25 September 2009

A couple Douglas Adams quotes today, both from Mostly Harmless. First, a rather endearing passage that sums up how certain personalities (to great extent my own) can find joy in doing the simplest of tasks to a level of excellence. There is a touch of utopian ideal to the thought of being Sandwich Maker on Lamuella; but for the intrusion of the usual suspects (Ford, Trillian, Random, and of course The Guide) one could envision Arthur Dent spending the rest of his days there in unaccustomed contentment.

There is an art to the business of making sandwiches which it is given to few ever to find the time to explore in depth. It is a simple task, but the opportunities for satisfaction are many and profound: choosing the right bread for instance. The Sandwich Maker had spent many months in daily consultation and experiment with Grarp the baker and eventually they had between them created a loaf of exactly the consistency that was dense enough to slice thinly and neatly, while still being light, moist and having that fine nutty flavour which best enhanced the savour of roast Perfectly Normal Beast flesh.

There was also the geometry of the slice to be refined: the precise relationships between the width and height of the slice and also its thickness which would give the proper sense of bulk and weight to the finished sandwich: here again, lightness was a virtue, but so too were firmness, generosity and that promise of succulence and savour that is the hallmark of a truly intense sandwich experience.

The proper tools, of course, were crucial, and many were the days that the Sandwich Maker, when not engaged with the Baker at his oven, would spend with Strinder the Tool Maker, weighing and balancing knives, taking them to the forge and back again. Suppleness, strength, keenness of edge, length and balance were all enthusiastically debated, theories put forward, tested, refined, and many was the evening when the Sandwich Maker and the Tool Maker could be seen silhouetted against the light of the setting sun and the Tool Maker's forge making slow sweeping movements through the air trying one knife after another, comparing the weight of this one with the balance of another, the suppleness of a third and the handle binding of a fourth.

Three knives altogether were required. First there was the knife for the slicing of the bread: a firm, authoritative blade which imposed a clear and defining will on a loaf. Then there was the butter-spreading knife, which was a whippy little number but still with a firm backbone to it. Early versions had been a little too whippy, but now the combination of flexibility with a core of strength was exactly right to achieve the maximum smoothness and grace of spread.

The chief amongst the knives, of course, was the carving knife. This was the knife that would not merely impose its will on the medium through which it moved, as did the bread knife; it must work with it, be guided by the grain of the meat, to achieve slices of the most exquisite consistency and translucency, that would slide away in filmy folds from the main hunk of meat. The Sandwich Maker would then flip each sheet with a smooth flick of the wrist on to the beautifully proportioned lower bread slice, trim it with four deft strokes and then at last perform the magic that the children of the village so longed to gather round and watch with rapt attention and wonder. With just four more dexterous flips of the knife he would assemble the trimmings into a perfectly fitting jigsaw of pieces on top of the primary slice. For every sandwich the size and shape of the trimmings were different, but the Sandwich Maker would always effortlessly and without hesitation assemble them into a pattern which fitted perfectly. A second layer of meat and a second layer of trimmings, and the main act of creation would be accomplished.

The Sandwich Maker would pass what he had made to his assistant who would then add a few slices of newcumber and fladish and a touch of splagberry sauce, and then apply the topmost layer of bread and cut the sandwich with a fourth and altogether plainer knife. It was not that these were not also skilful operations, but they were lesser skills to be performed by a dedicated apprentice who would one day, when the Sandwich Maker finally laid down his tools, take over from him. It was an exalted position and that apprentice, Drimple, was the envy of his fellows. There were those in the village who were happy chopping wood, those who were content carrying water, but to be the Sandwich Maker was very heaven.

And so the Sandwich Maker sang as he worked.

Another somewhat less profound and more comic bit of dialogue, made funnier by this being the culmination of these two characters' mutual exasperation and annoyance in their relationship.

"You don't understand how important this is,' [Ford] said.

"What? You mean my daughter out there all alone in the Galaxy? You think I don't...'

"Can we feel sorry for the Galaxy later?" said Ford. "This is very, very serious indeed. The Guide has been taken over. It's been bought out.'

Arthur leapt up. "Oh very serious," he shouted. "Please fill me in straight away on some corporate publishing politics! I can't tell you how much it's been on my mind of late!'

"You don't understand! There's a whole new Guide!'

"Oh!" shouted Arthur again. "Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm incoherent with excitement! I can hardly wait for it to come out to find out which are the most exciting spaceports to get bored hanging about in in some globular cluster I've never heard of. Please, can we rush to a store that's got it right this very instant?'

Ford narrowed his eyes.

"This is that thing you call sarcasm, isn't it?'

"Do you know," bellowed Arthur, "I think it is? I really think it might just be a crazy little thing called sarcasm seeping in at the edges of my manner of speech! Ford, I have had a f[ed. use your imagination]ing bad night! Will you please try and take that into account while you consider what fascinating bits of badger-sputumly inconsequential trivia to assail me with next?"

04 September 2009

Much Belated Concert Review - Yes/Asia at The Uptown Theater

So on the evening of July 14th, as we basked in the afterglow of our good fortune for not having to pay for parking as we expected we might, we shuffled into the Uptown Theater for the Yes and Asia concert. We had decent but not exceptional seats near the back of the venue on the first floor, and as we entered we noted that it being extremely dark, decorated in a gaudy faux-historical sort of way, and somewhat dank and humid, the place took us straight back to Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. No, not the movie.

Anyway, I'm not a particularly big fan of Asia, other than loving the Eric Cartman adaptation of "Heat of the Moment." But I actually quite enjoyed their set. The lineup was the original, with Steve Howe (of Yes) on guitar, John Wetton (of King Crimson) on bass and lead vocals, Carl Palmer (of Emerson, Lake, and hisself) on drums, and Geoff Downes (former Buggle and Yesman) on keys. They have a fairly accessible sound that blends 80s pop-rock with progressive elements. They kicked it off with "Wildest Dreams", and then "Only Time Will Tell". Then a recently written tune with terribly cheesy lyrics, "An Extraordinary Life" which was mainly memorable for Howe's delicate slide acoustic guitar work.

"Video Killed the Radio Star", Geoff Downes' famous little tune from his Buggle days, was next and actually was grooved pretty hard, the song being what it was. Nothing could beat the ridiculous stage antics of Carl Palmer on this song, throwing his sticks up in the air and putting four-to-the-floor. The man seemed to channel Rainn Wilson in "The Rocker". Perhaps it was the other way round? "In The Court of the Crimson King" was the homage to Wetton's King Crimson past, and while a bit repetitive, the thunderous Mellotron on the chorus section was awesome. They followed with a couple acoustic pieces "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" and "Don't Cry", which, nigh on a month later, are completely forgotten and thus were forgettable.

"Fanfare for the Common Man" came next, of Palmer's ELP catalog, and I must give credit to Geoff Downes. A Buggle...a pop-song guy...doing Keith Emerson organ parts. He tore it up! But of course, as expected, Carl Palmer took the occasion to do a fantastic drum solo...perhaps not one as finessed as other drummers might do, but in the realm of loud, showy rock drummers, Palmer is no slouch. The set started cranking up again with "Sole Survivor" which does tend to get stuck in your head, and then, as expected...

It was the heat........of...the moment...

Yes, it was of course time for their signature tune, which they were going to milk to death, naturally! The phrase "milk to death" conjures up a very painful sort of image for a dairy cow one might imagine, but I digress from the main point. Midway through the song, Wetton called for everyone to stand up and sing along. Embarrassingly only about 20-40 folks near the front (house left) stood up. You might think this would be disheartening. But you would be wrong. Asia is a clever, tricksy band. What did they do?

They did a false ending. Yes, a false ending...they seemed to end the song...and with the dying strains of Heat of the Moment in our ears, the crowd obligingly stood to their feet to applaud as one might expect.

Ha-ha! They had fooled us! Back into the song!!!! And everyone standing up now! See, they would get us standing up for Heat of the Moment one way or another. Geoff Downes thought this was a perfect time to whip out the keytar. Seriously, a keytar, dude? Complete with poses leaning up back to back with the other guitar or bass playing members. At least when Donald Fagen did it it was ironic/amusing.

So Asia having fooled us into appreciation was content to then get off stage. The wait began for the next act, which was the reason most of us were there.

The lineup had a few "fill ins" this time. Squire, White, and Howe were there, but filling in (quite admirably I must say) for his father was Oliver Wakeman, and Benoit David was filling in for Jon Anderson, who is unable to tour due to a respiratory condition. Benoit David is a younger French-Canadian with a voice that sounds a lot more like Jon Anderson did in the 70s than Anderson does now, and he did an excellent job, even if not exactly the genuine article.

I should point out at this point there was a young lady sitting next to my wife. This lady was, you might say, of uncommonly high spirits, emphasis on spirits. Perhaps I am guilty of understatement; it was my initial belief that I was witnessing a live-action "this is your brain on drugs" public service announcement. It does stand to reason, of course, in that it has always been my assumption that the only explanation for a female under the age of 25 liking Yes would be just shy of all the opium in Central Asia. However, it turns out she was with her parents, and was partaking with them in oft-repeated trips to the refreshment stand for mixed drinks of some sort. "Drunk off her posterior" is, I believe, the sanitized version of the state of her mental condition. The dancing was particularly hazardous, and as one might imagine Yes and Asia are not particularly dance-oriented, so accidents were bound to occur, occasionally involving my wife not having inched far enough away from the action. She also at one point, right before Yes came on, grabbed my wife, stuck her face an inch away from hers, and screamed "aren't you excited? WOOOOOOOOOO!"

The classic prerecorded "Firebird Suite" intro brought the band members out, and "Siberian Khatru", a very common first song for Yes, got us started from the B-side of Close to the Edge. "I've Seen All Good People" came next, and Drunk Crazy Girl got particularly animated in the "All Good People" section which has an old rocknroll groove to it. Then, as suspected, the band started inching towards less common material, particularly in the absence of Anderson. "Tempus Fugit" from Drama was well done, and I was almost sorry to see that Geoff Downes wasn't asked to join the band for the Drama numbers, in that he was Yes' keyboard man for that album. To this day I have a hard time not playing that bass riff when I pick up a bright sounding bass like a Rickenbacker.

"Astral Traveller", my favorite from Time and a Word, came next, and it was sad to note that the only member who had played on that song or album was Squire. Howe was to come one album later, and there were three more albums with Bill Bruford (Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge) before Alan White came on board. Still, they did it well and B. David's voice was appropriately fed through a rotary speaker effect. "And You and I" was a highlight in its execution, although marred only slightly by the failure to have the steel guitar working...whether that is the fault of the sound guys, Steve Howe, or the failure of his old vintage gear, I don't know. But they got it working.

Steve did a few numbers solo on acoustic, and the crowd-pleasing "Clap" reminds me as always that there is in fact such a thing as "God-given talent". Probably the most challenging acoustic guitar piece I've ever heard! Follow that with the even more crowd-pleasing standby, "Owner of a Lonely Heart". Oliver Wakeman appeared to work a bit harder than his father would at that...Rick Wakeman was hardly faithful to his own recordings when playing live, much less some git named Tony Kaye or Patrick whats-his-name. Howe didn't exactly sound as fluidly natural with the part as Trevor Rabin but he did sound much, much better than he has in live performances of it years ago.

"Machine Messiah", the second from Drama, came next, and it was nice hearing it live. I've never cared for the Pink Floyd imitation section but the whole song went well. Then ramping out, "Roundabout" built up steam, and as they started "Heart of the Sunrise" we headed for the exit to avoid the drunk driving in the parking lot. I've heard Squire do that song at least twice live before, I know it backwards and forwards. I found out later that was not their closer as I suspected, they encore'd with "Starship Trooper", which would have been good, but again, these are standbys that I sacrificed hearing to allow me to get out of the parking lot alive.

Oh, one last thing...we had noticed Squire (who is as big a ham as ever tromped across stage) had his golden locks blowing back like he had a fan on him. Very shampoo-commercial sort of thing. It became more amusing during one song, I forget which, where they started the fog machines. The fog billowed out across the stage, and as it got to Squire it shot the fog straight up into his face in a column of smoke. Oh that was funny.

All in all, great show.