Archive for October, 2011

in performance: taylor swift with needtobreathe and david nail


taylor swift singing in front of a live video screen image of herself last night at rupp arena. herald-leader photo by matt goins.

Maybe it was the Halloween weekend at hand that planted the thought, but watching Taylor Swift take the stage last night at Rupp Arena before a feverish sold out crowd of 16,200 that included the singer’s parents brought to mind cinematic images of Glinda the Good Witch descending upon the faithful munchkins of Oz.

After all, unlike so many teen and post-teen stars before her, Swift maintains a genuinely family-friendly image that translates well to the stage (and the charts), making her immensely kid friendly in the process.

In keeping with the Oz frame-of-mind, the performance was also continually framed by images of theatrical fancy brought to life. There were set changes galore, costume changes galore and a battalion of dancers and backup musicians that swept about and around the 21-year-old Swift like an entourage,

Little in this dazzling production was designed to convert the skeptical. As such, the program was immensely audience friendly, especially to the sea of children and pre-teens that thrilled (and sang along) to most all of the 20 or so tunes Swift served up.

Taking the stage as the final recorded chorus of Tom Petty’s American Girl wound down, Swift presented herself as every bit the pop princess with the show opening Sparks Fly. While never a naturally arresting vocalist, Taylor’s singing seems to have matured and deepened since her 2010 Rupp outing. It certainly outdistanced her own vocal estimations. She several times apologized to not being “in the best voice” after having recuperated from an illness that caused the postponement of several performances earlier this year (including a Louisville show).

But the Rupp crowd cared little for such trivial matters as singing. It seemed to expect spectacle. And on that score, Swift fully delivered. Her multi-level stage was converted at various times to a country gazebo (for Our Song and Mean, both with Swift playing banjo), a wedding chapel (for the title song to her year-old Speak Now album, a spunky and satisfying bit of vintage girl group pop fun) and a platform for the dancing crew to stage an impromptu sock hop (for the equally pop-savvy You Belong With Me).

In terms of technical hi-jinx, though, the show’s most eye-popping trick was also one of its simplest – hidden lifts that that shot several of the dancers (and, in one instance, Swift) up from under the stage floor and into the air.

Even when Swift stripped the show down to acoustic essentials, the fanciful props were still paraded. A mid-show segment took the singer through the arena floor crowd to a revolving second stage where she performed Fearless (on ukulele), Last Kiss and Never Grow Up under a makeshift tree that looked like it was carved out of golden ice.

Sure, the constant shuffling of props and costumes added some between-song baggage to the performance. But such is the price of maintaining Oz – or, more exactly, the kingdom of pop music’s reigning princess.

Opening sets by needtobreathe and David Nail, understandably, were pretty streamlined affairs.

The contemporary Christian-turned-mainstream rock ensemble needtobreathe offered a 40 minute set that was balanced neatly between anthemic post-grunge tunes (Let Us Love) to earthier party pieces (Girl Named Tennessee), although the fairly obvious appropriation of pop accents established by Arcade Fire and U2 didn’t speak well to any real sense of musical invention.

Country singer Nail may just get the award for the shortest set ever at a Rupp show – three songs. Highlighted by the current radio hit Let It Rain, he performed on the lip of the stage with only a pianist and drummer. Such lean musicianship was a welcome and refreshing switch from the production-saturated recordings favored in recent years by many Nashville artists, including Nail himself.

in performance: the avett brothers with jessica lea mayfield

The Avett Brothers onstage last night at Rupp Arena: banjoist Scott Avett (left) and guitarist Seth Avett. Photo by Herald-Leader staff photographer Mark Cornelison.

The proceedings could not have started more simply. On the Rupp Arena stage last night, before a crowd of 4,300, was a single microphone surrounded by the evening’s three featured performers – opening act Jessica Lea Mayfield and headliner siblings Scott and Seth Avett.

The song at hand, Mayfield’s For Today, was a suitably twisted love parable full of fevered restlessness. But when the Avetts joined in on the chorus, the tune became something less fearful. It sounded like an indie pop variation of a campfire song. Mayfield’s twilight-hued lyrics may have driven the story, but the resulting harmonies touched on the kind of primitive blues, folk and even country that the Avetts have made very much their own over the past decade.

Of course, when the Avetts’ featured set emerged later in the program, such simplicity was stripped down, reconstructed and generally turned inside out in a performance full of combustible physical energy, storylines of hippie-esque hope that would do the Grateful Dead proud and a musical vocabulary that never seemed to run short of invention.

The set opening Salina was a marvelous case-in-point. It began – again, simply – with banjoist Scott Avett piloting the tune as if it were a regal hymn. Then the pace quickened, a sense of footstomping faith took over (along with a transfer of lead vocal duties to guitarist Seth Avett; such a tag team approach was deployed throughout the evening) and a curious coda commenced that sent the latter Avett Brother to the piano. Cello, bowed string bass and wordless, high-tenor harmonies then made the finale sound like a cross between the Moody Blues and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

But what ignited the performance, and what has undoubtedly helped trigger and sustain the Avetts’ grassroots fanbase in recent years, was a sort of modern hootenanny demeanor. Cellist Joe Kwon may have provided an unconventional (but most welcome) accent to standard hootenanny strategies. But the barnstorming fun the Avett Brothers summoned – whether it was from the full quintet charge of And It Spread (which added drummer Jacob Edwards to the mix), the kick-drum fueled quartet version of I Killed Sally’s Lover or the all-out punkish stomp of Go to Sleep – seldom dipped during the 90 minute-plus set.

There were some nice variations within this oddly rootsy mix, too – the most notable being Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise, which mixed Dylan-esque narratives with a piano-fueled, chanty-style melody.

One of the performance highlights, in fact, suggested where the Avett Brothers’ musical odyssey might be headed next. The new and as-yet-unreleased Once and Future Carpenter, a quieter acoustic tune, blended perhaps obvious spiritual references with a very earthy sense of fate (“My life is a coin pulled from an empty pocket”).

It should be noted also that the Avett Brothers were without the services last night of longtime bassist Bob Crawford, who is on leave from the band to care for his 22 month old daughter. She is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor and a subsequent stroke. In his place was former Langhorne Slim bassist Paul Defiglia, who provided a tamer but still resourceful foundation for the Avetts music.

The rest of Mayfield’s opening set, which she performed solo, was full of refreshingly obtuse love songs that ran from the boozy, poetic unease of Nervous Lonely Night (“Will you still be my friend when I go insane?”) to the more replenishing Blue Skies Again.

Admittedly, an opening slot on an arena bill is probably not the ideal way to experience Mayfield. But if that means more people get introduced to the torchy intimacy of her songs, then a night out at Rupp with the Avetts was a fruitful venture indeed.

the black keys: lonely boy

Fuzzed out, neopsychedelic rockers The Black Keys are giving us a taste of their upcoming El Camino album via a wonderful, low-rent video that is circulating online.

I don’t know. Maybe this was what I needed on a rainy day, but something  just clicked with me on this one. The video is cheap. It’s simple. It’s funky. And the song puts a groove in your head that will bounce around for days.

You view the video on Rolling Stone magazine’s site here. It’s a guaranteed pick-me-up for a gray, drab afternoon.  El Camino will be among the last releases of note for 2011. It will hit stores on Dec. 6.

the avetts play the big house


cellist joe kwon, banjoist/keyboardist/vocalist scott avett, bassist bob crawford and guitarist/keyboardost/vocalist seth avett.

Just more than six years ago, a little-known North Carolina outfit with an energized string band sound that owed more to rock and soul than to country or bluegrass tradition made its way into town to play before a curious handful of listeners at the now-defunct Dame.

The band returned in 2007 and sold out the club. Coinciding with a signing to a major record label and an even more esteemed producer in 2009 was a sold-out show at The Kentucky Theatre. Now as touring schedules begin to wind down for 2011, a date has been set at the big house: Rupp Arena. And if local buzz is any indication, the show is shaping up to be the biggest non-country performance at the arena this year.

Such is the earnest, eventual road to stardom that The Avett Brothers have followed.

“Performances, just like everything else in our career have been a very gradual process,” said guitarist/ vocalist Seth Avett. “And we’re quite well off because of that. We’ve taken every step very slowly and very surely.

“Luckily for us, we didn’t go from playing smaller places to immediately playing enormous arenas. We built our way up to theaters first, so the whole process has been gradual. We’ve had time to process it all, digest it all and figure out what works in larger spaces. Mainly, we’ve found what works in a big place is very much what works in a small place — meaning, feeling natural and feeling like yourself up there onstage.

“If you can do that, you can get down to the work at hand, which is playing these songs as well as you can and connecting with the folks at the shows and having a good time at it. The worst thing that can happen at any live show is for you to feel disconnected with an audience. Large venues can make a performer feel that way. But we feel really at home on bigger stages now. And since Lexington has always been a place with a lot of love for us, we won’t have any reservations about getting in front of a lot of folks. We’ve had nothing but good experiences there.”

The rise to arena-level stardom is perhaps less obvious for a band like The Avett Brothers because its music is so removed from anything else in the pop mainstream. Working initially in a more rockish ensemble called Nemo before striking out on their own, Seth, 31, and his banjo-playing brother Scott Avett, 35, used variations of string band tradition for a rougher, more energized sound. Through constant touring and a set of well-received indie recordings, the Avetts began forging a grass-roots fan base for what remains a distinctive sound.

“Even between Scott and I, our influences are different,” Avett said. “He leans his own way. I lean another way. For example, I love calypso music from Trinidad that was imported in the ’50s and ’60s. Scott leans more towards old-time country blues. But the odd thing was we didn’t grow up listening to bluegrass. We were aware of the country music of the day because that’s what our dad liked. And we were aware of all of the pop of the day, stuff like Hall & Oates and Michael Jackson.

“But we were drawn to stuff like (Led) Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and (Jimi) Hendrix. And later, it was the grunge movement. A light was switched on by bands like Soundgarden and Nirvana. A lot of elements collided for us to do what we do, and we eventually became aware of all the great American roots music that came out of the South and the region where we’re from. At the same time, we really enjoyed playing with just guitar, banjo and our voices. That really simplified the whole thing.”

The Avetts Brothers hit pay dirt with the release of its first major-label album, 2009’s I and Love and You — a recording that streamlined its multistylistic sound under the direction of celebrated producer Rick Rubin. Recording for a second album with Rubin is almost done. The as-yet- untitled album should see release in 2012.

“On the first album with Rick, there was no getting around the fact that we were opening a lot of new doors,” Seth Avett said. “The whole working relationship with Rick was new. Now we’re really good friends.

The Avett Brothers and Jessica Lea Mayfield  perform at 8 p.m. Oct. 27 at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $29.75 and $39.75. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000.

critic's pick 199

Like its title suggests, Zombiefied is something of an album that has risen from the dead. And what could be more fitting for Halloween than that?

A seasonal treat from the kitsch-savvy but seriously rocking roots music combo Southern Culture on the Skids, the recording was designed as an eight-song EP disc for Australian release in 1998. Why it never surfaced in America until now is anyone’s guess. But to celebrate its return from the hereafter, SCOTS mainstays Rick Miller, Mary Huff and Dave Hartman have added five newly recorded songs to make Zombiefied a full length album. Bet you didn’t know zombies had growth spurts.

But what makes the album – as is the case, really, with all SCOTS recordings – is the vibe. The trio has so persistently masked its obviously schooled swamp-rock gumbo sound with enough onstage trailer park schtick to make many dismiss (or embrace, depending on your entertainment vantage point) the group as a novelty act. What is really going on is a band with roots-rock chops to spare zeroing on material and performance perspectives that keep its music fun. And this is where Zombiefied scores big.

A love of low-rent horror flicks – the kind where sex and gore are almost necessary by-products as long as they don’t make the movie come in over-budget – fits right in with the SCOTS’ rural roots music vision. The title track rolls on guitar hooks deep fried in reverb from Miller and a fat, high carb backbeat courtesy of Hartman. The resulting music is a little surf, a little bit psychobilly and a whole lot of fun when the lyrics sink in (“my girl’s more dead than alive”).

Miller moves front and center for a light instrumental slice of hullabaloo boogie (Swamp Thang) while bassist/singer Huff has a field day with the beyond-the-grave vocals (seriously, that’s how far back in the mix they are placed) on the J.D. Loudermilk teen lullaby Torture. The music is set afloat on a sea of organ orchestration that is more sentimental sounding that torturous.

But we all know zombies also like to knaw on something, well, substantial. To that end we have a meaty instrumental revision of an early Creedence Clearwater Revival gem, Sinister Purpose. The swampy CCR/John Fogerty guitar dressing has been a prominent element of the SCOTS sound for years. Here, with all the intended voodoo sentiment in place, the tune positively glistens in the midnight moonlight that makes Zombified one of the greater guilty pleasures to pass for treats this Halloween.

Penn OKs switch in insurance plan go to site highmark blue shield

Intelligencer Journal Lancaster, PA February 21, 2007 | Justin Stoltzfus Savings of $10,000 per month expected Penn Township supervisors authorized a change in health insurance policies for township employees Feb. 12.

Roadmaster and supervisor Daryl Lefever, police Chief Larry Snavely and township manager Connie Lucas formed a committee to investigate whether the township should make a change in health insurance policies.

Lucas reported Feb. 12 a change to a Highmark Blue Shield group policy could bring down the total premium from $22,000 to $12,000 per month, saving thousands annually while covering 39 municipal employees.

In a follow-up call Feb. 13, Lucas said township employees are insured currently by a HealthAssurance plan with a zero deductible.

The new plan, Lucas told the board Feb. 12, carries a $1,000 deductible.

Employees would be responsible for a $250 deductible, with the township paying the remaining $750.

But even if all of the employees use their entire deductibles, Lucas said, the cost will not reach the levels of the HealthAssurance plan.

“It saves an incredible amount on the premium.” she told the board. web site highmark blue shield

Lucas also suggested it would benefit the township to pay Erin Group Administrators an annual $1,100 to administer the group policy.

Supervisor chairman Dave Sarley agreed, saying township staff doesn’t have time to administer the plan.

“I would prefer it to be outsourced,” Sarley said.

Supervisor Ron Krause said the move might affect the township’s current three-year police contract.

Lefever said the current contract says officers should receive a “same benefit” but doesn’t specify if coverage or rates would remain consistent.

Sarley said the contract, in its last year, has “multiple interpretations” and needs to be improved.

Sarley said the township will use attorneys to “clean up” wording on a future contract.

On the issue of the proposed change in health plans, Sarley said the search for the best policies will be ongoing in future years.

“It’s not just Penn township.” said Sarley. “It’s a game.” He said nearly all municipalities and businesses are forced to “shop” for health care plans every year due to market competition and schemes by insurance companies, which he said deliberately cause big changes in premiums to lure in customers.

The board authorized a switch to a Highmark Blue Shield PPO medical policy to be administered by Erin Group and a United Concordia dental policy through Benecon.

In comments Feb. 13, Lucas said the United Concordia/Benecon plan represents “a consortium of municipalities” and could help the township get the most efficient coverage.

She said the police contract runs out at the end of 2007, and township officials will start negotiations within several weeks.

Justin Stoltzfus

in performance: richard thompson

richard thompson

Seven songs into his thoroughly captivating solo acoustic performance last night at the Kentucky Theatre, Richard Thompson pulled out all the stops.

During Johnny’s Far Away, he drew together such thematic non-sequiturs as ceilidh bands, tropical cruiseliners and marital infidelity and then splattered them across a sea-chanty-style melody.

Oh, yes, did we mention this was also a sing-a-long?

Two tunes later, Thompson cut the yucks for a sobering tale of reluctant departure titled Sunset Song (from 2007’s Sweet Warrior album, as was Johnny’s Far Away). “Wasn’t that a time we had and bless you for it,” he sang over a series of lightly chilled guitar chimes seemingly fashioned for a late October evening. “But I’m a stranger here. I don’t belong.”

For much of his one hour, 50 minute concert, Thompson allowed such narrative extremes to see-saw in an effortless display of British-flavored folk and globally themed material drawn from a career that stems back nearly 43 years.

From the late ‘60s heyday of Fairport Convention came a telling, stoic reading the great Sandy Denny’s poetic postscript Who Knows Where the Time Goes. From last year’s Dream Attic, he uncorked The Money Shuffle, a tale of a hedge fund hawker that preys on the financially gullible. “Enough of the Occupy Wall Street side of things,” Thompson said by way of introduction.

Bringing the years together were characters and situations that defied the ages, from the soldier about to doom his newlywed wife to her second term as a widow in Woods of Darney to the regal but reserved romantics ignited in the show closing Dimming of the Day (the evening’s only nod to Thompson’s ‘70s-era song catalog).

And then there was the guitarwork. In a band setting, Thompson usually favors electric playing, which offers a more immediate and understandably energized overview of his instrumental prowess. Last night’s alone-and-acoustic setting, though, amplified his already-ample guitar cunning.

For instance, an encore reading of Valerie had the guitarist playing bass chords, lead melodies and buoyant harmony lines simultaneously. Similarly arresting were the dark, jazzy turns that emerged during Crawl Back (Under My Stone) almost as counterpoint to vocal wails and echoes that inhabited the song like ghosts.

Thompson never allowed such traits to turn stuffy, however. At 62, he is a confident performer that exhibited a quick, keen wit, whether he was taking jabs at the murky emotive scope of the show-opening She Twists the Knife Again (“I thought I’d start with a happy one”), the historically ghoulish tone of another Fairport gem, Crazy Man Michael (“If somebody dies and then comes back to life, that means I got the verses in the wrong order”) or the still-topical slant of Pharaoh (“Come join me in my paranoia”).

The latter was one of three consecutive songs Thompson played from 1988’s Amnesia. He has been performing similar cluster medleys from one of 17 different albums at each show on his fall tour.

But the evening’s most commanding moment may well have come from music that was altogether new. For Good Things Happen to Bad People, one of two unrecorded songs offered near the concert’s onset, Thompson whipped up a chorus full of the sort of succinct lyrical irony that only a schooled songsmith could muster.

“Good things happen to bad people… but only for awhile.”

Richard Thompson performs again at 7:30 tonight at the Bomhard Theater of the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville. Tickets are $28.50 and $38.50. Call (800) 775-7777.

Research from University of Adelaide yields new findings on obesity.

Heart Disease Weekly January 4, 2009 According to recent research published in the British Journal of Nutrition, “Dietary fish oil supplementation and regular physical activity can improve outcomes in patients with established CVD. Exercise has been shown to improve heart rate variability (HRV), a predictor of cardiac death, but whether fish oil benefits HRV is controversial.” “Obese adults at risk of future coronary disease have impaired HRV and may benefit from these interventions. We evaluated the effect of DHA-rich tuna fish oil supplementation with and without regular exercise on HRV in sedentary, overweight adults with risk factors for coronary disease. In a randomised, double-blind, parallel comparison, sixty-five volunteers consumed 6g fish oil/d (DHA 1.56g/d, EPA 0.36 g/d) or sunflower-seed oil (placebo) for 12 weeks. Half of each oil group also undertook regular moderate physical activity (3 d/week for 45 min, at 75 % of age-predicted maximal heart rate (HR)). Resting HR and the HR response to submaximal exercise were measured at weeks 0, 6 and 12. In forty-six subjects, HRV was also assessed by power Spectrum analysis of 20 min electrocardiogram recordings taken supine at baseline and 12 weeks. Fish oil supplementation improved HRV by increasing high-frequency power, representing parasympathetic activity, compared with placebo (P=0.008; oil X time interaction). It also reduced HR at rest and during submaximal exercise (P=0.008 oil X time interaction), There were no significant fish oil X exercise interactions,” wrote D.M. Ninio and colleagues, University of Adelaide (see also Obesity). all fish oil benefits see here all fish oil benefits

The researchers concluded: “Dietary supplementation with DHA-rich fish oil reduced HR and modulated HRV in keeping with an improved parasympathetic-sympathetic balance in overweight adults with risk factors for future coronary disease.” Ninio and colleagues published their study in British Journal of Nutrition (Docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil improves heart rate variability and heart rate responses to exercise in overweight adults. British Journal of Nutrition, 2008;100(5):1097-1103).

For additional information, contact P.R. Howe, University of Adelaide, Discipline Physiol, School Molecular & Biomedical Science, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia.

The publisher’s contact information for the British Journal of Nutrition is: Cambridge University Press, Edinburgh Bldg, Shaftesbury Rd., CB2 8RU Cambridge, England.

good king richard

richard thompson

After four decades of distinctly British-bred music, a tenure that has seen him celebrated as one of contemporary music’s finest songsmiths and guitarists, Richard Thompson has a new title to lay claim to – O.B.E.

For us American-ites, that stands for Officer of the Order of the British Empire. And it is bestowed upon it recipients by the Queen herself. Of course, in a fashion that has suited Thompson well over the years, it’s not an honor he neither makes light of or boasts unduly about.

“It was an excuse to get dressed up and go down to the Palace,” said Thompson, who returns to Lexington for a solo acoustic concert on Tuesday. “You know, you’re required to dress up like a British Prime Minister from 1900 – the top hat, the tails, the whole bit. But it’s a great honor. While it was something I wasn’t really expecting, I’m glad that it helps shine a light into my area of music, that it makes people aware of British roots music.”

Specifically, the O.B.E. was awarded “for services to music.” In Thompson’s case, those services have traveled boldly through the decades, combining an alert, literate and immensely human gift for storytelling with songs that regularly reflect British folk elements passed down through the centuries. Along the way, Thompson has also forged a reputation as a guitarist equally at home within the electric environment of a band and the solo setting of an ingeniously complete acoustic player.

Such a history begins with the groundbreaking British folk rock band Fairport Convention, which Thompson spent the late ‘60s and very early ‘70s with. Fairport proved a launching pad for Thompson’s sound, songwriting and, eventually, solo career along with a series of outstanding albums with ex-wife Linda Thompson that culminated with the 1982 treatise on romantic dissolve Shoot Out the Lights. Not surprisingly, Thompson’s ties to Fairport remain strong to this day.

“I suppose the kind of musical philosophy that Fairport arrived at in the late ‘60s is something I still subscribe to,” he said. “I haven’t really moved from that position much. As we looked around the music scene in Britain back then, there were lots of blues bands and lots of soul bands. The musical influences all seemed to be coming from America. Fairport always felt that was slightly dishonest, that we should be putting more of ourselves into it. We felt we should be playing a kind of popular music that reflected our own roots.

“And that’s really what I’m still trying to so. I embrace rock music because that’s long been the common currency of music. But I like to put a lot of our tradition to that music.”

While early Fairport albums like 1969’s Liege & Lief remains cornerstones of such electrified British folk, Thompson’s newer recordings still generously reflect similar inspirations – from the Dickensian reflection of She Sang Angels to Rest from 2007’s Sweet Warrior album to the elegiac hymn Among the Gorse, Among the Grey from 2010’s Dream Attic.

The latter recording offered a unique artistic challenge to Thompson. Instead of fleshing out the album’s music in a recording studio, he recorded all of its 13 tunes during a series of winter concerts last year along the West Coast.

“We did very little post production work,” Thompson said of the resulting album. “The vocals are live, the guitar solos are live. Everything is as we played it. And that can be a pretty tough business. But I think it turned out very well considering. The songs are strong. I’m still happy to perform a lot of that material.”

Thompson will be merging the past and present a little more directly than usual during his concerts this fall. His nightly setlists will include a three-segment of tunes from one of 17 different albums. What Thompson/Fairport recording will be highlighted at what show will be left purely to chance.

“All the album titles go into a hat. I draw one randomly every night.”

“It’s a funny business to be in when you perform music from what might be the distant past. You might be performing songs you wrote when you were 18 years old. Now, a song you wrote when you were 18 you might be reluctant to perform, but it could be a very popular song with the audience. So this can be a strange thing to do. Sometimes you just have to forgive yourself for being an immature human being when you wrote it.

“Then again, if you paint a picture you might sell it to a private collector it Tierra del Fuego. In that case, that’s the last you ever see of it. It’s gone. But to keep revisiting the past and finding new meaning in these songs can be quite strange. You have to keep reinventing and reinterpreting the songs because you can’t perform them meaninglessly. You have to find something exciting and energizing in the music.”

Richard Thompson performs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 East Main St. Tickets are $28.50. Call (859) 231-7924.

in (non) performance: bill bruford


bill bruford

It wasn’t a performance. It wasn’t anything that even approximated one. Yet last night’s appearance by veteran-turned-retiree drummer Bill Bruford in every way celebrated the works of a masterful career with remarkable performance insight, alert detail, invitingly wry humor and a few cautionary tales about the pitfalls of stardom.

Arranged as an informal talk before a crowd of about 40 that filled out every corner of the Drum Center of Lexington (Tama Drums sponsors Bruford’s speaking engagements, hence the locale), Bruford used archival video footage to illustrate a career that ran from a late ‘60s Yes lineup playing Astral Traveler to a 21st century improvisational drums/keyboards duet with Michiel Borstlap.

Assorted clips with Genesis, his own late ‘70s prog band Bruford and the early ‘80s incarnation of King Crimson all generated the kind of applause that usually greets an actual live performance. Bruford also read passages from his memoir, The Autobiography, that illuminated his thoughts on art, craft, commerce and making of music in the age of computers.

But Bruford’s most illuminating comments were more spontaneous. He tagged himself initially as a “failed pianist,” tying that estimation to the design of keyboard-like sounds he created in the ‘80s and ‘90s on electric percussion. Later, he referred to himself as an “ideas guy” who stressed dynamics and invention in playing and performance over the common commercial practice that dictates the only way to follow-up an artistic success is by replicating it.

“I can do that for maybe a week,” Bruford said. “Pay me a ton of money and I’ll do it for a month.”

He admitted to a bit of artistic role playing (“to be Max Roach in Yes”), gave heavy praise for such new generation jazz drummers as Bill Stewart (“steal anything you can from him”) and sheepishly recoiled at the fashion statements revealed in video footage of his early years with Yes (“my apologies for some really bad haircuts”).

Such was the mind of the prog rock star with the jazzer’s heart.

“You exist to serve the music,” Bruford said. “The music does not exist to serve you.”

talking drums

It was perhaps the one of the more unusual instances of audience interaction. Seated comfortably on the second floor of the Memphis Drum Shop last December, a crowd of 60 or so watched as Bill Bruford and Phil Collins showcased their ample percussive chops in a ceaselessly energetic reading of The Cinema Show.

It was all prog rock finery at its best: alert rhythmic turns, masterful technique and a generous dose of pure performance gusto. At its conclusion, the crowd, quite rightly, burst into applause.

But here comes the punch line. The cheers were not awarded to a live show, but to a 35 year old video clip of Bruford and Collins playing on what was Genesis’ first tour following the defection of Peter Gabriel. Collins even possesses a full beard and mane of dark hair.

Bruford was in the room that night, though. Dressed in glasses and sport coat, he resembled a college professor more than anything approximating a rock star. Just a few minutes earlier, in fact, he even served as a de facto usher welcoming patrons and directing them to their seats.

No Sticks: While Bruford isn’t a professor these days, he is something of a lecturer. Having, as his 2009 autobiography stated, “hung up his sticks,” he today is presenting multi-media presentations of his life and career. Using his memoir (aptly titled The Autobiography) as the foundation, his discussion/presentation covers a life in music with the landmark prog bands Yes and King Crimson (his involvement with Genesis, alas, was limited to the 1976 tour), the extensive jazz journeys with his band Earthworks and reflections, from both business and artistic viewpoints, on the life of a working musician.

Bruford didn’t touch a drum all night. He has, as again stated in the autobiography, “retired from active service” as a performing musician. But his presentation – which was immensely literate, unexpectedly witty and, at times, remarkably candid – offered a rare in-person glance into an extraordinary and uncompromising musical life.

Bruford offered his presentation in just a handful of cities last winter. He returns this fall to speak again, but in only six cities. Lexington is among them. The drummer will offer his presentation at the Drum Center of Lexington on Southland Drive on Wednesday. Again, the evening will not include any live performance drumming, but it will abound with stories and reflections from Bruford’s four-decade career. He will also sign copies of The Autobiography following the talk.

Aside from a 1972 Louisville concert with Yes, this will be Bruford’s first Kentucky appearance of any kind.

The Interview: The Autobiography is not a memoir in any traditional sense. Instead of offering a chronological overview, it scatters Bruford’s career into non-sequential segments using interview questions that have been repeatedly tossed his way over the years as chapter titles – questions, which he states in the book’s forward, “I’ve spent much time and newsprint avoiding.”

Among them: “Do You Just Play Anything You Like?,” “Yes, But What Do You Really Do?” and “Are You Making This Stuff up?.” Oh yes, there is a particularly intriguing chapter called “Do You Like Doing Interviews?” that reflects upon the ritualistic chapter and verse of speaking to the press to promote a musical product.

Bruford doesn’t distain the press. In fact, he mentions several journalists and publications that have offered accurate and complimentary coverage of his work. But the chapter deals more with the inevitable: the repetition of like-minded questions obsessed with the familiarity and commercial visibility of an artist rather than their actual work.

“Just to let the public know of its (the work’s) existence, let alone of any possibility of it being heard prior to a decision to actively seek it out and buy it will require hour upon hour of patient, relentless self promotion. If your music has the sniff about it that it could actually make the label some money, then they could more or less be helpful in getting the word out, but I have long since forsaken the idea of making any kind of music that will trigger meaningful promotional dollars. So the punishment is: you’re on you own, buddy. And it’s going to hurt, repeating the same thing to a hundred different writers of one sort or another.”

That’s what Bruford thinks of interviews. Perhaps expectedly, requests for an interview with Bruford for this story fell upon deaf ears.

The Music: What was the music that made Bruford such an innovative percussive artist in the first place? A few obvious choices come to mind, like Yes’ landmark Close to the Edge album from 1972, as well as two King Crimson classics  – 1974’s Red and 1981’s Discipline (the latter of which featured Kentucky native Adrian Belew).

But there have also been scores of extraordinary works Bruford has released on his own over the decades, including the wonderful 1979 prog delicacy, One of a Kind (with his namesake band Bruford); an outstanding 1997 jazz trio session with bassist Eddie Gomez and guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner, If Summer Had Its Ghosts (the funding and recording of which provide the centerpiece for one of The Autobiography’s most insightful chapters); the ultra-fine 2002 concert album from Earthworks, Footloose and Fancy Free; and a 2007 duets outing with pianist/keyboardist Michiel Borstlap, In Two Minds.

That was the past. Still, it’s a past that Bruford, even as a performance retiree, still conjures vivid and immensely entertaining reflections from during his talks.

“For the intrepid soul who wishes to perform on a musical instrument in public, and for whom we should have the greatest respect, everything bends and changes,” Bruford writes at the close of The Autobiography, “but in different rhythms.”

An Evening with Bill Bruford will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Drum Center of Lexington, 132 Southland Dr. Admission is $5. Call (859) 276-1827.

critic's pick 198

peter gabriel: new blood

Upon approach, Peter Gabriel’s New Blood album seems like a rehash of some very old music – specifically, songs that defined the artist’s post-Genesis career over the past 35 years. But Gabriel’s new visitation is a considered and innovative one, a revision that tosses out the prog-flavored band arrangements of years past in favor of new, purely symphonic facelifts.

That idea in itself may make long time Gabriel fans wince, as all of his previous recordings (save for the recent Scratch My Back covers project, which began Gabriel’s orchestral obsession) sported extraordinary ensemble support – a mix of prog flavored mysticism and world music earthiness. Such designs also sported the support of several longtime Gabriel allies – including bassist Tony Levin and guitarist Michael Rhodes.

So the question persists: a Gabriel album without any of that or any of them? Luckily, Gabriel finds remarkable reinvention in this material – a mix of familiar hits (In Your Eyes, Solsbury Hill and Digging in the Dirt), longtime concert favorites (San Jacinto, Mercy Street and Red Rain) and comparative obscurities (Wallflower, Downside Up and Intruder). The most obvious blast from the past, Sledgehammer, is excluded.

San Jacinto, one of the more fascinating revisions, becomes a ballet of wintry piano, percussion and staccato strings that makes the song, as the album title suggests, new. Similarly, Digging in the Dirt sheds the dark, reflective skin of its original version to become a more mischievous merger of winds and brass that eases into wonderful orchestral warmth during its chorus. The results recall some of Paul Buckmaster’s majestic string arrangements for Elton John’s early ‘70s recordings.

Another fine reinvention is Intruder, one of Gabriel’s coarser works, which now fits into a Kronos Quartet-like string setting before broader orchestral colors, Gabriel’s whispery singing and even some distant whistling take over. Still, it sounds every bit as menacing as when Gabriel first recorded it in 1980 – so much so that when he works his way to the one of the more revealing verses (“this sense of isolation inspires me”), the effect is remains efficiently chilling.

Wallflower, on the other hand, allows the orchestration to embellish a mood of affirmation inherent in the song’s original version. The same holds true for Mercy Street, which still uses a chiming triangle as its heartbeat, although the song is now colored with more glowing mallet percussion. It’s also one of the few instances on New Blood where the vocal melody line of the original version is left almost entirely intact.

Less enchanting is Solsbury Hill, a song Gabriel himself seemed reticent to include judging by the liner notes – hence its designation as a “bonus track.” Still, it serves as an encore – a merry blast of familiarity (complete with a bow to The Beatles’ Penny Lane) that caps off a brave, bloody fine serving of orchestral pop invention.

Groupon Appoints New COO

Manufacturing Close-Up April 30, 2011 Groupon announced that Margo Georgiadis will assume the role of COO.

Georgiadis will oversee the company’s global sales, marketing, and operations.

Georgiadis most recently served as Vice President, Global Sales Operations at Google, where she drove sales operations across regions and channels and the global technology teams that commercialize Google’s products such as AdWords, AdSense and display among advertisers and publishers. She also led the local and commerce businesses, working to extend services like Checkout, Google Places and product search. Georgiadis previously served as EVP of Card Products and CMO of Discover Financial Services and was a partner at McKinsey and Company. She is currently a board member of The Jones Group and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. go to site groupon san diego

“Margo is a strong leader with a passion for helping small business owners and consumers,” said Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon. “We’re thrilled to have her on our team.” Dubbed the “fastest-growing company of all time” by Forbes magazine, Groupon pioneered the local e-commerce space and is revolutionizing the relationship between customers and local merchants around the world. In two years Groupon has grown to serve millions subscribers in 46 countries and thousands of cities. The company employs more than 7,000 people globally and is headquartered in Chicago, Ill. go to site groupon san diego

Groupon features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, eat, see and buy in more than 500 markets around the world.

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