On seeing Jens Lekman and a sky phenomenon

On the drive to Bloomington, Indiana to see Swedish pop sensation Jens Lekman, we experienced a hint of what Jens once sang about in the song, "Sky Phenomenon".

you stare at the sky, colors reflecting in your eye
could it be, what they call the northern lights
but here and at this time of year
it's like someone spilled the beer all over the atmosphere

One of the most vibrant and surreal sunsets I've ever witnessed coated the belly of low-lying clouds seven shades of orange. Trees in the distance, all turning colors already, became almost red in tint with bright orange leaves appearing to be aflame. It was simply stunning, one of those rare glimpses of natural beauty that we are afforded in this region where topography has hit the snooze button. Five minutes later, just as we completed our trip through the psychedelic forest, we ran smack into a rainbow. Not a wimpy embarrassed-for-itself rainbow, but a bully of a rainbow, punching through the clouds and arcing through the sky. Tim thought he saw its other leg land in the horizon. Then we saw it, much to our disbelief -- a second rainbow, nowhere near as prominent as the first. We joked that god wanted our trip to see Jens to be a special one, giving us a wink and a nod to Jens' very own song.

I would never recommend going to Jake's in Bloomington to see just any show. For Champaign folks, it's much like a marriage of the Canopy (with its obnoxious screens on either side of the stage) and a crappy campus bar like C.O. Daniels. A sign at the entrance let us know that if we so chose, we could return the next evening for beer pong.

Jens was spectacular. Playing with a 7-piece backing band of mostly women — with a horn and string section and a sampler — he went through a lengthy set of songs from his new record and old favorites. The new stuff really begs to be seen live, where his energy and charisma can work its way inbetween the notes to chart a new course for each song. He neglects his more melancholic material for the brighter moments, then sells the audience with the same sort of witty asides that form the basis for many of his songs. Jens is uplifting in concert. It's fun to watch him hit his stride as he transcends comparisons to Jonathan Richman.

The drive home couldn't have been more a lesson in opposites. While I slept most of the way, I was awoken by a loud thump as we crossed state lines. Tim had run over the remains of a deer that was strewn across most of the highway. A few miles down the road we pulled into a rest stop to determine the damage. I'll spare you the gory details -- of which there are plenty -- and let you know that while Tim's car was by and large unscathed, he did take some of the deer with him.

I don't know what message to take from the night's ending, so I'll leave it be.

If you have the chance — no matter if you are familiar with his music — go see Jens. He's a rare find.


10 random thoughts after an exhausting workout at the gym

1) The gym experiment is still a functioning reality. Unlike past attempts at joining a gym, which have imploded after about two weeks, I'm well over a month into this gamble and still going strong. What can I say ... Maybe life after 30 is all about polishing the guns?

2) This past weekend I made a mix for my oldest brother, who just turned 50. (I know, that's as old as some of your parents.) It's full of things he listened to in the early to mid '70s: Zeppelin, Creedence, Cheap Trick, ZZ Top, The Stones ... plus some things I felt like tossing in like The Kinks' "Victoria", Big Star's "Don't Lie to Me", and The Band's "The Weight". Here's the mix cover.

I gotta say, I'm on a roll with mix covers.

3) Searching out new snacks for work is one of my part-time hobbies. I've stumbled upon Peanut Butter Filled Pretzel Nuggets, and I have to wonder how snack time at work ever existed without them. They don't get my fingers messy, so I don't need to worry about using the keyboard while eating them. And they're delicious!

4) I got an e-mail from Tracy McGrady today:

Hey, it's T-Mac.
You can always watch me light up the
scoreboard for the Rockets. But when you
play Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Basketball,
you can watch me light it up for you, too.
I’m ready. Are you?
See you soon!

Alas, T-Mac, you will not see me soon. I'm opting out of defending my fantasy basketball crown this year to catch up on my reading list, among other things. Maybe I'll still make it to your birthday bash, though?

5) Has anyone else heard any of the songs on the new John Fogerty record? No, I'm not kidding! It's seriously fucking good. KEXP played a track from it, an anti-war garage rocker in the vein of Neil Young's Pearl Jam revival days, that totally floored me. He's going to be this year's Loretta Lynn, just you watch. It's available at Sam's Club, in case you just want to pick it up the next time you run out to get a huge tub of Peanut Butter Filled Pretzel Nuggets.

6) Bright Eyes. Man Man. Ryan Adams. Andrew Bird. Fiery Furnaces. Ween. Mount Eerie. Melt Banana (at the Highdive!), The Black Angels, Kevin Drew, ...Trail of Dead, The Mountain Goats, Spitalfield, Xiu Xiu. These are just a few of the shows that have recently come to town or are coming in the near future. Shows that I've seen in town in the past four months: ZERO. I'll be going to a few of these, though. Plus Jens Lekman in Bloomington, Indiana!

7) I've been listening to Sam Cooke's Night Beat a lot lately. It's a great fall record -- subtle, sometimes sparse, a tad on the heavy side. I first heard the album several years ago on a trek to Denver to see Jon. Then I picked it up a year ago and for whatever reason -- probably because it's a good downer record (in that it's got a bit of upper hidden within the many moody ballads) -- I've been playing it non-stop over the past week. You should pick it up. It's not like his pop stuff -- "Cupid" or "Chain Gang" or "Another Saturday Night". It's infused with more of a studio session jazz feel, but like I said rather sparse and contained. And his voice has rarely sounded more spiritually anxious.

8) Fuck it, not gonna make it to 10. Too hungry.


Wes' new film

Until today, I had not checked out the trailer for the new Wes Anderson flick, The Darjeeling Limited. It looks like a typical Anderson flick/script, which means I'll go see it. It doesn't hurt that he's using a couple of my favorite Kinks songs in the trailer. God I love The Kinks. Most underrated band. Ever.


In my nature...

It's in my nature to over-analyze my past writing. Yesterday I flipped through some old issues of Skyscraper and was left cringing at my features. My reviews, on the whole, were okay. But my features I did detest. Just now I re-read some older blog posts on now-defunct blogs, and again I cringed after reading my thoughts. I find myself objecting to style ... content ... opinion. Eh, I suppose I should just accept myself as my own worst critic and leave it be. Most writers have glaring flaws that eat away their insides.

M pointed out that a rapper named will.i.am used a similar concept on his new release to my three-disc comp Songs About Girls. Of course, his songs are original. Plenty of others in the recent past have used the same title for an album. Our good man William is the third in the past two years. At any rate, if anyone else wants to use HORNS! for the title of an LP, go for it. But know going in that your album will suck compared to mine.

And that in two years time, I'll cringe when I read this.


10 random thoughts while watching postseason baseball

1) Is it too late to make my predictions about the postseason considering that two games are in the bag already? Eh, fuck it.

Rockies in 5: I love the Rockies' hot streak, but I think the Phillies will make a series out of it. Their offense is too good not to. But their pitching stinks, save for Hamels.

Cubs in 4: Two pretty darn good pitching staffs, but the D-Backs aren't a good offensive club. The Cubs have effective starting pitching, a solid if unspectacular pen, and Alfonso Soriano.

Red Sox in 4: I like the make-up of the Angels pitching staff and think they'll tame the vaunted Red Sox lineup for one game this series. But the Red Sox are just too spectacular a team: their pitching is unbelievably underrated.

Cleveland in 5: I'd like to think the Cleveland pitching staff — which is quite good — can contain the Yankees offense. But the men in pinstripes scored 968 runs this season for a reason. (They can hit.) Still, I'm giving this one to the Indians. Something tells me they're due, and they have homefield advantage. This should be a wild series.

NLCS — Rockies in 6: I'll be puking on myself by this point in the playoffs. I hate the Cubs. This is a weak group of NL teams. Big Z and Angry Lou can't stop Mr. Helton and Mr. Holliday. Troy Tulowitzki as the secret weapon!

ALCS — Red Sox in 5: I just think the Sox are gonna roll through the playoffs. 'Nuff said.

World SeriesSox over Rox in 6: How long will a Big Papi home run travel in the thin air of Coors Field? There's no humidor known to man that can keep Ortiz out of the right field upper deck.

2) Now for my sporting life: I beat Emily in tennis. Yay!

3) The HORNS! mix just needs me to get off my lazy ass and finish the cover design. I haven't come up with anything that thrills me yet. But the mix is good.

4) Talk amongst friends has me leaning toward ORGANS! next over STRINGS!

5) Back to sports: The Cards fired GM Walt Jocketty today. That was a big surprise. I can only hope it means the end of the La Russa era. Pretty please.

6) Speaking of eras, how about the Ron Zook era? Hells yes baby! Thanks to Alan, M and I had fourth-row seats on the south endzone goal line for the Illini's win over Penn State. It was a blast — from the State fan dressed up as JoePa to the 90-yard kickoff return for a TD to the football team celebrating in the student section after the game.

7) I missed the Deerhunter show this week. Jenny and I actually talked about going, we're out on the town just waiting for the show to start, then realized that it was a 7 p.m. start and had ended already at 10. Figures. I bitch so much about shows starting late on weeknights, then miss the one show that started early. It would help motivate me and my memory if there was actually a weekly worth reading in this town.

8) Ten of the last fifteen albums I've bought have been comps. Comps are the new 45s for me — a perfect proving ground for new bands. (Of course, most of the comps I'm buying are the sort that feature old bands so rare that I couldn't afford to buy their full-lengths anyway, even if I was lucky enough to find them.)

9) Just a quick shout out to Wan and Finn. It's a perfect night for a backyard ice cream social and I'm sad that it's not gonna happen.

10) Guitar Hero 80s ... I will own you soon.