Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ben Folds @ UPS

So in the fall of 1997 I started 8th grade at Curtis Junior High. The year before I had been introduced to the two-disc Best of the Doors and The Who's Tommy, and so I was at this point hip deep in Doors, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the like.

Why does that matter? Well, it's the reason why I wasn't one of those kids who listened to Whatever And Ever Amen over and over. I heard Brick on the radio, and at every school dance (well, the few that I went to... standing in the corner while a KUBE-sponsored DJ spun the same tunes over and over and other people had fun lost its appeal mighty quick), and I certainly never disliked it, but I was focused on the classic rock angle at the time.

Since then I've heard the record a few more times, enough to note that it was full of really good tunes, but having never owned it I never absorbed to the extent that I have The Wall, or Automatic for the People. So I felt a little out of place surrounded by people excitedly singing along to what I assume were Ben Folds's other hits Sunday night at UPS.

The show started off with Australian singer/songwriter Ben Lee. He's one of those guys whose name I'd heard, but couldn't really associate with any particular music. What I gathered from his performance is that he is an unabashed writer of pop songs. Musically the stuff is pretty formulaic, with its strum patterns and chord progressions. Not stuff that's interesting enough for me to ever buy. But live he makes it work. He has a tremendous amount of energy, and took something that started out feeling a bit like an open mic performance and ending with the entire crowd on his side, singing along. To me, he really embodied exactly what an opening act ought to be: got the crowd energized without wearing them out.

Then, of course, was Ben Folds. He is fun to watch, if a bit exhausting. I'm kind of amazed at how much of the show he spent standing, rather than sitting, at his piano. It turned the performance into much more of a full-body action, and allowed him to occasionally break off and run around the stage a bit, occasionally conducting the audience through three part harmonies (which worked out surprisingly well for being a couple thousand people in a gym).

Like I said, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage when reviewing the show from a song-by-song perspective. The only tunes of his I could name from the show were Brick, Battle of Who Could Care Less, and Rockin' the Suburbs. A couple others I vaguely recognized. But regardless of this, there was not a moment of the show that I did not enjoy. I was marginally disappointed not to hear Song for the Dumped and Evaporated, my two favorite songs from my limited Whatever And Ever Amen experience, mostly just because I feel like they would be fun sing-along songs. I love sing-along moments, but I love them even more when I can actually participate, which wasn't the case for much of the night.

Probably the highlight for me, before the closing three-part harmony song (and I would like to know which tune that was, if anyone can help me) was his rendition of Dr. Dre's Bitches Ain't Shit. I like watching musicians just having that much fun with a song.

So I stopped at Buzzard on my way home from work and picked up Whatever, and have been listening to it as I write this. And it's good. Really good. I suspect that by the time he comes back to these parts, I'll have a much easier time singing along to much more of the show.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Speaking out on Hip Hop

Yesterday afternoon I was fortunately able to make it out to the Broadway Center Community Dialog on hip hop. I wasn't sure what to expect, going in, but I came out of it feeling like we were at least starting to step in the right direction. Time will tell how much we actually accomplished.

The format caught me off guard a bit. I walked into Theatre On The Square sort of expecting to sit in the audience and listen to people talk on stage, and then some sort of Q&A type discussion. Instead, they had a number of round tables up on stage, each with a table leader and a table recorder to foster actual small discussions.

The facilitator of the event was Dr. Dexter Gordon, director of African-American Studies at UPS. He is an engaging speaker and clearly very passionate about making sure that black youth 1) are given positive outlets and 2) are not subject to the fear and intimidation that mainstream white culture typically feels at any primarily black artistic movement.

For me, the most interesting and inspiring portions of the afternoon were the testimonials. Longtime Tacoma rapper General Wojack spoke about his experiences with the local scene, having first started shortly before the gangs came into Tacoma. As someone who watched the rise of gang activity while he was in high school, and who managed to keep himself out of it largely thanks to dedication to his art, the man brought a very positive spin to hip hop culture.

Even more interesting were the next speakers. Two primary members of "Conscious Hip Hop" group 2012 introduced them to a pair of younger members and invited them to perform a few pieces. Both of the young men (whose names I didn't right down, unfortunately) made a point to first demonstrate the angry, violent rhymes they had written in the past, countered by newer pieces reflecting a much more positive message, brought out under the influence and tutelage of people like 2012.

Worth noting, I think, was the general opinion on gangsta rap, which was basically universally denounced. Everyone, whether a veteran or new rapper, Broadway Center staffer, or police officer made a point to say that they are all for hip hop, and completely against the misogyny, racism and violence depicted in a lot of popular hip hop lyrics. I honestly was half-expecting at least a couple people to try and justify or explain it away.

The BCPA definitely made a point of trying to steer the conversation in the direction of "what can WE do about this", which is sensible. They can't be held responsible for the hip hop scene in Tacoma, but it definitely feels like they want to at least contribute. A number of different ideas came out of our and other tables:
  • An advisory committee of some sort for the BCPA, providing knowledge and cultural perspective that the current board and staff don't have. Knowing ahead of time the information that the TPD presented on the E40 show would have changed the outcome dramatically. Either 1) they would have said no in the first place, which would not have caused nearly the uproar that a last-minute cancellation did, or 2) they would have had time to make a reasonable decision rather than being pressured into hitting the panic button because they were short on time.
  • Integrating hip-hop with other formats that are more common to the BCPA: dance performance, educational lectures, workshops, etc. Make a point of not just putting on a show, but turning it into a chance to spread genuine cultural awareness. So much of our education system and government-sponsored arts funding goes toward pushing knowledge of other cultures from around the world, but so little time is spent raising awareness of the other cultures that already exist locally.
  • Partnering with smaller, more youth-oriented venues. The Broadway Center's theatres are nice, but they are designed for sit-down-and-watch performances, and hip hop is not sit-down-and-watch music. Get the marketing power of the BCPA behind some other types of venues and see what happens
To be perfectly honest, I'm not a huge hip-hop fan. There are a few groups and records that I enjoy, but I haven't spent much time delving into the genre. But the fact is, it is a part of our artistic culture, and as such it is important to see it represented in an organization designed as a driving force in the arts.

I will probably have more to say once the dialog administrators compile their notes and send out the official report, but for now... I think that at least steps are being taken, and that's good. I was expecting a lot more finger-pointing and anger. I have heard that a couple of the other tables were not as fortunate to get a positive dialog going, but from where I sat, at least, I got the impression that things may be moving forward.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rail for Russell?

I met up with the squirrels in Kevin's attic today and they spotted me an interesting tidbit. Admittedly I haven't been following the Tacoma/Russell negotiations in detail, so it's possible that this has already been blogged about, but I feel it's worth mentioning anyway.

Word on the street is that part of Russell's counter-offer (I don't know if it's a formalized counter-offer or just something they brought up as a possibility) is their desire for the Link to stop at their front door. They are apparently willing to spend quite a bit of money (possible number I heard out there is $7 million, but that was just a guess) if Sound Transit will undertake the labor.

Basically the idea is to create a loop. Where there are two tracks on Commerce there would be one, and instead of a straight back and forth, the northbound train would split off at some point and head down to A, where Russell is, then loop back up and come at the Theatre District stop from the other side. My best guess is that the break-off point would be at 17th, so that in one direction the Link would service Russell (C), and the other direction would service the Convention Center (E). Then I guess it would have to step up via 8th and 7th to get back to Commerce, like so:

So, the good: Russell likes it, and things that make Russell stay are good, in general. Since a lot of people working in that area park by the dome, it works for them. Also, it sounds like Russell is willing to absorb a lot of the cost, which is good (I don't know how large a percentage their contribution is, but hopefully it's most of it).

The bad: it is a massive amount of manpower, time, and traffic blockage that does nothing but save one subset of the riders a three or four block walk. That area is congested enough as it is. While the work is going on it will be totally screwed, and the only way to keep it from throwing off traffic after it's completed is for it to take over the little cutoff road in front of the Tacoma Art Museum. Otherwise it'll be taking up a hefty chunk of Pacific. And since this is likely to take a while to get rolling, but will be made a priority, I'm sure (if we do decide to do it), any notions of expanding the Link to actual new places would almost certainly get delayed.

All in all... I think it's one of those things that would have been a good idea if it had been done when the Link was built. But to tack it on now feels like a massive waste when their manpower could be theoretically spent (if they got the money) expanding our "Link to nowhere" into a route that actually goes places... McKinley and/or Lincoln district, up 6th Ave, toward Proctor, wherever. Spending the time and money to double an already short route back on itself to save one company from a little exercise feels a bit counterintuitive.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Take Back Riverton Mini-Park

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about "taking back" parks. But in all our grand plans, I think we've made some really startling omissions. And so it is with this belief in mind that I announce the next step in our municipal green-space takeover: taking back Riverton Mini-Park.

The Tukwila Parks & Rec website has this to say about the Riverton Mini-Park:
This small .1 acre park site is located off South 133rd Street. Facilities at the site include an open grass area and picnic area.
It is imperative that this .1 acre not fall victim to the scourge of our streets. This is not just about laws... this is about the future.

I am, as regular readers will understand, an observer. I tend to sit on the sidelines, watch the world take its course, and then ponder, and finally write. Well, I have waited. And I have watched. And it is time, finally, to write.

You are all fine citizens. Upstanding, right-minded folk. As such, I am sure that you are all well aware of the Tukwila park rules. These rules are in place for our protection, for our well-being. Without these rules, without abiding by the regulations handed down by our elected officials, we tread the line of anarchy.

There is one rule, one formal declaration that stands out to me today - Rule 9: "Inflatable toys & other objects require approval by the Parks and Recreation Director."

I get the impression, walking around our fine park, that some among us do not take these rules seriously. Just today I spied two children carrying balloons, and one carrying an inner tube (for what body of water I couldn't say). I personally contacted the park director and was stunned to discover that none of these individuals had received the aforementioned approval. Do these people think that that these aren't "inflatable toys"? If so, then they are sorely mistaken.

So I put this task to you: arrive at Riverton Mini-Park this Friday, lunch in hand. And don't just bring lunch... bring pins. Bring needles. And most of all bring your community spirit. I, for one, refuse to let these brash criminals take control of our public space. And I hope you feel the same way.