Tag Archives: shows

Rock n Relief at Valentines, Angry Firemen at Red Square

Been too busy to keep up with this blogging thing. Following are some photos from a few local shows where I saw many friends, on and off stage. After a Google Reader conversation I vowed to see more live music in Albany; a way of putting my money where my mouth is. Can’t complain about the state of local music if you don’t contribute, right?

Rock n Relief was a benefit show at Valentines on September 9. Organized by Eric Halder, of Charmboy, several hours of music hit both stages with all funds going to local hurricane relief efforts. It was amazing. There’s a good review by Ed Conway over at Nippertown. The Angry Firemen played at Red Square on August 22, and that was just pure fun. Red Square is an impressive local venue, mainly because the bar area is well separated from the stage/floor, and there is some sidewalk patio space, so it’s easy to take a break from the music. If anything showing there sounds remotely interesting, go check it out — they also have a good selection of draught beer.

Rock n Relief Hurricane Benefit, Valentine's -- Mike & the Moon Divers

Rock n Relief Hurricane Benefit, Valentine's -- Hot Cousin

Rock n Relief Hurricane Benefit, Valentine's -- Mike & the Moon Divers

Angry Firemen @ Red Square, Albany NY

Angry Firemen @ Red Square, Albany NY

Angry Firemen @ Red Square, Albany NY

More photos from Rock n Relief and Angry Firemen.

2011 Restoration Festival

RestFest 2011 - Deer Tick
Deer Tick

Sometimes people get a chance to put up or shut up. Through the work of a capricious universe — call it fate, a higher power, or whatever — the folks behind this year’s Restoration Festival got that chance, and put up like you’ve probably never seen it putted upped before.

RestFest (or as it is alternately called, Restoration Funstival, Restoration Funkstival, Wristoration Fistival, etc.) is an annual two-day concert begun in 2010 to help fund the rehabilitation of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood. completed in 1856, “[t]he walls of this Gothic Revival building are bluestone, and the trim was orginially buff stone from the Caen quarries of France. [. . .] The steeple, designed by Albany architects M.L. and H.G. Emery, was added around 1910. The interior is embellished with a hammerbeam roof structure with angels’ heads and a polychrome ceiling” (Albany Architecture. Edited by Diana S. Waite. Mount Ida Press, via the RestFest website). You can see some great views of the interior architecture from Sebastien’s coverage of Heavy, an arts fundraiser last year. It’s easy to see why this is a monument worth saving.

Held on August 27th & 28th, the music included many local acts plus some notable nationals; I was interested in catching Titus Andronicus on Saturday and Hawk & and a Hacksaw on Sunday. You can review the full schedule but Sunday didn’t quite turn out as planned.

RestFest 2011 - Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus

Arriving late on saturday, I missed all of the early performers but made it for most of Titus Andronicus’ set. They’ve been on my radar for a couple years now and were awesome to see live, even if the space didn’t necessarily cater to their sound. The play from whence the name comes from has been described as “an extraordinary fusion of the savage and the sublime”, which aptly describes the music. They have a great brash “wall of sound” punk thing going on and brought some awesome energy to the stage, which is always appreciated in a live show.

RestFest 2011 - Deer Tick
Deer Tick

Deer Tick was mostly unknown to me but did an amazing job of capping off the night with their own take on alt-country and some really good covers. Launching into Bastards of Young put a huge grin on my face. Theirs is not a genre I instinctively head toward, but maybe that’s because the live experience is way more satisfying than a recording.

Day two was when fate stepped in. You may remember something else noteworthy that happened on August 27th & 28th — tropical storm (née hurricane) Irene swept through, bringing record flood levels for upstate New York. While Albany was spared some of the worst, water inundating the cathedral and threats of power outages caused frantic scrambling to let the show go on. But go on it did, and I have to give serious props the staff and volunteers who made it happen, especially the B3nson collective behind the show’s organization. Less dedicated people would have literally called it a wash, especially with the meager trickle of concertgoers in attendance when I showed up around 3pm. Didn’t stay that way though, turns out you can’t stop dedicated fans either.

<a href="RestFest 2011 - We are Jeneric“>
We are Jeneric

Let’s break for a second because I know you’re wondering why some of these photos are black and white and some are in color. Or let’s just pretend you are. The answer is that I don’t always see what’s staring me in the face. The camera/lens/software combination I used was simply not up to the task of photos in a very dark, very big space, and I pushed a little too hard ending up with lots and lots of noise. I went to some great lengths to clear it up as much as possible to deliver a few to All Over Albany, with limited success. Returning to the photos later, I realized that in black and white I like the noise, so I went through the not much simpler conversion. Do I wish these were cleaner and that I took more advantage of the sweet colored LED panels on stage? Sure, but not every photo needs to be glossy-magazine-ad slick, it’s a good lesson to remember that technical perfection doesn’t make a photo good.

RestFest 2011 - Swamp Baby
Swamp Baby

The storm did more than deluge the building, it led to a major shuffling of Sunday’s lineup with the news that Hawk & and a Hacksaw and The Music Tapes couldn’t fly in. The organizers made the day “pay what you will”, and the rest of the acts stepped up in a big way. Slender Shoulders and Swamp Baby did a great job warming things up, but a big surprise, and one of the best performances of the weekend, came from We are Jeneric. They brought some big sound and the dam broke, pulling the audience to their feet in dancing, shouting, cheering defiance of the weather.

RestFest 2011 - Matthew Carefully Undone Ensemble
Matthew Carefully Undone Ensemble

But I was truly waiting for Matthew Carefully’s Undone Ensemble. I’d heard rumblings of this project months before but had no idea how completely awesome it would be on stage. Matthew brought together over a dozen singers and instrumentalists in a group that breaks with his traditional style. “No Looping. No electronic instruments.” The opening timpanis gave me a Radiohead In Rainbows shudder, and the full force of the entire group elevating Matthew’s vocals was something to behold. I hope he’s lied to us and that this will happen again.

There was more than just the music though. Of course a limited bar was on hand, and Ommegang and live music go together for me like money and problems. The merch table had t-shirts, CDs, stickers, art, and free candy, and did very well, contrary to some early reports I’d heard. A copy of Fletcher and the Hendersons was available to read and listen to (and it’s a really good idea), a robot wandered the crowd dispensing custom stickers, some participatory art was continually being added to, and solo acts played in an alcove in between sets on the stage.

RestFest 2011 - Nick Wallas
Nick Wallas

It was one of the best local shows in my memory, and now that we know nothing can stop it I can’t wait to see what happens next year.

RestFest 2011
That guy waving his arms was awesome and there is bonus Matthew (and Laura!) content here.

As usual there’s a slideshow with a few more photos, and plenty of other reports to read: Nippertown, Metroland, Keep Albany Boring, Kevin Marshall, and probably more I didn’t catch. Special thanks to the RestFest sponsors, all of the bands, and especially the show staff and volunteers who really made it happen.

How to Fake Noise Reduction: Black and White Conversion

Restys-Que Caro-Josh Netsky, Valentines, Albany NY

I checked out a show at Valentines with Restys, Josh Netsky, and Que Caro, bringing the camera mainly so Mikey wouldn’t feel so self conscious about having his. I’ve shot there before so I knew what to expect: lots and lots of dark. If you don’t bring your own light (i.e., a flash), you’re going to need a lens with a wide maximum aperture to get usably fast shutter speeds. Where normally I’d grab the Canon 50mm f/1.8, this time I threw on an old manual Pentax SMC 50mm f/2.0, from an old film camera, using an adapter. Yes, it’s about a half stop slower, but I also knew that in the low light my autofocus would be stubborn, and I’d end up manually focusing. The old lenses were made for manual focus in ways the newer ones aren’t, specifically with a nicely generous long throw on the focus ring.

I ended up in manual exposure mode, pushing the ISO as far as my camera can go (to 3200), leaving the lens wide open, and dialing in at 1/30th of a second shutter speed. This is still a very slow shutter, but when shooting bands there are usually plenty of moments when people are standing relatively still — or holding onto a note, like Caroline is above. The slight motion blur at other times can actually be pretty pleasing. Now, to give you an idea of how dark this place is, you can usually shoot on a sunny day at f/16, ISO 100, 100th of a second shutter speed. The difference between f/16 and f/2 is six stops, ISO 100 to 3200 is five stops, and 1/100th to 1/30th is just shy of two stops. That’s a thirteen stop difference — in other words, you could say this was darker than a bright day by a factor of thirteen, or 169 “times” darker. Without the ability to go to high ISO sensitivities or wide apertures, you have to keep dropping the shutter speed, which is why many cameras just can’t give results in low light. If my lens were f/5.6 at the widest, the shutter speed would drop to an unusable 1/4th of a second.

Restys-Que Caro-Josh Netsky, Valentines, Albany NY
a little motion blur won’t hurt anyone

That’s not what I really want to talk about though. You’ve seen the kind of noise I get from ISO 400. 3200 is really not pretty, people look like they have a rare skin disease, large regions of black look like tiny gnomes are setting off tiny fireworks everywhere, it’s a disaster. Even the best noise reduction software struggles to correct it, and when it does some sharpness is lost. But there’s a sneaky way around this; it doesn’t totally solve the problem but it makes otherwise trash photos usable.

It has to do with the fact that there are two types of digital noise: chroma and luminance. Chroma noise is random bits of color thrown in somewhat evenly throughout the photo, most noticeably red and blue. Sometimes it’s not much of an issue, but when you have areas of fairly solid color and especially skin tone it quickly damages a photo’s quality. Luminance noise is a simple lightening or darkening of color information, and even at moderate levels it’s doesn’t degrade quality too much. In fact, luminance noise is often compared to monochrome film grain (in a good way), which is where our trick comes in.

Yep, since black and white film grain is usually seen as wholly acceptable, we’re going to make this noise look as much like it as possible. That means converting to black and white.

There are a lot of different ways to convert to B&W, and I’m not going to get into all of them. Most importantly for my purposes here is to make the conversion a very late step in overall processing. A typical quick processing flow for me goes something like this: correct exposure and white balance plus any cropping in RAW, export, adjust curves for contrast and saturation, desaturate individual color channels and touch up errors (sensor dust, etc.) if necessary, denoise if necessary, sharpening and save. In the case of B&W conversion, it’s almost identical except that when denoising, I’ll first only correct chroma noise. Even though I’m turning it grainlike, I want it under control, and correcting chroma noise doesn’t hit sharpness too hard. I then convert to B&W by using the channel mixer, selecting monochrome, and adjusting the color channel sliders individually. I then denoise again, this time bringing luminance noise down to strike a balance between “grain” and sharpness. I’ll skip a sharpening filter here because that will tend to simply re-emphasize the noise I removed.

The result isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s way better than having no photo at all because of really ugly noise all over everyone’s face. I don’t hate anyone enough to push out photos of them looking like that, let’s be a little bit kind to our subjects, right? I had a lot of trouble focusing, and for me the end lo-fi, grainy, soft, sometimes slightly blurry result works alright.

Anyway, it was a great show, Valentines is really doing good things by bringing in these more obscure bands for $5. Even if it’s not exactly your thing, that’s what, two cups of coffee? Here’s a couple more and there’s a short slideshow.

Restys-Que Caro-Josh Netsky, Valentines, Albany NY Restys-Que Caro-Josh Netsky, Valentines, Albany NY
Restys-Que Caro-Josh Netsky, Valentines, Albany NY Restys-Que Caro-Josh Netsky, Valentines, Albany NY Restys-Que Caro-Josh Netsky, Valentines, Albany NY

PS: I’m glad I gave Mikey the backup. The audience was apparently afraid to get any closer than twelve feet from the stage, so we were these guys with big cameras walking around, picking our angles, and generally being in front of things whereas I’m used to being in the crowd, a part of it. In this case, you just gotta be confident, and be conscious of annoyingly blocking anyone’s view for too long or getting in the way of anyone else taking photos or recording video. So there’s that.

Alive at Five — Blues Traveler

IMG_8547

IMG_8584Walked over to the Corning Preserve after work to catch the first of this season’s Alive at Five concerts. Blues Traveler were the headliners, And even though I didn’t stay through the whole set (really, jam band plus harmonica equals just about my least favorite music ever), I didn’t realize how much this band has been through since they hit it big in the ’90s. Their bass player overdosed, the singer got his stomach stapled, and their label dropped them in 2002. So I went expecting to see yet another washed-up 90’s act that I never even really liked when they were on the radio, and they at least beat that expectation. Which, in retrospect isn’t really that difficult.

IMG_8494It was a pretty quiet crowd, definitely not as rowdy as I expected for how packed the place was. Some of this might have been because news broke taht the police would be testing people’s drinks for alcohol (outside alcohol is banned on the premises), which of course sparked some outrage. Didn’t see any of that happening, didn’t see anything crazy happening really. I did manage to accidentally sneak “backstage” and get escorted out.

Pearl Street was a mess. Thursday was the beginning of the weekend for the kids, and by “the weeeknd” I mean “getting obnoxiously drunk, stumbling around, peeing everywhere, and then vomiting on the sidewalk so I can step in it on my way to work in the morning”.

IMG_8553c IMG_8578 IMG_8587c