Friday, July 22, 2016

Music Friday: The Science of They Might Be Giants

Not to dwell too much on the apocalyptic, flaming-rats-are-falling-from-the-skies-to-devour-your-children's-limbs speech by that dimestore Manuel Noriega last night, but since this is Music Friday I'm allowed to say that choosing "You Can't Always Get What You Want" as the song for the celebratory balloon drop is either the Biggest Fucking Troll of All Time or shows a frankly breathtaking lack of awareness or, fuck it, who knows, maybe both, given this shambling shitshow of an election.

I didn't see it, actually.  I was at the Fillmore watching They Might Be Giants, which is the exact opposite of Donal Trump.

TMBG is sui generis in American music: a band that writes clever, quirky, catchy songs, doesn't take itself seriously at all, and has a wry sense of humor.  It's music for science geeks and (former) record store clerks and mathletes.  In fact, at one point during last night's show, the audience began chanting "SCIENCE! SCIENCE! SCIENCE!" like we were at a crazy Republican rally is bizarro world where they just nominated Neil deGrasse Tyson and were dropping carbon offsets instead of balloons.  I am not kidding, they actually chanted this, in response to some stage patter about science.  I am also not kidding about the stage patter about science.


I haven't listened to a lot of TMBG lately (and by lately, I mean since the mid-90's), but I quite liked "Apollo 18," their 1992 release.  Among other eccentricities, it has a song about mammals that contains the words "nuclei," "monotreme," and "allotheria;" a whole set of seconds-long song sketches smashed together at the end, and perfectly fine pop songs like "I Palindrome I," a catchy ditty about matricide.  TMBG is basically kid's music for adults.  It's charming and happy, which made it the perfect antidote to what was going on in Cleveland.  Couldn't they just leave Cleveland alone?  They have enough problems already.



Speaking of "Apollo 18," the show was billed as "They Might Be Giants plays Apollo 18," but, being They Might Be Giants, they played a bunch of other songs first and then played the album, in order, but backwards.  I mean in backwards order, not playing all the songs backwards.

It occurred to me while watching them that it's kind of perfect music for people on the spectrum because, other than mirth, I can't see TMBG generating any kind of emotional response, like some music does.  The last time I saw the Weakerthans I was moved almost to tears by the song "Left and Leaving" (go ahead, listen, you might burst into tears).  I can't imagine any TMBG provoking that kind of reaction.  And there's nothing wrong with that!  God knows we could use a little levity.  It was a fun, if tiring, show (they didn't go on until after 9 pm, and I had to leave around 11:30; they still weren't done).

We were also talking about pre-show music last night because TMBG had a nice mix going on the house PA before the show, with everything from Kendrick to Lily Allen to the Offspring and I happened to mention my Theory of Pre-Show Music, which is: The harder the pre-show music, the more twee the band.  EXAMPLE: I saw Belle & Sebastian years back and they played Geto Boys as their pre-show music.  Twee band, hard rap.  Conversely, I've seen some pretty aggro rock and they played classical or something before.  Try it and see.

THE OTHER MAJOR MUSIC STORY OF THE WEEK had something to do with Kanye, Taylor Swift, and Snapchat.  The Wife explained it to me but I wasn't really paying attention but I think it has something to do with some behind-the-scenes dealing and skullduggery and now everyone hates Taylor Swift?  I guess go to Buzzfeed or something to learn more.

DID I GET TICKETS TO FYF FEST YET: No. Saturday tickets are currently $194 on StubHub.  Humorously, 2-day tickets are $190, which means more people want to go Saturday than go Saturday and then discard a Sunday ticket. Throwing something in the trash is not worth $4 apparently.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

New Bar Night: Mid-Market Edition

Mid-Market is a long-bedraggled area of San Francisco that has apparently been on the skids since they tore up Market Street to build BART back in the 1850's.  Last night we were trying to figure out exactly what the boundaries are.  I guessed 5th to roughly Guerrero but wow was I off; according to Wikipedia it's 5th to Van Ness.

Twitter was supposed to save Mid-Market by moving into the huge old Furniture Mart at 1355 Market, so it seemed fitting to begin there, at Dirty Water, which I think is actually a restaurant more than a bar but whatever.  They have the usual $14-16 cocktails but a nice happy hour special - either a Moscow Mule or a very good Old Fashioned made with Buffalo Trace for $8.  Obviously I got the Old Fashioned because how else would I know it was good.  It was good.

[Oddly, Dirty Water's URL - dirtywatersf.com - redirects to the OpenTable page linked above. In fact, Dirty Water doesn't seem to have its own website at all, which is strange in 2016 for a big expensive restaurant. The significance of this, if any, is left to you.]

The place was pretty empty at 5:30 on a Tuesday and happy hour ends at 6 anyway so we split and went across the hall to the food court/bar thing called The Market they also have in the Twitter building so we could watch the Giants pathetically get shut out by the Red Sox and also have a few slices from Tony's Slice House, which were excellent, and a couple of Firestone Pilsners, which were also excellent.

We were actually sitting at the bar of the Tapas Bar but it's pretty much all interchangeable and you can eat the food from one station at another station.  We were surrounded by a couple of open laptops on the bar and lots of Attractive Young White People.  The only disconcerting thing was that every 30-45 seconds there was a huge muffled BOOM like someone was dropping something extraordinarily heavy on the floor directly above us.  We asked the bartender.  She speculated that it was maybe the bass.  It was not the music.  Obviously there is something fucking going on and the employees have been instructed to keep silent.

Next we went to the Hot Spot, a longtime Market Street dive that closed for a while when next door neighbor Alta CA was getting built and then reopened, after some difficulty.  I hadn't been in since the remodel.  It looks nice and now there are electrical outlets every 5 feet so you know that shit was done to code.

I have no idea what Hot Spot is like on a normal Tuesday because last night it was fucking PACKED with kids because Phish was playing virtually next door at the Bill Graham.  They were yelling and drinking craft beers so Olu and I retreated to the upstairs loft where the pool table is.

Taken from Hot Spot's Yelp page. I have no idea what this dog has to do with Hot Spot. I assume thew picture was taken there? Anyway, this dog sadly contemplating the world looks like we did surrounded by 20-something SCREAMING at Hot Spot before the Phish show.
Anyway, $8 for 2 PBRs.  Would return on a non-Phish-show night.

Final stop: Mr. Tipple's Recording Studio.  God, enough with the cutesy names already.  Ugh.  Ugh.  Mr. Tipple's looks like a fairly nice hotel bar and there was live jazz playing.  It's the usual fancy cocktails, with a twist - they're all a couple of dollars more than the price on the menu because the bar automatically adds 20% for tip!  Ha, what an unusual surprise to order a $12 cocktail and only get $5 and some quarters back!  I was going to ask the bartender why I was getting shorted and then saw this on the back of the drink list:

Please know right up front that we're applying 20% to each check to be distributed to all hourly employees who work tonight. This eliminates your need to tip, it will have already been included.

Well, Mr. Tipple's, if you want people to know "right up front," put it on the front page of the damn menu because we were surprised as hell. I guess if you're in the Exciting Mid-Market area and you want to grab a $15 drink that contains kirschwasser, whatever the fuck that is and don't have to say the name out loud to anyone, Mr. Tipple's is your place.

Monday, July 18, 2016

How many Uber/Lyft cars do you think you'd see on a random Sunday drive across town?

For reasons far too boring and stupid to recount here, I spent a lot of the weekend driving around San Francisco and environs.  I actually don't drive all that much and when I do it's pretty much the exact same route - our house to day care or preschool - so I don't see a lot of the town.  On all my perambulations around the City this weekend, I was hit by one recurring thought: HOLY SHIT, THERE ARE A LOT OF UBER/LYFT CARS OUT HERE.

"A lot" doesn't mean much, so I did what any Junior Scientist would do and decided to count.  First, a couple of definitions: an "Uber/Lyft car" will hereby be defined as an car with a visible Uber or Lyft placard (or, most commonly, both) in the window.  90% of the time, in my experience, anyone with a smartphone bracket on the front widshield just above the dash is also one but I'm being strict and requiring the telltale logo.

I decided to start counting yesterday, a seemingly normal Sunday, and I happened to be at 26th and Bryant when I started.  I went from 26th and Bryant to Ocean Beach, taking a not particularly direct path.  Behold, the route:


OK, now for the fun part.  (Or, I guess, the "fun" part).  How many Uber/Lyft cars do you think I counted on a normal Sunday afternoon in San Francisco going roughly across town?  20?  30?  More?

Not even close.  I counted 61.  And that's just the ones I counted while also driving!  I could have easily missed some.  61 seems a lot to me.  For comparison, during that same drive I saw 6 cabs, and 4 of those were on Polk while I was stopped at the light.  Polk is a very big cab street!

There were so many Uber/Lyft cars that my guess would be they represented 1 out of every 4 to 5 cars I saw.  Sometimes they even appeared in bunches.  Here are two in a line waiting to turn left at California and Hyde.


Another time I was boxed in by 3 of them at once, one in front and one on each side.  It was vaguely frightening!  What if they decided to use their powers for evil?

So my first question is "How did all the people using all these Uber/Lyft cars get around before these services existed, back in the Dark Ages of 2003?"  Three answers spring to mind:  (1) For one thing, there are about 100,000 more San Franciscans than there were in 2000, so these new services are needed to transport all the shiny new SFers to and from their coding stations and food delivery incubators; (2) They took cabs or Muni or walked; and (3) People didn't go as many places because life wasn't as interesting in 2000.

I don't know.  I DO know that a lot of these Uber/Lyft cars drive like complete assholes.  I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting one that blithely drifted into my lane on Franklin going about 35 miles an hour.  They routinely just stop wherever they happen to be and throw on the hazards, not giving a single fuck about the line of cars behind them, which is one thing if you're on deserted 28th and Noriega and quite another if - as I saw this weekend - you're on very crowded Fell Street, which is essentially a three-lane freeway with timed lights and on which any impediment immediately causes a blocks-long backup.  And so on.

I'm not advocating getting rid of Uber and Lyft.  I've used their services and may do so again in the future.  But it seems a little crazy that we've allowed this many essentially unregistered cabs to flood the streets with no screening process or driver safety and etiquette class or anything.  61 cars in a relatively short time is a lot.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Music Friday: Whither the live album?

I'm not 100% sure, but I believe the first long playing record album I bought with my own money was "Wings Over America" by, you guessed it, Wings.

[Brief explanatory note: Wings was a band fronted by kindly grandfather Paul McCartney, who you may know as Stella McCartney's dad.  He was also in a band before Wings called "The Beatles."]

This was before the Vinyl Renaissance, when it was just vinyl and that was the only way you could buy music.  WOA was an impressively heavy gatefold TRIPLE album with, IIRC, a poster and some stickers inside, along with the record.  It's actually a really good album!



Back then - and by "then" I mean the late 70's, early 80's, live albums were really A Thing.  I think everyone I knew had a copy of either "Alive" or "Alive II" by Kiss.  Neil Young's "Live Rust" isn't just a great live album, it's a great album album.  "Cheap Trick at Budokan" was playing all the time everywhere.  James Brown's "Live at the Apollo" is a legend.  It's a Pitchfork 10! And of course, every kid's older sister had Frampton Comes Alive, or at least the poster.



And today?  Crickets.  You just don't see live albums that much any more!  There was a spate of MTV Unplugged discs that were pretty good (Jay-Z's "Unplugged") to certifiably classic (Nirvana's), but the era of the live album is essentially over.  Once in a while something big drops - like maybe LCD Soundsystem's "The Long Goodbye," in 2014 - but they're no longer the ubiquitous cultural omnithings they used to be.

I found this List of Live Albums Recorded in the 2010s.  Make my Metamucil a double, bartender, the dance floor at the assisted care isn't going to pack itself! A sample:


HOLY SHIT REO SPEEDWAGON STILL FUCKING EXISTS.  They were Classic Rock when I was mowing lawns for snack bar money.  Slash pressed "record" at two different gigs and I guess enough people bought the first one to inspire a second.  Status Quo, who I thought broke up in 1975, is apparerently still giving the fans what they want and what they want is MORE LIVE ALBUMS.

Bruce Springsteen I understand.  Why the world needed a The Prodigy live album I don't.

So what happened?  Part of it, I'm sure, is that music is so fractured now that no single album is big enough to be a Huge Thing like Frampton Comes Alive anymore (with certain exceptions like Tay and Adele).  I read somewhere once that in today's market, you only have to sell like 4,000 records in a week to crack the Billboard Top 100.  (Incidentally, the biggest selling and therefore best album of the 2000s is The Marshall Mathers LP. Oh well.)

Also, when you can go on the YouTube and essentially watch a Video Live Album for free anytime, why bother just listening?  Visuals, that's what we want.  So live albums, dead.

DID I GET TICKETS TO FYF FEST YET: No, but they fell from $200 on StubHub to $180, so the dream is not yet dead.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The One-Stop Pokemon Go Thinkpiece

Jenna Ashworth hadn’t been out of her house for over 13 years.  Then, last Sunday, something amazing happened.  “I downloaded Pokemon Go,” she says, “and it just happened.  I was outside before I knew it.  I know this sounds crazy, but Charmander cured my agoraphobia.”

But Pokemon Go could be even more meaningful than that.  Pokemon Go is actually a sign of the demise of late-stage capitalism.  Freed from the vertically integrated model that delivers products from manufacturers to customers, bleeding edge companies will no doubt use PG-type technology to connect directly with perfectly targeted consumers.  Why keep a warehouse full of stuff nobody wants when you can deliver exactly one thing to one person who wants it?

Besides that, Pokemon Go is a dramatic symbol of our classist society.  The “haves” – freed by wealth and status from having to work regular hours at a menial job – are free to roam the landscapes that we all share, collecting choice Pokemons while the rest of us must make do in the little time we have.  The rich will loot the Pokeballs from the nearest Pokestop just like they looted the Capitalgainsballs from the Treasurystop.

One silver lining, though: Pokemon Go will end racism. 



That is, unless Pokemon Go fails to listen to its players, who long for a better way to connect.  Millennials are lonely and adrift and long for meaningful interaction.  No, Millennials are fine and just want to be left alone.  They want to catch a Pokemon – and then catch up with their friends on Snapchat.  No, Whatsapp.  No, they’re building and using telegraph machines.  No, they have retreated to caves and eat bison now. 

Pokemon Go will finally spell the end for laptops.


Pokemon Go’s first victim will be Marissa Mayer.

Pokemon Go means that the Trump campaign is dead in the water.  

Is Pokemon Go the new Zika?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Music Friday is off today

Music Friday will be back next Friday.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Music Friday: AMERICA

Sorry MF is late, I had a work thing to do.  It's still Friday and you have a whole extra day to read it anyway.

Speaking of patriotism and tradition, I'm glad to see the New York Daily News getting on board with FINALLY stopping the singing of "God Bless America" at baseball games.
But it wasn’t long before heartache became headache. The Yankees still play it at every game, but most teams, like my beloved Mets, play “God Bless America” only on Sundays or holidays. But even that’s too much.
Part of my outrage stems from ponderous Mussolini-esque introduction of the song, when fans are asked to rise, remove their caps and place them over their hearts.
Reality check, friends: “God Bless America” is not the National Anthem. The only songs Americans should stand for are “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Here Comes the Bride.”

PREACH.  I've been a GBA truther for a long time now.  9/11 was 15 years ago, for Christ's sake. Give it a rest.

Not that there aren't a host of excellent America songs to pick from!  No 4th of July party is complete without Kim Wilde.




Oh that reminds me, here's a great interview with Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go's about the song "Vacation."  This has nothing to do with July 4th or America except in the sense that Kathy Valentine is an American but for some reason "Kids in America" always reminds me of the Go-Go's so you can see my train of thought here.  Anyway.

Then there's your dad's America song:




Or maybe your grandad's. "Comments disabled until after the election." GREAT JOB, GARBAGE PEOPLE.

There are lots of others.  If you're making a killer playlist for your cookout, you can find some here and here.  Those lists are boring and predictable, though.  Esquire has a better version here, with stuff like Kendrick's "Alright" and Father John Misty's "Bored in the U.S.A."

Did you watch Aziz Ansari's very very very funny show "Master of None"?  If you didn't, you should watch it right away.  Apart from being funny, it also had a killer soundtrack.  There's a Spotify playlist you can use if you have Spotify.  If you don't have Spotify, you probably feel smug because you're not ripping off artists.  Anyway, one plot point in one (or maybe two episodes) is a Father John Misty show and how hard it is to get tickets and how everyone wants to go to the Father John Misty show and I like FJM just fine but really?  It's not like a surprise Beyonce show at Mezzanine or something.  It's Father John Misty.  Calm down.

Somehow I'll find a way to wedge and Elliott Smith song into this feature every week.  This one for obvious reasons.



That's about it. Get your pets into Thundershirts and your sausages on the grill because IT'S JULY FOURTH MOTHERFUCKERS.  Be safe out there.