Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Twins clinch playoff spot!!

I've been trying to stick to the music/movie postings, but I have to quickly give props to the absolutely amazing Minnesota Twins, who clinched a playoff spot last night, beating the Royals 8-1. And let's take a moment to thank Cleveland who wrapped it up for us by crushing the defending world champion White Sox by the score of 14-1.

I'm still in shock. The team started out terribly through almost 2 full months of the season, only then to have the best record in baseball since June. Turning point? A record of 17-24 on May 19th when Francisco Liriano made his first start. Since then, 76-39 through Monday night. One of the great turn-around seasons in history, if you ask me.

Why? For those of you outside of Minnesota, I'll briefly explain. It is simple, really. We have the best pitcher in the majors in Johan Santana, the 2nd best pitcher and easily the best rookie (before going down to injury) in Liriano, probably the best hitter in Joe Mauer, one of the best closers Joe Nathan and then there's the favored MVP candidate, Justin Morneau. That's not even mentioning Torii Hunter, Cuddyer and anonymous heroes like Punto, Tyner and Bartlett. Add to this the best bullpen in the league and top-notch defense.

But the big question is, who else other than Santana will be starting in the playoffs for the Twins? Assuming we can't convince Johan to pitch every game, I say Bonser gets the nod. And assuming Radke is out, I'd have to pick Garza. Two rookies who've earned it. It'll be interesting but man, if Liriano was healthy, we'd coast to the World Series.

Even with our one weakness in starting pitchers, I'm gonna make a prediction:
ALDS: Twins beat Yankees in 4 games.
ALCS: Twins beat Tigers in 7 games.
World Series: Twins beat the New York Mets in 6 games.
World Series MVP : Nick Punto!

That's right. You're hearing it here first. Twins are going all the fuckin' way. Better yet, the core of the team is so damn good and so damn young that you can expect them to repeat next year. Should I call the three-peat? Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Another great song from Sufjan

Have you heard the new Sufjan cut Sister Winter? If not, listen right now. It’s another astonishing song and the occasion has me wondering how this man can be so prolific, and yet still hit it out of the park each and every time, with almost every song no less.

Since his Avalanche of Illinois leftovers came out earlier this year, the backlash train has been gaining steam and that’s fine with me. Anyone who puts out this much material over a short period of time, all with a similar distinctive style, is sure to wear on people. Plus I’m not exactly the first fella to rant about how Sufjan is God’s gift to indie rock. Exuberant praise is a sure-fire producer of backlash.

Well, consider yourself warned because you can expect more Sufjan-bashing later this year when he releases more material, this time a choice sure to roll eyes, a 5-disc Christmas set. 'Sister Winter' is a track culled from this upcoming release which includes 5 EPs of Christmas-themed songs recorded since 2001. And yes, I'm excited for it. I haven't reached my Sufjan threshold yet so maybe I don't have one. For my taste, this guy is the real deal and the best pure songwriter and melody-maker of the last few years. So how can I burn out on that? In fact, I’m now feeling a hint of regret for missing Sufjan when he played the Paramount in Austin over the ACL weekend.

Related note of interest: Sufjan, along with Cat Power, The Raconteurs, and others recorded live performances at the Austin City Limits studio for future episodes of the outstanding program. Look for these new episodes some time this fall/winter.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Cooling off

I'm back in St. Paul and the temperature today reached a chilly 52 degrees, about 45 degrees cooler than Austin's temp this past weekend during the 2006 Austin City Limits Music Festival. Hot and muggy as it may have been in Austin, the temps were significantly milder than years past. However, the experience itself was anything but...we had a joyfully tiring marathon filled with set after set of thrilling music, bonding with friends and family and just hanging out in my hometown.

For the record, here's a quick rundown of how things ended up...

Schedule: Ted Leo, Wolf Parade, Gnarls Barkley, Okkervil River, Thievery Corporation, Sparklehorse and Van Morrison.

Set of the day: Wolf Parade

Wish I could have seen: Cat Power

Surprises of the day:
(1) Carrying a flag made from empty beer cans taped together draws a lot of attention.
(2) Sparklehorse can rock.
(3) Van Morrison sounded damn good despite my originally low expectations.

Disappointment of the day:
When you stay until the end, suddenly 65,000 people attempt to leave the park at the same time. Complications ensue. We gave up on the shuttles/cab lines and walked back to our car across town. Needless to say, sandals were not the best choice of footwear.

Schedule: Murder by Death, Phoenix, Ghostland Observatory, TV on the Radio, The Shins, Aimee Mann, The Raconteurs, Iron & Wine and Willie Nelson.

Set of the day: TV on the Radio

Wish I could have seen: Ben Kweller perform with a tampon up his nose, Explosions in the Sky, Massive Attack

Surprises of the day:
(1) Two great new band discoveries in Murder by Death and Ghostland Observatory.
(2) The Raconteurs - their album didn't draw my interest but their live chops are incredible.
(3) I never expected the Willie Nelson set to be my favorite moment of the festival...I'm not Willie's biggest fan but for some reason, everything just fell into place. The music, the place and the people. It was a perfect moment of intangible glee. Hard to describe the feeling but it encapsulated why music, especially live music, is so important to me. And it wasn't even drug-induced. Ok, a wee bit of alcohol, but that's it.

Disappointment of the day:
One complaint I have for the fest this year is the sound mix. Numerous sets were hurt by either bad mix or low volume.

Schedule: Damian Marley, Jose Gonzalez, Matisyahu, The New Pornographers, The Flaming Lips, BoDeans and Tom Petty, followed by aftershow featuring What Made Milwaukee Famous and TV on the Radio

Set of the day: The New Pornographers

Wish I could have seen: Anathallo, The Black Angels, Ben Harper

Surprise of the day:
(1) Our jaws literally dropped when we noticed Neko Case on stage as the New Pornographers prepared to start their set. She hasn't been touring with the New Pornos this year so we never expected for a moment to see her at ACL. On a mission, my wife immediately plowed through the crowd to just near the stage as I struggled to keep up behind her. And so there we were, up front and center, watching the New Pornos fire through their set of power-pop led by Neko's amazing voice and presence. She's amazing!
(2) We made it through Day 3 and still managed to have energy to catch an aftershow. In fact, I danced the most I had all weekend during TVOTR. Go figure.

Disappointment of the day:
The end.

All in all, this was the best ACL yet. The producers and staff who put it all together truly do an amazing job. I don't know how it all runs so smoothly but it does year after year. While I'm giving acknowledgments, here's a thanks to Project DU for the two free 3-day passes via their blogging contest.

Check out much more professional pictures and coverage of the festival at Austin360, the official ACL site as well as at Stereogum, Gorilla vs. Bear and Muzzle of Bees to name a few.

Monday, September 18, 2006

ACL '06 - Day 3 pics

View of downtown Austin from across the festival grounds. Notice the welcome overcast skies!

And yet another makeshift beercan flag is erected for our crew on Day 3. The audience response was overwhelmingly positive.

The Flaming Lips put on another sterling carnival-influenced show as the sun set on the final day.

After enduring the enormous crowds and pouring rain during Tom Petty, we went straight to Emo's for the TV on the Radio aftershow. A perfect ending to the best ACL fest yet.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

ACL '06 - Day 2 Pics

A great start to the day, Murder by Death proved to be one of my ACL surprises.

Another day, another impromptu flag invented for our crew. In a sea of 70,000 people, flags are essential.

My most anticipated act of the fest, TVOTR did not disappoint at the Austin Ventures stage...except they only had 45 minutes.

Friday, September 15, 2006

ACL '06 - Day 1 Pics

Forecast be damned. It was hot as hell on Day 1 but the clouds provided some relief. Better yet, not a dust storm to be found.

Wolf Parade (less one bandmate who has E. Coli) rocked early in the day.

Our flag was confiscated at the gate, so we had to improvise.

"I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind..."

Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous gave one of Friday's best performances

Thursday, September 14, 2006

ACL Prep

Just arrived in Austin, TX last night for the Austin City Limits Music Festival this weekend in Zilker Park. My brother, who recently moved back to town, is our gracious host. This year we have a large group going to the fest, including my bro and his family, a few old highschool friends and their significant others and even two more flying into town today from the Twin Cities. We'll definitely be needing a flagbearer.

The best news I've heard today is the weather forecast which is surprisingly mild compared to previous years. Now if only the suffocating dust is kept to a minimum.

Anyway, here's out my schedule shakes out. Obviously, I still have a few conflicts but I'll just have to deal...

1:30 - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
2:30 - deadboy and the Elephantmen
3:30 - Wolf Parade
4:30 - Gnarls Barkley
5:15 - Okkervil River
5:30 - Cat Power
6:30 - Thievery Corporation
7:30 - Sparklehorse
8:30 - Van Morrison (if I'm not dead tired)

Saturday: (the day of many conflicts)
1:30 - Phoenix OR Ghostland Observatory
2:30 - Galactic
3:30 - Secret Machines
4:00 - TV on the Radio
4:30 - The Shins
5:30 - Calexico
6:30 - String Cheese Incident
7:30 - Iron & Wine
7:45 - Explosions in the Sky
8:15 - Willie Nelson
8:30 - Massive Attack

11:45 - Anathallo
12:50 - The Black Angels
1:30 - Sam Roberts
2:30 - Damian Marley
3:30 - Jose Gonzalez
4:30 - Ween OR Matisyahu
5:30 - The New Pornographers
6:30 - The Flaming Lips
7:45 - Muse
8:30 - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Whew. Not sure I'll make it to everyone but that would be the ideal schedule, especially if I didn't have to worry about silly, little things like food, drink and shade.

Then after the exhaustion of 3 full days in the sun, we've got tickets to an ACL aftershow at Emo's - TV on the Radio w/ What Made Milwaukee Famous.

See you on the other side.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Bob Dylan Show

On Thursday night, we trekked an hour south to Rochester's Mayo Field, home of the Rochester Honkers. Bob Dylan and Friends were in town on their third annual minor league ballpark tour.

After some careful maneuvering, we planted ourselves at a perfect spot in the outfield about 20 feet from the stage. Now it ain't easy to maintain your spot up front with all those crazy, young whippersnappers out there. They push and they shove and they burn you with cigarettes, only for the tallest one of 'em to stand right in front of you and finally stay put. But on this night, we stood our ground and made out pretty well for old folk.

Bob's friends this year featured two acts from Austin, TX : 1) guitar extraordinaire and country singer Junior Brown and 2) Jimmie Vaughan, the highly influential blues guitarist, founder of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and of course, Stevie Ray's older brother.

Our evening opened with Junior Brown, who blew everyone away with amazing technique on the guitar that he invented, a double-necked steel guitar and Telecaster. Junior sped through a youthfully energetic set of classic country, surf and blues pieces. He has a fantastic voice to boot, reminiscent of Johnny Cash.

Not to be outdone, Jimmie Vaughan came on next wasting no time showing off his own impressive brand of distinctive Texas blues. Feeding off the lively crowd, Jimmie and his band performed an hour long set of fiery tunes, towards the end led by guest-singer Lou Ann Barton.

Having been satiated with a heavy dose of rootsy country and blues, around 9pm the man himself strolled out on stage. Obviously, Bob Dylan needs no introduction, but I will say he is looking mighty comfortable in his role as elder statesman. I mean, the guy defies all our expectations for the aging rock star. He stubbornly refuses to be influenced by today's trends both musically and aesthetically. He consistently puts out creative and satisfying material. Then he openly disparages the state of today's musical landscape but somehow Modern Times still hit #1 on the charts! I suppose at this point, he exists on a plane above the rest of us and we're all the better for it. In case you haven't noticed, I worship the guy. One of my all-time favorites.

The good news is that as weathered as Dylan may look, he remains a mesmerizing performer. And perhaps most importantly, he surrounds himself with talented musicians. This night's setlist featured vintage Dylan tunes, given new life with a more clasically bluesy, jazzy style as heard on his last three albums. Bob never once picked up a guitar, instead opting to play keyboard and a bit of harmonica as needed. He didn't say a single word to the audience until finally introducing the band during the encore. But who likes small talk anyway? However, Dylan didn't come off as cold or removed...rather he was obviously enjoying himself, and when the show ended, the band took a gracious bow and appeared sincerely grateful of our adoration. My personal highlights of the set included Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, Highway 61 Revisited, Simple Twist of Fate, Forever Young and Ballad of a Thin Man. The encore featured an unbeatable one-two punch of Like a Rolling Stone followed by All Along the Watchtower. Hmm...I've just realized that Dylan didn't play a single song from his new album, Modern Times. Odd, but no complaints.

It was an ideal live music experience: perfect weather, a great outdoor venue, enthusiastic fans of all ages, fantastic music and Bob Dylan.