I’m happy when the bands of my youth choose not to retire and continue to tour and make new music. New Order was fantastic in San Francisco last night.
My first ever concert was New Order in the summer of 1989 at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif. I remember doing the driving and coming home with a nail in one of the tires and my dad was not pleased with me. That was back when I felt the U.K., particularly Manchester, England, was the center of the music universe.
I saw New Order as recently as last year in Vegas. But of the four times I’ve seen the band, last night was my favorite.Â I was surrounded by people who also grew up with late ’80s modern rock, who for a brief moment, also wanted to relive their youth. The audience was loud. Everyone was into each song, enjoying themselves and dancing as the band, full of energy, played their hits, from Bizarre Love Triangle to Blue Monday.
My wife said what made last night’s concert special was the crowd. She likes to read crowds, and last night, the thousands that packed the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was full of positive vibes. Sometimes at concerts, there’s tension when people bump into you as they push their way to the front of the stage. But she said last night’s New Order concert was different. People made eye contact and smiled as they gently weaved their way to the front. And it was true.
Perhaps sensing that, the band came back out for a second encore and played Scott McKenzie’s 1960’s hit San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in You Hair). The one with the lyric, “If you’re going to San Francisco, you’re gonna meet some gentle people there.”
Well, for one night, that was indeed true.
Summer means a lot of concerts and baseball.
The Mountain Winery in Saratoga is one of my favorite music venues — picturesque, low key and close to home. It makes it easy to attend concerts on a weekday night. We don’t have to rush out the door and drive 45 minutes to an hour up to San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley, which is a long, miserable schlep after a work day. But with the Mountain Winery, it’s just a quick eight-mile drive on city streets.
I do have one small nitpick with the venue. I’ve gone to two concerts there so far, and both times, they didn’t take our tickets. We just strolled on through. It’s like you walk in a little late and the ticket takers are already gone. The first time, the main act had already begun. The second time, last week, the opening act was midway through the set. At least this time,Â some guy 10 feet away from us on the main path said, “Hello, good evening.” I waved my folded-up, printed-out tickets, which could have been blank pieces of paper for all he knew, and he just waved us on.
If I’m going to spend money on tickets, at least take my tickets, so I don’t feel like I could have seen the concert for free!
This season, my brother and sister-in-law upgraded their Giants’ season tickets. And this is the awesome new view.
It’s a huge improvement. Here are theÂ before and after shots, taken in February when we took a field trip to AT&T Park toÂ check out the new seats.
My brother, uncle and I bought the rights to the original seats before the ballpark opened in 2000. When I moved to Arizona for ten years, my brother and sis-in-law kept the seats, and I’d attend a few games a year during my visits home.
We had some good times in the old seats — the 2002 playoff run, the Barry Bonds’ moon shots over the right field wall, and the 2010 and 2012 World Series championships. We miss some of the people in our old section, for sure. Some of them became like family. The next time I attend a game, I’ll have to go to the old section and say hi.
Itâ€™s usually a bad sign when your wife walks into your home office, asks if you are busy, and when you say no, she happily exclaims, â€œOh good! That means you can do something for me.â€
It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, this past Saturday, in fact, and I was sipping coffee and trolling the Web for the latest baseball news. To be honest, I really donâ€™t care if Albert Pujols re-signs with the St. Louis Cardinals or if some aging retread signs a $750,000 minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. But itâ€™s been three-and-a-half months since the World Series ended and I was seriously jonesinâ€™ for baseball and consumed any crumb of news I could find. So I looked away from my screen and turned toward Miiko, who was smiling at me. Did I need to proof some dreadfully dull PowerPoint? Or do some equally dreadful household chore? I had already cleaned the swimming pool in the morning, dammit.
Dread crept in.
â€œI need you to research good digital cameras,â€ she said. â€œI have to shoot The Black Keys concert on Monday night and we have to buy a good one.â€
Oh cool. Buy technology. Thatâ€™s not a chore. Thatâ€™s fun. Weâ€™ve never owned a decent camera. Miiko takes all her photos on her iPhone. Iâ€™ve got a five-year-old point-and-shoot digital camera and a crappy 2-megapixel camera on my BlackBerry that never takes any good photos because of the ever-present pocket lint from my pants that coats the lens.
I needed camera-buying tips, but whom should I call? My dad was a photographer in his early 20s, but heâ€™s been out of the business for a long time, so not him. I went to journalism school with a bunch of photographers, but messaging them through Facebook was not immediate enough. There was only one person I could call: Gordon. Heâ€™s a long-time friend and one of my go-to guys in time of personal or technology crisis. So I called, and as usual, he dispensed solid advice and followed up with a detailed email with even more advice. Our choices were the mid-range Canon EOS Rebel T2i (about $800) to the high-end Canon EOS 7D and 5D Mark II (which ran in the $1,500 to $2,500 range and shot high-quality video to boot). It really depended on whether my wife, an experienced videographer, wanted to use the camera to shoot videos in the future.
I was open. But Miiko already has video equipment and has no plans to use an SLR for video, so the T2i it was. We checked out Samâ€™s Club, which is two blocks from us, and Best Buy at the mall. And Samâ€™s Club won out with an $828 price tag.
The first part of the problem was solved. We bought a decent camera. Now it was time to tackle the second part of the problem. Neither of us had any photography training whatsoever. Well, when I was 19 or 20 and I was interning at my local weekly San Francisco newspaper, the photo editor took me under his wing for a few weeks before giving up. I had to do a â€œQuestion Man” column, where you ask five people the same question like, â€œIf you could change one thing about San Francisco, what would it be?â€ and then take their mug shots and it would run in the paper. I still remember one day, when I thought I had taken some stellar photos, the exasperated photo editor yelled at me to join him in the dark room.Â When I walked in, he showed me the negatives, pointed to a photo of a man and asked, â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with this picture?â€
â€œWhatâ€™s wrong is you have him staring at the sun. The poor guy is squinting.â€
And that was the extent of my photography career. Clearly, my dadâ€™s photographic talents were not handed down to me. I really canâ€™t take a photograph to save my life.
Late Sunday night, after packing for her trip, she finally got around to taking the camera out of the box and looked at the instructions. We spent the next hour in the first floor of our house, figuring out the camera settings and trying to emulate a concert setting. No, we didnâ€™t whip out a karaoke machine. We turned off the light in the kitchen, kept the lamp on in the living room, and from the far end of our dark kitchen, we tried taking photos of the sofa in the living room. And to our surprise, the photos came out and they were quite good. (Well, as good as boring photos of a sofa could be).
On Monday afternoon, Miiko flew to Vegas and that night, I tried to send positive vibes her way, knowing she was photographing the concert. At around 9:30 p.m.,Â I couldn’t wait anymore and texted her, asking how the camera was. She replied, â€œGreat! Thank God for auto features!â€
Here’s the link to all the photos, and below are some examples of her work.Â I think they turned out pretty good for a novice photographer. I’m really proud of her.
And then on Tuesday night, she shot a second concert and Tweeted this photo of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Anyway, Miiko, who normally telecommutes from Arizona, has spent the whole week at her workplace in Vegas. On Wednesday afternoon, she shot even more photos, this time the Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar models. They werenâ€™t in their bikinis, though. It was just an autograph session, she told me.
What a tough life she has. Sheesh.
When she comes home, I can’t wait to play with the camera and try to take pictures with it.
This summer, I attended Camper Van Beethoven’s 25th anniversary concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco â€“ and I was one of the younger ones in the crowd. Plenty of gray hair and gray beards in the crowd. I did the math and realized that while I discovered the band in college, they formed when I was in junior high, meaning their core audience is older than me. So I scanned the people around me again, and thought, “Yeah, that’s about right.”
A few Sundays ago, I was in a small Scottsdale club to catch Kate Voegele, and the crowd was dominated by teens and twentysomethings. There were some thirtysomethings, people in my age group. So it was a nice mix. But as two opening acts came and went, and Voegele was halfway through her set, I noticed that the people my age hung back. They seemed incredibly bored. Some paced. Some sat on bar stools in the corner. I couldn’t figure them out. And then I realized, with a bit of horror, that these people were parents and were simply there to chaperone their kids.
I can’t win.
I flipped through the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly this past weekend and noticed a review for a new novel named This Charming Man by Irish author Marian Keyes. It made me think of the book by Douglas Coupland, titled Girlfriend in a Coma. Were they fans of The Smiths? Perhaps. I’m sure there are a few other authors who have been inspired by the band and have named their books after Smiths’ songs. And I’m sure there’s a fan site out there listing those books.
So anyway, that got me thinking. I haven’t started my novel yet, but I’m going to name it after a Smiths’ song, too.
My working title?
I started something I couldn’t finish.
I ordered a new CD by an indie rock band today and when the shipment confirmation arrived, the length of the email caught my eye. It wasn’t the typical, bland “Your order has shipped” note. It was far more creative.
Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.
Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Wednesday, January 30th.
Just hilarious. Call me gullible or easily amused, but just because of their originality and humor, I went to their Web site again to check out their music catalogue. I’m definitely going to order from them again. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the CD arriving in a tiny, little cardboard box.