Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Super Tuesday: Cover Edition

By Justin Cates

Any time spent on YouTube invariably leads to unearthing some strange things. When you're into music, this is a good thing.

It's very easy to get lost on that website, so I'm not even really sure how I got to these but they're all cool.

The first cover is The Avett Brothers taking on a personal favorite of mine "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel.

The brothers laid back style fits the mood of this tune pretty perfectly and the smoother, quieter vocals give it a slightly more somber quality than the original desperate wail of NMH frontman Jeff Mangum.

While there's no one playing a saw or trombone like the original cut, the instrumentation works quite well here.

The next cover comes from the 2010 Halloween show put on by Phish. Every Halloween, the group picks a band they've been influenced by and they do a "Musical Costume" show covering an album by said group.

For this particular concert they chose one of the best live albums of all time, Little Feat's Waiting For Columbus.

The whole show is worth checking out and it's all on YouTube. I've chosen to feature the cover of "Spanish Moon" because I think it's one of the best grooves you'll ever come across and Trey Anastasio alludes to it being one of their favorites too.

A few vocal flubs aside, this rendition is very faithful to the original right down to Trey's solo which is very reminiscent of the tasteful extended melodic lines originally played by Lowell George.

The last one is the biggest surprise here. Don't get mad. It's Miley Cyrus covering Dolly Parton's country standard "Jolene".

It's not shocking that she would cover it being from a country music family. It's slightly more unexpected that I like it and further surprising that's it's actually quite good.

To be fair, I don't think anything about this was recorded in her backyard as the video would suggest.

From the guitar tone to the fact that there's a clear breeze blowing the whole time that isn't noticable, there's a clear coat of studio sheen here.

None the less, the vocal doesn't really sound like it was significantly tampered with and Miley really kills it. I feel like perhaps I've been to hard on her regarding all the garbage pop music she churns out. Hopefully she can make some cool stuff down the line that shows off her natural ability.

Monday, March 25, 2013

No Really, My Bracket was Great for a Minute

By Justin Cates

I only filled out one bracket this year so that, in theory, I could remember the teams I picked while sitting in a noisy bar or watching games at a birthday bash while distracted by a pantless push-up contest.

As it turns out, I can't help but forget how far I had Syracuse going or if I should be rooting for or against Minnesota because I have the short term memory of a goldfish.

None the less, for the first two days of the tournament I was living high off the hog. My bracket was almost perfect complete with the correct upset selections of LaSalle, Minnesota and California. Yeah I missed Harvard and Florida Gulf Coast, but so did nearly everyone else. I should have been giving interviews on TV explaining my methods.

In fact I was surprised to wake up and check my standing in the ESPN bracket challenge Saturday morning was as follows.

That's right, I had one of the best brackets in the country and it was then I realized I was doomed. 

No bracket goes long without a catastrophic misfire unless you've made proper sacrifices at the alter of the basketball Gods. But I'm a Hokie, the basketball Gods hate me. 

Saturday started off fine with a beer downtown and a Michigan State victory. Then back to the house for a little drinking game during the Louisville win that kept my show rolling.   

The game was basically one drink for a made three-pointer and two drinks for an alley-oop. We quickly ruled that a made two-pointer combined with a made free throw counted as a three, then we added dunks to the list, then charges, then commercial breaks and soon it was, "Hey let's play beer pong!"

That brings us to the evening and that's when things went south on a number of fronts. 

Why exactly I picked Gonzaga to make a run is beyond me. They've been one and done in the tournament every year since I was in high school and somehow I decided they were getting to the Final Four. Perhaps it's best I hadn't been giving interviews.

I figured I was done even though it was the only Final Four team I'd missed on—in fact it still is. 

But then the Syracuse game happened and like a dummy I'm cheering along with all the other 'Cuse fans I was hanging with, thinking I had picked them over Cal.

That was incorrect.

It turns out I somehow had Cal over the Orange and didn't realize until the following morning when I found my challenge ranking hovering around 700,000. 

Now, as I rest comfortably just below 3 millionth I can finally just watch and enjoy the mayhem. 

I've been enjoying the bittersweet triumphs of Virginia Tech transfer (seriously they mention this constantly) Tyrone Garland as he's helped LaSalle to the Sweet Sixteen with his, 'Southwest Philly Floater'. 

Everyone loves Florida Gulf Coast, even though I'm not convinced it's a real school. I'm game for more of this bunch as they seem to have a blast ruining everyone's bracket. Plus, I'm sick of hearing how loyal Billy Donovan is to Florida. 

Am I the only one who remembers him taking to Orlando Magic job for a day? Actually, yeah I probably am. 

"I'm happy to be here....NOT....Rickrolled NBA style!!!!"

I'll continue to disregard the many rodent faces of coach K and his boring Blue Devils and I'll keep enjoying my guilty pleasure by kind-of, sort-of rooting for Miami. I can't help it, that Jim Larranaga is so darn likable!

It should be fun even if your bracket, like mine, has taken a turn for the worst. 

In fact, that's probably for the best. At least that's what I'll keep telling myself.

"You WILL respect me!!! EEEEEEEK"


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Think Green

Tom Knight is letting his distaste for the road post-season uniforms known.

Without question, the "Shamrock Shake" green uniforms worn by Notre Dame's Men's Basketball team during the Big East Tournament are ugly. There's no way to sugar coat, not even with an extended challenge by my colleague.

Nonetheless, here's my attempt at making some sense of the Adidas experiment gone wrong.

Cincinnati, Kansas, Notre Dame, Baylor, UCLA, and Louisville show what happens when camo meets the hands of an unskilled fashion designer.

  1. Adidas didn't just mess with ND, they also somehow tricked several other programs to join in the post-season 'fun'
  2. The 'home' white versions of the uniforms, save for the camo shorts, aren't half-bad
  3. Notre Dame's uniforms are far from the worst of the bunch. That distinction should belong to Baylor, who not only utilizes a brighter, more neon uniform but also features built-in sleeves. Gross.
  4. It's March, ND is simply being on brand.
From the waist up, the home white uniforms are tastefully done.

On a final note, Notre Dame Women's Basketball team is also sporting an alternative look this post-season. They aren't likely to face anywhere near the criticism as their male counterparts, though, because they opted out of the camo look.

Winning also helps, too, as the Lady Irish earned their first (and last) Big East Conference Tournament Title by defeating the Connecticut Huskies in Storrs, CT last Tuesday night.

Skylar Diggins and the rest of the Irish Women's Basketball team celebrate their hard-fought Big East Conference Tournament Title.

Now, the Skylar Diggins-led Irish look to earn the school's second National Championship.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy Birthday to Brian!

Clearly, Ms. Monroe isn't remotely close to having enough candles on this cake to properly honor Brian, but it's the posthumous thought that counts.

While Brian has been noticeably absent as far as recent posts are concerned, he claims new stuff will appear in due time.

I can't wait for a spring review of Notre Dame basketball culminating with a strict condemnation of those retina-searing abominations masquerading as "basketball uniforms" worn by the Irish during their final Big East tournament.

Look away! Look away! These make staring at the sun seem reasonable.

Ugh, I just vomited birthday cake everywhere. Actually...it kind of matches the uniforms.

If only there was someone around who could put the proper spin on this. A wise old sage who could lend us some perspective. A critical voice of reason to rise above the cacophony of nonsense.

I'd even settle for a post from Brian.

Happy Birthday buddy*

* Yes I know his Birthday is the 17th. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Saluting ACC Player of the Year Erick Green

To say I'm bummed that the 2012-13 Hokie basketball season is over would be incorrect.

I'm very thankful that I won't have to watch this incompetent bunch bumble their way through the Atlantic Coast Conference any longer. Frankly, they should have been put out to pasture at the start of the new year.

The only thing I'll miss is watching Erick Green, the incomparable Hokie point guard who finished his senior season as the nation's leading scorer and as the ACC Player of the Year—both firsts for a Hokie.

In his final regular season game against Wake Forest, Erick broke the school record for points in a season with 786 surpassing the old mark of 785 set by Bimbo Coles in 1989-90.

Other teams put their best defenders on him and trapped and double-teamed him almost every game knowing he was the only real offensive threat, but still he piled up obscene numbers.

Those would be 25.4 PPG on 48% shooting from the floor including 39% from behind the arc.

That's right, he made half his shots and I can assure you having watched nearly every painful moment this season (Thanks ESPN3?) there weren't that many easy lay-ups.

He embodies everything you want in a team leader, heart, toughness, talent and work ethic. He gave his all every single game, often to the point of exhaustion.

Green was helped off the court suffering from dehydration against Georgia Tech Feb 9. 

If you haven't seen him play you might assume he's a selfish player who rarely involves his teammates, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Green averaged just under 4 assists per game (3.9) and should have had many more. The guys around him just didn't make any shots.

No one expected much from the Hokies this season with a first-year head coach and only eight scholarship players, and that's mainly what folks got.

There was plenty of frustration for the Hurryin' Hokies this season.

The lone bright spot was Green doing his best and desperately trying to get his teammates to follow his lead.

There were lots of voices in recent weeks arguing against Erick's case for player of the year based on Tech's abysmal record (13-19, 4-13 ACC), the thinking being you can't be the best player if your team doesn't win.

Indeed, there haven't been many instances of MVPs on losing teams and in ACC hoops the only other example is the late Len Bias of Maryland in 1986.

In professional sports, I had a hard time finding anyone beyond the great Andre Dawson in 1987 when he took home the award after hitting .287 with 49 home runs and 147 RBI for the last place Chicago Cubs.

No these types of honors aren't just about stats, but certain individual performances can overcome playing on a bad team.

Ultimately, it doesn't really matter if you thought Shane Larkin of Miami or maybe Seth Curry of Duke was more deserving. EG just finished a season so impressive that he convinced even the Carolina media mafia he was worthy of their highest honor.

I'm sad to see the best thing about Hokie hoops head on, but I look forward to following him as he attempts to play professionally.

He'll make it somewhere because of his skill and make-up. He had the drive to keep going even when it looked like many of his guys had given up.

Come to think of it, that sounds like the perfect point guard for the Charlotte Bobcats.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

White House Photography, or Why I Need Pete Souza to Follow Me Around

Editor's Note: This post is in no way an endorsement or condemnation of specific policies or of the President himself, it's simply a commentary on excellent photography. Outside of politics I do happen to think of the POTUS as a cool guy, so we're pretty much the same person.

By Justin Cates

Pete Souza is the current Chief Official White House photographer for President Obama and was also the official photographer during Ronald Reagan's second term in office.

That means he's had incredible access to people and places few could ever dream of. This presents a truly remarkable opportunity for an artist with a perpetually refreshing canvas.

One doesn't need extraordinary skill to make photos interesting, but great photographers like Souza have the innate ability to make everyday actions carry an unexpected weight.

"No I'm still getting a PC Load Letter error..."

I don't need someone to take candid pictures of me sitting around in sweatpants, but a shot of me silhouetted against a setting sun as I gaze thoughtfully into the distance would make a lovely Mother's Day gift.

Plus I do lot's of amazing things that go sadly unnoticed. When leaning on something, I too kick a foot on it's toe. I'm not even trying to be a badass, it just happens!

"Look, if you want seconds governor just ask."

Granted, I don't hold as many press conferences as I probably should, but I think my personal pho-tog would still have plenty to cover. 

I often stand idly while waiting for someone to tell me where to go, I sometimes walk with purpose and rarely do I attend an event where I don't think, "Man, I bet I look absolutely terrific in the foreground."

"Man, I bet I look absolutely terrific in the foreground...you too honey"

What about kids you say? I don't usually hang out with them, but when I do it's undeniably adorable. They love me even when I have a scary beard. Lot's of opportunity for some heart-warming moments...which come to think of it takes care of Christmas for all the grandparents.

"Hurry kid! Michelle's going to make us eat vegetables!"

Ultimately, my friends and I simply don't take enough pictures and most of the ones we have are either unfit for publication or staged. I'm all about in the moment naturalism when it comes to this stuff and you're lucky (or probably a girl) if you can convince me to pose for a picture. 

It makes remembering life easier when you have a visual reference, plus how else will you bore your relatives and Facebook friends?

So I guess this is an open casting call to anyone with some free time who would be interested in documenting my existence. 

Silence? FINE. I'll just do it myself then, as soon as I can figure out the timer on this stupid camera...  

Yep, it's a walk-off. Where's David Bowie when you need him?

Check out some more of Pete Souza's work at his official website where you can find everything from portraits of world leaders to the Chicago Cubs (see what I did there?).

Monday, March 11, 2013

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

"It's long been a dream of mine to play bluegrass music at Virginia Tech, and tonight I think I'm one step closer to that goal." -Steve Martin

Shock and confusion were in abundance two Friday's ago as my normal pre-road trip ritual of feet-dragging and groggy packing played themselves out in my room.

I was headed back to Blacksburg for a weekend to take in the final men's basketball home game of the season, and unexpectedly I stumbled into a bluegrass concert.

A member of my legal defense team sent a frantic—at least I read them it in that voice—text message that said, "Dude Steve Martin and the steep canyon rangers are at Burruss Sunday".

A quick Google search confirmed that legendary comedian and noted banjo picker Steve Martin was coming to Blacksburg and there were still tickets available, which made very little sense to both of us.

"You missed out on seeing THIS live? HAHAHAHA!"

After giving the go ahead to purchase a block of seats, I spent all weekend cursing "kids these days" and railing against some vague and vengeful "youth" that had no respect for proper art.

In reality, the reason for extra tickets was likely that it was for a bluegrass show in a college town, but that didn't slow my whimsical denunciations of "millenials"—and yes, I came to realize that technically I'm a part of that increasingly narcissistic group, but why can't they be more like ME?!

Anyway, I've long been a fan of Steve's comedy and I've been aware of his banjo abilities since, as a child, I uncovered his 1977 comedy album, Let's Get Small, hidden in a box of old cassette tapes.

I'd argue having that tape during my formative years explains a lot of my deadpan style and penchant for sarcasm. Also, I've seen a banjo on television.

"I'm not into the drug scene or the booze scene or the dope scene, I'm not into that. And I think people who are should be taken out and maimed."

His delivery and style are truly unique, "Tonight I'll be the guy up here in the red suit." He told us during his introduction. 

Make no mistake this was a music concert, but it was hilarious too. 

The Steep Canyon Rangers are fresh off their win for Best Bluegrass Album at the Grammy's and they play along with the gags in between demonstrating their musical chops. 

At one point, Martin claimed he and the band had agreed the day they met that the moment it all stopped being fun they'd quit. The band then all set down their instruments and walked off stage leaving Steve to play a couple songs alone.

He had a total of five banjos on stage which he played off as an "ego thing". He then explained that he thinks of his banjos like his children, "which means that one of them probably isn't mine."

We were all particularly impressed with the talents of Nicky Sanders on fiddle and harmony vocals. In fact the entire group, Charles R. Humphrey III (bass, harmony vocals), Mike Guggino (mandolin, harmony vocals), Graham Sharp (banjo, harmony vocals) and Woody Platt (guitar, lead vocals) are all terrific singers and their voices blend beautifully.

Woody Platt is straight from central casting for a country singer, a fact he's ribbed about from Mr. Martin. He just sounds like he should record the vocals for everything coming out of Nashville. 

The best example of the group's vocal prowess is, "I Can't Sit Down", an a cappella number about arriving in Heaven that leads into the much funnier, "Athiests Don't Have No Songs".

The latter provided a subtle yet impressive feat. During the last refrain when Steve is screaming, the other four guys actually harmonize with his off-putting pitch to form something quite pleasant. Steve held his note a bit longer in person so the effect was a bit more dramatic, but it's still awesome.

Finally, an expansive tune called "Auden's Train" handled the encore in a big way.

Martin wrote this song as a tribute to poet W.H. Auden and like the title, it winds and weaves its way punctuated by the long wail of the fiddle. 

Sanders stretches his legs on this one, referencing such classic works as The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" and The Beach Boys "Good Vibrations" and doing it in a manic style that brought everyone to their feet.   


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