Friday, June 27, 2008

Smuttynose 5K, June 22, 2008


I always like looking for myself in race photos, and was pleased to find seven shots. None of them were really all that great, though. Certainly not great enough to shell out any money to PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITE (NAME REMOVED), but that's not meant to be a negative comment on their abilities. It is darn hard to get great race shots, particularly great shots of each runner in a field of over 700. The best of the seven of me, I think, was this one (PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITE COPYRIGHT ATTRIBUTION REMOVED):


This was taken about 100 feet from the end of the race. We're just about to turn the corner for the short, very steep, climb to the finish line. I might not look it, but at this point I can't wait for the race to be over. As described in the race results on Cool Running, this race was, uh, "challenging." It's not that the course was hilly or anything like that (well, except for the climb the last 75 feet), but it is more the 11am start time that caused the challenge. It was well over 80 degrees, a bit humid, and accompanied by an unrelenting sun. I started noticing it in mile 2, as there was no shade at all, and I could feel the heat bouncing up off the road. Oh how I wanted some shade.

Considering the heat, I was happy enough with my 22:25 finishing time, good for 70th overall, and 12th out of the 54 in my age division. This was the first race I've run since last fall's City of Manchester Half Marathon, which was just weeks before I went down with a stress fracture for the winter. And it was the first 5K I've done since the Durgin Memorial 5K in May, 2007, which put me out of action for several weeks with a pulled hamstring. At least I'm not injured now! (Hamstring is a little tight, but that's par for the course anymore. Getting old sucks.)

Concert Report - The Roches in Portsmouth, NH

The Roches, June 22, 2008

There is something magical about the vocal harmonies produced by siblings. Is it the genetics, or from a lifetime of singing together, or some combination of both? Ah, it doesn't matter, it just is. And for me, sisters Maggie, Terre and Suzzy (rhymes with "fuzzy") Roche are at the top of the family harmony heap. Known collectively as The Roches, they have been performing and releasing albums for more than 30 years, with a style uniquely their own.

Patti and I saw them play at the lovely Unitarian Universalist Church in Portsmouth, NH, last Sunday, June 22. Also known as the Stone Church, this church was built in 1824 to 1826. With an impressively high ceiling and a massive pipe organ behind the altar, it is the kind of space that just cannot be found in a modern building. Not to mention fantastic acoustics.

Unitarian Universalist Church, Portsmouth, NH
Unitarian Universalist Church, Portsmouth, NH

The Roches have a long history with Paul Simon, dating back to the early 70s when Maggie and Terre were backup singers on his There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973) album. Paul also produced Maggie and Terre's debut album, Seductive Reasoning, in 1975. More recently, all three sisters joined Paul for five nights of concerts in April during his month-long residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This recent experience is clearly still lingering, as they included three of Paul's songs in their hour and a half set. First up was the somewhat somber "Another Galaxy", then the humorous but metaphorical "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves", and then towards the end of the set the classic and oft covered "American Tune".

The concert started with "Gung Ho", a tornado of a song from their newest album, Moonswept. This was followed immediately with the crowd pleasing "We", one of their signature pieces. The very first song on their very first album as a trio, "We" is a catchy introduction to the group:

We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzy
Maggie and Terre and Suzzy Roche
we don't give out our ages
and we don't give out our phone numbers
give out our phone numbers
sometimes our voices give out
but not our ages and our phone numbers

The crowd responded with delight at this well known favorite, and the prospect of hearing more of our favorite vocal harmonic acrobatics. There's a pretty decent clip of "We" performed at the 2006 Philly Folk Festival on YouTube. Go watch it.

"No Shoes", written by Paranoid Larry, is a new addition to their repertoire, but it is so classically "Roches" that it could easily be an old favorite. Once again, YouTube to the rescue.

Other standouts included the wonderful "Hammond Song", which may be the best showcase of their vocal harmony (YouTube clip from 1983), and "ing", with the chorus repeating the "ing" phrase as if their voices were hand bells (YouTube clip from 1991).

But the absolute highlight of the night was their classic a cappella version of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.. Their three-part arrangement of this is nothing short of stunning, particularly when sung in a church that is more than 150 years old. The audience gave a thunderous standing ovation in appreciation. If you don't view any of the YouTube clips I link, go and view at least this one from 1982. You won't be disappointed.

Since Patti and I were sitting in the first row, not more than 10 feet from the microphone stands, I was able to grab Suzzy's set list after the show. Here's a scan of it. (Yea, she mis-dated it as July! Must have been the hot weather.)

Roches set list, June 22, 2008

Gung Ho
Another Galaxy (Paul Simon)
The Long Lonely Road to Nowhere
Only You Know How
One Season
No Shoes (Paranoid Larry)
The Train
A Prayer (words by Bill Barbeau, music by Maggie)
Hammond Song
Pigs, Sheep and Wolves (Paul Simon)
September Eleventh at the Shambhala Center
Clothes Line Saga (Bob Dylan)
Hallelujah Chorus
American Tune (Paul Simon)
Jesus Shaves (Paranoid Larry)
Encore: Yakety Yak (The Coasters)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Concert Report - Vance Gilbert @ Kick Off Your Shoes

Patti and I met friends Nancy and Larry for the Vance Gilbert concert in Topsfield, MA last night. This was a house concert in the Kick off your Shoes house concert series.

I've been to hundreds of concerts (hmmm, I wonder what the real total number night be?) in venues large and small, but this was the first house concert I have ever attended. A house concert is exactly what the name implies - a concert in a private house. The Kick off your Shoes concerts are held in a nice house on a quiet side street in Topsfield. The concert itself was held in a large den room, with about 40 of us cozy (but not too crowded) in folding chairs. Close and intimate would be an apt description.

I'm always curious about the financial aspects of the music business, and last night was no exception. At house concerts, or at least this series, all ticket proceeds go directly to the performer. Vance did two shows - the early show starting at 7pm, and the late show probably starting at about 9:30pm. We were at the early show, which was sold out at just over 40 people. There were still some seats left for the late show, but it looked like about 30 tickets had been sold. Simple math for Vance's pay - 70 tickets at twenty bucks a pop, or $1,400.

Vance opened with Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come", which is on Vance's latest album. I found this particularly poignant, given the past week's significant political event (Obama clinching the Democratic nomination):

There were times when I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Vance didn't say anything about it (either the song or politics), other than saying "I think every concert should start with a Sam Cooke song, don't you?" after he finished singing it. But race cannot be avoided at a Vance Gilbert concert. After all, Vance is a black singer-songwriter in an overwhelmingly white genre. And Vance addresses it with humor, grace, and the very real insight that we are all the same, whether we be black, brown, white, or whatever.

Vance could easily be a professional comedian if he weren't such a gifted musician and songwriter, and he had us in stitches numerous times. One particular comic interlude had us both laughing and crying, as Vance talked about his dogs - including the highly recognizeable dog obsession with tennis balls, and the utter grief we feel over losing one of our four legged friends.

One the music front, Vance played two 45-minute sets for the early show, with much of the material coming from his soon-to-be-released new album. This album, to be called "Sounds Like..." is based on the "what if" concept of Vance writing songs which sound like they were written by others. Included are songs that Vance wrote in the style of Bruce Springsteen (in the Nebraska alubm style), Richard Thompson (a song about his dog!), Tom Waits, and others. Oh, one song was a mashup of Prince and John Haitt!

Early in the set he played a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand" for Larry. I've heard him do this before, and just love the cover. He played "Unfamiliar Moon" from his latest album, followed by "Unforgiveable". From the way back machine, I remember he did "Taking It All To Tennessee", but not a whole lot of other of his older songs. He closed the early show with a cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You", much to the delight of Ashara, our host, who is a big Joni fan.

I don't have a full set list, as I forgot my set list notebook. :-(