Brian Dear is an Internet entrepreneur who runs a Web log, or blog, called brianstorms, at www.brianstorms.com. He writes about San Diego, gadgets, dogs, startup businesses, movies, and a little bit of everything else. Dear’s blog often includes hyperlinks, allowing readers, with one mouse click, to connect electronically to the document or website that he’s writing about. In the following recent entries from brianstorms, a few Web addresses are included in place of the hyperlinks.
April 15, 2004
Corrupt Elections in the Digital Age
Bruce Schneier sent me this URL today (http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-0404.html#4), to an essay of his on the economics of cheating elections with electronic voting machines. It’s an interesting essay, and worth reading.
The San Diego County Registrar of Voters continues to amaze me with their spin on electronic voting. I’d love to know who wrote the talking points for how they explain the technology to the public. The main phrase is “touch-screen voting” — with slogans like “It’s at your fingertips.” Nice, happy phrases about how easy it is to vote using the voting machines.
That’s fine. What may also be so easy is perpetrating fraud on these machines, or, more importantly, on the machines that read and process the electronic cards voters hand back to the poll workers after using the “touch screen” machines.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: considering the levels of paranoia, scrutiny, security, testing, evaluation, caution, and care that banks and casinos exhibit when adopting new ATMs and digital slot machines, respectively, it is remarkable and very telling how readily governments embrace electronic voting systems like Diebold’s, which is what San Diego County bought and installed to the tune of $35+ million.
The Mission Statement of the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, seen at the bottom of this page (http://www.sdvote.com/about.htm), is as follows:
Under the Jurisdiction and Direction of the Board of Supervisors, and with the Assistance of the California Secretary of State, Conduct Voter Registration and Voting Processes with the Highest Level of Professional Election Standards, Accountability, Security and Integrity, Thereby Earning and Maintaining Public Confidence in the Electoral Process.
Well, this is one member of the public, who’s worked in the computer industry for 25 years, who no longer has confidence in the electoral process in San Diego because I know from experience how easily vulnerable computer systems are to error and fraudulent use. Sally McPherson, head of SDROV, has not assured me in the least that these machines, or the systems in place to count votes, are free and above any influence from any party or candidate. Go read Robert Caro’s books on LBJ. Don’t think that kind of electoral fraud doesn’t still happen? Please. It’s easier now than ever.
Startup in Acton, That’s All They Got
So, I’m in the middle of trying to give birth to a new Internet startup venture, trying to get funding, get a team together, all that stuff.
My startup seems to break every rule in the VC handbook:
• it’s a boring story, not rocket science
• nothing really new in terms of inventions or technology, in fact it’s more a Frankensteinian hodgepodge of existing technologies stitched together
• there’s absolutely no barrier to entry, the proverbial two guys in a garage could do it but probably wouldn’t bother
• it’s a pretty totally obvious idea
• stuff like this has been tried before, and it always fails
• there’s little in the way of intellectual property protection
• nightmarish multi-billion-dollar competitors
• utter uncertainty the venture will find a receptive market
When the world gives you lemons, give them to someone else.
So I’m basically describing my venture precisely in these terms: total doom. Funny thing is, it seems to be working.
Yesterday I had a great 90-min chat with a VC who’s fascinated with what I’m doing, and he agreed with my assessment of the business from a “no way is this fundable” perspective, by adding:
“You need to add another item to your rule-breaking list: No clear revenue model.”
He then added, seriously, that this is the kind of venture where it doesn’t matter what the revenue model is. That it’s worth spending $25 million on it just to build it and see what happens.
Alas, he didn’t write a $25 million check right then and there…
April 16, 2004
Black Boxes in Cars
Does your car have a black box? Do you know? Here’s an interesting Montreal Gazette story of a man who was convicted and sentenced to jail for killing someone in an accident, where the man was driving 3 times the speed limit. How do they know he was driving so fast? His car was a witness. The Pontiac Sunfire the man was driving had a black box in it, according to the article, which registered 157km/h (97mph) in a 50km/h (31mph) zone, and also indicated the driver made “no attempt to brake.”
Is it commonplace that cars now record speed like this?
Makes you wonder about black boxes in cars. How long before a car’s black box has a wireless port that law enforcement can read from using their mobile computer? Scenario: you park in a 2-hr spot on a street in downtown La Jolla, go have lunch and shop, come back 2.2 hours later, and there’s a ticket on your windshield. You think it’s because you exceeded the 2 hour limit. You’re right. But it’s a ticket for $900, citing you not only for the parking violation, but the 17 times you exceeded the speed limit in the past 6 months on various roads (the GPS-equipped black box knowing where you were when you were speeding, and what the legal speed limits are where you were at each instance).
Oh, the future is going to be delightful.
April 17, 2004
Thursday evening there was a new voicemail message on the home phone. The message was timestamped 5:09pm. Man’s voice.
“Hi, Pat, I missed you at your office, and I didn’t want to leave word there because you probably wouldn’t have gotten it, in fact I know you wouldn’t have, um, I’m sorry I can’t play tomorrow, I’d like to, but, we got some plans already worked out for tomorrow, but thanks for thinking of me, I’ll talk to you tomorrow at Mass. So long!”
Now, my wife is named Patricia, and she gets voice mails all the time. But who was this calling her?
So I called her work number, and there was no answer. I called her cell: got her. She was on the way home.
“Um, were you planning to ‘play’ tomorrow?”
“Play what?” she asked.
“I don’t know, you tell me!”
“Ok, when was the last time you went to Mass?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know, you tell me!”
I then recounted the voice mail to her, and she broke out laughing.
Some guy calls a wrong number, and leaves a message for “Pat”… what are the chances of that!?
April 18, 2004
Mars, or Twentynine Palms?
I knew that recent Mars image looked familiar.…
But seriously, remember Opportunity and Spirit? The rovers on Mars? They’re still there, still taking amazing pictures.
April 19, 2004
Jesse, the English Bull Terrier, is nine years old today (63 in human years). Born the same day, eerily, as the Oklahoma City tragedy.
This photo shows Jesse on the left and his alter ego, Spuds Mackenzie, on the right.
One thing I’ve noticed about San Diego in the past two years: its collective memory of Budweiser and Spuds Mackenzie is fading. It used to be the second I took Jesse outdoors, any passerby — in a car, on a bike, a jogger, a pedestrian, construction worker, a cop, whoever — would stop and yell out, “Hey! It’s Spuds Mackenzie!” or “Hey, look, it’s the Budweiser dog!” I used to keep a tally whenever I walked the dog: how many mentions of “Spuds” today? Usually the count exceeded one dozen for any given walk.
And then when we moved to the Seattle area in the late 1990s, we were stunned that nobody, and I mean nobody, ever referred to Jesse as Spuds Mackenzie, nor made reference to Budweiser beer. Instead, the reference was something completely different. Old retired men, nice ladies in the neighborhood, construction workers, even little kids on bicycles would roll by shouting out, “Hey, there’s General Patton’s dog!”
General Patton’s dog!?! How would a little kid know that? But sure enough, this was the common reference in Seattle. I guess they never marketed Budweiser beer up in the Pacific Northwest.
But, strangely, even now in San Diego, the most common reference is “General Patton’s dog.” Oh, I still hear the occasional reference to Spuds, but what I hear the most is Patton.
The only explanation is that a lot of people must have seen that movie on one of its regular television screenings.
One other thing. In all the years that Target Stores have used a white English Bull Terrier (complete with red circle around the left eye) as its mascot, not one passerby ever, ever, has pointed to Jesse and said, “Hey, there’s the Target dog!”
I like the fact that Patton’s beating them all out. I suspect Patton would have liked that too.
April 21, 2004
Every time I go out to get the mail there’s junk from Albertsons or Ralphs or Longs Drugs or whatever, as well as PennySavers and various ADVO Systems flyers for things I don’t need or want.
Oftentimes when I open legitimate mail, there’s legitimate stuff in there, but there’s also upsell invites and flyers for goods and services I don’t need or want. These companies include these flyers and inserts because they’re paid by the advertisers to do so.
I think it’s time to turn the tables and start getting paid to insert flyers and upsell messages back to the companies we all do business with. Time to pay the local San Diego Gas & Electric utility bill? Fine, here’s the check, and oh, here’s a coupon for 15% off on your next meal at our favorite restaurant. Time to pay the phone bill? No prob, here’s the check, and here’s a flyer from the very nice people at Jiffy Lube. Time to pay the fees to your local fitness club? Cool, here’s the check, and here’s a flyer for discounts to Landmark Theatres. Time to pay off more of your credit card bill? No prob, here’s the check and here’s a coupon for a family of four to go to Sea World at a great discount. Potential employer has asked you to send in a cover letter and your resume to be considered for that job you heard about? Excellent, and here’s a flyer for that bicycle company in La Jolla that’s offering half-price rental deals through August.
For something like this to work, there’d need to be a way for consumers to get paid for inserting these flyers in their outbound mails. Obviously the scale isn’t going to be there (the average consumer is very unlikely to send out, oh, 200,000 coupons or upsell flyers every month) so this is more of a “it’s the principle of the thing” kind of thing. So you only get a quarter for sending out 10 flyers per month. I bet thousands of people would still go for it.
• Fast forward a year. Something like this is put in place, and millions of consumers nationwide start including flyers and promos and upsells with their correspondence to businesses they’re customers of.
• K. is an employee of Citibank, processing thousands of bills and handling thousands of checks from customers every month.
• K. notices more and more of these customers are including flyers, ads, promos, upsells, invitations, and coupons along with their checks.
• K. mentions this to coworkers, who reply with, “Hey, I’m seeing the same thing with my pile of envelopes!”
• Soon, everyone’s talking about it at the water cooler.
• Not long after that, management hears about it.
• Management emails the executive VP in charge.
• The executive VP in charge decides he doesn’t like customers sending in these things along with their bill payments. Something about increased janitorial costs due to throwing out all this new junk mail from customers.
• The executive VP in charge tells Marketing Communications to issue a notice to all customers that effective on so-and-so date, customers are prohibited from including non-billing-related items in their correspondence with the company. Any violations of this prohibition will result in either a fine or closing of the customer’s account.
• The mailing goes out on a Monday. By Friday the customers begin to call the company to complain. “Why is it that we’re barred from sending you flyers, advertisements, upsell messages, and discount coupons, yet you continue to include those very things in all of your outbound mailings to us?”
• The company ignores this very valid point from customers. But the media doesn’t. A month later, there’s a story on 60 Minutes. A day later, the company rescinds its prohibition, and consumers celebrate a big win…
Hey, it’s just an idea…
Phone Bill Scams
An organization called TeleTruth has some interesting things to say about your phone bill. First, there’s this examination of a Verizon phone bill (http://www.newnetworks.com/dirtyphonebill.htm).
Then they issue this press release (http://www.newnetworks.com/PRPhonebill Independence.htm) arguing that Verizon, SBC, BellSouth and Qwest all have major problems with their phone bills, and efforts by those companies and federal, state, and local governments to add new fees and taxes to bills is unnecessary if not illegal. Interesting reading.
I was amused by their argument that the “Federal Excise Tax” that one sees on one’s phone bills is actually the 1898 Spanish-American War Tax. Too bad they didn’t provide the full text of that law.
All this reminds me of that wonderful surprise I got one day in 1998, back when I was running a small ecommerce startup in the Seattle area: a check arrived, unexpected and unannounced, from U.S. West, the phone company, for something like $1500. Turns out U.S. West had been ordered by a court to divvy up a massive fine to its Washington State business telephone customers, and my company’s cut was $1500. Wow did that come in handy.
April 23, 2004
Krakatoa, West of La Jolla
Went to hear the bestselling author Simon Winchester give a talk at Warwick’s Books in La Jolla last night. He’s on a book signing tour to promote his book KRAKATOA: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883.
Winchester is a charming speaker, with a genuine fascination and enthusiasm for his subject matter. Originally a geologist trained at Oxford, he speaks with a mild English gentleman’s accent. There’s a wry, understated wit both in person as well as in his writing (he speaks of the volcano as if it is a moody being, which “wakes up,” “breathes,” “stirs,” and eventually “misbehaves”). It turns out he’s a delightful and amusing reader of his own material.
Whenever I go to one of these book author appearances, I play a game: when the author reads segments from his book, I race to find those pages in the book from which he’s reading. With nonfiction, it’s not hard at all, since once he mentions someone’s name or the name of a place, I can quickly look it up in the index and jump to those pages and scan. I usually find the right spot within 10-15 seconds.
It’s fun because I find it interesting how authors often change the text, on the fly when they’re standing in front of an audience reading right from their own books. I don’t mean inserting parenthetical remarks or verbal annotations to the text, but literally as they’re reading from their own book, they sometimes add phrases, words, or sometimes even paraphrase, or even skip, whole sentences. If you weren’t following along while the author spoke, you’d never know. Winchester for the most part stuck to the text, adding a few words here and there. Some authors turn out to be terrible readers of their own work (nerves? stage fright? never listened to a recording of their own reading?), but Winchester is perfect. I wonder if he narrates his own audiobooks — need to look into that.
During the Q&A session I asked him about Yellowstone, which some geologists point out may be the next Krakatoa. Turns out not only is he familiar with the issue, but he’s headed to Yellowstone soon. He’s currently in San Francisco doing a book on the famous 1906 earthquake there, and then he’s driving back to his Western Massachusetts home — by way of Alaska. He’s driving up to Alaska first to investigate the Denali and Anchorage earthquake histories, and then shipping his car back to Bellingham, WA, and driving east from there, passing through Yellowstone. Of course he’d be a driver: he’s a geologist, he loves the land!
His view on Yellowstone is that one day it will indeed blow, and when it does, it will take much of the Western United States with it. He thinks it’s not going to happen for a long time, though, long after humanity is extinct. (He added an anecdote here: he told this story once to another audience, and when he said “after humanity is extinct” some lady in the audience asked, “But what about Americans? Does that mean Americans too?”)
One very interesting tidbit I learned at the Winchester talk is that the inspiration for Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream may very well come from Krakatoa. Even though Munch was based halfway across the world in Norway, when the eruption happened, and for several years afterwards, there was so much dust in the upper atmosphere that sunsets were altered dramatically, with wild, sometimes frighteningly unusual and most unnatural colors. While Munch didn’t actually paint his painting for years after the 1883 eruption, he saw the strange sunsets in Norway in 1883 and it stuck with him.
Here’s a December 2003 CNN.com story (http://edition.cnn.com/2003/TECH/space/12/10/scream.munch.reut) with more about the Krakatoa connection to The Scream. And here’s a link to a similar story in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1103585,00.html).
He also mentioned that since international telegraph cables had been installed prior to the Krakatoa eruption, this turned out to be the first event in history where word of the catastrophe reached the whole world within hours of the event (he says Boston newspapers were printing the story within 4 hours of the actual eruption).
One other thing: he says he’s been out to an area southeast of the Salton Sea, where the San Andreas Fault begins or ends, depending on how you look at it. It’s an interesting area because, he says, there are thousands of tiny “mud volcanoes” out in a field, slurping and bubbling beneath your feet. It’s relatively unknown and little-visited but he says it’s worth checking out. Note to self: add it to the list of things to check out.
Second other thing: while standing in line for the book-signing after Winchester’s lecture, I wound up standing next to two men who seemed to be book-hounds. (I swear, one of ’em is someone who stood in line when I attended a book talk and signing by Michael Gruber, an event I photographed and wrote about right here in this blog back in March 2003 — in fact that link includes a photo of the guy I’m talking about .… he was holding a pile of books then just like he was this evening). They talked about all the books in the store (hey, have you read this one? how about that one?), the upcoming author events they plan to attend (including this weekend’s Los Angeles Times Book Fair in LA, with, they told me, 180,000 expected attendees). They spoke about how gracious and friendly Ray Bradbury was, going out of his way to make sure everyone got a signed book. “Not like Michael Crichton,” one of them said. “He’s just downright rude.” Apparently at a signing this guy was at, Crichton signed a few books, then got up and started to storm out. Someone said, but wait, you need to sign all these books, pointing to a pile of Crichton’s books. Crichton is alleged to have replied, “If you think I’m going to sign all that shit, you’re crazy,” at which point, the bookseller apparently said, “Well, if that’s what you think of your own work…” The guy telling this story then swore he’d never read another Crichton novel again.
April 24, 2004
Just My Luck
I’m thinking of getting a Treo 600. I’ve been blissfully free from cellphones, pagers, PDAs, and other digital leashes for two and a half years, but the time has come.
Everyone’s been telling me to go read the discussion boards at a website called TreoCentral. So of course, the moment I hear about them and go to check them out, the TreoCentral’s discussion board server not only crashes, but loses all of its hard disk data. Not only on the live hard disk, but on their backup disk as well.
So I do a Google Search on “treo 600,” and come across some page within PalmOne’s site. It’s not exactly the page I’m looking for so I do a search for “treo 600” within PalmOne’s site search function in their navigation column.
The search result comes back with a “not found” error. This wouldn’t be exasperating except that the Treo 600 is made by PalmOne, and this is their website…
Like, is this a message from the gods or something?
April 26, 2004
Vincent Van Treo
So I bought the Treo600 on Sunday. Buying a phone from Sprint is an experience, let me tell you.
You might as well sign over your mortgage and title to your car, not to mention your first-born and your left arm, when you buy a phone and set up a plan with a phone company. First they want your driver’s license. Then they want your social security number. Then they present in front of you a nearly impossible-to-read (how convenient for them) legal document — not printed on paper, but printed onscreen in the cheesiest, faint-purple-on-light gray jaggy fonts you can imagine. The screen is a touchscreen, and there are navigation boxes onscreen at the bottom of each “page” of this legal agreement (where you essentially agree that you’ll never sue Sprint for anything ever, and they will fine you, hit you with fees, taxes no doubt including the Spanish-American War Tax, surcharges, and who knows what else, if you don’t do what they tell you to do).
When you’re done squinting at one “page,” you try to touch the “Forward” box on this greasy, sticky touch panel that who knows how many customers like yourself have squinted at and touched already today, and of course, the “page” does not change, until you’ve rocked and smooshed and squished your finger around but good on that “Forward” box, and then the page updates to get another screen’s worth of poorly-formatted legal gibberish. All the while you’re wondering, where is the clause in this “agreement” that says that “Now that Sprint has approved your credit, we don’t need to have your driver’s license nor your SSN anymore, so here is our solemn oath that we have deleted this information from our computers and files and will protect your privacy into perpetuity so help us God.”
Alas, such a clause never appears, on this “page,” nor the next, nor the next one after that.
After five or six of these pages, you finally arrive at the end, where you are then asked to touch the “Finished” box, which wipes the screen clear and then you’re presented with a signature box, and you’re asked to sign your name using the stylus Sprint has so graciously provided. And of course, your signature as it appears onscreen always looks like you’re intoxicated or in the middle of a major earthquake, and never looks like, well, your signature. But somehow the Sprint salesperson doesn’t mind this at all. What they’ve gathered is your credit card, your address, your phone number, your social security number, and your driver’s license number. You paid $400 something for the phone and the service plan, but how much else have you paid Sprint? How much money is Sprint going to get for all of that personal information? Who do they resell it to? Questions that strangely the storekeepers never have answers for.
Anyway. I have a cellphone now. And I took some pictures with it. This is one of the first, taken on Soledad Mountain in La Jolla while I was walking the dog. Brilliant sunlight overhead, brilliant colors down on the ground. The Treo’s camera clearly freaked out a bit over the saturated colors. All I did was crop it a tiny bit to fit here in the blog. No other alterations. I think Vincent Van Gogh would have been proud.
The Captain Fades Away
Wow. Stunning news. Guided by Voices announces it is disbanding. I guess Pollard doesn’t need any more songs.
I guess there was meaning behind Pollard’s “Fading Captain” moniker.
Seven Figures, Ten Years
From Publishers Lunch:
Cultural historian and the author of the Beatles Chronicle Mark Lewisohn’s THE BEATLES, a three-volume biography to be published over “the next decade or so,” starting in 2008, [sold] to Tom Bromley at Time Warner UK, at auction, in a major deal for seven figures…
A seven-figure deal for books that won’t come out for years… not bad. Does the world really need a Robert Caro-style multi-volume epic biography of The Beatles? I guess the market has spoken.
April 28, 2004
San Diego: America’s Former City
If a 3000-foot-wide asteroid hit downtown San Diego, all hell would break loose. Quite literally.
Here in La Jolla the 8.4-Richter-magnitude quake wouldn’t start for four seconds after impact. Hardly enough time to pack up and load the SUV, let alone look up and go, “What was that?”
Problem is, before you even had time to think of saying “What was that?”, the fireball, 288.9 times larger than the sun’s diameter in the sky, would have already arrived. And it would stick around for 33 seconds, causing everything to, well, pretty much burn.
But then, we’ve all dealt with fire, how bad could it be? La Jollans would only have some 64 seconds to contemplate that notion, because that’s how long after the blast before we’d be greeted with the arrival of rock, soil, buildings, bits of Petco Park, Sports Arena roof, Lindbergh Field runway, trees, water, aircraft carriers, transit buses, cars, everything else made of atoms.
A hurricane-scale wind? Hardly. Wind is simply too tame a word to use to describe the phenomenon. Asteroid impacts don’t create wind. A more formal word, something a bespectacled post-doc in a white lab coat would readily say during a phone interview on Science Friday, something Latin… something like, say, “ejecta.” Yes, the ejecta would be arriving in La Jolla at around 3,710 miles per hour, pretty much guaranteeing everything taller than a thumbtack would be flattened in a split second. Not a good time to be hang-gliding over Black’s Beach.
And be sure to be wear earplugs: the noise of the air blast would be around 134 decibels.
But even if you manage to make it through the shake, the bake, and the ejecta, there’s still the problem that if you were deep down in your La Jolla bunker, you, your house, your street, your neighborhood, and everything including Mount Soledad, would be gone, because the final crater would measure some 15 miles wide, and no doubt it’d fill with water from the Pacific after a pretty gnarly tsunami.
This bleak scenario is inspired by playing around with a very interesting website tool called “Earth Impact Effects Program” by Robert Marcus, H.J. Melosh, and G.S. Collins at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. The tool lets you fill in the blanks for a number of different parameters (size, distance from impact, etc.) for a hypothetical asteroid hit, and then you can sit back and read the report and weep.
Luckily, the scenario outlined above is supposed to happen only once every 2.7 million years. So maybe we’ll luck out and it’ll be a while yet, and hey, maybe it’ll hit somewhere else.
April 29, 2004
With Diving Buddies Like These, Who Needs Sharks
NEWPORT BEACH, California (AP) — A recreational diver forgotten at sea by a boat crew drifted five hours and prayed for his life before a Boy Scout on an excursion aboard a century-old ship spotted him.
Dan Carlock, 45, was left by his diving group Sunday as he drifted for hours about seven miles offshore.
He noted the time of day on his small, waterproof writing slate and took photographs of himself to document that he’d made it to the surface.
Read the story here (http://edition.cnn.com/2004/US/West/04/29/forgotten.diver.ap/index.html).
May 01, 2004
Hangin’ With The Experts
So April 30th finally arrived, and April 30th meant the Stereolab concert at the Belly Up in Solana Beach.
I called the place around 6pm to get details on showtimes and lines. A woman answered the phone.
“Well,” she said, “doors open at 8:15, and so if you want a table you need to be there when the doors open.”
“What time will the line form before the doors open?”
“Well, there’s nobody out there right now, but there are usually clusters of…experts…who start arriving probably a half an hour before then.”
Experts…Not fans, not groupies, but experts. Of course! It made so much sense. When we’d driven up to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, to see The High Llamas at the Troubadour, we got in line early, and now that I look back on it, yes, the people in line were experts. They knew the title of every song, they’d seen the band play many times, they could recount details both amazing and mundane. That was our first time seeing The High Llamas live, and this was our first time seeing Stereolab live.
It turns out that a lot of Stereolab “experts” smoke. A lot. Seemed like everyone in front and everyone behind was chain-smoking for the half-hour before the doors opened. Didn’t they hear the news?
While I stood there breathing in all the smoke, I thought, hmm, too bad there isn’t a separate line for smokers here: perhaps a cordoned-off, Plexiglas-enclosed corridor along the sidewalk, where smokers can smoke to their hearts’ content as long as they stay inside. Their tickets would cost more, of course, for the fees to run the ventilation and filtration systems that get rid of all that smoke.
A band named Mice Parade opened for Stereolab. “It’s a silly name,” one band member announced during a break between songs, “but there it is.” Mice Parade came across to me as a jam band: post-melody, post-chords, very repetitive, reminiscent of Philip Glass doing Stereolab covers, on an off night. Highly percussive, with the vibraphone player ridiculously front and center stage, looming over everyone else (the two guitarists sitting in chairs, and the female vocalist in the vibe-player’s shadow most of the evening). This was one of those bands that lacked a bass guitarist, and that plus the generally shrill mix coming out of the loudspeakers made their tunes kind of harsh to listen to. Oddly, even when the female vocalist took lead duty singing, her voice was kept low in the mix, making it nearly inaudible. Another first for a warm-up act, at least in my experience: a long, drawn-out drum solo. They really didn’t have much to offer. I wasn’t impressed with Mice Parade.
Stereolab were fantastic. I wish they would’ve played more songs! It was great to hear them live. Many of the seven players switched between different instruments for different songs, often playing multiple instruments at the same time (horn and keyboards!). The lead singer, Laetitia Sadier, often played a trombone or a Moog synthesizer in addition to her vocals.
My only complaint with Stereolab’s wonderful performance was the same complaint I continue to hold for Coldplay: one of the most essential ingredients to both bands’ songs is the backing vocals. Yet, live, neither band apparently offers any backing support to the lead singer, who’s out there all alone. I know, in Stereolab’s case, they lost their second female vocalist, Mary Hansen, when she died in an accident in late 2002. But still: Stereolab’s music is so much richer with rich multiple layers of vocals; without it, it’s just not the same.
Brian Wilson understands this, and his touring act is rich with harmonies (can you imagine one lone singer trying to do justice to Beach Boys songs?). Stereolab’s music is no different: the harmonies complete the tunes. I wish they’d have had a couple of background singers onstage to fill out the sound.
One final thing: what is it with bands lately? My statistical sample is tiny (two concerts), but both The High Llamas and Stereolab both barely cracked a smile the whole evening. Is this the result of Southern California being at the end of a long tour that started in the East? I don’t know. It would have been nice to see Laetitia and the other performers smile and show they’re having as much fun as the audience once in a while. Why else bother performing?
May 02, 2004
Here’s my pledge. After this post, no more blog posts about Google until after all the IPO noise is out of the way.
There’s plenty enough chatter about the IPO (what Perkins’ AlwaysOn Network calls “the blessed event” — please, gag me with a spoon) going on everywhere else.
I hereby officially declare this blog to be a Google-Free Zone until I say it isn't.