First Listen: Lambchop, 'FLOTUS'

Lambchop’s new album, FLOTUS, is out Nov. 4. Elise Tyler/Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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Elise Tyler/Courtesy of the artist.

It isn’t always easy for an established group to pivot toward a new sound — but it might be a little easier for Kurt Wagner. The mastermind of the Nashville indie group Lambchop has long employed his project as an ever-changing entity rather than a fixed ensemble. Moreover, he’s been restlessly reimagining the country-folk idiom since the early ’90s: first as a hushed, blackly humorous troubadour, then as an increasingly adventurous singer-songwriter who’s as interested in space and texture as he is well-crafted turns of phrase.

Lambchop, FLOTUS. Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist.

Wagner’s ambition has taken a hard left on Lambchop’s new album. Titled FLOTUS — which has nothing to do with Michelle Obama, standing instead for the evocative phrase For Love Often Turns Us Still — the record ditches the band’s typical organic feel. In its place is something far more progressive. In “Howe,” Wagner loops and smears his vocals into a softly glitchy wash; in “JFK,” a sequence of synthesized orchestration drifts like an iceberg over occasional plunks of piano. “Directions To The Can,” despite its throwaway title, is an immaculately chiseled exhibition of icy art-rock. Nowhere is Wagner’s new approach more arresting than in “NIV.” Chugging along on a Krautrock pulse, a synth-pop hook and robotic vocal modulation straight out of Laurie Anderson‘s toolbox, it traps Wagner’s rootsy air in a startling new context.

It’s been more than four years since Lambchop’s last full-length, Mr. M, which marks the longest gap the group has ever had between albums. Wagner’s put that time to good use. The songs are still slow, sad and dryly witty — this is a band, after all, that once sarcastically named an album Thriller — but that countrypolitan vibe has been filtered through effects, processors and a nervy deconstructionist sensibility. Gone are the pillowy orchestration and pedal steel that typified the Lambchop of yore. Blips and beeps abound. One thing remains intact: Wagner’s whispery and understated delivery, his way of making even the most willful subversion of songcraft feel intimate and unpretentious.

Humble and mumbling though it may be, FLOTUS is bookended by two miniature epics. “In Care Of 8675309 — presumably a nod to Tommy Tutone’s 1981 hit “867-5309/Jenny,” as Wagner loves his pop-culture references — opens the album with 12 minutes of shuffling melancholy and subtly soaring melody. The closing track, “The Hustle,” is even longer, and its 18-plus minutes host one of the most radical experiments Lambchop has ever undertaken. Built on a polyrhythmic, electronic, Tortoise-like beat, it unfurls like some futuristic soundtrack to faded memory. Wagner barely sings, and when he does, he makes another coded reference to pop’s past. “There was talk of love in Tennessee / Of the beauty of the ’70s,” he croons before adding, “Do the hustle.” Suddenly, the song makes sense: In a warped way, it’s Lambchop’s idea of a disco anthem. With all due apologies to Van McCoy.

Wagner’s cryptic twang, as usual, can be viewed as a wry, ironic antidote to Nashville’s ultra-traditionalist streak. But FLOTUS is more than just a hometown counternarrative. Like the rest of Lambchop’s decades-spanning discography, the album is a mordant document of Wagner’s obsessions, observations, emotions and cultural baggage — along with no small amount of haunting tunes. Here, though, it houses a gripping new tension between the ghosts of yesterday and the sounds of tomorrow.

Lambchop, FLOTUS. Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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Lambchop, ‘FLOTUS’

01In Care of 8675309

11:51

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    02Directions to the Can

    3:33

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      03FLOTUS

      3:30

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        04JFK

        5:33

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          05Howe

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            06Old Masters

            4:44

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              07Relatives #2

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                08Harbor Country

                3:27

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                  09Writer

                  3:42

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                    10NIV

                    4:36

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                      11The Hustle

                      18:12

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                        First Listen: Jim James, 'Eternally Even'

                        Jim James’ new album, Eternally Even, comes out Nov. 4. Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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                        Courtesy of the artist.

                        “You can’t build love out of guns and blood and sorrow,” sings Jim James in “Same Old Lie.” It’s one of the standout tracks on the My Morning Jacket frontman’s latest solo album, Eternally Even — an album that’s not afraid to steep itself in the dark side. Where his last solo outing, 2013’s Regions Of Light And Sound Of God, was suffused with delicacy and light, Eternally Even is gritty and grim. “Same Old Lie” is more than a lament about the state of our violent, fearful world; in it, James croons in a husky whisper about hatred and decay as drifting strings and a raga-like coda drone menacingly around him.

                        Jim James, Eternally Even. Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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                        Courtesy of the artist.

                        The rest of the album follows suit. James, however, takes all that foreboding and makes it funky. “Hide In Plain Sight” is saturated in weird, raw textures, with distorted organs oozing everywhere. “You don’t know, you can’t see, you ain’t right / Did you think you could hide in plain sight?” sings James with bloodshot awe, like he’s lying in a warm pool and gazing up at a solar eclipse. Deep and mournful, the song has an R&B vibe that’s undeniable, even as James pushes his grooves into the red. The album’s funkiest track, “In The Moment,” may ride on slapped bass and a fat, brass-spiked chorus, but it meanders around in a pensive haze: half Marvin Gaye, half Leonard Cohen.

                        That said, there are instances of lightness on Eternally Even. Okay, there’s one instance: “Here In Spirit” not only cracks the blinds a bit, it lets in a lively beat, huge hooks and an airy clarity. It’s a refreshing break from the oppressive intensity of the rest of the album; James coughs up his gravel and adopts a higher, sweeter tone, and he even goes so far as to urge, “Believe what you want / Go on, be who you are.” A layer of shadow still lurks around the edges, but for the most part, “Here In Spirit” is the burst of pop sunlight that helps illuminate Eternally Even‘s moodier, murkier moments.

                        But the sunlight quickly passes. “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger” is a nine-and-a-half-minute song split into “Pt. 1″ and Pt. 2” and situated squarely in the middle of the album. “Pt. 1” is instrumental; “Pt. 2” has vocals. Taken together, they’re a crumbling monument to mortality. Amid throbbing rhythms and sultry, atmospheric melody, James ruminates on how “Seasons changed / Time got strange / Fell off the edge of the world” before softly delivering the ultimate blow: “Time’s your oyster / But the grave’s always getting closer.” He comes across as a mystic, a doomsayer, a hypnotic reminder of the end we can’t escape. At age 38, and with the steady success of My Morning Jacket at his back, James is already feeling the quiet pressure of death. Consummate singer-songwriter that he is, though, he’s spun that into another batch of arresting, soulful and, at times, transcendent tunes.

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                        Jim James, ‘Eternally Even’

                        01Hide in Plain Sight

                        5:08

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                          02Same Old Lie

                          5:54

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                            03Here in Spirit

                            4:16

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                              04The World’s Smiling Now

                              4:53

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                                05We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Pt. 1

                                6:26

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                                  06We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Pt. 2

                                  3:04

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                                    07True Nature

                                    3:40

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                                      08In the Moment

                                      4:08

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                                        09Eternally Even

                                        3:53

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                                          First Listen: Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions, 'Until The Hunter'

                                          Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions’ new album, Until The Hunter, comes out Nov. 4. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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                                          Courtesy of the artist

                                          Even if you’ve never heard Hope Sandoval‘s music, you’ll know her M.O. well before the end of Until The Hunter‘s first song: This is an artist who takes her time. For the nine minutes “Into The Trees” takes to unfold, the singer coos a few words in a drowsily longing whisper — “I miss you” — over a bed of organs. The song doesn’t aim for any particular destination, opting instead for a pleasant, if vaguely unsettled, amble through the fog.

                                          Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions, Until The Hunter. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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                                          Courtesy of the artist

                                          From there, Sandoval — with the aid of Warm Inventions collaborator Colm O’Ciosoig, himself a veteran of My Bloody Valentine — reverts to more of the ingredients that made her band Mazzy Star a beloved (if unlikely) hitmaker back in the early ’90s. A familiar slide guitar shimmers through “The Peasant,” while the luminous gloom of “The Hiking Song” finds notes of uplift through gentle acoustic fingerpicking, the sweep of strings and other glimmers of 3 a.m. intimacy.

                                          Best of all, in “Let Me Get There,” Sandoval finds a perfect foil in Philly rocker Kurt Vile, whose cool drawl provides a perfect match for her dreamier vibe. Fans of Mazzy Star might not expect Sandoval to fully sell lines like “It’s all in the groove.” But when she sings those words in tandem with Vile, it sounds like a mission statement for an artist who’s still finding subtle and appealing ways to loosen up and let in the light.

                                          Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions, Until The Hunter. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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                                          Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions, ‘Until The Hunter’

                                          01Into The Trees

                                          9:03

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                                            02The Peasant

                                            4:57

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                                              03A Wonderful Seed

                                              4:18

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                                                04Let Me Get There (Feat. Kurt Vile)

                                                7:30

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                                                  05Day Disguise

                                                  4:51

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                                                    06Treasure

                                                    5:53

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                                                      07Salt Of The Sea

                                                      4:22

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                                                        08The Hiking Song

                                                        4:28

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                                                          09Isn’t It True

                                                          3:05

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                                                            10I Took A Slip

                                                            4:04

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                                                              11Liquid Lady

                                                              6:22

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                                                                The First 100 Days: What Clinton And Trump Want To Get Done

                                                                The first hundred days of the next presidency will look drastically different depending on who occupies the Oval Office. Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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                                                                Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

                                                                Imagine for a moment that it’s January 21, 2017. After a chilly inauguration the day before, the parades and festivities have ended. And the new president of the United States is ready for his or her first day of work.

                                                                “What follows is my 100-day action plan to make America great again,” Donald Trump told supporters in Gettysburg, Pa., this weekend. “First I will announce my intention to totally renegotiate NAFTA, one of the worst deals our country has ever made.”

                                                                Trump also promised to withdraw from a proposed Asia-Pacific trade deal that’s been in the works. Both those moves would be well within the new president’s authority.

                                                                The First 100 Days List

                                                                • Donald Trump

                                                                  On His Own

                                                                  Cancel Obama’s executive orders on climate, energy, immigration, overtime, retirement savings

                                                                  Renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA, withdraw from TPP

                                                                  Deport criminal immigrants living in the country illegally

                                                                  Federal hiring freeze (except for military, public safety, public health)

                                                                  With Congress

                                                                  Multi-trillion dollar tax cut

                                                                  Authorization for border wall

                                                                  Repeal Obamacare (replace w/ Health Savings Accounts and interstate insurance marketing)

                                                                  Tariffs on companies that move offshore

                                                                  Expand the military

                                                                  Supreme Court picks in Scalia mold

                                                                  Amend Constitution

                                                                  to impose congressional term limits

                                                                • Hillary Clinton

                                                                  On Her own

                                                                  Appoint “trade prosecutor” to pursue anti-competitive trade actions

                                                                  With Congress

                                                                  Major investments in infrastructure, clean energy, manufacturing

                                                                  Comprehensive immigration reform

                                                                  Raise taxes on the wealthy

                                                                  Supreme Court picks with “real life” experience who support Roe v. Wade, marriage equality

                                                                  Amend Constitution

                                                                  to reverse “Citizens United”

                                                                “As a general matter, if the president wants to withdraw from a treaty, he simply gets to do that,” said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “That’s part of the powers of the office.”

                                                                Trump would also have the power to deport more than two million criminals in the country without documentation, halt immigration from parts of the world he calls “terror prone,” and quickly reverse many of the initiatives undertaken by President Obama.

                                                                “If you’re an administration that lives by the executive order, than you’re going to die by the executive order, too,” said Stephen Moore, an economic adviser to Trump. He expects Trump would act almost immediately to reverse the power plant rules at the heart of Obama’s climate agenda, as well as Obama’s orders governing immigration enforcement and overtime pay.

                                                                “You could literally have a stack of executive orders on Donald Trump’s desk in the Oval Office that he could sign literally in his first hours of being president,” Moore said. “And that would be in many cases, I think, an enormous lift to the economy.”

                                                                Other parts of Trump’s agenda would require support from a friendly Republican Congress. Those include Trump’s massive tax cut, the repeal of Obamacare, and that big new wall along the border with Mexico.

                                                                “Don’t worry about it,” Trump assured supporters. “Mexico is paying for the wall. With the full understanding that Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such a wall.”

                                                                Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has her own road map for the first hundred days if she winds up in the White House.

                                                                “We’re not going to build a giant wall,” Clinton said. “We’re going to build roads and bridges and tunnels and ports and airports and water systems and a new electric grid.”

                                                                Clinton told supporters in Johnstown, Pa., over the summer she’ll also pursue immigration reform and big new investments in clean power.

                                                                “Within the first hundred days of our administration, we are going to break the gridlock in Washington and make the biggest investment in good-paying jobs since World War II,” Clinton said.

                                                                Most of Clinton’s plans would require congressional support. And that would test the former secretary of state’s negotiating skills, since the House of Representatives at a minimum is expected to remain in Republican hands.

                                                                “She was a fairly successful legislator,” recalled former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. “And her husband was just very good at working with a Republican Congress. She’s got that in her background. But remember, the world has changed since that time.”

                                                                Washington, like the rest of the country, has grown more polarized. And either Clinton or Trump will face strong political headwinds from the very first day in office.

                                                                “Remember this,” Davis said. “The president, whoever it is, will come in with a high negative — probably close to 55 percent unfavorable view. That’s not the traditional kind of mandate.”

                                                                Even if there’s no traditional “honeymoon,” though, whoever sits in the Oval Office will still wield considerable power, starting with the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice.

                                                                Presidents generally try to deliver on campaign promises — and in many cases they succeed. So like them or not, voters should take these pledges seriously.

                                                                “When somebody promises to do something, you have to think about whether that’s something you’d be willing to see happen,” said Wittes, the Brookings Institution scholar. “Because the powers are simply too vast and too dangerous to say, ‘Well, he was probably clowning around at that point or he doesn’t know what he’s saying.'”

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                                                                I wouldn't hire James Bond, says real British spy chief

                                                                Despite his unrivalled record for single-handedly saving the world from disaster while seducing beautiful women along the way, James Bond would not get a job as a British spy, the head of external intelligence agency MI6 has said.

                                                                Alex Younger said real spies had to cope with complex moral and physical challenges in the most forbidding environments on Earth, which would rule out the agent known as 007 because he lacked a strong ethical core.

                                                                “In contrast to James Bond, MI6 officers are not for taking moral shortcuts,” Younger said in an interview published on Black History Month, a website dedicated to Britain’s annual celebration of its black culture and heritage.

                                                                “It’s safe to say that James Bond wouldn’t get through our recruitment process,” said Younger.

                                                                He added that while real MI6 spooks shared Bond’s qualities of patriotism, energy and tenacity, they needed additional values not displayed by the hero of “From Russia with Love”, “Goldfinger”, “Dr. No” or more recently “Skyfall” or “Spectre”.

                                                                “An intelligence officer in the real MI6 has a high degree of emotional intelligence, values teamwork and always has respect for the law — unlike Mr Bond.”

                                                                (Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)

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                                                                Seniors' Teeth Need Dental Care, But Insurance Coverage Is Rare

                                                                Supplemental dental insurance may not be cost effective for seniors. Manfred Rutz/Getty Images hide caption

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                                                                Manfred Rutz/Getty Images

                                                                Aging can take a toll on teeth, and for many older people paying for dental services is a serious concern because they can’t rely on their Medicare coverage.

                                                                Low-income seniors in particular are struggling. More than a third with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (about $23,000 annually) had untreated tooth decay between 2011 and 2014, according to an analysis of federal data by the American Dental Association.

                                                                “What ends up happening is that almost everybody, when they get to be 65, is sort of on their own and they have to pay for dental care out of pocket,” says Dr. Michael Helgeson, chief executive officer of Apple Tree Dental. Apple Tree is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that operates eight clinics in Minnesota and California that target underserved seniors. It also has mobile units that provide on-site dental care at nursing homes and other facilities.

                                                                Traditional Medicare generally doesn’t cover dental care unless it’s related to services received in a hospital. Medicare Advantage managed care plans generally provide some dental care, but the coverage can vary, and often is minimal, dental care advocates say. The plans often are “a loss leader,” said Dr. Judith Jones, a professor of dentistry at Boston University. “It’s meant to attract people. It gets people in, but the coverage is really limited.”

                                                                In a way, older people are victims of dentistry’s success. Regular visits to the dentist, along with daily tooth brushing and water fluoridation, have all contributed to improvements in oral health. In the first half of the 20th century, by the time people reached their 30s or 40s many had already lost all their teeth, Helgeson said. Today, more than 60 percent of people in nursing homes still have at least one tooth.

                                                                But teeth need tending. Without regular dental care, tooth problems can cause pain and limit how much and what type of food people are able to eat. Similarly, gum disease can loosen teeth and allow bacteria to enter the body. A growing body of research has linked treating periodontal disease with lower medical costs for diabetes and heart disease, among other conditions.

                                                                People’s lives are affected in other ways by their oral health. “You use your mouth to eat and kiss and smile and interact socially,” said Jones. “It’s a source of great embarrassment and suffering for many adults without access to care.”

                                                                With limited income and no insurance, seniors may skip visiting the dentist regularly, even though many report that their mouths are dry and painful and they have difficulty biting and chewing, not to mention avoiding smiling and social interaction if they have missing or damaged teeth.

                                                                Medicaid, the state and federal insurer for lower income people, covers dental care for children in every state, but coverage for adults is much spottier. Most states cover emergency dental care for people covered by Medicaid, but eight states offer no adult dental benefits at all, according to a study by Oral Health America, an advocacy group.

                                                                Even trying to purchase private dental insurance, which typically covers a few thousand dollars’ worth of dental care, may not provide good value, said Marko Vujicic, vice president of the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute. “When you add up the premiums and copays, for the vast majority of adults it’s not worthwhile to have dental insurance,” he said.

                                                                Seniors with limited means have few options for help affording dental care. Federally qualified health centers may provide geriatric dental services on a sliding-fee scale based on income, and clinics like Apple Tree help a limited number of seniors who live in their service area. But they’re a Band-Aid, said Jones.

                                                                She and other advocates want Medicare to add a dental benefit to Medicare Part B. Their proposal would provide a basic bundle of diagnostic and preventive services through a premium increase, and seniors would only be responsible for copayments if they need pricey restorative work like crowns and bridges.

                                                                But a dental benefit has faced stiff competition from other priorities, including adding a prescription drug benefit in 2006 and preventive coverage under the health law in 2010.

                                                                Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Michelle Andrews is on Twitter:@mandrews110.

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                                                                Hey, Indians Fans – Where Was The Love Before The World Series?

                                                                The fans packed the stands to see Game 2 of the World Series at Progressive Field in Cleveland Wednesday, after sluggish attendance during the Indians’ regular season. Jamie Squire/Getty Images hide caption

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                                                                Jamie Squire/Getty Images

                                                                To say the mood at Progressive Field in Cleveland was electric the last two nights is the understatement of the baseball season.

                                                                The first two games of the World Series brought sellout crowds, mostly made up of Indians fans, totaling more than 38,000 both nights. Everywhere you turned, there were happy Clevelanders sporting Indians jerseys, jackets, hats and t-shirts.

                                                                The Cleveland Indians are hot stuff.

                                                                Which is why it’s confusing to check the year’s attendance figures. Cleveland ranked 28 out of 30 teams during the regular season. Progressive seats a little over 35,000. The average attendance this season?

                                                                19,650.

                                                                The Indians had a great season and won the American League’s Central division by a comfortable eight games. But that apparently didn’t move people until the playoffs.

                                                                So what gives? Are gritty, rust-belt Clevelanders, known for their loyalty and other bedrock Midwestern values, actually flighty, fair-weather baseball fans?

                                                                A CHAMPIONSHIP HANGOVER

                                                                At Progressive Field before Game 2, some theories emerged about the attendance numbers.

                                                                “I think sometimes people just aren’t really ready to jump on until it’s like, ‘ok we’re winning and we’re really winning,’ ” said PJ Hetkey from Akron.

                                                                Indeed, the Indians’ division title was its first since 2007. During that time, the team for the most part settled into a routine of not qualifying for the postseason. And not exactly inspiring its fan base.

                                                                Another theory – the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA title in June of this year and left the city’s sports fans sated.

                                                                “I think there was somewhat of a playoff hangover from the Cavs,” said Steve Mansbery. He was born and raised in Cleveland. “I think the city was probably a little bit, maybe financially exhausted from being involved in committing their entertainment dollars to that team.”

                                                                Mansbery continued, “I think the other thing is it’s a long season for baseball, and I don’t know if Indians fever caught on until after that playoff hangover left them.”

                                                                Although low, this year’s attendance figures actually are an increase from last season, when the Indians finished 13 ½ games out of first place in the Central Division.

                                                                But not much of an increase. Last season Cleveland ranked 29th in attendance. This year, 28th, although the team did draw almost 2,000 more fans per game.

                                                                In general, these low figures are not outliers. Cleveland attendance consistently has been at or near the bottom since 2010.

                                                                It hasn’t always been that way.

                                                                CLEVELAND WAS THE PLACE

                                                                From June 1995 until April 2001, Progressive Field (then called Jacobs Field) set a Major League Baseball record by selling out 455 consecutive games. This coincided with the Indians’ last great stretch on the field – they went to the World Series in 1995 and 1997. Their attendance figures were as high as fourth in the majors in 2001.

                                                                Then the numbers started falling off.

                                                                It’s not a stretch to link the declining numbers to when Cleveland stopped playing great baseball. And also to when the novelty of the Indians ballpark started to wear off. When it opened in 1994, Jacobs Field was considered one of the trendsetters in the move toward smaller, retro ballparks in urban settings.

                                                                HOW ‘BOUT THEM BROWNS?

                                                                Another confusing tentacle to this story, the NFL’s Cleveland Browns currently rank 18th of 32 teams in attendance. Not great. But not near the bottom like the Brown’s baseball brethren in Cleveland.

                                                                Who happen to be in the World Series.

                                                                While the Browns are the NFL’s only winless team. 0-7.

                                                                Of course, an NFL team only has eight home games, compared to 81 home stands in baseball. So every NFL game is an event.

                                                                But there also could be a specifically Cleveland element to this attendance discrepancy.

                                                                “I think it’s always going to be a football town,” said Cleveland native Steve Mansbery, adding “I’m the same way. I’ll turn on the game [even] if they’re 0-7. I will listen to the game on the radio, listen to Jim Donovan [play-by-play announcer]. I know the outcome. They’re going to lose. They’re not good. But there’s just something about this town and its love of the Browns. It just won’t go away. It’s in the city’s blood. There’s just no way to get rid of it.”

                                                                HOPING FOR MORE NEXT YEAR

                                                                Of course the Indians hope this year’s success (still to be determined) translates to another era of prosperity at the gate. Indians’ fan PJ Hetkey thinks it can happen, as it’s happening next door to Progressive Field at Quicken Loans Arena, home to the NBA champions.

                                                                “I mean look at the perspective of the attitude toward the Cavs and what they’ve done,” Hetkey said, “and how people are really looking forward to this [NBA] season. I’d like to see that carry forward with the Indians as well.”

                                                                There’s the matter of the World Series to settle first. The action now shifts to Wrigley Field in Chicago for Game 3 on Friday. During the Chicago games, Progressive Field will hold “watch parties.” Big crowds are expected.

                                                                Now, they can’t keep ’em away from the ballpark.

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