Sunday, March 31, 2013

Lich King, Possessor, etc - 3/30/13 at Sergio's Place, Silver Spring, MD

The Otep show ended so early (9:30!) that we decided to head to this thrash show in S's hometown. It was in a little hole-in-the-wall El Salvadorean restaurant; the chairs and tables had been moved to the side and some speakers set up in the corner. There were about 50 people there when we got there, most of them looking very metal. It was my first time at an underground metal show, and it was pretty exciting, although I had gotten pretty tired on the drive from Springfield and didn't really have enough energy to enjoy it properly.

Maybe because I got extremely tired later, I enjoyed Possessor's set more. Their singer looked very 80's in a leather jacket with a big shoulder-guard and shoulder length wavy hair, and they had an 80's thrash sound with racing guitars, persistent drums and shouted vocals with the occasional wail. The crowd was pretty active, and I wondered that no one crashed into the band since the crowd was practically on top of them. I think the band was on a slightly raised platform, but the singer and one or two of the guitarists stepped off it right into the front of the crowd; the singer even directed or practically got into the pit a couple times.

I took a nap in a chair, and then just after midnight, Lich King came on. They seem to be a bit of a joke band, with songs about how black metal sucks and about Game of Thrones, webcomics, movies and the like. I couldn't really get into them - maybe I was just tired, or maybe it really was that their riffs are kind of repetitive and uninteresting, and the high pitched shouted vocals not to my liking. Also, since I couldn't tell what they were saying, the humor was lost on me. I was pretty relieved when they finished up, just because it meant we could go home and sleep.

Next concert: Ripper Owens on 4/6!

Otep, One-Eyed Doll, Picture Me Broken - 3/30/13 at Empire, Springfield, VA

Although I like Otep pretty well (perhaps less now than two years ago), what motivated me most was that One-Eyed Doll was touring with her again. We missed One-Eyed Doll last time, and I really wanted to see them because they seemed interesting, to put it mildly - very gothic with a cheeky sense of humor. (That judgment was entirely based on this video, but luckily it wasn't mistaken.)

Unfortunately, it turned out the show would go on much earlier than we expected, so we had to hurry to get there, and we still missed Picture Me Broken.

We did get there before One-Eyed Doll's set, of which I was glad. They are a two person goth rock band, with a girl on vocals/guitar and a guy on the drums. They were very loud, but with more of a punky cabaret sound than metal or rock. Although there was no vampirism on stage, there were a lot of silly antics - the vocalist used a high-pitched, mechanical-sounding voice to introduce the songs and interact with the audience, she dug silly hats and other items ( such as a severed foot) out of trunk or box onstage, called the place various combinations of "Springfield Virginia Austin Texas," and climbed up onto the speakers for the guitar intro to one song. Although they didn't play the vampire song, all their songs were similarly humorous with morbid themes. I enjoyed their set immensely.

Otep was good as well. It's been a while since I've been able to relax and immerse myself in the music, but for Otep's set I was able to. Almost the entire set was quite heavy, and she didn't seem to spend as much time on artistic whinging and stage antics as last time - although she did don a military cap and do a salute before "Warhead," and brought out the pig's head for "Blood Pigs." I went in the pit for "Battle Ready" (my favorite song) but there really wasn't much of one - only for the first chorus - and not for other songs either. This was in stark contrast to last time we saw Otep, when there were huge pits for every song. However, the crowd was pretty large and they seemed into it, jumping and waving their fists. I just headbanged a lot. Otep did play an encore this time, perhaps partly just to give the finger to the venue, which was kicking everyone out early so that some hiphop event could happen at ten.

People seem to have strong opinions regarding Otep and her music, but I definitely think she's worth checking out if you're into heavy music. She put on a good, heavy show, and I had a good time, even not being very familiar with most of the songs. And of course, I was glad that I finally got to see One-Eyed Doll.

Next concert: We actually went to see Lich King and Possessor the same night XD

March Concerts

I was kind of depressed and busy for most of March, but I'm starting to feel better and less stressed now, so I've finally written up a summary of most of the shows I went to in March. The last two, which were both yesterday, actually have their own reviews.

Wimme - 3/9/13 at Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center, Washington, DC

Wimme Saari is a singer from Finland, who was performing as part of Kennedy Center's Nordic Cool festival. Wimme performs joik, a kind of traditional singing or chanting among the Sami, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia and Finland. I first heard of him about ten years ago when someone gave us a "Nordic Roots" sampler of Fenno-Scandinavian folk music and folk rock. I hadn't really followed or gotten exceptionally interested in Wimme over the years, but I remembered his songs being pretty good - energetic in a flowing sort of way - and was interested to see him live. Besides, since he was performing on the Millennium Stage, it was free!

I got to the Kennedy Center a little early, perhaps fiften minutes before the performance was to begin, but the seats in front of the stage were already full. Luckily, I was at the front of the standing section, although I had t move back later when two friends arrived. And then people filtered out as the performance went on and other Kennedy Center performances began, and we eventually made our way back to the front of the standing section and might even have been able to get seats if we tried.

The performance started out very low key, and I thought it would have been better in a dark, closed space - the light and noises around were distracting and made it difficult to get absorbed in the music. Overall, the songs were slow with rather jazzy instrumentals, not as energetic or primal I remembered. It seemed Wimme had changed his style a bit since the Nordic Roots days. Accompanying him, he had a percussionist, a wind/brass guy (clarinet, saxophone) and a strings guy (guitar, mini guitar/mandolin, banjo). In the middle of the set, he did some solo joiks, which were a little more lively and depicted animals. After that he did a sort of remix of a song that sounded familiar, perhaps "Bierdna" (The Bear), which is actually a collaboration with Swedish/Finnish folk rock band Hedningarna, or "Bieggajorri" (Weathervane) (which I can't find online), and then finished with a long song that, although also pretty slow, built up to pretty high intensity.

Even though I was disappointed to find that Wimme's style had changed so much and incorporated so much jazz, I was still glad I went, simply to have the experience of seeing someone with such a distinctive singing style.

Soilwork, Blackguard, Bonded by Blood, Hatchet - 3/12/13 at Empire, Springfield, VA

I had to take my daughter to dance class before going to the show, so I missed Hatchet.

I got to the venue just before Bonded by Blood came on. They were fast, with a hammering sound. In spite of their awesome thrash sound, there was almost no one on the floor. I pushed S around the floor, and fell and twisted my ankle while shoving another friend.

Of this line-up, I was most looking forward to seeing Blackguard. They're one of my favorite bands to listen, see live and mosh to (so it really sucked about the twisted ankle, but it was feeling ok by the time I started, and I braved the pit, and lived to walk out of the venue at the end of the show). They used to play fast, black-ish folk metal with violin, harsh and fast vocals. Their last release changed to Children of Bodom style melodeath with an epic twist. They plan to release another album this fall, and the new songs I've heard are in the same epic melodeath vein, but with more clearly melodic guitar bits. They just toured Europe with Kamelot, and seem to be on the verge of getting big, so I'm pretty excited for this band's future.

However, when they started their set with "Firefight," it sounded like a mess. They got better as the night went on, although I don't think they sounded as dynamic and together as they did the last two times we saw them. They played two new songs, one being "In Dreams" which they performed for the first time ever at Empire last time we saw them there. The news songs sounded good - epic guitars, the usual intense vocals - though the melodic bits were a little lost in the mix. Unfortunately, there was not much of a pit - two heavy guys sort of wandered back and forth in the middle of the floor, and I bounced off them from time to time. There was a bigger and more energetic pit the couple of time that Paul actually called for one, but otherwise most people seemed content just to crowd around the stage.

I don't know Soilwork very well but thought they might be worth checking out, based on a few songs that S gave me, which were pretty heavy and a little melodic. They were enjoyable enough that I stayed for their whole set even though I was really tired and had planned to leave early. The venue was pretty full, but almost no one came to floor for Bonded by Blood or Blackguard - and even for Soilwork, a large part of the crowd hung back. There were a decent number of people on the floor, though, and a huge pit that was quite entertaining to watch, as well as a number of energetic individuals whose antics were also entertaining. Soilwork sounded good.

KMFDM, Legion Within, Chant - 3/18/13 at State Theatre, Falls Church, VA

I was a bit stressed out about life when I went to this show and that impeded my enjoyment, as well as making me irritable to my friends :(  But it was worth it - KMFDM put me in a much better frame of mind, and was a fun time besides.

The first opener was Chant, a two person industrial band from Texas. They were interesting to see live, but I don't think I would listen to their recordings. Their sound involved quite a lot of percussion, with one guy on the drums (including some unusual drums) and shouting vocals, and another on what seemed to be a synthesizer (and who also banged what looked like a big barrel when really booming drumming was needed). Besides the music, their get-up and stage show held my attention - the drummer/vocalist's buckle-covered leather outfit, with brown and black paint smeared on his face and arms, the variety of drums and intensity of his drumming, and the flashing lights behind him all made the experience much more intense. I don't think a recording would capture much of it, not even the intensity of the sound.

The next band, Legion Within, started out good, with an energetic pop-like vibe that reminded me of bands like Deathstars, but then they declined from there. I was not a fan of the cabaret-like half-speaking, half-singing vocals that the singer used for most songs, and the instrumental portion of the music was not fast, heavy or intense enough to hold my interest either.

KMFDM, of course, were great like always. I am pretty sure they played most if not all the songs from their new record, some of which were great, and some just ok - although ok for KMFDM is still far beyond most other bands. The crowd went wild for "Kunst," with almost everyone jumping or taking part in the pit. There was a pit for almost every song, and I regretted wearing my huge baggy bondage pants which would have tripped me up in instants if I tried to join in. I hadn't thought there would be pit for KMFDM! So I had to content myself with dancing and headbanging, which was still pretty fun.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Tailor's Daughter by Janice Graham

I picked this book up because it was next to Jo Graham's books. After reading the synopsis and the first page or so, I was drawn in by two things - the protagonist is deaf, which seemed an interesting and unusual premise, and the writing style is similar to my own (except ten times more polished). As I was reading the beginning, I thought, damn, if I was going to write about someone waking up and realizing that they're deaf, this is just how I would write! The honest and direct description of the girl's experience and the keen focus on her experiences and senses... It seemed too carefully and artfully crafted to be just a romance novel.

The elegant writing, which conveys so much in a simple way, captivated me to the end. This description blew me away:

"I left Rushcross Grange just after dawn, crossing through a quilt-work of pastures before turning north into the rise of fells beyond which lay Blackroak Hall. There, I left the ridge and struck straight into the heath, wading knee-deep through the scrubby grey growth down to the narrow hollow which I held as far as New Mill, after which I turned away from the beck into high moorland heath. All morning the sky was dark, and ominous clouds threatened rain that never fell, although the wind smelled strongly of it. I passed a farm at which I had lodged only the previous month and caught sight of the Kertons and their children on the slopes above Moor Close cutting peats. Farther up the vale, a row of men moved along the hillside scything bracken at a languid rhythm that belied the tremendous power behind each stroke. Their old bearded sheepdog froze and kept me fixed in his sights until I passed by on the path below. In the shaded vales, black-faced sheep grazed in folds cut out by low drystone walls, but farther up in the open moorland they seemed but isolated fixtures on the vast treeless landscape. Even in the early summer, with the bleak fells fleshed out in soft hues of greys and greens, and the hay meadows rich with wild flowers and grasses, it seemed an unlikely place for human habitation." (page 340)

The verbs! The conciseness! The way it carves out an image in the mind! I only hope my writing is half as good.

Although I enjoyed reading the book, I have a big gripe with its title. Part of that is probably due to having read an article on "How not to title your novel" at the start of November, because unfortunately, the title falls squarely into its net of "samey titles." To me, it's a boring title that doesn't capture at all what the book is about or excite or attract the reader (to be honest, I picked it up with the faintest of faint hopes that it might be fantasy novel). In my opinion, a novel's title should capture or at least hint at the theme, but there is nothing profound in this title. There could at least be a reference to the fact that the main character is deaf, never mind to the way she struggles against class and gender restrictions to pursue her heart's desires.

For most of the novel, the plot progressed in synch with the elegance of the writing - at a very measured pace, with much attention given to all the various experiences of the main character from her teenage years onward - family tragedies, her own illness and deafness, her friendships and romantic interests. For most of the book, things moved slowly and nothing happened suddenly - which I didn't mind, because I was captivated by the main character and the little excitements of her life (*SPOILERS*) such as having a slightly scandalous portrait painted, cross-dressing in order to work as a tailor for gentlemen, and pursuing a seemingly hopeless love interest. (*END SPOILERS*) A review quoted on the back called the book's pace and style "Victorian," which certainly fits. Near the end, however, the excitement amped up, some melodrama ensued, and (*SPOILER*) everything worked out in the end in an almost magical fashion. (*END SPOILER*) The sudden melodrama and fortuitous ending proved that the book really was a romance novel, no matter how much I would like to think otherwise. But it was definitely a romance novel worth reading. I learned much from Ms. Graham's style, and I was entertained and touched by the story along the way.