Local Rhythms – My Kind of Must-See TV

dish-networkI admit I’m a media junkie, but my habit gives me perspective.  As an unpaid entertainment taste tester, I’ve tried everything.

What I’m saying is – you can trust me.

The endless stream of television provider ads would have you believe that quantity is all that matters.

Comcast claims to have enough on-demand programming for two lifetimes.

DirecTV touts the most high definition channels (not mentioning that 30 of them are off-limits regional sports stations like MSG).

I’ve no quarrel with excess, but Dish Network proves it’s not all about the numbers.

I’m sticking with Dish for the same reason I have a Mac – it works.

Begin with a smart user interface that provides rich details like original airdate and episode number.  Add custom program guides and a dual receiver with an IR remote control that lets me pause shows on one TV and resume them on another.

Dish also has a high gadget factor. Since activating the USB port on my VIP 622 receiver (for a one-time charge) I can now back up my favorite shows to a portable hard drive – no more DVD box sets for me.

There’s also an iPod-like device available with built-in Dish compatibility, to record shows for portable viewing.

Oh, and did I mention that the programming is top-notch?

This weekend, I watched “Sound Explosion” on the Smithsonian HD Channel, a new six-part series about the evolution of American music hosted by Morgan Freeman.

I learned how B.B. King got his name (it’s short for “Blues Boy”) and why he calls his guitar “Lucille” (something about a roadhouse fire after a fight over a girl) on the first segment, “Birth of the Blues.”

Part two weaves disparate elements like Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Guitar Slim with the swampy histrionics of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Carlos Santana, while the jazz-focused third episode features archival footage (in high def, no less) of Miles Davis’s final performance at Montreaux in 1991.

It’s amazing stuff.

Dish isn’t perfect.  It huffily cancelled all 15 Voom channels last May, effectively killing the best provider of true-HD music programming, not to mention high-def kung fu movies.

But they do offer east and west feeds of HBO, Showtime and Starz – in HD.

So I’ll cut them a break, though I hope they’ll kiss and make up with Voom.

OK, enough of my excessive habit.  What’s happening in the live music scene this week?

Thursday: Ray Davies, Higher Ground – Though his solo work isn’t on a par with the best of the Kinks, Davies is worth seeing for his talents as a raconteur alone.  Heck, VH1 created the “Storytellers” series just to hear Ray read aloud from his autobiography.  He’s one of the few survivors of the British Invasion who’s still trying to find something interesting to say rather than just relying on old hits.

Friday: Song Circle, Hotel Coolidge – A First Friday tradition returns with an open invitation to anyone with a song to sing and something to sing it with – things get underway at 4 PM.  White River Junction’s musical renaissance also includes the Tuckerbox Café singer-songwriter series tonight, with Betsey Stewart hosting a 6 PM start.  Between the two, there’s more than enough to get your folk on.

Saturday: The Thang, Sophie & Zeke’s – A bigger space means bigger bands.  Headlining an all-day slate of music that includes an afternoon set by Sensible Soul and performance from alt-rocker Abby Payne, this New York-based funk band plays high energy dancing music well past the dinner hour.  It’s all part of the official grand opening of the new S&Z’s location in Claremont’s Opera House Square.  Celebrate good times, come on!

Sunday: Samirah Evans, Center at Eastman – This elegant jazz vocalist was a mainstay in her hometown of New Orleans, performing at Snug Harbor, Sweet Lorraine’s, the House of Blues and other well-known clubs.  Her debut album made the Times-Picayune’s Top 10 in 2002.  When Hurricane Katrina hit, Evans and her husband, a Vermont native, moved to Brattleboro.   Sunday’s set kicks off this year’s JOSA series.

Monday: Vienna Teng, Iron Horse – Blending elements of classical, rock and baroque folk, Teng performs epic songs fueled by her magnificent soprano.  She’s similar to Tori Amos and Sarah MacLachlan in that all three can fill a room with just a piano and a voice to sing with.  I prefer Vienna’s songwriting for its depth and vision, however. She plays solo tonight; with a new album due next year, a full band tour should follow in the spring.

Wednesday: Emily Lanier & Fred Haas, Canoe Club –
The former New Kind of Blue singer joins up with Haas, an ace piano and saxophone player and perhaps (according to CC’s official schedule) talented guitarist Jason Ennis.  Whatever the combo, Emily’s elegant voice will surely add to the dinner ambience.

Local Rhythms – Mad About the Dish

dishhousepro.gifOne of the great things about post-millennial life is the plethora of entertainment technology available. There are giant television screens pumping out high-definition pictures with teeth-rattling surround sound, and hundreds of channels to choose from.

The best use of such wonderfulness is obvious to my eyes and ears. Alas, my so-called “content providers” aren’t on the same page.

Where’s the music? “I want my MTV” isn’t a slogan to me; it’s a way of life.
So when Comcast yanked my favorite high definition music channel a few months back, I decided it was time to end our relationship.

I’ve fallen for the Dish.
On the Dish Network, MTV isn’t a lifestyle channel anymore. Well, MTV is, but MHD, their new high def offering, plays, simply – music. From Akon to Springsteen, they’ve got it, and that’s just a slice of what’s on Dish’s plate. The Rave Network features commercial-free reprises of Soundstage, the great PBS performance showcase (Alison Krause and Union Station took my breath away the other night).

Over on HDNet, the channel Comcast yanked for A&E (do we really need to see reruns and reality shows in HD?), Earth, Wind and Fire teamed with Chicago; the look and sound was front row seat perfect. It’s not all about boomer music, either. HDNet’s “Sound Off” and “True Music” series showcases up and coming bands.

There’s good stuff in standard definition too, like the International Music channel, which scours the world for the best non-domestic clips. It can be a little freaky at times, but hey, that’s the spirit of discovery.
Plus, if you just want to listen, Dish offers plenty of audio-only channels. To be fair, so does Comcast and Dish competitor DirecTV. But they don’t have the Sirius lineup of music stations, including the exhilarating Sirius Disorder, a bit of chaos right out of 70’s FM radio.
Imagine a Louis Prima big band number followed by Frank Zappa and topped with a Meat Puppets B-side and you get an idea of what Sirius Disorder is about.
Not to go all fanboy on you, but at the moment, Dish is my musical BFFL (ask your teenager, they’ll tell you what it means).

However, if you want to tear yourself away from the TV, here’s where you should go:
Thursday: Steve Forbert, Middle Earth Music Hall – A rare visit to the Shire from an underappreciated folksinger. You know him for “Romeo’s Tune,” which is a Rock Business 101 lesson in how not to name a song. If Forbert had called it “Meet Me in the Middle of the Night” he could have sold a million more. But 30 years later, the infectious hooks still deliver, and he has much more than that in his song catalog.
Friday: Hitchelfit, Electra – While local bands drop like flies (City Divide is no more, Transcent is mutated), Hitchelfit’s star is happily rising. Another area rock venue recently went dark (farewell, Royal Flush), and the last home-grown music friendly radio station, Rock 93.9/101.7, will soon switch to an all-talk format. Sad days all around, but Electra continues to support live music with an edge to it.
Saturday: Apple Pie Festival, Newport – With August feeling more like autumn than summer, an apple pie festival makes complete, if melancholy, sense. With Pete Merrigan as musical master of ceremonies, things should warm up in spite of the unseasonable weather. He’ll be joined by sideman Mickey Seretney. Did you catch Pete’s recent Sophie & Zeke’s set with Florida pal T.C. Carr on harmonica? Magical.
Sunday: Celia Sings Sinatra, Canoe Club – Paul Celia wears a lot of different musical hats, but he’s really building a following with his tribute to Old Blue Eyes. This performance, with support from the superb Bob Merrill Trio, starts at 7. Celia is celebrating the release of his new CD of Sinatra tunes. This special Canoe Club night is a popular diversion, so if you’re planning to go, book your tables early.
Monday: Mike Payton, Firestones – Blues on a Monday – need I say more? As the calendar creeps closer to September – school, cooler days and a new slate of soon-to-be-cancelled network TV shows, life needs a soundtrack; preferably, one with twelve bars and a bit of a growl to it. Payton’s one of the many players putting Quechee on the musical map these days.
Wednesday: Jason Cann & Spring Romer, Elixir – The owner of this fine WRJ bistro spent a year at Canoe Club, where he learned a little about music and food. The small plates of food are exquisite, as are the soups. There’s still enough summer for a bowl of avocado gazpacho topped with a dollop of crab meat. Cann, accompanied by a female vocalist should tantalize. Romer is new to the scene; she had her first “official gig” last weekend at Salt Hill 2. Welcome!