Josh Ritter and Dawn Landes in Anchorage

I spent the week leading up to 1/31 trying to convince everyone I know to show up at UAA’s Wendy Williamson Auditorium on Saturday night for Josh Ritter’s show (mostly through Twitter). This was the third time I’ve seen Josh Ritter live. Once in a solo capacity like Saturday’s show and once with his band; so I knew to expect an intimacy between him and the audience.
I also spent some time leading up to the show getting familiar with Dawn Landes, who was opening the night. Her albums are rather eclectic mixing some blue grass, folk and even some rock. In her performance she immediately won the crowd over with her charm and anecdotes about her Alaska experience. She seemed to thrive in the solo acoustic format, and really seemed to be enjoying herself. Her music is great and I added her catalog to my library via AmazonMP3 and emusic.
Back in October of 2007, I saw Josh Ritter play in Seattle. I’ve blogged this story before, but it’s relevant… ReckenRoll and I were eating across the street from the venue and while I was juggling excitement to see Josh Ritter and excitement that the Red Sox were winning game 7 of the ALCS against the Indians (after trailing 3-1; they went on to win the World Series). I looked up at one point, probably in angst for a server to deliver food, and saw Josh Ritter wandering through the restaurant with a pitcher of beer looking for someone. I flagged him down, mentioned seeing him in San Francisco and being from Alaska. He mentioned that Alaska is on his short list of places he was dying to get back to. I told him, Anchorage supports musicians who are willing to make the trip and it would be a perfect opportunity for a solo show. I’m not saying he followed my advice, but Anchorage did show up and packed the auditorium. He looked happy to have made the trip and led the audience through a trip that only an Idahoan singer songwriter could pull off. There are plenty of Idahoans in Alaska, and they were very excitable at any reference he made to the potato mafia or Miss Junior Idaho. Fittingly he started the show with the song titled “Idaho.” He played a few new songs, one that he said was the first time he played it. The audience was very forgiving of him stopping mid song and starting over, because after all his charm and energy it seemed to work for him. I had a great time, my friends had a great time, people on Twitter had a great time. For all his talent, Josh Ritter is very down to earth and his stage presence (which really seems to just be his presence) gives the audience the idea that he’s a friend of theirs. After an encore that included a duet with Dawn Landes, he closed the show with an accapella version of “The Parting Glass.”
After the show both Josh and Dawn hung around in the lobby of the theater signing autographs and posing for pictures. I walked over to get my picture taken with Josh, and noticed a group of people giving me dirty looks as I sauntered over to him. Turns out there was a line and I was cutting. I walked towards the back of the line, and then decided against standing in line. I regretted it the second I got home (especially since Dawn Landes has quickly become a favorite in iTunes and she didn’t have a line), but not as much regret as those people who didn’t get to experience the show.

Breaking Blog Silence: 2008 Albums

Rather than including some diatribe about why this place went silent in July or why the silence is being broken, I’m just going to jump in and start writing again.

Ten albums I couldn’t stop listening to that were released in 2008.

Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us

Smiley happy music is what I’ve gotten used to from Mates of State as I’ve written about them quite a bit since I first learned about them and saw them play in 2005. Re-Arrange Us doesn’t depart from the happy hooks but shows another level. Some have described it as a maturity, but I think it’s a depth to the indie pop. Quite a fun album!

Matthew Ryan – Matthew Ryan Vs. The Silver State

Despite still not getting the attention his talent deserves, Matthew Ryan quietly released a solid album. Many of the songs ring true to the times with a slumping economy and a election based on hope. While I continue to feel like Bruce Springsteen is willing to release music (Magic) that doesn’t stand up to his best material, Matthew Ryan is unintentionally willing to pick up that torch of Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad and voice those ideals in song.

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Most ‘best of 2008’ lists include the Bon Iver album and for good reason. It’s a solid clean quiet album that works for driving or for background music in the office. The production is done well to capture the songs in what feels very organic or raw, which compliments the tone of the album.

She & Him – Volume One

I’ve been a fan of Zooey Deschanel as an actress since Almost Famous, but also enjoyed her in Winter Passing, The Good Girl, Bridge to Terabithia, but you could see the star quality when she busted out in song in Elf. Fast forward a few years and she teams up with M.Ward to release an album of great songs. She has a great voice, but the rawness of the production comes across like a girl that “just loves to sing” and it’s very refreshing.

The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

I’m still hooked on 2006’s Boys and Girls in America, but Stay Positive was a great follow-up. If you have any doubt that rock and roll can’t survive in today’s music world, The Hold Steady are a great piece of evidence that it’s alive and well. Both albums make me think of Springsteen circa Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Cat Power – Jukebox

Solid collection of covers from Cat Power. Any year Chan Marshall releases an album, it makes my list. But the real question is: when is an album considered a covers album and when is it simply an artist interpreting standards? I’ve read complaints that this album didn’t contain the “Space Oddity” cover that was used in a commercial, but apparently that will be on a future album.

Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight

I wasn’t sure what to think of Frightened Rabbit when I first heard them…in fact, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to like them or if they kind of qualify as a guilty pleasure like Third Eye Blind, Matchbox 20 or Dashboard Confessional. The album is solid and I have enjoyed letting the images surround me. Much of the angst doesn’t apply to my life today, but it definitely takes me back through times in my life.

MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

This is a fun album. I’m sure there’s some substance to the songs, but I’m still enthralled by the multilayer sounds and beats. I’m not the biggest fan of electronic music, but 2008 seemed to be my year of listening to it. MGMT do it pretty uniquely.

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

This is an unapologetically fun album. This album and the band got a lot of hype prior to it being officially released, but with the upbeat songs with clean production and a world music vibe, it’s a great album to get through a long day.

Blitzen Trapper – Furr

I’m a sucker for Portland music, but this album is a solid well crafted effort. A little country a little rock and roll, this album has them both covered. Plenty of sounds packed into this album to keep your ears busy.

Honorable Mentions: Or albums I listened to quite a bit, but that didn’t live up to my hopes for them.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked these albums, but they didn’t quite reach my expectations.

Coldplay – Viva La Vida

Counting Crows – Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings

Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

Ryan Adams – Cardinology

Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs

Remember To Remember Me: Wilco Plays Anchorage’s Moose’s Tooth

There’s something to be said for a band that can make the opening line of a concert “I dreamed of killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me” sound beautiful. That’s the opening line of “Via Chicago”, which Wilco used to open their Anchorage show Saturday night. Anchorage did well filling the parking lot of Moose’s Tooth despite the rain. It rained all day and all night Saturday, but it didn’t stop people from showing up and showing Wilco much deserved love. Jeff Tweedy made several references to the weather and the hardcore Alaskans who refused to let it affect us. The set was flush with popular tunes with a few new songs mixed in. One of the new songs was ironically “Sunny Feeling.” The crowd was into it and stuck it out despite the weather. The mix of beautiful folk based songs overlayed by loud and rowdy bursts from Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche were perfectly executed. Overall, it was pretty surreal to see Wilco playing Anchorage. Local guys The Whipsaws (who’ve gotten plenty of pub on this blog) opened the show with a high quality set any band in the states would be proud of.

Anchorage Daily News Review (set list is in the comments of the ADN article)

Last.fm Only Gets Better

Occasionally I’ve seen the module above show my top 8 listened to artists (which adds Springsteen and Counting Crows into the mix), but it’s a new and improved view of what I’ve been listening to. In all fairness, the majority of my music listening has been at work lately and I rely heavily on data CD’s of MP3’s, to which I have entire discs of my favorite artists, but the counts go back to 2006, so what can you say? If you haven’t checked it out at all, or lately, give Last.fm your attention.

Everyday Music Series: Dave Matthews Band, Before These Crowded Streets (1998)

I’ve often thought of the mixed feelings that must be associated within a musician when they put together a great album. There’s so much work that to have a successful product must be so satisfying, but there must also be a sense of anxiety. To make a great album, so many things have to come together perfectly. There needs to be great songwriting, great performances, and great production. A record company would also say that the marketing of the album is key to making it great too, but so many great albums don’t get discovered until well after the record company has stopped promoting them, the art of a great album will be timeless. All three facets I mention above need to be solid. A collection of well written songs can get lost if the performance lacks depth or the production doesn’t bring it all together.
An album like Before These Crowded Streets is one of those times that songwriting, performance, and production all came together. People that loved Dave Matthews for songs like “Satellite” and “Crash” probably had a hard time initially getting their heads wrapped around BTCS, because with a couple of exceptions, the album went in a different direction that previous DMB albums. To me the album is a perfect melding of darker, minor key undertone with melodic almost anthemic bridges and choruses. There’s a common feel throughout the album. The first single released from the album was “Don’t Drink The Water” which set the tone for the mainstream reaction with it’s haunting, deep rhythm set against an uplifting chorus. Mix in Bela Fleck’s bango and Alanis Morissette’s background vocals and it’s hard to find a piece of the spectrum that isn’t used by producer Steve Lillywhite. The songs are thick but still had commercial appeal with “Stay (Wasting Time)” and “Crush” getting lots of airtime back in the day. Well worth tracking down a copy and giving it a second shot. Near perfect albums are rare, and I’m not sure Dave Matthews has released anything close to the perfection of Before These Crowded Streets. My favorites are “Pig”, “Halloween”, “Don’t Drink the Water”, “The Stone” and “Crush”.

How Did You Get So Into Music?

A friend and colleague asked me that yesterday and I kind of blanked on a good answer, so my answer likely resembled mumblings about rock and roll, growing up in the 80’s, coming of age during grunge, etc. I think I could probably write a book to answer the question if I could organize my thoughts. It’s an interesting question that I’m certain to explore here. In the meantime, feel free to answer the question for yourself in the comments.

Ticket To Ride

I started a new ongoing project this past weekend when I found a box full of photos and ticket stubs. Here is a link to the Flickr photo set for concert/sporting event tickets I’ve gone through. The cache I found mostly fell within the 14 months I lived in California, but definitely isn’t a complete collection yet. I know there are plenty more buried in various boxes throughout my home, so I will continue to update it as new tickets come along and I find more old ones.

Paste Magazine Mentions Anchorage Pizza

There’s a little Anchorage love in the newest issue of Paste Magazine. In the section titled “The Informer” July 26 is owned by a picture of Jeff Tweedy with the copy if you can’t read it “7/26 Wilco plays the 12th-anniversary party of some place called The Moose’s Tooth in Anchorage, Alaska.” I know a handful of people who were hanging around the Moose’s Tooth 12 years ago…probably sitting around talking about Wilco’s Being There enjoying Pipeline Stout or a Fairweather I.P.A. with Alaska’s best pizza. Judging by the response to Son Volt, Third Eye Blind, and even Elton John at least Wilco will walk away from their July 26 show knowing what Anchorage and the Moose’s Tooth are all about.

My Father’s Day, First Pitches, and a Bit About Tim Russert

I don’t have a bucket list. I do have a mental list of things I’d like to say I’ve done, and yesterday I got to officially cross one off. I threw out the first pitch at a baseball game. Now, it wasn’t Fenway or even PGE Park as I have always imagined, but I enjoyed the opportunity tremendously.

It’s one of those things that is both easy and hard to check off of a list. DigiTel, the company I work for is a sponsor of the Mat-Su Miners based in Palmer, AK. Yesterday we were the primary sponsor for the game. It involved lots of giveaways, and the opportunity to throw out the first pitch. With my love of baseball and my years of playing the sport, I jumped at the chance.

The combination of baseball and business makes it fitting that this event happened on Father’s Day. When I was a kid, my dad would come home from a full day of work to play catch, catch my often wild pitches, coach third base at games (who loved to send base runners to steal home), and was always the most supportive dad on all the teams I played on.

My dad has been a great example to me in business too. He’s always said that having a firm understanding of how the little things make up the big picture helps making big decisions easier.

Years and years ago, I took a summer job working as a contractor for his company while they went through an inventory management system installation. My work consisted of lots of data entry and working out the kinks on the database as it was implemented to the warehouse. Spending as much time with the warehouse guys gave me a good appreciation for how the blue collar working guys saw my dad. Union tensions were pretty high that summer as a few other unions went on strike, but getting the perspective of the union warehouse guys of my dad and his role in operations management let me know that he wasn’t just another ‘suit’ to them. Whether it was because he understood the parts of the whole, or because he found common ground relationally with the guys, they respected him and his role whether the union appreciated that or not.

He’s been an example of how to lead, how to organize and how to remain loyal despite the company not always being loyal to you.

I’m a weekly watcher of both Meet the Press and Tim Russert’s MSNBC show, so the sad news of his death and the tributes that followed have been showing up in my Tivo recordings a lot the last few days. One thing Tom Brokaw and James Carville talked about on the special Meet The Press yesterday was how Tim Russert would become a fan of what his friends were fans of, he’d call Carville about LSU touchdowns, Mike Barnicle even mentioned how excited he was Thursday night about the Celtics coming back to beat the Lakers (I can’t share that enthusiasm) with a midnight phone call. My dad shares this enthusiasm not just about sports teams, but will go above and beyond to learn about what his friends and family are in to. Whether it means buying an album on iTunes, sending articles about a particular industry to a friend, or calling the moment the last out of the Red Sox winning the World Series, he’s dedicated to finding or creating common ground.

Whether baseball, business, or life, my dad has been a great influence on who I am and who I want to be. Thanks, Dad for the example, the advice (the more true; the harder to take), and for making time for a game of catch (even as adults). Know that I’ve found those times priceless.