Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Kristin Hersh’s Renaissance

Monday, February 14th, 2011

imageKristin Hersh has been having a personal Renaissance of sorts in the last few years. As a result, I’ve had more of Kristin’s music in heavy rotation recently than at any time since the mid-90s.

First up: Power+Light. This 50 Foot Wave release — is it a song? An EP? I don’t know what to call it. It’s a single 25-minute long track that’s divided into a half-dozen distinct but integrally blended movements. Some of these movements rock as hard as anything 50 Foot Wave has ever done; others, like Skeleton Key, are beautiful, sublime, loaded with powerful and emotive cello… actually redefining what a 50 Foot Wave track can sound like.

Power+Light has been around for a couple of years — it was first released in 2009, I believe — but since it was initially only available on vinyl, I was out of the loop until I could download it digitally. And what I found was that it represents the leading edge of a newfound spurt of energy and creativity. It’s so addictive that it’s spinning around my head even as I write this, and I’ve now been listening to it for months.

I’m also playing Crooked to death. Kristin’s latest solo album, this is without a doubt the best album she has released in a decade. I simply cannot stop playing the record. Every track is a masterpiece.

imageThe only thing is, this time, Kristin has pulled back the curtain to let us see (ever so slightly) what’s behind her inscrutable lyrics. Crooked, you see, is also available in book form, packed with lyrics and essays. The best way to experience the book is as an iPad (or iPhone) app. On the iPad, Crooked [iTunes link] is stunningly beautiful. Interspersed with gorgeous macro photography of flowers and an essay penned by Kristin for each song, the Crooked app also features commentary for each song, in which Kristin and husband Billy chat about the music. You might think, "Finally, I’ll learn what each song is about," but you won’t, really — and to hope that you will is almost beside the point. It’s like the time Kristin said to me (after playing her lovely house concert in my living room a few years ago) "Did I ever tell you what Pearl was about?" I said no, and she told me an interesting story — but in the end, it didn’t really shed any actual light on Pearl for me in the conventional way. But you can’t help but be mesmerized by Kristin and Billy’s banter as they reach around and through Kristin’s creative process to try to make the intangible… at least a little more accessible.

Let me put it another way: If you’re a Kristin Hersh fan, you absolutely should own the Crooked book. If you don’t have an iPad or iPhone, you can get the physical book and download the commentary tracks to your PC.

And that’s not all. I’ve also been listening to Kristin’s various projects in which she’s revisited older material. Throwing Muses has recorded the songs mentioned in Kristin’s autobiography, Rat Girl, as four season-themed collections: Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. The first two (Fall and Winter) are already available for download (if you purchased a copy of Rat Girl), and they are wonderful. I listen to the Muses’ reinterpretation of Flying over and over and over. My family must hate me. This collection perfectly complements Kristin’s recent 5-volume 10-4 sessions, acoustic covers of dozens of songs from across the depth of her career.

That’s a lot of music. From some artists, it might all add up to oversaturation. In Kristin’s case, though, it just makes you say, "perhaps I should download the Speedbath demos while I wait for the new Throwing Muses album."

Peter Himmelman Comes to Town

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

altWhat are you doing on Feb 8? Nothing interesting you say? Well, if you live in Seattle, then I’ve got a deal for you. I just discovered that one of my favorite musicians, Peter Himmelman, is playing at the Tractor. You should be there.

Peter is one of the greats. Whether playing solo or with his band, he is, I suppose, becoming one of the elder statesmen of the folk-rock tradition. You might not know Peter; he had a brush with mainstream airplay in the mid-90s, but to be honest, I got the impression that was never especially comfortable there. Nonetheless, some of his CDs from that time period (From Strength to Strength, Synesthesia, Skin) remain my favorite albums and ones I go back to time and again.

I’m jazzed that Peter is coming to town. If you want to experience some transcendent music, check out his show. See you there?

House Concert, New Puppy Enjoyed by All

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

terriThere are definitely times when I feel luckier than I have any right to be. Like last weekend, when Terri Moeller, Paul Austin, and Jon Hyde played a house show in our living room as Terri’s new project, Terri Tarrantula.

At one point, Terri described the show as “Transmantula,” since the set list was a blending of new Terri Tarrantula and older Transmissionary Six material. Indeed, the show was an awesome combination of old and new, and a great primer on Terri’s work for those folks who had never heard her before. Here’s the set list, with the studio albums they came from for your potential purchasing pleasure:

1. Broker (Radar)terri2

2. Top of Your Lungs (Radar)

3. Bum Leg (Joe Pernice cover)

4. Mulligan (Terri Tarantula)

5. Paper Party Hat (Transmissionary Six)

6. Upside Down (Terri Tarantula)

7. Your Small Hands (Terri Tarantula)

8. Transmission Line (Radar)

9. Clay Man Down (Transmissionary Six)

10. Circus School Class of ‘73 (New, unreleased)

11. Happy Place (Sparklehorse cover)

12. Holiday Park (Get Down)

13. The Daredevil Way (Terri Tarantula)

14. Always Crashing in the Same Car (David Bowie cover)

15. Infrared (Radar)

16. Happy Landings (Get Down)

While we’re on the subject: If you’re looking for a good album to start with, I’d suggest Get Down – Paul Austin recently mentioned to me that it’s his personal favorite, and I’m hard pressed to disagree. After all, it has Happy Landings.


Here’s the version of Happy Landings which Terri performed to close the show:



Also somewhat unexpected: Our new family member Topher was a hit with both guests and band. And how could he not be? Topher remains the cutest little puppy, like, ever.

Thanks to everyone who came to the show, and thanks to Terri, Paul, and Jon for playing (and for introducing me to Joe Pernice, who is awesome).

Kristen Watching Kristin

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

KHcollageA few night ago, Kris and I were privileged to see Kristin Hersh perform a private concert – it was, in fact, the day after her book signing event at Elliot Bay Books in Capitol Hill. (You already bought a copy of Rat Girl, right?)

About 25 folks packed into an awesome little recording studio nestled in someone’s backyard in the Green Lake area. Kristin was charming and funny and amazing as usual, playing a set list that included all sorts of unexpected gems across the length of her career (City of the Dead, Devil’s Roof, Pearl, Hysterical Bendings, 37 Hours… and many more that I don’t remember because I have an atrocious memory).

You can see Kris in the audience shot on the left, above. kristin

So it’s clear how little original work I put into this post, let me point out that the Polaroids in that little collage were taken by Josh Umami (Great job, Josh – and thanks). And I didn’t even make up the title of this post; I got it from the subject line of an email from Paul Austin, who forwarded the photo to me the day after the show.

A heartfelt thanks to Paul, by the way, who invited Kris and me to the show.

Finally, I took this photo of Kristin on the right with my iPhone. Kris and I sat in the front row, so we were about 4 feet, at most, from Kristin. If you’re curious, that is unnervingly close.

Come See Terri Tarantula at Cheddarwood

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

I’m very proud to announce my next house concert on November 6.

MusicFol1_PaulAustin-570Terri Tarantula – whom you might also know by the more mundane moniker Terri Moeller – will be playing an intimate show (accompanied by a full band) in my home on Saturday, November 6. Terri is a veteran of the Walkabouts and — a personal favorite of mine — Transmissionary Six.

If you’re a fan of the folks I’ve hosted in previous shows, like the legendary Kristin Hersh and Downpilot’s Paul Hiraga, you will instantly fall in love with Terri. As The Stranger said better than I could possibly hope to:

“the Seattle singer-songwriter-drummer-keyboardist’s deep, lugubrious voice—a sensual truce between Nico’s stark, intimate croon and Hope Sandoval’s honeyed glumness—would have connected with [4AD’s] fan base’s appetite for songs tinted darkest blue.”

At the helm of Transmissionary Six, I have found that Terri’s deep and hypnotic voice brought the band’s folky psychedelic sci-fi lyrics to life in a way that was strangely moving. Her new Terri Tarantula project is just as compelling – if you miss out hearing Terri perform in the comfort of my living room, you’ll regret it forever. That’s not overpromising, is it? Trust me: Terri is worth it.

You can also sample some of Terri’s music:

The Details: Terri Tarantuala at Cheddarwood

This is a small house concert, intimately set before our living room fireplace. The audience will be limited to 30 people. As you might expect, 100 percent of the ticket sales go to Terri. CDs will also be available, and you’ll have an opportunity to chat with the band after the show. We’ll have snacks and drinks available as well.


Saturday, November 6, 2010
Performance 8:00 pm (doors 7:30)
Cost: $10 (under 18 are free)


The Johnson home (aka Cheddarwood)

Purchasing tickets:

Send me an e-mail and let me know the number of tickets you want to purchase. PayPal is the preferred method of payment.

If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at

Come to my House Concert: Downpilot’s Paul Hiraga

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

I’m very excited to announce my second house concert, a follow-up to last year’s show with Kristin Hersh.

Downpilot’s Paul Hiraga will be performing at my home on Friday, February 5. Downpilot is one of Seattle’s true musical gems, and is my reward for having moved to the Seattle area (I discovered Downpilot by accident at The Tractor a few weeks after I arrived in town several years ago). I think this show will be a rare and special event – I highly encourage you to check it out.

If you don’t know Downpilot, you probably should. Paul’s music is difficult to categorize; frequently soulful, subtle and quiet, ethereal, with hints of the psychedelic. It’s a bit reminiscent, I suppose, of early R.E.M, Brendan Perry, Wilco, and a teeny bit of Velvet Underground. You can hear some Downpilot tracks:


My Sunshine [My band has been covering this song for years now!]


You can also check out the Downpilot Web site.

This is a small house concert, intimately set before our living room fireplace, and I will be limiting attendance to 30 people. As you might expect, 100 percent of the ticket sales go to Paul. Here are the details:


Paul Hiraga at Cheddarwood

When :

Friday, February 5, 2010
Performance 8:00 pm (doors 7:30)
Cost: $25


The Johnson home (aka Cheddarwood)

Purchasing tickets:

Send me an e-mail and let me know the number of tickets you’d like to purchase. PayPal is the preferred method of payment, but I’ll also take check and cash. No credit cards – I’m not Ticketmaster, folks.

If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at

I look forward to seeing you on February 5!

A Musical Séance

Friday, November 21st, 2008

My musical bucket list just got one shorter:

3. Have Kristin Hersh, chief architect of Throwing Muses, the greatest alternative rock band on earth, perform Pearl in my living room.

2. Have lunch with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to chat about his views on the 60s and socialism.

1. Play a round of miniature golf with any member of The Monkees, though preferably Peter Tork.

That’s right, we can finally check off #3:

Our home (which Kris affectionately calls Cheddarwood for a rather convoluted set of reasons) was host to one of Kristin’s Shady Circle house concerts this week. On Saturday, Nov 15,  Kristin played in front of our living room’s fireplace to about 35 folks. The audience included my writing buddy Rick (who flew in from Michigan for the occasion), friend of the family Christine, and a varied slew of people from work.

shady circle (11)Also among the audience was another special treat – Bernard Georges, bassist extraordinaire from Throwing Muses, who hung around in a non-musical way that reminded me of Tom Petty’s nonchalant appearance on the old It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. (That’s Bodhi, decked out in full cat-hunting gear, with Kristin and Bernard.) For more photos of the evening, check out my Flickr page.

Back in the 90s, I interviewed Kristin and Billy for my book How to Do Everything with MP3s and Digital Music. And then a few years later, they graciously donated a few songs from Murder, Misery, and then Goodnight to my interactive children’s book, The Wild Cookie. And perhaps most surprising, Billy can pick me out of a crowd from 100 yards. Surely, he has a photographic memory for faces. It’s uncanny.

Anyway, I doubt the evening could have gone any better. It was a treat from start to finish. Billy had told me the week before the show that Kristin wanted the show to be more like a book club than a rock show; a musical séance in which everyone hung around and chatted and music would spontaneously occur. And that’s kind of what we got. Billy, Kristin, and Bernard were predictably gracious and friendly and approachable, and everyone mixed together in a pretty natural way. When Kristin started playing, it was intimate and warm and, well, it almost felt like we were all family gathered around the hearth for some music. How cool is that?

The set list was an almost perfect mix of Appalachian folk songs and Kristin’s own material. And I got the whole thing on video. Woo hoo! Here’s the set list:

  1. Jesus Called Me
  2. Down in the Willow Garden
  3. City of the Dead
  4. One Train
  5. Banks of the Ohio
  6. Teeth
  7. Dusty Road
  8. Little House
  9. Moan
  10. If
  11. Stone in this Pond
  12. Sno Cat
  13. Lemon Tree
  14. Willie Moore
  15. The Cuckoo
  16. Tuesday Night
  17. Pearl

And Pearl was one of the real, err, gems, of the evening – at least for me. One of my favorite songs of all time, I love both the original Muses version and Kristin’s acoustic interpretation. Billy thought he had discussed a request with me to close the show, but in reality we had never talked about it. So when the last song rolled around, Billy and Kristin assumed I wanted Your Ghost. And while that would have been fine, I asked for Pearl instead. The next three minutes? Watching Kristin trying to remember the chords, with various suggestions flying in from Billy and Bernard. Now that was fun. Ahhh, thank you, Kristin. 

Oh, and the next day, a friend of mine sent me a note that Kristin twittered about us:


The Greatest 45 Minutes Ever

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

imageYou don’t come here for entertainment advice, I get that. In reality, only my mom comes here at all, and even that’s usually only by accident when she’s actually trying to start Solitaire. But, damn. Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a masterpiece that will go down in history as one of the greatest works of art ever produced.

Watching Neal Patrick Harris sing his way to world domination as Dr. Horrible will give your life meaning. By the time you see this, it will probably no longer be free, but it’ll be worth buying no matter what the price. (Though that price is just $3.99 for all three acts from iTunes.)

Update: You can now watch it on Hulu for free.

The Beat Goes On

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

pedal1 My family got Rock Band for Christmas, and it’s something of a hit. We all play it quite a bit, both as a Partridge Family-eque family band and on our own. Evan tends to play guitar; Marin usually sings. Kris switches between guitar and vocals, and I play guitar and drums, though, as is my real-life proclivity, I tend to stick with drums most of the time.

Why, you ask, am I mentioning this now, in mid-February, when Christmas was so long ago that I was still in the early stages of trying to get a working Dell XPS 720?

Well, here’s the thing: as cool as Rock Band is, the kick drum pedal is a horrifically bad example of engineering. Mine broke after just 3 weeks of use, and based on the volume of information about this on the intertubes, it appears to be a reasonably common occurrence. The problem is that the pedal itself is a wafer-thin strip of plastic, and if you tend to put the ball of your foot near the top of the pedal, you end up putting fatal amounts of stress on an un-reinforced section of the assembly. Inevitably, it cracks and then shears right above the spring.

Now I should point out that Harmonix is pretty good about replacing these things under warranty, and I got a new pedal pretty fast. But guess what? About 3 weeks after it arrived, I noticed it was already cracked, meaning it was within days of failing yet again.

At this point, I considered modifying a real kick pedal for Rock Band as documented on Metafluence, but I didn’t want to invest quite that much energy into the problem. Nor did I have a spare pedal to donate to the cause, and I certainly wasn’t going to buy one just for Rock Band — pedals aren’t cheap. pedal2

So I took my own cheapie road to fixing the problem. After all, the real problem here is that if you tend to thump the pedal much higher than where the spring contacts the pedal, every downbeat flexes the footplate. It’s only a matter of time before it cracks. So I cut a new footplate out of spare half-inch plywood and then secured it to the top of the pedal with enough epoxy to fasten an elephant to the roof of my house. 

Marin pointed out that since I tend to play Rock Band while wearing socks (which is odd, because I always wear shoes when playing “real” drums), I should sand it to avoid getting splinters. So, after a few minutes with a belt sander, I ended up with a kick drum pedal that has a smooth footplate with gently rounded edges, and which should be virtually indestructible.

Is there a drummer in the house?

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Kris and I went to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at the Showbox in Seattle last night. If you’re into the new garage/blues phenomenon, check these guys out. They’re a tight three piece band with an interesting connection to my past: the bass player is Michael Been’s kid. You might recall Been from one of my favorite bands from the 80s, The Call. (I don’t expect you to recall that this was one of my favorite bands, but it would be nice if you’ve heard of The Call.)

The opening band, the Black Angels, was a last minute substitution – the Fritellis apparently cancelled. These guys blew me away. They too had a garage-influenced sound, though that was tempered with a healthy dose of psychadelia. The highlight of the band, at least for me, was Stephanie Bailey, the awesome drummer who was clearly channeling John Bonham in a serious way.

Anyway, so on to the main show. BRMC played a very good set and then headed offstage. The two guitarists–Peter Hayes and Robert Been–come back on for the encore and play some acoustic stuff. This isn’t unusual. After all, their recent album, Howl, is predominantly acoustic. Then they did some an unreleased stuff. Unreleased songs? During an encore? Okay, I guess. Then, after about half an hour of this,  they admit the problem:  they don’t know where their drummer is. Been heads offstage to try to find him, leaving Hayes onstage to say, “You guys want to hear a Dylan song? I’m not sure I remember all words.” He covers some Dylan number. Not bad, if you like Dylan.

Finally, Been comes back out and says, “Ugh, I know you all want to hear Ain’t No Easy Way, not sure how this’ll work with just the two of us, but let’s give it a shot…” And they do the song, with Hayes eventually wandering behind the drum kit after a few verses and playing quarters on the kick drum with his foot while simultaneously playing slide.

I related this story to my buddy Paul. Paul and I chronicled most of the usual Spinal Tap/Who/Zeppelin drummer scenarios one can imagine in our gripping novel Don’t Feed the Penguins: A Space Comedy, so he and I are reasonably well qualified to guess what happened to the drummer. Here is the list Paul wrote (and I edited to make it funnier):

1) Wandered outside for smoke, got lost.
2) Met a girl, left with her, forgot about the gig.
3) Wandered outside for smoke, bouncer wouldn’t let him back in.
4) Wandered outside, somehow got arrested.
5) Got high, passed out, might still be unconscious somewhere in the back of the club.

Personally, I presume BRMC is now in the market for a new drummer.