Music

KT Tunstall @ The Moore, Seattle (a concert review)

Kttunstallatthemooreseattle

KT Tunstall and her band of mostly unplugged musicians gave an energetic performance at The Moore Theatre in Seattle last night. The music was drastically fantastic, and her rapport and repartee with the audience was light-hearted and engaging.

I first discovered her through spam - one of the weekly emails RealNetworks used to send out to everyone who registered a downloaded RealPlayer application had a link to a live solo performance of Black Horse and The Cherry Tree. I loved the music, the words, the energy, and her ingenious use of recording technology to produce an amazingly full sound with just her voice, hands, and guitar.

Eyetothetelescope Drasticfantastic I bought her first album, Eye to the Telescope, immediately thereafter, and it became an instant favorite. It has several "goosebump songs" - songs that evoke a strong visceral reaction every time I hear them [BTW, on a related note, I see that David Huron is scheduled to present a paper on "Music-evoked Frisson: How Music Produces Gooseflesh and Why Listeners Enjoy It" at the Music and the Brain Conference at Stanford next week]. Last night, hearing several of these songs live also brought out the goosebumps.

Her live performance of many songs on her second album, Drastic Fantastic, with which I was initially somewhat disappointed - as I nearly always am for every artist's second album (with the exception of Sheryl Crow) - helped me better appreciate her more recent music ... especially her mesmerizing rendition of "If Only". That said, though, none [yet] qualify as "goosebump songs".

Another dimension of enhanced appreciation is for the drummer / percussionist in her band, Luke Bullen. We were sitting about 20 feet from him, and had a closeup view of the variety of instruments he employed - and how he employed them (often in interesting combinations) - to provide the base for that combination of strong bass beat and nuanced rhythms that characterize so many of her songs.

On the way home, Amy asked whether I thought KT Tunstall is a lesbian - not that this would affect our enjoyment of her or her music. I hadn't picked this up in her music, although upon reflection, I do see there is some potential ambiguity as to the gender of the people she sings about. I also noticed a number of lesbian couples in the audience at the show. In googling around, I discovered a Pink News report that although she enjoys and appreciates her following among the lesbian community, she is not gay ... and her boyfriend - drummer Luke Bullen - also enjoys and appreciates that following ... and this information enabled me to better appreciate how and why they seem to form such a great musical groove on-stage (and in recordings).

It was pretty apparent during the show that she also has a strong following from heterosexual males, and is used to bantering with them from the stage. During the break between the first two songs, one man shouted out "I love you" - to which she responded "Thanks ... I love you too". Shortly thereafter, during another break between songs (which frequently included guitar switches), she introduced her new 12-string guitar, which she picked up in Santa Barbara - and so she named it "Barbara" - after which this same man shouted out "I love your guitar", to which she responded "You stay away from my guitars!".

Another interaction started with her leading us in practicing "the first ever Seattle group body pop" - three moves including "teapot",  "pregnant woman" and "back over the hill". Although some intrepid spirits in the audience participated, as a group, we largely failed ... and in so doing, probably sacrificed our chance to hear her cover The Bangles' song "Walk Like an Egyptian", which I've read she's performed at other stops on the tour. Fortunately, we were later treated to a great cover of Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" (during the encore).

In introducing Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, she noted a family holiday in Port Townsend when she was growing up, fondly remembering the well-to-do hippies selling oddities such as elk piss in the town. She also recounted a whale watch, where every time a baby whale would breach, everyone on the boat would say "Wooooh!" ... which she then parlayed into the "woo hoo ... woo hoo ..." intro to the song. She later noted a "random fact" about ear wax being more prominent in people who are afraid; I've read about other random facts she's inserted into other concerts ... and may try that next time I'm chairing a session at a conference ... though I probably won't bring my guitar.

Anyhow, here is her setlist, as best I can recall:

  • Miniature Disasters
  • Little Favours
  • Hold On
  • Other Side of the World
  • Someday Soon
  • Funnyman
  • Throw Me a Rope
  • Black Horse and the Cherry Tree
  • Ashes
  • Hopeless
  • Under the Weather
  • Beauty of Uncertainty
  • If Only
  • Saving My Face
  • Suddenly I See

Encore:

  • Universe & U
  • Ain’t Nobody (cover of a Chaka Khan song)
  • Stoppin' the Love

This was our first visit to The Moore. After enjoying an early dinner with Yogi and Dawn across the street at the Buenos Aires Grill (though the food itself was not very impressive), we arrived at the theater around 7:40, 20 minutes before the show, and were still able to get seats very close to the stage - second row from the stage in the narrow column of seats at the far left of the stage.

The opening act was Paddy Casey, a singer/songwriter from Dublin, who reminded me of a cross between David Grey and Aztec Two-Step. We enjoyed his music, but often couldn't make out the lyrics very well.

Of course, we sometimes couldn't make out KT's lyrics either, but we've heard her songs before (many times, in some cases) ... and feeling the energy first-hand was a real treat.


Political Song and Dance - and Humor - with The Capitol Steps

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Amy and I enjoyed a hilarious political revue by The Capitol Steps comedy song and dance troupe ("We put the 'mock' in Democracy'") at The Paramount Theatre in Seattle last night with our friends Dave and Lisa. Among the entertaining songs - and insightful (and inciteful) prologues - included in last night's show were:

  • Ebony and Ivory [Ebony and Ivory (Stevie Wonder & Paul McCartney)], envisioning a Democratic "dream team" of Senators and U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton
  • Superdelegates [Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Mary Poppins)], a satirical look at the Democratic superdelegates (and the party's more ordinary delegates)
  • Leader like Barack [Leader of the Pack (The Shangri-Las)], a glowing affirmation - one even might say "devotional" - sung by an [impersonated] Obama fan ... not entirely unlike my own affirmation of inspiration from Obama's speech on transracialism
  • When I'm 84 [sung to the tune of When I'm 64 (The Beatles)], a riff on Senator and presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain's age
  • Relying on 9/11 [Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)], a retrospective revue - accompanied by a "generic rock star" - of the single issue platform of former mayor and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani
  • Huckabee [Let it Be (The Beatles)], a religiously righteous tongue-in-cheek proposal for the Republican vice presidential nomination of former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee
  • Tap Three Times [Knock Three Times (Tony Orlando and Dawn)], about Senator Larry Craig's indiscretion in the men's room at the Minneapolis - St. Paul International airport (BTW, Keith Olbermann - one of my heroes - revealed a humorous streak I had not seen before in a Dragnet-style re-enactment of Senator Craig's bathroom scene)
  • How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea? [How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? (Sound of Music)], a funny look of some of the not-so-funny issues revolving around Korean President Kim Il-Sung and his country's recent emergence as a nuclear power
  • Keep Us Alive [Stayin' Alive (Bee Gees)], a humorous reminder of the ages of the four remaining liberal members of the U.S. Supreme Court (Stephens, 88, Souter, 68, Ginsberg, 75, and Breyer, 69) ... and of an important, though rarely discussed, issue at stake in the current presidential election

There is a Capitol Steps YouTube channel where videos of some of their performances can be watched as well as listened to. They even have a MySpace page with some additional songs. And, of course, one can buy Capitol Steps CDs.

One of the actors did a fabulous parody of U.S. President George W. Bush; my favorite quote was the president's purported motto: "uncertain times call for uncertain leadership". I laughed the hardest and longest during the "Lirty Dies":

Lirty Dies are what you get when you mix your basic national scandal with word-initialization-rejuxtaposition closely following the underlying precepts of harmony, alliteration and innuendo.

Lirty Dies follows a great political tradition: We're not quite sure what we're saying; you're not quite sure what you're hearing.

Some might say they are merely spoonerisms taken to ludicrous heights.

We think this is sad. Something comes over people when they learn

Whip their Flurds..or.. Spew up their Screech....

These are people who can:

Flo with the Go...with Mealthy Hinds and Lappy Hives...

People who....umm....

Follow their Hearts
(We'll let you do that one)

The lirty dies targets in last night's show included Haris Pilton, Gush vs. Bore and Cloger Remens.

Another segment I enjoyed was during Juan Nation, a satirical piece on U.S.-Mexico immigration and border issues that initially made me uncomfortable. An actor impersonating Mexican President Felipe Calderon spoke of how he would do as U.S. president, "As you know, I would do twice the work for half the pay; the downside is that I'd have 19 of my cousins living in the Oval Office, but on the upside, the rose garden would look immaculate". My discomfort yielded to loud laughter when another actor, playing a redneck, came out on stage with one of my favorite lines: "I'm with the insane border patrol group better known as The Minutemen, and my dirt-poor ancestors did not flee Europe so we could let in a bunch of immigrants!"

I think I was uncomfortable because when I looked around the theater just before the show started, I saw only one African-American - and no Mexican-Americans - in the audience of several hundred. I was reminded of the discomfort I felt when I noticed that all but one family of 3 among the 700 people attending a Christopher Paolini talk on his Eragon book tour on Mercer Island in September 2005 were white (though the age demographics was very different than the audience at The Capitol Steps' performance). All but one of the 39 members of The Capitol Steps - and all of the 5 members (3 men, 2 women) who performed in Seattle last night - are white. Although they did seem to focus more of their satire on Hilary Clinton than Barack Obama, they were willing to raise the race issue in the lyrics for Leader like Barack (sung to the tune of the Shangri-Las' Leader of the Pack), with a lead singer and two background singers (whose lyrics are in italics below).

I'm glad I've found someone to embrace (brace, brace)
My friends say he cannot win the race (I can't believe your friends would talk about his race)
Is Barack black? Not very. He's not like Whoopi Goldberg, more like Halle Berry.
I hope some day, it's President Barack.

In any case, I suppose it should not come as a surprise that there is a racial divide in media (books, music, comedy). I know that the few times I've channel surfed to television stations geared towards people of other races (e.g., Black Entertainment Television), I don't find it very entertaining. But, of course, I don't find the vast majority of mass media - especially on television - very entertaining or engaging.

I did, however, find The Capitol Steps very entertaining - I don't think I've laughed so hard since the last time I saw them, 8 years ago, at The Northshore Center for the Performing Arts (in Skokie, Illinois), with our friends Andy and Rebecca. That was during another U.S. presidential election - one in which the outcome proved to be disastrous - so it was nice to inject some much-needed humor into the process ... and I hope I won't need quite so much comedy salve to compensate for the outcome of the current election. Recent stories about a misguided "gas tax holiday" proposal (and its reflection of a "global warming holiday" for erstwhile environmentalists) and an older story from 1995 about Senator McCain claiming that cable networks are less biased than PBS and "superior in some cases" (!) have heightened my concerns that the ongoing and increasingly bitter fight between the two Democratic presidential candidates will lead to a situation in which much humor will be required during the next four years.


Music and Personality: Reflective and Complex

As part of my ongoing personal and professional re-engagement with music (since the initiation of my instigation at MyStrands), and renewed exploration of how tastes in music and other media can offer new opportunities for engagement marketing, I was reading up on some of the work by Peter Jason Rentfrow and Sam Gosling on music and personality.

Their research, which includes a short test of music preferences (STOMP), explores mappings between preferences for music and [other] personality traits. Based on data collected from 3,500 people, they identified four music preference categories:

  • Reflective and Complex
  • Intense and Rebellious
  • Upbeat and Conventional
  • Energetic and Rhythmic

and report that "Preference for these music dimensions were related to a wide array of personality dimensions (e.g., Openness), self-views (e.g., political orientation), and cognitive abilities (e.g., verbal ability)."

Far more details about their research methodology and findings are included in a paper they published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology - a journal I keep encountering in my research (perhaps reflecting my increasing orientation toward the social and psychological implications and applications of technology (so much so, that I've decided to join the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and subscribe to the journal)):

Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2003). The do re mi’s of everyday life: The structure and personality correlates of music preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1236-1256.

I won't delve deeply into all the details of this paper, but some of the highlights (for me) include corroboration for a number of theories / intuitions I've entertained:

One of the dimensions of music preferences the authors did not investigate [thoroughly] was the situational aspect - the music I like to listen to is strongly influenced by where I am, who I'm with and what I'm doing (among other things). The authors did report on the range of contexts in which people listen to music (e.g., waking up, going to sleep, driving, studying, working, hanging out with friends and exercising), but did not explore how those contexts influence music preferences.

MusicFX - a group recommender system we created several years ago to allocate influence over the music playing in a fitness center based on the preferences of those who were actually working out at any given time - succeeded largely because we asked people only for their preferences for music while they were in the fitness center. We had several users who submitted comments like "I really like opera, but not while I'm working out" (the situational influence of place, activity and perhaps time), and we observed instances where users adjusted their preferences toward more popular genres when their initial preferences resulted in rather unusual genres of music being played (the situational influence of other people). I've referenced a number of other situational music preference systems in an earlier post on roadcasting, and MyStrands' partyStrands application is a more recent example of such a system.

Rentfrow and Gosling note that their study represents just one piece of a full[er] theory of music preferences (and personality) - and it certainly represents an important contribution. I recently ordered Daniel Levitan's book, This Is Your Brain On Music, which I suspect also offers important contributions to a more complete theory of music and personality.

Of course, in the commercial domain, radio advertising has long recognized the connections between music preferences and self-image (and projections of image). With the growth of online radio, however, traditional radio advertising has declined, or at least flattened out, despite the fact that 93% of consumers in America still listen to traditional radio (according to the Radio Advertising Bureau). Cranking up the music in your car or dorm room used to be a popular way of projecting one's personality and tastes (ahem, at least for some people), but I imagine the growth of other [online] media that are being utilized for self-image construction and projection - Facebook, MySpace and other social networking services - may be affecting choices of projection channels these days.

[Interestingly, and somewhat related to preferences, advertising and brains, the recent Advertising Age video piece on [what amounts to] your brain on advertising (based on Sands Research neurophysiological testing of people watching Super Bowl Ads), suggests that the connection between brain activity and other, more conscious activities and behaviors indicators such as the USA Today Ad Meter and other popularity polls - or perhaps people purchasing products - is not very strong.]

Popping up a few levels, and turning from academic and market research to methods that are somewhat more generally approachable, Rentfrow has developed and posted a web-based music and personality test. I took the test, which yielded the results shown in the screenshot below:

Doremime

The results page goes on to describe the various facets in further detail. I'll just include the first category, which appears to be the dominant one (96%) for me.

People with high scores on the reflective and complex music-preference dimension tend to be open to new experiences, creative, intellectual, and enjoy trying new things. When it comes to politics, they tend to lean toward the liberal side. Wisdom, diversity, and fine arts are all important to them. When it comes to lifestyle, high scorers tend to be sophisticated, and relatively well off financially. After a hard day of work, if they're not listening to music or reading a book, they enjoy documentary films, independent, classic, or foreign films.

This certainly matches my self-image, as eerily closely as the description of the ENFP personality type (in the Myers-Briggs typology) in which I was categorized after taking the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II test. I'll note that these results can both be viewed simply as self-fulfilling prophecies - I was answering the questions from the perspective (conscious or unconscious) of my self-image ... or self-projection. But that's OK, if the goal is simply to link some elements of my self-image to other elements of my self-image, especially for the purpose of facilitating my discovery of new people, places or things that may be of interest and value to me (and/or my self-image). I'm not sure yet how to effectively technologize this kind of linking (and thinking), but will be delving deeper into these potential linkages.

BTW, Rentfrow has also created a web-based test to find your Star Wars twin ... the results for which suggest I'm a cross between Yoda (95%) and Obi Wan Kenobi (90%). I wonder what kind of music they like to listen to ...


Commenting on Validation / Validating Comments

Ever since my last post, which started out about locked-in syndrome (inspired by The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), but which developed into a revisitation of a frequently discussed topic [on this blog] - "the need for approval ... for validation ... for appreciation ... for mattering" - I've been attuned to validation in a variety of forms and forums.

The stream of comments that followed my initial post were incredibly engaging and validating - to know that two people I admire so much were touched by the post, as was another person who serendipitously stumbled upon it - and all of them helped draw me a bit deeper (and more broadly) in a followup comment into the topic(s) I'd touched on in the initial post ... culminating in my revisiting one of the most validating poems I've ever encountered: "Love after Love", by Derek Walcott ("... You will love again the stranger who was yourself ...").

However, another comment on that thread - and a number of other recent comments on a number of other posts - initially appeared validating, but upon closer inspection (and reflection), seem less so. In an earlier post, in which I was commenting on commenting, I explicitly named - and thus (I believe) alienated - a friend who had posted a validating comment which had a very similar syntactic look and feel to other comments which I labeled spampliments - thinly, though sometimes effectively (due to my incurable addiction to validation - online or offline), disguised spam compliments. Such comments appear to be primarily intended to add "google juice" to various web sites - by incorporating a URL in the comment itself and/or in the commenter self-reference. I'm tempted to delve deeper into this shadow - I tend to be very self-referential in both my blog posts and comments on this and other blogs - but given my perception that I lost a blog commenter (if not reader (if not friend)) last time I ranted about this, I think I'll simply drop it, but not without first noting that validating comments that [initially] appear to be validating me (or my blog ... not that I think the difference is significant (and therein lies the rub)) is an ongoing challenge. I do want to be very explicit, though, that I really do appreciate (and feel validated by) comments from people who are in some way moved by what I write. [Ironically, I recently noticed that the number of comments on my blog has superseded the number of posts ... and that trend may reverse itself [now] ... but I feel impelled to write what I think and feel.]

Anyhow, returning to the original thread, yesterday, during the 4+ hour drive down to MyStrands HQ in Corvallis, OR, I had an unusually long time for audio engagement. During the first portion of the drive, I listened to the audiobook rendition of The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. I've already written about his second agreement - don't take anything personally (the same post in which I explored my shadow(s) about commenting on commenting) - and his fourth agreement - always do your best (about which I [still] feel strongly ambivalent). One of the things that jumped out at me during this particular listening experience was his description of how, as young children, the adults in positions of authority (parents, teachers, ministers) hooked our attention, and "domesticated" us by cultivating an addiction to future attention ... resulting in, among other things, our willingness - and even desire - to [try to] be who we are not simply to please other people ... i.e., just to receive validation (from others).

Sheryl_crow_300 Sherylcrow TuesdayNightMusicClub I then switched on the radio, to catch some NPR news ... which was immediately followed by Terry Gross' Fresh Aire interview of Sheryl Crow, one of my favorite artists (make no mistake). During the interview, entitled Sheryl Crow: Gracefully Navigating "Detours", she spoke - among other things - of her need to be accepted and appreciated for her music, not [simply] for her physical beauty. She said she intentionally dressed in a bedraggled style and used black makeup in the photo shoots for the cover[t] art on her first two albums - Tuesday Night Music Club and the self-titled Sheryl Crow (I always thought it odd to have a self-titled second album) - in an attempt to obscure her visual attractiveness, so that people would be better able to hear and appreciate her aural artistry. Well, at the risk of dating myself, and without delving too deeply into this shadow, her first two albums were my gateway into opening up again to popular music, after a nearly 20-year "dry spell". Her musical talents shined brightly (for me), and despite her attempts to hide her physical attributes, those too shined through pretty clearly (I'll briefly note that Pink Floyd's song, "Shine On, You Crazy Diamond", was released near the end of what I consider the [last] golden age of rock and roll). Anyhow, the point I really want to emphasize here is that I find it reassuring that even an artist as immensely talented as Sheryl Crow still feels the need to be validated ... which makes me just a wee bit less self-conscious and more accepting about this need in my self ... perhaps enabling me to better love [myself] with a paper thin heart.


Chicago at the Chateau (A Concert Review)

The band Chicago put on a surprisingly strong -- but surprisingly short (one hour, forty minutes) -- show last night at Chateau Ste. Michelle.  Approximately 3,800 people came out to enjoy the music, wine and fabulous weather at the winery.

Chicagoatcsm Chicagoatcsm2_1

I don't think I've attended another concert where so many people were singing so many of the songs -- nearly every song became a sing-along, and during one (Just You 'N' Me), the band stopped singing for a while and just let the audience take it away.

Chicagoatcsm3_1

Chicagoatcsm4_1

This audience participation was in no small part due to the band's selection of songs, nearly all of which were from their "early" albums (their debut, Chicago Transit Authority, thru Chicago X) -- what I consider their classic period ... and judging from the demographics of the audience, I suspect many of us grew up during this classic Chicago period.  They played a couple of songs from their latest album (Chicago XXX (!)), and there were a couple of others I didn't recognize that were presumably from either solo efforts or one of the other albums during the Chicago dark ages.  I rather liked one of the Chicago XXX songs (but I can't remember its name), so perhaps they're entering a renaissance.

Chicago played the first concert I ever attended, in 1975, at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, with my mom and my cousin TJ, so a Chicago concert has a special place in my heart, especially an outdoor one.  They were my favorite band thru their first 9 years, but three things happened in 1978 to color my perception of the band: Terry Kath, their amazing founding guitarist, killed himself; their producer, James William Guercio, left; and the Chicago XI album did not measure up to the high standards I expected of them (it was the last Chicago album I bought ... well, except their Chicago Group Portrait CD box set, but box sets don't count).

The band members -- and concert performers -- in 1975 were the seven founders plus the conga player who joined the band for Chicago VII:

  • Peter Cetera: bass, vocals
  • Terry Kath: guitar, percussion, vocals
  • Robert Lamm: keyboards, percussion, vocals
  • Lee Loughnane: trumpet, percussion, vocals
  • James Pankow: trombone, percussion, vocals
  • Walter Parazaider: woodwinds, tenor sax, percussion, vocals
  • Danny Seraphine: drums, percussion, congas, antique bells, timbales, vocals
  • Laudir de Oliveira: percussion

In 2006, the band has four of the original members, but only two were on tour (or at least, at the concert last night):

  • Robert Lamm: piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond organ, vocals
  • Lee Loughnane: trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet
  • James Pankow: trombone
  • Walt Parazaider: saxophones, flutes
  • Bill Champlin: Hammond organ, piano, Fender Rhodes, vocals
  • Jason Scheff: bass, vocals
  • Tris Imboden: drums
  • Keith Howland: guitar

I was really impressed by how well the new Chicago was able to recreate the sound of the classic Chicago, with that incredible blend of innovative instrumental jamming and crisp precision.  Even the singing was pretty strong, with Jason Scheff stretching to reach some of the high notes that Peter Cetera used to sing with such ease.  I was a bit disappointed in some of the liberties that Keith Howland took with Terry Kath guitar solos ... the solo for 25 or 6 to 4 was the first one I ever mastered when I was teaching myself guitar, and so his deviations from this classic solo probably bothered me more than most. 

Unlike the recent CSNY concert at White River Amphitheatre, or the CSN concert at Chateau Ste. Michelle in 2004, I did not keep track of the song list for this concert.  This was due, in part, to my hands being full for much of the evening with a glass and/or bottle of wine and/or a plate of food (I was thinking how the food and drink probably diminished the number of people clapping at this and other concerts at Chateau Ste. Michelle).  Anyhow, scanning through the songs listed on my Group Portrait box, I remember them playing the following songs (though not in this order, except for the Make Me Smile ... Colour My World sequence):

  • Beginnings
  • I'm a Man
  • Make Me Smile
  • So Much to Say; So Much to Give
  • Anxiety's Moment
  • West Virginia Fantasies
  • Colour My World
  • 25 or 6 to 4
  • Saturday in the Park
  • Dialogue (Parts 1 and 2)
  • Feelin' Stronger Every Day
  • Just You 'N' Me
  • Call on Me
  • Old Days
  • If You Leave Me Now

[If I can find a song list, I'll post an update.]

Having been energized by the strong protest theme at the CSNY concert (on their aptly named "Freedom of Speech" tour), I was wondering whether there would be a resurgence of some of the protest flavor of early Chicago songs, written during the time of the Vietnam War.  Some of their songs during the period have a strong anti-war message (e.g., It Better End Soon or A Song for Richard and his Friends), but Unlike CSNY, I don't get the sense that Chicago is feeling particularly revolutionary these days.  Fortunately, they did play one of my favorite political songs, Dialogue, which, when I heard it this time, reminded me of some of the dialogues in my favorite political cartoon, This Modern World. I'll finish this post off with the song's inspiring refrain:

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better


CSNY vs. GWB at WRA (A Concert Review)

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rendered a rousing rock and roll revue that combined retrospection with rekindled rebellion at the White River Amphitheatre last night.  While I don't believe U.S. President George W. Bush was physically present at the concert, representations of him -- including his words and actions (and their consequences) -- were front and center through music (from Neil Young's latest album, Living with War) and video and audio clips (interspersing Bush, U.S. soldiers in uniform and in coffins, Iraqi citizens and a tickertape-style list of various statements and statistics regarding Bush and the war in Iraq [aside: Wired recently ran an article about raw videos from Iraq]).

Csnyatwra1_1

This was the third "CSN and sometimes Y" concert Amy and I have seen in the last two decades, including a CSN concert in the mid 80s and CSN at CSM (Chateau Ste. Michelle) two years ago.  Without doubt, it was their most energetic and powerful performance -- they are, at their core, a protest band, and they have more fodder now than in over 30 years.  The music -- old and new -- was inspired and inspiring, and I believe that Neil Young's presence, in addition to the current U.S. administration policies, helped to fire up the band (and the audience).

The music spanned a spectrum, from the heavy, electric, rock and roll guitar thunder of the first set -- punctuated by numerous dueling solos between Stephen Stills and Young -- to softer, more intricate and even exquisite, acoustic guitar and piano-based melodies that predominated much of the second set -- where the different numbers and combinations of singers and harmonies evoked a sense of rapture ("Guinnevere", by David Crosby and Graham Nash, stands out on that count).

One shortcoming in my concert experience was the band's choice not to more thoroughly engage the audience.  The only things they said between songs during the first set were "Hi" and "Thanks for coming", and though they seemed to loosen up a bit in the second set -- starting with Young stopping Nash midway through Our House (after Nash played a bad chord and muttered [something like] "Ack!" in between verses, Young stopped the song, and said "Let's play that song again") -- they still didn't say too much about the stories behind the songs, didn't provide many opportunities for sing-alongs, and didn't try very hard to incite the audience toward action (I was surprised not to see any tables outside the amphitheatre where people could sign up for activism ... and I was also surprised that water bottle caps were confiscated at the entrance, due to concern that people may throw them as projectiles onto stage). 

Of course, CSNY's music itself is tremendously engaging, and some of the songs are pretty inciteful (I'm thinking particularly of "Let's Impeach the President").  Toward the end of the concert, they did invite us to join a sing -- and clap -- along, for "What are Their Names", and after playing the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock, during which a giant microphone was brought out on stage and a yellow ribbon was tied around it, they tipped the microphone -- dimly shown in the photo below -- toward the audience to encourage us to speak up (against the madness).

Csnyatwra2_2

Another sequence of symbols -- backdrops of different flags at different times in the performance -- was largely lost on us, as we were at the far back [right] corner of the front section, and so couldn't see them (Buzz Person's official concert photos captured many of these flags, as well as better images of the giant microphone ... and everything else, for that matter).  However, being in that corner did enable us to make a quick exit, a tremendous advantage about which I'll say more below.

The playlist for the concert included the following (a modified sequence of what the Minneapolis - St. Paul Star Tribune posted after an earlier concert there):

First set:

  • Flags of Freedom (source: Young, 2006)
  • Carry On (CSNY, 1970)
  • Wooden Ships (CSN, 1969), the first of many Stills / Young dualing guitar solos
  • Long Time Gone (CSN, 1969), one of many CSN[Y] "goosebump" songs for me; Crosby inserted "I'm asking you to speak out against the madness"
  • Military Madness (Nash, 1971), Nash inserted a plea to George Bush: "no more war"
  • After the Garden (Young, 2006), I was wondering whether this is the same garden we had to get ourselves back to in "Woodstock"
  • Living with War (Young, 2006)
  • The Restless Consumer (Young, 2006), "Don't need no lies!"
  • Shock and Awe (Young, 2006), with an amazing horn solo (I wish I knew what kind of horn that was ... a fluegle horn, perhaps? ... reminded me of the horn on Conquistador, by Procol Harem)
  • Wounded World (Stills, 2005)
  • Almost Cut My Hair (CSNY 1970)
  • Immigration Man (C&N, 1972)
  • Families (Young, 2006)
  • Deja Vu (CSNY, 1970), where the dueling guitar solos went on a bit past the point of diminishing returns (for me), and where the band missed an opportunity to explicitly highlight how much of the current situation with respect to George Bush and the war in Iraq harkens back to the era of Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War in which CSNY initially made their mark ... given my perception of the average age of the concertgoers, this may have been obvious to many

Second set

  • Helplessly Hoping (CSN, 1969), with amazing 4-part harmony
  • Our House (CSNY, 1970), 1.5 times, as noted earlier
  • Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Young, 1970), with Young on piano and Crosby and Nash harmonizing
  • Guinnevere (CSN, 1969), the standout of the concert for me, absolutely exquisite
  • Milky Way Tonight (C&N, 2004)
  • Treetop Flyer (Stills, 1991)
  • Roger and Out (Young, 2006)
  • Southbound Train (C&N, 1972)
  • Old Man Trouble (Stills, 2005), wow, can Stills still cranks out the blues!
  • Carry Me (C&N, 1975)
  • Teach Your Children (CSNY, 1970), why no sing-along to this one? :-(
  • Southern Cross (CSN, 1982), I found myself finally warming up to this song
  • Find the Cost of Freedom (CSNY, 1971), and one might ask, who's freedom ... and at what cost?
  • Let's Impeach the President (Young, 2006)
  • For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield featuring Stills and Young, 1967)
  • Chicago (Nash, 1971)
  • Ohio (CSNY, 1970)
  • What Are Their Names (Crosby, 1971)
  • Rocking in the Free World (Young, 1989), during his solo, Young somehow managed to tear all the strings on his guitar, in what amounted to a rousing finish

Encore

  • Woodstock (CSNY, 1970), one of my favorite CSNY songs, and yet the most disappointing of the evening ... the singing was flat, no doubt due to the inability of Stills, and perhaps others, to still hit those higher notes.  Fortunately, this disappointment enabled us to make an even quicker getaway from the concert.

Speaking of getaways, this was our first visit to the venue, and we were concerned about some of the things we'd read about transportation to and parking at White River Amphitheatre on blog posts and comments at Pleasing to Remember and LeeLeFever.com.  We followed the directions provided at RiverGiver.com, leaving Woodinville at 4:00, taking SR-520 to I-405 to SR-169 and cutting across SE 400th Street, and arriving around 6:00 (we were stuck in horrendous traffic on 520 and 405, so we would probably take West Lake Sammamish Parkway to I-90 to I-405 next time).  I don't know what time the parking lot opened (the gates opened at 6:30 for an 8:00 show), but we got there early enough to get good parking spaces, and were driving away on SE 400th Street within 10 minutes of the end of the concert, and back home in 1.5 hours.  On a somewhat related note, the selection of wine and beer is surprisingly poor (e.g., cans of Miller Genuine Draft and wines in a box), given my experience at other large venues in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., Safeco Field), and the price is high (around $7), so we didn't buy anything there ... and, in fact, will always plan to eat and drink elsewhere for any events at WRA.

Returning to the initial thread, despite my disappointment over the band's suboptimal overall engagement and specific rendition of Woodstock, this was a great concert, and even though it represented a significant investment of money and time (compared to concerts at Chateau Ste. Michelle, which are only 10 minutes away), it was a rare, and valued, opportunity to see CSNY in full force ... and I hope they (we?) can have as much impact on the political and societal problems of today as [I believe] they did when they first rose to fame, nearly 40 years ago.


Unfolding Radiance

Dan Oestreich is one of my favorite bloggers. One of the insights that has unfolded for me, through regularly reading Dan's blog, Unfolding Leadership, is that everyone is a leader: like it or not, I am always "leading by example", intentionally and unintentionally.  His latest post, On the Capability to Lead, weaves together many rich, resonant threads on capabilities, confidence, change, openness, flow and radiance: 

Our leadership is a reflection of the Radiance pouring through us

Dan invokes one of my (our) favorite quotes, from Marianne Williamson's book, A Return to Love, a printed copy of which constitutes one of the ways I've personalized my workspace. The combination of simultaneously reading and listening to Dan's post, with this quote on the wall in front of me, inspired me to snap a photo to capture the radiance of the moment:

Unfoldingcapture

I'll include the quote below, as it bears repeating ... and in fact I invoked it myself in an earlier post that marked a period of unfolding radiance. [Aside: other elements in the photo above are my computer with Dan's weblog in a browser window and a live webcam feed in another window, and a quotable magnet with the Zen saying "leap and the net will appear" in the lower left.]

'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.'
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Dan sheds light on the challenges -- and rewards -- in acknowledging and exploring our shadows, noting that our greatest gifts often lie concealed in those dark, protected areas:

Knowing we are in part imperfect, inconsistent and insecure, we can practice the art of gradually allowing more of these parts to open, allowing more of the Radiance intended for our personal "channel" to flow through us into the world.

He outlines three stages of this unfolding (descriptions of which I include here, with his permission, along with links to evocative images -- or mandalas -- he created to represent each stage):

Stage One: Defending

When we are defending, the interior world is a dark and vulnerable place. We protect it, and we wear the mask of a fencer who is mostly "on guard" to defend our unknown territory. The darkness leaks out as we continually make sure neither we nor others see what is going on inside. If there are problems, they are caused by what is outside of us, not within.

Stage Two: Learning to Open

If, by chance, we become curious about the interior world and just brave enough to begin the journey, we enter the stage of opening. Here we discover that there are more and less conscious aspects of Shadow -- our unconscious side. The more conscious aspects sometimes appear as self-critical voices that remind us of our weaknesses and can sometimes overwhelm us. The more we enter, the darker it seems to get but, in truth, something waits for us on the other side of the Shadow's darkest walls. Eventually light and life begin to appear in new forms. A seed we plant germinates. We discover some aspect of our interior light that, like an angel, contains the message of a destiny or purpose. Like the Roman god, Janus, the god of doorways and windows, we begin to identify with looking both inward and outward.

Stage Three: The Radiance

As more areas within us awaken, as we discover and break old patterns in our conditioning, we find ourselves to be channels for a Radiance that gets brighter the more it is allowed to pass through. While some Shadow energies always remain as mysteries to be gradually unlocked, the Radiance wipes out the distinction between looking out and looking in. What is left is the flow, an infinity that is neither wholly one or nor wholly the other, but both combined.

The images were powerful for me, and I found myself wondering what they would look like if they were combined into an animated GIF ... something I'd long wanted to learn how to do. So, I channeled my wondering into action, found a guide to creating an animated GIF, which recommended JASC Paint Shop Pro -- which I had never used but remember seeing on my Dell desktop computer -- and in short order had created the animated GIF shown below.

Unfoldingradiance

There were many other gems of wisdom throughout Dan's post, but I'll include just one more here:

If I look [within] and see nothing or feel drawn into a dark vortex of uncomfortable feelings, then I know I am at the starting point. If I can see and acknowledge my most positive attributes and values, then perhaps I have begun to move down the path. If I have gone even farther, to examine my own blind-spots, discovering a true gift or two and feel a rising tide of light within, then I know my confidence is beginning to genuinely express itself. And if this light, this "inner wisdom," this "genius" is a radiance I can no longer contain, if it is music that I no longer play as an instrument of change but instead is what plays me, then surely, this is the way.

As I noted in my comment on Dan's post, this reference to "music [that] plays me" reminds me of a Rumi poem, Each Note ... which I've been longing to include in a blog post for a long time now:

...
God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us,
a passion, a longing-pain.
Remember the lips
where the wind-breath originated,
and let your note be clear.
Don't try to end it.
Be your note.
I'll show you how it's enough.

Go up on the roof at night
in this city of the soul.

Let everyone climb on their roofs
and sing their notes!

Sing loud!

These references to music, in the context of radiance, reminded me of the lyrics to Pink Floyd's song, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, from their Wish You Were Here CD:

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom,
blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter,
come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!
You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision,
rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions,
come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!

And finally, mapping these allusions to radiance and shining from the visual dimension into the aural dimension brings to mind Stephen Covey's 8th Habit:

Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs

As I had noted in another earlier post during the aforementioned period of unfolding radiance, I find that blogging provides a perfect channel for this habit. After a two week period of blog silence and shadow dwelling, Dan's post inspired me to find my voice [again], and while I write this post without attachment, it would be icing on the cake if this entry, in turn, helps others find their voices ... extending the virtuous circle(s) of flowing radiance.


The Wahwah Model for Breakthrough Ideas

Kathy Sierra has returned to the blogosphere with yet another inspiring and provocative post, this time about what she and her colleagues call the EQ model for breakthrough ideas, based on a sound equalizer (EQ) metaphor with various sliders used to model features and potential features in a new product or service. 

EQ model

Kathy suggests that the four ways of innovating, within this model, and in increasing likelihood of achieving significant breakthroughs (and the attendant risks of failure), are to

  • adjust the sliders in minor ways
  • adjust the sliders in more dramatic ways
  • add new sliders for features that have been largely ignored or undervalued by competitors
  • add new sliders for features not even considered by competitors

Examples of adding new sliders include Nike's customization of athletic shoes, Apple's finer-grained music purchases (via iTunes), FlickR's tags, and an art gallery that sells skateboard shoes.  Kathy notes that the book Blue Ocean Strategy (by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne) has also explored this kind of innovation (though I imagine with different, and perhaps less vivid or graphic, metaphors) and one of the commenters on her post (Sean Tierney) references Clayton Christensen's book, The Innovator's Dilemma (and another commenter, Zach, provides a link to a talk Christensen gave on the topic).

Another blogger, Bruno Unna, sent a trackback to her post noting that the sliders on an equalizer are interrelated (spanning a spectrum of sound frequencies) ... this got me to thinking about devices that affect musical sound in more radical ways than adjusting the frequencies of an equalizer, and reminded me of my erstwhile electric guitar playing days when I had a wahwah pedal, distortion box and phase shifter to alter the sound of my 1968 Les Paul.  I still have the guitar, but no longer have any of the special effects devices ... but my friend Gordon does, and he was kind enough to snap and send me a photo of his Boss setup, which I include below.  In my biased perspective, this represents a slightly more apt metaphor for truly disruptive innovation.   [A more accurate label might be "the electric guitar effects pedals model for breakthrough thinking" ... but this seems like way too many syllables, and so I'll settle for "wahwah model".]

Bosspedals

[Update: I've added a photo from the Boss web site of their GT-6 Guitar Effects Processor, which has more color contrast to highlight its different features.]

Gt6_2

Finally, I just have to include a link to the "Featuritis Curve" that Kathy included in her post.  Prior to her blog sabbatical, she posted an invitation to her readers to post comments that would lift her spirits, and many people included some really funny jokes and links to [other] humorous stuff.  I saw this featuritis curve while checking my email -- and her blog -- during a brief visit to the Seattle Public Library, and laughed out loud when I saw it (I could so relate to it!) ... startling some of the other patrons.  I'm glad she is back, and sharing her wisdom and wit with us again.

Featuritis Curve


Mistakes vs. Lessons, Masculine vs. Feminine

image from www.drcherie.com One final note about the NPR interview with Paul McCartney and his producer, Nigel Godrich: Godrich mentioned a "mistake" that McCartney made during a cut that was his "favorite moment in the song" (Fine Line)... and he convinced McCartney to incorporate that into the final cut. This called to mind Sheryl Crow's song My Favorite Mistake, and also reminded me of one of my favorite life rules articulated by Cherie Carter-Scott in her inspiring book, If Life is a Game, These are the Rules, which presents a very different view of mistakes than that expressed in McCartney's song:

Rule Three - There are no mistakes, only lessons. Your development towards wisdom is a process of experimentation, trial and error, so it's inevitable things will not always go to plan or turn out how you'd want. Compassion is the remedy for harsh judgment - of ourselves and others. Forgiveness is not only divine - it's also 'the act of erasing an emotional debt'. Behaving ethically, with integrity, and with humour - especially the ability to laugh at yourself and your own mishaps - are central to the perspective that 'mistakes' are simply lessons we must learn.

... which, in turn, reminds me that I read that she will soon be appearing locally at a one-day workshop on Liberating the Feminine.  Normally, I would not even consider attending an event that seems so exclusively designed for women ... but the the current issue of Utne, that just arrived yesterday, includes a special section on Embrace your Feminine: The Power of Nurture in a Man's World ... so perhaps I'll hold off a bit on making relevance / value judgments.


Openness, Vulnerability, Kindness and Greatness

I was catching up with Dan Oestreich's blog this morning, getting inspired by Dan's writing about -- and modeling -- the value of being conscious and open.  I took a break to drive the kids to school, and on the way back, listened to Steve Inskeep's interview with Paul McCartney on NPR, which provided yet another example of the benefits of openness and vulnerability.  The producer of McCartney's latest album, Nigel Godrich (who, as Inskeep notes was not even born yet when the Beatles broke up), was critical of some early cuts on the album, and by being open and responsive to some of that criticism, McCartney was able to craft better music, resulting in what may be his greatest album in years.

Indeed, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard is the first McCartney album since Let it Be (the title track of which is one of those "goosebump" songs I mentioned a while back) I am willing buy.  I liked all the tracks played during the course of the interview; the following verse -- from How Kind of You -- resonated particularly strongly with me, given all the kindness we have experienced throughout our recent challenges:

How kind of you to think of me
When I was out of sorts
It really meant alot to be
in someone else's thoughts
someone elses's mind
someone else as kind
as you