Susan McKeown in Schenectady, NY

March 14th, 2008 at 7:53 pm by Michael

Last Saturday, Jenn and I headed up to Schenectady, NY to see Susan McKeown perform as part of the Eighth Step series of concerts presented at 440 Upstairs, part of the Proctors Theater complex.

I hadn’t seen Susan perform since her show last March at MassMoCA, and this time around it was going to be a different lineup, with just Lindsey Horner and Aidan Brennan (who needs a webpage) joining Susan. While I’d seen Lindsey play with Susan several times over the past few years, this was the first time I’d seen Aidan perform with her since the Johnny Cunningham memorial shows back in 2005.

Susan had been kind enough to offer Jenn and I spots on the guest list, and we were also joined by Jenn’s parents for the show. We all got to stand along the edge of the room during the sound check, which meant that we got to witness Susan’s charming daughter take her turn at the microphone, and we also all sat front and center for the performance.

I managed to grab a set list after the show (and not Aidan’s, which still had chords and such on it, this being the first show of the tour), so I can actually convey what songs Susan did….at least to the extent that I can understand what was written down, and assuming that the set list is an accurate reflection of the sets that were actually played.

Set One:

  • A Mhaire B
  • In London So Fair
  • Eggs in Her Basket
  • Langolee
  • Blue Moon
  • [Susan & Lindsey, while Aidan replaced a string]

  • Fallen Angel
  • Seven Cold Glories
  • Wheels of the World
  • Gonna Get Through
  • [from the Grammy-winning Klezmatics album]

  • South

Set Two:

  • Be Brave
  • To Fair London Town
  • Fortune
  • Nansai Og
  • Our Texas
  • Things in Your Heart
  • City of Roses
  • River

Encore:

  • She’s Leaving Home
  • [just Susan & Lindsey]

I believe four of the songs were relatively new, “Things in Your Heart” and “Our Texas,” both of which she did last year at the MassMoCA show (though the latter had some new lyrics), “Fallen Angel,” which seemed familiar, but isn’t on any of Susan’s albums, and “City of Roses,” which was brand new. They’re great songs, and I hope she gets versions of them all recorded at some point.

Overall, it was an excellent concert, with the usual fine performances from Susan, Lindsey, and Aidan, and it was well worth the trek all the way to Schenectady. Some of the songs certainly sounded different from the arrangements used when Eamon O’Leary and Dana Lyn perform with Susan, but this lineup worked well too.

After the show the usual post-concert CD signing failed to happen, as all of the local fans ran off before Susan had time to have a quick bite of dinner and come out. This proved to be quite a disappointment to Susan’s daughter, as apparently when she’d been playing in Austria a few months ago they’d gotten in the habit of signing the CDs together. Still, there was time for a bit of chatting, during which I learned, among other things, that once the current small tour is over, Susan has no plans to play out for the rest of the year, other than a few shows with the Klezmatics. Instead, she’s going to be working on recording and writing for new albums.

Books for January and February

March 12th, 2008 at 9:02 pm by Michael

Hopefully posting about books every couple of months will work out better than the once a year method.

Heart of Stone (The Negotiator Trilogy, Book 1) by C.E. Murphy [3.5/5]

I liked a lot of things about this one, including the world-building and Catie’s prose. I wasn’t as fond of the occasional parts of the book that were done in an almost romance novel sort of style, which didn’t seem to fit the tone of the rest of the story. Oh, and my favorite character ended up being one of the secondary ones, Janx.

Glasshouse by Charles Stross [4/5]

Definitely a Charlie Stross book, with plenty of great SFnal ideas. I think I tended to prefer the parts of the story that were set outside of the Glasshouse to those set within it, but overall I thought it was good, and I’d definitely recommend it to any Stross fan (though I didn’t like it quite as much as either Singularity Sky or Iron Sunrise).

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch [4/5]

There was plenty to like about this book. The setting, the prose and the characters were all very good, and at more than one point it reminded me of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories. On the other hand, I really think it could have used an edit that chopped off maybe a couple of hundred pages (my mass market edition was 712pp long). While some of the flashback parts did have a direct connection to events in the present-day timeline, many of them were basically just very shiny bits of exposition that interfered with the momentum of the story, and in my opinion it would have been a better book without them.

Since I only read three books during the previous two months, I’m going to start reminding myself of manuscripts that I also read during that period, in an effort to keep from feeling exceedingly lame.

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts:

  • Source of Gravity by Ekaterina Sedia
  • The Drowning City by Amanda Downum (even though I technically didn’t finish it until a few days into March)
  • 1 other non-client ms. for Jenn

February movies

March 10th, 2008 at 8:17 pm by Michael

The Philadelphia Story [4/5] [Amazon]

At times things didn’t flow along as smoothly as they might have, but there was lots of good banter, and a cast that featured Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart, so it’s a classic that’s worth seeing.

Paris, Je T’aime [4/5] [Amazon]

A collection of 18 short films (you can read a brief summary of each one here) set in different parts of Paris, each done by a different director. My favorite segment was Place des fêtes, directed by Oliver Schmitz, about a dying Nigerian man and a young paramedic. I also liked Père-Lachaise, directed by Wes Craven, Quais de Seine, directed by Gurinder Chadha, Tuileries, directed by the Coen Brothers, and Faubourg Saint-Denis, directed by Tom Tykwer. As for the rest, most were fine, though by the end of the movie they’d sort of blended together in my mind, and I actively disliked both 14e arrondissement, directed by Alexander Payne, and Quartier de la Madeleine, directed by Vincenzo Natali. Overall, I’d say it’s definitely good. Just don’t go into it expecting to be blown away by each and every segment.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age [3/5] [Amazon ]

Cate Blanchett gives a strong performance in this sequel to the first Elizabeth, but other than that (and the presence of Geoffrey Rush as Sir Francis Walsingham), this was a mess of a movie that just totally went mad toward the end (and not in a good way). My advice to the film’s makers? More ruling of England, less boyfriend.

Michael Clayton [5/5] [Amazon]

In a year that didn’t feature so many other strong films, this probably would have ended up with more Oscars than just the one for Best Supporting Actress. It’s an excellent piece of work, and a smart legal thriller that proves that the genre doesn’t need to be restricted to endless John Grisham retreads. There are great performances by George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton, a story with plenty of twists, plus some nice directing. Put this one on your must-see list!

February Books

March 10th, 2008 at 7:35 pm by Jennifer

Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth and Religion in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles edited by Shanna Caughey : I found this an uneven collection of essays. Some of them were extremely intelligent and argued well (regardless of whether I personally agreed with their premise). Others seemed almost superficial. Still, it was interesting to see the various opinions. As a die-hard fan of the Narnia series and many works of Lewis and the other Inklings, this certainly broadened my view.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang : If I never read another collection in my life, I can die happy. This is very similar to what I said after I had dinner at Jean Georges. I did eat again, and I probably will read again. But this was an amazing collection of stories. My favorite stories were “Story of Your Life,” “Seventy-Two Letters” (I have a weakness for the golem mythology) and “Liking What You See” (which apparently inspired Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, which I have just begun to read).

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch : Given what I’d heard from friends I really wanted to like this more than I ended up liking it. I loved the world-building and the characterization was very strong. However, structurally, all the character history bits didn’t blend as well as I wanted them to and I kept seeing them as almost an interuption to the narrative.

Graffiti Girl by Kelly Parra : Makes you want to go out and tag something. I loved the multicultural aspects of this, and thought they had a nice balance with the normal girl-angst of choosing between the “out of your league guy” and the “bad boy.”

Poseur by Rachel Maude : High concept=”Project Runway meets Gossip Girls.” Review=too much boyfriend, not enough fashion. And coming from me that’s sort of sad. Even though this was well-written enough prose-wise, the story just took too long to get into motion.

Lúnasa at The Iron Horse

March 4th, 2008 at 8:57 pm by Michael

After having seen Altan there just last week, Jenn and I travelled up to The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA again last night, this time to catch a performance by the always amazing Lúnasa. You’d almost think that St. Patrick’s Day was coming up soon!

We were joined for the show by our friend Sarah (aka Elizabeth Bear) and her friend Kate, so we had enough people to get the center table right up against the stage. That meant being close enough for both getting sound directly from the instruments (Kevin Crawford’s Grinters certainly sounded grand) and overhearing the bits of banter that weren’t said into the microphones. Much like the last time we’d see Lúnasa at the Iron Horse, which I think may have also been the last time we saw them perform, it was an excellent concert, with lots of great tunes and an almost ridiculous amount of wit. As always, I’ll be looking forward to their next club (as opposed to theater) tour around these parts.