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February 12, 2014

Concert Flashback: Level 42

 

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Event: Level 42 – Live in Concert

Date: Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Venue: Altar Bar, Pittsburgh, PA

Rock Travelers: Matt Vacca and Chris Wood

 

 

Good friend and local concert promoter Chris Wood hooked up a pair of free tickets for us to see Level 42 perform at the Altar Bar in the Strip District of Pittsburgh over the weekend.  The band is celebrating 30 years together with only a few U.S dates and Mark King has hooked up again with Mike Lindup on vocals and keyboards.42Level02

Fresh off our Iron Maiden success at Blossom the week before, we made a quick stop in Logan, Ohio, before taking the scenic route for the show.  My grandpa George would always pick me up for road trips stocked with apples, Mello Yello, and Pringles, so why start this one off any different?

We cranked up some Led Zeppelin and took some windy back roads for the first part of our trip. We agreed that it was some of the prettiest views we have both seen in Ohio through Guernsey County.  Trying to find 77 was “Over the Hills and Far Away”, indeed.

42Level43After some brief off-roading, Woody was suddenly craving a “good fish sandwich” for some reason. A confused gas station attendant actually recommended a place “up over the creek” called Camelot.  Insert your own Holy Grail quote here…

The sandwiches we tried were recommended by our bartender, Miss Gail. They actually were HUGE with crinkle-cut fries and fresh slaw. Our pit stop was terrific and so was the crazy service.

As my AAA directions proved useless, we winged it in an attempt to find the club. A detour of downtown Pittsburgh viewed from Mt. Washington was just as impressive as Western Ohio.

(Please click on any photo below to view full size or in a slideshow)

I remembered that the original Primanti Brothers was also in the Pittsburgh Strip District so we crossed the river and headed in for a quick sandwich before the show. Woody had never been to this Pittsburgh institution, so I recommended we split a Pastrami…Wow!

When we finally made it to the Altar Bar we found it to be a great venue for a band like Level 42. It was actually a converted church with lots of stained glass, an intimate stage and a big warm sound. When the band hit the stage there were about 300 in attendance.

The band sounded great and was definitely having a good time.  Level 42 has a lot of passionate fans that, like Woody, seemed to appreciate their almost jazz-fusion tracks even more than hearing the 80′s hits. Front man Mark King is an amazing bass player and an underrated singer.

I found myself enjoying the parts of the set list from the early days and the flat out jamming even more than the great versions of radio staples”Something About You”, “Lessons in Love” and “Running in the Family.” We both agreed that the only sad omission was the track “Children Say.”

42Level18After the rather short but energetic set, we headed back to Primanti Brothers to split a Corned Beef and an order of Chili Cheese Fries. Level 42 was a great show, the perfect road trip and one ticket stub I never thought I would add to my collection. It was definitely worth the drive and the food alone in the Strip District will have us heading back again as soon as possible.

The question is what great 80′s band would we most want to see live next in this type of setting?

The Fixx? Talk Talk? Duran Duran?

July 9, 2013

Take Two

TwoYearsAbroad40

This essay was written as a contributing article for Don Suh and HiWorld Recruiting for the launch of their their new website. 

While coming up quickly on the end of my second one-year contract teaching English in South Korea I realized this might be the perfect time to recount the whole experience so far and summarize my experiences over the last 24 months not only for posterity, but for anyone else out there considering moving abroad to teach English. My time in Daejeon has really gone by quickly, but in looking back over pictures from when I first arrived, I certainly feel I have come a long way and that, overall, the experience has not only been mostly positive, but also life-altering.

My decision to come to South Korea and teach English began back in the long, cold winter of 2011. Gas prices were outrageous and the economy had completely tanked. So had the employment market. I was working 3 jobs at the time and still could not really make ends meet. After a long heart-to-heart with my mother over dinner, I asked for her advice and guidance. I was 42 with a good education and a wide range of employment experiences. However, I had no savings, no real investments, and had never really been anywhere exciting. I was substitute teaching part-time at two Career and Technical high schools, working as a Specialist at the Apple Retail store at Easton 30 hours a week, and still working as a mobile DJ with a full calender of bookings for the upcoming wedding season. After my mother and I failed to come up with a logical solution that didn’t involve my borrowing money from her, I retreated with my old friend Patrick to the Donley family hunting cabin for some quiet reading, soul searching, and some more good advice.

The idea to move overseas was always simmering on the back burner since Pat himself returned from his two-year stay in Vietnam in the late 90′s. The prospect, however, never really got any serious consideration from me until some fortuitous events occurred to show me a new path. First, Pat introduced me to a terrific book by Rolf Potts called Vagabonding. The book, subtitled “An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel,” was a huge inspiration for me in the reality (and necessity) of a very different lifestyle than the one I was leading at the time. The toll of having three jobs and still barely surviving was no longer a viable option and, in fact, had never really been a good one to begin with. The writings and ideas of Simon Black and his website, www.sovereignman.com, also helped me to really understand the practical necessity of diversifying my finances, my opportunities, as well as my attitude about how I actually intended to survive in the future.

After over 250 gigs as a DJ in seven years (some 200 of those events were wedding receptions), I decided to look at the possibility of a radically different path and one that did not include “The Electric Slide.” Potts’ book outlines the simplicity and rewards of life abroad, as well as specific practical advice in harnessing my independent spirit and desire to travel to create a completely new lifestyle for myself. After opening up to the idea, I began to float a variety of options around to selected co-workers at the Apple store. I was soon informed that back-of-house guru, Mike, had completed a similar adventure in South Korea with terrific results, and so the scene was set for some vagabonding of my own. With Patrick’s encouragement and the support of my wonderful family and friends, the transformation and exodus into a prospective English teacher and future world traveler took a mere 7 months.

I quickly contacted Mike’s recruiter in Daejeon and began an online job search that became a daily obsession. The rest of my time was spent selling, scrapping, or donating some 75% of my worldly belongings in a cathartic, minimalistic process of having more through owning less. Once I stopped to really evaluate why I had so much “stuff” and why I was seemingly so attached to creating and maintaining a space for all of it, the spring cleaning of a lifetime was on and it just snowballed from there. Each trash run or drop-off at Goodwill also brought me a little closer to realizing my intention to live a life abroad that all fit into just 2 suitcases. After considering a few different offers and one brief false-start, I agreed to take a job in central Korea over the bustling capital of Seoul.

My goals upon arrival on the Korean peninsula were relatively simple. First, I wanted to see if teaching was a career path I wanted to pursue in earnest. Second, I wanted to jump-start my traveling adventures as Ontario, Canada, was the only place I had been outside the United States. Finally, I wanted to pay off any remaining credit cards and finally accumulate some real savings for the first time in my life.

After nearly 2 years in Korea, the experiment/adventure has turned into a way of life. Not only have I found a true passion for teaching, I feel I have been forever liberated from a lifestyle that was killing me not so softly. I have also said goodbye to an imaginary American ethos (“The American Dream”) that was really a pleasure to leave behind. The only real things that I miss are my mom’s cooking, good Mexican food, and sharing a laugh and a smile with my family and friends in person. The flip side here has been an experience that helped mature and refine many of my better attributes, while helping to jettison old and negative attitudes that were not working. All this has happened organically, while at the same time achieving all three of my objectives in a way I could never imagine.

After a long flight, high-speed train, and scary taxi ride to my new school, I was given a tour of the classrooms and of my semi-furnished apartment. My airfare here was paid for initially by me and then reimbursed through direct deposit in full once my Alien Registration Card was processed. The school was very clean, bright, and highly modern with computers, white boards, and nice digital projectors and speakers in each classroom. This was my first huge sigh of relief as the academy turned out to be much nicer than I expected. My apartment was also paid for and was to be the other positive indicator of the condition of my life for the next year. Thankfully, it too was also big, clean, modern, and quite well appointed. Apparently my recruiter and I had done pretty good for ourselves and the stage was set for a great experience.

(Please click on each individual image to view full size or as a slideshow)

Teaching in South Korea can take on many forms, the most popular being in public schools, private academies, or in a university setting. While the requirements are slightly different for each and are changing every year, the basics are a native fluency in English, an undergraduate degree, and a clean background check. Some programs and schools require additional training or certification, but were not really required for my employment contract. My school is a private English academy (called a hagwon) with 2 locations in Daejeon. The main location is in Dunsan-dong near City Hall in the center of the city. The second, slightly smaller branch is in the suburbs 20 minutes away in an newer area called Noeun. My contract requires me to be there 40 hours a week from 1-10 p.m. on weekdays only. Students typically come to hagwons during the week after normal classes at their Korean schools finish. This can make for some long days for the students, but I have really grown to like the later hours and altered schedule. This leaves my mornings free for video calls back home and other activities; including lots of coffee, a gym membership, voracious reading, biking, and volunteering at 2Typically classes start around 3 p.m., so my first 2 hours in the office are for prep time and entering homework or grades. While a few of my classes are one hour in length, most are a quick 35-40 minutes. Students come in waves from younger to older throughout the day, so I start with 3rd and 4th graders and end up with middle school kids in the evening. The classes can be as small as 2-3 students and rarely go above 16-18 kids. Throughout the week I teach about 25 classes with a higher concentration of them being on Mondays and Fridays. This semester, I actually have NO classes on Tuesdays, but have to remain on site for what expats teaching here call “desk-warming”. This free time allows me the opportunity to read extensively, make travel arrangements, and to update my travel journal with articles like this.

As I mentioned, my teaching tenure back home was limited to substitute work with high school students, mostly Juniors and Seniors, so I had no real experience with young kids. Once the excitement of leaving the U.S. wore off and the newness of my surroundings sunk in, I began to really be nervous about how exactly I would handle my new position and how they would, in turn, accept me. My fears were pretty quickly put to rest during my first week teaching as the students were friendly, curious, and for the most part, highly intelligent and polite. Once I got the hang of in-class discipline (an evolving art form), I was much more confident as a teacher and far better off as an actual educator. As I often joke, it can’t be “Dead Poet’s Society” every day, but it is relatively easy and rewarding.

The coursework was all provided, including books and corresponding PowerPoint slides, as was some basic training and lots of terrific administrative support. In my second year, new textbooks were introduced and the native teaching staff came up with a suitable curriculum focusing on speaking for the younger kids and writing for the higher levels. While I do generally share a common office with some of the other teachers, I have had occasionally my own classroom, too, which was terrific. Typically, however, I go from class to class depending on my schedule and give the Korean teachers a break while covering my material with students on a weekly basis. Also, I now split my time between the 2 locations and take the subway to the suburban school 3 times a week.

(Please click on each individual image to view full size or as a slideshow)

As for accomplishing my goals, it has been relatively easy to save money each month and send it back home to the states on the fairly standard terms of my arrangement. My expenses are minimal as health care is provided, food is abundant and cheap, and tipping is not a part of Asian culture. Public transportation is easily accessible, reliable, clean, and cheap, so the thought of owning a car again back in the states is a daunting prospect. I am responsible for my internet, gas, and apartment maintenance fees (including electric and garbage), which add up to about $150.00 per month. During my first year here I bought an older smart phone and paid about $30 per month with no contract. Recently I upgraded to a new Samsung Galaxy 3 (sorry Apple) as a small luxury and love everything about my new phone. It is twice as expensive as what I had but is super-fast, convenient, and fairly essential for translations, directions, and conversions. That being said, I can still send home roughly $1,000 per month. I also contribute $100 per month to my teacher’s pension, which my school matches. I can apply for this money back as a refund once I leave the country for good. My contract also includes one month’s severance at the end of each contract period and a return flight home. Any unused vacation time is also paid in cash. All in all, I have made out pretty well.

With regards to travel, the above mentioned liquidity and the ease of travel within Korea means that most weekends and holidays can be spent out exploring or traveling throughout the country. Seoul to the north and Busan in the south are easy to get to by bus or train for weekend getaways and I also visited Hong Kong for 3 days last Fall. I am planning a Summer break trip to Japan this month and then diving lessons in the Philippines over the winter holiday. I was also able to visit Jeju Island and bike around the entire province on holiday recently, as well. This part of my plan could be further extended if I am able to secure a university teaching position. I have discovered that I do indeed want to pursue a career in academia and that teaching at a higher level here might just be the perfect fit. The pay and benefits are roughly the same, but the vacation time is considerably more. Requirements for these jobs have just been completely overhauled, so be sure to do your homework if you wish to follow a similar path.

All things considered, my last 2 years here have been quite unforgettable and I highly recommend the experience to anyone looking to shake things up, travel a bit, and/or pursue a career in teaching. Korea (over Japan and China) seems to offer a nice balance of all the things ESL teachers are looking for; good working and living conditions, ease of travel, and an affordable lifestyle with the potential to save money or pay off debts. It is an interesting culture that can provide some basic challenges, but overall, most Koreans  have been friendly, gracious, supportive, and highly curious about me and the country I left behind. While I am not ready to return to the U.S. any time soon, I will have quite a few adventures to share when I return and an outlook on life that has been permanently changed for the good.

Check out HiWorld Recruiting on Facebook, too, for this and other articles about living and teaching abroad.

May 18, 2013

Seoul Searching

PatVisit019Last month I was thrilled to get a “human care package” from home in the form of childhood friend, Patrick Donley, visiting Korea for the first time. Pat was also a mule for a real care package of goodies from back home; including a wonderful Flannery O’Connor book and much-needed chocolate chip cookies from Aunt Margo!

Pat’s 20 days here perhaps went by too quickly for both of us, but we managed to squeeze in a lot of the best of what “The Land of Morning Calm” has to offer. As Patrick was in many ways the inspiration for my decision to move here, I wanted to not only show him why I have enjoyed my time here so much, but I also wanted to thank him for providing the impetus for the decision that has forever altered the course of my life.

The idea to move abroad was always simmering on the back burner since Pat himself returned from his two-year stay in Vietnam. The idea, however, never really got any serious consideration until the U.S. economy completely collapsed and some fortuitous events occurred to show me the path. First, Pat introduced me to a terrific book at the Donley cabin one night by Rolf Potts called Vagabonding. The book, subtitled “An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel,” was a huge inspiration into the reality (and necessity) of a very different life than the one I was leading at the time. The toll of having three jobs and still not making ends meet was no longer a viable option and, in fact, had never really been a good one to begin with.

After over 250 DJ gigs in seven years (some 200 of those weddings), I decided to look at the possibility of a radically different path that did not include “The Electric Slide.” Potts’ book outlines the simplicity and rewards of life abroad and specific practical advice in harnessing my independent spirit and desire to travel to create a completely new lifestyle for myself. After opening up to the idea, I began to float a variety of options to selected co-workers at the Apple store. I was soon informed that back-of-house guru, Mike, had completed a similar adventure in South Korea, and the scene was set for some vagabonding of my own. With Patrick’s encouragement and the support of my wonderful family and friends, the transformation and exodus took a mere 7 months.

I quickly contacted Mike’s recruiter in Daejeon and began an online job search that became a daily obsession. The rest of my time was spent selling, scrapping, or donating some 75% of my worldly belongings in a cathartic, minimalistic process of more through less. Once I stopped to really evaluate why I had so much “stuff” and why I was seemingly so attached to having and creating a space for all of it, the spring cleaning of 42 years was on and just snowballed from there. Each release also brought me a little closer to realizing my goal of a life fit into 2 suitcases.

After nearly 2 years in Korea, the experiment has turned into a way of life. Not only have I found a true passion for teaching, I feel I have been truly liberated from a lifestyle that was slowly killing me and an American ethos that was a pleasure to leave behind. The only real things that I miss are mom’s cooking, El Vaquero, and sharing a laugh and a smile with my family and friends. That, coupled with my desire to show Pat the brilliance of his suggestions in person, led to an exciting and unforgettable 3 weeks in Korea.

(Click on any photo below to view full size or as a gallery)

After getting acclimated to the time change and Korea’s hurry up “bali bali” culture, Pat was truly in his element. Determined to give him the full experience of my favorite things about living here, we spent the first weekend at Asan Shelter. Pat gladly chipped in to walk, feed, and water the dogs there and was exhausted after a full day with the wonderful animals there. The following week was spent exploring my hometown and trying some of the local delights, including a lot of spicy food, bad Korean beer, a potent bottle of Soju and a daily visit to Paris Baguette for breakfast treats.

We then booked a night at Jin’s Paradise guesthouse in Seoul’s Itaewon-dong district and hopped on the high-speed KTX to make the 50 minute trip at speeds over 300 km per hour. Seoul can be overwhelming for any experienced world traveler, but we managed to see and enjoy some of the subtle brilliance of the city over the weekend, including shopping and haggling (successfully!) with vendors in Namdaemun and Insadong, and sipping Makkoli (Korean rice wine) with some classic characters in a street side tent cafe.

Overall, the weekend was exciting and the sensory overload was tiring for us both. We gladly returned home the next day with our fill of the capital city and for plans of the adventure to come- our cycling tour of Jeju Island…

 

May 12, 2013

Wish You Were Here

Design01

The sad death last month of Hipgnosis co-founder and graphic design legend Storm Thorgerson was a a sad passing indeed. My love of vinyl (and music in general) can be greatly attributed to his unforgettable work with artists like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Peter Gabriel.

In fact, it is hard to imagine the albums or music without thinking of his now iconic design style on such albums as Dark Side of the Moon and Houses of the Holy. Listening to these classics on vinyl becomes even more a process of discovery and mystery when you pour over every detail of the full-sized packaging, liner notes, and photography, which he and partner Aubrey Powell made so unforgettable.

(Click on any image below to view full size or as a gallery)

My secret desire has always been to have a similar career in the graphic design and album packaging, as I am also a big fan of 23 Envelope, another design firm partnership responsible for the equally impressive collection of artwork and record sleeve design for the 4AD label. Once I learned how to use the layering possibilities in Photoshop, my amateur attempts at design and layout began in earnest.

I am in no way implying that I have the skill or creative sensibilities of these highly influential design teams, but I really enjoy putting all the elements together to come up with an image or design for resumes, business cards, invites or to promote an event or concert. Sorting back though some of my favorites, especially those done for Columbus concert promoter Chris Wood of Starwood Presents, I have found that some of my favorites are from bands that I have rarely, if ever, heard of.

Take a look back with me and then pull out your favorite album cover artwork. Try to imagine the music listening experience without the images and design you are so familiar with. Enjoy ….and look to see Storm somewhere on the dark side of the moon.

 

 

 

February 3, 2013

My Bloody Valentine

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My Bloody Valentine

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013, 7:00 pm

Uniqlo AX Hall (www.ax-korea.com/)

Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, South Korea

 

 

It seemed fitting that this live concert and personal music history event fell on Groundhog Day back home in the West and right before February 14th here in Korea. To say that it was like a Christmas holiday to most longtime MBV fans would be a dreadful cliche’ and a gross understatement. When tour dates were announced for 2013, including tickets for multiple nights in Japan, the shows sold out quickly and my hopes were initially dashed. As new dates were added later, including a stop in South Korea, I wasted no time scooping up a ticket for myself before the half Irish, half English quartet changed their minds about the whole comeback-thing.

While the band did reunite in 2007 after 15 years away for a few gigs in London and several festival dates in ’08-09, rumors of a full tour (and mythically elusive third album) were met with little hope from those familiar with the band’s troubled, iconic existence. The night proved to be both highly entertaining and slightly revealing, as it left me with just as many questions as answers about a band, a man (MBV founder and frontman Kevin Shields), and an influential sound that is truly like no other.

Shield’s isolation and rumored mental and artistic breakdown can quite rightfully be compared to the life  and times of resident Beach Boys genius, Brian Wilson. Unable to ever fully duplicate his artistic and professional high-water mark, Pet Sounds, Wilson toiled for years on the follow-up, Smile, his “teenage Symphony to God,” which not only led to his departure from the band, but also to his subsequent mental breakdown. While Wilson was able to complete a resurrected version of the album in 2004 to much critical acclaim, the original sessions, begun in 1966, were largely scrapped, abandoned, or tragically lost in a mysterious studio fire.

Likewise, the recordings for the follow-up to their seminal 1991 shoe-gazing classic, Loveless, were rumored to have been dumped, restarted, and left half-finished for years while Shields struggled with indecision, depression, and writer’s block. Recording Loveless also nearly bankrupt the band’s label, ironically named Creation Records. A large portion of the band’s Island Records signing bonus went towards building a South London-based home studio in which it has been speculated by fans that several album’s worth of material has been recorded over the years and then shelved or scrapped altogether due to Shields artistic struggles, studio perfectionism, and mental uncertainty. Indeed, given the heaps of critical praise Loveless has received in the years since its release (the album failed to chart in the states and peaked at #24 in the U.K.), any artist would find recording any new material, let alone a suitable follow-up, an impossible and thankless task indeed.

(Please click on each image in the galleries below to view full-sized.)

The day of the show therefore proved to be both historic and worth celebrating, as not only did I get a chance to see one of the most celebrated and reclusive bands of the last 20 years perform live and right up close, but I got to do so on the very same day their first new release was made available in multiple formats on the the band’s website. The site, (mybloodyvalentine.org), which promptly crashed due to all the downloading activity, was perhaps simply not prepared for all the demand after all this time away. Some (namely me) would say the band has had 22 years to prepare – for a lot of things really. But the truth about how those years away were actually spent may always prove to be a mystery and, in fact, better left unknown. The victory for the band and its loyal followers this night to me lie in the event itself. Had the group’s performance and new release, MBV, both been complete rubbish, I would have gladly forgiven my heroes and instead, relished in the sheer impossibility of the circumstances leading up to this unforgettable night.

Some clues as to the direction the evening and comeback might take, however, were offered on a snowy Sunday before the band’s blisteringly loud 90 minute live set at the AX Hall in Seoul. The first thing that caught my eye in the promotion leading up to the show was the use of a Loveless-era photograph of the band on all their posters and printed material. The band’s reclusive image and overall detached aesthetic has been a large contributor to their growing influence and mystique since the heyday of the scene they helped create. Could the conspicuous use of this image actually foreshadow the fact that nothing has changed for the band in their time away? Could the whole thing simply be a money grab to cash in on the name and growing cult-like appeal of the band’s limited yet treasured catalogue? The bigger issue, however, lay in the fact that a live performance and release of new material not up to par with now fever-pitched expectations could break the magic spell and artistic resolve of the band once and for all.

Further clues arose upon entering the concert hall with this mix giddy excitement, polite Korean restraint, and wide-eyed trepidation as each ticket holder was given a set of earplugs in a small, silver “My Bloody Valentine” canister. Having seen the warning signs regarding high decibel levels posted outside the venue, I thought it also potentially foreboding, should the performance and new music simply be something you would rather not want to hear altogether.

Ax Hall is a relatively new venue and is laid-out quite simply, with a large, open general admission area on the floor, and a small private seating area in the balcony. Korean concert crowds are extremely reserved and in fact sterile compared to their drug and alcohol-drenched counterparts elsewhere. I have found myself both thrilled at the general punctuality of the shows here (although MBV hit the stage 20 minutes late), yet also longing for the drawn-out, boozy anticipation of those exciting moments waiting for the lights to go down and the show to start at any time.  Since there was already a large crowd gathered in front of Shields’ guitar rig downstage left, I decided to camp out in front of singer-guitarist Bilinda Butcher’s set-up on the right. Butcher and bassist Debbie Googe were both born in England, while Kevin Shields and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, were both born in Dublin. Googe also plays bass in Primal Scream and replaced Mani, who departed in 2012 to rejoin The Stone Roses.

The show turned out to be a combination of incredible, dizzying visuals, a deliberately muddled and dense audio wallop louder than any concert I have yet attended, and a few minor technical difficulties which briefly stopped the show altogether. Given Shields’ distinctive guitar sound, it may be like The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, simply impossible to recreate their studio brilliance live. However, Shields’ attention to detail, which may have accounted for much of the 22-year delay, was also evident in several songs being stopped midway and restarted again to be performed more to his liking. Given the seemingly indistinguishable nature of the bands’ live music, it seemed funny to me that any minor imperfections in the mix or execution were noticeable at all in such a powerful and amped-up performance.

The highlights of the setlist (below), like “Honey Power” and the opener “New You,” were where all the madness and meticulousness came together for sheer aural bliss. There were also moments of just extreme and unrelenting loud noise, like the 20 minute wall-of-sound closer, “You Made Me Realize”. This track, which the band have dubbed “the holocaust,” seemed more like the group just playing extreme and random sounds as loud as possible for a very long time.  The affect, while maddening at first, shook my clothes, my whole body (including my undigested dinner) and ultimately produced a calming and peaceful resolution.

Ultimately, no one looks, sounds, or acts quite like My Bloody Valentine. Certainly no one would ever attempt to duplicate their road to limited mainstream commercial success. Additionally, no one can claim to sound like them- which in some cases clearly includes the band themselves. Much like the recent release of Peter Jackson’s new film version of The Hobbit, there is almost no way to please everyone, so I was inclined to believe that the victory lies in the very fact that they tried. The same can be said for the new album, which I am happy to say is at times quite brilliant, and is worth picking up or downloading just to support the effort and persistence that went into its very creation. Welcome back, My Bloody Valentine. It was all worth the wait.

SET LIST  (Courtesy of Setlist.fm

New You (originally called ‘Rough Song’)

I Only Said

When You Sleep

You Never Should

Honey Power

Cigarette in Your Bed

Come In Alone

Only Shallow (aborted due to amp issue)

Thorn

Only Shallow

Nothing Much to Lose

To Here Knows When (aborted)

To Here Knows When

Slow

Soon

Feed Me With Your Kiss (aborted twice)

Feed Me With Your Kiss

You Made Me Realize

 

 

December 12, 2012

Farewell Joshua

JoshFarewell18December saw the end of another Native Teacher contract at my hagwon, as Maryland native, Josh Stinton, excitedly returned home to the United States. Josh was a teacher at the Noeun Branch of JLS and a great friend and travel companion over the last year.

Despite his age, Josh was extremely mature and passed my snobby credentials early on by displaying a wide knowledge of both great music (like My Bloody Valentine and The Clash) and also good literature (like Hemingway and Chuck Klosterman).

My experience abroad has changed me for the better in so many ways and the best, most memorable part will always be the people I have met here. Josh was always quick to laugh, particularly at himself, and was always up for hike, bike ride, or other urban adventure. Our shared fascination with the daily absurdity of Korean culture was frustrating for him at first and was often times hilarious to us both. It was our ability to laugh at these otherwise infuriating cultural differences that made the experience bearable and ultimately all the more illuminating.

 

I got to see Joshua grow and mature even more during his short time here, too, becoming a more confident and experienced world traveler. This has helped me realize just how green I was upon my initial arrival in South Korea and how we both will be forever better for the experience. He also has a natural gift for teaching and the kids loved him. JLS and the staff were sad to see him go, but his adventure continues.

Upon his return to the U.S.A., Josh planned to substitute teach and pursue a graduate degree in a related field. I wish him continued success in whatever path he chooses to follow and I will miss having him here as a trusted friend. Josh always pushed me to go a little farther beyond my comfort zone, and as I have discovered…that is where the magic happens.

magic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace, safe travels, and good luck, Josh, from The Rock Traveler!

December 4, 2012

The Final Cut

Pink Floyd / The Final Cut 

Released 1983 (Harvest Records)

Produced by Roger Water, James Guthrie, and Michael Kamen

 

I have written in detail here at The Rock Traveler about the difference between albums that are my very favorites and albums I consider to be the best by any one particular artist, band, or performer. The answer for some when posed this question is rarely the same. Bands like Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, U2, Rush, and Van Halen, with such long, prolific careers and such distinct periods (and even lineups) for example, are even more interesting to discuss, dissect, and consider. Pink Floyd has always had such a strong presence in the world of rock and still have one of the most passionate and dedicated followings in music. It is rare to find any two fans that agree on the best work in their catalog and, of course, there is no right answer.

I have always maintained that if you enjoy ANY type of music, the emotions and feelings it creates are more important than what I like versus what you like. Additionally, it has been my experience that some of the most lasting and influential works in music history rarely are the result of ideal circumstances and creative harmony. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot out the Lights are just two examples of musical masterpieces created as the direct result of bands (and relationships) imploding while the tape is running. The Final Cut, Pink Floyd’s final proper album from 1983, features their classic lineup (sans Rick Wright) before the acrimonious departure of Roger Waters. Once cited as one of the most depressing albums in history, I have always strongly disagreed with that assertion. The Final Cut is certainly not Pink Floyd’s best album. That distinction is a matter of opinion and will forever be  open for debate. It is, however, MY favorite Pink Floyd album, as its music, message, and subtle brilliance continues to reveal, haunt, and entertain me nearly 30 years after its release. It is certainly a dark and highly emotional work that transcends easy comparisons or classification and it rewards the patient listener; especially on vinyl and through headphones.

Most Floyd fans would argue that 1973′s Dark Side of the Moon holds the distinction of the band’s best and most popular work. The band members themselves also readily admit that it was a creative high water mark for them and an enjoyable time when each member was “on side” towards the realization of a shared musical vision. The album spent 741 (nearly 15 years) on the Billboard charts and has sold over 50 million copies worldwide since. It is hard to argue with its success or lasting influence; as it is still an achievement in recorded music that never fails to surprise, impress, and reveal additional layers. In fact, Dark Side, and the follow-ups, 1975′s Wish You Were Here and Animals (from 1977) are a trio of albums of such high quality and creativity and complexity that the band’s legacy would have been forever cemented had they never recorded anything else.

However, like the song “Limelight” from the classic 1980 Rush release Moving Pictures, the fame, wealth, and acclaim  that come with an album as popular as Dark Side eventually leads to sad times and ultimately darker material.  “Limelight”, like many Rush songs, manages to convey an entire album’s worth of message, cynicism, and drama in just one cut. Ironically, the popularity of the song (and album) caused the very problem it detailed. While Pink Floyd stretched a similar message across two unforgettable album sides on Dark Side, the single “Money” echoes (pun intended) a similar foreshadowing of the impending success of the band and subsequent (and seemingly inevitable) unraveling of Pink Floyd as a functioning group. This ultimate alienation and demise did not receive proper attention again lyrically or thematically from Roger Waters until the epic 1979 release, The Wall.

The Final Cut was initially intended to be a coda for the songs and issues raised during the recording of The Wall, and as a further clarification of Waters’ anti-war message. It was also to be used as a soundtrack to the 1982 movie version of The Wall being directed by Alan Parker and starring (Sir) Bob Geldof of Boomtown Rats. Most fans would agree that the main concepts were muddled and lost in the uneven (yet visually striking) movie version of The Wall, which the band (and Waters in particular) were never fully happy with. So, when the war in the Falkland Islands broke out, Waters’ instead rewrote The Final Cut from a movie soundtrack and turned it into a scathing review of modern British politics; focusing on the unfulfilled promises of a new era in England after World War II and the high cost the war ultimately had on him personally. Waters father, Eric Fletcher Waters, for whom the album is dedicated, died in Italy in 1944 as an officer in the British Army and is the ever-present ghost that seems to haunt the entire album. A rare and brilliant short film (below) was produced to coincide with the release of the album and only one video, for the album’s lone single “Not Now John,” was made.

Already having one of the most impressive visual components to both the band’s distinctive album covers and their legendary light shows, Roger Waters chose to eschew the work of long-time collaborators Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, founding members of Hipgnosis for this release. Remembered best for their work with groups like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Yes, U.F.O., and Peter Gabriel, Hipgnosis also created the now iconic design and photography of the Dark Side of the Moon cover, as well as Animals and Wish You Were Here. Design for the album cover on The Final Cut Waters completed himself this time around using photos taken by his brother in law. The cover is of a simple array of war medals on a black background and the inside gate-fold displays various pictures of poppies, a theme also echoed throughout the album’s lyrics. Poppies, inspired by the war poem “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae, have been used as a common remembrance of those who have lost their lives in the line of duty since WW I.

 (Please click on each image below to view full size) 

The album was also recorded using the then new and experimental Holophonic recording process to give the album the audio equivalent of a 3-D quality . Holophonics was created by Argentinian inventor, Hugo Zuccarelli, and can best be heard on the album in the transitions from one song to another, which feature voices, sound effects, and background noises similar to those used to link songs on The Wall and Dark Side into a thematic whole. A remastered and repackaged CD was released by EMI in Europe and on Capitol Records in the US in 2004; which includes an extra song, the previously unreleased “When the Tigers Broke Free” appearing just after “One of the Few“. It is a nice song but does disrupt the flow fans of the album may have become accustomed to. As the album is still best heard in one listen from beginning to end the best songs on the disc hold up well when heard with other cuts or “Best Of” collections.

I encourage anyone who has not heard the album to listen patiently and with no expectations so you can decide for yourself. I consider it to be a lost treasure in their discography and therefore, songs that can still be enjoyed as if they were brand new.  However, please make-up your own mind and keep the debate going.

Track List 2004 Re-release (EMI/Capital) 

1. The Post War Dream

2. Your Possible Pasts

3. One of the Few

4. When the Tigers Broke Free

5. The Hero’s Return

6. The Gunner’s Dream

7. Paranoid Eyes

8. Get Your Filthy Hands off my Desert

9. The Fletcher Memorial Home

10. Southampton Dock

11. The Final Cut

12. Not Now John

13. Two Suns in the Sunset

For further reading on Pink Floyd and this album, check out these links, sources, and fan resources:

www.allmusic.com

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

www.pinkfloyd.com

pitchfork.com

October 16, 2012

Chuseok – Gangnam Style

After another amazing volunteer trip to the Asan Pet Shelter to start off the Chuseok Holiday weekend, I realized that since there were no tickets heading back to Daejeon, it might make sense to head up to the capital city for an overnight stay. I took the KTX up the rest of the way to Seoul and booked a last-minute bed at Inside Backpackers, just a five minute walk from Exit 4 at the Hyehwa Station on Seoul’s Line 4 subway.

Having stayed there once before, I found it to be conveniently located in a young and active part of the city. Inside Backpackers caters exclusively to foreign travelers and is a great place to stay cheaply and with a high probability of meeting someone interesting from anywhere else in the world. This time I met Kevin, a big, enthusiastic, red-headed traveler and football (read soccer) fan from Liverpool -visiting Korea for the first time on holiday.

The staff there is always friendly and knowledgable and for only 12,000 KRW I got a clean lower bunk in a room for 4 that ultimately only included me and the world’s loudest snoring traveler later that night. I left the next morning before he woke up, but the noise (of course) only ceased after my bags were packed to leave and he finally rolled over onto his side in quiet slumber. As I can see it, this and the open curfew are the only major downside to the sharing of rooms as each had an individual locker to stow your valuables and the fact that each guest must present his/her passport upon check-in. It would therefor not make much sense to steal from fellow guests and, judging by most of the travelers I have met here so far, it is not a big concern. That is not to say it is completely out of the question, so I am still very careful. I did have my iPod stolen from the locker room at my gym and a good rule of thumb when traveling abroad seems to be taking all the precautions you can with your money, travel documents, and electronics; still essentially trusting no one.  I also made a mental note to pack along earplugs and an sleeping mask for next time to ensure a sound nights sleep regardless of my bunkmates.

Chuseok (추석) is the great fall festival in which Koreans celebrate the Fall Equinox with a major 3-day weekend holiday. As such, most families visit the hometown of their ancestors and dine on traditional meals such as Songpyeon, glutinous rice cakes, and rice wine. That being the case, and seeing as I was all on my own, it only seemed fitting for some reason that I search for Mexican food instead of eating anything remotely traditional. After checking in well past dinner time, I still decided to venture out to Itaewon to search for just that at Vatos Urban Tacos. After a few laps through the Dong, I realized that it might be harder to find than I first imagined. I popped into a Hollys Coffee for some free WiFi and found the exact location online or another great blog, Seoul Eats. Vatos, just off the main drag is very new and has been packing in large crowds since opening.

Turns out I was just a block away and that sadly, Vatos was closed for the holiday weekend. Looks like a great place, though, so I will have to stop back again next time I am in town. No matter how long I am here, I will not give up my search for even average Mexican food – stopping short of the fairly new Taco Bell in the heart of Itaewon. Instead for dinner, I settled on a spicy Chicken and Lamb Kebab from a turkish joint on the strip that always has a healthy line of drunken revelers. The process and atmosphere was ultimately more appetizing than the end result, but washed down with a mini Korean Coke, it was a fitting and satisfying end to a long day of hard work and travel.

The following morning I set off early as restful sleep was going to be impossible, and I made it for the Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner. They are everywhere in Korea and are always a good meeting place or rally point before heading out to explore the amazing endless sprawl that is Seoul. The donuts are not as good as the “Hot Now” glazed batches from Krispy Kreme, but the coffee is consistent and the breakfast sandwiches, on bagel or english muffin, are hot, cheap, and fast. I used the time to pull out my subway map and plan out the rest of the day.

The insane popularity of the Psy song “Gangnam Style” throughout Korea (and now the world) dictated that I attempt to make it to this area and find out what all the fuss was about. Gangnam is a wealthy neighborhood and shopping district on the south side of the Han river and about a 30 minute subway ride with 3 transfers. Gangnam boast a very nice station and what appeared to be brand new trains. While I was prepared for a Rodeo Drive-type experience, the area reminded me much more of the Upper West side of Manhattan. It was very clean and so modern that it could double as a New York backdrop pretty easily. After a nice focaccia sandwich and mango juice at the redundantly named “Cafe Nescafe” and double junior ice cream cone for desert, I returned to the downtown markets to finish shopping for the various odds and ends on my list. One pair of fake Ray Ban’s later and no luck in my search for a used Canon G10 camera, I decided to finish my trip with a short traditional palace visit.

I read about Deoksugung Palace in a local English-language paper and found it quite easily. It was built in the late 1400′s and was open for free over the holiday weekend. To get there get off at City Hall Subway Station and at either Exit #2 (Subway Line 1) or Exit #12 (Subway Line 2) walk for about 5 minutes to the main entrance at nearly the the heart of the city. The seat of politics during the Great Korean Empire, Deoksugung Palace is the perfect place to see old Korea with a totally modern backdrop. It is a favorite spot for tourists and Korean families alike to escape the noise and speed of the city in a highly relaxing environment. It was the perfect place to end the day and people watch, as many people in attendance, especially children, were dressed in their traditional attire. From there it was just one subway stop back to Seoul Station and my 1-hour return trip to Daejeon on the KTX. As ususal, I was exhausted from 24 hours of urban hiking throughout the city, but I left with a new confidence in my ability to  negotiate the city and the sites while blending new and old in equal measures. Seoul is a marvel of balance and tradition that to me, is still best enjoyed in small doses. If I never hear that Psy song again though, it will be too soon.