Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lesson Learned: Scientologists Love Santa

I'm not that knowledgable about Scientology apart from the rumors I've heard or the fact that it's based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard. So maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that The Way to Happiness Foundation and The L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition are among the sponsors of the very first Hollywood Santa Parade (a revamp of the old Hollywood Christmas Parade). Is Santa a Scientologist?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Covered: "Always On My Mind"

Download: Ryan Adams - "Always On My Mind" (linked to Captain Obvious blog)

Covers are awesome. They provide insight into an artist's influences and when done right help reinvigorate a tired song. "Always On My Mind" isn't tired, but Ryan Adams's rendition of it reminds me how terrific it is. Maybe this will become a recurring thing here. Covers!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New York Times Wedding Announcement of the Week

It looks like we have another person moving to Los Angeles.

Susanne Nifong and Benjamin Baker

Mr. Baker is an actor living in Los Angeles and as a result the couple had been in a long distance relationship. Ms. Nifong was a graphic designer at the University of Virginia "until this month," which I take to mean that she'll be moving elsewhere. Most likely LA. Their meeting was cute--set up by parents of a friend--and their proposal is even cuter (in a barn, in front of a horse).

I guess I'm picking this announcement because it has always been a fantasy of mine to lock eyes with a performer on stage and feel like they're performing for me and only me.

Congrats to the happy couple!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pico By Foot

Pico Blvd. Safari, originally uploaded by savemejebus.

Michelle Shocked once sang that you can travel for miles and never leave L.A. That wasn't quite the case yesterday when dozens of Angelenos set off by foot to traverse the entire span of Pico Boulevard from Central Ave. in downtown to Ocean Way in Santa Monica. We didn't quite stay within L.A. city limits, but she does have a point. There's so much of this city to see that even a lifetime lived here cannot guarantee a complete understanding of the city, and this fact was apparent as I made my way down one street in this city.

To be fair, I didn't quite walk the entirety of Pico. I got to downtown late and met up with the rest of the walkers at the Garment District, but I promise to make up what I missed some other time.

I'm tempted to describe the Great LA Walk in poetic terms as a triumph of the human spirit type of ordeal. It wasn't--at least for me. However, what it did do for me was remind me that there are innumerable wonderful people who make up this city who truly and proudly call themselves Angelenos. An event like this attracts the city's cream of the crop. I didn't get an opportuntity to talk to everyone, but I'm grateful for those I got a chance to speak with during the hours spent walking.

I just got back from seeing Before the Devil Knows You're Dead at the Westside Pavilion. On the way home I took Pico down to La Brea. It's a street I haven't regarded very much, but after yesterday's walk it feels reassuringly familiar.

Thanks again to Franklin Avenue for organizing the Walk. I look forward to doing it again next year.

More pictures from the Walk at my Flickr page.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

11.13.2007: Sondre Lerche/Dan Wilson @ the Troubadour

Sondre 3

The fourth and final night of my concert series ended last night with (yet) another show at the Troubadour. This time it was Sondre Lerche with opener Dan Wilson of Semisonic fame.

I didn't post anything about Night Three which took place at the Key Club to see Astra Heights, the band of a friend of a friend. Even without the personal connection, I was quite impressed by Astra Heights. Their music is indebted to the British, glam-rock sound, which they acknowledged by delivering a dead-on cover of T. Rex's "Twentieth Century Boy." Their album, Good Problems, is now available on iTunes. The songs "The March" and "Well Farewell" are highlights.

As for Lerche, he's gotten big enough that he performed two solo shows at the Troubadour. Sadly for me, being at the show last night made me realize that I have the musical tastes of a 19 year-old girl. I was surrounded by adoring young girls who professed their love to Sondre and punctuated each Sondre anecdote with a chorus of "Awww's". The rather sizable fan base surprised me, but Lerche has been working hard, releasing an album every year. He's getting more exposure now that he did the entire Dan in Real Life soundtrack. I haven't heard the new album yet, but the songs I heard last night--even with the limitations of a solo show--sounded pleasant and sweet. I suppose the appeal of Lerche is that coupled with his boyish good looks, his songs tug at heartstrings without being cloying or corny. I've been disappointed, though,that he hasn't progressed further than I think he's capable of, especially when he delivers something as potent as the title track from Phantom Punch. That song shows Lerche is capable of more than just diverting, adorable songs. Lerche has taken itty-bitty steps forward with nary a stumble. That's something I suppose.

The set last night was divvied up between all of Lerche's albums, with a slight favoring towards Phantom Punch. He opened with "Don't Be Shallow" but the set didn't really establish itself until the third song, "Everyone's Rooting for You." Lerche's music has been fairly formal and minimalist, so the songs didn't suffer much from the one-man arrangements. Of course the quieter songs, "Maybe You're Gone" especially, worked the best, but even "Dead Passengers" worked thanks to an impressive guitar interlude that showed off Lerche's chops. For his encore, Lerche ventured to perform the insistent "Phantom Punch" and Lerche admitted that the song really can't be performed well without a full band. Remarkably it worked. He also performed "Modern Nature" and ended the night with "Sleep On Needles" and all was well with his adoring fans.

Dan Wilson

As likable as Lerche is, it was his opening act, Dan Wilson, that tipped the balance of whether to go or not to go. I've been waiting for his solo album for a few years now, and now that it's here I can say that it's a rewarding album. There are moments of corniness--what songs about peace and love aren't?--and the songs are on the slow side, but Wilson's gift for melody shines through. The crowd, there to see Lerche, were slow to warm to Wilson's more mellow sounds, but by the time he got to his third song, "Easy Silence" and definitely when he performed "Sugar," the crowd was his. He even performed "Closing Time," which he cheekily called his "Junior" song, the song every songwriter who is about to have a baby writes. The song that the rest of the bandmembers were dreading. His proof: replace "room" with "womb" in the line "this room won't be open till your brothers or your sisters come." See! Great set, even as a solo. Definitely check out the album, Free Life.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New York Times Wedding Announcement of the Week

One of the many skills I wish I were more adept at is dancing. Yes, I can sway and move to the music, but there's nothing like watching dancers who know what they're doing. Sadly my body just isn't very dance-friendly. This week's couple's meet-cute was on the dance floor.

Rachel Dinkes and Jason Hoffman

Both inveterate swing dancers, they had gone dancing in November 2004, he alone, she with two female friends, at Glen Echo Park, a national park on the Potomac Palisades near Bethesda that has a ballroom with a 7,500-square-foot dance floor.

Ms. Dinkes asked a man she knew from JDate to dance with her, but because he had already promised someone else, he declined. Mr. Hoffman had been watching from afar but could not hear the explanation. “That was a dancing faux pas,” he said. “The rules are that if you turn someone down, you have to wait out the dance to dance with anyone else.”

I looked it up, and it appears that is the classical etiquette. It does make sense. You can't say no to someone and then all of a sudden be dancing with someone else, but in Ms. Dinkes'JDate case, it probably isn't faux pas, hence "perceived breach of etiquette."

Apart from that, I'm surprised that the first date would be an office holiday party. I'm not sure that would be the ideal place for a first date. However, if you're sure of yourself you've pretty much guaranteed a roomful of people to vouch for your qualifications as an ideal mate. Still, maybe it's just me, I wouldn't want my first date to be in front of friends and family.

I also wanted to point out the sweet little coda used by the writer of this announcement. It was a nice touch to end it with the deferred walk and the proposal. This was a sweet little announcement.

Congrats to the happy couple!

Monday, November 12, 2007

11.11.2007: The Walkmen @ the Troubadour


Another night, another show at the Troubadour. This time it was the Walkmen doing what I guess amounts to training to keep in shape and to sharpen their repertoire. No news of a new album from them, but based on last night's show it will be soon. Practically half the set, which felt very brief, was devoted to new tracks. The great news is that the new songs are terrific. Hamilton Leithauser is sounding more and more like Bob Dylan and the slow-burning songs are taking on more of a bluesy stomp. What I appreciated most about the new songs, whose titles I mostly missed, was that they displayed a bigger, bruised heart than I've seen or heard from the band. "I Lost You," one of the songs whose title Hamilton announced, was one such song that felt as big as it sounded.

The good songs are good enough that I almost didn't mind the fact that the band deprived the crowd of their favorites. Almost. Why couldn't they give us new songs and play "The Rat" as well? I could blame it on Hamilton being surly, but the truth of the matter was that he looked to be in great spirits. He thanked the crowd often and smiled. The crowd egged them on for two encores, which the band granted, but even knowing that the crowd was hoping for "The Rat" or "We've Been Had" or "Little House of Savages" or--in my case--"Lost in Boston" the band denied them. For their encore they did another new song and "Bows and Arrows." The band granted the audience "Wake Up" for a second encore. After that the devoted fans were still hoping for another encore, but they were denied.

Peter and Walter

In the scheme of things, the show was a disappointment for what it didn't provide, but it was a hell of an entertaining show. I missed the messy intensity of the other Walkmen show I saw last year at the Glass House, but it did seem like the band was more into the spirit of things last night. Watching Matt Barrick pound on the drums is a show unto itself. He literally bounces off his chair when he drums. They should think about putting him closer to the front of the stage so everyone can take a gander at him. Then again, he might steal the show.

On a side note, Britt Daniels of Spoon was at the show last night. Spoon is in town to play a show with Feist tonight at the Gibson Amphitheater. I would say he was a fan, but it didn't look like he was paying much attention to the show. I saw him walk out during the set only to walk back in a little later.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

11.10.2007: Jens Lekman/Throw Me the Statue @ the Troubadour

It's always great when you hear a song by a musician you've never heard before and you're immediately smitten. It's even better if that musician winds up enchanting you every time you hear something new from them. Jens Lekman has been that for me.
Clap Your Hands

When I first heard "Black Cab" three years ago, its jingle-jangle opening hooked me and it became one of my most listened-to songs of the year. When I saw him play Spaceland for the first time that year I was charmed but I also found it a little too precious. He had a small backing band--drummer, bassist, plus himself--so it didn't quite capture the full pop twinkle of his songs. The next time he was at Spaceland he had more support and it gave the show an amazing but intimate energy. It looked at the time that Jens would remain a pop secret, but with the release of his newest album, Night Falls Over Kortedala, and its 9.0 rating from Pitchfork, Jens is soaring.

Last night's sold out show at the Troubadour was proof of Jens's growing popularity and he rewarded those on hand with a joyful, exuberant show. It helped that Jens has plenty of songs in his repertoire from which to put together an entertaining show, but the songs aren't enough if the spirit isn't there. Jens definitely has spirit. Backed by a talented all-girl band (trumpet, violins, accordion, bass, drums) and a stoically cute DJ, Jens and the band--clad in matching white outfits that looked like kitchen uniforms--put together a show that embodied the bliss that the best pop music can elicit.
Strings and a DJ

The show opened with "Into Eternity," one of many standout tracks from Kortedala. Jens didn't stray too far from the album renditions and I think it's all for the better. Unlike some acts, one goes into a Jens Lekman show hoping to hear the pop perfection displayed in the albums. That was primarily why my first Lekman show was a little disappointing. He didn't capture the songs in all their glory. With the full band, though, the songs were all exquisitely done, even in the quieter moments, such as in the lovely and affecting "The Cold Swedish Winter" from When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog.

I don't exaggerate when I say that the show was perfection. It was everything I could look for in a concert. Lekman was charming in his banter, asking if the people watching him from behind a window in the loft of the Troubadour were contagious at one time. Even when he spoke in the middle "A Postcard to Nina", something that is quickly turning into a pet peeve of mine in a concert, it was delightful. Plus, it actually added to the song as it provided more of a backstory to the song's farcical tale of lesbian love and deception. The show was sublime.

The crowd egged Lekman to do two encores. The first encore featured Lekman's dance songs, "A Sweet Summer Night on Hammer Hill" and "Friday Night at the Drive In Bingo." When he was summoned back he performed an acoustic version of "You Can Call Me Al" except that he eliminated most of the chorus parts as he "hated it" and a sweet rendition of "Pocketful of Money" with the crowd backing him up on finger snaps and shakers handed out earlier in the evening by Throw Me the Statue.

So it goes without saying that I highly recommend checking Lekman out when he comes to your town.
Scott Reitherman of Throw Me the Statue

Opening for Lekman was Throw Me the Statue, a terrific up-and-coming band. Their music is amazingly wide-ranging. Their opening set started with their slower tunes, lovely songs perfect for navel-gazing, but they quickly got the crowd moving with songs like "Lolita" and "About to Walk." I've only heard a handful of songs from them, but I like what I hear. I can hear in them a very thoughtful and tasteful blending of electro-pop and more traditional singer-songwriter stylings. Their album, Moonbeams, will be rereleased by Secretly Canadian early in 2008.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Great LA Walk

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Next weekend I will be doing 15 miles--the longest I've done since the San Diego Rock N Roll Marathon in June. Instead of running, though, I will be walking.

I am participating in the Great Los Angeles Walk organized by Mike and Maria over at Franklin Avenue. On Saturday, starting at 9AM, we will be walking the entire length of Pico Boulevard from downtown to Santa Monica--all 15 miles or so of it. This is the second year of the Walk. Last year the crew walked the entire length of Wilshire Boulevard, but this year's walk should draw more participants.

If you want to join us, e-mail Mike and Maria at You don't have to do the entire distance--you can do all or just part of the walk.

Check out the Great LA Walk website for details. I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New York Times Wedding Announcement of the Week

I just received a very mild slap on the wrist for sending out an e-mail inviting folks to an after-work Happy Hour celebration in honor of my departing boss. Apparently we don't promote a culture of drinking here using work e-mail. Any drinking must be hidden and done in secret. So it's fitting that this week's Announcement is work-related.

Meghan Gereghty and Casey Shanley

Ms. Gereghty and Mr. Shanley both work for JP Morgan Chase. They don't work in the same department, but it's interesting to see that Ms. Gereghty is higher up in the food chain than Mr. Shanley--she's a VP and he's an investment banker. I could be wrong, though. Those investment bankers make good money.

Congrats to the happy couple!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Notes on a Non-Running Weekend

Nothing like not being able to run to make you miss running. Yup, I'm sidelined again with the same knee ailment I had after the LA Marathon earlier this year that kept me from running for six weeks. It came on early last week as a mild twinge that gradually got worse over the next few days. I ought to get it checked out, but I've been too busy to make an appointment.

This weekend was a busy weekend for running in New York. On Saturday was the men's marathon Olympic Trials, which was won by Ryan Hall who looked like he could keep running for another 26.2 miles. He was strong and finished well ahead of everyone else.

Sadly, Hall's training partner, Ryan Shay, collapsed five and a half miles into the race and died. No word yet on the cause but it might have been an enlarged heart.

The next day was the New York City Marathon, which had thrilling finishes on both the men and women's side. Paula Radcliffe won the women's race, and it was my first time really watching her run. She's not a graceful runner at all and she looks pained when she runs, but she has guts and even when it looks like she's struggling she pulled off an impressive victory. She has won seven of the eight marathons she has competed in. She DNF-ed at the Olympics.

Lance Armstrong ran again this year and improved his time from last year by 13 minutes, finishing in 2:46:43.

And in a surprise, Mrs. Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes ran her first marathon. She finished just under five and a half hours at 5:29:58. Congratulations to her. Suri and Tom were there at the finish.

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AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Coach Kate from TNT also ran it and ran it much, much faster than Katie Holmes. Kate finished in 3:41. Great job, Kate.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

iPods. Yay or Nay? Redux

A couple of months ago, I posted the first (and thus far only) entry of "The Runner Says." The topic was listening to iPods while running. I gently encouraged runners to surrender the music during their runs, especially during races and to simply enjoy the scenery, the crowds, and fellow runners.

This morning's New York Times carried an interesting article ("Rule Jostles Runners Who Race To Their Own Tune") on the topic. The articled talked about the push for race organizers to ban iPods and other music players and the difficulty of enforcing such a rule. Possible penalties breaking the rule include disqualification from the race, but a race like the NYC Marathon--with 40,000 runners--is hard to police. The issue for organizers is the insurance liability of runners oblivious to everything going on around them and failing to hear instructions or the runners they're about to trip up. For runners who favor iPods, the issue is simply getting them through the race.

I've made my preference clear, and again it's a personal preference. However, I don't know about banning their use completely, but at the same time I do understand why organizers may want to be cautious about allowing them in such a litigious society as ours. Perhaps running without music players should just be a part of the challenge of racing. If you're going to participate in an organized race just accept that you'll have to do it without Sisqo blaring through your earbuds. I still argue that races are fun enough on their own without the aid of iPods. Enjoy the experience!

If you insist on running with an iPod, I will at least recommend that you include LCD Soundsystem, the Little Ones, Battles, and the Go! Team in your playlist. If you want more recommendations I have more. Just ask.

Here's a picture of me enjoying the San Jose Rock n Roll Half Marathon iPod-less.
Me at Mile 12

Let me ask you: who looks happier than I?