Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Duhks - 6.29.05 Espresso Garden Cafe

Above is the band, The Duhks, a quintet that manages to form a unique sound ala Nickel Creek by taking their backgrounds in Celtic, gospel, bluegrass, jazz, and rock. They're highly regarded and rising in the indie circuit (Paste Magazine has them in the top five in both their indie and americana roots charts in the past two issues), and I had the neat opportunity to catch the band in the smallest of venues, the intimate Espresso Garden Cafe in San Jose that holds just about a hundred people.

Live, the band is very energetic and pass off some of that charming "we're just so glad to be here and that you're digging our music and actually know the words..." that I've come to love from live Nickel Creek shows and, of late, Blue Merle shows. Leonard and the Jessee, the lead singer (third and second from the left on the picture) both take leadership roles in the band and both come off as really charismatic people, especially Jessee who at first might remind you of your favorite punk rocker because of her tattoos. On stage, the band's sound (fiddle, guitar, drums, banjo, and vocal) is fairly tight, performing extremely in sync with each other, though I wish they would invite more improvisation (i just assumed so thinking they were straight on bluegrass), but they are at their best performing the Celtic tunes.

Some sidenotes from this fun show- Going solo, I sat down next to this well-aged but experienced and full of road stories man who introduced me to, at the time i had no idea, Leonard, the founding member of the band! We chatted, had a few beers, and talked about whether or not the Duhks should encourage taping of their shows! (They should, it wouldn't hurt!) Also, during the intermission, I ran into two young women, one of which was wearing the exact same Nickel Creek shirt I had on that night! I nearly flipped, so happy to talk to others about Nickel Creek related music, and eventually got a contact number to which I hope will lead to some fun concert and music buddies, if not anything else.

Long story short, give the Duhks a listen and catch'em now if they come by your city. They're still doing small venues and folk festivals, but as with Nickel Creek, that may change soon!

Currently Watching
The Sea Inside
By Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas
see related

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It's so fun to watch an artist so comfortable on stage that they can share such personal stories barefoot.  Yep, I caught Glen Phillips again this weekend, at one of the finer neat little venues of the countless in San Francisco, the Great American Music Hall.  The only place I can compare it to is the Little Fox theater in Redwood City, except maybe three or four times larger.  Balconies on both sides surround the artist, with a wide open space in front filled with chairs grouped in small round tables. 

Glen was solo acoustic which I've finally come to realize is the only way he should be!  Performing in a band, as he did two months ago, his strongest feature, his vocals, is just too drowned out by overwhelming instruments.  Solo acoustic, however, ya get the whole thing and nothing sounds better.  As far as banter, Glen was quite the potty mouth this weekend, though ironically he described his annoyance of those who do so for cheap laughs.  Great stories such as getting a vesectomy by an admitted Toad fan who kept asking questions like, "Wow. You were in Toad?  I bet you got a lot of girls." as he was , um, swabbing.  Talking about the best Vietnamese food in San Francisco.  Huge food courts in Chinese malls that don't use disposable dishes.  Performing Pico De Gallo when someone advertantly blurted out "salsa picante".  Telling stories about crazy lab experiments his dad performed.  You know, typical concert banter   Amazingly fun and oh yeah, the songs were great...

A few hours later.... A bunch of us decided to hike up Mt. Diablo, a high altitude mountain in the East Bay of the Bay Area.  Fun, don't wear sneakers, remember to bring lots of water, and I'll let the pictures take care of the rest.

This is so cool.  Taken at around 10AM, this is at the summit, above the clouds and fog!  That, I think, is supposed to be pointing towards the west, either Frisco or Santa Cruz. 

Taken at the same time, the other side, the East Bay, much less clouds!

I forget, but it's nice to see how high we are!

So we hiked up from where this picture is taken all the way up to the tip of that peak there!  My lack of hiking ability/skill/endurance left me crawling the last few moments up... And then I realized we had to do it all again to get back to where we started.

Empty Nalgene bottle there.

A part of Mt. Diablo dubbed, "Rock City".  Hard to tell from this shot, but we had to climb up into this... rock.  I'm sitting on the left.

That Nickel Creek review will come one of these days...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

As a follow-up, here’s a detailed description of the six episodes that will run.  If you missed the first two episodes, you can find them through torrents ( under “30 Days”.  Or catch’em on FX.  I’m really interested in episodes 3 and 4, as well as 5, though that has a sort of Survivor feel to it.  Episode 6 sounds like they ran out of ideas.  I followed Spurlock’s Blog as well and he’s written that, “We will work with them and FX to get tonight's episode (episode 1) out to every member of Congress in the coming weeks. We did the same with Super Size Me, so hopefully we can keep making folks on the Hill laugh and think ... a great combination in my opinion.”  I’m happy to hear that.

Episode 1 (6/15)

“Minimum Wage”

The day after the Oscars, nominee Morgan Spurlock and his fiancée Alex uproot themselves from the financial security of their fabulous New York City lives and move to the struggling heart of the Midwest – Columbus Ohio – and work at multiple minimum wage jobs for 30 days.  Their effort to make ends meet is further complicated when Morgan’s nieces come to live with him and he explores first hand what it’s like to feed and support a family while living on a measly $5.15 an hour.

Episode 2 (6/22)


A thirty-something former athlete who is battling middle-age, an expanding gut, and a lowered libido goes on anti-aging drugs prescribed by an MD for 30 days in an effort to reverse the aging process and put some zing back into his life.  How will it impact his mood, his marriage and his career?  While on the drug therapy he will work out with a trainer, follow a nutritionist’s plan, and have a doctor monitor any negative side effects as he tries to recapture the glory days of his youth.

Episode 3 (6/29)

“Muslims and America

A Christian agrees to uproot his life among his like-minded family and friends and live for 30 days in a large Muslim community in Dearborn Michigan.  As he befriends his Muslim host family and adopts their customs, he struggles deeply with his bias against a belief system that does not recognize Christ as the Son of God and his even stronger prejudice against a religion that is closely associated in many American’s minds with Osama Bin Laden and the terrorist activity of 9-11.

Episode 4 (7/6)

“Straight Man in a Gay World”

A God-fearing 24-year-old conservative homophobe from red state America travels to San Francisco’s Castro district to live in what is notoriously known as one of the gayest areas of the country.  As he joins a gay sports team, works a job that caters to gay clientele, attends gay-friendly church services and lives with a gay roommate, he gets an inside view of what it is like to live as a minority that still elicits strong feelings of hatred among many Americans.  Throughout the 30 days this former youth minister and member of the military will have his Bible-rooted values severely challenged as this important issue becomes very personal.

Episode 5 (7/13)

“Off the Grid”

Two 30-year-old professionals who are friends and typical Americans – i.e., ravenous consumers of fossil fuels such as gas and electricity – go “back to the future” and learn to live without the natural resources that will be depleted from our earth in the not-too-distant future.  To do this they’ll uproot themselves and move to an “eco village” in Missouri to live 100% OFF THE GRID.  As they set up house in a former 3,000 bushel grain bin, they will sustain themselves on clean power such as solar and wind, recycle all their waste (both food and human), live in a car-free culture, grow and eat only organic foods and conserve their water use with solar showers and rain-catch systems.  Can these fossil fuel addicts wean themselves from their consumptive habits without their lives falling apart?  Will they thrive in a community that is the total opposite their New Jersey neighborhood?  And will the ecological solutions they learn stick once their Thirty Days are up?

Episode 6 (7/20)

“Binge Drinking Mom”

A mother concerned about her daughter’s alcohol consumption now that she is in college agrees to binge drink for 30 Days to try to get through to her.  In a booze-drenched Freaky Friday scenario, the daughter will see her mother drunk, vomiting, and hung over as she makes decisions about the tough social choices she faces every day in college.  The mother, on the other hand, will become more aware of the enormous social and cultural pressure to drink that faces kids every day of their college careers.

In other news, I’ve gotten a hold of Nickel Creek’s latest (to be released 8/9 or so) and am giving it a thorough listen before letting my biased emotions take over what I think about it.  Stay tuned…..

Monday, June 20, 2005

Just caught an episode of a new series called "30 Days", by the same fellow, Morgan Spurlock (or something like that), who produced the popular documentary, "Super Size Me".  He takes the same premise of doing something for thirty days (i.e. 30 days of fast food from Super Size Me), films it quasi-documentary style, but in an entertaining form with messages understandable in layman's terms. 

The first episode was well done, but particularly because it dealt with an issue I'm most familiar with, the working poor.  Think of it as a film version of Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" if you read the book.  Morgan and his girlfriend (the same Vegan girl from Super Size Me) spend thirty days working minimum wage jobs, trying to survive each day at a time through thrifty spending.  There is a little "balance" indicator at the bottom of the screen that continuously pops in and shows how much the two currently have (or are in debt).  The message of the episode, though nothing new if you know anything about the working poor, pointed out clearly just how difficult and why these people are on-the-edge.  The slightest slip-ups can easily ruin people in this situation (and believe me, that is a large percentage of the country).  In the episode, an emergency trip to the ER (remember, they have no medical insurance) that turned out to be non-life threatening cost the couple a thousand dollars, which they calculated would take months to recover from.  Morgan's niece and nephew came to stay for a weekend, and they easily, without realizing, spent more than they could afford on soft drinks at a movie theater.  For Morgan's girlfriend's birthday, they had to debate whether to pay to visit an observatory that she loved or have dinner.  Small issues like these, but issues that affect relationships.  

Anyway there's much more but so far, I dig the concept of the show, which is that it seems to take issues and presents them in an entertainingly light-hearted way, but still manages to hone down an important message.  If you liked Super Size Me, you'll enjoy this show. 

Friday, June 17, 2005

Had lunch with a friend and his lady co-worker the other day, who was Asian; Vietnamese, I'm pretty sure. She was a bit introverted and didn't exactly exude the best participation of a two-way conversation.

Today, he tells me this: When he mentioned that a friend was coming to lunch, she asked, "What is he?", to which he responded, "Asian.". She sighs. "Why the sigh? What kind of answer did you want?", asks my buddy. Her response?


Oh well.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Local concerts of interest in the following weeks.  (in other words, anyone interested in going?  )

6/24-6/25 - Glen Phillips at Tower Records (6/24) , Great American Music Hall (6/25), both in San Francisco

6/29 - The Duhks at Espresso Garden Cafe, San Jose.  One of the hottest rising indie bands at the moment.  Coffee shop atmosphere, once in a lifetime

7/3 - Better Than Ezra at Day at the Meadow, San Jose.  Fun live band, fourth of July atmosphere.

7/12 - Beck and Le Tigre at San Jose Civic Center, San Jose.  Beck... 'nuff said.

7/14-15 - Ray LaMontagne and Rachael Yamagata at Mountain Winery, Saratoga (7/14) and the Warfield, San Francisco (7/15).  Awesome songwriters.

That's a good month.


House Votes to Limit Patriot Act Rules

 … lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the Justice Department and the FBI from using the Patriot Act to peek at library records and bookstore sales slips.  The House voted 238-187 despite a veto threat from Bush to block the part of the anti-terrorism law that allows the government to investigate the reading habits of terror suspects.

Wow.  Yet, I still don’t feel fully secure about the confidentiality of my library book borrowing habits…

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

If you don't live in California, be glad.  If you do... brace yourself.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made official his long rumored plan to call for a special election for later this year.

The Governor wants California voters to approve sweeping changes in state government. Among the issues voters will face, a call to change tenure requirement for teachers to five years of service instead of the current two years. Schwarzenegger also wants to remove the power of the legislature to draw state congressional districts. Instead he wants a panel of retired judges to draw the boundary lines. Schwarzenegger is also calling for a spending cap on state government in an effort to make it easier to reach a balanced budget.

Members of the state's top teachers unions are already geared up to fight the Governor's planned changes to the state's education system. Some unions are raising dues to make sure they have enough money to fight a major media campaign. The Governor has also been raising money for what is expected to be an expensive and bitterly fought campaign.

(Copyright 2005, KRON 4. All rights reserved.)

And how much is it going to cost?

SACRAMENTO — Brushing aside concerns that donors are tapped out and tired, campaign warriors are preparing to spend upward of $100 million on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's special election.

In what otherwise would have been an electoral respite this year, politicians and patrons might have squirreled away money for 2006, when Californians will elect a governor and other statewide officers. But preliminary campaign reports filed with the state show contributions of more than $44 million in the first half of 2005 to the eight initiatives that are expected to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. "An estimate of $200 million from all parties, I would call that table stakes," said Marty Wilson, Schwarzenegger's main fundraiser. "My guess is that the pot grows from there."

Donors spent $235 million on ballot measures last year, $88 million on the first-ever recall of a sitting
California governor in 2003 and $130 million on the 2002 gubernatorial election….

 A few reactions in response –

"The state of California is today strapped for cash, and I think it is a mistake to spend tens of millions of dollars on a special election, just eight months before a scheduled election. These funds could certainly be used for a much better purpose — like improving our schools or closing the state's budget deficit." — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat.

"It's especially outrageous that the idea arises from the man who went to Washington in October 2003 bragging that he would be the "collectinator," using his newfound clout to scoop up federal funds for state projects, a promise that turned out to be merely rhetorical. Now that he's ready to be such a spendthrift, he should call himself the 'profligator.'" — U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Burlingame.

"In January of this year, Gov. Schwarzenegger asked the Legislature to work with him on financial, educational and governmental reforms to move California forward. It is unfortunate that the same majority party that found time to propose nearly $3 billion in tax increases this year refused to work with the governor on his reform agenda. It's time the politicians in Sacramento stop treating taxpayer dollars like their personal piggybanks and start acting in the best interest of California's working families." — Duf Sundheim, California Republican Party chairman.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to call his taxpayer-funded special election is bad for politics and bad for California. Schwarzenegger ran for office as a nonpartisan, nonpolitical reformer. In two years he has devolved into a Bush-lite conservative politician who breaks his promises and sells out working people to satisfy his special-interest corporate donors." — Art Pulaski, California Labor Federation.

"California has a growing health care emergency. But rather than improve health care access or quality, this governor is promoting a plan that will almost certainly produce severe reductions in vital health programs, while seeking to silence the voice of caregivers to protect the safety of patients and all Californians." — Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association.

"The governor is wasting taxpayer money to hold an election that nobody wants and to push an agenda that will hurt our public schools, kids and local communities. And the plan announced by his advisers to use the election to create a 'phenomenon of anger' against teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public employees breaks his promise to unite our state for public good." — Barbara Kerr, California Teachers Association.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

I've been on vacation and of course on hiatus concerning this site.  It's a bit refreshing to liberate myself from the grind of school, work, and attempting to type thought out thoughts on a computer.  But that aside, I'm a little more inclined to talk and be productive again. 

Over the weekend, I visited UC Santa Cruz for the first time, for a friend's graduation.  Through the graduation speeches and taking general observations, I could now see the... "importance"... "experience"... that people typically correlate with college in America.  The idea that college is this wonderfully unique experience where you are practically consumed into an entirely different life, opposed to the rest of your living days.  Visiting this campus, I could see how utterly detached it was from the rest of the city, to the point where in ways, it was its own city.  Speakers at the graduation reminisced not only on their often difficult experiences and how it helped them grow, but how they did it as a unit and a group.  People who knew each other.  Anyway, coming from a commuter school, I thought it was a bit enlightening that at least I could see this concept from the outside looking in, at the very least.  It helps explain the abundance of college alumni caps/sweaters/tshirts/other marketed material that people wear.   I'm hoping that I'll have this sort of bond in my cohort next semester. 

Pictures from Santa Cruz--

the graduate and me plus two friends

me atop a hill on ucsc

Monday, June 06, 2005

Thank Yous

It's been a crazy whirlwind weekend, of which my birthday was the least of concerns! 

My brother, Vinh, and his wife, Susana (sorry, I had to use that term one last time!), today took off on their next adventure (again, sorry I'm romanticizing, but I'm listening to this amazing tune by the Duhks called "the dregs of birch" which sounds Scottish but is quite beautiful), this time moving out of the States to Madrid, Spain.  They stayed over the weekend and I got to witness and take part in some emotional goodbyes, but also well wishes for the future.  We had a grand time in San Francisco on Saturday, the first I think I've been with them that wasn't for a concert! (believe me, it was many a time).  Some shots

Cliff House (Susana, Mom, Dad, Vinh)

Me at China Beach

Shot of the Bridge from China Beach

Palace of Fine Arts -- Site of my best Nickel Creek experience

We also had a final bbq for them Sunday, my birthday. 

Anyway, it's hard to say goodbye, so let's just call it a see you later, or until next time.  Thanks for everything over the past few years and beyond, you guys, especially for treating me like an adult   It doesn't sound like much, but it is a huge deal. 

And finally, thanks to the friends who beckoned the call of the 23rd hour to celebrate my birthday!  Other things took precedence that day, but it was not forgotten (even though it was by me), so thanks for the phone calls and the eleven o'clock wine

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Coldplay - X & Y

Anticipation and the increasing months leading to years after such large hits can and statistically consumes and overwhelms bands. That often is the case of the "sophomore slump" wherein the sudden overwhelming success adds up to unbearable pressure for bands to replicate. Should we continue sounding like the last record? The public likes song X and song Y (no pun intended), why don't we hit'em with an album full of these songs (sorry, sugar ray). Or... Let's make an album so quick on the road that it won't give the public an opportunity to speculate on the state of the band (sorry, Hootie). How about let's just continue exploring our sound and, cliche as it sounds, expand our horizons and musical palette?

These thoughts most likely kicked around when Coldplay recorded (and subsequently scratched and re-recorded) their album coming out next week, X & Y. After all, what would be going on in the mind of Chris Martin now that he's married to a movie star and has a kid (named Apple)?

After something like twenty listens (no kidding, check my audioscrobbler!), I've come to the simple conclusion that the new album is reminiscent of the first album in which there were many stand out songs, but a few leftover that just. well. songs i wouldn't feel remorse for by hitting the 'skip' button. But let's not dawdle on the 'skip' songs. The stand out songs? Wow. "Fix You", well, gives you the kind of goosebumps that "the Scientist" from their last album did. Easily one of the highlights. "Speed of Sound" is still that dreamy song I loved when I first heard it, especially the beginning piano solo. "Talk" features guitar playing that is reminiscent of the Edge of U2. "Square One" has some of the urgency in Martin's voice that is so captivating in the last record's track, "politik". Finally, "the Message" is that one track that all three Coldplay albums seems to contain. Martin's voice prominently featured with somber lyrics engulfed in a dreamy backdrop of acoustic guitars. Think "warning sign" or "everything's not lost" from the prior albums.

A few songs, however, detract. "Swallowed in the Sea" and "Twisted Logic" sound a bit contrived. The title track, "X & Y", interestingly is a bit moody and expansive sounding, but still requires a "skip". Who knows, maybe a few more listens?

I've yet to speak of lyrics, but that's due to listening to the album mostly in the office while packing boxes (we're moving new furniture in, but besides the point..) I'm sure I'll dig into the lyrics when the album comes out next week.
**** (out of 5)
Just got tickets to see Coldplay in August as well, today! Look for a live concert review of these same songs in oh... 3 months :)