Spycraft, Blackfield and the dangers of too much caffeine

Since I’ve got so much free time, I started a new hobby Wednesday. A couple of coworkers like role playing games and play D&D, and started a new Spycraft game this week. Since we live in the 21st century, naturally we’ve got our own game wiki, but the game itself is very old school (rolling a d20, using maps). The adventure was fun – our characters work for a firm that was studying the Shroud of Turin when it was stolen by a group of Russians, and we had track them down, starting in Jerusalem and ended up in Reykjavik, with some nice action scenes, like a shootout in an airport bathroom and a snowmobile chase. It was strange at first – I haven’t played an RPG since college. It’s not an every week thing (thank goodness), but it was a lot of fun.

Thursday I did something that was very unusual for me – I went to Maryland on a weeknight. A couple fellow Rush fans had urged me to try a new up and coming progressive band, Porcupine Tree. I got their last album, In Absentia and was impressed, so I also picked up their most recent album, Deadwing (the surroud sound version was at 50% off during Tower’s chain closing sale). I wasn’t enough of a fan yet when they hit the State Theatre last fall to make it to that show as it would have been three in a row as I had big shows the next two nights, but they’ve really grown on me (“Lazarus” from Deadwing made my annual artists to watch CD). Another album I picked up fairly recently was the debut by Blackfield, which was a collaboration between Porcupine Tree founder and lead singer/songwriter Steven Wilson and Israeli musician Aviv Geffen. I was impressed, and even more so by some of the tracks off their new album (particularly “Once”, already a contender for this year’s artists to watch CD). So when I read that the closest Blackfield would be coming to me on this tour was the Rams Head in Annapolis, I only hesitated a little before buying a ticket.

Even though I was out late the night before, I got in early that morning so I could get out early, grabbing one of Jill’s iced coffees to keep me going (this will be important later, as the most caffeine I usually have in a day is two Diet Cokes). I got going around 3:15. I planned on taking my usual route through DC to 50, but traffic started getting bad on 395 and the reports said there was a problem geting to 50, so I bailed out onto Suitland Parkway to get to the Beltway via Pennsylania Ave. A little bit of stop and go, but not too bad, and I was in Annapolis a little before 5, not too shabby. I parked at the garage near the Rams Head, popped in to find out that doors opened at 6:30, then walked down to the City Dock, stopping by Oceans II Records. I didn’t see anyplace I wanted to go and it was looking like rain, so I headed back and went into 49 West Coffee House. Concerned that I might be too sleepy for the drive home, I got another coffee and read the paper. When I was done, I put my stuff in the car and headed back to the Rams Head.

They were still finishing soundcheck at 6:30, so I waited in line for the doors to open. After about 10 minutes, I got to my seat right at the corner of stage right. I chatted with my seat mates, who were friendly and mostly big fans. I ordered a Weizenbock, and a salad idea I’d never thoguht to try: a peeled avocado, split in two with crab meat and cheese on top and placed under a broiler, then served on greens with a vinagrette. An intriguing mix of flavors and very tasty. The opening act was Jordan Rudess, the keyboard player for Dream Theater. I’d bought some of his solo albums, and they featured some of the same wild sythesizer playing (while standing) he does with Dream Theater, so I wasn’t prepared for him to come out and sit down at the keyboard and nothing but piano melodies come out. Nevertheless, it was very good. In addition to what I think were originals, he played medleys of older songs by Yes and Genesis (nice since I just bought tix for them) and finished with a version of Dream Theater’s own “Hollow Years”. I still felt not entirely awake, so I ordered an ice tea at the break.

Blackfield came on strong with my favorite track, “Once”. I was not expecting how loud they got – certainly the loudest act I’ve see there. My seat was under the speakers, but Steven’s monitor and the drums were pretty powerful. Not every song was loud, and the harmonies between Steven, Aviv, and the keyboardist and bassist were clear. They played mostly songs off the two albums, although after Aviv played a solo version of Scars, Steven joined him for a cover of Alanis’ “Thank U” that was good. Other standouts were “1,000 People” and “End Of The World”.

I got out right after the encore as I’d parked close to the garage entrance and knew I’d be blocked by people exiting if I didn’t get out quickly, plus I had a long drive ahead of me in the rain. When I started moving my pulse was racing, and it was not settling down even after I got on the highway. I knew then I’d had way too much caffeine, and even pulled off at an exit to just sit for a couple minutes to see if that helped. It did some, so I got back on the road, deciding to not get any major highways at first by taking 301 and Suitland Parkway to 395. I felt better by the time I got home, but I wasn’t sleepy for quite a while. I think I’m going to have a caffeine free weekend now – have to see if I feel like going to Baltimore in May to see Porcupine Tree on a weeknight.