Friday, January 29, 2016

Fiction Friday - Desert Heat

If you're interested in an overly prosaic introduction to The Tower, from a different perspective, then here it is. Teenage angst is quite an intriguing concept. It does make you wonder why all the YA novels seem to be distopian in nature.


By- K. A. Reis 


             The pulse of the desert’s heat reminded her, oddly enough, of the beginnings of her long journey. She reminisced about that experience: the long gray wool coat she had worn to brace against the frigid air outside, the questioning looks on the faces of the receptionists and agents at the long functional counter as she swept one perfectly manicured hand through her long dark hair. The girls and boys in their smug blue uniforms glanced up at her from their files, folders, and phones. As they looked at her, she saw in their faces a mixture of incredulity and admiration. Perhaps they were actually thinking something else, but that was what she saw in her unusually emotional state. Perhaps, at first, they had not known what she was there for, but as she walked towards the young male receptionist with a spark in her eyes, they must have recognized that she was the one they had been waiting for.
            She had spoken confidentially and clearly; stating her purpose simply by revealing only her identity and the small sealed yellow envelope she had received that morning. She was led past the long counter and the watching eyes towards the opaque office door that read simply “Director”. The silence in the long low-ceilinged room vibrated with the varying thoughts, worries, and unspoken opinions flying about the room. The people in this room had been working together for so long that just a few glances and miniscule gestures communicated the entirety of their minds and souls. The tremor of expectation that traveled across the room breathed in on her, as the door slammed shut cutting off the expressive silence behind her. Exhilaration and expectation overwhelmed her other senses, as she felt the gentle breeze from the closing door blow past her.
            She looked up into the gently-lined face behind the steel desk. His smile lines were deep, but his eyes were an ice-cold brown. The receding hair line, and military uniform gave him the appearance of a retired veteran from some war in years past. She smiled revealing her nearly perfect teeth. She appeared as if she were not only unconcerned with the stern expression on the Director’s face but also with the furor she had so recently created in the anteroom, forging her face into a mask of nonchalance. She looked down at the desktop, where his bent and calloused fingers lay folded, quietly taunting her with the bravery, danger, and pain they represented. She moved forward, propelled by the unspoken, and nearly unrecognizable, beckon in his demeanor. She shifted her form gracefully into the rivets of a hard-backed metal chair.
            The office room appeared to be in utter conflict with the understated opulence of the reception area. In the office, the tile floor and the brick concrete of the walls created a quiet, yet grating echo, detracting from the privacy intimated by the closeness of the four walls, and the untailored air of the furniture. On the other hand, the anteroom, with its sound-absorbing cork floors, geometric wallpaper, and richly upholstered armchairs, seemed to be symbolic of the mask she had carried on her face, as she fought past her fears and worries. It was merely a fa├žade to placate any casual observers with an air of peacefulness and security. The office walls had few adornments: a small black and white paper map of the building-bent and folded with age, showing a highlighted fire escape route-and a plastic model of a B-3 Bomber floating from a yellowed string. On a shelf near the frosted window, an aloe plant seemed to be an announcement of a possible interest in horticulture, yet the cold glint of a blade beside it, and a split and withered spear of aloe testified to the practical purpose of the plant.
            She suddenly felt the heat suffocating her, the closed room pressing in on her. She began to slip out of her coat to ease her discomfort, when the Director suddenly stood. “Well, then, are you ready for your first mission?” he asked.
            “Oh,” she exhaled quickly, then, questioning, “You certainly don’t mince words around here, do you? I suppose that I would have to know something about that mission in order to be ready for it.”
            He chuckled. “I knew we had a winner.” As she settled back in her chair, relaxing once again, he cleared his throat. “No, no. You must come with me first; we will talk later.” He beckoned to the door, which was opening behind him after a flick of his wrist pressed an unseen lever.
            With those simple words, he seemed harmless in her eyes. She gladly followed him through the secret door, not even bothering to wonder how she had missed its existence. The building map on the wall had listed nothing beyond this office. The narrow, poorly-lit hallway was filled with unidentifiable echoes. As she looked around for the source of these sounds, he saw her and began to explain where in the building they were. “In this business you must always know the where and the what, but rarely the why. This hallway leads directly southeast. You may have noticed, if you have a good sense of direction, that we are now heading towards the outer wall of the building. We are currently walking parallel to a ventilation duct. Thus, the conversations of the hundreds of offices and reception areas on this level can be heard banging around in the hallway as if they are right next door. Why build a hallway where someone could possibly hear you through the ventilation duct? Well, that’s one of those forbidden “why” questions. I do not think that they can hear us, and what we hear is unintelligible. Ask the scientists the how and why.”
            She nodded in silent affirmation. Truthfully, the words of the conversations were not discernable. However, she was curious as to who and what she was hearing. Dark cobwebs hung near the roof. Obviously, the janitors had no knowledge of this hallway. The row of doors on the left side of the hallway insinuated that the ventilation duct ran on the opposite side. The dim gray of the walls could have been any color in the spectrum faded by age and the dimness of the light. The scattered yellow light from ceiling fixtures did little to reach the fifteen feet down to the floor. The gray of the floor seemed to be tiles, broken and worn by years of misuse. She halted her musings as her guide suddenly stopped in front of a door identical to the dozens they had passed along the way. Drawing a key from a chain around his neck, he glanced in both directions down the hallway. Quickly inserting and twisting the key, he motioned for her to precede him through the door. She acquiesced, albeit more cautiously.
            She saw at first glance that no obvious dangers presented themselves. The door opened up to another long hallway. This hallway, however, had no other doors leading off of it as far as the eye could see. Also, the concrete floor angled sharply upwards. He spoke again, “Each door that we passed leads a different direction. Some lead directly to rooms on this floor, others lead up, others lead down. In the end I doubt that any one person could tell you where every doorway leads. Except for myself of course, and I am merely a go-for, as they say.” He chuckled, “They aren’t referring to the animal either, though in these hallways it sometimes feels that way.”
            Confused, she looked up, “But I thought that you were the director?”
            He answered in a more serious manner, “Yes, of course I am the director. I direct people to the appropriate advisors or leaders. I really have no position of importance in “their” eyes. But I know more about their operations than any one of them suspects.” The intelligent, amused glint in his eyes told her that he spoke the truth. Disappointed, she walked on, slowing to allow him to pass her. He gently corrected her again, “No, no. You go on alone; this is as far as I take you today. It’ll take you right where you belong.” He paused and reaffirmed, “We’ll talk later.” Turning on his heel, he reached the door, and passed through swiftly, not even turning back for a second glance. She heard the sharp click of the lock on the door.
            Breathing deeply, she turned her face to the gentle slope before her. The rise appeared to stretch on forever. Wonderingly, she thought how much this dim passageway paralleled her own life. With each step, she wanted more and more to turn back, until she made that all-important decision that whatever was before her was more important than that which she was leaving behind. Not that she even had the chance to return, since the door had been locked behind her. With her mind made up, her step was suddenly lightened, her body leaned forward slightly, and her motions seemed more pneumatic. It was only her mind that was decided, however; her heartstrings were still being tugged in the other direction.
            The hallway seemed to grow lighter as she drew closer to what she assumed was her destination. She pondered this fact for a moment. Her good sense of direction told her that this hallway was on the long side of the building and she may have a good long walk ahead of her. The gradual lightening had, at first, been unnoticeable. However, as she pressed onward, it became obvious that the source of most of the light was before her, rather than in the dim wall lights on either side.
            The hallway ended in front of what appeared to be an old-fashioned swinging saloon door. The light streaming around the edges, and the worn, rustic appearance of the wood appeared out of place compared to the hundreds of yards of concrete and metal she had left behind. She resolved her heart and mind to be as strong and immobile as the hallway she was leaving behind, and she passed through the doors with utter confidence in herself if not her future.
            The gentle, lovable director had not prepared her for what lay beyond those doors. As she entered she was suddenly surrounded by a cacophony of noise and loud crashes. Confused and frightened, she did not lose her wits or leap aside as she felt inclined, but rather continued to observe her surroundings, albeit more promptly. She cocked her head, her eyes and ears covering every aspect of the areas immediately above, before, behind, and beside her. She located the source of the sound, her muscles and expression visibly softening as she saw the concave speaker above her which created the small sound bubble she had stepped into. She shuffled a few steps forward, out of the confusion of sound, as she continued to study and analyze her surroundings.
The walls in this room appeared to be made of some type of cloth. She assumed that the walls were useful for absorbing any sound that might otherwise echo from the sound bubbles which were placed against the walls. She had, when glancing around the room, noticed many other sound bubbles. Some of the bubbles were against the walls, and a few formed a circle in the middle of the room. She also noticed writing, both on the walls and more visible speakers which formed the circle. Blinking her eyes several times to clear up her vision, she was able to quickly scan some of the writing. Seeing that these words appeared to be names, she continued scanning until she finally saw her name on one of the speakers in the circle in the center of the room. Her name, Caranea, was written with a flourish, and as she observed more closely was engraved into the metal in a script-like font, rather than hand-written. Caranea, she thought to herself, An unusual code-name if I’ve ever heard one. Of course, she had had little exposure to codenames or any other such nonsense before her sudden entrance into the unusual world opening before her.
Before entering her own sound bubble, she experimented with a few of the others. Despite her worries that curiosity had really killed the cat, she heard nothing of importance. All of the other sound bubbles were either silent, or were issuing the same echoing madness as the first she had unwittingly stepped into. Taking a deep breath and steeling herself as if about to plunge into an icy river, she paused to allow her mind to run over the possibilities and questions aroused by this unusual room. Perhaps, she mused, this room is the actual staging area, where I am to receive my instructions. Somehow these bubbles must be able to tell when the correct person is standing beneath them. With the thought that this room must be used frequently, she quickly ignored any other conclusions she might have jumped to, and went headfirst into the bubble created by her own personal speaker.
            She thought at first that her rapidly beating heart was drowning out any sound. However, she soon realized that the pulse she heard was slightly off from her actual heartbeat. Almost as if orchestrated, her own heart slowed and began beating in rhythm to the noise surrounding her. Even her lungs vibrated with the long wavelengths of the sound. Yet, the noise was not inordinately loud to her ears. She pondered this for only a moment, before the beating suddenly halted, and her heart along with it.
            As her heart raced erratically, in an attempt to find its own rhythm once more, she turned at the grating noise behind her, and saw another secret door opening. Confused, she decided to throw away any previous assumptions or worries, and take the path lying before her. As she stepped forward, a pulse suddenly filled the room. Her feet marched to the new beat, slightly louder with each step. Wonderingly, she stepped through the new door, and total darkness closed in around her, as her body took the control away from her now paranoid mind.
            Coming back into her mind was a gradual and painstaking process, but she began to hear before she could see. The dark gray of her open, but unseeing eyes, gradually lightened. Yet she was still unable to put faces or images to the words she was hearing. “I think she’s coming to,” the first voice said.
            “Of course she is,” a deeper voice responded. “I warned you that the setting was wrong for her. Not everyone can be controlled at the same pace. You obviously underestimated her heart rate. She is in shape, but she was also very nervous to begin with. And I think that the pitch was a bit too high; I’m pretty sure she could hear the beat. She’s supposed to respond without knowing what she's responding to. Anyway, you need to hush up, or she’ll tell the boss what you did when she sees him. I guess it's alright though, being your first day on the job.”
            “The boss already knows, Stupid. He knows everything. I’m not naive enough to think he won’t find out. I just hope he understands that we should be able to automate this like everything else. Everyone’s hearing threshold and heart rate is different. I don't see how it can be done manually. At least not without a lot more information.”
"You don't think we have all the information we can possibly need? I had the information, you simply miscalculated. Now hush before she wakes up."
            Gradually, dim forms presented themselves, and she realized that the room actually was quite dark. After a few moments of silence to convince them she had not been awake earlier, she spoke. “Wh- where am I now? Who are you? Are you in charge?” Her hesitant queries reverberated in the unknown corridors of the room.
            The first, lighter voice answered her gently, “Well, we can’t really tell you where exactly you are or where we’ll be taking you. What we can tell you is that you’re safe, and you can rest here as long as you need until you are ready to move on. You’ll receive any further knowledge that you might need from the boss when he gives you your instructions. Would you like some water, or some crackers? Is there anything else you might need?”
            “Must it be so dark? I’m still a little out of it, maybe some light would help. I guess I’ll have some water, too.”
            “Well, we can turn the lights on when we leave. I’m putting the water beside your bed. We have to leave now, but whenever you’re ready, just open the door, turn right, and walk down the hallway. We’ll talk later.” The same phrase the Director had used seemed much more ominous when it came from someone she had never seen. This lighter voice had also apparently been given more information than she had. She began to question her recent self-confidence in beginning this venture. She knew she wouldn’t have made it even this far if it hadn’t been for the dozens of people that were apparently watching, even controlling her every move. This meant that she was either weaker than she thought, or they could control and overpower her at any moment.
            The solid click of the door and a flash of light told her that her compatriots had chosen to slip out amidst her musings. Her eyes flashed with shadows and swirls as she squinted to adjust to the glaring fluorescent light now flooding the room. "You'd think they could afford some decent lighting with as much funding as they have." She muttered, pushing herself slowly to a sitting position, ignoring the tightness in most of her muscles.
            She surveyed her surrounding as she gingerly stretched her neck and back muscles. Her palms brushed against the thick flannel blanket covering the metal and canvas army cot. The unfinished concrete of the cell gave the appearance of a prison. She certainly felt like an inmate, though unjustly accused. She knew what she was supposed to do, but she had forgotten her original purpose along the way. She shook her head gently, then firmly, to clear out any cobwebs or stray thoughts that might have accumulated. Finally, she spotted the folding table beside the bed, with an ancient army canteen beckoning her to drink.
            A few drops of liquid near the canteen attested to its recent use, but had it been opened to quench another's thirst, or had her new comrades put an additive into the water? Her cottony mouth overcame her qualms. Her stiff fingers bared the cold metal opening, and she gingerly sniffed the contents, her training too strict to overpower completely. The overwhelming smell of the metal in the canteen nearly turned her stomach; there would be no way to tell if the water had been poisoned based on smell. She threw her head back and allowed the precious liquid to cool her parched throat. She knew she needed to forget about her training for unknown situations or she would drive herself batty. She needed to remain calm. She knew where she was; they had offered her employment; they needed her services. She would be fine.
            When she awoke again, she was lying on a bed of grass somewhere in a garden. She could smell the flowers and fresh air, and felt golden rays of light on her forehead. She heard the birds calling out to each other, and in their voices she heard the word, “Danger, danger,” repeated over and over. She fought to open her eyes, but soon realized that a bandage or cloth was wrapped tightly around her face. She tried to lift her hands to remove the bandage, but felt the sharp bite of a thick rope. Abandoning her training, she called out in a last desperate attempt to escape from this insanity she had fallen into, and heard the gentle voice of the Director. The first man she had met when entering this rabbit hole.
            She listened to the words from this man who had once seemed like a friend. She measured them carefully for anything that might signify hidden danger or secondary meanings. She felt her heartbeat begin to slow as she translated his words as calm, sure and true.
            The Director’s words were spoken softly, but clearly. “From the beginning of this world, there have been times when people grow to contain too much evil. In this time, you can search all the people in the world, but there are none that can be found who are truly good at heart. When this time comes, the entire human race can be either wiped out or changed for the better. Either of these effects, however, are only temporary solutions, because even we cannot truly wipe out the human race. You know that our sect haa been trying to resolve this problem, and you know that we have nearly succeeded in our last great attempt at solving the problem of the human race. You have seen our presentations during your schooling where we showed the propaganda we were using in films, media, and schools to train people to be what they would call Good. And yet, we are still lacking success. Therefore, you have seen the publications recently of our destruction of parts of the human race. Don’t try to deny it; the pain on your face is easy enough to see.”
            “I know that this area is not really your area of expertise, but we have to figure out some solution to the problems presented by these humans. We believe we have finally found the solution to all of the problems they face. We have found a way to keep their economy, keep their social behavior, keep them fed and well-rested, and we have at last found a way to keep them at peace and in comfort for their entire lives. The only problem is that only one-half of the population has been used in the trial phase, so you must find a way to solve this most undeniable problem, they seem not to be able to live apart, something is missing. You are the only one who can succeed in solving this dilemma.”
            Caranea, as she had begun to think of herself, could not bring her mind past its current point to comment on the Director’s words. She asked the first words that came to mind, “Why was I put in danger? Why is this so secret? Where am I now?”
            He answered reassuringly, “Did I not tell you that you are rarely to know the why of things? That is a word it would be best not to mention in the place you are going next. Your current instructions are to join a group that is participating in a sample habitation of our newest design, and determine if it will be possible to introduce one or more persons from the group that is currently ineligible without jeopardizing current situations. You have to do this in utmost secrecy. Only one or two of the human subjects in the project can be introduced to this new environment, if you do in fact believe one can be introduced. You must not let any of the other workers in on the fact that you are not like them, for many of them are in fact very sheltered, and would not understand. Until you receive further instructions or provide information pertaining to the introduction of a subject in the missing group, you are to proceed no further. Do you have any questions?”
            “I have many questions.” She was unwilling to accept this task without knowing something more of her duties. “Which group is not currently participating in the project? Why are they ineligible? And how am I to introduce them when and if the time comes?”
            “Currently, no males are present in the sample population. Of course, this does bring up certain questions of reproduction capabilities, but those issues can be easily resolved when the time comes, as I’m sure you are well aware.”
            “So am I being chosen for this mission simply because of the way I look, or are my special attributes going to be needed? And who is my contact in this mysterious place? I don’t even know where this place is!”
            “Oh my young one, you have much to learn.” His voice almost began to grow sickly sweet. “Everyone chosen is chosen at least in part for his or her special attributes. Yes, your femininity does help our cause, as well as your special and unique qualities and abilities. Your contact will be a young woman named Suzy who will meet you at the entrance. And the place will be made known to you, as soon as you can see.”
            She felt a cold shadow fall across her face, and flinched without knowing it. She forced her eyes closed as the rough cloth was pulled away from her eyes. She blinked at the sudden sunlight pouring in from around the dark shadow of the Director standing above her. His hands untied the scratchy rope, and she let it fall from her wrists as gently as possible. She looked expectantly at the Director. He had promised she would see where her mission was to take place.
            The Director trained his gaze upon some point behind her, and nodded his head in that direction. “Over there.” He said, “Over there is everything this society needs to be truly great. Everything they need to succeed has been manufactured and created and formed and melded into one huge tower of human strength.”
            Caranea slowly turned her head to look over her shoulder at this new project she was to undertake. They were on top of a slight hill, yet the tower in the valley below them seemed to reach above them to the very clouds in the sky. The building was tall and narrow. Its walls were alight with the sunlight reflecting in so many directions that the building seemed like a diamond. The sparkling tower was incredible in its glory, in the awesome presence it commanded over the surrounding countryside. She stood to her feet in reverent appreciation of this awesome spectacle of creation. The Director glanced down at her condescendingly and said boldly and crowing, “This is my creation, the ultimate solution. I have overcome; I have designed and created this magnificent aperture. I alone have triumphed.”

            Immediately, he seemed to disappear in the same manner as the few others Caranea had seen removed from their earthly dwelling. He must have been speaking the truth, for it was only when a being had fully accomplished his part in life that he or she was removed from the earth. The red dust of the Director’s body that blew away in the breeze seemed to cry out almost painfully. However, Caranea turned her back, contemplating the joys of a life well lived, and headed for the tower.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dave Matthews Band - Live Trax 6

By TC


Up next in the Live Trax Series is Volume 6 which captures both nights of the 2006 run at Fenway Park in Boston.  For those of you who still buy CDs, this is a 4-disc set.

DMB Live Trax Volume 6
07.07.2006 & 07.08.2006

Night 1
1) Everyday
2) Pig
3) Proudest Monkey »
4) Satellite
5) The Idea of You
6) Grey Street
7) Bartender
8) Crash Into Me
9) Jimi Thing
10) The Last Stop
11) Digging a Ditch
12) Tripping Billies
13) Can't Stop
14) Hunger for the Great Light
15) Louisiana Bayou
16) Ants Marching
17) Smooth Rider
18) Stay (Wasting Time)

Night 2
1) One Sweet World
2) What Would You Say
3) Don't Drink the Water
4) Say Goodbye
5) Grace Is Gone
6) American Baby
7) Break Free
8) Sweet Caroline »
9) So Much to Say » Anyone Seen the Bridge »
10) Too Much
11) Can't Stop
12) Crush
13) What You Are
14) Dancing Nancies »
15) Warehouse
16) Pantala Naga Pampa » Rapunzel
17) American Baby Intro »
18) Two Step

These two shows were released very much in the same way as Live Trax 2.  Just a few months after they were performed (September), they were available for purchase.  Uniquely with these shows, the demand was so great in the Boston area that DMB actually released this one to stores.  Of course, that created a bit of confusion as some fans could find the show in stores and some fans could not.  It was one of those situations where your Best Buy manager may have ordered a couple to put on the shelves, or maybe not.  (Anyone in the nation could order it to put on shelves, it's just whether or not you knew to do that.)

There was great fanfare before these shows because of the historic venue.  Not many bands get to play Fenway, and to date DMB has only played there twice (these shows in 2006 and two shows in 2009).  The 2006 summer tour was an interesting one in that the band was coming off an album release the year prior (Stand Up) and many fans (including myself) were not getting into the new songs all that well.  Rumors swirled then (as they do now) that the band started to reject its sound during this time (especially Leroi) and wanted to call it quits.  Nonetheless, the early part of 2006 saw some fantastic sets and inspired playing.  In addition, 2006 saw the permanent addition of Rashawn Ross on trumpet.  Having guested with the band extensively in 2005, Rashawn began touring with the band and completed the current horn arrangement - saxaphone and trumpet.  I don't mind a horn section, and I'm not nearly as offput with Rashawn as some fans of the band.  That said, especially early on, Rashawn took much more of a back seat than he does today.  With that as the backdrop, these shows were played to a huge crowd at Fenway right before the summer tour break.

This was the first Live Trax to feature multiple nights.  Because of the volume of material, I won't review song by song.  I'll keep it to the highs and lows of each night.

Night 1 is a little rough.  I'm not a fan of Everyday as an opener (I'm not a fan of it period really), but at least it gives way to a fantastic Pig.  It's in the running for the best Pig ever released (although it falls short of that for me).  The Idea of You, a new song for this tour, was (and still is) unfinished at this point, but the catchy riff makes it an enjoyable listen.  Grey Street follows and is pretty great here.  It begins to drag at this point though, with Bartender being played and having a Butch Taylor solo that would not quit (and desperately needed to).  I liked Butch, but this for some reason never hit me.  Jimi Thing was also a tired version of it's 2003 self here, and this is absolutely the worst The Last Stop released by a wide margin.  The band just never hits it.  Even a decent Tripping Billies can't pick up the end of this show as a run through Can't Stop (new song), Hunger for the Great Light, and Louisiana Bayou crushes the hope of a solid return.  Ants is nice but is standard here, and the encore is weak Smooth Rider.

I never got into Stand Up.  I remember buying the album the day it came out, listening to it in the car on the way home from Best Buy, and thinking to myself, "Who is this?"  I have since listened to the album a few more times and have come to realize that it's not as awful as I initially thought, but it's definitely not the DMB that I knew and enjoyed.  It turned me off the band for a little while.  Even now, songs like Hunger and Louisiana Bayou leave a bad taste in my mouth.  It's a little unfair to continue to judge those songs in that light, but it's like a bad memory that I have a hard time avoiding.

I'll also pause here to talk about Can't Stop.  I understand that most everyone hates this song.  I'll agree with that, especially with these piano driven versions in 2006 and 2007.  But I actually like the guitar driven versions once Tim joined the group full-time.  I can't stand it when The Lovely Ladies guest (another post for another time), but the Live at Wrigley Field version is pretty good.  I'd be satisfied to hear it at a show if it was played that way.

Night 1 gets 1 out of 5 stars for me.  That's almost the bottom of my scale (I reserve 0 stars for the worst of the worst).  Other than the Pig and The Idea of You, there's nothing here that I ever recall wanting to revisit.

Night 2 on the other hand, is an entirely different story.

Night 2 starts with a fairly standard One Sweet World but then goes into a great What Would You Say and Don't Drink the Water.  There is an extended prelude with Don't Drink the Water which was truncated on the Starbucks exclusive Live Trax album version of this song.  I prefer it to remain.  Say Goodbye, Grace Is Gone (with the hoedown outro), and American Baby (the best released version) are great here.  Break Free was a new song at this point and was just beginning to find it's structure droppping a solo and a verse from previous versions in the tour.  Rashawn is great on it.

The surprise of Night 2 is Sweet Caroline, a Red Sox/Fenway tradition, done after the 7th song no less (7th inning stretch, get it?).  The audience recording captures the crowd's singing much better.  I bet it was fun to be there for it.  But, on the recording, it's not like I need to revisit Sweet Caroline or keep it in the playlist.

Standouts of the second half of the set include Crush and Warehouse.  Can't Stop is the only repeat from night 1, unfortunately, but doesn't detract too much from the show.  In an unrelated note, I remember liking What You Are a lot more back then than I do now.  I suppose songs go in and out of favor over time.

The encore is a bit lackluster, although thankfully this is one of the shortened Two Steps with Butch and not Central Park long.  That song does not need a lengthy piano solo to sap it's energy.  It needs to be played loud and hard.

Night 2 gets 4 stars.  The set is mostly devoid of Stand Up (sans the American Babys) and the new song, Break Free, is in a good spot here.  Most of the performances are tight (if a bit auto-tuned - the whole release is in spots), and definitely has a strong finish.

The sound on this one might be among the most debated.  Some people adore it, but the vast majority hate it.  It's definitely heavy with the kick drum.  It sounds just okay to me, not great.  I can hear what I need to hear, but it can get exhausting in my ears after a bit.  Sound also is an issue here because there is some crowd noise piped in at certain points and practically removed at other points.  It's very artificial sounding in some spots.  And, it's auto-tuned to correct a few vocal rough spots.  It sounds like a really decent quick mix for a show.

Overall, I give the set 2 out of 5 stars.  I know my review averages out to 2.5 stars total for each night, but I round down because of the sound of it.  As for a purchase decision, I'm torn because Night 2 really is worth it but Night 1 isn't.  Plus, it's pricy as it's a double disc set.  If it were $17.99, I'd say go ahead and get it because there's enough there that it's worth it.  But, I remember I paid $28.99 for it at Best Buy (my store had it) and felt it was a bit too high.  I'm going to say no based on list price with the caveat that if you can find it used or find it on sale at some point that it's worth it for night 2.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Truly Cheap Emergency Budget

I've seen a few posts lately about people who are trying to live on a very low cost emergency budget for a very short time frame. Because of the short time frame, the possibilities are not healthy, but they are out there.

Because sales prices may vary, a "rock bottom" price for a week of basic meals is almost impossible. However, I do have some tips if you only have a few dollars of cash and a week to get through food-wise.

Tips for low-cost emergency food budget

  1. Scour your pantry, cabinets, fridge and freezer. Because we often stock up on sales or buy things we don't truly need, odds are that you have something in your pantry. Maybe you have a half a bag of flour and some baking powder, add in a dash of salt, tablespoon or two of sugar, some margarine and a cup of milk and you can make 12 baking powder biscuits (I like the King Arthur Flour recipe best, if you're searching online). Maybe you find a bag of peas or rice that you never took the time to cook. Maybe you find a can of fruit or a half pound of meat. Make a meal list using as many of these "pantry" items as you can before making your emergency list.
  2. Decide what grocery store to go to. If you are on such a limited budget, you are unlikely to be driving all over town to save $0.50 on a bag of Chex Mix. So decide on your store first. This decision can be easy or difficult depending on the number of stores in your area. I've found that generally Kroger has the best overall sales prices, Aldi's has the best "regular" prices, and Walmart will price match (but I never have the time to make this effort worthwhile). Your choices may need include criteria such as, is it near a bus stop, how far away, is it on my way to/from work.
  3. Once you've decided on your grocery store, spend some time in advance to make sure you count every penny. Scour the grocery store advertisement for sale prices on staples or rock bottom prices even on things you wouldn't normally buy. Download any coupons from the store's website that may apply (even if you aren't 100% sure you will use them). Check for downloadable coupons that may combine with sales to make name brand items more affordable. Generally we don't buy a lot of name brand items, but there are times that combining sales and coupons can bring the price down to less than the generic equivalent (for example, I just bought Lucky Charms for $0.99 this past week).
  4. Continue your meal list. Hopefully, you've already been able to come up with at least one or two meals or snacks from your fridge and pantry. You may have needed to add one or two ingredients to your list in order to make those meals. Using your downloaded coupons and store flyer, take the time to come up with some additional meals that will last for a week. Try to only purchase one meat (for example, if you can get chicken thighs for $0.69 per pound, you may consider buying that as your meat this week, and using it for multiple meals: i.e. baked chicken, chicken & dumplings, chicken salad sandwiches. Be sure when you're planning your meals to avoid meals that have meat as the primary ingredient or several unusual items not already on hand.
  5. Once you have a meal list - make a shopping list, being sure that you're using all your pantry items and buying as few items as possible. If you truly only have $20-$30 to spend for a family of 4 for a week, you may need to make a trip to your local food bank first, if you don't have a well-stocked pantry.
  6. Things to go without if you're on an emergency food budget - besides the obvious alcohol and cigarettes. Also avoid paying for drinks (milk is okay, as you may need it to bake with but buy as little as possible), candy, coffee/tea, and ignore every impulse buy.
  7. Some good choices for meals other than what's in your pantry - oatmeal, baking potatoes, flour, rice, beans, peanut butter, eggs, cheese. 
  8. Other tips for the store - Start in produce: check your store's damaged produce area first, you may find a bag of apples for $0.99 or half price bananas (perfect for a recipe called Banana Banana Bread). Next - go to the meat section, check for any discounted meat, if none, then purchase the best sale price meat you can. The bread section is next, check for discounted bread as well. In frozen foods, only buy if the discount is steep, except for generic brand frozen veggies if you were unable to find fresh veggies on sale. In the dairy department, aim for the store brand cheese, low cost stick margarine (usually 0.79 per pound at my local store) and grab a gallon of milk. Scan the rest of the aisles primarily for steeply discounted items (such as the Lucky Charms I mentioned earlier).

What would I buy if I only had $30? Well, it would depend somewhat on my pantry and the sale prices. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that I had a marginally stocked pantry with 1/4 bag of flour (5 cups) and sugar (~2 cups), a few tablespoons of baking powder, a stick and a half of margarine, basic condiments, basic spices, and a half a box of noodles. Most people have more than this in their pantry, so I'm just trying to be realistic. Most of these are non-sale price items at my local Kroger.

  1. 1 bag discounted apples (4) - $0.99
  2. 1 head romaine lettuce - $0.99
  3. 1 gallon milk - $2.80
  4. 1 pound whole grain rice - $1.79
  5. 1 container generic oatmeal - $1.79
  6. Chicken thighs (0.69/lb sale price) - 8 lbs = $5.52
  7. frozen veggies - 2 bags total - $2.50
  8. 1 bag of dried beans - $1.29
  9. 1 jar peanut butter - $1.50
  10. Clearance bread - $0.69
  11. Sale price whole grain bread - $2.00
  12. Eggs - $2.79 / dozen
  13. Cheddar cheese - $4 per lb.

What could I make with these (less than $30) and my "pantry" items? 
  • Chicken and homemade dumplings (2 lbs w/ leftovers for another meal)
  • Baking Powder Biscuits
  • Salad (as a side with several meals)
  • Chicken salad sandwiches (1 lb for 4 people)
  • Beans and rice
  • Vegetarian Spaghetti (noodles, cheese, and veggies)
  • Chicken stir fry (2 lbs) w/ veggies and rice (w/ leftovers for another meal)
  • Egg and cheese sandwiches for lunch
  • Oatmeal, pancakes, rice & milk, or buttered toast for breakfasts
  • Sliced apples w/ peanut butter for snacks (1/2 apple per person = 2 snacks for family of 4)
  • Rice, veggies and cheese
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Chicken and beans stir fry (1 lb chicken)
  • French toast
  • Oatmeal baked chicken (2 lbs)
  • Refried bean sandwiches
  • Peanut butter sandwiches
This should last a family of two adults and two young kids for a week. Drink water, stay warm, and fix whatever caused the emergency in your budget. 

This may seem like it's not doable (and if you don't have anything at all in your pantry, or have hungry teenagers or work physically demanding jobs, it may not be). However, there have been several times that we have only spent $45 without even planning at the grocery store, because we've been trying to eat what's in our pantry (and that includes the fact that I have a very picky eater due to sensory issues). We just had a "huge" shopping trip last week where we bought a number of stock up items, and did a "mega event" sale 4 times (24 items) and we came in just under $100 (including my husband buying 3 12-packs of soda plus several 2 liters). So it is definitely doable, you just may not be eating exactly what you wanted to until your emergency situation resolves itself. If you truly are in an emergency situation, please also contact your local church or community resources and take advantage of the local food bank or other resources available. When you're back on your feet, make a donation to "pay them back". That's what community is all about.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Gifted Children

The other day, I happened to visit our local homeschool bookstore on an evening, when kids are not allowed. It was a fabulous time to relax and browse the used curriculum, but there were not a lot of people around that evening.

The one employee must have been quite bored, and we started a brief conversation and somehow got onto the topic of whether I have any gifted kids.

Of course, every parent thinks their kid is gifted in some way, and all kids do have a special gift, but I knew that he was talking about academically gifted. So my answer was, yes for both of my kids, but not really, since my kids are still little. Here's the thing, kids that are in early elementary school can very easily be gifted in some areas and incredibly far behind in others. So, while my almost 3 year old talks very well and knows most of his phonics, all his shapes and colors, counts to 14 and can do basic addition, that doesn't mean that I'm signing him up for Kindergarten next year. Kids don't need to be pushed to learn, they will learn on their own (the only thing I've "taught" him is when he wants to do his "reading lesson" like brother, I will pull out his phonics book, but he's only made it through lesson 10 because he's not ready for blending yet, so most of the phonics he's learned on his own).

So why not start Kindergarten early and let them keep learning at this blazing pace? Doesn't the world need more doctors and engineers? Well, certainly that's true, but the problem is, that if you let your child's pace stay blazing they will soon get too far ahead of themselves. They will start to hate math, science, reading or whatever their previous favorite subject was. Then, if you keep pushing them to continue in those subjects, you're going to face the sad realization that they are a burnt out 16-year old in college who has no idea what they want to be when they grow up.

I was a gifted homeschooler. When I was getting ready to enter private school, my parents allowed me to help make the decision of whether I wanted to go into 5th grade or 6th grade. Age-wise, I ought to have been in 5th grade (although I would have been one of the oldest, with a November birthday). Academically, I probably should have been in 7th grade.

What did I choose? I chose 5th grade. I wasn't ready for the boys and make-up and changing classes, I needed a gentle transition to a more traditional school.

There may have been a few times that I regretted it, like when I had to do math class by myself (after a few weeks of being bored by 5th grade math when I was already doing pre-algebra). But there were plenty of times when I didn't regret it. I was in the right place socially, and that made all the difference. Fortunately, when I got to public school there were more options. At my public middle school, the magnet program allowed me to take Future Problem Solvers of America as my English class, and "test out" of my math class to go play in the computer lab. I was frustrated by having to sit through "reading" class, but I only had to earn a certain number of points, so I read Crime and Punishment because it had the most points available for passing the test. In high school, I was accidentally put in a "regular" biology class the first year, which was a bit scary, but they fixed my schedule pretty quickly.

I took my share of AP classes, but when I started feeling burnt out my senior year of high school, the principal allowed me to get out of AP Calculus BC and switch to a more fun elective instead. I almost regretted it in college, because I turned 19 just after starting college, so wouldn't my "whole life" be over by the time I graduated? Actually, college only takes 3 years if you have enough credits. The only "intro" classes I had to take were a required Bible class, PE, one "art" elective, statistics, and World History (I had US History credits, but not world history). Even then, I didn't have to be bored in my Bible class, because they let me take Poetic and Wisdom Literature instead of New Testament or Old Testament.

I graduated at the reasonable age of almost 22 and had my whole life ahead of me. And, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up!

So, don't worry about what to do with your gifted students. Of all the people to "unschool" gifted students are actually the best example of when it may be okay to unschool. I don't teach reading to my Kindergarten student, because he already knows how to read. I keep him "on track" in math, but he's already teaching himself most of next year's concepts. That doesn't mean that I have to go on to second grade math with a barely 6 year old. I can keep him at his own level, and he can learn whatever else he wants to on his own time.

Keep learning fun, for your child and you. You certainly don't have to "hold them back" but you also don't need to buy a more advanced curriculum until they are at least in later elementary (I cringe when I hear parents are buying "the next" curriculum because their child finished a math workbook).

Explore math concepts through play. Read for fun. Do science experiments regardless of your child's age or knowledge level. Take field trips. Play outside. Let them learn a sport. Find an art or music class. Have them help cook a meal, plant a garden, clean the house. There are all types of learning that take place, not just "regular school". Your gifted child might really grow up to be an engineer, or they may grow up to work at a coffee house and self-publish their own music. Both options are equally valid, if they are fulfilling their purpose in life. Try not to pigeonhole them too early, just because they are "gifted".

Friday, January 22, 2016

Fiction Friday - The Tower - Prologue

I found this gem from my teenage years, and did some mild editing. 


There was a time in my life when I was not quite happy with the person I was. I thought that no matter how educated or sophisticated I was, I was still just another middle class white girl. My parents made enough money for us to live in comfort, but not in style, and I grew up as a penny-pinching product of their tight-fisted lifestyle. For some reason, my younger sister grew up with a much looser pocket, but all will be told in its proper time. For now it is sufficient to say that certain events have changed my perspective of my past, and my hopes and dreams for the future.
It was obvious from the first time I picked up a book that I was to be forever a slave of printed words. In the beginning, children’s books had very little appeal to me. I was much more interested in whatever novel was currently causing my mother to ignore me. Fortunately, most of these novels were safe for a little girl’s eyes and active imagination, and they opened my world to science fiction, adventure, fantasy, and a new realm of thinking. After a while I began to be bored with the happy endings and fluff stories my mother loved, and searched for books that were more like real life. It was not long before more realistic novels, historical fiction, and biographies eventually began to bore me as well. I knew that I would never be as successful as the characters in many of these “real-life” books, and I wanted something more.
In high school, a well-liked, influential teacher gave me a list of books to read that gradually opened my mind, and showed me the influence and power words can have on the thought process. The words now flowed through my mind and coursed through my veins as though they had been my own thoughts and my own imaginings. I began to see my own life in a different light, and became astonished at my friends and peers who often felt none of the emotions towards books that I felt. Some even tried their hardest to get out of reading certain books, and picked up summarized book notes at the library to keep from actually wading through the author’s words and dialogue.
Some people who knew me may have said that I was a good student, or a good reader. At one point I finally realized that not every girl could scan with one quick glance a page full of words, and have all the knowledge of those words rolling around in her head for ten minutes after the book was closed. However, I never felt unique or intelligent because of this. Often the words I saw confused me. Perhaps I would not have understood what the author was trying to tell me, and I would worry for days over a certain plot twist I had not expected. I also, however, began to realize that not every novel was worth reading.
I began to judge a book, not by how much I enjoyed it, but by how long it took me to read. Books that enjoyed were often easy to read and follow, and ended happily ever after. I could often read up to 100 pages of one of these novels in an hour. However, while the basic plot of these novels would roll around in my head for a few days and illicit quite a few far-fetched day dreams of the future, they did nothing or little to affect my life or thought process, except perhaps to hinder them. Books that required thought, on the other hand, often would cause me to stumble or grab for a dictionary or just stop and think or travel a few pages back to see what I had missed in a previous scene. I began to wonder why I even bothered to read the novels that had no great affect on me. I actually became slightly depressed because I would waste several hours with these books, and yet continue feeling the same way after I had read them.
Then I met a young woman who changed everything I had ever dreamed or thought or imagined about the world of words. She showed me that America’s dependence on entertainment had nothing to do with our boredom or lack of work, but that we all had a part of our lives that could only be rescued by an active imagination, and that our imaginations were stimulated even when we read the novels that never actually changed our lifestyle or challenged our belief system.
I suppose it would be best if I told you her story as well as I can, and let you make your own decision about it. She is an amazing girl, and can truly show you something about herself, even if you learn nothing else and just think of this story as one of those sappy, phony books that leave you with nothing more than a roaming imagination. As you will see, she did not grow up in a normal home by any sense of the word, but all will be told in its proper time.
            I must start by describing to you the young woman who I met. When I met her, I was working in a dead end office job. I was never really a secretary or receptionist per se, but there was no real description for what I did. Mostly, I sat around typing or researching at my desk, but I was also in charge of hiring any new employees. It really does not matter what company I worked for because it was similar to hundreds of other big companies in the U.S. in the mid 1990’s. All that matters is that this young woman was applying for a job in this company.
            When I first met her, I wanted to scream to her that she could do better than this, there was no future for her here, and escape from the mind numbing routine became more difficult once you established the seniority and influence (and paycheck) that I had. She was the most beautiful girl I had seen come through our offices in years. She had a lovely long silvery-blonde mane of hair that fell just past her shoulders, and she stood with the posture of one who is successfully supporting the earth with her shoulders. She did not slump, but neither did she possess the ramrod back of one who has never seen hardship and never plans to.
            You may think all you like that my description of her posture has not in any way proved that she was beautiful. You may also think that I have made her sound like a horse by saying she has a mane, but really I cannot imagine effectively describing her in any other way. She was simply a beauty in the oddest sense of the term. She was, according to her resume, 27 years old, but she walked with a spring in her step that made her seem 13. She was fashionably thin for the time period (in other words, horribly thin), and it seemed that she would blow away in the first strong gust from the air-conditioning unit above. Unfortunately, the blowing air did nothing to detract from her beauty and ambience, and I almost laughed at the poor boys hanging out of their cubicles, very distracted as she confidently walked towards my office door.
            Personally, I enjoy knowing all that goes on in the cubicles crowding the large room. That is the main reason I have never decorated with an opaque office door or solid walls. The windows surrounding my office open on three sides to the larger main office, while the other wall (windowless) separates me from my boss. I like being able to prepare for anyone who might be heading towards my office and am therefore willing to sacrifice privacy, but that certainly does not mean that I want my boss spying on me 8 or 9 hours a day. Thus, I was able to judge this girl’s mannerisms, style, mood, and beauty, even before I looked at the clock and noted that she was precisely 3 minutes early for her job interview.
            I am actually the last person in the interview process. First, one of my “poor cubicle boys” sifts through the list of job applicants, which was, at this particular point in time, not vast enough to provide the desired quality of workers. He is then given an office one day a week in which to briefly interview the candidates and give them the old, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” He does make the preliminary decisions, but only based on the resume and standard questions, and nearly everyone made that first cut this time around. Then the same young man researches each candidate for any possible criminal record, checks out their social security number, checks previous employers and any recommendation letters and duly notes them in each person’s file. Then each of these files is presented to me. I pick whomever I want out of the files to have an actual interview with.
I receive about 10 files a day from my “poor cubicle boy” who has had to go through probably 20 interviews, and picked only ten who were suitable for the job they were applying for. Of these 50 files a week, I pick only one per day that I will actually meet. I hire several of the other applicants, because the jobs they are applying for are not very difficult, or I know they will be perfectly suited. Usually, however I would interview anyone who seemed like they might be overqualified or extremely inexperienced. I picked this particular girl because according to her file she had no experience in any job whatsoever, and she listed no college education or otherwise acquired skills, and I could not see why my cubicle boy had passed on her file. By the time she had knocked firmly on my office door, and swept in to grasp my hand unflinchingly, I knew why she was here, and I knew I could never pass up hiring her because of her file, she deserved even more than we could offer.
So, she was hired for a position she had not even applied for, and began working directly under my management. I am given about ten or twelve positions every year which I can control in whatever manner amuses me. At some point in the year, however, my team and I must report our findings in a presentation to the CEO. If the CEO likes it, and our finance numbers are up (which they always are) we all get bonuses, other than that, I am pretty much left to my own devices.
            Learning her story, however, gave me something new and incredible to think about and changed my life forever. I could not ever go back to the way I was before, and neither could she. After hearing her story I was given a second chance at my life. Because the truth was, as old as I felt (I was only 31 at the time) and as old as I acted, I had never experienced anything near what she had gone through, and I felt the need to start my life over based on what I learned from her trials and tribulations.
It all began as she sat down for coffee on Christmas Eve, 1998. She had been my best friend for two years at that point, but she always said that I was hard to talk to. I had heard it before from others, but still I did not think it was entirely true. People told me what they needed to tell me, and I was a fairly good listener, but I suppose I was somewhat apathetic to the sob stories they generally had to tell.
I have to tell you her story in order for you to understand anything about my life as it is today, as it is since she changed everything. She was staying at my house for Christmas, because she had told me that she had no family, and I confided that I had not talked to my own family for years, and often grew lonely during the holiday season. So we sat down around seven in the evening and she told me her story. We could not find a stopping point until she was too tired to talk anymore at around three in the morning, so we continued the story the following day. Needless to say I got little sleep that night, and woke her impatiently at around eight the next morning.

You can never classify a story like hers. It is not a story that can be told over dinner, because people would not believe its validity, or would lose their appetites. It is not a story to make its way through the bars, nightclubs, and alleys of a large city, because those who understood would have no opportunity to explain to their distracted or drunken peers. Neither is it a story to be shared at bedtime with young children, not that it would necessarily cause nightmares, but it would romanticize a way of life that was very painful for the story’s heroine. However, even considering the private libraries of the rich, or a hostess’s coffee table, or the bedside of a harried mother, there is no niche this story will fit into. It is something that can only be fully experienced through a first-hand sharing. The knowledge and grace of the woman who experienced this must be added in order for the story to be fully understood and appreciated. For this reason, you must pay close attention, for I am telling her own story in her own words. It is the tale of sorrow, pain, suffering, and deliverance of Bevel Laurel in the Tower.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Dave Matthews Band - Live Trax Volume 5

by TC

Hello Interworld.  It's husband again.  (Tired of me yet!?).

Sometimes in life, you just have to be honest with yourself and admit your mistakes.  In this blog post, I publicly admit to a mistake I made for a few years with regards to this album, Live Trax Volume 5.

DMB Live Trax Volume 5
08.23.1995

1) Proudest Monkey »
2) Satellite
3) One Sweet World
4) Drive In Drive Out
5) Dancing Nancies »
6) Warehouse
7) Tripping Billies
8) Lover Lay Down
9) Rhyme & Reason
10) Exodus
11) Jimi Thing
12) Pay for What You Get
13) Two Step »
14) Ants Marching
15) Typical Situation
16) All Along The Watchtower

This particular album was released in May, 2006.  When it was first announced, fans immediately asked the question - "This is only 8 days after Red Rocks.  Why is this a Live Trax?  What a waste."

I made this same mistake.

At first glance, this show does look remarkably like the famous Live At Red Rocks 08.15.1995 album that all fans of the band know and love.  By my unofficial count, 12 of the 16 songs were on Red Rocks (One Sweet World, Exodus, Jimi Thing, and Pay For What You Get are the exceptions).  Red Rocks gets another feather in its cap because Tim Reynolds sat in for the whole set as well.  Although David Ryan Harris plays on a few tunes, he doesn't sit in the whole set.  The venue isn't as picturesque as Red Rocks either, being near Detroit, MI.  And, it's the EXACT SAME encore. There's no way this is as good as Red Rocks.  None.

Again, wrong, wrong, wrong.  I was WRONG.  (I can't emphasize it enough.)

First, this is a 1995 recording.  Remember from Live Trax 4 why that's special?  Multi-track recording didn't begin in earnest until 1996.  This is special in and of itself.  Second, in the release notes for this record, the crew noted this as a favorite of theirs from the early days.  If the crew says it was a good show, doesn't that mean something?  Third, David Ryan Harris. You're right, he's not Tim Reynolds.  He's David Ryan Harris, a VERY great guitar player.  Fourth, the set is basically a repeat of Red Rocks.  This shouldn't be a negative, it should be a positive.  That's a great album and a great set list - as is this.

Is it perfect?  No.  There are unfinished songs (Proudest Monkey, Drive In Drive Out, and Two Step) and two cover songs (Exodus, All Along The Watchtower) in the set.  But, the performances are, for the most part, better than Red Rocks (yes, I said it), and it sounds amazing.

The set starts with an under-utilized opener in my opinion, Proudest Monkey. This, and Satellite, have David Ryan Harris in the background with some unique noodling.  Both are standouts, besides Monkey's unfinished lyrics.  One Sweet World is next.  Two words - Leroi Moore.  He crushes the instrumental introduction solo.  The band is absolutely on fire at this point and it shows.  These early One Sweet World's were just a touch fast to me (I prefer it at 2000-2002's pace), but the instrumental at the beginning has never been better than right here.

However, the first dip in the set comes next, Drive In Drive Out.  The performance is good, but the unfinished lyrics are distracting.  That's okay though, because the next four songs make up for it.

The stretch of Dancing Nancies, Warehouse, Tripping Billies, and Lover Lay Down might just be what I'd give someone who says they either don't like Dave Matthews Band or don't like early Dave Matthews Band.  It's just that good.  This might be the best Dancing Nancies ever released, and Warehouse is smokin' right behind it.  This Tripping Billies has so much energy - and is, to me, better than Red Rocks.  And in Lover Lay Down, the saxophone has never sounded more tender than it does right here (perhaps with the 6.24.2001 version in close contention).  These four songs are all better on this album than they are on Red Rocks.

David Ryan Harris is back for the trio of Rhyme & Reason, Exodus, and Jimi Thing.  This is still my favorite Rhyme & Reason.  I don't normally care for that song, but this version is spectacular.  I fall in and out of favor with their cover of Exodus.  No doubt this is the best released version of it, but I'm not sure I can always call it a great song for me.  For a long time (until Live Trax 33), this Jimi Thing was my absolute favorite.  Jimi Thing, before 1996, is great, and this is another great version.  The outro with David Ryan Harris and Dave Matthews taking turns on guitar is bliss.  (Of course, this same outro also inspired the song Angel, which should be taken out back and beaten, but I digress). It's a good mid-set guest spot.

Rounding out the main set is a quiet Pay For What You Get (a welcome break in the action after Jimi), and then a driving Two Step into an Ants Marching, both of which are performed better here than at Red Rocks.

(Ducks from the keyboard to avoid being hit by flying objects.)

Say what you will...if this album had come out first, and Red Rocks later, I'm not sure we'd have the same depth of affection for the respective releases that we currently do.  Red Rocks HAD to be the first release, just with Tim and the small setlist changes, but this one was wisely retained for future release.

The encore is the same as Red Rocks and I won't debate anyone who says this Typical Situation is inferior to the Red Rocks version.  I will debate you if you say it's VASTLY inferior.  It's not.  They're close.  I do prefer this Watchtower to Red Rocks, though.

The sound on this one is spectacular.  It's brickwalled, unfortunately, but everything is relatively crisp.

Highlights FAR outweigh the low points on this release, and there aren't many low points.  Although it took a while to get into my collection, I hope this review has encouraged you to make it a part of yours sooner rather than later.  This is an easy 5 out of 5 stars.  I'd love to give it 6 stars, just because it was so unexpected that it was this good, but that's cheating.

Oh, and in case you've missed any of the previous posts and don't want to search through to find them, here's a quick summary of my reviews:
Live Trax 1: 4/5, purchase
Live Trax 2: 2/5, skip
Live Trax 3: 5/5, purchase
Live Trax 4: 3/5, skip
Live Trax 5: 5/5, purchase

Until next time...

Friday, January 15, 2016

Poetry Friday - Song of Praise

All I have belongs to God
All He gives me freely
All the grace I don't deserve
All the love I'm feeling

Dancing circles round and round
I lift my arms up, falling down
Sheltered in His loving arms
I feel the scars that saved me

Nothing I have belongs to me,
But He has given oh so freely
Only by grace can I be saved
I'm a dying wreck, pulled from the grave

Please accept this song of praise
The only thing I can give

I give my heart, my life, my soul
Worth nothing

And I say thank You, thank You, thank You
But my thanks are empty

I sing songs of praise, and lift my open hands
All that I can give, You already have
Just take me, and all I am

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dave Matthews Band - Live Trax 4

by TC

In early September, 2005, five months since Volume 3, Live Trax Volume 4 was released.  (And, in case you couldn't tell, this is husband checking in on the blog for today.  Hello Inter-world.)

DMB Live Trax Volume 4
04.30.1996

1) Two Step »
2) Say Goodbye »
3) Richmond Jam
4) Too Much
5) So Much to Say
6) Crash Into Me
7) #41
8) Lie in Our Graves
9) Jimi Thing
10) Ants Marching
11) Proudest Monkey »
12) Satellite
13) Cry Freedom
14) Drive In Drive Out
15) Typical Situation
16) Little Thing
17) All Along The Watchtower
18) Tripping Billies


This show is definitely in the "historically significant" category.  It's the Crash album release party show.  It also marks the beginning of multi-track recording for every show of the band.  Up to this point, only certain shows had been multi-tracked.  From here on out, unless there was an error in the recording (which does happen from time to time), there are multi-tracks of every show.  In addition, from the album notes we learned that this is when DMB inherited the Grateful Dead's sound system and were able to put on a much better sounding show than before.  Of course, Crash is the album which took the band from stardom to super-stardom and they put that sound system to good use during the upcoming summer tour.


Personally, this show is right around the time when I first got into the band.  Crash was the first DMB album I got, and I got it for my birthday in 1996 (I was thirteen years old).  I played that album a lot over the next few years.  (Admittedly though, I didn't get Under the Table and Dreaming, the band's previous record, until I was almost thirty.  Go figure.)

Fans are divided about the quality of the show.  It's the first time a lot of these songs had been heard in their post-recorded form.  Most of the Crash album had been played during the band's early days in various iterations and with different lyrics.  However, this was the first time that lyrics had been set, arrangements were finalized, and the songs were ready to go.  Two Step, Say Goodbye, #41, Proudest Monkey, and Drive In Drive Out all have some varying degrees of change to them and this is, besides a late 1995 show in New York, the first opportunity to hear these versions.  And, new songs Too Much and Crash Into Me made their debut.

As with anything new, the songs and performances do not have many years of "road-testing" behind them.  They are young and raw.  The band had just taken one of it's longest breaks up to that point (in reality, it was just a few months).  Dave certainly kept busy, touring with Tim Reynolds over the winter of 1996 - a tour which produced the live album Live at Luther College (and later, Live Trax 23 - we'll get there).  The rest of the band was not touring with these songs and were just settling back into the groove of playing live together again.

In short, a lot of fans will advise you that there's nothing special on this disc, that the band is loose, out of tune, sloppy, yada, yada, yada.  I'll put it this way - if you're expecting Live Trax 3 tight, this isn't the album for you.  This is a fun show where the band was able to play some new songs and take their new sound out for a spin.  It's not intended as the definitive performance of anything, it's intended as the introductory performance of great songs.  If you listen to it with that in mind, it sounds just fine.

The show starts with Two Step, fresh from it's "neutering" in the studio.  Say Goodbye never had set lyrics anyway, even on the recording, and this version continues the tradition of Dave making it up as he goes along each night.  The real gem of this show, in my opinion, is the Richmond Jam (as fans have called it - it's credited as Untitled Jam on the release).  It's a very light riff and doesn't really develop into anything more than a loose improvisation.  I do wonder if this was an aborted idea the band had in the studio or if it was something more.  I do know this was the one and only time it ever appeared on stage and so it's great to have it released here.

Too Much and So Much to Say are up next, in reverse order of how many fans know them.  Anyone Seen The Bridge, the interlude between the two, hadn't been written yet and these two songs were stand alones.  After years of hearing them together it's certainly a bit jarring to hear them in reverse.  Crash Into Me is up next, the song that made the band.  This is a fine performance, nothing special, but nothing awful either.  At full band shows, #41 was at this point a much looser jam known to fans as "41 Police."  (Check out the DMBLive from Cameron Indoor Stadium, 04.07.1995, to listen to the debut performance.)  It slowed down and evolved into one of the most played songs in the catalog.  This is a short and sweet version here.  The reworked Lie In Our Graves follows, with Boyd Tinsley taking the solo instead of Leroi Moore.  This solo is still Boyd's, and it will always be his too.  (I do enjoy those Leroi solos though...I wish they'd try it that way once in a while just to keep it different.)

For those of you keeping count, that was a run of 8(!) "new" songs to start the show.  At this point, the show gets back to some hits with a stellar version of Jimi Thing and Ants Marching.  Ants on this particular album has one of the oddest sounding snare drum intros to me for some reason...if you have the record, compare the sound here to the sound on Live Trax 3.  It sounds much different, doesn't it?

written by TC 

The show goes back to a new song.  Proudest Monkey, complete with new lyrics, debuts and segues into Satellite.  Cry Freedom is up next, followed by the set closer Drive In Drive Out.  This and Live Trax 18 are my favorite versions of Drive In Drive Out.  Placement as a set closer isn't  great for me, but this version isn't as bothersome to me as others.

The encore is huge.  Typical Situation and All Along the Watchtower had been a regular encore for the band in 1995.  In addition, this show as the last full band Little Thing to date and a monster Tripping Billies (for the time) to close out the show.

As for sound, this one does have the odd sounding snare drum going for it.  It sounds fine though overall.  It settles into a nice balance very quickly.

I give this one 3 out of 5 stars, which is probably higher than most fans, because of the encore and the unreleased Richmond Jam.  There's not a single version of any song here which is in the running for being the definitive anything (MAYBE Little Thing, but most people would put that in the Dave & Tim category anyway), and the melodies of certain songs are still being played around with on stage to sound the way we all know them by heart.  But, it's a great show that marks a line in the sand for the band - there was no going back to the small time.  This band was a major player in the music scene and was going to be playing amphitheaters, not clubs, going forward.  Twenty five years in, they remain one of the top touring acts year after year in part because of the songs they debuted on this night almost twenty years ago.

For a purchase recommendation, I'd get this one before I got Live Trax 2.  But, if you're strapped for cash, you can pass on it.  Live Trax 18 was recorded just a little over a month after this show and has better performances of almost everything.  I'll get to the formal review of it later (my sources tell me that will be after my review of Live Trax 17), but I'd recommend getting that one first.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Grace or Repentance

Being a parent has had a profound impact on my personal walk with Christ. At first, the busyness and stress of parenting caught me up in a web of distraction. Lately though, I've come to understand so much more about my personal faith, simply by discussing it with my Kindergarten big kid.

The other day, at the library, my youngest picked out a book about gratefulness. It looked like a little kid book, but upon reading through it, we found that it was very much above both of their heads. So, my oldest asked me to explain this concept of gratefulness (since the book really didn't other than pictures). The last picture was of a boy and girl in a kneeling position with hands together, so I explained that gratefulness means being thankful to God for all the many things He gives us. Trying to emphasize that point a little I asked him a follow up question, "What types of things are you thankful for?" He still couldn't think of anything to answer so I asked another way, "What does God give you the most that you really like?" His answer was simple, "Grace."

It's true that this is the biggest gift we've been given. Some may argue that we can be thankful for nature, but storms come that can tear it apart. We can be thankful for peace, but peace can be only temporary in this world, apart from Him. We can be thankful for food, clothing, money, or things, but all of these will pass away. We can be thankful for our health or our kids or our lives, but even these will be taken from us at some point. So what is the biggest, best gift that we should be grateful for every day? It's the amazing, impossible, overflowing grace that He gives.

Does this mean we're finished once we accept this grace? Is that the final step, just to be thankful that we no longer have to worry about eternal punishment? Absolutely not!

Grace is only one piece of the puzzle. To fully accept this freely given, extravagant gift of grace with a grateful heart, and yet continue blatantly down the path of sin and suffering is crooked thinking. This gift of love and acceptance can only be received with an open heart and humility. Don't let pride or self-centeredness stand in the way of fully appreciating His goodness. Accept the grace with a grateful heart by completely turning from that sin. Doing otherwise would be like winning a brand new house from a prize drawing and then letting it fall to pieces around you, inviting in some wild animals, and leaving the windows open in a hurricane. Accept the gift, but treasure it as well. Keep your doors and windows open only in good weather. Keep out the pests and mold and filth of sin, not because you have to, but because this is a gift to be treasured.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Humility

I was reading in my Bible this morning and came across an old familiar passage in a new light. Jesus said, "Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11: 28-30 (ESV).

I've probably read this passage a million times, but usually we focus on "come to me" and "my yoke is easy". Today I was drawn to "learn from me, for I am gently and lowly in heart".

Lately I've been struggling with kindness in my personal family life. I make excuses (yeah, I know I was going to try not to do that as much) and I justify it, and say I'll work on it when the kids are older. There are times when I will need to adjust my voice volume or tone to my 5 year old, because he can't smell and therefore has a hard time understanding micro-expressions. However, I don't need to raise my voice out of anger.

Yet, despite wanting to work on this problem, and seeing a need to work on this problem of my anger, I still haven't been able to accomplish much. So, how do I fix the problem? The simple answer is that it's not about me.

In this passage, Jesus is not merely reminding us that He's with us in the journey, which is what I've often heard in referring to the His "yoke", He is reminding us that He wants us to be like Him. So many times, it is easier to "do it on our own" or take pride in our accomplishments, especially in our culture today. Jesus isn't just saying that He will be there with us in our struggle, He's actually telling us not to struggle so much. Rather than pride and self-centered focus, make yourself humble. He humbled Himself entirely to a conclusion of allowing Himself to physically and spiritually die so that we could be saved from our sins, and yet my pride rears it's head when a child doesn't listen for the millionth time in a row.

So how do we learn from Christ on our daily walk? Keep praying with an open heart, reading your Bible with an open mind, and lay down your pride. Practice daily gentleness, with others and yourself. I don't think anyone would say that his yoke was truly easy (being asked to lay down His life). Yet, He said it was, because His purpose was not to make Himself a God on earth, but to make Himself as lowly as He could, to reach down to us in our filth and shame and put His arms around us. So take up that yoke, not the pride of the Pharisees, but the warm hug of a dirty child.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Fiction Friday - Moon-Kissed

One late spring day, a burst of warmer weather filled the streets of New York City with even more people than usual. Dr. Patrick Armstrong, a noted psychiatrist, and son of a noted psychiatrist, had a cancellation. One of his patients, who had been suffering from severe Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder, decided that it would be a lot cheaper to go to the park and enjoy the sunshine. Dr. Armstrong did charge a small ($50) cancellation fee, but it was still cheaper than an hour’s session, and arguably more pleasant, depending on which patient was arguing.
            Dr. Armstrong decided to take a small rest break himself and get some exercise and a cup of joe. Despite the fact that there was a cart-style Starbucks actually in his building, he decided to walk to the larger Starbucks a few blocks away, where the baristas knew him by name, and several patients held a self-help group on Friday nights. When the weather was bad, convenience was a plus, but on a day like today, he liked to show some community support.
            On his way back, taking a short detour through a small park, he noticed a young homeless woman, just waking up from a nap. Seeing the small Styrofoam cup on the ground beside her, and the lost, hungry look in her eyes, he headed her direction to drop his spare change in her cup. Since most homeless persons had at least one psychological problem, including addiction and alcoholism, he often took a few moments to chat with those he gave money to, which helped him feel like he was using his gifts for the good of all, instead of just the very wealthy or well-insured.
            When he reached the young woman, he saw that her cup was not empty, it was actually a coffee cup. The young woman snatched it out of his reach and took a sip. She was clearly not interested in his money. Then she smiled at him. The contrast of her white, even teeth shocked him almost as much as the sincerity of her smile. She did truly appear homeless, a few small grocery bags behind the bench seemed to contain her personal items. The clothes she wore were filthy and ragged with overuse and the recent heavy spring rains. She had no shoes on, despite the recent chillier temperatures. Her hair was dirty and matted. At one time it appeared to have been blond, or possibly red, Dr. Armstrong could not really tell. Her eyes and smile, however, now portrayed an intelligent and kind persona.
            He smiled back at her, “Good afternoon, young lady.” He took the approach of treating her as any normal acquaintance he happened to meet on the street. “Out enjoying the fine weather?”
            “I always enjoy the weather.” She said, a positive attitude clearly showing that she did mean all of the weather. “Are you a friend of mine?” She asked, confusion slightly clouding her eyes again.
            “We haven’t met before, but I’ve heard about you.” He added in a burst of inspiration, he had heard of many homeless in the area with the recent weather, so surely someone had to have mentioned this young lady specifically. “My name is Dr. Armstrong, but you may call me Patrick.” He held out a hand.
            Her handshake was firm, yet feminine. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir. What brings you out on this lovely day.”
            “The weather of course, and might I ask what brings you out?”
            “I believe you already have via your implied question in your greeting, I wonder about your memory, sir.”
            “And I wonder if might be willing to answer that question, implied or otherwise. Please, do call me Patrick. Sir is much too formal. What can I call you?”
            “If you had truly heard of me, you would know my name. Cassandra Lovingchild, but you may call me Cassie. The news and gossip columnists typically call me just Lovingchild, due to the type of films I typically star in. We’re shooting next weekend in Freeport if you’d like to come check us out.” She gazed around at the sun filtering through the trees. “I often sleep through the day, I had forgotten how bright the sun is. It can even see through the leaves.
            Dr. Armstrong thought for a moment, he couldn’t place the name. Lovingchild, Lovingchild, Lovingchild. It didn’t exactly sound like a real name, but if she had been an actress once upon a time, it could certainly be a stage name. Then again, she could indeed be suffering from a psychological disorder. Why else would an otherwise healthy, attractive girl allow herself to reach this state of living. “I would love to come see a real movie set. You’re shooting in Freeport you said, which Freeport?”
            “Freeport, Maine of course, it’s only a short drive from here.” She smiled up at him.
            “A short drive, you say? Which here are you referring to?”
            Confused again, she thought for a moment, “Boston?” then more firmly, “It’s a couple hours from Boston. I can easily drive that distance and still make it on time.”
            “Where is your car?” Dr. Armstrong asked.
            She shrugged, “In the garage, I think. I won’t worry about it. I usually travel at night, so it shouldn’t be any trouble to make it to Boston on time.”
            “I thought you said Freeport, Maine.” Now Dr. Armstrong was frustrated. He really did not have time to play games with this woman. He glanced at his watch. “I probably won’t have time to come see your movie. It’s a long drive from New York City.” He emphasized those words, but she didn’t acknowledge the change of location. “Can I meet with you again in the City sometime?”
            “If you look closely enough, you can see me dancing in the moonlight under these trees.”
            “Isn’t that dangerous in the City?” Now Dr. Armstrong was truly conflicted. He couldn’t leave this poor girl alone to fend for herself. She would surely be raped or murdered within a day.
            “My bodyguards keep a very close eye on me.” She lowered her voice. “Sometimes too close, if you know what I mean.” She dismissed him with a wave of her hand. “Go on about your business. If you don’t have any more time for me, I won’t waste any more of it chatting with you. It was nice to meet you, Patrick.”
            Confused now, but with an appointment in less than ten minutes, Dr. Armstrong turned to leave, but resolved to meet with her again. “Can I meet you back here at about 6:00 in the evening? Will you be able to stay around that long?”
            “Let me check my appointment book.” She grabbed at her pockets, most of which were ripped and muddy. She gesticulated with her hands in the air and then closed her eyes briefly, tapping an imaginary pencil against her cheek. “I believe I will have a few moments to meet with you. I will try to be here when you arrive. If I am late, feel free to wait a moment. I do have a 5:30 appointment, which might run over.” She placed an invisible appointment book on the bench beside her and attempted to brush a hand through her hair.
            “Thank you, Cassie. I really do have to run, but I look forward to meeting with you again. Maybe you can tell me more about how you got into the acting business.”
            She didn’t respond. She just gazed past him, towards a little boy splashing in the cool water of a fountain. He reluctantly left, rushing back to the office so his important, wealthy clients would not immediately call around to find another noted psychiatrist, who was also the son of a noted psychiatrist.



Thursday, January 07, 2016

Dave Matthews Band - Live Trax Volume 3

On March 17, 2005, Live Trax Volume 3 was released.  If you aren't familiar with downloading shows or tape trading for Dave Matthews Band, this show may not have been on your radar until that day.  Afterwards though, at least for the vast majority of fans, it's a show that hasn't left the rotation since.

DMB Live Trax Volume 3
08.27.2000

1) Dancing Nancies
2) Seek Up
3) Linus and Lucy
4) Pantala Naga Pampa » Rapunzel
5) I'll Back You Up
6) Busted Stuff
7) Recently
8) Raven
9) The Maker
10) Grey Street
11) Grace Is Gone
12) Say Goodbye
13) Bartender
14) JTR
15) Ants Marching
16) The Stone
17) Drive In Drive Out

This is widely regarded as the best of the Live Trax series.  We're 36 shows in and it still seems there is a general consensus that it doesn't get any better than this particular album.  The 2000 Summer Tour is in the running for the best ever (at least among fans).  The band was in the height of their popularity in the eyes of the general public as well.  During this tour, Butch Taylor guested on most of the shows including this one.

The show begins with over 30 minutes of music straight.  Dancing Nancies slowly builds to it's climax before giving way to the open notes of Dave's guitar on Seek Up.  Seek Up, some 17 minutes later, gives way to the second Linus & Lucy interpolation in the Live Trax series (up to this point, 2 of the 3 albums had this).  This particular version is my favorite as it is driven much more with the saxophone than the piano.  Eventually, the opening notes of Pantala Naga Pampa break through and open what I consider to be my favorite version of Rapunzel.  The ending jam is perfect in my mind, note for note.  I wouldn't change a thing.

The show slows down a bit with I'll Back You Up and a jazzy rendition of Busted Stuff.  For a long time, unless you were a member of the fan club (or knew how to find music online without paying for it), this was the only official version of Busted Stuff to which you had access.  I wish it was followed up by the full version of Recently, but the truncated version is what was performed that night.

At the time of the show Busted Stuff was a new song, still unrecorded (officially), and would surface the following year on The Lillywhite Sessions.  The band's unfinished sessions were leaked around the same time their new album, Everyday, was released in 2001.  Although the summer 2000 songs eventually were recorded officially for 2002's Busted Stuff, the 2000 Lillywhite Sessions were the way fans were exposed to them first.  However, on this night, the band played six of those new songs which really does make this a unique show.

Raven, the second of the new songs, is up next.  As much as I want to love this version, and as much as I do love how well it's played, the jibberish of the unfinished lyrics takes it down a notch for me.  "Pickle in your bed" may excite a lot of fans, but to me, it's ridiculous.  It's such a shame too as Leroi is perfect on it.

The Maker is up next, always a fun cover.  Grey Street, another new song, follows.  By this point, the verses (all three!) were fairly well set and the chorus, although slightly different from what would ultimately be recorded and released on Busted Stuff, is fairly well set as well.  The differences are not enough to take away from the song though, and the extended jam at the end has almost an entirely different sound to the Grey Street which serves as a set or encore closer at concerts today.  Grace is Gone is next, played with a bit more subdued sound than which it was ultimately recorded and subsequently toured with.  These 2000 versions are my favorite for this song, although I prefer the one recorded from two nights later (08.29.2000, Live Trax 11) a little bit more.

Say Goodbye is very similar to the one recorded for the Best of What's Around live disc, and this one is also very good.  My personal favorite version of Bartender follows next.  The intensity of it is unmatched on any other recorded version in my opinion (with a notable exception of the 8.19.2008 version for obvious reasons).  And yes, I hear you 4.7.2002 people...I still like this one better.  I don't question the way Dave does at the end of that version either which makes it much less compelling for me.

JTR is the final new song of the night and this is a stellar version.  The whole run from Raven to Ants Marching never really slows down and every version of the song is in contention for the best performance.  Speaking of this Ants Marching, a lot of people will defend this one as their favorite.  It's definitely up there.

The encore starts strong with The Stone, but, if I do have a down note on this show, it's ending on Drive In Drive Out.  Again, not a personal favorite of mine.  This was a common one-two punch in shows during this time so I understand it and I know why people think it's the best encore ever...it's just not for me.

The mix on this album is also one that most people consider to be the strongest of any of the Live Trax.  It definitely fits the songs well and is enjoyable, but best is hard to say...it's up there.

The entire show is placed at the perfect pace.  It just never gets ahead of itself too much.  It's restrained.  The band is on fire and every song is tight.  To me, it's one of the peaks of the series.  If you don't own it, you need to own it.  You won't regret it.  5 out of 5 stars, easy.