The year in audio files

What did I stick in my ears in 2017? For better or worse, podcasts seem to have won out over recorded music and live concerts. This year also marked my departure from a cable subscriber to a digital antenna owner and dedicated Roku watcher. Too much self-selection and not enough serendipitous living, but that seems to be a trend these days.

When left to my own devices here’s what I plugged into.

The gateway drug – Years behind the ball on this one, I finally got into podcasts in 2017. No surprise that it was PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre podcast (Masterpiece Studio) that drew me to the dark side. I downloaded Stitcher on my Android phone and listened to my heart’s content to stories about my favorite TV shows, including Prime Suspect: Tennison, Grantchester and The Durrells in Corfu.

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if we are what we listen to, I am old and white. that checks out.

Baby, you got me – WFUV is my favorite local NYC radio station and Spotify is my music player of choice, so when I began noticing WFUV playlists on Spotify, well, everything was alright. The #FUVEssentials: Elton John playlist was in heavy rotation this summer, and the #FUVEssentials: Emmylou Harris playlist introduced me to her song Born to Run, which I immediately co-opted as my personal anthem.

New favorite – Ok, so it was a tip from a WFUV DJ plus a quick search on Stitcher that led me to one of my favorite finds this year: the Song Exploder podcast. Artists breakdown the backstories of one of their songs, especially focusing on the technical building blocks. Compelling stuff.

Eat your vegetables – It wasn’t all easy listening in 2017. I also bookmarked some things I thought I should listen to, prime among them Fresh Air’s 10 Favorite Terry Gross Interviews. About half of these are interviews with comics, and I’m pretty much always up for some comedic navel gazing. The other half are a mixed bag of subjects, all excellent, but I still haven’t made it through all of them.

Your (alleged) Top Songs in 2017 – According to Spotify the top three tracks I listened to in 2017 were: Kill your Mama, by Alicia Keys; California, by Grimes; and The Space Program by A Tribe Called Quest. I guess that’s accurate? I was rocking out to Alicia Keys’s album HERE a lot in 2017, but The Gospel was my favorite song on it. Also, I recall Grease, by Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White being in heavy rotation, but it ranks 20 on the list, above Starboy by The Weeknd. Is the algorithm wrong or my memory? And none of these songs were first heard in 2017, so that’s a little embarrassing.

A note from Captain Obvious – The acoustics in the Apollo Theatre are amazingly good! I know this post is about audio files and not live music, but the sound inside the Apollo Theatre really blew me away when I saw Ryan Adams there at the start of the year. Audio files have their own type of excellent, but live music makes you vibrate on a whole other level. Here’s to embracing all the good vibrations in 2018.

Good things come to those who scalp

View from my box suite @ MSG for the Pink concert
View from my box suite @ MSG for the Pink concert

I consider myself a low risk individual. The company I work for runs a lot of programs for entrepreneurs. The bigger the risk the bigger the return. Think big. Act bold. Risk a lot, gain a lot. All foreign concepts to me.

If I was forced to follow that advice, it would be as strange as if I was told I was about to become the captain of a whaling ship. What, now? You want me to exchange my MetroCard for a large wooden ship, which isn’t even as long as the G train, and do what to the largest mammal on earth? I mean, I like the way I look in a woolen pea coat, but no thank you.

However, when I talk to some of my friends about buying tickets from scalpers on the street, I get the impression that they find the whole thing too risky to do themselves.

Which I think is stupid. I’m not talking about selling scalped tickets. I’m talking about buying tickets on the street outside the venue for a show you really want to go to but couldn’t get tickets for in advance. True, the person I’m buying them from isn’t Monsieur Ticketmaster, but I usually end up paying face value for them. And the situation feels as convenient as when I buy them online where the company has the audacity to change me a convenience fee for that transaction. (Who invented the convenience fee? I think I speak for everyone when I say I want to punch that person in the face.)

But if you do consider it risky behavior, then think about this reward: sometimes I get tickets for free. Really, really good tickets, like a box suite at Madison Square Garden.

A few weeks ago I decided at the last minute to go to the Pink concert at Madison Square Garden. The only tickets still for sale online were over $100, all the cheap seats were sold out. So I decided to try my luck with the scalpers.

The first guy I went up to had tickets for $150 each. If I’d wanted to pay that much, I would have done it the legit way. So I walked around a bit, going up to normal looking people (as in, non-burley scalper-looking guys) who were standing alone, possibly waiting for their plus one to show up, possibly wanting to sell their extra ticket to me rather than eating the cost of the ticket for their no-show friend.

After hearing “no,” a few times I eventually made my way over to someone who didn’t look like a Pink fan at all. I doubted she was here for the show at all, but you don’t know unless you ask. And to be totally stereotypical, she looked like someone’s frumpy, middle-aged Latino housekeeper-slash-nanny.

I started my speech.

“Do you have an extra ticket?”

“Yes.”

Really?! I’m thinking. But I keep my game face on. “How much?”

“Free. It’s a box suite”

I just raise my eyebrows and tuck in my chin, offering my look of I-may-be-a-tunnel-and-bridge-girl-but-I’m-not-that-stupid.

She hands me the ticket and it doesn’t look like any ticket I’ve seen before. It’s my first show at Madison Square Garden, so it’s true I don’t know what their tickets look like for sure, but I’ve seen most of the other fans carrying typical looking computer print outs and I’m surprised to see this small purple ticket in my hand.

“It’s real,” she says. Then she winks at me, tells me to enjoy myself and that she’ll see me up there.

I take the ticket and walk away figuring that if it’s a fake, at least I didn’t pay for it and I can always go back to the $150 guy and buy a ticket to see the show. For that price, they’re probably good seats. Maybe even floor access.

Then I have another thought – this is how people get abducted into sex slavery. I’m totally going to be a part of the white slave trade just because I wanted to see some pop music on a Friday night. Damn my good looks!

Continue reading “Good things come to those who scalp”

Mike Doughty brings reliably good music (and silly string) to the Bowery Ballroom

Music that makes the world look more beautiful is the best kind of music. That’s kind of how I feel when I listen to Mike Doughty and that’s what I was feeling when his band started playing at New York’s Bowery Ballroom Saturday night.

It was the last show of their Yes And Also Yes tour (take that, Brooklyn Bowl).

I got passed a copy of Skittish, his first solo album after departing the band Soul Coughing, when I was 18 and I’ve basically been listening to it on heavy rotation ever since. It’s actually the only Doughty album I own, which is strange considering I love it so much and many other albums have followed. Sometimes one is enough.

None of the songs from that album made it into Saturday’s set list, but I’ve heard enough of his other stuff on the radio that there were some familiar notes. (Although, the cheese-ball in me was hoping to hear “Thank you Lord, for sending me the F train” since I took the F train to the show, but alas, I just had to hum it to myself).

The band Moon Hooch (maybe you’ve seen them performing in the subway?) opened, and bravely endured a silly string attach from Mike Doughty’s band mates disguised in beards, while Doughty watched from the doorway.

 

Here’s a video of Mike doughty performing “Looking at the world from the bottom of a well.”

 

And here’s a video of him performing “I hear the bells.”

 

Timid Kiwis play CMJ showcase at Le Poisson Rouge

girl strapped a My Little Pony to her head, stuck a saw between her thighs and hit the stage

The CMJ music fest kicked off in NYC today. It’s like the northerner’s version of Austin’s SXSW, in case you need a reference.

Le Poisson Rouge was hosting several events, including a free New Zealand @ CMJ Showcase. It was my first CMJ and I was fearing long lines and obnoxious crowds. Instead, the Kiwis were such gracious hosts, I could have mistaken it for the Canadian showcase, dontcha know.

Before the main doors opened, the front bar was serving free pizza, beer and wine. Then, when the doors opened there was free Vodka and meat pies from Down Under Bakery (DUB). All this, plus free music, which was the original reason I showed up. Hello, good party planning skills.

The bands seemed slightly intimidated by the crowd, but when half the people there are shoving SLRs in your face, it’s only natural.

I stuck around to watch Princess Chelsea (cutest cover of Your Woman sung with strong New Zealand accents), Andrew Keoghan (treating his violin like a guitar), Pikachunes (telling us to dance) and The Golden Awesome (just check out the video below).

School of Seven Bells energize hMag Music Fest

if you close your eyes, Hoboken looks just like Brooklyn

Wouldn’t it be awesome to go to a free music festival where the stage is set up along the waterfront and the skyline of Manhattan is the backdrop?

One would think, and yet…

Let’s just say the hMag Music Festival in Hoboken was a bit awkward. The headliners included School of Seven Bells and The Walkmen, but for some reason (Sunday football? Hoboken itself?) not that many people showed up. I arrived around the time The Kickdrums started playing, and the there was lots of open space in front of the stage for dog walkers and young families to roam. Which they did.

Awkward. And this in spite of the fact that there were banners for corporate sponsors and a VIP area. Double awkward.

When School of Seven Bells began unloading their gear, the vibe started to pick up (yey!). A crowd gathered at the front of the stage (just like at a real concert) and soon everyone was whipping out their iPhones (because as I’ve mentioned before, that’s the law around these parts).

Check out the video below to hear the band channeling their inner Kate Bush and singing one of their more up tempo songs.

Oh, so you wanna see what the “music festival” looked like before the sun set and the people arrived? Below is the scene right after The Kickdrums took the stage.