Friday, February 28, 2014

Crystal Gardens City (02.27.14)

Every so often, I still get a random person or two asking, "What are these music shows you do that look like they're in a video game?" Fortunately, I have a fast and easy answer: Since 2006, I perform live music for people around the world via the Internet using virtual world technology like Second Life. It's just like playing live on the radio, except people can also see an avatar of myself as I perform, and I can see the listeners' avatars as they chat, dance, and have fun.

Simple enough, huh?

As to the reason why I do this, there's also a simple answer: I'm a performing musician whose life doesn't allow me to dedicate enough time and effort to do live shows in the flesh, or travel around on tour. So, with Second Life, I can perform often, and still maintain my responsibilities as a pretty typical businessperson, father, and all the other stuff I am.

Again, pretty easy to get. Last night's show at Crystal Gardens City was a particularly good one. I never know exactly why some shows are better than others. It's some insane combination of factors that include my mood, how well I'm playing guitar and singing that day, the size of the crowd, who is performing before me or after me, the level of interactivity of the people at the show, and many tiny details like how new my guitar strings are, whether my mix sounds good in my headphones, and all that stuff. For whatever reason, it all came together last night. I particularly enjoyed once again being sandwiched between two really high-quality performers; Mark Allan Jensen had the slot before me, and FrankLee Anatra played after me. I think it's a good matchup of musical styles and skills.

Yes, I fell off the stage again, and did my first two songs while standing in the crowd. Here, Kat comes over to keep me company while I play on the ground. Photo and top photo by Kat.

Rockin' da City. Photo by Kat.

Crystal Gardens City set list...
Pigs On The Wing -- Parts I & II (Pink Floyd)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Alabama (Neil Young)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
*Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Lost Cause (Beck)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks)
Shock the Monkey (Peter Gabriel)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

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

Big thanks to everyone who came out to the show, especially the following who helped support it!
bblbabe, Peg Wylder, Beliria Lumley, Christine Haiku, Gretchen Capalini, Harry Wheeler, snake Marais, Sesh Kamachi, Aurelie Chenaux, Allegra Genira, Rina Miles, Kat Claxton, MAJJackSlade, my great manager Maali Beck, and Crystal Gardens owners Sandi and Mikal Beaumont!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Kat and I Do Saturday Mornings

No, you weirdos. I'm talking about after we get out of bed.

Kat and I enjoy our routines, and one thing we do every Saturday morning without fail is to listen to the new music releases that have come out in the preceding week. Typically, new music is released on Tuesdays in the USA. Why? No one really knows. Some speculate that it's because Billboard magazine is released on Wednesdays, so the album gets a full seven days of sales that are reflected on the following week's charts.

But that doesn't matter to us. Our new music day is Saturday, simply because that's the first opportunity we have in our busy schedules to sit down and listen to music for an extended time period that's usually uninterrupted. Do we listen to every piece of music that gets released? No, that would be silly. Like anyone, we have our tastes in music, and neither of us are likely to find country, hip hop, or Top 40 pop songs that grab our attention. So, she and I focus on new music in genres that we might find appealing: alternative, and sometimes singer/songwriter.

Here's how it works. We get up unhurriedly, and have coffee (that is a prerequisite; I'm not going to enjoy music while I'm half asleep). Sometimes we shower, dress, and have breakfast first, but there are plenty of times that we just chill in our bathrobes and sweats, and let the music flow. Our preferred method of checking out new music is through the iTunes Store, but I'll back up a moment.

Both of us are avid listeners of LA's main NPR affiliate, 89.9 KCRW. I'd say that KCRW is one of the top five stations in the US for debuting and promoting new music, so it's not uncommon for one or both of us to be aware of a new artist before they release their albums or singles on iTunes. We also will occasionally check various new music sites to see what people are into.

So, Saturday morning comes around. We're in my office/studio. The first thing we do is start up iTunes, and then go to the iTunes Store. Note that there are plenty of other places online to check out new music; we just find this convenient because we both purchase music through iTunes, and we often buy songs we enjoy. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We click on the "Music" menu, and usually navigate straight to "Alternative" in the drop-down menu.

Since our goal is to hear all the new alternative releases for that week, I click the "See All" link in the "New and Noteworthy" area.

Now we have a nice list of new releases to check out, and we do. All of them. It would be pointless if we only listened to the artists and bands with whom we're already familiar. We make it a point to listen to everything that's new for that week. That's how we discover artists that we like, or find new music from artists/bands we know.

Kat and I are fortunate in that almost always, we know immediately whether something is worth a full listen. Our tastes are almost identical, and so are our musical turn-offs. The second we hear stuff that's heavily derivative of other music, or that is painfully autotuned, or otherwise doesn't interest us, I hit the stop button and we move on (often with a snide comment from one or both of us). But when we come across something that is innovative or interesting in any way, we often listen to the preview files of multiple tracks.

The next step is important: if we hear something we really like, we buy it! We buy it then and there, and that lets us support the artists we enjoy, or at least reward those who did cool work for their efforts. Kat is more likely than me to buy entire albums; I tend to cherry-pick through singles that I enjoy (and sometimes end up buying the album piece by piece anyway).

So, do we always buy music every Saturday morning? Hell no! The fact of the matter is that most new music coming out doesn't capture our interest, and a good chunk of it outright sucks (as a lot of music always has since day one). But every week, out of perhaps 25 new releases, we find two or three that we can appreciate for some reason or another. Even then, it doesn't mean I'm going to buy it. Sometimes it's not quite great enough for me to want to listen to over and over again in my music library. But via our Saturday morning routine, I've discovered more new music I like and purchased more new music in the past few years than at any time since I was in my teens. Often, when I find a band I like, I also go back through their catalog and buy more music that they did earlier, but is still "new to me".

That's about it. The entire process takes maybe an hour, and is a great way to start a weekend. It's funny; when we don't do our new music routine for whatever reason, we really miss it, and end up checking out all the new releases we missed the next time we get around to it. But we rarely miss it; it's our routine, and we like it a lot. And, as a result, unlike a lot of people our age, we are completely in tune with what's going on in the music that we like, and not just fixating on music from our own youth. I highly recommend it for anyone who sadly thinks that "there's no good music anymore". There most certainly is, lots and lots of it. You just have to find it.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Key West (02.14.14)

Love was in the air at Key West in Second Life last night for a special Valentine's Day show. Actually, I have no idea if Liz Harley had intended it to be a night of love songs, but I kind of rolled with the occasion and it seemed like the right thing to do. It also gave me a good excuse to pull out some of my more romantic repertoire for my set, which then led me to the realization that I really don't write many of my own songs about love. Anyway, that didn't matter very much, since I chose to mostly do a bunch of covers by artists who focus more on love than I apparently do.

Key West had put together what I think is a really good lineup of talent for the night. I was the human musical sacrifice at the 5PM hour, notorious for being packed with shows and not always easy to draw a crowd. However, with Max Kleene following me, I needn't have been concerned; his army of followers began arriving during my show, and before long it was a typically great Key West evening. They also hosted Bat Masters and Voodoo Shilton to round out the evening.

Directly after the show, my own valentine Kat came over, bringing the 342 pounds of chocolate I'd given her earlier in the day, and then cooked us some ridiculously good fettucini with fresh scallops. I'd say the entire evening was about as good as it can get.

My valentine dances in front of the stage. Photo and top photo by Kat.

I've literally never had a bad show at Key West. Photo by Kat.

The crowd gets bigger as my set goes on and Max Kleene gets ready to play. Photo by Kat.

Key West set list...
Day After Day (Badfinger)
Thank You (Led Zeppelin)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
My Heart (Neil Young)
Beyond the Blue (Martina McBride)
Is She Really Going Out With Him? (Joe Jackson)
Crazy Love (Poco)
Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)
Court & Spark (Joni Mitchell)
Creepin' (Stevie Wonder)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)

Thanks to all who supported my V-Day show at Key West!
kassandragirl, Tabitha Oxide, Diana Renoir, Rusty Seisenbacher, Soulsykk Summers, Kat Claxton, Diana Renoir, sedonajane Silverpath, TheaDee, my manager Maali Beck, and Key West owner Liz Harley!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Crystal Gardens City (02.13.14)

Some people may wonder why I write a little report like this after every single show I do. No one's ever asked me directly, but I do assume that some people might question the need to do this little write up time and time again. And really, the answer is simple: there is no need. I don't know anyone else who documents every damn music performance they do. Is it ego? Is it for further promotion of my musical career? No, not really. I think more than anything, I'm a documentarian kind of guy, and I enjoy having this record of the things I've done. It's come in handy a number of times, referring back to songs I've played at various places, or my experience at different venues. But mostly, it's just a diary where I can make sure that the memories I have of being a live musician remain intact.

In any case, last night's show at Crystal Gardens City was, as usual, a fun one. The fun started well before I'd played a note; SL was being laggy (I know, can you imagine?), and I was having some issues moving my avatar around. The result was that while setting up, I managed to fall off the stage. I performed my first song standing among my audience, then got back onstage. Then I tried to adjust my position and fell off again. Then I got back up. At that point, I couldn't blame Sandi and Rina for positioning a trampoline directly in front of the stage, to bounce me back up if I continued this idiocy. Fortunately, I decided not to move my avvie again, and all was well.

We had a decent crowd, and a good number of folks hung out after Mark Allen Jensen's show that preceded mine. I'd heard Mark's name before but hadn't had a chance to hear him perform until last night. Very talented guy! As usual at Crystal Gardens, Sandi and Mikal were excellent hosts, and I had a very good time playing. I think the crowd enjoyed it too, so all is good.

Rocking in the virtual world. Photo and top photo by Kat.

I love the unique grunginess of this place. Photo by Kat.

The crowd enjoys the show. Photo by Kat.

My avatar seems to be having a good time. Photo by Kat.

Crystal Gardens City set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Desire Lines (Deerhunter)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
A Day in the Life (Beatles)
Wonderwall (Oasis)
Into the Mystic (Van Morrison)
For the Turnstiles (Neil Young)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Loser (Beck)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

Big thanks to every single person at Crystal Gardens City last night, especially the following who helped support my show!
Aubreya Joszpe, Allegra Genira, Wendy Swenson, Kat Claxton, Harry Wheeler, Aurelie Chenaux, MAJJackSlade, Blues Heron, my manager Maali Beck, and CGC owners Sandi and Mikal Beaumont!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hesperia of Templemore (02.09.14)

It's a rare pleasure for me these days to perform at a new venue in Second Life. The benefits of playing at a new place are many; first and foremost, it gives the musician a chance to potentially play for a crowd of people who haven't heard him or her before. I welcome those opportunities, which is why when my manager Maali Beck said that the folks at Hesperia of Templemore wanted me to do a show there on a Sunday afternoon, I was happy to do so.

I don't know much about Templemore just yet, but it seems that they have a variety of different stages scattered around a sim that's dedicated to live music. I will say this: the design of venues has come a long, long way since my earliest days of performing in SL, back in 2006. Due to advancements in virtual technology like mesh, as well as a general improvement in design skills based on the years of experience that have gone into venue creation, some of these newer places (and recently redesigned older venues) look absolutely spectacular.

My crowd was exactly what I hope for when I do a show in SL: varied. It combined a number of my own fans along with the fans of my good pal who played before me, Lyndon Heart. And then, there were a good amount of what we affectionately call "noobs", people who have only recently joined Second Life. I noted that Templemore is being featured in SL's destination guide right now, and I'm sure a good number of folks who came discovered the place that way. Hopefully some of them enjoyed what they heard, and will seek me out again.

The show itself went just fine. I was in a good mood and relaxed. Kat was chilling here in Casa de Zak, which she generally only can do when I perform on a weekend (more rare than a weekday evening show for me). My voice and guitar were both behaving as expected. All in all, it went very well, and I'm sure I'll be doing more shows at Hesperia of Templemore in the not-distant future.

Good crowd, cool place, happy Zak. Photo and top photo by Kat.

Me, doing what I do. Photo by Kat.

I mean, this is a pretty neat setting for a live music show. Photo by Kat.

Templemore set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
*Desire Lines (Deerhunter)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Shock the Monkey (Peter Gabriel)
You’re Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Just Like This Train (Joni Mitchell)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

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

Big thanks to everyone who came out to my debut at Hesperia of Templemore, especially the following who helped support my show!
DirtyDee Sweetwater, Salome Strangelove, lilliana Levee, Triana Caldera, Diana Renoir, Aurelie Chenaux, LilithsMoon, Woodstock Burleigh, Burk Bode, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and Templemore's Luis Lockjaw!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Molaskey's Pub (02.06.14)

As any reader of this blog knows, I've performed at Molaskey's Pub in Second Life dozens and dozens of times. It's always a good time, and I often draw a good audience there. I decided to extend the artistic experience of having once again done a show there by writing this report in haiku form.

It's been near a month
Since I've played live in SL
Anxious to get back

Getting warmed up now
Guitar is tuned, voice ready
For Molaskey's Pub

Sassy is singing
She's on before me, my friend
Tonight she sounds great

I start my broadcast
Say hello to the crowd there
And start my first tune

Time passes quickly
I feel good about the show
Audience is cool

Dedicate a song
To Philip Seymour Hoffman
One by old Neil Young

Now it's time to go
I wrap up with Cat Stevens
And call it a night

It's good to be back
Now I log out of SL
And eat spaghetti

Photo and top photo by Kat.

Photo by Kat.

Molaskey's Pub set list...
Frigid Spring (Chairlift)
Birds (Neil Young)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Lost Cause (Beck)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)
Bertha (Grateful Dead)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

Many thanks to all who helped support my show!
KarlPeterKP, Tzeitel, Alexis Fairlady, Aurelie Chenaux, Jwheels Carver, TheaDee, SeraGrace, Richy Nervous, Sassy Nitely, Kat Claxton, Cicadetta Stillwater, desire4all, my great manager Maali Beck, and Molaskey's GM Mia Kitchensink!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show on Ustream (02.01.14)

Video streaming by Ustream

I hope you enjoyed Super Bowl Sunday. Here in the USA, it might as well be a national holiday. I'm a serious football fan and even I get a little disgusted by the hype and hyperbole that go into this game, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it. Kat (who is a native Seattlite) and I got a ton of snack foods and kicked back with my teenage son, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the blowout win by the Seahawks.

Anyway, now that the NFL season is history, I thought I'd tell you about Saturday's Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show, the first one I've done in about a year. The show, for those of you who may not be familiar, is my sporadic music performance I do on live video via Ustream. It's similar to the shows I perform in Second Life with a couple of major exceptions. First, it's live video as opposed to being in a virtual world. Second, I tend to almost exclusively play original music during these shows, instead of doing a 50/50 mix of originals and covers. I started doing these Ustream shows four years ago in 2010, and for awhile was doing them quite regularly, interspersed with my shows in SL. I slacked off on the shows after awhile, and since then have only done them on rather random occasions.

There are upsides and downsides to doing Ustream shows versus SL shows. For one thing, well, people can see you (as opposed to some pixel-based cartoon representation of yourself). I have no problem with that, but not all SL performers are as comfortable and forthcoming about their real-life selves and identities as I am. Another thing is that there's no direct means of compensation... I don't get tips. And then there are the ads, which are annoying as hell to my audience, but are the primary way services like Ustream can monetize their business. Before you comment about other video services, yes, I've used many of them for live music performances where tipping is possible; I just find their systems a bit confining for me.

On the positive side, more people can see me do a show on Ustream than in SL for obvious reasons; anyone can click a link and watch a video stream in their browser. And, as you'd imagine, there's a more personal connection to seeing the artist perform in the flesh than with any kind of animation-based show in a virtual world. When I finish my next album, you can bet your ass I'll be doing many more of these performances to help promote the new music.

Anyway, you get the idea. Saturday's show went well for a couple of notable reasons. Considering that I hadn't done one of these shows since February 2013, we drew a nice-sized little crowd of cool people who seemed to enjoy commenting and socializing amongst each other while I played (which I always enjoy). I also did something I'd never done before in a solo performance: I played electric guitar for about half the show. I had fun taking some of my familiar Zak Songs and slightly tweaking them for being performed on my Fender Jaguar instead of my Martin D-18V. I think the crowd, most of whom had heard those songs done 10,000,000 times acoustically, liked the electric versions.

Here are some random stills from the show.

ZCHFS set list...
Floydian Warm-Up (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon - Electric (Zak Claxton)
You're Like A Cloud - Electric (Zak Claxton)
Better Reasons - Electric (They Stole My Crayon)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claton)
Perfect Girl - Electric (Zak Claxton)
The Other Way - Electric (Zak Claxton)
Shine - Electric (Zak Claxton)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)

So many thanks to the folks who clicked the Ustream link and watched the show! We'll do it again soon!