Sunday, July 28, 2013

Swans at The Tralf Music Hall - Buffalo, NY 7/26/2013

Saw "Swans" at The Tralf Music Hall in Buffalo on Friday night. It was the best concert I have seen this year. It was one of those shows where I am so completely absorbed in the music, so engaged in the rhythm of the band, so greedily lapping up my Blue drafts thirst quenchers, - and now that it's over, I am clueless to explain why it was such a great show. It just was.

It doesn't help that while I am a huge Swans fan, and I am cozy with the Swans songbook, I couldn't name by title one song they played. That surprised me. All the more in that I received a review copy of the album that proceeded this global tour - We Rose From Our Bed With The Sun In Our Head.

I jumped into the superb set of elongated anti-climatic guitar drone and secular primal philosophy and emerged completely invigorated, awash with a musical massage that felt like I had just been playfully assaulted by Godzilla. Given the loudness of the show, I also couldn't hear for several hours.

Michael Gira and his 5-man band were a sound prism of noise expertise. The drone, the effects, the noise were all calculated into the rhythm of the music as if they were traditional instruments. It was a wonderful sound that I heard as primal survival in a modern world.
                                   Photo courtesy of soundkick, although I never actually asked

When solo opening act Pharmakon stepped onto the stage, started fiddling with a laptop and proceeded to scream strange sounds into the microphone, I muttered into my beer, "What the hell is this?". I thought she was a stage hand having a nervous breakdown. She then stepped down into the crowd, lopped around, leaning on some, passively confronting some, her microphone chord threatening to lasso the crowd up by their feet, all while screaming (and I mean SCREAMIN'!) a weird indecipherable language into the microphone, as drone effects pulsated from her soundboard. It was brilliantly effective.

Swans leader Michael Gira hit the fan table after the show so I bought a cool Swans poster for him to sign. I always hate having a few moments to convey to an artist how their music has effected me, shaped my life, how brilliant, artistic, blah, blah blah, ... their music is. It always feels so pretentious. I said "blah, blah, blah", he stiffly but amiably responded with an Elvis impersonation - "Thank you. Thank you very much."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees" by David More and John White

If you're contemplating trees and you want to know the identification of a certain species, you can pull out a pocket field guide for trees to aid you. It should be as simple as that.

But if you're tree-obsessed and the mere identification of a species doesn't quell your curiosity - when an elm tree isn't just an elm tree but a distant European hybrid cousin of an elm tree - then The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees (Second Edition, Princeton University Press, 2013) should satisfy the deeply rooted dendrologist within you.
This mammoth book (832 pages) identifies nearly 2,000 species and cultivars (cultivated through selection for desirable characteristics) found in Europe and North America. It offers an extensive history of the collecting and dispensing of tree seedlings.

Readers will discover Johnny Appleseed is not the only name in tree seed lore. Seventeenth-century European explorers, as colorful and animated as the celebrated Appleseed, adorned Western Europe with a host of new species discovered in Asia, which eventually found their way to American shores.

David More (illustrator) and John White (writer) have produced a labor of love and their fascination for trees keeps the stiff scientific data from absorbing the pleasure of reading about these ancient mystical plants. Leisurely yet encyclopedic, the volume serves as a studied document of tree history beginning with ancient glaciers determining tree distribution in northern Europe and America. It also offers practical advice and knowledge for the average gardener and tree enthusiast.

David More spent more than a decade painting illustrations from real specimens. The result is a colorful array of nature's mightiest plants. A touch of whimsy graces the purely scientific illustrations as the artist includes attributes of a species, for instance a dog sitting lazily under the shade of a tree that offers protection from the sun.

While the book only studies trees of the northern temperate zone, it includes an illustrated chapter on southern tropical trees, an area of the globe greatly untapped in the identification, transfer, and planting of tree species. It seems a likely hint at the volume to come from these tree-worshipping authors.

this article was first published by me at