James @ the Commodore – April 7, 2012

When I read that James would be touring this spring, that the lineup was their awesomest one, and that their first stop would be Vancouver, I bought my ticket.  $32.50 for a James concert?  How is that not a deal?!?

The last time I saw them was a magical concert in the Commodore circa the Laid album (1992-ish).  That concert simply astounded me, it was so enjoyable.  The band’s recordings reached deep into me around that time and I was enthralled in their magic.

This time around things are different.  It was Easter evening so I knew a late night was going to hurt.  I’m some number of decades older, as are they.  My tolerance for concert go-ers in Vancouver is much, much, much lower.  I was slightly concerned, but thought the band would be worth it.  That Tim Booth fellow holds a special place in my musical heart.

I’m thrilled to say that the concert did not disappoint.  Tim mentioned during the concert that this was the first time they had played a live gig in 5 or 6 years together, and that some of these songs hadn’t been played live in 15 years.  There were some technical snafus like dead mics and volume problems with instruments, but the band played on like pros.  Tim in particular adopts a completely zen-like persona on stage – nothing fazes the guy.  The sound was a little fuzzy so I lost a lot of the more subtle sounds like the trumpet and strings, but the bass was nice and heavy, making my chest vibrate warmly as the band started into the first song.

I arrived around 7:05 (doors opened at 7 and I like to be on time).  I knew I had some standing around to do, so I strolled around the mostly-empty Commodore figuring out if any of the seats offered a good enough view. There were some 15 or so people already lined up at the front of the stage so I knew I wouldn’t get front row anyways, so I looked around.  I sat down in a shady corner and kicked myself – why sit back?  This was a James concert – go for the stage!  So I strolled up to the stage and settled into second row.  Happily too I might add – the people in front of me came to my chest height meaning I had a mostly-unobstructed view of the stage.

Over the next hour and a half a few more people started to crowd up behind me.  The opening act was a lady who called herself Elizaveta.  This was her first Canadian show and she marched forward bravely.  Just her operatic voice and her keyboard.  It was neat to listen so close up and a couple of her songs were downright delightful, but I did not venture back to the merch table to pick up her wares after her set.  I didn’t want to lose my place at the stage.

She finished up around 9, and by 9:30 there were a lot more people crowding up behind me.  James came on at 9:30-ish and played a fantastic set of songs. Here’s the set list as I heard it:

  1. Dream Thrum
  2. Play Dead
  3. Say Something
  4. Waltzing Along
  5. We’re Going to Miss You
  6. Born of Frustration
  7. I Wanna Go Home
  8. Space
  9. Seven
  10. She’s a Star
  11. Waterfall
  12. Sometimes
  13. Hello
  14. Five-O
  15. Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
  16. Ring the Bells
  17. Intermission 1
  18. America (I believe, embedded above)
  19. Stutter
  20. Intermission 2
  21. Tomorrow

Some way into the 3rd or 4th song I started to hear a lot of grumbling behind me about me being so tall.  Yes, I heard the “grumbling” over and above the sound of the music emanating from the speakers 15 feet away.  Eventually the complainers had the gumption to shake my shoulder and ask to go in front of me.  She was short enough and damnit if I couldn’t use the good karma, so her and her friend went in front of me.  The other tall fellow next to me called me a sucker.  All right maybe, but that was my good deed for the day.   A few songs later Tim Booth strolled out to the crowd and sang right in front of us, shaking hands and all that, including the outstretched hand of the girl now in front of me.  She turned around and thanked me, and thanked me, and thanked me.  OK, that was good then.

Then a whole lot of people decided that each song was their favourite and that they needed to be in the front for it.  And they also decided it was unfair that the tall people were in front of them.  There was a lot of pushing for the rest of the show.  It took away from the experience somewhat, but I tried to zen-out like Tim Booth and focus on the music.  I succeeded for the most part.  It was hard though listening to the yahoos behind me singing out of key.  Let the pro’s sing them songs already!  It was doubly hard when someone put their shoulder into my back and lifted me on top of the people in front of me.  At least he got to listen blissfully to his favourite song while I apologized to 4 or 5 people and tried to put my feet back on the ground.  After the song he melted back into the crowd.  I like to think that Tim Booth caught my eye just then, recognizing my fellow zen attitude, and nodded his head in thanks for not starting something ugly.  Might have been just me, might not.

So to summarize:

@wearejames Great show full of special moments -thank you!

@wearejames-crowd If you want to stand in front of the tall people, get to the stage before them.  I stood for 3 hours to get that spot, how long were you waiting?  Own it, stop complaining.

I came away totally satisfied and ready to take on Easter evening.  Sadly there was no James merch for sale so I left with my memories and a short video of each song they played (to help me build the playlist).  Great evening, in spite of the losers in the crowd.

Note to Self – Subsonic Jukebox

Right now the Subsonic Jukebox feature relies on manually specifying the java-recognized soundcard listing in the subsonic script itself.  This means that after an upgrade the jukebox will stop working.  Here’s what I need to do to get it working again:

  1. Confirm that the hardware works using aplay

java /var/tmp/subsonic/audioDevList

aplay -D plughw:0,0 /usr/share/sounds/alsa/Front_Center.wav

  1. Edit /usr/bin/subsonic and add the correct line near the end of the script

-Djava.awt.headless=true \
‘-Djavax.sound.sampled.SourceDataLine=#Intel [plughw:0,0]’ \
-verbose:gc \
-jar subsonic-booter-jar-with-dependencies.jar > ${LOG} 2>&1 &

  1. Restart subsonic, and test using iSub or something

Jets Overhead – They Get It

I recently heard a song I like on the radio and ended up buying the album it was so good.

Wait, what year is it?  I heard it on the radio and bought it?  Yikes!  I haven’t done that in decades!  But it is true, and I wanted to sahre with you how cool this band is – they get the digital world (or at elast someone in their management team gets it).

Band is out of Victoria BC and is called Jets Overhead.  Their website allows you to download for free their first release from some years ago.  Easy way to battle piracy, right?  They have also released their latest single off their new album “No Nations “under a Creative Commons license.

I wanted to buy their album after listening to it in it entirety on their website (see, free preview – very smart).  Sure I was able to copy the MP3 sings from their website and get the album for free.  But I wanted to support this band.  Problem – they only seemed to offer digital download via iTunes which I won’t support.  I could have bought their CD from MapleMusic for $15 or so, but then have paid $5 shipping to get in in 2 weeks.  That’s broken right there.  I could have paid more to get it sooner, but then I’m paying more for shipping than for the CD.  That’s really broken.

Look, I just want to support this band.

So I decided to contact their management and suggest they get a digital version on Zunior as I wanted a lossless version.  Future Shop and Best Buy don’t carry their album, so I felt really stuck.  Once I explained my situation and desires to the fellow who responded via email, he got it.  Then he directed me to their BandCamp page.  I wasn’t aware of BandCamp prior to this, but man – they understand the digital age too.  So I purchased a lossless version of the album for less than $10 and was able to immediately download it, transcode to ogg, and listen.

Great album – seriously great.  Great band – supporting Creative Commons and all that.  Great management.  Great website too (BandCamp).

Support this band if you like their music – you can listen to it for free on their website or on their BandCamp page.

If they ever come to Vancouver/Surrey I’d like to know so I can buy a ticket.

Powerful Music Videos

Does anyone not tear up when watching Sinead sing “Nothing Compares 2 U“?  Seriously, anyone?  She must have been in the midst of a serious heart break when she recorded that one.  Either that or she is a master at conveying misery.  Videography masterpiece – bringing you closer to the subject by putting her head at the size it would be if you were talking quietly to her in person.

Massive Attack’s video for “Teardrop” took my breath away when I first saw – captures the fragility of the song perfectly.  Heartbeat drum kick – of course!  Depth of field with floaties

Bruce Springsteen hasn’t done much that I’ve become engaged in, but his video for “Streets of Philidelphia” grabbed me right away.  Singing it live in the video adds to the heartfelt grittiness of it.  Love it, love it, love it!

Obsessed With Sounds of the Universe

Depeche Mode’s latest album Sounds of the Universe has me in its grips.  I haven’t been overly fond of many of their albums since Violator (like many of their fans I suspect) but I liked Dave Gahan’s solo album Paper Monster and some of their stuff.  So I gave this album a try, ignoring the tepid reviews.

Man is it a return to form!  Love the vocal performances, love the retro sounds, love the lyrics (for the most part).  In many ways this surpasses Violator (you can’t beat an album a gloomy high school student loved as he was coming of age, so I just don’t try anymore).

The first 4 tracks are powerful, tight, and totally enjoyable.  If you liked Violator you should listen to this album – it is fabulous.

Lead single is “Wrong” – listen to Gahan getting behind the lyrics.  The video is disturbing on its own, but DM has always been an interesting band to watch videos from.  If you want to listen but don’t like that video, here’s the song set to some in-studio footage.

Second favorite song is “Fragile Tension”, you can see Dave singing a bit of it in this web clip.  It totally harkens back to earlier DM, and combines a spine-tingling Gahan voice harmony with rising sequencers.  Just awesome on headphones.

Only 1 dud in the bunch, but then I’ve never been a huge fan of the sappy side of DM.  Second to last song goes too far down Gore’s path of troubadour style and I’m not lovin’ in yet.  I might be alone in that though.

Anyhow, it’s my current obsession.  I’ve owned it for weeks now and it is all I’m playing – I haven’t been this engrossed in an album for a long, long time.

Here’s An Idea … Share Nutrition Information Electronically

Just had an idea, and sent a quick email inquiry to Health Canada to see if someone else is already doing it.

In Canada all processed foods must by law have a nutrition label on it detailing specifics about the food inside the package.  It’s very helpful for anyone counting calories or trying to maintain healthy eating habits.  it’s quite shocking what these labels reveal sometimes.  For example I’ve been enjoying a “Natural Trail Mix” from Costco recently – no sugar added, no salt, yogurt chips for sweetness.  it looked quite healthy.  Then I saw the calorie count in a serving, and the serving size.  This product looks quite similar – looks quite healthy right?  Then you see the nutrition label.

120 calories per ounce? PER OUNCE? Wow! Not a healthy snack after all. My trail mix was similar and I’ve since stopped using it for a snack and have reserved it for trails, where I need a light food that provides a lot of calories.

But I digress.

I sent the email below to Health Canada because I see a real opportunity here.  I’m not sure the opportunity is for the Government of Canada, nor is it necessarily for the food manufacturers (though I think someone smarter than I could figure out how to market this idea successfully).  At the very least I see an opportunity for someone – an entrepreneur who wants to somehow entrepren (??? see, I don’t know what to do with this idea).

Subject: Electronic communication of nutrition label information

I was wondering if there are any initiatives underway to provide a standard means of electronically communicating the nutrition information for foods.  There are a large number of web sites that help people track their nutrition information, and in order to do so there is usually the need to manually copy into the website the info from the label.

This seems to be an opportunity to me, as I know that some computer somewhere has already collected that food’s info – why do I have to input it again?  Why do thousands of people have to input it manually?

I’d love to see a service provided by food manufacturers where their website not only provides the info to web browsers, but also provides an electronic interface for software.  This interface could answer queries from software or other websites to retrieve the nutrition information automatically, meaning we people don’t need to manually enter the data anymore.

We have the standard info and label (thanks very much).  The next step seems to me to be sharing that info across the Internet.  That’s the whole point of electronic communication – efficient sharing of data.

Are you aware of any such initiatives?

I think something similar exists for communicating recipes in software (Meal-Master is a standard format I think?).

Just for the sake of being thorough, I sent a copy and inquiry to my Member of Parliament too, to see if he feels there’s something here that Health Canada can get behind to help Canadian consumers navigate the nutrition information online.

A New Year, A New Gadget – Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet

Welcome to 2009 – the year I began by setting myself free  I’m free!  At long last I’m free from the ‘i’ overlords, be they iPods, iTunes, or iDon’t care anymores!

Back in March 2005 I bought my first personal music player – an iPod.  At the time I thought the 40GB would be more than enough.  I honestly don’t think I expected it to last almost 3 years.  And it is still ticking along quite nicely – the battery has held up well as I typically have it charging via the FM radio attachment or the dock.  But my library … she has grown too large!  And so I cast about for alternatives, and came to settle on two devices: a 120GB iPod Classic or an Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet.

This was back in September, planning for a certain gift-giving holiday in the months to come.  At that time the Archos did not support ogg or Flac encoded files, and thus it had no real advantage over the iPod Classic.  It was more expensive, and it didn’t come with a lot of the things the iPod did, like a dock or AC charger.  Sure it could connect to the Internet via a wireless connection, but that was just a gimmick.

Then I abandoned my search, as nothing really pleased me.  Why didn’t I want to stay with an iPod?  Here’s a partial list:

  • Apple continues to use DRM to support their business model.  I don’t want to support anything that relies on DRM.
  • Apple continues to make changes to their players in each generation, ensuring that anyone not running their “free” iTunes software could not use their device.  I did not want any part of this software lock in.  I also can’t run iTunes as I do not run Windows.  This meant that I had to wait for hackers to reverse engineer each new device as they came out, to add support for the device in Linux.  Why would I want to give money to a company that obviously does not want to listen to my needs?
  • The iPod continues to not support anything but the tired old MP3 standard and the Apple DRM’d files.  I want to support a manufacturer that looks to open standards rather than software lock in.

As you can see, most of the reasons are quite ideeological in nature.  But there were some dark, distasteful reasons to buy the 120 GB iPod:

  • I already have spent $70.00 on an FM transmitter/charger that only works with iPods.  I could continue to see a return on that investment if I again bought Apple.  Yes, I know this is a classic sunk cost falacy, but I’ve never claimed to be a rational thinking person, have I?
  • Apple stole my idea of providing a guided playlist maker for their newest generation, calling it the “Music Genius”.  Whatever, I’m not bitter, but the feature is a serious draw for me.  A dynamically built playlist based on recommendations is a great way to just load up music and listen.  No other hardware device offers that functionality right now.

So I decided to just let it sit.  I had a few gigabytes of space left on my iPod and I could delete some of the podcasts to make space if needed …

Then Archos updated their player to support ogg and flac.  And then I started to drool, as the devices were on sale for boxing day.  And then I decided to splurge, to trust my gut, and to put my money where my mouth was.

Man am I happy I did!  I don’t want to gush, I don’t want to sound materialistic.  BUT THIS THING IS AWESOME!

I had no idea that having a wireless connection to the Internet, and also my internal network, would actually open so many interesting doors for me with this device.  I’ve spent a lot of my free time the past week just figuring out how this thing can integrate with my existing devices.  I’ve figured out how to have any of the television shows I’ve recorded get automatically transcoded into a format the device supports.  I’ve figured out how to manage my server using the web connection.  I sit on my couch and browse the most recent photos I’ve uploaded to my long term storage space from my camera.  It’s just an entirely new way of working with my network systems.  And frankly, I’m geeking out here!

I plan on posting a few tidbits I’ve gathered through research on how to best set things up, so I don’t have to keep it all on paper around my office.  If you’re interested in the device look for that.

So I’m starting 2009 with a new gadget, a new zeal for technology and “convergence”, and a spring in my step.

Yes, I’m ashamed of my carnal attachment to a technology gadget.  Yes, I’m embarrased by just how excited I am about it all.  And no, I don’t regret it for a second.

Tom Waits Press Conference

Do you know Tom Waits? Great musician – a real artist – or is that artiste? What you might call an eclectic fellow, which some consider to be part of his genius.

Well, he’s starting a new tour and held an interesting press conference to make the announcement.

If you really feel like digging into his craft, NPR has a free streamed recording of a recent concert.  Well worth the 2.5 hours – seriously.  This one’s for you Kurt.

Wisdom Comes With Age, They Say

Back in the 90s I listened to a band called Pure, and in my recent attempts to digitize my collection (I’m at the S’s now, hang in there contest entrants!) I have revisited their album entitled Generation 6 Pack.

A witty enough title – I appreciate it more today than I did back then.

Therein lies a song called Denial, that, frankly, nailed a feeling back then.  A general growing mistrust of technology and popular culture (yes I know, a rare indie band theme).  Listening to it riding through Richmond’s Nature Park this morning caused me to pause: those boys had hit it on the head and, dammit, they were still right!

A decade later and could these words not be written today?

One day I went out walking
To find a butterfly
Screaming in an empty room
A man shot the sky
My heart beating faster
I think I’ll go read my book
The faster we go, the less we know
A book sure sounds good
Seems like the faster we go
The less we see
The less that we know
Passing by the drugstore
I see this girl inside
Flippin’ through a magazine
To see how she should be
I stare a little closer
No one seems to mind
That sad-happy look she’s giving up for a while
Seems like the faster we go
The less we see
The less that we know
Talk about denial
Seems like the bigger the lie
The more you try
And the less you ask why
Heading down the seawall
Going back to my home
I see a friend who’s always hurtin’
We talk for a while
Smiles are always nervous
Chances are that we’ll laugh
Spill our guts, hurry up
Time’s running fast

Now were they just precient, or has the world not really changed in a decade.  We only get 10 of these thing, max, and have we really used this one to its fullest potential?

Oh, one more thing.  This is Bike To Work Week in Vancouver.  if you’re local, consider trying it out.