Screaming Into The Abyss

The Cat Piano
By Ben Zvan
On September 10, 2009 at 20:33

Do you have eight minutes? Good.

Sit down, turn up the volume, press play, and slip into an animated world of somnambulistic narration, captivating animation, and a story about smokey hookas and smoking hookers. Get ready for the bohemian behemoth, post-midnight soiree.

The Cat Piano from PRA on Vimeo.


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Stop Making Sense
By Ben Zvan
On June 25, 2009 at 11:29

You ever notice how some music videos don't really make any sense? Some don't even fit the music that also doesn't really make sense.

I just thought I'd mention that I like Cake.

I also like Morphine.

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The Crystal Method - On Tour
By Ben Zvan
On June 15, 2009 at 14:25

The Crystal Method - Ah, The Crystal Method...

Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan have a new album out now called "Divided By Night." Like the rest of their music, it's very good. I've been told that "Vega"s was a great album to listen to stoned. I suspect "Legion of Boom" and "Divided by Night" come in close seconds. The new album is loaded with collaborations between the Method and other artists, including the nerdcore LMFAO and Justin Warfield of She Wants Revenge fame.

The Crystal Method - Scott KirklandAnyway, I'm not reviewing the album, I'm reviewing the tour. Check The Crystal Method website for tour dates.

If you're a fan in Minneapolis and you missed it, I'm very sorry for you. You should have gone. The light show was great. The performance was great. All during the tour, they were tweeting that people should carpool or take public transportation to "offset the massive light show." A lot of it was done with LEDs so there's already a carbon savings from that.

There were two exceptionally cool things they did with lights. One was the fully gimbaled led light disks that acted as spots and displays at the same time. The other was the multi-colored spots that cut through the smoke in a crazily cool way.
The most challenging was the four giant strobe lights that seem to be getting popular these days. I'm getting very good at changing the settings on my camera very quickly.

The Crystal Method - Scott KirklandThe Crystal Method - Ken Jordan SmilingScott Kirkland is always the outgoing one; playing the audience and the songs at the same time. He stands on top of things, sometimes not very stably. He throws out up the devil horns when he has a free hand (he uses both hands when they're both free. He's the one everyone's eyes are on all the time because he's the one who wants it that way.

Ken Jordan is the quiet one. He plays the music and watches Kirkland take the front stage but he rarely hams it up for the audience. He also seems to be the more coherent one, since he was the one who did all the "thank you Minneapolis" stuff. He patiently distracted the crowd when one of Kirkland's keyboards died and had to be replaced during the encore too. This show, he spent quite a wile hamming and smiling. Clearly they were both enjoying the tour.

Buy "Divided By Night" on iTunes.

More photos on my Flickr stream.

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Franz Ferdinand Visits Minneapolis
By Ben Zvan
On May 10, 2009 at 10:28

Franz Ferdinand - Nicholas McCarthy94 years ago, on June 28th, 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was visiting Bosnia to observe military maneuvers and open the state museum in Sarajevo. Rising against the perceived oppression of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, assassins killed the Archduke and his wife Sophie as they crossed the Latin Bridge. This event is widely regarded as the beginning of World War I or at least the final straw. The war started less than two months later.

Franz Ferdinand - Alex KapranosSeven years ago, in Glasgow Scotland, the band Franz Ferdinand formed to create a unique mix of electronic, rock, pop, and punk music. This event is widely regarded as the beginning of Franz Ferdinand's musical career. The first single from their first album reached number three on the UK charts less than two years later.

Franz Ferdinand - Robert HardyMy introduction to the band was playing "Burnout 3", crashing cars and listening to "This Fire." I wasn't quite hooked on the band until I played "Burnout Revenge" a year later and heard that first single "Take Me out." Since then, I have purchased all their albums on iTunes, some more than once as iTunes converted to iTunes Plus (non-DRM music is much easier to deal with.)

It's been a while since I have seen a sold-out show at First Avenue; actually, I think this might have been the first time. I arrived just as the opening band was finishing their last song and the place was already packed. Making my way up to the stage was tricky to do without inadvertently groping people along the way but after several apologies and people moving back to get drinks between bands, I made it up to the barrier. 

Franz Ferdinand - Alex KapranosI'll skip over the part where I was waiting for the crew to reset the stage for Franz Ferdinand and the woman leaning over the railing telling me to go get the security guy because she had "goodies" for the band. I'll also skip over listening to the stage hands checking the mics in Glaswegian. Oh... Oops.

It turns out that Nicholas McCarthy (first photo) had injured his foot while on tour and had to walk out with crutches. Alex Kapranos (second photo) led him out and made a big show of ushering Nick to his place, surrounded by synthesizers and microphones.

Franz FerdinandNot only was this the first time I'd seen First Avenue so packed, I'd never seen the front of the barrier so packed. Sharing the cramped space with me were two staff members and four other photographers. We managed to share the space, but I think the other photographers had to be kicked out for staying up there too long. It wasn't surprising since none of them seemed to have remembered to bring real cameras, just plastic toys with lenses on them.

Franz Ferdinand - Paul ThomsonSince I skipped over the Scottish accent part earlier I'll mention that, while I have a terrible time understanding anything that is said with a Glaswegian accent for the first several minutes of exposure, I love listening to anyone with an honest Scottish accent; I think it's because I'm distracted by the pure lyricism of the words. Alex said, in his accent, something about being back to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which immediately endeared him to me; it's one of life's little annoyances for me when people call the place I live "Minneapolis St. Paul."

Franz Ferdinand - Bang The DrumsI have to be honest, I hadn't heard their new album "Tonight: Franz Ferdinand" before going to this show. I hadn't realized that, in the three years between "You Could Have It So Much Better" and "Tonight," the band had started playing with their synthesizers more. During the break between sets, the crew brought out a couple extra synths, one of which I recognized from The Faint's musical tool set but couldn't identify. When they started hitting the keyboards hard during "Lucid Dreams," I could have sworn I was listening to a different but just as excellent band.

Franz Ferdinand's music is a great listen, but their live show is a submersive experience. Watching them on stage, it was clear to me that they were there to play the music just as much as the audience was there to hear the music. The show ended with everyone in the band, and some guy from stage right banging on the drums with distorted video from an in-house camera projected onto them and the screen behind them. Once again, First Avenue keeps its place as the best place to hear music in the Twin Cities.

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The Faint, Ladytron, and Telepathe
By Ben Zvan
On May 05, 2009 at 22:10

Telepathe - Melissa LivaudaisBack in February, I found out that The Faint would be playing a show at First Avenue at the beginning of April. Some band called Ladytron was going to be opening and they would also be bringing along an act by the name of Telepathe.

Okay, so I've been musically sheltered the last couple years. The best alternative station went away and was replaced with the almost-as-good The Current. I also changed careers about three years ago and don't spend nearly as much time in the car as I used to.

So... Telepathe...

Telepathe is two girls, a couple of keyboards and some drums and sample pads. It took me a little while to warm up to their music, but it grew on me. I thought they could really go somewhere if they were given enough time. On the other hand, once I started to mentally classify their music as "experimental," I really started to enjoy it.

Ladytron - Helen MarnieWould I recommend them? Maybe, but I'd recommend listening to a few tracks first. I suspect they are, like many good things, an acquired taste.

Next up was Ladytron. I did some research before the show and thought I wouldn't really be into Ladytron. I was completely wrong about that. From listening to the 30 second samples on iTunes, I got the feeling that all their songs sounded alike. As it turns out, those samples are not representative of their music. Ladytron's music is rich in variety, creativity and presence.

Ladytron's stage show is not so much energetic as it is intense. They all have a look of total concentration on their faces as they work to play their music, sing their lines, and change the settings on their keyboards for the next verse. I didn't feel that they were disengaged from the crowd because Helen Marnie, the lead vocalist, kept energy flowing our way for the whole set. The lighting was a thing of wonder that can only be properly described in photos

The Faint - Todd FinkLike a typical nightclub crowd, most of the people really only knew one song. In this case, that song was Seventeen which, despite having only 29 words, lodges in your head and makes you pay attention to the social commentary it delivers wrapped around a pounding bass line. When Helen said "it's time for seventeen" the crowd unanimously cheered.

When the digitally enhanced electronic lighting of Ladytron gave way to video imagery and their smooth synthpop tones and dissonant vocals gave way to harsher sounds and raised voices it was clear that The Faint was the reason many of those audience members were there and they rocked the house from the moment they stepped on the stage. The Faint projected frenetic energy into the house from the stage; they were all constantly in motion and constantly working the crowd.

Next to The Crystal Method, this is the most active I have ever seen a Minnesota audience. Sure, they were still mostly pogo dancing, but they were really putting something into it. There was even one brave crowd surfer.

Of course, I have to give a lot of credit to First Avenue. Of all the venues I've been to in the area, it remains the finest place to see any show. The staff is always polite and patient and somehow they manage to attract audiences that are there for the music rather than the nightclub scene.

Photo notes: The photos are, of course, Telepathe, Ladytron and The Faint in that order. No, not all the pictures I took are backlit, I just liked the way these looked together.

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Where Would I Be Without IBM?
By Ben Zvan
On March 30, 2009 at 12:57

Information Society - James CassidyThe first thing that I noticed walking into the Varsity Theater for Information Society on Saturday was the progress they had made since Tuesday night in their renovations. There was a whole new set of stairs going up to the balcony. It was closed, but it hadn't been there on Tuesday. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the place looks like when they get the Shop-Vac and the workbench off of the second floor.

Information Society has always held a special place in my music collection with their energetic synth-pop. I've never felt that they got the recognition they deserved in the international music scene, but I am comforted in the knowledge that their home town and mine contains a high proportion of fans. Most of the people I know who have heard InSoc like InSoc with only a few exceptions.

Milkbar - Sarah MöedingInSoc is the first band I know of to use the Internet to expand the experience of their music. Nine Inch Nails' alternate reality game was innovative and imersive but that was decades after InSoc's online scavenger hunt. I never got excited enough, or maybe geeky enough, to connect my CD player to a modem to pull out the super-secret hidden content but I know people who did so I guess that makes me geeky by extension.

Information Society played at The Varsity with a grand total of three opening bands. A local group named MilkBar opened the night. Unfortunately, either the mix was a little off or I was too close to the stage to hear it right, since Sarah Möeding's vocals were mostly drowned out by the rest of the band. Ignoring that, the music was good, if hard to describe. They're solidly synth-pop, but there are so many other influences, including Pat Benatar of all things that they pretty much define their own sub-genre. check them out on MySpace.

Faith Assembly - Mark StacyThe second band was Faith Assembly. I described them as "Erasure meets Joy Division" when I first heard them and grew to like them more during their set. I enjoyed their music and they really worked to get the stodgy Minnesotans pumped up but I have to admit that the guitar with blue LEDs was the highlight of their set for me. Mark Stacy is a heck of a showman.

Information Society - Kurt HarlandThe third and final warm up band was Moulin Noir which turned out to be a guy in a corset from Stockholm, Sweeden. His style of electro-goth new wave music worked really well but you could tell the audience was really getting a little tired of waiting. Note to self: try not to be the third opening act for a big-name band.

When the stage was finally set for Information Society, there were projectors displaying "propaganda" on the back wall and the crowd got jumpy every time someone crossed the stage. Then a short woman with a long scarf walked up to the microphone, got up on her tippy toes and said "Information Society - Paul RobbI am the original drum machine opperator for Information Society and the band has asked me to begin the show in the traditional Information Society manner." She then walked over to a rack of equipment and very deliberately, with her right index finger, pressed the "start" button and walked off stage.

What can I say about Information Society? The beats were solid, the synthesizers were exquisitely synthesizing and the geeks were good to go. Three of the original four members were up on stage, Paul Robb working the synthesizers and sequencers, James Cassidy on bass and the occasional keyboard and Kurt Harland singing lead vocals and smacking the box of samples with a drumstick. Kurt performed what I consider to be a legitimate magic trick by conjouring not one but two Halls from an audience member after the first song and proceeded to sing around the hard, mentholated candy.

Information Society - Kurt HarlandAbout half way through the show, Kurt looked out into the audience and adressed a woman standing right up by the stage: "Paul says you're trying to look like me from the 80s." She nodded yes and he helped her up on stage so everyone could see her lab coat, stripy tie and wild hair. He took her lab coat, which didn't fit him very well, dug through the pockets and said "Hey! There's stuff in here!" Holding up her keys "are you trying to give me a hint here, because I'll need to have your address too... Oh, it's right here on your driver's license!"

There were three sets with costume changes between them and I didn't miss any of the songs they didn't play. With a repertoir as long as theirs, there was no way they could cover everything, especially after three opening acts, but they hit all the bases and bends of genre they've made over the years. The show ended pretty suddenly at the end of "What's On Your Mind" but I and my cohorts left the theater completely satisfied.

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Y'all are beautiful people. We love y'all to pieces.
By Ben Zvan
On March 26, 2009 at 12:10

Katherine WhalenThe Squirrel Nut Zippers came to the attention of mainstream media outlets with the release of Hell, during the short-lived swing revival in the mid 1990s. After a long hiatus from each other, they have regrouped with most of the original members including Jimbo Mathus, Katherine Whalen and and Stu Cole and thrilled their fans with a tour.

Jimbo Mathus - Crazy Face!The show at the Varsity Theater on March 24th, 2009 began with the local jazz group Twin Cities Hot Club playing a set to warm up the audience. They played a good mix of swing classics while the crowd danced.

As I leaned against the stage, I noticed a large group of people had found a spot next to me to throw their jackets and change their shoes. As it turned out, there was a dance competition between the Hot Club set and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Fun! After clearing an area in front of the stage, the band began playing for a good dozen couples. The music sped up, and the cohort of dancers steadily shrunk until two dancers remained. It was a great way to get the crowd hopping.

The Squirrel Nut Zippers are from the south. You wouldn't really know it from listening to their music except for the bluegrass influence but listening to them talk is a completely different story. Jimbo Mathus and his outrageous feathered hat sound distinctly like North Carolina if North Carolina were to get up on stage with an outrageous feathered hat.

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Stu ColeThe show was everything I could have expected from the Squirrel Nut Zippers: the performers were all very good and the interaction was very compelling—each of them was energetic, and outstanding in their field. The set list included songs from the old days, new work yet to be published, and a little bluegrass ditty that gave Jimbo a chance to point out that they are from the Appalachians after all.

The audience was fairly typical for the shows I've been going to lately with a mix of ages and a dominance of winter-paled, sun deprived skin. Some of them danced, some pogoed and some just groved to the beat. Many didn't know all the songs but all knew some of the songs. When it was time for Hell, they all cheered and sang along. When Squirrel Nut Zippers comes to your town buy a ticket; you won't be dissapointed.

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Information Society - Welcome to Peace and Love Inc.
By Ben Zvan
On March 05, 2009 at 12:10

"Strange haircuts, cardboard guitars and computer samples." said Kurt Loder of MTV news; Truer words about Information Society have probably never been uttered... except maybe "Dude, your hair looks like a rake!"

One of the many bands to emerge from the Minneapolis music scene, Information Society has a long history of unique dance and electro/freestyle music. They hit a rough patch in the 90s over a difference of musical vision and fell off the mainstream radar for a while, but the band maintained a strong underground following and continued its popularity in nightclubs worldwide.

After a five year break and shuffling the lineup a bit, Information Society began recording and releasing again in 1997. Their most recent tracks, from this decade, play like a more mature, fully realized version of their earlier work: Less eclectic but with just as much "pure energy." Re-releases of their work continually expose a dedicated fan base by reaching #1 on the Billboard Dance/Club charts.

Information Society will be at The Varsity Theater in Minneapolis with MOULIN NOIR and Faith Assembly on March 28, 2009. Tickets are on sale now at

Information Society-What's On Your Mind
by hushhush112

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The Faint are Coming!
By Ben Zvan
On February 25, 2009 at 13:45

It started with a simple set of words I heard on The Current, Minneapolis's Alt-eclectic music station.

Close to you, wishing we're conjoined at the tongue
Can you hear me thinking? I should stop.

As soon as I got home, I checked their website, found out "Desperate Guys" by The Faint fit the time-line of my drive, hit the iTunes music store and bought the album.

That weekend, I had a drive through central Minnesota for a photo shoot and took along my iPod with the new tracks on it. I was not disappointed by any song on it and listened to it two or three times on my drive to the-middle-of-nowhere and back.

The Faint have a new album out called "Faciinatiion" and they're on tour with Ladytron to support it. Tickets are on sale now for the show at First Avenue on April 2nd at 5:00. It's an 18+ show, so bring your ID. I'll be one of the guys with the camera and a big sparkly "Photo Pass" sticker on my shirt. Feel free to say "hi," I might even buy you a drink, especially if you don't have a black X on your hand.

Here are a couple videos to get you warmed up. I'll have a full review after the show.

The Faint - The Geeks Were Right:

Ladytron - Ghosts:

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Crystal Method at Epic, Minneapolis
By Ben Zvan
On December 22, 2008 at 12:51

KirklandOn Friday, December 19, The Crystal Method were joined by Jack Trash, Nathan Vox and Leon J for a night of live DJ'd music at Epic nightclub in Minneapolis presented by Sound In Motion.

My first impression of the club was disorganization. The front door was unlocked and nobody was there to keep people from wandering in until they got up by the box office, some of the employees showing up before the doors officially opened were unaware of this and weren't sure how to get in. This is a big contrast to a venue like First Avenue where they lock the doors and have someone right inside to let the staff through.

Fly GirlAfter a short wait in Minnesota weather, we walked in and started wandering the club looking for spots to shoot from. I have to say that, from a photographer's point of view, this isn't the best club to be at. Especially without stage access and especially for their DJ set configuration. The DJs were blocked by a box in front of the decks and two speakers on either side of them. The best view in the house was from a private box, which had a darned good view, but blocked the stage for the rest of us. Luckily, I'm used to odd locations and worked quickly to find the best spots to hang. And it took security a couple hours to figure out I'd been standing on couches and ask me to get off. A camera can only get you so far.

Crowd at Crystal MethodMy second impression of the club was that I had completely forgotten what the nightclub scene was like. It's probably been since I was 21 that I went to one of the local meet-markets. There was more prime flesh on display than I had seen in a long time and by the end of the night, all of it was thoroughly marinated. At least one guy reminded me of getting drunk in GTA IV. Clearly his whole world was spinning out of control.

The first set was Leon J who, and I'm going to show my ignorance here, I presume is a local DJ along with Jack Trash and Nathan Vox. He had a great stage presence and really opened up the crowd as they came in. The transitions through the other DJs and into The Crystal Method were seamless enough that I didn't even notice when Kirkland started spinning except that the energy in the place started to increase rapidly and the beats became more familiar to me. Those two are probably not entirely related since I talked to some folks in line who were there to see Jack Trash.

Kirkland and JordanJordan and Kirkland served up dance tracks until 2:00, slipping in samples and beats from their albums that made the crowd go crazy when they realized their alcohol addled brains were taking in something familiar. Scott Kirkland is clearly the more outgoing of the duo. When Ken Jordan was spinning, Kirkland was often standing up on the podium and playing with the crowd, singing with the samples and taking pictures of and for the audience. When the Go-go dancers were in that spot, Kirland would dance behind them or play with Jordan's head, basically keeping the stage energy high and connecting with the crowd.

It looks like the last time The Crystal Method was in Minneapolis was 2006. I'm hoping they don't wait another two years to come back, and I'll certainly be keeping my eyes open for more.

-- More Photos -- Crowd Photos

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