Falcon Ridge Preview Concert

The Brilliant Inventions might just live up to their name!

Chuck E Costa, The Brilliant Inventions, Swing Caravan
Easthampton, MA
May 27, 2010

Whenever I can catch a lesser-known Falcon Ridge act outside of the festival I like to do so as I’m not a fan of their workshop stage, where new talent only gets to perform a few songs before they’re shoveled off the stage as if a dog act had just finished and ballet dancers are up next. (In general I’m not a Falcon Ridge fan—too expensive, too buggy, and when it rains it’s a mud pit!) So I was happy to be able to catch three preview acts at PACE in Easthampton, MA on May 27. I was also happy to have been there as me, Phoenix, and three friends made up about a third of the audience. (How does this place stay in business?)

First up was Chuck E Costa, a Connecticut-based singer songwriter with a gentle demeanor and sweet voice. Check out the sample of his “When the City Comes” and you’ll hear his promise and where he has to go to make the next leap. Costa’s songs are all a bit too mid-tempo and he needs a guitar with better tone, but he’s a wonderfully earnest young man who exudes authenticity and has a brain in his head. Right now he’s in the promising-but-raw category, but he’s also the kind of guy you want to do well.

By far the evening’s greatest revelation was The Brilliant Inventions, the self-mocking, quirky indie folk/pop duo of Josh Lamkin and Eliot Bronson. These Atlanta-based lads have opened for They Might Be Giants and their thoughtful musings, bright harmonies, and off-center demeanor make them a perfect fit for a TMBG concert, though it’s just a matter of time before they become top-drawer headliners in their own right. How many groups do you know that write songs based on concepts that intrigued them in a world religions class? Check out their “Lights You Up.” Better yet, take a flier on these guys if they come your way. If you’re lucky they’ll sing their hilarious high school revenge song.

Here’s the thing about American culture—we bury artists in obscurity, resurrect their works, and repeat until we long for them to return to the grave. I’m starting to feel that way about Django Reinhardt. Go to YouTube and you’ll see why he’s praised, but enough gypsy jazz already! I was, at first, intrigued by Swing Caravan, but I quickly grew bored. Lead guitarist Matthew Shippee really knows his way around the fret-board, percussionist Doug Plavin bangs out more cool beats from a lard bucket than most get from a full drum kit, and the quintet may well have been the most-talented act of the evening. But other than Shippee, the band projected a disinterested demeanor that was a mash-up of a Beat poet affectation and waiting to see an insurance agent. Shippee’s on-the- down beat vocals also wore thin as the evening wore on. If you’re still deep into the Django and swing craze you’ll enjoy Swing Caravan. For me, the bloom has withered. I acknowledge Caravan’s talent, but after two songs I was ready to battle them for the couldn’t-care-less crown.


Why the Stanley Cup is Better than the World Cup

The most exciting cup for the month of June!

The hockey season officially ends this week when the Hershey Bears and Texas Stars finish the battle for the Calder Cup, the American Hockey League’s top prize. For most folks it ended on June 9, when the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 41 years. All of this happened just as the World Cup prepared for its first round matches.

We can debate whether hockey should be played in June. Personally I’m in favor of shortening all sports seasons. In my universe, gridiron football would start in September and end in December, pro basketball and hockey would be over the first week of April, and the World Series would finish mid-October. We can also discuss whether the World Cup is exciting or overrated. I like it, think it’s a far better product than the boring NFL, and love the way the globe goes nuts over true football. We can discuss any of this. At the end of the day, though, I’m sticking to my guns when I say that hockey is way more thrilling than soccer and that the Stanley Cup beats the snot out of the World Cup.

There is first of all, the action. U.S. soccer fans are excited because the national team tied England 1-1. This action-packed match featured exactly a dozen shots on goal, most of them harmless and routine. When I went to Hershey for game one of the Calder Cup, the final score was 2-1 and there were 53 shots on goal, many of which required goal tenders to make amazing saves. And the U.S./England match ended in a draw. A tie? Please! Hockey wisely gave up that nonsense when it went to the shootout for regular season games and it abandons that format when playoffs come around. You play until you win. The Blackhawks raised the Cup when Patrick Kane fired a sharp angle shot through goalie Michael Leighton’s pads at 4:08 in overtime. The final score was 4-3 and an amazing 65 shots were peppered on goal. Now that’s drama.

Sorry, but it’s hard to get too excited by all the midfield jockeying for position in soccer, the occasional five-second sprint, and guys standing around catching a blow. Hockey players put out so much energy that the average line shift takes place every 45 seconds. Watch skaters come off the ice—they are drenched in sweat, panting, and immediately hit the water bottle. And I really can’t get worked up about a soccer tackle in which a player goes down, grabs a body part, and pretends to writhe in pain—95% of the time he's faking—when I see how hockey players put their bodies on the line. In pursuit of the Stanley Cup, Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook threw his body in front of 90 mph slap shots. He left a total of seven teeth on the ice and didn’t miss a shift. I’ve seen guys take blade cuts, get stitches on the bench, and jump across the boards to get back into the fray.

Then there are the scrambles for pucks, the open-ice body checks, and hits so hard that helmets fly off. But lest you think hockey is a goon sport without finesse, let me challenge you to skate at 30 mph, stop on a dime, change direction, and slap a 3-inch in diameter puck with a three-inch- wide stick. Better yet, let me see you slide a pass through a few defensemen and onto the blade of a rushing winger. Watching a break across the blue line is pure ballet on skates.

Don’t misunderstand me—I like international football and I doubt that warm-weather nations such as Brazil, Cameroon, Ghana, or Honduras will soon become hockey hotbeds. I also wish the United States would get more excited about the World Cup and less so about the S(t)uperbowl. Soccer is a great game in the same way that a Honda is a great car—solid and dependable, but pretty low down on the flash scale when compared to hockey. I respect the World Cup, but my passion boils for Lord Stanley’s chalice.