Fkenal, Corridor, Secret Fun Club at the Radio Room 12/26/08

I love it when odd bands find each other and make a night of it. The small but appreciative crowd that came out on Friday night was treated to some weird stuff, something I much prefer to a night of seeing three bands that sound exactly alike. In fact, they were all missing one or more members that you would expect in a standard rock band. And judging from the types of music they play, these were three acts that probably weren’t going to go the cover-song route any time soon.

Fkenal plays an intense version of math-rock that is both experimental, yet has its own sort of hooks. They substitute a projector for a singer.

This type of light setup doesn’t offer a lot of various looks, so it was all basically sillouhettes.

The spinning RGB color filter in the projector can do cool stuff to drumsticks though.

The black abyss that is the Radio Room suited their light show well, but this isn’t a band that needs an extra visual element. Their music is strong enough to stand on its own- it’s not a soundtrack.

Corridor is a one-man band that gets lots of sounds from an enormous selection of pedals and a light show of his own.

You’d think that a guy with an acoustic guitar and a cello would make for a quick set change, but it still took half an hour.

One man, one guitar= one nap for me. He did change it up from the typical singer songwriter shtick by using loops and a cello, but to me, that’s no replacement for a full band. Backing tracks are too static to be interesting- but any rhythm section player would say that, right?

“Hey, I used to play cello in the fourth grade.” I told him as he was setting up. “Yeah,” he said, “I get that a lot.”

I’m still not all that good at putting words to how a band’s music sounds. I’m much more comfortable presenting bands in a visual format. Picking the photos for these blog posts takes me about a minute total. Picking the words takes considerably longer. But, a description of Secret Fun Club’s music came to me during their first song- if there was a feel-good documentary about a sex offender, this would be the soundtrack….

… and starring this drummer.

These guys are LOUD. The bass player’s rig is its own P.A. system. The distorto-bass sound didn’t change much from song to song, but these guys are pretty tight. If you like old-school noise rock like Milkmine and Happy Flowers, go see these guys.

Having such a visible and expressive drummer gave me lots of time to devote to honing my drummer-shooting technique.

Ok, so this was my first time visiting the Radio Room since it opened and to be honest, I miss the Zombie Lounge. I like how the bar area is more open now, but they didn’t put a lot of thought into decorating the place.

It’s flat black walls everywhere, except for the bathroom, which is now flat white.In contrast, this was the bathroom in April, back when it was still the Zombie Lounge:

It gave you something to look at while you were just standing there for a minute or two. I don’t even remember there being a band sticker on the walls on Friday, they’re just too clean, no one wants to mess them up.

The stage is bigger now, though, and they have an actual sound system, which is very cool. SInce the first two bands had a white tarp covering the back wall, I didn’t get a lot of time to use those purple lights as the background. I think it’d be fun for a couple shows, but I wouldn’t be able to to change up the look very much.

It still remains to be seen if the Radio Room is going to be as fun a place as the Zombie Lounge. I’ve played there with three different bands over the past five years, and it was always a blast. I hope that doesn’t get painted over too.

Ian Tordella Quartet at South Park Bar and Grill 12/21/08

When I met John, the owner of South Park Bar and Grill, last week he said I should come by again to see this band. He mentioned a special guest who just won a prestigious jazz guitar award, and when I found out that Rob Thorsen was playing bass, I knew where I’d be on Sunday night.

Hard bop is my favorite style of jazz, and these guys do it really well.

Ian Tordella– Tenor sax

Rob Thorsen– Bass

Rob is also a photographer, and has some nice examples on his website. 

Dylan Savage– Drums

Jeff Miles– Guitar

Jeff lives in Brooklyn these days, and so does my little brother Robert, who moved there during the summer.

Robert, you should go see him play, preferably by taking me out for drinks when I’m in NY in a couple weeks. Heather says you look like him, but I don’t think either one of us got much handsome genes from mom and dad.

The SPB&G is just down the street from the Whistle Stop, so if you’re a regular at that place but haven’t been here yet,  then you should really check it out.


And now for some general photo-geekery:

This is a great place to shoot bands. The lights are very bright and multicolored due to the blue and red neon lights outside the window and the orange spotlights illuminating the front. Bright spotlights= nice B&W portraits with a black background, as above.

Since the neon lights only emit one frequency of light, a little post-processing filtration can change the look dramatically. Like these, taken just seconds apart and all processed slightly differently:

Slight underexposure for mood.

Desaturation across all colors, but completely in the blue channel.

Blue and purple ceiling, warm light on the face.

Brighter blue ceiling, neutral tone on the face. Just by changing the white balance. All this and killer monochromes. I can’t do that at the Casbah…especially not with a slow tele-zoom lens!

Ocean Beach Pier 12/24/08

We were all set go to up to Encinitas early yesterday, but our quick stop in O.B. took a bit longer than expected once I saw the clouds in the sky. They were so dramatic that I had to take an hour and capture them.

Let’s start with one HDR, to really make the clouds pop.

The rest were done with my 10-stop ND filter to achieve 10-30 second exposures, making the clouds appear to race across the sky and soften up the water. I never thought I’d be so intrigued by clouds, but since this is the only time of the year we San-Diegans get to see them, it’s kinda special.

Every photographer takes this looking down the pier shot. I couldn’t help myself.

Peter Sprague Christmas Eve Concert 12/24/08

After stopping in O.B. for some shopping and  shooting the very dramatic clouds by the pier, we headed up to Encinitas for Peter Sprague’s annual Cristmas Eve concert. Due to the threat of rain which never materialized, the concert was moved from its normal outdoor location to the Encinitas Library.

Fred Benedetti on acoustic guitar, Peter Sprague on double-neck nylon/steel-string guitar, Gunnar Biggs on Bass.

Fred’s daughters sang a few songs, they are seriously talented singers. I have no doubt that either one could make a career of it if they chose.

I only own one CD with Peter’s playing on it, David Hilton’s “Samahdi Trio” CD, and he’s at the level I would call “scary-good”.

Being Jewish, I could totally do without hearing another Christmas song ever, but it’s good to see this level of musicianship applied to holiday standards. He gets a bunch of family members and friends involved in the show, and the packed auditorium says that many, many people enjoy it.

Paul Ingram Quartet 12/19/08

We went down to the South Park Bar and Grill on Friday night to catch some jazz and have a drink before starting our night in earnest. Paul Ingram was leading a band from the drum chair.

The first gig I ever played in San Diego was a jazz gig at Grossmont Center with Paul. He was still wearing a wrist brace from some surgery, but was still the most swingingest drummer I’d played with to that point. I was pretty nervous to be playing straightahead jazz with a buch of guys at this level, and it took me a full set to settle down and stop rushing. I know this bass player though another group he played with, and his playing sounded as nervous this night as mine did 6 years ago.

The rest of the band is great though. Brian Pierini plays sax with Kensington Garage, although they’re taking a break due to the (very personally familiar) fact that their drummer moved away.


The guitar player, John Kopecky, is actually the owner of the place.

He’s a VERY good player and a heck of a nice guy. The walls are adorned with some interesting photography from several different artists. I wonder if there’s room for some more…

Midway Party 12/20/08

Some night photos from around the Midway last night:

This 30 second exposure at ISO 1600 converts to an 8 minute at ISO 100 exposure, which is how I would have normally shot it. This was just a quick test to check focus and exposure, it was too dark to actually see the tree in front of me at all. I’ve always shot all my night photo work at ISO 100 for the lowest noise possible. The camera’s on a tripod, so what does it matter how long the exposure is? It turns out, a bit of noise reduction and a long exposure shot at ISO 1600 doesn’t look bad at all. Especially when you’re pressed for time and have to be at a party in 10 minutes, making an 8 minute shot out of the question.

The Midway itself was very nice, although the planes look much smaller up close…

…just kidding.

USS Midway in HDR 12/20/08

Heather had her company holiday party aboard the USS Midway last night, which we arrived 2 hours early for- just so I could shoot the sunset. We got there just as the sun dipped under the horizon, but I had my tripod- time for High Dynamic Range Photography!

I’m still learning how to make good-looking HDRs. The software is great at making flat-contrast, incredibly saturated color images and I spend the majority of my time trying to tame both of those back into reality.

Spotlight on a serious photographer: Marty Watson

Photographers are a notoriously introverted and solitary bunch. Musicians have to venture out of their bedrooms once they’re ready to make music with other musicians, but a photographer can spend all his time in the darkroom (or at the computer nowadays) and never have to interact with another one of his kind. Without the collaboration necessary in music, photographers can keep their output undiluted by outside influences if they choose, distilling their ideas and techniques into a highly personal style that very much reflects the mindest of the individual doing the shooting. 

When I showed up at the Casbah a while back, Marty Watson of Elemental Photography was hard at work shooting Marasol. I grabbed a couple shots of him doing his thing during Modern Rifles’s set.

He uses the Canon 16-35L in one hand and a flash in the other to capture striking, dynamic images of performances. He gets VERY close to his subjects, so close that there’s the occasional collision of a guitar headstock with his lens. This two-handed approach makes him have to move around with his subjects, which looks like quite a workout. He pulled out a film camera a few times to capture ambient light shots too.He’s developed his style much more than I’ve developed mine at this point, and I see some clear advantages and disadvantages to his method vs. mine.

Bringing your own light source (handlheld flash in this case) lets you control more variables like white balance, depth of field, shutter speed, ISO, as well as direction and quality of the light. My guess is that he comes home with maybe 1/4 as many shots as I do, but I’m sure he’s got a higher percentage of keepers.

On the other hand, it’s more intrusive to the performer. He’s right in their face, very close in order to fill the frame with the short focal lengths. I would only be able to shoot like that if I got permission from the band first. I’m pretty close myself, but with a 17-55mm focal length, I can shoot across to the other side of the stage and still get the shot, and although it’s not as dynamic a look, I don’t feel like I’m distracting to them, or the audience.

Anyway, just my observation of a different approach to concert photography. I think Marty’s got a great style, and it’s a shame he’s moving away in a few weeks.