Thursday, April 9, 2009

Is This Water?

Review: This Is Water, by David Foster Wallace. 

So, we commence with Little, Brown’s milking of David Foster Wallace’s catalog for anything they can get the rights to. When I learned of DFW’s demise in September, I was severly bummed out, and did what I’m sure a lot of people did, which was go out and grab something of his that they didn’t have yet. I picked up Consider The Lobster Audiobook on iTunes. I had actually just finished the book, and it was so weird to hear his voice, in light of what happened. I also then went around and grabbed all the extra DFW non-anothology articles that he published and have been working on what’s almost a shrine of his stuff (just collecting on the computer everything you can’t get in book form). During which one of the first things I wound up reading was his Commencement Speech from Kenyon College. It was fairly short, and I read it on the 10 minute busride from my apartment to my office. It was the second favourite non-book thing I’ve read by him to date, the first being an article about Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Then I subsequently heard about this This Is Water project. I saw on amazon that it was going to be about 120 pages, and thought maybe Little, Brown was beating me to the punch and going to release this whole compiled mess, and that the Kenyon thing was a part of it.
Fast forward to ~1 month before release. The guy on The Howling Fantods! Website got an advance copy or something and he showed a few pictures of the book. My first gulp! was that the physical dimensions of the book are very small, it’s roughly the size of my hand (official dimensions: 6.8 inches by 4.8 inches). The book was also to include only one sentence of the speech per page, i.e. ~75% of each page would be blank. With thoughts of boycotting this bastardization of DFW and milking him for all he’s worth running through my head, the inner-completist quickly put this to an end and I pre-ordered my copy from the local bookstore.

Fast Forward to 09 April 2009. I happened to be walking past said bookstore this morning and trapsed in to find that they had gotten copies of the book in early, and my copy was waiting for me. I wound up sitting outside and finishing it about 10-15 minutes. I was surprised how nicely the physical reading flowed. Despite constantly flipping pages, this format suits the transcription very well. It forces you to pause and not just race through the sentences. It almost reads like a children’s book, with so little on each page.

As with all of the DFW I’ve read, this didn’t disappoint (even though I’d already read it once). Unbelievably, my conversion to be a supporter of this format leads me to believe that Little, Brown, albeit obviously looking to make money, as they are a business, seem to care quite a bit about the preparation and presentation of the finite amount of what we have left from DFW.

Footnote: I want to call him David here but I refuse because I never met him and don’t want to be one of those people who refers to Dave Matthews as “Dave” even though the person on the flipside of the coin have never even met we the speakers nor know our names.

I know that reading someone’s writing can make you feel closer to someone you’ve never met than someone you actually know, because this is exactly how reading every word of his writing makes me feel. I get a tight feeling in my chest and my nerves feel all jiggly. I feel like I’ve lost a friend and that makes me feel weird because I’m sure if I died he wouldn’t feel that way. Why would he?

Oddity Faire No. 1

Concert Trip Cleveland 22 March 2009

0900h Went to Wegmans to procure snacks for the trip. Dropped large canister of hummus on the ground right near the checkout. Cashier assured me multiple times that it was fine and happened all the time but I couldn’t help feel like she thought I was a real horse’s ass due to the multiple reassurances, or maybe I was visibly shaken.

1000h Kiersten decides she’s coming on the trip, must make trip to library to get extra ticket, where they have both a printer and high speed wireless internet, of which we have neither at our home. Set to hit the road by 1100h, somehow I heavily doubt this.

1700h Arrived in Cleveland after about 15 miles of being lost at the beginning we finally got on track and the ride was smooth after.

1800h Me and my brother have a borderline fighting argument about when to go down to the show because I am obsessive and compulsive about getting there early and getting a good vantage point/seat and my brother could care less which begs the question “why is he even going?” of which at this juncture I have no answer. The power of live music comes from the entwining of both the audio and visual elements, but I would ascert that the visual element is more powerful because live music is by nature sloppy and unclean because it is so loud, and the visual element is clean because you can see clearly what is happening. So you are not entirely there for sound I’m sure tons of people are going to disagree with me on that. And to have a vantage point where people are constantly going to be getting in your way and obscuring your view makes the spectacle diminish exponentially, at which point why bother.

1830h Walk to venue. Upon arrival we find the doors, opening time never disclosed, are already open and we head up to the balcony, at which point my brother and girlfriend decide they don’t like the balcony and want to relocate to the lower level. I have a seat on the very edge of the balcony with 0 obstruction of the stage and zero possibility of any concertgoer getting in my way or distracting me or ruining my show. We relocate to the lower level where my compatriots have found a table in the absolute back of the venue, which they seem to be enjoying. I throw somewhat of a temper tantrum about this because I’ve been to enough concerts to know that even though right now with the venue maybe 25% full the view is awesome but 3 hours from now it’s going to be absolute torture. I decide I’m going to go back up and find a seat. We relocate back and forth a total of five times, at which point we find a seat in the balcony that is at least moderately acceptable to all parties but ultimately leaves everyone unhappy. At this juncture my girlfriend decides to get a drink because of the squabbling of her 2 concertgoing mates are probably the most juvenile people she’s ever come across and most likely rethinking her decision to attend the event altogether.

1930h Secret Chief 3- They all come out wearing Scream-ish black robes with hoods. The guitar/one-indian-stringed-instrument looks like a thin version of the old version of Jerry Garcia, with the full grey beard. The keyboard player is maybe 5’4”. The bass player looks like Cat Stevens. They also have a violin player whose face I never get a clear look at because of the robe. The drummer is the single most entertaining part of this act, for sure. His bass drum and ride cymbal are at least 1.5x bigger than the largest bass drum/ride cybals I have ever come across in my life. His one crash cymbal is maybe 2-3 feet over his head so he has to reach to hit it every time he tries, and has to lift himself off his seat in order to do so. This strikes me as odd because I thought maybe it was an accident of setting up but at one point the cymbal stand comes loose and sort of collapses down within itself, which they’re designed to do, and falls down to what to me would be a comfortable level, and he actually fixes it to be set up to that uncomfortable height. When the drummer is playing, his head turns to a 45 degree angle and contorts into what looks like children with disabilities look like when they cannot control their facial faculties. His jaw hangs and his eyes almost roll back in his head. It is hilarious. The music however, is not all that great. The first song is a mix of middle eastern music and heavy rock, and would be interesting if it was isolated to that song. However, it is their entire sound and the next 30-45 mins are essentially just this song played over and over. Their second song is the same thing as the first song but as a variation of the theme from the movie Halloween, which to me is the highpoint of their set. Secret Chief 3 is heavily into the fact that they are wearing black robes, and to me would rather be wearing black robes than playing music. During one song my brother actually yells “END IT”. The rest of the audience seems to be enjoying themselves, and we are confused why. They seem to play way longer than the next two opening acts, and I wonder as to whether or not they overstepped their allotted time. For their set, Mike Dillon crouches next to a huge stack of speakers and plays tabla with them. No member of Secret Chief 3 acknowledges him while they are on stage.

2030h Saul Williams

A very short black man with a mohawk and a black leather jacket is walking around who my brother and I think may or may not be Saul Williams. He soundchecks and sounds exactly like him. We are sure it is him, but he looks a little short. He has brought out a wooden table with a beat box machine on it which is surrounded with a long snake of blinking lights. Another man who plays a very small 2 octave keyboard and a laptop is wearing huge black goggles and a two sided shiny black and white cape, with the white side pointed towards his body. A guitar player dressed in like a golden metallic bodysuit looks almost exactly like a clone of Omar Rodriguez from The Mars Volta with a fuck-me-lipstick red guitar is tuning up. And then the real Saul Williams hops/saunters onto the stage. He is wearing a bright red button down jacket and bright red pants. He has khaki colored fuzzy boots on with what I can only describe as native American frills hanging off the tops which I think are just too cool. He sounds almost exactly like his beat box guy, who turns out to double as his hype-man.

Saul starts off with a spoken word piece that sounds like something he did on Comedy Def Jam, where he lists the names of tons of political figures and poets and artists, and then saying a word that may embody what they stood for or a sarcastic word for what they stand for. If it’s the piece he did on CDJ he must have amended it because it was maybe a minute long (CDJ was well over 5) and he ends with “AND OBAMA” at which point the crowd erupts into applause.

Gunshots by Computer- This is a “remix” of a NIN song that Saul did, where he took the song HYPERPOWER! And raps over it. What’s awesome about this song is that his band produces it almost exactly with their instruments, which needless to say, are not Trent’s standard weapons of choice. I proceed to lose my mind. I must admit that I was not looking forward to Saul before he came on. His voice has always come off as annoying to me but live he is fantastic. He is a ball of energy, running back and forth on the stage. It also occurs to me at this juncture that this is both my brother’s and my girlfriend’s first live rap experience.


2130h Devotchka

I didn’t like them one bit but Al was fairly very into them. Apparently they created one of the songs in Little Miss Sunshine so he was intrigued. The lead singer had two microphones, one old fashioned radio style and one standard mic and he would grab them both and bring them towards his face and it would look as though he was grabbing breasts to pull them towards his face to push his face into. It was bizarre. It actually didn’t look like that but that’s all that came to my mind. They also had a violin/accordion player who wore a suit and looked very European and also looked very bored with the whole event. The bass/sousaphone player was a girl who wore a dress with red frills on the sleeves and covered her sousaphone in blue Christmas lights. I always feel like bands like this have a semi-attractive girl in the band in order to get people to watch because they want to stare/ogle the woman and I feel like that does both the girl and the music a disservice, but as I commented to my girlfriend at the venue, I’m probably overanalyzing everything.

2200h Devotchka off and some of the quickest tear down/setting up I have ever seen. Sam bass comes out and tunes up his instrument by himself. I feel bad that he has to do this, but maybe he wants to make sure everything is tip top for the performance. Maybe he’s just that anal. I’m not sure. I should probably mention that between all the acts there’s this creepy babyish music with children in high voices talking over it and it adds a very freaky vibe to the Oddity Faire.

2230h Les Claypool.


Highball with the Devil- I’ll admit that I never really liked this song until he started playing it right in front of me. This song comes off extremely well live, and Les has taken to using the envelope filter on the main melody, which makes it sound even better than it usually does. The only word I know of this song while hearing it live is “sodomize” which is not on the studio version, but I sing it live, because it’s so much fun. Les is wearing a bowler hat, a suitcoat with tails, a Spanish looking wine red button down shirt under a black and gold vest. He looks bomb. The other members of the band all have tuxedos on and have masks on that I can’t quite make out. Sam Bass, sitting on his chair, when not playing cello, lets his arms hang (almost to the floor) and stares into the crowd and looks like a deranged monkey that is dressed in a tuxedo and happens to know how to play cello. I love it.

Duchess and the Proverbial Mindspread-

Amanitas- We have enlisted my girlfriend for photo/filming duties for the evening, which she, like a champ, agreed to outright. We have agreed that because the camera doesn’t have enough memory to film the whole show, that we want Amanitas and Mushroom Men captured for posterity. This was definitely the right choice.

Ding Dang- This is the third time I’ve gotten this song live, and the fourth time Les has played it in Cleveland in 5 years. Cleveland always gets Ding Dang. It’s kind of bizarre. But this song comes off fantastically. Something strikes me during this song that I’ve been noticing for the last few songs. The solos during the jams must be predetermined. I have seen no sign of visual cues as to who is allowed to solo during the jams, and each person seems ready to go or to turn the soloing over to someone else. I wonder if every song has a soloing order, that is understood or decided during rehearsals. It seems like Sam Bass usually takes the first solo, and then Mike D. takes over when Sam runs out of ideas and then sometimes Les takes a small solo. Something else I notice during this song. The ordering of the song structures are also very similar. The order goes as follows: Verse/Chorus->Verse/Chorus-> Jam (ordering already discussed) -> Quiet Verse and/or Chorus -> Loud Verse and/or Chorus -> Outtro. We’ve seen this in the last 4 songs. Upon listening back to a bootleg tape it seems that this is a set structure for most of his standard “4-Banger” songs.

A Les Claypool show, ever since the inception of the Fancy Band, Les’ show has a sort of format. First, we get a few 4 Banger tunes, usually 3, then Les moves into his upright section.

Personal opinion #1: I think Les is afraid of being pigeonholed as a slap/pop funk bass player and so as most artists do go out of their way to create a different sound for themselves, so what Les did was add his NS Electric Upright section to his show, which originally showed up as early as Pork Soda, but now is a staple of Les’ solo show.

Personal opinion #2: I’ve heard Ding Dang at all three Les shows I’ve been to. Not that I don’t like it every time, but this time it didn’t have the zing that it had the first time I heard it. I wonder how Les gets on playing Ding Dang almost every other night or so for the last 6 years and maintain the excitement that he has every performance. Maybe that’s why he’s a real pro.

Red State Girl- Okay, so, this to me is the “Vernon” of the album. Slow upright ballad. I hated Vernon on the last album, and to me when I heard OFAF it was more or less the exact same thing, but hearing this song in-person totally wooed me into its favor. (Maybe Vernon would have done the same had Les’ upright string not broken right before it at my last show?) Proof: I now sing lines like “She’s got TITS made outta recycled bottles” aloud while walking to work. (QED)

Precipitation- Les was absolutely a spectacle to watch on this song. Hitting his bass with the bow like a drumstick, Pig Mask on, Les was more or less toying with the audience using his physical presence, which was impossible to miss.

Russian Dance- This is a Tom Waits song that has absolutely nothing to do with Les Claypool. Les has played on some of Waits’ stuff before, but not this song. Having youtubed it before the show, I was not looking forward to this selection. However, after seeing the first 3 acts and the general vibe of the Oddity Faire No. 1 (i.e. the weird voices between sets, and the idea of it being more or less a freak show) this song fit right into the theme of the evening. Plus Les called out the Sousaphone and Violin player from Devotchka and had them jam it out with him. My one complaint is that it is literally the same thing over and over again, with the “AH THREE FOUR” to count us back into the same thing again. At the time though, it fit.

Booneville Stomp- When this song started, it was a percussive intro and I thought we were going into Drums, but then Les came out with the Dobro Bass. I was pumped, and the song went over well, but the live version doesn’t live up to the version on the album, at which point it occurs to me, this is the first Les project, Primus or otherwise, that is stronger on album than the live show. Primus’ albums, albeit strong, don’t touch their live counterparts, and Les’ live albums seem like a diving board for the live set. This album, on the other hand, is, IMHO, a stand alone piece that needs no live counterpart. That being said, Booneville holds up well.

Drums- Discuss with Al what the costumes are supposed to be of. I am convinced that Mike D. is dressed up like George Bush Jr. Al disagrees. He thinks everyone is supposed to be dressed up mostly to look like the 4 creatures on the cover of OFAF, but I still see Dubya hitting percussives like a fiend.

Mushroom Men- Les comes out in safari hunt hat with whamola. Mike D. and Paulo back him up vocally for the “Mush mush mush mush mush…” sections.

Drums- A quick reprise with a nice heavy ending akin to the end of Booneville Stomp.

Of Whales and Woe- This song, on the album seems very rigid and unjammable, but Les makes this jam so fluid and unbelievable it almost doesn’t seem like he’s jamming. He’s the biggest ball of toxins you’re ever apt to meet.

Fisticuffs- Totally unexpected. By previous setlist I was expecting either Dutchess or Fisticuffs. This time we get both. The low octave jam really put the song in high gear. It never occurred to me during Dutchess or Fisticuffs that I was hearing Primus songs being played live. They fit in perfectly with the Fancy Band.

Encore 1:
What Would Sir George Martin Do?

The audient in front of me, who has had quite a few beers, puts his head in his hands when he realizes that this song is starting. Nearly everyone that has commented on it online hates this song and are very polite while Les is playing it. I happen to really enjoy this song and find that it comes off very well live. It’s surprising to me that his audience hates it so much since to me it sounds very similar to a laid-back Mr. Krinkle or even The Air Is Getting Slippery. Les then walks off and since the rest of this tour has had only 1 encore I have a look of horror on my face that this may be the last song we hear for the evening, not because I don’t like it, but because it is such a bizarre choice as an encore and I love when shows end on a burner. Thankfully this is the case.

Robot Chicken- Something I’d noticed during Les’s setup when they wheeled out his amp setup that on top of his rig he had a small keyboard which I figured just factored into his MIDI setup, but it turns out that he uses it to noodle out this tune, which is maybe thirty seconds long and he doesn’t even face the audience for it.

Up on the Roof- The fastest up on the roof ever, except the Studio version. I think Les was definitely sweating curfew at this juncture. My hatred for Secret Chief 3 only grows.

The Next Day, 0745h: The three of us walk out to the car in the hotel parking lot, where the man who runs the parking lot is an older fellow, probably in his fifties, wearing what appears to me to be a tuxedo without a bowtie, as if he’d been partying all night and didn’t have time to go home and change, is telling a man driving through a One Way road that traverses the parking lot that he’s going to call the police. From all accounts the man simply wants to get around a large truck blocking the way and facing in the direction opposite the One Way. The man in the tux then proceeds to get out his cell phone to indicate to the driver that he does indeed mean business, and then proceeds to let his cell phone slip out of his hand and fall on the street in front of the car, where the battery and back of the phone break apart, like right in front of the car, so the man almost has to reach under the idling car of the man who he’s yelling at and the driver would have to do no more than ease his foot off the brake to either injur or at least scare the living bejesus out of the tux man who has done nothing from what I’ve seen so far but be incredibly rude and juvenile. I have no idea what sparked this behavior, and I’m not sure the tux-man is unjustified, but I do know whatever he’s doing he’s going about it all wrong. This man strikes me as the sort of man who dresses up to work at a parking garage and tries to salvage what dignity his life affords him. He flexes his muscle where he can, and clearly this is not where he expected his life would have led him 40 years ago. The man winds up cutting through a very tight pass between the wrong-way-facing truck and the hotel, at which point tux-man, defeated because the man is going to use the One-Way as intended, gets behind the car and screams “YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE!” All three members of our party are agog with disbelief and after we get out of his visibility range proceed to laugh uncontrollably. The whole scene makes me very depressed the way fat people doing anything when they’re upset after they’ve been in a shouting bout depresses me. I don’t really understand the connection but I think there is something very American about these moments and show wholesale the emptiness that buying into the American dream gets you. Les, on the other hand, even when he has beer thrown at him, does not sink to such levels. He classily berates his aggressors, and gets on with it. His performance remains unaffected, for the most part. But, I guess this is why he’s the man with thousands ogling him as a spectacle, and we sit in the balcony watching.