Saturday, December 09, 2017

Mogwai @ Terminal 5 (12/8/2017)

The short story is that Mogwai's new stuff is not as good as some of their older stuff, and the more new stuff they play the less good the show is.  I didn't prep much for this show, but I don't think that affected my impression of it too much (though there were certainly a few songs that I didn't recognize).  Their setlist spanned their catalog, which was good for some variety; but their mid-career material (especially Happy Songs for Happy People and Mr. Beast) is their best work in my opinion.  The stage setup and lights were interesting, though not mind-blowing.  I could have done without a couple of sections of excessively loud noise, and the accompanying hearing loss (I need to start taking ear plugs to shows).  It was also weird to see them play a couple of songs with undistorted vocals; one was from the new album, and one I didn't recognize.

Rating: 4.2/5

Friday, November 03, 2017

alt-J @ Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts (11/3/2017)

I was a little worried going into this show because I feel like alt-J's album from this year (Relaxer) is without question their weakest yet, but things turned out better than expected.  The band apparently knows not to play the songs from the album that are garbage.  The setlist spanned their entire backlog so far, and they played pretty much every good song that they have, save for "Hunger of the Pine".  In addition, the light show was on point.  The visuals were stimulating and matched the music well, but at the same time kept the musicians somewhat out of focus.  I have nothing to complain about regarding their performance - it was enjoyable from start to finish.

One thing they did that I haven't seen at a concert before...  At the end of the show they put up credits that named the band, visual artist, crew, etc (and then put up a Thank You).

Rating: 4.7/5

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Hundred Waters @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (10/7/17)

I don't know what it is about too-cool-for-school Brooklyn, but in my humble opinion 10:40 is too late for the main act to come on stage.  I arrived a little before 10pm (doors were @ 8, first act @ 9), thinking that I might be a little late for Hundred  Waters; I was obviously wrong.  They were scheduled to come on third at 10:30, and were about 10 minutes late to start.

Things were pretty good once Hundred Waters started.  They played a lot from their most recent album release (Communicating), but I was pleasantly surprised that they played a few from the prior EP (Currency) - the title track from that EP is my favorite song of theirs this year.  The slow songs from the new album didn't do that much for me, but there were a couple (such as the title track, which they opened with) that I appreciate more now after seeing live.  I was surprised that they didn't play "Xtalk", and wish they would have.  They had 3 dancers perform onstage on a couple of their songs, including that first one.  Overall, I wasn't quite as impressed as the first time I saw them, but it was still a good show.

As an aside, the Music Hall of Williamsburg is a solid venue.  It has a pretty intimate feel without being just a dive.  The layout with the mezzanine also allows it to get pretty loud when the crowd is cheering hard.

Rating: 4.3/5

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Interpol @ Forest Hills Stadium (9/23/17)

Yeah...having that pole prominently block my view of center stage didn't help my feelings about this show.  But it was still mostly good, regardless.  Per the e-mailed schedule, Interpol was supposed to take the stage at 8:10pm.  Running on CPT like I normally do, I didn't give myself too much travel time buffer to get there before they were scheduled to start (though I had heard Battles and Deerhoof before, I didn't really want to sit through either of their performances).  And then I ran into NYC MTA subway maintenance woes - the E line was not running at the stop closest to the temp corporate apartment I was staying in.  So I had to hoof it over to catch the R a few blocks north, and that train was experiencing delays.  I made it to the stadium around 8:30, but was lucky to find out that Interpol hadn't taken the stage yet - they got on around 8:40 or 8:45.

As planned, they played Turn on the Bright Lights from start to finish - it was the 15th anniversary of their debut album's release.  They also played another song from that era, but I had never heard it before.  After a break they came out for an encore, but only got through 3 or 4 songs before they were stopped due to the strict 10pm curfew.  Maybe starting late wasn't that great after all.

Performance-wise, they were mostly on point.  Paul's vocals sounded a bit off on quite a few songs, but I'm not sure if it was him, the sound mix, the acoustics in the stadium, or some combination thereof.  It would have been nice to hear them play a few more songs, especially more of the newer material.  So the shortened show and sub-optimal view from my seat gives this concert a lower score than it would deserve in ideal conditions.

Rating 4.3/5

Thursday, September 21, 2017

MuteMath @ Brooklyn Steel (9/20/2017)

This was my first show after moving to NYC.  I timed my arrival pretty well, getting there just as the second opener was finishing up.  MuteMath played for close to an hour and 45 minutes.  I wasn't feeling it that much for the first part of their set (during which they played a few of the new tunes), which had me a bit worried.  But things eventually picked up through the intermission and one-song encore ("Typical", of course), and I was on a pretty good high when I left (in addition to a bit of hearing loss).  They did seem to play a bunch of the songs differently than they have in the past (or at least differently from the album versions), and I'm not sure if that's related to Darren's (the original drummer) departure or not.  Paul had some nice dance moves and a few antics, including bringing his daughter out for one song.  Their stage setup was all white, including their clothes and instruments, which went well with the video projection.  I was a little disappointed in the energy of the crowd; it may not have sold out, which I wouldn't have guessed for an NYC show, even on a Wednesday night.  The venue was pretty cool, though.

Rating 4.4/5

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Travel challenge update

I just returned from a couple of weeks in Southeast Asia, so it's probably a worthy time to post an update on my travel challenge.  Assuming that I can count the 5-hour tour to Seoul during my layover in South Korea, I am now ahead in both states and countries.  While I've actually crossed off a few places from my last five-year travel plan, I'm not sure where I'm headed next.  In any case, here's the updated list:

#     Country             State
8Czech RepublicIdaho
22New ZealandNew Jersey
23NigeriaNew Mexico
24NorwayNew York
29South Korea?South Dakota

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

I Am My Father's Son

My father died almost 2 weeks ago (on June 21).  The following is a tribute to him that I read at memorial events over the past weekend (wake-keeping and funeral).

I Am My Father’s Son

I am my father's son.  Too often we hear of kids who say that they never want to be like their mother or father when they grow up.  This has never been the case for me - I have always admired my dad.  This is not to say that I’ve always wanted to be exactly like him; we grew up in too different of times and environments for that to be the case.  But as I have grown older it has become increasingly apparent to me how much he has shaped my worldview and the trajectory of my life

All of my big life decisions have been made after consultation with my dad, whether he knew it or not. A friend pointed this out to me after I graduated college, and it still rings true today.  Starting with college...he came up with the list of schools that I applied to, took me to visit a few of them, and helped me decide what to major in.  He was a key part of my post-graduation plans, and helped me decide to take the job in St. Louis instead of immediately beginning graduate school.

While I was in college he and I had a couple of long discussions where he impressed upon me the importance of owning a house that I can call home.  When I began working I chose to live in my parents’ house for a few years in order to save up for my own house, as well as help my mom while my dad was in Kuwait.  It was one of the greatest joys of my life when I surprised both of my parents after contracting my house.

Pa was never one for debt if it was avoidable.  He would only spend the money that he had, even when he was making an expensive purchase like a new car.  So, of course, when it came time for me to buy a car, I had to pay in cash just like him.

Despite his many successes in life, he was not one to be extravagant or boastful.  He was simply concerned with taking care of his family and providing them the best life possible.  I have come to appreciate this more in recent years as I see the results of his sacrifices.  In the last few years he often expressed how proud he was of me and my brothers, which always filled me with great emotion.  While I’m sure he did this as well while I was younger, at the time I was naively focused on the moments of sternness.  Although effusive affection was not in his nature due to his upbringing, my mom and I would agree that by the end he had become a veritable softie in comparison to when I was a child.

As I move on to further big life decisions, I will miss having my chief advisor and role model.  My dad married my mom when he was 38 years old, so I guess that gives me 3 years to find a wife if I want to be just like him.  But when that time comes I won’t be able to call mom and dad to get advice or share the news.  It will have to be just mom.  And as much as that hurts, it will be alright because I have the best mom in the world.  And one last thing that my dad and I shared is a great love for her.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

An Evening With Sigur Rós @ Peabody Opera House (6/5/2017)

Much like their show in Seattle last September, this was a two-part set with no opener.  The show was scheduled for 8 PM, but the band came on around 8:20.  They played for about an hour, took a 15-20 minute intermission, and then played for a little under another hour.

The stage setup was the same as last time I saw them, but the setlist was different this time.  I preferred the second half once again, but the first half was a little more up-tempo this time than last.  Sæglópur was once again a highlight, but a bunch of my favorite songs by them were again left out.

I feel like this show was a bit more to my preference this time than last, but the rating I have in mind for this show was the same as for the last one.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, April 28, 2017

Explosions in the Sky @ The Pageant (4/28/2017)

I was late to the show due to some family stuff that came up, and am not even sure how much of Explosions in the Sky I missed; needless to day, I also missed the opener.  I enjoyed the hour or so (maybe more than that, actually) that I did catch.  I especially liked a couple of their older tunes that they played (I don't like their newer stuff as much), and the crowd seemed to agree.  I'm impressed by how cleanly these guys play live, even for the tunes that I didn't like as much.  They also had a couple of pretty cool rows of articulating lights on the floor at the front and back of the stage - similar to what A Perfect Circle had (so I guess it may be the rage these days).  If I were to give a rating, it would probably be in the low 4 range (out of 5), but I don't feel justified in doing so since I missed a chunk of their performance.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Perfect Circle @ Chaifetz Arena (4/20/2017)

I missed the opener (not even sure who it was), but the guy next to me indicated that I should be glad that I missed them.  I arrived right as A Perfect Circle took the stage, so my timing could not have been better.  As expected, the band performed for the most part without any spotlights on themselves; Maynard, especially, was pretty much in the dark for the entire show.  They did have cool light effects in their stage setup, though.

The band haven't had a new release in many years, so most of the songs were ones that I knew from back in the day.  They did play a couple that I wasn't familiar with, though - not sure what release they came from.  One that I kinda knew, but had forgotten, was "Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm Of The War Drums", which is a variation of "Pet" - it was a cool surprise for me.  They also played a cover of John Lennon's "Imagine", which I wasn't particularly fond of, but whatevs.

I'll also note a mild annoyance that had nothing to do with the band - a group of girls sitting directly in front of me decided to stand and dance for most of the show.  When I'm in the seats I prefer being able to sit and enjoy the show (especially since I had tired legs from a soccer game just before).  I was in no mood to stand on this day (partially due to being tired, and also not wanting to force those behind me to make the same decision), and so had to try to watch things "through" the girls.  Perhaps thankfully, this is one band where you wouldn't see too much of their on-stage performance anyway.  I was also annoyed by the number of times I had to stand up to let people pass by during the show; who goes out and gets multiple beers (or whatever they were doing) while the band is playing?!?  Again, it's unfair to pin these annoyances on the band, but the circumstances certainly didn't help my enjoyment of the show.

Without any significant new music in a while, it's tough to give the band that high of marks anyway.  I would also have preferred to be seeing Maynard's main band (Tool) in concert, and am eagerly awaiting release of their new album.

Rating: 4.1/5

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Radiohead @ Key Arena (4/8/2017)

The concert experience didn't get off to the best start for Galen and me.  We took our time getting to Key Arena because he wanted to avoid the rush and I had no interest in seeing Dudu Tassa again.  Unfortunately, by the time we got into the arena at about 8:35, Radiohead were in the middle of their first song.  Things didn't get better when we were turned away at the entrance to the general admission floor section for not having the necessary wristbands - we were supposed to have received them when they admitted us into the building upon swiping the credit card used to purchase the tickets.  We hustled back to the nearest entrance, only to find out that the organizers had pretty much run out of wristbands in the whole building (and there were a few other audience members waiting in the same situation as us).  After a few minutes of Galen (mostly calmly) reprimanding and complaining to them, they were able to rustle up a couple of wristbands for the two of us (though I'm not sure what happened to the others who were also waiting).  We made it down to the floor in the middle of the third song.  I wasn't too bothered by the ordeal because the first three songs were the same three that they had been playing to start off each show on this leg of the tour, including in Atlanta.

I ended up liking this show a tiny bit more than the one last week, because of setlist selection.  Two of my all time favorites, "Reckoner" and "Morning Bell", made an appearance this time around, as did the wonderful "15 Step", "Let Down", and "Lotus Flower".  Another notable inclusion was the B-Side "These Are My Twisted Words", which was completely unexpected.  This setlist was lighter on songs from The Bends, with only "Fake Plastic Trees" making it for the third encore (which I guess is a thing they do now - they've done three encores each show of this leg of the tour).  The band had a bit of technical difficulty during "The Gloaming" (a couple of false starts, and an off-tempo sequencer / drum machine), but Thom seemed to be able to eventually shrug it off after initially being upset.  And during "No Surprises" they made an extended pause after the line "They don't speak for us" to let the crowd voice their discontent with the current US presidential administration.

Overall, another great show.  I still wish they would have switched out a couple of the new songs for others that I prefer on the album (hence the slight deduction), but I once again can't complain.

You can find the setlist here.

Rating: 4.8/5

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Radiohead @ Philips Arena (4/1/2017)

So, the opener for this show (in Atlanta) was quite unusual.  It was a band called Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis - a Jewish/Arabic project that played supposed re-imaginings of legacy songs from Kuwait and Baghdad.  I can't say that I was exactly feeling it, but they only played for 30 minutes so I can't complain too much.  I can't imagine these guys getting this kind of exposure if this Radiohead collaboration hadn't happened.

Radiohead did not disappoint.  They started off with the same 4 songs as the show before - 3 from A Moon Shaped Pool and then "Airbag".  After that they switched it up (as they always do - never playing the same setlist twice) with a good mix of songs from all the albums since The BendsAMSP got the most representation, as expected, with 6 songs; unfortunately, only one of my top 3 from that album, "Burn the Witch", made the list - at least they played the best one.

They also played the back-to-back-to-back trio of "Myxomatosis", "Idioteque", and "The Gloaming", during each of which Thom got to roam around and showcase his dance moves.  An audience member commented after that show that he seemed to have been in a good mood, and I would agree.  A pleasant surprise at the end was a third encore (they typically do 2), during which they played "Karma Police".

Overall, I can't have too many complaints about the show.  I feel that they play (and sing) a few of the songs a little too loose (e.g., "Bloom", and most of the '90s era hits), but I think I'm in a minority in that opinion.  And I obviously would have traded out a few of the songs for my favorites, but I'll take what I can get with this band.  I'm hoping for "Decks Dark" and "Identikit" when I see them again in Seattle in a week.

The setlist can be found here.

Rating: 4.7/5

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A brief summary of my current philosophical worldview

I've been putting this post off for many months, but I think it's time that I finally wrote it.  The idea behind this entry, and hopefully future entries, is to capture a snapshot of my current philosophical thoughts about the world so that in the future I may periodically reflect upon how my beliefs have changed.  This post will probably be shorter than a baseline exposition ought to be, but I'm too lazy to put in the time and mental energy required for a comprehensive treatment.

On the topic that I would loosely describe as metaphysics, I can make a couple of clear statements about my beliefs.  I fall firmly in the naturalist camp, in that I believe that the natural world is the only one that exists - i.e., there are no supernatural or spiritual entities.  It obviously follows, then, that I am an atheist.  If pressed, I might make agnostic noises about how I don't think we can truly know if anything exists outside the natural universe, but in casual conversation the operative position is the lack of a belief in supernatural entities.

One consequence of my naturalist view is that I am a determinist - i.e., I believe that the future is determined by the past.  However, when it comes to free will, I don't know whether to describe my position as a hard determinist (who would basically say that free will does not exist because events are deterministic) or a compatibilist (who would say that a belief in free will is compatible with determinism).  I feel like both positions are plausible, and that in some ways hard determinists and compatibilists are talking past each other.  I think it is useful to talk of free will in a common sense in reference to choices that are not externally forced (i.e., freedom of action), but I don't think choices can in a deep sense be otherwise than has been determined by prior events.

In the field of ethics, I would consider myself some flavor of utilitarian, despite probably being a moral non-realist.  My moral non-realist position is that moral properties are mind-dependent - there are no moral facts that exist independent of minds (e.g., in the way that facts of physics or chemistry exist independent of minds).  That being said, I find the basic principles of utilitarianism (the best actions maximize the well-being of sentient entities) most convincing in relation to the minds that do exist.  I have a hard time pinning myself down to a subcategory of utilitarianism, but I think it's sufficient to say that my views lie somewhere in there.  This viewpoint has manifested itself in my vegetarian diet and my support of the effective altruism movement.

I have far less figured out when it comes to political philosophy.  I generally subscribe to John Stuart Mill's Harm Principle (the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals), but I have a hard time definitively saying much more than that.
Another area that I find interesting but don't have much to say about is the philosophy of mind.  Since I believe that our minds emerge from a purely physical system that is the brain, I think that artificial general intelligence is in principle possible.  However, at this point I will not make any claims about how likely we are to achieve such a thing.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Top albums of 2016

I was discussing my shortlist for favorite albums of 2016 last week with my friend Tom Musick when I made an offhand comment about only having listened to one-thousandth (i.e., 1/1000) of the music out there.  This was intended to demonstrate that, in addition to music tastes being highly subjective, my exposure level to new music is vanishingly small, especially for someone who kind of tries to keep up.

I became curious about the accuracy of that statement, and so decided to research it a minimal amount.  Based on the information here, there were about 75,000 albums released in the U.S. in 2011, which at the time was trending downward; let's leave aside the surprising fact that 60,000 of those sold less than 100 copies.  I don't know how album releases have trended in the last few years, nor do I know what the worldwide album release numbers might look like, nor what percentage of international releases I could have easy access to.  My guess is that I could reasonably potentially have listened to any of somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 albums in 2016.  An examination of the albums I listened to in 2016 shows that I listened to something like 71 albums that were released last year, which is on the order of one-thousandth of the estimated available released albums.  And 71 is not really that big a number...

Anyway, to the list...

1. Moderat - III
2. The Range - Potential
4. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
5. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
6. James Blake - The Colour In Anything
7. Tycho - Epoch
9. Young Magic - Still Life
10. dvsn - SEPT 5TH

11. Phantogram - Three
12. Yeasayer - Amen & Goodbye
13. Young Thug - JEFFERY
14. School of Seven Bells - SVIIB
15. Mogwai - Atomic
16. MIA - AIM

Also, here's a shout-out to Fetty Wap's album "Fetty Wap", which would have made my list last year if I had listened to it beforehand.