French Vanilla @ Comet Ping Pong, 8/9/2017

I must confess my interest was piqued when I found myself in good company on a Wednesday night at Comet Ping Pong. I spotted members of Cigarette, Coup Sauvage and the Snips, Den-Mate and Priests as well as Ahmad. I was there for Kid Klaws not recognizing the other bands on the bill. A few bars into French Vanilla‘s set, I am reminded that there are few joys greater than discovering a new band.

The Los Angeles band took a red eye to the beautiful* District of Columbia landing hours past midnight. I only know this because Sally revealed it and not because of the explosive energy from the four piece. Sally bounced, crashed and danced her way all over, leaving a lasting trail with her voice and sweat. Daniel was never far behind with his saxophone. Bold without being boisterous and loud without being piercing, it was the perfect blend of dreamy and jazzy. The amalgam of the two gave birth to a dignified punk sound that compelled me to stop taking photographs and listen. When I did, I found my body groove naturally to the music.

Throw in Ali and Greg on bass and drums respectively, it’s an unstoppable punk symphony brought to magnificent life. French Vanilla delivers an exciting and unexpected punk wave that’s irresistible not to ride on.

*Diction of Em from Kid Klaws while tuning.

Mitski @ 930 Club, 7/8/2017

I have seen Mitski multiple times. This past Saturday was different. My heart was broken earlier that day. I felt lifeless and considered skipping the show. I am glad I did not.

This was her best performance to date. She literally didn’t miss a beat. It helps that the sound at the 930 Club is as crisp as it is loud and it’s very loud. Sound alone doesn’t convey the power of Mitski even if her bass rumbles like rolling thunder. Her presence on stage captivates me every time by freeing me to simply feel. And as I wrote previously, she achieves this with seemingly little effort by simply being. In fact, this is the least she has ever spoke. And just like each time, the words she utters the most are “thank” and “you”. Her gratitude to her fans remains as endearing and strong as ever.

It’s something unlikely to change even as she becomes more popular and plays larger venues. For this tour, she brought along stage props for the first time. Three rows of boards covered in seemingly aluminum foil serve to reflect off light. All of which confirms my fear that she will soon be priced out of my budget. It’s bittersweet given I will definitely be sad not to see her again but happy that her success continues to grow.

After just over an hour, she retired only to return very shortly after for a one song encore. It was and will likely remain the most impactful encore of my life. She began by expressing her severe disappointment in not having wrote the song. It’s penned by Personal Best which she urged everyone to check out on bandcamp after the show. The song is brilliant and the chorus goes like

I wanna kiss you in the street
Where everyone can see
‘Cos this is what we look like

The refrain repeats several times and listening to Mitski voice those words exacerbated the pain in my chest. I stood alone, squished on all sides in the sold out space, longing for a connection, wondering what it would look like. By the end of the song however, I felt less turmoil. The pain lingered but there was a tranquility that emerged. Like time, Mitski heals.


Playing With ISO

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/400 • ISO 3200

As promised, finally got around to test out various ISO settings. This isn’t as easy as turning a dial on the T6 to change shutter speed because the ISO button is on the back of the camera body. That said, it’s still very accessible and fast once you get used to the motions. Take photo, bring camera down, press ISO button, arrow key to desired ISO, press ok and ready to shoot again.

The lighting at Black Cat was pretty good for this show which somewhat skews this experiment. This is especially true for Katie since she was under a spotlight. I say this because usually in No Flash Mode which chooses ISO automatically, it defaults to 3200. Whereas ISO 3200 in this case is over exposed. All of which makes perfect sense. After all, 3200 is meant for low light conditions. The higher the ISO, the more noise (pixelation) is introduced into the photograph so the point is to choose the lowest ISO optimal for the lighting on hand. The T6 assists in this effort by displaying a horizontal meter at the bottom of the viewfinder when the camera is in focus. The mid point indicates optimal.

Even with plenty of light, ISO 100 is still best reserved for outdoor shots as demonstrated below. That said, thanks to the “disappearance” of the mic stand and cord in this case, the photo offers a rather artful if eerie atmosphere of sorts. It isn’t until ISO 1600 that objects in the background are getting picked up by the camera. On the other spectrum at ISO 6400, well, you can see for yourself.

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/100 • ISO 100

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/100 • ISO 200

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/100 • ISO 400

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/100 • ISO 800

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/100 • ISO 1600

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/100 • ISO 3200

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/100 • ISO 6400


T-Rextasy @ Black Cat, 7/5/17

“I am not a piece of food!”

Annie led the crowd in chanting the above. Unfamiliar with the song, I felt a bit awkward despite the boisterous enthusiasm surrounding me. And I am in good company given Ahmad is next to me and the drummers of Psychic Subcreatures and Homosuperior are in attendance. Then the drums kicked in and I quickly realized that T-Rextasy is the band I have always wanted.

The Dashing Dino Dames speak to me on multiple levels. As someone who’s highly sarcastic, I really appreciate their devastatingly witty sense of humor. The five piece from New York are endearingly energetic. At one point, they took turns sharing stories involving everything from Kombucha to some guy who wants the world to know about Radiohead. Their fun personalities carry over into their songs. Whether it’s about zits or coming out to the people in your life, each song shares the same upbeat vibe that induced everyone in the room to nod along. They don’t just make music. They make merry.

It’s a refreshing and amazing approach to sing about feminism. It’s also more accessible for those like myself whose palettes prefer a sound less abrasive than punk. Their set clocked in just over a half hour and left me wanting after a long day following an extended holiday weekend.

Manual the Sequel

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/200 • ISO 3200

Decided to experiment further with manual mode while shooting Chastity Belt. As mentioned previously, the lighting at Songbyrd is really poor. Taking the photo above took multiple tries. The lens couldn’t focus so I had to keep dialing the shutter speed faster until 1/200. The result is a rather dark photo but it does capture the movement so I think that’s a net gain.

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/160 • ISO 3200

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/200 • ISO 3200

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/250 • ISO 3200

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/320 • ISO 3200

Took four photos within a minute at varying shutter speeds. Love how the Rebel T6 makes it so easy to do this via a scroll wheel next to the shutter button. Even the slowest of the four still turned out dark and 1/160 isn’t fast by any stretch of the imagination so it just further confirms the atrocious lighting at this venue. By 1/320, the photo is noticeably much darker. That said, I must give credit to the ƒ/1.8 aperture. While dark, all images are sharp and the bokeh of the background lights is lovely. Another note to consider is that I am right next to the stage so that definitely helps.

Post processing could potentially counter the lighting issue but my aim is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of lenses and cameras.

Interview: Flowerbomb

Interviewing Flowerbomb was a real treat. The camaraderie of the band was contagious and conversation flowed freely. Best of all, Dan revealed his extensive musicianship while trying to explain the difference between the band’s recorded music and the stripped down set they had just played at Comet Ping Pong. [Note: Flowerbomb’s Nat is currently in England, so the band held two practices earlier that day to prepare for the unique show.] Interview has been edited for brevity.

The Paper: What are you currently listening to?

Dan: Japanese Breakfast and Third Eye Blind. Oh, and Sorority Noise. [Dan was wearing a TEB tank and declared them the greatest band of all time.]

Charles: Fall Out Boy, the new record.

Rachel: Margaret Glaspy and Angel Olsen.

The Paper: All great choices. How did you come up with the name Flowerbomb?

Rachel: We wanted something delicate, yet conjured destruction at the same time with the aim of destroying the norm of femininity.

The Paper: Why do you want to destroy that?

Rachel: It’s a product of personal experiences. I wanted to destroy the idea of femininity in society.

The Paper: On the Castathetic podcast, you mentioned telling inside jokes on tour. Would you like to share one?

Dan: Oh geeze, didn’t think that will ever be brought up again. We’re an incredibly funny band. We’ve known each other for years and when you’re in a relationship with four people, it’s natural that we will have inside jokes.

The Paper: What would be a good thing for a fan to throw on stage?
[Flowerbomb was taken aback a bit so I had to clarify that I meant it in a good way.]

Dan: Just coming to the show really.

Charles: I agree.

Rachel: Just for fans to come out to support us is enough.

The Paper: Spotify or Bandcamp?

Dan: Spotify is better for phone and more popular bands. Bandcamp is better for more local stuff or if I want to search a specific tag or genre.

Rachel: Bandcamp. The money goes directly to the artist.

Charles: Bandcamp is better for phone. [He gives a wry smile to Dan who expressed mock blasphemy in return.] When someone makes a purchase, the music is saved on their phone so they can play it whenever without streaming. Even when the artist takes the music down, you still keep it.

The Paper: A question for Rachel please. You used to book bands. Do you still do that?

Rachel: I am on a hiatus now. I have been doing it solo and it’a a lot of work. I want to make it more of a communal thing. Bring it more diversity.

The Paper: Thank you for sitting down with me.

Rachel: Thank you so much.

Flowerbomb plays on July 24 at DC9 with Bike Thiefs.

Chastity Belt @ Songbyrd Music House, 6/23/17

Admittedly, I am a Chastity Belt neophyte, though I have wanted to see them for a while now. The four piece, on tour to support their third record, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, have built a lot of hype so I figured so many people can’t be wrong. This sentiment was further confirmed Friday night when I ran into Ahmad. His taste and knowledge in bands is second to none. However, much like Animal Collective, another band that I decided to check out due to their popularity among the scene, I did not understand the appeal of forced celibacy.

There was nothing inherently bad about the sounds that pierced into the sold out crowd. In fact, the intricate manner in which all sixteen steel strings on stage intertwined with each other was a work of art. This is especially true of the guitars. Julia and Lydia strummed with astronomical precision, sending each vibration at all the right frequencies and intervals. Annie and Gretchen were not far behind, carving contagious cadence into space and time. Everything was moving in thundering tandem towards the promised land but we never arrived. I felt myself on the precipice of release but never going over.

It was very frustrating. I silently urged the band to speed up. They never did. Instead, they slowed down and one by one they dropped out until only Julia remained playing. Then she, too, trailed off like the sunset. At the conclusion, she took off her hat, tussled her hair then replaced it. The unconcerned, mundane manner of that action sparked something in me. There’s no rush. There might not even be a destination.

Simply focus on the present.

Lens Filter

I should have mentioned lens filters before. There are many types for different purposes. Mainly they either protect your precious lens or add function for a specific shot. You can read more about them at Photography Life.

On my 50mm f1.8, I have a Tiffen 49mm UV Filter. At one point, UV filters would protect the camera sensor from harmful UV rays but today all DSLRs have built in protection. The label simply persisted.

I chose a clear filter so it won’t have any effect on my photos and Tiffen is a reputable brand. That said, I got it primarily to protect my lens from dust, scratches, fingerprints and the like which is why I keep it on all the time. The Canon lens cap fits right over the filter so it’s completely painless. And it’s just $8! Be sure to pick the right size for your lens.

Sport, Landscape, Manual, Oh My!


ƒ/2 • 50.0 mm • 1/60 • ISO 3200

Now that I have shot several times in No Flash mode, I felt ready to explore the other options. For this outing, I tried Manual, Landscape and Sport. I chose these options because they do not fire flash by default. In hindsight, I should only have experimented with one new option since it was unclear which mode certain photos were taken in upon review. There were definitely good discoveries made though.

Sport mode is bleh. I tried this mode on two separate occasions and probably only took one photo combined. The camera is programmed to continously focus in this mode due to the expectation of action. It succeeds extraordinarily well at said task. It sensed changes in the subject’s distance constantly. This sounds great until I realized it spends too much time focusing, leaving scant time to shoot. It’s also rather noisy as it keeps focusing constantly which I found distracting.

Landscape mode performed slightly better. It focused fast enough for me to take photos at least! That said, they are not sharp at all. The slow shutter speed is highly prone to camera shake. It does succeed at leveling the depth of field. This mode definitely excels at its intended design of taking landscapes on a tripod. Concert photography, when one has to hand hold the camera, not so much. The first one turned out much better though.

ƒ/5.7 • 50.0 mm • 1/25 • ISO 3200

ƒ/5.7 • 50.0 mm • 1/13 • ISO 3200

Manual mode was a blast. I played with changing shutter speeds while holding ISO steady. This is really easy to do on the T6 via the main dial placed conveniently just before the shutter button. Click, scroll, focus, click and repeat. Vice versa is not as smooth because while there’s an ISO button, it’s placed next to the LCD screen. Next time.

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/1000 • ISO 800

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/400 • ISO 800

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/100 • ISO 800

You can see that the first two photos are quiet sharp if rather dark. At 1/100, brightness improved but camera shake is visible. When I increased ISO to 1600, it turned out much better but pretty sure that’s due to a steadier hold.

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/100 • ISO 1600

I also played with focus. The T6 has nine focus points and they work fairly well. Experience helps here. As I get more comfortable with my camera, I will learn how to point for the focus I seek. For now, I was able to switch the bokeh between foreground and back.

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/250 • ISO 1600

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/250 • ISO 1600

I accomplished the same regarding a soda can by mistake! I wonder if I would have been able to focus the drummer had I pointed higher.

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/60 • ISO 400

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/60 • ISO 320

Finally for comparison, a photo under No Flash mode which is essentially auto mode. I think I did well with my experiment!

ƒ/1.8 • 50.0 mm • 1/60 • ISO 1250

Girlpool, Vagabon @ Rock & Roll Hotel, 6/11/17

Sunday night marked a departure for Laetitia. She had just finished tour with Tegan and Sara the night before and I could sense the longing in her voice as she told us about the balloons the dynamic Canadian duo had on stage. Then she burst into a wide smile before continuing, “…but you’re here.”

That was a very cute way to get the sold out crowd cheering. I had seen Vagabon, Laetitia’s musical moniker, twice before. She was solo both times so I was pleasantly surprised that this time she brought a band. There’s an undeniable pleasure riding on a roaring bass line while soaking in shattering drum beats. It added much welcomed energy and a fuller dimension to the sound that further highlighted what we already knew. Laetitia’s vocals define euphoria.

“I am just a small fish,” she sang, except there’s nothing small about her voice. It’s not even powerful per se. It’s sheer raw power. But never wild. In fact, it’s actually very controlled given she would remove her ear plugs. “You’re a shark that hates everything.” When the beat fell off at the end, we were left with the sun. In this case, the sun was slightly bent over, head tilted up, forehead furrowed, eyes closed, sweat dripping, body trembling, throat contracting, and mouth open impossibly wide. The sun was one more fireball before going supernova. It doesn’t happen.

Power, true power, is maintaining control.

And just like that it was all over. I looked at my phone and was flabbergasted. Thirty minutes of bliss that felt like the blink of an eye. I can’t recall the last time I felt more wanting after a set. Not even with my favorite band. Thankfully, I had Girlpool to look forward to.

Keeping with the theme, the two piece grew to three with the addition of a drummer since I last saw them. This too was very much welcomed. They opened the set with “123,” like their new record Powerplant. I was reminded of the magic that is watching the music you love brought to life before you. And there is a lot to love between Cleo and Harmony. The latter literally tried making love to the former the night before. Apparently the band found themselves in possession of a mattress that kept deflating the entire night. However that did not stop Harmony from making out with Cleo thinking it was someone else. Given their chemistry outside of bed, I don’t blame her one bit.

The duet between the bass and guitar moves me every time in ways I neither understand nor want to end. Throw in the delicate, barely there vocals that are the trademark of the duo and I was transported somewhere above the clouds. Except this time it didn’t stop there. The deft drums marched me higher and higher until I was knocking on heaven’s door.

The crowd was knocking with me, with many waving their hands. Cleo, like an all-loving diety, graciously took time to shake hands with many in the front row and high fived a few in the second. She also decided to play three more songs shortly after announcing there were but two left. It epitomized the atmosphere of this beautiful night. Part of the magic of live music is sharing it with others.