china column

Here’s my column from today’s paper, my first Chinese dateline:
SHANGHAI – Bill Gates has a question he likes to ask when he talks about globalization: Twenty years ago, would you rather have been a B student in Poughkeepsie or a genius in Shanghai? And how about today?
(Texans can substitute Mesquite or Waco for Poughkeepsie, if it makes you feel more geographically comfortable.)

calexico/iron & wine review

Went to the Calexico/Iron & Wine show Saturday. Saw nothing to alter my perception of Calexico as The Greatest Band in the World. Their set was almost all new stuff (only three tracks from the last album and EP, plus the traditional Tulsa Telephone Book cover). I think they’re getting more mainstream over time — fewer trumpets, more vibes, more Joey-as-traditional-front-man stuff than the more organic, experimental vibe of their earlier stuff. But still greatness.
If you have the time to sit through a 700MB download — and probably convert it from Flac to MP3 when you’re done — this live show from 2003 is excellent. The Link Wray cover (“Falling Rain”) is amazing. (Aw, hell, here’s the MP3 so you don’t have to go through all the converting malarkey. That’s Nicolai Dunger guesting on second-verse vocals. And here’s Alone Again Or, the other cover from that night [original by Love] and something a bit more in the trad Calexico style.)
Was disappointed in Iron & Wine. Actually, I don’t know if “disappointed” is really right, since it was just about what I expected; their songs are terrific in a quiet bedroom on headphones, ponderous and borderline oppressive on a big stage. Every song seemed to go on two minutes too long, the playing (outside Sam Beam’s terrific guitar work) was amateurish, and the tone dipped into the funereal at times.
First, to continuing a burgeoning tradition here on, here’s the third installment of Who Dat Drummer?, the regular feature in which, after attending an indie-rock concert, I interpret the appearance of the bands’ drummers via pop-culture references.
– Calexico (John Convertino): A older, tired Peter Krause with a smoker’s cough and a trucker hat.
– Iron & Wine (not sure, maybe Brian Deck, who drummed on the last I&W EP): 1/3 Daniel Craig, 2/3 advanced-balding Pete Townshend. (He probably prefers to emphasize the Daniel Craig part, but ol’ Pete’s winning the battle.)
While we’re talking about Iron & Wine’s drummer, he had all the subtletly of a rock to the back of the head. On a couple songs it sounded like he thought he had awoken in a Slayer concert. He was quite bad, actually. So was I&W’s second guitarist, a fellow named Patrick — seemed very limited. Maybe it was only in comparison to Calexico, who whatever one thinks of them are seasoned pros and veteran session guys, but I&W sounded amateurish. They spent endless hours tuning between songs. Sam Beam had never played publicly until a couple years ago, and it felt like it.
On the plus side, Sam’s sister Sarah, who sings backup, is really quite cute, as noted by a commenter in my last Calexico/Iron & Wine post. Which brings us to the first (and perhaps last) installment of Who Dat Backup Singer?, the non-regular feature in which, after attending an indie-rock concert, I interpret the appearance of the bands’ backup singer via pop-culture references.
– Iron & Wine (Sarah Beam): Wonkette‘s Ana Marie Cox, plus five years and a cigarette habit.
Finally, for the record: Sam Beam appears to have moved to the Austin area, so be on the lookout for him on Sixth Street. He’s the guy with the beard.

twee and those crazy japanese

A history of twee, from Pitchfork. Good for the Belle & Sebastian/Elephant 6/Decemberists/etc. fans among us.
Sparked by my link to news photos yesterday: an essay on Japanese youth antisocial behavior after World War II. It’s so easy to forget how absolutely nuts the ’60s were, all around the world. Makes the more conservative, “law and order” voices of that decade seem more reasonable in retrospect, when you consider all the political killings and armed rebellions that were going on in places that seem impossible today.
And if you really want it: Video of the 1960 assassination-by-samurai-sword depicted in the photo I originally linked to.
And while we’re discussing strange Japanese violent movements: Aum Shinrikyo. And their current web site. Speaking of slow justice, the trial of Aum’s leader Shoko Asahara began shortly after the sarin-gas attacks he masterminded in 1995. He wasn’t actually convicted of anything until 2004. Makes the American system seem downright speedy.

50 awful photos

50 years of the World Press Photo Awards. Warning: Highly likely to depress/anger you.
Some of the photos really make you think about the progress so many developing countries have made in the last half century. I mean, could you imagine the 1960 photo happening in calm, civilized Japan today? Or 1969 in today’s Northern Ireland, or 1973 in today’s Chile, or 1981 in today’s Spain, or 1987 in today’s South Korea?

calexico and iron & wine, live

Somewhere in the bowels of this web site lies a lengthy post, never completed, on why Calexico is The Greatest Band In the World.
It was a wordy dissertation on their particular blend of expert musicianship, ethereal, cinematic sound, and — most importantly for the broader and now-forgotten point I was trying to make — openness to collaboration. (They’re the backing band on the last Los Super Seven album, one of Neko Case’s best albums, a random Nancy Sinatra track, most of Giant Sand, and older Friends of Dean Martinez. There’s a real artistic generosity to them.)
Basically, I love this band and want to have its children.
Which is why I say, with the firmest possible conviction, that all right-thinking people in the Dallas area should go to the Ridglea Theater this Saturday and see Calexico‘s joint show with Iron & Wine — themselves one of this reporter’s favorite performers. It will be life-changing.
The plan is that Calexico plays a set, then Iron & Wine plays a set, then they all play the entirety of their recent collaboration together. With the promise of special guests — like Mike Watt and Victoria Williams in L.A. Just be there, okay?

the shining, cameron crowe style

Unrelated to Asian affairs: A trailer for horror classic The Shining, reimagined as a feel-good Cameron Crowe summer hit. Absolute genius.
In other good news, I’m a finalist in the investigative reporting category of the Katie Awards, the top journalism awards in the southwest. (This would be for the cheating stories from late ’04 and early ’05.) Strong competition, as you’d imagine: I remember thinking Lisa Sandberg’s stories were strong when they came out in the San Antonio paper — and they involve dead puppies to boot! And Nell Smith’s stories out of Arkansas on questionable dealings with state AIDS funds look good, too.
Mega-update No. 4 coming shortly.