Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Digitizing My Music Collection: A Journey of Discovery and Culling...

Thai funeral music? Yup, I got that...

I'm this close [holds index finger and thumb very close together] to fully digitizing my music collection. Those familiar with my music obsession know that's quite a few tunes, but I'm starting to get a full idea of just how many.

My love of all literally all varieties of music from hip-hop to the Grateful Dead, dub reggae and Vietnamese mood music by Dr. Phong Nguyen — except modern country, which I define as anything from 1980 onward, although there are a few rare exceptions... lookin' at you, Jamey Johnson — has led to stacks and stacks of CD spindles shelved away in my office, many of which I haven't listened to for years. 

For a good stretch, I was collecting music at such a good clip that I would burn a CD, save the best songs from an album on my computer and then get rid of it to make room. Between album purchases from record stores, Amazon and anywhere else, relentless scouring of free live music from, and others, and some great website finds of albums that you can legally download because they're out of print or unavailable anywhere else, I thought getting it completely digitized would be a near-impossible task. It's taken about a year, including countless hours spent peeling home-printed labels off some of the really old CDs and testing multiple computers to find out which one would actually read some of the extremely-cheap Princo CD-Rs I bought back in college from God-only-knows-where.

But it's been extremely rewarding rediscovering old records I'd forgotten about. There have also been some unfortunate coincidences: yesterday I finally ripped my Afroman discography... and then less than 12 hours later he connects with a full-on haymaker on some poor girl dancing onstage at one of his shows. And now I can't listen to "Tall Cans" without feeling like a bad person.

Some of the highlights:

Weirdest Record: Thai funeral music. It's crazy and cacophonous, and hard to listen to more than one track in a row, but it's weirdly beautiful. Kind of like the Thai version of a New Orleans second-line funeral parade.

Most Records By One Artist: Technically, this would be the 212 Grateful Dead shows plus the handful of studio albums, but that's live music, so we'll set it aside. This one goes to the great Miles Davis at 29 records. 

Records I Wish I Had More Of: Allman Brothers' shows. I managed to find 28 good or passable-quality recordings. But the best stuff is the old stuff, and the quality on old Allman  Bros. tapes is not great.... at all. I also kind of wish I had more old Bollywood soundtracks, but the quality-to-dreck ratio there is also not great.

Most Grateful Dead Shows From a Single Year: 1977. Gotta be '77. I'm actually more of a '76 guy, which isn't that common, and neither are good/complete '76 recordings, which is why '77 wins out. Songs in '76 were played at one of two speeds: Ludicrously Fast, and Nodding-Off-On-Heroin Slow, but I think it's a really good blend of the jazzier sound the Dead had in '73/'74, and the full-on psychedelic-locomotive sound of '77. But it's really hard to say enough good things about the spring 1977 shows: Phil Lesh plays the greatest bassline I ever heard on the 5/8/77 "Scarlet Begonias"; the ooey-gooey start to the 6/7/77 "He's Gone," when Jerry leaves his Mutron-III pedal on coming out of "Estimated Prophet"; the re-emergence of "China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider" after a three-year disappearance in the middle of the 12/29/77 "Playing in the Band" jam... the setlists have a lot of similarity, but every show is the shit.

Weirdest Band Name: Turkey Bouillon Mafia. No question. Decent funk band. Check 'em out on

The precise count at this point is 1,192 different artists, 508 gigabytes of music, with a few more GB to go, I suspect (I keep finding 50-disc spindles all over the damn house). Someday I might do the math on the number of songs, but I didn't go to journalism school so I could do more math.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tonight's Setlist: 1/25/15 Weather Permitting (Winter), New Bohemian, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Shakin' the walls at ol' St. Wenceslaus...

St. Wenceslaus, an old Polish church on Pittsburgh's North Side, has been converted into the New Bohemian, an awesome artspace/tattoo studio/host for today's Winter Weather Permitting food/music/beer extravaganza.

We played an acoustic set with Dave on congas for the first time, and it went over well. We cranked up "Friend of the Devil" to the original tempo and cast a nod to ska group and co-headliners The Pressure with an old-school Wailers tune, complete with a little spur'o'the moment "Bend Down Low" tease thrown in because I was listening to it over breakfast this morning!

Click here to download/stream the set, courtesy of

One set:
Gentleman of Leisure (J. Winchester)
New Mexican Shuffle*
Mother's Meth Head Blues*
Friend of the Devil (Dead)
Garden of Eden (New Riders of the Purple Sage) >
Let Him Go (Marley/Tosh/Livingston) >
Bend Down Low tease (Marley) > Let Him Go
Ophelia (The Band)
Back on the Train (Phish)


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Friday's Setlist: 1/16/15, Bloomfest 'Rock Against Racism,' Poppy's, Pgh., Pa.

'Father Joe falls out the bar,
Singin' hope that you know where you are...'

We played our first all-original setlist tonight. Having only 25 minutes makes it easier to do! Due to the rush getting on and offstage — there were eight groups at our venue, with a super-tight schedule that we pretty much stuck to, rare for such a large group of musicians! — I didn't record the set.

Thanks to the folks at Poppy's, Self Cyphadeen, Ferdinand the Bull, Wire Riots and everyone else who contributed great music to a great night all over Bloomfield:

All originals:
Quite a Night (in Spain)
Mother's Meth Head Blues
New Mexican Shuffle
That's It

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tonight's Setlist: 1/10/15, Thunderbird Café, Pgh., Pa (w/Kyle Lawson Band)

'The piano has been drinking,
my necktie is asleep...'

In the immortal words of Ric Flair: "WOOOOOO!"

It was a great night sharing the stage with the Kyle Lawson Band at Thunderbird Café. We debuted a new original as well as a personal favorite, a cover of Tom Waits' gin-soaked ode to shitty bars, "The Piano Has Been Drinking."

Click here to download/stream the set, courtesy of

One set:
Mother's Meth Head Blues*
Quite a Night (in Spain)*
That's It*
Feelin' Alright (S. Winwood)
Half-Steppin' Jam > Feelin' Alright >
Les Brers in A Minor (D. Betts/G. Allman) >
'Spooky Jam' > Les Brers Reprise >
Rain (Lennon/McCartney) >
The Piano Has Been Drinking (T. Waits) >
China Cat Sunflower (Dead) >
Werewolves of London (W. Zevon)
Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Morning (D. Van Ronk) >
Don't Let Go (J. Stone)

^First time played

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year's Eve Setlist: 12/31/14 Park House, Pgh., Pa.

'He got a snakeskin sportshirt,
and he looks like Vincent Price...'

A little Dead. A dash of Tom Waits. Sprinkle in some bluegrass and a few completely unrehearsed tunes and you got our acoustic New Year's Eve at the Park House on the North Side. Free peanuts, shells on the floor, delicious falafel and pitas and plenty of booze. 

Click here to stream/download the set, courtesy of

Set I (Pat):
Third Street Woman
Rain Song No. 3*
Garbage Man
Drag the Lake, Charlie
Jitterbug Boy
Peggy-O >
Leaving Louisiana
Pride of Cucamonga (inst.) >
Mother's Meth Head Blues*
I Can't Wait to Get Off Work

Set II (Pete):
Key to the Highway
Stagger Lee
Black Mountain Blues
Whinin' Boy
Love in Vain
It Hurts Me Too
You've Been a Good Old Wagon
Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
In the Pines
Fare Thee Well, Titanic
He Was a Friend of Mine
Hesitation Blues

Set III (Pat & Pete):
Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms
Spooky (inst./false start)
New Year's Countdown/Auld Lang Syne
Ramble On Rose
Jimmy Olsen's Blues
Cocaine Blues
Big River
The One That Got Away >
Back on the Train


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

COMING SOON! Charlie Hustle & the Grifters — Live!

"American Horror Story: Freak Show" is running way off the rails. I've given up on trying to rationalize its insanity by way of reviews.

So why not take the opportunity to invite you all to one of two upcoming Charlie Hustle & the Grifters shows in the Pittsburgh area?

• Jan. 10, 9 p.m., at Thunderbird Café, 4023 Butler St. (poster above), in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood. We're double-billing with our buddies in the Kyle Lawson Band for a night of blues, folk, funk, soul and more. $7/21+. Check out Thunderbird's page for more info.

• Jan. 25, 3-8 p.m. at the New Bohemian, 887 Progress St., on the North Side. We're one of three bands (the others are The Working Poor and The Pressure) playing throughout the day. $10/All-ages, kids are free. There will be beer available from Rock Bottom and food trucks as well (I can only hope one will be the Lomito truck.) Check out the Facebook event page for more info.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

'American Horror Story: Freak Show': S04E06: 'Bullseye' [SPOILERS]

I feel like this was basically the look on  Ryan Murphy's face
when he wrote both Ma-Petit-Gets-Killed-
OR-DOES-SHE-hehehe scenes...

I got news for you, Ryan Murphy: deliberately staging scenes where it appears that characters get killed and then revealing (over and over again) that HEY NOW LOOK WHAT I DID THERE, THEY'RE STILL ALIVE is not clever writing. If anything, it's the opposite. It's a lazy way of manufacturing drama where, currently, there is little to none.

The second Paul volunteered to be strapped into the Wheel of Death, anyone who didn't know exactly what was about to happen hasn't been watching the same show I've been watching. Although, if scheming-ass Elsa Mars DID gut him with the intention of making it seem accidental, I gotta say: hitting his torso, the one part of his body that's essentially spinning in place? Not a great plan if you fancy yourself an expert knife-tosser, who would never throw at that spot. It's a guaranteed hit.

I was really hoping Jimmy and Desiree would get together. It doesn't appear that's the case now. Jimmy's been set up as a fairly smart kid, it's hard to believe that he believes Esmeralda's sudden change of heart.

Common sentiment on the comment boards is that Stanley's as-yet-unseen-but-apparently-gigantic penis is what's ultimately going to end up in the American Morbidity Museum, and that's hard to argue against. What kind of con man's plan includes murder? At that point, it's not a confidence scam... it's murder for profit. The whole idea behind the concept is to get away with no one the wiser, not someone the deader. And forcibly enlisting someone in your bloody confidence scam... really? If Stan is any kind of con man, he should be able to make enough small-scheme money to at least get by. I need some sort of rationale for his urgency.

I'm doing a lot of complaining, especially for an episode that so many people have praised, but this one just didn't do it for me. Even Dandy, who has a world of murderous potential for character development, is getting a little old — although, "There's nothing left but the dust, and the scorpions inside me" is a great piece of dialogue. Props.

Lots of things have been set up that could pay off, though: Desiree's abandonment of Dell and his recruitment by Stanley... Jimmy and Esmeralda's attempt to run away from the circus, which would be a coy little trope reversal... Ethel maybe following through on her threat to kill Elsa... and whatever batshit insanity Elsa undertakes when she finds out there are no plans in the works for her namesake television show.

Once again, though, the loss of Twisty is very apparent. Dandy's descent into empty, raging homicidal insanity has some appeal and as I mentioned earlier, a lot of potential. But did we really need another scene of him getting all petulant and tantrum-y, this time when the Tattler twins wouldn't "play by the rules"? Not really. 

More to come...? Possibly. Re-watching it with the wife later tonight...