Friday, May 30, 2014

Vinyl Cafe (05.29.14)

It's funny; after performing on Tuesday night, I'd made a point of mentioning to Kat that I didn't have a single Second Life show to do over the next couple of weeks. We're taking a short trip to Joshua Tree next weekend, and I'm busy working on musical activities for our band They Stole My Crayon, so I purposefully hadn't pushed to do more SL shows during that time frame. However, yesterday morning, I got messaged on Facebook from my manager Maali Beck.

Maali Beck: Interested in a 7 pm gig at Vinyl Cafe tonight for Lei?
Zak Claxton: Hmmm. Sure, why not?

Why not indeed? Vinyl Cafe is a cool live venue, and more importantly, Heavenlei Lexenstar has become a good friend in recent months, particularly since our hanging out in person at the Nashville SL Jam a couple of weeks back. My choice to perform a previously-unplanned show isn't a given; I'd only do that at a place where I was certain that I'd have a good time, and be able to put on a good show for whoever turned up to see me. Vinyl Cafe meets those qualifications fully. The show itself was good musically, and lots of fun. I think the fun part is the most important aspect, but it's always nice when I feel I'm performing well and have chosen good material. We had a good crowd, which for me means one that's engaged in the show and having a good time.

My crazy friends were all making the show as entertaining for me as I hopefully was for them. Photo and top photo by Kat.

I like the low-key, backyard party vibe of Vinyl Cafe. Photo by Kat.

The quality of the audience is determined by how much fun I'm having, not by how large it is. Last night was massively fun. Photo by Kat.

Vinyl Cafe is on the Key West sim, and fits in well with the gorgeous build of the overall area. Photo by Kat.

Vinyl Cafe set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Lost Cause (Beck)
Perfectly Calm (They Stole My Crayon)
Carolina In My Mind (James Taylor)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Nearly Lost You (Screaming Trees)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)

Big thanks to all who came out to my surprise show at Vinyl Cafe, especially all of you who helped support it!
Friendly Story, Triana Caldera, Darcy Kingmaker, Allegra Genira, Kat Claxton, Liz Harley, Obeloinkment Wrigglesworth, Monkey Martian, gwampa Lomu, Colby Abrahams, Aurelie Chenaux, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Vinyl Cafe's queen of the beaver, heavenlei Lexenstar!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Daddy's Piano Bar (05.27.14)

I'll start off today's otherwise happy blog post on a somber note. Cultural icon Maya Angelou has passed away at age 86. From my perspective as a writer of prose, I hold poets in the highest level of admiration; they can impart and evoke emotion in a sentence or two which would take me paragraphs to get across as effectively. Maya led one of those lives that in most cases only happens in fiction; in addition to being one of the world's most beloved writers, at various points in her life was also a renowned civil rights activist, a dancer, a singer, a playwright, an actress, a film and TV producer, and more. Calling her background "underprivileged" is a ridiculous understatement, but her natural abilities and incredible optimism allowed her not only to lead an amazing life, but be inspiring to millions of other people. She left a huge legacy, and I'm happy to acknowledge my extraordinary respect for her. Rest in peace.

Now, back to the show. That is, my show last night at Daddy's Piano Bar. I think it's obvious that from a musical perspective, my priority right now is the work I'm doing for the upcoming They Stole My Crayon album. While this is exciting and good, it means that I'm not doing as many shows in SL right now as I've done previously. This, actually, is also good; it allows me to feel like each show is a special event of sorts, and perhaps I'm being a little more focused on doing good performances when they only happen once a week or so.

Daddy's Piano Bar is a fun place to perform, even for a guitarist. Photo and top photo by Triana Caldera.

Here I am onstage, doing that thing I do. Photo by Cicadetta Stillwater.

We had a nice crowd last night that included some of the pals I made at the Nashville Jam. Gravey Jones, in particular, is a really excellent musician, but perhaps more importantly, he's a cool and funny guy who I'm glad to think of as a friend. Gravey was making it exceptionally difficult for me to focus on my performance while he had a conversation with a dominant stuffed panda bear. I was happy to see him, Heather Madenwald, and others with whom I'd been hanging out and having fun the previous weekend, along with my usual Zaksters friends and Daddy's regulars. I've been leaning a little harder than usual on my originals as opposed to the covers I play, and I've also been adding some TSMC songs to the set list at recent shows. Since I'd just written a brand new tune the day before, I decided to give it a spot in the set list

We really had a good-sized crowd for most of the show, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Photo by Triana.

As I've mentioned before, the stage itself is shaped like a giant piano Sweet. Photo by Cicadetta.

Everyone thinks a panda bear is sweet and cute and innocent. Not this one. Photo by Kat.

Daddy's Piano Bar set list...
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
*Perfectly Calm (They Stole My Crayon)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
*Impromptu Daddy's Song (Zak Claxton)

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

Massive thanks to all who supported my show at Daddy's!
Rich Simsider, Kat Claxton, Lisa Brune, Cicadetta Stillwater, Melsda, EricSteffensen Mistwalker, Heather Couturier, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee, Satine Kalinakov, GraveyJones, Triana Caldera, my manager Maali Beck, and Daddy's lovely manager Zee Difference!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Effie's Designs (05.23.14)

Right after I got back from the wonderful, amazing Nashville SL Jam (which I'll be posting about soon), I got contacted by one of the many people who I got to know better there. It was Effie Emmons, and she wanted to know if I was available to perform Friday evening at her place in SL. She was setting up an evening of live music with a few people who'd played at the Jam, including myself as well as Rock Doghouse and Franck Molko. I'd "known" Effie for years from SL and Facebook, but it wasn't until we were together in Nashville that I really felt like we became friends... partially from our having performed some songs together as well as hanging out and enjoying each other's company. I immediately accepted the gig; it was also a great time for a show, right as the Memorial Day weekend was kicking off.

The show at Effie's Designs was fun. We didn't have a huge crowd there (the weekday 4PM slot is nearly impossible for a crowd to gather while people in the USA are still getting home from work and so on), but a good number of people who'd we'd been having fun with in Nashville the weekend before stopped by, and it was good to get another chance to be with them, even though the pixels are never better than the flesh. Still, I think it was a pretty decent Zak Show overall. Also, since I'd spent a good chunk of the time on my flights to and from Nashville reading the Keith Richards autobiography Life, I did a Stones song that I'd somehow neglected performing before.

Spending time with my pals from the Nashville Jam is priceless in any world, virtual or otherwise. Photo and top photo by Kat.

Effie's Designs set list...
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
*Moonlight Mile (Rolling Stones)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Frigid Spring (Chairlift)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)

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

Thanks to all who came out to Effie's and supported the show!
Sassy Nitely, Rock Doghouse, Diana Renoir, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee, Kat Claxton, Leyah Renegade, my manager Maali Beck, and the lovely Effie Emmons!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I'm Going to Nashville

Anyone looking at my upcoming schedule of performances in Second Life may be thinking that I've pretty much abandoned the virtual world this month. However, the truth is actually the opposite of that: I'm spending some time making my virtual world a lot more real.

On Thursday of this week (May 15), my darling Kat and I are boarding a plane here at LAX, and flying a couple of thousand miles east just to hang out with many of our SL music community friends for the 2014 Nashville SL Jam. This isn't the first SL Jam that Kat and I have attended; as you may recall, we went to the San Diego SL Jam back in 2011, and had a great time. In fact, it was at that event that we first got to know some people who now rank among our closest friends in Second Life, not the least of which is my manager Maali Beck.

Video clips from the 2011 San Diego SL Jam. If Nashville is as fun, we're in for a great time.

We're pretty sure this SL Jam will be even more epic than our last one. First, it's an adventure for Kat and I; she've never been to Nashville before, and all of my previous visits to that lovely city have been business-related, so I'm looking forward to some relaxing and fun times there with my lady. And, of course, the last jam was in San Diego, an easy 2-hour drive south of here, while this time we'll be flying across most of the US to get there. While Kat and I have done plenty of air traveling to see each other when we were dating (and she was living in Seattle), this is our first trip where we get on a plane and take off and come back together. Exciting!

Getting Ready
There's so much stuff to consider in planning for a trip like this. Can I carry on my Martin guitar on my plane? Have I put fresh strings on the guitar and made a list of every single possible musical accessory I might require for the trip? Have I completely overloaded my iPad with books and games and apps to entertain my brain during the 4-hour flight each way? The answer to those questions and more is -- hopefully -- yes. It's funny; I'm way less concerned about what I'm wearing and other typical travel thoughts than making sure I can have a great time while I'm there. And getting there. And even coming back.

Jam Plan
The 2014 Nashville Jam is being arranged by our good friend and fellow musician Barbie Horsley, aka Sassy Nitely in SL. She is one organized woman, and has a tight schedule for the entire weekend. I am most looking forward to the simple stuff... meeting a number of people in person for the first time (including Barbie herself, as well as some great Zakster fans who will be in attendance), playing music with my fellow SL performers, and so on. I know that some of the most memorable stuff won't necessarily be on the schedule. Kat and I love exploring places where we haven't been before, and we may be looking forward to some Southern cuisine as much as we are the jamming. But the jams will be awesome.

As I mentioned, though, there is indeed a schedule, which is good; these events would be mayhem without one. I am doing a 30-minute solo show on Friday 5/16 at 3:30PM Nashville time (1:30PM SLT), but I'm trying to make sure that some of my SL friends can join me during my set. It's all about that interaction between musicians, at least for me. I'm totally looking forward to that. In fact, I've already had some discussions with the likes of Taunter Goodnight (Deb Haas) and Maximillion Kleene about some tunes we can do together. I'm sure others are making similar plans. Can't wait!

Barbie also has put together some very fun-sounding events at the Jam, including an "80's Night" on Saturday where musicians will be randomly paired to do songs from that notorious decade. It will be silly and fun, and I'm totally down with all that.

Staying home? No worries, you can still see the fun!
As has been the case at many previous SL Jams, there will be live video feeds and Second Life events going on so people in other places can take part in the festivities. The web address for the video stream and the exact site for in-world Jam events will be made available before the Jam gets rolling.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Key West (05.09.14)

Just now, while I was starting to write this post, my finger slipped on the keyboard, and I entered a date of "05.09.24". That got me thinking about the following question: a decade from now, will I still be performing online shows? My first reaction was that it's very likely I will be doing so, but that it's highly doubtful that Second Life will be the platform of choice by then. Nothing against SL, of course; I just don't have enough faith that in the long term, this form of virtual world won't be eclipsed by something bigger and better. It's how both technology and human nature work, with a constant desire to improve the current standards. I've been performing music in SL since 2006, going on eight years, and while subtle improvements have been made, from my perspective as a live musician, Second Life is almost entirely the same as it was when I started.

So, given the idea that I'll still enjoy the act of doing live online shows in 2024, it's safe to say that the experience for both myself and my audience will be drastically different by then. One of the main factors that will improve is the way my avatar is capable of imparting the nuances of my performance. When I play music in reality, the audience can see my facial expressions, my body language, and the synchronization of my singing and playing motion with the rhythm of the music -- none of which is possible in today's Second Life. I'm quite sure that by 2024, given today's forays into motion sensing and other tech, these kinds of obstacles will be easily overcome, and both the performers and audiences will have a much more immersive experience. Being a realist, I'm also pretty sure that it won't be Second Life that will be the forerunner in this regard. If music-based events was of higher priority to the folks at Linden Lab, perhaps it would be more feasible, but music performance in virtual worlds is a tangled web. Eventually, another platform will get it figured out, and that's where I'll be playing in 2024.

Meanwhile, back in the present, I once again played at Liz Harley's fantastic Key West venue last night. My monthly slot there usually has me performing before one of my favorite SL performers (and good friends), Max Kleene, and I purposefully structure my set in a way that takes advantage of Max's big crowd, who start filtering into my show toward the end of it. I'm not sure what I can say about Key West that hasn't already been said by me and many others, many times. It's a great-looking venue, and is run and staffed by people who really make the effort to create a great experience for musicians and audiences alike. I have never -- not even once -- had a bad show there. I credit Liz and her staff for making that the case.

Key West on a Friday night is just a great gig in any world, virtual or otherwise. Photo and top photo by Kat.

As usual, Key West pulls in a big crowd of people who like to rock. Photo by Triana Caldera.

The show itself was a typical blend of my originals and cover tunes, and both my voice and guitar were behaving just fine. I don't expect to be perfect; I do expect to be myself, and play the kind of show that leaves people feeling like they experienced something genuine and enjoyable. All was well in that regard.

Key West set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
My God Is the Sun (Queens of the Stone Age)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
Golden Years (David Bowie)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Mother (Pink Floyd)
Nearly Lost You (Screaming Trees)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)

Many thanks to all who came out to Key West last night, especially the following who helped support my show!
Triana Caldera, Richy Nervous, Benude Cleanslate, Calgon Foxdale, Kalli Birman, plowwie Voom, Alexis Fairlady, Rusty Seisenbacher, TheaDee, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and Key West hostess Coreopsis Bluebird and owner Liz Harley!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

They Stole My Crayon Album Sampler #1

Yesterday (Saturday May 3) was an auspicious day in the historical annals of my band They Stole My Crayon. We originally got together in October 2012 with the goal of cranking out a "fast album" that I hoped at the time would be done about six weeks later. That... didn't happen. Life happened instead. But we enjoyed the process of writing and recording songs together on a sporadic basis, and now -- about a year and a half later -- we've made significant progress on what will end up being the album that I'd hoped would be done by December 2012.

So, for the first time, we've made some snippets of our songs "Longing On", "Some Things I Can't Say", and "Take The Ride" available for people to hear. Please feel free to let me know what you think, and to share our little song sampler above. We're proud of what we've done so far, though we still have a ways to go before the whole album is ready for prime time. There are more songs to write, to record, and a whole album to mix. Still, we're somewhat hopeful that by this coming fall (about two years after we started the band), the album will be released. The effort is 100% worthwhile, and we're all excited to show you the final product of our work later this year.

Virtual State Fair (05.01.14)

Happy May to you. I've generally enjoyed May, this being my 44th of them. Nice weather, generally mellow vibe. I approve of this month.

My first show of May 2014 was a fun one, in an interesting way. I was hired by the former Molaskey's Pub crew, who were booking the talent to perform at the Virtual State Fair in Second Life. I'd never been to this event before, though apparently it's happened for a number of years. As anyone who reads this blog already knows, I try and tailor my shows to each event. Sometimes I have a specific musical theme of my own, or sometimes the event or venue itself helps dictate what sort of songs I'll be pulling out of my magical bag of tunes. At a State Fair on a stage surrounded by hay bales and guys wearing cowboy hats, the answer was fairly obvious.

Still, it seemed to surprise a good number of my fans when they showed up to find that I was doing a full set of country-oriented music. Am I a big fan of country music? No, and I hold a particular dislike for almost all modern country music (which, by the way, isn't really country at all in most cases). But has country music been influential on me, especially the older "classic" country songwriters and performers? Hell yes. Moreover, those artists influenced the artists who eventually influenced me, so there's a trail there that made it appropriate for me to do a night of country-fried Zak.

Doing some country tunes among the hay bales. Photo and top photo by Kat.

The State Fair was like any state fair you can imagine, perhaps without the selection of weird fried foods. Photo by Kat.

It was fun to throw down the hoedown at the Virtual State Fair. Photo by Kat.

One musical side note: I played a John Denver song for the first time ever in world last night, but that song actually has some long-term history for me. When I first started playing guitar as a wee lad back in 1976, I had a couple of books to learn from. One was a general book of traditional folk tunes, and the other was a "John Denver Made Easy For Guitar" book. So, while I haven't played it often, I've actually been doing his music since I was seven years old. True story.

Virtual State Fair set list...
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
*Take Me Home, Country Roads (John Denver)
Beyond the Blue (Martina McBride)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Pigs on the Wing - Parts I and II (Pink Floyd)
Wild Horses (Rolling Stones)
The Weight (The Band)
Powerderfinger (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Lost Cause (Beck)
California (Joni Mitchell)

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

Many thanks to everyone who came out and saw my get my country on at the Virtual State Fair, especially the following who helped support my show!
Harry Wheeler, NeCole Chiantelle, eXtension Helix, Richy Nervous, eXtension Difference, Extension Scientist, Shannon Oherlihy, MicheleJean, eXtension Peapod, Kat Claxton, DFox Spitteler, borg Sparta, Phylos, Thynka Little, Cicadetta Stillwater, Mia Kitchensink, Aurelie Chenaux, and my manager Maali Beck.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Islands of New England (04.30.14)

Every time I think I've done and experienced everything there is in life, I get proven wrong. Last night's show -- if you want to call it that -- at The Islands of New England is great example.

I generally log into SL at roughly 20-25 minutes before my scheduled start time, after warming up for about 40 minutes. If my show is scheduled for 5PM, for example, I start warming up at 4:00, and get into world at about 4:35. On a typical day, I then make sure my avatar is dressed appropriately, then teleport to the venue, make sure everything is ready to go, and then set up my microphones and other audio tools to be ready to perform.

All that is precisely what didn't happen yesterday. I'd been hearing some rumblings of Second Life being problematic from my Facebook friends, but didn't pay much attention until I tried to get onto the grid... and failed. I immediately pinged my manager Maali Beck, as well as IONE manager Christine Haiku, and let them know what was going on. I was hammering the "log in" button to no avail for the next 15 minutes, and a few minutes before my show was schedule to start, I was about ready to angrily cancel the whole thing when Christine made a suggestion.

So, to be clear... I couldn't get into SL, but we did the show anyway. Here's how it worked: I ran my audio stream broadcast as usual. Meanwhile, Christine was copy/pasting the local chat that was going on at the venue into Facebook messages so I could have some interaction with the crowd (a big part of my show). At the venue, as opposed to having an empty stage, my crazy friends put up a photo of me. And the show went on. I even managed to do a couple of tunes I hadn't done before, which is kind of a bonus.

Despite not being able attend my own show, I was there in spirit. Photo by Maali Beck; top photo by Thea Dee.

It's a testament to the coolness of the SL community that people hung out for a show where I wasn't even there. Photo by Maali Beck.

The Islands of New England set list...
Mad World (Tears for Fears)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Is She Really Going Out With Him? (Joe Jackson)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
*No One Knows (Queens of the Stone Age)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Mexican Radio (Wall of Voodoo)
Swim and Sleep Like a Shark (Unknown Mortal Orchestra)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
*Tomorrow Never Knows (Beatles)
Loser (Beck)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL (I did the Beatles tune before, but along with Kat).

Many thanks to all who hung out for my show... even if I couldn't. Special thanks to those who tipped me (though I wasn't there)!
Taunter Goodnight, Richy Nervous, Shannyn Fall, TheaDee... and extra big thanks and hugs to Maali Beck and Christine Haiku, without whom I'd never have done this show at all.