I Can Confirm: Jukebox the Ghost are AWESOME Live.

Last friday I had the immense pleasure of seeing Jukebox the Ghost in concert at the House of Blues. And can I just say: hot damn! They were awesome! I cannot really express how much enjoyed the concert.

The House of Blues, for those who are unfamiliar with it, has a number of smaller rooms with a club-like feel: stage up front, bar in the back, and an open floor in between. From the stage to the bar the room was probably only 30-40 feet long. And, because Jukebox the Ghost is not a hugely well-known band, there were probably only about 100 or so people attending. But I really loved the feel of the small venue, the intimacy of seeing the band even from the back, the sound of absolutely every single person in the audience singing along. I definitely love small venues.

Lighthouse and the Whaler

Lighthouse and the Whaler

There were two openers. Lighthouse and the Whaler and Matt Pond. Lighthouse and the Whaler has potential – some of their songs were definitely catchy – but they lack the musical depth of a really good folk band and the keyboard player was mediocre. It also didn’t help that the sound guy (who I think was provided by House of Blues) did not do a good job mixing for the openers AT ALL. The drums drowned out several parts, there was feedback from the mics a number of times, and a bad echo on more than one occasion.

Matt Pond

Matt Pond

Matt Pond, the second opener, I actually rather enjoyed. He and his band (I think he’s a solo artist with just a touring band, but I’m not sure) suffered from some of the same problems as the first band: the sound guy wasn’t great (though he was slowing getting a better balance), a keyboardist who seemed only half-there, and a lack of musicality. But the songs were well-written and Matt Pond himself was a strong performer with more energy than the lead singer of Lighthouse and the Whaler.

Jukebox the Ghost

Jukebox the Ghost

But of course things REALLY got moving when Jukebox the Ghost took the stage. By this point the sound guy had done a more careful sound check, and figured out what the hell he was doing. Ben Thornewill (vocals and piano), Tommy Seigel (vocals and guitar), and Jesse Kristin (drums) took the stage to the distorted sound of the MGM intro music, and the audience went wild: screaming, clapping, whistling, jumping up and down (myself included). And they were so full of energy, so personable, talking with the audience and sharing funny anecdotes between sets, and performing their asses off for an audience that some bands might have deemed to small to worry about. They sounded absolutely fantastic live, and everyone sang along so loudly you have to wonder if people outside could hear us.

Tommy Seigel

Tommy Seigel

Ben Thornewll

Ben Thornewll

And I’ll tell you what. I came into it knowing that Ben Thornewill was a good pianist – it’s obvious just from the piano parts in their songs. But MY GOD! He started playing a bit of classical music (I think I heard some Chopin but I’m not sure), and I was BLOWN AWAY. Ben Thornewill is a PHENOMENAL pianist. I already liked him. But now I think I’m a little in love.

Even though it was a small venue, I am short, and I was standing behind some pretty tall guys, so I didn’t get many photos (and the ones I did get are rather blurry, sorry) – I was also too busy dancing and jumping like an idiot to bother with the camera phone – but I did get a video of them doing a cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” which was a TON of fun. (This is also my first ever youtube upload! Amazing!)

For those who are curious, here’s the full set list – I thin I may have the order wrong in places, but I think I got all the songs anyway (based on memory and some comparable set lists from earlier shows).

Full Set List (House of Blues Houston, 22 Feb 2013):

  1. Oh, Emily
  2. At Last
  3. Say When
  4. Victoria
  5. Dead
  6. Empire
  7. Under My Skin
  8. A La La
  9. Man in the Moon
  10. Static to the Heart
  11. Don’t Let Me Fall Behind
  12. Schizophrenia
  13. Adulthood
  14. So Let Us Create
  15. Where Are All the Scientists Now?
  16. A Matter of Time
  17. Somebody to Love (Queen cover)
  18. My Heart’s the Same
  19. Lighting Myself on Fire
  20. Hold It In
  21. Somebody
  22. The Sun (Interlude)
  23. The Stars
  24. The Spiritual

Encore

  1. Summer Sun
  2. Good Day

Seriously, Folks. This concert kicked so much ass, and they are such an AWESOME band, and they really should be much more well-known than they are. Please look them up some time and spread the love!

Here’s their first album (but all three are easily found on Spotify):

Quick Update

Hello, folks!

So. I’ve had a busy couple weeks! Flew to Kansas City for a wedding. My oldest friend – we’ve been  friends since two weeks before freshman year of high school, when we met in band camp! – was getting married and I was a bridesmaid. The wedding was on Valentine’s day, everything went smoothly, and the ceremony was short and sweet (my favorite kind! especially after all the long Catholic weddings I’ve been to). Then, while my newly married friend left for a weekend with her husband, I got to hang out with another old high school friend, who went above and beyond the call of duty to keep me entertained, take me to a party, and give me more encouragement and pep-talks than I’ve had in quite awhile. It was so kind of her and I had an absolute BLAST.

Of course, then I had to come home and get back to work. And since I got back I’ve collected papers from students, and written THREE papers of my own. (And I have one presentation and one more paper to do in the next week and a half).

I’ve been crazy-busy and horribly stressed out.

BUT I also went to a concert this past friday (yes, another one). I went to see Jukebox the Ghost at House of Blues, and it was FANTASTIC. I plan to write more about it tomorrow, after I’ve had a chance to upload my photos off my mother’s phone (I borrowed it because mine can’t take pictures), and on to my computer.

So you can expect more about that later.

In the meantime, I better get back to work! Bye!

10 Signs You May Be Ready for Grad School

from PhD Comics by Jorge Cham

10) You find yourself hanging out in your professor’s office for no other reason than the stimulating conversation.

9) You take certain classes because you’re “looking for a challenge” or found the other classes to be “far too easy.”

8) You can’t decide if you should be proud or insulted when your professor doesn’t notice that you B.S’d your way through that whole essay.

7) You spend more on books each month than some people do on food. (And the books may be reproducing on their own because you’re pretty sure you didn’t have stacks leading down the hallway last week).

6) You walk into Office Depot because you love to stare at all the pens and pencils and dry erase markers and notepads… and you keep buying them for no reason whatsoever – except perhaps that they smell good.

5) You have a bad habit of volunteering/applying for more things (jobs, clubs, committees, projects, etc) than a reasonably well-stocked militia could reasonably be expected to deal with.

4) You then proceed to scream and rant and cry about your insane schedule which has become so full you discover you’re actually signed up to do 2-3 things at once and haven’t scheduled yourself time to sleep or eat for at least the next 6 months. …And then you proceed to sign up for more.

3) You’ve decided that sleep is something you can worry about when you’re dead, and food is best enjoyed in sporadic bursts of first forgetting to eat for a couple days, and then eating an entire large pizza in one sitting. (Also tums and ibuprofen are you’re first and last meal every day).

2) You have a large persistent streak of masochism that refuses to be eradicated despite the friends who beg you to stop working yourself into the ground, the parents who remind you do occasionally have to eat, the accumulating therapy bills, and the enormous bar tab that should be a sign you may be a bit stressed…

And the top sign that you are ready for grad school…

1) The idea of joining the “real world” — with a 9-5 job, a 401k, buying a house, paying off your already-enormous students loans, and all that other “normal adult stuff” — is so terrifying or abhorrent to you that even 3-10 more years of collegiate torture (and even more student loans) (and possibly an ulcer or two) seems like heaven in comparison.

also from PhD Comics by Jorge Cham

Amanda’s Top Albums of 2012: 10 Honorable Mentions

First, sorry it took me longer than planned to get to this. Second, yes I’m still alive. Third, the first week and a half of the Spring semester have been relatively quiet, but I’m just holding my breath and waiting for the crazy shit to start.

In the mean time, here is the list of ten honorable mention albums I promised in my last post. I am not going to give any big descriptions of these, but I will include the cover art and a favorite song. Also note that these are NOT in any particular order at all

The 2nd Law – Muse
Favorite Song: definitely “Supremacy”

Some Nights – Fun.
Favorite Song: “Some Nights” (by FAR – even despite the annoying but of auto-tuning near the end

The Slideshow Effect – Memoryhouse
Favorite Song: maybe “The Kids Were Wrong”

Babel – Mumford and Sons
Favorite song: “Hopeless Wanderer”

Attack on Memory – Cloud Nothings
Favorite Song: “Separation”

Dark Adrenaline – Lacuna Coil
Favorite Song: “Kill the Light”

Nothing Here Seems Strange – Buxton

Favorite Song: “Wolves and Owls”

Blonde Album – Lightning Love
Favorite Song: maybe “Orange Glow” (in favor of full disclosure: the guitarist of this band is the nephew of one of my professors. That’s how I even heard of these guys. They are so light and pop-y it’s almost comical, but they’re just FUN).

Bag of Hammers – Linus Pauling Quartet
Favorite Song: definitely “She Did Not Know” (just listen to the GUITAR on this one!)

Living Things – Linkin Park

Favorite Song: uh… perhaps… “Burn It Down” (I love Linkin Park, but I’ll admit that this album was a bit underwhelming for me the first few times I listend to it. But it’s really grown on me since then.)

Okay, there’s my honorable mentions for the Top Albums of 2012. Let me know what you think, Folks! (If the honorable mentions don’t clue you in on how schizophrenic and all-over-the-place my music tastes are, nothing will). In the meantime, I will try my best not to take quite so long to post again. But no promises. *shrugs*

Amanda’s Top 20 Albums of 2012, Pt 2: #10-1

Alrighty, folks! Here is the second half of my Top 20 list. (If you missed the first half, it can be found here). Since yesterday I’ve been tinkering with it EVEN MORE. I just cannot decide where some of these albums should be. So again, if you disagree with the placement, I probably agree with you. Seriously, pretty much any of the top 10 (except #1-3) could be pretty much ANYWHERE before and after each other. *shrug*

In any case, please enjoy and please feel free to sound off in the comments. (At the end you will find a Spotify playlist with all the albums).

And off we go!

#10: Theatre is Evil – Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra

Amanda Palmer, formerly of the Dresden Dolls, is an internet QUEEN. Last year she started a kickstarter project to fund her new studio album, and raised over a million dollars! I was one of the people who donated to that project, and received the really kick-ass special edition vinyl and the art book for the album. Coincidentally, the whole album kicks so much ASS. Amanda Palmer’s special brand of “punk cabaret” at its finest.

My favorite song: Oh lord, half the album… but if I’m pressed to choose, maybe “Killing Type” or “Trout Heart Replica” or “Bottomfeeder”

#9: Lonerism – Tame Impala
These guys are still pretty new. Their first album came out in 2010. They’re Australian. And they are SO TRIPPY. Tame Impala is psychedelic rock with a dream-pop twist, and they will make your head spin (in the best way possible). Every song on Lonerism is just pure groovy guitar goodness (trying saying that five times fast).

My favorite song: either “Elephant” or “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” (seriously, the whole second half of “Nothing…” is just MINDBLOWINGLY AWESOME)

#8: My Head is an Animal – Of Monsters and Men
Oh man. Part of me feels like this album should be higher up than this… Oh geez. This is so hard! My Head is an Animal is a BRILLIANT album. Period. End of discussion. No but really. This indie folk/pop band is from Iceland. They released an EP in 2011 that I absolutely FELL IN LOVE with and I waited with baited breath for this album to come out. And it did not disappoint. It is expressive, controlled, and beautiful.

My favorite song: God, I don’t even know! Maybe “King and Lionheart” or “Little Talks” or “Six Weeks”…? GAH! TOO MANY AWESOME SONGS TO CHOOSE FROM!

#7: Shields – Grizzly Bear
Okay, honestly, I’m still torn about this one. I keep going back and forth over whether Shields should maybe be behind My Head is an Animal. Even as I type this, I’m considering moving them around. UGH. Either way, this album is wonderful. What I love about this band is that they pull from so many different styles. They’re indie rock, but they mix in a lot of folk, psychedelic, lo-fi, and even some pop. Also, I seriously LOVE Edward Droste’s voice. Also, they’re from Marfa, Texas – so another local-ish band makes the mix. Yay!

My favorite song: “Speak in Rounds” (probably… or maybe “Yet Again”)

#6: Milk Famous – White Rabbits
Here’s another band you can thank (or blame) on my brother. He introduced me to White Rabbits a few years ago. Their first album, Fort Nightly, is also awesome. Just so you know. And I love Milk Famous so much. It’s opening song, ironically called Heavy Metal (and the whole album) is a bit more laid-back than some of their previous work. But it still makes me want to dance. It’s got a great groove to it. (And yes, this is yet another indie rock/psychedelic/lo-fi mash up – I listen to a lot of bands like that, okay?)

My favorite song: “Temporary” (at least for the moment)

#5: Neck of the Woods – Silversun Pickups
I cannot possibly oversell how much I love Silversun Pickups. I just can’t. Their 2009 album, Swoon, is one of my favorite albums EVER of everything ever. The only reason this album isn’t slightly higher up is because a) it doesn’t quite match up to the awesomeness of Swoon, and b) there were a TON of really fucking fantastic albums this year (and I’m still wondering if I should put it ahead of the next album…). Trust me though, this album still ROCKS.

My favorite song: possibly “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)”

#4: Port of Morrow – The Shins
The Shins were here in Houston in OCTOBER and I didn’t get to see them and I am STILL SO UPSET OVER THIS! YOU HAVE NO IDEA! *flails* …ahem… anyway. Yes, The Shins… Port of Morrow is The Shins first new album in FIVE YEARS, so we had to wait awhile for this one. But it was WORTH it. Indie rock with a great dream-pop vibe (and its REALLY dreamy in parts), and James Mercer’s fantastic almost-wailing lead vocals. LOVE IT!!!!

My favorite song: definitely “The Rifle’s Spiral”

Okay, so. Before I proceed, let me just say this: #1-3 are all pretty much TIED. These are definitely my top three favorite albums of the year. This is based on the honestly shamelessly RIDICULOUS number of times I have listened to these three albums. Sometimes I would listen to just these three albums over and over again for a week at a time. Sometimes I would pick just ONE album and play it on repeat for four or five days straight. I’m not even kidding. I have these songs stuck in my head all the time. I dream them. I wake up with the on my tongue. SERIOUSLY. And, quite frankly, for those of you who are also on my Facebook or Tumblr… if you can’t guess what these three bands are, you haven’t been paying much attention to all my ranting…

So, without further ado, #1-3 of my Top 20 albums of 2012:

#3: Safe Travels – Jukebox the Ghost
Jukebox the Ghost. I once put all three of their albums on a playlist and let it play straight through on repeat for SEVEN DAYS. SEVEN. Yeah. They have this amazing ability to be really bouncy and pop-y and dance-y and fun, while still having this underlying melancholy over EVERYTHING (a lot like The Killers, actually) and I absolutely LOVE that.

My favorite song: definitely “Everybody Knows” – the number of times I’ve listened to this song is, frankly, gratuitous.

#2: Phoenix – The Classic Crime
I came to these guys late. Just found them about six months ago, and it was thanks entirely to recommendations from Spotify. Ironically, this album was also made possibly due to funding from Kickstarter (but I didn’t contribute because I hadn’t heard of them yet). This album just hits me in the gut. Maybe it’s just my hidden emo coming out to play, but GEEZ, these guys just do something to me.

My favorite song: uh… um… do I have to pick one? Uh… “Beautiful Darkside”? “The Precipice”? “City of Orphans”? Probably one of those… maybe…

#1: Shallow Bed – Dry the River

And here we are. Number 1. Dry the River is a English folk rock band from London, and this is their debut album. And I just… I cannot describe to you how much I love this album. The lyrics are delicate, full of biblical references, emotional, powerful… the instrumentation is layered and complex and perfectly balanced. Peter Liddle’s lead vocals are high and clear, able to carry both gentle ballad and roaring anthem. In fact, the whole band shifts so perfectly from delicate to intense it still sometimes takes me by surprise. Which is saying something when you consider that I have listened to this album upwards of 100 times already.

My favorite song: Did you really think I’d be able to pick one? Haha. I could no sooner pick a favorite star from the sky (yeah, I made that reference, deal with it). Seriously, there is no possible way to pick one, or even several. This album is PERFECTION. Just listen to it.

I plan to post my 10 honorable mentions separately some time tomorrow. I probably won’t take the time to find all the album covers (that took forever!) or give long descriptions, but I will probably still at least list a favorite song or two.

Now, as promised, here is my spotify playlist of all the albums in the Top 20. I hope you enjoy it and find a new band or two to fall in love with!

Amanda’s Top 20 Albums of 2012, Pt 1: #20-11

So, here’s the deal. I had an extremely difficult time trying to decide what should go on this list, and what order it should be in. I started by just making a list (in no particular order) of the albums I really loved throughout the year. That list ended up having 25 albums on it. I managed to cut down to 30, and then got stuck. So I decided I would do my top 20 list, and then have 10 honorable mentions.

But even figuring out what order the top 20 should be in proved ridiculously difficult. I’ve been listening and relistening to the albums for the last three days, and have moved bands up and down the list several times each. So, you may completely disagree with what is and is not on the list, and that’s fine. But if the argument comes down to agreeing that “yes album x and album y should both be on the list” but arguing that “album y should never ever ever be ABOVE album x” – well, there is a good chance I probably agree with you to some extend or another and spent the last three days agonizing over it. And my music tastes are so varied, so eclectic (my mother says my playlists are proof I must be schizophrenic or have multiple personality disorder or something), and that makes it VERY hard to compare bands and albums in any fair or useful way. So… just don’t bite my head off about it, okay?

Like last year, I am going to go in reverse order, and split this into two posts, 20-11, and then 10-1. And then I might tack on the honorable mentions to the end of the second post, or give it its on post, I’m not sure yet. In any case, here we go.

Amanda’s Top 20 Albums of 2012, Part 1 – #20-11:

#20: Battle Born – The Killers I really really REALLY love The Killers. And I was so painfully excited for this album to come out. And while it managed to squeak its way onto this list, and has some very good songs on it, it just doesn’t come close to matching the brilliance or the delightfully melancholic tone of Hot Fuss or Day & Age (which are my two favorite Killers albums). My favorite song: “The Way It Was”

#19: Old Ideas – Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is in pretty good shape in Old Ideas. He is, as always, an acquired taste for some people, but I love him. The songs in Old Ideas are beautiful and poetic as always, though they don’t hit me with the some power and emotional resonance as his older albums I’m Your Man and The Future.

My favorite song: “The Darkness”

#18: Mirage Rock - Band of Horses

Band of Horses is an indie-rock band (and let me warn you now: there are a lot of those on this list; sorry, I listen to SOME mainstream, but that happens less and less these days). But Band of Horses has a folksy almost-but-not-quite-country undercurrent to them – despite the fact that they use a lot of reverb. They always remind me a bit of the band America. I liked Everything All the Time better, but Mirage Rock is still an excellent album.

My favorite song: “Dumpster World”

#17: Night Visions – Imagine Dragons Ah, what can I say about this one? It’s just so much fun. I seem to have a thing for Las Vegas-based bands (that’s where The Killers are from too). I just really love the synth and the dance vibe in this album. Also, the album cover is fantastic.

My favorite song: definitely “Radioactive” (If this song doesn’t make you want to get up and dance, I worry about you.)

#16: Grandfather Child – Grandfather Child Let me introduce you to Grandfather Child and their self-named sophomore album. I bet most of you have never heard of them, as they are a local Houston band. And you can thank my brother for introducing them to ME so that I could introduce them to you. They’re a rock band with a healthy mix of country, rhythm and blues, and even gospel. And they are ABSOLUTELY EXCELLENT.

My favorite song: “I Would Like to Thank the Universe / Planet Earth”

#15: Nocturne – Wild Nothing
Okay, first: I love that the album cover comes in like four different color combinations. It’s so cool! Second, this whole album is fantastic. The whole thing has a wonderful atmospheric dreamy quality (which is fitting since they’re generally considered dream-pop), and it also has a wonderful complicated layered sort of sound, without being overdone.

My favorite song: I’m not quite sure, honestly, maybe “This Chain Won’t Break”

#14: Holy Weather – Civil Twilight
Oh man, I love this album. It’s hard to explain to myself why its so far down the list, except that there were SO MANY albums to love this year. They’re alternative rock, and some people compare them to Muse, but I think they’re a bit less rock and far more laid back than Muse is. Great smooth vocals and fantastic instrumentals that are complex without being overwrought (plus wonderful lyrics), make this band AWESOME.

My favorite song: either “River” or “Every Walk That I’ve Ever Taken Has Been In Your Direction”

#13: Handwritten – The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem is a strange cross between a punk rock band and an Americana band. Honestly, that doesn’t make much sense in my head, but it makes perfect sense when you list to them. I really loved their 2008 album: ’59 Sound, but was slightly less impressed with their 2010 release American Slang. Handwritten, on the other hand, is marvelous. It’s good strong American rock. And I love it!

My favorite song: There’s a lot on this album. Probably either “Mulholland Drive” or “Biloxi Parish” or “National Anthem”

#12: Hero’s Dose – Infantree

I’ll be honest, I know very little about this band. I came across this album completely by accident on Spotify and FELL IN LOVE WITH IT. But I know next to nothing about the band. Even googling them doesn’t turn up much. Their own website, while providing plenty of music and photos, offers absolutely NO context, description, discussion of where they came from, etc. I know they’re from California, that’s about it. These guys are synthy, pop-ish, trippy, versatile, (maybe a bit 70s-ish?) and AWESOME. Just check them out. SERIOUSLY.

My favorite song: “Skinny Bones Jones” or “Fibber”

#11: Idler Wheel… – Fiona Apple

Okay, I guess I should give the full title just once, even though it’s ridiculously long as usual, so here it is (don’t say I didn’t warn you), *takes a deep breath*:The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. I think Fiona Apple is one of the artists you either love or hate. I happen to love her, and this album (with a typical Fiona Apple longer-than-some-novels title) is powerful, raw, and a bit well… insane (in a good way, of course).

My favorite song: “Werewolf”

Okay, folks. That’s it for now. Wow, that was really long… It took me forever to do all that, and now it’s midnight. Good grief. You can expect the second half of the list either some time Wednesday evening or Thursday morning (probably at midnight again). At that time I will also provide a link to a Spotify playlist with all the albums in order like I did last year. However, if you want to check any of these out they shouldn’t be hard to find online somewhere.

In the mean time, please feel free to sound off with agreements, arguments, complaints, predictions, etc. about the list so far. And good night!

In the Category of Best Nights Ever, This Comes Close to #1

Hello everyone!  As promised, here is my post about the SERIOUSLY EPIC Tuesday I had last week.  I’ll begin with a few words to summarize:

Linkin Park Concert

Backstage Passes

Front Row Seats

FREE

Me, waiting outside the venue before the backstage tour started.

Now, even if you aren’t a Linkin Park fan, I think most people can agree that these words indicate a pretty awesome evening, yes?  And let me tell you: It was MIND-BLOWING (and ear-drum blowing).  One of the best things I ever done EVER.  SERIOUSLY.

So here’s the full story: I’ve mentioned before that I am a member of Grammy U, and that my brother is the Houston representative of Grammy U, which is how I had that other awesome experience of having dinner with some pretty big people in the music business.  Well, my membership to Grammy U has come to the rescue again!  SOMEONE in the higher-ups (and my brother and I are still trying to figure out who so we can thank them properly) ((UPDATE: We have confirmed it was Theresa Jenkins, Senior Executive Director of the Texas Chapter who arranged for the tickets)) arranged for a few backstages passes to be made available for the Linkin Park concert in Houston.  My brother, as the Houston rep, was sent the info and asked to find some other Grammy U members in the area who would like to go (of course, I was first on the list).

My brother, listening to the awesome conversations.

We ended up with seven people: my brother and myself, Sofia (who works my brother and is a manager at Sugarhill Studios), fellow UH student Danny (I’m not giving last names), two guys from Austin – Alex and Mark, and Eric Jarvis – the President of the Texas Chapter of The Recording Academy.

Behind/beneath the main stage. LOOK AT ALL THOSE GUITARS.

So, we’re thinking: backstage passes, that’s pretty awesome.  We’ll get a tour, maybe get to meet some of the road crew, etc.  And then we’ll see the concert.  And we assumed we’d get pretty good seats too, but nothing too extravagant.  WE HAD NO IDEA.  IT WAS SO MUCH BETTER.

The tour manager for Linkin Park, Cory, was the one who gave us the tour.  We got to see the set-up inside the Cynthia Mitchell Woods Pavilion, where the concert was held.  We not only got to meet, but actually had a lengthy discussion/question-and-answer session with Linkin Park’s sound guy, the head carpenter (which is a bit of misnomer, because he’s not JUST a carpenter, he’s in charge of all the set up for the entire freakin’ stage), and the director who does most of Linkin Park’s music videos (who has, by the way, also worked with Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, just to do some name dropping). (And they were all so NICE!)

Looking out into the audience from backstage, in between openers.

We were taken on/behind/beneath the actual stage while the crew was taking down stuff from the first opener (Mutemath) and setting stuff up for the second opener (Incubus).

Then we were taken to catering, where they had an awesome buffet spread, and had dinner with the road crew.

And THEN we were taken out to wait for Linkin Park to show up.  There was a big group from the Linkin Park fan club (LP Underground) who had obviously paid a ton of extra money for a group photo/autograph session with the band.  Cory kept us to the side, and then the six of us were allowed OUR OWN group photo with Linkin Park.  We managed to get autographs from four of the six members (there was a small mix-up and we missed getting autographs from Joe Hahn and one other).  More importantly, however, is that when Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda (the two I REALLY REALLY wanted) came to the end of the line to give us autographs, they actually STAYED and TALKED to us.

I just really like this shot of the light coming through the slats beneath the stage. ^_^

Mark, with Chester and his crazy sprite-tea-pedialyte drink.

Chester stayed for about five minutes, and told us about his drink.  It looked like beer, but he assured us that it was in fact Sprite, Pedialyte, and Lipton tea (I think there was tea too…).  And seriously, even though I’ve seen interviews with Chester before, it still shocks me how quiet and unassuming he is in person, compared to the screaming BEAST he becomes on stage.  And then Mike Shinoda actually stood and talked to us for about FIFTEEN MINUTES.  Asked us about Grammy U and our interests and made cheesy jokes and was just generally really nice and really awesome.  My brother and I kinda sorta idolize him (as much for Fort Minor as for Linkin Park, and because we really identify with his songs about being Japanese-American, as my brother and I are as well), and we were a bit tongue-tied around him.  But, folks, it was SO AWESOME.  SO AWESOME.

Me, my brother, and Mike Shinoda

Mike Shinoda in the checkered shirt. Then, from left to right: Alex, Mark, Eric Jarvis, Sofia, Danny, and my brother.

Danny, my brother, and me, with Mike Shinoda

Finally, when the band had to go inside to get ready to perform, we said goodbye to Cory and went to find our seats.  Only to discover that our seats were, in fact, FRONT ROW SEATS.  There was a small pit area, an empty space, with room for handicapped seating, and then US.  We were also off to the right slightly, so were practically RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE SPEAKERS.  IT WAS MIND-BLOWING.  (And ear-drum bursting).

Danny, Sofia, Mark, my brother, and me in our front row seats.

Chester, on stage.

And to say the performance itself was fantastic would be a seriously criminal understatement.  My brother and I have seen Linkin Park in concert before, when they came to Houston in 2011, and (while I cannot speak for my brother) I think they were even better this time around.  For one thing, last time Chester seemed to be having a bit of trouble, and was often flat.  Now this happens in live performances, and I didn’t much care, but it was still nice that he didn’t seem to have any problems at all this time.  His pitch was pretty damn spot-on, especially considering it was an outdoor stage, live performances are RARELY perfectly on-pitch, and his screaming was even more INSANE than usual.

Mike Shinoda

The next day, my ears were still ringing, and I could barely speak because I had done so much screaming and cheering.  And then I had to go to my first grad class of the week that afternoon, and my professor is on my facebook so she’d seen that I’d been at a concert until like midnight, and she laughed when I croaked a lot when we had to go around the room and introduce ourselves.

My autographs from Mike Shinoda, Chester Bennington, Dave Farrell, and (I think) Rob Bourdon. And not on just ANYTHING, but a SET LIST from that night’s performance!

So there you have it, folks.  ONE OF THE BEST NIGHTS EVER.  Once again thanks to my membership with Grammy U.  Best $50 I’ve ever spent.

Update #2: And somehow in the middle of all that photobombing, I managed to forget to include the official group photo we got with the whole band. So here’s that one:

GROUP PHOTO!

Writer vs Reader Mode

I think I’ve said this before, but I’m the kind of person who has trouble being both a writer and a reader at the same time.  Usually, I switch between the two roles in a cycle.  For a few months I’m a writer, and I can’t concentrate enough to read ANYTHING because my brain is so full of my stories and characters and all I want to do for 20 hours of every day is sit at my computer and write.  And then, suddenly, I get total brain-block, and I can’t write a thing, and I start reading non-stop.

For the last couple months I’ve been pretty securely in writer-mode.  I got a decent amount of work done on two different WIPs, which makes me very happy, but I was really hoping I could keep it up right to the beginning of the Fall semester.  But for the past week and a half I haven’t been able to write much of anything.  Sometimes if I push and push and push, I could stay in writer-mode a little longer.  But I think writer-mode is now officially over.  Unfortunately.

So, I guess we’re on to reader-mode.  I read A Work In Progress in like a day and a half.  And now I’ve started Open Heart by Emlyn Chand (which I’d PLANNED to read and review near the beginning of the summer, but like I said, I was in WRITER-mode).  I guess it’s good to be in reader-mode since I’ll be doing so much reading for my Fall courses, although it’ll be frustrating that I won’t be reading all my fun stuff, but school-related stuff instead.  And, of course, I know from too much experience that I won’t be getting ANY writing done once the semester starts either.  But oh well.

Does anyone else do this?  Cycle through writer and reader modes?  Or is it just me?  Because it’s a little frustrating, and I’m more than a little jealous of people who can do both at the same time: write in the morning and read in the evening, etc.  I wish I could do that.  *sigh*

In other news, I’m playing with the idea of starting a Tumblr blog.  I had started to watch a lot of Tumblr blogs without having an account, and just collecting them in my browser bookmarks.  And over the last couple months I’ve started following even more, making it hard to keep track of them in bookmarks.  So I figured I might as well start a Tumblr account so that I could keep track of them all.  But now that I have the account, I’m thinking why not start a Tumblr blog?  It would be fun to have something where I can just post images or short comments and things like that, without worrying about making sure a post is long enough and well-written.  I’m playing around with Tumblr right now, trying to get a feel for how it works (it’s taking a little getting used to), but I’ll let you know if/when I get a Tumblr blog up and running.

Any opinions on Tumblr blogs?  Anyone have one?  Now that I have the account, I’m looking to add a ton to my Follow list!  They’re just so much fun!  :D

Okay, folks, that’s all for now.  I hope everyone has a good weekend, and I’ll see you all later!

Shake Things Up: A Work In Progress by Brad Cotton

Title: A Work In Progress

Author: Brad Cotton

Genre: Literary Fiction

Where I Got It: Free ebook copy in exchange for review

Score: 5 out of 5

So.  On Monday morning my internet stopped working.  Just DIED.  A technician came to fix it, and about three hours later was still flabbergasted as to why it wasn’t working.  He left.  I spent the night without internet (and those who know me know that that’s like  not breathing for twelve hours!).  The technician came back Tuesday, and it was two pm before he finally got the internet working again.  By then I had gone approximately thirty hours without internet, and I was definitely feeling the withdrawal symptoms.  The point of all this is, however, that this period of internetlessness left me with some free time.  During which I read all of A Work In Progress in two or three sittings.

And let me begin by saying: this is a good book.

A Work In Progress, by Brad Cotton, is about a writer named Danny Bayle.  Now, Danny Bayle’s life kind of sucks.  Four years ago he wrote a mediocre novel and hasn’t written much of anything since.  His girlfriend of five years, Carah, has left him and moved to France.  His grandfather, who was like a father to him, has died.  And he’s barely done anything in months but mope, and drink, and complain about his inability to write.

Then, one day, he decides its time to take control of his life, try new thing, meet new people, etc.  He starts a casual relationship with a woman.  Joins a support group for depression.  Makes friends with an artist named Katie.  And even decided to take drum lessons at one point.  Of course, none of this makes his life easier, exactly, especially when Carah starts calling from France out of the blue.  But it certainly makes his life a whole hell of a lot more interesting.

So, what I like about this novel… you know what, let’s start with what I didn’t like:

There are a couple summary exposition passages that feel a tad awkward and unnecessary to me, but this only happens a couple times, and doesn’t really hurt the story at all.  The other thing that bothers me is more of a problem, but still not enough to really hurt it:  I get the feeling that despite the fact that Carah dumped Danny and ran off to France we’re still supposed to like her, or at least sympathize with her to some extent.  One more than one occasion, in fact, Danny comment that the whole mess might have been his fault because he took her for granted.  But you never really get any sense for HOW Danny might have taken her for granted, whether this is a true assessment of their relationship, or why we the readers should have any sympathy for the woman who broke our “hero’s” heart.  We get some hints, and she seems nice enough in their phone conversations that its not completely out of the realm of possibility, but some more concrete evidence from their relationship would have helped me along here.

Now, on to what I liked:

Pretty much everything else.  The characters, all the characters including the many secondary characters, were well-written and well-rounded.  The best secondary characters: Casey – Danny’s best friend; Katie – the 19-year-old artist Danny befriends; and Mrs. Tierney – the owner of the sorta-kinda foster home where Katie lives.  These characters are interesting, fun, and eminently likable.

And then there’s the main character, Danny Bayle.  This is a character that I think many people, especially fellow writers, can relate to.  I know I certainly did.  And that’s not to say that I’m a guy, or that I’ve published a novel (mediocre or otherwise), or that I’ve ever been in a relationship for anything close to five years, or that I’m a drinker or have ever had weed (Danny does a lot in this book, whereas I thankfully skipped that lesson in my high school and college education).  But, I could very easily relate to the writer who is trying so hard to write and not getting anywhere, who is lonely and completely dissatisfied with his life, and who desperately needs to change things, find new outlets, meet new people, and really shake things up.  I feel like that all the damn time.

I think at least one or two things about this character should appeal to most people.

As for the plot, well this is literary fiction, so of course its extremely character-driven.  In fact, it doesn’t feel so much like a plot with clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, as it does a momentary camera focus on a point in Danny’s life when a series of somewhat unrelated events and people all conspire to make Danny the person he was meant to be.  And this is a good thing.  Because real life is not like a well-planned clearly-defined plot.  It is, of course, verisimilitude and not fact, but this book does a very good job of mimicking real life.  It’s one of those stories that makes me want to ask how much of it is based on the author’s life, even though I know that from a craft perspective that’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to ask.  You’re supposed to take a story on its own merits, not as some kind of extension of the author’s biography. Still, a story that feels this real kind of makes it impossible not to ask.

In other words, folks, this is a very good book, that you should definitely check out.  I really really enjoyed reading it, and I think you will too.

Here’s a link to Brad Cotton’s website, and here’s where you can buy the book on Amazon: A Work In Progress.

Review of Dominant Race by Elisa Nuckle

Title: Dominant Race

Author: Elisa Nuckle

Genre: Fantasy/Scifi

Where I Got It: bought a Kindle copy

Score: 3 out of 5

Dominant Race is a novella by Elisa Nuckle, one of my blog and Twitter buddies and a fellow Houstonian.  It is the first in a series about a race of genetically modified humans who have been spliced with various animals.  Dominant Race focuses on Lilia, a wolf modified who leaves the safety of her family’s cabin hidden in the woods in order to help a modified militia that includes her love interest, Avari.  The modified militia faces enemies on two sides: the normal humans who fear and sometimes oppress the modified, and Sanders – a rogue modified who kills humans and modified alike in his crazed pursuit of war.

What I Liked:

The premise of this novella is intriguing and fun.  Genetic modification is a subject I find absolutely fascinating, and it can usually make for some cool stories and fun characters.  The dystopian setting was also interesting.  The way Elisa took American city names and deconstructed him (like Neyork, for instance), and also made mentions of “old” technologies and customs throughout the story was a nice touch.

The main character, Lilia, was likable and easy to relate to.  She’s feisty, stubborn, and intelligent.  I always like tough female characters, and Lilia fills the role nicely.  There is a point near the end where she behaves in a way that seems out of character to me, even given the extenuating circumstances of the scene, but for the most part she is a consistently-written and enjoyable character.  You’ll definitely be rooting for her.

What I Didn’t Like:

Okay, the basic idea of the plot works well for the most part, but I think it suffers from its length.  I really believe this story needed to be a full length novel rather than a novella.  There is too much going on too quickly, without enough exposition or description, and with too many character names floating around, attached to secondary characters that are sometimes fine and sometimes just don’t have enough description or importance attached to them for me to keep track of everyone.

I think the novella as a whole should definitely be decompressed, as it were, with a little more exposition and description here and there, a bit more space between events for the reader to sort through what’s happened and who’s been introduced and where its going next.  Still, the first two-thirds of the novella are manageable, and were certainly still interesting enough to keep me reading.  However, the last part of the novella, Chapter 14-18 to be exact, were very difficult for me to read.  I had to re-read a few sections several times to make sure I’d understood what had just happened.  And while SOME of that may simply have been my fault for reading too quickly or something, at least some of it could have been helped by slowing down the prose a bit.  Things sometimes jumped from one sentence to the next without enough concrete description.  And the appearance of at least two characters is so sudden and without any kind of foreshadowing that they felt a little too “dues ex machina” (or even non sequitur) for my taste.

As for the love sub-plot: it was… okay.  There was some effort to develop the relationship between Lilia and Avari in a natural way, rather than having them fall into instant lust.  But I don’t feel like I know enough about Avari and why Lilia would love him, for it to completely work for me.  He’s also out of the picture for a good chunk of the story, and their reunion is just a touch too easy to be entirely believable.  But, again, I think much of this is a problem of the length.

I know the “What I Don’t Like “ section is a quite a bit longer than the “What I Like” section is, but I really do think most of the problems with this story could have been solved by simply making it longer and more detailed.  With more time/space to develop the characters and relationships, to bring in more description and more transition from one plot element to the next, the interesting premise could have been a much stronger story.  However, I think the intriguing premise and the likable main character are able carry a lot of the weight of the problems.  Dominant Race is an admirable first effort, and the world-building is interesting enough that I will be back to read the next installment in the series.  I’m really looking forward to watching Elisa Nuckle grow.

Please check out Elisa Nuckles’ blog, and the page for Dominant Race, with all the options for buying.