Friday, April 28, 2006

Depeche Mode at Shoreline amphitheatre, 04/27/06

Depeche Mode is a special band in my life. I've been a fan since age 14 - back home, when few other Western bands were available, I quickly fell in love with their technicians sound, charisma and lyrics I could almost understand and almost relate to. My first introduction to Depeche Mode was their Violator album, accidentally left behind by an American visitor student to our school. Interestingly, my growing passion for their music coincided with the enormous rise of their popularity in the USSR. I doubt there has ever been a country where a single band has had such a loyal following. As I acquired, one by one, all of their albums, I discovered myself in a huge community of 'depeshes', or Depeche Mode fans in Minsk.

There were even Soviet imitation bands, one of which, Technologia, has achieved a very nice quality of sound indeed, and not just by imitation, but by their own music. I think the image projected by earlier Depeche Mode was the one of great appeal to Russian youths - tough, technogenic, indifferent, somewhat rebellious, leather-clad and brooding. I am not sure Depeche Mode has actually intended to relay that image to the masses - after all, most of their songs are rather sensuous and quite candid, not entirely in line with the tough and sombre image of the band, but the level of English of their Soviet fans was never strong enough to gather that, and thus one of the great musical legends was born.

The first time I saw Depeche Mode live was in Pittsburgh in 1994, on their Devotional tour. They were still a four, and it was one of the best concerts of my life. Dave Gahan still had a powerful voice, Alan Wilder still did arrangements for the instrumentation, and Martin Gore still played keyboards on stage. I think I might even still have the concert's t-shirt somewhere in my mother's closet.

Alas, lots has changed with the band since then. One of the members has left, another one nearly killed himself, and the albums of the band as a trio, in my opinion, never reached nearly the level of musical quality of their earlier years. Lots has changed in my life, too. Sadly, no longer can a music band profoundly influence my life and no longer do I idolize someone just because they sing on stage or write catchy songs.

Still, the heritage and influence of Depeche Mode on my life had been to strong to forget in the course of a couple of years. Every so often, I'd listen to their old albums and even make mixed CDs of their songs.

So when I found out the band was coming to San Francisco, I did not hesitate to get the very expensive tickets to their concert in Shoreline amphitheatre.

Discourse Shoreline amphitheatre is located in South San Francisco Bay, much closer to San Jose than to San Francisco, and therefore is quite a drag to get to. The sole road to the arena was completely clogged by cars, so that it took about an hour to get from the exit to the parking lot for the concert - a distance of maybe 2 miles. The arena itself, however, is nicely situated on the marshy shores of the Bay, under the balmy Californian air.

While waiting through some bands I never heard of to finish their opening act, my friend and I had a couple of overpriced beers, and finally made our way to our seats: the main act was about to begin.

I will not go into miniscule details about the concert itself; I will say one thing - Depeche Mode is no longer what they used to be. Whether it's due to their age, difficult time in the 1990s, losing a key band-member - I don't know. Dave Gahan looked and sounded tired, almost a pale shadow of his former self. He was clearly favouring his voice for the upcoming Coachella festival in Southern California. His famous voice sounded rather screechy and he couldn't quite take the high notes. From time to time, Dave would try to make some "funky" movements on stage, but they looked more comical than cool, especially him wiggling his rear end with the said end facing the audience. Frankly, he looked more comical than cool. Martin Gore sounded and looked better, but with him playing the guitar instead of the keyboards, it somehow just didn't look right to me. There was an unknown blond drummer on the stage, as well as a keyboard player. I mean, someone had to play keyboards, for fuck's sake, this is Depeche Mode! It's not as if Andrew Fletcher was going to do it. He had a set all right, but I doubt it was even connected to the speakers. I had binoculars, and every so often I'd check him out. He'd tap on some buttons with index fingers from time to time; most other times he'd just stand there, smoking, smiling like a fool or pretending to sing into the mike. I have no idea why Andrew Fletcher has been with Depeche Mode, as I am still very doubtful of his contribution to anything musical the band has ever created.

Martin's voice was still all right, when he sang the acoustic version of 'Shake the Disease'. But even he looked somewhat awkward, as if all these years of touring and being famous finally started to take their toll.

Thankfully, the band didn't play much from their new album; they knew what the crowd had come for and delivered a decent dose of good ol' stuff: 'Stripped', 'Never Let Me Down Again', 'Enjoy the Silence', 'In Your Room', 'A Question of Time', 'World in my Eyes' and others. My personal favourites of the night were the never failing crowd-pleaser 'Behind the Wheel' and a crazy 2006 version of the 1981 Vince Clark's smashing hit 'Photographic'.

the concert was surprisingly short - no more than 1 hour 45 minutes. When it was over, it was over, and time to rush back to the car to try to beat the crowd.

I'm glad I went this one last time. But I doubt I would ever go to such great lengths to see the idols of my youth again. They sound much better on my iPod.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hair off

The losing battle against stress. Whenever I return from any trip abroad, it starts creeping in slowly, quietly. You are calm and happy, rested and cheerful, but after a few days small things start irritating you, and before you know it, you start worrying about anything and everything. Job, house, car, women, phone bills, dental appointments, taxes, credit cards, women, health insurance, lack of exervcise, weather, women, friendships, what people think of you, what you think of people, women - you shrug it all off at first, but like little evil creatures, worries never give up and seem to multiply.

But come to think of it, the environment we live in does not really give outlet to any release of stress. Everybody is pretending to be ultra-pleasant and happy all the time. People don't talk about what bothers them - it's considered complaining, and complaining is bad and generally faux pas. Everybody is facing life with their best poker face until one by one they break down under the weight of troubles, which as we all know, tend to come in packs. And when they do break down, they have nobody to talk to except their shrink - if they are lucky enough to have one.

What good is the so-called communication if we have to constantly watch what we are saying and one of our biggest worry is how others perceive us, which leads to issues being sugar-coated, misunderstood, unsaid and ultimately unresolved and left unattended?

Monday, April 17, 2006

feels like autumn

a dry, yellow leaf
turns into a butterfly
for its only flight.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Where I want to go

I've been to many countries, but I haven't been to many more. Of all the places I haven't yet been to, here are the ones I want to visit the most.

New Zealand - for the natural beauty, few people, and cheap prices

Japan - for the scenery, exotic places and faces, crazy urban life and Japanese girls

Greenland - for ice and the Eskimos (pardon... inuits)

Norway - for the fjords and midnight sun

Cuba - for the photography and life as I once knew it

Myanmar - for the temples and political isolation

Iran - for the sophisticated culture older than pretty much anywhere else

Bolivia - for the salt plains and lake Titikaka..... Titicaca.

Madagascar - for the lemurs and other animals not found anywhere else

Croatia - for Dubrovnik and Adriatic beaches and islands.

My itinerary is full. Better start booking those tickets.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

one who cares

In a big city
One can be alone as in
The arctic desert.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Rain in San Francisco

San Francisco is officially turning into Seattle. We've had more rain than ever on record here in the past month and a half, and it's not stopping. Well, perhaps it will teach us to appreciate the sunny days a little more here, something we in California take for granted. Although the summer in San Francisco is usually far from the sunny California everyone imagines. It's foggy, cold and windy. Damn it... Maybe I should move to New York.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Top 5+5 Paris

A friend of mine is going to Paris soon, and she asked me what recommendations I might have for a couple of days' visit. I have lots of impressions of Paris as someone who actually spent about 6 months there back in 1999 and visited several times since then. So I thought I would suggest a top 5 musts-see and then 5 more places of interest if she has more time. I might make this a regular feature of my blog, at least for a little while...

So, here we go - top 5+5 for Paris.

1. Montmartre Hill.
To me, a fragile, artistic soul - hehe - Montmartre is the spirit of the city. All of those impressionist artists of the fin de siecle lived, painted, drank and otherwise debauched here. It is still a very bohemian place, but the one with amazing views of the city from the top of the hill, which by the way can be accessed by a cable car if your feet can't struggle up the stairs. Sacre Coeur, a faux-Byzantium styled basilica on the top of the hill is not the most popular and far from the oldest church in Paris, but it is nevertheless beautiful in its own rite.

2. Cite

This is the oldest, most historical part of Paris. Two of Paris' most famous Gothic buildings are here: Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle. If the first one is on every tourist's itinerary as the main church in the entire France, the second one, Sainte Chapelle, is an absolute gem which simply cannot be overlooked. It is well worth 8 or 10 or whatever the price is these days in Euros, even if you are only remotely familiar with Gothic architecture and have never seen stained glass.
Cite is also quite eclectic in its character, and its art-deco Metro station is one of the oldest in the city.

3. Musee d'Orsay

After you wandered around Montmartre, wouldn't it be nice to see what it actually looked like during the times of Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Sisley? Well, there's hardly a better collection of impressionism and post-impressionism than Musee d'Orsay. Set in the old railway station, it is spacious and well-located on the banks of the Seine. Most of the famous works are housed on the second floor, but the ground floor is worth a visit, too, for its collection of 18-19 century French art. Best yet, it's free on the first Sunday of each month. If you are a pennypacker like me or just furious over the Euro prices, time your visit accordingly!

4. The Eiffel Tower

Yes, yes, I know you won't listen to me if I said forget about it, so I might as well put it in here. Actually, it's not that much of a tourist trap. I mean, it's TOURISTY, big time - but it's also a pretty damn big construction, still an engineering marvel. The only advice I can give, go at dust, so that you can catch it light up - they do a fantastic job illuminating the entire structure.

5. Pere Lachaise Cemetery

One of my personal favourite Parisian spots. A little out of the way, and still peaceful and quiet despite the Jim Morrison's neverending fanbase, it is the king of all cemeteries in France. I dare anyone to find such a concentration of well-known names anywhere else in France or maybe even the world. Chopin, Bizet, Oscar Wilde, Edit Piaf, Ingres, Conrad, to name a few and not to mention the Lizard King himself. Enjoy.

Well, these Top 5 have just barely begun to uncover Paris for a more than a typical American tourist "doing" Europe, so if you want the right to say you've actually been to Paris, take a look at 5 more sights and attractions:

6. Louvre

I didn't put it in the top 5 because it is very time-consuming, very crowded and very huge, but if you have more than 2 days in the city, I highly recommend it. Try not to skip just to the highlights (you know, Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Nike Samophrace, etc.) but pick one of the 3 wings per day, depending on your artistic taste. You are likely to leave with a headache from the serious art overload though. The glass pyramid in the centre is kind of cool, too.

7. La Defense

I personally like this piece of modern Paris, although not everybody does. The Grand Arche de la Defense is an amazing piece of architecture, whether you take the lift to its top or sit on the stairs underneath gawking at its phenomenal height. Definitely a worthy site.

8. Musee l'Orangerie and Tuileries Gardens

This museum was apparently specifically designed to exhibit Monet's Waterlilies in on the oval panoramic walls. A small but intimate museum, it also houses a top-notch small collection of impressionism. And the Tuileries Gardens nearby are a nice place to stroll away a spring day.

9. Champs Elysees and Arch de Triomph

Although 2 distinct sights, these are adjacent to each other and are a logical tandem. You window shop in the fanciest boutiques in the world, then climb the arch and enjoy another view of Paris from atop of l'Etoile, where something like 12 streets join together (or is it 16?) Traffic underneath is completely chaotic, and be very careful crossing the l'Etoile circle on foot. Thankfully, there are underground subways. Or, start your day here and then continue to Champs Elysees and do some real shopping this time.

10. ????

There is much more to see in Paris than just one sight, so I will leave the number 10 to the visitor, no doubt armed with much more respectable sources of information than this one. Suggestions are too many for this last contender. Bastille? Ile St. Louis? Montparnasse? Luxembourgh Gardens? Latin Quarter? Musee Rodin? All are good, and the more time you have in the city, the better. Make your own top 10, 15 or 20 already. I am done.


My name is Eugene, and that's what most people call me. Some of them know that my real name is actually Evgeny, which is Russian for Eugene. Whenever I introduce myself in any western country, be it the USA, England, France, Germany or Poland - and I normally say Eugene, Eugen, Eugeniusz or Eugenio - people always tell me, 'I have a great-grandfather named Eugene' or 'my late uncle's middle name was Eugene'. It just seems that Eugene is an archaic name in any language except perhaps Russian. No thanks to my parents who completely failed to predict my eventual immigration to the US.

Eugenus is a concoction of one of my ex-girlfriends, which I personally rather like. I, of course, would rather have her call me Eugenius, but oh well, can't be too demanding. I think Eugenus sounds funny in an even more old-fashioned sort of way than Eugene. And that's good enough for me.