September, 2008:

September 2008 Poker

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Since I won’t be playing tonight, I can safely report this month’s results. Also, since I intend to keep this very short, I’ll start with the bottom line, then a few highlights.

Bottom line: Profit of $642.25.

Not bad. 🙂

I finally cashed again in the big Sunday Hold’Em tourney. It had been quite a while. I also won that seat, so the profit margin was pretty good. I came in 31st out of 800+ players, which was my best placing so far, but they pay the same for 31-40, and I’ve finished 38th and 39th before, so it just tied my best cash in that tourney (not that I’m complaining).

I also cashed again this month in the big Saturday Omaha tourney (which made it three weeks in a row!). Unfortunately, even though that was my favorite tourney each week, the site discontinued it right after that win. Oh well.

So, now I typically play in one medium-sized Omaha tourney a day. I have taken some pretty bad beats there, so I’m not currently above water in that one yet, but it’s not hurting the account too badly, and I’ll catch a card one of these days and make it worth my while.

Richard Lewis at Tarrytown Music Hall

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I’ve been a long-time fan of Richard Lewis. In addition to loving his standup act, both Lois and I were fans of Anything But Love for its entire run. Last night was the first time that either of us has seen him perform live.

He had an unannounced opening act (which I’ll cover later). Richard came out at 8:56pm.

Before leaving our house, I tweeted the following:

Heading to see Richard Lewis. Really hoping he doesn’t do too much political humor. I’ll catch enough of that on the tape of the debate…

For the most part, that worked out. Richard was totally himself, and hysterical, from the moment he came on stage. His schtick last night was a cross between Woody Allen (self deprecation, leaning towards self loathing) and Buddy Hackett (jokes about what happens to your body as you get older).

At times he rambled incoherently, seemlingly losing the thread of his story. Somehow, he always found a way to tie the meandering back to the original point, and seemed to bring the audience along with him, earning the full laugh when it seemed he’d lose it.

Amazingly, he’s 61 years old. He always seemed so youthful in everything he’d done over the years, that I didn’t realize he was older than me. Most of his stories (they weren’t jokes and they weren’t really routines either) centered around that fact, and around his now three-year-old marriage.

He’s extremely foul-mouthed, which wasn’t a surprise, but was a little nerve-wracking for me, since Lois can easily shut down completely in the presence of such humor. Even though he cursed constantly, and 70% of his stuff was about sex, drugs or alcohol, he seemed to be making Lois laugh a good deal, so I was able to relax and enjoy myself as well. I don’t mind foul language a bit, but I do think that comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, who seem to be able to avoid cursing for an entire show, are cleverer for it, on some levels.

Go back and reread my tweet from above, where I was truly hoping for no political humor. Unfortunately, my wish didn’t come to pass. I didn’t really expect it to, so I wasn’t shocked.

About 60% of the way through the show, he apologized for bringing up politics. He seemed to be suggesting in his apology that he wouldn’t talk about it much, or with any particular slant or vitriol.

Unfortunately, as with most angry liberals (which is different than a normal liberal), he couldn’t help himself, and he got sucked deeper into it as he went along. Different than my utter distaste for this kind of stuff when it happens at a musical concert (where it’s 100% the artist’s ego to lecture an audience that came to hear music), in comedy, it’s somewhat expected, even if it’s biased or slanted entirely in one direction. After all, they are commentators on the state of society, no?

He took only one shot at Sarah Palin, and if you took it from a purely comedic point of view, it was reasonably clever and amusing. That’s how I chose to take it, because he didn’t harp on it, or get off track with it. He actually didn’t say much about McCain at all, possibly not even one line (but I wouldn’t swear to that).

He did what all angry liberals do, he went nuts over President Bush. You would think that there was a good chance that Bush would be the next President, that we need to live in the past. While directionally, I understand the hatred and vitriol completely, beyond two or three humorous bits, it devolved (as it always does) into a silly (angry) rant, that allowed Lewis to get his frustrations off his chest, but was hardly funny, interesting, or likely to sway anyone in the upcoming election.

Roughly half of the audience soaked up every single anti-Bush rant. The other half was silent throughout. Even after the show was over, I heard anti-Bush / pro-Obama people make the same observation to each other. Lewis likely noticed it wasn’t going over as well as his other stuff, but of course, he couldn’t pull up from the nose dive. It’s like therapy for angry liberals.

He only said a few things about Obama. Obviously, there’s no record to tout. Clearly, no jokes permitted, because you might turn a single voter against him. So, what else can you say? Essentially, that he’ll be a breath of fresh air after Bush, purely because he’s smart. Won’t it be nice to have a smart person in the White House? Yup, it would be. Now if that person also could accomplish anything that wouldn’t flush us further down the drain, that would be great too…

Finally, he was spent on that subject (perhaps 10 minutes, which wasn’t that great a percentage of the time he was on stage, but was a very long stretch of practically zero laughs). He returned to normal funny stories, and won back the crowd, including us. We laughed a good bit at the end of show. I am grateful he didn’t end with the political stuff, which might have left a sour taste in my mouth. Instead, I just felt sorry for him. His life has been incredible (from the outside), in terms of money, fame, women, etc. On the inside, he’s been a long-time drunk, a sex addict, in therapy, and basically miserable and compensating for much of his life.

If he can blame Bush for all of his failings, perhaps he can find some comfort in that. More power to him.

He left the stage at 10:01, exactly 65 minutes. It was a nice length, and mostly funny. I enjoyed the show.

The show was called for 8pm. Tarrytown Music Hall doesn’t seem to ever start on time. The house lights don’t dim by starting time, and people hang around on the sidewalk outside, catching up with friends, past the starting time. It’s not a great way to run a place, even though we like the place acoustically and it’s wildly convenient to our house.

At around 8:10pm, they introduced the unannounced opening act, a comedian named Melvin George. Melvin didn’t curse once the entire show. The crowd loved him from the minute he opened his mouth, until the very last bit. His theme is that he’s not cool (hence his site’s name: notcool1.com).

While he achieved a few genuine belly laughs, he was able to keep the audience constantly chuckling. He delivers insightful commentary, couched in self deprecation (remember, he’s not cool), in an upbeat style, with great pacing. He’s also a good dancer (you’ll have to see the routine to get that one).

His closing routine, which involved pitching the audience on buying a CD of the performance they just watched (last night’s show is already available at this link), was hysterical. Aside from being a great idea (selling the CD), he was able to keep us laughing for five solid minutes, while focusing on a way to make some additional money from that very show. Well done Melvin! He was on stage for roughly 35 minutes.

When the show was over, we walked one block back to our car (we were lucky to find a great parking spot). I reached into my pocket, and my car key was missing (I had the house keys). I have a pair of shorts that have very shallow pockets, and on occasion, when I sit in a deep chair (like in a hotel), my car key slips out. I always find it quickly. It’s never fallen out of a real pants pocket before last night.

Given how close we were to home, it wouldn’t have been a disaster if we couldn’t have found the key, but it certainly wouldn’t have been a pleasant way to end the evening. We walked back to the theater and went straight to our seats. Thankfully, the key was obviously sitting on the floor, right under my seat. By the time we reached the front door of the theater, they were locking it down, so if we had parked a bit further, we might not have gotten back in.

When we got home, we watched the entire debate on the DVR, knowing we wouldn’t bother this morning, once we’d heard the pundits’ spin. Both candidates spouted their respective talking points the entire night. Nothing really learned, and neither really faltered. Onward…

Google Chrome First Impressions

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Before I begin, for the record, I love Firefox, and continue to use it as my primary browser. I also have IE7 and Safari installed (I’m running Windows XP Pro).

Of course, I had to try Google Chrome, even though it wasn’t touted as being ready for Prime Time just yet. After some initial struggles (to be described below), I switched to the Developer version (you need to download and run chromechannel-1.0.exe to select the Developer build rather than the normal Beta build).

Even after doing that, I continued to have some problems. This morning, the Google Updater brought me a new version of Chrome (0.2.153.1). While it hasn’t solved all of my problems, it’s a significant improvement over the last version, so it’s getting there.

First, a few of the problems. One of the sites that I use more than I should admit is MSN’s TV Guide. For years I used the tvguide.com site, then they changed it for the worse. Then I switched to Yahoo’s TV Guide for a number of years, then they broke it (it’s back to normal now, I think, but I’m sticking with MSN). MSN’s site is very heavy JavaScript (JS). Given that Chrome is supposed to include the fastest JS engine of the current browsers, that seemed like a good page to check out.

Unfortunately, the normal Beta build, and the first Developer build, would consistently hang when trying to switch providers (something I do frequently, since we’re rarely in one place for more than a few days). Eventually, the page would crash (but the browser wouldn’t!). That happened to me on a few other pages as well. This is fixed in today’s updated Developer build!

Another problem that I had (now fixed) was that Chrome wouldn’t offer me to import my Firefox settings (any kind: bookmarks, passwords, etc.). Lots of forum posts with lots of suggestions, but the other day, I finally found one that worked. I had ancient entries in my Windows Registry for versions of Firefox from bygone days (versions 0.9, 0.91, etc.!), that somehow confused Chrome. Ridiculous, since my default browser is Firefox, so the correct key can be found by all other apps other than Chrome.

Still, the fix was easy. I deleted those registry keys, and Chrome did indeed correctly import everything from Firefox.

Finally, when I had the last Developer build installed, clicking on the About Google Chrome menu item would bring up the panel, showing the version number, but the automatic check for whether this was the current version or not would hang forever, 100% of the time. I was always able to click OK to dismiss the panel, but was never able to be sure whether there was a newer version or not. That too has been corrected in this morning’s update. Now I am informed that I have the current version.

Final issue (for me) is SSL personal certificate support. I was very pleasantly surprised when Chrome auto imported my certificates from Firefox. For IE, I export the certs from Firefox, then import them, and they all work correctly. But, when I went to author this post in Chrome, I was unable to log in to my admin interface using OpenID (using SSL certs for verification). It just hung and eventually told me that the site was temporarily unavailable. This is not a big deal, but still means that there are things I can’t use Chrome for (like authoring this site!).

On to the good. I like the clean, minimalist look. The browser is definitely the fastest (by a good measure) than the others on my system. Not just JS, but HTML as well. The home page for this blog is very large. It renders nearly instantaneously in Chrome.

Like I said above, I love Firefox, and I ascribe a good amount of the difference in speed to the fact that I have numerous plugins in Firefox, all of which likely hook the content for various things, before I finally get to see it. That slows things down, but gives me functionality that I chose to install and turn on. If similar functionality was available in Chrome (which it likely will be at some point), I would likely choose to slow Chrome down as well, to gain that functionality.

Still, for now, the speed improvement it welcome.

Another major speed improvement, also likely tied exclusively to plugins, is pure launch speed. Chrome comes up really fast. Firefox doesn’t. Of course, by default, when I launch Firefox, it’s checking whether there are any updates for any plugins, so it’s not just a size and initialization problem, but a networking one as well. So, no blame for Firefox here, just a temporary enjoyment of a simpler and faster experience.

To summarize, Firefox is still my default browser, and I have no material complaints about it. I also very much look forward to version 3.1 coming near the end of the year, also supposedly with a much faster JS engine included.

But, now that Chrome has solved some niggling problems that I was experiencing, I am likely to use it more than I have been, and who knows what will eventually happen. It wouldn’t shock me if it becomes my default at some point in the future.

PowerNotebooks Laptops Ordered

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I’ve written about my laptop a number of times. Separately, I’ve written about Windows XP, Vista, Linux and what I might choose when buying a new laptop.

This morning, I ordered two identical laptops from PowerNotebooks.com, one for me and one for Lois. Here is the link to the specific model: PowerPro I 8:17. I max’ed out a bunch of the options (but not all), so these are extremely sweet machines.

First, a few words about PowerNotebooks.com. The last five laptops that I have paid for personally have all come from PowerNotebooks.com (with these two, that makes seven!). My current Sager NP8890 was the first one purchased from them, over four years ago. I still love the machine, and will definitely feel a bit like I’m cheating on it with my new one.

Since then, I’ve purchased two other Sager models, one for Lois, and one for my godson. I then bought a PowerPro for my goddaughter, and then a PowerPro for my godson. PowerNotebooks.com carries a number of brands. We’ve been extremely happy with our Sagers and PowerPros. They stand behind their machines, and have been incredible in solving problems when they’ve come up over the years. Pricing is very fair as well, for these extremely high-end machines.

I really can’t say enough about the choice and customer service offered by PowerNotebooks.com, and am proud to count myself among their happy and loyal customers.

Now for my choice of OS. I’ve railed in the past against Vista. At the time, it was inconceivable to me that I would ever install it on any machine under my control. While I was reasonably happy with XP, I was heavily leaning toward running Linux and having XP available in a virtual machine. I spent a few seconds considering a Mac, which most of the tech people I know use and love.

As much as the romance of running Linux appealed to me, I knew that I couldn’t remotely consider not having XP available in a VM (the same would be true if I bought a Mac). The more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me that I was desperately trying to work around pretending that I wasn’t somehow married to Windows. In other words, I wasn’t being pragmatic, and I like being pragmatic.

So, I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about and reading as much as I could about Vista, specifically Vista x64. As I noted in a previous post, Vista SP1 seemed to have solved the most heinous problems that I personally noticed in the original release of Vista.

Pragmatism has ruled the day (for me), and I am at peace with my decision. I have no doubt that I will love the PowerPro (from a hardware point of view). I will report back a few days after it becomes my regular machine on how I feel about Vista (64 bit or otherwise). That should be roughly two weeks from now.

While I can’t imagine that I’ll switch away from Vista, at least with this hardware choice, I could easily revert to XP or Linux. If I bought a Mac and didn’t like it, I could run XP natively as well, but I would have grossly overpaid for the hardware for that scenario.

mp3tunes is a joke

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mp3tunes.com sounded like a good idea when I first heard of it. I found out about it a while ago, in a round-a-bout manner. I discovered a music streaming application, that could be widgetized on a blog, and they were promoting mp3tunes as a place to store your mp3’s so that you could stream them from there.

So, I signed up for the free account. It came with one GB of storage for free. If you wanted more, you paid. Fair enough. I was only interested in free. I wasn’t sure I would even use the service. A few days later, I received an email from them that my account had been automatically upgraded to an unlimited storage account, still completely free.

Cool! There were still plenty of hooks to upsell you, mostly in terms of currently restricted features that would be unlocked if you paid, but I had no interest.

They have an installable application called LockerSync. It was in beta when I first signed up. It was awful in terms of performance, but if you kept restarting it after it died, and had tons of patience, eventually, it worked. This application keeps your local music files in sync with your music on their site. This is the primary use case I was interested in. An emergency backup for my mp3 files.

The software was so horrible, that even though I was on a blisteringly fast connection (including 5Mbps upstream), it took nearly a week to sync 18GB of files. Like I said above, eventually, it synced.

A few months later, the LockerSync software came out of beta, and it got more stable. It still wasn’t really fast, but I presume that they were throttling it on their side, to avoid large bandwidth bills. Again, fair enough.

I never accessed my files on their site, and never ended up streaming anything (other than testing on rare occasion that indeed the files were uploaded correctly).

After a few more months, I started getting errors on certain files. The software alerted me that the files were too large and I needed to upgrade to a paid account to complete the sync. The amazing thing is that every one of these files were synced months earlier, correctly. So, somehow, files were disappearing on the site.

An additional annoyance is that the LockerSync software autostarts with my login, and it takes forever to initialize, making the boot process pound the disk and leave everything else to load sluggishly. I took the program out of the startup sequence, because I don’t update my library daily anyway. Now I was just launching the program whenever I added music. Still, I was getting these error message on the large files.

Today, I launched the program to sync some new music. I received an error message claiming that my locker was full, and that I needed to upgrade to a paid account in order to continue. My full account had 2GB in it. So, they tossed 18-20GB of music that I had previously synced. Wow, I had the opportunity to pay people that operate a service like that, and hope that I could resync everything, and that they wouldn’t change the terms yet again.

Like I would trust them not to triple the price in a month, after tossing my files, just because that’s what suited them that day.

Folks, don’t start services, tell people that certain parts are free, and then change your mind. OK, you can do that, but wouldn’t it have been nice for them to send me an email telling me that I had 30 days, or whatever, before they were going to toss my files?

I’m glad they never saw a dime of my money, and for sure, any service that they ever offer in the future won’t have me as a customer either.

Vista SP1

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If you stop by here regularly, then you know I’ve railed about Windows Vista at least once. Aside from hearing tons of complaints from friends and strangers, I had the displeasure of using my previously mentioned computer ministry to set up a new Dell computer for my cul-de-sac neighbor’s mom last year.

At that time, Dell was only offering Vista on some models of their laptops, something they then backed off of. The machine, a Dell 1501 was value priced, so I endorsed the purchase (Vista included) in advance. I only say this to make the point that I wasn’t against Vista before I experienced it directly!

Anyway, I had never seen a more unstable machine from the minute it was turned on. Since then, I haven’t been asked to work on it (thankfully), mostly because the mom really doesn’t use the machine much, and she’s not really a complainer by nature either.

Last week I wrote about working on one of their machines which ended up in a full reinstall of Windows XP. As a result, my friend asked me if I could take a look at her mom’s machine to make sure all was well. I agreed.

Yesterday afternoon her mom dropped off the laptop. When I booted it, it was every bit as unstable, and downright unpleasant to work on as I remembered. Every few minutes the desktop would restart itself (in XP, that might be explore.exe or explorer.exe, but I’m not really sure). Aside from that, everything took forever or hung awaiting some hidden dialog box requiring a click.

I struggled to apply Windows updates until the only one left was Vista SP1. That claimed to be a 66MB download, but even though I’m on a blisteringly fast Verizon FiOS connection, multiple attempts (at least five!) to install it all failed, with the package never fully downloading (on a wired connection).

I turned to my XP laptop and downloaded the full 484MB standalone Vista SP1 file directly to a flash drive. It came down so quickly I couldn’t believe it. I put the flash drive in the Vista laptop and ran the patch. It took a while (as they predicted), and rebooted a number of times (as they predicted), but when it was done, I had my first experience with a stable Vista machine!

It wasn’t half bad, and I’m man enough to admit it. I was then able to clean off some other bloatware, install some useful utilities, all without a hitch. The machine is running quite nicely, and I will be returning it to her later today.

I had heard similar things from other people. One friend of mine told me that Vista was crashing on her laptop a minimum of once a day. After she installed SP1, it hasn’t crashed even once, and that’s been over three months now.

Anyway, I’ll bash when it’s deserved, but correct when that is deserved as well, and it now seems reasonable to consider Vista if you are going with a Windows-based machine anyway.

If/when I get closer to buying a new laptop (could happen in a day, or in six months), I’ll share my thoughts on that, as I am heavily leaning towards running Vista 64 on any new machine I buy.

The Duhks at Joe’s Pub

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We first discovered Joe’s Pub because of The Duhks. The Duhks were an automated recommendation for me from Amazon.com, based on the fact that I had purchased Nickel Creek CDs from them. I listened, I liked, a lot.

After that, I bought both Duhks CDs, and checked where they were touring. I noticed they were coming to NYC to Joe’s Pub. We had never heard of Joe’s, but went to see them there. We loved the show, thoroughly, and bought their third CD at the show. That was roughly two years ago. We’ve been to Joe’s dozens of times since, and it’s our favorite place to see live music.

Shortly after we saw them (measured in months) Jessee Havey (their lead singer) left the band. She was replaced by Sarah Dugas, announced as an interim selection, until the band made a longer-term choice. Sarah ended up staying for the long term, and the percussionist, Scott Senior was replaced by Sarah’s brother, Christian Dugas, a drummer with a complete drum set.

We knew that they released a new CD a month ago, but we decided to buy it at the show to more directly support the band.

We knew we loved their music (Lois had a handful of songs she played over-and-over in the car, and I like a broader selection of their stuff from all three CDs), and we wanted to share that experience with others, so we bought four tickets to the show. That’s often a risk, because while music is universal, each person’s taste is hardly universal.

Since Joe’s serves really good food, we figured that it would at least be a nice social outing. Sparing you the crazy details of how we ended up with our specific guests, two of our married male friends came, with each of their wives having previous commitments.

The tickets had the show starting at 7:30pm, but the outside sign said 7pm. It turned out that they had a special guest star opening the show for them at 7pm, but I’ll cover him later. He ran over (knowingly), and after resetting the stage, The Duhks came on at 7:45pm.

Normally, Joe’s Pub gets the acoustics down pat. On occasion (unfortunately, not infrequently enough, as I’ve now written about this a few times), they screw it up, pretty badly at times. Last night was one of those times, but The Duhks have changed in a number of ways, and that change didn’t help out with the poor sound management.

The first obvious change was from a percussionist (Scott Senior), to a full drum kit (Christian Dugas). Christian is a fantastic drummer, from every perspective. Unfortunately, a full drum kit overwhelms the roots sounds and instruments that characterize The Duhks. That means that everyone else in the band needs to amp up more, causing more problems for the sound engineer, etc. When the sound system isn’t perfect, the problems accelerate quickly, to the point of no return.

We had an inkling of what was to come before the show even started. One of the founders of the band, Leonard Podolak was out on the stage helping the opening act pack up, and he was squatting on the stage about 12 inches from Lois. Lois told him how much we love them, and asked whether they were going to play her favorite songs (she mentioned them by name, she didn’t assume he knew which ones were our favorites). 😉

Leonard told her that they don’t play those songs any longer, now that Sarah is in the band. Given that Sarah’s voice is quite similar (earthy, husky, full-bodied, etc.) to Jessee, neither of us understood the comment. After the fact, I worried that perhaps this was another Wailin’ Jennys moment, where they no longer perform live any songs written by Annabelle Chvostek. Who knows?

In any event, Leonard didn’t lie. They mostly played songs from the new CD (we bought a copy before the show started, and I’ve listened to it today) plus a few from their old albums (none of our favorites), plus a few new covers.

The show was awful, on a number of levels. First, the sound was horrible. The guitarist, Jordan McConnell is normally amazing. He’s probably got the fastest right hand I’ve ever seen, and he plays a mixture of the best rhythm guitar, with fantastic leads. Last night, the only thing you could hear out of his guitar was pure bass. It almost sounded like pure feedback. No strumming or leads. It was a crushing disappointment.

Partially, it was due to our placement right up against the stage, where the drum was blaring in our ears. That doesn’t explain it entirely though. The fiddle player, Tania Elizabeth is brilliant. She’s in my top five favorite fiddle players, and we’ve seen a ton of great fiddle players in the past two years. She also sings harmony on a number of songs (really well).

Last night, it was hit or miss whether you could make out the fiddle. On some numbers, clear as a bell (and Tania hasn’t lost a step), on others, muddled sound or no sound. Quite a few times Tania had to gesture desperately up at the sound board, pointing at her fiddle and raising her thumb up, indicating that she needed more volume.

Leonard Podolak played the banjo extremely well, and ironically, you could make out most of the notes he played all night long. Still, they were in the distant background, but at least audible. One of our guests noted after the show that it was a very weird feeling to be sitting two feet from the banjo, but only hearing the banjo sound coming from the far corner of the stage. It was disorienting. I agree.

Sarah had her voice on, but also had to complain to the sound person that her mic was not reliable. She conjectured that the cable was loose, and was making the mic cut in and out. On one song that Leonard sang lead on, he had to switch positions on stage with Sarah, because he too felt that his mic was garbling his sound. Ugh…

So, you’d think that all of the problems last night could be summed up as sound related, either with physical equipment problems, a poor sound engineer, or a mixture of the two. Alas, that wouldn’t be correct, at least not for our taste.

Basically, this band bears little resemblance to The Duhks that we knew and loved. Sure, they are absolutely exceptional musicians (not that you could hear Jordan to be sure, but trust me, he’s spectacular!). Somehow, adding Sarah and Christian Dugas has changed the soul of this band.

I’m sure that they will find many new fans, but they will also leave some old ones behind, including us. Basically, they want to be more of a Rock band, in Roots clothing. That’s fine, but it’s not our style. They’re too loud (regardless of the sound problems) for that particular mix of instruments, as well as for our taste. To give a concrete example, they closed with a rock cover, including mixing in some Whole Lotta Love there. Sorry folks, this is the wrong configuration of instruments and musicians to pull that off.

Sarah has the pipes to sing that stuff, and clearly she’s pulling the band to play that, but the fit is so bad as to be laughable. It’s a true shame.

All that said, I listened to the entire CD today, and it’s not bad. Clearly, it’s mixed way more professionally than last night’s show was, and I was in control of the volume, so I could listen at pleasant levels. I’m not sorry that we bought the CD, but I doubt Lois will ever listen to it, she was so turned off by the performance.

On to the opening act. Leonard Podolak went to high school with Luke Doucet. Luke is an incredible Rock guitarist. He was accompanied by his wife, Melissa McLelland (singing and playing rhythm electric guitar), Catherine Popper (playing electric bass) and Rob Heath on the drums (Luke had never played with Rob before).

We didn’t come prepared to hear loud Rock music, thinking that The Duhks would have a more similar sound for their opening group. Of course, we didn’t know that The Duhks were morphing more toward this sound, nor that they were promoting a friend more than trying to match the crowd’s taste in music.

That said, Luke is incredibly talented. His amlifier was three feet away from us, so we had no trouble hearing his fantastic leads. In fact, two people in our party put in ear plugs when he started playing, that’s how little trouble we had hearing him. That said, the microphones for his voice and Melissa’s, were too soft in comparison. I could make out most of the words, but partially because I could see his lips move.

He’s a good songwriter as well, and I enjoyed the lyrics that I was able to make out. I liked their harmonies as well, though they were definitely overshadowed if not drowned out.

Luke said that he was given 25 minutes to complete his set. He took 35. That was 10 minutes less for the headliner, his friends, so who knows how they worked that out…

Last night was the first time that I left Joe’s Pub with a ringing in my ears, and a generally unpleasant feeling due to the loudness and poor sound quality. 🙁

Anyway, even though we didn’t get to talk about it until after the show, I knew that Lois was cringing during most of The Duhks performance (as was I) over the fact that we picked this show to bring our friends to (we see most concerts alone). We had a lovely time with them, and enjoyed an excellent meal and drinks before the show, and we always love every opportunity to see them, but still, it would have been nicer if the music was special too.

Still, we have a lot to thank The Duhks for. If not for The Duhks, we might never have discovered Joe’s Pub in the first place. If we had never discovered Joe’s Pub, we would definitely never have discovered our favorite band, Girlyman. Girlyman is a band that we’ve never seen alone. In the four times that we’ve seen them so far, we took two people three times, and three people once.

We’re about to see them three times in close proximity. We’re bringing 12 people to one show, 14 to another the next night, and two weeks later four people (all of the above includes us in the count, with no other duplicates among the three shows!). We aren’t worried in the least that anyone we bring to a Girlyman show will be disappointed. We know we won’t be either.

Finally, some positive news from last night. When we go to Joe’s, 70% of the time we take a bus, 30% a cab. Last night, the second we got to the corner, we saw the bus waiting at a red light. We didn’t have to run, but we had to hustle a bit. When we boarded the bus, I noticed that there was a piece of paper sticking out of the slot where I would have inserted my MetroCard. Clearly, the box was broken, and the ride was about to be free, even though the driver never waved anyone on, they all just figured it out.

It’s not the savings of the $4 (though I’m not complaining about that), it’s actually more the fact that I deferred having to buy a new MetroCard by two rides. It also sped the ride up a bit, because no one had to fumble to get the MetroCard into the reader in the correct orientation.

The biggest joy about it was watching everyone’s expression as they realized they didn’t have to pay (I include myself as well!). There was an uncontrollable smile that overtook each and every person’s face. I kid you not. They felt that they were getting away with something. Something that they knew they secretly deserved to get away with.

It’s not possible to describe how different an experience it is to ride on a NYC bus, with 100 other people, and see most of them smiling at least at one point during the ride. I’m not sure it’s ever happened before, and it may never happen again. 🙂

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night we attended our fifth CMA Songwriters Series concert at Joe’s Pub. We’ve enjoyed every single one and last night was no exception.

The format was identical to the past ones (at least for the early show). Five Country songwriters, siting side-by-side on the stage, taking turns doing songs of theirs that have been big hits.

Here’s what the lineup looked like last night:

CMA Lineup

CMA Lineup

I called out the distinction between the early and late shows even though they are normally identical. Last night, Josh Turner (a major Country star) was joining the set for the later show at 9:30pm. We didn’t have the pleasure of seeing him, as we much prefer the early show and he wasn’t announced as an addition to the late show until after we had our tickets.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the performing abilities of some of the writers don’t quite live up to the versions cut by the stars, but we don’t mind a bit. Recently, some of that has changed, as the caliber of the perfomances has gotten a bit better (as I reported last time). Last night continued that trend.

From left-to-right on the stage:

Sam and Annie Tate, an award-winning husband-and-wife team. While they performed separate numbers (accompanying each other on their respective guitars, and singing harmony), they often write together. Together, they won the SESAC Songwriters of the Year award.

Sam Tate Singing

Sam Tate Singing

Annie has a MySpace page. Sam sang quite a number of incredible songs, including Going Through Hell, which also won Song of the Year. That was co-written with Annie, as well as Dave Berg, who blew us away at the last CMA Writers Series show. Annie had a bit of a cold, so she didn’t take every opportunity that was given to her to perform, but when she did, she was incredible, including singing Somebody, made famous by Reba McEntire.

Annie Tate

Annie Tate

All of the shows come with a good deal of humor. Last night was no exception, and Sam was particularly funny in telling stories leading up to each of his numbers. Annie is very quick witted, and interjected wry remarks into stories told by the others throughout the evening. Sam reminded me a bit of Bill Engvall, both physically, and in his sense of humor. 🙂

Sam Tate Storytelling

Sam Tate Storytelling

Bob DiPiero sat in the middle (as always). He’s the leader of this series, and host of each show, in addition to being a regular star performer. He was totally on last night. His selection was the same as it always is, but they are top hits, that the crowd goes nuts singing along with him, so even though he has way more songs he could play, he’d probably be lynched if he dropped any of these favorites. He’s in the CMA Songwriters Hall of Fame!

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Gary Burr was next. This guy has an excellent voice, and was probably the most talented guitarist of the five last night (though all of them could hold their own). In addition to being a great writer (he too is in the CMS Songwriters Hall of Fame!), an excellent singer and an excellent guitar player, Gary is hysterically funny, and extremely quick as well. He and Bob are very good friends, and they rode each other all night long, keeping the audience in stitches!

Gary Burr Singing

Gary Burr Singing

Gary Burr Joketelling

Gary Burr Joketelling

David Lee Murphy was at the rightmost edge of the stage. He too (like Gary) has a superb voice. He also plays the guitar well. He too is quite funny, but significantly lower-key than Gary or Bob. He too is long-time friends with Bob, and they co-write on occasion. He too played hit-after-hit that the crowd sang along with.

David Lee Murphy

David Lee Murphy

All-in-all, another great night enjoying Country Music in NYC (yes, generally thought of as an oxymoron…). We already have tickets to the next two installments of this series! 🙂

Sadao Watanabe at Blue Note

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Last night we saw Sadao Watanabe (one of the world’s great Saxophone players) and his band at the Blue Note Jazz Club in NYC. I’ve been a huge fan of his forever (owned many of his LPs before I bought my first CD). I’ve never seen him in concert.

The band came on the stage at exactly 8pm. I was surprised to see that all but one member of the band was Japanese (not that I had any idea what the band makeup would be). Then Sadao explained that the Japanese airline ANA sponsored this tour, and for the first time, he was able to bring his own band members from Japan with him for a US tour. Previously, he picked up local professional session musicians to accompany him.

Already it promised to be a cool show. While he didn’t tell the following story until the middle of the show, it’s more appropriate at this point in my narrative. The lone non-Japanese person was the percussionist (separate from the drummer). Sadao met him eight years ago in Senegal. He then met and married a Japanese woman and moved to Yokohama. Aside from also having two children now, he was able to join Sadao’s permanent band.

Here’s a photo of Sadao Watanabe speaking to the audience:

Sadao Watanabe Talking

Sadao Watanabe Talking

To summarize, the show was fantastic. The selection was incredible (Sadao has something like 69 albums, so choosing what to play is not a simple matter!). His playing was crisp, fast and fabulous. The few stories he told were touching, amusing and heartwarming. He’s as lovely in person as he is a great musician.

Here are two more shots of him. The first is of him playing the sax. The second shows him playing the flute, which he did on one song only last night:

Sadao Watanabe Sax

Sadao Watanabe Sax

Sadao Watanabe Flute

Sadao Watanabe Flute

From left-to-right appearing on the stage with Sadao (he was in the center) were:

Akira Onozuka on electric keyboards and grand piano. Sadao mentioned that he’s also a great percussionist, but the budget didn’t allow for them to bring his set along. 😉 While there aren’t a ton of real pianos in the shows we frequent, there are many electric keyboards. Akira played roughly five songs on the electric stuff, but the majority of the show was on the grand piano.

Akira Onozuka

Akira Onozuka

I’d be hard pressed to say that I ever heard a better pianist live, including David Benoit (who blew Lois away when we saw him), Bruce Hornsby, Bob James, etc. He was both flawless and fascinating, on every single note. He could play the slowest, softest ballads (on one number, he was the only one accompanying Sadao) as well as rock out to hard-driving funk jazz numbers. He took long, detailed, mesmerizing solos. Let me not slight his electric keyboards work, it was unbelievably good as well!

Jun Kajiwara on electric guitar. In a word, wow. The first thing Lois said when we left the club was “Don’t you think he’s better than XXX?” (I don’t want to offend fans of XXX, so I won’t repeat the name. 😉 Seriously, this guy is awesome. He was highlighted early on, and late in the show again, and blew the crowd away every time. Harder for me to peg him above my favorites, because I listen to so much more guitar work (live and on the iPod) than to piano, and those all get the spotlight in every song. In any case, Jun is fantastic.

Jun Kajiwara

Jun Kajiwara

Kichiro Komobuchi on electric bass. He’s likely the youngest (and perhaps newest) member of the band. He played an excellent bass line the entire night. On one number, Sadao let him loose for an extremely long and detailed lead (the others accompanied him, so it wasn’t a solo). He was amazing.

Kichiro Komobuchi

Kichiro Komobuchi

Masaharu Ishikawa on drums. Very solid. One long solo, and another highlight with the percussionist.

Masaharu Ishikawa

Masaharu Ishikawa

N’diasse Niang on percussion. I’ve seen a number of percussionists over the past few years, but never one who plays quite like this. Most play entirely with their bare hands. N’diasse has some kind of ball taped to his index and middle fingers on each hand, so that he can achieve more impact (and therefore also various tones) if he strikes the bongos (I’m sure they are fancier than that) with those fingers, other fingers, palms, etc. He electrified the crowd the entire night.

Apologies for the horrible quality on this photo. N’diasse was sitting perpendicular to the rest of the group (facing Sadao), at the corner of the stage, so the lights weren’t on him at all, and the stage is relatively dark to begin with.

N'diasse Niang

N'diasse Niang

Just to repeat, in addition to being superb musicians in their own right, the six of them were tight and fantastic as a group all night long. They played for 85 minutes. The crowd roared after every lead, and literally worshipped Sadao himself.

We got to the club at 6:06pm. While we were happy with out seats, it was somewhat surprising that in the six minutes that the doors were open, many better seats were already taken. Yet, there was no line outside when we got there, so a bunch of people were seated within the first five minutes, or they opened the doors a bit early (not so likely).

Jazz draws quite diverse crowds in our experiene. That includes Japanese people, no matter who the artist is. That said, last night was one of the more unique experiences we’ve had in the US. The club was jammed, but there were perhaps 10% (20% max) non-Japanese. The overwhelming majority of patrons were Japanese. I mentioned above that they worshiped Sadao. It had to be an even bigger treat for them that the rest of the band all came over from Japan.

I said “non-Japanese” rather than US residents. That’s because it turned out there were a number of Europeans, and two women who came from Brazil just to see this show! They introduced themselves to Sadao before the show, and he dedicated a song to them right near the end of the show. Pretty cool.

I had my usual (at least my recent usual) marinated skirt steak. It was excellent, but seemed to be twice as large as usual. I didn’t have any trouble finishing it, but it was one of the longer dining experiences I’ve had in a while (I eat way too fast, always).

Sadao, thanks for making this very special one-night-stand in NYC (it felt like he could sell out the Blue Note for an entire week!), and more importantly, for arranging to share your truly amazing band with us! 🙂

Kaki King at Turning Point Cafe

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Last night we saw Kaki King at Turning Point Cafe in Piermont, NY.

On October 24, 2007, we saw Kathy Mattea at Joe’s Pub in NYC. Accompanying her that night on guitar, as he has been for roughly 18 years, was Bill Cooley. When I reviewed that show I stated that I thought Bill Cooley was possibly the best acoustic guitarist I had seen.

My friend Eric Sink commented that he thought Phil Keaggy was probably the best he’d seen, but he mentioned some others, including Kaki King, who he practically dared me to listen to. 😉 Here’s his exact quote (in a comment to a different post I made about Phil Keaggy):

Or if you’re quite daring, have you listened to any of Kaki King’s stuff?

So, given that I respect Eric so much on every level, I had to check her out (and Michael Hedges, whom he recommended as well). I liked Kaki King alot, though there’s little doubt that she’s not a mainstream artist on any level.

Last night was the first opportunity I had to see her live, and I jumped at the chance. I had never been to Turning Point Cafe, but I knew it was a small place. In fact, it seats roughly 63 people. We had awesome seats and were roughly eight feet from Kaki, dead center.

From the many YouTube videos that I’ve watched of her (and the two CDs that I own), I knew that she plays with a full band (and plays multiple instruments herself) as well as just solo guitar (her forte). I figured that in a club this small, she was likely to play solo, and indeed, that’s what she did.

She announced at the beginning that she was experimenting with getting back to her roots of solo guitar, without any vocal accompaniment either! She was hitting up a number of clubs that booked her back in the early days, in order to share the intimacy of that experience with the people who were fans of that style of music.

Here’s a photo to show you how good our seats were, and how intimate the entire experience was:

Kaki King

Kaki King

She didn’t disappoint whatsoever. Aside from being quieter than usual (at least according to her) 😉 she is a lovely, thoughtful person. Her guitar virtuosity is exemplary, but her selection can be quite brooding, even angry at times. Like I mentioned above, and like Eric hinted at, this music is not for everyone.

We invited good friends to join us, even though I knew that neither they, nor Lois, would find this kind of music entertaining. That said, seeing Kaki King perform (and you can get a really good sense if you watch her YouTube videos) is as much a wonderful performance art experience, as it is a musical one. She’s a wizard on the guitar.

Here’s a photo of her using both hands on the frets. She creates some incredible sounds when she does this, and both sets of fingers seem to fly independently (but in sonic coordination!). In addition, it’s special for both of us, because we’re Wicked and Wizard of Oz freaks, and she’s obviously wearing the Ruby Red Slippers, so she’s Dorothy to us. 😉

Kaki King Wizardry

Kaki King Wizardry

We live 20 minutes from Piermont (on the other side of the Hudson River). Our friends live in Northvale, NJ, 10 minutes from Piermont (further from us). We went for an early dinner at their house, and then we followed them to Piermont. We arrived at around 6:15pm (doors open at 6pm) and ordered some drinks. The show was called for 7pm, but Kaki came out at exactly 7:15pm.

She played straight through to 8:35pm, with the only pauses being tuning. She (and many other current guitar masters) use a variety of non-standard (perhaps they are standard now!) tunings, and they switch them often for different songs. Here’s a fuzzy picture (sorry) that shows her tuning, but also shows one of her original guitars, that she recorded her first CD on (she closed the show with the last cut from that CD):

Kaki King Tuning

Kaki King Tuning

As I suspected, none of the three people that came with me (Lois included) were enamored of the particular selection or style of music (though each found at least one song that resonated with them). That said, I hope they all had a nice time nonetheless, and appreciated how talented this woman is. I think they did. 🙂

I would definitely go see her again live, with or without a full band, but I would likely only bring along Lois next time. 🙂

Last night was the first of four concerts in a row for us. So, when we got home (around 9pm), we packed up the car and headed to the city (the next three shows are all in NYC). Expect updates on each one over the next three days.