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March 2009

March 29, 2009

An Amazing Acoustic Night with Jeff Tweedy

2009_0326jefftweedy0020_500 I'll cut right to the chase: Jeff Tweedy's show Thursday night at Higher Ground was a masterpiece. The lead singer of Wilco (and Loose Fur and Uncle Tupelo) treated Vermont to a rare solo acoustic show that's been sold out for six weeks.

After a short but solid opening set of jazzy pop-rock by Pronto, a Brooklyn band led by Wilco keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, Tweedy took the stage and went into "Via Chicago," a Wilco favorite from the album Summerteeth. The rest of the night similarly highlighted Tweedy's back catalogue, as he pulled most of the set from 1990s Wilco albums and his previous band, Uncle Tupelo. He did treat the audience to two brand new songs as previews of the upcoming Wilco album, due in June. (And if any snooty hipsters are wondering, no, they don't sound "dad-rock," thanks.)

Tweedy was in a great mood all night, engaging in plenty of funny and good-natured banter with the crowd, including his story of how earlier in the day he was nearly run off the road by overzealous fans while riding his bike around town, saying he "felt like Princess Di." More musicians should go for black comedy. He also entertained a few impromptu audience requests, and threw in some unexpected covers of Bob Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate" and, more surprisingly, The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog."

My fanboy meter was overloaded during Tweedy's first encore, as he played my favorite Wilco songs together.  "A Shot in the Arm" was even more desperate and affecting in acoustic form, while Tweedy transcribed the many parts and voices of "Muzzle of Bees" into a surprisingly complex, fascinating version.

He took another encore and returned with Jorgensen on keyboards to play a pair of songs from A Ghost is Born, "Hummingbird" and "Theologians," though it must be said that these songs were really sloppy. I'm glad they went for it, though. Tweedy capped off the night by playing Wilco's "Someone Else's Song" and Uncle Tupelo's "Acuff-Rose" totally unplugged, standing atop the stage monitors and belting out the words sans microphone. It was the most intimate, beautiful moment in a night full of them.

A major reason the show was so great was that the crowd was really fantastic. I've had quite a few experiences at Higher Ground where the crowd treats the venue as any Burlington dive bar, too busy drunkenly chatting to even pay attention to the show they paid to see. But the crowd at this show was amazingly attentive, staying eerily quiet at the right moments, saving the whoops and yells for between songs, and singing along fervently when the song merited it. I don't know if it was because the show was so hard to get tickets to that only the diehards were there, or if Wilco fans are just an amazingly cool bunch, but it made the show an absolute blast to be a part of, and created the sort of feeling of communal happiness that only a great rock show can provide.

March 18, 2009

UVM Springfest Tickets on Sale Today

The super-awesome instrumental hip-hop/electronic band Ratatat is headlining the 2009 edition of UVM's Springfest, with more bands TBA.  Tickets are set to go on sale today on and at the ticket office in the Patrick Gymnasium, and cost $5 for college students with ID and $20 for the general public.  Major, major props to UVM's SA Concert Board for making the student discount price good for all college students and not just UVM students--us St. Mike's kids have to rely on UVM to bring cool music to Burlington-area colleges, after all.

(If 90s nostalgia is more your bag, Higher Ground just announced that Third Eye Blind is coming to town May 5. Have to admit that band hasn't crossed my mind in about eight years, but uh...glad to see they're still alive.)

March 11, 2009

UVM and New Yorkers: Not Fond of the Heartland Institute

University of Vermont student Connor Gibson spent last week as one of the 204 UVM students in Washington D.C. as part of Power Shift, where 12,000 students from around the country convened at the Capitol to demand a shift towards greener environmental policy. After the conference he traveled to New York and helped to film and edit this video, asking New Yorkers what they thought of the International Conference on Climate Change, a gathering of global warming skeptics being held near Times Square by the Heartland Institute. The results are amusing.

I don't see what's so bad about global warming myself — it'd allow us to catch a nice tan year-round even in Vermont, right?

David Byrne is Playing at the Shelburne Museum on June 1

Yesterday, Higher Ground unveiled the lineup for the 2009 Ben & Jerry's Concerts on The Green, a series of concerts taking place over the summer out on the beautifully scenic green at the Shelburne Museum. Each of the previous summers I've attended one of the shows (Wilco in 2007, Feist last year), and I wondered how they'd top those acts this year.

Answer: David Byrne.

Yes, the same David Byrne who made his name as the frontman of Talking Heads. Last year he reunited with famed producer and electronic music pioneer Brian Eno for the album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which contained perhaps Byrne's strongest songs since the heyday of Talking Heads in the mid 80s. Since then, Byrne has been touring with a new band and a setlist centering on the songs Byrne and Eno collaborated on--both from their two albums together as well as from the three Talking Heads albums Eno produced.

I got to see the tour's Montreal stop back in October and it was a brilliant show. Byrne hasn't lost a step, and his voice is as strong as ever (obviously thanks to all that bike riding he does). If this show is anything like that one, expect inspired dancing and Byrne sounding as fresh as ever.

March 03, 2009

Checking in with Kesha Ram

0206091146 I recently had the opportunity to spend a Friday morning with UVM alum and newly elected Representative Kesha Ram at her new digs — the statehouse in Montpelier.  

I had never been to Montpelier before. The capital of Vermont, like most Green Mountain towns outside the Burlington metro area, consists of no more than one or two main commercial roads. It’s the only state capital without a McDonalds. The statehouse, a marvelous golden-domed building, brilliantly stands out from the rest of the rather mundane State Street.  

Regardless of how you voted (or didn’t vote) in the November state legislative election, you've got to admit that Kesha Ram is an exciting figure. On a purely superficial level, Representative Ram stands out like no other legislator. Her young voice, tiny frame, and darker complexion bring a welcome breath of fresh air to a chamber occupied by generally older, whiter, (and quite a few plumper) legislators. She also stands out for her mini-celebrity status within the statehouse. As we walked the halls chatting, our conversation was interrupted more than a dozen times with political action-types introducing themselves, confessing how they’re so excited to finally get to meet her.

What has yet to significantly stand out, however, is her own voice. Throughout the campaign, Ms. Ram defended attacks from her Progressive opponents that her decision to run as a Democrat would not hinder her ability to speak clearly and independently on behalf of her Burlington constituents. To her credit, the current legislative session is only a few months old. However, it must be noted that Representative Ram did tell me that as a new member of the chamber, she’s accepted taking a back seat to some of the more experienced voices.  

After an abbreviated floor session, I sat in on a committee meeting with Representative Ram and about five of her colleagues. They were hearing testimony from representatives from Wal Mart, who came to speak against a pending resolution to be sent to the Virginia state government, urging them to stop the building of one of their stores on Civil War ground where many Vermonters died. During the 45-minute meeting, Representative Ram asked no more than five questions, and certainly wasn’t the one driving the conversation.

Granted, to ask any freshman legislator to storm in and take charge may be too much to expect. And spending one day in the statehouse is just a snapshot. But for someone who vigorously defended her ability to act just as independently as her Progressive opponents, it is indeed worth noting.

Kesha Ram surely stands out on strictly biographical grounds, generating an excitement and general goodwill towards her that gives her a leg-up on any run-of-the-mill freshman legislator. As her tenure in the legislature continues, Burlington residents should hope Representative Ram capitalizes on this excitement around her to speak up a little more. That’s a large task to ask of an ordinary freshman representative, but Kesha Ram has proven that she's not ordinary.  


Note: This is my last post for WG.  I will be moving on to fully focus on my duties as Editor-in-Chief of The Water Tower, UVM's alternative student newsmag. Thank you to Seven Days and Online Editor Cathy Resmer for this great opportunity.

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