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The Lights Are On, But You’re Not Home

Today was Twin Day for Homecoming Week at my school. There were a handful of us in the English Department who couldn’t decide on what to do… until one of us had a very good idea.

Remember this 1986 classic?

Well, give “Addicted to Love” 26 years and put it in an abandoned band classroom:

Alternate takes, in which everyone looks inexplicably annoyed at Robert Palmer (click to enlarge):

In Which We Are All Very Angry at Robert Palmer For Screwing Up the Lyrics In Which Gina and Kimberly Realize Robert Palmer is Wearing Brown Shoes in the Music Video

Please pardon the obvious and clunky photo editing in the top picture; I wanted to clear off the stuff that was being stored on top of the cupboards, but I had to use Pixlr… and Pixlr ain’t no Photoshop.

Probably the best part was going across the school during lunchtime, lugging Guitar Hero controllers, and fielding the inevitable questions from the kids. As we passed one group, I heard a student explain that we were “some band from the Fifties.” NINETEEN EIGHTY-SIX, you little twerp! 1986! Sheesh. Band from the Fifties… 🙂

P.S. You’re welcome for getting that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day. 🙂

Happy Birthday

Today would have been my Grammy’s 96th birthday, which is hard to fathom. I wonder what she would think of our world and our lives if she could sit down with me today for a cup of coffee. I am sometimes very sure that she is still in some way here, paying attention; other times, I don’t know if that could be the case. Maybe it’s just that she was such a strong, important part of my life that her presence is an indelible mark on my consciousness. She is deeply missed.

Today’s sermon was about music and harmony and how sometimes music says things or means things that can’t be quite expressed in words. I guess I don’t really know what Grammy’s favorite music really was, but I know that there are some songs that are imprinted on my memory as being connected to her. When I was little, I would sometimes call her and sing this to her…

I Just Called to Say I Love You

She had this little case of audio tapes, shaped like a tiny jukebox, and there were two songs in particular that I remember singing along to in her car.


Tennessee Waltz

(YouTube isn’t wanting to embed for some reason — sorry. They’re worth a listen. I hope you’ll click through.)

Happy birthday, Grammy. Love you.

Grammy holding me, 31 years ago.

SotD: Friday, March 18

So, J Lo has released a new song that is burning up the airwaves. It’s intended as a dance song, the sort of song that doesn’t bear lyric analysis, because the lyrics are seriously inane – but I can see dancing to the chart, definitely. It’s got a good beat.

The thing is, the best part of the song is this haunting, exotic-sounding little two-bar refrain throughout. The rest is just rhythm and generic “hey look at me, I’m in a club dancing and getting drunk” lyrics, but that phrase is catchy and (I daresay) music. Here – take a listen and you’ll see what I mean.

Why is that a problem? Well, if you listen to the same radio stations I listen to, you’ll realize that the refrain in question is not exactly original:

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure that J Lo and Pitbull paid for the rights to sample Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina’s “Stereo Love” in “On the Floor.” It’s hardly a novel concept in the music industry. It just seems to me that it was rather unnecessary. “Stereo Love” (which comes from Romania, incidentally – hence the exotic flavor?) is a #1 hit abroad and could have been here, too (it’s peaked at #11) if it hadn’t been co-opted by J Lo’s name recognition and Idol platform.

But wait! It turns out that “Stereo Love” isn’t original, either! It was inspired by an 1989 song, “Bayatilar” – from Azerbaijan!

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. It’s true after all – there’s no such thing as an original thought, at least when it comes to popular music.

The Joy of Being a Percussionist, and $H!* MY CONDUCTOR SAYS

So yeah, I guess – after two years with the Meridian Symphony Orchestra and a couple post-sax seasons with All-Campus Concert Band – that it’s time to stop calling myself “a saxophonist who is learning percussion” and start calling myself “a percussionist, sort of.”

I liked playing percussion almost immediately upon trying it. Some days, as a teacher, the noise can be unbelievable. To then go to a rehearsal where YOU’RE the loudest thing in the room – hallelujah. There’s something so deliciously physical about playing percussion, too. You’re not just sitting there blowing into your sax, all sedate and ladylike in your chair. Oh no; you’re standing up and hitting shit.

Sorry. See what happens when you start playing percussion? You start using vulgarities in your perfectly sedate and ladylike blog.

It wasn’t until this weekend, though, that I truly learned the joy of being a percussionist upon waking up early on a Saturday morning [editorial note: early for a Saturday, not in normal terms] showering, and driving all the way across town to – I must note – an irritatingly inconveniently located high school for a rehearsal – all to play seven measures.

See, though, I can’t be mad, because if I wasn’t a percussionist for this fine ensemble (and I love it, I really do, it’s my little energy boost for the week) I’d miss out on $H!* MY CONDUCTOR SAYS. It’s like $h!* My Dad Says, only with less Shatner.

To whit:

Directly before our Friday night concert last week, the associate director cut us off to make an adjustment to the emotional timbre of the piece. The concert was due to begin in half an hour, and a handful of early arrivals had begun filling seats as we did a few last minute touch-ups. Shaking his baton furiously at the percussion and brass, the conductor said – I kid you not: “If you climax before I climax, the audience is going to be sitting there wondering what on earth is going on up here on the stage.”

I. Kid. You. Not.

And let me tell you, in my nearly 25 years of performing music on stages small and not-so-small, I have never had a more strenuous musical challenge than that of keeping a straight face while playing the :cough cough: climactic moment half an hour later under full stage lights.

In further adventures of $H!* MY CONDUCTOR SAYS, I bring you two secondhand stories, courtesy of the current music majors in my life.

In our first story, the professor of music history walks into the classroom and asks her students if they’ve ever heard of [some composer or performer whose name utterly escapes me]. Without waiting for their answer, she continues to say, “I was just listening to him, and I want all of you to be touched just like I was touched just now in my office.”

I’ll give you a moment.

And in our final story for the night, I take you to a pre-concert discussion during a rehearsal of Symphonic Winds (the university’s auditioned wind orchestra). They’re talking about attire for the concert. A new female member of the ensemble raises her hand.

“Do you have an opinion on hose?” she asks. “I mean, do you have a preference between nude and black?”

The conductor makes a face. “Oh, let’s definitely have nude hose. I don’t want any black hose in my band.”

Story made funnier, I think, by the fact that this man is the conductor.

Thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve been great. Tip your waitress, and enjoy your Poptarts.

An Irrational Fear of Single-Reeded Brass Instruments

Although, really, isn’t any fear of that particular thing completely warranted?

Our plans for Friday evening fell through, which opened up our calendars to attend a concert I’d been sorry to miss: Saxophobia. To quote the University’s promo materials for the concert:

Saxophobia brings to the stage a “Who’s Who” of sax gone wild. Artistic director Rob Verdi has accrued an impressive collection of rare saxophones (even an original 1880 Adolphe tenor sax) and offers an exciting musical celebration for audiences around the world. Saxophobia traces the history of the saxophone through words, music and humor while paying tribute to the great jazz legends who popularized the instrument and contributed to the development of America’s indigenous art form. Highly enlightening as well as thoroughly entertaining, Saxophobia is a unique opportunity to listen to some of the most unusual saxophones ever made, along with the classic melodies associated with each extraordinary instrument.

Verdi is an ASU graduate, a former junior high band teacher, and currently a performer at Disneyland. He travels to perform and teach clinics about saxophones, specifically his impressive and sometimes amusing collection of saxophones.

The thing that caught my eye initially was the fact that he toured with a contrabass saxophone. If you’re a band person, you know that the usual lineup of saxophones includes alto, tenor, baritone, and sometimes soprano. Bass saxophones are rare. Even more rare is the contrabass saxophone, an evolutionary misstep if there ever was one in the musical kingdom. They’re six and a half feet tall, which makes them instantly qualified to play on many college basketball teams.

I completely failed to keep a straight face while listening to Verdi play it. Well – not completely. I did okay until he hit the lowest notes. Then I giggled.

I also giggled when he played the slide saxophone, another woodwindy error in evolution. It’s a saxophone without any keys. So rare that GIS utterly fails to uncover any images thereof. I’ve been trying for a few minutes, but I just can’t come up with any words to describe the sheer awesomeness of “Mood Indigo” performed on slide saxophone. You’ll just have to hear it for yourself, which will involve a well-worth-it $1 investment.

Loved the 1950s-era plastic sax, the bizarrely beautiful Conn-o-sax, and hearing a pro play a C-melody. But my favorite had to be the curved sopranino saxophone (seen here being played by some other dude), which looked like a toy in his hands and melted my gooey little band nerd heart. I’ve got a new goal in life, and it’s to own a curved sopranino. So practical!

Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and I highly recommend that you check them out if you like saxes, music history, a fun performance, or beautiful jazz.

LIGHTS in Boise: A Review

Disclosure: I was given two tickets to this concert, as well as a copy of LIGHTS’s album, with the understanding that I would write a review. The following review contains my own opinions and observations, which were not influenced or coerced by Warner Brothers, LIGHTS, or the Knitting Factory.

Listening album cover

Inside most every geek, I theorize, there’s a rock star. That’s why we read fiction full of larger-than-life heroes and play games that allow us to live vicariously through over-the-top avatars. Sure, we may be slightly out of shape and tend to wear black t-shirts with white writing on them, but inside we’re perfect human (or non-human) specimens in illogically-skimpy battle armor, renowned throughout the universe for our fighting skills, with perfect skin, perfect hair, and a kickbutt electric guitar solo just waiting to accentuate our witty repartee.

After seeing LIGHTS live at Boise’s Knitting Factory on March 31, I spent some time exploring her website and Youtube channel. I then texted my concert date (who is now insisting that I spell his name RYAN) with one of the highest compliments I can bestow: This gal, I said, is high geek.

But first, the concert itself.

liveinboise2 LIGHTS (legally Lights Valerie Poxleitner) took the stage in a casual outfit, shiny dark hair, and – most interestingly to me – a very practical pair of boots. These boots looked comfortable and well-worn; they told me that she wasn’t some overstyled diva selling more sex than music, but rather someone who didn’t want anything distracting her from her physical interaction with the music.

LIGHTS was flanked by a drummer, Maurie Kaufmann, and a second keyboard/synthesizer player, Adam Weaver. From my roost above the stage, the main thing that kept her from looking like a sixteen-year-old was the collection of tattoos stretching across her long arms.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. The venue looked like an overcrowded junior high dance, and the audience had stayed pretty static for the excellent warm-up act, Paper Route. I’d enjoyed the light, feminine, poppy sound of her album (The Listening, $12.99 through Amazon) and wondered how it would hold up to the sound techs’ heavy hand with the bass. Finally, live acts often fail to live up to studio recordings – so many contemporary artists are simply unable to keep on pitch without technicians correcting their vocal tracks.

Let’s just say that I was pleasantly surprised. The aesthetic was significantly different than that of the album; with the drums and bass cranked up, the delicateness was replaced by a more aggressive, passionate sound. It was pretty darn terrific. (That there’s professional concert reviewer jargon.) I feel pretty confident that more people weren’t dancing only because they were packed in so tightly toward the stage; the audience was engaged, enjoying themselves, and frequently filled quiet moments with shouts of “I love you!” and “You’re gorgeous!”

I have to admit that I kind of loved her, too. She was just enjoying herself so much that it was positively infectious. This was my first clue, aside from her press packet, that she really was geek; she let her body move to the music in unreserved, un-choreographed, often flailing ways, all arms and legs reacting unconsciously to what she was playing, singing, and feeling. More than once she appeared to be holding on to her synthesizer’s keys for dear life, lest the sound blow her backwards off the stage. Those low-heeled boots came in handy as she bounced up and down, twisted on her toes, and navigated a stage crisscrossed with power cords. Her performance of “Ice,” in particular, was just a joy to watch – and after watching the video, I now know why. This geek girl really owns and loves her music, because it’s a direct connection to her ripe imagination and big, unabashed emotion.

(I now interrupt this rambly review to present the music video for “Ice.” I think you’ll get a kick out of this.)

All this talk about the visuals of the concert should not be allowed to take away from the actual music, which was also very good (and perfectly on pitch, for what it’s worth). LIGHTS cites Björk as her major musical influence, and I can definitely see it. Her music, which she describes as intergalactic electropop, also reminded me somewhat of Nena and La Roux (neither comparison, I suspect, being terribly surprising). However, it also seems inspired by Styx’s more space-age offerings, particularly those opening bars of “Mr. Roboto.” Although she doesn’t have an enormous voice, LIGHTS does have a versatile instrument that ranges from “sweet little girl” to “superheroine battle cry.” As her voice matures, I can kind of see her becoming electronica’s answer to Fergie.

LIGHTS also performed with confidence, bantering charmingly with the audience and remaining unflappable even when her keytar went out on her. Yes, I said keytar.

RYAN enjoyed the show, although he found LIGHTS perhaps a little “bubblegummy, but not in a bad way.” My only real criticism was that it was difficult (and at times impossible) to understand LIGHTS’s vocals through the wall of bass. I wish, for example, that I could have understood why she told the audience that “Lions” was a song about World of Warcraft. (See, I told you this girl was geek.) The song was great, but I couldn’t make out any of the lyrics.

I’m not good at handing out stars or thumbs-up with reviews; for me, the measure of a good concert is whether it makes me want to go out and buy the album. Both LIGHTS and Paper Route achieved that. (For the record, Owl City did not.) I already have The Listening, courtesy of the press packet, so I’m looking forward to the next album.

And if the concert hadn’t made a fan out of me, LIGHTS’s online offerings probably would have. The best of the best, for those counting geek points, has to be Audio Quest: A Captain LIGHTS Adventure. What’s not to love about a geekgrrl who is also a successful music artist and who has her very own animated sci fi superhero webcomic?


LIGHTS: good, original music; infectiously fun performance; high geek.

Me: looking forward to that collaboration with Björk.

You: should be giving this gal a listen.

See, Blogging CAN Take You Places!

A week ago, I got an email from someone from Warner Brother Records.

Hi Kate,
I noticed on your blog that you’re a fan of Owl City, and I’m wondering if you would like to attend and review LIGHTS’ show with Owl City at the Knitting Factory in Boise on March 30th! If you’d like to go to the show, please give me your mailing address so I can mail you a pair of tickets. I’d be happy to send you an album as well.

I immediately had several thoughts:

  1. Merh?
  2. Did I ever blog about Owl City? Oh yeah, I guess I did. Seventeen whole syllables.
  3. I’m not sure I can necessarily be classified as a fan… I like that song, though. I mean, they’re not on my “favorite music” list on Facebook or anything.
  4. Free tickets to a sold-out concert? For this hermit? AWESOME.
  5. Wait, maybe this guy is a crazy stalker who is trying to get my home address so he’ll know exactly when I won’t be home so he can come in and steal my… what? Collection of Piers Anthony paperbacks? Dirty dishes? HAVE AT IT, BRO.
  6. There ought to be an s after that apostrophe.

Once upon a time, I was actually a professional review columnist. Kind of. I mean, I wrote reviews, and I got paid for them. But it was for the Arbiter (I decided not to type “Arsebiter,” aren’t I nice?) so I’m not sure if that really counts as “professional.” And then, for a while, I was pretty serious about writing book reviews. But it’s been a while. And I’ve never been cold-contacted for it before.

Is it okay if I don’t play it cool? Because I was pretty excited, got to admit.

Anyway, I replied with my MIL’s post office box address, because I’m all INTERNET SAFETY, Y’ALL, and they put me plus one on the guest list, and they sent me a CD, and I listened and liked what I heard, and I obsessed over what I wanted to wear, and picked out the wrong thing, of course, because that’s what I do, and then last night Ryan and I went to the Owl City concert.

Or rather, the Paper Route and LIGHTS concert with Owl City there, too. Because, as it turns out, I’m old and get headaches when I sit too close to the speakers and didn’t eat dinner first. So I didn’t, uhm, stay for the whole thing. DON’T JUDGE ME.

The purpose of this post is to commemorate my second-ever BETTER LIVING THROUGH BLOGGING experience (the first, of course, being when I complained about my Dell laptop, got contacted by Dell customer service, and ended up with a free color printer) and to hold this spot until I can finish my review of LIGHTS and get it posted. In the meantime – a big thank you to Warner Brothers Records for inviting me, and a big thank you also to the Knitting Factory for immediately recognizing that Ryan and I didn’t really want to be in the middle of the mob scene downstairs and upgrading us to the VIP lounge! Because we’re old! NO, BECAUSE WE ARE VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE.