November 2015

All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records, Mark Z. Danielewski, and Vienna Teng.

November 1, 2015 All Things Must Pass

From a night full of the stories of failures that led to success at The Best Worst, our next big event was an amazing documentary film about the major success and ultimate failure of Tower Records.  The screening at the Embarcadero Landmark Theatres was attended by Russ Solomon, the legendary founder of Tower Records and Darrin Roberts, who was responsible for editing together an extremely compelling and emotionally provocative film out of the rise and fall of one of the largest record store chains in the world.  The interspersing of archival footage and interviews with the people that brought Tower Records to life and were there through its dying days was fantastic and being able to meet Solomon and Roberts after and thank them both for what they did was a great treat as well.

All Things Must Pass was definitely my favorite film going into December from this year and I’ve seen a bunch of movies in the theater.  I’m really glad we had the opportunity to go and watch this film in a theater full of dedicated Tower Records fans and music lovers.  I’m still very sad that the Tower brand has been reduced to ashes here in the United States but very happy that it lives on in Japan.

November 7, 2015 Mark Z Danielewski Reading The Familiar Vol 2 at Books Inc Van Ness

For the first leg of Mark Z. Danielewski’s touring behind his epic series, The Familiar, we headed to Georgia and Oklahoma.  For the second leg, we headed on BART to Civic Center and walked up Van Ness to Books Inc.

Mark’s tour routing conflicted with our Vienna Teng shows so this was to be our only experience seeing him on The Familiar Vol. 2 tour.

We headed first to Berkeley and dropped off our computer and gear for the Vienna Teng webcast we would be producing that evening.  Then we took BART to the city and got to the bookstore around an hour and a half before the reading was set to begin.

We went to Peet’s Coffee in front of the book store and I ordered a peppermint hot chocolate that was a lot more mocha coffee tasting than hot chocolate tasting, but whatever.

Once they allowed seating, we sat and for around half an hour were the only ones really sitting there.  We decided to try using Periscope to live stream the reading and a few minutes in learned that my phone overheats pretty quickly when broadcasting to Periscope.  Oops.

Mark read first from The Familiar Vol. 1, then from Vol. 2, selecting to read The Reunionist, a poem from one of Astair’s chapters and another Astair chapter as well.  I dislike Astair’s character a lot, so his selections kind of bothered me but I do realize that this book was really focused on the Ibrahims and you can’t really focus on them without her being a part of the focus.

A photo posted by @michelevr5 on

After a somewhat lively Q&A, we jumped to the front of the line and greeted Mark and got our book signed.  He mentioned a couple of places he hopes to go to on the next tour in Summer 2016 and we headed back across the bay to Berkeley for Vienna Teng soundcheck.

We’ve known Mark for a long time now, and I am excited for the road we all take next year with another couple of volumes of The Familiar and some more travel to places we’ve been and maybe never expected to return to.

A photo posted by @michelevr5 on

View our photos on Flickr

Mark Z. Danielewski 2015-11-07 San Francisco

November 7, 2015 Vienna Teng at Freight and Salvage

What I posted to

Thanks Faix for posting the setlist!

I know a lot of folks were at the show on Saturday night and some others got to experience the show through a mysterious portal that opened up a few minutes before the show to the internet and closed shortly after the after-show set ended.

I wanted to post a bit about the journey that The Fourth Messenger went through over the years from the eyes of the silent observer sitting in the audience and not really doing any work and a little bit about the process that went into the web broadcast that happened for the show.

We first got to experience an early draft of The Fourth Messenger, then titled Sid Arthur, in late January 2009. By that point, Tanya Shaffer had already been working on the project for a number of years and Vienna had begun work adding music to the words that Tanya had written. The first version we got to experience in a staged reading where the show focused a lot on Mama Sid and her teachings and a reporter named Conseula threatened to expose a shocking secret from Sid’s past. A good chunk of the songs were unfinished. Those parts were extended monologues carried by the wonderful Cathleen Riddley who in that incarnation of the show played the role of Mama Sid. There was also an interesting bit of what I would call “early Vienna Teng experimentation in GarageBand” to close out the first act.

Since then, we’ve been to multiple readings, saw the show a few times during its theatrical premiere at the Ashby Stage and been able to see the evolution of the show and now its soundtrack recording and the very special shows that followed. We’ve grown attached to seeing amazing actors like Cathleen Riddley, Anna Ishida and Robert Brewer who have been with the production since as far back as that very early 2009 reading. We’ve been astonished by the stellar performances by Reggie D. White, who no matter what role he is playing seems to have a knack for bending the audience’s emotion in the direction it needs to go. We’ve seen characters excised and retooled, cut and brought back, songs rearranged and replaced and by the time the show premiere in 2013, an actual Broadway caliber show emerged from those early drafts.

Director Matt August somehow took all of those parts and formed the next big story that played out to sold out audiences for five weeks at the Ashby Stage. Vienna’s music was turned into a theatrical score played by a band live as the actors took us through the adventure and we were all able to celebrate the culmination of the journey that started with collaboration from Tanya and Vienna and grew into The Fourth Messenger.

Except the journey wasn’t over yet.

Earlier this year, we got to visit the recording studio and see a bit of the soundtrack album, which is available tomorrow at being made. Vienna was now Mama Sid and Tanya and Matt were now directing a studio recording.

The album includes some of the changes that were made after the first theatrical run and even some things cut long ago if you grab the bonus audio or the digital edition.

This weekend, we got to see the happy reunion of folks from multiple versions of The Fourth Messenger, taking the stage in support of the soundtrack and the show and putting a ton of effort into conveying a story without props or set dressing. The cast, which for night one included Noe Venable playing Vienna’s character’s mother and for night two included Cathleen Riddley reprising her role as “the hag”, was outstanding. Seeing everyone on the stage bringing the soundtrack and the musical back to life was a sight I was happy to be able to experience, and also a sight I was happy to be able to share with others.

For the webcast, Michele and I have been recording video and audio of Vienna Teng shows for 13 years (seriously, our first show was 13 years ago today) and Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse has given us unprecedented access to their venue. We’ve had a lot of practice there over the years and it has been noted that Concert Window has caused a bit of anxiety for fans that can’t attend in person over the years. We worked throughout the last week testing out a setup that would give viewers what we see with our single camera video recordings but live as it happened, with just a 20 second or so delay as it bounced to YouTube and onto your screens.

We used a powerful laptop computer, tied to an M-Audio MobilePre plugged into the (sorry it is mono but it’s accurate) crisp soundboard feed from the Freight and Salvage. That was all connected to another box, an Elgato Game Capture HD, which was connected to our video camera positioned in front of the soundboard in the center of the audience.

I manned the computer while Michele manned the camera. You got to see what we saw just as we filmed it and I was happy to see so many of you commenting and happy with the quality of the stream.

The stream is still available via the Vienna Teng YouTube channel and The Fourth Messenger soundtrack will be available for purchase tomorrow and features a lot of new Vienna Teng vocals and an outtake that Vienna performs on piano and vocals in the digital extras. Do yourselves a favor and pick it up, won’t you?


The Fourth Messenger set

0. Drive (co-wrote with Alex Wong)


1. Introduction

2. Pebble in a Lake

3. The Truth Must Come Out (David Rodwin as Sam)

4. Monkey Mind [context: This Story is Mine]

5. The Human Experience (original/reprise)

6. Bois Riche (David Rodwin as Sunny) [context: Four Messengers]

7. You’ve Got a Glow (Pierce Peter Brandt as Andy)

8. Knock Knock

9. Force of Nature

10. The Real Thing (Reggie D. White as Delilah; Helen Laroche as Hag)


11. I Will Not Rise [context: Look to the Thought]

12. Sid’s Temptations (Reggie D. White as Bread; Tanya Shaffer as Glass of Water; Noe Venable as May; Barnaby James as Yasha)

13. It Was You

14. What About Me?

15. You Are There

16. Aren’t You Ashamed? [context: This Story is Mine Final Reprise]

17. As Long As I Am Living

18. Look to the Thought Reprise (Reggie D. White because why not!)


Request Set

1. Never Look Away

2. Cannonball (Damien Rice cover)

3. Eric’s Song

4. Flyweight Love

5. The Hymn of Acxiom [sans robots]

6. Pencil Sketch

7. Both Sides, Now (Joni Mitchell cover)

8. Goodnight New York

9. Ain’t No Sunshine/Lose Yourself (Bill Withers / Eminem Mashup)

10. Harbor

11. Antebellum

12. Landsailor

13. Soon Love Soon

View our photos on Flickr

Vienna Teng 2015-11-07

November 8, 2015 Vienna Teng at Throckmorton

Thirteen years and counting.

Today marks the anniversary of the first Vienna Teng show that Michele and I attended. November 9, 2002 was the CD release celebration for the Virt Records version of Waking Hour and we got to meet a couple of great fans as well as Vienna and her mother that afternoon. We ended up at the next show the next day and our journey began.

The Throckmorton show started with Whatever You Want, a song with the third line being “thirteen years and counting.” I’ve decided to do a review of the songs Vienna selected from her catalog and provide some of the ways I personally have connected to them. You all know her performance was stellar. It always is. Here’s a different spin on things.

Whatever You Want

That one song that reminds me of Office Space. The connection here was more the 13 years than anything else on this particular night.

My Medea

The first Vienna show we attended was focused on Waking Hour and had an encore of Green Island Serenade and Anna Rose, two songs that would later appear on Warm Strangers. The second show was double the length and among many other songs that were yet unreleased was this dark and dramatic. For the Throckmorton show, she played this one by request from Eryn Allen and it fit in very well with the dramatic performance of The Fourth Messenger that was about to follow. From yesteryear, this was one of the songs that I really connected with and it helped keep us coming back.

Level Up

An avalanche of Kickstarter fulfillment and an 8-bit remix that I’ve dreamed up but never worked on are the two things I think of first when I think of this one. I really love Aims as a whole and Level Up was a great single and has a really creative video as well.

Grandmother Song

While recording Grandmother Song for Inland Territory, we did some multimedia work that eventually went to Rounder to be used for press kit materials. We were in a slightly haunted house with Vienna, Alex, Eddie, the three talented women from Charming Hostess and a group consisting of the homeowners and some of their friends. It was there that I learned that I have no idea how to keep rhythm and instead of being featured on the track as a clapper or table slapper, I got to press space bar to start the recording in Pro Tools. 2nd Engineer for a Vienna Teng song is probably a better title than “guy who made it so we had to record 25 takes”.

Gravity (Braid)

Gravity, in one of its original forms, I can’t remember if it was Lake or River, was the first song we ever heard from Vienna Teng live. A friend had mentioned Vienna when we were visiting Los Angeles earlier in the year and her name was unique enough that we remembered it. Gravity was the standout track for me at that first performance and still one of my favorites today. I’ll never forget that first performance or the one January 20, 2003 that I watched on tape delay as she performed live with accompaniment from Paul Shaffer and the Late Show band when she performed on David Letterman’s show. I thought that then was going to be her big break and I’d never have the opportunity to help her load in her PA system or keyboard into a coffee shop or club again. I’m happy we’re still sort of doing that today but with a lot more than a few people at a Starbucks watching and enjoying her performances.

Feather Moon

Another one that debuted for us at the epic second show Michele and I attended. My favorite performance of Feather Moon was actually one with aborted side project Estonia (Jim Batcho, John Given, Nate Query and Vienna), Alan Lin, Marika Hughes and Odessa Chen from The Independent on December 16, 2004. It was the second ever “Special Holiday Show” for Vienna Teng and her talented musician friends, a project that was once a doodled out fantasy from me that I shared with Vienna and The Animators after a show earlier in the year. The doodle included pretend sets from Kyler England, The Animators and Vienna Teng with a big cover tune encore at the end.

Happy Birthday

They say it’s your birthday, okay, it wasn’t mine. Happy birthday guy whose birthday it was.

Blue Caravan

My mom and sister were at the show that happened the day this song was “finished” and performed for the first time in soundcheck and was eager to gloat to me that she’d heard something by Vienna Teng that I hadn’t heard yet. It wasn’t until years later that I got to experience actually getting into a legitimate blue Dodge Caravan and joined Vienna and Alex on tour for a few dates. Blue Caravan helps connect me back to my family through a song and there are so many roads we have all traveled on this Vienna Teng music map journey thus far that I could spend hours going into explicit detail and boring all of you.

City Hall

The Short Story Players, a band consisting of Marika Hughes, Shahzad Ismaily and Dina Maccabee accompanying Vienna worked out an amazing arrangement of this song that included a dance number. For the Live at World Cafe DVD taping, which was to mark the FINAL performance of that dance number, Dina took the “lay down and die” line a bit too extreme and almost injured herself. I passed by City Hall on both Saturday and Sunday and the song is always my internal soundtrack when I’m walking in San Francisco’s civic center.

Ain’t No Sunshine/Lose Yourself

Vienna had been threatening to learn Lose Yourself for quite a while and this mashup first premiered on StageIt during the “rarities” show she did a few years back. I tended to stay away from the web broadcasts but this one brought me over to Michele’s computer screen. The blend of Withers and Mathers with Vienna is an unexpected mixture that really works and I’m glad to see that lots of other fans like it too.

Decade and One

It is funny to listen to this one, written when Vienna was twenty, looking forward 11 years. We met her a few years later and can now look back 11 years or forward 11 more. I’m thankful for all of those I’ve met and connected with over my time as a fan and the people that Vienna brings in to both accompany her on songs and those that line up and sell out shows around the world. It is rare to be able to form a lasting friendship with someone who you went to see in concert at a library one day and then sorta kept showing up to see again and again. It is even rarer to form those lasting friendships with those who also showed up at one show and then kept showing up again and again. Thanks to all of you for being those people.

Harbor (messed with) mashed up with In Your Eyes

Harbor debuted in a soundcheck at Freight and Salvage unexpectedly for us one day. Wait, Waking Hour (the song, not the album) has lyrics now? I think next time the request bucket comes out, I’ll be requesting “Waking Hour, but with lyrics”.

For those attending the show, incorporating some Peter Gabriel into the “messed with” version of Harbor probably seemed like a bit of spur-of-the-moment impromptu genius from Vienna. Yes, it was, but it has been an oft-requested cover that she may have tricked me and Michele into believing she has now satisfied. That early doodled “Vienna Teng and Friends Extravaganza” plan that I drew up that sort of became the traditional holiday concerts ended with Vienna, The Animators and Kyler joining together for a cover of In Your Eyes. Michele requested it with a smiley face this year in hopes it would get onto the requests only setlist and there it was, plain as day, to mark the end of our twelfth year as fans. That said, Vienna cheated as she didn’t even get to the chorus, so we’ll be requesting it again someday.

Lullabye For A Stormy Night

As we put another year to rest, this gentle lullaby. Since we won’t have holiday shows, I’ll take the time now to wish everyone a happy and joyous holiday season.


Whatever You Want

My Medea

Level Up

Grandmother Song


Songs From The Fourth Messenger

Pebble in a Lake

The Truth Must Come Out

Monkey Mind

The Human Experience (deluxe version, original plus reprise)

Bois Riche

You’ve Got a Glow

Knock Knock

Force of Nature

The Real Thing

I Wil Not Rise

Bread and Water


Come Back To Me

It Was You

What About Me?

You Are There

Aren’t You Ashamed

As Long As I Am Living

Look to the Thought Reprise


Gravity (Braid)

Feather Moon

Happy Birthday

Blue Caravan

City Hall

Ain’t No Sunshine/Lose Yourself

Decade and One

Harbor (messed with) mashed up with In Your Eyes

Lullabye For A Stormy Night

View our photos on Flickr

Vienna Teng 2015-11-08

Team VT have concluded our broadcast year

A photo posted by @exej on


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