Thursday, December 31, 2020

Hotel Chelsea (12.29.20)

Enjoying some year-end rock at Hotel Chelsea. Photo by Kat.

It's the end of 2020, or at least close to it. There are still a few hours to go, so, let's not jinx it or anything. Anyway, here on the last day of the year each year it seems, human nature tends to focus on negativity, to the point that as far back as I remember, there's someone (or many people) saying that whatever year it was, was the "worst year ever". In fact, on this day four years ago, I wrote about how many people were talking about 2016 being the worst year ever. Ha! You poor fools... you had no idea what a bad year was, or what was coming over the horizon.

So, obviously, 2020 was the worst year ever, right? Nope!

Ask someone from 1348, when one-third of Europe died from bubonic plague, how 2020 was in comparison. They'd say it was a fucking cakewalk. Too far back? Okay, how about 1968, when massive unrest due to Vietnam backlash and civil rights protests threatened to end global society as we knew it? Not bad enough? Let's go back some 66 million years, when a large rock slammed into Earth and nearly killed every living thing on the entire planet.

If you think 2020 couldn't have been worse, here's some perspective for you.

It Was Bad, Though
Look... I'm not saying that anyone who feels 2020 was a terrible year was wrong; you're not. We faced challenges that, for most of us, were unprecedented in our lifetimes. And we humans have a tendency to think of historical events like we do about a movie we've seen. Things that happened so long ago don't seem real, or seemingly don't have a direct impact on our day-to-day lives.

I started 2020 like most of you, feeling like it was just another year in a series of years that make up our relatively short lives. Instead, it was 12 months that included a global pandemic, an ensuing economic crash, political election year insanity, protests and riots over racial injustice and police brutality, global climate change that spurred some of our first fires and hurricanes in recorded history, and more. I'm not trying to sugarcoat any of this.

2020... how it started, and how it ended.

Good Thing We're Done with All That, Right?
Um... well... no. We're not done with any of it.

I'd like as much as anyone for the calendar to flip to January 1 on Friday, and have everything bad about 2020 magically disappear. I really would. But here's the reality.

COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. We will be better off as a whole as more people are administered the various vaccines, but that will take many months. In fact, at the current pace they're on, it would take 10 years to vaccinate everyone in the USA. Meanwhile, we're already seeing mutations in the COVID virus that may render the current vaccines ineffective. And, of course, not every person will even be willing to take the vaccine regardless, and those people will continue catching the virus and spreading it around.

Here in the USA, we're in the midst of a transition of leadership that's like no other in history. Even when the lame duck president begrudgingly leaves office as he eventually will, his actions have left us in a position where a good chunk of his followers will not accept the new administration, and will continue to cause problems in 2021 and beyond.

The changes in lifestyle due to the pandemic and the way it has affected the workplace and the way people get income might be, in some ways, permanent. We can confidently say that what we thought of as normal before 2020, from how we work to how we interact with other people in all areas of life, is likely never coming back to pre-2020 standards.

And what about the climate? Again, we will have no choice but to acknowledge that mankind's affect on the planet might have gone past the point of no return. Bigger storms, bigger fires, rising sea levels, crop failure, higher temperatures... this will continue to be a very sad trend throughout the remainder of my life, and represents the biggest existential threat toward humanity.

Gee, Thanks. Now I'm Depressed.
It's totally understandable that many people have had a hard time adjusting to this. People aren't good with change, especially rapid change. It seems impossible to me that less than a year ago, in January 2020, I was at a huge trade show with over 100,000 attendees... maskless, shaking hands, hugging people... it seems impossible to even consider today, and more than a little gross.

But here we are. We always have the potential to be better, and for trends of negativity to turn around to a positive note. And, in the interest of honesty and full disclosure, my personal 2020 had ups and downs, but I remained far, far better off than many people. My income remained steady. I did not get COVID-19, nor did anyone in my immediate family. I dealt with some shit, as everyone does every year, but I made it through. In 2020, making it through is a good enough reason to be grateful, and I truly am.

To end this little train of thought, I'll just say that I'm hopeful that on this date next year, at the end of 2021, I can look back and say that things got better. Even if it's just a little bit.

Maybe by the end of 2021, I won't feel compelled to wear a mask in SL like I do in RL. Photo by Kat.

Wasn't This Blog About a Show?
Yes, of course. I played live on Tuesday night at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life. Max Kleene had been scheduled to perform before me, but apparently wasn't feeling well, so I arrived to a nearly empty venue as opposed to one already packed with people. It's never a great feeling. Also, as I warned my audience, I'm still dealing with the aftereffects of a bout of bronchitis, so my singing voice wasn't in tip-top condition.

But despite those factors, the show went just fine. We pulled in a small but seemingly happy crowd, the folks at Chelsea were as nice and accommodating as usual, and I pulled out several tunes that had remained absent in my sets for quite some time. It's good to mix it up now and then.

Playing some tunes, having some fun at Hotel Chelsea. Photo by Kat.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon) 
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
From the Beginning (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Trouble Child (Joni Mitchell)
Saved by Zero (The Fixx)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Mary Jane's Last Dance (Tom Petty)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
Alabama (Neil Young)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)

Big thanks to the folks who came out to the show, with super thanks to the following who helped support it!
Tyche Szondi, IDeirdrewood Resident, Rusty Seisenbacher, Trouble Streeter, Sailor Williams, Nina Brandenburg, Keykey Underwood, Kat Claxton, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and Hotel Chelsea host Melvin Starbrook!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Lutz City of Templemore (12.12.20)

Another great show at Templemore. Photo by Kat.

As I mentioned during my show at Lutz City of Templemore on Saturday, I had a bit of an "oh shit!" moment previous to the gig. I love playing Templemore, and I always prepare a set that I think is complementary to the fantastic vibe of the venue. So, I'd done that, as usual, and was ready to rock it when I happened to see the well-designed promo poster for the show... and noticed that it was specifically a holiday event.

I mean, come on. It's December 12; of course there's going to be a holiday vibe in the air, with Christmas around the corner and Hanukkah already underway. I just hadn't been aware that this particular show was being advertised as such. It certainly wasn't a problem. I've done dozens and dozens of holiday shows over the years. It just meant that I'd have to do a little last-minute re-tooling of my set list to include some of the songs of the season.

Lovely Templemore
I never have enough things to say about Templemore. I've performed there on just about all of its stages and in different incarnations over many years, and every single time I've been blown away by the design of the place. Owners Luis Lockjaw and Grace Sixpence do a wonderful job in featuring many of SL's absolute best and most original performers. Even if I wasn't a musician, Templemore would absolutely be a place I'd want to hang out and see shows.

Purely in terms of the detail and overall design of the build, there are few live music spots in Second life that can hold a candle to Templemore. Photo by Kat.

Just... wow. Photo by Kat.

A Linden Visit
I knew ahead of time that I'd have a special guest in the crowd today, though I didn't mention it to anyone. I'd recently been interviewed by Tara Linden for Second Life's "Music Monday" community news feature, and she asked when I had an upcoming show where she could come by and take a picture. Knowing I had Templemore on my schedule, I advised her to stop by and take the pic there. Seriously, where is anyone going to get a better shot of me? So that was cool, and Tara admired the venue and seemed to enjoy herself at the show, which was also cool. The interview will be out on Monday December 14 on the official Second Life site.

If you're ever out and about in Second Life and see someone with a bright blue name tag, that's a person who works in some capacity for Linden Lab, the makers of SL. This is Tara, who is writing an interview on me for their "Music Monday" community feature. I will say that back in the days or yore, it was a much more common event to see blue-tagged Linden folks popping up at shows. Photo by Kat.

I have to admit... when Tara said she'd like to get a pic of me performing for the interview, I was quite happy that I had a Templemore show booked on my schedule. What live music venue in SL is going to result in a better photograph than this place? Photo by Kat.

We Got a Tree
This has nothing at all to do with my show, but I had committed to getting a Christmas tree today, so not long after I wrapped up at Templemore and lunch was consumed, I hopped in the Jeep with Kat and my adult son, and went down the street to Peter's Garden Center, where we'd picked up our tree each December for years and years. It's a little more expensive there than typical tree lots in the area, but the trees are definitely nicer and I prefer to support local businesses, and they're here in my neighborhood.

So we went down there and... they were literally out of trees. I'm assuming that perhaps due to the pandemic, they may have ordered less of them, or maybe people who've been stuck at home decided to do their holiday decorating even earlier than usual this year. So, back in the Jeep, up the road to the lot on 190th and Anza (a three-minute drive, to be fair), and ended up getting a really healthy fresh tree from there.

Christmas tree 2020, soon to be decorated.

I should note that while we've all had individual excursions from the house for various necessary tasks, this was our first trip out with the three of us together since last April. I'm serious. So while we were out, we did something that seems completely foreign and strange: we went into our local Starbucks. The place, usually teeming with people on a Saturday afternoon, was completely empty. As we waited for our beverages to be made, alone in a large and quiet store except for a couple of staff members and one other customer, my son remarked that it felt like the Twilight Zone, and I had to agree.

Touch Me I'm Sick
No, I don't have the 'Rona. No worries. I'd picked up a case of bronchitis that plagues me nearly every December, right around this time. It didn't even get to the point of being too bad... just some coughing and wheezing, being worse and more annoying in the evenings. But frankly, having gone down the pneumonia road twice, I just can't be screwing around with gunk building up in my lungs.

How was your Friday evening? I spent part of mine in an urgent care center in the midst of a COVID-19 spike. Good times. 

On Friday, I went to the urgent care place here in Redondo Beach that has been my default primary care doctor for over 20 years, and I went through the too-familiar process of an exam, chest X-ray, and the acquiring of antibiotics. I was actually very impressed at their COVID-19 protocol there, and with the current spike we're experiencing, it's welcomed. I was told to wait in my car when I arrived, and was summoned in when they were ready for me. There were almost no other patients in the facility at the same time as me, and my exam doctor was in an N95 mask, a surgical mask, a face shield and safety glasses. As a result, it felt like it was as safe of an environment as one could possibly expect while seeking medical treatment in the midst of a pandemic. 

Anyway, it's just a bit of the old bronchitis, my recurring arch enemy, but I am now bombarding it with water and azithromycin, and I was quite able to sing my show at Templemore with no audible effects of the illness as far as I could tell. I'm treating it now and I will be fine.

As I've mentioned in every show report for the last nine months or so, I will continue to wear a mask in SL for as long as I do in reality. I don't do this to rain on anyone's virtual parade, but as a reminder to all that wearing a mask is a crucial part of us getting past this pandemic as a society. Photo by Kat.

Templemore set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
It's Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)
Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth (Traditional/David Bowie)
Barely Breathing (Duncan Sheik)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
River Man (Nick Drake)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince)
Alison (Elvis Costello)
Holly Jolly Christmas (Burl Ives)

Big thanks to every single person who came by my show at Lutz City of Templemore, with special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
m0onchild Resident, Ruby Starlight, Medea Frostbite, \Trouble Streeter, Bee Blackrain, Brooks Conundrum, Kalamea Resident, AmberleJanniah Resident, go2smoky Resident, GlassCoraa Resident, Toxic Darkmatter, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the entire great team at Templemore including Grace Sixpence and Luis Lockjaw! 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

20 Mostly Indie Music Releases for 2020

It's that time again... time for you to read some list that some person made. In this case, the person is me, and the list is of songs and/or albums that I happened to notice this year. It's meaningless, and has nothing to do with the popularity of the music, the quality of the music (which I have no idea what that even means), or the style of genre of the music. My sincere advice to anyone who doesn't like this list is to make their own list, and then everyone will be happy. I will say that I do these annual lists focused primarily on indie music because, well, I figure you can find the pop stuff on your own. So let's goooooooo!

Abram Shook: "Summer of Drug"
Western Vinyl

I have an oddly specific criteria of music: if I can imagine myself driving up the 62, heading into Yucca Valley on my way to Joshua Tree while listening to it, it's usually something that I can enjoy. This guy is from Austin and seems weird in a good way. Here's his Facebook if you'd like to know him more.

Andy Shauf: "Dust Kids"

Andy is from Regina (rhymes with vagina), Saskatchewan, and has a terrific mellow sound. This is a song I'd put on during the pandemic while I sit at home and contemplate the fact that I really never liked going out anyway. This whole album is pretty neat, by the way. You can probably hear more stuff at his web site, I suppose.

Bob Dylan: "Murder Most Foul"

Bob Dylan ain't exactly indie, amirite? But this song was a nice surprise, and it tells you something that I sat through all 17 minutes of it the very first time I clicked 'play'. He's obviously an icon and will be in the singer-songwriter history books thousands of years in the future, so why not enjoy the man putting out more fascinating music in 2020? Here's Bob's web site, for web purposes.

Brothertiger: "Shelter Cove"
Symphonic Distribution

I may be primarily a guitar fool, but I am also always down for some good chill electronic music. Brothertiger is a New York-based synthwave artist named John Jagos. The coldness of the music is contrasted by the warmth of the vibe. 10/10 would drive through the desert at night with this on. Here's his web site, if you wanna.

Chappaqua Wrestling: "The Rift"
Self Released

Is this music representative of a lot of shoegaze alt-rock that came before it? Yes. Can I name the bands that influenced these guys from listening to just one of their songs? Yes. Does that make me enjoy this any less? No, fuck no. They're out of Brighton, UK, and I can hear that. Here's their Facebook for some reason.

Doud: "Baby"
Dot Wave

I know almost nothing about Anthony Doud or his music. I know this was a cool song, and that I was surprised by the random sax solo at the end. I'm kind of a fan of sax solos at the end; that's Bowie's fault. This guy seems to be a drummer and multi-instrumentalist. Again, I just liked the song. Here's his Insta if you like that kind of thing.

Helena Deland: "Lylz"

Ugh, God, this is an amazing song. I listened to it like 10 times when I first heard it, to the point that it made me kind of insane because I'd wake up hearing it for several straight days. It got to be so much that I purposefully didn't listen to it again for several months, but it's still great. Fun fact: she's Canadian. Here's her Bandcamp where you can buy her stuff.

Hovvdy: "I'm Sorry"
Self Released

You have no idea how much I loathe the trend of using weird letter combinations to spell bands names in some uniquely phonetic way. Chvrches, Pvris... I won't list them all. So that tells you how absolutely great Hovvdy (yes, they're from Texas and it's pronounced "howdy") does this bedroom pop masterpiece. It's pretty and minimal and definitely represents what I admire in the most recent indie music. Get this on Bandcamp right now, if you so choose.

Jaymison: "Rock Star"
Roger Ranger

There are only four chords and they never change... and nor should they. This is fucking great! Totally likable slacker vocals over a killer progression. Keep up with him on Facebook, if you'd like.

Jadu Heart: "Metal Violets"
Rough Trade

I like music with vibe, and that concept of vibe transcends genre. This is dark dance electropop from a London-based duo that's reminiscent of several bands I liked as a young teen in the early '80s. It's got a good beat and some interesting sounds; sometimes that's enough. This song is great. Here's their web site for things and stuff.

JFDR: "Dive In"

JFDR is supposedly an electronic artist, though I hear a ton of organic sounds in her work, so maybe I'm the one who is fooled, or maybe I'm the genius and everyone else is falling for genre compartmentalization. Anyway, she's from Iceland (real name: Jófríður Ákadóttir), and like most people from Iceland, she seems very smart and deep. Her stuff is on Bandcamp if you want it.

Mini Trees: "Want Me To Stay"
Self Released

Mini Trees is Lexi Vega, a lady from here in the LA area. She's an indie bedroom pop artist and her stuff is really great. Picture yourself looking out a window at gloomy skies on a melancholy autumn day while this plays. Get this on her Bandcamp if you'd like to do so.

Momma: "Biohazard"
Danger Collective

I'm gonna spaz out for a second and just say this album, Two of Me, was unquestionably my favorite new music of 2020. Like, the whole thing. Call it whatever you want... grunge, shoegaze, alt rock, indie rock, I do not fucking care. I love Momma. I do. Just go get this album on their Bandcamp.

Neil Young: "Vacancy"

Here's one of the weirdest entries on my annual list ever. This song was written and recorded in 1974, along with an entire album that would eventually be known as Homegrown. And then Neil, being Neil, shelved it and didn't release it until this year. "Vacancy" is now one of my favorite NY songs, and it was damn nice to hear this terrific album right in the midst of the shittiest year ever. Go enjoy the Neil Young Archives.

Night Tapes: "Truly Being Alive"
Self Released

These are three people out of London making cool, '80s-infused, dark synth dream pop. Very atmospheric and cool. Definitely a "drive fast in the dark on a lonely freeway" thing going here. You can get it on Bandcamp

The Ophelias: "Grand Canyon"
Joyful Noise

I'm not sure what kind of music this is. It's kinda dark and there are guitars and things, so it's no surprise that I like it. The Ophelias describe themselves as a "Cincinnati/New York art rock nature punk moth music" band, and that's totally fine with me. Get this on Bandcamp right now, or whenever.

Pool Holograph: "Medieval Heart"
Jurassic Pop 

This is some very nice contemporary art rock. Super clean, very smart sounding indie pop out of Chicago. The song is great but I really love the outro. It sounds like taking the first steps of an adventure. Get it on Bandcamp.

Pretty Sick: "Allen Street"
Dirty Hit

I genuinely know next to almost nothing about this band. I know they are young and from New York City and make grungy, grimy rock that I enjoy based on "Allen Street". Maybe that's all I need to know. Oh, and I like singer Sabrina Fuentes' voice. Buy their song if you want. I did.

Skullcrusher: "Places/Plans"
Secretly Canadian

A-ha! You thought I was sneaking in an industrial death metal band with blast beats and cookie monster vocals, eh? Nah. Skullcrusher is sweet and lovely ethereal music by an LA-based singer-songwriter named Helen Ballentine. I'm a fan of indie folk and of pretty sounds, and she delivers both. Her stuff is on Bandcamp, you know.

Widowspeak: "Money"
Captured Tracks

I've casually enjoyed this band since they first started releasing music about ten years ago. I think I like this album Plum the most of any they've done thus far. Kinda dream pop, kinda indie rock, all good. And yes, by all means, get some of that on Bandcamp.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Hotel Chelsea (12.01.20)

Rocking Hotel Chelsea on the first day of December. Photo by Kat. 

What a weird life this is. I mean, truly bizarre. I've been alive for over 51 years, and I remember as a kid not necessarily being bored per se, but wishing things would be in some indefinable way drastically different and more interesting than they seemed to be.

Well, as they say, be careful for what you ask for, because you might get it. And, as the supposedly ancient curse goes, "May you live in interesting times." Side note: it's usually claimed that this is a Chinese curse. It's not. There is an old Chinese saying that goes, 寧為太平犬,不做亂世人, or in English, "Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos," and that's the general idea. But the actual phrase "May you live in interesting times" is likely a misinterpretation or translation error. Ah well.

But 2020 Is Almost Over, Right?
This era we're in has been far too interesting. As it turns out, you really don't want to live in a time frame that will consume large swaths of history books. Why am I bringing all this up now? Well, it's December, and this terrible year 2020 is drawing to a close. For some reason that I suppose is understandable given human nature, there's a concept that the end of a calendar year marks a time of change, and on the surface in 2020, it would seem that's true. We've chosen a new U.S. president who will take office in 47 days. We have a vaccine for COVID-19 that's supposedly effective.

Am I looking forward to the end of this shitty year? Of course I am. But don't assume everything will change for the better very quickly in 2021.

However, as has been pointed out, removing Trump from office doesn't change the mindset of millions of people who adhere to Trumpism outlooks. And the vaccines are very promising, but it will be long into 2021 before the majority of people have access to it... and we're all aware that far too many people will choose not to take it for their own twisted and misinformed reasons.

All I'm saying here is that, as per the song I covered Tuesday night at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life, "There's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last," there's not going to be some magical switch that flips at the stroke of midnight on December 31 where everything will magically become better. It's often said that patience is a virtue, and it truly is... just not one that the majority of humans possess.

Life may be weird, but at least I have the normalcy of performing live music at a digital representation of a real hotel in New York City, in a virtual world. Photo by Kat.

Um... How About the Show?
Ah, yes. So, I did my second-ever show at Hotel Chelsea on Tuesday, and it was enjoyable. Unlike my first outing there in November, Max Kleene was present this time to perform before me. I remember the first time I performed after Max; it was probably sometime in 2007 or maybe 2008, perhaps at an SL venue like Crystal Sands or one of the other old-school live music spots. I distinctly recall being initially excited because such a big crowd was there at the venue when I got started, with that excitement quickly turning to dismay as the majority of his audience disappeared quickly after Max wrapped up his set.

What I learned was really simple, and it was a positive thing: never take that shit personally. Those folks made time out of their day specifically to see and hear Max... for good reason, I should add. He's an outstanding musician, a genuinely nice person, and is so good at engaging his audience that his popularity is completely understandable. So when that hour is up, they move on to other things. I could be literally the best performer in the world, and that fact would not cause everyone to stop and stay another hour for my show.

Me, onstage at Hotel Chelsea. My virtual mask stays on as long as it does in real life. Photo by Kat.

Once you understand that, it becomes less of an ego-bruising experience, and in fact the opposite happens. I know for a fact that I've gained new fans via exposure to people who would never have even heard me at all had I not been on the bill with other popular musicians. That's why I always welcome any and all opportunities to play before or after the more popular musicians in SL, providing that our performance styles are reasonably similar enough that there's a potential for crossover with our respective fans. With Max, that's very true. I always look forward to the next show where I'm on the bill with him.

Problems Solved by Enchiladas
My portion of the show went great. There's always a discrepancy between how a performer judges him/herself versus the perception of the audience. I wasn't necessarily feeling a high level of energy going into my show; it had been a brutal work day filled with long meetings and difficult deadlines. My voice and guitar playing seemed adequate but not at the top of my game.

And yet, a number of people specifically mentioned to me afterwards that I was sounding particularly good, which was mystifying to me. I didn't think I sounded bad by any means, but I didn't feel it was a super strong show either. So, I'll just accept that people enjoyed it, which is all I really want from any show.

What a cool place to see a show... or play one, in my case. Photo by Kat.

I mean, come on. How cool is this? Photo by Kat.

The reason I wasn't brimming with energy is simple: I didn't manage to eat a lot before my show. I had breakfast, but work responsibilities interrupted my lunch when I was only a few bites in, and by the time my show came around at 5PM, my stomach was already growling quite a bit. That was likely the culprit for my feeling less than my usual hyperactive self when I took the stage, understandably. Directly after the show, Kat ordered us a bunch of delicious food from Rosa's, which is kind of our default place for inexpensive and authentic Mexican food. I plowed through two cheese enchiladas, rice, beans, a chicken taco, and a big batch of large homestyle tortilla chips without coming up for air before I felt sated, and then all was well.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
All I Want (Joni Mitchell)
Crosses (Jose Gonzales)
Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Long December (Counting Crows)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed)
Hey Ya (OutKast)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)

Huge thanks to everyone who hung out at Hotel Chelsea to see my show, with special uber thanks to the following folks who helped support it!
Guinevere Westland, BouganVillia Resident, Rusty Seisenbacher, CB Axel, Maximillion Kleene, Trinket Macbeth, Kat Claxton, noowun Wind, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and Hotel Chelsea manager Shyla the Super Gecko!