Monday, July 9, 2012

My (Sorta) Retro Weekend

I spent the Fourth of July at my parents' house, and while there I found that they had saved all my old video game consoles despite their seemingly never-ending effort to clean out their basement. Even though video game emulators have been around for quite some time, there is something enjoyable about the tactile experience of plugging in the actual console, turning the game on, and playing it on the original joystick. Not that I have room for it, but soon I would be playing the Atari 2600. (The Sega Genesis is either broken or needs to be cleaned.)

The Atari was missing its power source, so that would need to be remedied. Because I am impatient, I wasn't going to order one online. Because Radio Shack's universal adapters are rather expensive I wasn't going there. So I did some searching online and found that surplus stores were a good source of random AC adapters.

As luck would have it, Milwaukee has such a store, and that store is American Science & Surplus. Awesome store if you're into the whole DIY electronics thing. Initially, the only 9V adapter they had didn't have the right plug, so I thought my plan had been foiled. But one last check of the "Very Assorted Adapters" bin proved lucky, and I had what I needed, though it is technically underpowered.

After some Googling, it was apparent -- though I figured it wouldn't be simple considering the adapter that came with the console was for 1980's televisions -- that it would take some re-jiggering to get the thing hooked up.

A trip to Radio Shack -- only $1.29 or so more than ordering it -- and I had my connector. (RCA to Coax)

After hooking it up through a VCR that I kept for some reason, I turned everything on and it worked. Sort of. It would turn on, but I couldn't get a picture with any game I tried. I wasn't sure if it was the set-up or the console or the generic plug I bought for a whole $2.50.

Ever the hoarder, I just so happen to have a legit old TV in the house, so I dragged that out and tried again. Eventually, success! The adapter doesn't always sit in the input so well, so I have to make sure it's in there tight. (That's what she said! Zing!)

I took apart the console to give it a good cleaning and to reset a ribbon cable that was making the "select" and "reset" buttons inoperable. Once that was all done, most of the games worked. It took some mild elbow grease, but in the end I was able to game like it was 1982.

 Later that night, I went to see Cake at Summerfest.

I am not the biggest Cake fan in the world, but I like their music well enough. Fashion Nugget is actually a pretty decent album. Lest you think Cake couldn't possibly be a draw, the overflow crowd at the Miller Oasis stage said otherwise.

Unfortunately the thing with overflow crowds is that half the people there are there maybe to see the one big hit and spend the rest of the time talking to their friends.

I'm not smug enough to delineate between true and fairweather fans, but generally when I go to see a concert -- whether it be at an indoor venue or at an outdoor festival -- I go to hear the music, not to socialize. (Whether I've actually ever been able to socialize regardless of situation is another story entirely.)

Cake didn't seem to care about that though. They went on and did their thing like they've been doing since the mid-1990's.

AV Club Milwaukee was dead on when they said "It’s somewhat like AC/DC in that its songs tend to feel fairly interchangeable, without a ton of distinction between albums; fortunately, it’s also somewhat like AC/DC in that the one Platonic song of which all its tunes are but cast shadows is enjoyable enough that it would be silly to make a fuss about it."

Cake sounded good overall, saving their biggest hits until the end -- "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," "Never There," and set-closer "The Distance." Also of note were "Frank Sinatra" and a Cake-ified cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs."

Singer John McCrea's voice occasionally struggled to be heard above the din, but when you're practically speaking the lyrics half the time, I suppose you can't expect much more.

And that's really the story of the show: I didn't expect much. I didn't get much more than that. It felt less like a concert and more like straining to hear an album at a crowded houseparty. But hey, I got to see Cake for a discount price. Cross another one off the 90's alt-rock bucket list. Maybe I'll go see Summerland after all.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Avett Brothers Deliver Rollicking Two Hour Set

The Avett Brothers' music is hard to pigeonhole into just one genre, as they blend elements of country, bluegrass, folk, rock, and pop into a delicious musical stew. On Friday night at the brand new BMO Harris Pavilion, the band was firing on all cylinders.

Opening with the gentle-beginning "Laundry Room," the band exploded into the second half of the song with an almost punk-rock like energy and careened into the raucous bluegrass murder ballad "I Killed Sally's Lover." The Avett Brothers thrashed away on their instruments -- particularly striking was cellist Joe Kwon's furious headbanging --with an energy that propelled both band and crowd through a marathon two-hour set.

Biggest cheers of the night were for songs from The Avett Brothers' major-label breakthrough I and Love and You, but tunes from the other albums were received just as well.

Faring not as well were songs sprinkled in from the forthcoming album The Carpenter. Some people sprung for the beer or bathrooms lines, and others may or may not have left for good. Songs like the lead single "Live and Die" and "Love Like The Movies" were standard Avett Bros. fare, while "Winter In My Heart" sounded like something more suited for a generic country radio station. I'm betting those songs will grow on people when the album comes out, however.

As the set went on, it became apparent that the overflow "standing room only" area was not the place to be if you were interested in hearing the softer numbers. The tender, moving "Murder in the City" was practically ruined by the people more interested in talking to their friends instead of listening to the music.

One might think a band without a full-time drummer, and one which uses acoustic instruments (guitar, banjo, stand-up bass, and cello) would have a hard time competing with the other music going on at the festival, but they didn't. And just to prove they knew how to rock, they went electric for the fantastic "Kick Drum Heart" and at the end Scott Avett (it could have easily been Seth, though) ripped off a fierce solo that sounded suspiciously like it could have turned into "Freebird" at any second. That would have been a hell of an ending, but with plenty of gas left in the tank they played six more songs after that including the encore.

The Avett Brothers could have easily jogged to the finish line. Personally, I was tired and ready to go home, and all I had to do was stand there. Instead, they sprinted to the end with a rocking rendition of "Talk on Indolence." The entire 25-song set was delivered with a sincere graciousness and Southern bonhomie. They wanted to be here; the crowd wanted them here; and we were rewarded with the Avett Brothers playing their hearts out and leaving everything they had on the stage.

I feel like no one was left wanting more. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Set List:
Laundry Room
I Killed Sally's Lover
Will You Return?
Down With The Shine (new song)
And It Spread
Denouncing November Blue
January Wedding
Slight Figure of Speech
Winter In My Heart
Love Like the Movies
Paranoia in B-Flat Major
At the Beach
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise
Murder in the City
Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Please Pardon Yourself
The Fall
Kick Drum Heart
I and Love and You
Live And Die
Go to Sleep

The Perfect Space
Talk on Indolence