Monday, February 25, 2013

Knowing Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Fitzgerald's

The other night we went to Fitzgerald's to check out Portland-based Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Their recorded work is solid - restrained, lo fi production of catchy riffs in airy expanses, packaged in tight digestible nuggets.

A sound like that, though, while quite appealing on record, is difficult to reproduce live, I think. Downstairs at Fitzgerald's, it's almost impossible. As Ra Ra Riot rocked upstairs, UMO tried to bring the noise to a stage that normally hosts local nu metal and talent-free punk outfits - acts that don't rely on the tender nuances of soundscapes to get their point across. In a more controlled setting, this could have been a decent show. In practice, it was just too loud.

Not that they were going for quiet, exactly. While lead man Ruban Nielson, decked out in a black skull cap and some sort of be-rosed bullfighter cloak, sung on a heavily reverbed mic, drummer Riley Geare made full use of his substantial kit. I'm usually a fan of aggressive drumming, but Geare tends to overplay and goes a bit overboard on the butt rock fills. The songs where he is the most restrained, playing a steady supportive beat, are unquestionably the strongest. Nielson, lathered up by the constant "tequila and orange juice" he kept ordering from the stage, sang his quirky melodies well and showed nimbleness on his delicate guitar riffs, but too often the drums overwhelmed.

Maybe I'm just getting old and am less tolerant of "loud" music. But I maintain, I don't mind loud if it sounds good. I wouldn't mind seeing UMO in another setting. Their fan base seems robust, judging by the capacity crowd and oozing excitement at some of the hits. But I think my days of seeing shows downstairs at Fitzgerald's might be numbered.

(Sadly, my half-asses attempt at a photo did not turn out well enough to display here. The Houston Press has a review (a much different take than mine) and a photo, if you care. And here is someone else's YouTube video from the show.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Singapore's Bidadari Disc Golf Course makes media splash

A little disc golf project I started a few years ago in Singapore is starting to gain some traction. With some major upgrades and savvy promotion, current Bidadari Disc Golf Course caretaker Isaac Souweine has considerably raised the profile of the only disc golf course in Southeast Asia. Check out Time Out Singapore's solid write-up of the course.

Isaac has done some real heavy lifting, perfecting some of the hole layouts and most notably installing PVC targets to replace the taped sticks that used to protrude from the ground. And now he has listed in on the venerable DGCourse Review. By my count, that makes it official. Check it out, wish list it.

Judging by the Facebook page, more improvements are being made all the time. Keep up the good work, fellas. Wish I could be out there with you. I spent so many hours out there when I lived in Singapore. It is undoubtedly my favorite place on the island. Check out this Leaner archive - my blog's most-read posting to date - for some reflections on the course's early years.

I hope the course can survive until the next time I make it out to Singapore, whenever that happens. It is squarely in the sights of residential developers, and it overdue for groundbreaking, apparently. It makes sense why - it's a stunningly beautiful place. But let's hope they can keep the green stretch of land truly green, and peaceful, and open for chucking plastic.

(And please, if anyone has or can solve the mystery of the disc golf basket near downtown Singapore that predated even the Bidadari course, please let me know.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The 49ers and the vital pain of evolution

These are dark days. The pain may subside, but the disappointment still swells. Storming all the way back from 22 points down. Four shots from seven yards out to win. It was the most exciting Super Bowl ever until... darkness.

My man Jesse - consummate party host and true Niner disciple if there ever was one - put it best on Monday: It's like a deep serotonin hangover. Even after Jacoby Jones ran back that absurd and record-setting kickoff return to open the second half, we knew we could come back. And while it didn't come as a real surprise - massive holes and bigger comebacks having been established as this young 49er team's M.O. - that comeback march was one of the most exciting series of sports moments I've witnesses in recent memory (amplified by my Niner bias, obviously). It seemed like destiny, fate, inevitable. The mind substances were pumping through our synapses, turning to satisfaction, joy, exhilaration. It swelled all through that final goal line push. Fourth down and it all still seemed so possible. Even through the (begrudgingly clever) Raven safety and the meager punt return that sealed the deal, destiny continued to beckon.

And then nothing. Only darkness. The serotonin mainline was abruptly severed, and we were left with only anger and confusion. Unanswerable questions like How? Why? The emotional roller coaster derailed and crashed into a bitter abyss.

The win seemed like a given, the appropriate cap (Kaep) to what has been nothing short of an evolutionary NFL season. This year's quarterback class represents the future of the position, and the read-option looks to be the way to win moving forward. Fragile RGIII may have brought it to the fore, but Colin Kaepernick and Russel Wilson have the bodies to make it unstoppable (Andrew Luck, a modern QB in nearly every sense, suddenly seems like a throwback). But Kaep is clearly the most dangerous weapon of them all. With the speed of a cheetah, the grace of a gazelle and an arm as powerful as an elephant gun, he is the evolution.

We were obviously anxious for the evolution to take hold immediately - and it almost, almost did. If our resident bigot Chris Culliver could have just laid a finger on the sprawled-out Jones (and not gotten his ass burned) in the first half. If Randy Moss had tried to get his own finger on a badly thrown and intercepted ball. If the refs had called Ed Reed offsides on the Niners 2-point conversion attempt. Or the holding. Or the pass interference. Or the holding. Or if we had just punched it in with Frank Gore - or at least tried - there at the end.

San Francisco simply did not play well enough to win, and a bunch of dubious records are the result: First 49er Super Bowl loss, first 49er Super Bowl interception, first 49ers coach to lose... and so on. We were so quick to jump into neo-dynasty mode that we forgot the toil necessary to evolve. Yes, a couple different bounces of the ball and the Niners could be working on their 3-peat next year. But apparently it will require more pain.

Perhaps it took those tragic blemishes on the franchise annals - a bloody break from the past - to truly begin the evolution. Nature is a violent killer and monumental changes can't happen all at once. It was never reasonable to expect a wet-behind-the-ears Kaep to find the promised land in just his 10th professional start. By next season he'll have the chops, and his team is built to win for years to come.

On paper, it seems indisputable, the Niners are the best team in football, and up until darkness fell on Sunday, just a touch too inexperienced. Shockingly, they are not the favorite to win it all next year. It's the Patriots on 7-1 odds. Niners are 8-1. I like those odds.