Saturday, November 29, 2014

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (11.29.14)

I hadn't done one of my live streaming video shows since March, so I was probably overdue for another episode of the "Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show". It's a one-hour live music extravaganza that I produce and air on Ustream. Unfortunately, I didn't quite manage to hit the "record" button when I got started, so this one will have to live on in the memories of those who were there. Sometimes, music is better that way... being an ephemeral thing that exists only in the moment it's being made.

I should note that this was my first performance of three new tunes, all indicated in the set list below.

ZCHFS set list...
Low Key (Tweedy)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
*Beat (Sebadoh)
Pancho and Lefty (Townes van Zandt)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
*Something From Nothing (Foo Fighters)
On A Plain (Nirvana)
Nearly Lost You (Screaming Trees)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
*Antiphon (Midlake)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)

Many thanks to the friends/fans who clicked the link and watched me rock! We'll do another ZCHFS soon.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Happiness and Fun in Las Vegas -- A Zak and Kat Vacation

Hey everyone! Come look at my boring vacation post!

Okay, okay. I don't mean to be cynical about it. But a blog post about a vacation is the modern day equivalent of inviting guests over to see a slideshow of your family trip. It's absolutely of no interest to anyone other than yourself, and yet you inflict it on anyone who's willing to look. The great Louis C.K. has a hilarious routine about posting videos of your kid's school plays and talent shows on Facebook and thinking that anyone will ever actually watch it, but I digress. Here is a little log from the short but fun vacation Kat and I took to Las Vegas last weekend.

It was not a typical vacation-start morning. Both Kat and I are busy people, and both of our respective jobs had us doing job-like things that morning. I had a couple of meetings and deadlines to knock out of the way to make sure I could be as footloose and fancy-free as possible while we were out of town. We'd gone to Vegas together a couple of times before, but it was usually in conjunction with a trade show, so I'd be half-working, half-playing. No trade show this time; just a few days to relax and be stupid, Vegas-style. Kat arrived at about 1PM, and a half hour later, the SuperShuttle was here to pick us up to head toward LAX. Neither of us had flown Virgin America before, and I have to say, everything about the process was pretty smooth and fun. Check-in was fast and easy. The plane itself was new and nice. And I'm not sure if the pilot had a hot date later that day, because I've never flown from LA to Vegas as quickly as we did this trip. It was ridiculous. The flight is scheduled for about an hour and ten minutes. We were there in like 40. Crazy.

Landing early at just before 5PM, we caught a cab to our hotel, the Luxor resort, which is toward the south end of the Strip. We've stayed there before; it's cheap and still has the amenities you want in a Vegas casino, and a good central location to go casino hopping. I should say a couple of things to people who might want to stay at Luxor. First, they always hit you for more than you expected to pay. Hotels are becoming like airlines, charging you for things you formerly expected to be included in the cost of the stay. Luxor has a "resort fee" of about $22/day that they nail you with on check-in, claiming it's for use of Internet and other confusing aspects. I was already aware of it and didn't feel like arguing about it with the check-in clerk. The other thing is that like all casinos, you will likely constantly be bombarded by people trying to sell you tickets to shows. These folks work on commission, and you can't blame them for trying. But you will find yourself making up any number of excuses to turn them down, or avoid them entirely. Enough on that.

We went to our room in the pyramid-shaped hotel via the always-weird inclinator (an elevator that goes up and down diagonally), unpacked, and then headed downstairs. There are many things one can do in Las Vegas. Kat and I like to put money in machines that go "Beep!" and "Bloop!" and then try and make us happy by occasionally giving us some of our own money back. So, we started some gaming at the Luxor casino, and then sauntered through the connecting mall area to Mandalay Bay, and did more of the same. By the time we got back, we were feeling pretty peckish, but not in the mood for anything huge. We headed upstairs to the food court area and ate at Nathan's, where I had a cheesesteak and Kat had a chicken sandwich. After that, we did a little more gaming, including a visit to the Playbar. Most casinos have these; it's a bar usually located near the sports book that has gaming built into the bar itself, as well as a view of whatever sporting events are on at the moment. We had a couple of cocktails, and then called it a night.

Ahhh... the feeling of waking up on the first full day of a vacation, with no plans or responsibilities. It's a very rare treat for me, and for Kat as well. We kicked back for awhile, in no hurry, other than the grumbling of our stomachs and our need for caffeine (which is actually a pretty good impetus to get out of bed and get moving). At first we were just going to grab coffee at one of the 10,000,000 Starbucks that seem to be located every few feet in Las Vegas, but then we walked by Luxor's Pyramid Cafe, a place we both enjoy from previous visits. It didn't disappoint, let me tell ya. We ended up there that morning and every other morning of the trip.

Our waiter was a friendly guy named Wilfredo, and the service was quick and great (starting with a ton of coffee, water, and orange juice to get us feeling perky). Kat, in an effort to overindulge in hedonistic vacation style, had steak and eggs, while I wolfed down a western omelette. After breakfast, we did some more gaming at Luxor, and then headed out in our usual tour of that part of the Strip. The whole thing, for those of you who don't know, is interconnected. You can basically navigate everywhere through various walkways, escalators, trams, and pedestrian overpasses on Las Vegas Boulevard. So, we headed over to Excalibur (and stayed and gambled), to New York New York (gambled), and to MGM Grand (and gambled some more). A side note: for whatever probably nonexistent superstitious reason, Kat seems to win more often at MGM Grand than any other casino. I certainly don't; that places screws me every time, so I guess it all balances out. Heh.

While we were at NYNY, we got hungry, so we ate at their Greenberg's Deli. We both had egg salad sandwiches and shared a container of matzo ball soup. I have to admit, as cheesy and schlocky as many of those theme restaurants are in Vegas, the food was really damned good.

After all that, we headed back to Luxor. That's when I got my first decent-sized payout on a machine, hitting four aces on a video poker game that paid out about $100. Not too shabby, I must say. On an overall note, Kat and I have a simple rule about gambling: we take a reasonable amount of money, and fully plan to lose it all. It's the cost of entertainment. If we manage to break even or come out ahead, we're all the happier, but our vacations in Vegas aren't contingent on our being big, successful gamblers. We're there to have fun and relax.

By then, it was time for dinner, and you can't go to Vegas and not eat a big-ass buffet. It's part of the experience, and always has been. The Vegas buffets used to be known for their insane cheapness ("$4.95 All You Can Eat Prime Rib!"), and while it's not the case any more, it's still fun being a complete ridiculous glutton when going back for your third fill of beef, potatoes, crab legs, shrimp, desserts, and more. The buffet at Luxor, by the way, is called "More". Appropriate. Speaking of "more", after dinner, it was more gaming (when it was Kat's turn to get a nice pay-out by hitting a straight flush), more cocktails at the Playbar, and finally up the inclinator to bed.

What's something you can do while on vacation with no tight schedule or responsibilities? How about sleeping in until 9:00? Yeah, that's right. As long as we were reveling in greed, lust, and gluttony, how about some sloth? If you don't hit on every one of the seven deadly sins in Vegas, you're just not trying hard enough.

We dressed and headed downstairs. Having pigged out the entire previous day, we decided to keep things light for breakfast, or so we thought. Once again, we hit the Pyramid Cafe. Once again, Wilfredo serviced our table (and impressed us by asking Kat if she wanted her steak and eggs from the day before). But instead, we ordered a bagel and lox plate. It arrived and was completely decadent... bagels, cream cheese, lox, capers, roma tomatoes, red onion... whew. Good stuff. After we finished and rolled out of there, we spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon doing some gaming in various places. Then we headed back upstairs to take a rare break from everything. Kat and I both spent some much-needed quiet time away from the frantic sights and sounds of the casinos in our room. We had another reason to step away for a bit: Kat's best friend from her early life Karyn lives in Vegas, and Kat had arranged to meet her while we were in town.

At about 4PM, Karyn and her teenage son Chance showed up at Luxor, and we had an informal lunch with them. I'd heard so much about Karyn over the years and this was my first chance to meet her, and I enjoyed it very much. After eating, we took a stroll through Excalibur over to NYNY; Chance wanted to visit the Hershey chocolate store and to go on the roller coaster there. I stepped away for awhile so Kat and her pal could catch up and hang out. I was busy losing money, in any case. Mot long after, I met them all to say goodbye to Karyn and Chance, and then Kat and I did some more gaming, both there and at MGM Grand.

I should mention something here that Kat was quick to notice and point out: each casino has its own fragrance. I'm not talking about the smell of cigarettes and overly-applied cologne and desperation odors; those are universal. I mean an actual smell that is unique to each place. Apparently, the olfactory senses are not ignored by the casino designers, and when you hop from place to place, it's easy to tell the difference even if you're blind and/or deaf. Kat decided that Luxor smells like a hospital, NYNY smells like cilantro, and MGM Grand smells like an old lady's perfume (leading me to start calling it "MGM Grandma", but I digress).

We didn't want to do anything too involved for dinner that night, so we headed to the Backstage Deli at Luxor. I ended up having a reuben, and Kat had a patty melt. The real cost of this Vegas trip may end up being the cardiology bills from our bypasses. We once again finished the evening with a nightcap, and didn't get back up to our room until well after midnight. We were really having fun; both of us usually love our sleep.

Just for some perspective, I get up every weekday at 6:00am. Even on the weekends, it's rare for me to be able to sleep past 8:00 or so. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was almost 10:00 when I blearily looked at the clock on Sunday morning. That was followed by the unpleasant realization that check out time was in about an hour. We weren't leaving town until later that evening, but we had to clear out of our room pronto. It really wasn't a big deal; Kat and I have done enough trips together that we have it down to a science. We showered, dressed, packed, and checked the room to make sure we weren't leaving anything behind in no time flat. Just before 11:00, we went downstairs, and saw a big line of people trying to check out. Across the lobby, there were zero people at the bell desk. We checked our luggage and were done in minutes.

Then it was off to the Pyramid Cafe once again, and yet again, our server was Wilfredo. At that point, Kat wondered aloud if there was actually only one waiter who was employed at the large restaurant. We never found out if that was the case, but Kat and I both loved our french toast that morning. Then we were off to do more gaming, at Luxor, and then more at Mandalay Bay. Kat has a new favorite game, by the way: it's the Monopoly slot machine. I don't think it's because we won a lot on it, but it was certainly fun.

Getting around the Strip that day proved to be a bit of a challenge. There was a race, some kind of 10k I believe, and the whole Strip was shut down. As a result, it was pretty insane just getting around town. People in running gear everywhere, and various pathways were blocked. I think both Kat and I had had just about enough Las Vegas by that point. We wandered about, and finally got a late lunch at Hussong's Cantina in the mall area between Luxor and Mandalay Bay. One final session of gaming, and then we were off to McCarron Airport. The cab ride there was perhaps the only down point of the whole trip; with the Strip shut down, we happened to get an insane driver who was speeding and dodging traffic lanes like a madman. It was truly harrowing. But once we got to the airport, things were smooth; another easy check-in, and we had plenty of time to chill before our flight boarded. Then, the fast flight home, and after getting our luggage at LAX, we hopped in a cab and got back to the South Bay by 11:15pm.

The trip was much needed, and we did all the stuff we liked to do while we were there. Despite the fun we had and the memories we made, this coming weekend, I'm just looking forward to a vacation from our vacation!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Islands of New England (11.12.14)

I try not to repeat myself for these Second Life show reports. It gets difficult when I'm talking about shows at the Islands of New England, since there's a consistent aspect of amazing fun there. The reason is simple: when I look out from the stage toward my audience there, I tend to see a bunch of green-colored name tags (meaning, for those of you unaware, that I'm friends with most of the people who are in my crowd). And there's another reason: Christine Haiku is a smart, smart event manager. She really understands how a lineup of artists needs to be arranged in ways so that the audience can have a consistent experience, and the result is that people tend to get there and stay there for a full night of entertainment.

I had no specific musical theme for this show; I believe I said it was "Typical Zak Show #752". However, I should note that for the most part, I felt like it was a strong show, and my performance went well both vocally and instrumentally. I'd also like to note that since I asked Ms. Haiku who was performing after me and found out it was my buddy Bat Masters, I decided to do a short homage to Bat by performing a version of his signature song, the Ray Wylie Hubbard tune "Snake Farm". I had to laugh when Bat poked fun at my "California accent" while doing this backwoodsy song. I never was actually aware that I had any accent at all, but no one seems to think they have an accent, so that was a fun discovery. A couple last notes: I made sure to do a tune to acknowledge Neil Young's 69th birthday, as well as a song to salute the culmination of the Rosetta comet landing mission which happened earlier that day.

Lovely photography by Kat.

IONE set list...
Low Key (Tweedy)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Save Me (Aimee Mann)
Pancho and Lefty (Townes van Zandt)
*Snake Farm (Ray Wylie Hubbard)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)

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

Gigantic thanks to everyone who came out to my show, including the following folks who helped support it!
RoxxyyRoller Resident, Alltra Violet, BAT8997 Resident, Kat Claxton, Cicadetta Stillwater, Harry Wheeler, Sesh Kamachi, Aurelie Chenaux, Shannyn Fall, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, and my wonderful friend and IONE event manager Christine Haiku!

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Songs of Autumn" at Frothy Music (11.09.14)

Here I am again with my batch of lemonade that I made from the lemons that were flung at me. And, I must say, the resulting delicious drink tastes all the more sweet for reasons that will be clear in a moment.

I'd planned on doing a special show of songs that grabbed the mood of the season, which I described as being "pensive, melancholy, and wistful" in a promotional piece (which will eventually come into play in this happy tale). I'd added a few never-before-performed songs to my set list, and then I added to those songs to keep the musical theme consistent, and was really looking forward to doing these tunes at a gig that I'd been booked for quite some time ago, schedule for November 9. However, as tends to happen in Second Life and other lives from time to time, the venue had to change some plans, and closed down the week before I was supposed to play there. Hey, shit happens. I never get upset about stuff like that, ever. But I still did want to play the tunes I'd prepared, so I did something I should probably do much more often; I booked myself at one of the places that Kat and I own in SL. Over the years, I've done a good number of shows at our Neil Young Archives as well as at our Club at Coyote venue. But for some reason, we've never really made good use of our Frothy Music HQ in SL. Frothy Music, in case you're wondering, is the sub-miniature record label and publishing company that Kat and I have used for distribution of my own recorded music. We have a little place in SL where we have listening/purchase stations for my music, as well as our business offices in case we have a reason to do any actual business there. In any case, it's not a live music venue, and I'd never done a show there, but when I floated the idea of using Frothy for the show past Kat, she liked it.

So, that's what we did. My buddy and fellow performer in Maali Beck Entertainment, Mr. Lyndon Heart, had also been scheduled to play at the other, now-closed venue, so I inquired as to whether he'd like to do a show at my place instead (and he did, as it turned out). Kat and I dusted off some of the pixels around the place, and on Sunday afternoon, we were ready to go. The challenge about performing in a place that isn't usually a live music spot is getting people there; it's an unfamiliar name (even if Lyndon and I are reasonably well-known performers), and there is no group to send notices to, and so on. Still, all things considered, we had a small but pretty happy crowd, and I don't ask for more than that.

Random guy makes me happy
A side note to this show report. I'd finished my gig and then kicked back to hear Lyndon Heart do his show. While eating lunch, I popped on to Facebook to send a thank-you note to the people who came to the show, as I usually do. I found I was tagged in a post by a guy named Abinoam Norgaard who I'd seen in the audience at my show, and it linked to his blog which you can see here. Ultimately, he said three things that blew me away.

1. He heard about my event that day on Ello. So, for the first time in its relatively short life, Ello actually did something for me. Go Ello! By the way, any of you people on Ello can see my profile page here. I do try and remember to add content every once in awhile.

2. It was his first time hearing me perform, and he really liked the show. I really like connecting with new people. This is good.

3. He was very complimentary about the venue and the location, so hats off to Kat, who remains an excellent SL designer to this day.

And a side note to this side note: if you have a blog, or use social media a lot, we musicians are very happy to see when folks take the time to do a write-up of their experiences at our shows. Even a short, "Went to go see (PERFORMER NAME) at (VENUE NAME) and had fun," can make us realize that someone out there gets enjoyment from the hard work we do. Facebook it, Twitter it, Tumblr it, whatever. Whenever we see it, it'll make our day. Trust me on this.

All photos by Kat.

Oh yeah, the show
Sorry for all the tangents. I should tell you about the show itself. As mentioned earlier, I'd put together a themed set called "Songs of Autumn", and I'd say that the show managed to stay focused on the vibe of Fall. No silliness, no ridiculous story telling, no making up impromptu weird songs. Those things are fine; they just weren't in line with the mood I was trying to set via the music that day. I did three songs I'd never played before, in SL or anywhere else, and everything worked out pretty damn well.

Frothy Music "Songs of Autumn" set list...
Here I Land (Nicholas Stevenson)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
*Cat's In the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Wakin' on a Pretty Day (Kurt Vile)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
*The Arrangement (Joni Mitchell)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
*Pancho and Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)

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

Big thanks to all who came to the show, including the following who helped support it!
NeCole Chiantelle, RoxxyyRoller Resident, dls Falconer, Aurelie Chenaux, Abinoam Resident, Alexis Fairlady, Christine Haiku, ramuf Resident, Cicadetta Stillwater, my great manager Maali Beck, my pal Lyndon Heart, and a big thanks to my darling Kat Claxton for her help in hosting the shows, and her great work in building Frothy's HQ!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Coming Sunday Nov 9: "Songs of Autumn" Special Live Show

Hey party people. I've got a very special show planned for this weekend, and I'm doing a rare post in advance to make sure you're aware. First, the important shit...

WHO: Just me, Zak
WHAT: Songs for Autumn
WHEN: Sunday November 9, 1PM SLT (same as PST)
WHERE: Second Life, Frothy Music HQ (click here for a map)
HOW MUCH: Free, as usual

A bunch of reasons.

1. It's November, and it is definitely starting to feel more autumnal pretty much everywhere in the northern hemisphere.

2. I have hundreds of songs I do in varying degrees of regularity for my live shows in SL. There are over 400 songs in my list of lyrics sheets... some of them mine, and many more by other artists whose music I enjoy performing. But I rarely have a good excuse to plan an entire set based around a single musical theme.

3. I'm probably know more than anything as a "fun" performer, and that's great. I can't think of anything I'd rather do than be the impetus for a bunch of people to have a good time. That's what it's all about, right? But at the same time, my desire to be "Mister Fun Guy" sometimes overshadows that fact that some songs aren't meant to be silly. Some songs, to be frank, are fucking heavy. While I do mix these songs into my usual sets often, I've not taken the opportunity in any recent times to perform a set with a little bit of gravitas. The songs I've chosen for this show, both my own and the covers I'm going to do by Beck, Neil Young, Townes Van Zandt, Joni Mitchell, and many more, are more notable for their melancholy, pensive, and wistful vibe. While this show may not be the barrel of laughs that a typical Zak Show may be, I encourage you to get into the spirit of the season, and enjoy this special set of damned good tunes to which I hope I can do justice performing them.

I look forward to seeing you Sunday at 1PM. Contact me if you have any questions about attending the show, which, once again, is completely free.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Islands of New England Halloween Bash (10.30.14)

When people think of compensation for a job, they usually think of tangible things... money, exchange of goods/services, that kind of stuff. But I'm here to tell you that while those things are important (duh), there's another thing that is worth its weight in gold, and it's called "fun". Perhaps you've heard of it. If you think about it, getting paid directly in fun kind of eliminates a whole series of things. Let's say you get paid in money, and then go spend the money to have some fun. Well, if the fun is part of the paycheck, you're already there. Think about it.

Anyway, I'm here to tell you about a ridiculously fun show I did Thursday night at The Islands of New England in Second Life. I can say with a pretty high degree of confidence that it was not only fun for me, but for every person who hung out that evening. First, at New England, I tend to do shows where a good portion of the crowd are my close friends in SL. Second, the place looked awesome all decked out for the holiday, and seeing the good-sized crowd in costumes was cool. But perhaps the biggest fun factor was that I was wedged in between Sassy Nitely and Bat Masters, two people whom I genuinely enjoy being around, and who are great musicians to boot. Basically, all signs indicated this was going to be a great show, and indeed, it was. Not because of me; I did fine (and did my usual thing of putting together an event-appropriate set list), but really, the show was the combination of the venue, the crowd, and the musicians who were playing (all three of of). And yeah, it was simply tons of fun.

Photos by Kat.

IONE Halloween Bash set list...
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
Polly (Nirvana)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
The Ghost In You (Psychedelic Furs)
Spooky (Classics IV)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
The Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
*The Chauffeur (Duran Duran)
Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)
Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)

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

Thanks to all the great friends and fans who make my live shows awesome, including the following who helped support this show!
Afonos Resident, BellaRosa07 Resident, Diana Renoir, Tom Prospero, RoxxyyRoller Resident, Sesh Kamachi, Thorgrim Resident, paula31atnight Resident, Rick Tizona, Garvie Garzo, Topsy Janus, Kat Claxton, Cilene Inglewood, bobby Tafler, my friends Sassy and Bat, my manager Maali Beck, and the queen of New England, Christine Haiku!