Sunday, February 28, 2010

Athens' proposed noise ordinances: are we surprised?

photo courtesy of

Take a look at the above picture--maybe you're in it. If so, you might be part of the reason that Athens City Council is currently thinking of proposing changes to its noise ordinances in effort to reduce the number of embarrassing couch-burning spectacles that mar the city and school's reputation, last year's Palmer Fest being the most recent and pressing example.

As a fellow class blogger pointed out, the whole mess is currently being debated, and nothing is official just yet. But the proposals, according to the linked Athens News article, "are to amend the city’s noise ordinance to prohibit amplified sound 'intended directly or indirectly to be heard outside of the structure where the event is being held,'" which would cause serious detriment to the house shows that I and countless students enjoy so very much, as well as the hot-button spring fests.

The Angry Young Man in me is certainly incensed by the fact that this could mean that outdoor music in someone's yard could incur beyond-college-budget fines. Just another case of The Man bringing us down, you know? But there's no way it ought to come as a surprise that the city wants to do something. As students it's easy to forget that not everyone in town is a twentysomething booze hound, and that real-live families inhabit the area surrounding campus who might not appreciate ear-shattering noise-rock floating through their windows on a Thursday evening in spring. Just as well, Athens ought to be taking greater steps to keep the spring fests from degenerating into drunken orgies of violence. Every time a police horse gets pelted with a beer bottle, the baby Jesus weeps.

So what's to be done? Personally, I don't think forcing students to go through some kind of permit process to host a live show at their house is going to do much besides make everyone involved a lot angrier. I'm trying to think of where "Get proper permit" falls on the to-do list of a student planning to have a band play in his yard, but I'm guessing it falls somewhere far below "Decide between Natty or Keystone for the keg."

Might it be that we as students ought to be a bit more responsible during our ritualized spring revelries? Or perhaps be a little more respectful when a tenured professor walks down the sisdewalk in her nightgown asking the band playing on a Washington Street porch to turn it down a bit because her child is trying to sleep? (This may have happened to my band, once...) I'm thinking the answer is yes. As this Post editorial put it, "If we want the city to start respecting us, we could probably start by doing a better job of respecting the city."


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Navigating the sounds in A-town

There are tons of places in Athens where you can discover, hear and play new music. Sometimes, though, it's a bit difficult to know where to begin. With the help of Google Maps, I've put together an interactive map that features 10 of Athens' most distinctive purveyors of music, be they coffeehouses, bars, or shops.

Zoom in to view the locations pinpointed, and click on a pin to explore more information about each location. Enjoy.

View Hear in Athens... in a larger map

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Woody Pines at Casa Nueva

Woody Pines, a steel guitar-wielding, folk/country troubadour from North Carolina, made a stop at Athens' Casa Nueva this past Friday night, bringing along with him a small band and bunch of tunes that turned Casa's main stage into a real hoe-down--something you might not expect to find at a vegan friendly, Mexican restaurant. Nonetheless, the near-capacity crowd (indeed, I had some trouble getting back into the place after taking a short reprieve outside) had a grand ol' time, stomping and dancing to Woody's high-energy, down-home stage show.

I brought along my video camera to document some of the action. With no further adieu, here's my directorial debut, featuring Woody Pines:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nostalgia is a bitch...

I've lived in Athens and attended Ohio University for what's near three years now; I'll officially be a senior at the beginning of the next quarter (which, I've got to say, is relatively terrifying), and with going to college in this town comes a boatload of memories, too many of which to count. When you listen to music as much as I do, those memories tend to get inextricably tangled with songs I might have been obsessed with around the same time period. It happens. So, if you'll excuse the huge dollop of sentimentality that's been ladled atop this post, here are ten songs that'd mean relatively nothing to me were it not for my time in Athens. Call it a soundtrack, or something:

10. "Lights & Music" by Cut/Copy

Sometime during the spring quarter of my freshman year, a record called In Ghost Colours by some Australian guys calling themselves Cut/Copy made it's way into my listening rotation. It completely consumed me for about a week. The brightness of the music, all bouncing synthesizers and chiming guitars and harmonies and such, was perfectly suited to all the nice weather we suddenly seemed to be having. It was sunny... and warm! Get out of here winter quarter!

09. "Crank That" by Soulja Boy Tell'em

No, please, keep reading. I'm sorry. I know. But to make this list and exclude this song would be entirely dishonest, and I've read 1984 too many times to try and alter history and pretend this song didn't exist. It did, and I think I heard the song 1,537 during my freshman year, and probably a third of those instances occurred at a single house one night sometime during fall quarter that year. So... there you have it., regrettably, only had the clean version.

08. "D.A.N.C.E." by Justice

On the other end of the catching, dance-worthy tunes that I tended to hear at frat houses sometimes spectrum, there's this track by Justice. It's great. It's phenomenal. This song doesn't get stuck in my head so much as it arrives there, builds colonies, massacres the natives and just doesn't ever leave. The specific reason it's on this list, is because during one shift I worked at Shively Dining Hall my freshman year, this song played on the radio we had in the back. Sometimes the refrain still reminds me of fried food.

07. "15 Step" by Radiohead

Radiohead have been everyone's favorite Important Band since around the time Kid A came out, by my estimate. On October 1, 2007, the band announced their new record with an innocuous post on their website that read, "Well, the new album is finished, and it's coming out in 10 days . . . We've called it In Rainbows." Radiohead message boards exploded (yes, I frequent them [or at least one of them]), and I ran down the hall of my dorm to tell my friends of this earth-shattering news. The new album would be available for free (!), legal (!!) download in a week and a half. I remember receiving the download link in my e-mail inbox the Wednesday morning of October 10, skipping class to listen to it all day, and having the biggest grin on my face the entire time.

06. "Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus

I think this is the last entry I'll feel like I have to apologize for. So, again: sorry. But this past fall quarter, you could go nowhere in Athens (and most likely a good part of the country) without hearing this song, somewhere. I have a few friends who threw a party at their house around the time. Kegs, grilled burgers, the works. They played this song 8 times in a row I think, before someone finally wrested control of the iPod and turned on something a bit more sensible.

05. "Not Your Lover" by Blitzen Trapper

This, a lonely piano ballad from Blitzen Trapper's wonderful 2008 record entitled Furr, really gets to me in ways I can't rationally explain. I was varying degrees of lovesick for the greater part of my sophomore year, when this song first came out, so there will always be some bittersweet things attached to this track... but mostly, the opening notes to this song remind me of what the 6th floor hallway in Bromley Hall smells like, where I lived that year. Weird.

04. "Paper Planes" by M.I.A.

I've learned that there's no real way to tell people that you've liked this song since 2007, a year before Pineapple Express came out, without sounding like a pretentious music nerd who has a blog and makes lists and stuff. But, when that movie hit, this song was virtually everywhere, nearing "Soulja Boy" and "Party in the U.S.A." levels, though perhaps not quite. Regardless, I'm happy to hear this song any time it comes on, so it exists on a different plane than those other two.

03. "The Modern Leper" by Frightened Rabbit

Funnily enough, this band was name-dropped by Andrew Whitman during the music journalism panel I attended last weekend. He said something to the effect of, "They're doing the indie / emo thing very, very well." I agree! From the band's not-so-innocently-titled 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight comes "The Modern Leper," a song I couldn't shake for a month or two during the beginning of my sophomore year. I think it racked up about 50 plays in my iTunes during that time period. Were it not for headphones, my roommate would have gotten very, very sick of this song, I'm sure.

02. "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan

Sometime during my sophomore year, I learned how to play this song. I somehow managed to memorize every word, or at least knew them all for a certain period of time, because now that I don't play it so often anymore, I struggle to get through it sometimes without flubbing a line somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd verse. My band played this one a lot last year, the first time being an absolute mess at Jackie O's during open mic. I was impressed with remembering all the words, but less so with how we botched the timing before nearly every chorus... we've gotten better at it, I promise.

01. "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show

Another song I learned how to play for my friends last year, but pre-dating the formation of our band. Our band does play it, all the time, but it originated with me and a guitar and a bunch of friends hanging out in someone's dorm room at 2:00 AM every weekend night. It went from being a song that I played to a song that everyone played, all in the room shouting along the lyrics and just loving the hell out of every second. I can hardly think of a song I'm more emotionally attached to for that very reason, and as such, it gets top honors here. I'm still kinda pissed off I didn't see Old Crow Medicine Show when they played in Nelsonville last quarter...


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day is for suckers

Dateless on Valentine's Day eve, last night I decided against following the music journalists to the Battle of the Bands at The Union as mentioned in my last post, and with a couple of friends made the trek up to 46 Grosvenor St. for what they'd advertised as Death Day, subtly subtitled with the phrase "Love is Dead," an event that stuffed 4 different bands into a tight corner of the basement. The lineup: Zupaño, 5 Deadly Venoms, Gnomenclature, and Tribe of the Mountain. (my apologies, as I could only find 2 of the MySpace pages)

We missed Zupaño. I do, however, remember seeing them at another house show I was at by chance sometime last year. The reason I remember, specifically, is because I was quite afraid that the floor was about to give out in the room where they were playing. That due to the room being completely packed with sweaty bodies. One of the guys in the band is a friend of my roommate's, I think his name is Shaun (or Sean, or Shawn). Their sound, if I'm remembering correctly, is a kind of jazz rock with the tendency to jam a whole lot.

So, my friends and I identified the house upon arrival from the sound that was coming from the house, it being audible about 5 houses down. I made my way into the basement and attempted to worm my way through the rippling audience toward the front, but it wasn't working out. Crammed in the corner was 5 Deadly Venoms, who were playing a sort of bluesy, hard rock, and the guitarist was using an effects pedal that made his tone sound like a cat trying to scratch its way out of a bag, a description I ought give credit to my friend for. The crowd, which far exceeded any safe number of people that ought to be in this basement at one time, was pretty into it. The sound guy, twiddling knobs near the side of the stage, was wearing a viking hat.

After that set finished, Gnonemclature set up in the corner, unleashing a sort of crunchy, pop/rock music. The weak point, I thought, was the vocalist, who would be pretty hard for me to describe without sounding like a big jerk. He reminded me of a clown, if that gives you any idea. But, that aside, I enjoyed their set a good deal, and would have more so if someone else
had been singing their songs.

At this point, the case of beer my friends and I bought with us was reaching its ultimate demise, and my memory becomes a bit foggy. I was diligently typing notes into my cell phone (things like "blues. viking hat.") earlier in the evening, but had ceased somewhere during the last cigarette break. I remember Tribe of the Mountain being a slinky, loud blues rock sort of deal, with the vocalist alternating between smooth baritone and angered bark. It was great, actually. I remember dancing, but not who with.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Music journalists spread their knowledge

I just returned from the Music Journalism Panel that took place in Scripps Auditorium, consisting of, according to the Facebook Event page, "some of the most prominent music journalists in the state": Andrew Whitman of Paste Magazine; Jeff Niesel of the Cleveland Scene; Joel Oliphint from The Other Paper, and Dana Stewart from the Columbus Metromix.

I can't say that I walked away from the event too thrilled with what I had just witnessed, that being a somewhat intimate discussion between the four and about 30 or so students scattered throughout the seats, but it was interesting to hear some of their perspectives on music writing throughout their differing careers. Andrew Whitman told the audience he got his start writing for Paste by posting on a message board around the same time the magazine started up, knew some of the folks who were running it, who then asked him to contribute. I found that anecdote appealing considering how much message board posting I do myself...

At my own prodding, Whitman also gave his perspective on making a living off music journalism--or rather, the lack of living to be made. Whitman blogged about it earlier in the week, referencing his upcoming participation in the panel in Scripps. I only had time to skim the piece before I attended, but the following stuck out at me:

I’ll probably be polite and encouraging. God knows the poor, deluded kids need all the encouragement they can get, with their bleak decades of barista duty at Starbucks still ahead of them. So I probably won’t say any of this. But here’s what I’d like to say.

You will earn more money by creatively mouthing the words “Would you like fries with that?” than you will as a music critic. If you are pursuing a career in music journalism thinking that you will actually have a career in music journalism, think again. You probably will not.

All of this Whitman did actually go on to say, after I asked the panel how they made their living. 3 our of the 4 write about music for the love of it rather than its lucrative possibilities, with Jeff Niesel being the only one to claim his career as a music journalist paid all the bills.

It's a sobering thought, to be sure. I love writing about music, and to turn it into a career would probably be the greatest thing ever, but it's not something I'm really expecting to pan out. I'm certainly glad that Whitman and the rest of the panel didn't shy away from telling a room full of young, hopeful college kids this when asked, lest the discussion completely devolve into why everyone just loves music so gosh-darned much (which it started to).

Those on the panel will also be judging the Battle of the Bands taking place at The Union bar tonight. I'm currently wrestling with whether to attend that, or a house show on Grosvenor street. You'll find out my decision tomorrow, as one of the events is going to be the subject of my next post.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

That noise coming from the closet...

As I've mentioned previously, I'm in a band. We're called the Squeaky Chairs Band. My band mate and good friend Butch has a whole galaxy of recording equipment, and has fashioned it all in a somewhat organized manner to be a home recording studio in the closet of his apartment. We do all of our recording there, and last night I brought my camera to document a bit of it.

Below is a slide show illustrating the recording process. For maximum enjoyment, it'll be best to view it full-screen. Then click the "Show Info" button at the top to read the captions. You can adjust the speed through the "Options" button, which may be necessary for some of the lengthier comments. Enjoy!

You can hear some of the other things we've recorded in here on our MySpace page, as well as the link I posted earlier. They sound pretty cool, I promise.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Live @ Donkey, 2/4/10

8:04 PM:

I'm early. I've never arrived before 10 PM, and I usually come with an acoustic guitar in my hands, and occasionally a maraca in my coat pocket.

I'm currently sitting in one of the armchairs in the back room of Donkey Coffee and Espresso, located on W. Washington Street here in Athens, waiting for the establishment's Open Stage to begin. I was led to believe it started at 8 PM, but as I'm looking at the small, plastic-encased sign on the end table next to me, it doesn't get rolling until 9. I could have stayed at my buddy's house for another beer after all.

Donkey, in addition to their fine coffee, plays host to myriad arts and entertainment, including stage shows most every Friday and Saturday night. On Thursdays, though, the stage is open to anyone confident enough to show off their performance prowess, usually though the medium of acoustic guitar. You usually have to sign up at least a few days in advance if you're looking to play. In the past, I've been here to perform myself, usually with a buddy or two. Tonight I'm here with my laptop to live-blog the proceedings. I've now got about 30 minutes before the initial act... maybe these two fellows who just walked by with guitar cases. Time for a refill and a cigarette.

9:00 PM:

No one on stage yet. I've had two cups of coffee and I'm wired. There are two girls on the couch next to me, one of them describing to the other in great detail why her boyfriend sucks. Someone better step up to the microphone soon.

9:08 PM:

Two guys with an acoustic guitar each are setting up, indeed the two I saw walk in earlier. They introduce themselves as Chris and Shane, and they're going to play some covers for the crowd, they say.

And indeed, the first song is "The Boxer," originally by Simon and Garfunkel. They're harmonizing nicely. Next is a "Bob Dylan favorite," as they announce, and it's "Mr. Tamborine Man." The girls who were previously discussing shitty boyfriends are now singing along. The pair on stage are doing these tunes justice, adding harmonica to the Dylan tune. And now The Rolling Stones' "Angie." Enjoyable.

9:33 PM:

Now we've got another troupe setting up, two females, one with a guitar, one on vocal duties, and a guy wearing a beanie with some sort of large percussion instrument nestled between his legs. I've seen this drum-looking thing before, but it's official name escapes me. It looks like a single, large bongo.

They begin playing without announcing themselves. The room is starting to get quite crowded, and suddenly I'm thankful for scoring this comfortable armchair early. The group's first song may or may not be an original composition, as they didn't say, but I do not recognize it. Next is a version of "Hallelujah," originally by Leonard Cohen, and made more famous by the late Jeff Buckley. The gentleman previously on percussion duties is now playing guitar and singing, trading verses and harmonies. They falter on the tempo in a few instances, and seem to have cut out a verse or two... but nice enough.

Then they break into the recent Kings of Leon radio-smash "Use Somebody." Interesting to hear it played acoustically, sung by a female, and accompanied by this bongo-thing. Midway through, they abruptly transition to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," and then back to "Use Somebody." I'm taken aback, and then even more so when the next tune turns out to be Lady GaGa's "Bad Romance." Seriously. It's a few different kinds of awesome, and I'm as confounded as I am enthralled.

9:53 PM:

I see a guy on the other side of the room whom I've seen play here before. He's got long hair tied into a ponytail and scraggly beard. The performance I know him by consisted of yelping into the microphone, as loud as possible, while banging on his guitar like he was tenderizing a piece of meat. I hope he's signed up to play later.

9:57 PM:

Another couple of guys step up to the stage, one of them taking up the stand-up piano that's perpetually on the side of the stage. I don't think I've ever seen anyone use the thing before. The other's got an acoustic guitar. They say they're going to do two covers and two originals.

They're starting with a Matchbox 20 song. I don't know which one, because they all sound the same. Sorry, but Rob Thomas isn't really my bag. I just know this particular tune was rather inescapable sometime during my high school years. At least the guy on piano is doing a rather respectable job. Next is what I'm assuming is one of the originals they alluded to, and it's in a similar vein.

Shit. Another Matchbox 20 song. I'm having another cigarette.

10:16 PM:

A gentleman and lady are taking the stage, the gentleman sitting with a set of bongos in his lap, and the lady with an acoustic guitar. Lady announces herself as Emily, as in Emily Dale, she says. I've not heard of her, but that MySpace looks impressive, doesn't it? Her partner is called Tony.

They start with a midtempo number with no introduction. Then Emily moves to the piano, announcing this one as new song she wrote within the past few weeks. Great voice. She's interacting with the crowd more than anyone else has done, as well, instructing us to clap along with this new song. Everyone is joining in, as will I when I'm finished typing this paragraph.

As an aside, I find it funny that I've attended / taken part in Donkey Open Stage nights on numerous occasions, and having never seen a person use that piano before, two have done such tonight.

She finishes with another original called "Old Fashioned Kind of Love," which she says she's currently in the process of recording. More clap-along fun.

10:43 PM:

The last act of the night hasn't started yet (Open Stage ends at 11 PM), but a buddy of mine is calling me for a favor. Don't consider this a cop-out, I'm just a good friend. My apologies to the girl with the guitar who's setting up at the moment.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

This is not what you had planned.

As I referenced in my last post involving a remembrance of Jackie O's Open Stage nights of old, my plan for its follow up was to give an account of the "new" Open Stage, hosted by local Athens band Elemental Groove Theory. I was excited.

And then misfortune struck in a big way.

Upon returning to the apartment complex where I had parked my car earlier in the evening (without the lot-required visitor pass hanging from my rear-view mirror), I discovered that my car had, indeed, been towed off. In addition to putting me out $100, the incident put the kibosh on my plans to attend Open Stage last night.

So, plans for that post have been pushed off for a week. Look forward to other exciting content in its place, providing the cool hand of karma doesn't slap me in the face again for not having yet found a real job this quarter. I envision large quantities of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in my near future.