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Chris Stamey’s “A Spy In The House Of Loud” Is An Unusual, And Excellent, Artist’s Memoir

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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It makes sense that Chris Stamey named his band The dBs, because he’s always been intrigued by the technical aspects of making music.

Stands For Decibels was this seminal New York-by-way-of-Winston-Salem band’s first album, and perhaps Stamey’s best song on it was “Cycles Per Second,” both reference points to music making.  So it makes sense that in his new book A Spy In The House Of Loud, Stamey doesn’t merely write about his bands, he writes about how they made records.  Even if you’re not a gear head, it’s fun, because he’s an engaging writer and he really was in the right place at the right time.

To place him in his proper coordinates, Chris Stamey came to New York midway through the ’70s and saw Television, often, in their earliest CBGB incarnations, quickly figured out the world was changing and that he wanted to play a role.  By 1978, he’d teamed up with fellow Southerner Alex Chilton in his post-Big Star solo foray.  Chilton and Television’s Richard Lloyd played on Stamey’s excellent initial singles, before he put together the dBs with fellow North Carolinians Will Rigby, Gene Holder, and Peter Holsapple.

If you were there at the time, and I was, the dBs were a remarkable anomaly in New York. An experimental pop band with an ear for the kind of radio hits their progenitors Big Star should have had, they existed in that post-first wave CBGB bands environment in which you could see, over successive nights, No Wave bands like DNA, the newest British important (from Gang of Four to XTC, Magazine to the Soft Boys), bands from L.A. like X, and Lou Reid’s latest incarnation.  New York was the center of the rock’n’roll world and the dBs were just slightly off kilter from the environment around them — excellent musicians with jangling guitars and a tight, propulsive rhythm section, two singer-songwriters vying for dominance, and a Farfisa adding color. They never quite made it, and some of it — explained in Stamey’s book — flowed from how they were never quite able to capture on vinyl — yeah, vinyl — that stage set that could bring down Hurrah or other clubs of the day.

Stamey went on to be a charter member of the Golden Palominos and release a number of solo albums, including one of the highlights of the 1980s, It’s Alright. Over time, as he moved back to North Carolina and raised a family, his influence on contemporary music shifted from musician to being the producer on several of the best albums of the age, particularly Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac, and Alejandro Escovedo’s A Man Under The Influence.  Most recently, it was Stamey who put together, following Chilton’s 2010 death, that series of all-star shows playing Big Star’s Sister Lovers, also known as Third.  In fact, Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live is one of the most remarkable documents of recent years, with Jeff Tweedy, Ira Kaplan, Robyn Hitchcock and so many more playing the music from this greatest of American artists of the ’70s and beyond.

And now Stamey has written a book.  A Spy In The House of Loud is fascinating reading for anyone who’s ever wanted to understand what happened when a new set of bands displaced the rot in Rock Music in the punk and post-punk era.  Stamey’s a musician and a fan, and he writes of his contemporaries with a rock critic’s eye.  But he also ably captures what happened when making albums shifted from an analog to a digital process — and all that got lost along the way.

Chris Stamey will read from his book at Politics and Prose in D.C. this coming Sunday, June 17th at 3:00 PM.

The Five Songs Amen Dunes Played At The Anthem In DC

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 19, 2018 by johnbuckley100

Amen Dunes Processed

Touring as the opening act is a bitch, even if it offers a young band exposure.  We’re not sure when or even if Amen Dunes had played D.C. before, but we weren’t going to miss them, even if it meant seeing only a 30-minute set.  After all, Freedom, which came out at the end of March may just be 2018’s best record, and Love, which came out in 2014 ranks high among the best recs of the decade.  So we went to see them at The Anthem.  Let’s view this band, as we did last night, through the prism of the five songs they were allowed to play.

Bedroom Drum, the opening song, was released on 2011’s Through Donkey Jaw and it gives a good preview of the kind of gauzy dream pop Damon McMahon was gearing up to make. Parker Kindred’s drums last night (we assume that’s who was drumming) weren’t muffled, as the drums were on that eight-year old album, and Delicate Steve and McMahon’s strumming invoked Galaxie 500.  It was good to hear McMahon’s voice in the wild, that unique quaver sounding strong after five weeks on the road.  Preserved of course because as the opener you only get 30 minutes to play.

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Blue Rose is one of the highlights of Freedom, a real departure for Amen Dunes after Love.  If the prior album was a gorgeous freak folk outing, a mostly acoustic psychedelic tour de force, “Blue Rose” sounds like it could have been an outtake from David Bowie’s Young Americans, blue-eyed soul from Philadelphia.  McMahon dropped the guitar and just sang, his dance moves about the equivalent of Bowie’s, but his voice gorgeous, as the song is.

L.A. closes out Freedom, and it’s really two songs, a pretty folk song coupled with a less melodic extended meditation.  Live it was truly compelling and we could see what a great band this foursome is, or would be if allowed to stretch out and play a full set.  McMahon is an incredibly compelling singer, and his delicate, sinuous songs get under your skin.

Splits Are Parted was a pleasant surprise, with McMahon introducing this highlight from Love as an offering from that album on the anniversary of its 2014 release.  If you want to understand what all the fuss is about, why someone would shell out the big bucks to scalp a ticket to see this band open for another band, start here.  His voice warbled a bit like Devendra Banhart, an obvious influence on Love.  While Delicate Steve’s guitar work last night didn’t quite bring to the fore that oddly charming counter riff, this was the highlight of the evening.

Believe is perhaps the most conventional rock song of McMahon’s career — the song on Freedom that got us to understand just how grand are his ambitions — and as a closer it showed how close he is to producing music that might actually bring him a mass audience.  It is a beautifully melodic song, and on this one, the combination of Kindred’s drumming and Steve’s lead guitar was utterly enchanting.

And that was it.  No “Miki Dora,” Amen Dunes’ astonishing invocation of the ’60s surf legend, which builds like a wave before crashing to the shore.  They played it Thursday night in Pittsburgh, according to Setlist.com, but not last night in D.C. And that, we’ll admit, was a disappointment.  But like we said, touring as an opening act is a bitch.

Oh yeah, Fleet Foxes also played.

The 2018 D.C. Funk Parade

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 13, 2018 by johnbuckley100

High Heel Race 2018-18

All images Leica SL and 75mm Noctilux

It almost didn’t happen this year, the Funk Parade.  It’s the city’s greatest single day, and if D.C. had not found a way of bringing it back, we’d be poorer for it.  Thankfully a Kickstarter campaign, the persistence of the organizers, and a groundswell of support prevailed.

Herewith an experiment — trying to use the 75mm Noctilux, with its razor thin focal plane, in bright light at a street event.  We see possibilities.

Here’s the funk.

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The Tulip Frenzy, 2018

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2018 by johnbuckley100

Tulip Frenzy 18-6

All images Leica SL and Noctilux-M 75mm f/1.25 with 10X ND Filter

We missed the peak.  Which is what happens when you choose to go away for a week during the period when the Tulip Frenzy might emerge.  God, what a joy it is to see these friends, even if they are past their prime.

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We can’t account for our love of tulips.  Maybe it’s because their advent signals spring in earnest.  The ephemeral appearance.  Their individuality. How they’re a metaphor for financial excess.  The joy they bring to all. Whatever it is, we’re glad they’re here.  Even as by next week they’ll be gone.

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In The Grand Staircase

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 6, 2018 by johnbuckley100

Amangiri Buckskin-3

All images Leica SL with Vario-Elmarit 24-90.

The Grand Staircase is, in geologic and geographic terms, that rising series of canyons from the Grand Canyon in the south up through the Colorado Plateau, including Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.  In political terms, it most quickly brings to mind Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, under assault by Trump and Zinke and Utah politicians who wish to diminish and despoil its fragile beauty.  In spiritual terms, it’s Red Rock Country, Abbey Country, the most sublime — and fragile — place in the U.S.  Here are some recent images from a journey to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and the Grand Canyon, laid out the way our journey took us.  Abbey was talking about Arches National Park, northeast of this region, when he declared it the most beautiful place on Earth.  To us, though, all of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona’s Red Rock country fits this bill.

The journey begins in Zion under flat light, continues through Bryce Canyon on a sunny day, heads through the magical slot canyon known as Buckskin Gulch in Vermillion Cliffs, and finishes under mostly grey, flat light in the Grand Canyon.  The images at the end were as the sun went down in Grand Canyon.  Enjoy the journey.

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One Year On: The Women’s March Returns to Washington

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20, 2018 by johnbuckley100

Women's March '18 edit

All images Leica M10 with 35mm Summilux

It was 365 days ago that the horror of the Trump presidency was offset by the half million protestors who took to DC’s streets on a grey winter day when all seemed otherwise gloomy.  The wounds of the election had not yet healed, and we had no idea — honestly, no idea — just how awful Trump’s first year in office would be. The fact that so many women, and so many men, came out to protest him was a small, necessary tonic for our pain.

And then the demonstrations kept coming — the spontaneous demonstrations against the Muslim Ban, the planned marches we marked on our calendar and planned our weekends around, from the March for Science in April to the March for Puerto Rico in October.  There have been so many marches, in fact, that we created a gallery of images entitled “Washington Demonstrations In The Age of Trump.” Honestly, these demonstrations, these opportunities to express our profound disapproval of the dotard in the White House, were — aside from being able to canvas in Virginia, to cheer the night Alabama went blue — the only relief we have had, it seems, in this long year since the inauguration.  And happily, today in DC and around the country, crowds came out again to protest after a heinous week that was the capstone to a horrid year.

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Once again the crowds were joyous, despite it all.  And we were out there once again with our Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux.  Now, if you don’t care about Leicas, just scroll down to the pictures.  But this was also the one-year anniversary of our having a Leica M10, essentially the 4th generation of Leica’s digital rangefinder built on the frame of the Leica M, using the greatest collection of lenses in photography.  After one year using the M10 in these marches (we used our SL only once, during the March for Science, in a downpour), we can report that it is the best Leica M of all time, a workhorse, a reliable and intuitive camera.  Going out with it to capture the demonstrations against Trump has been one of the best things about a horrific year.  Enjoy the rest of these snaps from today.

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Scenes From The 2017 High Heel Race

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

High Heel Race 2017-14

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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