I’ve tried to make every blog entry since March be about the pandemic, but at some point one must blog more broadly. A change of number on the calendar is as good a time as any to declare an end; so this will be the last marked-as-such pandemic post, though probably not the last post about the pandemic, since while 2020 is over, the pandemic is not.
To 2020, let us say
And of course, what I listen to every New Year’s Eve: with the greatest performance of “Auld Lang Syne” there is, here’s Snail Ramp:
We saw the last show of the touring company’s visit to Madison. The kids have played the record hundreds of times so I know the songs very well. But there’s a lot you get from seeing the songs realized by actors in physical space.
I had imagined King George as a character in the plot interacting with the rest of the cast; but in the show, he’s a kind of god/chorus floating above the action, seeing certain things clearly that the people in the thick of it can’t. So his famous line, “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love,” comes off in person as less menacing, more cosmic. Neil Haskell played the role very, very, very mincy, which I think was a mistake, but it got laughs.
On the other hand, I hadn’t grasped from the songs how big a role George Washington plays. It’s set up very nicely, with the relation between Hamilton and the two Schuyler sisters presented as a shadow of the much more robust and fully felt love triangle between Hamilton, Burr, and Washington.
The biggest thing I hadn’t understood from the record was the show’s gentle insistence, built up slowly and unavoidably over the whole of the night, that the winner of a duel is the one who gets shot.
Back from nearly two weeks at the Institut Henri Poincare, where we were reinventing rational points, though they actually seem pretty much as they have always been. But lots of new ideas floating around and in particular lots of problems I see as potentially rich ones for students.
Last week featured the hottest temperatures ever recorded in France, reminding one that when you move the mean of a distribution even a little, the frequency of formerly rare events might jump quite a lot. Paris was spared the worst of the heat; after initial predictions of temperatures going over 100F, the hottest day of the conference was 97 and the rest of the week was in the mid-90s, regular old East Coast US summer weather. But of course France doesn’t have regular old East Coast US summer air-conditioning. Faiblement climatisé is the order of the day. The word for heatwave in French is “canicule,” which comes from the Italian word for Sirius, thought to be a bringer of hot weather.
It’s also the Women’s World Cup. Tickets for the US-France quarterfinal, held the night before I left, were going at 350 euros for the very cheapest, but I don’t think I’d have wanted to go, anyway. The Orioles are the only team I love enough to really enjoy rooting for them as the visiting team. Instead I went to Scotland-Argentina, which looked like a laugher 70 minutes in with Scotland up 3-0, but ended in a controversial tie after Scotland’s apparent save of a last-minute penalty kick was called back when VAR showed the goalie jumping off the line a moment before the ball was kicked. The ref called end of time directly after the second kick went in to tie the game, to the confusion and dismay of the players on the field; both teams needed a win to have a real chance of advancing past the group stage, and the tie left them both out. Scottish forward Erin Cuthbert pulled something out of her sock and kissed it after her goal; later I found out it was a picture of herself as a baby. I like her style!
I ate well. I ate whelks. They’re OK. I ate thiebou djienne at this place near IHP which was much better than OK. I ate a watermelon-chevre salad that was so good I went to a spice store and bought the pepper they used, piment d’espelette, and now I have a spice Penzey’s doesn’t sell. Favorite new cheese I ate on this trip was Soumaintrain.
I went to the museum of Jewish history where I saw this campaign poster:
And I saw the computer teen Blaise Pascal built for his dad in 1642, which is at the Musée des arts et métiers, along with a revolutionary 10-hour clock:
And right there at the museum, later that night, just by my good luck, there was a free Divine Comedy concert as part of the Fête de la Musique. It was sold out but, my good luck part deux, someone’s friend didn’t show up and in I went. Great set. Sort of a beautifully multinational moment to watch an Irish guy play a They Might Be Giants song in Paris in front of a cast of the Statue of Liberty:
I also learned on this trip that when French kids play Capture the Flag they use an actual French flag:
Beautiful weather last night so I decided, why not, go to the Terrace for the free show WUD put on: Camp Friends (Madison) and Omni (Atlanta).
Missed most of Camp Friends, who were billed as experimental but in fact played genial, not-real-tight college indie. Singer took his shirt off.
Omni, though — this is the real thing. Everyone says it sounds like 1981 (specifically: 1981), and they’re right, but it rather wonderfully doesn’t sound like any particular thing in 1981. There’s the herky-jerky-shoutiness and clipped chords (but on some songs that sounds like Devo and on others like Joe Jackson) and the jazz chords high on the neck (the Fall? The Police?) and weird little technical guitar runs that sound like Genesis learning to play new wave guitar on Abacab and arpeggios that sound like Peter Buck learning to play guitar in the first place (these guys are from Georgia, after all.) What I kind of love about young people is this. To me, all these sounds are separate styles; to a kid picking up these records now, they’re just 1981, they’re all material to work from, you can put them together and something kind of great comes out of it.
You see a lot of bands with a frontman but not that many which, like Omni, have a frontman and a backman. Philip Frobos sings and plays bass and mugs and talks to the audience. Frankie Broyles, the guitar player, is a slight guy who looks like a librarian and stands still and almost expressionless while he plays his tight little runs. Then, every once in a while, he unleashes an absolute storm of noise. But still doesn’t grimace, still doesn’t move! Amazing. Penn and Teller is the only analogue I can think of.
Omni plays “Jungle Jenny,” live in Atlanta:
And here’s “Wire,” to give a sense of their more-dance-less-rock side:
Xenia Rubinos is a — ok, what is she? A singer-songwriter-yeller-wreaker-of-havoc who plays an avant-garde version of R&B with a lot of loud, hectic guitar in it. I’ve been pronouncing her name “Zenya” but she says “Senia.” She played to about 100 people at the Frequency last Thursday. She seems to belong in a much bigger place in front of a much bigger crowd, so much so that it feels a little weird to be right there next to her as she does her frankly pretty amazing thing. Here’s “Cherry Tree,” from her 2013 debut, still her best song by my lights. It would be most people’s best song.
This, live, was pretty close to the record. Other songs weren’t. Live, I thought she and her band sometimes sounded like Fiery Furnaces, which doesn’t come through on the records. “Pan Y Cafe”, a fun romp on the album
is much more aggro live. It’s kind of what the Pixies “Spanish songs” would be like if somebody who actually spoke Spanish wrote them. (She likes the Pixies.)
Maybe I should make a post about the greatest shows I’ve seen in Madison. This was one of them. Who else? Man Man in 2007. The Breeders in 2009. Fatty Acids / Sat Nite Duets in 2012. I’ll have to think about this more thoroughly.
I had forgotten almost completely that there was once, about twenty years ago, a thing called “alternative comedy,” which seemed about to break out and become part or even most of the mainstream practice of standup as “alternative music” (though by then it was already rare to hear it so referred to) had done with mainstream radio. That didn’t happen. Standup, today, is still mostly made of jokes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But Janeane Garofalo, it turns out, is still going around doing a different thing, talking, being weird, looking at notes, enjoying herself. People laugh.
Happy surprise: the Fatty Acids were good when I saw them before but great tonight — powerpop played so loud the amps start to get that blown-out sound, and then this very beautiful clean line of trumpet cutting through it all.
Notes on Sat. Nite Duets:
1. They have arrived at the level of success where one row of people at the front knows the words to all the songs.
2. Their songs are what you would call “anthemic” but the culminating shouted lyric is often something intentionally without intrinsic affect. Examples include:
“HE’S GETTING ORGANIZED!”
“I’VE GOT BOOKS ON TAPE!”
“WE ARE ALL REAL ESTATE AGENTS!”
3. Relationship betw. Sat. Nite Duets and Pavement still not very clear to me. None of their songs could be mistaken for a Pavement song. But I think the way the songs are put together — not exactly the way the songs sound, but the way the songs make decisions — is more Pavement than anybody else who’s not Pavement. Drums also similar. In fact both Fatty Acids and SND sync drums to guitar in the manner of “Lions (Linden).”
4. I don’t usually link to the same video twice, but “All Nite Long” is still the best song anyone has recorded in the young decade. So here it is again.
The Judybats are more thoroughly forgotten than they should be. Frontman Jeff Heiskell, a decade after the last Judybats release (and fifteen years after the last Judybats release anyone heard) sounds bitter about it. If you like the fact that Heiskell says, in this interview, “My rectum draws up tight like a little antique button,” you will probably like their records. Here’s the video for “Native Son.” Look at these beautiful 1990s mid-South college town hepcats!
Yellow Ostrich was a band from Appleton and now is a band from Brooklyn like everyone else. They put on a great show at the Gates of Heaven synagogue last spring, right before the move east. Here’s the simple and compelling “Whale”:
People like to complain that today’s parents are too fond of giving kids names with novelty spellings. But have you met a kid named Gregg lately?