Channel One & Spies Like Us @ Fitzgeralds

Alan and I ventured out to Fitzgeralds last night for the Channel One/Spies Like Us show, and I took my camera with me. I mentioned in the last post that I thought it’s a great camera, but it proved itself to be quite the under-achiever in low-light situations. That’s okay… some people like the over-saturated, under-lit effect in their photos. Not.

Worth mentioning is the turnout for this show was pitiful. Spies Like Us was a really popular band back in the day; I thought the crowd would be a bit more substantial. Channel One is made up of some old Resistors folks, and they were known round these parts, too. Perhaps there were some other mysterious and unmentionable reasons for the low number of people downstairs at Fitz?

The most important thing about last night was how great Channel One sounded. To be honest, I remember The Resistors sounding like a good high school (?) ska band (damning praise, to be sure), but Channel One was a complete package. Tasteful harmonies, catchy tunes, humor, and drama were all displayed with a skilled touch. I’d be happy to go see them play again.

Please, no “borrowing” photos. Thanks

Stingers w/Sound Patrol, Revisited!

The Stingers, with Sound Patrol, 2 1/2 White Guys, and Secret Agent 8
Fri April 18 2003 @ Fat Cat’s, Houston

Please read the original Stingers w/Sound Patrol review from October 2002 before reading this.

When I wrote the review of last Octobers Stingers/Sound Patrol show at the FabSat, I didn’t receive too many comments (save for a few “Fuck You’s” on the guestbook). That was fine by me; I had an opinion, I published it, and it became part of the public record… goal achieved. In fact, if you search Google for Sound Patrol, the October show review is listed second in the search results. After seeing Sound Patrol play Friday night at FatCats, it’s my duty to make sure that this new review gets listed first… I owe it to the band.

Secret Agent 8 were already a few songs into their set when I walked through the door, but I don’t think that will keep me from correctly assessing their performance. Frankly, it amazes me how little they’ve changed over the years they’ve been playing… consistency is their strong point, and they are surely the Iron Men of the Houston ska scene. My opinion of them has been fairly consistent as well; they’re talented purveyors of kinda bland (sorry guys!) up-tempo 3rd wave ska. The only time I take real notice of what they’re doing is when they do the thing they seem to dislike the most: slow down the tempo. The band is capable of great things when they slip into reggae mode, and I really wish they’d do it more often. Will, their vocalist, is the person on stage who benefits most when they bring it down a few notches… the tense warble is eliminated from his delivery and a smoother, more pleasing tone is revealed.

I had never seen or heard 2 1/2 White Guys before, but I did enjoy them on the whole. They were all excellent musicians and their material rode the mid-tempo/neo-trad line straight though their performance. I can’t say that I’d ever go out of my way to see them again, however… simply put, they failed to rock. In 2003 you’d think that most ska bands would be willing to take some chances in their songs, but such was not the case with 2 1/2 White Guys… their performance was just like watching any other talented touring ska band I’d seen 5 or 6 years ago, and it failed to make a real impression.

Sound Patrol was the reason I left the house this night. I don’t know if it came across in the review I wrote in October ’02, but I was heartbroken when they didn’t live up to my hopes and expectations. I’m thankful that my curiosity compelled me to check them out a second time, because Sound Patrol were easily the stars of the show. With the addition of a dancing, gyrating, female backup singer (and the elimination of the bullshit fake-Rasta posing), the band has transformed themselves into an odd, pleasing combination of Puma Jones-era Black Uhuru crossed with a Wyclef Jean/Lauren Hill-styled urban reggae review. The backing band (which is an awful thing to call them, since they’re so important) has picked up the tempo of the songs and dropped most of the dub elements from their arrangements; naturally, this upsets me… the reason I sought out Sound Patrol in the first place was for pure dub’ing satisfaction, but I can accept the trade-offs involved when a band coalesces into a well-presented whole. As I said at the top of this review, I owe it to the band to make sure my earlier opinion doesn’t negatively influence somebody away from investing time with Sound Patrol… they have gone from a band I would avoid to a band that I endorse.

The Stingers… perhaps I shouldn’t even try to make a fresh statement about this band. If you want to know how I feel about these guys and their material, please refer to the October review, because my opinion has not changed one inch since then. The only thing I’ll add is to mention an instant message I got one evening from somebody who had read the October review… he said, “thanks, Bill. you make me feel like it’s okay not to like The Slackers.” Buddy, it’s perfectly fine.

Four Popular CMSs

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I am a geek.

I am a geek and I like to play with code, so it’s natural for me to write about something that has occupied a lot of my spare time over the past four months… website Content Management Systems. CMS’s are an easy way for you to setup, manage, and publish sophisticated-looking web sites chock full of content. With the proliferation of “the Blog” as a popular website format, CMS’s are in high demand. A good CMS can be the key to making yourself known on-line, but choosing a CMS can be difficult and installing the right CMS is often the hardest part of the process. What follows are my views and opinions on four well-known CMS options available to the general public: B2, Nucleus, Blogger, and Movable Type.

B2

B2 is a PHP-based CMS that utilizes the MySQL database to store author and post data. I currently use B2 at thesuspects.com, so I can admit right off the bat it’s a good system and worthy of your time. The value of a CMS can often be judged by it’s user community, and B2 really shines in this regard. Their site posts info about updates on a regular basis, they have a well-traveled discussion forum, and B2 is a registered SourceForge project.

B2 behaves like a good CMS should; it offers multiple post categories, multiple authors (for that big blog team you’ve built up), user management for the blog owner, a comments feature, web-based template editing, and an attractive web interface to ride herd over all these elements. The main issues that drove me away from B2 as the CMS for billgrady.com was the lack of organization within the directory structure and code base. When it came time for me to edit my templates and adjust the look and feel of the web site, I just didn’t feel like I was working with a thought-out and mature stack of code. Blame it on the geek in me, I guess.

Nucleus

Nucleus is the CMS I tested after deciding that B2 wasn’t meeting my needs, and my initial thoughts were very positive. After you’ve worked as a developer long enough and you’ve hung out with other developers, you start to realize that, much like any other author, a person’s personality actually manifests itself in the lines of code that they write everyday. Nucleus has a discernible difference from B2 in its look and feel, and it was a difference that made me comfortable. Three months after I initially installed it I can go to the Nucleus site, look at their screen shots, and see that somebody applied a level of logic and reason to the project.

Unfortunately, Nucleus only found a home on my server for a short time. It did everything I told it to do, but it did it in a very logical and unsexy way. That’s right, I said unsexy. I do what I do because it’s fun, and if something isn’t fun enough (and there are other options that are way more fun) I may be inclined to opt for mo’ fun.

Blogger.com

Blogger.com is the ubiquitous starting point for thousands of web loggers, and even though it provide only the barest CMS features it should never be discounted as a valid resource in the realm of web publishing. The fact that you can hit Blogger.com and create AND host a fully-functional blog for free should not be taken lightly. In the CMS dance I’ve been party to over the past three months, I’ve gone from Blogger.com to B2 to Nucleus and back to Blogger.com… surely that’s evidence of it’s value to me (at least). But sadly, I have parted ways from Blogger.com once again; the aforementioned lack of features raised it’s ugly head and my geek-minded curiosity got me wondering about a CMS that I attempted to use a long time ago…

Movable Type

Movable Type first tempted me early in it’s release cycle, but I don’t remember anything about my first taste of it except for two things:
1. it looked sexy (see above)
2. i couldn’t get it to run for anything
Combined, these two points made me very frustrated… I’m glad I made it back to MT, however AND I’m glad I avoided the installation mistakes I fell into in the past (hint: don’t install it in your cgi directory).

MT has all the features you could want in a CMS, and then delivers them in spades. The snappiest administration interface, a flexible template system, and cool bells and whistles like XML feeds, track-backs, and blo.gs pings (that work immediately and without bugs) are all element that grab and hold your attention. On a more nuts-and-bolts level, even though MT is installed on your host and utilizes a MySQL database (just like B2 and Nucleus) it does not render your content dynamically (that is to say, it doesn’t hold all the data that makes up your blog entries in the database and construct your pages on the fly as people browse from page to page on your site); after editing a template or making a new post, the MT interface prompts you to “rebuild” your page/site so that the most current version resides statically on your web site. Pundits will debate endlessly the pros and cons of this technique vs. a totally dynamic site design, but everyone can agree that there’s a certain amount of security on not being dependent on an $8.95/month overloaded shared hosting server to dish out your content when your blog gets /.‘ed.

Conclusion

Movable Type currently holds a high place in my mind, but that’s not to say I feel like I’ve been to the top of the mountain… I’m always looking for that next big cool thing to come down the pipe and I’m not afraid to jump ship even if it means I’m going to get soaking wet. Blogging is an important part of thousands of peoples lives, and eventually companies like AOL and Microsoft will start building CMS-style capabilities into their entry-level consumer products. Having a blog will be like having an answering machine; your friends will get mad when they can’t leave you comments and your kids will be embarrassed if your blog isn’t “cool enough”. Don’t be afraid to be an early adopter of these CMS options, or any of the other many CMS’s available right now.

Stingers w/Sound Patrol

Please read my review of the April 18, 2003 Sound Patrol performance here!

Thu Oct 10, 2002 @ The Fabulous Satellite Lounge, Houston

It was suggested that I do reviews, so here we go… There are a lot of things that everybody should be aware and wary of when it comes to reading anything I write in a review:

  • I’m one picky bastard
  • I write with the assumption that people know it’s just one guys’ opinion and it doesn’t really matter what I think. Please don’t email me with threats or tell me that I have no talent and I couldn’t do any better… I’m just one guy, ok?
  • I hate everything

On top of that, you have to consider that this is the first time I’ve been out of the house since The Suspects last show back in August, and the first time I’ve been outside of a 20 mile radius from home since my wife went on bed rest with our 2nd child. Lets just say I needed to get out, and I’ve got my guns a blazing.

I’ve always heard excellent things about Sound Patrol and I feel stupid for not ever having seen them play before last night. Based on all accounts, these guys are totally up my alley! A three-piece reggae/dub group with heavy harmonies and serious attention to the old school not only sounds like a band I could listen to, but a band that I would join. Unfortunately, that is an old account of Sound Patrol… they’ve added a fourth member, a vocalist, and now I’m not just feeling stupid for not having seen them as a three-piece, I’m actually regretting it. If you know anything about me, you know that I don’t like fake posing and pretension when it comes to music… So you can guess that when it comes to reggae you should never put on a Jamaican accent and invoke Jah Rastafari unless you’re from the fucking island and you’re an actual Rastafarian (it’s a religion, people… not a “lifestyle”).

Shortcomings aside, I must say that the band (that’s the guys playing guitar, bass, and drums) really know their stuff. Everything was mostly tasteful, and I really liked what I heard. Special mention must be given to their bass player… he’s done his homework.

I only heard The Stingers perform five songs, but those five songs confirmed in my mind what I’ve always felt about them after first listening to their debut cd a few years ago: they’re imitators, not innovators. Frankly put, they just sound like they listen to The Slackers too much. And (frankly put) I don’t like The Slackers, either. I’ll be criticized for dismissing The Stingers in such a short manner, but what can I say except that I know there are tons of people who like The Slackers and most of them will prolly enjoy The Stingers as well… I’m just not one of them.

Random mp3s from Houston

Let’s go over some random mp3s from some Houston bands and see if we can get in trouble…

Skamakozi – “Hate You Now”
This is the first song on their mp3.com page, so it’s probably their best, right? Wow… I hope not! Not only does this song commit the expected ska sins of 1) big unison horn part and 2) upbeats in the verses/metal in the chorus, but they also a general lack of musicianship when it comes to the drummer maintaining a steady beat and the guitarist being able to play upbeats. Bad enough that even though I listened to the song four times through, I was unable to retain a single hint of what the song is about.

WD40oz – “Why I Drink”
I’ve always loved their name, so I thought I should have a listen…
Reminds me of the Didjits, and we need more bands like the Didjits these days. Straight-ahead, turned-to-10, loud punk rock. I can’t really find anything wrong with this song!

Guilla-Teens – “H-Town Punks” & “We’ll Miss You Joey Ramone”
I’d like to state that the Guilla-Teens are the only band thats opened up for us at JavaJazz Coffeehouse that we ever liked. Ok? Ok…
These guys have a serious Misfits obsession, and it borders on becoming a handicap. H-Town Punks is a great song and it’s well recorded, but it’s nothing that you can’t hear on another record. Joey Ramone is a really bad song, mostly due to the hokey lyrics and bad vocal delivery (Glen Danzig’s Elvis style). It’s been a while since I’ve seen these guys, so I’m sure they’ve matured a bit as far as the music goes… I bet they’re very good by now.