Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Five Point Six

I was rearranging books on bookshelves last night when the earthquake hit. Things were rolling pretty hard where I was, so I thought it might be The Big One. Turns out it was only another Moderate One (5.6), but the biggest one we've had since the last Big One in 1989.

There was a story a couple of weeks ago that that the Hayward Fault (which runs about six blocks west of me) is a "tectonic time bomb" waiting to go off. There's been a major earthquake on the Hayward Fault every 140 years, on average, since 1315. Their last Big One was in October 1868.

1868+140 = 2008.

We're certainly due for another Big One, but fortunately last night wasn't it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Taking the S-bus to the C-bus

Last weekend I took a flight on Skybus Airlines to visit friends in Columbus, OH (aka the C-bus). Skybus is a bargain basement airline similar to European carriers like Ryan Air. These airlines offers cheap fares to less-traveled airports and charge extra for everything other than the seat (food, drink, blankets, priority seating, checked luggage).

I flew Ryan Air from Dublin to London earlier this year, so I was familiar with the no-frills business model, but it would be a culture shock for people who weren't. Skybus flight attendants are paid commission for in-flight sales (watches, perfume, and duty-free type items as well as food), and their rules of flying prohibit bringing your own food and drink "unless you've brought enough for everyone". It's like a four hour flight on the Home Shopping Network.

Right now, Skybus services mostly secondary airports (on their web site, flights to "San Francisco" are actually to Oakland, and "Seattle" and "Vancouver" are Bellingham WA, and "Boston" is Portsmouth,NH) which are cheaper and less delay-prone than primary airports in the actual advertised cities.

It's impressive how efficiently airlines like Skybus operate. They currently fly to 16 airports with a fleet of five Airbus A-319s. Just five planes! These planes are in the air all the time, with only 20-25 minute turnarounds at each airport. Here's one day in the life of the plane that took me from Oakland to Columbus back to Oakland.
  • Leave Columbus 6:55 a.m.
  • Arrive Portsmouth N.H. 8:39 a.m.
  • Leave Portsmouth N.H. 9:04 a.m.
  • Arrive Columbus 10:53 a.m.
  • Leave Columbus 11:18 a.m.
  • Arrive Oakland 1:16 p.m.
  • Leave Oakland 1:41 p.m.
  • Arrive Columbus 8:57 p.m.
  • Leave Columbus 9:38 p.m.
  • Arrive Kansas City 10:14 p.m.
  • Leave Kansas City 10:33 p.m.
  • Arrive Columbus 1:10 a.m.
The plane is in the air non-stop from 7am to 1am, with just 20-30 minute turnarounds after each flight. My flights from Oakland to Columbus were about 2/3rds full (100 passengers on a 150 capacity Airbus), so that's 100 people off the plane and 100 on the plane, with their luggage in less than 30 minutes.

The plane was a brand new A-319 with comfortable leather seats (the 1/3rd empty seats meant that nearly all middle seats were free), so my fears of being cramped in a tiny seat were unfounded. And it was great to fly nonstop from Oakland to Columbus without having to change planes en route. I don't know how long Skybus can afford to fly to the Bay Area (they've dropped their flights to other West Coast destinations citing high fuel costs), but I would definitely consider flying them again if they are!

I was so taken with low-frills travel that I decided to take the local bus home from Oakland Airport yesterday instead of the BART train. It did take nearly an hour to go 12 miles, but it only cost a $1.50 local bus fare instead of the $5 it costs to take AirBart to BART. Door to door for less than a can of Sierra Mist on a Skybus flight!

Friday, October 26, 2007


Last night, so I dropped by the Oracle to see the Boss.

His setlist was taken heavily from his latest album Magic, and their trademarked three-hour E Street Band concerts were scaled down to just over two hours. These are a bunch of guys in their 50s, so I'm not sure they have the stamina for three hour marathons anymore.

The last big arena show I saw was Springsteen and the E Street Band at the same venue eight years ago. Exactly eight years ago, because that show was on October 25, 1999. The only songs they played last night that they played at that show were "Born To Run" and "Thunder Road", which I think they play at every show.

I liked hearing the newer and lesser-known songs live, but Jim Harrington (Trib music critic) called the song selection "questionable" in the review on his blog. I thought it was a lot stronger than the 1999 "heavy on the hits" E St. Band show, but that's probably just me. I'm not a huge fan, but Bruce is still one of the best performers I've ever seen live!

Here's the latest installment in my Friday download series. In Bruce's honor, some covers of his tunes that I found today on the live music archive at This is a invaluable source for old live concerts by artists that approve that sort of thing. And you'll be surprised who does!

The Arcade Fire cover isn't from, but I wanted to include it so I could link to this video of Bruce and the Arcade Fire doing "Keep The Car Running" earlier this month in Ottawa. I'm surprised he hasn't performed with the Hold Steady yet.. that seems like a match made in heaven.

Five Springsteen Covers
State Trooper - The Arcade Fire ( 2005)
Dancing In The Dark - Ted Leo (2002)
Janey Don't You Lose Heart - [the other] Scott Miller (2002)
Cadillac Ranch - Warren Zevon (1982)
Atlantic City - Warren Zevon (1999)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Living alone and loving it

My brother, who's been staying with me for the last ten twelve years (forgot the 2 years at my former place!), has taken advantage of the soft real estate market here in the Bay Area and bought his own pad. He's moving out at the end of the month, which means I'll be back to living alone starting in November. I'm looking forward to it. I love my brother like a brother, but it's time for us to take our broken wings and learn to fly again (that's Mr. Mister to you!)

What this means to you, the far-flung readers of this blog, is that I'll soon have a guest bedroom with its own guest bathroom. So if you need a place to stay in the East Bay with good freeway (right off the 580) and transit access (near two BART stations and convenient to all three Bay Area airports), look no further!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rearranging Rainbows

The ten tracks on Radiohead's In Rainbows are still the ten most played tracks on, but the order has been rearranged slightly.

1. 15 Step
5. All I Need
3. Nude
7. Reckoner
2. Bodysnatchers
4. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
6. Faust Arp
9. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
10. Videotape
8. House of Cards

"15 Step" is still the most popular by a wide margin, and "Videotape" has leapfrogged over "House of Cards", but other tracks (like "Bodysnatchers") have dropped in popularity.

They're all still safely ahead of Kanye West's "Stronger" (holding at #11, but #1 pre-Radiohead), and should be camping in the top ten for awhile.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The World Seussical

The Rocks and the Sox
Will lock jocks on Fox
Fox will rock the box
With the Sox and the Rocks

If the Sox Josh blocks the Rocks
And the Sox rock the Rocks Josh
The Sox are locks to knock the Rocks

But if the Rocks rock the Sox Josh
And the Rocks Josh blocks the Sox
The Rocks will shock the Sox in six

Sunday, October 21, 2007

October boys do so much

One of my friends saw the Bonzo Dog Band live shortly before Viv Stanshall passed away, said that Viv still sounded great but looked like hell, so the secret to enjoying their show was to avert your eyes from the stage while they were playing.

I thought of that last night while I was watching Big Star last night at the Fillmore. Alex Chilton isn't much to look at these days -- he's thinning (both on top and in the middle), needs his reading glasses to see the setlist, and looks like a high school science teacher a few years from retirement, but still sings and plays great. As long as I focused on the other guys in the band. Ken and Jon from the Posies have been in Big Star almost as long as they've been in the Posies, and make great stand-ins for Alex Hummel and the late Chris Bell, while Jody Stephens is still one of the best drummers who ever drummed.

This show was in chronological order, so it started with a few songs from #1 Record and Chris Bell's "I Am The Cosmos" (which Jon Auer has made his own over the last 15 years), followed by songs from Radio City and Sister Lovers. The last four songs in the set were from their 2005 reunion album In Space (a disappointing release that should be excised from the band's history), but they all sounded pretty good played live. The songs on In Space aren't bad songs, they just don't sound like "Big Star" songs. Big Star songs are tight and poppy, and the newer songs sound like guys messing around in the studio while the tape is rolling.

On the way home, I was listening to an American Top 40 from this week in 1971 (on KFRC FM) when Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" was at #1 for the third straight week. I didn't recognized most of the other songs in the top ten. I've somehow managed to go through my entire life without hearing "Yo Yo" by the Osmonds (which was #2 this week in 1971). It's fairly clear that the world was waiting for Big Star's #1 Record in the fall of 1971, whether they realized or not!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dreaming of Trains

Robyn Hitchcock's I Often Dream Of Trains was reissued this week, along with two other solo albums (Black Snake Diamond Role and Eye) that were previously out of print. IODOT catapulted to number one in emusic's charts on its first day of release, so it seems like a lot of people were waiting for that album to be reissued.

IODOT was one of the albums I didn't own on CD, so I was one of the ones who jumped to download it this week. I got into Robyn Hitchcock with the first Egyptians album, 1985's Fegmania!, but was slow to dig into his back catalog as he kept releasing new stuff. The first time I saw him live in 1986 (at Mabel's in Champaign IL, with the Egyptians), it seemed like everyone in the audience knew the old songs except me. There was a story in Creem around the same time calling I Often Dream Of Trains "this decade's finest LP", so that was always on my list of albums to get, but it was only available as a costly import.

In the mid-1990's Rhino released a bunch of Robyn Hitchcock albums (everything he did thru 1987 when he signed with A&M, plus Eye), but they did this wacky thing where they changed the order of the LPs (including IODOT) by adding bonus tracks to the middle of the original album. That isn't such a big deal now, when you can resequence albums however you want in iTunes, but it was a big deal to me back in 1995, so I ended up never picking up I Often Dream Of Trains on CD.

My loss, because it's a fabulous album, up there with Underwater Moonlight as the best records Robyn Hitchcock ever made. He made it in 1984, the height of haircuts and synths, and it's a reaction both to the era and his previous album Groovy Decay. In the RH/Venus 3 documentary "Songs About Death and Insects", Bill Rieflin and Peter Buck said I Often Dream Of Trains as their favorite album of Robyn's, with songs about exotic places like Basingstoke and Reading (which aren't particularly exotic once you go there) and meditations on Ye Olde England at the height of Thatcherism.

The album has been in and out of print multiple times, but Robyn has kept performing its songs, so it's probably one of his favorites as well. The title track was covered by Firewater and Grant Lee Phillips. Here is the original and covers of "I Often Dream Of Trains", plus a recent performance of the song by Robyn Hitchcock with his niece Ruby Wright accompanying him on musical saw, which was recorded this week on BBC Radio.

Robyn Hitchcock - I Often Dream of Trains
(from I Often Dream of Trains, 1984)
Firewater - I Often Dream of Trains
(from Songs We Should Have Written, 2004)
Grant Lee Phillips - I Often Dream of Trains
(from Nineteeneighties, 2004)
Robyn Hitchcock & Ruby Wright - I Often Dream of Trains
(live on BBC One, 10/16/2007)

The other songs on I Often Dream Of Trains have also been covered more than other Robyn Hitchcock songs. Somewhere in my live tapes I have Scott Miller covering "This Could Be The Day", but I couldn't find it in my box of unlabeled live minidiscs. I did find a version of Anton Barbeau covering another IODOT song ("Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl") at a show he played with Scott somewhere in Sacramento (either Luna's or the True Love Coffeehouse) sometime in 2004. I should really label my minidiscs so I can tell where they come from when I dig them out three or four years later!

The Replacements performed "Sleeping Nights Of Jesus" on their Shit Hits The Fans live tape, which was released in 1985 but recorded at a show in October 1984, just a few months after IODOT came out. I don't know if it's more impressive that the 'mats are covering a song that was just a few months old or that they cover the song after someone in the audience requests it. It's pretty ragged, but worth listening to once or twice. Listening to it three times might be a bit much though.

Anton Barbeau - Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl (live, 2004)
The Replacements - Sleeping Knights Of Jesus (live, 1984)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Chasing Rainbows

The top ten tracks from last week
(click the graphic for the full size list)

Yes, it's all ten tracks from Radiohead's In Rainbows, in sequence. Interesting how every song has a few thousand fewer plays (and listeners) than the one before it. Each track averages about four plays per listener, so lots of listeners played the songs multiple times. The least-played song from In Rainbows ("Videotape") had four times as many plays as's #11 song from last week ("Stronger" by Kanye West). Radiohead was also the most played artist on over the Beatles (the most played artist every week on!).

I played In Rainbows twice last week, but only one of the plays was "scrobbled" on, so I was behind the norm. I've played it twice this week, so I'm up to my requisite four plays, and still don't know what to make of the album. I like it more than Hail To The Thief, but it's no O.K. Computer. I'll be interested in seeing how this plays out on the charts this week and the weeks to follow. Maybe In Rainbows will become the internet version of Dark Side of the Moon, staying on the charts for 494 weeks straight?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I saw Control, Anton Corbijn's new movie about Ian Curtis and Joy Division, last week in London. I don't watch many movies, so I feel the need to review all the movies that I do see.

I'm not a huge Joy Division fan (outside the four or five songs that almost everyone likes), so I didn't know a whole lot about Ian Curtis going in, but was completely drawn in by Control. Corbijn shoots the movie in black and white, and the visuals are amazing throughout. It looks like it was made in the late 70s. Sam Riley is quite convincing as Ian Curtis, both in looks and singing. I had trouble thinking of Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash or Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, but Sam Riley seemed like Ian Curtis to me. His most famous pre-Curtis role was playing Mark E. Smith in 24 Hour Party People, which explained the meta-joke when his manager tells him that "things could be worse, you could be the singer for the Fall". That went completely over my head until I knew Sam's history.

Riley portrays Ian Curtis as a normal guy with problems instead of some mythical martyr. He led a fairly normal life before Joy Division, with a wife and a daughter and a job at the Macclesfield Employment Exchange. Most of Ian's problems started after he joined the band and their fame escalated: his marriage was falling apart, he was diagnosed with epilepsy and started suffering seizures on and offstage, it seemed like everything went wrong for Ian as Joy Division got more popular. Even knowing how the story ends, I found myself pulling for him to get it together before the end of the movie.

I'm more of a sound fan than a picture fan, so my favorite part of the movie was the musical performances. The actors performed all the music themselves, sounding like a fairly spot-on Joy Division tribute band. So much so that some people thought it was the real band. Someone at the U.S. distributor's office for Control apparently asked if Joy Division could reunite for the film's premier. Peter Hook replied "The last I heard, their lead singer was dead but I'll give them a ring and see if anything has changed."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Colorado Über Alles

(dedicated to a songwriter who died ten years ago last week)

They were born in the Autumn of their 15th year
Winning games at a pace they'd never won before
They left yesterday behind them
You might say they were born again
You might say they found the key to every door

When they first came to the mountains their team was in despair
With the errors they made and all the saves they blew
But now their luck is changing, they're winning games with flair
Twenty one and one over their last twenty two

It's the Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I've seen the pennant flying in the sky
Fans around the humidor and everybody's high
Rocky Mountain High

Colorado Über Alles
Über Alles Colorado

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chipotlicize Me

My current fast food fetish is the Jack In The Box Chipotle Chicken Ciabatta sandwich. I like the alliteration of saying "Chipotle Chicken Ciabatta", so I always order it by name instead of just asking for a "number 12" or whatever it is.

JITB also has a Chipotle Breakfast Burrito, Carl's Jr. has a Chipotle Chicken Salad, and McDonald's has a Chipotle Snack Wrap. The chipotle fad is in full swing and shows no signs of abating, even without Chipotle itself.

I had to travel all the way to Great Britain to discover that the classic taqueria burrito (wrapped in foil, eaten with two hands, and now global thanks to places like Chipotle and Baja Fresh) is called a "San Francisco Burrito" outside the S.F. Bay Area.

I've lived here for the past 20 years and last week was the first time I'd heard of San Francisco Burritos. I guess it's better than being known for Rice-A-Roni.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ticket To Download

I received an email from 7digital a few days ago with this graphic.

"Wow", I thought. "7digital beat iTunes to getting the Beatles!" 7digital got the rights to distributing Radiohead's back catalog a while ago over iTunes, so it wasn't that far fetched. Maybe the Beatles were also concerned about selling their back catalog by the track?

But notice that the graphic says "John, Paul, George & Ringo" not "The Beatles". It's actually for their solo albums. I think John, Paul, George, and Ringo all did good things as solo artists, but all the highlights from their solo careers still doesn't hold a candle to the work they did collectively as "The Beatles". Now, that was a great band!

Speaking of Radiohead, I dowloaded their new one In Rainbows from their site yesterday, and I'm fairly impressed after a couple of listens. I wasn't that big on Hail To The Thief (the main comparison touchstone for this album), so I probably wouldn't have bought the new one right away, but it's definitely worth a variable-priced download. I opted to pay £2(US$4) or 40 cents a song, which seems like a fair price for online downloads. They're certainly making more money off me than they would have with traditional distribution.

Friday, October 12, 2007


I wanted to fall back into posting songs after my one week absence by posting some covers of songs by my second (or third, depending on my mood) favorite early 70s power pop band, The Raspberries.

The Raspberries reunited a few years ago for a few concerts (none in the S.F. Bay Area, sadly), and released a live CD/DVD of one show at L.A.'s House of Blues (Live On Sunset Strip) demonstrating that they sound even better now than they did back in the 70s. They're playing a couple more gigs this weekend at the NYC's Highline Ballroom, so hopefully they'll play a full tour before too long. I don't know if I'd travel to see the Raspberries, but I'd love to see them tear the roof off S.F's Fillmore (where my favorite early 70s power pop band is playing next weekend).

Here are five covers of Raspberries tunes that showcase their enduring influence on musicians that matter. The covers by Off Broadway and the Rubinoos sound so much like these bands' own songs, that it's hard to imagine them existing without the Raspberries. And the Sneetches/Shoes cover of "I Wanna Be With You" (from one of those Pravda Explosive Dynamic Super Smash Hits compilations) is a near-perfect match of artists and song. The late Greg Shaw claimed that "Go All The Way" was the first power-pop song, and still one of the best three minute encapsulations of the genre. When I saw the Fastbacks cover the song in the early 90s (a the height of grunge), I was instantly smitten, and took it as a sign that the rest of the world was slowly but surely coming around to my way of thinking.

Scott McCarl was in the final Raspberries lineup from 1974's Starting Over album, and he covered "Nobody Knows" from their first album on a Yellow Pills compilation. McCarl and McBride (the Big Mac rhythm section from Starting Over) aren't a part of the Raspberries reunion, but should both be given their due as important parts of the original band.

Five Raspberries Covers
Go All The Way - The Fastbacks
I Wanna Be With You - The Sneetches (with Shoes)
Tonight - Off Broadway
Cruisin' Music - The Rubinoos
Nobody Knows - Scott McCarl

Bonus: There are lots of Raspberries clips (both old and new) on youtube, showing that they always rocked a lot harder on stage than on disc. Here's a great medley of their first two hits from a 1973 performance at the Record Plant.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


After my time in Dublin, I spent four days in London before heading home. I'd been to London a number of times before, but not in a few years, so it was surprising how quickly I could drop into "London mode". Which is kind of like "New York mode" with tube lines instead of subway lines.

I spent my first two nights in Earl's Court and my next two nights down the road in Chelsea, which was really central to everything I wanted to do. And I managed to squeeze a lot into those three days: a round of golf at Addington Park in Croydon, the Fulham-Portsmouth match at Craven Cottage, a Handsome Furs gig at the Fly (which turned out to not happen), a movie ("Control") at Fulham Broadway, and lots of museums and libraries and meeting up with friends. More photos at flickr.

Earl's Court has lots of Aussies and Kiwis, who were both upset with their countries being eliminated from the Rugby World Cup last weekend. People in Britain like to preface their sports with definite articles ("the rugby", "the football", etc.) and I found myself doing that as soon as I arrived. I wanted to watch the MLB playoffs, so I asked if there were pubs in London where I could watch "the baseball". I spent my formative years in a former crown colony, so "lift" and "queue" are second nature to me, but it's always nice to pick up more Brit-slang. My friend Sarah picked up a lot during her short time here, like using "crap" as an adjective (as in, "we've had a crap summer").

After a few days in Dublin, London seemed like a really big city. It's a nice place to visit for a while, but also a nice place to leave, mostly because everything is so expensive. When I was walking to the match at Fulham, I saw some listings in an estate agent's window, and thought those prices weren't too bad until I realized that those two bedroom houses were half a million pounds (a million bucks) each, not half a million bucks each. I don't think I could afford that.


Today, my first day back in the office, was my company's first day of being publicly traded on the NYSE. The IPO price was $15 per share, and it closed today at $15.75, so after one day, I'm $375.00 richer.

Early retirement, here I come!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Just back from a week in Dublin and London, which is why things have been quiet around here for the last week.

This was my first time in Dublin, so I did all the touristy things like the Guinness Brewery and the Temple Bar District, as well as exploring some of the neighborhoods outside the city center. You have to love a city that has a statue of Phil Lynott a few blocks away from statues of James Joyce and W.B. Yeats.

In the post-EU era, Dublin is more of a European city than an Irish one. I didn't hear much Gaelic being spoken, but heard lots of French, Spanish, German, and Eastern European languages. Genuine Irish people were hard to find, but the combination of cultures makes it an interesting place to visit for a few days.

There are a few photos uploaded to flickr with more to come.