Friday, July 17, 2009

Minus 5 @ Hell's Kitchen

The Minus 5 can't really be accused of being conventional, or doing the expected. Listening to their last four albums in sequence reveals a broad range of genre and soundscape experimentation. One gets the sense that the group has always been a clearinghouse for its songwriters' "other" ideas, the ones that don't quite fit in with the guitar-rock core of the bands that made them legends: R.E.M. (Peter Buck) and Young Fresh Fellows (Scott McCaughey).

So when I say that their new record, last week's Killingsworth, is different, well, I'm ultimately saying very little. What Buck and McCaughey have done this time out is make an alt-country album. Sort of. Kind of. A little. In some ways, it is unique among their records in its consistency of tone and instrumentation. This is helped along by using the same crew of backup musicians for the whole of the record (the Minus 5 have a tendency to rotate to whichever of their friends are best for a song, and they have a LOT of friends. Like the whole of the Seattle music scene).

With a focus on horrible death and doom (song titles range from The Dark Hand of Contagion to I Would Rather Sacrifice You to The Disembowelers), it is appropriate that Killingsworth's auxiliary musicians be made up largely of the lineup of disturbed Portland balladeers The Decemberists. The slide guitar and banjo that fill out this record's particularly mellow sound (NOT something you'd necessarily expect out of musicians from the Decemberists) are complemented by harmonies from further Portlanders the Shee Bee Gees, ultimately pulling together as a relaxed, well-crafted record.

I'm most curious to see how this record pulls into their live show, where they have proven a consistent ability to distill the lush soundscapes and diverse lineups of their previous records into a four piece driving rock show. However they choose to perform this album, one thing is certain: it will be bitchin'. All the members of the Minus 5: Touring Edition have a long-standing and broad history of rocking the crap out of everything from tiny clubs to the largest arenas in the world.

The Minus 5 are playing Hell's Kitchen (3829 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, WA) with Canon Canyon, the Joshua Cain Band, and James Hilborne and the Painkillers, tonight at 9PM. $10, 21+, and well worth seeing on this, a rare occasion wherein a band actually stops in Tacoma between Portland and Seattle shows.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mmmarket Fresh

Giant rib steak, red potatoes and fresh corn, all from the 6th Avenue Farmer's Market. Topped off with some Thelonious Monk (bought at Buzzard's) and Doctor Who (rented from Stadium Video).

This awesome evening in brought to you by Living In Tacoma.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pierce Transit Overhaul

Every few months Pierce Transit releases a new schedule, mostly consisting of minor timing changes to more accurately reflect the real running times. This time around, however, there are a few significant changes in store. Two stood out immediately, as they have direct effect on me:

2 vs. 57

Truth be told, the effect of this change is relatively minor, but it is worth knowing about, lest confusion overtake your morning commute. As it stands, heading toward downtown, the 2 comes in from TCC and the 57 comes in from the Tacoma Mall. They meet at 19th and Alder, and share the next four stops before the 2 breaks off toward 25th on Trafton, and the 57 carries on down 19th. Starting July 12th, these two routes (post-Trafton) will switch. The 2 will take the more direct route, while the 57 will swing around to 25th.

So the rundown of those affected is this:
  • If you live in the S 25th neighborhood currently serviced by the 2, you'll need to catch the 57 coming from downtown, or transfer from the 2 during the 4-stop crossover period between Alder and Trafton if you're coming from TCC and beyond.
  • If you are heading to the DSHS or the News Tribune, you are likewise better off on the 57, though it's only a couple blocks off the new 2 route.
  • If (like me) you take the 57 to the top side of UWT, you will now want the 2
  • If you are going straight from one of the shared stops to 10th and Commerce, there's no reason not to take the 2, as it now has both the shorter route and the more frequent trips (every 15 minutes much of the day).
The main problems I see are these: firstly, this feels like something of a death knell for ridership of the 57. Given other changes being made to less-ridden routes, I can't help but wonder if this change will likewise see the 57 eventually relegated to hourly trips. Secondly, more than one PT driver has complained that stops and distance have been added to the 57 route, but the time allotted has stayed basically the same, severely tightening up their schedule.

So Much For UP

The big victim of failed urban design is University Place. The heart of suburban UP is served by precisely one bus route: the 53, running down Cirque to Grandview. It split time with 53A, which cut over to 40th rather than Cirque, and now that route will be the only survivor, with the 53 replacing much of the 59's service to the Manitou area. The only other route through UP is the 2, which slices through the business districts on Bridgeport but largely avoids the sprawling residential areas. For me personally, this means I can no longer catch the 53 a block from work to get dropped off three blocks from my mom's house. Of course, I'll survive an extra mile or two of walking, so don't feel bad for me. Feel bad for people like Doris Jairala instead.

Now, I've ridden this bus a lot, and I can understand the reasons for the switch. The vast majority of riders that have gotten on by the time the 53 leaves the mall are gone by the time it reaches the splitting point at Orchard. As mentioned, this is an urban design problem as much as anything: University Place just isn't built to be lived in without a car. It is hilly suburban sprawl, with much of the retail clustered together away from the residentials. But it's still unfortunate that this area has to be completely given up for lost by the public transit system. And it just means it will be that much more of an adventure rescheduling and rerouting buses as the larger golf tournaments roll in down the line (the 53 was the only bus that came anywhere near Chambers Bay).

And many more...

I'll just do a quick run through the rest of the changes that look like they're worth mentioning:
  • The 61 to NE Tacoma will lose its Bus Plus status, and be restricted to a fixed route.
  • If you take the 59 to Manitou anytime out of the conventional commute hours, you must take the 53 instead (see above)
  • Riders of the 60 to the Port of Tacoma are now restricted to two available trips to in the morning and fro in the evening, rather than the current six
  • Routes 26 (weekday), 51 (weekday), 220 (weekday) and 501 (weekday midday) are being cut in half, and will now all run hourly

The Bottom Line

Pierce and Sound Transit have spent a lot of money recently upgrading bus systems with GPS, Orca support, and similar gadgets to increase efficiency. The hope is that these improvements will lead to an easier riding experience (no requirement to buy a full month pass to avoid carrying quarters is a BIG step), thus increasing ridership. However, in the meantime we are stuck with a transit system that has depleted its funds on internal improvement and doesn't have the fare revenue to pick up the slack. As such, the longtime riders in suburban areas are being left stranded.

So what's to be done? I read an interesting article recently that the King County Council has called on Metro Transit to seek outside partnerships. I personally think this is a great idea. Not something to do in lieu of current subsidy (I believe that a functional transit system truly benefits every member of the community, and is thus deserving of our tax money), but in addition, to take some of the edge off. The first example we've seen are the "skinned" buses, that have been turned into roaming billboards for Venture Bank, Verizon Wireless, etc. I have said repeatedly that I am all for these. I'll take painted up buses generating ad revenue for a valuable local service over the hideous stationary (and illegal) billboards benefiting no-one but Clear Channel any day. And the fact is, let's be honest here, the buses are not exactly designed for aesthetics anyway, so billboard blight is not a concern when using them.

Other options include leased use of passenger facilities to private transit companies (is there really a need for a Greyhound facility right next to a Pierce Transit facility?), technology partnerships (Metro Transit's fancypants One Bus Away arrival timing website was developed by UW graduate students, and lordy lordy could PT use a new website), and probably plenty of other things that I can't think of because I don't know a lick about business. Something needs to be done to keep progress moving in a positive direction, and if partnerships like these are what it takes, then I am all for them and more.