As I predicted in my 2013 round-up, my show going would fall precariously in 2014. As the year came, to a close, I felt sort of “meh” about this year’s show-going experiences. Something about this snippet from the Atlantic piece on the mid-life malaise, “Jeste also notes that the brain circuits linked to rewards lose some sensitivity with age,” made me think that maybe I just wasn’t feeling the same euphoria that I used to feel from a really good show.
But with certain gripes (which I will note below) aside, 2014 was actually a pretty solid and enjoyable concert year. My hope for the years to come is that we can somehow maintain at the 10-12 show per year frequency, but we’ll see. In 2014, we did learn to enjoy the comfort the assigned seating, instead of fighting in the scrum of standing GA tickets, so maybe this will prolong our concert going.
I’m going to start with a run down of this year in live music, and end with my “top 3.”
- Kraftwerk at the Fox in 3D. This was my first 3D show, and probably one of my most heavily anticipated shows going into 2014. Yay, for the grandfathers of electronic music!
- Pantha Du Prince at Mezzanine. This is the show that taught us that we’re too old for shows at Mezzanine. We always knew it was a late venue, and arrived at 10:30. The door guy told us no “ins and outs” and that PDP would come on at 12:45. So, we went to eat, came back at 12:45 and felt like death because PDP didn’t come on until 1-ish. We stayed about 45 minutes before we headed to the land of nod.
- Beck at the grand re-opening of the Masonic. He put in a solid set, and it was nice to be in a newly re-done venue, however, the HVAC system was not up to par. They ripped out the seats on the first floor of the Masonic to make it GA and didn’t up the AC / ventilation for the increased crowd size, so I had to go out to concessions for air constantly because I felt that I was going to faint.
- The Cure (and TV on the Radio at the Bottlerock Festival). I have seen our future, and our future may be festivals like this. I had not seen the Cure since high school and J and had never seen them, so we went up to Napa for this festival. It was mellow, uncrowded, offered $25 glasses of cabernet sauvignon, snacks from Morimoto’s, and plenty of 50-year-olds in Robert Smith outfits. And they of course pulled the plug on Robert Smith because he played too long for them (but not too long for us).
- Jeff Tweedy and family at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. HSB remains one of my favorite SF events, even though I battle heatstroke at it every year. Mr. Hellman, God bless your soul. And friends, you should really try to go with me to HSB in 2015. It’s free and baby friendly, so you have no excuse.
- Com Truise (and Tycho at the Fox). We were initially going to waste these tickets, but I pointed out to J that Com Truise was the opener, so we went. This was a case of the opener definitely outshining the main act.
And for my top 3 (in no particular order):
- David Gray at the Paramount. Go ahead, and make fun of me all your want, but David Gray is one of my favorite performers and I’ve never seen him perform live before. I found out a friend was a mutual fan, and had company to finally see him live. I walked away thinking this was my favorite show of 2014, and this was the show that I felt the most acutely, in terms of my emotions.
- Slowdive at the Warfield. J said that this was his favorite show of his entire life, and he is a superfan who had waited forever for their reunion. I actually knew very little about the band going into the show, but appreciated that it was a great performance.
- Flaming Lips and Friends NYE Extravaganza. This is how we chose to close out the year, folks. This was not as great as last year’s Halloween show, but it hit my brain’s pleasure receptors with Beatles’ covers, confetti cannons, Wayne Coyne’s unabashed glee, and balloons. I could think of no better way to cap off 2014.
Happy 2015 to all! May the world have a geopolitically more stable year and may justice prevail in the U.S. of A.
P.S. – These were the other shows that I went to in 2014, but did not describe above: F**k Buttons at the Independent, The Knife at the Fox, and the War on Drugs at the Fillmore.
Don’t be deceived by Chana Jaffe-Walt’s This American Life / Planet Money piece on Federal Disability
Addendum (3/25/13): Since this was posted two days ago, someone at TAL / PM has made changes to the web supplement. An original version of the story that circulated on the TAL website can be found here. Two instances of the changes are pointed out here and here.
This American Life and Planet Money are two very trusted brands on public radio. On a standard Saturday afternoon, you’ll find me nursing a post-dim sum food coma and folding laundry listening to Ira Glass and friends. I looked to Planet Money to break down the subprime crisis for me into easily digestible nuggets. And I’ve opened my wallet for $10 donations to fund the TAL podcast.
It’s with this sense of trust, that I must now turn to Chana Joffe-Walt’s biased take down of SSDI and SSI for This American Life and Planet money. I read it on my commute to work yesterday at a non-profit that focuses on helping very sick adults with HIV and/or mental health issues obtain access to these benefits. This is a very difficult job and my compensation is pocket change compared to my old big firm law gig, but it’s rewarding in other ways. I’m part of a web of social workers, doctors, nurses, and case managers trying to stabilize the most vulnerable members of our community. My clients do not want to be disabled. Many want to work and work up to the point when their symptoms become too severe for them to continue. The SSA is a bureaucracy, and sometimes, analysts there will miss or ignore key medical evidence, and an appeal can delay a client’s benefits for 3 or 4 years, depending on how many levels of appeal are necessary. Helping these clients get onto SSI/SSDI serves a public health purpose because once they are on benefits, they can work on stabilizing their health and gain access to affordable housing programs. Almost any public interest attorney in my area could tell you what I’m saying in this paragraph (and most people who apply for these benefits, if they are lucky enough to have an attorney at all, rely on public interest attorneys, not private firms). Although Ms. Joffe-Walt said that she’s researched this issue for “6 months” there’s not a quote or a data point from a single public interest / legal aid attorney anywhere in her piece.
A have a lot of little nits to pick with Ms. Joffe-Walt’s print story, but one of the things that irks me the most is the deceptive beauty of its design and layout. “It’s just so pretty, it must be true!” is one of the easy takeaways the standard TAL audience can have from scanning through this piece. It’s so convincing in its simplicity, that I’m worried that the parts of TAL – Planet Money audience who work with my clients will be more hesitant to write letters of support for my clients because they will be too worried about the growth of disability programs in the U.S. As Jeff Deeney pointed out on Twitter, “@planetmoney @itschana Getting benefits for severely mentally ill clients who can’t apply themselves is really hard. You aren’t helping us.”
The most infuriating thing is how Ms. Joffe-Walt groups in the entire 14 million people on SSDI/SSI benefits into one giant, tax dollar sucking mass. She gives them an agency that they do not have. As another person (sorry, I forgot who) pointed out, she writes the following:
But going on disability means you will not work, you will not get a raise, you will not get whatever meaning people get from work. Going on disability means, assuming you rely only on those disability payments, you will be poor for the rest of your life. That’s the deal. And it’s a deal 14 million Americans have chosen for themselves. (Emphasis added). [See addendum above this language been subsequently edited by TAL / PM / HJW].
While there are a few bad apples who are gaming the system out there, the vast majority of the 14 million people receiving these benefits are legitimately disabled and cannot work. Some are dying from fast-advancing cancer. My very own younger sister, who is in her 30’s, receives these benefits because her cognitive age is 2-years-old. 2-years-old! There is no way that she can ever work, let alone be left by herself for a single moment of the day. But because of sloppy and biased reporting like Ms. Joffe-Walt’s (and Fox News), there are members of my extended family who look at my sister as a horrible tax burden on society, rather than as a vulnerable person who cannot fend for herself. My sister did not choose to be born with this brain damage. My clients do not choose to be sick. The agency that Ms. Joffe-Walt ascribes to this group further magnifies the extreme stigma people with disabilities already face.
While my practice does not include children who receive SSI, parents of children with disabilities have an incredibly difficult time obtaining these services. Part of my motivation to practice this area of law stemmed from my single mother’s experience. She struggled to raise us, and my sister did not obtain SSI until she was an adult. My sister never received her rightful childhood benefits because no social worker or lawyer ever guided my mother in that direction when my sister was still a minor. My mother did not know these benefits even existed. This story is much more common than the anecdotes fed to us by Ms. Jaffe-Walt. And Media Matters has done an excellent, detailed debunking of the other Child SSI benefit “facts” in Ms. Jaffe-Walt’s piece.
Also, the disabled in America are one of the most stepped upon groups in our society, and do not make up a nefarious “disability-industrial complex.” There isn’t a strong lobby for parents of disabled children. Every year, there are budgetary fights over cuts to essential programs that help keep disabled people in their homes, instead of ending up in institutions. And the real travesty of SSI is that the resource cap to receive SSI has been set at $2000 for an individual since 1989, and has not been raised or adjusted for inflation since that time. That means that someone on SSI must live a perilous existence, without even the ability to have an emergency fund or to save up enough money for an apartment deposit. They are forced to live check-to-check due to these extremely low resource limits.
Finally, I work in direct services, not public policy in this area, so I will point you to the policy-oriented discussion on this story taking shape on Rebecca Vallas’s Twitter stream. I realize that Twitter is ephemeral, so here are a few tweets to archive on this topic.
This annual round up is just about the only remaining item of consistency on this blog. Over the past few years, the formula for my show-going frequency has followed a pattern of n-3, where n= the number of shows I went to the previous year (i.e. 28 shows in 2010, 25 shows in 2011, and 22 shows in 2012), so my best of list is getting shorter. This post is an amalgam of best shows and interesting things that I saw at shows (through the hazy filter of Instagram, of course).
I started out the concert year in Seoul, where I was very entertained by the innovative coat check at the city’s electronic music festival, and my friend’s friend’s Korean Justice banner. I also made it a point to see a few favorites again (Radiohead, Washed Out), but surprisingly, these shows did not make much of an impression on me. I can’t fault Radiohead; I think that even with floor tickets, the HP Pavilion is not the ideal place to see them. For the first time, I saw a few acts on my “must see” list, the Flaming Lips at the Bridge School Benefit, and Fiona Apple on her Idler Wheel tour, but similarly these do not demand more than a footnote. As J’s sidekick, I also saw a few of his favorite bands, Spiritualized, Animal Collective, and Metallica (where ash and soot from the pyrotechnics had me blowing out black snot from my nose the next day).
Here are the 6 “top,” aka notable shows, of 2012 (from very good to best):
6. M83 at NSSN – I saw M83 twice this year, but I have very little memory of the first time that I saw them at the Fillmore. While a Live 105 show is not my ideal concert experience, they were excellent at NSSN (the true headliner), and like other French electronic bands, they were more of a “jam band,” when performing live.
5. Cat Power at the Fox Theatre – This was the election night party in Oakland. I was pretty surprised by this show because Chan Marshall came out with a cropped, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo cut, instead of her trademark straight across bangs and long-hair. Cat Power’s music was angrier than I expected and matched her look (and perhaps her health and financial woes). Cat Power is crazy; and for her music, this is a good thing.
4. Tamaryn at the Independent – The band’s music is strong and their new album was on heavy rotation in my playlist this year. Live, Tamaryn has the whole moody blond-hair covering her face, midriff bearing aesthetic rocker look down.
3. The Weeknd at the Warfield – I was hooked on the Weeknd the first time that I heard a Flunk sample in one of his songs. Seeing him live, I am convinced that he’s the next Michael, the next Prince, and that this was the last chance to see him in a non-arena sized venue. J commented that R&B shows were weird because the audience was a sea of smartphone video screens for the duration of the show. His opener, Nosaj Thing, was the best opener of the year, and someone that I look forward to seeing again.
2. Philip Glass, Tim Fain, and Joanna Newsom at the Warfield (benefit show for the Henry Miller Library) – The most civilized show of the year; a seated show at the Warfield. My favorite part was Glass’s performance of this work, featuring Allen Ginsberg:
1. Pulp at the Warfield – Back when I saw them in April, I knew that this would be number 1, since it is easily one of my top 5 concerts ever. So, I did a full write-up to memorialize the experience back then.
Overall, I’m a bit surprised that the top 3 slots were very different acts at the same venue, the Warfield. Then again, the Warfield’s similarity in terms of layout, age, and beauty to the Fox Theatre in Oakland, highlights how atrociously bad the sound system is at the Fox. Every year, I vow to not see shows at the Fox, since they manage to make great bands sound terrible, but I find myself back at the Fox for a show or two. My concert-going wish for 2013 is that the Fox puts some money into upgrading / fixing their sound.
‘Til next year, EC
Normally, I save my concert reviews for year-end one-sentence summaries. But by the time December comes around, my memory grows hazy, and it’s hard to reconstruct my feelings about a show based on a single Flickr upload. I’m breaking from routine, and giving Pulp a full review now because I’m pretty sure that last night’s show will garner the top spot on my 2012 Best Show list.
Last fall, when Portishead played the Greek, I was pretty ready to retire from show going because I thought there was nothing left. Essentially, if I got to see Radiohead live every two years or so, I thought that I’d be happy. Well, I was wrong. For my birthday, J got me general admission Radiohead tickets for last week’s show at HP Pavilion, and for a few weeks, I was happy. Then, I missed the Pulp ticket sale by an hour, and walked away empty handed when I acted on a rumor and tried the Warfield box office that night.
I checked Stubhub and Craiglist religiously and one of my friends added me to a “Help everyone get to see PULP at the Warfield!” group on Facebook, and in the end, everything worked out. J’s roommate ended up having a pair of extra tickets, and I let out a squeal of delight when she nonchalantly offered them to me without knowing of my quest.
Thus, even before yesterday’s show, I was pretty psyched. I spent an entire hour clockwatching while sitting through a lecture on Biophilic cities right before the show. And for once, the show, ended up exceeding my keyed up expectations.
Jarvis Cocker, at age 48, may be the best showman that I’ve EVER seen. He likely arranged the opening green laser messages that added up to the build up of the band coming on stage. He read out facts about Isak Dineson, whose birthday was yesterday. He threw out to the audience a book of poetry that he bought at City Lights that afternoon. He handed a beer to someone in the front audience, and told them to share it. He did this again with a couple of glasses of wine (Greg, who patiently waited hours to secure a front spot, deservedly got one of these glasses). But most of all, in playing Pulp’s hits, he alternated from a writhing dorky-sexy rockstar to a guide who gently coaxed me to re-live my awkward adolescence in verse. He owned the entire audience.
Yesterday’s show also answered the mystery of why I hadn’t seen Pulp live before. The last time they played in San Francisco was at Bimbo’s when I was in high school. I wasn’t even old enough back then to make it through ID check.
The concert gods have blessed the Bay Area this week. Pulp matched Radiohead’s two-plus-hour set with double encores, with their own two-hour set with double encores, albeit shorter double encores. By the end, Jarvis sweated through his dress shirt a la Morrissey and looked a bit misshapen as he performed Misshapes. But everyone left smiling as they sweetly ended with Pulp’s earliest song.
In the spirit of this brief, earlier post, I want to memorialize the winter of 2011-2012 that’s about to end (even though it feels like that it’s already over).
This was the winter where San Francisco had an L.A. winter. There were a few, scattered cold days, but there were far too many sunny days, even in the Outer Sunset, where the fog usually reigns. This was the winter when I did not bother to go up to Tahoe even once, since there was no snow. This was the beautiful, warm, dry winter that will lead us to ration water later this year, or next. This is the winter when it did not rain on my birthday, even though it always rains on my birthday.
As my mom’s eldest child, the question that I hear the most from her, is “When can I retire?” My response always revolves around her savings, the mortgage that we share, and budgeting her expenses out for post-retirement life. She wants to retire earlier that what I think is currently feasible, and I try to emphasize that there may be no money left in my wallet, when she’s in her 80’s and her grandchildren de-camp for college at $422,000 a pop. She seems to believe that she only needs to plan until she’s 85 (and to be fair, the average life expectancy in the States for a Chinese American woman is 86.1 years).
There have been a couple of essays circulating lately written by Boomers taking care of their Greatest Generation parents, and even though I dislike the tone of these articles, I think about them pretty often. The writers’ parents thought they too would go quickly and cheaply, but this was not the case. My own grandmother spent nearly 2 years in hospice care at the price of $10,000+/month.
I see these essays and my grandmother’s case as cautionary tales for what happens when you live beyond of the number of years that you anticipate. Thus, I sent my mom the brief email below (I purposely put the Sandra Tsing Loh essay first, thinking my mom would identify with her more easily):
From: E Chan
Subject: Long term planning
Here are a couple of essays written by children of elderly parents who are around your age. I think you will find them interesting. You need to plan for 90.
In keeping with my tradition of annual round-ups, here are my noteworthy shows of 2011, a year, where I saw everyone from Prince to St*rF*ck*r, and Arcade Fire twice. I didn’t cry tears of emotional joy at any of the 2011 shows, but the band that took the top spot very nearly put me into concert retirement with their performance at the Greek Theatre. So, in ascending order of how much I enjoyed myself:
8. Cut Copy at the Regency – This is the runner-up in the dance party category, simply because it was the most energetic. It took me forever to steady my phone to take a picture because people were jumping so hard on the dance floor. Oonce oonce oonce.
7. The Kings of Convenience at the Fillmore – Based on Erlend Oye’s past work with Royksopp, this show was in some ways a companion piece to entry #5 below. This was a two-man acoustic guitar and vocal set, which definitely emphasized, loud audience aside, that quiet is the new loud.
6. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – Miss Thao always gives her all, in her full messy glory for her shows. She’s definitely my favorite local musician.
5. Royksopp at the Regency – This won the dance party category by the sheer force of Royksopp’s sound.
4. Foster the People at Outsidelands – I went to the festival for Arcade Fire, but on day one, Foster the People stole the show. I didn’t think of them their album as all that dance-y beforehand, but I had fun doing the indie bop in Golden Gate Park during their set. Plus, it helps that like everyone else on Spotify, I spent a few weeks listening to their album non-stop.
3. Fitz and the Tantrums at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Such stage presence! I boogied! I shook! Hands down my favorite act of HSB. Thank you, Mr. Hellman.
2. Erasure at the Fox – Oh, L’amour, I broke out my gold suspenders for this show, and it was worth it.
1. Portishead at the Greek – Half of the number 1 spot was earned through anticipation alone, but Beth Gibbons’s and her haunting presence earned the rest. It was nice to see that they moved beyond the screaming banshee rendition of Sour Times, into a more jazzy, lounge-y mode. After waiting over a dozen years for this show (and after having checked off all of the other acts on my list), I felt very satisfied after this show to enter into concert semi-retirement (I had a very long post-Portishead show lull in ticket purchases). In 2012, I’ll probably halve, if not quarter, my show going habit, but I’m looking forward to Radiohead and M83 at Fauxchella.
Other honorable mentions:
Washed Out at the Great American – This originally made the list above, but I couldn’t remember anything from this show, other than it was good.
Ellie Goulding at Outsidelands – Her music is not quite my cup of tea, but an excellent set, plus the sunglass scramble added to the fun.
Best Coast at the Regency – Along with Thao, this goes into the messy, drunken, emotional vocalist category, and I mean this in a good way.
Beach House at the Fillmore – I was worried about this show because Toastyken had told me that seeing Beach House live was one of his least enjoyable concert experiences, but despite the droning vocals, I liked this show, and the teepee stars were a neat touch.
I was born and raised in SF, and with the exception of my academic exile on the East Coast, and the past 9 months down in the foggy D.C., I’ve always lived in SF.* During and after law school, I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to Brooklyn West, since it’s sunnier there and the real estate is shiny and a few hundred thousand dollars less than San Francisco. My friends there are cool and open-minded, and generally politically and socially engaged. Plus, there’s stuff going on over there, unlike the sterile strip malls and quaint small towns of the South Bay, or the sleepy homogeneity of Marin. Before this week, the three things that held me back were:
1. Fear of earthquakes. I constantly ask which is scarier, being in the Transbay Tube or on the Bay Bridge when the Big One hits, and both options terrify me equally.
2. Fear of crime / lack of policing to deter crime. I’m not sure that I feel comfortable living in a place where the Police Department doesn’t investigate property crimes. You’re house got burgled? You got mugged? Tough luck!
3. I don’t really drive, and BART doesn’t run late enough. I’d hate to constantly look at my watch at a Fillmore concert to make sure that I made my last BART train home.
But the brutality of the police response to Occupy Oakland this week has sorta sealed the deal against me moving to Oakland. When a City Administrator can issue orders for brute force to be used on peaceful protesters, something is wrong. When the Mayor, Jean Quan, can claim ignorance to the plans to raid Occupy Oakland, something is very very wrong. Between the Oscar Grant protests and now this, my dominant image of Oakland isn’t of art crawls or Children’s Fairyland, but of police in riot gear and people in wheelchairs being tear-gassed, and that’s not the type of city where I want to live. And my head has been trying to tabulate how much of the City’s budget is going to pay out settlements for police brutality related to this week’s clearance of Occupy Oakland.
A huge part of me is trying to understand how the City of Oakland, which prides itself on incorporating the language of social justice and addressing inequality, had one of the most violent reactions (that I know of) to the Occupy movement. I know part of this is rooted in the OPD’s sense of impunity and their past scandals, but until there is some progress on this front, Oakland goes onto the “places where I won’t live” list. I’m not sure how much the Planning and Police Departments talk to each other, but the image of a police department is key to attracting new residents to a city. A police department that terrorizes residents, instead of doing any actual policing, does all of your realtors a huge disservice.
*This is a total aside, but in case you didn’t know already, I’m moving back to SF next week.
This is a quick fire post, but I wanted to transcribe my notes, at least in bullet-point form from Monday’s Ferran Adria talk at the Castro. This was definitely my favorite talk of the year, if not of the last five years. I walked away completely mesmerized.
- Adria is no Anthony Bourdain. He is not there to make you laugh with funny anecdotes or foul language. Adria is there in his messianic way to: 1. guide you to create, and 2. point you towards the future of food.
- Adria opened up by stating, “In order to cook well, you must think well, and in order to think well, you must be humble.”
- Adria used the fable of the omelette and the mini-skirt to illustrate that it’s not important to be the first person to create something, but to be the person who conceptualizes it. We don’t know who invented the first omelette, but now most cookbooks devote 5% of their content to omelette recipes. Similarly, miniskirts date back to ancient Greece, but it took Mary Quant in the 60s to pair it in such a way to emphasize the female form. The evolution of the recipe is key.
- We know nothing about cuisine and everything about food is subjective. The Spanish eat the second most fish per capita, but they hate raw fish. Adria’s own parents did not like sushi, when he brought them to a Japanese restaurant.
- Back before his restaurant was big in the 90s, chefs guarded their recipes. But recipes are meant to be shared, so that people can improve them. Essentially, Adria was advocating open source cooking.
- Fruits are an alphabet. When you cook with them, you create a language.
- Adria showed us a clip of how his kitchen can make 2 meters of cheese spaghetti. When we eat a plate of spaghetti, we eat 60 meters of spaghetti.
- I can’t find a good video online of the El Bulli Foundation masterplan, but it’s going to be on a nature preserve, and it definitely puts forth Adria’s utopian vision.
- Finally, this event was also a book signing party of Adria’s The Family Meal. This is simply one of the most stunning cookbooks that I’ve ever opened.
Last summer, when the Hold Steady played Constructive Summer live, I turned to my friend GKKD, and in my slightly buzzed state, I told him that it would be my theme song for the summer. These lines, in particular, stood out as a motto:
Let this be my annual reminder
That we can all be something bigger
I was off by a little bit in terms of predicting when this summer would occur for I was in too broken of a place in the middle of 2010 to make that happen. Essentially, after May, I was on auto-pilot for rest of 2010.
This year, however, is different. Although it’s technically no longer summer, NorCal’s Indian summer allows me to lengthen the season by a couple of months, and I can say that I definitely built up my own happiness this year. I won’t go into detail, but I’ve just been excited about being able to learn again, and to learn in an area that interests me. I must strive to maintain this happiness, but I’m thankful that I’ve had this summer to put myself on the right path, or at least, what feels like the right path.