. Still, I'm feeling rather positive, and that's a good time to talk about my benefit show for Relay for Life that I did at Paisley Park on Saturday in Second Life.

While this was my first time at Paisley Park, it certainly wasn't my first RFL show. Every Spring, I make it known that I am very much available to perform at these fundraising events, and it always feels good to know that I made even a tiny difference in the fight against cancer. I've done multiple RFL benefits each year from 2007 onward. As you're probably aware, Relay for Life is the official fundraising arm of the American Cancer Society, and teams in Second Life have become strong contributors to that cause for each of the last seven years. The method is simple; I perform live music, but instead of taking a fee and accepting tips as per my usual shows in SL, every penny goes straight to the RFL's coffers. All fees are waived, all tips go into the now-familiar white oval-shaped contribution kiosks.

We had a nice little crowd of generous people at my first RFL show of 2013. Photo and top photo by Kat.

Super Zakster Thea Dee dances while I encourage the crowd to donate. Photo by Kat.

For my show on Saturday, I decided to keep things interesting by throwing in a couple of tunes I'd never played before. Kat had been after me for some time to do "Shock the Monkey" in-world, so I happily obliged. I was also happy to perform one of the new tracks off the fantastic Bowie album which was officially released just last Tuesday.

RFL Paisley Park set list...
Pigs On The Wings -- Parts 1 & 2 (Pink Floyd)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Shock the Monkey (Peter Gabriel)
On The Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
*Valentine's Day (David Bowie)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Daniel (Elton John)
Save It for Later (English Beat)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to all who came out to the show and contributed toward the cause. You are ALL heroes! Damn, I should have played that Bowie tune too. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Joshua Tree (03.08.13 - 03.11.13)


While it's still fresh in my mind, I wanted to tell you all about my trip to Joshua Tree over last weekend. For those of you keeping score, this was the fourth time Kat and I have spent our vacation in Joshua Tree since our first trip in October 2010. We really can't get enough of it.

To really tell the story of this trip, I need to back up the clock about 24 hours before our departure. Without going into detail, I got some news on the morning on Thursday March 7 which was really pretty shitty, and could have affected the vacation in a negative way (as in, could have caused it not to happen at all). But it turned out that something I've known all along was once again proven tangibly: I have wonderful friends, both in my personal and business lives, and I can't thank them enough for coming through for me when I need them.

So, on to the trip: on Friday morning, after I took care of some stuff and got my son to school, my darling Kat and our wonderful friend Jess (aka Triana) arrived here shortly before 11AM. Jess had flown in from Minnesota the day before, and was looking forward to the trip (she'd also accompanied us on our second journey to JTree in June 2011). We'd had a fun sushi dinner at Ichiriki on Thursday night, and when Kat and Jess pulled into my driveway, Kat's Jeep was mostly packed; we just threw my stuff in with room to spare, and then we were off after a quick stop for food for the road.

The drive was fine, though it was the first trip where we had to contend with a pretty powerful rainstorm while on the way. No problem; Kat's little Jeep powered over the 91, 605, 60, 10, and 62 freeways with ease. During our drive, when we were nearing the desert, I looked down at the dashboard temperature readout. Gulp... 48 degrees. Not that this is particularly cold, but there was also a pretty strong wind blowing down from the snow-covered mountains. I knew that being in the high desert in colder weather would be a new experience. We arrived at about 2PM. It was a little too early, actually... we hadn't mentioned to Carrie that we'd be arriving sooner than the 3PM check-in, and ended up waiting for her to arrive (for only about five minutes though).

Kat's Jeep, parked at Casa Rosita looking down on the Desert Lily.

Who is Carrie? Carrie Yeager is the proprietor of the Desert Lily Inn, the bed-and-breakfast and cabin rental spot in JTree where Kat and I have returned again and again. Carrie is about the nicest, warmest, and coolest person you could ever want to meet. I'm not sure how old she is; somewhere around the same ages as us, we think, though it's hard to tell. We've said on a number of occasions that while the Lily is fantastic in its own right, Carrie is one of the big reasons we keep coming back there. I had to laugh; Carrie came pulling up with an open bottle of some fancy beer that a previous guest had left behind.

We once again stayed at Casa Rosita, a great little house with all the amenities of home, but situated in a rather isolated plot of land off dirt roads, and very close to the western entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. You don't have to leave Casa Rosita to experience the wildlife of JTree. Each time we've been there, we're surrounded by quail, rabbits, hares, lizards, and all manner of desert birds. You can have an amazing day just sitting on the patio and communing with nature.

The weather was pretty cold and gloomy at the start of our trip. We didn't care, and were happy as could be to arrive at the Desert Lily.

But before we got to the hardcore relaxation that we'd planned, we had one more thing to do. After getting into Casa Rosita and unloading the Jeep, we drove back down into Yucca Valley and hit Starbucks, and then the grocery store for all the food we'd need for our trip. Back at the Casa, we put away our food, and commenced with the purpose of the trip: doing nothing. You can actually be quite active while doing nothing. For example, we had lots of fun talking about how everything in the desert can be identified by putting the word "desert" before its usual name. Is that a chipmunk? No, it's a Desert Chipmunk. And so on. After awhile, we were discussing desert fog, desert dogs, and so on.

Desert fog in our "backyard" at Casa Rosita.

For me, another form of fun "nothing" is sitting around playing the guitar, and I brought my little cheap acoustic for that purpose. The quiet of the desert is so wonderful, and the sound of an acoustic guitar is fantastic with no traffic noise, sirens, or loud people to distract from it. So, we spent awhile just chilling. Speaking of chilling, in contrast to previous trips, it had actually snowed there the day before, so none of us (even Jess the Minnesotan) were wearing our usual shorts/t-shirt vacation garb (though Jess stayed in short sleeves while I felt compelled to bundle up in layers).

No trip to the desert is complete without me playing guitar at you.

After awhile, we found ourselves hungry, so Kat and Jess whipped up a delightful dinner of fettucini with mushroom alfredo, a salad, and some warm buttery sourdough. Yum! It was well after dark when we stepped outside to look at the stars, but as we did, the door closed and we realized that it was locked behind us... and the keys were in the kitchen. Jess was in socks, so Kat and I walked down the road to the Lily to sheepishly get spare keys from Carrie. It was in the 30s and the wind was howling, so thankfully it's only about a quarter mile roundtrip.

Later that night, we opened some Stella Artois, and kicked back in the living room on the "cuddle bed" to watch some DVDs of "Flight of the Conchords", which Jess hadn't seen before. A while later, we all hit the hay after a long but fun day.

We awoke pretty early on Saturday (for a vacation day, that is) and proceeded to continue our plan of not hurrying to do much of anything. Kat made her yummy bagels and vegetables that she often serves on our kick-back weekends, and we relaxed for awhile. At one moment of silliness, while I was outside smoking, I decided to moon Kat, who was on the couch reading. I tapped on the glass, but she didn't seem to notice. I tapped again. Nothing. I tapped louder and turned around to drop my sweatpants down; of course, at that moment, Jess had walked over to see what the ruckus was all about, so I ended up inadvertently showing my naked ass to both of them. Nice.

The real attraction of Joshua Tree is, of course, the amazing Joshua Tree National Park. It was still rather chilly, and the wind had kicked up considerably, so we kept that in mind as we took our first excursion inside. We packed up some sandwiches for lunch, and then decided to show Jess Split Rock, where we'd gone with Bunny on our last trip in June 2012. It was neat, but the wind was still whipping dirt and dust around. We ate in the Jeep comfortably while enjoying the sights of the desert around us.

Kat prepares some sandwiches for our first journey into the park on Saturday.

Some scenery at Split Rock.

Next, we headed even further into the park, heading down toward the Colorade Desert portion and enjoying the Cholla Cactus Garden. This was a treat, because the last time we were there, it was well over 100 degrees, and it's hard to enjoy something when you're concerned about dying of heat exhaustion. This time, it was lovely in the mid-50s, and we strolled around the short trail, taking pictures and having fun.

Kat and I, surrounded by cholla cactus.

Hanging out with Triana is fun no matter where we are!

We couldn't stay in the park for very long because we did have one thing that did need to happen on a timely basis... we had 5PM reservations at Pappy & Harriet's, a famously cool restaurant, bar, and live music venue up in Pioneertown. After a quick stop at the Casa to change clothes and freshen up, we were off. Pappy & Harriet's was every bit as great as it has been on our first couple of visits there. All three of us had the same dinner: rib-eye steaks (oh... my... God), with garlic mashed potatoes and this amazing broccoli that they serve there. At least we all had different beers (Kat stuck with Stella while I had a Widmer Hef, and Jess had a Corona Lite). Their house band, the Shadow Mountain Band, started playing soon after we were seated, so we enjoyed some classic bluegrass and Americana while devouring our delicious dinners.

After driving back down the mountain to our little home away from home, full of food and happy, we again spent the rest of the evening kicking back and watching DVDs. I also did some impromptu live music performances for my little audience. I recall doing a set of Stones tunes, and acting out my best imitations of Mick and Keith at the same time. It was fun. Due to the food coma, we all ended up going to sleep pretty early.

While we chilled the night before, Jess started preparing some delicious concoction that she'd planned for our Sunday breakfast. After sleeping in and relaxing for awhile (always important), she cooked up her egg bake, which is kind of like a crustless quiche and was heavenly. It had eggs, sausage, mushrooms, onions, and cheese. Man, I was really spoiled with good eating the whole trip.

As we cleaned up after breakfast, Kat returned my butt display favor by mooning the camera while I snapped photos inside the Casa. We were in no hurry, and spent some time around the cabin. The wind had died down and the temperature was more moderate. It was a really nice moment to kick back and enjoy the quiet serenity of the desert.

Kat flashes her waxing gibbous at me from the breakfast table. No, you can't have the unedited version, you pervert.

I'm pretty silly no matter where I am, but there's nothing stopping me from Full Silliness Mode in the desert.

Driven by eventual onset of hunger and the desire to not be complete sloths the whole day, we did manage to get dressed and head out in the early afternoon. First was a quick trip to town to hit a gas station and then Taco Bell (while it's great being isolated in the desert with no cell coverage or Internet access, it's also really nice having all the modern amenities being a 15-minute drive away). We loaded up on fast food, and went back to Casa Rosita to munch our munchies. Then, it was off to the Park. JTNP is huge, and despite having been around much of the park several times before, Kat and I had never stopped by Barker Dam (or, as I called it with Jess, "Bob Barker Dam"). It's a bit off the main road, and we just never made it up in that direction. It turned out to be completely awesome. The sun was starting to dip, leaving big areas swathed in shadow, and the colors of the rocks and plants were stunning. It's a short hike, slightly over a mile, but we loved every minute of it. As we left the park, dark was just starting to descend, and we rolled back into Casa Rosita being very happy.

C'mon, you'd spank the butt rock too. It's our new tradition.

Can you blame me for loving it here? Take what you see in the pictures, in beauty and peacefulness, and multiply it by infinity. That's what it's like. But better.

That night, Kat cooked us some baked chicken drumsticks, baked potatoes, asparagus, and salad. It was a simple but great dinner that tasted even better after having worked up an appetite from hiking. Later on, after more silly guitar playing and chatting, we put on a National Geographic DVD about the universe (we like the universe) and watched it while having a glass of wine from the bottle of Merlot that Carrie had provided. At some point around midnight, we all finally went to bed.

The last day of a Joshua Tree trip is always hard. I think each of moaned several times each about not wanting to leave. For this trip, we needed to be especially careful about not lollygagging for our last day; Jess had a 5:30 flight from LAX, and if we'd hit traffic on the way back, that could be a real problem.

Still, we didn't have to get out of there until noon, so first we enjoyed a breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon, hash browns, and toast. Afterwards, while Kat was in the shower and I was on the porch having a smoke, I heard and felt something odd. Over the past few days, we'd gotten used to the sound of the high wind rattling around the Casa, but this was different (and there was no wind at all Monday morning). I swung the door open and looked at Jess, who said, "What the hell is that?" Being a resident of Southern California since I was six years old, I knew the answer immediately. "That would be an earthquake," I said, waiting to be sure it wasn't a really large quake. It wasn't at least where we were located (the rumbling died down in about 20 seconds), and I congratulated Jess on having lived through her first seismic event. Kat, it turned out, didn't notice it at all. Still, it was the largest quake to hit the area in about three years, so since it didn't do much damage or cause any injuries, I can say that I enjoyed the extra added memories of this trip.

Jess enjoys a few minutes of lovely sunlight on Monday morning.

Farewell, Casa Rosita. We'll be back (probably sooner than later).

We packed up our stuff and loaded the Jeep. It's always sad leaving the Desert Lily, but at least we had one more fast stop to drop our keys off and say goodbye to Carrie. We chatted for a bit, and Carrie made a very tempting offer to have us back in the midst of the summer, at no charge. Trust me, we're already considering the possibility of that. Carrie also related a hilarious story about some elderly guests who had come to the desert looking for UFOs. But we had to roll, so after hugs, we were back on the road. Leaving on a Monday, there was almost no traffic the whole way between Joshua Tree and LA, and I made the 150-mile drive in a record two-hour time, hauling ass due west. Still, with Jess' flight being early we decided not to tempt fate, and I cut over the 105 freeway to drop her off directly at LAX on our way back.

Leaving Jess is also difficult... she's such a great friend and a fun person to be around, it's never easy to say goodbye when she returns home to the Midwest after visiting us. We made several not-entirely-kidding jokes about just kidnapping her and keeping her here in LA, but eventually logic won out, and we hugged our farewells at the white curb loading zone at the airport. Finally, Kat and I cruised down PCH to our home in Redondo Beach. The trip was done.

Ultimately, Joshua Tree effortlessly delivers what I expect. I don't need to be fawned over and pampered in a spa-like hotel. I don't want a thousand activities to do and places to go when I really need to get relaxed and recharged. Instead, Joshua Tree lives up to its reputation as a place of serenity, of healing, and of natural wonder, simply by being itself (and encouraging you to be yourself in every way). Simple and non-judgemental, the desert is still my favorite place to get away from it all, and choosing the Desert Lily to be the centerpiece of our trips has proven time and time again to be the right thing to do.

See you next time, Joshua Tree!

Monday, March 4, 2013

David Bowie's The Next Day: Track by Track Review


Let's start by saying that I'm not a music reviewer. I'm a musician, a music lover, a student of music, a recording engineer, a record producer, and have a career in a field that provides creative tools to fellow musical people like myself. But the act of criticizing someone else's artistic output isn't my idea of fun, so I tend to avoid spewing my opinions on music or art of any sort.

Instead, let's think of me as a well-informed communicator, and a person who is as well acquainted with the music of David Bowie as any good 30-year-long fanboy could be. Today I'm here to tell you about my reactions to Bowie's 24th studio album, The Next Day. I'll do this while listening to the album. By the way, at least for now, the entire album is streaming for free on iTunes (I assume this will last until the album is actually released, which is March 12 here in the USA).

Sound fun? Listen along with me here if you want, and let's go over each new Bowie song. Whee!

1. The Next Day
A snare crack, and then... holy shit! Did I put on the right album? These dissonant guitars and the dry, tight production just pulled me straight back to Scary Monsters or perhaps Lodger. Just the act of listening to music by David Bowie that I've never heard before is thrilling... to have it sound like my favorite era of Bowie's output is a huge bonus. The opening title track is punchy and has a great chorus. I hope the rest of the album is as cool as this.

2. Dirty Boys
Oh man. This is great. There's something about hearing a baritone sax that lends the Bowie feel like nothing else. More dissonant guitars (loving that). There's something "Fame"-like about this. It's not as strong as the first track, but even a mediocre Bowie tune beats almost anything else one can listen to.

3. The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
This is cool. So lush. Bowie's 66-year-old voice isn't as powerful as what we used to get from him, but the aged quality is like a wine that's mellowed into something supremely unique. The guitars are ultra tasty on this track. It's less adventurous than the first couple of tunes, and the lyric is more literal than I prefer in my Bowie. I see why Bowie chose to put this song (with its rather easy AOR digestibility) out as the second single. The video is phenomenal, by the way. Tilda Swinton was basically born to act with Bowie, I'm convinced.

4. Love Is Lost
The whole vibe of this track is haunting, even while staying punchy and cool. I love the drum sounds! I love the organ! The guitars! And what a fantastic lyric -- bitter and accusatory. The vocal is so expressive. And then, after droning along in Bb minor for a couple of minutes, there's a killer key change to Ab minor in the bridge. Amazing. Only Bowie can pull that off in this way.

5. Where Are We Now?
This was the first single released, back in January when none of us had any idea that David was unleashing a whole album of new stuff. I really liked it when it first hit, but was slightly (and mistakenly, as it turns out) concerned that the whole album would be elegiac and nostalgic like this lush ballad. It's deeply melancholy in both performance and the lyrical references to Bowie's period in Berlin, and Bowie probably sounds older on this track than any other on this album (which, in context, seems entirely appropriate). The last minute of the song, with the cadenced snare drum, is overwhelmingly beautiful.

6. Valentine's Day
After being lulled into an introspective fugue state by the end of "Where Are We Now", a little drum pattern awakens me from my reverie, and... fucking wow! Now I'm in some amazing combination of "All the Young Dudes" (which, of course, Bowie wrote for Mott the Hoople) and several tracks from Ziggy Stardust. I just love the glammy feel, the low and gritty sound of the guitars, and the story (told very obliquely, in classic Bowie style) of the kid who's going to shoot the teachers and football stars at his school. Bowie's voice sounds amazing here. This one is going to stick in my head for awhile, I can tell already.

7. If You Can See Me
Well, I already thought this was a very good album. Now, with a heart-pumping jungle beat and Gail Ann Dorsey's voice howling at me like a heavenly banshee, it just became an incredibly great album. So many great things about this adventurous track. Tony Visconti brings an incredible vibe as a producer (especially on David's amazing vocals here), and the detailed sonic exploration happening here is as contemporary as it gets. Many people are talking about the musical nostalgia of The Next Day, understandably, but this song, to me, is music of the future as opposed to the past. The lydian modal feel and minor 2nd transitions are killing me as a songwriter. Killing me because I can't do that. But I'm glad David does.

8. I'd Rather Be High
After that last song, I'm fine with the somewhat more straightforward feel of "I'd Rather Be High". I love the drum rhythm and the guitar motif, regardless. Oh, the chorus is great. So, so great. Oh, this is really enjoyable. The anti-war lyrical message is well done without being heavy handed. Great, great, great stuff.

9. Boss of Me
Dammit, why can't I write an intro like this? Oh yeah, because I'm not Bowie. I forgot. Much like "Dirty Boys", the presence of a farty baritone sax warms the cockles of my heart. Tony Levin does a couple of tasty bass triplets in each verse that demand multiple listenings. I like the lyrical theme. And oh God, the bridge.

10. Dancing Out in Space
Hmm. This is nice. I think it might be this album's "Modern Love". Big drum beat making me bounce in my seat a bit. The chorus is naughty and fun. The vocal harmonies, in an odd interval, is something that if anyone else did, it would sound like a mistake. The return to the verse part is shockingly pretty in a little pop tune like this. Of course, how can things go wrong when Bowie goes into space?

11. How Does the Grass Grow?
Interesting. There's a bit of a "China Girl meets Fashion" thing happening here. Nothing wrong with that. I'm smiling at the "Apache" ya-ya-ya-ya chorus. I like it. Oh Jesus, the bridge. Kill me. Just kill me.

12. (You Will) Set the World On Fire
Ah, a reverb-filled rock guitar riff. So far, this is probably the most safe and pedestrian track on this album, and the one I'll be re-playing the least. Bowie sets a high standard with his experimentalist compositions, and it's somewhat jarring to have this rather predictable tune in the midst of an otherwise mind-blowing album.

13. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die
Immediate chills down my spine at the dreamy 6/8 feel that pulls me straight back to "Five Years" from Ziggy. The recording is sparse and beautiful. Bowie's voice is godlike here. This song could fit in with any of the most revered ballads of the last 50 years. David's operatic yet honest voice here is beyond compare. And the outro... more chills.

14. Heat
After the greatness of the penultimate song, I'm a little leery of what the final track will bring. And... whoa. Just whoa. I just got transported to some distant galaxy. He's only singing two notes: F# and G#. But there's a lot of amazing things happening around this chant-like, hypnotic poem. If it's reminiscent of anything in the past, it's the dirge of the instrumentals on his Berlin trilogy. And yet, like the rest of The Next Day, it approaches the song from a wholly new direction.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Molaskey's Pub (02.28.13)

Sweet baby Jeebus, it was a helluva week. Emphasis on "hell". Continuing through Friday, I had a variety of minor but annoying physical ailments that combined to put me in a generally vile mood. Add to that a bunch of semi-frustrating work-related challenges, and the extreme need to take a little time off (see more on that below), and by the time I was starting to prep for my show at Molaskey's Pub in Second Life on Thursday afternoon, I was a hairbreadth away from canceling the show altogether.

Why? It's simple: I didn't think I was going to be in a good enough mood to put on a fun show for whoever showed up. It's nothing more complicated than that; my show is predicated on helping people forget their troubles, and certainly doesn't involve adding to them with my own complaints. It really wasn't until about 5PM... the hour before my show began, when I gained the confidence that I could pull off my usual fun entertainment experience. Also, as I'd mentioned to Kat earlier that day, I knew from experience that I'd spend the rest of the evening (and possibly the whole weekend) moping had I not stepped up and done the show as planned.

More good reasons to play: my stablemates at Maali Beck Entertainment, Sassy Nitely and Lyndon Heart, were slated directly before and after me at Molaskey's. It wouldn't have been cool to remove the meat of that delicious musical sandwich, and I was indeed that slice of baloney for the evening's festivities. So, I sucked up my self pity and did my show, and I'm glad I did. We didn't have a big crowd by Molaskey's standards, but I found the act of performing to be therapeutic for myself, so it wouldn't have mattered if no one at all was there. Thankfully, we had a number of cool people who really seemed to enjoy and appreciate the performances by Sassy, Lyndon, and myself.

Photo and top photo by Kat.

Photo by Cicadetta Stillwater.

Photo by Cicadetta Stillwater.

In any case the show was fine, and fun for me and the folks who were there. It'll be a little while before the next time you see me rocking the virtual world; next weekend, my darling Kat and our friend Triana are taking a much-needed trip to the Mojave Desert to relax and enjoy one of my favorite places, Joshua Tree. You'll be able to see me next on Saturday March 16, at an event for Relay for Life.

Molaskey's Set List...
If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow)
Jack Straw (Grateful Dead)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
*Creepin' (Stevie Wonder)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Free Man In Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Like a Hurricane (Neil Young)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
Loser (Beck)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Thanks to all who came to the show, especially those who leant their support!
Christine Haiku, Cicadetta Stillwater, Kat Claxton, Sesh Kamachi, Sassy Nitely, my great manager Maali Beck, and Molaskey's GM Mia Kitchensink!