New Toy – Roland R-05

I just ordered a Roland R-05 digital recorder and thus far I am quite impressed. I bought it to replace the MiniDisc recorder I’ve been rocking for about 10 years now and while I still think MiniDisc is awsome, it has it’s limitations. Namely two big ones.

First, my recorder is one of the earlier MD models, so it can only record 74 min of audio. That’s fine in a lot of situations, but not for recording live music. If the set goes any longer than an hour, I’m in trouble. I often mitigate this by pausing the recording during the encore break, but that still means at least one song from the encore is cut off and the hardcore traders like to have the complete show intact.

The second big limitation is the availability of the media itself. MiniDisc never really took off, in my opinion, like it should have. That makes finding the actual discs difficult. I’m reluctant to delete any of the shows I’ve taped from the discs. Maybe part of that is laziness because I still have to transfer a few shows over and maybe part of that is paranoia, especially since I am backed up at two locations – local and offsite (thanks, CrashPlan!). There’s still something scary to me about deleting the actual material from the source disc.

So what makes the Roland awsome? I’ll be using this little gadget for taping live music and for recording interviews for the podcast. The Roland is built for serious musicians (duh..it’s from Roland), so it has a pretty high quality built-in mic in addition to a mic input for powered mics and a line in. This means that for interviews, I don’t need to mess around with an external mic. I can just set the gadget on the table and let it do it’s thing. The shape is a little brick-like (it’s about an inch thick), but it’s about the size of a 1st generation iPod. Maybe slightly smaller overall. It takes “normal” batteries – 2AA – as opposed to the MD which uses a funky “chewing gum” rechargeable battery. My chewing gum battery kicked the bucket a long time ago, so I’ve been using the external battery pack with 2AA batteries. That makes the MD more clunky than it could be. With just the standard AA batteries for the Roland, I can use my regular rechargeables without the added bulk of the external battery pack and I can also grab replacements in a pinch while on the go.

There are a number of other features on the Roland really impressed me when I was evaluating various other products, including a new MD recorder. The media is standard SD flash, which is fairly inexpensive and easy to come by. This also means there are no moving parts. I’m sure you can imagine how nice that is for recording a live concert when you’re in the midst of a crowd. I also have a lot more storage space with SD, so that means good bye to songs being cut off at the end of the show. Probably the coolest feature is that you can record in both wav (lossless) and mp3 (lossy) formats simultaneously. Yes, I said simultaneously. This will save me a lot of time because I won’t have to encode what I’ve recorded after the fact and I’ll still have the lossless source material. I’ll also be able to transfer the files direct from SD to hard disk or from Roland to hard disk via USB. With my current MD, the only way to transfer the source audio is to let the audio play and record it in real-time to disk. That’s a huge pain.

We’ll see how the Roland does when it goes out on the town, but so far, so good. For my needs, it was definitely a good purchase.

Milwaukee Summerfest Extravaganza 2010

For those of you not familiar with the annual Milwaukee tradition, Summerfest is the largest music festival in the world. Yes, I said largest in the world. In Milwaukee. Really. Not Chicago. Not LA. Not New York. Milwaukee, WI.

Since I’m from the Milwaukee area, I’m going to brag a little bit. Summerfest is 11 days of beer, ethnic food, cheese curds, brats, Cedar Crest ice cream, and corn on the cob with 11 stages featuring over 800 bands all on the shore of Lake Michigan. And these aren’t just any 800 bands. Here’s a sampling of who you could see this year at the various side stages for a mere $15 admission fee (Taste of Minnesota, take note! $20-30 for a handful of music and entertainment is WAAAYYY more than you should be charging for a significantly less impressive lineup): the B-52s, 311, Public Enemy, Less Than Jake, B.B. King, Gavin Rossdale, Cypress Hill, Weird Al, O. A. R., The Offspring, The Roots, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Modest Mouse, Flyleaf, Dar Williams and DEVO. And at the main stage, the 23,000 seat capacity Marcus Amphitheater, you could see people like Eric Clapton, Tom Petty (with ZZ Top opening), Justin B****r, Lynyrd Skynyrd and RUSH for no additional cost if you’re willing to camp out in line for a wrist band (or you can get ripped off by Ticketbastard and buy a reserved seat). There are also other bands and DJs performing throughout the grounds – there’s music everywhere, starting in the early afternoon and going until 11 pm every night. For 11 days. Oh and with major fireworks on opening night and on July 3. These are, hands down, some of the best fireworks I’ve seen, courtesy of the geniuses at Bartolotta’s. You can see how Summerfest has earned it’s title.

So enough bragging. I headed down to Summerfest on July 2 to see The Sky and the Execution, a Milwaukee band I’ve been following since the beginning. I took the bus over and lucky me, not only was my ride a school bus and not a coach bus, but a group of about five loud and annoying high schoolers sat right behind me. As soon as I sat down, I questioned my decision to only half-heartedly search for some headphones before I left the house. I left empty-handed, but fortunately, it’s a short trip.

There was a good sized crowd for The Sky and the Execution considering it was a 3:00 show on a Friday afternoon. They played on the CoolTV Rock Stage, which is on the north end of the park. There were some TS&TE fans in the crowd, especially stage left, but for the majority of the people, the band seemed to be new to them. It was a pretty young crowd, which made a lot of sense after I heard some of the other bands, who all fall under the various metal classifications. The Devil Wears Prada were the headliners. I know nothing about the band except what I just read at Wikipedia, but their summer tour lists two and three shows back to back in a number of major cities and apparently they were voted the Alternative Press’ 2009 Band of the Year by AP readers. So I guess they’re a big deal these days with the kids. But I digress.

The band came onstage at about 3:15 and one thing that caught me totally by surprise was seeing Chase Brandon step out onstage to man the electronics. Chase was in White Knuckle Trip with Nathan Forcey, the singer, and I had no idea that he had joined The Sky and the Execution. This was the first time I’ve seen the band include electronics live.

The Sky and the Execution started the set off strong with the first two tracks from their debut album, …And We Choke Down the Eucharist of Venom – The Redeeming Value of Knives and Profit Margins and Genocide. They ran into some technical issues with one of the guitar setups between songs, which created a fairly lengthy break. I bought a DVD of the set after the show and the break was entirely cut out. Kudos to the band because you don’t notice any momentum shift in the set when watching the video. You woudn’t know anything had happened unless you were there. Once the guitarist was ready to go, they jumped right back in where they had left off with the same intensity they brought with the first two songs. The type of extended delay experienced during this set could have totally derailed band mentally and killed the rest of the set, but the band remained professional and focused and carried on, giving the entire set their all.

Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together as the set list. Unfortunately, I don’t have names for a couple of the newer songs.

The Redeeming Value of Knives
Profit Margins and Genocide
?? New song
What Came in the Blood Line
Paralysis (The Perfect Anecdote)
Post Aenemic
Believe Me or Not
?? New song
Our Lives of Venom

As far as overall impressions go, the band was extremely tight. The Sky and the Execution is fairly progressive. They use a lot of fast changes between tempos and time signatures and a fair amount of guitar harmonies. They were spot on during all the rests and changes. My attention during the set was drawn to drummer Matt Stein, who was spinning his sticks and having a lot of fun on stage, and singer Nathan Forcey. That’s not to say that the guitarists and the bassist were boring – far from it, but it’s hard not to be drawn to Nathan’s on-stage intensity. The band members work together very well, but they definitely key off of Nathan. He’s a veteran of the Milwaukee music scene and his experience shows. This is a band to watch.