• Record Review: fun. - Some Nights

    Fev 27 2012, 1h25

    fun. - Some Nights

    Now that my thoughts are finally collected in one place, I can finally stop with the shoutbox trolling.
    http://thebackground.org/?p=271
  • Gig Review: Bon Iver at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

    Ago 5 2011, 11h56

    It's been a while (years) since I've posted a journal on last.fm...that's because I've been bloggin' it. (Once every few months.)

    I wrote a little bit about Bon Iver's Atlanta show, which was one of the best concerts I've ever been to. Check it:

    http://thebackground.org/?p=138
  • Gig/Record Review: Coheed and Cambria - Neverender (Children of the Fence Edition)

    Abr 3 2009, 0h35

    I wasn't sure how to categorize this as far as reviews go. I've never reviewed a live DVD box set. And I'm not sure how to go about reviewing something as epic and massive as this. A total of nine discs that encompass the band's entire musical and biographical career (one that's longer than you might think), and hands down the best packaging I've ever seen on a DVD set. Truly, if you are a hardcore fan, this is something that few bands or artists will entreat you with.

    If you're unaware, Coheed and Cambria held a four-night gig in NYC (as well as Chicago, LA, and London), in which they played one of their albums in its entirety each night. In its fucking entirety. If you've been to more than a few of their shows, you know what a big deal that is.

    I'm not one to claim that I've been a fan since Shabutie or even since their first album, but I picked up In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 based almost purely upon recommendation from a friend who's big into prog. I had only heard a couple of samples from their website, I wanted to get into some prog, and the songs (The Crowing and Devil in Jersey City), as well as the concept, appealed to me. It wasn't Spock's Beard, or Meshuggah, or even Dream Theater, but that's kinda why I liked it. This friend had been trying to get me into those kind of bands, and I enjoyed some of it, but something definitely struck me about Coheed.

    It was in January 2004 that I bought the album. Original Equal Vision release, so, no big radio single yet, though there were talks of a major label deal. My life revolved around Publix and technical college, so for a long time, I was one of the only people I knew who was into the band. IKSSE:3 grew on me like a tumor. I absolutely adored it and blasted it everywhere I went for most of that year. I loved the contrasts (poppy hand-claps one minute, progressive metal the next), the epic storytelling, the unique vocals...everything. My next purchase was obviously The Second Stage Turbine Blade, and I loved it too, but IKSSE:3 will always be my favorite.

    Somewhere in between, they were signed to Columbia and took off from there. I remember fans on message boards doubting they'd have any mainstream appeal unless they changed their sound, which thankfully hasn't happened to the extent that we feared. If you've heard them, you love them or hate them, there's no in between. Thankfully, there turned out to be enough people who love them for this kind of thing to happen.

    I guess I started to lose interest in Coheed when they damn near fell apart a couple of years ago. The live shows suffered, and I was tiring of the same old setlists. I first saw them at the Masquerade in ATL in support of IKSSE:3, and they played a lot of those songs, including The Light & the Glass as a full band. Fucking epic. But it wasn't long after that that the setlists became formulaic, and they spent a good 20 minutes wanking around during The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut. Which is cool once or twice, but after that, I'm bored. Play something we haven't heard in a while (I'm talking about 21:13).

    If you watch their previous DVD from the Hammerstein, you can sense that they're just going through the motions. Something wasn't right. I only watched that DVD once or twice; it was a disappointment overall. But Neverender more than makes up for any previous shortcomings.

    Alright. Now I've gotta review. I had to share my personal story first, because of how personal this set feels. The band put their heart and soul into these performances. The documentary included among the DVDs is an extremely comprehensive autobiography. I consider myself a hardcore fan, meaning I own the original first edition of the first comic book, bought on the official website, not eBay, I could've bought the vinyls if I wanted, but was stupid and didn't, I introduced a bunch of people to the band, I wore out my bloody dragonfly track jacket that I bought at that first show and I was pretty much recognized for it on campus at GCSU; whatever, I'm not here to boast about how I'm the biggest fan, 'cause I know there's someone out there who can boast about more than I can. The point I wanted to make is that I thought I knew everything, but to borrow a cliché, I had no idea. I'm not going to spoil it if you haven't seen it yet, but there are a number of surprises on the documentary, and you'll learn more than you expect.

    The shows included here are incredible, even in their few flaws. Chris Pennie, at least subconsciously, is almost solely responsible for the fact that I'm still listening to this band. He brought them back to life from a point of near death. And he kicks insane amounts of ass. The drums pretty much own this band musically now, at least live. That's not to discount Travis or Claud's guitar work, or Mic, because they're all top notch as well, but I watched the extended Final Cut in awe rather than boredom for the first time since the first time. The venue, NYC's Terminal 5, is perfect for this showcase. It has a space station/sci-fi feel to it that complements their intent of telling the story, one chapter per night. The crowd is so in-sync with the band that some of my energy was derived solely from watching them. The mix is perfect; when you hear how pronounced the drums are, you'll agree with me when I say that Chris pretty much drives this band now. Everyone else listens to him and follows. Which is fine, because they're even better for it.

    I could go into an in-depth review, but I think I've said enough. They play it all, except most of the b-sides and rarities. But everything else is intact, just as you heard it on the albums, only better, and full of added improvisations; they do not merely emulate the albums. This is a band in their element, who has finally reached their full potential live. As much as I want to claim Night II as my favorite for the inclusion of, finally, 21:13, Night III's Willing Well tetralogy is what I consider the climax of this collection.

    What I love about having the CDs also is finally being able to create a dream setlist that plays seamlessly. Mix it up, burn it to a CD, and you've got your dream show. The hard part is narrowing it down to 80 minutes. (Unless you have an iPod, unlike me.)

    I've gone on longer than I intended. This is a definite must-buy if you're a hardcore fan, and you can show it to nonbelievers who I'm confident will follow. Don't skimp and buy the condensed edition if you're a rabid fan. Borrow money if you have to. Even in this economy, this is worth it.

    I can't stop raving, here or elsewhere. Absolutely an A+ release and gig.
  • Mix of the Month (April 2009)

    Abr 1 2009, 22h54

    Some of my favorite bands have been active lately in terms of touring and releases. Lots of reviews to write. But right now, here's a mix that's currently in my changer...its meant to conceptualize what the average day of a first-year teacher (me) is like. I didn't intend for it to, but that's what it sounded like after a couple of listens.

    Anxiety, build-up, chaos, repeat.

    1. Jon Brion - Sexy Sadie
    2. Margot & the Nuclear So and So's - A Children's Crusade on Acid
    3. Maria Taylor - Xanax
    4. The Format - Glutton of Sympathy
    5. Elliott Smith - Let's Get Lost
    6. Ryan Adams - Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.
    7. Counting Crows - Sessions
    8. Vic Chesnutt, Elf Power, and the Amorphous Strums - Teddy Bear
    9. Partisan - The Partisan
    10. Dark Meat - Three Eyes Open
    11. Jeff Mangum - A Baby for Pree > Glow Into You
    12. The Mountain Goats - This Year
    13. Cursive - From The Hips
    14. Frightened Rabbit - The Modern Leper
    15. Manchester Orchestra - Wolves At Night
    16. Counting Crows - August And Everything After
    17. Danielle Brisebois - Just Missed The Train
    18. Ben Thornewill - Faint of Heart
    19. Radiohead - 4 Minute Warning
  • 25 albums

    Mar 15 2009, 15h26

    From a Facebook forward that I felt was more appropriate for last.fm:

    Think of 25 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world. When you finish, tag others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good.

    It's weird that I had kind of a hard time naming 25 without using the same artist/band twice. Guess I'm not as musically diverse as I thought.

    1. Third Eye Blind - Third Eye Blind
    2. The Format - Dog Problems
    3. M. Ward - Post-War
    4. The Used - The Used
    5. Coheed and Cambria - In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3
    6. Ben Folds - Ben Folds Live
    7. Elliott Smith - XO
    8. Modern Skirts - Catalogue of Generous Men
    9. Jon Brion (and others) - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    10. Mitch Hedberg - Strategic Grill Locations
    12. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
    13. Bright Eyes - Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
    14. Everclear - So Much for the Afterglow
    15. New Radicals - Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too
    16. Dashboard Confessional - The Swiss Army Romance
    17. Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
    18. Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
    19. Counting Crows - Films About Ghosts
    20. Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat
    21. The Postal Service - Give Up
    22. Fastball - All the Pain Money Can Buy
    23. Kanye West - Late Registration
    24. R.E.M. - In Time
    25. Zebrahead - MFZB
  • Gig Review: Ben Folds at Tabernacle

    Mar 15 2009, 1h17

    Fri 27 Feb – Ben Folds, Miniature Tigers

    Believe it or not, this was the first time I've seen Ben at the Tabernacle. He seems to have been enjoying Savannah more in recent years. Ironically, now that I'm closer to Savannah, he comes to Atlanta. But, no complaints, because this was easily the best show of his that I've personally witnessed.

    Steph and I were late to the show, so we missed Minature Tigers, which is unfortunate because I had been prepping for the show by listening to their stuff, which is quite good. Ben came out for a sec to introduce the second opening act (who were not on the bill): UGA's a cappella group With Someone Else's Money. Ben was apparently inspired by the many YouTube videos of a cappella groups interpreting his songs, so he held a contest, selected the best groups, trekked around to the various high schools and universities to record them, and will be releasing all of these recordings on a record that's set to release pretty soon. Just another example of what a close connection Ben creates with his fans.

    Anyhow, most of the crowd waited impatiently for Ben, and there was a group of people inexplicably wearing fake mustaches. Still haven't figured that one out. The group from UGA ended their set with their version of You Don't Know Me, which will incidentally be on the aforementioned a cappella album.

    And then there was Ben. I was able to scribble down the setlist on some hotel notepad paper I had in my wallet, and even though it's been a few weeks, I still have it right where I left it:

    With band:



    1. The Bitch Went Nutz (which, as I predicted, has held up much better than the real version)
    2. Effington
    3. Brainwascht
    4. Annie Waits
    5. Alice Childress (with french horn player from Smyrna)
    6. Way to Normal (admitted it was a piece of shit, but he still likes it...french horn was a nice touch on this one)
    7. Lovesick Diagnostician
    8. Dr. Yang
    9. Hiroshima
    10. Landed
    11. Free Coffee
    12. You Don't Know Me (featuring the female soloist from UGA on Regina Spektor's part)
    13. Bastard

    Solo (which was absolutely the best part of the show, not to knock Sam and Jared--especially not Sam, since he was playing with a fever!--but what a treat):

    14. Fred Jones Part 2
    15. Eddie Walker
    16. Best Imitation of Myself
    17. Emaline
    18. Brick

    Band returns:

    19. Kylie From Connecticut
    20. Zak And Sara (who, incidentally, are now immortalized on one of the coolest Ben Folds t-shirts I've ever seen)
    21. Underground
    22. Not The Same
    23. Kate
    24. Mustache Improv (Ben couldn't explain it either)
    25. Philosophy

    Encore:

    26. Fair
    27. Army

    Ben seemed to be in a great mood, talking more than usual. I'm trying to assess his current audience in the post-Bitches Ain't Shit era. When I listen to the Ben Folds Live album, the audiences seem a lot more respectful than they've been at recent Folds shows. Of course, that could be due to a number of things, including mixing and careful choices of what recordings made that album. Then again, that was the tour that conceived Rock This Bitch. Who knows. It probably doesn't matter, 'cause Ben has been a great servant to his fans.

    He tried to clue in audience members who were unaware or confused by his recent releases.

    First, there were the fake tracks, which were recorded, mixed, and released in one night before a gig in Ireland. Fooled many, hardcore fans included.

    Then, there was the actual release of Way To Normal, which included no song called Way to Normal. That was released as part of the fake album.

    Most recently, Ben released a double album called Stems and Seeds, which included a re-mixed and re-sequenced version of Way To Normal along with all of the fake tracks. However, the first disc does not play in your CD player. Nope--it's for you to pop in your computer and fool around with the songs in GarageBand. Which I haven't had a chance to do yet, but if you head over to the forums on thesuburbs.org.uk, many users have created some really awesome mixes. Check out Benfolio's "Naked" mix, or Drew's "Solo" mix if you have the time.

    (Psst...this means there's no reason to buy Way To Normal, unless you're in it for the bigass vinyl special edition. Get Stems and Seeds. It only costs a little more and it's totally worth it. The original mixes aren't nearly as good as what's on there, and compared to what you can create by screwing around in GarageBand for a few minutes.)

    Anyway...that's enough. I'm not the first to say it, but the Songs For Silverman-era was a bit disappointing. Could have been a reflection of Ben's personal life. Who knows. Either way, he's happier, he's more generous, and the new material and gigs have been top notch. I hope Ben was joking when he said his next album will be his last.
  • Record Review: Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak

    Jan 2 2009, 20h27

    I definitely didn't expect another Kanye West record hardly a year after Graduation. In fact, there's a lot about this record that wasn't expected. Love him or hate him, Kanye has had a pretty terrible year. And before you retort with a remark about his stacks of dough, recall the cliché about money and happiness. I remember how many stories I've heard about lottery winners who suffer more misfortune than fortune, or the Atlanta family who had their Extreme Home Makeover home foreclosed on (the episode was ironically re-run this past Thanksgiving). Sure, you can blame the individuals all you want, but there's no denying the downside to wealth, flash, and particularly fame. This is one of a few running themes on 808s & Heartbreak.

    But back to the sheer unexpected nature of this record. Not only does it virtually come out of nowhere, but it's a sharp contrast to the celebratory nature of Kanye's last effort. He's at the peak of his career, playing huge venues, selling millions of records, and living the Good Life. But the party ended too soon. To continue promoting an album like Graduation after two personal tragedies, one would have to turn it into a staged show and act his way through it...which is pretty much what he did last year.

    Kanye returns with an effort that's haunting, dark, lonesome, and somehow, very danceable. It's mainstream hip-hop, but only by category. This is not mainstream hip-hop. Rapping is a rare occurrence, and it's usually done by one of the few cameos. Kanye rejects nearly everything he was celebrating on his last three albums: the fame, Flashing Lights, Louis Vuitton, and other types of fortune. Not only is this also his first album without a Parental Advisory label, but the lyrics contain no profanity at all.

    The use of autotune and Kanye's singing are the two points that seem to turn people off before even listening. But I can't think of many other mediums he could have used to successfully express what he wanted to express here. Kanye is not a professional singer, nor is he trying to be. But here, autotune is used for more than fixing pitch, which is the first assumption critics tend to make. It creates a sense of distance between the listener and an artist who feels more like a robot than a "real boy." To me, Kanye's decisions in producing this record are one of the things that make it such a great work.

    And Kanye's production here is better than ever. The beats are huge, and despite the tone of the album, tracks like RoboCop, Love Lockdown, and Paranoid are impossible not to dance to. It's quite a task to turn the subjects of breakup, loss, regret, depression, and even suicidal thoughts into songs that are fun. It's odd, but it totally works. I imagine it's therapeutic, not to mention challenging, to turn these subjects on their head and make something you can dance to. It's certainly proof of trauma's ability to create art. And regardless of your opinion of Kanye, I dare you to listen to Pinocchio Story or Coldest Winter and not feel for the guy.

    I expected to think this record is decent, but I never expected it to vie for my #1 record of 2008. The last time I heard an album that broke the mold like this one does is The Love Below, but even it wasn't as successful as this is. Who knew it would be Kanye to put out a hip-hop record that doesn't brag or boast? This is as real as it gets; too many artists write songs like the ones collected here and keep them to themselves because they're simply too personal. At least for the time being, Kanye has put aside his ego and put forth his guts. I feel his singing and even his use of autotune are appropriate because they have an artistic purpose, but if you're not as tolerant as I am, enjoy it for the beats and thematic elements, the latter of which you'll rarely hear in a hip-hop record...unless we're fortunate enough for more mainstream hip-hop to catch on.

    Easily an A, maybe A+.
  • Gig/Record Review: Modern Skirts

    Out 6 2008, 23h38

    I was at the ATL release party. Great fun, one of my favorite times seeing them. The guys were super friendly and we hung out backstage for a bit. John said the Athens show on Friday was recorded for a DVD or something in the future, but they were all really nervous because it was their first time playing some of the songs, David Lowery joined them on a song but he didn't know it that well, and the cameras and mics didn't help, so it didn't go as smoothly as Saturday night.

    I had never been to Smith's Olde Bar, it's a really cool place. I've lost count of how many times I've seen them now, but every time it's different and full of surprises. Favorite moment of the night:

    Adrian (friend of the band from Dublin): I hope everyone here votes for Barack Obama as President of the U.S.
    [mixed reaction from crowd]
    Jay (before pasadena): Alright, to make things even, this song is dedicated to John McCain.
    Steph: Take it back, Jay!
    Jay: ...and his death.

    I don't think we left until almost 3; they started playing Girl Talk after the show which had everyone dancing for a good while. I had to drive back to fucking Hinesville the same night; could have stayed somewhere but I had too much shit to do and I just needed to be back here, as much as I didn't want to be. I got back at 8am Sunday morning and I'm still trying to catch up. But it was totally worth it. The new album is the soundtrack to nights like that one.

    Speaking of which...All Of Us In Our Night. It's amazing. It's chock full of the classic melodies you'd expect, but it's very different from Catalogue of Generous Men. The only song that might fit on CoGM is Radio Breaks, maybe Mrs. The rest, I'd say, fits in one of two camps: more aggressive than anything they've done (Face Down, Eveready, Conversational), or chill/mysterious/electronic (Soft Pedals, Chokehold, Astronauts, and probably my favorite, Like Lunatics). It makes for some great contrasts; all of my favorite records have been full of contrasts and I have a feeling this will be one of them.

    I've been hearing many of these tracks live for a while now. They more than hold up on the record, in fact, many of them are given a whole new life. Chanel is a great opener, and a song I actually wasn't crazy about until I heard this recording. Yugo, Face Down, and Eveready have just as much energy here as they do live. They've captured it.

    New Ben Folds and Modern Skirts in the same week...I was more hyped for this one...and it doesn't disappoint...I'd easily give it an A.
  • Record Review: Ben Folds - Way to Normal (Real and Fake)

    Out 6 2008, 23h22

    I got the super duper deluxe vinyl/CD/DVD/bonus CD box set of Ben Folds' new album Way To Normal the other day. The DVD is better than I expected. I'd say at least get the DVD edition if you're a fan. There are a lot of interviews with the whole BF family--both the musical family and parental units. They talk about how he got into music and his bed-wetting days. Ben's dad is great. There's the obligatory tour footage in there too. The veil is uncovered on the recording of the fake songs. They were done during an all-nighter in Dublin. Ben and crew had a hard time keeping a straight face during some of them. There are some studio performances and music videos as well. I'm in the DVD credits!

    The bonus CD is 8 hand-picked versions of Rock This Bitch. In the Breeze has to be my favorite. I remember hearing about the show where he came out for the encore in his boxers and a big white t-shirt, and some folks in the front row saw his nuts when he was conducting the audience on his piano. He basically tells about the incident and its repercussions, and it has some great harmonies. I guess the guy's written so many songs that he can shit them out nightly and make them sound decent. I know a lot of fans who are tired of the joke, but musically, they are some great improvs, and how many piano players do you know of who freestyle on the mic? Write some worthy lyrics into some of these songs and you've got an album...it's only laziness if the end result sucks.

    The album is good, it's Ben, but I'm not sure how good yet. We'll see how often I'm listening to it in a few months. Thematically, it's got a lot of similarities to Third Eye Blind's 2003 album Out of the Vein. He got a divorce last year, so there are moments of melancholy, anger, failure in the public eye. But he's not begging for her back or anything like that. Also, Hiroshima = a more fun My Hit and Run; Free Coffee reminds me of parts of Forget Myself. He seems to be writing more about himself, and in a more literal fashion than usual, which usually tends to bore me, but he's a good enough storyteller to make it worthwhile. But there are still many exceptions to that, namely Kylie From Connecticut, which is my definite favorite upon first listen.

    Musically...great melodies galore, less piano-based at times, but also a return to classic form. There are more bits that I can imagine hearing on a Ben Folds Five record here than on his past couple of releases (Errant Dog, Dr. Yang). There are also bits that stray from anything else he's ever done (You Don't Know Me, Free Coffee).

    I'm still getting used to Cologne, it's a great song, but my ear is used to the version I heard over and over at the video shoot, with the piano orchestra and the big production. Maybe he preferred the raw approach, maybe it fits better with the song, I haven't decided yet.

    I agree with many, maybe even Ben himself, that Bitch Went Nutz is better than Bitch Went Nuts. The characters in the song are a lot more relatable and humorous. The story of an ex-fratboy who resentfully brings his left-wing-extremist girlfriend to an office party, throwing his chances at becoming a partner at the law firm down the drain, reminds me of the kind of character sketches we got on Rockin' The Suburbs. It's the funniest one I've heard in a while.

    With that one exception, the fake leak is intentionally and laughably bad. But it's free. Which is what makes it good. Free Coffee Town and Brainwashed are so adolescently funny, it's hard not to giggle. The faux title track, Way to Normal, is also a kick. But there's not much to say about the album, really. There's nothing musically or lyrically profound. It's just a kick, and a free one, so I won't complain.

    I hope it doesn't take another three and a half years for the next record. Most of his best stuff is written and recorded quickly. I actually think he's capable of completing a very good album overnight, not just a bad one, if he were so inspired. That is a challenge.

    Way to Normal is a fun one overall, though. I hope it sticks.

    Real album = B+
    Fake album = C-
  • Ben Folds video shoot (6/16/08)

    Jun 17 2008, 19h45

    Yesterday, I made the long five and a half-hour drive from Milledgeville to Nashville. And back. And I'm still exhausted, but I'm going to try and regurgitate what just happened before I forget something.

    Last week, the Ben Folds Fan Club sent out an email offering a spot in an upcoming DVD to the first sixteen people or so to respond. The conditions: come to Ben's studio in Nashville at 9:45 (later changed to 10:45) on Monday, wear all white clothing. No further details.

    I had always regretted not being a part of the My Space DVD, which was also filmed at his studio. Then there was the Nashville Exit/In show, which I had the tickets for in my virtual fingertips before they sold out to the public in a matter of seconds. So yeah, I had to have my own Benventure like every other Ben fan has, while I still have the chance.

    I received the confirmation email on Friday. Talk about short notice. White pants are a lot harder to find than you'd think. Not khaki white, mind you, but pure white. Salvation Army, Goody's, JCPenny, and Belk had nothing. Finally found them at what I think was a big and tall shop at the small, so I had to have Steph hem them for me.

    I ended up going to bed at 8 PM on Sunday, and woke up at 2 AM to leave at 3. I then realized that the filming was pushed back an hour, and that Nashville is on Central Time. Two more hours of sleep. I left at 5 AM, and the drive was actually really nice. A little bit of traffic going through Atlanta at 7 AM, and with all the people leaving Bonnaroo in Manchester, but I had plenty of CDs burned to accompany me (with a 6 CD changer, I think I can live without an iPod). I realized how much I miss the mountains. It felt good to get away for a day. I do pretty well on my own.

    I only stopped once for coffee and gas (packed sandwiches and granola bars to eat along the way), so I arrived in Nashville with about an hour to spare. The GPS came in handy; anywhere I wandered off to, I could always find my way back to Ben's studio. I parked in a lot across the street and walked in the building, then through the doors on the left. Wow. Ben's studio.




    People say this about studios a lot, but it's much smaller than it looks on film. The wall to the right was lined with pianos, all of which have been used by Ben at one point; the furthest one back is the original Ben Folds Five piano he toted around to punk rock clubs in the early '90s. I walked in a little confused and in awe and asked—I think Sonia, who I assumed to be the label rep—where the extras go. She led me to the balcony where all the white clad people were.

    I was the tall, skinny, and shy guy from Atlanta, if you happened to be there. Actually, there were a lot of shy people there. There was some quiet conversing on the balcony, but I think we were all just soaking in the moment. I went to change in a closet, which looked like it may have been Ben's darkroom; I'm not sure. I resisted the temptation to snoop and returned to the balcony in my white garb.

    Pretty soon, we were given some details. People who could play piano would play one of the pianos, everyone else would be in the choir. Okay. Of course, I was in the choir. Jared was in charge of teaching us our parts. Ben worked with the piano players. We were led into the mixing room where Jared played the song through a few times (they had just finished it days ago and he was still learning it too), and explained our parts.



    It was a brand new song, and I'm assuming it'll be the single, seeing as how they were filming a video. It's very orchestrated, and with the choir there's a lot of "aaahhhh"s and "ba ba ba ba"s, which will be great live; I probably won't be able to keep myself from singing it. Jared should direct live choirs more often; apparently he learned a lot from his dad who was a choir director. He directed us during filming too. I don't think we could have gotten through it without him.

    Anyway, more about the new song. It's called "Köln," or "Cologne," depending on what spelling Ben chooses to use. It reminds me of "Evaporated," melodically and lyrically. It's a short ditty that I can easily see being the last track on the album. And yes, it's based on an improv he did a while back in Köln. Several of the emerging tracks from this album are based on live improvs. Which people are quick to dismiss because they expect something totally new, but that's how loads of songs from almost any artist originate. It's just that the jam sessions aren't normally in front of a live audience and uploaded on YouTube the next day. Either way, it's a testament to Ben's improv skills, because I couldn't tell. There are a lot of great lyrical moments in the song; I especially like the one about "having the same imaginary conversation." I wish I could remember all of the lyrics, but I was so concentrated on the choir parts. It's one of my favorites from the new album so far and I can't wait for the video/single premiere.



    After we felt confident enough with our parts, we lined up on the stairs of the balcony and did a few rehearsals before filming a few takes. Ben's kids were with him on the piano for those first few takes. Sam and Tambo Man were up on the balcony; Sam playing a single bass drum. Fog machines were used to make it look "heavenly"—but after looking at the pics, Steph actually thought it looked more like hell or purgatory, with the fake flames going up the stairs. There was also a woman in a black cat costume (who I'm told was Ben's babysitter) crawling around the set. Ben's wife was on one of the pianos too, and so was Ben's wife's piano teacher—he was one of the first people I met. During one of those first takes, the fog machine made the fire alarm go off, so we all had to go outside for a few minutes until that got worked out. Then we shot a few more takes and took a break for lunch. Pizza and drinks were provided.



    I think most everyone was reinvigorated after lunch, and that's when most of our best takes happened. We added clapping during the last choir part, which took a while to learn, but it was necessary to make us a more animated choir. During the "yeeaahhh!" at the end of the song, Jared raised his hands during one take, prompting all of us to do the same. Ben really liked that, so it stuck.

    Ben was taking pics of the set all day. I imagine some of those will show up somewhere.



    It seemed like a long day at the set, but thinking back, it went by in a flash. The last shot was the opening scene, which is a mock interview with the host of a Dutch TV show (the concept is that he's playing this song for this TV show). It was pretty funny and awkward, and there are some self-deprecating jabs at Ben about him being unappreciative of his success. And that wrapped it up. I managed to get a quick pic with Ben before he ran off. He expressed his appreciation for all of us being there.



    All in all it looks like it'll be a great video, definitely low budget seeing as how we didn't cost them anything, and because it was filmed at his studio. It was an awesome opportunity; I honestly don't know why bands/artists don't hire fans for things like this more often. I'm really looking forward to seeing the final treatment, and glad I got to be a part of something so surreal and spontaneous.