Sunday, December 28, 2014

Music I Discovered in 2014: The Songs

Hello, my friendly readers and readerly friends. I've spent this last week (including Christmas) being sick, and being surrounded by other sick people. It didn't make for a very merry Christmas, and I'm pretty sure that it will be an especially quiet New Year's coming later this week. But I am on the upswing, and am pretty optimistic about things getting better soon, health-wise and in other areas as well. It's also my busy time of year for my job, so it's likely that my own music, as usual, will take a backseat to other things for the short term.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share with you some of the more cool/interesting songs I discovered in 2014. Note that I say "discovered"; it doesn't mean that all of these were released in the last year (though most were). One of the wonderful things about music is that you can "discover" a band that hasn't released music in 30 years, but if they're new to you, the joy of getting to know them and their music is equally good. As you'll soon see, my tastes leaning toward independent music of various genres. Basically, almost anything you'd hear on pop radio (or would be acceptable on a show like "American Idol") are things you won't find in my top playlists. Anyway, here are the top 10 tunes that I didn't know about a year ago. This is a song list, so the order is alphabetical by song title.

Syd Arthur - "Autograph" (2014)

If I had to pick one band that I was most excited to find in 2014, it's this group of young and super talented guys out of Canterbury, UK. In as much as I never really like to go out to see or do anything, we had a fantastic time seeing Syd Arthur at the tiny Hotel Cafe in Hollywood last summer. They are a nearly indefinable blend of prog, pop, rock, psychedelia, jazz, and more. I am totally looking forward to their next batch of tunes, whenever it arrives.

Unwound - "Demons Sing Love Songs" (2001)

Here's a great example of finding a terrific "new" band that doesn't exist anymore. Out of Olympia, WA, these people made music together from 1991 until 2002, right after this ultimate album of theirs. And then, another 12 years went by before I'd ever heard of them. This song is ridiculously ahead of its time.

Nicholas Stevenson - "Here I Land" (2014)

I found this UK-based indie singer-songwriter (and, coincidentally, superb visual artist) when my band They Stole My Crayon submitted a song to the "Welcome To Night Vale" podcast. While checking out some of the other artists whose music had been chosen, I immediately gravitated toward this song, and bought it as soon as it was released. Nicholas has a terrific sound that, like most of the music makers on this list, isn't easy to immediately classify.

Fatso Jetson - "Long Deep Breath" (2014)

I'd love to be able to show you this whole song (a clip of it starts at 1:09 above), but the band seems to have only released this split EP on vinyl. Ah well. Fatso Jetson is a hugely influential band in the desert/stoner rock scene, and any new music from them is highly welcomed. We saw them in June at Pappy & Harriet's, and immersing ourselves in this band on an outdoor stage at sunset in the midst of the Mojave was fucking sublime.

Tweedy - "Low Key" (2014)

Jeff Tweedy, of course, was a member of influential alt-country bands Uncle Tupelo and Wilco. This year, he and his son Spencer created a band simply called Tweedy, and I have to say, this particular tune just hit all of the jangly, poppy goodness that I often like in music. It's simple, it's fun, and there's nothing I don't fully enjoy about it.

Heroic Doses - "Reggie, Is It?" (1998)

Here's the oldest entry on this year's list. Yeah, 1998. Making matters even more strange, this Chicago-based band did one album, and as far as I can tell, never did anything again. Somehow, I stumbled onto them, and loved their sound which is at times reminiscent of The Police if they didn't have a narcissistic vocalist. Or any vocalist; most of the tunes on this album are instrumental.

Talk In Tongues - "Still Don't Seem To Care (2014)

This is probably the newest band on my list. They're a psych-rock band based here in Los Angeles, and are so fresh that this single (and a remix of it) is all they've put out so far. I am looking forward to see what else they can do, but this tune is a sweet psych nugget regardless.

Quilt - "Tie Up The Tides" (2014)

A really cool indie psych-folk band out of Boston, I became more impressed with Quilt after I saw them do a couple of live shows, which really highlighted their musicianship and performance skills for me. Great harmonies and strong songs in a modern yet very organic-feeling package that doesn't feel at all contrived or overly hipstery.

Beck - "Waking Light" (2014)

You'll note that few bands on my list are on any kind of major label or are known on a widespread basis. Beck is one exception to that rule, but Beck has always been an exception. It was immediately apparent to me that his 2014 album Morning Phase was a companion piece to his great 2003 album Sea Change, and is simply an amazing piece of studio work. The songs and the sounds are all innovative and outstanding.

Polvo - "The Water Wheel" (2013)

Holy shit... how did I not know about Polvo until this year? I have few regrets in life, really, but I do wish I'd known about this North Carolina-based art/noise rock band previously. No better time than the present; their latest album (released in 2013) is fantastic. I'm not quite sure of their status; they haven't toured since 2011, but they use dissonance and odd timings in ways that appeal to me on many levels.

And a few honorable mentions...

The GOASTT - "Animals" (2014)

I have to admit, if The GOASTT was some random indie band, I'd probably like them even more than I do knowing that it's fronted by Sean Ono Lennon, the son of John and Yoko. As it is, it's very hard not to make comparisons and have certain expectations. I will say that I like what they did on this album quite a lot, and this tune hooked its way into my brain for quite awhile last summer.

Connan Mockasin - "It's Choade My Dear" (2010)

Well, if you want weird, I've got some weird for you. I'm not sure if Connan is a human, an extraterrestrial alien, or some kind of hedgehog, but his album from 2010 that I ran across this year has some moments of extraordinary strangeness.

Foo Fighters - "Subterranean" (2014)

Perhaps the most mainstream band on this entire list, I give the Foos credit because of Sonic Highways, Dave Grohl's spectacular television series on HBO this fall. This is the tune they did in Seattle, and is probably my favorite on the new album (which, while a solid rock outing, isn't nearly as strong as their previous LP Wasting Light which may have been their best).

They Stole My Crayon - "Things Under Trees" (2014)

I should say that I'm certainly not including my own band's only release of the year in some promotional effort on my own behalf. In fact, I had little to do with this song at all, other than performing on it. The lyrics are by my lovely Christina Lee, and the music is by the equally lovely Bunny Knutson. But looking back over the year, I find that I genuinely enjoy this song, and am proud of it despite my relatively small personal contribution toward it. It will be available as part of our debut release coming in mid-2015.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Joe Cocker (1944-2014)

This day was already pretty iffy. I'd spent much of yesterday worrying over my sick teenage son -- he just has a bad cold, but it's a particularly shitty one -- to (not surprisingly) realize I was coming down with the illness as well. I awoke today to a foreboding burning pain in my chest, and throbbing in my eyeballs, and congestion. Yeah, all that fun stuff. And, of course, it's been a pretty depressing week, with last Wednesday's horrifying accident down the street from me on Pacific Coast Highway. Add to all this the stress associated with my absolute busiest time of my work year, and things have not been exactly peachy as of late. And then, my phone rang.

It was Kat, letting me know that Joe Cocker had died of lung cancer at age 70. Ugggggggh! Well, there will be many well-written obituaries about Joe. I'm only here to share a couple of personal observations and interesting factoids that might offer a little perspective on this unusual musician.

1. My parents listened to Joe... a lot
My folks came from the same generation as Joe, born in the early/mid 1940s. And they were hip and cool people. They actually still are, though they're now hip, cool, and old. Anyway, around my house, there was a lot of music playing while I grew up. Beatles (of course), and lots of singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Elton John, and the like. Plenty of soul, including Aretha, Al Green, and Marvin Gaye, and some other varied stuff that ranged from Santana to Burt Bacharach to Beethoven. But two of the big albums on the playlist in my house were Joe Cocker's With a Little Help from My Friends and Mad Dogs & Englishmen. I heard every song on those now-classic albums all the time in my most formative years. I can't but think that Joe was probably a huge influence on me as a musician, as I started playing in 1972 (at age three), when he was still a young and vibrant pop star.

2. Joe was an amazing performer... but not a huge songwriter
There are some many songs associated with Joe... but he didn't write them. Like, any of them. Look at any of his most well-known hits, along with the people who actually composed the tunes:

- "Feeling Alright" (Dave Mason)
- "With a Little Help from My Friends" (John Lennon, Paul McCartney)
- "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" (John Lennon, Paul McCartney)
- "Delta Lady" (Leon Russell)
- "The Letter" (Wayne Carson Thompson)
- "You Are So Beautiful" (Billy Preston, Dennis Wilson)
- "Up Where We Belong" (Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Will Jennings)
- "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (Randy Newman)
- "Unchain My Heart" (Bobby Sharp, Teddy Powell)

You get the idea. However, while many singers have achieved fame performing other people's songs, there's something very special about Joe. He often did completely different arrangements of the song. This was no cover artist. Listen to his version of "With a Little Help from My Friends", and compare it to the Beatles' original; it's practically an entirely different song (and many would say a superior one, including me). Most of Joe's material was like that. He took great songs, and added something you could never have anticipated from having heard the original version.

3. Who's playing that awesome wailing lead guitar on Joe's "With a Little Help..."?
Why, it's Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page! Jimmy did the session work in the studio, but the most iconic performances of this song were when Joe belted it out live, as per below.

4. Which classic TV series used Joe's version of "With a Little Help..." for its theme song?
That would be "The Wonder Years".

5. A semi-tangential factoid: Joe's version of "The Letter" was originally a one-hit wonder by a group called The Box Tops.
And the singer was a 16-year-old named Alex Chilton, who went on to front the critical favorite power pop band Big Star.

That's all I wanted to say. In a world of auto-tuned soundalikes who use "American Idol" as their standard for what singing is supposed to be like, the world will dearly miss Joe's uniquely soulful vibe.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Vinyl Cafe/Winter Wonderland (12.11.14)

It's been rare, in recent times, that I've done two shows in a week in Second Life. But when gigs like last night's show at Vinyl Cafe come up, you jump on them, and that's what I did. Interestingly, the show itself wasn't even held at Vinyl Cafe, as cool as that would have been. Instead, it was at the special Winter Wonderland area that's shared between Vinyl Cafe and Key West, and let me tell you, it looked terrific. I didn't touch my environment settings, so basically, I was performing in a snowstorm at night... and loving it!

As I typically do, at about two minutes before the start of the show when I had three people in my audience (and two of them were my manager Maali and the venue owner Heavenlei), I got a wee bit antsy. "Where are my peoples?" I asked no one in particular. And, of course, by the time I'd finished a song, there was a nice big crowd of avatars who seemed to be enjoying themselves. All was well. I have to say, I may not play a lot of shows in SL these days, but the venues where I do play are all top-notch, and run by the coolest and most organized people in all of Second Life. It's a pleasure putting on shows at their places.

Vinyl Cafe/Winter Wonderland set list...
Low Key (Tweedy)
Man Of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
On a Plain (Nirvana)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Shock the Monkey (Peter Gabriel)
Pancho and Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Do They Know It's Christmastime? (Band Aid)
Long Time Gone (Crosby Stills & Nash)
Long December (Counting Crows)
California (Joni Mitchell)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Birds (Neil Young)

Big thanks to all who came out, especially those who helped support my show!
Mavenn Resident, Diana Renoir, Etienne Brando, DupliCat Resident, Brad Domenici, Arturo Martinsyde, Sinful Xubersnak, Sesh Kamachi, Christine Haiku, LolaGoetz Resident, tralee Neox, Monkey Martian, Rusty Seisenbacher, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Vinyl Cafe head beaver heavenlei Lexenstar!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Islands of New England (12.09.14)

Yes, I know I've been playing less and less shows in Second Life as of late. The reasons are no mystery.

1. As always, SL venues tend to come and go.
2. Less and less of the remaining venues are capable of paying fees for the artists they host (most are "tips only").
3. I refuse to charge some venues a fee, and play at others for no charge. It's an ethical line that I won't cross.
4. Perhaps above and beyond all that, I am in a super busy time of year at work, and also spending what little free time I have working on music for my band They Stole My Crayon.

Put all that together, and you can probably see why my SL show schedule isn't exactly packed. And, to be frank, I'm perfectly okay with that. Doing less shows makes each one a little more special, and I put more thought into my set list, and am also able to introduce more new songs to keep things fresh for my audience. Last night's show at The Islands of New England is a great example. As I've mentioned before, that place is usually packed with people who I consider my good friends in SL. We drew a very nice-sized crowd, and I really enjoyed performing a few tunes in homage to the recent finale of the HBO series "Foo Fighters Sonic Highways".

Getting my show started. Photos and top photo by Kat.

Kat joins me onstage while I perform "Blew The Dust Away" by our band They Stole My Crayon.

My crowd enjoys my Foo Fighters mini-set.

Christmas music? You can get that anywhere... except at a Zak Show. I was there to rock.

Islands of New England set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
*Something from Nothing (Foo Fighters)
*My Hero (Foo Fighters)
*Where Did You Sleep Last Night (Nirvana)
If That's What You're Into (Flight of the Conchords)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Here I Land (Nicholas Stevenson)
*Antiphon (Midlake)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Don't Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
You've Got a Friend (Carole King)

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

Big, big, big thanks to everyone who came out to my show at The Islands of New England, especially the following folks who helped support the show!
Bigfoot Hendrassen, RoxxyyRoller Resident, BAT8997 Resident, Jeanne Schimmer, Richy Nervous, Spec Toocool, Sesh Kamachi, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, hexx Triskaidekaphobia, Sesh Kamachi, my great manager Maali Beck, and most of all, IONE manager and my great friend Christine Haiku!

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!