Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Burning Man 9.1 - 9.6.15


Black Rock City
Gerlach, NV

Words By J. Picard
Photos By Carly Picard & J. Picard


This isn't necessarily an easy story to tell. What follows is an absolute account of a single group's experience at one of the most challenging and most unexplainable events of our time. The stories and occurrences described are our interpretations of reality and perceived reality throughout our time in Black Rock City, and the resulting tale is one of an expansive dream that plays out with 70,000 dreamers on a dry prehistoric lake bed. Our adventure began as most do in our home town of Denver, CO with extensive preparations, including the purchase of a brand new tent and EZ-up. For weeks we slowly directed costumes and nonsensical items towards dusty bins that eventually filled to the brim and were sealed for the trip. Prior to our departure we met with our group that included my fiancé, Carly (five time Burner), Murray (two time Burner) and Spuckes, who would be making his first trip to Black Rock Desert. Following our meeting of minds, it was clear that Spuckes was not taking the sentiment "The Playa is trying to kill you," seriously, as he was avoiding the available literature and information. "Just bring a shovel" became the joke, with Murray insisting that it would be best for Spuckes to dig his own grave. Murray flew west to Reno on Saturday, August 29th, with Spuckes departing the day to follow. Our departure came on Sunday, August 30th with a 1,100 mile trip down I-80 west to our outpost in Lovelock, NV. We awoke Monday morning and began our final preparations of last minute shopping, cooking, freezing and packing, including hordes of water. One last shower, one last night in a real bed, and a stop into a small saloon style bar called Crazy Corners for Coors Light and freezer pizzas, and the day had come for our return to The Playa...

Tuesday, August 1, 2015 - Arrival:

With the morning's sun came a rush of energy and excitement, for we would be returning to the craziest place on earth. We gassed up, iced down our cooler and headed west towards Fernley, NV where we would meet up with the other half of our team. Pulling into the Love's gas station, we spotted Murray and Spuckes at the far pump laughing and gassing up next to Murray's car, which resembled the Beverly Hillbilly's vehicle with a ton of shit strapped to the roof. "I won $200.00 because you guys were late. The woman inside said the slots never pay out," Spuckes said with a smile. One last quarter tank of gas would bring us to full and we were on our way to passing through Wadsworth past Pyramid Lake, a large desert lake with the bluest of water and a giant pyramid tufa rock formation emerging from the lake itself. From there across open desert, down two lane roads, past Indian taco stands, we made our way towards our destination, along with countless motorhomes and decorated cars with bikes strapped to them. We arrived at Gerlach, the last town before BRC, that acted as a gateway to Burning Man. Our arrival in Gerlach was welcomed by more police vehicles, many that read "K-9 Unit" on the side, than we had ever seen. Cars were being pulled over left and right with Burners' belongings strewn about the ground next to their vehicles. With my hands on the wheel at nine o'clock and three o'clock, and our car traveling at the precise speed limit of twenty five, we held our breath and passed through the madness by small cafes, tents of glow toys and folks with handmade signs seeking tickets to the sold out event.

We tuned into 94.5 Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR) which was outputting bizarre music intertwined with live, almost classified ads from Burners seeking a variety of objects and services. In the distance, we could see a massive dust storm covering the whole of Burning Man. "What a way to see Black Rock City for the first time," I said to Carly regarding Spuckes' first impression. We pulled onto The Playa and posed for a group shot next to the Burning Man sign. We drove along wide open lanes past signs that told fairytale style stories, towards the first friendly checkpoint. We were welcomed by a volunteer who directed us towards will-call, where we were greeted by a young lady who had a bit going with her friends who were behind her laughing. The gig was such that she had to sing until she was interrupted by the incoming guests. We greeted her relatively quickly, negating her agreement to sing, while Murray and Spuckes sat waiting patiently for her song to conclude. They parked behind us and exited their vehicles before we dawned our goggles and bandannas and collectively headed to the box office. The year prior was pure chaos. We waited in a long line to be told that we were in the "wrong line" and ended up waiting in an additional line. Time spent last year at the box office was two plus hours, with the line building behind us to six hours or more. This year, we discovered the large tent structure and empty turnstiles. We walked right up to the box office staff and acquired our guest wristbands and we were on our way. We returned to our vehicles and drove past the BRC airport where planes were coming and going at a constant rate. We approached the second checkpoint where we were greeted by more Burners, who scanned our parking passes and advised us to proceed with caution at five miles per hour to avoid being pulled over by the authorities. We arrived at the final checkpoint where we were welcomed to Burning Man by the official greeters!

"Is it anyone's first Burn?" a girl in spandex and fairy wings asked. "No," I replied. "However, she has never done a playa angel or rang the bell..." I said with a smile. "Out you go!" said the girl to Carly, grabbing her by the arm. Carly stepped out, laid down on the dusty desert ground and began making a playa angel. "Other side too" the girl said to Carly, to which she obliged. I looked down the line and could see Murray and Spuckes engaging in similar nonsense. Then the girl helped her up and took her over to what was supposed to be a bell, but was replaced with a metal triangle. Carly rang the triangle, there were awkwardly long hugs around and we were back in our car ready to head into the camps. We began to drive and were immediately instructed to pull over to a construction looking vehicle. I figured that we were in for an immediate dose of tomfoolery, but instead a gentleman, in a sort of hazmat looking suit, asked if he could take our license plate off of our car and strap it to our bikes, as our bike tire was slightly obstructing it. "The cops and Bureau of Land Management are targeting folks from Colorado and California for anything they can, then searching their cars," the gentleman said. I was appreciative of his concern. Following the resolution of the plates, we hugged the man for an awkwardly long time and jumped back into the Jeep. We were in the midst of a complete white out.

I glanced to my right to see the front end of Murray's car emerge. He passed in front of us and we followed him into the camps. Upon our arrival in the camps, the dust and wind had subsided and we were able to cruise the rows to find a solid spot in which would we reside for five or six days. The camps were significantly more crowded than the previous year around the same time, but we found a perfect spot just past the Twistine Chapel, in between the streets J and K, around the cross street 5:00. We prefer the suburb vibe, as sleep is an important part of sustainability throughout the week long party. We were greeted by a French camp to our right, a camp flying a marijuana leaf flag behind ours and a camp of three older women to our rear. We began pulling bins, gear and equipment out of our already dusty cars and our camp began to take shape. We pounded water as we hammered rebar and erected our tents. This easily took a couple of hours and upon the conclusion of setup, decorating commenced. While we were decorating, I gave Spuckes his playa name, "Gerard." The sun began to get lower in the sky and the temperature, which was already mild, began to drop, meaning it was time to drink beer.

I began opening our tubs of costumes and pulled out my velvet jacket with the white lace cuffs and put it on. We pulled the bikes off of the back of the Jeep and began decorating them with Velcro fur and glow sticks, as it's important to be seen in order to avoid being run over by an art car or colliding with another biker. I looked up at the sky, took a deep breath and exhaled all of my stress. In that single moment I was purely existing and thrilled to be back at one of my favorite places on the planet. From the get go Spuckes began referring to his tent as "Opulent Tent," a play off of Opulent Temple, a sound camp at the center of some minor Burning Man drama regarding their lack of placement on Esplanade, the main road on the inner circle. He mentioned that he was hosting a party at Opulent Tent and that we should head over to BMIR and get a commercial on the radio, which started several days of me doing impromptu radio ads at our camp. "Do you like craisens or burnt out glowsticks? Join us at Opulent Tent at 5:00 and J." "Do you like air-mattresses that are actually pool floaties or would you like a single gummy worm? If so, join us Opulent Tent, 5:00 and J," and so on.

As we prepared for the long night ahead we layered up, packed our backpacks with water, box wine, additional bandannas and of course, our cups. An empty cup is an important part of the Burning Man experience whether it's you filling your own cup, a stranger passing by or a barkeep in a saloon, you must have a cup on you at all times. Once we were locked and loaded, we hopped on our bikes and rode a block over to the porta potties. From the johns we rode up 5:00 towards Esplanade and the open playa. We passed Brokedown Palace, the Grateful Dead camp, which was in full swing. At each intersection it was an eb and flow with bikers criss-crossing from every direction. As we pulled onto Esplanade the full scale of Burning Man unfolded. "This place is massive," Spuckes said seeing it for the first time. We glanced from right to left observing glowing lights, lasers and explosions on an incredible scale in every direction. We decided to start by heading to Center Camp to get oriented.

We hopped off of our bikes and locked them up at one of the many bike racks outside. Out front of Center Camp stood a large robot called "Becoming Human." In its left hand was a dog leash connected to a smaller, bulldozer looking robot and in its right hand was a flower that it would raise to its face and smell every once in a while. We pulled out our cups and a box of wine from my backpack and filled up our glasses before we headed into Center Camp. As we entered the tent we were greeted by a sparse scene with ample art of all sorts. We gravitated towards the center and glanced up at the large open portion and the camp's flags waving in the night sky. Carly walked up to Spuckes and turned his headlamp off prior to our slight wandering as we enjoyed the art. A short time later we saddled up and headed out to the open playa, past a small structure with an elephant head on it, towards the large Serpant Monster, which was moving and shooting flames surrounded by excited participants. It was quite an amazing piece and gave off an incredible amount of heat.

From The Serpent we rode to The Man, where we parked, poured more wine and came upon a large carnival throughofair. There were carnival workers calling participants to "step right up!" Folks were throwing balls at a smiling facade of a clown in an attempt to knock out its teeth. Others were throwing rings or talking to fortune teller/psychics enclosed in glass, who were real people. The bright lights and the atmosphere did well in creating a carnival vibe before we stumbled upon the entrance to the maze. There we were welcomed by a gentleman who asked that we not smoke around The Man and that we enjoy ourselves. We entered and made a right, then took the first left toward the interior, down a hallway of mirrors and into what felt like a courtyard, with an intricate shine in it's center and cameras with large projection screens along the perimeter. I have no problem with mirrors and cameras, however, for many I am sure all of the attention to the self could have been a lot to handle at the time. We made our way up a wooden staircase onto a second story under The Man that overlooked both the small courtyard and the maze. From our vantage point we could see that each corner of the maze played host to a unique interactive experience. Outside of the maze, there were stages that we didn't notice from ground level. On the stage to our right, there were people spinning fire. On the stage to our left seemed to be some sort of obscure dialogue, with the participants drinking heavily from a bottle of dark liquor.

As we looked around at the incredible scale of the city, it was hard not to be overwhelmed at all of the stimulation and possible choices of direction. In the distance we saw The Temple, as well as Totem of Confession that looked like something from an Indiana Jones movie. To the left, I could see another large human structure that looked like a woman. Everywhere we looked there was something incredible happening. We made our way down the wooden stairs, back through the courtyard, through the maze, exited, and made our way to one of the stages where Spukes parked right in front as a beautiful young lady spun fire poi. We headed back to our bikes where I lined up the proper code and we were on our way, but not before taking a moment to stare at a large skeleton on chains being controled by people on the ground. It clanked and cracked loudly and made me uncomfortable, which I enjoyed. We collected ourselves and made haste towards Totem of Confession, which had a huge line of people out front, waiting to enter. As it was our first night in Black Rock City, we decided to keep moving towards the Love Potion Amorphora art car, which was outputting a fantastic LED display in the large bottle atop their bus. We stood present, scratching our heads and looking around without saying a word before it was decided that we would ride in a random direction.

The first structure that we came upon in the new direction was a large two story cube structure that had LED lights along its exterior lines and a large female face painted on the side facing us. We walked up to it and stared into some mirrors on the side, before noticing a small slot. Murray approached with a card in hand that read "The Life Cube Project." On the other side of the card, participants were encouraged to write down their dreams, wishes and goals and insert them into the slot. I looked back over my shoulder where I saw Spuckes sitting on what appeared to be a low bench. He had a shit eating grin on his face. Then, what looked to be a lobster drove by. We hopped back on our bikes and came to a collective stop to decide where we were heading. A large board room table with board members sitting in suits and a man on top of the table yelling, drove by. It was pure insanity. In our haze, we noticed my favorite art car, "El Pulpo Mechanico," heading for us, blasting fire. I felt a child-like excitement come over me as if I were about to meet Santa Clause. He came to a stop just short of where we were standing and as Michael Jackson played in the background, a ton of people surrounded the large metal octopus as if to worship their god. "Welcome to The Church of El Pulpo Mechanico," I muttered to Spuckes. With every explosion of fire, you could feel the extreme heat roar over the top of you with power and welcome warmth.

We rode out past wind up teeth to a three story wooden structure with a bright rainbow on top. We locked up our bikes and headed up the rickety stairs that led to dead ends, only to have to turn around and pass other climbers. Back on The Playa, we once again filled our glasses with wine. We made our way towards what looked like a small radio tower with an LED blanket hanging underneath. On the ground there were a ton of Burners spacing out to the changing array of colors. We continued riding past a large fairy tale looking boot house called "Storied Haven," that had a long line that extended out of its gate and only stopped once we arrived at The Temple. We locked up our bikes, filled up on wine and walked toward the sizable wooden cornucopia, past fire spinners and folks sitting on the ground in front of it. Surrounding The Temple were small wooden designs that had lights shining inside of them. We entered The Temple and immediately began to see pictures of folks whom we lost, as well as messages of love and heartache. For some reason at that moment I didn't feel sad, as I did in the previous year's Temple. Instead, I smiled as we walked further into its spiraling core, until it bottle-necked and felt like a line that wasn't moving. We turned around and walked out passing an influx of people still coming in. A man inquired, "where is Timothy Leary's funeral?" to which I smiled and said, "that's good." He replied by saying, "what's the answer?" to which I said, "there is no answer." As we exited, two young men to our right were clutching each other in all out laughter. I found it an odd and uncharacteristic reaction to The Temple and smiled.

We slowly returned to our bikes and headed toward a spinning piece of art that changed colors as participants spun it in one direction, then the opposite, while onlookers stared in amazement. We continued on and stopped at a piece that we recognized called "Brainchild," which was a sitting baby's legs on the bottom and tube like shape that looked like it had nerves coming out of it, connecting on the top in a circular shape with a light inside. I knocked on its base creating a hollow resonating noise. We continued to ride across the open playa passing groups of bikers, art cars and people on foot towards White Ocean, a large sound camp at 10:00 and Esplanade. We parked and locked up, cuing another massive pour of wine. Our cups were full on so many levels. We headed into the circle of glowing spires that were shooting fire and we danced our asses off. Behind me read a large sign that said "Fuck it." That pretty much summed up my thoughts at the time. We danced and consumed wine for a solid amount of time before deciding to head back towards camp to chill for a bit.

We rode down Esplanade laughing and joking when we were blindsided by our first bad dust storm of the week. We put on our goggles and pulled our bandannas up over our noses and mouths. We attempted to ride slowly before it became impossible in the madly euphoric environment. I glanced over my right shoulder and connected with Carly, where we stood in place until we were able to see slightly. There was no sign of Murray or Spuckes. We made our way into the camps, almost unsure of what direction we were heading. As it was our first night back in BRC and Spuckes' first night ever in BRC, we assumed the worst. We assumed he was wandering aimlessly through the dust, though we had much more confidence in Murray's ability. We rode and rode, stopping at 6:00 and I, where we took a second to recall that we were actually camped off of 5:00 and J. We continued towards camp and pulled up through the dust to shockingly find a parked bicycle in the waves of dust, and Spuckes laying flat on the ground, possibly passed out, possibly eating a sandwich. Murray pulled in right behind us while we were in shock over Spuckes' ability to locate camp. We cracked beers in a celebratory fashion as waves of dust blasted our camp. "Do you like horse meat or Vicodin? If so, join us at 'Opulent Tent" at 5:00 and J,' I chirped as we joked and laughed insanely as our night faded. We climbed into our tent, where we found a layer of dust, which made no sense as all of our windows were closed. We laid down, closed our eyes and fell asleep immediately to the quiet of the Black Rock City's suburbs.

Wednesday August 2, 2015 - Minus One:

My eyes opened as I coughed dust. My head hurt from all of the box wine. I needed bacon. I stepped out of the tent, stretched and grabbed a Gatorade. I opened the cooker and fired it up, and began boiling water for coffee before grabbing bacon, eggs and cheese from the cooler, which would require more ice before long. I fired up the propane cooker atop of our new camping table setup and put it to the test. There was a rustling in the tent as Carly awoke to a breakfast burrito, follow by Spuckes from "Opulent Tent." I noticed that our tent had ripped from the base loop, but was still structurally sound and enclosed. I also noticed that our phones had limited service as well as internet, so I checked a few messages and made a couple of phone calls. We sat, ate and recovered before Spuckes and I saddled up to ride past Center Camp, to Arctica, to fetch some ice. We grabbed a Black Rock Beacon newspaper (Piss Clear) and read some nonsensical articles while we waited in line. Entering the dome, we found almost all of the employees dancing their asses off. We purchased one of the two things that money can buy in BRC, Ice (the other being coffee). In the previous year, I threw the five pack of ice over my shoulder. As it slowly melted, it formed to my body, making it possible to carry the long distance to camp. We purchased the ice and I tossed it over my shoulder, only this time it was a lot more solid. I rode and rode, shifting as I rode, never finding a great position. Spuckes rode off completely, like a child. About half way to camp I tossed the bag into the air and caught it on the way down. A gentleman cut me off, followed by a girl who boxed me in. In the real world, it would have felt like a sting, but on The Playa, I welcomed the interaction. "Toss the ice in my basket," the friendly man said. "Oh, you don't have to do that," I replied. "I insist," he said. "You're not riding any further." "Toss it in the basket," the young lady said. I obliged.

We rode up 5:15 talking about where we were from and that it was both party's third burn. "We want to invite you to our wedding," the man said. We pulled into camp and he handed over our ice. I offered him a bag or two of ice to which they declined. "Hold out your arm," the man said as he stamped a stamp onto an ink pad and stamped his wedding invitation on my arm. It read that the wedding was that day at sunset at The Temple of Promise. It was a very cool idea, though it would be the last time it would cross my mind. I iced down the coolers which Murray and Carly had emptied and we were back in business. We snacked and re-hydrated in the shade throughout the day as Spuckes came and went checking out a variety of random camp events. At one point, we filled up our shower bag, hung it in our shower tent and enjoyed a rinse. It's incredible what a shower in the desert will do for your energy level.

Murray came into the tee pee and said that he had a family emergency and that he was trying to figure out what his next move would be. We communicated that we were there for him, whatever he should choose to do. High winds ripped through our camp and we hammered everything down harder and put away anything that could blow away. Murray rode off and got his last taste of Burning Man before returning to camp and slowly packing up his gear. Our group assisted in the taking down of his EZ-Up. It was a sad feeling to be tearing down a portion of camp and saying good bye to Murray so early on in the adventure. It was decided that the tee pee would remain and that Spuckes would drive Murray to his hotel, hit the storage unit to drop off the un-needed gear and would return. The wind continued with gusts of thirty plus miles an hour and our EZ-up snapped. We quickly rushed over and messed around with bungee cords before ultimately removing the canopy and continuing to put away anything that wasn't nailed down.

After a couple of hours of trying to keep our camp together, we saw some emergency vehicles speed past on the outer road of the circle. We turned on BMIR and in between songs they spoke vaguely of an emergency and asked that people not take pictures and spread that kind of negative publicity. We decided that it would be best to get away from camp and head to Center Camp to see if we couldn't obtain some more info. We tossed on our neon hunting and construction vests and rode over to J and down to 5:15. We pulled down our goggles and pulled up our bandannas as we got hit with one wave of dust after another. We turned in towards Center Camp, locked up our bikes and wandered around observing a large group of people participating in partner yoga, while many others were waiting in line for coffee and espresso. We walked out towards the open playa towards "Madusa," an intricate metal structure with snakes coming off of the head, who had a Rhino art car parked in front of it. We walked a little bit further and noted a large, shiny, golden dragon art car that was also parked. Outside of a few folks casually riding bikes, there wasn't much activity as high winds and dust made for impossible conditions. Imagine your whole world, everything in view, coming and going as the dust claimed, then returned everything to vision. We walked a little bit further before getting blasted with heavy dust. We could feel the granulates hitting our unprotected skin.

We quickly returned to Center Camp and sought shelter on a small block bench. Carly and I took turns drinking from our large water bottle. We were surround by others seeking shelter, having conversations in many different languages. Across from us a man played a native American style drum, while his partner laid on her back and danced on the ground. We retrieved our bikes and headed back to camp, where to our surprise, only one of the bins' lids came off. We sat in solitude reflecting on Murray's departure and the current physical state of our camp. The day began to ware on us and I texted Spuckes to gauge the time of his return, and to let him now that we decided to take a short nap prior to our evening at Burning Man. We closed our eyes to camps on nearby streets partying and preparing for a wild evening, regardless of the conditions.

"Hey, are you guys in there? I'm back," Spuckes said waking us from our longer than expected slumber. "It's almost 11:00 PM. There was an hour and a half line at the gate and they were running dogs up and down the rows like the border," Spuckes stated laughing. He followed up by saying "this is Harry, I picked him up in Wadsworth. He was hitchhiking." We introduced ourselves to Harry who informed Spuckes that he was going to do some recon and look for his friends. "I'll leave that car door open and you can grab your gear whenever," Spuckes said. Harry wandered off and Spuckes said to me, I can't get the fog lights to turn off on Murray's car," and he proceeded to try to figure it out. Unbelievably, the folks in the camp next to us who had just pulled in were dealing with the exact same issue. It made no sense. I watched scratching my head before texting Murray, as Spuckes looked through the manual. Murray checked a couple of customer service forums and came up empty before Carly found the button on top of the steering column. I headed over to the neighbors' car and offered them our solution, which was not universal.

We drank beers, packed our backpacks and illuminated our bikes while our neighbors talked about un-hooking their battery. We rode off towards Center Camp, parked our bikes and headed up Esplanade in search of "Planet Earth," an indoor club past BMIR. "Justin?" someone said off to my right. I turned to see a gentleman we know from Colorado, Matt, in a white tutu, stockings and corset, with a white umbrella. We checked in with him on his experience thus far and continued on our way to "Planet Earth," which was blasting trance music. We danced for a bit before growing tired of the repetitive beats and we headed out front of the club, poured some wine a headed towards Death Guild's "Thunderdome." Spuckes and I stared at the metal dome structure while Carly wandered over to the dome's entrance to check the scheduled fight times and see about signing Spuckes up. The dome was dark so we continued on to a large pink pony art car, with people dancing all over it, while it blasted beats. We danced for a short time before making our way back past BMIR, which was broadcasting live unfiltered nonsense, while a group of people sat around their large burn barrel fire.

We collected our bikes at Center Camp and rode back to camp to re-fuel. Upon our arrival, we sat and drank beers, slowly sinking into our chairs. It was decided that our night was over, at which point Spuckes packed up for another round. As we climbed into our tent, we conversed about what sort of craziness he would get into alone at Burning Man. We agreed that it would be good for him. We dusted off multiple layers of dust, coughing and realizing that there was no solution at that hour. We crawled into bed, beaten, battered, exhausted and ready for a clear day...

Thursday August 3, 2015 - Plus Two:

I could hear our tent and the tee pee flapping in the wind as I gained consciousness. I stepped outside of the tent to check on the state of our camp. Everything seemed to be holding. It was daylight, though the sun had yet to rise and it was silent. There wasn't a person in sight as I wandered over to the porta potties. I headed into the john and I heard another porta pottie door close on the far end of the row. I exited, tapped three hand sanitizer dispensers before the sweet aroma of alcohol and the wet feeling of the liquid hit my hand and quickly dissipated, giving me the perceived illusion of cleanliness. It was cold and way too early so I returned to my warm bed for a couple more hours of rest before breakfast. A slight heat from the sun began to warm the tent as I headed out to start the morning. Surprisingly, Spuckes emerged from his tent next and began to talk of a crazy late night of dancing at different clubs and art cars. Carly came to half way through the cooking and jumped right in to assist as I made coffee. We dined on breakfast burritos and before long, Spuckes was diving into the schedule to see what events he had circled in anticipation of attending.

A gentleman from the French camp, Luc, came out of his motorhome and threw up next to a car. I wandered over with a bottle of water, which he confusingly refused with one hand while accepting the bottle with the other. After his consequence of the previous night, he took a swig of water. I checked my e-mails and sent a couple of messages regarding a big show that I was throwing that evening in Denver. It was lining up to be a sold out show, which had me in a good mood. As it was a relatively clear morning, we decided it was necessary to open all of the windows on our tent, take everything out and sweep it. It seemed like one layer of dust after another. A short time later, our tent was in the best shape that it had been since our arrival. Spuckes headed off to look for the fabled "Grandma Camp" as Carly and I headed off to retrieve ice. A short time into our ride, the dust started to kick up, triggering us to grab our goggles and bandannas. We arrived at Arctica and hopped into line as a bus with clean tourists of an elderly age, holding cameras and cell phones, came to a stop out front of the ice camp. It felt like a safari and we were the wilderbeasts. As we were about to enter the "igloo," we noticed an entertaining piece written on the wall. "You may be a special snowflake, but this is a goddamn blizzard."

We purchased our ice from the dancing customer service rep and returned to our bikes where this time, we switched it up a bit and loaded the bags into my backpack and Carly's basket. On our ride back we passed coffee houses, tea houses, bars and stages, all unsanctioned and all apart of the beauty of Black Rock City. We passed "El Pulpo" who looked quite different in the light of day and turned down J towards camp. We quickly emptied the coolers and iced them down before making cocktails. "What time is it?" Spuckes asked. "I think it's almost 1:00 PM" I answered. "We've already missed half of the Phish tribute band," he said. "There is a Phish cover band?" I asked in shock, jumping up and gathering my shit to catch the second half. One of the bummer parts about the timing of Burning Man is that it overlaps with Phish's three night run in Colorado, in which most of our friends attend. "Shitty Phish is better than no Phish," I said to Spuckes as we headed towards 5:15 and A or B.

We pulled up to find a very well thought out camp with a tent like structure covering individual tents. In the communal space towards the entrance of the tent, a band was set up. We made it just in time for the second set. The band stepped up and the keyboardist said something into the mic along the lines of "this is very difficult music, so please excuse any mistakes, blah, blah, blah," followed by a Niche' quote. The music began and immediately the guy next to me said "yes, Cities!" It was definitely "Llama" and not "Cities." The mainly seated crowd danced in place as one missed note after terrible riff bounced off of their eardrums. I gave a sideways glance to Spuckes who reciprocated, before I turned to Carly and said, "I think I am going to head back to camp." "Give it one more song," she said positively. The first few notes of the following song were discernible and I immediately turned and exited the camp. I tried to be as positive as possible and supportive towards people's creative output, but this was potentially one of the worst bands that I have ever heard, butchering complex material.

We headed back to camp, opened up some beers and started to snack as Harry walked up to retrieve the last of his items. The wind and dust picked up so he entered the tee pee where he was welcomed by a bag of fresh strawberries from Carly/Murray's cooler. We sat, avoiding the heavy dust, discussing an array of topics, landing on what I do for a living. As I spoke, Harry seemed almost familiar with the places, companies and musicians that I spoke of, triggering Carly to ask, "what do you do for a living, Harry?" In a calculated manner he said "well, I used to be a DJ..." to which I interrupted "DJ Harry?" "Yes," he responded. I stared at him blankly for a moment before asking "the DJ Harry?" "Yes," he replied. "Wild... I've seen you around the country at shows and festivals," I said in dis-belief. The conversation continued with Harry and I speaking of mutual acquaintances, the business and his future in music. Harry headed on his way with plans of re-connecting with us that night or the following day. I began to cook tacos and quesadillas as Spuckes wrote on the white board/'Opulent Tent' marquee and cleaned out "Opulent Tent" for the evening's party. "Do you like playa dust, oxygen or single ply toilet paper? If so, join us at 'Opulent Tent' at 5:00 and J," I said, with laughter to follow.

I stood by watching as dust pan after dust pan full of dust was tossed out of the tent, before Spuckes stepped out holding a weird dancing/musical toy that spelled out "love." I had him hold the toy, press the button and stand there while I filmed it, making for an entertaining clip. The sun began to set and we prepared for the arrival of two additional guests, Jenny and Jesse, who attended their first burn the previous year. A military helicopter flew over Black Rock City, doing laps, when Jenny and Jesse pulled in. I pointed out the different approach options before Jesse cruised around the block and pulled off of J, down a row of solar lights that we had been calling "the driveway," into camp. With the truck and trailer stationary, they began to unload and set up. At one point Jesse pulled a shredded tire out of the back of his truck and explained that it had blown out on their trailer on their trip from Reno, causing a slight delay. He also pulled a large bike out of the back of the pick-up truck that he had made out of a wheel barrel, large tires and a seat covered with a sleeping bag. I was impressed. Then Jenny busted out her traditional Burning Man cupcakes. I was a happy camper.

The new arrivals' camp came together quickly and bike preparations for the evening started to unfold. Glowsticks were cracked, lights were lit and backpacks were stuffed with wine, beer, goggles and bandannas. There was a refreshed excitement in camp as we headed off towards Esplanade. We passed the row of porta potties on 5:00, where a man was standing behind the row with a large backpack gadget that extended off of his shoulders over the porta johns. With the flip of a switch, lights came beaming down from his device through the roof of the outhouse in a wide array of flashing colors, while music piped through the slats in the side. It was a one man porta john dance party device, and it was incredible. We laughed as we rode down 5:00, dodging intersecting bikes at every street. Black Rock City was buzzing.

We crossed Esplanade and made our way out to The Man passing one wild scene after another. I was surprised at how many people were on The Playa without any sort of glowsticks or lights, causing a potential hazard for themselves and others, due to their lack of visibility. We pulled up to the carnival that surrounded The Man, dismounted, poured some wine and headed into the madness. There was so much activity taking place and the night was still relatively young. We headed into the maze and this time made a right toward the outside of the maze, entering a room of what appeared to be a sort of control panel in one corner and eleven white heads with faces projected onto them. It was a touch uncomfortable which drew me in and thoughts of artificial intelligence and the like swirled in my head. The faces discussed feelings, insecurities and a range of inter-personal topics. We made our way out of the room through a doorway adjacent to us and headed into to the other corner into a room with a row of two-sided mirrors and seats on each side. We watched as participants controlled the lights and translucency of the mirror combining the faces on each side, before trying it ourselves. It was very trippy when executed properly, though it wasn't easy to control.

We exited the second corner of the maze and made a left inward, through a hallway of mirrors, into The Man's courtyard and up the stairs onto the second story platform. It felt good to be in the open air and once again, the elevated vantage point made for an incredible three sixty degree panorama. While we were enjoying the view and our wine, a group of sheriffs and BLM officers made their way up the stairs onto the platform. A few folks took notice, but many could have cared less. They turned to a couple of burners and handed over their cell phones, asking participants to take pictures of them and their cop friends in front of The Man. It was humorous and light as the officers made funny poses and faces, while flashes and clicks filled the air. We made our way back down, through the courtyard and maze, back to our bikes. Carly expressed that she wanted to check out Lucient Dossier, so we rode past White Ocean to the "Dragonfly Den" that was supposedly hosting the troupe. I headed up to a couple of guys standing behind the DJ decks and inquired about what time Luscient Dossier would be starting, to which I got two different answers. Neither corrected themselves or contested the time, instead they stared at me as if I were an asshole... and I was. I headed back to the group and suggested that we make our way towards White Ocean for a bit to kill some time.

We pulled up to White Ocean which was starting to fill in for the evening. We danced and took in the atmosphere for a while. At one point, I danced on Spuckes who was having none of my nonsense. After a short time, we hopped on our bikes and headed back to "Dragonfly Den," where folks had started to gather. We waited for what felt like a while, while someone repeatedly asked folks to back up out of the performance space so that the show could commence. While we waited "El Pulpo" crept up behind us and blasted flames causing our whole group to turn around. "I'm not feeling well. I think I am going to ride back to camp for a bit. I'll see you guys there," Spuckes said. We focused back on the performance, which still didn't seem to be underway, though it seemed everyone cleared out of the space per the hosts request. We grew bored and decided to head back to camp ourselves to refuel.

We rode down Esplanade, past Center Camp down 6:00, back to camp. "Everything alright in there?" called into Spuckes' tent. He mumbled back, eluding to the fact that he was still alive. That was good enough for me. We sat under the tee pee and drank beers until it was clear that we would not be heading back out. Jenny and Jesse headed into their trailer and Carly and I to our tent, where we fell asleep quickly. I awoke a short time later to the winds picking up. I stepped outside to make sure that everything was still in place. It was cold and dark and the sky was filled with stars. All I could hear was the wind and there wasn't a person in sight. It was a surreal moment where I felt as if I could feel the earth flying through space and the resulting winds were blowing over me. I folded up a few of our chairs, checked our tent stakes and jumped back into bed.

Friday August 4, 2015 - The Winds Pick Up:

It seemed as if the winds had continued through the night. I wasn't sure how much more we could take of the wind and dust. I did what I had done the previous mornings and jumped right into brewing coffee and making breakfast. A short time later I was joined by Spuckes and the rest of the group. "How are you feeling?" I asked Spuckes. "Well, I threw up on The Playa while I was riding my bike," he replied while holding water and paper towel in his hand. "Where are you headed?" I inquired. "I am going to go ride back to where I threw up and clean it up," he said. In that moment, I was really proud of his level of consciousness and his desire to leave no trace. He rode off while the rest of us ate breakfast and hydrated. Jenny and Jesse decided to ride the bike that Jesse built to Center Camp for some antics later in the day. I told them that we would ride along in order to get ice, at which point Jesse directed me towards a cooler by their trailer that was completely full of ice. I was grateful and the process of icing down the coolers was underway.

A short time later everyone arrived back at camp and we readied our bikes to go see some art! As soon as we departed camp, our goggles and bandannas became essential. It was clear from the get go that it was going to be a dusty day on The Playa. We rode down 5:00 and crossed Esplanade where we arrived at our first stop. It was a section of a house with realistic plaster women draped in fabric with wigs all over it and body parts strewn about. The piece was very surreal and the dusty/dreamlike environment made for incredible imagery. As the dust cleared we rode toward a wood frame that was meant to be a postcard and read "wish you were here!" It perfectly framed The Man. Our group stepped in for a couple of photos and then I took a couple of shots of the young lady who snapped our pics, and we were back on our bikes heading in the direction that I thought "Totem of Confession" was in. While we rode, we were hit with a white out dust storm that brought our group to a complete stand still. I peered over my right should and couldn't see anything. I peered over my left and found the same to be the case. I realized I couldn't see anything at all, and an odd feeling of claustrophobia came over me. I turned to my right with my bike in tow and felt for another bike. To my surprise, I found a piano with a tree coming out of it. I sat down and started to play.

The dust cleared and our whole group was within' about five to ten feet of one another and everyone joined me at the piano, taking turns playing the worst sounding vibrations that one could imagine. On the piano a sign read, "I was hit by a truck! PLEASE: Be gentle and do not climb!" Presumably, the piano's encounter with the truck didn't help its tone or pitch. We collected ourselves and continued to Totem of Confessions. As we rode up, I saw a group of Burners prepping a smashed can on the end of a fishing pole. They cast it out and I figured I would humor them by attempting to grab it, providing them with some yucks. I picked up the smashed can, which didn't get reeled in on me. I had mistaken the antics and instead was rewarded with a shot of tequila for picking up MOOP (matter out of place).

Our focus shifted to the once again lengthy line to enter the temple like structure. We decided to enjoy the outside of the beautiful piece and while doing so we found an antique chair, that we posed for a couple of pictures with. The coolest image was an idea that Jesse contributed; to have Spuckes sit in the chair and he and Carly would extend their arms behind him, making it look like Spuckes had six arms. Towards the bathrooms we rode and to our delight there was a large two story art car parked out front with a DJ spinning some electro-swing, which is one of both mine and Carly's favorite styles within' the electronic music realm. We danced and enjoyed a few clear minutes before following the art car to four large words in the shape of a square, creating a courtyard with a tree in the middle. The project was called "Big Words." The words were "Live, Dream, Be, Ok" and people were climbing all over them and posing for pictures while a DJ output some Caribbean style music with steel drums.

Somehow, Spuckes was under the impression that both Carly and Jenny had gotten tattoos on The Playa, which is outrageous. We danced, took pictures and ate M&Ms as the wind and dust came and went. At one point, Spuckes turned to me and said "I think I am going to pack up and take off tonight," to which I turned and handed him a beer. "I see what your strategy is here..." he said accepting, then opening the beer. We rode towards "R-Evolution," an incredible, tall, female statue having to stop a couple of times and eventually walk our bikes due to the dust. We arrived to find a handful of women on stilts and people surrounding the statue, posing for pictures and admiring the complexity of the work. On the statue's base read "I am you and we are everywhere," repeating in different size texts. We ate more M&Ms as the dust, wind and sun beat down on us. Because only chocolate could make a dust storm tolerable. The wind was so strong that it blew a couple of our bikes over sending the contents of the basket across The Playa with us chasing after and collecting the entirety of the MOOP. While Jesse rode his bike in front of R-Evolution, he did tricks and Carly snapped some photos of the entertainment. As we rode towards The Man in anticipation of "Critical Tits," we passed a furry flamingo art car with a couple of the stilt walkers on board.

Once at The Man, we popped open more beers and headed into the maze, back down the hallway of mirrors, through the courtyard and up the stairs to the deck surrounding the effigy. We glanced around and saw no sign of what should have been a large gathering of women. With no indication of the parade's start, we headed back down into the maze, this time to a corner that had a large organ, and what appeared to be sheet music flowing out of the top of the organ. A little girl and her mother stood at the keys as the girl hesitantly pecked away on the piano. I approached it next and haphazardly pressed a couple of keys. I stepped back and up walked a submissive/dominant couple, the female in leather on a leash. The man allowed the woman to play as we wandered back into the maze. We exited the maze without a clear direction and found cotton candy being distributed from a little spot on the end of the carnival row called "Cock and Sandy." At random, I heard my last name over a speaker. I turned in the general direction of the source and found that a reading of Star Trek was underway. Goofy lines were read from an episode of the classic show with random participants reading and passing a bottle of liquor, which of course Spuckes took a pull from.

I quickly lost interest and wandered a short twenty feet away where I could hear the woman on the megaphone assembling the Critical Tits parade. I collected the group and off we went. We found a great spot amidst the chaos of topless women and I began to dance. I dropped a couple of my characteristic moves, the "Tornado" and the "Slippery Fish," before being run up on by a dude who wanted to get down with me, and get down we did. The requested guidelines came from the woman on the megaphone who stated that the men should ask the women to take any pictures before doing so. Then, "The Flight of The Bumble Bee" came on over the speakers and they were off. We hopped on our bikes and rode a short distance away for a better vantage point through almost whiteout dust. As the parade teetered off, we rode back towards Center Camp, down the road from The Man. We rode slowly as the dust and wind continued to pick up, at one point causing us to almost run right into the parade, which had circled back in our direction. We clapped and cheered along with the passing by women, who appeared to be having a fantastic time.

We rode past Center Camp and back into the camps down 5:30 towards our spot. We turned down J and rode the couple of blocks, pulling into camp to find that our tent had collapsed under the fifty mile per hour winds. At first, I was frustrated as we began to re-erect and re-tie down the tent. I became disheartened when we discovered a rip in the tent's side. It was at this point that the realization hit me that we could no longer sustain in the current state. As I headed over to talk to Carly about my concerns, my shin made contact with the rebar, splitting it open, causing blood to slowly drip down my leg. Spuckes finished packing the remaining pieces of his set-up before we headed into Jenny and Jesse's trailer for a horde of hot dog, and salad sides. The trailer shook as the wind gusted. I was completely defeated and Carly was starting to get upset at the prospect of our untimely departure. Jenny and Jesse offered to have us stay with them, but for me, it was already over.

Spuckes said his brief goodbyes, almost apologetically. I began furiously packing up the bins, bedding and tearing down what remained of our camp. Carly and I attempted to talk about the situation, resulting in minor bickering as we crammed items into the Jeep. It was a hopeless situation that no one expected. In the six years that Carly has attended Burning Man and the three that I have followed, we have never experienced the relentless beating that we had taken this year. The last few items were forcibly packed into the car and the doors pushed shut. As I did so, a gentleman from the French camp wandered over, opened a tuperware container and said "Hello, do you want a crap?" "A what?" I said stepping back. "A Crap," he repeated. "Oh, a crepe. No, I am good. We're about to take off," I said. "One for the road?" he insisted. "A crap?" I said sarcastically. "No I'm good. Thanks, friend," I said putting my hand on his shoulder. Carly and Jenny posed for a couple of photos and shed a couple of tears. We told them that we looked forward to seeing them at our wedding in October and we were on our way. We drove past camps of folks hunkered down and attempting to hold the pieces together, many with smiles on their faces. We rode down the rows which were once designated for the mass entrance, this time towards the exit. Just before we hit the pavement, we passed about five police cars that had surrounded a single hippie. The cops were wearing flac jackets and had all kinds of military issued gear on. To our right an additional cop ripped across The Playa at about ninety miles an hour towards the scene, which had clearly already been secured. The two hour ride back to Lovelock was sad and dismal. We pulled into Carly's parents' driveway and pulled out our essentials for the evening. We headed into the air-conditioned house and took our first warm, dust-free shower in about four days. We laid our heads down on our pillows and closed our eyes. What could have easily been the end of our journey was instead a new beginning...

Saturday August 5, 2015 - The Return To The Playa:

We awoke a very long ten and a half hours later in a daze, staring up at the ceiling of the guest bedroom. We crawled to the kitchen for coffee and tuned into the alternate news outlets like BMIR, Burners.me and the Burning Man live feed. Everything seemed to be clear and the winds had seemed to have died down. Caffeinated, we headed to a small casino in Carly's home town and ate at the Black Rock Grill. We ordered large meals and began to plot our return to Burning Man. We headed back to Carly's parents' house and emptied the Jeep, only to repack it with the essential items that we would need for one more day at Burning Man. We departed that afternoon in high spirits, blasting reggae in the car as we made our unexpected return to Black Rock City! We looked up the time of the burn and realized that we would make it back with ample time assuming the line wasn't too long. We passed through Fernley, Wadsworth and Gerlach, which was a virtual ghost town.

We pulled onto The Playa and didn't see a single car in either direction. We drove past where the first checkpoint was towards the second checkpoint. We were told to hold on as it was shift change for the greeters. I was skeptical as most things people tell you at Burning Man are pure nonsense. I half expected to have some sort of clever trick played on us. We waited while a group of about five volunteers gathered off to our right. We continued to wait as they seemed to be having a pre-shift meeting. I glanced in my rear view mirror and found that it was just our car waiting to re-enter. I checked my phone for the time and about ten minutes later a guy walked up to our car. As he went to scan our parking pass, we communicated that we were re-entering and we showed our guest bracelets. He called another guy over who waved us in. We scratched our heads as to why we couldn't have just been waived in prior to the meeting. There was no joke to be played.

We pulled back into the camps and made a right down K, turning left into our former camp. We arrived to a message in our previous spot that welcomed us back! Jenny and Jesse greeted us with hugs and excitement. It was already getting cold so I changed into pants prior to unpacking our camping chairs, table, cooker and bikes. Jesse turned on BMIR over the speakers on the trailer and the hosts were talking about funk, which caught my attention. "Play Mothership Connection," I jokingly said and just seconds later, they did, followed by a handful of additional Parliament Funkadelic songs for about an hour. It was one of my favorite moments of the week and put me in such an incredible place for the evening. We drank beers and prepared our bikes with glowing lights for the evening's adventures! Jesse popped out of the trailer in a white sparkling suit and an afro, fitting the funk vibe perfectly as he rode around doing tricks on his homemade big wheel bike.

The sun set triggering our ride down 5:00 towards The Man. The wind blew across my face as I rode and I felt extremely blissful. We pulled across Esplanade and made our way towards the bathrooms on the 9:00 road from The Man. We locked up our bikes and hopped in line. Ridiculous banter ensued as folks were in rare form for the climax of their week! We reconvened at the bikes following our emptying, where we found a bottle rocket in Carly's basket. We left the bikes locked up where they were, poured some wine and made our way towards the face of The Man through the incredible ring of art cars. As we stood waiting, fire-spinners captivated the crowd. At one point folks started telling others to sit down and we found ourselves uncomfortably sitting and waiting for a solid thirty minutes or so. The Man's arms rose and the incredible display began. There was a moment where we decided to stand and walk out of the seated area and run back to the bathrooms before The Man went up in flames.

This time we made it to the other side of the john's where the lines were significantly shorter. As we came out, the massive firework display began! Explosions of color burst in the night sky as The Man's heart caught fire and engulfed the structure quickly. Unlike the previous year, once it went up, it was quick to come down. As soon as The Man hit the ground, the crowd roared and then shattered into thousands of pieces, heading off into the night, each in a "choose your own adventure" fashion. Our adventure lead us back to camp to refuel before heading back towards Thunderdome for some evening action. We caught a couple of battles outside of the dome looking in. The suspended "fighters" were pulled back on cue and launched at one and other with their padded bats swinging. Though the matches were nowhere near as intense as we had seen in past years, they were aggressive none the less.

From Thunderdome we rode towards "Big Red" and "Kalliope," the near inseparable duo, who were playing host to a large dance party in the open Playa. We danced for a short time while a DJ played some tracks, before we decided to dive in further and head to White Ocean. We rode across The Playa passing groups of revelers laughing and experiencing BRC on a high level. We danced as the night faded into morning, before making the last ride passed Disorient, pirate ships, Medusa, Center Camp, BMIR, The Celtic Castle and the club at 2:00 and Esplanade. Our week long experience slowly spiraled down the drain of time and every expectation that we had of the week went up in flames for an unexpected barrage of chaos and wind. We knew better than to set expectations for the week, yet there we were reflecting as we rode back to 5:00 and J. We sat in our chairs for a short time before making our way into the trailer. We found sleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

Sunday August 6, 2015 - Return To Reality:

I awoke to people arguing outside. "Fuck you!" a girl yelled, before I had even a chance to brew coffee. "It must be the final day," I thought. A week of partying and hours of having to tear down while crashing from the euphoria will have that effect on people. I made one last pot of coffee and breakfast as the group woke up and slowly came to. Jesse was quick to follow on his cooker and the smell of bacon and eggs overtook the camp. We slowly packed the few items that we returned with into bins as cars began to file out in growing numbers. We listened to BMIR as we loaded up the bikes and they gave little to no info about traffic. We rode Jesse's homemade bike one last time before he packed it up and prepared the trailer for departure. We said our sudo-goodbyes and hopped into our vehicles. We made our way down J, turned left on 5:15 and headed up K. On the side of the road were hitch-hikers holding signs that reflected their destinations. At one point, we drove by an area of tables where extra food, as well as uppers and downers were being collected for the tear down crew. We pulled out of the camps and drove along at ten miles an hour for much longer than expected before coming to a stop where the pulsing began. A short forty five minutes later and we were on the surface road, passing through Gerlach, which was once again a police state, and back towards I-80.

In previous years, we had it easy. We had sunny days with slight breezes and novelty dust storms. This year we were hit hard. They say "you never can be too prepared," and this year that statement rang true. Prior to our week in Black Rock City we spoke of how prepared we were and how having new gear was a great feeling. We had visions of how the week would unfold and between the departure of Murray on day two, as well as Spuckes, followed by us on Friday, our camp dropped like flies. Our one saving grace in walking away from this thing not feeling defeated was our return. If it were not for the close proximity of Carly's parents' house, it would have been impossible to recover. Ultimately, we were grateful for the humbling experience that this year's burn provided. We were grateful for the laughs, the random magic and the incredible stimulation that we have yet to find elsewhere. From the moment we left, we plotted next year's return and a vision began to take shape. A vision that will most likely either go up in flames or blow away in the wind...

www.burningman.org

Friday, November 20, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Lettuce 'Crush'


Words By Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)

As one of my favorite funk outfits, the release of Lettuce's new album Crush (Let us crush, get it?) was high on my priority list. The tight horn arrangements, booming bass, flawless rhythm, and intricate guitar work that defined the Lettuce catalog were evident straight out of the bag. You can't always judge a book by it's cover, but the hybrid elephants and deer were "instrumanimals," providing a visual aesthetic that was as intriguing as the music within.

"The Force" kicked things off with the sizzling horns and thumping bass I'd come to expect. In my experience, most Lettuce albums tend to smack you in the face immediately, while there was an element of that at play, this seemed to be a bit more mellow than previous albums.

"Get Greasy" was typical funk, but leaned slightly outside Lettuce's wheelhouse. The airy funk seemed a tad less aggressive than I expected. Much of the sound was laid by Adam Deitch's solid brick foundation and Jesus Coomes' fat bottomed bass lines. As I have noticed Eric Krasno gently withdrawing himself from the band, they seemed to be leaning on the horns a bit more to provide the lead lines.

The next tune, "Chief" seemed more like a New Mastersounds track than a Lettuce one in my opinion. The guitar riff sounded like it was straight out of Eddie Roberts pocket, and though the NMS don't have horns, they might want to consider adding them.

"'Lude Part 1" was a very brief instrumental that seemed to be added for continuity's sake.

"Phyllis" was the only track I had previously heard, and the groove immediately connected with me. The hip-hop influence on Deitch's drum track provided a nice compliment to the Jazz/funk fusion being laid down by the rest of the band. Groovy was the word. Really groovy.

The first vocals of the album were on "Sounds Like a Party." It didn't take me long to identify the soulful voice as Nigel Hall's. While I prefer instrumental Lettuce, Nigel was usually a welcome addition, and this case was no different.

"Lobbyist" further explored the laid back, soundscape vision that marked a somewhat new direction for the band. While the elements of a hard driving funk band were still evident, the sound had definitely evolved in a peaceful, laid-back direction.

What can be said about "'Lude Part 2" that wasn't already said about "'Lude Part 1?"

The following track, "Trilogy" seemed to regain a little of the old Lettuce style. The guitar, drums, and bass played a heavier role in this one, and I really liked it. There was a key effect that reminded me of Halloween in Compton. The tone Dr. Dre would use if scoring a horror soundtrack. The main riff got a little repetitive for my taste, but the drums were impeccable. Eventually a bit of a mariachi vibe hit, and really brought me around on the song.

"Pocket Change" had a coked up smoothness to it. Speedy, streamlined, locked in a bathroom with it's buddy. But really, the energy level on this tune was excellent, and the drum work was pure brilliance. I could tell Krasno must have been more involved with this jam, as the guitar work had his signature tone and the chops were surgical.

"The New Reel" harkened back to the ambient, relaxed funk of much of their new effort. The composition was triumphant and smooth, but it didn't have the punch of a typical Lettuce groove. Krasno's decreased involvement was noticeable as the band redirected the leads in many directions. The result was a smoother and more balanced feel, though it lacked the intensity that Kraz seemed to effortlessly add.

"'Lude 3"... See "'Lude 2."

"He Made a Woman Out of Me," featured Alecia Chakour pouring soul on an album that concentrated far more on the "one," than on soulful singing. It added dimension and depth to the album and transitioned well into the last real tune of "Crush."

"Silverdome" reminded me of the earlier Lettuce offerings stylistically. It still lacked the dynamic guitar leads, but made up for it in sludgey, psychedelic, effects that immediately brought PFunk's "Maggotbrain" to mind. Not a bad way to cap the album.

"'Lude 4," could have easily been attached to the end of "Silverdome," or titled "Outro," but the "'Lude" theme continued and brought everything to a nice conclusion.

On the whole, I felt this album was really good, but it was surprising to me how much had changed. Overall, it wasn't so much of a change in direction as a change in approach. This album reminded me of several other bands more than it did of Lettuce, which was unusual since it WAS Lettuce. If my own love for Krasno wasn't so blinding, I'd have thought this effort was beyond excellent, but my mind refused to give up the expectations I carried in and left me wanting the Jazz guru's licks. Jesus, Schmeans, and Deitch obviously stepped up their game on this effort, and the horns were as good as ever. In the end I had to admit that it was my own expectations that left me wanting more, it was no reflection on Lettuce, who "Crushed."

www.lettucefunk.com

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

DJ Logic, Andy Coe, Pete Ciotti, & Wil Blades 11.5.15


Nectar Lounge
Seattle, WA

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)


Thursday night at Nectar Lounge in Seattle saw one of the venue’s most interesting bills in recent memory. Local contemporary jazz quartet Industrial Revelation started things off, and the headlining act was a super-jam between guitarist Andy Coe, drummer Pete Ciotti, organist Wil Blades and DJ Logic.

Industrial Revelation brought a large contingent of fans out to catch their set. Nectar took on the vibe of a jazz club, with many patrons watching from the seats and those standing not pushed so tightly together. The band’s set was nothing less than prolific. The four musicians, drummer D’Vonne Lewis, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, trumpeter Ahamefule Oluo and keyboardist Josh Rawlings, are each among the finest musicians in Seattle at their respective instrument. Within the first track, I was extremely impressed at how well the four of them could play together. They somehow found enough sonic space for all four members to solo simultaneously, while still sounding tasteful and controlled. They walked a fine line between symphony and cacophony; if just one of them had gone a bit overboard the results could have been disastrous at some points. They clearly all place a lot of trust in each other to teeter on this edge, and the gamble pays off big time.

When it came time for the first proper solo of the show, Flory-Barnes drove the crowd mad with his smoothly executed upright bass work. He made the instrument absolutely scream, and was able to use hammer-ons and pull-offs with a proficiency I did not realize was possible on upright. He made brilliant use of his high notes, always adding in the perfect harmonies to his previous lines, but never missing a beat in terms of driving the melody. He passed the spotlight to Rawlings, who wowed us with his refined dynamics and effects usage. As the crowd focused on his keyboard solo, Lewis tip-toed back into the mix behind him, their apparent psychic connection flooring everyone in attendance. As Flory-Barnes locked into a groove with Lewis, Rawlings continued his solo over the top, adding in lots of wah-pedal. Oluo sat this portion out, dancing heartily on the side of the stage. He rejoined the band briefly to close out the song, but you could tell he was due for an explosion later in the show.

The next song was the title track to their new album, Liberation & the Kingdom of Nri, titled “Liberation.” This tune was best described as jazz-influenced space-funk. Flory-Barnes moved the song along with his melodic bass work, occupying the traditional role of a lead guitar beautifully. Oluo truly got his chance to stand out on this track, with his soulful trumpet vibrato and trilling skills displayed front and center. As Lewis kept time, I was stunned at how well he managed to blur the line between human and machine. Rawlings coaxed spacey noises out of his keyboard, using only minimal effects. During this song, I kept thinking that we should send these four musicians into space to meet the aliens, as a representation of the great potential of the human race.

To follow this, they began a tune with a snapping intro from Flory-Barnes and some a capella work. As the whole band came into the mix, he and Lewis again displayed their ability to effortlessly lock into a tight groove. Flory-Barnes continued to impress with his pinch harmonics, and was visibly getting highly involved in the performance, looking almost possessed as he kept up with Lewis’s tempo. Lewis had the biggest smile on his face, you can tell that he takes an enormous amount of well-deserved pride in this project. Over this tight groove, Rawlings started to get extremely funky with the clavinet setting on his keyboard. The entire band was clearly ready to break free of their jazz mold and do something different. Lewis could be heard asking, “Where is Grace Love?!” To answer this question, she came onstage from the crowd. The rest of the band entered full-on funk mode, and she began to sing over them. The jazz audience at Nectar could not believe this was happening, and started to get a bit crazier. Her vocal lines interplayed perfectly with Oluo’s trumpet lines, carrying the melody and moving all of the fans to dance with extra vigor. As the jam slowed down and came towards its end, she embraced Oluo and left the stage.

At this point, the entire band had loosened up significantly since taking the stage. The next song featured an astounding series of full-band, syncopated stops that brought the focus back to the death-defying instrumental talent available onstage. The next track returned a bit to the space-funk territory, visited earlier in the show. Oluo’s trumpet playing absolutely stole the show here, as he went down to his knees to belt his expressive part out to the heavens. Flory-Barnes strutted around behind him, his bassline always keeping the listener guessing as to where it might go next.

The band stopped after this song, and appeared briefly to be finished with their set. The raucous reaction of the crowd quelled these notions, and the band members selected a final song to appease the audience. Flory-Barnes unleashed a barrage of notes that was seemingly endless, until it settled into a smooth quote of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem.” This quote continued, with spacey noise effects in the background from Rawlings, until Lewis and Oluo also joined into the cover. At this point, I was powerless but to scream at this unexpected cover of a personal favorite song. Lewis flawlessly reproduced Phil Selway’s chaotic cymbal work, while Oluo managed to nail the song’s horn part and Thom Yorke’s vocals simultaneously. Their version was complete with an improvised section in the middle, which was tied back into the song after a few minutes by Flory-Barnes’s subtle teasing of the bassline. Oluo eventually brought the song all the way back as he switched back to covering Yorke’s vocal part for a beautiful reprise of the main verse. This was the perfect cherry on top of their set, showing that these artists can handle anything from jazz standards to some of the most contemporary, jazz-inspired music out there. They are bringing groove-oriented jazz to the people in an accessible manner, and it makes me so happy to say that this is something you can only see regularly in Seattle. If you can, try to make it out to see their next show at the Seamonster Lounge on November 30, 2015).

After a short break, the next performance of the night was a jam with Coe, Ciotti and Blades. This short set featured lots of jazz-influenced improvisation, with Blades absolutely crushing on the Hammond organ and clavinets. Local favorite/guitar-hero Coe lived up to his moniker of “Smooth Coe,” with several buttery solos and plenty of outstanding rhythm work backing up Blades. Ciotti was a really fun drummer to watch perform, as he did a great job of engaging himself fully in the show. His facial expressions were certainly entertaining, and he definitely seemed to be the most intense personality onstage.

The three musicians took a set break as DJ Logic took over the stage next. Logic brought his signature brand of neo-soul-jazz, which went over extremely well in a live setting. This eclectic concoction of styles was perfect to get a dance party going on the main floor, while being relaxed enough for the older jazz fans sitting upstairs to converse to and enjoy. Most of Logic’s work is done on the turntables, and he is definitely a scratch-master. He wore a shirt that read “Miles Ahead,” a statement he substantiated throughout the evening. He can be distinguished from many other DJs by his far-reaching use of extended harmonies and compound, moving basslines. This man has clearly spent a lot of time listening to Herbie Hancock.

After about 45 minutes, the other three musicians returned to the stage for the much anticipated super-jam. Things started off in a breakbeat jazz style, with Will Blades putting bassists everywhere out of work with his stellar footwork. This aspect of his playing is very similar to Seattle artist Joe Doria. DJ Logic continued scratching as the other three got warmed back up. Blades provided some spacey clavinet sounds to complement Logic’s scratching, then Ciotti took a nasty drum solo. Logic remained in the mix over this, and it sounded amazing when Blades returned with circus-style organ chords. The seemingly disparate pairing worked remarkably well in a live setting, and the organizers of this show definitely saw their risk pay off. It is a great testament to all four musicians that they were open-minded enough to try this out in the first place. Each of these men clearly has a strong understanding of music history, and they bravely pushed forward into the future during this set.

The remainder of the set included plenty of exciting interplay between each of the artists. One of the most interesting combinations was seeing Ciotti play melodic drums solos with Logic scratching percussively over the top. Generally, the melody was passed between Blades and Coe for most of the set, which lead to many diverse sounds (partially due to Blades’ ability to switch up instrumentation). Logic’s contributions were subtle most of the time, he did a fantastic job improving the other musicians through his scratching. I think many other DJ’s in that situation may have tried to overdo things a bit, but he played his cards in an extremely musical fashion that was perfect for the occasion.

They closed out the super-jam with a Herbie Hancock cover, which featured Coe prominently. I was impressed with how perfectly he was able to dial in his tone for this track, especially given he was using a few less effect pedals than he normally would with McTuff. My theory on why he may have chosen to leave some pedals off is that he wanted to achieve a more organic sound, allowing DJ Logic to provide more of the electronic elements for the evening. Herbie was definitely the perfect artist for this group to cover, and the musicians did an outstanding job of remaining true to his unique sound.

I am not sure if these musicians plan to continue touring together in the future, but if they do I will be very excited to see them continue to improve and gel as a unit. Given how much they improved just during their set together, you can tell these guys have serious potential, given more practice together. The future of jazz-inspired, contemporary music looks very bright, especially here in Seattle.

Scott's Photo Gallery

www.djlogic.com

Monday, November 16, 2015

PREVIEW: Three Nights of Roosevelt Collier's Colorado Get Down


Join us this week for the return of Roosevelt Collier's Colorado Get Down Thursday November 19 at The Fox Theatre in Boulder, CO featuring Bill Nershi (The String Cheese Incident), Joel Cummins (Umphrey's McGee), Matt Lapham (Shak-Nasti), Dominic Lalli (Big Gigantic) & Jeremy Salken (Big Gigantic) with Tom Hamilton's American Babies!

Purchase Tickets For 11.19 at www.foxtheatre.com

Then on Friday 11.20 and Saturday 11.21 Roosevelt Collier's Colorado Get Down has been moved to Quixote's True Blue in Denver, CO with Bill Nershi (The String Cheese Incident), Joel Cummins (Umphrey's McGee), Matt Lapham (Shak-Nasti), Dave Watts (The Motet)!

Purchase Tickets For 11.20 & 11.21 at www.quixotes.com

www.rooseveltcollier.com

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Trey Anastasio Band 'Paper Wheels'


Words By Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)

I must admit that while I am a HUGE Phish fan, TAB never did much for me. It wasn't that they weren't good, it was that stylistically they weren't my bag. Over the years, my enthusiasm for Phish has grown and ultimately my appreciation for all things related have blossomed as well. With this in mind, I volunteered to review Trey Band's latest effort, Paper Wheels.

The opening track, "Sometime After Sunset," was one of my favorite tracks on the album. The relaxed groove had the signature Trey vibe and the horn arrangements seemed to bolster his guitar lines with accents and harmonic depth. As a champion of the road, I'd imagine the perspective that nighttime is similar in every city or town is accurate, though in my personal experience there are some places I'd much rather be than others.

"The Song" mellowed the energy further, and while listening to it with my fiancé, she mentioned that it had a sitcom theme song feel. Unfortunately, her observation was accurate and it made it difficult for me to get into the tune. Lyrically, I felt the idea was strong, but the execution seemed a bit cheesy. Redemption was found in the vocal harmonies where Trey and Jen Hartswick were on point.

The following tune was also a tad mellow for me. I thought the lyric "never is a point in time that doesn't have dimension" was pretty cool, and once again the vocal harmonies were better than average. Hartswick's vocal talents were definitely key to my enjoyment of the album thus far.

"In Rounds" might have been my favorite tune on the effort. The chorus reminded me of the silly lyrical work of Tom Marshall with Phish. They were firing on all cylinders by this point in the album, and the instrumental work began to rival the vocal layers they were nailing. Bass, horns, drums, keys... All tight. When Trey's lead guitar work started I found myself adrift in some of my favorite tone in the world. Those Languedoc guitars always sound great, but I am particularly partial to the "Ocedoc," my guess of the guitar used in this song. I wouldn't be surprised if Phish plays this next year.

"Flying Machines" felt like Trey's soft rock jam, as the tempo, tone, and overall vibe of the song were subdued, tranquil, and bromidic. Once again, Hartswick's vocals carried my interest through.

"Invisible Knife" stepped things up a bit. Though the tune was still breezy compared to a Phish tune, the vocal harmonies were simply stunning on this track. I also noted a slight resemblance in the guitar lead to that of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

Once again the lyrical content of "Lever Boy" triggered thoughts of Tom Marshall's poetic work. Trey sounded like he was pushing the upper edge of his register, but still sounded comfortable for the most part. I felt the horn arrangements on this one were possibly the strongest on the album.

"Bounce" started very relaxed, but ultimately developed into another of my favorite songs on Paper Wheels. I found myself wondering how this song hadn't been written long ago by any of a thousand bands. The hook "Bounce too high, too high, too high," seemed so obvious. It was obviously not super high concept, but had the desired effect. This tune seems like it will make it into the Phish catalog eventually.

"Liquid Time" was not my favorite tune on the album. With an idea like liquid time, I expected more from the concept. I'd have probably been happier if it was an instrumental.

The title track was an upbeat one, but I had mixed reviews on the lyrical content. I felt it had a few of the strongest lines in the album, but there were also some that left me wondering how they made it in. My favorite was "feel like sunshine feels." I wasn't as big on "we'll all speak French some day," though it made sense when the French spoken word layered atop the outro.

"Speak to Me" quickly brought to mind another Trey tune... "Night Speaks to the Woman." I enjoyed the rhythmic aspect a lot. Russ Lawton kept it chugging away, and everything else seemed to fall in line around him.

"Cartwheels" closed out the album with another happy tune. While the prior tune seemed a more appropriate exclamation point to the album, this song probably had the emotion they wanted to leave with us. Once again, Hartswick's harmony and background vocals were stellar. I would probably say her vocal work was comparably impressive to anything Trey contributed.

In summary, I thought Trey's new album was pretty good. I couldn't quite wrap my head around how prolific 2015 had been for the Crimson Kid. Phish New Years Miami, GD50, arguably the best Phish tour in well over a decade, and a new solo album with full tour before returning to Phish and MSG to put a New Year's Eve cherry on top. Bravo.

www.trey.com

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Polyrhythmics & Monophonics 10.31.15


Nectar Lounge
Seattle, WA

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)


This Halloween celebration was a highly anticipated event for many Seattle residents. As patrons arrived to the venue on Saturday, the costume game was extremely impressive. Monsanto Claus, the Whipsnake backpack, and of course the Monopoly man (Monophonics and Polyrhythmics, get it?) made appearances. The second night of the run saw the order flipped, with local band the Polyrhythmics headlining this time. This order brilliantly allowed Monophonics to play to the sold-out venue at its most crowded, and those who only attended the second night still got a chance to see the full gamut of what the San Francisco band had to offer.

The band took the stage in costume as Devo, with yellow coveralls and red, terraced energy domes on their heads. The set went down in similar fashion to the previous evening, with a few notable changes. One difference was the cover of Devo’s “Whip It Good,” which drove the audience nuts. People began shouting for it as soon as they came onstage, but they kept us waiting for it through most of their set. Additionally, the Polyrhythmics’ Bloom was invited to sit-in and engaged in a guitar battle with McDonald that was nothing short of remarkable. Bloom was not wearing a costume at the time, and Finnigan gave him some grief about it, asking what he was supposed to be. Bloom responded with the zinger, “I was supposed to be a member of Monophonics.”

The band delivered the same phenomenal stage presence, but I was a bit disappointed not to see the setlist mixed up more on the second night of their two-night run. Knowing that they have four amazing albums, it was clearly not an issue of the band not being talented enough or having enough material to do so. I believe they just wanted to make sure to play their most impressive material each night to help establish a solid Seattle fan base. This is something they certainly succeeded at. Their set the first evening was so good that I had no problem watching most of the songs for a second time. It can be even more fun seeing songs for the second time, as you are more familiar and better able to dance to them. I would have felt awful for my second-night only friends if they were deprived of hearing such wonderful songs as “Promises,” “Lying Eyes,” and You Are So Good to Me.”

The Polyrhythmics came onstage for their headlining evening wearing the best group costume I saw all weekend. Grant Schroff dressed as “Suge White,” a mashup costume involving a Snow White dress, a gold chain, a headband and of course, a full beard. The seven remaining members of the band each donned a different colored sweater, a large black belt and long white beards as the seven dwarfs. They stood onstage for a long time, taking in the beauty of a sold out crowd in their home venue. When they at last began, Gray jokingly played through the first bars of “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” by Edvard Grieg. After a second, Bloom joined in, and the rest of the band followed as they played a brilliant rendition of the entire song. This was particularly appropriate to their costume choice as this song has been used in a number of Disney classic movies. Things returned to Polyrhythmics-normal as they followed with “The Itis,” an outstanding number that does a great job of highlighting every single band member at once. Songs like this remind me of how lucky I am to see all eight of these guys play on the same stage, because I would be quite happy watching any one of them do a solo set. “Chingador” really got the crowd moving around as Gray laid the bass intro down thick, then allowed the horns to absolutely take over as a nasty, dark groove built behind them. Morning’s vibrato skills on the trumpet were again on display during his solo. The song closed with some interesting, funky interplay between Bloom and the entire horn section.

The band then paused to introduce a new tune called “Dragon Lotion.” As much as the Polyrhythmics are known for their odd song titles, this one really threw me for a loop. One day, I am sure they will explain the reasoning behind that name at a show, and I can only hope to be in attendance to find out. I recall this song having a fantastically funky guitar riff from Bloom, and serving a somewhat analogous role in the set to “Crippled Crabs” the night before. This was their second debut in a row that delved deeply into funk rock territory, which was awesome to see and heavily appreciated by the crowd. The next song, “Stinky Finger,” featured some great flute work from Brown. The most impressive part of that was how well he played in spite of his fake beard getting in his way. Eventually he lowered the moustache portion down below his mouth to make things easier. Another holiday setlist surprise followed in “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” This J. S. Bach cover starts off with an eerie organ part that Spicer absolutely nailed. As the full band joined in, each member did his part to cultivate a sound that was honestly terrifying.

Again, the band returned to their normal catalog, this time to the tune “Papusa Strut.” The intro to this song features some of my favorite of Brown’s flute work over a solid bassline from Gray. As the rest of the band joins the mix, the flute helps the arrangement to seemingly flutter around the room. After a few minutes, Brown switched back to sax and the band entered full-on crush mode. Morning put down his trumpet and picked up wood blocks, which served as the perfect accent to Schroff and Bello chugging along, keeping the dancefloor packed out and extremely active. “Lord of the Fries” came next, a song about how terrible it is to sit next to someone eating fries who won’t share. This sultry, Latin-infused groove (thank Bello and Bloom for that) is almost hypnotizing, which is probably about how you would feel as you watched the person next to you consume the fries and dreamed of eating them yourself.

Next up was “Before 4 After Four,” a Polyrhythmics tune I had yet to hear live. It did not disappoint in any way. This song features one of their most percussive grooves of all, with Bello playing with the intensity of a wild antelope. After some extensive exploration on the main theme and a wonderful trumpet solo from Morning, the entire band left the stage except for Schroff and Bello. They teamed up for one of my favorite drum solos I have seen in recent memory, and it drove the crowd wild. Drums solos have a reputation as driving off casual fans, but this one was exceptionally engaging and seemed to get the whole room even more into the show than they had been already. The rest of the band returned and acknowledged their talented rhythm section before completing the song.

They then invited McDonald from Monophonics up to play guitar on “Skin the Fat.” This tune is usually a stomping ground for Bloom to flex his guitar muscle, and lent itself excellently to a guitar battle. Bloom and McDonald zealously traded licks and one-upped each other while the rest of the band tastefully grooved behind. It is so great to see a “horn-driven” funk band operate in this mode and I thought it did a great job of showcasing the band’s versatility. Even after seeing them many times, I still feel like they are actively pushing into new sonic territory at every show. This only continued as McDonald left the stage and the band launched into the title track of their forthcoming album, “Octagon.” This is very possibly my favorite song in their catalog, featuring a long, slow buildup of tension that resolves itself in the most epic manner possible, an absolute explosion by the horn section, particularly Clark on trombone.

The band next thwarted my plans for a trip away from the rail to get some fresh air by launching into a ripping cover of “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter. Preparing all three of these new covers for such a large band had to be no easy task, and they executed it masterfully. This song sounded as authentic as Phish’s notorious version, bolstered by outstanding work from the horn section. Afterwards, they paused to welcome Lindgren back to the stage for a second consecutive night. The dual-trombone version of “Wood Head” that followed was nothing short of phenomenal. “Fair Weather Fiends,” “Shadow Lines,” and “Bobo” closed out the set on a high note. “Bobo” started out with percussive, staccato guitar work from Bloom interplaying with Gray’s expressive bass work over top of the Schroff and Bello’s unstoppable groove. The moment where the horns come in is practically ecstatic, and the crowd was unable to contain themselves.

The band left the stage and Nectar Longue went nuts. If the band had decided not to encore, I fear that an actual riot could have gone on. However, the Polyrhythmics are consummate professionals and would not have allowed that to happen. Not only did they encore, but they started it off by playing “Musicawi Silt.” This has been described by Bloom as “the song we pump in our van together while we are on our way to Nectar Longue, if we want to rock a really hot show there.” This cover was originally performed by Walias Band, an Ethiopian jazz/funk group, and was further popularized in the funk/soul community by the Daktaris. The Polyrhythmics completely annihilated the best version of this song I have ever seen them play, leaving no doubt that they had in fact listened to it in their van on the way over.

As if this wouldn’t have been a sufficient encore, the band next invited all of Monophonics up to the stage for one final tune. This song was one that most of the crowd was familiar with, “I Put a Spell On You,” originally by American R&B artist Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, but further popularized by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Since the Polyrhythmics are an instrumental group, that left none other than Kelly Finnigan to handle vocal duties, much to the crowd’s delight. The two bands combined to make this song completely their own, with Finnigan belting out the words in his own modified timing as Spicer could only tower over him from behind, triumphantly pumping both of his fists in the air in time. If you were performing next to someone who seemed to ooze soul in this manner, you would have done the same thing. Heroic moments like this are what takes a good show and turns it into a transcendent one. After the performance concluded at nearly 2 am, all 14 performers left the stage and came outside to meet with their adoring fans. Halloween at Nectar Lounge this year was unquestionably a treat, and I am already looking forward to my next chances to see these two wonderful bands.

Scott's Full Photo Gallery

www.monophonics.com

www.polyrhythmics.com