Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Green Man: A Life In Pictures

Writing posts is hard, so instead take these fine clips of this fine persona from a fine show.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Praise Of The Idiot Box

It's garbage day! Two mammoth posts. I've been catching up on some TV lately:

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

This surprised me, as I was predisposed to hate this show. I once saw a commercial for the episode "Charlie Gets Cancer" and found the ad supremely unfunny. (Perhaps it was during the baseball playoffs on FX, when I was presumably pissed off about the Yankees or some such nonsense.) I rarely jump into shows about assholes, and this is definitely a show about assholes. The show should be called It's Always Assholes In Philadelphia. (Or maybe just Philadelphia would suffice?)

But my God, is this a really, really good show or what? Not great, but 2x really good. As social satire, it's right up there with Curb and Seinfeld, but with a serious gonzo/stupid streak. Seinfeld meets The Three Stooges. A really simple premise that has been dipped in some seriously off-the-wall shit. It's as if they made a list of the very worst things in the world, and cross off two or three with each episode.

Oh, yes. I'm not entirely sure why these clowns are so endearing, not just to us but to each other, but they are. (Probably a result of their inner Stooge-ness.) I got the good lord goin down on meeeeeee...

Battlestar Galactica

As someone who is generally skeptical of television sci-fi, this is really fantastic. I haven't gotten far enough into it to encounter what I understand is some seriously stupid shit, what I've seen through half of Season One is really excellent.

They pull few punches, and constantly wreak havoc upon their characters, burying them in disaster and giving them a mere toothpick with which to dig themselves out. Dread lies around every corner, ready ruin the entire human race if someone makes just one simple error. The first proper episode of the series establishes this so memorably that they can skate on things further down the road without losing credit. They make you imagine what it would be like to live in fear of the human race dying in the next few minutes.

This show about androids and space flight feels so real because it works on a personal, human level to a greater extent than any other sci-fi show I've seen. The drama doesn't come from imagining some weird alien universe, it comes from allegory and transplanted human feelings. On the show, it's Cylons attacking every 33 minutes; in real life, it's "terrorists" and 9/11.

Either way, highly recommended.

Mad Men

I can't say this is as great a show as it's been built up to be. But it's awfully great. It oozes cool and style and charisma in every frame, serving, as The Sopranos did, as a proxy through which the viewer behaves irresponsibly. You cannot agree with the show's subjects, who have probably done more damage to America than the Mafia, on any count, but Jon Hamm and his off-the-charts likability makes you like and even root for this amoral person nonetheless. He's just barely decent enough to grab you and keep hold as he navigates the slimy waters of his universe.


Yes, it's flawed. It's camp, it's derivative, it has awful dialogue, its characters are stupid and frequently act in service of the plot instead of themselves, and it hand-holds you through every step of its labyrinthine plot, unwilling to let even the most fundamental truth go unspoken. But I like it all the same. Because it's fun.

But I'm beginning to lose my patience.

Ever since the first season, they've been flailing around, trying to make this show work. The second season was in many senses a do-over of the first. More new storylines, more unrevealed mysteries, just more, not unlike how The Wire handled its sophomore season... except Heroes was awful.

This season, they've tried to delve more deeply into the same characters, but in reality have done more to invalidate past truths than build upon them. It's been a litany of "remember that? Well that wasn't REALLY how it went" revelations. Why they would want to tell us that what we LIKED was fake, and what we do NOT like is the real deal, I don't know. It's a delicate dance that even when done supremely well can be loathed or rejected (ahem, Matrix Reloaded). This show's writing staff has failed to pull it off.

And while it's nice that they've heard our calls for fewer new characters, they have answered those calls in the most perfunctory manner possible: by simply teaming up odd pairs of heroes and having them do something benign. The effect is the same as, say, the effect satirized so well in the brilliant film Last Action Hero: the movies will always pair up cops in the craziest ways, like the lady cop with the cartoon cat, or (as with the stars) Arnold Schwarzenegger with an eleven-year-old kid. (Gosh, I wish I had video of this.) On the good side, you have something like Lethal Weapon. On the bad side, you have some of the more ridiculous Tom & Jerry cartoons out there, those in which Tom and Jerry have to team up to defeat some third entity, like the dog... it's thrilling because Tom and Jerry are enemies who have teamed up, but after a while, so what? And doesn't it totally undermine the premise (cats and mice) to team them up? Heroes, if you couldn't guess, leans heavily towards Tom & Jerry. Oddness for its own sake sucks after long enough.

So why do I keep watching? I honestly have no idea why this show has the distinction of being the only one I try to watch live. And yet it is. But if this crap keeps up, it won't be for long.

But let's end this on a high note:

30 Rock

Is awesome. I was stunned to discover that 30 Rock isn't a gigantic hit. This show is hilarious, madcap, and entirely accessible. There's no weird Arrested Development-esque barrier to watching... devoid of inside jokes and winks, you can jump in pretty much anywhere without missing a beat. And it killed Studio 60, and justifiably so. Why is this show stuck in the low-rated-Emmy-winners ghetto? It's no longer the mix of trail-blazing and quality that kills ratings... now it's strictly quality! Totally, totally bizarre.

Live: TV On The Radio & The Dirtbombs

Why do things right away when you could just wait a month or two?

TV On The Radio / The Dirtbombs
Wilbur Theater, October 13, 2008

Telling you that TVOTR is incredible in person is old news, so let's start with some exciting new business:


Absolutely outstanding. I listened to Ultraglide in Black, their 2001 soul cover album, damn near on repeat for the week leading up to this show... their new album, We Have You Surrounded, is good, but Ultraglide is the best thing I've heard all year. With the really great stuff, you know as soon as you hear a little bit of it, and Ultraglide is no exception.

Both Sly Stone cover "Underdog" or Phil Lynott cover, "Ode To A Black Man" deserve to be heard in all their proper glory. And you deserve to listen to them. Just barely below those two is "Chains of Love," embedded for your convenience, which also owns.

Unfortunately I had to wait for someone before the show, so I didn't make it inside in time to catch them playing either song. (At the pace those guys move along at, I probably missed about 5-6 songs in those 15 minutes.) But I did catch "Ever Lovin' Man" (embedded below) and "Chains of Love," so it worked out. My ears took a lot of punishment from being so close to the front, but entirely worth the trouble.

They have earned my business for each of their Boston shows for the immediate future. And if they come to you, you really need to check them out yourself.



Having seen them before (this is now my third time) and having gotten three completely different shows from them, each time elevating the source material, I'm pretty convinced. Easily one of the two or three best live acts I've ever seen. And any visit they make is going to get high marks from me.

I'm always impressed by how they go about repurposing their older songs, perfecting them over time for live performance. Case in point is "The Wrong Way," which has been making a slow journey from the medium-pace distort-o-matic recorded version to a show highlight that I dare say has overtaken "Wolf Like Me" in the rock-out department. (This will be the second year in a row that a TVOTR song will be my live-and-in-person highlight of the year.)

The version captured above was taken in Philly the night before the Boston show, and is notably missing the full horn section that makes the rendition I heard the full-blown Vegas-style explosion that it is. Tunde Adebimpe fed off the horns, hopping around even more than usual and knocking it out of the zip code, let alone the park. The closest comparison I could come up with, to what I saw and felt and was reminded of, was the James Brown church sequence in The Blues Brothers. It built and built and built. I kinda loved it.

Link: James Brown - The Blues Brothers

The thing is, I was hoping for similarly joyous treatments of the new material. And I didn't get them. The new stuff played fine. The Benedictine Horns sounded a little off on "Golden Age" and "Crying" (though "Dancing Choose" went far better for them), and the result was less than perfect, given how awesome "Golden Age" in particular is.

The bottom line is that of the opening five-song murderer's row, the unquestionable highlights of that stretch were still oldies "The Wrong Way" and "Wolf Like Me." The new songs couldn't hold a candle to the old ones. I'm sure they will work that out; their second tour supporting Cookie Mountain was far better than the first.

Also on the less-than-glowing side, their set list surprised me a little. While I appreciate their range of abilities as a band, and I'm impressed that they thought to play two selections from Young Liars, I was put off by the long, filler-filled lull during the third quarter of the show. I didn't show up to hear "Stork and Owl," "Blues From Down Here," and similarly middling songs. Oddly, "Stork And Owl" is probably the ONLY song on Dear Science worth skipping, and they managed to include it at the expense of "Red Dress," understandably, and "DLZ" and "Lover's Day," less understandably. Leaving a full four new songs out in order to bring along "A Method?" Seriously? At least play "Tonight" or "Province," two other heinous omissions, if you're gonna preserve Cookie Mountain's lesser works. "Tonight" had never made much of an impression on me, until they opened their 4/19/07 show with it. It's surprisingly moving in person. "A Method" just sucks. What the hell.

But that doesn't change my opinion of their quality one bit. Despite the time I've spent nitpicking here, they are minor complaints on the whole. The great largely outweighs the not. The lulls and less-interesting song selections were flanked by some seriously excellent work. They are a truly tremendous live band.

As I've parroted before, the essence of this band has not been captured in the studio. One day, they will release a live album that presents their live sound definitively to the masses, as Okonokos did for My Morning Jacket, and people will flip the fuck out. (And "The Wrong Way" will be that album's best track by far.) I would like more people to have the experience I've had with these guys.

Other thoughts from the show:

* I liked the Wilbur Theater's concert setup. It's a skinny, tall theater, so floor access is that much better if you get it. And it's historic, so it's got some character, though not really that of a rock show. But best of all, unlike some theater-based rock shows, where you have to deal with immovable seating and strict ticketing restrictions, the Wilbur gets that shit out of the way! And with (I presume) fire codes involved, it's less of a sea of humanity down there at the bottom. The only minus is the lack of bar. But that can also be a plus, depending on the crowd. (Kyp actually thanked us for having so much fun despite the lack of bar.) On the whole, I give the Wilbur an A-.

* I was close enough to the stage to read Tunde's set list (in reverse) prior to the start of the show. While the blogger in me furiously noted the list in his phone, the fan in me knew what was coming ahead of time, and had a bit of the joy of surprise taken away. This is a good example of the reviewer/blogger mindset taking the soul out of the experience.

* Check this nugget from the AV Club interview with Tunde:

AVC: Cookie Mountain felt like an artistic hurricane. By contrast, Dear Science feels, not reserved, but...

TA: More regular?

AVC: Exactly.

TA: [Laughs.] The recording of Cookie Mountain is something that none of us really wanted to experience over again, let alone accidentally repeat. Doing so probably would have resulted in the band breaking up, or one of us causing another grievous bodily harm.

AVC: Why is that?

TA: It was just a really dark place. I'm glad that record exists, but it was kind of like the Ren & Stimpy episode where they get space madness, and they're orbiting the planet, ready to kill each other for a bar of soap. Coming home after touring, we had to be like, "Guys, remember how we actually liked each other? Let's do that again, and make something that comes out of that." Which is what Dear Science is.

Ren and Stimpy!!! The guy who sang "all your dreams are over now / all your wings have fallen down," draws analogies to Ren and Stimpy. This is like learning that Cormac McCarthy drawing inspiration from The Three Stooges.

Anyway, great show as always. I don't know that I really described the character of the show,

Halfway Home
The Wrong Way
Dancing Choose
Golden Age
Wolf Like Me
Young Liars
Love Dog
Stork and Owl
Blues From Down Here
Shout Me Out

[encore break]

A Method
Staring At The Sun