At The Unity March For Puerto Rico

Posted in Trump Protests with tags , , , , , on November 19, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux ASPH

On a blustery, sunny November day citizens turned out to protest the shameful treatment of Puerto Rico by the Trump Administration.  The cruelty and incompetence of  Trump and company is manifested hourly, but perhaps in no way quite so shamefully as in its treatment of three million citizens who await the help they should have received long weeks ago.

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The desperation of people who themselves, or whose relatives, have been suffering for weeks was palpable.

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But as with so many of the demonstrations since January 20th, there was an element of joy, of the fellowship that comes being with citizens who at least retain the right to speak up against this bizarre and un-American regime.

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After a large segment of the march had gone by, it seemed to reconstitute itself, and when we came close we saw that Lin-Manuel Miranda was there.  We were glad to see him, and the thousands who came out, reminding America how we are supposed to support our fellow citizens in need.

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Three Years Into Luna’s Afterlife, The Band Returned To DC’s Black Cat With A Heavenly Set

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on November 16, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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During the 1990s, Luna was our favorite band.  We probably saw them a dozen times between ’95 and their breakup ten years later.  When they went away, we sorely missed them, but understood they’d taken it as far as they could go (a fact supported by Dean Wareham’s quite excellent 2008 memoir Black Postcards.) By 2004’s Rendezvous, Wareham had seemed lyrically exhausted, even as the songs, and his and Sean Eden’s guitar playing, never sounded better.  So when we saw them at the Black Cat Tuesday night, we were excited but had fairly low expectations.  Rare are the bands that come back from the dead with the capacity to astonish.  Three years into the afterlife, we can report that Luna never sounded better.

In a set notable for the way it folded gorgeous cover songs into the flow — Mission of Burma’s “Car Wash Hair” came early in the set, and Dylan’s best song of the past 30 years, “Some Of The Time,” was brought out in the encore – there was no wallowing in nostalgia.  They played favorite songs, but not “greatest hits,” such as it were.  They seemed to be playing for the joy of playing.  Lee Wall never hit his kit harder. Both Britta and Sean sang songs.  And Dean seemed happy to be with his pals.

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They’ve been back on the road since 2014, and earlier this year released both an album of covers and essentially an E.P. of original instrumentals.  They haven’t quite geared up to go back into studio for a new album of Wareham songs, but time is elastic in the afterlife, and for them, we are patient.

The final few times we saw them before their nearly decade-long break, there was — in comparison to Tuesday’s show — an almost pro forma quality to Dean Wareham’s singing.  A little like Dylan, he would throw the lyrics out, rushed and with little conviction.  In retrospect he likely was expressing frustration with being back out on the road, in fairly small clubs, the band’s fame and fortune locked in that mid-level of rock’n’roll success he describes in his memoir.  When he we saw him on his solo tour (with Britta Phillips on bass) in 2014, fresh from releasing an excellent E.P. and a solid, Jim James-produced solo album, he was relaxed enough to also play his songs from different eras —  those he’d performed in the ’80s with Galaxie 500, and in the ’90s and ’00s with Luna — his heart very much in the show.

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But even then, it was nothing like what seemed to be the genuine joy that he, Britta, Sean, and Lee showed playing together again.  Yes, they’ve been touring pretty regularly for the past three years (and sadly, we’d missed them), but ennui has not set in.

Penthouse provided the evening’s best songs, as of course it would.  “Freakin’ & Peakin,'” a rarity live, was amazing to hear played in concert for the first time.  Between the shimmering lines of Wareham’s guitar and the fuzzy wuzzy atmospherics emanating east of him from Eden, this was pure beauty, and hearing the band together was Heaven itself.

 

 

Scenes From The 2017 High Heel Race

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 25, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica Monochrom and 50mm Noctilux or 35mm Summicron v. IV (no flash, BTW)

The High Heel Race in Washington’s Dupont Circle is a spectacle of joy.  Taking place the Tuesday before Halloween, the 30-year old tradition has evolved to being as much for families as for anyone looking for a walk on the wild side.  It ranks up there with the Funk Parade as an event we enjoy photographing.  After a season of taking pictures at events protesting Trump, all joyous but with an undertone of seriousness, this year’s event was pure delight.

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Kelley Stoltz Keeps Mining Gems And His Latest,”Que Aura,” Gleams Like A Diamond

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 19, 2017 by johnbuckley100

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}The cover photo of what Kelley Stoltz calls his “proper new album,” Que Aura, looks like something you’d see in a Kusama Infinity Room, all dots of light in a psychedelic space.  Like Kusama, Stoltz for the most part works alone, assembling true solo albums with painstaking craftsmanship, each track capturing an instrument played only by him.

Unlike Kusama, who resides in an asylum, Stoltz gets out of the house to play with bands, including touring as a sideman with his heroes Echo and the Bunnymen.  But in his own studio, over the past decade, he’s created an eccentric but exceptionally important and delightful body of work. As a recording artist, he deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence with the Beatles, David Bowie, Alex Chilton, and Ray Davies. Que Aura, released in August, is his best album since 2008’s Circular Sounds, which we would nestle alongside Rubber Soul, Radio City, and Lodger in the Go Bag that, one step ahead o’ the apocalypse, we’d take to the proverbial desert island.

Listening to Que Aura back-to-back with Below The Branches, the 2006 album that was our introduction to him, is instructive.  Back then, Stoltz was like a one-man version of the Fab 4 + George Martin, crafting intricate pop classics on acoustic piano and guitar, backed where needed by steady bass playing, what sounds like a Rickenbacker 6-string, and solid, unobtrusive drumming.  This was an era in which Stoltz says he was using a microphone propped in a sock drawer for wont of a proper studio and equipment.  The music is gorgeous, thrilling, inspirational, the seeming influences all from the ’60s.

A little more than a decade later, Que Aura sounds like it was recorded in a German studio with this generation’s George Martin twiddling the knobs.  As a singer, Kelley’s affect is effortless, but here he sounds like he’s fronting a really fantastic band whose rhythm section can swing.  And of course, it’s all him — an incredibly difficult trick to pull off.

Over his previous three albums — 2010’s To Dreamers, 2013’s Double Exposure, and 2015’s In Triangle Time — Stoltz has moved away from the delicacy of his earlier work to bring in New Wave influences, to thicken the sound a bit with horns and synths, and clearly Will Sergeant’s guitar sound (Echo + Bunnymen) and mid-period Bowie have inspired him in recent years. Like a craftsman who, after years of creating one-of-a-kind designs… pushing his needle and thread through fabric under a solitary light bulb… who has succumbed to such labor-saving devices as the sewing machine, Stoltz has rolled a bank of electronic keyboards into his atelier.  Keyboards have ruined many a solo practitioner’s studio work, from Prince to Tame Impala, but even though we miss the Rickenbacker and acoustic piano sound of yore, on Que Aura, he makes it all work. He’s still creating gems, but much as I love the pre-2010 work, these shine brighter.

The songwriting as a whole is stronger than on any album since Circular Sounds.  “I’m Here For Now” ranks with Double Exposure’s “Still Feel” and the most infectious rockers of his career.  “Tranquilo” is the closest thing Stoltz has produced to a hit you could see coming out of the Motown basement, and it has the quirks and charms of his greatest songs before culminating with psychedelic panache.  On “Same Pattern,” it’s clear that Kelley has had a conversation about synths with his label, Mr. John Dwyer.  Out of 11 songs, there are two we don’t think we’ll be listening to a decade hence.  This is a glorious clutch of songs, rendered with enough analog guitars, bass, and drums to prevent the electronic keyboards from ever smearing the delicacy, like a surfeit of Hollandaise on poached eggs.

Speaking of John Dwyer, there’s a reason why the progenitor of Thee Oh Sees, not to mention Jack White, would be the “label heads” putting out Stoltz’s most recent work.  In days of yore, some A&R chap at Warner Bros would have figured out how to slide a Kelley Stoltz contract past Mo Ostin.  But without a generous label afloat on a pontoon of CD sales taking a flyer on a talent like his, Stoltz is embraced by his fellow artists who know brilliance when they hear it.  Just as, gentle reader who has journeyed this far, we know you do too.

We already have raved about Kelley Stoltz a time or two, given his records the highest marks on our 2010 and 2008 Top Ten Lists.  Somehow, even with all our raving, we have failed in getting him to perform at Madison Square Garden.  We’re not done trying.  And based on Que Aura, Kelley Stoltz is not done appearing at the top of Tulip Frenzy’s annual Top 10 List.

Wand Brought Their Sweet “Plum” To DC9, And Played The Most Exciting Show In Memory

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on October 9, 2017 by johnbuckley100

Wand 2017All images Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summicron v. IV

The D.J. was playing Television’s “Marquis Moon” when Cory Hanson climbed up on DC9’s stage last night and strapped on his Stratocaster.  He played along for a moment, which makes sense when you consider that our early warning on how powerful Wand’s new album Plum would be was when Hanson told Uncut, “I was reading about how Television wrote Marquis Moon and they’d go into their rehearsal space five days a week for four hours a day.  So I decided to go in six days a week for 10 hours a day.  We pushed harder to see what would happen.”

Wand released “Blue Cloud” a few weeks before pushing Plum out the door, putting us on notice that not only was Wand ready to rehearse like Television, they wanted to beat them at their own game.  And from the moment last night that Evan Burrows furiously kicked into “White Cat” and Hanson and new addition Robbie Cody began trading guitar lines like Verlaine and Lloyd, it was clear they had.  As great as Television were (and are), Billy Ficca is no Aynsley Dunbar, and Burrows is unquestionably the greatest drummer playing in a band today.

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We feel like Wand has grown up before our eyes, from their 930 Club debut in 2014 opening for Ty Segall to their stunning show at the Black Cat in 2015.  From the release of Ganglion Reef to Plum, they’ve grown from songs with titles like “Flying Golem” and “Reaper Invert” to becoming surely the only rock band extant to write a poignant song called “Charles De Gaulle.”

On their first two albums, born like Catholic twins maybe 10 months apart, their early roots showed the influence of mentor Ty Segall, with Black Sabbath chords played at speed metal tempi.  But Hanson’s always had a melodic grounding, and any band that could put “Growing Up Boys” on their first album was destined for great things.  With Plum — with shows like the one they put on last night — their destiny has arrived.  We can’t think of a better album released this year, nor a better show than we saw last night.

Since they were here last, Sofia Arrequin was added on keyboards and vocals, and with her arrival Wand’s sound has shifted from synth-heavy support for Hanson’s fluid guitar and pretty voice to a band playing with the fluidity of White Denim, the guitar interplay of the Soft Boys.  They’re a unit built around the core propulsion of a breeder reactor, but could only be riveted tighter if they rolled out of the Boeing factory.

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Cory Hanson has the preppy good looks of a Kennedy, and he came out in similar garb to what he was wearing last year when he and Burrows – for a few months putting Wand aside — toured as part of Ty Segall’s Muggers.  Since then, Hanson’s released a solo album as distant from Wand in it’s delicate sound as fellow Angeleno Shannon Lay’s Living Water is from her punk band Feels (also once produced by Ty Segall).  Taking a vacation from the thunder of Wand’s first two albums, and the ambitious prog-pop of their third outing 1000 Days was clearly good for the band, as were the additions of the two new members.

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Wand is at the height of their powers, but writing that we know they still have plenty of room to grow.  Some strong albums have been released this year by both Ty Segall and West Coast giant John Dwyer, whose Oh Sees made our August.  But among the West Coast’s finest, Wand’s come out on top, the best young band working today.  We stand back in awe at the prospect of what they’re capable of.

New David Bowie Box Comes With A Brilliant Tony Visconti Remix Of “Lodger,” Bowie’s Greatest Album

Posted in Music with tags , , , on September 29, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Lodger was the third and final album in what became known as Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, that series of 43cords released between ’77 and the summer of ’79 that he crafted with Brian Eno.  Only Low and parts of Heroes were actually recorded at Berlin’s Hansa Studios, (though Berlin also was the locale of Bowie’s production of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Lust For Life.) Whether or not this period is accurately defined by the Cold War Berlin milieu, the three albums are of a piece, as Bowie turned away from cocaine and pop fame — or perhaps, “Fame” — and created his greatest work.

Low, like Eno’s Another Green World before it, was as notable for instrumentals and song fragments as it was for full-fledged rock songs.  It was, after Station To Station, a sharp left turn, coinciding with the rise of punk without in any way adopting, or even reckoning with it.  It began the process by which Bowie became as much associated with composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich — and Eno — as he was with pop music.  This was a very controversial repositioning, but looking back on his long and fruitful career, we think this is the moment — the Berlin Trilogy — when Bowie cemented his stature.

Yes, “Heroes” the song, and Heroes the album were hits, and with Robert Fripp joining the party, this was thrilling rock music.  But the first two albums of the Berlin Trilogy were notable, in no small part, for how Bowie went his own way, parallel to punk and what became New Wave, even as, with his ties to and influence over Iggy Pop, he helped shape a reformation of rock that somehow combined avant garde elements of the Velvet Underground, the proto-punk of the Stooges, with the Krautrock of his adopted home.

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When Lodger came out in the summer of ’79, it was, to these ears at least, the culmination of what had come before it.  It had Eno’s trademark synth figures.  Adrian Belew was the poor man’s Robert Fripp, but he was nonetheless a fantastically unconventional guitarist added to the band Bowie had slowly assembled.  And while the Stones, the summer before, had on Some Girls bowed in homage to the punk rock designed to replace them, Bowie’s new record still ignored it, instead presaging World Music which was still really a decade away.  We had only weeks before returned from a post-college, around-the-world trek, and an album-based travelogue with a post card on its cover — and an English rock star depicted as smashed up from his journey; the cover photo, at least, was true to the punk rock ethos — became the perfect soundtrack to our entry to adulthood in a small apartment in Manhattan.

It’s important to note that in ’79, rock’n’roll music was in full ferment, especially in New York.  The CBGB bands were now the new establishment, with Talking Heads putting out Fear of Music, records by bands like Joy Division, Magazine, and Wire’s brilliant 154 washing up on shore, and Manhattan bands like the dBs and Fleshtones coexisting with Eno’s No Wave discoveries and their offshoots like 8 Eyed Spy.  Lodger put Bowie completely in alignment with a wide array of younger artists in New York and Britain, and even as at age 32 — along with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop — he was a revered elder statesman.

We thought Lodger was completely brilliant, and we had been a diehard Bowie fanatic since first hearing The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust in ’72.  Not everyone thought so. Greil Marcus could sniff in Rolling Stone, Lodger might have been an event, if only as a record we would someday look back on as work that mapped the territory between past and future. Instead, it’s just another LP, and one of his weakest at that: scattered, a footnote to Heroes, an act of marking time.”  Freshly minted as a rock critic, our work beginning to be published in New York Rocker, we knew Marcus was a square, not even as hip as the Voice’s Robert Christgau, who seemed uncharacteristically confused when he wrote, “Musically, these fragments of anomie don’t seem felt, and lyrically they don’t seem thought through. But that’s part of their charm–the way they confound categories of sensibility and sophistication is so frustrating it’s satisfying, at least if you have your doubts about the categories. Less satisfying, actually, than the impact of the record as a whole.”  He gave it an A- anyway.

For us, there was just one problem: the album sounded pretty terrible.  Presaging the miseries of ’80s production techniques, in which synthesizers and tinny mastering of the new CD format made the sound of all records suck, Lodger was brittle, claustrophobic. Too many instruments clogged the output.  The album was jarring, but we thought it was supposed to be that way.  We were wrong.

We actually had no idea just how bad Lodger sounded until this morning, when upon the release of the Bowie box celebrating his output between ’77 and ’82, a new Tony Visconti mix of the album came out.  We’ve been smiling ever since.

Listening to the Visconti mix of Lodger is like seeing the Sistine Chapel after 500 years of smoke and grime has been removed from its ceiling.  It breathes.  The instruments are warm, and his voice hangs upon the songs like a comfortable jacket on a cedar hanger in a capacious closet. There is space between instruments, and like wine properly decanted, fruit at room temperature, its bearing is natural, all flavors easily explored by the tongue.  Visconti has taken a 1979 polyester suit and rendered it in natural fibers.

We have always thought Lodger was Bowie’s greatest album.  Eighteen months after his death, the remix by his longstanding friend and producer Tony Visconti finally proves it. The Bowie estate surely understands what it has here as the only way you can access it is by purchasing the whole box set.  We hate moves like this, but is handing over the dough worth it?  Unquestionably, the answer is yes.

 

The Found Abstract Art Of Yellowstone

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 28, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 ASPH

If you visit Yellowstone National Park and drive up the eastern side of its crazy-eight loop, the world is precise, rectilinear, even as it is, of course, wildly gorgeous and gorgeously wild.  A gorge in fact, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, shows how the park got its name, and if you are a photographer, you are drawn to take certain pictures, year after year, each time reveling in the precision and sharpness of your lens capturing every facet of the rock faces in the plummet to the water.

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Ah, but after you’ve spent time crossing Dunraven Pass and seeing the movement of the animals in the Lamar Valley, when after a day or so it is time to head back down the west side of the park, things get weirder.  This is the land of the fumarole, of the geyser, a steaming, smoking remnant of the volcano underneath your feet. You leave the world where the sharpness of your lens is what matters and enter a place where the art that’s thrust before you everywhere you turn has become unmoored from familiar geometry.

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Once you’re in the Norris Geyser Basin, you are in a completely unfamiliar place, mystical in many ways.  And before you know it, you’re surrounded by pure abstraction and found art.

Yellowstone AbstractYellowstone is sublime, an environment worthy of Rilke.  As you work your way further down its western road, it becomes nothing short of magical.  The herds of bison you’ve seen earlier in the day seem as far away as the grid pattern of Manhattan. Things get very strange.  And found art, nature’s Jackson Pollacks, is everywhere you look.

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Fountain Paint Pot, a perennial stop on our visits there, is different every time, the bacteria pools a completely different color then when last you were there.  Which makes sense, since they’re piping hot and exist in a fierce environment.

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You begin to wonder how the surface of the Earth would look as a giant photograph hung on a large living room wall.

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By the time you get to Grand Prismatic Spring, you know that no human could possibly compete with the caldera of Yellowstone in creating non-representational beauty.

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The Earth is a beautiful place, but the Lower Geyser Basin is more than simply beautiful.  It is, in its own way, terrifying, even as you marvel at it, jaw agape.

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Lurking behind the question of how nature determined its design is, of course, the world’s greatest mystery.  Where did this come from? How did it happen to be here?  Answer that and millions will follow your words down the centuries.

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And when you leave, and head back to your safe existence, you do so determined to come back to this repository of glorious natural art.  And you do so, year after year, like visiting the Louvre, or in this case, Nature’s MOMA.

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For more images of Greater Yellowstone in color, go here.  And if you’d prefer black and white, go here.

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