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December 2004

MP3: "Home for Christmas"
December 2 2004 10:01 PM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

My Music: Finished this track after Christmas last year, and figured it might be worth bringing back to the front page now that we're in the right season.

When I was working on lyrics last year, I thought about making the line "a lonely traveller's dream" into "a lonely soldier's dream", but it somehow didn't seem appropriate at the time. Honestly, I may have been going for a little bit of ambiguity. (Amazing how one word can change the meaning of a song entirely.)

Download: Chris Blackburn - "Home for Christmas"


How I'd Forgotten
December 8 2004 12:05 AM ET (Permalink) (Comment)


Muse at Gwinnett Arena, 12/6/04 (Pic: Robb Cohen)

This past weekend, I took part in a two-day Ultimate tournament. It was a hat tournament: basically, you sign up, and teams are randomly assigned (adjusted by rank) to make the teams. You end up playing with people that would normally not get a chance to play with.

This year, I lucked out, and ended up with a really fun team.

In the weeks leading up to the tournament, though, I noticed that two of my (current) favorite bands signed on to play 99x's Mistletoe Jam concert. When I saw that, I was ambivalent. I wanted to see those two bands, but wasn't sure I wanted to pay $35 for shortened sets from them. Plus, with the tournament, I wasn't sure how sore/tired I was going to be, and if I'd be physically able to handle standing around (potentially for hours) at a show.

As I drove out to the fields Sunday morning, I started thinking about it more. The morning dj on 99x mentioned that there was some minor number of tickets remaining. I decided to let the day determine what would happen.

That morning, we won our first game. Our second game was a different story. We were down 5-1 at the beginning, then climbed back to 10-8 when the cap horn went off, meaning that the game would be to 11. We scored the next two points to tie it at 10. During the final point, the other team stormed down the field - the guy I was guarding was able to break my defensive mark, and the next throw went to the end-zone for a score. It was tough to come back that far to then lose the game. And I felt at least marginally responsible for that last score.

It turned out we had another game to play, though I certainly wasn't feeling up to it. Everybody else seemed a little more eager. It ended up being a close game as well, but I was so out of it that I sat out (somewhat unintentionally) the last five or six points of the game. We lost, so our day was over.

Normally at this tournament, I stick around and watch the finals. But, as out of it as I was, I decided to head out and see if I could try and make the show. I got home, showered, grabbed some food, and headed up to the new Gwinnett Arena.

Initially, I was planning to stop at a Ticketmaster outlet and pick up a ticket, but an ad on 99x reminded me: buying at the box office meant no service charge. When I'd looked into buying the tickets a few weeks earlier, I couldn't help but notice a nearly $10 surcharge. My only fear was that I couldn't guarantee there would still be tickets available when I got there.

I got to the arena earlier than I'd planned. I was elated that they weren't charging for parking (as they do at the downtown arenas). I headed over to the box office, and scored a pretty decent seat just to the right of the stage.

I guess I should mention: I'm seriously out of the habit of live shows. I've only been to one other one this year. Even though I can afford to go to shows, it's often hard to justify the expense, when I could be spending that on something more important. (Actually, the real problem has been the ridiculous prices for most of the bands I'd like to see. I'm not paying $40 to see some band I barely know.)

I mainly wanted to see two bands: Jimmy Eat World and Muse. I've seen Jimmy Eat World numerous times in the last six years. In fact, it's been just over six years since the first time I saw them: November 15, 1998, at a very small club in Atlanta. And, honestly, if they'd been the only band I wanted to see on the bill, I wouldn't have come. I know they're going to come around again in support of Futures.

What sold me on the ticket: Muse. I've been insanely curious about their live show, especially since hearing their set from this year's Glastonbury Festival. (I had thought about going to their show here in April, but decided against it because I had an early morning wake-up the next day for a tournament. The lead singer smacked himself in the face with his guitar five songs in, and had to cut the show short, so I was kinda glad I didn't go.) Knowing that their touring for Absolution is almost over, this show would be my only shot at seeing them anytime soon.

Granted that I was at the show earlier than I anticipated, I figured I might as well check out the other openers. Keane started the show. Decent, nothing particularly spectacular to me. I spent more time looking around to see the few people who knew their stuff and were singing along.

The Music came second. I don't like their single (it sounds too much like a Jane's Addiction rip to me), but figured I'd give them a chance. Before they started, the guy behind me told his buddies that he'd seen them open for Coldplay the year before, and they were perfectly terrible. He said that their drummer was completely off-tempo, and it was just a mess. So I was surprised when the first song came off without a hitch.

Three songs in, they play their single. It's got a little vocal line that repeats occasionally: "oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh". (If you've heard it, you know what I'm talking about.) Problem: when that line appears during the show, nobody's mouth is near a mic. It's a loop.

Suddenly, it all comes into focus. The drummer is on perfect tempo now because he's playing to a click track, with programmed samples playing alongside. SUCK. I don't pay money to see bands fake it onstage. If you use samples, make sure I can't tell. I actually don't have a problem with the click track; more with the loop. No reason the lead singer can't sing that line when he's not singing anything else. I end up getting up and wandering around the arena for the rest of their set.

Next up: Jimmy Eat World. Yes, this is how it's done. Four guys, instruments, playing live, no loops, samples, or whatever. And they were good. Heavy on the rock tunes, including a more rock version of "The Middle" than on disc, which is a song I'm not particularly fond of now that it's been beaten to death by radio. The new songs sound good live (even if the band was tuned a half-step down from the recorded versions). For the last song, I'm surprised to hear them perform "Last Christmas", the Wham! song. (They recorded the song a couple of years ago, but the studio version always struck me as a Jim Adkins goof-off-in-the-studio project and less of a band recording.) I wasn't sure in advance how into their set I'd be, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Next up, Muse. Finally.

The people around me seemed apprehensive at first. I don't think too many people were familiar with anything other than "Time Is Running Out", so most of the section was still sitting as their set started. The girl in front of me decided to stand up a few seconds into the first song, "Apocalypse Please", and, man, I'm glad she did. That meant that I had to stand up. And, even though I felt like she and I were the only people standing up in the section, I don't think I'd have enjoyed their set as much had I sat through it.

One note: Velvet Revolver (the headliner) had apparently brought a stage extension off the front for the band to wander up and down during their set. But it was obvious a couple of bands in that nobody else was supposed to use the thing. None of the other bands so much as looked at it. But, after the first song, Muse's bass player wandered right out to the end of it, completely in darkness. (None of the stage lighting could catch it - VR had spotlights during their set.) From there, he started "Hysteria". And, holy crap, it was awesome.

They played a shortened set, including several songs from the not-released-in-the-US Origin of Symmetry. I felt like the one person there singing along and air-drumming to "Bliss", one of my faves from the Glastonbury set. But I was surprisingly unrestrained - I really didn't care if I made an ass of myself.

(I did wonder about the two guys to my right. Two eighteen year olds - one sporting a Randy Rhoads tribute t-shirt, the other a retro Led Zeppelin 1977 US Tour shirt. They both looked like they'd stepped out of Dazed and Confused. Oddly, I saw several of that exact Zeppelin t-shirt at the show, all of them on people born long after the band's demise. Seriously, WTF? Were they on sale at Hot Topic or something?)

By the end of the set, the band had completely won over this crowd. They gave enthusiastic applause for most of the songs in the set, and I guarantee that the overwhelming majority had only heard one Muse song, if any, beforehand.

But more than that, their set reminded me how much I love seeing live music. It's amazing how I'd forgotten.

Oh, the samples thing: I know Muse had some samples going on during their set. Guess what? Didn't care. They simply supplemented (ie, they didn't replace) what was going on during the performance. Hence, no problem.

I decided to stick around to catch Velvet Revolver. I'm not really into their stuff, but I like STP, and remember being curious as a teenager to see GnR.

Then came the fun part: throughout the night, all of the bands stuck to a tight schedule. The break between bands didn't reach thirty minutes for any of the bands. Until VR. A half-hour turned to forty-five minutes turned to an hour. You could tell everyone was restless, surely thinking the same thing: all of those horror stories about GnR shows gone wrong.

Fortunately, after that hour, they came out. While it was cool finally seeing most of GnR, hearing a couple of GnR tunes, and hearing a couple of STP tunes, I can't say I was overwhelmed by their set. Slash almost fell on his face trying to jump onto an awkwardly-constructed platform in front of the stage. He got up and kept playing, though. I liked one of the songs I hadn't heard before, but got out of their after they played "Slither" during the encore set. (I wondered if they might play Nirvana's "Negative Creep", which they did at some earlier sets. But, considering most of the arena was still full, I figured I was willing to trade that for not having to wait in an hour-long line to get out of the parking lot.)

[Edit, 12/10/04: Turns out "Slither" was the last song they played, so I really didn't miss anything.]

I'm not really fond of radio festivals, but this one was a winner for me. By the time I got home, I was still sore from the weekend's Ultimate, but the disappointment of the day's games was completely wiped away.

And, now, I'm ready for some more shows.






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