Monday, March 25, 2013

KMFDM, Mr. Smalls, Millvale/Pittsburgh, March 22, 2013

Ok, so in my last post I discussed KMFDM briefly while stressing the importance of teaching children to be creative.  I had mentioned how I wouldn’t go on and on about KMFDM, but after experiencing that show Friday night, I can’t resist.

To begin, the show was in Millvale at Mr. Smalls, by all appearances an old, converted church.  We had stayed at the Hyatt on the North Shore of Pittsburgh between Heinz Field and PNC Park, and the drive to Millvale literally took ten minutes.  The show “started” at 7 PM, but I didn’t really care much to see the opening acts, so we left a little after 7.  I figured it would take a half hour to get there, a half hour to park, etc.  I thought wrong.  We were in the doors at 7:38 PM, and the first act hadn’t even started yet, much to my chagrin.

I did not care for Mr. Smalls.  First off, they did not allow readmission.  In other words, if you left, you were done.  I can understand this policy to some extent, except the place was small and crowded, and there was absolutely no place to go to sit or get some fresh air.  Not cool, Mr. Smalls.  I've NEVER been to a show that didn't have at least limited seating in a bar area or whatever.  Second, they had the vast floor divided roughly in the middle by a plywood barrier to allow for drinking in the back.  You had to be 21 to get back there, although they carded everyone at the door and gave out wristbands, so that was nice not having to show your ID each time you passed the guard at the entrance to the barrier.  I assume the no readmission policy was due in part to alcohol sales, but the plywood barrier was annoying, and there were so many people in the drinking section that you literally couldn’t get to the bar for a beer.  So strike number two.

Strike number three came when I had to pee.  The bathroom had four urinals, each separated by low plywood dividers (what’s with the plywood, Mr. Smalls??), but then to the right there was simply a CURTAIN separating the urinals from the only toilet in the men’s bathroom.  I happened to pick a time to urinate when someone was having some severe digestive distress of some sort, which was VERY unpleasant.  Even a swinging door would have been nice.  What, you can’t afford a DOOR to a bathroom stall?!?  I’m so glad my wife didn’t have to use their facilities—I can only imagine how bad the women’s bathroom would be there.

We paid $9 for two beers, $6 for two Jagerbombs, and $6.50 for a soft pretzel with cheese and a hot dog.  Not bad for the food or liquor, but really?  $9 for 2 beers?  I just don’t get venues and how much they charge for concessions.  They didn’t even search our persons (felt the bottom of my wife’s purse, that’s it) when we went in, and while I’m not a very big drinker anyway, I could see myself sneaking a beer or two in to avoid paying $9 for any future shows.

The first act was Reinforced from Pittsburgh.  It was basically a nerdy-looking black guy (like the character of Theo in Die Hard) playing keyboards and a white guy from a late-80’s metal band screaming lyrics.  One song was written about the lead singer’s battle with cancer, which was inspiring, but yet the lyrics were so literal that it was almost comical.  They actually went “The day I got the call, I lost it all, I had a disease inside of me.  I had a malignancy.  Malignancy.  Malignancy."  They weren't awful, but they definitely need another level--and some better songwriting.

The next band up, we thought, was Legion Within.  When they started playing though, I knew they were not.  Two guys playing tribal drums and keyboards with a ferocious intensity and an industrial sound, they revealed themselves to be Chant out of Austin, TX.  I have to say they were a huge surprise in terms of how well they sounded, and I really enjoyed them.  Check them out if you are into industrial music or percussions in general—cool stuff.

The third band was Legion Within.  They were on the playbill, and when they came out, I immediately wanted them to be over.  Their music isn’t all that bad, but the lead signer’s voice is nasally and whiny, and he looks like a rat when he sings.  KMFDM does a lot of collaborating with other bands, and I really REALLY hope they don’t collaborate with that guy.  And the rest of the audience felt the same way, I think, because I noticed several inappropriate gestures and even a few boos echoing throughout the crowd toward the end of their set.

Because of the extra band, KMFDM did not take the stage until almost 10 PM.  Had I known they weren’t going to come on until then, I would have left our hotel at probably 9:30.  My legs and back were hurting from standing so long (again, no place to sit and no readmission so we couldn’t even go out to the car to relax).  By the time they took the stage though, the place was insanely packed.  I was getting a little concerned because our relatively open space around us filled up quickly, and I knew we were on the wrong side of the plywood partition—the side where the mosh pit would open up, pushing everyone even further back.

KMFDM came out with absolute ferocity.  I tried to remember all the songs they played and created a playlist on my phone.  They started with DIY, which was the ringtone on my phone for YEARS.  In no particular order they performed Kunst, Ave Maria, Pussy Riot, Animal Out (favorite song on the new album), Krank, Rebels in Kontrol, Lynchmob, Amnesia, Free Your Hate, Hau Ruck, WWIII, and Son of a Gun.  They also might have performed Attak/Reload, but I can’t quite remember exactly.  They took two intermissions, and when they returned from the first one (after everyone chanted “KMFDM sucks!” for several minutes), they played Sucks, Anarchy with the lead singer of Legion Within filling in for Tim Skold’s vocals, and I<3 Not off the new album.  I must be a huge KMFDM fan (obviously, considering I’m blogging about the entire show), but I<3 Not was actually sung to the music of Don’t Blow Your Top, which was just so entirely mind/top-blowing that I’m still thinking about it three days later.

They then had their second “intermission” so to speak, and when they returned, they performed Megalomaniac.  My wife was hoping to hear that one, and she got her wish.  When that song ended and the next one began, for a brief moment I think I actually feared for my life.  The last song of the night was, you guessed it,  A Drug Against War.

I’ve never seen a pit so aggressive in my entire life, and while for most of the show the pit was a good twenty feet in front of us, during A Drug Against War it opened up to the point where we were only six feet away.  The guy in front of me literally had his back up against my chest, and my back was up against this stupid plywood divider.  There were a few “techno-Vikings” in the pit as well—guys 6’6” and 350+lbs just slamming into one another, and so it was definitely scary.  Luckily it only lasted one song and then they were done, because claustrophobia was beginning to kick in!

At some point prior to KMFDM taking the stage, we had these two guys come up and stand near us.  One was taller, and he stood right in front of me but had the decency to ask if he was in my way.  He was, but it’s not like he could have really gone anywhere else, so I just shook my head.  His friend was shorter—and disturbingly agitated.  I noticed them arguing at one point about some guy back in the bar area, and he seemed OK then.  A bit angry, but OK.  However, he must have taken Ecstasy or some other drug at some point, because as soon as KMFDM came on, he started dancing and throwing his fists out like he was punching the air.  Think Elaine from Seinfeld only with punches.  He got into an argument with a skinny kid at one point, and I thought he was going to start a physical altercation, and the skinny kid’s girlfriend even got involved and was acting like he was going to punch her.  The tall guy he was with broke it up, but then that guy seemed annoyed and left this little aggressive guy by himself—standing directly beside me, dancing, punching the air.  During one of KMFDM’s faster songs, a couple of young girls in front of us started moshing a bit, and he shoved them away numerous times, each shove harder than the next.  At one point I thought we’d have to call security over to drag this guy out, but he showed me all sorts of respect (which had my wife laughing).  Every time he’d bump into me, he’d say, “Oh, sorry, man.  I’m sorry.  I'm so sorry, man.”  Of course, I had probably six inches and a hundred-twenty pounds on him, and his anger seemed to be only directed at skinny goth kids and women.  A few songs into the KMFDM set, his weird girlfriend/wife came over and started dancing with him, and several times she brushed up against me in a way that began to make me feel a little uncomfortable.  I just ignored her for a while, but then I actually turned to the side, away from her, and she thankfully got the message.  When people are dancing and singing and pumping their fists to loud, fast, aggressive music like that, you are going to be jostling against one another whether you like it or not.  But man, that’s one area where being a big guy can come in handy.  Nobody messes with the big guy at shows.

Being an industrial band, KMFDM’s performance sounded so much like the album songs that the music was just unreal.  During Pussy Riot¸Sascha did not sing some of the lyrics, but other than that they did not fail to impress.  I’ve always said that the best performance I’ve ever seen was KMFDM in 1997, but the 2013 act may have tied that one.

As we were leaving, there was a guy with a flashlight on the stage shining down on all of us as we exited the ONLY door open for us to leave.  I watched him shine it on each and every person, and when I got close I asked him what he was looking for.  He smiled and said, “Just alcohol,” which made sense afterwards, but maybe they needed a different exit for people in the bar and people on the dance floor?  Again, I wasn’t impressed with Mr. Smalls AT ALL, and I won’t be too inclined to go back unless it’s a band I REALLY like.

As we walked down the stairs out front, I saw Steve White, KMFDM’s guitarist, stroll by right in front of us.  They had their tour bus parked right out front, and as he stopped to unlock the door of the bus, I walked past him and said, “Great show, man.  You guys were awesome!”  He turned and looked at me, nodded, and said, “Thanks, man!”  So freakin’ cool.  I talked to Steve White!!  If only it had been Lucia or Kapt’n K himself…

So that was my KMFDM experience.  Great times, for sure.  If they come to PA again, I think I’ll try to catch them maybe in Philly rather than in Pittsburgh, unless of course they go someplace other than Mr. Smalls.  But in all I’d say their performance was beyond incredible.

Were you there?  If so, what did you think?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Teacher Our Young to Be Creative

Back in my high school days, I liked my music loud and aggressive.  My favorite bands shifted over the years from heavy metal icons Motley Crue to perennial rockers AC/DC and then to industrial juggernauts Nine Inch Nails and KFMDM.

While my music tastes have broadened considerably since that time—I listen to the local pop radio station about as much as I listen to my MP3 collection, which even includes some Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and even Katie Perry believe it or not—I still can’t pass up the opportunity to see my favorite bands when they tour in the area.

In just a few minutes my lovely wife and I (along with the kids and grandparents who will be babysitting) will be off to Pittsburgh.  We (just my wife and I) are going to see KMFDM.  I haven’t been this excited to see a show in a long time.  I saw them once before back in 1997, and of the few dozen concerts I’ve been to in my life, I will always credit that 1997 show as being the best.  Heck, I even saw Nine Inch Nails with the Jim Rose Circus freak show act and an unknown Marilyn Manson at the time, but even that one didn’t compare to KMFDM.

I’m not going to hoot and haw over them, because I doubt hardly anyone has heard of them.  Their most popular songs have been “A Drug Against War” and “Juke Joint Jezebel” in the 90s.  They received a bit of unfortunate notoriety after the Columbine massacre because one of the shooters was a huge fan and posted a few of their songs on his website.  And their music does generally portray a message of standing up to the authority.  KFMDM itself is an initialization of “Kein Mehrheit Fur Die Mitleid”, which loosely translates to “no pity for the majority.”  So yeah, it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea.  Loud, in your face, industrial music with heavy guitar riffs, screeching male and female vocals, horns and brass instruments.  Great stuff in my opinion.

I’ve always been a huge fan of music, although I’ve never really pursued it as a skill.  I own a couple of guitars and can play a few chords, and long ago I was invited and entertained the idea of trying out for several bands.  People always got a kick out of my deep voice, and I could play rhythm guitar well enough for a garage or bar band.  But I never did because I was always too busy or had some other excuse (perhaps I was a bit too introverted at the time).

But I was always big on art and, of course, writing.  I took an art class every year from K to 10, and the only reason I stopped in my junior year was that the art classes offered at my high school interfered with honors and AP courses.  I recall in 7th grade, though, having our first, real, not-making-silly-crafts-out-of-shoeboxes art class, and on the very first day our teacher asked us to draw her.  Simple enough.  Just draw her on a sheet of plain 8.5” x 11” white paper with a number 2 pencil.  When we were finished, she looked over the drawings, nodding every so often, and then handed them back to us.  Only three of us in a class of twenty-five drew her as they saw her rather than curly squiggles for hair and child-like noses and smiles and whatnot.  I was surprised by this, because while I drew like that when I was younger, somewhere along the line I realized that drawing circles and squiggles, shapes and patterns, was so limiting to reality.  And I mean, just think about it—we see circles everywhere, like my webcam lens or my cup or my fan, and yet all of these things were manufactured by man.  How many circles do we see in nature that are naturally occurring?  Not very many, unless you are looking at the atomic level.  When you look at a person’s hair, is it really just a bunch of squiggly curly q’s?  No, nobody’s hair REALLY looks like that.  Are eyes really shaped like ellipses?  No.  Are faces ever oval?  No.

In 9th grade and then even more so in college, I took creative writing classes.  I always did well in those classes, and I’d attribute that to my inquisitive mind.  I’m never satisfied with most stories I read or movies I watch, because I’m always so quick to find plot holes or silly bits of writing.  For example, I saw a trailer for Stephenie Meyer’s new movie, The Host, and I was so irritated by the monologue.  The girl says, “This is the beginning of a love story.  It might not seem like a big deal, except for one thing: this is the future, and humanity is all but extinct.”

I’ve not read Stephenie Meyer’s books, and I’ve only been able to stomach through one or two of the Twilight movies.  She is successful, and I have to give her credit there, but that monologue just pains me.  Why?  Because nobody would EVER refer to themselves as being in the future.  Think about it.  I’m not going to call my mom and say, “Hey Mom, this is the future, right?  It’s not like it was back when you were a teenager—back in the present.”  You never actually EXIST in the future unless you have time-travelled there, and then when you are there, it is still your PRESENT.  I get the fact that she’s trying to tell us that the setting is in the future, that’s fine, but by saying, “THIS is the future,” it just sounds silly to me.  How about, “This is the beginning of a love story.  It might not seem like a big deal, except for one thing: it happens/takes place/occurs IN THE FUTURE, where humanity is all but extinct.”

I digress.

Music, art, literature.  All of these things are so precious and valuable.  Yeah, very few people will become rich and famous by making music or selling their art or writing books, and that’s partly the reason why they tend to be neglected in some institutions of learning.  None of those courses are as important as math or science.  Reading, yeah, but writing?  Not so much.

Yet even a doctor with all of his knowledge of the human anatomy needs creative skills to diagnose patients.  If it’s not this ailment, then it could be this one, and if it’s not this one, then it could be that one.  Computer programmers need creative skills to envision new algorithms and solutions for automating processes.  Even investors need to be creative when it comes to identifying trends and studying markets.  Without creativity, we’d accomplish nothing.

If you have a little one, I’d strongly encourage you to have him/her draw or write or learn an instrument.  Allow that little mind to not just learn a new skill but also the ability to imagine and envision.  I once had a crazy old teacher named Mrs. Harvey who had her ladder of abstraction, and while everyone scoffed at her teaching style—which was probably more fitting for gifted elementary school kids and not teenagers—she was very right about one thing: kids need to learn how to think for themselves—and think in the abstract.

Because we really don’t want or need a world full of followers, unable to think or do anything outside of what they are told.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Because Said I Should!

Oh no!  Where have I been?

Yes, it’s been something like two weeks since my last post.  I apologize.  Sometimes life gets in the way of your best intentions.  I wish I could say something monumental happened to me that has kept me from posting, but alas I cannot.  Instead, I’ve taken up yet another hobby—improving upon myself in a way that I haven’t done for a while.

I’m learning a new language!  Actually, I’m learning several.  One is Vietnamese, which is what my wife’s family speaks.  I’ve tried learning it a handful of times before, but now I actually have some mp3s to listen to while I drive.  My wife understands it well but doesn’t really speak it, so that hinders my learning, as it’s always best to be surrounded by a language to really learn it.  Still, I often like to know what my in-laws are talking about, and instead of recognizing a handful of words like I have for years, maybe in a few months I’ll be able to recognize several dozen.  So that’s one thing I’ve been up to.

The other languages I’m learning are programming languages.  Not since my days in college have I spent actual time learning something like this.  In high school and college I learned Turbo Pascal and C++, and somewhere along the line I learned how to design a webpage in HTML and CSS, but it’s been so long that my skills were beyond rusty.  And Javascript didn’t exist back then, or at least if it did, it wasn’t in my curriculum.  But beyond just brushing up on HTML and CSS and learning Javascript, I plan on learning PHP, jQuery, and perhaps even Python, Ruby, and a bunch of others.

How am I doing this?  Through for now.  And the best part is that is free.  You just sign up and start learning.  Piece of cake.

Why am I doing this?  Because Bill Gates and said I should.  No seriously, as an IT Manager, I’ve always felt programming was one of my weaker skills, and yet I come across instances on a daily basis where I wish I could tweak something without contacting a vendor or create my own content.  And technology is so prevalent in our world that it’s really silly not to at least understand how computers do what they do.  Ultimately I might mesh my writing and programming skills together in some fashion for a new website or business—we’ll see.  But I have to start somewhere.  And it’s always a smart idea to pad your resume with skills pertinent to your field.

But even beyond that, I see it as something refreshing and fun to do.  I always read or hear about people being bored.  I’m never bored.  In fact, I never seem to have enough time to accomplish everything I want.  And even when I’m doing nothing, I find myself playing dumb games on my phone like Words with Friends or Candy Crush Saga (literally 3 HOURS one night this week).

Technology is a pretty handy tool, but it’s such a huge field that it’s impossible to know everything.  And it’s constantly changing.  So I suggest if you are ever bored, delve into the world of technology.  Learn a programming language like me, or get yourself a smart phone or a tablet.  Surf the web—you can spend hours upon hours on sites like or  Make yourself some new friends on Twitter and chat away.  Shop (enough said).  Or research stuff like zombie ants or nanotechnology or bog bodies.

I’m not advocating keeping your nose glued to a mobile device or PC monitor all day, because getting outside and playing or going for a walk or jog is much more vital to your health.  But the next time you are sitting around your house bored, depressed, or lonely, just sit down at your computer or download some apps on your phone and do something with yourself—even if it is just playing Candy Crush Saga for 3 hours.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Perceived Anonymity and Invincibility on the Internet

What would we do without the Internet?  All of those wonderful games we play on our phones?  Emailing and texting and Skyping?  The ability to Google anything and everything?  I remember when I was a teenager and wanted to know something, I’d either ask my dad (who seemingly knew EVERYTHING) or I’d go dig in the back of my closet for twenty-year-old encyclopedias that still listed North and South Vietnam as two separate countries.  It’s amazing I was able to write coherent and relevant term papers in high school!

Now people can literally spend all day trolling the Internet—especially social media and news sites.  I think humans, as a function of their existence, thrive on vicarious drama, and there’s no better place to find drama than Facebook.

I have one friend on Facebook who is constantly posting quarrels he’s having with his girlfriend.  He doesn’t even tag her in the posts.  He just says things like, “Oh, I see how it is.  Wait until the tides turn, you *#$%*#.”  He'll even comment on his post with another crass remark, almost as if he's talking to himself like a lunatic.  No joke!  People have commented under his posts saying he should keep his pre-marital strife out of the public realm, but that does not deter him.

Today I was reading a post by the local radio DJ about a teenager with severe scoliosis.  Sadly I couldn’t write this blog entry sooner, but her family was collecting donations at Sam’s Club in Altoona from like 10 AM to 6 PM.  It was a great post to share on the part of the DJ, something honorable and thoughtful, and the family was hoping that the publicity would raise $7000 for her treatment.  And then I read the comments…

The post didn’t actually mention the girl’s name, and so someone asked for it, saying she’d like to know who she’s donating money to before she drives over.  People started bashing her, saying the name of the girl or family shouldn’t matter, and she started bashing back, saying she donates all the time and attends church benefits and blah blah blah.  I think I read maybe ten posts of this lady arguing with two or three others, calling each other names and whatnot.  Absolutely ridiculous.

This was a great post to benefit this poor girl.  And people were fighting about it.  What is wrong with people?

Well, I might be able to provide a partial answer to that.  The Internet has given us all a sense of perceived anonymity and invincibility.  We think that we can type away our thoughts and feelings, no matter how crass or immoral, and that nobody can stop us.  Some might have a devil-may-care attitude about life in general.  Others might be under the impression that they don’t have many actual friends that they routinely congress with, and so even if they have hundreds or thousands of followers or friends on their social media sites, none of them are paying any attention to what they post.  Wrong.

My case in point, another social media friend of mine, a person who has always seemed to struggle with his self-esteem, shared an extremely vulgar picture, and in the comments an aunt or other type of authority figure stated that she should wash his mouth out with soap.  His response: “I’m 27 years-old now.  I can say what I want.”

I wasn’t at all surprised to see his vulgar post, because it was par for the course with him, but I was surprised by his comment.  I really believe that people seem to think they can say what they want on the Internet with no repercussions.  And that’s a bit scary to me that some of us have devolved to that point.

Any human resource manager or boss looking to hire someone and worth his/her salary is going to delve through social media sites before making an offer.  It’s the same idea as researching a product on the Internet before purchasing it.  You want to know what you’re getting before you commit.  And so yeah, I guess people can say whatever they want, but I certainly hope they won’t ever have the need to hunt for a job in the future.  And forget about running for a public office!

What really troubles me is that people would not say these types of things in actual public.  Like this lady asking for the name of this poor girl, if she just happened to be shopping at Sam’s Club and saw her asking for donations, she’d probably drop a few cents in the jar and be on her way.  She’s not going to walk up to the disabled girl and ask her name or interrogate her.  And she’s not going to get in a public argument with someone else over something so trivial.  People shy away from arguments in public, because it creates a scene, and natural human behavior forces most people to avoid scenes.

But not on the Internet, yet it is still a public setting.  It’s actually possibly even more public than a physical location, because rather than having maybe twenty people gape at your pointless and insensitive argument, you now have hundreds if not thousands—especially when you do it in the comments under the post of a local celebrity.  Are some people just too dense to understand that?

The Internet can be a very scary thing at times, and I’m not talking about malware or hackers or NSFW content popping up on the screen while trying to show your boss an important document.  I’m talking about the fact that people have this perceived anonymity and invincibility when using it.  I’m sorry people, but that’s just not the case.  Unless you are using some fake name to comment (which is an entirely different issue possibly requiring some psychological therapy in most cases), you aren’t anonymous.  And when you say things that make you look like a donkey butt, don’t be surprised when you run into a cousin or high school friend or fellow churchgoer and the person gives you the cold shoulder.  Because you are not invincible either.

I’ve said my peace.