Monday, October 25, 2010

Escalator Fest, Part 2

The second night of Escalator Fest started off with Climax Golden Twins. They absolutely lived up to their name, providing the apex of the night right at the very beginning. CGT is two guys – one older gent playing electric guitar, a bearded dude on drums – and they give the impression that they’re just two buddies who love to jam together once in a while in a totally improvisational format. Watching them build off one another and follow each other’s leads was like witnessing the most sublime, heavy storm pulsing in the distance, growing progressively thicker and closer until you get swept up in it, so enthralled you barely realize you’re levitating.

Both guys were maestros of their respective instruments. The guitarist played with his mouth, turned the guitar around and played it backwards; the drummer waved his arms around, stood up and clutched cymbals. Thrilling to watch, transporting to hear. It was as if they’ve been to heaven and hell and now they’re back on earth, hungering to tell us all about it.

Now here’s a letdown for you – they don’t have their own music up on their website. However, you should check it out anyway for the “Victrola Favorites Listening Parlor”, which has a collection of old-timey, rare recordings. Listen to “I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again”.

The rest of the evening just couldn’t compare to the spectacle of CGT, and in fact, I felt bad for the bands that had to follow. I’ll try to find some of CGT’s music for you guys to absorb – although, judging from comments on my last post, some of my readers may not share my musical tastes. That’s okay, I’m just trying to introduce you all to some new music and expand your aural horizons. I'm glad you all aren't shy in saying what you really think!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Escalator Fest, Part 1

Last night I attended the first night of the Escalator Fest, a two-day psychedelic music and audio-visual festival. It’s nowhere near as big as Bumbershoot or the Decibel Festival, but it seemed like a good way for me to hear a lot of local bands at once. Dark, heavy ecstasy ruled the night, with bands blending deep, repetitive, primal beats and free-whirling, kaleidoscopic guitar riffs sent spinning through the air. I felt like I was melting through the space-time continuum with a horde of gypsies as my fellow travelers and shimmering shamans as my guides. Here is last night’s lineup, along with my critique and recommendations (click on the links to view their webpages and sample their music):

This Blinding Light combined undulating, consciousness-expanding guitar loops with just enough deep, steady bass and beat to keep us all firmly planted on earth. In fact, the guitarist got a little too firmly planted, as he knocked over an amp during a particularly electrifying riff. A couple band members seemed a bit flustered by the unintentional theatrics, but they carried on to please a now-distracted audience. Check out the first song on their webpage, “”Monochord In Your Eyes”.

Night Beats alternately conjured a dueling band of cowboys and Indians from cheesy westerns, and a motley group of musical gypsies from a 1960s garage. I couldn’t figure out if the drummer was a girl or a boy, but either way, he/she/it pounded out the most slamming, bicep-flexing beats of the night. If it was a girl, she had some pretty impressive guns. Check out “H-Bomb”.

Jeffertitti’s Nile was my favorite band of the night. They produced a bluesy, danceable set that made a bunch of neo-hippies start twirling around like a maniacal troupe of whirling dervishes. “Mountain Jam” was the best song of the night – atmospheric vocals and guitar with just enough beat to keep your head boppin’ and your feet tappin’. Check it out on their webpage.

Dahga Bloom’s cacophony sounded like a bluegrass band got mixed together with some crazed snake charmers who just never quite found the right notes to produce their magic. A little demented with the singer’s whining la-la-la’s, and catchy only in an annoying way, like a song you dislike but can’t get out of your head. But hey! They had an electric fiddle, and I’d never seen that before, so that was cool! Their best song was “Dhaga Bloom”.

Blood Red Dancers finished us off, and I have to say they were my least favorite. Their instrumentals started pretty good, but then the singer started rasping and croaking into the microphone like a dying Jabberwocky, which just really hurt my delicate ears. I wanted to go up to him and say, “Hey, except for you, your band’s pretty good!” No, I wouldn’t say that, but I really don’t have any song to recommend from them.

So that was the first night of Escalator Fest, complete with highlights and lowlights. I’m going to the second night of festivities this evening, so look for another post tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Film Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go is one of the rare movies that lifted me out of my skin and settled my soul deeply in the body of another person. In this case, the other body belonged to Kathy, a young woman who is part of a government plan that farms children in order to remove and use their organs when they become young adults. The movie begins in an idyllic boardinghouse where the children stay and play until they start their organ “donations”. Kathy and her two friends Tommy and Ruth form a love triangle that bitters their halcyon days with jealousy, betrayals, and typical adolescent angst. However, their heartbreaks are all the more sad and meaningful because everyone knows that early, slow, brutal deaths are their inexorable fate.

In my transpersonal slide into Kathy’s body, I felt all her pivotal moments of grief and elation, as well as her sick reality of having her life and body governed by forces beyond her control. She maintains a grim calmness throughout her ordeals, but one can sense the growing panic and ferine fear at marching one step closer to death every day. But isn’t that what we all do? The three main characters each reveal a different style of coping with that fate – Kathy carries on with dignity while trying to help others, Ruth lashes out at those around her, Tommy alternates between stoic reserve and id-crazed tantrums. One of the most heart-wrenching moments occurs when Tommy – having already donated two organs, knowing he will probably die after his third donation – throws his head back and wails in such an authentic display of agony, anger, and helplessness that I felt like I was losing a few of my own precious organs. If his primal screams don’t make your heart and viscera hurt, then I’m not sure what will.

When the movie ended, the theater was dead silent. No one spoke or even moved an inch. I have never witnessed such a collective stillness at a movie’s end. We all got sucked into the story and the actors’ bodies so deeply that we needed time to reorient ourselves. The characters never really owned their bodies or lives, and that made their boundaries permeable, easy to slip into. Kathy tried to grab hold of her existence, but, like a child riding a bucking stallion, she kept slipping and sliding, unable to sink her fingers in firmly enough to create an anchor. She was simply unprepared to take on the oppressive juggernaut that suffocated her life.

Despite its bleakness, Never Let Me Go, had one shining beam of hope, and that was Tommy’s art. As a child he was teased for his drawings and imagination, so he stopped his creative pursuit. However, he picked it up again in his late teenage years in order to “reveal his soul” and hopefully get a deferral on his organ donations. I won’t tell you whether or not his plan worked because I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but regardless of the outcome, the message is that Tommy’s art will outlive him and cast an influence over those who view it in the future. He may slowly lose his body, but his drawings and paintings remain intact, providing windows into his life, and the life he could have had. That is the glorious triumph of art – no matter what we lose, no matter what gets taken away from us, our creations remain to reveal our souls. They shine like stars illuminating the galaxy, and they will never let us go.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Cooking Lesson

Okay, my precious peeps, today you’re gonna get a cooking lesson – and I know some of you need it. I recently attended a cooking class in which I learned how to conjure all sorts of delectable seasonal dishes, including Caramelized Apple and Onion Soup (with Parmesan Lace Crisps – a little bonus yumyum); Spicy Squash Butter on Molasses Quick Bread; Green Salad with Gorgonzola, Pear Brittle and Warm Mustard Vinaigrette; and Sweet Potato Gingersnap Crumble. Now doesn’t that get your mouth watering? What a smorgasbord! But now I’m gonna let you down – I’m not going to give you those recipes. Instead, I’m plattering up what I thought was the best part of the class – the last ten minutes when the instructor waxed poetic about all her favorite ways to prepare various fall and winter produce. You know how you sometimes have produce on hand but aren’t sure what to do with it, or you don’t feel like getting into some involved recipe? These little dishlets will solve that problem – and you’ll be healthier, smarter, cooler, and more attractive after eating them. I mean, the instructor got all hot and bothered just talking about them, so she must be on to something…

Chard: You know how you always just toss those stems out? Well, keep ‘em, because they’re actually quite healthy and tasty – if you like a bit of crunch. You can use the stems in farro salad (or any other type of grain salad, presumably) and soups. Or you can sauté them with garlic and onion for a tasty side dish. As for those leaves, the instructor said to squeeze and “massage” them a little bit before you eat them raw in a salad, as this makes them easier to chew and digest. You can also cut the leaves into long ribbons and sauté them with garlic, onions, apple bits, walnuts, and some balsamic vinegar. So just give those tasty greens a little squeeze, and they’ll be sure to love you right back. Also, with greens in general she said to make sure they’re very dry when you store them (place a towel in the bag with them), and don’t overcrowd your crisper drawer.

Golden beets: Wrap them in foil (with the skin on), roast them in a shallow baking pan with a little water in it at 425° for about 1.5 hours. Then take off the skin and eat them as is, or toss them into risotto or salads.

Parsnip: I’m deeply saddened to say that I’ve never had a parsnip, and in fact, am not even sure what one looks like. That’s going to change, because the instructor called them the “most underrated winter veggie”. Apparently, roasting them makes them sweet, so roast them to your heart’s content and then have yourself some veggie candy.

Pears: Quarter them (leave the skin on), remove the core, and combine them with 3 cups red wine, a stick of cinnamon, and 1 cup sugar. Poach for 20 minutes. She said this is a delicious fall/winter dessert.

Pie pumpkin: Cut it into eights, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Place the slices on a baking sheet and brush the tops with oil (don’t use water in the baking pan). Bake at 450° for 45 minutes.

Overripe tomatoes: Use them in tomato sauce. And she said to never store tomatoes in the fridge, but rather in a dark, dry place.

Tomatillos: Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and oil, then roast them (with husks on) at 425°. Mash them and use in salsa verde (a mixture of chopped green peppers, green onions, lemon juice, garlic).

All root veggies: You can slice them very thin (use a mandolin slicer), sprinkle with salt, pepper, and vinegar (any type you’re crazy about) and eat them raw or in salads. The thin slicing process makes them more digestible. Or you can roast them ‘til they’re crispy.

Some miscellaneous tips: smaller produce = bigger taste, so favor the little guys when you’re shopping (ie., instead of going for that gargantuan, head-sized tomato, pick up the little one instead; he’ll be more delicious); try to combine sweet and savory ingredients in your concoctions to give them more depth; think about “umami”, the extra little savory something that will really yummify your dishes. Aged cheeses, mushrooms, tomatoes, soy sauce, potatoes, carrots, and green tea all qualify as umami ingredients. Adding them to your food will infuse savory depth, making your little morsels even more delicious.

Now see, aren’t those some great ideas? I feel so comforted knowing that I have some simple, quick, healthy ideas for munching on my veggies all throughout the dreary fall and winter. Do my readers have any other ideas? Share them in a comment!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Experience Music Project

If/when you come to Seattle, you’ll probably come across the Experience Music Project, one of Seattle’s most popular tourist attractions. And when you see it you might say, “What is that? It looks like the gargantuan, seafaring long-lost love of elegant Space Needle-woman just slumped out of the Puget Sound, crawled over to his lady, let out a dying squall of eternal love, and collapsed in a dead heap at her feet.” And if I happen to overhear your little comment, I will proceed to chide you for your rudeness and vehemently protect the honor of EMP, because even though others may call him a “blob”, or even “The Hemorrhoids”, I happen to love him devotedly. Besides, the French used to hate the Eiffel Tower, and don’t they all feel trés gauche about that now?

Casting aside your heartless judgments, you will probably be enthralled by the exhibits in the bowels of EMP, and you won’t be able to stop saying the word “cool”. First off, you surely won’t miss the guitar statue, a giant vertebra formed of thousands of guitars. Some worker-dude offered to take my picture while standing in front of it, and he told me I looked “very glamorous” and was “a natural”. I didn’t bother to let him know that I’ve had my picture taken, oh, about a hundred thousand times now. Progressing through the innards of my beloved EMP, you’ll see the Jimi Hendrix exhibit, the Northwest Passage (devoted exclusively to northwestern musicians – and there are a bunch of ‘em), and Sky Church, where live concerts go down. But the real heart of the beast lies in the Soundlab, where you can mix, record, play, jam, pound upon, pulverize, beat, or batter all sorts of instruments to your heart’s content. This is where EMP offers up his most precious viscera and organs so you can greedily paw them for your own edification and entertainment. It just wrenches my heart; he’s such a self-sacrificing ogre, precious and endearing like Shrek or Chewbacca.

In EMP’s extremities you’ll find the Sci-Fi Museum, sure to bewonder every boy (or girl) who ever wanted to run around with a terminator or kiss Princess Leia. You will be able to relive all those wondrous moments of childhood when you first saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” on the big screen, traveled under the sea or to the center of the earth with Jules Verne, zipped into the sky with the Rocketeer, or fantasized about being attacked by a 50-foot woman. And just to lure you to come visit me soon – the Battlestar Galactica exhibit has launched! If you haven’t seen that show, watch it first, then come visit me.

As you emerge from the wondrous interior of EMP, I hope you have a newfound respect and appreciation for him and all that he selflessly offers you – fantastic voyages, fond memories of puberty (and you know there aren’t many of those), hours of deep musical absorption in the Soundlab, and all sorts of exhibits to draw you into both local music history and the larger history of music and science fiction. He’s taken you on a wonderful tour, despite your initial skepticism. And anyway, he knows that I personally love the way he looks and wouldn’t change a thing about him. There’s no one else for me and Space Needle – and we know he just loves the tall ladies. J

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Can Can Cabaret

In a narrow, hot, crowded hallway overlooking the stage of the Can Can Cabaret, I’m chatting with my friend when a tiny, black-clad girl with orange and blue eyelids, hot pink lips, and multi-colored hair – shaved on one side, long on the other – squeezes by. “That’s Rainbow,” I tell Tomoyo, and I can’t help but stare, fascinated, as she presses to the dressing room. Rainbow is the choreographer of Can Can, a dance troupe I discovered at Bumbershoot, and she is both a mesmerizing dancer and an ingenious choreographer. Her visions of movement, music, and physical expression range from sensual, to bawdy, to comedic, to downright creepy. As I watch her maneuver through the crowd, I feel her rich imagination and lithe body preparing to explode for the entertainment of the crowd.

But in their intimate, subterranean cabaret, Can Can gives more than just spectacle – they open my mind to the power of bodily communication, and they reveal the rewards of taking a risk by cracking open one’s imagination to expose it to the world. Can Can is cabaret, but what’s really on display is the awesome fertility of Rainbow’s psyche. Through her dance she reveals her own mind – an act of authenticity and vulnerability that characterizes the best artists – and that openness is what makes the show so memorable and inspiring. CCC don’t perform typical cabaret or burlesque routines (well okay, there’s a bit of this ‘n that). Instead they infuse their acts with modern dance, classical ballet, martial arts, world dance, and film allusions, producing an eclectic show that takes the audience into the dance world much more deeply than just a cabaret performance. And it’s all so intimate that my attention focuses even more on those tiny details I wouldn’t notice in a large auditorium - people crushed against me in the hallway, being so close to the dancers that I see the sweat glisten on their bodies, overhearing quiet comments, smelling food as the waiters walk by, feeling the ache in my feet from standing so long in boots.

The music is just as eclectic as the dance styles, and Rainbow really knows how to find the perfect song to fit the movement and tone of each act. Sometimes I ululate to a Journey song right along with the audience, and other times I frantically try to remember lyrics in order to Google them later to find some obscure song. How does Rainbow do all this? She’s like a PhD Renaissance woman of dance, dressed in a sequined red bodysuit.

Some viewers don’t like the weird stuff – during the act where the dancers were wearing white space suits and plastic masks and moving around in strange contortions, one girl commented to me, “this creeps me out”. I was also kinda creeped out, but I believe that was the whole point – to give the audience something unexpected, yet ultimately more revealing of the human mind. Don’t we all have places in our mind that are creepy, or scary, or bizarre? Can Can takes us there, and they do it night after night. I left feeling inspired – and also with the strong urge to find some green and blue eyeshadow and start going by “Mermaid”. J

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cheap Beer and Prose

The other night I was in need of some inspiration, so I took myself to “Cheap Beer and Prose”, a spin-off of the popular “Cheap Wine and Poetry” series. I didn’t do any imbibing, but I did get nice and satiated with a couple of hours of extremely good dramatic monologue. It was “ladies’ night”, featuring four local mistresses of the written word, and they were absolutely hilarious, sending the crowd into manic fits of Homeric laughter repeatedly throughout the evening.

Up first was Paullette Gaudet, a “licensed barber” (turns out you actually have to be licensed in order to shave a few heads and trim guys' bird nests) who got the crowd roaring with her story about a nudist ex-boyfriend. She was a humoristic little pugilist behind the podium, sending out belly-busting, wind-expunging jabs with nearly every other sentence.

Margot Kahn’s story about meeting a physically perfect yet mentally boorish Brooklyn hunk was slower-paced and more introspective than Gaudet’s aggressively hilarious tale, but it was a nice change of pace. At least it allowed me to catch my breath and recover from Gaudet’s blows.

Wilson Diehl set the best pace of the evening, combining the sharp wit of Gaudet with the quieter introspects of Kahn, making her the perfect comedienne. Her essay about marathons and giving birth (“shooting an eight-pound being out of my once-demure lady parts”) struck the perfect balance of lightness and depth, humor and weightiness – and it definitely made me steadfastly recommit to my decision to never but never have babies.

Finally, Karen Finneyfrock read some chapters from her young adult novel Celia the Dark and Weird, to be released next year. I’d already heard of Finneyfrock before attending the event and I was expecting a lot from her, but she was sadly disappointing. I think it was because her selection just didn’t match the tone of the evening, as it was serious and well, juvenile, being a young adult novel. I know Ff’s good, but I’ll have to explore her other writings.

All in all those ladies provided one frolicking evening, and I certainly got the inspiration I needed. Seattle has a rich cache of local writers, which just gladdens my little bookworm heart, so I’ll be attending many more book events in the coming months – and of course, telling you all about them.