May 31, 2006

Media Links Roundup: Rotten Edition

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:56 PM

I skipped the open thread this week, but you can consider this a general media thread. Some links, none of which are complimentary of the subject material:

  • Stupid list #1: Bravo's list of 100 Funniest Movies, with commentary by Ed Brayton. I actually disagree with about 75% of Brayton's particular remarks, but we agree on the essential lameness of this list.
  • Stupid list #2: National Review's list of 50 Conservative Rock Songs, with commentary by Amanda Marcotte (who is normally at Pandagon, but is guest blogging at Michael Bérubé's blog).
  • A.O. Scott reviews The Da Vinci Code in the NY Times, stopping along the way to admire the awfulness of Dan Brown's writing, and wisely noting that "movies of that ilk rarely deal with issues like the divinity of Jesus or the search for the Holy Grail. In the cinema such matters are best left to Monty Python." (Hat tip to JSpur.)
  • Possibly funnier, certainly snobbier: Anthony Lane's review in The New Yorker.
  • More on Dan Brown's awful writing, at By Neddie Jingo.
  • Language Log raised many of the same issues a while back, but in a more pedantic way.
  • PZ Myers reviews X3, narrowly avoids head explosion.

I haven't seen The Da Vinci Code or X3; I may end up seeing the latter.

May 30, 2006

Christian video games, where Jesus is the resurrection, the life, and the 1-up.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:12 PM

Via Pharyngula, here's a slightly alarmist article about a video game based on the Left Behind novels.

This game immerses children in present-day New York City -- 500 square blocks, stretching from Wall Street to Chinatown, Greenwich Village, the United Nations headquarters, and Harlem. The game rewards children for how effectively they role play the killing of those who resist becoming a born again Christian. The game also offers players the opportunity to switch sides and fight for the army of the AntiChrist, releasing cloven-hoofed demons who feast on conservative Christians and their panicked proselytes (who taste a lot like Christian).

Is this paramilitary mission simulator for children anything other than prejudice and bigotry using religion as an organizing tool to get people in a violent frame of mind? The dialogue includes people saying, "Praise the Lord," as they blow infidels away.


The article focuses on the disturbing eliminationist elements in the game, but I think any game that lets you play as the Antichrist can't be all bad. I can just imagine playing this game as Team Evil, cackling madly as I unleash my demonic horde. Sounds like fun!

More seriously, I'm never quite sure how I feel about games like this (or the similar jihadi video games that show up in the Middle East). The usual worry is that the eliminationist scenario and dehumanized opponents will make the player more inclined to real-world violence. But the counter-argument is that video games provide an outlet for political frustration and revenge fantasies, and hence reduce the amount of real-world violence. I'm not thoroughly convinced by either argument: really this is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of paranoid and apocalyptic rhetoric in the conservative Christian subculture that comprises Left Behind's target audience, and thus is merely a symptom of a larger problem.

The problem of evil strikes back

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:13 PM

We've probably had enough discussion of the problem of evil on this blog, but I can't help pointing out it's appearance in the news. Apparently one world leader, upon visiting Auschwitz, had the following reaction:

"In a place like this, words fail. In the end, there can only be a dread silence, a silence which is a heartfelt cry to God -- Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?

"Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?"


Indeed, these are questions any religious skeptic might ask, but it's surprising to hear them from Pope Benedict. It seems like the sort of thing a guy in his position should have the answer to. (Via Majikthise.)

In a slightly parallel story, Mark at Cosmic Variance watches as Billy Graham comes very close to endorsing a skeptical outlook on religious claims. I must say this is a promising trend among major religious figures toward inquiry and empiricism, but somehow I don't see it lasting very long.

May 26, 2006

Life imitates Overcompensating

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:41 PM

On the first leg of my plane trip I was seated next to a guy named Kerry Edwards. Someone alert Jeffrey Rowland that he may have a primary challenge from someone else who is trying to save money on bumper stickers.

May 24, 2006

I hear he's retaining Sebben & Sebben

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:30 PM

This is hilarious: Tom DeLay is citing a Stephen Colbert interview in his own defense in letters from his legal fund. DeLay may want to consider hiring people who are as observant and attuned to subtle irony as, say, President Bush, who at least got the joke when Colbert was making fun of him. (Via Crooked Timber.)

BSL, a blogge most scholarlye and literarye!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:57 PM

I can't believe I haven't linked Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog yet. This is definitely the funniest Middle English blog out there. In a recent post, he rewrites the opening of The Da Vinci Code in the style of the Canterbury Tales. An excerpt:

So Sauyniere lyk Sinon storye tolde
False as the devil, and seyde yt forth ful bolde
For he hadde yt rehersd many a yeer
(Ye notice, o myn gentil rederes deere,
Ich telle yow nat of what thys ‘thyng’ might be-
Yt ys a tricke poetic vsid by me
To kepe yow yn confusioun most plesynge
Thurgh alle thys vague and nonspecific tesyng).

It's quite an improvement over Dan Brown's writing. For further reading, the best post ever on that blog is the one where he writes a rough outline for the Canterbury Tales. (Those of you who read Making Light have already seen all this.)

May 23, 2006

Front & Back, track by track

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:25 PM

Longtime readers of Lemming's blog may recall his track-by-track review of a mix CD I gave him last year called Some Disassembly Required. I've now received a CD from him in return, Front & Back. He did not provide a tracklist with the CD, which seemed like a strange choice, but upon hearing it I realized that the element of surprise was part of the fun of the first listen for this particular disc. However: in order to maintain the obsessively-detailed organization of my iTunes library, I needed the title, artist, and year of each track before I imported the disc, so I hit the internet and filled in all the gaps in my knowledge. I'm providing my track-by-track review of Front & Back in the form of an annotated tracklist, below the fold.

Continue reading "Front & Back, track by track"
Permalink | Tags: Music

Interlude [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:53 PM

I'm back from Pasadena, and will be in Berkeley for three whole days before making a quick trip to North Carolina (for a wedding). In the midst of trying to take useful data during this period I'll see about ensuring that this page does not completely empty out, starting with this standard open thread.

The Duke Spirit: Cuts Across The Land: The first of two Coachella-motivated CD purchases. (The second, Art Brut's Bang Bang Rock & Roll, will be reviewed here in a couple weeks.) The title track of this album, a terrific garage rock song with powerful vocals, is what got me interested in this band originally and I was hoping to find more like it on the album. The good news is that there are several: "Love Is An Unfamiliar Name", "Fades The Sun", and "Lion Rip" are highlights. This band is very good at strong, driving rock songs, but when they try to slow things down it doesn't work as well and yields the weaker tracks on the album. During the peak songs, though, this album comes close to what I was hoping for (but didn't find) with the latest Yeah Yeah Yeahs release. Rating: 3.5/5

May 21, 2006

Inconceivable!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:53 AM

I brought this up at lunch yesterday and it turned out no one else had seen it. So clearly I should have blogged it earlier: The Lord of the Rings, as told using quotes from The Princess Bride.

Permalink | Tags: Movies

May 19, 2006

Far above th' ocean, deep under th' sea

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:04 AM

As it did last year, my summer travel begins with a drive to L.A. I remember selecting CDs for the drive last year and kicking off the trip with the Bright Eyes album I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. The thing about Bright Eyes is, one has to be in an appropriate mood to enjoy it, otherwise he just sounds whiny and self-absorbed. And indeed, my mood underwent a major shift during my travels last year, and my traveling music correspondingly shifted to Mercury Rev's The Secret Migration, especially the revelatory "Secret for a Song".

For this year's travels I've again turned to Mercury Rev. They are at their best when singing about travel and movement, and their 1998 album Deserter's Songs is full of these themes. The best track on the album is "Goddess on a Hiway", and it is terrific driving music—the first time I heard it I was driving over the Bay Bridge watching the setting sun light up the East Bay, and it was perfect. The lyrics are a bit opaque, but I suspect they are about peak oil.

Instead of a Friday random ten, here are ten CDs I am bringing with me for the drive:

  • Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll
  • Pulp, Different Class
  • Snow Patrol, Eyes Open
  • Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
  • The Duke Spirit, Cuts Across The Land
  • Yo La Tengo, Painful
  • The Delgados, Peloton
  • Pretty Girls Make Graves, Élan Vital
  • Mercury Rev, Deserter's Songs
  • My Bloody Valentine, Loveless

May 17, 2006

Total Request Blog: My research in a nearby possible world

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:23 PM

In the requests thread, Kyle asks: If you had to research in a different area than you are now, what would it be? It can be as different as you want, but can't be too similar. At the least you have to be publishing in entirely different journals.

This is an easy one: philosophy of science. I took several great philosophy courses at Caltech (which you might imagine had a scientific focus in its philosophy department) and got really interested in issues of what science is and why it works. I still think about these topics in idle moments and I could definitely see myself doing research in this field if I hadn't gone for something more practical and experimental. Indeed, many of you have had to sit through my digressions on problems like the grue paradox (sometimes presented in Dinosaur Comics form). Imagine if I could get paid to do this—although I'd have to write serious papers, unless there's a Journal of Philosophical Letters as Presented by T-Rex. The downside is that I wouldn't get to play with expensive high-frequency electronics with lots of buttons, and having qubits to experiment on is pretty cool.

Caltech Reunion Coordination Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:42 PM

It's Ditch Day!

The remainder of this post will primarily be of interest to the people who are going to be in Pasadena this weekend. I'm posting this thread to facilitate planning and meeting up while I'm in town. I'll be arriving around 4pm on Friday and staying through Monday afternoon; Saturday evening I'm planning to see Josh's performance in Antony and Cleopatra.

I failed to register for the "official" reunion dinner on Friday, so maybe we should make dinner plans for that night. Saturday is also open for me before the evening, unless I decide to go to the seminars.

Mohi and I were discussing making a beach trip on Sunday (weather permitting) followed by games (video or otherwise) in the evening. Is this a good plan? Post your thoughts here, and let us know if you can make it so we can keep you in the loop.

May 15, 2006

Total Request Blog

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:37 PM

Clearly I need to be posting more often, as there are only four (now five) posts on the front page. In the spirit of customer satisfaction, I am going to try an experiment: request a topic, issue, problem, or question in the comments to this post and I'll attempt to write a blog post about it. I may not address a request if I truly have nothing to say about it, but no topic is a priori off limits. So, is there anything you'd like my opinion on, or a discussion thread you'd like to see started?

Permalink | Tags: Website

May 14, 2006

More Noir [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:12 PM

Keep the book recommendations coming! I'm tempted to follow Kevin Drum (and several other bloggers) and read all the Hugo nominees. (I've already got two down.) Even better would be to get ahead of the curve and read one of next year's Hugo nominees, but that's a little harder to figure out. Meanwhile, all of the noir recommendations are especially timely given the movie I ended up seeing Friday night:

Brick: A detective noir film, complete with complicated plots, beautiful and mysterious women, and an investigator with a troubled past who gets beaten up a lot. The characters all talk and act like they're in a 1950's noir flick. There's a gimmick here, however, which is that the film is set at a high school with students as the principal characters. This could have come off as ridiculous, but the film does an excellent job with this juxtaposition, sometimes making it completely believable and seamless, and other times playing the contrast for laughs. Much like the best episodes of Buffy, the high school is used as a rich source of archetypes, and the noir setting works as a metaphor for the usual struggles of adolescence. All that aside, I love a good detective story, and the movie delivers in that department as well. Rating: 4/5

Calexico: Garden Ruin: I first encountered Calexico through their collaboration with Iron & Wine last year. In fact, their sound is something like Iron & Wine transplanted to the southwestern states. (I'm guessing the name of the band is a blend of "California" and "Mexico".) Calexico's latest album is a solid addition to their catalog, moving between a variety of styles—some songs sound more country, some have a more Mexican sound, and the last track "All Systems Red" has more of a straight rock sound. The album doesn't quite reach the heights of In the Reins, but it's a good listen. "Roka" wouldn't be out of place on a Robert Rodriguez soundtrack. Rating: 3.5/5

May 12, 2006

Summer Reading Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:47 PM

It's another media thread, but at least the medium under discussion is different. As I mentioned in an earlier comment thread, I will be traveling quite a bit over the next four weeks. The first trip, to Pasadena for Caltech's alumni weekend next week, will merely involve a lot of driving, but the others will require air travel. And while the Nintendo DS remains tempting, I'm also looking for some entertainment that doesn't run on batteries and can be used during takeoff and landing. So, anyone have summer reading recommendations?

To narrow the field a bit, a few preferences (but feel free to violate any or all of them in your recommendations): recent books preferred to older ones, paperback preferred to hardcover, fiction preferred to non-fiction. (Not that I have anything against non-fiction in general, but I'm not usually inclined to read about Middle East foreign policy when I'm sitting on the beach.) Sci-fi and fantasy are the genres I usually read, but other genres or non-genre fiction are ok too.

Since I should provide some recommendations of my own: the best book I've read so far this year has been Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, and my favorite book from last year was Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (which I read during last summer's travels).

May 10, 2006

Yet Another Music List

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:29 PM

Via Matt Yglesias, Blender magazine has a list of "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born", for those of us who were born around 1980. You may recall that this publication previously did a list of the worst songs ever, correctly selecting "We Built This City" for the top slot. (I was pretty sure I blogged that list, but can't find any evidence of it.)

A list this long will inevitably contain some really good and some really bad choices, but should at least name one song by My Bloody Valentine. I had to scroll down to #290 before I discovered that they couldn't decide between "Only Shallow" (Loveless) and "Swallow" (Tremolo), and so named the nonexistent song "Only Swallow". However, the correct answer is "Soon" (and "To Here Knows When" should also have been on the list).

The second thing I did (after looking for the MBV song) was look for the most inexcusable song on the list, which I found more quickly: Nelly, "Hot in Herre" at #80. Another contender appears twice: "Where's Your Head At" by Basement Jaxx. There's also a strong preference for cheesy 80's ballads, but I will chalk this up to nostalgia.

It's harder to argue for the biggest omission: I can always find some obscure song that I really like but wouldn't appear on such a list. However, several of my favorite songs by the better-known indie bands are in fact present (usually around the 400s). Given what does appear, it's a little surprising they didn't include a song by the New Pornographers, either "Letter from an Occupant" or "The Laws Have Changed". In another type of omission, they included three New Order songs but none of them are "Bizarre Love Triangle" or "Blue Monday".

I'll have to wait until after next year's survey of '80s music to compile my own version of this list, but in the meantime the rest of you can point out other omissions.

Permalink | Tags: Lists, Music

May 8, 2006

The Part Where I Always Get Killed [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:09 PM

I wasn't going to buy a Nintendo DS, but the New Super Mario Bros. is making me seriously rethink that. Meanwhile, in music:

The Boy Least Likely To: The Best Party Ever: This is twee pop in a highly purified form, so sugary I suspect I'm getting cavities just by listening to it. There's a song called "Sleeping With A Gun Under My Pillow" and yet it sounds like something that could appear on Sesame Street. I do enjoy a certain amount of tweeness (see: Architecture in Helsinki) but this record is pushing the limits. On the other hand, the aforementioned "Sleeping With A Gun" is the only song that's actively annoying, and there are several really good tracks: "I See Spiders When I Close My Eyes" and "Hugging My Grudge" are both extremely likeable, and "I'm Glad I Hitched My Apple Wagon To Your Star" is fantastic. This latter song wins philosophical points for including the line, "I never would've got here if I'd followed my heart." Usually one is encouraged to follow one's heart, but for some of us these intuitions are really bad (especially when coupled with shyness) and can lead to a pretty dull existence. A much better strategy, as per the song, is to find some more adventurous and dynamic person to use as a guide until better intuitions develop. So let me thank those people to whose stars I've hitched my apple wagon over the years. As for the CD, it's very cutesy but generally enjoyable. Rating: 3.5/5

May 5, 2006

Grad students in popular culture

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:10 PM

The above was the title of a slide in Jorge Cham's talk yesterday (discussed below). The slide cited four films: The Seniors (1978), Real Genius (1985) [this one prompted cheering from the audience], A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Hulk (2003). This is a pretty good list already, but I suspect there are more, and it seems like a good topic for a Friday thread. Make suggestions in the comments. No need to stick to film, either: it was at least implied that Fred was previously a physics grad student in Angel, and there are probably plenty of novels with grad student characters (some of them not written by Neal Stephenson).

For that matter, there are lots of mad scientists but rarely do you see their grad students. It's hard to imagine they're doing all that mad science themselves. Sure, Dr. Frankenstein had Igor, but Igor seems like more of a postdoc. And Frankenstein operates the apparatus himself—what kind of PI does that? A more realistic portrayal would be something like:

[Dr. Frankenstein's group meeting. Igor, exhausted from taking data all night, presents a graph.]
Igor: So the data clearly indicate increased mobility of the subject.
Frankenstein: IT'S ALIVE! [pause] Start writing it up, I want to submit this to Physical Reanimation Letters by next week.

Jorge Cham, New York Times on/as distractions

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:45 PM

Jorge Cham, who writes/draws PhD Comics, is doing a book tour and gave a talk at Berkeley yesterday. (He did his grad work at Stanford and is now an instructor at Caltech.) This is one of those comic strips that hits home a little too often, but in doing so is frequently pretty funny. Cham is also funny as a public speaker, with an excellent sense of comic timing. He sometimes played the straight man with jokes appearing on his Powerpoint slides, and sometimes reversed this dynamic.

The talk was about staying sane under the pressures of grad school, and the main theme was that procrastination is a powerful tool for this, both for taking the pressure off and regaining motivation and creativity when one returns to work. Needless to say, I had already figured this out, as the three-plus years of archives on this blog will attest. It turns out that there is also scientific confirmation of a sort: via Chad Orzel I read in the New York Times that distraction is key for relieving dread.

The first study ever to look at where sensations of dread arise in the brain finds that contrary to what is widely believed, dread does not involve fear and anxiety in the moment of an unpleasant event. Instead, it derives from the attention that people devote beforehand to what they think will be extremely unpleasant.

Grad students in the Berkeley physics department have their share of unpleasant events to devote attention to, beginning with the prelim exams and ending with actually writing the thesis. My personal source of dread lately has been the qualifying exam, and maybe my ability to find new distractions lately is related to this. However, I definitely plan to take it next semester. (I've been saying this for three semesters now, but that's the power of procrastination for you.)

May 4, 2006

Best Search Requests of April 2006

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:08 PM

Another installment of search requests from my referrer logs. Not much of interest this month, except for the guy trying to use it to ask me questions.

  • arcanegazebo what are your thoughts on iran ? You may get a faster response by using the open thread.
  • acura integra 95 weird noises for 5 minutes Dammit Jim, I'm a search engine, not a mechanic!
  • shyness saliva Two great tastes that taste great together!
  • lent as tarditions or superstitious This searcher has inadvertently produced an ingenious word for dumb-ass traditions.
  • searching for church hime You're in the wrong place, but I have some relatives who may qualify as Church Himes.

315 searches for "gazebo" last month, down a bit from March. My third most popular search (behind "gazebo" and my name) was "lacrosse culture", interestingly.

May 3, 2006

Still Recovering [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:08 PM

Late for obvious reasons. I think I am done with Coachella posts for the moment, but fellow party members Mason and Lemming have also blogged about it.

Built To Spill: You In Reverse: Built To Spill are pretty big in indie-rock, but I mostly know them through their (excellent) 1997 album Perfect From Now On. Their newest effort sounds somewhat different, sped-up and less epic. The propensity for long guitar solos remains, however. There's nothing wrong with this new style, and it works spectacularly well on the album's best track, "Conventional Wisdom". However, while the rest of the CD is a good listen it doesn't quite reach the heights of their earlier work. Rating: 3.5/5

Coachella Report: Photos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:22 PM

I meant to post these earlier but I had to give a talk yesterday, after which I finally collapsed from exhaustion. However, they are now up on my Flickr page.

audience at yeah yeah yeahs

The Coachella photoset is here.

May 2, 2006

Coachella Report: Verdicts

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:41 AM

Best vocals: Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio)
Best guitar: Ted Leo
Best drums: Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney)
Best synth: Ladytron
Most engaging: The Go! Team
Best audience: Depeche Mode
Most t-shirts worn by attendees: Tool
Most crush-worthy female musician: Mira Aroyo (Ladytron)
Most crush-worthy male musician: Ted Leo
Best use of a windchime: TV on the Radio
Most cowbell: Sleater-Kinney
Most innocuous object confiscated by a security guard: My Pilot rollerball pen
Best stage (acoustics and layout): Outdoor Theater
Best stage (schedule): Mojave
Most random cover: Ted Leo playing Daft Punk's "One More Time"
Favorite band: Ladytron
Bands I wish I'd had time to see: Sigur Rós, Cat Power, Bloc Party, Wolf Parade
Best new find: Art Brut
Best overall performance: TV on the Radio

Songs on my High Noon Sun mix CD that I heard live:
The Go! Team, "Junior Kickstart"
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Cheated Hearts"
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, "In This Home On Ice"
Cat Power, "Love & Communication"
Mogwai, "Glasgow Mega-Snake"
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, "Me And Mia"
TV On The Radio, "Ambulance"

Coachella Report: Lessons Learned

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:10 AM

Would I do it again? Hell yes. Here are some lessons I should keep in mind for next time.

Arrive early. The traffic becomes pretty hideous when the bulk of the crowd arrives, so it can easily add an hour to the travel time. Plus, undoubtedly some of the really obscure bands that play early in the afternoon are really good. (The trick is to find them.)

Spend the night camping on-site. Shuttling back to Pasadena on Saturday night was brutal. I was envying the people who could walk a few yards to their tents and go to sleep.

Get your ID checked right away. The lines at the ID check booths become long by midafternoon and remain that way all day. If you do it right away, you can walk right into the beer gardens anytime you want later. This is important even if you don't plan to pay $7 for a Heineken, because:

The shortest lines for food and water are in the beer gardens. People are going into the beer garden for beer but mostly not for food, but they do sell it there. Generally you can just walk right up and get something rather than waiting in line at the main food court. Water is available where they sell beer and there's hardly any line there either.

If you're going to buy a shirt, do it early on the first day. The better shirt designs sell out quickly.

It's worth arriving early for shows to get close to the stage. Especially in the tents the acoustics aren't so good, and it's hard even to hear the bands. On the main stage the crowd can get so big that you can't see anything if you don't arrive early enough (although hearing the music is less of a problem on the outdoor stages).

See one of the headline shows. The sheer hugeness of the show and the crowd makes it a powerful experience.

Be too cool for one of the headline shows. When everyone's off at the main stage the crowds at the other stages are small enough that the experience is much more intimate, and the bands really appreciate your presence there. Plus you can make snide remarks about fans of the main act.

Stay hydrated. Obvious but true. I had a brush with dehydration on the first day and it really sapped my energy, even after I got some water and started feeling better.

May 1, 2006

Coachella Report: Day 2

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:52 PM

We arrived a bit earlier on Sunday, and traffic wasn't as bad, so I was able to make it to an earlier show and then get a terrific spot for Ted Leo.

Mates of State: This is a husband-and-wife synth pop duo that I went to on Julianne's recommendation. It was a good one to start with, not too intense and fairly upbeat. It's impressive what they can do with just a keyboard and a drum kit.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: I've been wanting to hear Ted Leo since I bought Shake the Sheets last year, and have managed to miss them the last three times they visited San Francisco. I didn't intend to miss them this time, and staked out a spot pretty close to the stage. In fact, I was close enough that I could watch his hands while he played the guitar, which was very interesting in itself (damn he's fast). He seemed annoyed by the heat but played like a demon anyway, at one point taking "Counting Down The Hours" into an extended rendition of "Little Dawn" without a break. Definitely as fun and energetic as I'd heard.

Wolf Parade: Well, actually I didn't see Wolf Parade. I waited for about twenty minutes after their scheduled start time, but due to technical problems they didn't get going until after I had already left to get in position for Sleater-Kinney. Everything in the Mojave tent was delayed about half an hour after this.

Sleater-Kinney: This is actually the only band here that I'd seen live before, so I knew what to expect: it would be loud and awesome. Many of the musicians here seem amazed by the experience, but Sleater-Kinney were completely unperturbed. (Of course, they've been around a while and have probably done it before.) Mostly they played selections from The Woods, spending about twenty percent of their set on "Let's Call It Love", along with a few songs from One Beat and "Get Up" from The Hot Rock. At one point there was an exchange something like this:
Carrie Brownstein: We're more like Tool than Madonna.
Corin Tucker: [alarmed] I don't think so.
I also overheard a related dialogue among some people near me in the audience:
Girl: Are you going to see Madonna later?
Guy: I don't know. She is the Queen of Pop. Someday my kids are going to ask me if I ever saw Madonna. "No, I went to Massive Attack instead." "I don't know who the fuck that is!"

Anyway, Sleater-Kinney were awesome as usual, and as a bonus I was close to the stage for

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Despite being a bit disappointed with their latest album, I was quite impressed by this show. Karen O has a ton of energy and really lived up to my pre-Show Your Bones expectations. It also helped that they played some of my favorite tracks from Fever To Tell, namely "Black Tongue", "Pin", "Maps", and "Y Control". Even coming right after Sleater-Kinney, the music was expecially raw and intense, and being near the front of a huge crowd, the effect was pretty powerful.

Mogwai: Watching the sound check I thought it seemed like they had an unusually large number of amps on stage, and indeed this band has a ridiculous number of guitars. At one point they had four people playing guitar simultaneously, and they seemed to switch guitars between every track. They didn't interact with the audience much, and the effect wasn't too different than it would be to play their CDs at incredibly loud volume. However, it does sound good that way.

The Go! Team: This band was on the other end of the spectrum in terms of audience interaction. Although the music didn't sound as good as it does in recording—they make heavy use of recorded samples and it doesn't translate very well into a stage show—they more than made up for it by getting the crowd involved. Their frontwoman, a British rapper who goes by the name Ninja, was expert at getting the crowd moving and singing along, and I found myself dancing more energetically than at any other performance, despite the fact that by that point in the day I could barely stand. As a result it was a terrifically fun show and brought my energy back up for the last hour of the festival.

Dungen: We decided we were too cool for Tool (also, school) and went to the now-sparsely-populated Mojave tent to catch Art Brut, only to find that (due to the aforementioned delays) Dungen were still playing. We only caught the tail end of the last song, though, so I can't say much about it.

Art Brut: I'd heard this band was good but knew nothing about them, so I didn't know what to expect. It turns out that they are total goof-offs. It's not that they play joke songs, although "Rusted Gun of Milan", a song about impotence with sixties-pop style backing vocals, is indeed pretty funny. It's more that they have a kind of playful approach to rock, especially frontman Eddie Argos who carried on a running (but somewhat one-sided) conversation with the audience, sometimes in the middle of songs; played jump-rope with the microphone cable (and seemed surprised when he tried to use it afterwards and it had popped out of its socket), and delighted in running overtime (he claimed it cost the festival $2000 a minute to go over curfew, and then announced he would use the extra time to play b-sides). This was one of the most entertaining performances I saw, and I definitely plan to buy their album when the U.S. release comes up (next week, I think). Between the Go! Team and Art Brut the end of the festival was immensely fun, and I left with a smile on my face.

Coachella Report: Day 1

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:35 PM

Now that I'm back in Berkeley I can finally do all the Coachella-related blogging I've been itching to do. Here's what I saw on Saturday:

The Duke Spirit: The first act I saw was this British rock band, which I knew of only through one track on that Snow Patrol mix CD (which has been a fruitful source of interesting music). That song, "Cuts Across The Land", was also the first one they played at Coachella, and I was pleased to find that the rest of the set was of similar quality. They have a female lead singer with a powerful voice, and some catchy songs. Until recently their CD was only available as an import, but it's now been released in the U.S. and I'll be looking for it. . The performance was a bit sparsely attended, as it was on the main stage in the midafternoon—around this time of day the shows in the tents were attracting a much larger audience.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: This show, on the other hand, had an audience nearly spilling out of the Mojave tent which was slowly being exposed to the setting sun. (It's not clear why they chose an east-west orientation for the tents, unless they were trying to sell more $2 water bottles.) I didn't arrive early enough to get a good spot, and couldn't hear much from the back of the tent. Fortunately I was able to work my way forward gradually; a lot of people mysteriously left after "The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth". (Maybe they were going to Kanye West?) So I was able to hear about two songs really well, but didn't get a good sense of the performance as a whole.

TV on the Radio: This is a band that I am mostly indifferent to except for a couple of songs that I really like. I probably would have seen My Morning Jacket instead, except that we wanted to get up in front for Ladytron (who followed TV on the Radio). This was extremely fortunate, because this show was amazing, and a totally different experience from listening to the CD. The band was passionate, dynamic, and relentlessly inventive. Tunde Adebimpe sang with an emotional force that was unmatched by anyone else I saw at the festival (except maybe Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and when their guitarist wasn't playing with windchimes hanging from the headstock he was beatboxing on a rendition of "Ambulance" that was far removed, and yet just as amazing, as the a capella track on the album. I'll definitely be watching for the next time this band visits San Francisco.

Ladytron: This was probably the act I was most looking forward to, and the only disappointment was that it was too short. In contrast to the emotional intensity of the preceding band, Ladytron were cool and detached, coming out onstage dressed like Star Trek villains and looking entirely bored with the whole proceeding, except when they would command the audience to dance with a single imperious finger. "High Rise" was a great choice to open the set, with the sun setting behind us. After this they played songs from all three of their LPs; I was mostly hoping to hear Witching Hour material but it was nice to hear "Playgirl", and "Seventeen" was inevitable (being the major single from Light and Magic).

Franz Ferdinand: I missed the beginning of their performance since I was at Ladytron; does anyone know if they played "L. Wells"? I was hoping to hear that. I did manage to hear "The Fallen" which is probably my favorite Franz Ferdinand song. They put in a strong performance but I wasn't as close to the stage as I would have liked to be, as a result of arriving late.

Cat Power: I only caught a few of her songs, since she also overlapped with the previous act. Moreover, I was in the back of the Mojave tent and couldn't hear anything. I suspected she was playing a cover of "House of the Rising Sun" but couldn't confirm it until I came in much closer. I did get to hear "Love & Communication", with which she closed her set, and I was a bit sorry I didn't see the whole thing.

Depeche Mode: This being the headline show, the audience was huge, and even though I'm not terribly familiar with Depeche Mode it was fun just to be part of such an enormous undertaking. Hearing a hundred thousand people sing along to "Enjoy the Silence" was especially impressive. I was way the hell back and couldn't see much, except for what was on the video monitors, but on the plus side I had enough room to dance. I need to take another look at Violator for my 90's music collection.

Daft Punk: I was really tired by this point and didn't have the energy to make my way into the Sahara tent, so I watched a bit on the screen outside and then left a bit early. I have a feeling this was a little better inside the tent.

We then shuttled back to Pasadena and promptly lost consciousness, catching some six hours of sleep before getting up to make the drive back for the second half of the festival.