Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tangled up in Bob.

We had not been in the room long before the introduction rang out over the speaker system. A short biography was given; voice of a generation etc. It didn't mention the words troubadour, poet, artist or father, but this wasn't a show for the part time fan. When the introduction had ended, a soft light illuminated the stage and flashed the silhouette of a familiar figure, complete with hat. It was the first glimpse of Bob Dylan, the totem like dignitary who had been transferred into an American demigod over the last 50 years.

For fans who stopped listening to his music after the mid 70s, his voice was virtually unrecognisable. His famous strained, rusty vocals have aged, being worn down to a gravel like representation of a former incarnation. Of the older, more familiar songs, we learned what it was like to be stuck on a mobile singing the Memphis blues again.
By this stage, we saw Bob's 69 year old frame move from organ, to guitar to mic stand. He was never famous for his mobility, but at this stage of his career it was impressive. The banter with the audience never arose. There were no shouts of 'Judas' (watch this!), the majority of the audience was too old to yell loud enough. However, they were roused when he went into Tangled Up in Blue. It's the staple song from his finest album. A few songs after - though many minutes due to jamming - we were treated to 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". Vocally, the phrasing was so far removed from the original version it was as if Bob was teasing anyone trying to sing-along. Either that, or he is playing catch-me-if-you-can with his audience, toying with their timing.

The screens behind him showed images of the old Penn Station, a live reflection of his band and a number of backgrounds worthy of mid 90s websites. They were odd choices for a man whose tactile gift with the guitar extends to the paint brushes, but by this stage it became apparent that Bob plays these shows for him. And fair enough, at this stage of his career it is commendable that he still has the passion to play. For a man who is still prolific in all of his artistic ventures he clearly plays these shows for his own enjoyment, anything the audience gets out of it is a bonus. That's not to say that people who don't place Bob on a pedestal couldn't appreciate the show; he closed with Like a Rolling Stone.

Now, it is easy to understand how this show could have left people disappointed, but the truth is the Bob Dylan of November 19, 2010 is worlds apart from the young 1960s songsmith whose songs still resonate through people today. His voice is tough to decipher and interaction is limited, but he is still Bob Dylan, the boy from Minnesota who learned to tell the world about itself. It could be overstating things, but I felt an honour in being in the same room as the man, not for his songs or his impact, but for the fact that he has never sought anything other than improvement and never given up on what he is passionate about. He could have retired to any beach in the world at 29, but 40 years later he'd still rather toil for his art, and that's a sacrifice we owe him for.


So anyway, it was a fairly typical Amherst night after that. We went to stackers, rugged up and ready to party. The group of us was large enough that one pitcher wasn't enough for a round, so two at a time were bought. However, this cycle caused great over-eagerness in purchasing the next round. For most of the night there were 3 pitchers - waiting to be poured - sat at our table.

They flowed, aided by the coin game, where whoever received a coin in the drink had to dutifully finish the remaining beverage. I was attacked on a few occasions, but I felt my strategic nous allowed me to get Sam in the best possible way: by dropping the coin in right after I had filled his cup. Boom.

It didn't take long for everything to hit us, and as a collective we became that drunk, loud mob who sings Oasis songs at the bar (this really happened). I'm sure the other occupants were happy to see the rest of us, because after a certain decibel level, the charm of a foreign accent subsides.
Next time I'll bring an oxygen tank to cope with the height of my ollies.

The clock quickly struck 1AM, and due to Amherst law we vacated the bars. The group went back to Sylvan, and I realised I was in trouble when I couldn't solve a Rubick's Cube in my usual manner. Oh well, I wasn't the worst there.

The next morning was the true evidence of how much fun was had. The tail-end of my shower coincided with the familiar up-chuck of a hangover. Gross. It was reassuring to know I wasn't the only person who was hurting, Max and I had each other to console as we met up the next night in the grad lounge.

It's remarkable how great you feel the day after a hangover, and with this euphoric life experience I headed out to Noho on my own. Bad move. What seemed like a fairly innocuous question to me about when the next bus was to arrive led to an encounter of all sorts of weirdness. 'Mike' spoke so quietly he was impossible to hear over the few cars that were in the area. On closer inspection I saw his clothes were filthy and that his shaved head and beard was extraordinarily patchy. Whatever, the giant guy seemed friendly enough. It wasn't long before it began to get weird, it started when he asked if we could talk together on the bus. "Sure", I replied. He decided he wanted to sit on the back seat, and for the first part of the trip I nodded along to his stories that I couldn't hear over the bus' engine and exhaust he decided to sit over. He let out a few words, about how he lived under a skate ramp in Austria, and that he was fixing up a track. Occasionally his quiet voice was interrupted by laughter at his own jokes. The bus went passed his stop, but he decided he would skip the next few to hang out. At the end of the encounter he asked if we could hang out later and if he could get my number. "Sure", again was my reply. His voice finally rose when he asked for a pen from a neighbour on the bus. I wrote down my number on the back of a business card, only it wasn't mine. I now know what it is like to be a hot girl giving out fake numbers on nights out. Crisis averted...hopefully.
what a long exposure looks like on a skateboard
On the eve of thanksgiving and a trip to New York City I had my first counselling experience. It was over an incident involving a 30 pack of beer from the first week of semester. Being new to this counselling scene, I wasn't prepared for the approach they were going to take on alcohol consumption. Being an older foreign student the program is not exactly designed for people like me, so I found it interesting when they used the same framework on me. I was beyond reluctant to talk about a lot of things, feeling their relevance had no bearing on why I was sat in a comfortable chair. Anyway, I passed the program (though there was no grading) and they took my money. Hopefully it's years until I next experience anything like this again, and that it's not for an overblown reaction to having some beers with friends. Prohibition did end before Bob Dylan was born.
Tony Hawl

Bruce Springsteen - The Promise
This is a recent (2000) version of a previously unreleased Springsteen gem. His lost 1978 album has finally been released, and how it was kept in the vault for so long is beyond me. It's absolutely magnificent, and a treat that us people of the year 2010 get to hear it. It's like music world just uncovered their own version of Atlantis.

Friday, November 19, 2010

If you see her, say hello. She might be in Tangier.

Two examples of  ridiculous adult behaviour at a US college.

"Excuse me, can you guys keep the noise down? I'm trying to study."
Never have I been asked such an insolent question before. There was a small group of us at dinner, and we had been sat there for over 90 minutes joking around and having a great time. We were loud, we were boisterous and we were having a blast. Sitting around with friends from around the world and drinking tea is one of the nicest parts of the day, and the dining common is the one place we can do this.

When you turn around and tell me to be quiet when a) you're not studying in the library, or somewhere quieter 2) you don't say please and 3) you have not been sitting as long us, I find your request more offensive, than something I can empathise with.


"You can't fucking do this!" It's not the most familiar sound when I walk up the stairs towards my room, but it's what I was greeted with today. It was followed up by a banshee wail, and the hilarious statements you make when you are too angry to be eloquent. "When the fuck did you plan on fucking telling me? I will fucking kill you. I will fucking stab your fucking eyes out." Some couple was having the most hilarious break-up, and America, being the land of the unsubtle, it was out there for anyone to hear. It produced half an hour of post lunch entertainment that would make any television soup opera jealous. Fantastic.

Rant over.

I saw Ben Kweller support John Mayer in Sydney a few years ago. It was a full band show and I thought his set was outstanding. My friends sat around nonplussed, at that age we were used to music that polarised either end of the sonic dynamics. It was either loud, or soft, and something in the middle was met with mild puzzlement.

As soon as we made it to the Pearl Street Club room, we were met by the sounds of Julia Nunes playing her ukulele and beat-boxing. It was an interesting combination that proved too much for one girl in the audience, who passed-out in the middle of the first song. The set was halted as she was escorted out by her friends, but through the slowly closing doors we saw her hit the ground again. The set continued, with the occasional joke about passing out fans thrown in. It was all light-hearted, but it wasn't long until we saw the flashing lights of an ambulance outside through the club's few windows.

The changeover between acts was quick, the way us fans like it. Ben Kweller came out as a solo performer, equipped with his guitar, capo, occasional harmonica and 1980s heavy metal Dave Mustaine-esque mane of hair. Most of my favourite concerts are this format. The stripped-back and informal way to shows is the most traditional way you can see an artist. In my opinion, building a sonic castle with the basic tools of their trade is more impressive than a theatrical display complete with fireworks.

His acoustic guitar dynamics were occasionally interrupted by a solitary distortion pedal - causing a tonne of feedback - but allowing for momentary shredding.  He jumped between his guitar and piano and encouraged as much audience involvement as possible. He taught the crowd a three-part vocal harmony, invited a bunch of people on stage to shake their keys/sleigh bells and was happy to take requests.

Being Northampton, there were rampaging lesbians dancing and singing all the words. Just for kicks, he played Neil Young's Heart of Gold and upon a request from someone in the crowd, played an old b-side of his from ten years ago...kind of. He forgot the words, and in doing so asked people to go online and find the lyrics. Someone found an old performance on youtube, then gave Ben his phone to show him how to play the song. He managed to get through the second verse, but forgot the next part. By this stage someone had found the lyrics, then passed those along. It was a brilliant piece of improvisation, and reminded me of Bob Dylan's Bootleg 6 show, where he forgets the words to 'I don't believe you', and the audience helps out.

It was a cheeky show, where he poked find at the idea of an encore (though promising to come back out if we all clapped enough). It was hard not to make too many comparisons to Bob Dylan throughout the set given his instrumentation and ability to forget words, but tonight I'll get the chance to do just that.

In the last 18 months I've been going through my Bob Dylan, elevating him from human to deity. I've become enamoured with his films, his books and his records. I've collected some of his bootleg series and even got a graphic novel based on his lyrics (nerdy, I know). No one in the world says 'gal' like him. Now I know he is pushing 70, but this is one of the few chances I'll get to see him. It might not be the ideal early 60's show I would have preferred (or even mid 70's Blood on the Tracks era would suffice), but I'll take any chance to be in his presence. He played in Wollongong in 1998, but I never saw him. He'll be playing Australia next year, but I'll either be here or too broke when it comes around. This is it, this is my Bob Dylan ship coming in.

Ben Kweller - Thirteen
His sweetest piano song done on guitar.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shackled to the road

Getting up at 6AM is never going to be an easy thing. I'm just not one of those people. It turns out neither are Sam, Dicky Peach and Alex, who all decided an all-nighter was the easiest way to ensure they all made the bus to Springfield. Ahead of us, in the midst of delirium brought upon by a lack of sleep, was a 10 hour bus trip.

We were heading north to Montreal, Canada, a place I absolutely loved three and a half years ago. The bus detoured through Northampton, something Peach was able to point out due to the throng of purple houses. After making it to Springfield within the hour, we faced an hour and a half wait there equipped with the finest breakfast Subway and Dunkin' Donuts can provide. Restroom visits were limited by the occupier of one toilet stall who it was said was having a "turbulent shit, a gale force poo". Lovely. Anyone who has ever been to Springfield knows there are few reasons to stay, we just found more to leave. In fact, we were so keen to leave that Alex's rapid exit to the bus involved him shutting a door onto Sam...who was carrying a cup of tea at the time. All this and we hadn't even left western Massachusetts.

By the time we had reached Keene, New Hampshire, I was dozing in and out of sleep. I was listening to Henry Rollins' audiobook, Get in the Van, at the time. See, I had never listened to one before, and despite Henry's fantastic delivery, the format is too one dimensional for my liking. It lacks the nuance, diversity and depth that listening to music offers. It probably aided in my kips, and unfortunately for the format, skipping sections of a book has larger ramifications for skipping a song on an album. Still, I did enjoy Henry's quote about life abroad for an American; "you're not an american until you leave America. I'd rather be a human being, than American".

It was an interesting outlook as the bus travelled up to Vermont. The journey snaked through Bellow's Falls, a place that could be a picturesque town by the river, but is instead a red-brick clusterfuck with the occasional abandoned building by the train lines. It's beautiful in its own John Steinbeck inspired way, and as far removed from the coastal Californian towns I was encountering only a few months ago. Still, I was glad to see it. It's just as important a picture of America as the Manhattan skyscrapers. Henry Rollins' commentary only added to the scenery.

From Bellow's Falls the bus went to Montpelier, Vermont's capital city, remarkable for its large buildings and tiny population. The city was isolated among the forests where we saw fully equipped hunters enter. Teenagers were making-out out the front of the Vermont State House and after a 5 minute round trip, we were done with America's smallest capital city.

Before we crossed the border into the land of Canadian maple flavoured love, a low-key sign pointed out the midpoint between the Equator and North Pole. It might be something homesick Canucks take advantage of everyday, but for someone who has spent the best part of 23 years in Wollongong, Australia, it is nice to see reminders of how far I've come, at least physically.

The border crossing was a painless as the vaccinations I received the other day. It's a welcome change from the American method of dealing with visitors, but it also represents the simple differences between the lands. America is protecting itself, put simply, not all visitors are welcome, and for a very small minority, it is probably right. Whereas Canada, despite the proximity takes a more relaxed approach to welcoming guests. It's a remarkable turn of friendliness for nation that prides itself on beating people up while wearing ice skates and hitting frozen chunks of rubber.

Passing Loblaws was a kick for an Arrested Development fan like myself, but it was nothing life stepping off the bus back into Montreal. The hostel was a converted hotel, but proof that with enough love, care and attention to detail budget accommodation can be impressive. The finer points of staying in a hostel were lost on Alex, who immediately locked his key in his locker...with all of his stuff. It was a sign of things to come for him.

We trekked up and down Rue St Denis, looking for places to ascertain cash, beer and poutine. There were some initial troubles, but it wasn't long before we were sat around a table at Double Pizza, the place I had first tried poutine a few years back.
Sam's trick

The poutine was lovely, even if I could feel my arteries closing in on themselves. The attempt to 'walk it off' was rather futile, as we made it one block to a lovely pub that was showing ice-hockey. Not wanting to be rude, I did my best to order in French, however hearing thank-you once you've given a tip is a little belittling.   A few pints and goals led us to a microbrewery. Inside the pitchers of amber, blonde and white beer flowed. The price was inflated compared to America, but the standard was outstanding. More impressive was how none of us were checked for identification. It was a liberating and beautiful thing after dealing with the laws and bars of America. It was akin to having a few drinks with friends, not going out to get trolleyed. It was like home, and for once, I thought it was a good thing. Better yet, the bar staff working for tips seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the service. There was no sense of entitlement, and appropriately, the rewards were easier to prise from the pocket.

Around the corner was a bar that seemed to cater to a younger crowd, and given we were spending time in America's hat to take advantage of their more youthful drinking laws, we plodded along in that direction. The security guard finally asked us for identification, but made our acquaintance by talking about football. Inside the indie rock blared and the pretty girls poured in. Alex made a dash to the bus station to get back so that he made it back in time for midnight. When the clock struck twelve Peach began his 21st year. His new found maturity and bravado saw him talk to any and every girl in the bar. The language barrier was ignored, replaced with pure graft and red-nosed charm.
trois litre

It was Sam's round for pitchers, and it was both unfortunate and a pleasant surprise. He returned to the table saying he needed more money, odd given he left with more than $20, and we all obliged him our changed. In exchange he returned with a 3ltr vessel that dwarfed him and the table. Richard's liquid charm snared him an english speaker, while Alex's lack of French (and attempts at drawing) didn't quite work out. I came across my sabre-toothed equivalent, but the beers had taken their effect. Bed time beckoned I had things to do and people to see.

My early start never quite materialised and given my international phone troubles, meeting up with Anthea before she left for New York took a Herculean effort. Or not, I happened to find a working phone and called her at someone else's expense. Within the hour I was showered, dressed and taken to Mont Royal by the subway. I left behind a room full of compadres who were all partied out.

Seeing Anthea was fantastic. We'd exchanged letters since she moved to Montreal, but it all pales in comparison to actually spending time together. Given that I grew up around her and always thought of her more as family than friend, it was slightly surreal to spend time with her in Canada.

She took me to a hipster cafe for breakfast, and as the menu was only in French, impressed me with her ordering. The food was delicious and the company exquisite. We spent the rest of the time wandering around the plateau, with her showing me some of the cooler, hipster-bicycle-loving parts of the city.

I made it back to the hostel in the afternoon, but it wasn't until late that the others began to rise. After some rousing, Sam Diego and I went for a mini wander around downtown. Sam had never had Lebanese food so we stopped for falafel and vine leaves, not knowing we would be around the same store in a few hours time. Grinderman were playing up the road, and again, one thing Canadians do better than America at the moment is their economy. However, this is a bad thing, and I couldn't afford to see Nick Cave's attempts at playing guitar in a rock n roll fashion.

Peach and Alex had finally left bed, albeit at 6PM. For their belated dinner and my breakfast we opted for a sports bar. Again, Ice Hockey was playing. On the advice of the waitress we headed up to Crescent Street, where nightclubs equalled the number of bars. Unfortunately, the price of drinks was crazy around this part of town. Even with Peach's free drink at Dundee's, we were all shocked by the tally we had slowly accrued.

After Dundee's we went to a tiny bar that was meant to be like an English pub. Darts were thrown, and despite my sledging game being spot on, I managed to lose everytime. Leaving was painfree, a bar that sells Boddington's and Stella for $9 a go isn't exactly an ideal watering hole.

Instead we ended up at a chain of the microbrewery from the night before. Almost as soon as we entered (on the second attempt(there were two doors)), we saw Matt and his crew. For some reason, the staff seemed to take a liking to us. It was evident in the free shots headed our way. The first was a brutal combination of sambucca, tequila and Tabasco. It hurt. The beer chasers were like drinking water, and for about 20 minutes my bottom lip continued to tingle. The next shot was a 'blow job', some cream concoction that you had to drink without using your hands. Holy christ, by now all the drinks had begun to take their toll on people.

On our walk between bars, Alex, now lubricated, was seemingly oblivious to traffic. Some close calls followed a group photo around a Lamborghini. Only this time, Alex was leaning on the car and oblivious to the yelling by some security guard. He was turning into a demon in a pink shirt.

The next bar couldn't come soon enough for some of us, but for Dicky Peach, it presented itself as an opportunity to sleep. There he was, nodding off on the table while Sam and I acted inappropriately around him. Meanwhile, Alex was off somewhere losing his wallet. When he rose, Peach went downstairs, had a spew and midway through his response to nature's call, fell asleep. Who cares, everyone was having a great time upstairs when the last call bell rang out and we had no idea where he was. Alex, instead of his wallet, found Peach seated in his previous position and re awaking from his mini slumber.

Everyone was outside, talking to locals and contemplating what we were going to do next. 3AM had ticked over and unlike Sam and I who were ready to call it a night, Peach and Alex had a second wind. Above the Lebanese kebab shop previously mentioned was 'Pussy Corps', a dodgy looking establishment if ever one existed. Uninhibited by a sense of rationality, Alex and Peach ran off, one in search of their wallet, the other dashing for cash.

It was another late rise to the next day, not even the housekeepers and Alex's concerned parents calling his phone could get me out of bed. However, commitments I had made earlier were enough motivation to leave my slumbering mates.

I caught the subway to Villa Maria to visit Jeff and Mel, a couple I met at a Dinosaur Jr show in Montreal on my last visit. The walk to their new house took me past their old abode. After initially knocking on their neighbour's door, I found their place and sat down for a cup of Irish Breakfast.

Things had certainly changed since I last saw them. A new house has been overshadowed by two new additions to their family. Rand joined us after a nap, and when he wasn't cheersing people with cookies, he was either enjoying his favourite whale song or playing fireman. Loïc's age was measurable in days, not months and he seemed quietly content in his crib for most of my visit.

It was lovely to see Jeff and Mel again as they represent the inherent sweetness found in most Canadians. It was pure chance that we met all those years ago, but having me around again-especially given their newborn-demonstrates a minor part of how lovely they both are. I spent a few hours in their company and by the time I had to leave, the sun had well and truly set.

Back at the hostel, I surrounded my self with Thai food as I waited for the others to get back. In the few hours of daylight they spent in the city, they finally made it to old town. As Sam went off to DJ Shadow, the room filled with the typical hostel crowd. Foreigners complaining about who they share a room with and the typical cocky Australian, who feels his place of birth defines him more than his actions. After a second serving of Thai food, we headed out for a few quiet beers before calling an early night.

At least it was for some of us, Sam and Peach elected to do another all-nighter. In an oddly cautious demonstration, they had checked the bus times and found out our 9AM ride actually leaves at 7:30. For the troubles of shaking my feet to try to wake me, Sam received an unconscious kick to the face. I felt bad at first, but after I checked the bus times we discovered the 9AM ride was still on. The kick didn't seem unfair anymore.

The prolonged breakfast ended when we walked around the corner to the bus station. We had a 10 hour trip ahead of us, punctuated by two transfers and a stop at customs. It was impossible to sleep, and not helped by all the ridiculous black metal I decided to listen to.

Customs was easy enough, but Alex, who had not got part of his visa form signed seemed to struggle under the pressure of basic question;
Customs guy: What did you do in Montreal?
Alex (fidgeting): Went to old town...looked in some shops.
The rest of us made it through easily, but Alex was the last to join us. We had to wait a few minutes while customs went through all of our gear unsupervised by us. For Peach though there was a bigger problem. His fear of canines is not exactly ideal when it comes to dealing with giant, Alsatian sniffer dogs.

An hour after we re-boarded the bus, we were pulled over by border patrol. They jumped aboard, asking everyone about their citizenship and to demonstrate the proof. For most of their visit Alex sat across from me, sleeping with his eyes half open. The only thing more funny was watching him stumble his way through his next customs ordeal. When they came to me they asked what I was studying. "Journalism", being the honest response was met with "we don't need any of those" by the border patrol officer. What a welcome back to America.

The bus took us through upstate New York, where the trees are still green and the landscape basically deserted of residents. The greenery was occasionally broken up with a typically American small town. Every time we went through one my brain came to the immediate conclusion that they were all shit holes. That was until I realised they were all fairly identical to Amherst, which would be another shit hole were it not for the 20,000 temporary residents every year.

We stopped by Albany, New York's capital and a city that has some architecture that would make a lot of Europe proud. We missed the famous Egg, but the huge gothic towers were a fair substitute. When we finally made it to New England all of the trees had shed their leaves, offering a ghost-like appearance, but an oddly welcoming reminder we were almost back home.

In between writing this my computer completely crapped itself. I managed to save my photos (phew!) but lost everything else.

*** Song
Arcade Fire - Wake Up
One of Montreal's finest bands team up with David Bowie. You can't help but love it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?

It was Friday night and Lee-Roy wanted to go into town for a quiet beer. No big deal, but I told him I'd meet up with him later. Instead, I'd been annexed by the Germans, who were also heading into town. I went to their 'party' at 9, with the intention of getting out of there just after 10. Instead, the room filled with more and more of Deutscheland's finest exports and before I knew it I was conversing in brilliant bouts of broken English.

As expected, we missed the first bus. It happens. But missing the second one -despite making a more concerted effort- really hurt. Literally. I think it is fair to say that winter has set in, even if it is the early days of November. By the time we had walked to the bars I felt like my cheeks were about to shatter. Every breath I took released a large puff of smoke and my eyes were starting to water from the light breeze that was partnered with an Arctic chill.

Lee-Roy and his crew of one were already inside and equipped with a pitcher. His associate, very drunk, told me he knew me and that we'd met the other week at Sylvan. I had no idea who he was, but was glad to let him refill my plastic beer cup.

We joined some more international students at a table and stuck around for the remaining 90 minutes of the bar's opening time. It's odd, in a college town, like most places, it is more expected that you go to the bars late. However, here the bars shut at 1AM, not exactly leaving much of an opportunity to utilise them.  Regardless, when Lee-Roy's friend took off his beanie I immediately recognised him. Trust Lee-Roy, the gentleman among the exchange students, to befriend the guy who had not exactly endeared himself to everyone. This time, things had changed. His trips to the bar gifted two pitchers at a time. Not long after this I saw a look on his face like he was about to explode. I took a few steps back, hid behind some of the girls at the table and waited for the inevitable vomit. Unlike the pictures of Bud, it didn't flow. No matter, the ugly lights came on before he had the chance.
I have to wear this hat all the time, otherwise I look like Freddie Mercury

We were all heading back to the German headquarters via the bus when Lee-Roy's friend, now drunk out of his mind, appeared to be beatboxing. When it came time for our stop everyone got off...except him. There was some phone complication so no one could contact this drunk, lost, semi-vomiting beatboxer. I can only assume he sorted himself out.

Back at the German's hood, we all piled into two suites. For the next four hours or so time flew by at rapid pace. Warm German beer was passed around, strange dance music played and a group of people were hosting a corroboree around a 40" television playing FIFA. The coolest thing I know how to do is solve a Rubik's Cube, so I did a few times. After showing off, we were all given our marching orders, at 5AM. So much for that quiet beer.
toilet art

I found it hard to contain my Matt & Kim excitement the next day. I had (thankfully) bought my ticket weeks in advance, and no amount of tiredness or beer-headache would have stopped me from enjoying the night. Matt, Olivia, Sam and I all headed on the packed bus to Northampton. We weren't the only ones going to Matt & Kim, and if we'd realised how popular the show was going to be, we probably wouldn't have made a detour via Urban Outfitters on the way to the show.

What we discovered outside the venue was a line that snaked around the corner, even with most of the people who already had tickets bypassing the line to make their way indoors. No one else in my group had tickets, but I decided to stay with them. Sophia, a girl who I only seem to see when I'm at my worst was also going to the show with her housemates. We snuck them into the line, and for the next hour or so edged our way towards entry.

The delay in the line meant we missed most of the opening acts, but go there just in time to shuffle towards the front. Being an older man now, I rarely get too involved in concerts. Sweaty, jumpy and smelly people isn't exactly my cup of tea and the last time I really got involved at a concert was Against Me!'s show in Paris, 2007. For this show I didn't care. It was Matt & Kim, the smiliest dancepunk duo in show business. It would have been harder to stand still at the back than it would to join the throes of the crowd at the front.
Stealing teabags is my cup of tea

Hip Hop songs that everyone in the crowd but me played out over the P.A. Every time a roadie came out to adjust a mic stand the crowd went wild. Saying the room was pumped is a giant understatement. When Matt & Kim did eventually make their way to the stage their grins were characteristically beaming.

The sound they produce out of two synth and a drum-kit is amazing. The whole room was bouncing to their playing as they moved about their tiny stage set-up, jumping up and down from the little riser between their two instruments. It was winter outside, but it felt like an Australian summer indoors.

The two shared anecdotes with the crowd all night. Matt had grown up around the area and seemed chuffed to have filled the place out. The pair also noted that they had never seen the roof of any venue sweat. The heat, and sweat from everyone in the crowd had gotten to such a level that the roof become sopping with condensation. You could literally see the drops falling, just dodging Matt and his synths.

When the crowd surfers weren't falling or hitting people in the back of the head, Kim managed to walk out onto the crowd and do her "booty dance". I don't know how it worked, but any allusion to walking on water is fairly justified. At another stage deflated balloons were thrown to the crowd to inflate and throw around during a song. It was such a simple, yet beautiful thing. They didn't play many songs from their album released a few days before the show, but it was still an amazing experience. For two Brooklyn hipsters to command a room like that is something special.

Everyone piled into the car (illegally) of Sophia's house-mate. Through some back streets we made it back to Amherst, and Sam, Olivia, Matt and I ran into Lee-Roy on the way for some late night pita. With not much else to do, Sam and I grabbed our skateboards and went for a 1AM ride. Our stunts were lame, and we were fairly lethargic about the whole process, but it didn't stop the Fuzz from coming by and moving us on. We are clearly amateurs, and when they drove by we were just standing around talking, but for some reason we had to jog on. If I wasn't in such a great mood from the show I would have asked them where they were last weekend when Sam was getting punched. Oh well.

1AM came by again as the clocks went back. It was time to call the night as I had a tonne of work to do the next day. I managed to write my 10 page assessment for the local Congressman's class and it was remarkable to see how jovial he was given his victory last week. It turned out that he had effectively obliterated his opponent, defying the national trend against the Democrats.

Hours after the class I finally had to attend my first session for violating the university's alcohol program. I was joined by four other girls, so I'm going to suggest to people to get in on the program. The first day was spent completing a computer survey. I found it very hard to give serious answers given the way I was enrolled in the course. Worse though was the irrelevant questioning about my race (human if anyone asks) and the questioning about my family. I rushed through and left feeling completely unsatisfied. I have to fork out over $100 for this, and spending 20 minutes completing a computer survey feels like blatant robbery.

However, this wasn't the only annoying thing of the day. Again I had to stay up working on homework. I managed to get most of the work done, but the next morning I completely slept through my first class. Until then I had not missed one since arriving, but exhaustion had got the better of me.

*** Song
Sugar - If I Can't Change Your Mind
Bob Mould was playing in Noho tonight. I would have loved to go, but things conspired against it. Heartbreaking shame. Enjoy the video and see what I'm missing out on.

Friday, November 5, 2010

If I had to do it all over again, babe, I'd do it all over you.

Those poor American kids. To keep things in check for Halloween, parent's week at campus coincidently fell on the same weekend. The dining halls were full of families, confused at how to work a smorgasbord system while their children suffered the indignity of regressing from adults. It was like watching parents take their kids out for a happy meal, though this time paying tuition fees replaced a plastic toy. It was meant to be a happy weekend, but I found it sad. Not because my family are on the other side of the world, we've both become used to these situations, but because both the university and parents seem to be afraid to let these people grow up.

I can only speak from my own experience, but going overseas on my own for a year was a fantastic thing. I was forced to talk to strangers, to fend for myself and most importantly, be independent. If this opportunity is not available to you, then I'd suggest moving away from your family to go to school is the next best thing. Because of this I found it upsetting that some poor girl was being berated at a shared table because her mother didn't thing she was putting in another effort in math. You're never going to learn to wipe our own arse if you keep getting your folks to do it for you.

Thankfully parent's weekend ended on the Sunday evening. Bill Cosby (UMass Alumni) donated a small fortune to the dining services here so to celebrate Halloween we were treated to Maine lobsters. Now I know my financial situation comes up more red than black, so I am glad I had that foresight to know that my opportunities for all-you-can-eat lobster are few and far between. Accordingly, and messily, I cracked my way through two of the red beasts. If it weren't for a fear of food poisoning I would stuffed myself with a few more, I'm sure the Cos wouldn't have minded.
Lewis of Lewis

Given that the U.S. midterm elections were on Tuesday, I was extremely impressed that Congressman Richard Neal was willing to teach our class for two hours ahead of the big day. Not coming from a politics background it is easy to get confused in the statecraft rhetoric, but that effort certainly left a strong impression. The following he day he retained his position, with a record that Muhammad Ali would proud of, and if I were able to vote over here, he would gain one more supporter. It's just a shame the rest of the country - despite John Stewart's best efforts - seemed to disagree with his outlook.

Mike and I decided it was time for some intermediate grooming and found ourselves at the campus salon. The banter was brilliant, talking about skateboarding, 'Chopper' Read and Glasgow Rangers but as soon as the clippers touched my hair the power for the whole campus went off. Now I understand that my hair was a bit unruly, but I did not expect it had the potency to blow up the clippers and half the township. As flattering as it was, I was still left with a semi fulfilled haircut that had to be finished in the dark. It may be time to invest in a baseball cap and adopt this strangely popular 'bro' lifestyle.

Or not. Despite the blackout, the weather was perfect, and a nice change from the freezing night's that had preceded. With out semi haircuts we went for a walk into town, taking advantage of what promises to be a rare showing of warmth. In one of Amherst's two streets, we managed to find a record store. They had an original pressing of some Minor Threat and Andrew W.K. 12"s, but without a record player (or cd player) it would have been a redundant purchase. Instead I opted for an incorrectly stickered Rubik's Cube on a keychain. Awesome.
I don't want to change the world, I'm not looking for a New England.

That night my skate posse and I headed to the Fine Arts Center to put on our own performance. I felt I had mastered the 'ollie' enough to go about trying it on the run. A mix of overconfidence and incompetence instead landed me on the concrete, and hard. My whole right side hit the ground and two days on my arm is still tender. Any other bruising has been reserved for my ego. Oh well, it was still (and remains) a ton of fun.

Anyway, the next few weeks promise to be amazing. Tomorrow night is Matt & Kim in Noho, followed up with a long weekend trip to Montreal with the lads. Bob Dylan down the road is the weekend after that and Thanksgiving in New York City should just about top it all off. It's tough, but I think I'll manage.

Feist - I Feel It All
I only just go into The Inbetweeners and this song is played extensively. Also, she's in Broken Social Scene, so there's two reasons to love it without even having heard it.