NYC- The Last Show

The van ride was crazy, and later events would make it unforgettable.  Even with all the u-turns, a quick pit stop to water the plants, and slight bickering about the expertise and ability of the iPhone to get us safely to our destination, I had time to reflect on a great day.  After an energy filled show from a fantastic performance and a fantastic crowd in Philadelphia, we chilled with some of the crew and band afterward, sipping leisurely on a few beers while a safety meeting was held outside.
Avoiding the die-hards by sheltering ourselves in the bosom of the bus, a few rounds later it was time to head out.  The night was crisp and filled with hints of winter.  Two lone fans still endured.  Physically shivering with white knuckles in hopes that Ani would sign various memento-based paraphernalia and authenticate whatever personal treasure they possessed, we bee-lined it towards the van.  In the comfort of the big old Chrysler, I thought what a ride it must be to go from unknown to somebody.  To lose anonymity.  To have so much support from the crazed steadfast love of your base, and then later have to avoid them sometimes because they can occasionally freak you out.  I’m not saying these particular fans were bad in any way, but it did make me think about it.  For better or worse though, it’s people who make all of this possible.
And that’s the thing.  This trip hasn’t really been about music all the time…or even most of the time.  The real world is what happens in-between.  Events that occur, the places you see, and people you meet.  As we headed towards New Jersey and Reed’s ( he was kind enough to let us crash at his house.  Thanks Reed!) we were prompted by the iPhone to turn right, but we were unprepared for where this 90 degree turn would take us.  Flashing blue and red lights signaled a scene in progress that was only a moment in passing for us, but a lifetime for others.  A liquor store with an ambulance.  A stretcher with a body bag-occupied.  A poor soul on their knees, vomiting.  And then the building obstructed the view, and we passed on in to the night.  In the back of the van Leslie and I, our faces illuminated by the warm yellow glow cast by halogen lights, looked towards each other with trepidation in our voices, as if to say, “Did you just see that?”  The scene was one of those moments when you are 100% sure of what you saw, and immediately afterward you doubt your vision.  Maybe we doubted because we didn’t want the world to spoil the night.  Maybe we doubted because the thought of someone losing their life to violence for most likely a few dollars was just too sad to bear.  So with wide eyes and turning slowly, we each faced forward.  An uncomfortable silence passed as we both internally reconciled what we just saw, and then we moved on.  It was a pure juxtaposition against the quaint little scene unfolding as we continued.  We drove by old neighborhoods with modest two story homes painted white; yards with Halloween ghouls and goblins still guarding the porches.  Little walkways with a scattering of leaves and hibernating grass lawns that lead up to sunrooms off the fronts of houses.  We had just changed realities in less than five minutes.  The world is a crazy place.
Shaking off the memory, rest was required.  A short night spent with the Sandman temporarily satiated our need for a deep sleep, but I tell you, everyone was feeling the wrath of the road.  Making it to NYC was an event in itself, but we found The Town Hall and parked the rig.
Tonight’s show was to be even more special, as Adam Levy was to join the band for the set.  A super nice guy and overall master of the guitar, Adam was the kind soul who let us crash at his spacious NY apartment (Thanks Adam!) a few days back.  This photo trip has been amazing, because I am constantly wowed at how talented everyone around me is.  Case in point:  Adam has listened to Gaby’s CD, but didn’t have much time to really work over the songs.  Having also just returned from the road, I am sure he was beat.
They all met a few hours before show time, did a quick once over of the song list, and then headed off to dinner.  If that was me, my guts would be in a twist-o-knot with my hands as clammy as a dead fish!  And if that wasn’t enough, he stepped in with Ani for a few songs and crushed it again.  When someone makes something look easy, that’s when you know it’s damn hard.  Hat’s off to you my friend!
8:10 PM.  Michael appears on stage in proper attire to introduce Gaby, and I marvel at the manner in which he carries himself (and Travis) with such esteem.  The man should really think about going into public service.  As he exits stage right and Gaby, Leslie, Sebastian, and Adam appear, I am so stoked for them.  What a trip it has been.  What a great experience the tour has been.  I just love it when great things come to pass for amazing people.
I re-focus and get to work.  With the limited amount of time and places I could photograph, I snapped here, moved there, tried this and that.  After my time was up, for once I sat in the best seats in the house: Balcony level, first row, and directly in the middle.  Yes!  My perspective was amazing, the angle was killer, and the music sounded perfect.
Loud applause, hoots and hollers, and Gaby waving goodbye for the last night, their tour had officially come to an end.  I went around back and congratulated everyone on a great performance, thanking them for allowing me to tag along and document this amazing adventure.
Then they did what they always do, went around front to greet fans, promote themselves, and sell CDs.  Saying hello and meeting the people, I watched the three and thought to myself, “I think they could get used to this.”  A few more autographs and the lights dimmed.  Ani was up.
Of course she and the band killed it, and after seeing three shows, I was still wowed at every performance.  They are such great musicians.  Different instruments, guitar changes, and a plethora of sounds and rhythms all provide an amazing experience that is well worth the price of admission.
I count myself lucky that I was able to listen and see artists at work at such close proximity.  And you know what the best part is?  The people.  Every single person that is involved with the production of her show, from sound to moving shit around, is a genuinely nice human being.  A BIG “Thank You” goes out from me to all those who put up with me nosing around, asking dumb questions, and having to listen to really bad jokes.  Thank You.
See you down the road.
-Todd
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Philadelphia: Black and White

It’s so quiet in my room, minus the planes trains and automobiles whizzing and whirling about.  I am holed up in the Holiday Inn just outside of JFK.  Leslie, Sebastian, and Gaby left for California in the wee hours of the morning, and I awoke to an empty room, icy from a blasting AC unit going all night.  I guess it fits the mood though;  A little cold and a little sad.  The dream tour with Ani came to an end last night, but on a great note (npi).  But that is for another time- another blog.  And this episode will be a little different.  The images will be in Black and White.  It fits the mood and besides, there’s something so timeless and classic about B&W; I just love ’em.

We left NYC and the quaint Rockwood Music Hall for the home of Rocky and my beloved Phillies.  People kept asking us, “What are you going to do in Philly?”  I would reply, “Cheese-steak and the Liberty Bell.”  I was really only naming the two most iconic things to do in the city with such a short amount of time.  I didn’t really have a plan or idea of how to do that, but how funny things turned out.  As Gaby manned the navigator position, and with Sebastian at the wheel (“Calm, collected, German.” Steve Zissou speaking on Claus) we made it over the bridge and into the city without a hitch.  Dropping the equipment off at the Electric Factory and heading out to grab lunch, we asked where we could get some food.  We were pointed in the direction of 6th and South and off we went.

Arriving at a quaint avenue of three-story red-bricks with shopfronts and people mulling about, we parked the car to look for food.  Low and behold we found a diner that had a mountain of cheese-steak meat ready to go with a decent little line of patrons.  Couldn’t be that bad, right?  Jim’s Steaks on South St. served up a healthy portion of heart stopping hoagie filled bovine delicious goodness for a tribe of people in one sandwich.  Most people wolfed it down.  Maybe one didn’t… I ain’t saying who!  Either way you slice it, I walked waddled out happy.

Uncomfortably contented, Sebastian and I cruised around while the girls did what girls do: shopped.  As light faded we got on our way, but not before stopping, as luck would have it, at Independence Hall.  My god, we were so close to the Liberty Bell!  After asking a few people we eventually found the cracked piece of forged iron all aglow.  There she was, resting in a glass bosom of protection.  And in a moment of pure honesty with a disappointing contrast against our hopes, Sebastian remarked, “I thought it was bigger than that.”  Me too Sebastian.  Me too.  That being said, we still accomplished my goals for Philly, and I wouldn’t put all this extraneous information in if it weren’t for a bit of useless trivia.  The reason why the Liberty Bell cracked?  They rung it so hard in honor of George Washington’s birthday, it split the bell.  Only to be replaced by the Centennial Bell at our nation’s 100 year anniversary.  There, your Jeopardy preparedness for the day is accomplished.

Returning to the site, The Electric Factory is an altogether different setting versus the the previous night in NY.  The club name conjures up all sorts of images, and I was caught off guard by the marque figure on the outside of the building: Benjamin Franklin.  It couldn’t have been any more obvious!  Inside was a gritty hall with standing room only down on the main section of the floor.  The stage was massive and more or less straddled the width of the building.  With it’s dark black walls and dark black floor, the building exuded a rough and guttural vibe.  The skeleton of the rigging and braces could be seen above, dusted and nasty from a long time exposed.  I walk the back stage halls and musical history was all around.  Poster bills of The Killers, Primus, and Sonic Youth were just a few that lined the hallway.

Dinner time.  I can smell the food.  I enter the room and Ani and crew are sitting at the table, eating quietly.  I sit as far away as possible.  It’s kind of funny.  I feel like I am in grade school, just trying to survive and not get beat by the older kids.  Going with the old mantra, “Just look down and eat your food.  Just look down and eat your food.” I find my place in fear of making an ass of myself in some way, shape, or form.

The History Channel is playing on the TV.  At once I am interested and uncomfortable by what’s on: The Color of War.  The footage consists of old never before seen color footage of WWII, augmented by interviews with the actual men who were there.  The room is eerily quiet and humble.  The black and blue checker board vinyl floor is marked and stained from many a steel toe Doc Martin boot.  The silver trays with steamed salmon and sauteed veggies slowly give of wisps of vapor and aroma.  The voice of the narrator is deep and gruff, containing hints of hubris or arrogance; Like the outcome of the war was victory all along.  Saipan, Guadalcanal, and Okinawa are some of the places being featured.  There are images of dead bodies- Native Islanders, Japanese, and American.  They are burned and distorted.  One of the veterans is being interviewed.  He talks of those days.  His pain of the memories is easily witnessed in his facial expressions and can be heard through longer than normal pauses.  “I see no glory in it at all.  Going off to war.  Seeing your brothers die from a shell,” he laments.  Pausing for a moment and looking up into the camera, he says, “War is horrible.”  A simple “thank you” echoes softly across the room.  It’s Ani.  So loud and outspoken on stage, this time she fills the empty room with a soft and simple phrase that carries just enough volume to make it resonate.  Shortly thereafter I leave the room, and I think about what a day it’s been.

Shaking off the cobwebs, I head back to see how everyone is holding up.  Leslie and Gaby are going over a few chords, with some last minute decisions being made to the song list.  Then it’s out to welcome the crowd.  I am already down in the pit, up front and stage left.  I share the space with a few other photographers, but I don’t really care.  Out come the band, and a large crowd greets them with whistles and hoots.  One yells, “You guys are so cute!”  That they are.

The stage is big, the lights and fog are killer, and the sound is great.  I take as many photos as I can with the three songs I am allotted, and sit back to watch the rest.  “My god, my friends are rock stars,” I think to myself.  I can only laugh.  They feed off the energy of the crowd and play a great set.  They give their thanks and exit the stage.  I race back to meet them coming down and congratulate them on another great performance.

Next Stop: The Big Apple

See you down the road.

-Todd

A Down Day

Dropped the bassist off at his place in Brooklyn and headed for a couch for the night.  Only I didn’t get much sleep due to the fact that I stayed awake till 4am finishing up yesterday’s blog.  Exhausted or not, we woke to a steely rain soaked day here in Manhattan.  It was the perfect down day, and we just hung around.  Come 4:30, it was time to head to a new venue with the group.
This time Gaby and company played at Rockwood Music Hall , a quaint and intimate setting that shuffles through 7 acts a night.  Each gets to play for about an hour.  After a quick sound check while Sebastian tried to figure out how to handle the drum kit and snare permanently stationed in the corner, they were up and playing in a few minutes.  I keep joking with Sebastian that it is so hard to get decent photos of him.  Drummers always get put in the corner, and of course get blanketed by all the equipment that is required to keep the band in rhythm.  Oh to be so important, yet somehow forgotten.  I won’t forget you Sebastian.  Nobody puts baby in a corner!

Once again Gaby marched through gorgeous chorus lines, and made me feel like my mother was singing a lullaby to me on a warm spring evening.  The band also had an extra addition this evening; Mark Palmer from The Hipstones joined in on piano to accompany and already lovely resonance.  As the show progressed the crowd grew, and everyone murmured at how lovely the music was.  I couldn’t agree more.

As today was a rest day for the actual Ani tour, things were nice and quiet for a change.  Tomorrow it all starts up again, as they’ll play at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia.  More of a club atmosphere, the crowd will be standing and up close and personal, so I am sure the vibe and energy will be amplified a bit.  Should be good times.

See you down the road.

-Todd

First Show- Ridgefield CT

Next stop, Stamford?  Indeed, as that was my meeting place to catch a ride to the venue for the night’s show.  Leslie, Sebastian, and Gaby showed up in the rental van with FL plates (really, as if you needed any more reason for drivers in NY to hate you!), and it was great to see some old friends.  Well over two years has passed since I have seen Gaby and Sebastian. Listening to their stories, it was great to hear where everyone has been and is headed as we drove through rural Connecticut.  The conversation subsided,  and we all seemed to gaze out the window and look around.  Everywhere you turned, there seemed to be a picture perfect little house built in the colonial style with just the right amount of fallen leaves sprinkled ever so carefully across a sprawling yard.  But it was also spooky at the same time.  It must have been all those puritan graveyards.  You know the ones with the creepy statues of flying harpies to bring you to the River Stix (wait, I seem to be getting my mythology confused).  Anyway, I digress… it was a surreal place.  Lots of money, perfectly trimmed houses, and creepy graveyards.  What more could you ask for… the Headless Horseman?

Leaving Sleepy Hollow, we said goodbye to Icabad Crane and arrived at the Ridgefield Playhouse with time to spare.  Unloading the gear and meeting some of the road crew, I poked around a corner here and there.  Took a peek at the stage and venue.  A pretty small setup by most standards, the maximum capacity rests around 600 or so.  It’s a very intimate setting for sure.  I met with some of the crew and had a few bites to eat of the delicious salmon and steamed veggies that were on hand for the dinner.  Then it was time for the sound check.

Gaby and crew headed out towards the stage and worked through the different songs on the playlist for the evening.  As Gaby’s voice raced around different keys and made Sebastian’s snare vibrate, I literally got chills from the enormity of her voice.  It fills a room so beautifully.  There’s not much more I can say.  Buy her album on iTunes!  You won’t regret it.  As I walked around, I shot a few different angles and tested the light.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Ani in the seats, watching the group amiably as they went through their sound check.  I think she really enjoys helping musicians who were once in a position where she started from.  Once the check was finished, it was time to wait.
Showtime:  “I could really use that glass of wine!” piped Leslie as she readied herself.  Yes, even very talented and experienced musicians still get nervous before shows.  But there was no time, and the trio opened the doors and headed onto the stage.  As Sebastian took his seat and wires were plugged into amps, there was a weird silence in the air.  I think the beginning moments before that first note is struck are the most awkward.  A moment to think, “What could go wrong?”  Does it go through the audience as well?  Do they think, “I paid how much to see her?”  I really don’t know.  But as soon as she rips that first verse the thought vanishes, and you know a true professional is in front of you.

As their 30 minutes of play time expired, the crowd hooted and hollered with clapping hands.  They walked off stage stoked and vibrant.  It was a good show.  What a rush it must be; to be a rock star.  Personally, I know what the feeling is like from my many rousing karaoke sessions in late night Japan, but I don’t want to speak for everyone.  Just know this: It’s damn good.

Out to mingle with the crowd and sell albums, Gaby headed to the lobby to sign CD’s and meet her fans.  It was a real treat to hang around and listen to compliments and see the smiles that they bring to everyone.  And that is the baseline of any artist, whether you paint or photograph or sing; you want to make people happy.  I can tell you that many a happy soul left tonight.

Sticking around to catch Ani’s set, I found myself laughing, grooving, and enjoying her show.  She has a wonderful stage presence, and she talks and works the crowd so well.  From what’s on her mind to a funny interview she gave, she’s always in control.  I must admit I never really listened to her music, but live she’s another entity altogether.  I think I may be a convert.
Thursday is a day off.  So tomorrow ( which is really today as I write at 3am) we’ll kick around NYC.  Gaby and crew play a small venue by themselves, but otherwise the day is ours.  Then it’s on to Philadelphia to play at the Electric Factory.  Until then…
See you down the road.
-Todd

NYC

Greetings from the Big Apple.  Funny that in all my time growing up on the east coast, I have never been here before.  From first impressions I think the city lives up to everything it is said to be.  Riding in on the train and listening to snippets of conversations, I was loving the deeply accented chatter from most everyone.  The overall love of the brown leather gangster/wise guy jacket was just another piece of the puzzle that fit perfectly.  As my train progressed along its route, graffiti and lone box cars dotted the way.  Crawling away from JFK, I glimpsed a few neighborhoods.  Old brick and mortars and wood sided houses; all clumped together like sardines in a can.  No different than the average space of a California home it seemed, but there was something different about it as well.  The houses had more history behind them.  They seemed used and worn.  Maybe they were more home than house.  I felt like I could walk up and ask if Mrs. Sullivan was home and I would get, “Nah, she doesn’t live here.  She’s two doors down.”  That’s the kind of neighborhood that I love.  Where every house has a story to tell.

On approach to the city, the skyline appeared.  I love the buildings here.  There are just so many of them, they are all built with such differing architectural style, and they are all packed in close together.  There’s a palpable energy that you can feel here, and I got a little jazzed myself.

Off the train and on to meet my cousin for a day in the city, I walked a few circles at the Hoboken Station before Bev came to pick me up.  Thanks Bev!  Leaving the bags at her house, we took off for the city.  Our first stop was to check out The Highline, and elevated park that was once a train route.  Peppered with low maintenance plants, a cool array of granite, and super loungey chairs made from recycled wood, I found myself breathing deeply and finally relaxing since entering the city.  Back on the city streets, we hopped over to check out Richard Serra and his Blind Spot work at the Gagoisan Gallery.  Walking through these enormously shaped plates, the scale of shaping them hits you.  The steel is probably 2 inches thick, and shipped over from afar.  They are left exposed on deck and allowed to rust, giving them a nice pock marked, rust red appearance.  Our next goal was to catch a cab.  I searched in vain for the Cash Cab, and we jumped in another yellow vehicle of terror and mayhem.  My god they drive like nuts out here!  I was thankful that my line of sight was partially impaired from sitting behind the driver.  I think I would have lost it had I been able to see.

Exiting white knuckled and happy to be alive, we took the express elevator up to Top of the Rock, where you can really have some stunning views of the city.  Spying central park west, the upper east side, and all points beyond, it was a truly gorgeous thing to do.  Once again on solid ground, we huffed our way to a little wine bar and for a little rest, cheese, an a much needed glass of wine.  I said hello and goodbye to Times Square, and off we went to catch the bus back to Hoboken.  With a meal in my stomach, a shower, and a soft bed, I was done for.  My head started to bob, and the redeye started to take hold.  Next thing I know it’s morning!  Man, it’s been a while since I slept that well!

So today my mission is to find my way to CT and meet up with the band.  Tonight is the first show I will be covering.  I can’t wait to see them in action and record the events.  I hope you’ll join me in following my adventure over the next few days.

See you down the road.

-Todd

Big Lights, Big Garden

I love my backyard garden.  It makes me so happy I had to jump for joy! (and test out a set of broncolor monolights)  As you can see, we have quite the little (sub) urban farm kicking up.  Fruit trees line the fence, and the chickens patrol for squirrels and other varmints while ridding the land of snails and slugs.  As the peruse and peck, they enrich the ground with nitrogen at the same time.  Thank you chickens.  In the planters, everything is just sprouting from seed, growing more and more everyday.  I have gone big this winter (when do I not?) and planted the following:  Winter kale, red onion, bak choi, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, collards, swiss chard, spinach, beets, artichoke, garlic, strawberry, lettuces, radish, 3 varieties of potato, and daikon.  In a few months things should be pretty damn nice.
Photographically, things are great, but I haven’t been as active as I would like.  Yes, I’ve been out there trying new techniques and styles, but I feel like I need to push even more, every day.  But here’s the kicker:  I enjoy it immensely.  I continue to grow as much as I can, but I walk the line of being burnt out and creative frenzied.  Maybe that’s when the most inspirational ideas come?  Whatever the case, one things for sure.  It’s doesn’t feel like work.  It feels right.
The word Dharma is simple but complex:  The basic principles of the Cosmos.  It’s one’s righteous duty or virtuous path.  And I think when your work becomes timeless- when it ceases to become a chore and instead something you love to do, you are said to have reached dharma.  I have to say, I love photography.  I love looking through the viewfinder and capturing the world the way I see it.  I love mixing and mingling with people.  I love working with someone to help achieve a look or feel that they want.  I’ve got dharma going in my life, but sometimes I flee from my personal vision for fear of other people judging my “artistic ability.”  The way I see the world.  Like somehow my photographs won’t be inline with what another person qualifies as good or something along those lines.

But the realization hit me.  I don’t have to be liked by everyone.  My style is unique, and clients and friends will value me, comment, and applaud or critique whatever I produce.  Pictures are personal and don’t resonate with every single being.  And I think this is an important point to bring up.  Many a time I feel like I have moved away from what really moved me.  I haven’t pressed the shutter on the moment I thought would be great.  I haven’t pick selected the imaged that I liked the most.  I haven’t been unrepentantly sure of my images enough.  Maybe that’s the other part of dharma that isn’t defined: Not only finding your path, but sticking to it as well.

Greatness requires risk and attitude.  If you don’t think your great, maybe you’ll never be great.  Self-fulfilling prophecy and what not… I don’t know.  But if you have an idea, a dream, a vision- produce it and don’t look back.  Do you think I would have gotten these sweet rake guitar skills if I had listened to anyone!


See you down the road.

-Todd

Day of the Dead

Heading up on a dark Monday evening, tail-lights illuminate my path to the city for an evening meeting with Prospect’s new head chef/part owner, Ravi Kapur, and magical word slinger Adam Starr.  It’s been some time since our last creative meeting, and I am excited to hear good news ranging from full funding of  the restaurant to everyone’s latest and greatest ideas.  I really didn’t know what to expect beyond that.  I was just hoping to have a few drinks, brainstorm, and walk away with the creative juices flowing.

Reaching the city, I found an unusually amazing parking spot close to my destination on what seemed to be a very crowded night in the Mission for a Monday.  As I walked to our meeting place, I passed by a few people whom I thought were dressed pretty far out for even SF standards.  Capes and goth galore, it slowly dawned on me that everyone was dressing up for the Day of the Dead.  Ah yes, my birthday is also in line with hoards of people, some in costume, pilgrimaging candies and favorite foods to the grave sites of  loved ones gone the way of the Dodo.  Glad I brought my camera.


I truly love photographing people, but how do you approach someone off the street, bust out an intimidating camera, and then make them comfortable with you?  A good starting to point is to just ask.  I couldn’t let all these great faces, images, and shadows drift off into the night.  Once a year my friend…  So I bucked up the courage and asked a few kind-hearted souls to allow me to photograph them.  And it felt damn good.

 A new goal is emerging: Making a point to ask people if I may photograph them.  The more uncomfortable I am, the more reason for me to stretch my boundaries and push my creative ideas.  

I swear it’s like asking your high school sweetheart out for the first time.  And after she says yes, you think, “Why didn’t I do that sooner?”

-Todd

Behind More Than Ever

Haven’t gotten to post this last week.  Things have just been popping up here and there, which is a good thing.  Edits with a recent wedding and family session, putting together a commercial bid, and general maintenance of websites, the garden (which is going to be awesome) and life has been keeping me at bay.  But I am back baby!

I’ve also been laying some groundwork on some fun projects that have been bubbling around in my head, more of which I will be commenting on as I go.  I don’t want to say too much now, but I will say it does involve birds that lay eggs.

The other really good news is that I’m heading out to New York with Gaby Moreno and company (through Leslie Lowe…thanks Leslie!).  They are opening for Ani Difranco for part of an East Coast Tour. I will be covering 3 shows in mid-November and some behind the scenes and down time stuff.  It’s such a big break for Gaby and crew.  I am so sure that they are going to spring into stardom, and I feel honored to be a part of just a few shows.  I am also looking forward to freezing my ass off in NYC!  Gonna miss that good old CA weather.

Seeing as tomorrow is my birthday, I am going to make this short and not post photos of anything, including the Lucha Libre mask I wore last night for Halloween.  Demoralizing at best, I would not recommend a mask for anyone to wear for Halloween.  Three words:  Hot and Sweaty.  Ewwwww…
Besides, have you ever tried to eat 7 layer dip through a little mouth slot?  Not feasible.  Go with something easy: Face paint and some hair color go a long way.

Till next time.

-Todd