A Rambling Post About PAX East 2013

Each step further away from the Boston Convention and Expo Center feels like another mile closer to the real world. I can feel that same old sensation growing in my chest as the crowd of geeks around begins to thin and dissipate into the greater Boston area; it is a sense that echoes something close to bereavement. Later, sitting at Boston South Station is an eerie scene as geeks, subdued and quiet, huddle at tables or on the floor each group isolated and alone as if with the closing of another PAX East they lack the willingness to look around a meet the gazes of their compatriots; perhaps  they are afraid to see the loss mirrored there.

As usually it takes me a solid 24 hours before I can turn around and confront the memories of the past weekend. Three days of nerd heaven full of laughs, games, music, and all around good times. PAX (in its Eastern incarnation) is something quite special, yes I’m romanticizing a little bit here, but there is something about the sense of community, as Cliffy B. noted during his “storytime,” that allows us to revel in who we are in a way that the rest of the world never seems to understand. That is what PAX (and any conventions one chooses to attend for any slice of fandom you can name) is all about: an unburdening from the concerns of the outside world.

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Music Monday: Blessed by a Broken Heart, Feel the Power

Feel the Power, Blessed by a Broken Heart
Feel the Power, Blessed by a Broken Heart

When I saw the video for Blessed by a Broken Heart’s (hereafter BBABH) first single off of their latest album Feel the Power I was actually a little disappointed.  The band’s previous album, Pedal to the Metal, as a guilty pleasure of pop-metalcore with copious layers of 80s influenced glam metal keys; that album’s “Move Your Body” has been a mainstay on my workout playlist for years now.  That new single, “Forever” was enough a departure from that sound to leave me a little disappointed with that I heard.  I don’t know what changed between that first listen and now, but damn do I absolutely dig the hell out of Feel the Power.

Yes, Feel the Power is slight departure from Pedal to the Metal but that same level of smooth pop-influenced slickness has been polished to a near mirror sheen and the incongruity of the Pedal to the Metal’s metalcore growls toned down to an absolute minimum.  The result is an album full of slick riffs, big choruses, and copious amounts of high energy rock and roll.  While the harsh bark of metalcore’s bark-like vocals still pops up on several songs it fits slightly better absent of synth heavy tracks.  The faster tempo employed across the album and the crunchier riffs the speed each track along lend to a curious blend of a thrash and hair, with a slight lean towards hair, and I for one love it.  While Feel the Power plays up the hair metal vibe by including one ballad (“I’ve Got You”) it never veers into the self-indulgent seriousness that marks the worst hair metal of yesteryear.

Indeed if one word can define Feel the Power that word is fun.  This is an album that you toss of the car stereo and crank to 11 while cruising down the road with the windows down.  This isn’t the kind of music that will change lives but it is the kind of music that well definitely make your day more tolerable.  Every track is killer though several standout: “Deathwish,” “Shut Up and Rock,” “Love Nightmare,” the chorus-heavy “Forever,” the easy-to-sing with “Rockin’ All Night,” and “Skate or Die” stand out (if only slightly) from the rest of the pack.  Bottom line if you are into fun pop-influenced metal then Blessed by a Broken Heart’s Feel the Power is well worth your time.

Music Monday: Speed of Darkness by Flogging Molly

Speed of Darkness by Flogging Molly
Speed of Darkness by Flogging Molly

Speed of Darkness
Flogging Molly
Borstal Beat Records, 2011

Speed of Darkness may be my favorite Flogging Molly album since Drunken Lullabies. Both Within a Mile of Home and Float are fantastic albums, no doubt, but something about Speed of Darkness really caught my attention. To be fair, and this might turn many Flogging Molly fans away from this album, is that there is a certain slickness to Speed of Darkness that really sets it apart from previous albums, or from Flogging Molly’slive show. It is a well produced album, not over produced, but well produced and absolutely polished to gleaming shine.

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The Epic Return of Music Monday!

Beyond the Bridge (The Old Man and the Spirit)
Beyond the Bridge (The Old Man and the Spirit)

From the band’s website: The album ‘The Old Man and the Spirit’ deals with the polarity of human sensousness and superhuman awareness. The latter is embodied by the character of the Spirit. She is the personification of all wisdom and awareness that is unachievable to mankind, however, lacks of the ability to feel. Her opponent, the character of the Old Man, is presented as a bon vivant who has lived through all highs and lows of human sensation. Steadied by his old age, he searches for a sense, for a coherence, for the meaning of his life in the maelstrom of transciency.
As the story unfolds, the Spirit convinces the Old Man that there is no way for Man to overcome the limits of human perception. They can only be transgressed with the help of the Spirit’s wisdom. Aware of human curiosity, the Spirit offers to answer all of the Old Man’s questions – in exchange for his experiences and feelings. A high price, as they are inseperably connected to the Old Man’s memories.

Listen up folks.  Do you like progressive music?  Have you ever enjoyed the likes of Dreamtheater?  Spock’s Beard? or Porcupine Tree?  If you’ve answered yes to any or all of those questions then you should do yourself a favor and with all possible haste snag a copy of Beyond the Bridge’s debut album The Old Man and the Spirit.  Hard edged riffs, soaring vocals, intricate keys and complex melodies suffuse this concept album.  The tracks range from bombastic over the top operative numbers, groovy chunks to metal, and showtune influenced with a bit of an intimate feel.  Solid rock music blended with a taste of Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Beyond the Bridge, originally formed under a different name in 1999 before life got in the way, began reassembling in 2005.  A septet of professionally trained musicians, including at least one PhD. student, they began recording The Old Man and the Spirit in 2008.  The complete history of the band, and information on its various members, can be found here (and makes for some interesting reading).  The dual male and female vocals by Herbie Langhans and Dilenya Mar are clear and haunting beautiful the lyrics easily discernible as the somewhat ambiguous conversation between the titular old man and spirit unfolds over the course of the album. Peter Degenfeld-Schonbur is equally adept and straightforward riffing as he as at the high and might solo while dual keyboard work of Christopher Tarnow and Simon Oberender lend the a lush feel to the album.

The Old Man and the Spirit is one of the first albums in a long time to really get me excited.  Stand out tracks for me include the album opener “The Call,” the delicate “World of Wonders,” and the hectic “The Struggle.”  An all around phenomenal album that I highly highly recommend.

A Year of Concerts: Part 1 (Jan-Jun)

Zombies during JoCo's RE: Your Brains

In December of last year I hastily decided that in 2010 I would attempt to attend at least 1 concert every month.  Why?  I could wax philosophical about music being a performance art but, truth is, I just like music.  Was it perhaps a bit fiscially irresponsible?  Arguable, but I had fun doing it.  So who did I see in the great year of 2010?

January 3t, 2010 / Trocadero Theatre / Philadelphia, PA:

Scale the Summit, Cynic, Devin Townsend and Between the Buried and Me.

This was an excellent show to start the year with the main act, Between the Buried and Me putting on such a solid, energetic performance that it was a show I was constatnly comparing later acts with.  With frequently indecipherable screaming of Between the Buried and Me can be off-putting to many (re: most) it takes nothing away from the phenomenal talent of the band members and drummer Blake Richardson is perhaps one of the best up and coming metal drummers (there was a supposed Mike Portnoy sighting at this show if that says anything).  In the progressive metal scene acts can vary widely in style and tones and in this show in particular was split 50/50 with both Scale the Summit and Cynic tends towards a more mellow style while Townsend and Between the Buried and Me tends towards a more aggressive style.   I only mention this because because the show was arranged as follows: Scale the Summit, Devin Townsend, Cynic, Between the Buried and Me.  Now Townsend frickin’ killed, he had the audience absolutely pumped and more-or-less bouncing off the walls (and each other ‘natch) when Cynic took the stage.  The unleashed agression of the audience was a bit of a tough nut for Cynic to crack and I don’t think they ever managed to win the crowd over completely, something that was not at all aided by their mid-set pause to have us do “metal yoga.”  It was a weird way to arrange the acts, one that I don’t think benefited the talents dudes in Cynic at all.  Between the Buried and Me absolutely destroyed their set.  In fact the mosh pit grew so large in the admittedly small Trocadero that me and my friend found ourselves wedged uncomfortably against the sound booth with a protective wall of  Event Staff between us and the pit.  It was a damned awesome show.

February 20, 2010/ Brighton Bar /Long Branch, NJ

East of the Wall EP Release Show w/ Rosetta, Fake Gimms, A Fucking Elephant, Restorations

With the February 26 Flogging Molly show sold out I was saved from breaking my New Years quest early when my friend Matt of A Fucking Elephant let me know that East of the Wall was playing an EP release show.  I ventured out into the frigid cold on the promise of good times with friends and a trip to Long Branch’s own Jr’s; all of which I got in spades.  As typical for shows at the Brighton Bar things ran late so I unfortunately missed most of East of the Wall’s set but I was impressed with the energy, enthusiasm and talent of the Fake Gimms (now Zombie Club America).  I’ll be honest I do love bar shows, I don’t know why but there is something kind of special about loud music, beer, and good friends.  Maybe it’s the beer.  Just kidding…kind of.

March 26 & 27, 2010/Hynes Convention Center/Boston, MA

PAX East 2010 Concerts: Metroid Metal, The Protomen, Anamanguchi, Video Game Orchestra, Paul and Storm, Jonathan Coulton, and MC Frontalot.

The Protomen w/ audience members

This was a pretty epic weekend and both Friday the 26th and Saturday the 27th were amazing nights.  Sure we were all exhausted from a full day of convetioning and not all of us would make it through the evening on our feet but there is a special kind of magic specific to PAX that is difficult to describe.  Some of the pre-show waits were long but they were never short of fun; I never thought the wave could elicit such simple childlike joy, but apparently it can.

Video Game Orchestra

While all the acts on these two nights were top notch I was particularly impressed by The Protomen and Video Game Orchestra. The Protomen take the bare story of Mega Man and add a bit of rock opera flare.  Which is both ridiculous and awesome.  Though it might lack the budget of of similar mainstream acts it has twice as much heart.  Video Game Orchestra was present with their chamber group  and creative director/arranger Shota Nakama quickly won over the audience with humor and charm.  This is a phenomenally talented group of musician who are professional and well homed as any symphony orchestra.  I desperately hope that one day I’ll a chance to see them again live (note: they are still working on their CD).

Coultron!

Jonathan Coulton’s set was particularly notable since it birthed Coultron, the gestalt of JoCo himself and members of Metroid Metal lend a bigger, fuller sound to JoCo’s tunes.  This combination was sucessful enough that JoCo has been working on an album with a full band and, if his set in March is anything to go by then it is most definitely something to look forward to.

April 7, 2010/Terminal 5/New York, New York

Opeth

Opeth (I only had my shitty cellphone camera)

When I talk about music, and any band or artist in particular it is best that you add a silent “They’re not Opeth but…” before any praise.  I’ve only seen Opeth once before, at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ; but when I heard they were doing a limited engagement tour to celebrate their 20th Anniversary I was damned exiceted.  The Evolution XX tour was only six shows and I jumped at the chance to grab tickets.  The band played the entirety of Blackwater Park during their first set then came out and played one song of each of their other albums in chronological order; with historical notes and introductions by front man Mikael Akerfeldt.  Opeth are a live act that are as impeccably precise and spot on as they are on their studio recordings.  I, quite frankly, love this band and this was an absolutely amazing show.  If you’re at all interested in the Black Metal scene, and are coming from more mainstream corners, I could think of few better places to start.

April 20, 2010/Starland Ballroom/Sayreville, NJ

River City Extension/Big D and the Kids Table/Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly

A rescheduled show due to snow earlier in the year meant I was able to grab tickets to see Flogging Molly; a band I’ve been waiting to see live ever since I first listened to Drunken Lullabies .  This is actually they only concert I remember actually posting about so for my thoughts on this show see here.

May 3, 2010/Championships Bar/Trenton, NJ

Swashbuckle/Blackguard

The gents of Swashbuckle

When I struggled to find shows it always helped to turn to people I know.  If you had told High School Me that Justin Greczyn, AKA Swashbuckle’s Commodore Nosebleed, was going to be the lead guitarist in pirate themed thrash metal band (signed to a major metal label no less!) I would have glanced at the somewhat scrawny red-headed kid across the lunch table (maybe playing Magic: the Gathering) and scoffed.  Of course the idea that there would even be a pirate metal sub-genre would just have likely have baffled my fragile young mind.  As always the “gentlemen” of Swashbuckle put on a furious, energetic, and typically lyrically indecipherable show that still managed to win over the audience at Championships.  Championships is a tiny little dive bar in Trenton that books local, and some not-so-local metal acts, its a neat little place with cheap beer and loud music…really really loud music.  The gentlemen (and lady) of Blackguard power a little more from the power metal side of things than Swashbuckle does and they have practiced the art of synchronized hair swinging to near perfection.

Blackguard amazing hair swinging!

While the intersection of pirate lovers and thrash metal fans isn’t necessarily a large one it is nice to know that they are a number of bands catering to that group.

June = NOTHING

It was June where my year long quest failed.  No specific reason I can remember.  The only two concerts I was interested in being Scorpions at the PNC Bank Center and Entombed at the Grammercy Theatre.  I made it to neither.  However, things picked up again in July.  Stayed tuned next week when I catalog the remainder of  2010!

Music Monday: With Sprinkles by Beefy

With Sprinkles by Beefy
With Sprinkles by Beefy

You should all know by now, if previous posts are anything to go by, that I am a fan of nerdcore.   I feel a little bad that I’ve yet to devote a full post to nerdcore rapper Beefy but, with last weeks release of his newest album With Sprinkles I’m about to change that.  Beefy’s previous album, Rolling Doubles is one of my favorite rap albums of all time.  Indeed, it still finds its way onto my iPod to this day.  So when I somehow missed the initial release of With Sprinkles last week I was certainly kicking myself.  With Sprinkles is a glorious explosion of nerdcore awesome feature guest stars, great hooks,  precision rhymes that leave you hungry for more.

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Tuesday Music Post: Notes on a Show

I deferred yesterday’s Music Monday post so I could write something about the concert I went to last night.  Seeing as how I’ve managed to attend at lest 1 concert every month since January I have wondered, frequently, if it is something I should write about.  Since the nominal goal is to hit at least 1 concert a month for the year (yay, New Years Resolutions!) there will be more concerts to come and I suppose something ought to be said.  Yesterday, on a Monday of all days, me and my good friend Val trekked out the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ (one of the oddest locations for a moderately sized music venue) to catch Flogging Molly.

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Music Monday: Mega Man Rocks

The Megas, Get Acoustic
The Megas, Get Acoustic

I’ll be honest I’ve never beat any Mega Man game. In fact I can probably count the number of hours I’ve spent playing Mega Man games and still have a couple of fingers left. Both facts which my love for music from Mega Man all the stranger. Or maybe it isn’t that strange given the Japanese title for the series: Rockman. I would go ahead an argue that Mega Man has some of the best video game music in any series today as catchy and head bob inducing in its 8-bit glory as any modern rock song is today.

All of this is to highlight my musical selection this pollen infested miserable (re: beautiful spring) day: Get Acoustic by The Megas. The Megas are, surprise surprise, a Los Angeles based rock band who sing songs inspired by, and structured, around the songs from Mega Man 2. Their first album Get Equiped, released in 2008, is a grand tour through Mega Man 2 in epic hard rockin’ fashion, but I think pales in comparison to their acoustic version Get Acoustic, that released back in March.

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k.flay’s MASHed Potatoes

This is one of those instances where I downloaded something and forgot about it only to be reintroduced to it via the magic of shuffle.  In this case it was the track “boom boom pow KUNG FU” that reintroduced me to k.flay’s “mix tape” MASHed Potatoes. MASHed Potatoes contains tracks chopped up and remixed by k.flay with original lyrics.  The results are stunning.  Opening track “ON the bridge” remixes the main riff from Red Hot Chilli Peppers “Under the Bridge” into a laid back hip-hop track about a sunny drive from Oakland to San Francisco.  “NO Ignorance” remixes Paramore’s “Ignorance” into a fast, head nodding braggadocio.  (To be honest my lack of knowledge regarding popular music means I don’t really recognize much else)

There isn’t a bad track anywhere on the mix.  While most of the tracks are all in good fun k.flay does delve into more socially conscious territory with tracks like “CRAZYtown” about psychotropic medication, therapy and basically the business of living.   There’s “heavy CROSS OUT” equally about the creative process and ennui of youth (“I am just some twenty something feeling like a piece of shit / I can see the pie ahead, wanting just a piece of it / Writing in my room I’m sure nowhere is where’s I’m heading”) and “MONEYmakerZ;” an excoriating commentary on the current economic situation.  I could describe more but really each track is frickin’ fantastic and this is the type of music that, literally, speaks for itself.

Did I mention that MASHed Potatoes is free?  It most certainly is.  You can grab the download link from k.flay’s page here and really there isn’t any reason you shouldn’t.  Unless, of course, you’re predisposed against things that are AWESOME!  If you’re still not convinced perhaps you should check out the video embedded below.  The song “Carry On” doesn’t appear on MASHed Potatoes but I’ll be damned if the intimacy of the performance and the subject matter doesn’t move you.

Last, but not least, don’t forget to check out k.flay’s blog and twitter page for news and info!

Another Music Post!

I was listening to the Seattle Geekly podcast this morning when a snippet of a song caught my attention.  In fact it caught my attention that immediately ran into work and popped open the show notes to find out its name.  Turns out it is by talented and hilarious singer/songwriter/all around cool dude John Anealio whose blog, Sci-fi Songs, I’ve run across before but somehow never managed to bookmark.  What song was it?  A little number called “Summer Glau.”   It is a short song and, given her recent tenure as a robot killing machine, I think in need of a few extra verses!   Anyhoo, check out this nice little fan made montage/video of the song after the jump:

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