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):

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!

I Had Dinner With Famous People

So, a hip-hop artist, a recording studio engineer, a former VP of ASCAP, and a graduate student walk into a bar… 

Okay, that’s not entirely how it goes, but this is pretty much what my Thursday night looked like.  I met some pretty famous people, folks.  Even had dinner with a few of them.  And it’s pretty much all thanks to my brother (don’t gloat, Mike).

So, here’s the whole story: 

We all know The Recording Academy, yes?  In charge of the Grammy Awards, that thing that most musicians, recording artists, song-writers, music publishers, etc. are members of, yes?  Well, there’s also this thing called Grammy U.  It’s a college student organization affiliated with The Recording Academy, which is open to any full-time college student interested in the music industry (and you don’t have to be majoring in music or anything to qualify).  Grammy U is about promoting education on issues dealing with the music industry, and about networking with various full members of The Recording Academy.

My brother is the Grammy U representative for the entire Greater-Houston area.  Early this year he convinced me to join Grammy U as well (its more for undergrads rather then graduate students, but I still technically qualify because I’m a full-time student, and I’ve always been interested in the music industry).  Mainly, my brother just wanted to someone he could trust to help him out with running events on the UH campus.

Now, my brother’s pretty much got this whole networking thing down pat.  He’s a film student, and he’s interning at a local Houston production company called Zen Films (which happens to be a pretty big deal); he’s done some work over at SugarHill Studios (the oldest still-running recording studio in the United States, folks!) and knows the chief engineer/co-owner Dan Workman; etc, etc, etc.

So, on Thursday night, The Recording Academy was hosting one of its GPS Summer Lecture Series at the House of Blues in Houston.  It consisted of a lecture from Tod Brabec, former Vice President of ASCAP (Association of Songwriters, Composers, Authors, and Publishers) on the topic of Performance Royalties, and then a short networking mixer afterwards.  My brother had to go because he was helping to set up the event.  I decided to go because a) it’s free for Grammy U members, b) it sounded interesting, and c) it’s a little-known fact that I have a secret desire to be a songwriter.  I was nervous about the whole mixer thing because the only person I knew was my brother and I don’t do well with the whole “just start introducing yourself to random strangers who might be famous people” thing.

The lecture itself was really interesting.  It was hard to follow because Tod Brabec threw a TON of information at the audience, quite a lot of it dealing with legal issues that I just can’t quite wrap my head around, but it was all very useful information.  But the best part was, of course, the mixer.  Here’s most of the people I met (I can’t quite remember everyone’s names, but these are the big ones):

Dan Workman (the co-owner and chief engineer of SugarHill Studios) who was one of the coolest guys I’ve met;

Tod Brabec, who is a very big deal but who talked to me for a minute and then asked me to take a picture of him and a friend of his;

Theresa Jenkins, the Executive Director of the Texas Chapter of The Recording Academy (who kindly treated my brother and I to dinner along with all the big-wigs);

Eric Jarvis, who is a BIG musician, a UH alumnus, and the President of the Texas Chapter of the Recording Academy (and also hilarious at dinner);

David Acosta, a CPA for musicians who’s starting his own music publishing company here in Houston, and who gave me his card when I mentioned my interested in writing lyrics;

and Karen Aptekar, an indie-film maker here in Houston who was very friendly, told my brother that he was interning with one of the best film-makers around at Zen Films, and offered to talk to both me and my brother sometime about doing some work with her.

All of this happened during the Mixer after the lecture, at which there were about 70-80 people, plenty of whom were little nobodies and interested parties like myself, mixed in with all the big-names.  The mixer broke up around 9:30 or so, at which point the original plan was for my brother and I to head home while the big names went off to dinner in the House of Blues restaurant downstairs.  But then we were invited to dinner – or rather, my brother was invited because he’s the Houston Rep, and I was allowed to tag along because my brother was my ride home.  But that’s okay, because I got to sit down and have dinner with Dan Workman, Tod Brabec, Theresa Jenkins, Eric Jarvis, and Paul Wall – a rather well-known hip-hop artist, who I did not actually get to speak with as he was clear at the other end of the table – and a few others whose names elude me now.  The five big names were all seated in a row across the table from me, and I was a little floored by it.  I sat directly across from Dan Workman and Eric Jarvis, and they were hilarious.  Though, so was Tod Brabec, who spent some time talking to my brother about having been the one who signed METALLICA (along with many MANY other very well known bands).

My brother has already promised to take me by SugarHill Studios next time he goes, which Dan Workman was very okay with.  When he found out I was a literature student, he got all excited and said that books were his next favorite thing to music, and that we’d have to sit down and have a nice talk about books sometimes.  Well, hell, that sounds good to me!  And music is my next favorite thing to books, so it evens out nicely.  (Also, he wore those cheap Target brand One Star Converse shoes, which I thought was absolutely HILARIOUS.)

The point of all this is that I had an absolute blast last Thursday night, and I hope I have a similar opportunity again in the future.  It was so much fun!

Point of fact, most of the last few days have been pretty awesome: the mixer on Thursday, seeing Dark Knight Rises on Saturday, and then I went to the Chicago & Doobie Brothers concert on Sunday night.  Which was ASTOUNDINGLY AWESOME.  Those guys may be getting on in years, but they still know how to rock.  The BEST PART was the encore/finale.  The Doobie Bros had been the opener for Chicago, but at the end, Chicago brought all of the Doobie Bros on stage to play with them.  All the members of both bands were on stage at the same time, including four drummers on FOUR SEPARATE DRUMSETS, more guitars than seems possible, practically the whole brass section out of a marching band, two keyboardists, and all the singers taking turns. There were EIGHTEEN PEOPLE on that stage at once.  They sang a few Doobie Bros hit and a few Chicago hits, including “Listen to the Music” and “25 or 6 o 4.”  It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen at a concert.  And it was seriously EPIC.  Definitely the best part of the night.

Okay, this post is getting pretty damn long, so I’ll call it quits for now.  See ya’ll later!

This Is Your Brain on Awesome

Title: This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

Author: Daniel Levitin

Genre: Non-Fiction, Popular Science

Where I Got It: Bought it

Score: 6! out of 5

WARNING: Gratuitous use of ALL CAPS and cursing, lots of cursing.  Sorry, I try not to curse on this blog too much, but when I get really excitable I drop the F-Bomb. A LOT.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. 

I don’t read non-fiction books very often.  Or rather, I don’t voluntarily read non-fiction books that are required for my graduate classes very often.  I used to in high school and early in my college career, but when you’re in graduate school and most of what you read is heavy-theory, or historical criticism, or some such thing, you really just want to read fun popular fiction on your off-time.  And that’s mostly what I do.  I read fantasy, scifi, YA, and so forth.  But I’ve been meaning to get back into reading science books (reminder: I used to be a Physics major and I MISS my science classes), and I’ve actually had this book sitting on a shelf for three years now, so I figured I’d finally get around to reading it.

I bought it way back then because a) it was a science book and I’m always like: Yay, science! and b) because it was about music, and my life RUNS on music.  Seriously.  So, I was pretty certain I was going to love this book once I got around to it.

But OH. MY. GOD.  I cannot tell you how awesome this book is! It BLEW MY MIND!

Okay, okay, before I devolve totally into gratuitous cap letters, here’s what This Is Your Brain On Music is about:  Daniel Levitin started out as a member of a mediocre rock band.  But when he was in the studio recording with his band, he discovered he was actually a very good music engineer/producer, and eventually that’s what he became.  And he worked with some VERY BIG names in the business, including (just as an example): The Who.  Yeah. THE FUCKING WHO.  (Can I have this man’s life?)  Well, eventually, Daniel Levitin got more and more interested in exactly how the brain processes music, where music comes from, why it’s so universally important, etc.  And he went back to college and GOT A PHD IN NEUROSCIENCE with a specialization in music cognition.  Because apparently he is just that fucking awesome.  He then went on to work with some VERY BIG NAMES in neuroscience, including, just for the sake of name dropping: OLIVER SACKS.  (If you’re into science, you’ll realize how BIG that name is – and OMG can I please have this man’s life?)  AND THEN he started his own fucking lab to study music and the brain.

And after all that was done, HE WROTE A FUCKING BOOK ABOUT IT ALL.  And voila.  Here we are.

Of course, it’s difficult to give reviews of non-fiction books.  There are no plots and not often many characters, exactly.  This book goes through the basic units of what turns sound into music.  It talks about how the brain processes and understands music, why we couldn’t have music without the memory systems are brains are built with, why we get earworms – those songs that stick in your head forever, how music may have evolved from our caveman days, why it takes aprox. 10,000 hours of practice to become an “expert” at anything, and why there might not be any such thing as “natural talent” after… just to name a few topics.  He covers neurobiology, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, empirical philosophy, Gestalt psychology, memory theory, categorization theory, neurochemistry, and exemplar theory in relation to music theory and history.  All in about 300 pages.

And he does all of this with great metaphors to explain the more complicated and less intuitive science concepts, plenty of examples for real music that most people should recognize, a wonderfully light, humorous writing style, and an enormous love and respect for music that shines through every single word.

I cannot express how much I LOVE this book.  I have been raving about it to anyone who listen.  Most of my friends.  My mother.  My brother.  I have told practically everyone I know that THEY NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.  And I’m telling you all now too.  YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.  If you like science.  If you like music.  If you just like GOOD non-fiction.  YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.

IT WILL BLOW YOUR FUCKING MIND.

You will probably come out the other side wanting to be a neuroscientist.  Or a musician.  Or both.  If you ever played an instrument and let it fall by the wayside, I guarantee you this book will make you at least WANT to start practicing again.  It might actually get you ACTUALLY PRACTICING AGAIN.  You will have a new appreciation for not only the amount of work it takes to play music, but also the kind of brain power and evolutionary luck it takes JUST TO LISTEN TO MUSIC.  You will be amazed by how many different parts of the brain have to be in operating condition just to understand what you’re listening to.  And HOW AMAZING IT IS THAT WE CAN REMEMBER ALMOST EVERY SONG WE HERE MORE THAN ONCE.  Apparently babies ACTUALLY REMEMBER THE SONGS THEY HEAR IN THE WOMB!!!!  FUCK YEAH!

BUY THIS BOOK.  Go to Amazon right now.  Here.  Here’s the link: This Is Your Brain On Music.

AND ENJOY THE MIND-BLOWING EXPERIENCE.

Come see me when you’re done and just try to tell me it wasn’t worth every fucking penny.  I DARE YOU.

Amanda’s Top 20 Albums of 2011, Part 2 (1-10)

Amanda’s Top 20 Albums of 2011, Part 2 (1-10):

As promised, here is the second half of my list of the best albums of the year.  If you haven’t seen 11-20 yet, please start here.  I would like to remind you all, as I said on Friday, that while I’m pretty happy with the placement of 1-3 and 16-20, all the other positions are rather fluid.  Still, I’d love to hear your opinion about what’s too high, too low, what you think shouldn’t be on the list at all, and you think I’m missing.

So, enjoy the list.  And please tell me what you think!

10) 21 by Adele

9) True Loves by Hooray For Earth

8) Cults by Cults

7) Old Tyme Religion by Hugo

6) Torches by Foster the People

5) El Camino by The Black Keys

4) Wasting Light by The Foo Fighters

3) Ceremonials by Florence + the Machine

2) Bon Iver by Bon Iver

1) Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

So there you have it folks!  Also, as promised, I have made a Spotify playlist which contains all 20 of these albums in order, except for El Camino, which is too new to be available on Spotify yet.  The playlist can be found here (you do need a Spotify account to access the playlist, but it’s free!).  I hope you enjoy the playlist!  Maybe you’ll find your new favorite artist or song. You never know. ^__^

Again, please let me know what you think!  And I expect to see you all back here bright and early on Monday morning for the kick-off of the Scorpio Rising blog tour!

Amanda’s Top 20 Albums of 2011, Part 1 (11-20)

Free-For-All Friday: Amanda’s Top 20 Albums of 2011, Part 1 (11-20)

At first, I was thinking I’d do another post for the In Leah’s Wake blog tour to wrap up the week, but then I realized that if I did all three of my weekly posts for these blog tours that I have lined up through Christmas, I wouldn’t have time to do any of the other million things I’d like to talk about.  So decided that for each of the blog tours, I will do something Monday and Wednesday, but I’m keeping Free-For-All Fridays for myself.  If you haven’t checked out any of the In Leah’s Wake blog tour stuff please go here for an excerpt from the novel, and here for my review.  Each of those posts will also give you some info on prizes you can possibly win, but today (Friday) is the last day to get in on those, so hurry!

Anyway, I’ve been talking to friends about my (and their) top albums of the year, and I’ve been reading lists from TIME, Rolling Stone, Spin, and others, and I decided it was time to list my Top 20 Albums for 2011.  I couldn’t keep it down to 10, sorry!  I just couldn’t do it!  Also, while I’m pretty content with 1-3, and 16-20, all the ones in the middle keep moving around and pushing each other around, so those numbers aren’t quite so stable in hierarchy.  Anyway, without further ado, Amanda’s Top 20 Albums of 2011, Part 1 (11-20):

20) Nine Types of Light by TV on the Radio

19) The King is Dead by The Decemberists

18) What Did You Expect From the Vaccines? by The Vaccines

17) Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

16) Circuital by My Morning Jacket

15) Take Care, Take Care, Take Care by Explosions in the Sky

14) In the Grace of Your Love by The Rapture

13) Killing the Darlings by Pearl and the Beard

12) Codes and Keys by Death Cab for Cutie

11) Audio, Video, Disco by Justice

As you may be able to tell, I have extremely varied and somewhat eccentric tastes.  There were a number of other albums I thought about it putting in here as well.  I have a couple honorable mentions:

Silversun Pickups new single Seasick, which probably would have replaced TV on the Radio except it seemed silly to put a single with only 3 songs on the list.  Also, Hugh Laurie’s blues album Let Them Talk — some people don’t think it’s all that good, but I happen to really like it.  Tab Benoit’s New Orleans Blues album Medicine almost made the list too.

Anyway, rather than make you wait until next Friday to see the Top 10, I’m going to post the second half of the list on Sunday before my next blog tour starts.  So please stop back by on Sunday to see what made the Top 10.  Also, I’m putting together a Spotify playlist with all my Top 20 albums, which I will have posted for you all on Sunday as well.

Oh! and please feel free to chime in below! I’d love to hear what you think of my list so far.  What’s missing?  What should be higher or lower?  What have you simply never heard of before?  I am ALWAYS in need of new music, so please tell me what I’m missing!

Florence + the Machine: Ceremonials

Those of you who see me on Twitter or Facebook (or in real life) have probably heard me rant about Florence + the Machine’s new album Ceremonials.  I’ve been listening to it all week, pretty much non-stop.  I’ve told everyone I know that they need to go listen to it.  I have been praying endlessly that Florence + the Machine will come to Houston for a performance.  I’m obsessed, pure and simple.

Still, it is sometimes difficult for me to explain WHY I love certain songs/albums/artists so much.  But you all are in luck, because I found someone who said exactly what I wanted to say about Ceremonials and couldn’t figure out how to.

So, please continue on to this post by Kim the FanGirl, which is an excellent review of Ceremonials, including a track-by-track rundown for your reading pleasure: Album Review: Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials.

And then go to itunes and buy Ceremonials.  You’ll thank me, I promise.