Friday, December 22, 2017

A year in music, 2017

There was no shortage of great music released in 2017. I have an extensive Spotify playlist of songs I enjoyed, but for the sake of brevity, here is my list of my favorite albums and shows this year.

Favorite albums

Mastodon, Emperor of Sand
One of the best Mastodon LPs in years, and my favorite since Crack the Skye. Seems like when Mastodon goes for the deepest of deep about life and tragedy, they produce some of their strongest work. This is the record I can listen to over and over and not skip a single tune.

Lost Balloons, Hey Summer
The second album from Jeff Burke's indie pop group shows he really is one of the best songwriters around. Not just in the pop punk/garage world. In general. With shades of country, folk, and the Kinks, I admire everything Burke does even more.

White Reaper, The World's Greatest American Band
Yes, this album title is a bit over-confident, but this four-piece makes a mighty fine statement here. What happens when a band plays speedy garage rock and then digs deep into 70s power pop and arena rock? This happens. "Judy French" is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Matt Hammon, Silver Suitcase
Matt Hammon was the original drummer for Mineral and the Gloria Record. His tenures were short as he desired to play drums full time. He wound up with Bob Mould's backing band and he later produced a number of artists in Nashville. Now after beating cancer and working as a teacher in Houston, Hammon created an album where he sings and plays all the instruments. If you like the bands he's been with, you'll probably dig Silver Suitcase.

Hundredth, RARE
This band used to play fast metal with a hardcore feel. Deciding to ditch the speed and grit and go for something influenced by shoegaze, RARE sounds like what Title Fight could have made after Floral Green. This is much more My Vitriol and Swervedriver than Code Orange.

Favorite shows

American Football, Granada Theater, April 1st, 2017
I missed my 20-year high school reunion to see American Football play its first Dallas show. Did not disappoint in any way. They played two sets: one was their second LP, the second set was most of their debut LP. Joyous and heavenly.

Tears of Silver, Good Records, Sept. 19th, 2017
This is a group made up of Ken Stringfellow from the Posies, Big Star, and R.E.M. with members of Mercury Rev and Midlake. Since I've never seen Mercury Rev before, I was blown away by how tranquil and beautiful this set was. Opening with a soft version of "Grant Hart," this was all kinds of special. Songs from the Rev's catalog, along with Big Star, Flaming Lips, and Posies tunes made for something way better than the average in-store.

Alice Cooper, Starplex, August 19th, 2017
My third time seeing Alice Cooper, and the best time yet. He was so good he left Deep Purple to follow that, and they were lackluster in comparison. While he does the same kind of stage set up with pyro, dancers, and a guillotine, this show was a purely entertaining piece of theatrical rock.

Arcade Fire, American Airlines Center, September 28th, 2017
I had lost track of Arcade Fire for a few years. I didn't realize they were big enough to play the same place the Dallas Stars and Mavericks play, but they brought in a lot of people. Wasn't sold out, but it wasn't empty. They played with the concept of an arena act with their video screens and boxing ring stage set up. Great mix of songs from all of their albums with an amazing light show.

Zao, The Dirty 30, December 9th, 2017
Zao had not played Dallas in 12 years, and judging by the sold-out response to this show, they will be back soon. The band did a weekend warrior tour of Texas and they were intense as they've ever been. Lots of new material mixed with well-loved older material, the band is still one of the best metal-tinged hardcore bands around.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Long Time Missing

There's a phrase music critics share when news of a musician's death breaks on a major holiday and the writer has to come up with something right then and there for a quick turnaround: a Dead Beatle.

Meaning, this is such a serious loss that whatever you're doing with family and/or friends has to wait. Since no publication I write for demanded something about Tommy Keene when news of his unexpected passing broke on Thanksgiving, I held off on saying something beyond Facebook posts and tweets. But I did stop in my tracks after a long and lovely day with Hope as newlyweds and shared my grief and shock about Tommy's death. He was 59.

Tommy Keene had a long and fruitful career as a solo artist. He came from the Washington D.C. area playing in bands before going solo. His second and third albums, Songs from the Film and Based on Happy Times, were released on Geffen Records in the mid- to late 1980s. At a time when hairsprayed hard rock, teen pop, and the remnants of new wave dominated the mainstream, Keene's music never broke through those barriers. Despite those records sounding more aligned with Bryan Adams' and Cheap Trick's albums at the time, Keene's music had much more depth and immediacy than a lot of other stuff major labels put out.

Keene kept putting out solo records on smaller labels and played as a sideman with the likes of Paul Westerberg and Bob Pollard, among others. Though the records were consistently good to great, he became someone that was taken for granted. He had his fans, but sadly, it looks like the most press he received was after his passing.

If you had never heard his material prior to his death, I made a Spotify playlist of tunes that might make you want to hear his whole catalog.

I've enjoyed Tommy's music for 10+ years now. I can't remember if it was "Places That Are Gone" on a Rhino power pop collection or two MP3s from Ten Years After posted on a friend's blog, but by the time a writer friend of mine, Darryl Smyers, gave me a copy of the Hear You Me retrospective, I went all in. This wasn't power pop meant to resuscitate everything the Beatles did. It was more than that, especially in the power department.

For years, I always hoped to see Tommy play. I heard a Dallas date he played years ago at the Cavern was poorly attended so I didn't think he would come back. When I heard he was coming back through Texas with Matthew Sweet this summer, I decided to go. Sure, it would have been best to see him with a backing band. But if this was all I could possibly get, I decided to go.

Ahead of the show, I got to interview him for an article in the Houston Press. It was a brief but enjoyable chat, talking about where he was at in his career and what he hoped to do next. He put me on the guest list for his show in Dallas at the Kessler and I looked forward to it.

Though the majority of the audience was there for Matthew Sweet, the audience gave Tommy lots of respect and enjoyed his set, which ran all over his catalog. Sweet came on, and as someone who has never really sunk my teeth into his material, I was not motivated to stay until the end. Sweet just stood there and played with his backing band. Not enough excitement for me, so I left.

As I rounded the corner outside of the venue, there was Tommy sitting outside, smoking a cigarette. I introduced myself and he was friendly and conversational. We essentially shot the shit, talking about the tour, sharing pictures of our dogs, and talking about various points in his career. (He confirmed that yes, it was he who played lead guitar on the Goo Goo Dolls' "Broadway.") Who should walk up but my writer friend Darryl Smyers and a friend of his in tow. We all had a nice chat, but after a while, Tommy had to cut loose and join Matthew Sweet for an encore with the band.

At no point in talking with Tommy did he seem bitter about his career. He never became a pop star, but I don't think he wanted to be one. He had the songs, and when you have them, you don't need to be anything more to let them live beyond your life. He had a lot to look forward to, with a new album in the works, a DVD of live footage, and more touring. He didn't act entitled or wanting more recognition. He was happy doing what he was doing, playing and writing music he cared about. This certainly served as a reminder to why people do what they do. And that goes beyond what you think is the best Tommy Keene song or album.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


On November 17th, I enjoyed the best day of my life with my soulmate, along with many family and longtime friends surrounding us. Getting married to Hope was the best decision I've ever made, in a life filled with non-decisions and indecisiveness.

In the year prior to meeting Hope, I wasn't sure I'd ever find somebody to spend the rest of my life with. Coming off a short period of friends dying, a relationship falling apart, and playing musical chairs with jobs, I wanted life to get better, not turn into something I settled on.

Despite hearing horror stories about how hook-up culture and dating apps were ruining relationships for everyone, I believed there was someone out there who could see me at my best and worst, tell me what the deal is, and who could inspire me, and vice versa to her. I found that in a fellow podcaster I met through Twitter.

We decided to get married, accepting that neither of us are perfect or without flaws. It took me a long time to understand that I will never be without fault, and no one else is, either. Yes, you can love and be loved even if you make mistakes.

Hope and I complement each other, but thank high heavens we don't complete each other. As much as the "You complete me" might seem cute in movies like Jerry Maguire and Austin Powers, it's not exactly the best thing to hinge a relationship on. Hope has her life with her interests, as I have mine, but we choose to share a life together, through the thick and thin. Whatever happens -- good or bad -- I'm grateful for every single day I have with her.

I was asked by a number of people if I was nervous prior to the wedding. As in, you nervous about getting married? I wasn't. I hoped everything went right with the ceremony and reception, as a lot of planning went into them, especially by Hope and her mother.

Everything did go right, and we had a wonderful time. A sunset wedding, attended by many family and friends. Certain family members I had not seen in a very long time, coupled with friends I have known for almost all of my adult life. The reception was a joyous occasion, set to music that never dragged -- and a first dance done with a new song by singer/songwriter Rahim Quazi that he performed live.

People danced, hugged us, wished us well, and took many pictures. A collection of pictures is up on the blog by the photographers that were hired. We had a wonderful time, I think these pics capture the evening.

Now life is a new journey with Hope. I don't know exactly what tomorrow brings, but I'm incredibly thankful it will be with her. There is a lot of life left to experience. Though relationships are hard and require work to make them last, when you're with the right person, you would not have it any other way.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Doing Something Right

There's a phrase often said when a writer draws a lot of ire from readers about his or hers work: "Well, I must be doing something right." With a large amount of page views, comments, Facebook shares, and tweets to back this up, a writer can think a purpose has been served, and a message is coming across.

I don't totally believe that.

Writers complain (usually on Twitter) when "nobody" cares about an article they wrote when page views are low. Conversely, they'll boast about how many people clicked on a link to justify their take. It's all a measure of how people apparently care in the digital age.

What I've seen is when someone has a brash take on a topic (a trend in music, a concert review, etc.) and the headline really amplifies the gist of the article. This is written to be "the truth," when ultimately, it's an opinion, and hopefully, a well-informed one that is backed up with facts.

But facts can be relative when they are overshadowed by how people feel about things.

I've always tried to write about stuff I care about with as much accuracy as possible. I have never set out to write something with the intent of pissing people off. I do my research and ask questions that research cannot give.

I'm not a hot take machine, even though I have had strong differences of opinion on things over the years and have vocalized them. I don't think I've done a good job or bad job if I've received a large amount of negative responses. I can wonder if I presented my take to the best of my ability.

What usually pisses people off is when someone tries to make a strong point, gives false information, and makes empty claims that can't be backed up. What's "right" about that? You can make your opinion known, but if there are massive holes in your argument, you look like a fool. But if you justify your foolishness by the number of clicks, messages, tweets, and Facebook shares you had, you're deluding yourself.

Most of the time, I receive messages from people when I make an error in my reporting. Whether it's talking about the tenure of a band member or the current job of a man running for a political office, if I'm wrong, I let my editor know to make a change in the article. If I claimed that I don't care, then I'm not doing my job properly.

Maybe I'm too earnest in my approach, but I've never found fault in writing what's in my heart. I don't believe I'd ever have clicks in my heart more than a story to tell.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Best Team in the Land and All the World

Two years ago, I almost saw Manchester City play in America.

Rain during a Texas summer is rare, but there was so much of it in Houston in 2015 that the pitch was unplayable for a friendly between City and the Houston Dynamo. Joel and I found out the match had been cancelled right as we walked into the pub where a City meet-up was. Alas, City sent Mike Summerbee and Brian Kidd for a Q&A, gave us free drinks, and free merch.

Clearly, City cares about its American fans.

I had debated flying to Manchester to see a match, but funds dictated that I should stay stateside. Plus, I had heard of another City trip to America halfway through the 2016/2017 Premier League season. I chose my summer vacation days accordingly.

When the club announced a trip to the United States in 2017, I knew I had to see at least one of the matches. I decided to see the Nashville match against Tottenham Hotspur over the LA and Houston matches.

Though there would be a lot of driving (10 hours to be exact), Hope and I would have more time to do things in town and City-related events. Seeing Nashville again would be very special, as when I went there two years ago to see a show, I drove back hoping I'd find a special someone someday. I'm lucky to say I did, and she's into City.

But before we left for the country music industry town, our City group Blue Moon Dallas had a special visitor.

Braydon Bent is an eight-year-old diehard City supporter. After winning a contest -- where he did his impression of Sergio Aguero celebrating the 93:20 goal against Queens Park Rangers -- the kid has become a viral sensation, often appearing in videos for the club. He was on a promotional tour throughout the southern region of the country, stopping at various points along the way. Bringing the captain's armband that Vincent Kompany would wear at the Nashville match, many of us BMD folks got to meet Braydon and pose with the armband.
Braydon is a non-stop burst of positive energy. He has the kind of non-cynical, undying passion one can have for a professional sports team. He has charisma with people even though he's young. A joy to spend time with, and his father was a total gentleman, too. He mentioned to us that there was a welcoming sort of vibe once he walked into the pub we watch all of the Premier League matches. Further proof that Mark Mulv and his fellow co-founders have made something special.

Match day was on Saturday, so Hope, Joel, and I got in my car at a very early time on Friday morning and just drove and drove. I briefly thought, Boy it would suck if the match was cancelled as rain was in the forecast for that entire day, but a sunny sky was in the forecast for the match. But I then thought, if the match happened and I missed it because of that doubt, I'd really kick myself.

After checking into our AirBNB and taking a moment to relax and have some dinner, Hope and I met up at a late-night party where MCFC Nashville meets. As we pulled up, a handful of Spurs supporters caught an Uber in the parking lot, leaving a pub filled with City supporters from around the world, drinking, eating, and singing City songs. I tried to save my voice for Saturday, but I sure had some fun singing chants from City's past.
Saturday came. The sun was shining, vibes were good. Tottenham and City supporters were all over downtown near Nissan Stadium. Hope and I went to a City-related meet-up at the George Jones Museum, which is more sports bar than museum, and it was filled to the brim with people in sky blue, in addition to the country music tourists. We ran into Braydon and his father and they recognized us right away. Good times were had, but there was a match to see.

To save some money on parking and keep ourselves sane, we took a Lyft to the match. Our driver was a very enthusiastic man who knew the town extremely well, dropping us off at the stadium without having to sit in a very long line of cars. I had not been to a large American football field since the early 1990s, so to see the monstrosity that most NFL stadiums are these days caused me to step back and take in the awe of it.

Once we found our seats, I realized we were in for something extraordinary.
Sitting right behind the goal with many members of Blue Moon Dallas, and right in front of Joey McCune, the man who never runs out of banter or songs to sing, we knew we were going to have a good time, win, lose, or draw.

This area was designated for City supporters, as this was behind us.
Yet what was standing right in front of us?

These guys.
For some reason, almost every Spurs supporter I have come across is a bro. Meaning, beers in the Yeti cooler, constant high-fives, sports is life, and ALRIGHT, LIFE IS GOOD, BRO! While these guys (three in total) fit that stereotype, they had fun playing along with our banter and were surprised by our self-deprecating songs. Though they booed Kyle Walker (who recently transferred from Tottenham to Manchester City), we repeatedly sang, "He left 'cause you're shit/He left 'cause you're shit/Kyle Walker, he left 'cause you're shit." Seeing Walker lead the defensive attack, which frequently ran over the Spurs' offense, was nice to see.

A little over nine minutes in, we were about 20 feet away from John Stones knock a header into the Spurs' goal. The place was electric. Seeing players we've only seen on TV up close and personal was delightful. Seeing new keeper Ederson Moraes make some incredible saves, as well as an insane pass to Aguero, were some of the highlights.

City dominated Spurs, a club that is quite good and should do quite well in the Premier League this season. City seemed to build on the win they had over Real Madrid only a few nights before, making me think City has a really strong squad assembled for this new season. Anything can happen, so I'm not hedging my happiness in life based on rankings, trophies, or table positions. That said, it was nice to see City win in person.
Football is my favorite sport to watch and play. There was a long stretch in time where it was not for me, but after finding the right club because of belonging with its supporters, I feel welcome. No, I never saw City play at Maine Road. No, I didn't see City get relegated after winning promotion. But with supporting teams in other sports fields that have had great times and terrible times during my 38 years on this earth, being a City supporter makes sense.
The end result of the match was a 3-0 victory for City. Even the Spurs fans in front of us shook our hands, thanking us for a good time. We went back to the George Jones for a drink and cooling off period. The weather was wonderful, and there was a breeze.

Slowly making our way from downtown, we caught a Lyft home and decided to get something to eat. Before we stepped into a Taco Bell for a late-night dinner, I realized Nicoletto's, an Italian food joint co-owned by Braid's Damon Atkinson, was across the street. We ate there instead, briefly talked to some Spurs supporters who were from Texas, and even met up with Damon. It was great to catch up and to introduce Hope to him. A nice post-script to the last time I was in town, to see Braid play at the Exit In.
We got a lot done in that one day, and it was a day well-lived. We had a long day of driving ahead of us, so we got plenty of rest that night.

During the long stretch of endless trees, along with stops at gas stations and a Cracker Barrel breakfast, I was happy this all happened. International friendly matches are more advertising for the football clubs than anything else, but as a primer for the new season, it was wonderful.

Now to start plotting out a trip to Manchester.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Recently I had a long phone conversation with a friend of mine. Though we are not very close (we’ve had four in-person conversations so far), we ended up talking for almost an hour. I had originally contacted him for an article I worked on about his uncle, but then we talked about a variety of things about his band, their new album, and his recent move to California. That portion was not for the article; it was simply catching up on things in our respective lives.

When I got off the phone, I thought, Wow, it’s great to have an actual phone conversation with someone.

The following night, I got a call from a friend I helped out with his radio show a couple of years ago. Hadn’t talked to him in months, and it was good to hear from him. He invited Hope and me for a get-together, but we couldn’t come because of work schedules. But we kept talking and chatted about what all we have been up to since late last year.

Once again, I was reminded of what I can get out of a phone conversation that I can’t through a text or a social media post.

It’s not like I don’t talk to people on the phone in my everyday life. I talk to Hope on the phone when a private message will not suffice. I talk to my boss when there’s a work matter that needs to be addressed. And I answer an information line in my office as part of my job.

Yet when it comes to talking to friends and family, social media seems to be the replacement for a phone conversation. Granted, you can tell a lot of people what you’re up through a post on Facebook, a tweet, or an Instagram pic. Still, there’s a lot of stuff that has no business being on social media that is way more fulfilling to talk about on the phone or in person. Hearing a person’s voice goes much further than you might think.

As much as I’d like to talk to people more, I’m still held back by the concept that everyone is busy and doesn’t have time for chit-chat on the phone. A few pictures of a vacation posted online suffices for how someone is doing, how the trip was, and what else this person has been up to. Talking on the phone about that stuff would be redundant, apparently.

What’s weird about sharing tidbits of your life, especially on Facebook, is the fear of sharing too much or being too vague. A new parent’s lengthy, daily posts about a baby’s sleeping habits can be a whipping. Someone’s constantly cryptic posts that could be about a work matter, relationship issue, or a family problem: all too vague, seemingly out there for attention.

The stuff I talked about with these recent phone conversations is not really pertinent for a social media post. Not all of my Facebook friends or Twitter followers need to know what we talked about, as they were not meant to be broadcasted to a large amount of people.

What’s even more bizarre is that my parents, some of the biggest holdouts on social media, have slowly progressed into seeing what my posts show rather than picking up the phone. When things get misunderstood in the translation, then it’s time I call them.

I love what social media can do for bringing people together. But it’s no substitute for real friendship or understanding. I like to hear from people, especially if it’s not to plug something they’re promoting or selling. It’s really nice to just hear the words, “Hi! How are you doing?”

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Jinx Removing

Mere minutes after Jawbreaker announced a reunion show at this fall’s Riot Fest in Chicago, I realized every band I devoted a chapter to in Post has reunited. Next year will mark ten years since the book came out, back when all of the bands (except for Jimmy Eat World) had broken up for the foreseeable future. Since a lot of people who have read the book have asked me if I would do a sequel or new edition someday, I started to ask if one is truly wanted.

A number of people said they would read it, so I started to look into options. After I received rejection letters from publishers, I thought, This is looking like another DIY affair. My hopes to bring this to a larger audience had another setback. I don’t say this with bitterness in my body. I’ve accepted there is a reality about audience appeal in writing extensively about these bands.

When Post originally came out, it was when emo was at the end of its big ride in the mainstream. Now emo is a topic frequently talked about in the nostalgia sense, touching more on bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Dashboard Confessional than the bands that influenced them. Which is understandable, as more people have heard of My Chemical Romance than Mineral.

Though there are many excellent emo revival bands around these days, they’re not bound to be mainstream darlings. Tiny Moving Parts, Modern Baseball, and I Love Your Lifestyle have released albums in the past couple of years that I will likely call classics someday, but they’re not on the same level of attention as The Black Parade or From Under the Cork Tree.

And then there are the influential bands themselves. Their music still resonates with me, people my age, as well as people younger and older than me. Yet something I’ve learned in the past nine years is how there seems to be a disconnect between people who praise the hell out of a band online and the number of people who actually show up to a reunion show of theirs. While I hear about well-attended (sometimes sold-out) Mineral and American Football shows in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, the demand is significantly less in a town like Dallas. When I saw Braid play to 30 people in Nashville two years ago, I wondered what the hell was wrong here.

It really comes down to this: No matter how many people profess their love of Relationship of Command, Frame & Canvas, or Nothing Feels Good in record reviews or Reddit articles, the numbers are not quite big enough for book publishers to bite on releasing a book about the bands who made them. A new book about the Beatles has more appeal in 2017 because the Beatles are an established topic with generations of readers. What I have is a harder sell, but not that hard.

This is not to say no publisher I’ve encountered wants to do a new edition of the book. Actually, not long after the book came out in 2008, I was approached by someone who runs a publishing house and used to write for a publication I wrote for as well. Thing was, after a couple of email exchanges, something felt off and not right. I had never heard of his publishing house and had never read any of their books. The owner seemed pushy and arrogant, which are traits that usually don’t work well with me.

I told him I’d wait to see how things went with the publisher I used and would get back to him. Through no paid publicity and simple word of mouth, my book went on to sell in places all over the world, and the royalty checks always cleared the bank. I was happy, but not totally over the moon about having to self-publish to get the book out there. Seems there’s a stigma with self-publishing books, making it like it’s not worthy of publication in the first place.

Eight years later, the guy emailed me again, asking if I was still interested in republishing with him. After talking to mutual friends -- in addition to reading an extensive blog post by his ex-wife detailing emotional abuse she received from him during their marriage -- I decided to not pursue working with this guy or his publisher.

As frustrating as the setbacks are, they do not double as reasons not to pursue a new edition in the future. There is more than a short update to add to this book, and I’d be happy to take the time and write bonus content that will make the book worth the reader’s time.

Thing is, I’d like to give the stories of these bands more than underground attention. Their stories meant a lot to people 20 years ago, they did when the book came out, and they still mean a lot. The belief in what these bands were about guided me then, and they still guide me today.