Monday, April 30, 2007

OWR: Being There

79: Fragrant

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Schwarzenegger Sunday: Commando

For an overview of Schwarzenegger Sunday, check out the Marching Orders above. Note – there will always be spoilers.

In the first movie where he received top billing (on the posters, his name was listed before the title of the film for the first time), Arnold plays John Matrix, a retired army… well they never really say what his role had been, but clearly some sort of special forces team leader. He and his daughter, Jenny, live in a remote, mountainous area somewhere in the US with a false identity. However, at the bidding of political émigré, Arius, and the help of Matrix’s former teammate, Bennett, men kidnap Jenny. Arius tells Matrix that his daughter will be unharmed if he will assassinate the current president of a nation called Val Verde, a man that Matrix helped install. After leaping from the plane to Val Verde at takeoff, Matrix tracks down the various thugs working for Arius he is able to discover the island where Jenny is being held. Along the way, he requires the help of flight attendant, Cindy. Serendipitously, Cindy is working on her pilot’s license and is able to fly Matrix to the island. Upon arrival, he stabs, shoots, and blows up a tremendous number of Hispanic soldiers. Bennett goes to kill Jenny, only to find that she has escaped from her locked room. Matrix goes through the mansion, killing soldiers before finally tracking down Arius and shooting him. Matrix is able to catch up to Jenny just as Bennett is getting there. He defeats Bennett, saves Jenny, and flies off the island with Cindy as “We Fight for Love” by the Power Station takes over the soundtrack.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: Matrix has a ton of good ones here. Some of the highlights 8:
“Do me a favor, don’t disturb my friend – he’s dead tired.”
Cindy asks, “Are you going to tell me what’s going on or what?!?” Matrix responds, “No!”
“Remember Sully when I promised to kill you last?” “That’s right Matrix, you did promise!” “I lied.”
“Wadja do with Sully?” “I let him go.”

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: Matrix has a ton of lousy ones as well. They throw just enough lines into the movie as possible without disrupting the storyline. Here are some of the lesser ones 9:
“Why don’t they just call him Girl George? It will cut down on the confusion I think.”
“Now when I was a boy and Rock N Roll came to East Germany, the communists said it was subversive. Maybe they were right…”
“Any carry on luggage?” “Just him.”
“I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now I’m very hungry.”
“We’ll take Cooke’s car. He won’t be needing it.”
“Come on, Bennett. Let’s party.”“Let off some steam, Bennett.”

“I’ll be back.”: Upon dropping Matrix and his babysitters off at the airport, Bennett gets back in his car, but not before Matrix holds open the car door and angrily says, “I’ll be back, Bennett!” Bennett responds, “John. I’ll be ready, John.” Major credit here as this was Schwarzenegger’s first movie after Terminator. If they hadn’t put the line in here, it might not have been picked up in subsequent movies. 9

Smarmy Villain: Dan Hedaya is one of my all-time favorite smarmy guys, whether he’s playing a major role in a Coen Brothers movie, a cameo in Travolta flick, or his recurring character as Nick Tortelli on Cheers. Here he has a somewhat ridiculous accent, and doesn’t really get the opportunity to show how sinister he is. Clearly his plan of kidnapping (and later killing) an innocent girl is rather evil, and Matrix mentions the people he tortured, but beyond that, one could view this movie and consider him someone who simply wants to better his home country. I don’t think they effectively utilized Hedaya in the kind of role he was born to play. 4

Rough and Tumble Henchman: Bennett is played by Vernon Wells, and Australian character actor who has appeared in scores of movies, but probably not many that you’ve actually seen. His most successful role was probably as “Ransik” in various Power Rangers endeavors. I would assume that Ransik is one of the evil characters because I can’t exactly see Wells getting into one of those suits. He has a terrible mustache and wears what is probably the worst suit ever woven. It certainly doesn’t help that said shirt does a fine job accentuating his ample belly. Bennett is supposed to be vicious, but his routine is so comical, and instead of ruthlessly dispatching both Matrix and Jenny when given the opportunity, he chooses to battle Matrix in a knife fight. Wells claimed that Bennett was like “Freddy Mercury on Steroids,” but that doesn’t exactly make for a true rough and tumble henchman. 5

Diminutive Sidekick: In her second filmic role, Alyissa Milano appears as Jenny. The movie begins showing Jenny and Matrix doing all sorts of father/daughter activities including: Getting ice cream, judo, feeding a deer, fishing, playing in the pool, and eating lunch. They are separated for much of the film, but this still qualifies. She is, after all, twelve years old an awfully short. 7

Rejected hot love interest: Perhaps some of you expected me to put Milano in this slot, as she obviously ended up being hot. But seriously, dude, that’s his daughter. You're sick. She was too young for you then, and too hot for you now, so get over it… n/a

Not nearly hot enough love interest: Rae Dawn Chong (Cindy), actually looks pretty decent here – better than I remembered at least. But she’s still not what most would consider “hot.” She is probably best known for being Tommy Chong’s daughter, but she also played the romantic lead in 1986’s Soul Man. Interestingly, that role led to a shortlived marriage between her and costar C. Thomas Howell. She has a lot of terrible lines like, “These guys eat too much red meat,” and “This isn’t a plane, it’s a canoe with wings!” One could argue that there is no romatic interest here, and maybe that’s true, but there certainly was some sort of connection if Cindy bothered to help with such a dangerous mission, and Matrix certainly didn’t tell her to scram. Plus, when meeting Jenny at the end of the movie, she greets her with a kiss in a “meet your new mommy” kind of way. 6

Arnold yelling: Surprisingly, n/a

Arnold cursing: Matrix has several great moments when he throws down an emphatic curse word. But the best probably has to be near the end when he and Bennett are fighting. Bennett says, “You’re a dead man, John.” Matrix responds with, “BuullllSHIT!” Then rises to kick some more ass. 7

Arnold crazyface: I thought for sure it’d be this one: But moments later, we get: 8
Superfluous Explosions: My goodness. When things blow up in this movie – and they blow up often, pretty much when anything falls over – they really blow up. Check out this array of explosions 10:
Director: As of press time, Mark L. Lester has helmed 29 films. And the only other movies in his catalogue that I’ve even heard of are Firestarter and Armed and Dangerous (w/ John Candy and Meg Ryan). It seems he’s still making movies, but hasn’t had anything released since 2005’s Pterodactyl. You get what I’m saying…

Franco Columbu & Sven Ole-Thorsen: For the second time on Schwarzenegger Sunday, both gentlement get the n/a. However, we do get an extremely brief cameo from Bill Paxton. Commando came out two months after Weird Science, so once he was able to wow Hollywood as Chet, he no longer had to take bit parts such as “Intercept Officer.”
Shirtless Arnold: I thought we’d manage to avoid this one. But late in the film, when Cindy drops him off near the island, he decides to wear only a speedo. Upon arriving on the island, he goes with camouflage body paint in lieu of a shirt for the remainder of the film. 9

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: Cooke (played by the great Bill Duke) is impaled on some random piece of wood to end a fight whose climax remains largely unexplained. Matrix is able to kill Bennet by ripping a bit piece of pipe off the wall and sending it sailing into him in such a way that it not only pierces him and his silly shirt, but also penetrates the gigantic boiler directly behind him. This seems vastly beyond the realm of possibility just from a physics standpoint, regardless of how strong Matrix is. It does lead to the aforementioned “steam” line. That whole fight scene seems like they made it up as they went along – like they ran out of ideas. 7

Even more severely brutal killing of villain: Arius is quickly dispatched with three shotgun blasts followed by a tumble off a second-floor balcony. When you’ve got a great actor like Hedaya, you’d think you could come up with something better. 4

Plausibly implausible plot: There is a lot one could take issue with here, but nearly every extremely questionable argument is addressed by the movie. I still can’t figure out why they didn’t cast a real toughguy in the Bennett role. That’s the big lynchpin that could have been fixed. I just don’t see him as a truly tough militia man. Other points that don’t make sense – Why is Sully’s Porsche at the airport if they all arrived together? Why did the police let Cindy simply leave the Army Surplus store when they captured Matrix? How is it that Cindy and Matrix are able to converse without raised voices on the puddle-jumper? I suppose the biggest question is why on earth Arius would go with a plan like this in order to regain control of Val Verde’s government? They try to explain it away with the fact that the current president would trust matrix, but my goodness what a farfetched idea. However, we do believe it because Arius and Bennett are probably not the sharpest cookies on the table. So yes, there are plenty of unbelievable concepts here, but somehow we do buy in. 7

Ambiguous ending: Let’s start with what the heck happened to Jenny’s mom? Are they divorced? Did she die at some point? That’s an ambiguous beginning and ending. But for the most part, things are sewn up. Asked by his army general if Matrix “left anything for them”, he replies, “Just bodies.” He and Jenny board the plane as Cindy flies them back to the mainland. The only remaining issue is whether Cindy and Matrix will take their relationship to the next level. But frankly, we really don’t care. n/a

Commando is extremely over the top in all facets – from plot to acting to explosions. Judged on its own merits, it fares pretty well. One could call this a campier version of First Blood, and there are certainly a lot of similarities here. Commando is probably more enjoyable and certainly more farfetched. This is the type of role Schwarzenegger is known for – the type he plays most often. After this movie, his career took a certain direction and the character of John Matrix is the one that pointed the way.

All the Schwarenegger Sundays:
The Terminator
Raw Deal
The Running Man
True Lies
Pumping Iron
Conan The Barbarian
Total Recall
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Last Action Hero
Roundup, Part I
Roundup, Part II
The George W. Bush Administration

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hello NBA

That's right!
We are here to stay...

Posey Sucks

Friday, April 27, 2007

Unyielding Commissioning is rated G (at least today)

No, you get a thumbs up! Roger Ebert appeared at his Overlooked Film Festival in Champaign, and thank goodness. He’s not looking so good, but I don’t think he gives a crap. He can’t talk, and has trouble walking due to back pain, but it is still great to see him up and out. We’ll see you in the balcony soon, Rog!

You may now judge art for yourself. Jack Valenti died on Thursday. He was the head of the MPAA and the one designed the censorship Movie Rating System we are blessed with today. Honestly, everything I know about the man is probably not fit for an obituary, so I’m just passing along the news. I don’t think that ratings will change much because of this (he was 85, so I can't imagine he was all that involved any more), but it would be nice if someone would fix them. In any event, expect a South Park episode lambasting him in the next two weeks…

More Lolla Bands Added. But I’m not exactly familiar with any of these:
I’m From Barcelona
John Paul White
Tom Schraeder
They also have a 30-second music clip for each act on their site. So start checking it out!

Here there be tygers!

OWR: Failure to Launch

19: Stupid

I'm sick of all the new gameshows

It seems like the hip thing to complain about is how “our” children are overstimulated because commercials and MTV and children’s programming is constantly sending faster and snappier imagery at them. This certainly may be true in many cases. But then how does one explain what’s going on in the world of gameshows? When I was a kid, we watched fast-paced gameshows like Tic-Tac-Dough, Press Your Luck, and the $25,000 Pyramid. But nowadays, everything has slowed down. Yes, Jeopardy is still on, and Alex Trebek is still proud to have all the answers -er- questions – whatever. It is a show that rewards knowledge and cleverness. But beyond that, the current spate of offerings are clearly designed for those without the capacity for intellectual thought.

I was shocked to flip on NBC to discover that Deal or No Deal was still on the air. My friends tell me that it continues to be a huge hit. Now I realize that those women holding briefcases are attractive. But the attention span required to watch such a program is longer than that of the average giant sloth. Note that this is roughly six times the length of the typical Howie Mandel fan. I’m astounded that anyone is tuning into see this. The only way I can see that this differs from Let’s Make a Deal with Monty Hall is that the people are not in fun costumes, and there is no boobie prize like a bunch of goats. Yet the show presses on with others following in its wake. We have 1 vs 100 w/ Bob Saget, Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader? with Jeff Foxworthy, and finally National Bingo Night with some guy from that extreme home makeover show. What happened to someone earning their money? There has been a very quick devolution from Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which was kind of perfect in that there were easy questions for kids and morons, but things also ramped up to a more challenging level. From there, The Weakest Link took over as the most popular game show. Speed and strategy were key, but knowing anything at all was really not rewarded. In fact, it only increased your odds of getting booted off the show. Being smart resulted in punishment. It was like 3rd grade all over again.

Which brings me to Mr. Foxworthy’s show. When I heard the premise – adults trying to match 10 year olds question for question, I was somewhat intrigued. I figured they had some genius kids that were Ken Jenningses just waiting to happen. Alas, on a good day, this show only covers ten questions, all of which are pretty much common sense or at least common knowledge. The “charm” of the program is that the kids are really cheeky and Foxworthy insults the contestants. Which, it turns out, is the real point of all these shows: Humiliation.

See, when Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and their ilk had finally gone through every last way you could subject people to public embarrassment, the networks realized that they had to shift gears. We’d seen enough preteen prostitutes and incestuous brawlers to last a lifetime. But the public’s lust for the shaming of their fellow man is a beast not easily satiated. When Chase Sampson missed the first question on Millionaire, it was bigger news than when someone actually won the top prize. Poor Chase arrived a college student dressed in a suit and tie only to leave feeling like the idiot of the year. Immediately after that, we were given a show where an androgynous Brit shrieks at contestants, “You are the weakest link!” So now when a guy goes on Deal or No Deal and blows an offer of 40,000 bucks because he has no capacity for math – in front of his friends and family no less (who, incidentally also have no capacity for math), we’re supposed to be entertained.

However, we’re really just laughing at ourselves. I started by complaining about the ridiculously slow pace of these shows. Someone has been good enough to prove my point for me. They boiled down an hour episode to two minutes and 46 seconds of action. Check it out.

So we are left with people who have come on a TV show to win money, only to find themselves ridiculed. While the people watching at home are proving their own lack of intellect by sitting still for a full hour, waiting to solely see how the contestant blows it. That must be why they're watching because it's clear that there is little other action. It' s a sorry state of affairs. Wink Martindale, where have you gone?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

First Blush: Fishbone - Still Stuck in Your Throat

The most astute and learned of readers are aware that this entire website takes its name from a Fishbone song. The same goes for regular feature Unyielding Commissioning. For those that do not know, Fishbone is my absolute favorite band. Put simply, no musical artist has provided me with more joy in my lifetime. I’ve seen them live too many times to count and am a fan of everything they’ve ever released. To quote frequent commenter, Biz, if someone asks me which Fishbone album is my favorite, the answer is, “Whichever one I’m listening to.”

Fishbone’s sound has always changed from album to album, yet it has always remained theirs. They are an unclassifiable artist – to describe their music as anything but “Nuttmeg” would be folly. Such variety is generally welcomed and expected by the average Fishbone fan. However, it has been seven years since their last studio release, and nearly the entire lineup has been altered. The only two members remaining from the original crew are bassist Norwood Fisher and frontman, sax player, and all-around entertainer Angelo Moore. I was able to catch the new lineup about three years ago at Subterranean. Unfortunately, Norwood was too drunk to play, and the show, while hilarious, was a disaster. After such a hiatus, the success or failure of this album will surely determine what the future holds for Fishbone. I’m obviously sitting here with fingers and toes crossed. Needless to say, I feel this will be the most urgent First Blush to date, and I couldn’t be more excited. So let’s hear it!

Track 1 – Jack Ass Brigade
0:01 – I’ve noticed that the first couple seconds of any Fishbone album is nearly always brilliant. This time it is Angelo imitating a donkey. Guess that streak’s over.
1:03 – The backing music is damn sparse with Angelo singing so quickly I don’t think he can understand himself. If the words were nonsense, I’d say it was “Das EFX-ey”
1:45 – First entry of the sax. This is a nice little tune, upbeat and a bit silly. But it sure ain’t catchy. Outside of the sax, everything sounds a bit muddled.
2:58 – “J-A-B à Jackass Brigade. Yeeaaaaah.” Safe to assume this is about the Bush administration? I really couldn’t understand most of the words. Could be about any old idiots I suppose.

Track 2 – Let Dem Ho’s Fight
0:08 – OK, so this is Fishbone’s first dub song. This one isn’t brand new – I think I’ve seen it live and it was on some previous live releases.
0:36 – Guitars are crunching and John Steward is pounding on his snare.
1:16 – Now that apostrophe seems incorrect to me. Does the fight belong to Dem Ho? Or are they saying Let Dem Ho is Fight? That really doesn’t make any sense. OK, sorry. This ends the grammatical lesson for today.
2:14 – Compact, powerful track. Very aggressive – there was nothing like this on Pyschotic Friends Nuttwerx

Track 3 – Skank ‘N Go Nuttz
0:03 – Another not-so-new one. This one has some punch if I recall correctly.
0:20 – That’s right, it’s speedy as hell.
0:45 – They’re feelin’ their ska roots here. See, I could have said “feeling” there. The apostrophes are rubbing off on me.
1:42 – “I’ve got a nut, it’s bound to bust. Spirit spray or sparked by lust. Keep it slippery never rust. By nose we flows in stank we trust. Skank and go nuts!” I suppose that’s exuberant, no? It fits the song. Believe me.
2:43 – Really busy horns here. Ahhhhhh. This is Fishbone, baby.
3:03 – Got lots of different lyrics going on, even someone screaming random stuff in the background.
3:29 – Right now I’m impressed with the new lineup. Note that I really can’t attribute anything to specific people since they didn’t even list the names of the musicians in the album. Whassup with that? Maybe they’re still in “audition” mode.

Track 4 – Party With Saddam
0:38 – It’s not ground zero – this is very much like one of their lighter fun songs. Very Everyday Sunshine-esque.
1:01 – “Party ‘till Saddam’s your friend. Never drop a bomb again.” It’s a plea for peace through partying, folks. It’s quite possible that this is the song Fishbone was put on the earth to write.
2:44 – If you like Sly and the Family Stone, this is the track for you. It could’ve appeared on Stand! Well, if Saddam had been invented by then.
3:52 – Now they’re just listing random dictators and saying we should party with them. That’s quite a progressive…

Track 5 – We just Lose Our Minds
0:26 – Horns are featured to start and played similarly to those in P-Funk’s “Children of Production”
2:03 – This is the first moment where Norwood’s bass has gotten low and thick. ‘Bout time.
4:43 – The whole song is slow and groovy, with Angelo doing a Tom Waits Nighthawks at the Diner kind of thing where he riffs and wails his vocals.
6:16 – There’s a Weapon of Choice (Fishbone’s “little brother band”) song that is very similar to this one.
6:49 – Ooh, but it doesn’t have strings – we just got some. Eh – maybe that was a synthesizer.

Track 6 – Frey’d Fuckin’ Nerve Endingz
0:07 – All the hallmarks of a crazy Fishbone song. People will tackle the crap out of each other when this gets played live (I can’t wait!)
1:28 – Angelo has to be about 40 years old by now. I don’t know how the hell he does this. He is singing fast as hell – not rapping - and throwing in all kinds of yelling and screaming at various times, too.
3:39 – Just loud and aggressive and dirty.
4:17 – Just a wail from Angelo in the background – it’s going on for about twenty straight seconds.

Track 7 – The Devil Made Me Do It
0:38 – Steward is doing some kind of crazy, superfast zydeco beat.
1:01 – “It had to be the will of God, but the devil made me do it.” When can’t you use that one?
1:50 – Someone in here sounds like Walter Kibby. But he’s out of the group, so I wonder if they auditioned guys with dirty voices until they found the right fit. And if so, can they still call that person King of the Dog Freaks?
4:45 – Not sure what to think of that track. It sounded fine, but there wasn’t much change along the way.

Track 8 – Forever Moore
0:21 – So far this one is pretty much a stripped-down version of “Where’d you get those pants.”
1:04 – Looking at the lyrics, it’s pretty clear that Angelo wrote this about his sister who must have passed away. It’s not really the kind of subject matter that fits with Fishbone’s music, especially on the last few releases. And if I did interpret the lyrics correctly, then I’m afraid this song isn’t the greatest tribute. Fishbone has made songs with an emotional closeness before (Lemon Meringue, Change, In the Air), but I’m guessing it’s harder for them with a new lineup because it' coming across very bluntly.

Track 9 – Behind Closed Doors
0:22 – Getting a great combination of sound out of the guitar and bass right now.
1:47 – There are brief moments of very heavy guitars, balanced by the horns.
2:56 – This is probably the most uninspired track on the album thus far. The music is fine, and would possibly be good live, but the could have cut it after two minutes because it's flatly rolling along.
3:03 – Somebody is rapping now. I'd call it "dub-hop" - does that even exist? Did I just make up a genre?
3:44 – Things are picking up. Perhaps I was too quick to judge this song.

Track 10 – Premadawnutt
0:02 – Ah yes, I recall this one. It is craaaazy.
1:18 – “You showed your ass and suddenly, I have found my way.” I don’t have a worthwhile response to that. I just like it.
2:06 – The Theremin is going wild.
2:33 – “Hoooh! Hah!”
3:34 – I think this song may be too rapid and fast for people to get live. Maybe now that it’s on an album it’ll get more traction. I remember seeing them play it and just feeling bewildered.

Track 11 – Faceplant Scorpion Backpinch
0:26 – “Faceplant – it hurts!” Lots of skateboard or snowboard references here.
0:38 – Why am I being reminded of Gleaming the Cube right now? I guess it’s a snowboard, but something about the music could have been from 1987 here – I think it’s the surf guitar
2:28 – I really wish there were credits here. I’m awfully curious about who’s singing right now

Track 12 – Date Rape
0:28 – It says this is written by Sublime, so I suppose it’s a cover, but I don’t think I know it
1:26 – Kind of an odd thing to end your comeback album with a cover, no? It’s good, though. Not as good as when they covered The Rolling Stones’ Shattered on the Magic Hour, but still good.
2:06 – Also not as good as the cover of Sly’s Everybody Is a Star on their last album, but still good.
2:52 – The Sublime version is now feeling vaguely familiar to me. Vaguely.

Well, I’m pleased. I mean, anytime Fishbone releases something, I’m pleased, but this album is exactly what they should have produced. The previous one appeared to somewhat cater to what they thought people would want to hear, but Still Stuck in Your Throat is more what I think the band wants to be playing. It’s true to form of their most renowned albums. Will it produce a hit single? I’m not seeing it, but I recommend picking it up. It's 11.99 at Best Buy this week, or you can pick it up here. Of course, if you don’t have any Fishbone albums, maybe start with Truth and Soul or The Reality of My Surroundings. And if you get the chance to see them live – do not miss it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

OWR: Brick

76: Loaded

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lifetime w/ The Draft & Four Star Alarm @ Subterranean

Every time I start to question whether my heavy rawkin’ days are behind me, I like to take in a show that reminds me that such a notion is foolhardy. I go to shows for a variety of reasons, but if a band is putting energy and passion into their set, they can almost always impress me. Call these acts post-hardcore or whatever you want, but they certainly brought the rawk.

Four Star Alarm was up first, and they were fine, but did nothing out of the ordinary to gain traction with an eager crowd. The vocals were impossible to discern and that was too bad because they were the only aspect of their set that could have distinguished them from a multitude of other acts. They played with enthusiasm, but failed to leave much of an impression on me.

I wouldn’t say that it’s impossible to talk about The Draft without mentioning Hot Water Music, but it’s probably not kosher. HWM was one of the most talented and innovative hardcore acts around, continually evolving their sound right up until they broke up in 2005. They were one of those bands who you could see a hundred times, and still not be sated. While many lament the end of that outfit, we’re at least fortunate enough to have The Draft, comprised of 3/4 HWM. They kicked off with forty seconds of “Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wild Wild Women,” before going into Let it Go. Tearing through a quick, effusive set, they covered about eight songs off their debut album and a couple of new tracks. While this was clearly a Lifetime dominated crowd, there were plenty of people shouting and pointing during the choruses. I really wish they would have played longer, and of course everyone in the room was probably dying for a HWM track or two. That may have to come sometime later down the road, though. I’d like to see them headline a show, but perhaps they need more material before they could accomplish that effectively.

Immediately before Lifetime took the stage, a short guy wearing a White Sox hat turned to me and said, “I have been looking forward to this day for longer than I can remember. This show is the reason I’m still a punk!” He was obviously there by himself and had to tell someone just how excited he was. On the first note, a wild mosh pit opened up in front of the stage. Much beer was spilled. I’m not a huge Lifetime fan as I’ve always kind of felt like most of their songs sound alike. It did not help that the sound was terrible for their set. All you could hear were vocals, snare drum and then a loud, low rumble as everything else was all mixed together. But the fans did not care. They shouted every lyric and stage-dove as much as they could get away with it. Bouncers were ejecting people liberally, chasing them down in the pit for whatever infraction they committed – presumably stage-diving. One woman used me as a pick and got away from her pursuer - at least momentarily (ironically enough, the bouncer was wearing a shirt that said, “OBEY”) . In my book, the passion of the fans and the band overcame whatever sonic difficulties there were and made it a memorable time. I don’t think I’m going to run out and buy their albums or anything, but I’d definitely go check them out again.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Elf Power w/ Syllable Section & Whale Horse @ Subterranean

I was really just there to see Whale Horse because a friend of mine pointed me to their myspace page. The place was probably only an eighth full when WH began their set. Like most openers, they were treated to the Rainbow of Shyness where no one enters the semi-circle in front of the stage. But they played really well. For a band that hasn’t been around all that long, they were very tight, rawkin’, and mathy. The vocals, at least the way they’re currently presented, are not really my thing, but I still enjoyed the hell out of their set. I spoke to one of the guitarists well after they were finished, but he was well intoxicated by then. They didn’t have any merch to sell, or rather if they did, the guy who had it had possibly gone home already. Either way, expect big things from this band as they have a ton of potential.

Before Syllable Section came on, we were treated to a poem by Thax Douglas who claimed that SS is his “favorite Chicago band.” By halfway through their first song, I could tell that Thax and I would vehemently disagree. I’m trying to think of ways to describe this band’s performance courteously and professionally. I’ll say this. SS is music by chunky nerds for chunky nerds. So if you yourself happen to be a chunky nerd, perhaps you will find them interesting. I’ll just say that they’re not my cup of tea, nor were they the cup of tea for any of my three friends who were in attendance. Factor in that all of us have rather different taste in music, and you get a rather loud condemnation. They basically were trying hard to sound like the Violent Femmes if they were on the Elephant Six label. So it’s definitely not my thing. But they were awful, too. Note that this probably means that Thax is a chunky nerd (but a sweetheart of a fellow based on interactions I’ve had with him).

Elf Power was also introduced by Thax, but the poem was a very quick one. They got right to it, and that goes for breaks in between songs as well. There was no talking or banter, and the crowd seemed to expect that. Elf Power is clearly a talented, very together act. But I have to say that they were rather listless on stage. They appeared to just be going through the motions. I have to think this happens to a lot of bands when they’ve been around for thirteen years, particularly when you’re playing a Thursday night, half-full show at Subterranean. Their core fans were not deterred, each one displaying their own favorite version of the hippie dance. All that said, they had a bright, crisp sound, highlighted by Andrew Rieger’s 12-string guitar and Laura Carter’s cello, keys, and I-mac. The highlight of the set was definitely An Old Familiar Scene, with all members of the band playing harder and more passionately than on the other tracks. In sum, Elf Power really isn’t my thing, but they did play well. It’s too bad more of their fans didn’t come out to see them play.

OWR: Long Day's Journey Into Night

73: Dark

Andrew Bird w/ Apostle of Hustle @ The Riviera

Let me begin by stating that I am not going to do this justice. Andrew Bird, Martin Dosh, and Jeremy Ylvisaker put on a captivating show, harmonizing on multiple levels, and I can not adequately capture the way this quaint, but dynamic performance resonated with the adoring fans. But I’ll try.

The show began with only percussionist extraordinaire Martin Dosh on stage, playing drums and other parts through various loops for the first three or four minutes. Bird and Ylvisaker entered mid-song, with Bird immediately casting aside his shoes to reveal socks that resembled fruit stripe gum. They joined Dosh on the tail end of the song before going into Imitosis. The audience was somewhere between enthusiastic and appreciative, which is a good place to be. Very early on in the show, I lamented not being able to give it the First Blush treatment. There are so many things that he does live which deviate from the recorded versions of his songs, and I can’t possibly note them all here. Sometimes when you see a band perform their songs live, the lyrics can seem clearer or somehow make the song more personal. With Bird, that’s true of the lyrics, but also of every sonic element. There is something overtly personal about everything you’re hearing. Seeing Bird live can be frustrating because his albums pretty much demand that you sing along. But because he loves to mix things up when he plays, it renders singing along impossible. I would imagine that even he doesn’t know which way a given song is going to go until he gets to it.

Having Ylvisaker in the mix is a great enhancement. At Lollapalooza, various songs were a bit flat compared to their album versions simply because the harmony on the vocals was missing. Ylvisaker’s presence was solely accompaniment in both singing and guitar, fitting in seamlessly with Dosh and Bird. Going in, I wondered if Bird could sonically fill a hall this large, but that was no problem. Directly behind him, there was a giant Leslie Speaker (rotating double-speaker Doppler system) that lent the performance a grandiose feel.

Nearly all songs performed appear on the new album. Bird is known for getting tired of playing the same songs over and over, so I was not surprised by the setlist. After closing the main set, Thax Douglas came out and read a poem on Bird. The band quickly returned and played a celebratory and triumphant version of Tables and Chairs. It was in this song that Bird appeared most in his element, not that he didn’t before that moment, but on this one, it really appeared that he was ecstatic to be playing in front of the home crowd. They closed with a stunning version of Don’t Be Scared which featured a reunion with Nora O’Connor. Their vocals intertwined and built to the climax of the song together, much like they do in the album version, but live it was so much more intense. I had goosebumps and even began to sweat a little. It’s a shame that the song is so short, because it was such a beautiful moment. But I guess that’s what they mean when they say beauty is fleeting…

Apostle of Hustle opened. I was somewhat eager to check them out due to the Broken Social Scene connection. Their first couple songs were boring me to death and I was about to write them off completely, but then they bounced back with some good stuff. I found that their instrumentals were far better than songs with vocals. That’s probably not a good thing, but I suppose it bodes well for their potential.

Tracklist as best I can recall:
Intro Instrumental
Fiery Crash
Dear Dirty (?)
Naming of Things
Simple X
Skin Is, My
Scythian Empires
Thax recites his poem
Tables and Chairs
Don’t be Scared

Friday, April 20, 2007

OWR: The Evil Dead

34: Flimsy

Thursday, April 19, 2007

OWR: Running on Empty

90: Honest

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

First Blush: Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero

I have 14 Nine Inch Nails CDs in my collection, including all the major releases, various EPs, and even a concert bootleg. But when Trent Reznor’s last album, With Teeth, was released, I was slow to purchase. I can’t even remember exactly why. It was expensive everywhere I saw it and I wasn’t all that enamored with the first single, but that still doesn’t explain my delay. After buying it I quickly realized that it was yet another impressive output, and that I had been foolish to wait for so long. So I made up for it today by snagging Year Zero in its first day of release. There has been quite a bit of buzz regarding this album, primarily dealing with some of the viral marketing the band employed, including a USB drive containing cryptic images and other information that was taped to the bathroom wall at NIN shows in Lisbon, Manchester, and Barcelona. The album supposedly deals with our imminent future (assuming things continue down their current path). Apparently we’re doomed or something, and I presume the album is going to tell us why. So let’s hear it!

Track 1 – Hyperpower!
0:03 – All drums at the outset and then it’s all fuzzy and dirty.
0:58 – No lyrics on this one – it’s just going to be an intro track
1:09 – Is it possible for an instrumental to be cryptic? Is it possible for it not to be cryptic? Well it does end in gunfire.

Track 2- The Beginning of the End
0:35 – Trent is being as soulful as he can here. Which is not very, but the intent is there.
0:46 – “We face our consequence, this is the beginning of the end.” Dreary
2:03 – The track is feeling like further intro at this point. There’s a lot of sound going on that I’m clearly not picking up on this first listen – it’s very layered.

Track 3 – Survivalism
0:47 – The chorus is extremely Sisters of Mercy: “I got my propaganda, I’ve got revivalism.”
1:42 – Lots of boops and beeps going on in the background, but they’re not getting in the way of the rest of the song.
3:07 – “I’ve got my plan I’ve got my fist I’ve got survivalism.”
3:49 – The main snare click is on the off-beats, keeping the song driving as the other instruments dance around one another with Reznor whispering “I’ve got surivalism” Again, this track feels like ramp-up.

Track 4 – The Good Soldier
0:24 – The beat is vaguely reminiscent of Closer, but the subject matter is wholly different (urban warfare and chaos)
1:04 – Waiting for things to punch up, but Trent denies us, choosing to break things down musically and feature his sotto voce.
2:11 – One can’t help but think Trent is talking about Iraq here, but given the publicized theme of this album, he is more likely implying that we’ll all be living Baghdad-style soon…

Track 5 – Vessel
0:13 – Things are sounding very mechanical here – drills and machines and whatnot.
1:15 – “Oh God, can it go any faster? Oh my God, I don’t think I can last here.” I think this is the fourth song that Reznor has either referenced or spoken to God. The other track was an instrumental.
3:18 - The production is extremely impressive on this one. The sound couldn’t be more crisp, and I’m playing it on a fourteen year old Sony (which I have kept in excellent condition, mind you). The mechanical downbeats are not just heavy – weighty would be a better word.

Track 6 – Me, I’m Not
0:54 – Lots of echoes on each minimal note early on this track. The vocals are pulled to the back of the mix so those echoes are the showcased sounds.
2:55 – You can tell that each and every noise on this album was individually evaluated. Everything is deliberately chosen, there is no jam.

Track 7 – Capital G
0:13 – Trent is doing some sort of weird character voice. I’ve never heard this from him before. I’m not sure I like it.
0:44 – That’s more like it. Sing like yerself, please. By the way, this song is about Bushy.
1:48 – Still waiting to rock a bit on this album, but we’re getting closer. Everything is still extremely crisp, but there are some longer notes that build together.
2:20 – “He signs his name with a capital ‘G’.” Just say “bushy.” We all know who you’re talking about. But I understand, you have to rhyme it with knees. Bushy would have worked just fine.

Track 8 – My Violent Heart
0:30 – Trent is talking to us now, almost muttering with very little accompaniment.
1:13 – Booming beats and vocals two steps shy of yelling gets thing up to where we’re accustomed to having them on a Nine Inch Nails record. But it’s fleeting.
2:48 – I mentioned the apocalyptic theme of this record. When you open the flaps of the case, you see two arms, one clothed in a suit, shirt and fancy watch holding the Holy Bible. The other bare and gripping an AK47 with its index finger on the trigger. I believe Trent is trying to tell us that these things are connected. Or maybe they’re opposed. Are they coming from the same body? Nobody knows…

Track 9 – The Warning
0:30 – The lead guitar here is nearly Mark Sandman-esque – a touch twangy, but more plaintive than anything else
1:49 – the lyrical theme has suddenly changed. Instead of coming from a protagonist who is concerned for his own soul and living in fear, it’s from a position of moral authority, threatening to “wipe this place clean.” Aliens? God? Decpticons? Nobody knows…

Track 10 – God Given
0:56 – This is the most With Teethy track thus far. Breakbeat in the background with Trent urging, “Come on, sing along, everybody now!”
1:22 – Yeah, the club kids are going to remix this one and then lick each other on the dancefloor.

Track 11 – Meet Your Master
0:23 – “Bow down” – hey I remember that line…
1:11 – It’s turned into a classic NIN groove. This is what we came here for, right? I mean, I appreciate the spooky we’re all gonna die stuff, but I still want to headbang a bit…
2:15 – “Come on down my friend, it’s time to meet your master.” And you’re also going to get what you deserve, capiche?
2:48 – The phrase “come on down” is repeated…

Track 12 – The Greater Good
0:18 – The beat is solid, but everything else is atmospheric like a dark movie with Trent whispering “breathe”.
0:31 – Wide bass tones are later joined by some sort of xylophonic sound.
2:36 – While there are lyrics, this track is practically an instrumental, likely setting up the last four on the album.
4:14 – For such a minimalist track, there are a ton of different elements. Yes, I realize I’m sounding like a broken record.

Track 13 – The Great Destroyer
0:33 – So many divergent things going on at once now, it’s difficult to talk about any one of them. So I’ll mention that this is the first track where Trent is really singing out.
1:15 – Well he was, he’s back in “loud whisper” mode now.
1:49 – Bass is punching! Then it disintegrates into various trajectories of sound. I think if I were wearing headphones right now, my brain would be melting. If you see people on the street this week with I-pods and melted brains, blame The Great Destroyer.

Track 14 – Another Version of the Truth
0:54 – Everything is hidden – much like the beginning of Something I can Never Have, but if it were on The Fragile instead.
1:52 – And we’re practically paused with just a high-pitched note before piano comes in to bring a methodical melody which takes us to the end of the track.

Track 15 – In This Twilight
1:03 – “And the sky is filled with light, can you see it? All the black is really white, if you believe it.” So this is the first hopeful one?
2:03 – “Night descends – could I have been a better person? If I could only do it all again.” Nope, it’s wistful. But I guess it paints an image of serenity at the end of everything.

Track 16 – Zero Sum
0:02 – Last track and I’m hoping for something that will have some punch to close it out because so far that’s what’s missing. I mean, if the world’s gonna end, we should go out with a bang, right?
0:50 – But Trent is whispering again with another array of minimalist beats and beeps.
1:48 – Piano takes us through some chord progressions as the electronic percussion tries to distract us from it.
3:56 – “Shame on us, for al we’ve ever done. And all we ever were – just zeroes and ones.” So shame on us, but if we’re just completing our part of the formula, how could we have helped anyway? Did we have the potential to be more than zeroes and ones all along, but never made it happen? I suppose that’s what he’s trying to say, but it’s going to take a lot more listens to figure this all out.

Every track is so thickly layered, I don’t think I can possibly be doing this album justice in the first listen. At this point it is all very distant. Its reviews have been largely positive, so I’m guessing there’s a lot of depth to it. It is not instantly catchy - there is clearly a ton going on within each track. I’m sure the album will grow on me (on all of us). The album is decidedly not exciting, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great – it is likely a masterpiece. The Year Zero concept is fascinating, if a bit bleak. It does claim the possibility of correcting things if we act now. Kind of like global warming. If you feel like trying to track down what this album means, this is a good place to begin, and this is a good place to continue – the whole point is for all the internet geeks to piece together the information that the band left lying around in random places. Personally, I don’t have time for all that. Someone let me know when they get it figured out…

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Watch out for Monsters

New Nine Inch Nails out today (cheapest place is either Circuit City or Target - both 9.99). Go and get it. You know it will be excellent because it's always excellent.

Way too busy today to post any real content, but check out this link.

(hat tip: M-zone)

Monday, April 16, 2007

OWR: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

78: Self-indulgent

Schwarzenegger Sunday: Pumping Iron

For an overview of Schwarzenegger Sunday, check out the Marching Orders above. Note – there will always be spoilers.

I had never seen Pumping Iron, and though I had certain expectations, I wasn’t sure how this bodybuilding documentary would be presented. This is technically not an “Arnold” movie, but it is the one that put him on the map. Arnold is clearly the star of the show, and not just because the film documents his sixth consecutive Mr. Olympia. He comes off as cocky, gregarious, and just charming enough. Again, this is not your typical Schwarzenegger flick, so please permit me some liberties with the categories…

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: Arnold is on fire for much of the movie. The difference here is that he isn’t playing a character. Well, he kind of is, but the character is still called Arnold Schwarzenegger. Check out of these beauties:
“The most satisfying feeling you can get in a gym is ‘the pump.’ It’s as satisfying to me as coming is.”
“This girl maybe didn’t have a kiss for years, I have to give her a break…”
“I drink no milk. Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer.”
“Franco’s pretty smart, but Franco’s a child. When it comes to the contest, I’m his father.” 7
Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: Since this movie is not strictly about Arnold, there are plenty of less cheeky bodybuilders who have little to say that is very interesting. Arnold’s amusing comments are somewhat limited (most appear above). 3

“I’ll be back.”: Obviously, this predates The Terminator, but he does avow “I’ll see you when I get back!!” n/a

Smarmy Villain: Here’s where we’re going to start reaching a bit. This is a sporting competition and there are clearly no villains. The film does intend to portray Arnold’s young competitor, Lou Ferigno, as the bad guy. But he is clearly such a nice kid who would never mean any ill towards his fellow competitors. He is managed and trained by his father, Matty. One could argue that Matty is the smarmy villain, in control of everything behind the scenes while Lou would then be the Rough and Tumble Henchman, and that’s clearly what they had in mind. It was foolish of them to try to do that with this family because it’s not anywhere in their makeup. n/a

Rough and Tumble Henchman: Lou would later go on to play the extremely rough and supremely tumble Incredible Hulk. n/a
Diminutive Sidekick: At the time of filming, Arnold was living with his best friend, the 5’5” Franco Columbu. More on him later. 8
Rejected hot love interest: Arnold discusses how he will not allow himself to become emotionally involved before a competition. Now, this could clearly could still allow for physical involvement, but he did say he was willing to pass up on love in order to properly prepare for his pose-offs. n/a

Not nearly hot enough love interest: Arnold tells us, “I like all kinds of women, brown hair, blonde hair, big breasts, small breasts, big butt, small butt.” I assume this also means “hot, not nearly hot enough…” n/a
Arnold yelling: I figured there would be at least some grunting when lifting heavier weights, but that’s not Arnold’s style. However, at one point during training, Fergino is doing some very intense reps and shouting, “Arnold! Arnold! Arnold! ArNOLD! ARNOLD!” n/a

Arnold cursing: He drops several F and S-bombs, but none of them are the least bit poignant. n/a

Arnold crazyface: I expected a lot more out of this film on the crazyface front. Who doesn’t make crazy faces when they lift weights? Well, there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from, but here you go: 5
Superfluous Explosions: I was hoping for a busted bicep at some point because it would have been amazing. But it did not occur. Another wish left ungranted… n/a

Director: Robert Fiore and George Butler teamed to direct Pumping Iron. Fiore has not directed a movie since then. Butler had a long hiatus, but recently did two docs on the Shackleton Antarctic Expedition as well as the John Kerry biopic, “Going Upriver.” This is the one where Kerry was treated fairly, not where he was slandered.

Franco Columbu: Franco is in the first shot of the movie as well as one of its final ones. They even go back with him to his native Sardinia where he picks up and moves a car that can’t get out of its parking spot. His friendship with Arnold is discussed in detail, and the two of them are the last men standing at the Mr. Olympia competition with Arnold beating him out. Plus, he wears some really fly stuff: 10
Sven Ole-Thorsen: He wasn’t hooked in with Arnold yet. n/a

Shirtless Arnold: This aspect is applied liberally like so much baby oil. I mean, it’s his job to be shirtless, so he’s going to damn well do it. It doesn’t matter if he’s on stage, working out, or visiting a prison. 10

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: No killing takes place onscreen. The steroid-induced heart attacks will come many years down the line. n/a

Even more severely brutal killing of villain: n/a

Plausibly implausible plot: Well, there isn’t much of a plot to begin with. Arnold wins because he’s the greatest bodybuilder of all time. We learn about the sport to a degree, but there’s very little conflict and even less controversy. If anything, we go in expecting Arnold to win again and are almost let down by the lack of drama. n/a

Ambiguous ending: One could argue that we’re not finished yet. Will they change the constitution so Arnold can run for president? OK, that’s obviously unlikely. We know what happens to Arnold after this (huge movie star, governor of the fifth largest economy in the world or whatever). Franco becomes a doctor. Lou becomes the Hulk and appears on C-list reality television. All is right in the world… n/a

In one of the bonus features on the DVD, Arnold coyly goes into the fact that a lot of what we see in the movie was completely fabricated. Most notably, he claims the scene where he says that he refused to come home for his father’s funeral because he had a competition coming up in two months was made up. According to Arnold, “that’s why we never called it a documentary – we called it a docu-drama.” I don’t know why he is choosing to clear the air at this point. I have to figure it has something to do with his political career. But he also claims that all the gamesmanship he displays was drummed up and done solely for the cameras. This I find hard to believe. First of all, even if he was only doing these things because the camera was on, he was still doing them – most of the time in the moments directly before the competition. Secondly, looking at Arnold’s other behavior at the time indicates that what we see onscreen here is consistent for him. You might be curious what the deal is with bodybuilding and why it's important. Here is a video summary that is extremely worth watching:

See more funny videos at CollegeHumor

It’s a movie worth seeing once. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to another showing. The setting and subject matter provides a plethora of unintentional comedy, with the top highlight being the display of HILARIOUS haircuts. And because this is looking like Schwarzy Sunday “Lite,” I give you the gallery of hilarious haircuts. Enjoy!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Unyielding Commissioning says “Poo-tee-weet”

Good night, sweet prince. As you have no doubt heard, Kurt Vonnegut passed away on Wednesday, much to the dismay of all learned folk who ever appreciated his wonderful, creative fiction. He was widely revered, and in my opinion, he earned that reverence and then some. Probably my favorite writer, I now find myself going over his catalogue and realizing how many of his works I’ve yet to read. While that makes me lament time wasted watching television or reading anyone else’s less interesting work, I also take comfort in knowing that I still get about five or six chances to read one of his books for the first time even though he is gone. And that makes me excited. As Billy Pilgrim found out on Tralfalmadore, time isn’t necessary linear, and in the case of great authors, they leave their work behind for us to experience over and over as long as people walk the earth. There have been various tributes out here on the internets, but I thought perhaps Brian’s did Vonnegut the most justice, letting the man speak for himself – in a sense.

He’ll flip you. Flip ya for real. Lolla lineup is posted and extremely difficult to navigate on their website. Luckily everyone all over the place has given us a much more user friendly version. Many people are complaining that the lineup “sucks” or “is weak” or “isn’t as good as last year.” First of all, last year was freaking unbelievable and should be recognized as such. There’s no way you are ever going to see that many incredible bands in the same place ever again. That was a one-time thing. Plus, they will be adding more acts over the coming weeks and months. All that said, here are my picks:

Bands I’ve never seen, but am super-geeked to catch
Iggy & the Stooges
The Black Keys

Bands I’ve seen before and can’t wait to see again
Modest Mouse
The Roots
Kings of Leon
Tapes N Tapes
Ted Leo RX
Silversun Pickups

Bands that I’m intrigued by and definitely want to check out
Daft Punk
Yeah yeah yeahs
TV on the Radio
Pete Yorn
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Blonde Redhead
LCD Soundsystem
Roky Erickson & The Explosions
The View
The Fratellis
Tokyo Police Club
Electric Six
Peter Bjorn and John
The Rapture

Bands that are notable in that I’ll let the hippies go see ‘em while I get a funnel cake or do something more worthwhile like sit around
Ben Harper and whateverhescallinghisband
G Love and aretheyreallyfreakingplayingagainthisyear?

Bands I’ve already seen that were fine
Pearl Jam
My Morning Jacket
Snow Patrol
Yo La Tengo
The Hold Steady
Chin Up Chin Up
Viva Voce

Bands I’ve already seen that made me angry and irritable

Note that there are no bands listed in that last section. And there are about fifty more bands that fell into the “I have no strong opinion about these guys” bucket either because they’re Silverchair or because I just don’t know that much about them. I’ll certainly be checking a lot of these randoms over the coming months. So you can hate on this lineup, but there are plenty of bands that were covered on my wishlist from yesterday, so I’m netting out at “pleased.”

Here there be tygers!

OWR: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

65: Jolly

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lolla 2006 in Review

As you may already know, the Lollapalooza 2007 lineup is due to be released today. We know that Pearl Jam is headlining and yours truly broke a scoop on another act, but beyond that we’ll have to see what they give us. While I’m sure it’ll be a wonderful list, I thought I’d quickly review the bands I was fortunate enough to take in at last year’s fest. These rankings were compiled the day after the festival ended (and based on M.E. – my enjoyment), so I’m resolute in my belief that they are accurate. The blurbs written for each one, however, were created today. So we’re relying a bit on memory.

Those that were either flat, boring, or lousy
29) Cursive – I actually did write a blurb for these guys: “The only band that made me say, ‘I gotta get the hell out of here’.” Just abrasively dissonant, but not in a creative kind of way.
28) Ben Kweller – He was just very boring. His music offered very little in the way of entertainment.
27) Assassins – I probably only caught about three songs by them – let’s just call them flat.
26) The Shins – I’m not really into the band, and people that are into them said that the sound mixing was off for their set (a consistent problem on the stage where they played). So it’s not like they were offensive or anything.
25) Husky Rescue – Flat as Sandra Bernhard. But they seemed nice.

Good to Great
24) Jeremy Enigk –He sat there and played. The songs were good, but not very engaging. I originally blamed the hot weather and festival setting. But then I saw him again at the Double Door last fall and had the same reaction. Sunny Day Real Estate, where have you gone?
23) Queens of the Stone Age – I didn’t expect to like these guys, particularly because the field was overly crowded when they played. But they brought it. Nice and freakin’ loud, and the crowd was into them. I was really far away – I’m sure up close it was rather crazy.
22) The Hold Steady – I did not expect to enjoy their set, but they really played well, sounding like a chubbier Bruce Springsteen. Take that to mean whatever you like.
21) Red Hot Chili Peppers – Waaaaay too much new stuff for my tastes, but then you remember that BSSM came out 15 years before this concert, and you have to give them a break. I’m not hanging out at my junior high anymore. There was a rousing rendition of “Me and My Friends," however.
20) My Morning Jacket – I was really far away from these guys, but they played well. Things were a little boring on the whole, and if I recall correctly, they didn’t play enough of their more upbeat songs.
19) Deadboy & Elephantment – They kicked off the whole shebang and played well. Crowd was just arriving, so that’s a tough slot to fill.
18) Gnarls Barkley – I was taking a breather at the far end of Hutchinson field, so I wasn’t that engaged in their set. But they sounded quite good from where I was loafing.
17) Peeping Tom – I only caught three songs as there were other bands I had to get to, and they had major technical problems at their stage. Once they got things ironed out, they got a good groove going. I wish I could’ve stayed.
16) Rainer Maria – Good, solid rock. The music was nothing unique, but they played well.
15) The Smoking Popes – This band has never rocked hard enough for me. But they played a tight set covering a lot of their hits. It helped that the crowd was peppered with their die-hard fans.
14) Built to Spill – I’m surprised I listed them this high because I felt like I came away disappointed. On the stage with the severe technical problems, they played well enough, but were just kind of standing there playing. Their new album is so good and full of so much energy, I was hoping for more.
13) The Go! Team – Peppy set that won the crowd over immediately. They played all the right tunes from their album.
12) Cameron McGill & What Army – Cameron hopped around from guitar to keys and back again. Hardly anyone was watching this set, but it was a solid one anyway.
11) Living Things – Super entertaining. People jumping into the crowd and getting them to sing along. I totally forgot about this band, but they were fun as hell.
10) Andrew Bird – In a word, impressive. He’s a musical wizard – and I don’t mean that in a dungeons and dragons kind of way. Definitely going to see him at the Riveria as long as I don’t have to pay exorbitant fees to do so.

Great to Phenomenal
9) Mates of State – I had their album and it just hadn’t grabbed me. But they definitely did when they played live. Way tighter than I expected and I’ve been a big fan since I saw this performance.
8) Sparta – Playing a very early set on the last day, they came out really freakin’ loud. A hot performance despite a low-key audience.
7) Death Cab for Cutie – I’d seen this band a ton in the few years leading up their Lolla set. They played as well as I’ve seen them, even though they were headlining the first night. The high school kids sung along to every word, and the band played some older ones (including Movie Script Ending and President of What?).
6) Eels – What a fun time this was. They had a security guard named Krazy Al who was actually part of the show, interacting with the crowd and the band and occasionally playing guitar. Featured I believe four covers including Tom Waits, Screaming Jay Hawkins, and Peaches.
5) Sleater-Kinney – Probably the band I was most excited to see since they had made it known that it would be their second-to-last show. They rawked hard as hell, putting as much into their hour set as they possibly could. Superb set.
4) The Flaming Lips – They pulled out all the stops. It was gimmicky as hell, but also a blast. Wayne Coyne walked and tumbled across the crowd in an inflated bubble, gigantic blue balloons came bouncing across everyone’s heads, santa clauses and alien chicks filled the stage, streamers fired up into the air, you name it. They closed with a singalong Do You Realize.
3) Wolfmother – Just fast and hard and loud as all getout. When they finished playing Joker and the Thief to end their set, the dude in front of me just kept screaming, “They stole the show! They stole the show!” And he was right. At that point
2) Reverend Horton Heat - I’ve been dying to see this band forever. No one ever seems to want to go when they play here, including their most recent stop at Metro. After a rousing introduction by Beatle Bob, they kicked it off with Big Sky and going right into Baddest of the Bad. They proceeded to play all the hits, at one point just dropping the setlist altogether and asking for request. The crowd was going nuts, moshing on pavement. You could tell that an hour was hardly enough for this band. I seriously thought dudes were going to pass out from the all weather and the amount they were jumping into each other.
1) Broken Social Scene - They were absolutely shimmering at times having 17 people onstage, playing their hearts out. The entire audience was blown away. Unfortunately, every critic reviewing the show had nothing to say about this amazing performance because they were on immediately before the Chili Peppers and were only allotted 45 minutes. That was a travesty, but the band more than filled the time. I've never seen a crowd and audience give so much to one another. I still can't believe this actually happened, especially at a festival. It was such a shame they couldn't play more. A brilliant show. Check out how it ended and LISTEN to that crowd.

My wish list for ’07? In no particular order: Kings of Leon (missing their Riv show, dammit), Stooges, Peter Bjorn & John, Explosions in the Sky, Arcade Fire (best band from ’05 without question), the triumphant return of Broken Social Scene (you owe it to them and us Lolla-lords). We’ll see what they give us!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

OWR: Static

82: Spooky

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In Defense Of: Compact Discs

I’m not sure how to approach this without coming off as a stodgy old coot.

Many people have been claiming that the days of owning a tangible item upon which your music arrives are soon to end. You can purchase nearly any song you want via I-tunes or record labels themselves these days. They offer instant delivery and you can bring thousands of tracks with you wherever you want to go. And that is great. It’s progress. It’s the American Dream. You can bet that when I go to work every morning, I have my headphones on and am oft seen rockin’ out as I stride to the el. But all those songs are also sitting on shelves in my home, eagerly awaiting their next spin on the stereo.

I still remember the first time I purchased a CD. Actually, it was eight of them and they were shipped from Columbia House in Terre Haute, Indiana. I sure was excited for what can now only be considered an embarrassing slate of albums (including such artistic endeavors as AC/DC’s “The Razor’s Edge”, Aerosmith’s “Pump”, and for some bizarre reason, Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison"). In fact, I don’t think I own any of those original eight anymore. But you have to start somewhere, right? Since then I’ve purchased hundreds upon hundreds more. There are no consumer goods that will thrill me more. Some people get excited to buy clothing or shoes or furniture, but CDs have always been my cultural currency of choice. Some are signed by the musicians, and others have random stories of how I ran across them. I can still regale you with tales of stumbling upon, say, a copy of Living Colour’s “Vivid” for six dollars during a high school excursion to Iowa City. The used record store was on the upstairs level of a house, and on first post of the banister, there was a scoop of spaghetti. No plate or nothin’ – it was just hanging out there. What I’m trying to say is that CDs have character. They’re an actual thing. mp3s may be convenient and have their purpose, but they’re not real, are they?
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a holier than thou kind of thing. If you want to download everything directly to your computer, stealing it, buying it, whatever – go for it. I just can’t do it. And it’s not about the artwork, although I certainly appreciate that aspect. My collective set of discs is easily my most prized possession, the one I have worked the hardest to attain. I show it off to people when they come over, and tell them the spaghetti story if they happen to look at a Living Colour album.

Part of the thrill is the hunt, of course. Examining row after row of jewel cases might seem exhausting or tedious, but when you find something you were seeking, or something you weren’t even looking for in the first place, it’s like digging up buried treasure. Or better yet, when you experience a band’s live show, then gleefully buy their album at the merch table – you make your way home, knowing it’s way past bedtime, but you have to listen to that new release at least once before you conk out. You just can’t get those feelings with a downloaded electronic file. If you read here regularly, you'll know I am awfully excited to crack open a new disc, but seriously, who isn’t?
I realize that it is likely inevitable that we will go to a solely electronic approach for our music, particularly as the quality and accessibility improves. I just don’t want you young whippersnappers to remove CDs from production. We’d all be missing out. Now where’s my mush? And my pills?

Monday, April 9, 2007

OWR: Murderball

81: Muscular

Friday, April 6, 2007

OWR: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

52: Slow

Even Unyielding Commissioning has its limits

Across this line, you do not… I took in Andrew Bird’s performance at Lollapalooza last summer and came away thoroughly entertained. What he does live can only be characterized as impressive. Given that his new album is superb as well, I sure as hell want to see him play at the Riviera on April 20th. In order to get the tickets at face value, I figured I would swing by their box office and pick them up for me and some friends. Of course, the place was totally deserted. “Well,” I reckoned, “I’ll just have to go through Ticketmaster.” I know that Ticketmaster is a ripoff, but since there appeared to be no other way to procure tickets, we all agreed it was the best way to go.

I had no idea what I was in for. The face value of the tickets is $21.50 each. That’s what it says on Ticketmaster’s website. Added to that is a $1 “facilities” fee. That’s cool, I can deal with that, and I suppose that would apply even if they did have a box office. However, once you choose the tickets, there is a $7 “convenience” fee per ticket. Now, that is highway robbery, but I definitely expected it. I decided to ensure entry into the show, it was worth spending 29.50 on something that was inherently worth 21.50. However, after you place your order, you are taken to checkout where you also get to spend an additional $1.12 on tax. Tax?!!?! Since when do you have to pay tax on a concert ticket??? This is unheard of. But what really made this a bridge too far was the fact that after their seven dollar upcharge, they add on $5.05 in “Order Processing Charge.” Five Freaking Dollars. To pay their computer’s electric bill? That was too much. If you are ordering only one ticket, the upcharge (not counting the facilities fee) is 57%. Fifty-seven point four percent!! That is rotten.

I recall when Pearl Jam brought suit against Ticketmaster for non-competitive, monopolistic behavior, the company’s main defense was that you can always just purchase the tickets at the box office. Well, if you call the Riviera, towards the end of their lengthy recorded message, they state that you can only purchase tickets at the box office for shows going on that evening. But what if this is a concert that is sure to sell out? You will never have the opportunity to buy tickets from the box office because by the time the box office opens, all those tickets will be long gone. I’m no class action attorney, but this seems illegal to me.

In any event, my conscience won’t willfully let me pay to be ripped off by a company whose job is to rip people off. That would just be dumb. So I’m going to have to take my chances that Andrew Bird isn’t quite popular enough to sell out the Riv ahead of time. If we all band together, people, perhaps we can put a stop to this egregious price gouging. Needless to say, I’m pretty much done with the Riv if I can help it. They should at least have a box office at one of their affiliate theaters (that’s what the Congress Theater does). If the show sells out and I miss it, will I blame myself? Hell no – I have principles, even if I cost myself a good time in standing by them.

A real scoop! Speaking of Pearl Jam, they are headlining Lollapalooza in Grant Park this year. I’m not a huge Pearl Jam fan, but there are going to be another 150 bands, so I’m sure there will be plenty of rawkin' goodness. In fact, an “inside source” has informed me that Sileversun Pickups will be playing as well. No, I’m afraid I can’t name my source – you’ll just have to trust me. Reporters have to protect their sources, yaknow, so I assume bloggers have to as well. But they will be there. This does strike me as confiential information. Was I supposed to keep that to myself? If so, then I’m a dick, but a dick with scoop! In any event, tickets are 165 with no processing, shipping or “convenience” fees. I recommend getting yourself one before the prices go up. The full lineup will be announced on April 12.

That other fest. Pitchfork tickets are on sale as well. Some bands have been named, but none of them so far have really gotten me excited. That said, last year they ended up with an extremely impressive lineup, so I am hopeful for the acts yet to be named. I recommend attending this as well. Besides, it's only fifty bucks for three days. What a bargain!


Thursday, April 5, 2007

First Blush: Kings of Leon – Because of the Times

Kings of Leon’s first two releases have been dubbed “Southern Rock” by most pundits, and while they are from Tennessee, I really believe their music could have come from just about anywhere in the United States. The band is named in homage of their father/uncle and grandfather (three of the members are brothers, while their cousin is the lead singer). They’re generally at their best when said frontman Caleb Followill is half pleading, half wailing and the band is playing fast. Their lyrics range from spiritual to playful to downright bawdy. I personally think they transcend their labels. That said, if I were to OWR them, I’d call them “Bitchin’.” But enough of my yakkin’. Whaddya say? Let’s boogie!

Track 1 – Knocked Up
0:05 – We begin with a stompin’ bass drum and some light snare tapping before the bass comes in with an U2-esque progression.
0:50 – The vocals are mighty echoed here
1:13 – “She don’t care what her momma says, no she’s gonna have my baybeeee…” I feel like I have a good grasp on the topic of this one for once. Unless it’s all a metaphor.
2:00 – All is still kind of quiet and–
2:05 – Edgy guitar strumming matches a pounding drumbeat, dwarfing the vocals completely
2:20 – And we’re back (quiet times). But Caleb is starting to wail just a bit more
4:03 – “Oh-oh-oh-o-oah” is waaay in the background. It’s quite atmospheric.
4:20 – And now that call is echoed by other voices.
5:27 – It’s a good opener for a band’s third album. Like they’re not going to show us everything right away, but are just setting the table for what’s to come. Good thing I’m hungry. (Ugh – OK, that’s officially the worst pun I’ve written on this blog.)
7:03 – That’s a seven-minute opening track folks!

Track 2 – Charmer
0:16 – Yeah, this promises to be more “bitchin’.”
0:25 – Caleb just made a noise that sounds like a chinchilla being sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Don’t blame me for the imagery. He did it. Frankly, I’m frightened.
0:57 – The only lyrics we’ve heard outside of the chinchilla so far is “She’s such a charmer, oh no.”
1:30 – This one is downright heavy. The guitars are just sort of metal.
1:45 – “She’s always lookin’ at me! She’s such a charmer, oh no.”
2:28 – Now we’re cookin’

Track 3 – Oncall
0:11 – Spacey notes on the guitar set up pleading vocals. Yes, I realize I’m using that word a lot. I’ll break out the thesaurus next time, ‘kay?
0:45 – This guitar is totally punk, even if the song isn’t.
2:01 – This song doesn’t sound like them - whatever that means. People change their style. It’s somehow more straight ahead than I’m used to.
2:36 – This solo can only be called one thing and that would be Skynyrdy.
3:07 – “I’m on call – I’ll be there”

Track 4 – McFearless
0:10 – The guitar and drums are busy like Bloc Party. It seems in general that 3.1 tracks into this, their chops are at an all-time high.
2:10 – I’ve always found myself clapping along like crazy to various KOL tunes. But this one is so busy, I don’t know if drummer Nathan Followill has left me any room to add something.

Track 5 – Black Thumbnail
0:27 – Howlin’ Wolf would be proud of Caleb on this one. He’s got a great blues-yowl goin’.
1:16 – Stompy McGee here. This is going to send them into a frenzy live. It’s like ELO meets the Cars meets something bitchin’.
2:08 – I have no idea what he’s saying, but I if it weren’t for keeping this blush going, I’d be jumping around right now.
2:21 – Clearly heard: “Now guitar – GO GUITAR!”

Track 6 – My Party
0:32 – Caleb’s vocals sound strikingly like Trent Reznor, right down to the near-rapping.
1:29 – The way the bass is thumping this rythym, it’s bending closer to LCD Soundsystem. They’re all over the place with this album so far. Is it a great leap forward? Or just erratic nonsense? Since I’m thoroughly enjoying things so far, I’m strongly guessing the former.
2:26 – Damn good fuzzy guitar solo.
3:30 – “wOOoooooh. This is my party, this is my party!” It sure is.

Track 7 – True Love
0:19 – Sorry for all the band comparisons, but this track resembles The Futureheads.
0:38 – Not so much now with Caleb’s suppliant lead vocals. Yes, that came from the thesaurus. Don’t complain, we all just learned a new word.
1:39 – If there was a new Karate Kid movie coming out now, this would probably be the “You’re the Best Around” or “The Glory of Love” of the new generation.
2:38 – “People say our babies are walkin’ this tooowwwwn.” I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean.

Track 8 – Ragoo
0:15 – Two guitars and a bass are all working off one another playfully.
0:44 – I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’m hoping that this song title came from Adam Sandler’s “The Goat”. Have good mosh-pitting!
1:15 – “Either way, you caught me whilst I was lying. You caught me with my pants down.” Unlikely that this is Goat-related.
2:07 – Just a superb, catchy bass line on this one. You could throw any song you want on top of a bass line like that and it’ll pop.

Track 9 – Fans
0:36 – First real yodel shout from Caleb. Probably right to make it more subtle than in previous releases, but nice to hear it again, anyway.
2:06 – This song tells a story of someone listening to a song, saying things like “bump to the rythym and bop to the beat of the radio.” That would bother the hell out of me if it weren’t so damn catchy.

Track 10 – The Runner
0:37 – A Dylan-esque beginning. Things are stripped down, and Caleb’s vocals are a bit more singsongy, but still beseeching something (hat tip: thesaurus).
1:38 – Things kind of build up to a smooth, rich chorus. It’s not heavy by any means.
2:49 – The lyrics of this song are basically about being on the road, away from family and friends, and the fact that Jesus will still be there for you. Don’t know if I mentioned it, but these boy’s father and grandfather were both preachers. They thank God first in the liner notes. Nashville is last.

Track 11 – Trunk
1:03 – Major echoes on the vocals here, with another superb bass line carrying the tune.
2:37 – Two sections to this song, and they keep going back and forth. The great bass line is not enough on this track to make it stand out at this point. It has that “we almost didn’t include it on the album” vibe going. But perhaps they wanted a more mellow groove to set up the last two.

Track 12 – Camaro
0:20 – Each instrument takes its turn coming in on this one
0:42 - “She looks so cool in her new Camaro. It’s black as coal and it goes, boy, it go-go-goes!”
0:55 – Golly this song sounds a ton like “Slow Night, So Long,” the first one off their last album (Aha Shake Heartbreak).
2:51 – All instruments are getting progressively louder.

Track 13 – Arizona
0:15 – This intro has “last song on the album” written all over it. Guitar with drums, setting a tone of conclusion.
0:58 – “That taste – all I ever needed,” but in a really importunate way (this ends the vocabulary lesson for this evening).
4:07 – It stayed calm throughout, almost like movie-soundtrack music, and then just faaaaded out.

So what have we learned here? It is accurate to say that this album is a departure from previous efforts, but the clearest difference is a higher level of musicianship. I think I miss the shit-kickers a little bit, but I’ll take some exploration in their place. The production is much richer and cleaner than on previous albums, and that fits with the other changes. None of the tracks stand out above the others, but that’s never been their thing, anyway. I kept mentioning the bass lines because each one fit its song perfectly. So I’m coming away initially impressed. This may not be what they’ve done best in the past, but perhaps it’s time for a new chapter, as is custom for strong bands on their third release. I can’t believe I’m going to miss their show (5/19 at Riviera – more on that damn venue tomorrow). But y’all should go!