Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Soul Man - Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats tear up the Ready Room in St. Louis

Riding a tidal wave of good press from appearances on late night television, and steady play of "S.O.B" on alt-rock radio, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats brought their infectious brand of soul-infused, foot-stomping rock to the Ready Room in the Grove district of St. Louis. 

No worse for wear however, as the band was tight and energetic, whipping a sold-out crowd into a frenzy from the first note of set opener, "I Need Never Get Old," the intro of which really allows the dynamic horn section of Wesley Watkins on trumpet and saxophonist Andy Wild to let loose. 

Keeping the groove going and the energy up, the band ripped through the songs on their eponymous album before mixing it up with a cover of Neil Young's "Out on the Weekend." Allowing the crowd to catch its collective breath, Rateliff guided his band through "Mellow Out", "Shake", and "Thank You", allowing each to take a turn showcasing their chops.

As expected they saved their big hit, "S.O.B," for the end encouraging the willing crowd to clap and sing along with the whoa whoa whoas. Not ready for the night to end, the crowd continued to serenade the band with whoa whoa whoas wooing them back to the stage after a brief exit for an encore. After profusely thanking the crowd, including many family members in attendance, and lamenting the loss of Missourians passed, Rateliff closed the show with a cover of "The Shape I'm In" by The Band.

There's nothing better than watching a band that truly enjoys playing together and having fun. It goes without saying that this comes across in the performance. I've seen this band
three times now and they get better each time out. I look forward to more from the Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats in the future. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sunday Autumn Hike - Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area - Highlandville, MO

Ahh, there's nothing quite as invigorating for both body and soul as a hearty constitutional through a dense forest on a crisp, sunny fall afternoon. About 20 miles north of Branson on Highway 65, this forest is literally right off the highway, no need to drive ten miles off the road to find it. That said, there are 18 miles of trails and it still feels secluded and very much like wilderness. There are a three trails of varying degree of difficulty on the east side of the forest, two three-milers and one four-miler. The west side offers three trails as well; two three-milers and one that spans 2.1 miles.

We crossed several creeks and the water was crystal clear, for a moment I thought we were in a beer commercial in 1985. The water was down so crossing was not an issue provided you find solid logs and rocks to anchor you. Littered with rocks and roots, you have to keep your eyes on the trail if you don't wanna crawl out of the forest with a twisted ankle or knee. The trails at Busiek are also popular amongst the horseback riding set, which makes dodging constant land mines part of the fun exciting challenge! 

Fall colors were in full view with trees and bushes morphing into vibrant shades of purple, orange, yellow and red.  The entire trek was very scenic, but a little less challenging that we would have liked.  My only complaint is that the trails could be marked a little better. There are so many forks and separations that you are not sure if you're still on one trail or have veered off onto another. Luckily I had my trail master wife with me.  She has come to be known as Sacagawea as soon as we step into the woods for her uncanny ability to know exactly where we are and which way to go at all times. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

What does an interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve mean for consumers?

The promise or threat of an imminent increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve has been looming for some time now. The Federal Funds rate, or benchmark rate, has been at or near zero percent since the height of the financial crisis in 2009.

Many economists and pundits expected Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to announce a raise at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in September, but she cited too many risk factors that figured in the decision to hold firm.  The most recent jobs report released on October 2nd, illustrating slowing job growth, emboldens that decision.

However long the delay, be it next week or next month, the rates will rise. So how will this move effect the average American?

Banking: Those with money parked in savings or money market accounts know the returns have been minuscule for several years, barely outpacing and sometimes being eclipsed by the rate of inflation.

According to Bankrate.com, the current average return for a money market or savings account is 0.51% or just over one half of one percent.  That means if you were to have $10,000 in a savings account, and made no other contributions or withdrawals, after one year you would earn $51 in interest. Sure, your money is safe but it is not working for you.

With a Fed raise of the benchmark rate, that savings rate will bump up a bit but not enough to notice. In fact, unless it is funding your Emergency Fund (enough to cover six months worth of expenses) you'd be better off taking that money out of savings and paying down high interest accounts, namely credit cards.

Annual percentage rates on credit card accounts, however, may or may not rise with a Fed Funds rate hike. Ultimately it is up to the card issuers to raise rates, and they don't want to alienate their best customers. Competition for consumers to carry their cards is fierce and issuers know lower rates attract customers. Issuers may opt to keep rates lower and phase out the "zero-percent interest transfer" promotions that are so ubiquitous in the current climate.

Consumer Loans: A hike in rates for banks will almost certainly be passed to consumers. New auto loans and home mortgages, while not necessarily tied to the Fed Funds rate, generally move in lockstep with it.

While rates are still at historical lows, a slight uptick won't break the bank and probably won't suppress car and home buying. However, if you've been considering refinancing in the future, now may be the time to execute that strategy and lock in a lower rate, before the rates do indeed go up.

Investments: As this is a daily story topic on the financial networks and news outlets, the market is well aware of this inevitability. Even though the exact level of increase is not known, the market has already accounted for an increase and securities have been priced accordingly.

Either a raise or lowering of interest rates is generally done in stages rather than all at once so its effect will be gradual. The best approach is to invest for the long term and not let the everyday ups and downs of the market effect your investment strategy.

As the economy hums along, new jobs are created, tax rolls swell and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) continues to grow, the threat of inflation looms. The Fed will lower rates to make borrowing not quite as attractive, thus reducing the number of dollars out there in the market. It is designed to balance the economy, so it is not growing too quickly or too slowly. The Fed only raises rates in the midst of healthy, robust economy. And while it may bring some short term pain, its generally a sign that good times are here again.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ray Bonneville-"Bad Man's Blood"

Saw this talented troubadour last night at a very intimate space called the Focal Point in Maplewood. This tune could easily be the opening theme for the next True Detective, assuming there is one after last season's debacle.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Tame Impala wows Pageant crowd

June, 1st - The Pageant, St. Louis, Mo

In anticipation of their third proper studio full-length, "Currents" (out July 17th in the U.S.), Australian psychedelic-rock outfit Tame Impala made their intentions clear at the outset with a trippy instrumental weaving synth, drums and guitar with a pulsating light show hellbent on mesmerizing the near-capacity crowd.

That's precisely what the five-piece band from Perth accomplished. Straight into "Let It Happen" off the aforementioned upcoming "Currents," frontman and brainchild (or mad scientist) Kevin Parker led the audience across an ninety-plus minute dreamy landscape replete with swirling guitars and rafters-shaking bass to complement his lilting falsetto.

The band wears its Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and Revolver-era Beatles influences proudly on its tie-dyed sleeves. Dancing around barefoot, Parker feverishly worked his many foot pedals to create his wall of sound, confidently stopping and starting and cueing his bandmates like the foreman of giant roaring machine.

The crowd pumped their fists and sang along as the set borrowed heavily from their popular 2012 release, "Lonerism," with tracks "Why Won't They Talk To Me," and the foot stomping "Elephant," the high point of the show for me.

After seeing Tame Impala several times in both intimate rooms and at an outdoor festival in front of 50,000 people, I can say this band is getting better and tighter each time out. They're still booking the 1,200 seat venues but as word of their tremendous live shows gets out, that will become a distant, dreamy memory.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Savory Frothy Coffee made with Coconut Oil

The coconut oil craze is enjoying a remarkably long shelf life. I was really expecting the buzz to die down after awhile, but you can find more and more products containing coconut oil coming to market each month. And why not?  Its health benefits are widely touted. You can use it in cooking, from stir frying and baking to skin care; my wife puts it on her face. And while she walks around glistening in the moonlight before it soaks in, her skin glows and she looks ten years younger than her actual age (which I will not divulge).

I love to put it in my coffee. While that may not seem like a traditional way to flavor one's cup of morning joe, bear with me. A little dollup of coconut oil, with its high concentration of healthy fats, makes your morning (or afternoon) ritual quite a treat.

Ingredients: High quality coffee beans (not ground)
Unrefined coconut oil
Your preferred milk (almond, coconut, cow, goat, creamer. etc)

I start with some good quality beans and grind 'em up right before I brew. I have a little Krups grinder that I've had for 10 years or so and it has always performed beautifully.  You can get 'em at Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond or department stores.

When your coffee is done brewing grab your coconut oil. I have read extensively to use 'unrefined' or virgin oil as it is not processed. The processing basically consists of heating and bleaching then deodorizing to remove the coconut oil flavor and aroma. I for one, love the aroma and flavor, and it is so subtle in the coffee, that even if you don't 'love it' you won't notice it that much.  Here's a good explainer of the difference between refined and unrefined.  Here's the brand I'm currently using with which I have had great results.
To blend, you don't need to haul out the giant food processor or blender. Of course if that's all you have, by all means. I use a NurtiBullet blender. It came with several cups and detachable blades which makes this a very easy process. You can use an immersion blender too. They run about $30 for a good brand like Cuisinart.

Scoop a little dollop of coconut oil and put it in your cup, then pour your hot coffee over it. You'll notice the oil start to melt and liquify; this is a good thing. I like to mix in a little creamer and almond or coconut milk to give it a creamier texture, but trial and error will best determine your preferred combo.
Then I add a dash of cinnamon on top. 

I then blend for literally five or six seconds and this magical concoction appears. 

A few hearty mugs of this in the a.m., and I'm not usually hungry 'til lunchtime. The fat in the oil is quite satiating, eliminating my early morning hunger pangs. Of course it does taste great with eggs and potatoes as well. Enjoy!