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If you haven’t heard, the online music service Spotify is the latest iteration of an unpopular idea:  Paying for music.  Whereas other buffet style paid music services such as Napster and Rhapsody were basically debunked as frivolous spending in an era when purchasing music is considered as invaluable as a wisdom tooth, Spotify benefited from anticipation and hype, its progression into the US from Europe delayed by years of legal wrangling with music labels still unsure of any promises of a lucrative online business model.
Being an Anglophile in musical taste, I discovered Spotify a few years ago through the UK music press.  I read that the Pet Shop Boys even used Spotify to structure their setlist for their last tour.  Like Napster and Rhapsody, Spotify allows you on-demand access to their library of music (15 million tracks, they claim) in Ogg Vorbis format no less.  I have never used the other two services, but you need to download a client application to use Spotify.  Browser access is unavailable.
As soon as I heard that Spotify was opening up shop in the US, I signed up for entry into their free service which entitles you to 10 hours of advertised subsidized listening per month on a desktop computer.  4.99 bucks a month removes the ads and the time restrictions.  9.99 bucks removes the ads, time restraints, and gives you mobile access via your Android or iOS device.  If you enjoy creating mixtapes, you can even share playlists via the Facebook integration.
It’s funny that just a hour ago, I just received the invite for the free service.  Being the impatient person I am, I went ahead and went for the 9.99 plan the day Spotify commenced service in the US and I’ve been using it daily since.   The aspect I really enjoy so far is the depth of music I have available.  Your only limitation is probably your music IQ.  Unlike Pandora, there are no genome music project to suggest other artists based on your musical tastes.  For the average person, listening to Katy Perry and Bruno Mars on constant rotation is going to probably going to suffice and would probably make Spotify a poor investment if the said person opted for the paid plans.  If you are willing to explore past the “What’s New” tab (which basically consists of the usual top 40 fare), exploring Spotify can be quite the adventure.  I’ve spent some time exploring some acts I’ve read about in the NME like Mirrors and Friendly Fires.  I’m not at all interested in listening to the Glee soundtracks, but it’s somewhat reassuring that I can.  Whenever.  I. want. to.
Like any new tech product, there are bound to be growing pains.  While listening to a Deadmau5 track, the over seven minute track would constantly and consistently end around 5 minutes.  A Frank Sinatra track included in an introductory USA-themed playlist would not stream as well as Hong Kong Garden from Siouxie and the Banshees.  The artist page for the defunct UK 90’s shoegazer group, the Sundays, included two albums from another group called the Sundays.
Even with 15 million tracks, there are still the crucial omissions.  The Beatles remain an exclusive iTunes stable.  Hall and Oates’s sizable hit-laden library was restricted to their Atlantic Records years.  Some tracks were limited to “karaoke” or cover versions.  Obviously licensing issues are still abound.
With the 9.99 option for mobile device use, you can use Spotify on your phone.  While not necessarily a complete iTunes replacement, the caching of tracks/playlists onto your device for offline use is pretty cool.  I was startled when the Spotify app detected my Android phone on the network and offered to prepare a wireless sync.
So far, I have been satisfied by Spotify enough to recommend it provided if you really like to listen to music.  Even if you can get a hamstrung free account (those are currently invite only), you can still enjoy the vast library of music in an audio format that is better than MP3.  Part of the impetus of Spotify was to create a fair way to obtain digital music without stealing.  It’s reassuring that artists are being compensated for allowing their music to be included, though 0.004 cents per track played doesn’t sound that impressive but when you consider the growing user base in Europe already consists of ten million, it still may be quite substantial.

futtock stave


Finally, after 23 years, I finally got my chance to see Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark live!  As soon as I heard that they were planning to tour the States after hitting the reunion circuit in Europe the last five years, there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity.
After initially underestimating their popularity in the Bay Area by booking their gig a tiny SOMA dive called the Mezzanine, they had to upgrade their venue to the spacious Fox Theatre in Oakland.

After missing out on the original line-ups of Depeche Mode (minus Alan Wilder) and New Order (sans Gillian Gilbert), I really appreciated the fact the classic lineup of OMD of Andy McCluskey (vocals, bass), Paul Humphries (vocals, keyboards), Martin Cooper (keyboards, sax), and Malcolm Holmes (drums) were all present and while a tad worst for wear, still provided the goods.

Like the Yazoo show we attended a couple of years ago, the turnout was like a Class of the 80’s reunion.  The majority of the concert goers were either in their late 30’s or 40’s.  Since that’s my demographic, I ain’t complaining.  Like everyone at the Fox that night, at one point in their lives, they probably had The Best of OMD on the Walkman on constant auto-reverse while walking to high school.

They played all their well known hits from that album with the curious exception of Secret, which arguably was their second best-known single besides their breakthrough hit, If You Leave, which also oddly enough, was played in the middle of their set instead at the end or during their encore.  I can only imagine that McCluskey’s solo 90’s material such as Sailing on the Seven Seas and Walking on the Milky Way baffled many of the casual OMD fans’ 80’s memories.

New Babies : New Toys
Tesla Girls
Radio Waves
History of Modern (part I)
Forever Live and Die
If You Leave
Joan of Arc
Maid of Orleans
New Holy Ground
So In Love
Sister Marie Says
Talking Loud and Clear
Sailing On The Seven Seas
Enola Gay
Walking On The Milky Way

As I have read the reviews of their previous tour stops, OMD were at times deeply appreciative and astounded by the responses they have been receiving.  At times during the show, you thought you just saw the Beatles.  After twenty or some odd years of Nirvana, Oasis, Spice Girls, and Britney Spears, maybe one just realizes maybe the 80’s wasn’t just a cliché of poofy hair, leotards, and acid-wash.  It might have been the last Golden Age of pop music.

Review – Weezer – iTunes Pass: The Weezer Raditude Club

weezer 12x12cs3.indd

As polarizing Weezer fans can get, the absurdly titled Raditude isn’t as bad an album as most of the Blue/Pinkerton acolytes insist.  If I recall, the currently revered Pinkerton was slagged heavily by critics in ’96 and even made it to one of the “worst” lists in that year end’s Rolling Stone.
Who still wants to sound like the  prepubescent Pixies in oh-nine?  Certainly not Weezer.  All members at or pushing their forties, you can’t help but to feel some apathy for titles such as “I’m Your Daddy” or “The Girl Got Hot”.  Nevertheless, the power-pop-over-exuberance of the first few tracks on Raditude are contagious.  Added unheard-of Weezer flourishes like the electro keyboard break in “I’m Your Daddy” are surprisingly refreshing.  Still how can Raditude be a Weezer album without the trademark witty and pop culture referencing lyrics from Rivers Cuomo?  My favorites:  “I took you to Best Buy and you took me to meet your Mom and Dad” (I Want You To) and “I told you would put on some weight—ouch” (Trippin’ Down The Freeway).
Raditude was assembled by a patchwork of trendy producers and the contrast of styles shows.  “I Can’t Stop Partying”, produced by Polow Da Pon is a bizarre hip-hop/rock concoction featuring a guest rap by Lil’ Wayne (thankfully the rockier Coconut Teaser Mix is included in the iTunes Pass).  Dr Luke has Weezer verging in a cookie-cutter Katy Perry top 40 pop direction.  Butch Walker and Jacknife Lee steer Weezer in a more sensible direction with the latter producing almost half the album (though most of it, including the wonderful “The Prettiest Girl In the Whole Wide World”, is relegated to the throwaway “bonus” material section).  As misplaced as “I Can’t Stop Partying”, a rather left field “Love is the Answer” features Indian style chanting and instrumentation.  This recalls the Beatles forays into the same territory but thankfully their interest in Transcendental Meditation only lasts one track.


Speaking of bonus materials, the iTunes Pass also includes videos which consist of some live performances, an interesting making-of feature, and of more notable interest, an odd ball series of tour introduction videos which have the members of  Weezer (minus Cuomo) touting the fine local scenes of tour stops such as Toronto and Denver.
For a non-physical release, this collection packs a wallop of items the non-fan would deem unnecessary.  Well even to a fan, the dance mix of “I Want You Too” is pretty unnecessary.  My main motivation to pick this $20 dollar download?  The killer “Kids”/”Poker Face” mash-up/cover that was featured on YouTube which seems unavailable anywhere else.

Raditude isn’t the next Blue Album or Pinkerton.  Heck, it’s not even the next Make Believe or Maladroit or Red, Green or anything past those first two albums.  But maybe in ten years, some Weezer fan will malaise why Weezer doesn’t sound the way they did during Raditude (or maybe not).

iPod Conversion


My 4G 2oG iPod’s hard drive began freezing up and making clicking sounds recently.  Being that it was almost 4 years old and the amount of times I’ve skipped over tracks in shuffle mode, you would figure it would die eventually.  These are great iPods if you are strictly into listening to music.  Though it doesn’t support gapless playback or viewing photos or videos, it still is compatible with Firewire as well as USB 2.0.  Annie did some extra babysitting gigs to get this for me for Christmas and it was our wedding DJ, so yeah, I guess I do have some emotional attachment to it.  I originally ordered a new Toshiba mini hard drive for it, but I eventually went even further…

I thought since I was opening it up, I might as well replace the battery.  So I replaced it with a NewerTechnology one that promised up to 33% more capacity than the stock battery.  As I was doing my Google searches about further upgrading my iPod, I ran into this…6364964423

“Wow, this is cool!”, I thought.  If I get this Compact Flash-to-IDE adapter, I can get my old-and-busted iPod up to speed with flash memory!  There are so many benefits.  One, the hard drive becomes non-mechanical, i.e. no moving parts, so this decreases the chances of drive failure and data corruption due to bumps and/or rattles.  Two, since there are no moving parts, battery consumption decreases thus providing longer run times.  Have you ever noticed the huge 2o hour run times on the newer iPod nanos?  It’s because they are running on some kind of flash memory. Last but not least, since that tiny chunk of metal known as the hard drive is replaced by an even diminutive plastic rectangular box, the iPod loses some of its heft.

Using this site, I first took apart the iPod’s casing, /joshhighland.com/blog/2005/12/24/replacing-the-hardrive-of-an-ipod/
Since my battery had not arrived yet, I did not have any of those non-marring plastic tools.  I used one of those cheapo tiny eyeglass repair screwdriver kits from Chinatown as it had the only bit that could fit into the iPod case’s narrow slit.  Once I pried a bit of it open, I stuck in a nylon probe to finish the job.  Cosmetically, the iPod did OK.  There is a tiny outward protruding dent from the right side and the inner lining of the white polycarbonate is a bit gouged out.  Also, I just realized this morning, I also broke one of the tabs.  It’s a weird dichotomy.   Apple makes these beautiful products that scratch and mar easily and once they go into a state of repair, you realize they design them in such a way that you end up destroying something in the process.  They are just meant to self-destruct and of course, Apple will have new and even prettier products for you to purchase down the road.  Have you seen the take-apart for the 6G iPod?  It’s an even scarier proposition.  Oh well, I’ve done worse on an iBook.

Removing the battery is very painful if you follow the instructions on many sites include NewerTech’s.  It’s glued down so they suggest you use a blow dryer to weaken the adhesive and then stick a narrow blunt object from the right of the stock battery and pry carefully.  I’ve got a better tip.  Unseat the logic board first.  If you ever try this, I’m going to assume you already have Torx wrenches and it’s something like 6 screws, so it’s not difficult.  Once the screws are removed, the board and screen are still tethered to the top case with ribbons, so just flip those items aside to the left carefully.  This is also a good time to air blast those dust mites trapped between the LCD and the screen.  Once these items are out of the way, you have more leverage to pop the battery out without warming the glue up.  And it will POP out.

For the CF adaptation, you will need to purchase an adapter.  I got one on Ebay from this seller:  /cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&item=250389454330 They are usually sold by someone in Hong Kong for under 5 bucks which includes shipping.  I don’t know what kind of shipping they use there, but it got to my hands in 5 days whereas the Toshiba drive I ordered from NY a hour before the CF adapter….well, I’m still waiting for it.  I was a bit skeptical of the CF adapter from HK as it was cheap, but since it didn’t cost much at all, it was worth the risk.  And it was plus a lot more!
If you read the Instructable how-to, you will notice on the comments on the number of people who have had problems getting this mod to work.  Bear in mind, this how-to was put out in 2005, so I reckon the technology has gotten better since.  This adapter I purchased omits the protruding jumper that caused some of their iPods to have a “dark spot” on the LCD and it works perfectly.  I don’t know how this thing will perform on the color 4G iPod, but as soon as I inserted a CF card and tethered it into my PC, the software was restored instantly and iTunes noticed it right away as “KINGSTON” (the brand of the CF card).

The Instructable article also recommends you adhere the CF adapter to a flat backing to prevent it from rocking around the case.  I had a difficult time trying to make this as slick as possible.  I didn’t want to use a piece of cardboard, so I drilled out a plastic business card, but I couldn’t think of a way to secure the adapter onto it.  I tried those tiny nylon cable straps, but that increased the height of the package, which like that jumper, would cause the LCD to smush into the screen.  I ended up using an old used iTunes gift card which I cut about half a inch off  and used double-sided photo archiving tape to adhere the CF adapter.  I found some anti-static foam material from the packaging from my motherboard and lined the metal compartment with it to provide some padding for the adapter/CF card.

Keep in mind you need at least a 2G CompactFlash card.  I tried a 128MB card, and iTunes thought my iPod was a 1G model and kept on erroring out.  As far as the CompactFlash card I ended up using, I purchased a Kingston 8 gig 133X from Fry’s which I am promptly going to return.It worked fine, but I checked out NewEgg’s selection and found a 16 gig model for almost 3 dollars less!  I like Fry’s as much as the next guy, but in the high order of brick-and-motar electronic store superiority, it’s only slightly better than Best Buy (but still way better than the deservedly out-of-business CompUSA).  I kind of regret not getting a 32G card but that’s a bit overkill.  I can easily fill that 32G with extra fat or have 16G of lean meat.  In other words, with the limited space, I can be concise with placing music I actually like and will not be constantly skipping over tracks.  Also, I can upgrade easily if need be.

UPDATE:  I wrote this up a few months ago actually.  I wanted to include more pics but I closed up the iPod too soon and I didn’t want to go through the trouble again.  So far the iPod’s been great.  I haven’t really used it other than having it my car.  The sad thing I’ve realized is that Apple doesn’t really support older iPods anymore and the firmware hasn’t had a new revision in quite some time. I had this issue where some songs would just end ten seconds before they should.  FireWire charging is discontinued on the newer iPods and the older iPods are incompatible with most of the newer in-car iPod controllers

(509) 581-3305

The Lovers are Losing/Everybody’s Changing/Bend and Break/ Nothing in My Way/Again and Again/This is the Last Time/Spiralling/Your Eyes Open/Try Again/Sunshine/You Haven’t Told Me Anything/Leaving So Soon/You Don’t See Me/Perfect Symmetry/Somewhere Only We Know/Crystall Ball Encore: Playing Along/Is It Any Wonder?/Bedshaped

Keane has always been considered Coldplay’s less successful contempories.  Besides the connection with the piano, I think the comparison really end there.   While Coldplay are nearing absurd U2 size delusions of self-grandeur, Keane are happy belting out catchy pop to their smaller but dedicated worldwide fan base.
You only had to look around the Fox Theatre to see that fan base.  From the very young to the very middle aged, Keane had won the crowd again and again.  You have to think piano rock is no longer synonymous with just Billy Joel.  Cherubic lead singer Tom Chaplin is surely the modern day hardest working man in show business. Singing and showing surprising competence in the guitar, his neon blue Members Only jacket grew embarrassingly large dark patches of sweat in the two hour show.
It takes a lot to move a crowd with piano rock and Tim Oxley-Rice does it with aplomb with his assorted arrays of pianos and keyboards.  He couldn’t  avoid looking geeky rocking out at the guitar but he isn’t any worse than Chris Martin.
This is the first time we’ve ever visited the renovated Fox Theater and we have to say, it’s one of the better venues out there.  The seating areas are leather padded and have ample legroom.  Like the Paramount down the street, the Fox is wonderfully adorned with classic details you normally don’t see everyday.

The Killers – SJ State Event Ctr 4.19.09


Human / This Is Your Life / Somebody Told Me / For Reasons Unknown / I Can’t Stay / Joy Ride / Bling / Shadowplay / Smile Like You Mean It / Spaceman / The World We Live In / A Dustland Fairytale / Sam’s Town / Can You Read My Mind / Mr. Brightside / All Those Things  Encore: Bones / Jenny Was a Friend of Mine / When You Were Young

The Killers are really big, or getting there somehow.  Like the Scissor Sisters (also hailing from the US), they are superstars in the UK, and have yet to find comparable success stateside.  I suppose that’s why they insist on playing these smaller venues like the SJ State Event Center (and SF’s Civic Center during their Sam’s Town tour).  They sell out these places easily but you can tell their show was meant for bigger stages.  They have pyro and confetti!

The Killers really pulled a fast one on me by shuffling their playlist from their current tour.  I totally expected Spaceman to be the opener, but it was swapped with Human.  Compared with the setlist they used in the first half of their tour, this set comprised more of their Sam’s Town album than Day and Age.  Brandon Flowers was definitely more animated and confident compared to the last time I saw him.  He mentioned it didn’t matter if you “black or white or republican or democrat” (which may be a indirect response to his conservative views) and jokingly asked the sellout crowd to “forgive” him after he flubbed the intro to A Dustland Fairytale.  He definitely had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, motioning them to sway their arms like palm trees during “This is Your Life” and during the call and response of  the “I’ve got soul” coda of  “All of These Things”.  The interaction with the other members of the band remained non-existent but maned guitarist Dave Keuning busted out all the obligatory rock star moves with the panache of a 80’s heavy metal guitar hero.

Opening for the Killers were indie act, Wild Light, who, as they constantly reminded the audience, hailed from New Hampshire.  I was hoping for M83 as they had opened for them earlier this tour but we got another forgettable band totally sounding out of place.  The only memorable thing about their set was their song, California on My Mind which they wisely tacked on at the end.  In this song, the chorus includes the verses, “F$#k San Francisco” and “F$#k California”.  They were lucky the sound at the venue sucked, otherwise if the audience could clearly hear what they were singing about, they would have been booed to high hell.

(719) 527-9378


Sadly, today was our last day in Tokyo.  It was a blast being here and was totally what I had expected.  They had the weird Engrish signs, fantastic architecture, and cool cars and toys.  It was also overcrowded at times and expensive as well but not to debilitating heights.  The food pricing is adequate if you can stomach their minuscule portions.


As different a culture it was, Tokyo is still a very consumerist society.  They have infomercials and as we found out this week, they really love Krispy Kreme.  And it’s such a bustling society here.  People are constantly going somewhere.  Trains are filled to the brink every morning and while the attendance tapers off a bit in the afternoon, you are left wondering where everyone is going?  Every night is like Friday night at Shibuya.  Doesn’t anyone care about working the next day?


As I am here typing this up, I am just having a hard time figuring out how could anything here in SF top a day or night out in Tokyo?

Tokyo – Day 4


This being our last full day here before our travel day, we finally hit Ginza. Not if there weren’t enough snooty stores such as Takashimaya or Lumine, there are plenty more in this upscale district of Tokyo. They’ve got Prada, Hermes, etc. as well as other not-so-exclusive establishments such as Uni-Qlo, which is like Japan’s monotone version of Gap.


Sony’s got a showroom in Ginza which is several floors of their latest electronics.  Nothing too special.  It’s just like a Sony Style store but with ladies standing along every floor.  They do have an PS3 running a virtual guide in the lobby which is a pretty interesting use of that technology.


As with Toyota, Nissan has a little showroom in Tokyo.  It’s quite small compared to Toyota’s in Ikekuburo and it only houses two cars.  The GT-R did gather some attention.  I don’t know if AM-PM workers make serious money here, but we noticed that a GT-R was always parked in front of the AM-PM across the street from our hotel every night.


Just when I thought we found the best toy shop at Bic’s Camera, we find Hakuhinkan Toy Park.


Again if I had to equate this to anything, it would be FAQ Schwartz.  They have a cool little racing track upstairs and loads of Gundam model kits.  It’s strange to think when I was a boy any toy that came from Japan was so alien, cool, and so difficult to obtain and you get here it’s typical like GI Joe to them.


I thought the Japanese World Baseball team’s jersey looked kind of cool and I figured they might have them at the Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants. They didn’t have that jersey but they have a player with the last name “Lee” and I thought that’s a cool T-shirt to have being that San Francisco has the SF Giants and my surname is Lee.  It turns out the T-shirt doesn’t even fit, they have all the shirts packaged in plastic bags and they don’t use the S, M, or L size convention.  Oh well, we might make use of it in the future.


We went back to Shinjuku and finally found the  massive Tokyo Government Building. There are free observation levels on the 45th floor on both the north and south buildings, so this is a pretty great alternative to paying to get into Tokyo Tower to get great vistas of the city skyline.


Being that I own a Subaru, I was pretty excited to find the Subaru Building in Shinjuku, and I was finally ready to take a pic of it.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the over-indulgent showroom Toyota had and it was more like what Nissan had in Ginza.  Just two cars and a couple of ladies hanging about.


Tokyo – Day 3

I’m getting better on that jet lag…now I’m waking up at 4 AM. It turns out that I’m not getting sunburned. The air is so dry and cold, any of my exposed skin is either getting wind burned or is getting excessively dry. Despite all that, I am dreading the day we leave. I regret I didn’t book a longer trip. There is so much to see and do.

We spent the majority of that day at Ikebukuro. We had planned to go to Ginza and maybe revisit Roppongi as well, but due to the variety of shops here, we couldn’t leave here anytime soon enough.


We had lunch at another fast food place called Lotteria. They have some interesting burgers a la Red Robin, but the food didn’t do justice to the pictures on the menu. I ordered something called the “Titan” or something, a beefy looking burger with bacon, but it ended up being something akin to a little McDonald hamburger. Annie had an interesting fried piece of rice which kind of looks like a hash brown but tastes like… a fried piece of rice.


You can’t equate Japan without Hello Kitty, and Ikebukoro has one of the flagship Sanrio stores. It has some items that seem to be exclusive to this store, but probably won’t hit the States until a few more months.


Nearby is a pretty massive mall called the Sunshine 60. Connected to it is Toyota’s 5 story Amlux building. They don’t sell cars here. It’s more of an exhibition hall for their current models with a myriad of driving simulators based off Gran Turismo. I’ve read there is bigger showroom in Odaiba, which we visited the previous day. If you noticed for the past few years, Toyota, with the exception of their Lexus boutique brand, is pretty bland as far styling go so there is nothing very sexy here. Some of the models are indeed Lexuses here as the Lexus brand isn’t as far reaching as it is in the US.


We went to Tokyu Hands for the first time here. The closest thing I can relate to it compared to anything in the States is Sears. Just floors of household goods, sporting goods, and toys. I was surprised to see some rather trendy US messenger bags here such as Timbuk 2 and even San Francisco’s Chrome label.


Next to the JR Station, is another department store called Bic Camera. Wow. I imagine it’s kind of like B & H in New York. It’s got a fantastic camera store in the basement. Prices aren’t the greatest but it’s got a pretty thorough inventory. I kept on pondering on something I might need here, but ended up just leaving empty handed. They’ve also got an impressive selection of Japanese toys. We had gone to Toys R Us in the Sunshine 60 mall, but this place blows it away. They had many of the newer Gundam and Chogokin series toys. If I was younger, this would have been a bigger sugar high. It sucks I waited this long to get here.


That night back at the Lumine Mall in Shinjuku, I was pleasantly surprised to find Tower Records alive and well in Japan. As you know, Tower is all but dead in the States. I don’t know how bad music piracy has affected the Japanese music industry as it has decimated the industry in the US, but the Tower store here seems alive and well.  It felt nostalgic in a way seeing the aisles of cd’s and those bright yellow and red bags. iTunes is great but just having the physical media, with the actual artwork and higher quality audio, is something I am sure is lost on many of today’s kids.