Friday, May 25, 2007

Last night we saw another concert, Tim O'Brien at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley. O'Brien is one of the cross-over stars of bluegrass. Most of his fans come from either his days with Hot Rize or his work as a solo artist/songwriter.

This was a solo show so it was just him and his guitar (or mandolin or fiddle) for most of it. Normally I wouldn't buy tickets for a solo show but I got these from a friend who couldn't go at the last minute. Even thought it's not my favourite format, O'Brien does a good solo show. He is a skilled enough player on all the instruments to keep things interesting and he has a laid back stage presence that goes along well with the songs. At the end he was joined by the opening act, the Infamous Stringdusters. a young band from Nashville.

The Stringdusters are one of two bands I've seen doing a "post-modern" form of bluegrass that abandons a lot of the traditional roles for each instrument and instead creates a layered, tone-colour sound based on instrumental virtuosity. The other band that is trying something similar is Chris Thile's new band, recently renamed the Tensions Mountain Boys. Thile's band is strong enough that it overcame the problems I have with this new sound but the Stringdusters aren't. The layered sound they seem to be going for detracts from (and sometimes totally undermines) the driving rhythm that is a fundamental part of bluegrass for me. The songs they did at the end with O'Brien were the best of the night. O'Brien's more traditional approach and song choice added a nice rhythmic feel to the band.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Last night I finished Iron Council by China
Mieville. The book jumps back and forth between the building of a revolution in the city of New Crozubon and a group of refugees from the city that are searching for a legendary group , the Iron Council, that rebelled and fled the city man years ago.

In terms of genre, like the other two books in the series (Perdido Street Station, The Scar), Iron Council is fantasy rather than science fiction but it's not what most people think of as fantasy. There are no Tolkien-esque characters or settings, it is more like what is sometimes called steampunk or modern writers like Neil Gaiman.

This is the third of his books set in the same world and I would put it in the middle in terms of quality. I liked Perdido Street Station the best and The Scar the least. The twists and turns of the brewing revolution are interesting but the characters in this one are less compelling and since it the plot takes place in multiple locations, it never creates a strong sense of place to latch on to.

Amazon Link: Iron Council

Monday, May 21, 2007

I spent a good portion of the weekend at the 2nd Maker Faire, a very cool event celebrating DIY culture of all types. I saw Tesla coils, giant robots, flaming sculptures, catapults, rockets, human powered carnival rides. I also got to try my hand at welding, milling and running a lathe.

I only took a handful of pictures but you can check them out here.

Update: There are a lot of good Maker Faire photos at Flickr here and here.