Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My Morning Jacket – Roseland Ballroom – New York – Nov. 30th

Off the Record

It's hard to pinpoint just what kind of a band My Morning Jacket is. Are they an "indie" band? When they broke into the critics' hearts with 2003's It Still Moves, the Converse crowd was the first to pick up on them. Are they Skynyrd-style Southern good ol' boys? Their long hair and Louisville, Kentucky roots probably bring some bourbon and pickup trucks to the parking lot. Or are they a jamband? There were pervasive Phish t-shirts and the pungent odor of pot and patchouli at the show here.

My Morning Jacket, however, seems to cut across these prosaic designations and – with their increasingly tight performances and new live double album Okonokos – are cementing for themselves a reputation as a fanfuckingtastic live band.

Jim James (born James Olliges – so, no, his name [goddamn it!] isn't James James) is in firm control at the helm of the quintet and his uniquely resonant, cutting, and haunting voice is the band's hallmark. James stood before a wooly mammoth stuffed animal and, at another point, a grizzly bear (harkening back to the cover of Moves). He chose his personifications well: his wild, bushy hair headbanged to and fro all evening while he tore into his guitar, grabbed the microphone like prey, fanged out his lyrics, and stomped around in his skeleton Moon Boots.

When heard live, the lyrics teeter between tongue-in-cheek and outright boastful on songs like "Wordless Chorus," where James sings, "We are the innovators. They are the imitators." This doesn't exactly get it right; My Morning Jacket is a fusion band. They're not a paradigm shift, but rather a mishmash of genres. Patrick Hallahan's drumming is especially fast and vigorous and Two-Tone Tommy's bass pops wildly – at their best (ok, their very best) they remind of early Moon and Enwistle. Yet, it's impossible to put your finger on one particular element or style (except for James' signature voice). They may be the first Southern country indie rock jamband.

Their studio albums (particularly At Dawn, Moves, and their most recent, Z) are strong, but it seems they would best be served heeding the words of "Off the Record," which they smashed through at Roseland: "You've got to know that we will change and keep it off the record." Keep it off the record, MMJ, and keep kicking ass and taking numbers live. It still moves.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Robert Pollard - Bowery Ballroom - New York - Nov. 13th

Who is Robert Pollard?

Robert Pollard pretends that he's not here to bullshit anybody. He wears a sky blue gas station attendant shirt that harkens back to his youth in America's heartland, but, upon closer inspection, the shirt has "U.S. Mustard Company" written on its back (from a song off From a Compound Eye, released earlier this year) and is for sale at the merch stand downstairs. Seems he's as much of "straight shooter" as Mr. Bush. Is this the schoolteacher who founded the seminal Guided by Voices twenty years ago or is this the megalomaniacal control freak who disbanded them in 2004?

Pollard rips through a case of beers (on ice in a tub in front of the drumset), half a pack of fags, and the Democratic majority of a bottle of cheap booze at the Bowery. He also tears through over forty songs and close to half of them are shit. Two minutes long, hammering and headbanging one minute, dead the next, no hook - most of Pollard's solo songs can't stand up to the neuvo-classic Guided by Voices tracks laid down on hallmarks Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes (although new numbers from Normal Happiness - released in October - sound more promising).

On what he says is his hot hit (his sloppy verbosity gets him into some sticky situations), "Towers and Landslides," Pollard's vocal dexterity exemplified in his GbV days – oh, the days - is evident. In a Joe Cocker stance, he clasps a beer in one paw and the mic in the other, bellowing from Eddie Veddar lows to Jack White highs. One wonders why he doesn't tone down his prolificacy (BMI has him as the author of 924 songs) in favor of discrimination.

The "ex-jock" doesn't touch any instruments; he leaves that to the other boys. He high-fives and fist pounds the rowdy audience, encourages surfing, and gets utterly smashed.

All hail Robert Pollard, head of his own frat party.

And what would a fraternity be without some hazing? During a few of his drunken rants, he rips everyone from The Strokes to Lou Reed a new asshole. In a particularly poignant Pollard moment, he suggests a title for The Who's new release: Who Gives a Fuck? I would ask the same question of Mr. Pollard.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Built to Spill – Warsaw – Brooklyn, New York – Oct. 3rd

Doug Martsch should be happier than he is. He should, at least, crack a smile. Here, in Brooklyn, on Tuesday, Built to Spill were more than “all business.” They were pissed.

Railing against established musical models (and sounds) since 1992, Built to Spill set up a framework for legions of independent bands like Modest Mouse, Wolf Parade, and Tapes n’ Tapes. At the Warsaw, a Polish community center-cum-hipster hotspot, they made it clear that they want to be in charge of their own destiny - so much so that Martsch doubled as the resident AV operator and, more than once, had to delay playing to change DVDs for the backdrop. And if they don’t want to fall under the influence of improper broadcasts, you can imagine what they have to say about the current U.S. administration. Martsch’s rambling political commentary culminated in an entire video diatribe about overreactions to eco-terrorism (with a live soundtrack to boot) and a cover of the Gladiators’ protest song “Rearrange.” Built to Spill doesn’t want to be told what to do.

And why should they? The formula works. You In Reverse, released in June, didn’t exactly follow on the heels of 2001’s Ancient Melodies of the Future. BTS took their time, skipping around between Seattle and their base in Boise. Against many predictions, they made one of the best albums of their career. Tracks like “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” “The Wait,” and “Conventional Wisdom” are as epic as Built to Spill will ever get (twenty minute covers of “Cortez the Killer” aside). And they’re even more epic live.

On “Wisdom,” Martsch hammered the last verses lyrics home for the sold-out crowd to hear and everybody knew who he was giving the finger to: “They don’t know they're wrong / But you know that they never can see that / That’s what makes them strong / That they know that we'll never see.” Then, the floating chord progressions dangled in a way more reminiscent of a jam band than the founding fathers of indie rock. It allowed for some time to consider just what these guys were getting at; the only real conclusion reached at the Warsaw that night was that they were crafting tight tunes.

The new tracks were the real standouts, even if they weren’t instant sing-alongs like “The Plan” just yet. Reflection on Built to Spill’s new potential didn’t last too long, though, as a more rowdy member of the audience threw a cup on stage and got the attention of Martsch: “Who threw that cup!?” Built to Spill were still pissed.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bar Fly #1

Jerry Seinfeld is right. Again. On his most recent public appearance, Seinfeld surprised everybody (besides Jon Stewart) by showing up at "The Night of Too Many Stars," a benefit for autism education that aired on Comedy Central on October 15th. During his observations, he focused on the cell phone for a bit and related the confusion, anxiety, and depleted feeling we – as slaves to the RAZR – go through as our bars disappear. Seinfeld doesn't use the word, but I know that when my digital leash turns off, "fuck" becomes as key to my vocabulary as "the."

On my most recent visit to Rosemary's Greenpoint Tavern, my screen was black and my wrist was bare, so I asked the fellow seated next to me for the time. Thirty minutes later, Jeff Maze was relating to me the painter's plight in an increasingly gentrified New York. He used to live around the corner from Rosemary's, which is on Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg, but he couldn't afford the rent and he (and many of his artist friends) call Bushwick their new home. He was back that night to visit "the only original left in the whole neighborhood."

Jeff Maze is right. A walk through Rosemary's is like a ride in Doc Brown's DeLorean – hipsters, boutiques, and Smiths t-shirts turn into blue collars, Beer Nuts, and mustaches - serious mustaches. It's not exactly time travel, but it's traveling, alright. The proprietor, herself, hardly ever shows her face and I've never spoken with her, but she has a couple of replicas – older, diminutive Polish women with Jayne Mansfield locks – that enforce the rules (one being that no games can be played, including chess, because Rosemary says so) and pour the beer (into gigantic Styrofoam cups).

One can only assume that Rosemary's main duty is decorating. And, boy, does she ever. As the seasons change, so do the holidays, and so do the gaudy, overwrought, and downright kickass lights, plastic figures, and paper hangy thingies. It feels like your grandmother's attic exploded in this place…and there's beer, too!

And some of the people might as well be in your grandmother's bridge club.

The older gent at the corner of the bar who puts the coaster that reads "Out for a smoke" on his empty beer and steps outside. (The bartender always gives him a refill, sometimes takes a few bills from his standard pile, sometimes not.)

John, the troubled Vietnam Vet, who's losing his hair from stress and losing it for Kansas when they're on the jukebox. (In retrospect, it was a bad idea to wave my hands wildly in front of his face; he told me he wouldn't think twice about stabbing me. He did give his sunglasses to my pal, though.)

And, Jeff, who was back in the only place he felt comfortable with in Williamsburg. And why not? Like a drunken, dysfunctional family Christmas (or Halloween, Fourth of July, or St. Patrick's Day), this is a place that calls you back. The first time I went to Rosemary's, it wreaked of paint that had been recently applied to the pipes. The pipes heated up and my head was light before my first sip of Budweiser. I wonder if Rosemary asked Jeff to do it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sympathy for the Devil

Continental Airlines Arena – East Rutherford, New Jersey

Ron Ziegler: Hello and welcome to you all. I see some familiar faces and a few more gray hairs. Woodward. Bernstein. Anyhow, my boss has called you all here to respond to remarks made last week by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He has a few initial comments and will take your questions after he's finished.

The Devil: I know what you're all thinking: "Why would The Devil come up to Earth for the first time in almost 2,000 years?" Well, first of all, it hasn't been that long. I come up quite a bit in different forms inanimate and not: van Gogh's razor, Bill Buckner's glove, the producers of "America's Next Top Model." I pay close attention to what's going on up here, fight with the man way upstairs about potential prospects, and spend my summers in the Gaza Strip. So, the other day I'm swinging by Celine's show in Vegas and I get a message from Stalin on my Blackberry. It says, "Better to reign in Venezuela than serve in the United States." I know this is code for something, so I give him a call. The news freak that he is, he fills me in on this little speech Chavez gave at the U.N. comparing me to The President of the United States. And, I have to say that, personally, I was offended. I'll take your questions, now. Yeah, Helen.

Helen Thomas: I'm…I'm sorry. Did you say you were offended?

The Devil: Yes, of course I am. I mean we have some things in common. We were raised Christian, we both like to haze newcomers, we both live in the shadows of our predecessors, and, hell, I like war, too. But, if you're going to kill, at least do a good job. Milton wrote, "For what can war, but endless war, still breed?" I like to think he was talking about ineffective war.

Thomas: I don't know what to say. Did you just quote Milton?

The Devil: The best biographer you could ask for.

Thomas: And now you're anti-war?

The Devil: No, no, no. I'm still as evil as they come. And even though the wars that Doctor Doofus is waging are very evil – they were unfounded, preemptive, costly, and violent – I'm just not comfortable with our association anymore. Not to mention oil greed, taxation imbalances, homosexual condemnation, Gitmo, Katrina, wiretapping, Abramoff, Plamegate, immigration…the list goes on, as I'm sure you know. I can't figure him out; he does everything evil so half-heartedly. He has messed up everything he's gotten his hands on and now he's messed up evil, itself.

Robert Novak: Helen, I'll handle this. Mr. Satan…is that what you go by?

The Devil: Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Ice B.

Novak: Excuse me, did you say "Ice B?"

The Devil: Beelzebub. It was a rap stage. I thought the "Ice" part was ironic.

Novak: Whatever the case, your stance is preposterous. You cannot stand there and tell me you are ashamed of being compared to George W. Bush. Anyhow, Chavez' point was not that you are like George W. Bush; it's that President Bush is like you. You are inverting and perverting the point.

The Devil: If I'm not mistaken, a comparison works both ways. Sure – like I said earlier – I'm like him in some ways. But, I'm not comfortable with the comparison. It has tarnished my name. By the way, Bob, we've got a warm seat waiting for you, a real warm one.

Novak: What's that?

The Devil: Next question.

Katie Couric: I'm Katie Couric.

The Devil: I know. Congrats on your new gig.

Couric: I was wondering if you'd like to do a "freeSpeech" segment on my show? Maybe it could be about a larger issue like "why we're all here."

The Devil: Well I picked this arena because I knew I'd draw a large crowd, I love New Jersey, and, well, The Devils play here.

Couric: No, I meant why we exist, what it all means.

The Devil: That's not really my territory, but I can assure you it's not to be compared to you know who.

Couric: Are you refusing to utter President Bush's name?

The Devil: I don't want to be cursed.

Couric: Final Question: Any suggestions for my sign off?

The Devil: How about, "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to my conscience, above all liberties."

Couric: That's beautiful.

The Devil: Who's next?

David Gregory: Sir, David…

The Devil: David, huh? Want to take a census?

Gregory: Excuse me?

The Devil: Historical – or I guess you would say "Biblical" - joke.

Gregory: Oh. David Gregory, NBC. So how are you going to separate yourself from Bush?

The Devil: First of all, I want an apology from Chavez. He can't just drag my name through the mud like that. He knows he's wrong, using words like "hegemonistic" in his speech. He knows Mr. Muddle can't understand that – verbally, at least. I think he's figured it out conceptually. I have thousands of years of knowledge at my fingertips. I could probably even get into Harvard or Princeton without early admission. Alright, last question. Rather, is that you?

Dan Rather: It sure is. Calm down, Katie, I'm not trying to steal the spotlight, everybody's here. This place is more packed with journalists than Kobayashi's stomach on the Fourth of July! Mr. Lucifer, you can't seriously expect us to believe that President Bush is more evil than you, the root of all evil. I feel like a blind skier and my instructor just told me to speed up while I'm munchin' pine!

The Devil: Mr. Rather, I compare my situation to Republicans running in the upcoming elections. Yes, I could be said to be in the same club as Sir Smirks A Lot, but I'm certainly not going to say that I like him being in it. I am the administrator of my club and we've decided that we've had enough. We can't kick him out, but we sure as hell can make him dance around in his cheerleader outfit.

Rather: That's crazier picture than looking at a Robert Mapplethorpe upside down on acid!

The Devil: Well, I have to get going as I have to oversee the next translation of a Nicholas Sparks book into a film. Goodnight and I truly do apologize for the sulfur smell.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cone Zone #2

The Thai military has overthrown the Prime Minister's government. Witnesses say they were surprise attacked and couldn't do anything to thwart the barrage of ping-pong balls fired from extremely long distances.

Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, called President Bush "the devil" in a speech today adding: "The American empire is doing all it can to consolidate its hegemonistic system of domination." When asked what he thought, Bush remarked, "Call me "the devil' all you want, but using words like 'hegemonistic'? That's just not fair."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Best Celebrity Sighting...Ever

Things Crispin Glover did when I saw him today on the subway:

1) Checked Blackberry
2) Wore leather Euro boots
3) Crossed legs
4) Stood at wrong doors of subway until train was at full stop

Things he didn't do:

1) Ask me on a date with notes from a pad
2) Command all the subway rats to attack me
3) Challenge me to an arm wrestle
4) Sing a ditty by Charlie Manson

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cone Zone Laugh Zone #1

People are up in arms about the trailer for the new Jackass movie which has a clip of what appears to be a beard made of pubic hair. When asked what he thought of the controversy, Michael Jackson said, "What is pubic hair?"

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes finally brought their baby, Suri, into the spotlight for an Annie Leibovitz photo spread in Vanity Fair. Conspicuously absent was the family's beloved test tube.

White House spokesman Tony Snow admitted that there were "three or four sentences" that could be construed as controversial in the President's 17-minute speech last night. It should be noted that Bush's speech writers like to use a lot of commas.
At the box office, Invincible starring Mark Wahlberg continued to draw a strong audience. The film, however, is not getting great reviews in neighborhoods like The Castro in San Francisco and Greenwich Village here in New York. Audience members seemed to be disappointed that the film didn't end with a shot of a giant penis. (Camera to La Bamba.)
In the new issue of Rolling Stone, the editors give Paris Hilton's new album three stars. Apparently she can't get a five-star rating for everything she does with her mouth.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Thought for the day #2

A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean...Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate of shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconciousness. - Miller, Repo Man

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Slate asked for a critique of a recent article...

After I read Mr. Rosen’s article and Joe Levy’s five star review in Rolling Stone, I ran to the Best Buy next door to where I work to purchase Modern Times. I did so not, mind you, because both lauded Mr. Dylan with praise, but rather because I was desperate to prove them both wrong.

I was an intern at RS and despise its neglectful eye that shies away from a 20-something audience and instead towards its 50-something post-Woodstock-cum-Wall Street base. Slate seemed to be following in RS’ footsteps, even going as far as quoting Mr. Lethem’s interview.

I was, admittedly, disappointed to find that Modern Times is actually quite good and is better than Love and Theft, as well as Time Out of Mind. I also have to give it to Mr. Rosen for highlighting what Dylan does best: he writes (to borrow his term) spectacular lyrics.

What I won’t agree with is Mr. Rosen’s preponderancy for praise bordering on hero worship. Mr. Dylan should be ashamed that he told Mr. Lethem he hasn’t heard a quality recording in 20 years. He must not be listening. And neither is Mr. Rosen. Comparing Mr. Dylan’s voice to the crooners of the 30s is heresy. He is an old man with an old voice that is anything but spectacular. Johnny Cash is most certainly rolling over in and bellowing throughout his grave with his latter-day voice that was worthy of merit.

Modern Times is a very good album, but it’s one that doesn’t even breach Dylan’s top ten and most certainly does not touch dozens of albums made in the last 20 years.