"At one point during the preordained throwdown between the two colossi who stride through “Fast Five,” Dwayne Johnson rips off his bulletproof vest with the practiced economy of a 17th-century courtesan flinging off her corset. His character, a professional tough guy bluntly named Hobbs, has just found his fugitive bad twin, Dom, the gnomic guru of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, played by Vin Diesel. They are the fast and, yes, the furious. Yet as these giants grasp each other’s bulging muscles, their bald heads rearing in the frame with tumescent vigor, it’s easy to imagine that they’d like some alone time."
I would have every drop of Chano Domínguez’ discography if he’d promise to do nothing but flamenco-infused jazz. I keep thinking that 2002’s Hecho a mano is one of my favorite records, and it is fine stuff, but find myself skipping round until someone either gets purposeful with the applause or puts their foot down.
This version of Monk’s tune — just Dominguez on keys and Joaquín Grilo’s extremities — is polyrhythmically giddy, it’s frothy and cornered, it’s a game of kick the can. Friday’s here, the wind’s done what it could to free up the air (I would consider voting a Trump/Bachmann ticket if they convinced me they could eliminate humidity), and this is a reminder that it’s high time to ankle this joint and find my fingers something better to tap at.
Scott Lucas, “Cynic” (Live, Acoustic at Vocalo 89.5)
I know, I’m sorry! Local H is so last week. Will talk about Ponytail or something soon, maybe. But the above performance of a very old song is from a new interview that is really quite good (despite that awful segue). Refreshing stuff about the self-awareness that comes from being forced to confront your catalog, how repeating yourself can make you realize you’ve developed a voice, the benefits of being ordered to come up with a single, the yearning to be “a fade away guy.”
A couple choice quotes:
"You want to think that you get better as you keep going, you get more sophisticated. But sometimes that sophistication takes over and does things that have no business being in rock."
"I think we’ve become something that in a lot of ways I wanted to be… This sort of cult band that has enough respect and has enough people that like us… I don’t really want for much more than that."
Starting in the middle of this one, because (1) the full version’s too long for tumblr restrictions and (2) that’s how I first heard it. I jumped in the car from wherever and clicked on the radio and a minute or two later was all Oh! What IS this?! and then eight minutes later was all Man What WAS that?! And when you hear the first part of the piece, which is sort of dominated by skronk, you’re pretty sure John Zorn is in there somewhere.
Sometimes it’s best to never get past Question Mark Exclamation Point.
This is sort of where my insides are at, today. Enjoy.
List of selected band names painstakingly hand-painted on the wall of the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, New Jersey:
Logs in the Mainstream
The Do Dads
The No Pest Strips
Butterflies of Love
Mushroom Cloud 9
Secret Agent Abe
Makers of Fine Clocks
The Bleeding Knees
Xylophone of Wrench
TYGAN featuring Michael Bruce of Alice Cooper
(Other visiting acts noted on the wall: Springsteen, Sylvain Sylvain, Walter Lure, The Dictators, Fountains of Wayne, Urge Overkill, Bon Jovi, Wesley Willis.)
There are a lot of actual Local H songs I would have rather heard on this tour, but it’s hard to argue against a bunch of covers on a Saturday night in a bar in a Jersey shore town. Mainstays in the set list through this leg: “Time,” Agent Orange’s “Blood Stains,” “Wolf Like Me.” “Smothered in Hugs” alternated nights with Concrete Blonde’s “Joey.” This night, Scott broke out of bit of Stooges (“TV Eye”) in the middle of “Bound for the Floor.”
"I’m going to be at the bar until they throw me out of here," he said from the stage. "They got a DJ who’s promised to play all my favorite Pavement songs, and hopefully I can talk him into throwing some Iron Maiden in." He then played a little bit of something I assume was an Iron Maiden song. I do not know any Iron Maiden songs. I do not intend to rectify that situation.
This night was more duty than joy for me. Bought tix for the New York and Philly shows before the Jersey one was announced and before it was apparent that they were working with a near-fixed set list this time. But there was no way I couldn’t go to the Jersey show, because bands don’t always come to Jersey, and because I’m always worried about people not showing up in Jersey. (That Stone Pony show I mentioned last week was empty, and awesome.) The first time I saw them — April 6th, 2002, thank you internet — was in Jersey, at ye olde Birch Hill Nite Club, RIP. (That show was packed, and awesome.)
I also had a personal reason to glutton this stuff, right now, forgive me for not sharing that.
Enough people showed up to this one to make it seem like a decent off-season Saturday night in a bar by the shore. A very happy white haired roundish man I took to be a bar regular sometimes wandered over between the audience and the band and seemed very excited. Everyone loves a Rock Grandpa. Someone wound up wearing their beer, usually a good sign. Bar’s got a knee-high corner stage. There are skeleton marionettes hanging from the ceiling overhead, a 10’ aluminum ladder hanging on the wall. So I guess the atmosphere was half-practical.
I had my fun, but it was the fourth night of the same fun in a row. I caught openers The Dig three of the four nights and I couldn’t say less about them. I heard the same intro playlist (including Free Energy’s “Free Energy” and Johnny Cash’s version of “Ain’t No Grave”) every night. Every night, I was sure Scott’s voice wouldn’t make it past the first song; every night, it did just fine. Including the PJ Harvey show, that was five concerts this week. Used to do five concerts a week regularly. They weren’t always nights where I had to jump around and get sweaty, but I don’t remember feeling this achey and old afterwards. Should keep it up, though. Everyone loves Rock Grandpa.
"What do you mean you’re not going to Atlanta?” said a bunch of people I met after the show, one of whom recognized me from the Mercury Lounge the other night.
Local H, “Everyone Alive”/Meek’s Cutoff (2011, US, d. Kelly Reichardt)
"Here’s another failed single we need your help with."
Can’t remember the last time I watched a show from the back of a sold-out Mercury Lounge. Arctic Monkeys, maybe? I have a spot in this venue, as I do most I’ve frequented, and it’s center-right about a third of the way back. But I got to this one late and am always self-conscious about worming my way forward, even when there are people up there I know. I’m tall. I will blot out someone’s view.
Besides, I saw this band the night before, and would be seeing them again the night after. And the night after that. It can be fun to watch the silhouettes of bouncing heads up front.
The song above is a great way to start a record, it’s a solid way to churn a crowd. At its cheapest, it’s daring the pulse of a room. At its core it’s existential — like the band’s own “Half-Life” or The Godfathers’ “Birth School Work Death” (which they’ve covered). But early on when I heard it — first time, I think, was at the Stone Pony in 2003 — it seemed flush with everything that came along with a post-9/11 self-check. Terror, excitement, relief, guilt. I spent that day fielding calls from friends and West Coast vendors while streaming the news at work. No, I’m okay, no, we’re okay, no, we haven’t heard, yes, it’s horrible, horrible. The only two people I knew who worked in the towers then made it out okay. Well, alive.
This night the band stuck to business, there was a late show scheduled and they squeezed in what they could before deadline. Two new songs: “Another February,” which is tuneful, and “Cold Manor,” which didn’t catch. I wonder if by “topical,” Lucas meant the new record is more recession-era than political. Will see.
Kelly Reichardt got under my skin accidentally, in the cheapest way possible. I went into Wendy and Lucy not knowing what it was about — I had time to kill in that neighborhood, it was showing at the right time, I’d heard good things about Michelle Williams’ performance — right after my dog died. And if you love your dog that movie is downright unfair at you. I left the theater gut-punched and puffy from crying and feeling other things you don’t want people to see about you while passing by on Houston Street.
But it was also a pretty great film, if you have the patience for movies in which things aren’t made to happen that often. Reichardt knows exactly what she wants to show you and knows exactly how and when to show it. She’s a fantastic observer. Old Joy was also really good, with its warmth, its communing with nature, its edgy, bubbling lifestyle tensions. But Wendy and Lucy captured something that felt for me very true about America, a money-hardened loneliness, a dread that the sort of optimism that has always saved us — represented by the fruits of our frontier, Williams’ character is sort of cluelessly wandering toward Alaska to find “work” — is either myth or memory. It was a very practical film and a very sad film and a film that left you hoping for hope despite piling up evidence against.
Meek’s Cutoff is some of the same as that, only in the mid-19th century. Three families are wandering the Northwest in covered wagons. They’ve lost confidence in their hired guide, Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood, playing hard at old coot), who’s too good at spinning tales to produce results. It’s shot full-frame, which is odd in this age, and it’s not a glorious panoramic celebration of nature a la Malick, though it does have its beauty. (An early, slow dissolve is breathtaking.) Reichardt chooses her details and develops her emphases so well. The slow build of grit on the faces and clay on the hands of the women is almost like premature burial. Most of the sound is diagetic, and the first several minutes of the film you hear nothing but the sound of water, water, water.
The entire movie is a series of choices made on the part of the settlers — some clearly unwise — but I think the film as a whole tests the choices of its viewers. Do you keep hoping? Or do you just watch and dread?
Left the Knitting Factory ears ringing, voice yelled hoarse, as it should be; a nice chaser to Tuesday night’s PJ Harvey show. This is a “hits” tour contrived around the recent ICON release covering Local H’s major label years — “all our hits have been misses,” Scott Lucas said from the stage last night — though they’re playing “singles” from their post-Island career, too, of which the above song is one.
What’s great about this track is how, through repetition and over-length, it twists its surface-level screed — anyone who owns a radio has been subjected to songs about the Least Coast all their lives; in concert, I’ve heard Lucas insert the Chili Peppers, Weezer, Katy Perry — into the self-reproach that’s the band’s specialty. The title of the song is, after all, “California Songs;” by its end, Lucas is wishing that he’d just shut up. Live, he’ll goad the audience into yelling that order back at him. "Please, no more ‘California Songs!’"
New York crowds own the “…and fuck New York too.” Wasn’t Quick Change such a great movie?
Last night got a little weird. The show started late (band went on after 11) so bigger patches of space started opening up. (Tonight’s earlier show is sold out.) 420 got a mention, but not until it was technically 4/21. (“We’re a meth band.”) A violent pit of little people — seriously, no one over five feet tall, some sort of Napoleon complex whirlpool — raged at the left side of the stage and Lucas took time at the mic to conjecture what they might all be arguing about. "So that guy is virulently anti-union… and that guy’s, ‘No, the people need a voice!’ … and that guy’s like, "Guys, we can find a middle ground" and you’re all ‘Fuck that!’" before deciding they were more concerned with whether or not Tom Cruise was gay. The new record the band’s working on is supposedly political; we heard one new song, called either “Paddy Considine” or a pun on that, which sounded like a combination of “Hot Blooded,” the Peter Gunn theme, King Missile, and maybe FOX News.
"You’re not feeling it, are you?" He pointed at someone, stage-side. "I will MAKE YOU FEEL IT. You are my project.” It’s sometimes best to watch Lucas rail at empty rooms and indifference. There were some off moments — maybe it was me, but “Eddie Vedder” seemed out of tune all the way through — but he just pummeled away at some of his music. Defibrillated that shit. "Everyone Alive," "High Fivin MF," and the "Wolf Like Me" cover (properly dedicated to Gerard Smith) all came out like threats. At one point, he grabbed an iPhone someone was using to snap shots and shoved it down his pants, fiddled through his jeans as if he were pressing buttons, tossed it back. He hugged people on the way to the merch table.
I will still go see this band when I’m pogoing behind a walker, I will still go see this band long after I’ve gone deaf.
The underheralded Ghanaian highlife and afrobeat innovator has been anthologized (he’s scattered throughout Soundway’s Ghana comps) and synthesized (“Heaven” was recently sampled by Usher) and resurrected (Strut put out a new album, his first international release, last year), but the two-discLife Stories is the first U.S. release devoted solely to Taylor’s ’70s work. It came out last week (along with the two Kuti sons’ albums and the new Orchestre Poly-Rythmo — busy week) and it’s necessary stuff.
In the liner notes, Taylor pitches his accomplishments as parallel to Fela Kuti’s: “People say… ‘Is it imitation?’ and I say ‘No - we are coming from the same source… so naturally there will be similarities.’” The two men studied and played together in London and were friends; both were interested in bringing modern innovations back to the popular musics of their homeland and goosing that into relevancy. Taylor’s compositions are much kinder stuff — which can make them less potent, but also makes them more accessible. Their breezy appeal makes their absence from our shore/shelves/pods more befuddling.
They’re also often shorter works than Fela’s, but of course I had to go and fall in love with this collection’s single 15-minute track (shorn here by a third to fit tumblr’s limits). “Aba Yaa” doesn’t need to spin through change-ups or churn the undertow to justify its real estate; its highlife is so pretty you just let it in and let it lay. Which isn’t to say there isn’t stuff happening. The guy behind the kit (booklet is lacking personnel and lyrics info, also a date for this particular track) is raucous in a minor way that you may not notice until he drops out and comes back in around the 4:45 mark; do yourself a favor and do nothing but listen to the way he clangs and traps the cymbals throughout.
And those harmonies! I’m pretty sure they’re not singing “Bro bro bro.” But hey, why not?
"And if the message is right, they’ll give you a hall pass if the production values weren’t as high. And if we get criticized for the dialogue, most of it has been taken right out of the book. So, in a sense, they’re criticizing the literary nature of the work." — producer Harmon Kaslow on Atlas Shrugged, Part I
So work doesn’t have to be “good” as long as it’s well-intentioned or slavishly, sympathetically devoted to an outmoded form of expression? I know, I know. And I sort of dig the idea of a pageant version of this book, one where John Galt shops at Men’s Warehouse. Also: TRAINS!
I have zero interest in paying $36 to see this project in a theater — though I hear Jar Jar Binks is amayzing in it, and I hear they’re planning to stage Part III as an interpretive dance — but will happily plunder the internet’s resources so I can enjoy a legally purchased Rifftrax commentary.
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo with Angélique Kidjo, “Gbeti Madjro.”
There are a few tracks I flat-out love on this new Orchestre Poly-Rythmo record (out now in the U.S., so you go get yourself that). Their collaboration with Malian Fatoumatat Diawara introduces a truly exciting mix of vocal rhythms and melodies and is further evidence at how naturally flexible the band can be. I’ll probably wind up posting their version of Gnonnas Pedro’s “Von Vo Nono” later, because it takes one of my bestfavorites and makes it bestfavoriteser by getting downright creepy.
But creepy don’t win a Friday slot. The above remake of their 1968 pan-African hit with Beninois ex-pat/cultural ambassador Kidjo moves. At casual listen, there are times Cotonou Club can seem perhaps a step slow. It’s easy enough to nod and make excuses: This is a very old band, despite having some replacement parts. It’s harder, for me at least, to stop and stare at the machinery. Because that sato stuff rumbling around underneath can give you motion sickness, it’s ear quicksand. When Kidjo adds her hairball scat you start to realize that every rhythm is legit, here, and it’s tough to know where to put your foot down. Getting out of this song is like taking an extra step after jogging up an escalator.
"It is only a small exaggeration to say that the six movies I’ve named constitute an epic of decline, a sprawling, Zolaesque series of narratives whose common theme — discernible only in retrospect — is the crisis of American civic liberalism, as witnessed in its 20th century capital, New York. In our own day, what survives of that worldview, which was always more of an ethos than a political ideology, is subject to distortion and caricature. It is therefore easy to look at a movie like 12 Angry Men and mock its earnest dedication to using a dramatic medium to hash out social problems. And the didactic, moralizing streak that runs through much of Mr. Lumet’s work has provided some critics with a convenient, ready-made case against him. We are supposed to be too sophisticated to require stories that place their themes in the foreground. And also, perhaps, too jaded to be stirred by a dramatic universe built around increasingly battered beliefs in progress, solidarity and fair play.”
I’ve seen Network at least a dozen times, I love its density and its sad humor and how relentlessly right it has always been. It never leaps to mind when I make lists of favorite movies, though, because for me it was always a work about television by a golden era television writer and a golden era television director and I’ve never not seen it on a television set.
(Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, though — because I’m not above taking posthumous late-career potshots — is a miserable, dumb, inert piece of work that could have only been better had it been titled Would You Ever Believe There Might Be a Heroin Addict Fatter Than Philip Seymour Hoffman?)
If you get a chance to see Seun Kuti live, do. People can dither about escaping shadows and second-hand forms until they’ve so tangled themselves in worry they’re unable to enjoy what’s in front of them. Poor Femi Kuti is five albums into his career and every review starts out with the determination that he either still has to worry, or no longer has to worry, about being his father’s son. Fine, there are obvious pressures both to innovate and to preserve at work and an easy yardstick at hand. But sometimes it’s best to nod at music as understood knowledge. It seems like wisdom that Seun took so long to take his father’s band out as his own. He sat back and let us learn his older brother’s lessons.
Seun Kuti has inherited a killer band and a sharp, purposeful music and he executes. He is ferociously charismatic both on stage and on record. His second full-length, From Africa with Fury: Rise (now out in Europe, out 6/21 in the U.S.) has Brian Eno and John Reynolds as co-producers and a few session guests and… it is an immediately engaging afrobeat record. It is part of a tradition, and it is present, and it is awfully good.