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2008, In Cities…

I’d been meaning to work on this over the holidays and didn’t, but now that Dennis (from whom I got the idea) put up his annual post of cities where he spent the night, it seemed like I finally ought to get around to it as well… So, here they are: cities where I spent at least one night during 2008 (in order of attendance):

San Carlos, CA (home sweet home, so multiple times)
Phoenix, AZ
Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean (well, depends on how you define “night” but I landed at 9am… so…)
Edinburgh, Scotland (looking forward to going back soon)
Huntington, NY (multiple times)
New York, NY (multiple times)
Rockville Centre, NY
Jacksonville, FL
Toronto, Canada
Beaver Creek, CO
Salt Lake City, UT
Cheyenne, WY
Lincoln, NB
Indianola, IA (outside Des Moines)
Wheaton, IL (multiple times)
Chicago, IL (multiple times)
Albuquerque, NM
Santa Fe, NM
Flagstaff, AZ
Grand Canyon, AZ
Needles, CA

… and I think that’s it. Hoping not to do as much traveling in 2009, but already have some trips scheduled that begin next week… Also, anything in and around Lake Tahoe is notoriously absent (first year in ages that can be said). Will make sure to correct that in 2009.

Ska Radio Days… Part II

Two posts in one night… and both music posts. Actually, this one is a follow up to my first attempt at recreating my old ska radio show from the 90s. This is my second attempt and while it’s fun… getting it to really sound right isn’t going so well. Getting the levels on the voice right is really tricky and I know I need to work on that. Hell, I was so frustrated by the voice levels I considered recording a version of this “show” without any voiceovers — but Dennis says he likes the voiceovers, and he was the only person I asked, so given a 100% result on my all too small sample size, the voiceovers stays in.

A couple people complained that I didn’t put up a playlist on the last show, so here’s the playlist for this one:

Pressure Cooker/Nuthin’ Better
The Fenicians/Funk In A Deep Freeze
Franceska/Get Up
Hepcat/I Can’t Wait
The Robustos/No Strangers Here
Firebug/On The Move
The Debonaires/Right Hand Man
Blue Rivers & The Maroons/Witchcraft Man
Crazy Baldhead/Heartbreak
Victor Rice/The Ring
Stubborn All-Stars/Because Of You
The Jumpstarts/Take Me With You
The Slackers/Body Double
Michael “Bammie” Rose/Rockfort Rock
Chris Murray/The World’s About Me
The Pietasters/Same Old Song
The Aggrolites/Jimmy Jack

Once again, this was a lot of fun to put together, minus the frustration over the levels and such. I’ve been talking to Dennis about recording some more of these shows using his professional DJ equipment (and having him co-DJ) so maybe future shows will get a bit better. Speaking of future shows, I recently got a huge package of music from Chuck Wren at Jump Up, so as I plan out the next show, I’m going to try to include a bunch of stuff from there…

Aggrolites Definitely Didn’t Let Us Down…

In a bit of a followup to my recent post on great ska performers like the Scofflaws and Skapara, I finally had a chance to see the Aggrolites live a week and a half ago. I’m a child of the NYC ska scene, so my exposure to California ska was a bit delayed — and often came through a New York City lens — I discovered CA bands like Hepcat and Lets Go Bowling only because they put out albums on Moon Ska, the classic NYC ska label of the 90s. There was Jump with Joey, but until Ryko reissued their albums in the US, JwJ always seemed like a mythical creature. I’d hear about them and their weekly live shows at the King King club — but hadn’t heard a damn thing from them as all their albums were only available in Japan.

But there were definitely hints of excitement coming out of California. Beyond Hepcat, I’d hear bits and pieces of Southern California bands like See Spot and Los Hooligans. And then there were the jokey “east coast/west coast” battles between King Django and Alex Dessert, but it only made me more interested in that SoCal sound. I remember a friend telling me that I needed to check out a band called the Rhythm Doctors, but never heard anything by them until I spotted their CD at Amoeba in San Francisco in the $2 remainders bin as I was waiting to check out. I grabbed the CD, took it home and couldn’t get it out of my CD player for ages.

By then, the band was no longer around, but I started hearing about the Aggrolites — and after picking up their first album, realized that it basically was the same band as the Rhythm Doctors, but with amazing vocals (the Rhythm Doctors were instrumental reggae). The first album was fantastic, for a while I had a playlist that just consisted of the Aggrolites, the Slackers and Go Jimmy Go (Hawaii ska!). But… still… while I liked them, they didn’t move into that top tier of ska bands reserved for only the select few.

Then, a few years back I was visiting New York again, and my buddy Yuval asked if I’d heard the latest Aggrolites album (their second). We were driving somewhere and he put it on in his car, and immediately the band shot up to that top tier (though, still just short of the Slackers). The first song he played for me, Love Isn’t Love, became the song I used for the first dance at my wedding, and I was constantly listening to the Aggrolites.

And yet, for some reason, I never got to see them in concert. This is mostly my own fault. They’re from LA, but bounce up to San Francisco often enough. But, for some reason, the timing just never worked until a couple weeks ago, when my wife and I, along with Dennis got to go check them out at the Red Devil Lounge. We showed up early (way, way, way too early) and the place was pretty empty, but it allowed us to hang out up front. The opening band (The Impalers) was excellent as well, but the main show was what we came to see, and the Aggrolites delivered. They put on a fantastic live show, playing a mix of songs from all their albums, an occasional cover and a couple of new songs. But what was great, was seeing how the lead singer, Jesse, got the crowd involved (sometimes to dangerous ends… we ended up near some tables on the side, where we had put our drink glasses down, and towards the end an overzealous dancer flew into the table and his hand smashed right through a pint glass).

Anyway, here are a few Aggrolites videos for those unfamiliar with either their recorded or live performances. First up is the video of their single off their most recent album, a song called Free Time:

However, what’s cool is to see them live. For some reason, the best live videos of the band are all of them doing cover songs (the band does mostly originals). Their final song of the night when we saw them was a cover of the Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down, reggae-fied, of course. There’s a great video of the band performing this live (not at the show we were at), which highlights Jesse’s stage presence and ability to get the audience involved as well as demonstrates Roger Rivas’ mastery of the reggae keyboard sound… It’s probably blasphemy to Beatles fans… but I like the Aggrolites version better. :)

Anyway… trying to do some more music posts, and figured I’d talk up the Aggrolites show. Up next? I’m heading up to see the Slackers play a New Years Eve show in San Francisco in less than 24 hours. That’s going to be a blast…

Update: Well, look at that… just a couple hours after posting this, while looking for something entirely different, I came across an entire Aggrolites concert that can be streamed live online and embedded, so let’s test this out. The concert is from 2006 in Amsterdam, so it doesn’t have many of the more recent songs, but still looks pretty cool:

Sesame Street Ska

Another quickie post. Back when I was first getting into ska in the early 1990s, the band I first was obsessed with was the Scofflaws, who not only made great recordings but put on a great live show. It wasn’t just that they performed well, but that they entertained. Soon after I started trying to find out about any and every ska band out there, someone (maybe my friend Rod?) gave me a tape of a Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra recording. It was on a cassette tape with no details other than the band’s name and it was fantastic… and the most hilarious part was the rendition they did of the Sesame Street theme, and they start chanting “How… To… Get… To… Sesame Street!”

Years later, I was able to get the actual CD (only available in Japan) that had the song (again, I don’t remember how…). I’ve also bought a few other CDs by the band over the years, but none really matched up to this one album. Just a couple years ago, 20 years after the band was first founded, they made their very first tour of the US and I actually got to go see them (and drag the wife along) in San Francisco. To be honest, I almost didn’t go. It was midweek, and since so many of their other albums just didn’t excite me, I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. That one album, however, was fantastic. But, man, was I glad I went. It was the first band I’d seen in a long time that was Scofflaws-like in putting on a show. It made the whole thing worthwhile.

Anyway, the excellent ska blog Music is Our Occupation today pointed to a neat little video of Skapara (what the band is commonly called) from back in 1991 where they’re performing Baby Elephant Walk and Sesame Street (probably soon after that album came out):

Man. There certainly weren’t crowds that big at ska shows in 1991 in the US.

Night Vision

So, Dennis posted about how he almost almost almost bought some night vision goggles on Woot recently, but was talked out of it via instant messenger by his brother. It caused me to write the following story as a comment on his post. However, in thinking about it, perhaps it deserves to be a blog post on its own:

When I was in high school, I read an article in Time Magazine about how, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, old Soviet army equipment could be picked up on the cheap on the streets of Moscow. Specifically listed: $80 for night vision goggles. I went nuts. I wanted such a pair *badly*.

Then, man oh man, one of by high school buddies, Rob Madden, was taking a trip to Russia for winter break. Turned out that his cousin was NBC bureau chief in Moscow or something. I showed him the article, and begged him to get me a pair of NVGs for $80.

So he’s off in Russia, and these are the days before email, so I have no contact from him — though I do hear his voice on NBC once doing a “voice over” translation of what some Russian pol was saying.

Then, 2 days before he’s set to come home, he gives me a call from the NBC offices, and I ask:

“Did you get the night vision goggles for $80?”

“Well, they’re tougher to get these days, and I’ve been told that they don’t really encourage civilians — esp. Americans — to ask for old military equipment, BUT, I did find a guy selling some. But he didn’t have night vision GOGGLES. Only a night vision SCOPE. And it was $120 instead of $80. So I got it for myself, but thought you wouldn’t want that.”

“WHAT?!?? Of course I want that. $120 is fine! Please, please, please buy me one!”

“Oh, sorry… I don’t think I’m going back to where that guy was…”

And so, Rob came back from Moscow with a SWEET night vision scope, and I had nothing. In fact, I only got to try out his night vision scope once.


Man. It’s a good thing you didn’t IM ME about the NVGs. I would have totally gotten them.