conferring godlike status
Saturday, February 24 2007
By this afternoon my questionnaire builder was so bullet-proof and flexible that it only took the five minutes I told Gretchen that I needed before we set off for Albany to incorporate its front end into a web-based personal calendaring system that I'd started this morning. In its new capacity, the questionnaire builder served to arrange events for a calendar day.
Then Gretchen and I drove up to Albany, state capital of New York. Originally Gretchen had planned for us to spend the whole afternoon there, seeing an exhibit of presidential portraits at a museum (no, I never learned why she thought this would be compelling), maybe shopping at the mall, then Indian food, and finally attending a performance by a band of weird fusion musicians at the Egg. But I had a lot of work to do so I'd negotiated a compromise: Indian food followed by a show.
The Indian food proved surprisingly mediocre considering the string of successes we've had with Indian food in Albany. We ordered a bottle of Yellowtail Shiraz with our meal (it was $16) and, though it was brought to our table in a suspiciously-preopened condition, it tasted like the real deal.
The Egg is a massive concrete pod (shaped more like a disk than an egg) balanced atop a pedestal, and it contains two separate performance spaces, one for 400 and some people and the other for nearly a thousand. Because of its architectural complexity and entrenched Upstate corruption it took twelve years to build. One enters the Egg through an elevator rising from the base of its pedestal. When we arrived the show was about to begin, and we only encountered Egg staff as we approached the performance space.
The performers tonight were a group calling itself DBR and the Mission, fronted by DBR himself, a violinist named Daniel Bernard Roumain. He opened the show with a solor performance on an electric violin, establishing himself as capable of just about anything when properly armed. Then his band joined in and led us through a series of arrangements. Characterizing the niche these occupied is difficult, but it helps to know that the band consists of a bass, a drum kit, two electric violins, a keyboardist, and a guy (named DJ Scientific) armed with two turntables, a microphone, and an iBook. There were essentially no vocals at all. Though DBR kept emphasizing the Hip Hop influences on his music, DJ Scientific was mixed low and could scarcely be heard. The heart of the music lay in the violins and drums, and, given the infinite possibilities of pedal effects, could sound exactly like either a small chamber group or a galloping thrash metal band. The arrangements were often
in minor keys or on weird Middle Eastern scales. Only a couple songs resembled the uninspired products of an adult contemporary jazz consortium.
The music was so unusual and impressive that it should have been left to stand on its own, conferring godlike status on anyone capable of producing it. (An approach that worked wonders for, say, ZZ Top.) Unfortunately, DBR spoiled this possibility with his nerdy intersong banter, during which he enlightened us with things like what key the next arrangement would be in and what its influences had been (though he never told us the key of the Middle Eastern-sounding stuff).
On the drives both to and from Albany, Gretchen and I were listening to 92.9 FM, a station that just underwent a format change and now plays "Classic Hits." This has allowed Gretchen to catch up on some of the more forgettable chapters of pop music history, such as the song "Jukebox Hero" by Foreigner, which up until today she'd somehow managed to avoid hearing. But mixed in which such drek were some real gems, such as Boston's "Hitch a Ride" and Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat."
92.9 is so new and so desperate to establish itself in its new format that it gives station identifications between every song, sometimes including props purportedly sent in by enthusiastic listeners via email. As we drove past the Hurley Mountain Inn, one station ID even made the claim that we were listening to an independent radio station, one with a local Hudson Valley staff, though we'd never yet heard anything resembling a DJ.
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