Monday, October 30, 2017

Veterans Isle for Homes For Our Troops (10.29.17)

Raising money for a great cause at Veterans Isle in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

About once a year for the last four or five years, I've received a request from fellow Second Life musician Frets Nirvana to perform at a benefit that he hosts on the last Sunday of each month at Veterans Isle. Each time, I've said yes right away. The shows benefit a nonprofit organization called Homes For Our Troops, a 501(c)(3) charity that builds and donates specially-adapted custom homes nationwide for severely injured post-9/11 veterans to enable them to rebuild their lives.

Zak Says, "War... It's Not Good"
I've spoken about this before, but it bears repeating: I'm as opposed to war as anyone you've ever met. I find it to be one of the last holdouts of humanity's most barbaric behavior. I believe that most wars, especially modern ones, are not held for the supposedly noble reasons that are offered to the public, and are rather attempts to steal resources from other nations, and/or for the profit of individuals and companies who care more about the greedy expansion of their own assets than the horror of death and severe injury to the young people who fight in them (and who usually are doing so under misleading circumstances).

Why, then support a cause dedicated to veterans? It's for that exact reason, actually. The members of the military who fight in wars and are severely injured do not even get the courtesy of being treated with the courtesy and respect they merit after their return home. Like it or not, it's up to causes like Homes For Our Troops to help provide for people whose bodies were mangled in their attempts to do what they feel is the right thing. Should it be that way? No, no, a resounding no. But it is that way, and until it changes, I will always be happy to spend a little time playing guitar and singing to help those people in a small way.

My "Halloween Boycott" Show
I love Halloween. It's a fun holiday. That having been said, as a musician, it's extraordinarily limiting in terms of performing songs I really enjoy. I've done tons of Halloween shows, both in real life and the virtual world, where I select entire sets of spooky songs (including the song "Spooky"). When I started getting my list together for my show at Veterans Isle, the thought crossed my mind that since it was so close to Halloween, I should choose some of my scarier material. Then I threw that plan right out the window for the very legitimate reason that I didn't feel like it. Instead, I did more of a typical Zak Show. Especially considering that many of the folks at the event weren't part of my regular crowd, I wanted to give them a chance to enjoy what most people hear when they attend my shows.

My view from the stage. Photo by Kat.

We had a good crowd of generous people who all helped the cause. Photo by Kat.

Right after the show... happy, sweaty me. Photo by Kat.

We ended up doing very well for the goal of the event, which was raising funds. I'm proud to say that at the end of my set, we surpassed L$30,000, which is over $120 USD. That's pretty damn good money raised for an hour of one guy strumming a guitar, and I'm sure that the rest of the event (which featured other fine SL performers including Chapman Zane, The Vinnie Show, and Blues Heron) raised much more for the cause.

Veterans Isle/Homes For Our Troops set list...
Dusty Rhodes (Lotus Plaza)
It’s Easy like Walking (The Sadies/Kurt Vile)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Rocket Man (Elton John)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Pigs on the Wing - Parts 1/2 (Pink Floyd)

Huge thanks to all who came out and contributed so generously! Here's a list of some of the people who were there (and happen to be in my chat log). Thanks to you all!
Sabryne Hotaling, Waya Snowpaw, Russ Bentley, Jeff Mirabeau, RoxHardcore Cyberstar, Gjackie Winkler, Lady Elicea, daallee rhapsody, Aurelie Chenaux, Kat Claxton, kayravi, flynavy beerbaum, Triana Caldera, marythemagdalen, Archer Clary, thundercloud lecker, Ceithlan Zane, Chapman Zane, klondikes Fredriksson, aryna markova, Romie Vella, Kal Habana, Alicia Underby, and most of all, Frets Nirvana who drives the entire event (and does so month after month, year after year).

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Serenity Gardens (10.23.17)

Interacting with a fun crowd at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Asimia Heron.

We're getting slammed by a record-setting fall heat wave here in Southern California. Yesterday, in my usually cool beachside town, it briefly went over 100 degrees. To put that in perspective, our average temperature for October is 69 degrees. Today is supposed to be even hotter, and like the majority of our neighbors, we do not have air conditioning here. It kind of sucks, truth be told.

It will also be pointed out to much of the country tonight as game 1 of the World Series kicks off at Dodger Stadium, where it will likely be the hottest WS game ever played. I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about climate change on this blog; there are many better places to learn about and understand that topic elsewhere. I will take the opportunity to say that it's unquestionable -- to me and to 95% of scientists -- that man's effect on the climate is undeniable, and that for the rest of my life, extreme weather conditions will become more and more commonplace. There's no way around it at this point, so I'm going to predict that putting an AC unit in this home will be an inevitability as these hotter and hotter periods keep coming.

Do these pixels look sweaty to you? Photo by Asimia Heron.

The only reason I bring it up now is that by the time my show at Serenity Gardens got started at 6PM last night, it had cooled down to about 85 degrees. That's still a pretty toasty environment to be putting full energy into singing and playing guitar for a crowd of people. I made sure to power through a lot of water before, during, and after the show, and keeping hydrated and cool when possible is the only way to get through one of these heat blasts without bad repercussions. In any case, the show itself went really well, which surprised me. I made sure not to play too many high-energy songs in a row, which I think helped.

Where Is Kat?
As many people know -- since I bitched about it constantly -- my ladyfriend Kat (aka Christina) was recently gone for over two weeks, from September 21 to October 6, in South America. She visited Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and even Easter Island. It was something she always wanted to do, and I was very happy that she did (despite missing her while she was gone).

However, now she's on a much less joyful trip. Her father has been dealing with terminal cancer for over a year, and on Friday of last week, she got the call that he didn't have much time left. Immediately booking a flight to Seattle that day, she's been up there helping out her family, which is absolutely the right thing to do. It has been extraordinarily difficult for all of them, and all I can really do is be supportive as possible. Having been gone on vacation and immediately turning around and leaving town is not what she'd planned, and it's my hope that the situation resolves as quickly as possible so she can get back down here and start to settle into normalcy again.

The Show
Ah yes, the show. It was a good one, as I mentioned previously. I did one song I'd never done before in SL, and reached deeper into my bag of tricks to do several others I hadn't played in years. Despite the heat, my voice and guitar were both behaving reasonably well, and the people who attended seemed to have fun. No complaints. Good times. Would do again.

Rocking with my skeleton band. Photo by Asimia Heron.

Getting the show rolling. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Collapsing into a chair after my performance at Serenity Gardens.

And real life sweatiness right after finishing the show.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
*Alison (Elvis Costello)
Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)
Jack Straw (Grateful Dead)
Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Peaceful Easy Feeling (Eagles)
Better Man (Pearl Jam)
Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Just Like Starting Over (John Lennon)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

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

Giant thanks to all who came to the Zak Show, with special thanks to the following people who helped support it (and super duper thanks to Asimia and Aurelie for handling the photos in Kat's absence)!
snowflakenana Resident, ErikKottzen Resident, Debi Palmira, go2smoky Resident, easyglider Resident, Asimia Heron, Tyche Szondi, TheaDee Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, my sweet manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile at Immanuel Cathedral Sanctuary (10.14.17)

Courtney, Kurt, and the Sea Lice onstage at Immanuel Cathedral Sanctuary on Saturday October 14. Photo by Jen Cloher.

A little background, which is sometimes helpful. I've been a fan of Philly-based singer-songwriter indie-rocker Kurt Vile for maybe 5-6 years. Despite that, I'd never taken the opportunity to see him live. Over the past couple of years, I've also gotten into the music of Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, whose 2015 full-length debut album merited a "Best New Artist" Grammy nomination (which, being the Grammys, she lost to a much less talented artist). As a performing musician, I've covered multiple songs by both artists. Separately and individually, I've truly admired and appreciated both artists. Imagine my happy surprise, then, when earlier this year, I found out they'd teamed up on a collaborative album called Lotta Sea Lice which would eventually be released on October 13.

When it was announced that they'd be touring together, it took about 0.3 seconds for Christina and I to decide to get tickets for a show here in LA, and that Bunny would accompany us to make it a full They Stole My Crayon band outing, which fortuitously was scheduled for the day following the album release, on October 14. Despite there being multiple shows in the LA area, our show at Immanuel sold out very quickly, so we were pretty stoked to be going to what was obviously a pretty hot ticket.

Heading Into K-Town
I often tell people who don't live here... Los Angeles doesn't really exist as a homogenous place. Instead, you have these pockets of extraordinarily different zones that are somehow fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. I have spent very little time in the whole Wilshire Center/Koreatown neighborhood, despite knowing the surrounding adjacent areas well. It's one of those things about living here; you have your place and your comfort zone, and that's where you tend to stay (notoriously true for those of us down in the South Bay). So, it was kind of a fun adventure figuring out the whole "where to go, what to do" for the evening. Traffic wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it might be, especially with game one of the NLCS happening at Dodger Stadium. One quick tip: if you're ever heading to see a show at Immanuel, definitely park at the UTLA lot on Berendo Street. It's across the street from the venue and costs five bucks. Winning.

I made a little map for Bunny to show him where to meet us. He was still 40 minutes late, but he gets bonus points for taking public transportation to the show.

Spicy Deliciousness at Ten Ramen
We knew it would be a good idea to grab dinner before heading into the show, and we didn't want it to be a pain in the ass, so we decided to keep it local and strolled a block up to 6th Street to eat at Ten Ramen, a relatively new spot that's getting good reviews so far. They are well-deserved; the ramen was incredible, and the dinner was very reasonably priced. A couple of tips: one, try the corn cheese appetizer (really); two, if you order your spicy tonkotsu ramen at level 3, that's like a 5 anywhere else. My sinuses were clear moments after my first sip. Whew. Damn. So good, though.

The spicy tonkotsu ramen at Ten Ramen in Koreatown. Crazy delicious.

Bunny and I, high on ramen spice. Photo by Christina.

Immanuel Cathedral Sanctuary
After dinner, we walked over to the venue, which is a Presbyterian church in a historic site... a gothic cathedral that is spectacular both inside and out. We walked in, grabbed a beer, and immediately realized we couldn't actually walk into the church interior with alcohol, a fact that should have seemed obvious. Instead, we hung out in the foyer and hallways. A couple walking by spotted Bunny's TSMC shirt and asked about it. We took the opportunity to pimp the band, of course. The crowd seemed cool, as one would expect with this combination of artists. Everyone seemed happy and pretty chill in general. We meandered inside the sanctuary and sat about 10 rows back, with a great view of the stage in this rather small hall.

This was our first show at Immanuel Cathedral Sanctuary, and hopefully not our last. Amazing! Photo by Live Nation.

A Great Opener by Jen Cloher
Courtney Barnett's wife is Jen Cloher, an indie-folk singer-songwriter who is well respected in Australia but much more underground in the US. She is fantastic in her own right, and she did a 4-5 song solo acoustic set of her own stuff as an opening act. All three of us were very impressed with both her songs and her confident performance. This was apparently her first gig in Los Angeles, and she got a much-deserved standing ovation at the end.

CB and KV (and the Sea Lice)
I've been listening to the couple of CB/KV tracks that were pre-released ahead of the album, and then in the past week having been listening closely to some of the live performances, like the in-studio radio gig they did at KCRW last week. I was, therefore, reasonably familiar with the whole album, which they played in its entirety. They also performed a couple of covers, and both Courtney and Kurt did some of their own solo stuff. By the way, in addition to Courtney and Kurt, we had the pleasure of a kick-ass backing band, featuring drummer Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), bassist Rob Laakso (The Violators), and keyboardist/backing vocalist Katie Harkin (Sky Larkin). While the songs themselves were intentionally loose in a Neil Young-esque way, the band seemed tight to me in most places.

Courtney and Kurt with the awesome Janet Weiss on drums, taken from our seat at Immanuel Cathedral Sanctuary. Photo by Christina.

Another view from our seats. How cool is this place? Photo by Christina.

Sort-of-Maybe-Kinda-Correct Set List...
I am sure I'm missing 1-2 songs here, and my order is somewhat out of whack. They played the new Lotta Sea Live album in its entirety, plus 2-3 solo songs each from both Courtney and Kurt, and a couple of other covers as well.

Over Everything
Fear Is Like a Forest
Outta the Woodwork
Let It Go
Continental Breakfast
On Script
On Tour
Life Like This
Blue Cheese
Untogether (Belly cover)
Elvis Presley Blues (Gillian Welch cover)
Dead Fox
Pretty Pimpin
Avant Gardener

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Serenity Gardens (10.09.17)

Rocking a great crowd on a lovely fall evening at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

It's so easy these days to convince yourself that the world is ending. And, while that might be true, I still feel like it's the responsibility of the performing musician to bring some happiness to his or her audiences, even if just for a little while.

Last Monday, October 2, was by all definitions a shitty day. I awoke, flipped open my iPad, and was immediately greeted with the news of the worst mass shooting in modern American history. I was still processing that horrifying information when in mid-day, I started hearing that something had happened to Tom Petty, and it seemed bad. Really bad.

Let's Talk About Tom Petty
Tom Petty was a musician in the same way that Budweiser is a beer. He might not be your favorite, but he seemed like an American institution. His music wasn't super adventurous, but it was always well written, well performed, and just sounded good. He had a helluva band with the Heartbreakers. Their songs were like a warm blanket on a cold day; you couldn't help but feel a sense of comfort when you heard just about any tune they did. While Tom went through various vibes and phases like all creative musicians, there was an element of consistency that never left you wondering who you were listening to, and that was true from their debut in the mid-70s through stuff they released in the last few years. It was just always, always good, and I know of very few musicians who, even if they didn't love Tom Petty, they respected him.

I got to meet Tom Petty once, for about a minute and a half, backstage at the Hollywood Bowl in 1995. It was a work-related event for me, but even in that short time frame, it felt like talking to a person who was just a regular guy who you might see around your neighborhood. Friendly, open, warm, and -- while this is a word that gets overused -- genuinely nice. He was a nice guy. Whether he'd been a rock star or the guy who works on your car's transmission, you'd say, "That Tom Petty is a nice guy."

Tom Petty, 1950-2017. Photo by Tina Hagerling.

Back in the '80s, my mom got to spend more time with TP than I ever did, sitting next to him for about six hours on a flight from New York to LA. She said the same thing. "He was one of the nicest people I ever met," was her reaction when I asked what he was like.

I found myself in shock when he died from a massive heart attack at age 66 on October 2. It took awhile to get past it, and I'm frankly not sure I'm fully past it now. But regardless, I did what musicians do to honor the passing of a great and influential fellow musician; at the next possible opportunity, I played his music.

The Show
I arrived at Serenity Gardens last night to find that Ilsa and her crew had decked it out in Halloween decor. More than just putting out a few silly scary items, the entire sim seemed to have been transformed for the season, with darker foliage and all kinds of vibe changes. I loved it. I can tell there's a lot of thought and effort that goes into this place, and as both a live performer and venue visitor, I really appreciate that. Sometimes, it's the little details that count. As I sat down next to Kat upon finishing my show, I noted that the poses in the chair were all changed so we both appeared zombie-like as we sat there. Cute, and fun.

Musically, I thought the show went pretty well. Since I've been doing less shows lately, both my voice and guitar had moments where I was internally yelling at myself to play better, but I expect that I'll be able to spend some more time singing and playing in upcoming times, so they should both improve. Like any other physical activity that involves muscle memory (like singing and playing guitar), you're only as good as you can be through practice and effort. It's not like it was bad, or anything. I thought a lot of it was quite good. I just have high standards for myself. While I'd planned a few tunes in tribute to Tom, I didn't go overboard, and instead of doing his tunes back-to-back in a set, I scattered them through the show, which seemed to go really well.

I'm usually all alone onstage in SL, but Serenity Gardens provided me with this skeletal backing band, which I enjoyed. Photo by Kat.

I've yet to have a bad show at Serenity Gardens. Nice place, nice people, good times every time. Photo by Kat.

You belong among the wildflowers. Photo by Kat.

Kat and I in our death poses after the show. Photo by Ilsa Flanagan.

Speaking of "after the show", no one can say I don't put in the effort to rock hard for my shows in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
It’s Good to be King (Tom Petty)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Help Me (Joni Mitchell)
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
*Runnin' Down a Dream (Tom Petty)

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

Big thanks to all who came out to the show, with super duper thanks to the following who helped support it!
ErikKottzen Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, dls Falconer, Sesh Kamachi, Maurice Mistwallow, Tyche Szondi, Meegan Danitz, Kat Claxton, TommyTheTerrible Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, my superb manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!