Local Rhythms – Tuohy Twofer at Eagle Block

eageblock.jpgThe local region’s live music pedigree really intrigued me when I moved here in 1980. I got first hand exposure to it when a convalescing Steven Tyler limped into the radio station where I worked one Saturday in 1981, a stack of reel-to-reel tapes in tow, looking to use our studio.

Aerosmith got their start in the bars around Sunapee, and band sightings are the stuff of local legend, but it was my first time. I was starry-eyed that day watching the somewhat soused rock star steal nips from a three-foot tall bottle of Portuguese wine, as he listened to rough mixes from the band’s Tokyo shows.

Josh and Joe Tuohy had their own unique view of this history; they grew up at the Shanty, a Sunapee nightspot their parents owned from the late sixties through the early nineties. Aerosmith never played there (they did, says Josh, hang out occasionally), but a lot of other local luminaries did.

It made an impression on the boys, and they’ve extended the family’s hospitality tradition to Salt Hill Pub, which they opened in 2003.

On Monday, the Tuohy brothers announced plans to work their magic closer to their old home, in Newport’s Eagle Block. It doesn’t have a name yet, but the new restaurant will feature the Irish-flavored hominess that’s worked for them so well in Lebanon.

“We’re going to transplant a lot of the Pub menu,” says Josh Tuohy, “because we think it works very well. It’s good food for the money.” They’re targeting a winter opening, but no firm date is set.

Josh says he’s excited about the prospect of running a club that’s two different venues in one, serviced by one common kitchen. That means customers looking for quiet dining will be comfortable downstairs, while the more energetic can head for the upstairs bar – which, unlike Salt Hill, will offer full cocktail service.

There are no immediate plans for live entertainment, Josh says, but knowing their history, it’s just a matter of time before the house is rocking. “Music has been a part of our success and identity,” he concedes “We’ll do it eventually, though probably not as extensively as we have at Salt Hill.”

The short life of the Eagle Tavern threw the town of Newport for a loop, so it’s great to know that this historic building, the focus of so much civic energy in the past few years, is now in good hands. I can’t wait to see what they have in store. Which reminds me – what’s happening this weekend?

Thursday: Nadine Zahr, Colby-Sawyer College – An Ani DiFranco disciple, Zahr performs songs of love and loss, with a coffeehouse earnestness. This pose certainly has lots of fans, but it’s a crowded field. Look at it this way – you could drive a lot further and spend a lot more for something less intimate. When Zahr plays, you want to look her in the eye. I like that.

Friday: Red Hot Juba, Salt Hill Pub – Zoot suit riot at the Pub! This Burlington-based band is like the Squirrel Nut Zippers with a shot of good Irish whiskey poured in the glass. They break out of the swing mode every now and then to good effect. This band best exemplifies Josh Tuohy’s willingness to take risks when booking bands. That’s why I think the Double Eagle (“2E” – get it?), or whatever they decide to call the new business, will be a hot spot.

Saturday: Richard Shindell, Chandler Music Hall – One of the great storytelling songwriters working today. If you’ve never heard him, you really must experience songs like “Last Fare of the Day,” a brilliantly human snapshot of the hours after 9/11, or “Cold Missouri Waters,” a song about a forest fire that is utterly harrowing. (*UPDATE* – Thanks, Chris Jones, for pointing out that James Keelaughan wrote this song, not Shindell) Lucy Kaplansky, Shindell’s band mate in Cry Cry Cry, opens the show and joins him later onstage.

Sunday: Dark Star Orchestra, Lebanon Opera House – A band that brings a surprise every time they take the stage. Sure, they’re a Grateful Dead cover group, but with a difference. Each show is a complete re-creation of a Dead concert from back in time. Since virtually every one of that band’s performances was committed to tape, this is not as hard as it looks. But DSO not only does the songs, they include the unique nuances of the night they’re re-making – flubs, false starts and all.

Tuesday: Bill Frisell, Hopkins Center – He’s been called the Miles Davis of the guitar, with “a signature built from pure sound and inflection; an anti-technique that’s instantly identifiable.” He’s skilled at blending into a wide range of musical tapestries, and skill that’s helped him contribute to work by artists as diverse as John Zorn , Elvis Costello, Ron Sexsmith and the L.A. Philharmonic.

“The Perfect Thing” – Steven Levy’s Gushy iPod History

perfectthingcover.jpgNot many gadgets are worthy of their own book, but the iconic iPod is no ordinary gadget.   Apple didn’t make the first MP3 player, but by transforming a good idea into what author Steven Levy calls “the perfect thing,” the computer company helped foster a revolution that is creating new industries as it disrupts and remakes old ones.

Levy’s history of the iPod is on firm footing when it studies the ways in which Apple helped legitimize a business model that the music industry viewed with a mix of suspicion and hostility.  But the company’s genius is in refinement, not invention.  Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a charismatic figure, and the best salesman of his “insanely great” vision.  Unfortunately, Levy seems willing to give him credit for things he had nothing to do with.

That’s a shame, because what Steve Jobs is good at – inspiring engineers and designers to perform fits of brilliance – is almost buried in hagiography.  Jobs’ famous “reality distortion field” has drawn in many a journalist.   In this case, much of “The Perfect Thing” becomes a story of Jobs and not the candy bar-sized device he unleashed upon the world.

With the iPod, Apple created a product that was easy to use, powered by technology that was always two or three steps ahead of the competition.  They addressed the vexing problem of getting music from the computer to device by creating a trinity of computer, software and device.  Apple wrote the ITunes software to recognize and add music to the iPod automatically.  When the iTunes Music Store was introduced in 2002, it was built into the software.  Like the elegantly simple Macintosh computer, this integration and ease of use is the key the iPod’s charm.

The iPod’s cultural impact is undeniable.  “The Perfect Thing” provides a lively account of the myriad ways it has affected the landscape of music, television and, with the advent of podcasting, journalism.

Levy made the fanciful decision to let each chapter stand on its own.  Multiple versions of the book have been released, each with a different “shuffle.”

The first chapter of each edition, “Perfect,” paints Steve Jobs as a Pied Piper of the Apocalypse, trying to “bring a little joy in to people’s lives” during the product launch shortly after 9/11.  “Origins” recognizes the true pioneers in the field, from the Sony Walkman to, in the late 1990s, Compaq’s “Personal Jukebox.”  The latter most directly influenced the iPod.

“Personal” looks at the iPod’s tendency to isolate listeners into a self-contained musical world, and the sociological implications of “[making] everyone into an extra from Village of the Damned.”  The chapter also explores the evolution of personal audio cocooning, from transistor radios to Andreas Pavel’s “Stereobelt,” a shoebox-sized behemoth designed with two headphones for shared listening – a feature initially included in the Sony Walkman.

“Download” describes the way Jobs used his personal charms to persuade everyone from Sheryl Crow to Yoko Ono that the iTunes Music Store was the last best hope for digital music.  “Cool” is Levy at his gushiest, implying that only Apple had the foresight to dream up this wonderful device and an Internet store to feed it, even as the vast majority of music is today stolen online.  This is a situation with no clear solution, but Levy fails to point out business models like Rhapsody, which might provide better legal download solutions.

The phenomenon of “Podcast” provides the book’s best moments.  Sometimes whimsical broadcasts, distributed as MP3 files, have caused what Jobs rightfully would refer to as a “tectonic shift” in both radio and television.  Apple legitimized the technology less than a year after it was introduced by incorporating it into the iTunes Music Store, and when it began offering commercial-free network television shows a few months later, turned episodes of “Desperate Housewives” into podcasts.

“The Perfect Thing” offers a mix of myth and history with unbound enthusiasm, in a well-written paean to a little Lucite box that’s arguably the most important technology of the 21st Century.

At least that’s how Steve Jobs would describe it.