Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Love What You've Done With the Place

I wanted to quote the hilarious scene in that one Chris Farley movie--Which one you ask? You know, the one where he's fat, stupid and slovenly but goodhearted, and fails at generally everything while shouting too much. Wait, that's not specific enough, you say?--where David Spade comes back to their shared motel room and knocks on the door, saying, "Housekeeping, you want me come in, jerk you off?" But this is a respectable, family-oriented blog, and I just won't have that kind of tripe trashing up the joint.

Anyway, the point is that I'm slowly figuring out how to make this thing more user-friendly, and I've added a few items on the side that should make it easier to navigate and just generally more professional-looking. The first is a list of topics that you can click on, rather than just scroll down or go to the archive. Obviously that'll become more useful as I post more content, but it's there if you want it. The second one is a list of sites and blogs that I check most days that are relevant to the things I write about on here, or just recommended reading. And third is a list of friends' websites/blogs, so check those out. Anyone who has a website or blog they'd like me to include on there, let me know.

Thanks to everyone who's been reading and/or commenting, I really appreciate it. Stick around, hopefully it'll get better.

Glasvegas at the Henry Fonda, 7/28/09

Because I care about you, faithful reader, sometimes I go to shows just because live music is great, or on the recommendation of a friend, even if I don't know the band that's playing. That's what happened Tuesday night when I saw these Glaswegian (or would it be Glasvegan?) chaps at Hollywood's favorite stop for up-and-coming acts. Admittedly, I bought the record last week so I'd at least know what to expect, but I only listened to it a couple times. In the end, I'm really glad I did, on both counts. 

My buddy Morgan and I went a little early because we haven't yet become too cool for openers, despite his telling me that the single he heard from the opening band, Ida Maria, was not that great. "We've already paid, right?" I reasoned, "Let's get our money's worth." As it turned out, the silly pop punk of "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," the song he had heard, was not entirely representative of their style, which I would say is much more straight ahead power pop. The band is very good, especially the rhythm section, and Ms. Maria is an at times goofy, at times sincere, always engaging stage presence, with a Kathleen Turner-esque speaking voice but the singing of Joplin meets Bjork. That sounds like high praise, and it is; I was really impressed by her vocals, and even though the songs weren't a whole lot more than fun, she made up for it. I'm afraid to check it out on record, but as a live act, and especially an opener, I was totally satisfied. Good job, Ida, you impressed a couple of inveterate music snobs.

After Ida Maria finished up (with the extremely fun "Oh My God") came the interminable wait between bands, usually the worst part of any show, in particular if you aren't drinking. And it went on...and on...and on...until finally, the curtains raised again to flashing blue lights and four people who looked like greasers out late on a school night came onto the stage. These young pups were the ones making us wait? And the drummer only had a three-piece kit? And was it really necessary in the hot, dark building for lead singer James Allan to be wearing sunglasses and a scarf? My pretentious radar starting going off, but then they started playing, and it didn't matter anymore.

Now, Glasvegas isn't doing anything groundbreaking, let's get that out in the open right now. They clearly love Jesus and Mary Chain and shoegaze, and I can even hear some Ramones similarities, at least in the melodies. But they do what they do pretty damn well, and a few of the songs from their self-titled debut are really good, the kind of songs that you wanna put on repeat. I won't even attempt a set list, but they played the single "Geraldine" and another album standout, "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry." Lyrically they're somewhat suspect, with lines like "Liar, liar, liar, liar, pants on fire" and "Go Square Go's" dumb but undeniably chantable "Here we, here we, here we fucking go!" That song was another highlight, as was the song I think is their best, "Flowers and Football Tops," which Allan's deep Scottish brogue imbues with plaintive emotion. The man can sing, and when he gets to the chorus plea of "Baby, why you?" the song really soars. Overall I'd give the show an 8, and the album a 6.5. Hey, everything's better live, you know?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Little King of Everything

I'd like to think that most sane people can agree that the best comic strip ever was either Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side. Really, it's pretty clear it has to be one of those two, and I suppose it just depends on what your preference is: one-panel absurdist humor (The Far Side) or multi-panel, story-based humor (Calvin and Hobbes). Both were genius, so while I side with Calvin and Hobbes I can understand why someone would pick the other. Well, in my not-so-humble opinion, there is one worthy heir to both of them still in circulation: Get Fuzzy. Drawn and written by Darby Conley, it tells the story of Rob Wilco and his two pets, Bucky Katt and Satchel Pooch, both of whom can speak. And oh, what funny things they have to say. In fact, in the universe of the strip, all animals can talk and frequently interact with the humans, usually to very funny results.

While there are many recurring characters--such as Shakespug, a pug who tries to speak only in Shakespeare allusions; Foodar, a cat who can sense even the smallest crumb of food anywhere, unless of course it's a fruit or vegetable; Mac Mac McManx, Bucky's British cousin who speaks in a nearly impenetrable mix of British slang; Fungo Squiggly, the neighboring ferret who is also Bucky's sworn enemy; and Chubby Huggs, the very large and very friendly cat who lives in the same apartment building as Bucky and Satchel, and just wants to love and hug everyone he comes into contact with--the three main characters are Bucky, Satchel and Rob.

Bucky Katt
Bucky is always scheming ways to make money off of Rob, humiliating Satchel, fantasizing about eating monkeys and just generally acting like a little tyrant. He is under the illusion that everything that Rob and Satchel do is done to serve him, and frequently threatens to maim, kill or otherwise harm them when they challenge his ridiculous assertions. Like a real cat, he hardly pays any attention to things that he deems beneath him, and usually doesn't even look directly at anyone he's speaking with unless he's threatening them. He has an unfortunate addiction to rubber bands which has led to more than one-stomach pumping. Conley was fascinated by the idea of a cat so mean that his ears were always laid back against his head in an aggressive manner, and they only ever go up when he gets frightened (which happens much more than he tries to let on).

Satchel Pooch
Satchel is a half-Shar Pei, half-Labrador Retriever mix, a sweet but somewhat dim dog who thinks of Bucky as his best friend even though Bucky is almost never anything but mean to him. Satchel often delivers punchlines in the final panel, either in the form of a surprisingly shrewd observation or a question that reveals just how lost he is. His dog buddies (referred to as his "playgroup") think he's soft for chumming around with a cat, but Satchel is so kind-hearted and oblivious that it all bounces right off him. He's also friends with Fungo, much to Bucky's chagrin, and seems to be the only person/animal the ferret will actually speak to. He often gets involved in Bucky's schemes, unwittingly setting himself up for disaster, sometimes appearing as if he thinks he has no choice but to go along with them. In the end, though, he maintains his good nature and positive outlook no matter what Bucky or anyone else throws at him.
Rob Wilco
Rob is the human foil to all the animal shenanigans that go on, though many times he finds himself right in the middle of it. Bucky may actually be meaner to Rob than he is to Satchel, but Rob hurls insults right back. He doesn't do himself any favors, though, being a huge fan of Harry Potter, Dungeons & Dragons, video games in general, and rugby. He's also a die hard Red Sox fan, which seems to be the inspiration for Bucky's support of the New York Yankees, and Rob's perceived leftist leanings also clash with his cat's conservative and sometimes dictatorial attitudes to politics. He is fond of saying, "Why do I let myself get sucked into these stupid conversations?" and when the nonsense gets to be too much he tends to get squinty and twitchy. Still, his love for his "guyzos" is clear, and he's obviously a stand-in for the author.
I love these characters too much to be able to tell if anything I just wrote sounds appealing, but if you've ever owned and loved a cat or dog you will enjoy this, I'm almost certain of it. It had to have been voted Best Comic Strip in 2002 for something, right? And it's only gotten better since then. There are several collections you can find at most bookstores, it's in the LA Times and OC Register, or you can read it online.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wilco at the Fox Theater, 6/20/09

Let's take a trip back in time, to those halcyon days of five weeks ago, when the air was crisp and our joy palpable, and a lucky few of us were witness to arguably the best American band of the decade strutting its stuff. Imagine, if you will, a renovated, palatial theater out in the hills of Pomona, still in its infancy as a legitimate "it" spot for bands to play in Southern California, opening its doors to scores of hipsters, rockers, middle-age music lovers and more. Then stay with that image, and cut and paste into it that same band, delivering a two and a half hour celebration of their entire catalogue, and you'll have an idea of what kind of performance Wilco put on at the Fox Theater back in June.

Obviously this is a wee bit late, but the show has stood out clearly in my mind ever since, as it was the best I've ever seen them and probably in the running for my top 10 concerts ever. Wilco is one of those bands that I really love and listen to all the time, but somehow I still manage to forget just how good they are--how much I love them. They have a way of reminding me though, and the Fox show was no different. I think I have to start by talking about the venue, as I found it incredibly charming and a welcome addition to the stable of local venues. When you walk in to the main concert hall there are about four levels, similar to the Wiltern, but the floor is bigger. There are two, count 'em, two outside/roof bars, and plenty of places to just hang out between bands or during a less interesting opener, and there are a lot of balcony seats for those who want a grander view.

On the negative side, being a relatively new place, the fire marshal bungled things quite a bit at this show. While I won’t hold their safety laws against them, it was handled about as bad as you could handle it. The place has aisles along both walls in the main room, and they tried to keep it so the aisle on the left was for going down to the floor, and the other was for exiting. Then there's a middle aisle that runs perpendicular to those just before the last level above the floor. I was stuck in a log jam near the end of that row trying to get down to my friends, like a tiny version of the sea of humanity at the end of every day at Coachella, and the security people weren’t really telling us anything in front. Then from behind me came another security guy who was half-heartedly attempting to get people to clear out. Then, when Wilco came on, and they started letting some of us in the front of the pack down onto the floor, that same guy basically shoved me and tried to cut me off, when I’d been there for at least ten minutes with no indication that I wouldn’t be able to get to my friends on the floor. Bad job by the Fox and the fire marshal. Luckily, I got down halfway through "Wilco (the song)" and was able to join my buddies in the excellent spot they had picked out, just right of center and only ten feet or so from the stage. And that's when the magic really started.

Wilco has seven albums worth of material to work with at this point, in addition to the work they did with Billy Bragg, and they did a nice job of taking songs from every point of their career on this night. Three of the first five songs they played were new, but after that it was a free-for-all. For me, it was the first time hearing most of the new tracks, and I was suitably impressed, but the real treat was hearing many older gems, including some I'd never seen them play before. "A Shot in the Arm" is a live standard, but one that never gets old, and "Can't Stand It" has long been one of my favorite Wilco songs that they never played for me. When they got to the epic guitar solo at the end of "Impossible Germany," lead singer Jeff Tweedy's guitar went out suddenly, so lead guitarist Nels Cline (that's him on the left) seized the reins and noodled on like the virtuoso he is for a while, one of those great little moments that the best concerts offer without even trying.

By the time they got to the end of the set they'd been playing for nearly an hour and a half, Tweedy dancing around, swinging the microphone and trying to catch it, a task he even managed to accomplish a time or two. Then, after retreating off the stage, leaving us a few moments to collect ourselves, they came back out with a couple of mellower tracks before diving into the epic "Misunderstood" (which included Tweedy repeating the line 'Nothing!' forty times at the end) and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," which raged on for a good fifteen minutes. At this point some fans began to leave, including myself, thinking they couldn't possibly be coming back. Oh, but they did, first singing "Happy Birthday" to guitarist/pianist Pat Sansone, then ripping into my favorite straightforward rocker of theirs, "Monday," and closing with "Hoodoo Voodoo," which featured dueling guitar solos between Cline and Sansone, each one hamming it up more than the other.

This time, they were really done; I suppose two and a half hours was enough for me if it was enough for them. We walked back out onto the street, the marquee flashing its old news across our faces, clutching our bits of memorabilia tight (see awesome poster I got below) as we compared notes on what we had just seen. We would remember to remember it, that's for sure.

Main set: Wilco (the song) / I Am Trying to Break Your Heart / Bull Black Nova / You Are My Face / One Wing / A Shot in the Arm / Radio Cure / Impossible Germany / Deeper Down / Pick Up the Change / Can’t Stand It / Jesus, Etc. / Hate It Here / You Never Know / Theologians / Walken / I’m the Man Who Loves You / Hummingbird

First encore: Passenger Side / California Stars / Misunderstood / Spiders (Kidsmoke)

Second encore: Crowd sings Happy Birthday to You to Pat / Kingpin / Monday / Hoodoo Voodoo

(Photos swiped from the LA Times and OC Register, and they're from the actual show)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"What's in the box?!?! C'mon, tell me, what's in the box???"

I don't go to the movies very often. Hardly at all, in fact. I find myself unwilling to pay $12 to watch characters for two hours, give or take, and then never see them again, and most films don't even have good writing in the first place. The spectacle of movie-going has lost its charm for me. Don't get me wrong, I'll watch them once they're out on DVD, and I have a long list of movies I absolutely love, but the urgency is just not there anymore. I blame serialized television, and if you've been reading this blog at all you've seen me mention of a few different dramas that I feel are superior to just about any movie I've ever seen. However, I am not completely indifferent to movies, and I saw a trailer the other day that piqued my interest. It was for a film called The Box, starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden and the great Frank Langella, and it was written and directed by Richard Kelly, the nut behind Donnie Darko and Southland Tales. The story was adapted from the short story "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson, the excellent horror/sci-fi author of the books I am Legend, Stir of Echoes and The Incredible Shrinking Man, all of which have been made into movies of varying degrees of quality. I highly recommend reading him.

Anyway, the story is about a married couple, down on their luck financially after the husband loses his job, who are visited by a mysterious stranger who gives them a box with a button in it. If they push the button, two things will happen: someone, who they do not know, somewhere in the world, will die, and they will immediately get a million dollars. Of course, these things are never as simple as that, and bad things start to happen. It's a classic morality tale, like most horror stories, and I'm very interested to see how Kelly pulls it off. I'm no huge fan of Donnie Darko, but it has a great visual style and lots of good ideas (let's all just pretend that Southland Tales never happened, ok?), so I could see this being his best work.

I can't embed the trailer, but here's the link.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What a Perfect Afternoon

I love baseball. I really, really do. I know a lot of people think I'm crazy when I say this, but it's my favorite sport, and I can say that pretty confidently. Football and basketball are great, and ostensibly more exciting, but there's something about the intricacies of baseball, the history and lore and everyman quality to it that do it for me. Maybe it's the little battles that happen between pitcher and batter; maybe it's the slow pace that can sometimes lead to a big payoff; maybe it's the chance for a different guy to be the hero every night; likely it's all those things and more (no joke, as I type this the Angels just won a game in which they scored twice in the ninth inning and once in the tenth to win it. Excuse me while I shout my fool head off). And it's definitely because you know that on any given day you could see something you'll never forget. That's what happened for fans at this afternoon's Rays-White Sox game in Chicago, as they witnessed perfection.

Ok, let's do some bad math here: let's just say that since 1900 there have been an average of 15 teams playing, and let's say they've been playing 154 games per season for the last 109 years. So that's...251,790 games that have been pitched in that time, and only sixteen of those have been perfect games--no hits, no walks, and no errors. The computer on my calculator won't even give me a recognizable number when I try to figure out the percentage; the readout said, "Just stop it." Hopefully my completely unscientific calculations help you see just how rare and special a perfect game is, because Mark Buehrle pulled it off today, and it's got me all kinds of excited. To be fair, I hate Buehrle a little bit for his involvement with the infamous game in the 2005 playoffs that the Angels went on to lose to the White Sox because of a strikeout pitch that wasn't caught cleanly--all Angels fans reading this just scrunched their faces up in anguish and screamed "Mendoza!!!" while shaking their fists at the sky--but he seems like a very regular, humble guy who just happens to be a very good pitcher, so I'm happy for him. This wasn't even his first no-hitter; that came in 2007, so he joins a relatively short list of pitchers with more than one.

The coolest thing about all this, for me anyway? I got to see the last inning on TV, as the centerfielder stole a homerun from the leadoff batter in what has to be one of the most spectacular catches ever, given the circumstances. Then Buehrle had the nerve to throw a 3-2 changeup right down the middle for a strikeout, and then the last batter grounded out to shortstop, as everyone rushed the mound and bounced around the infield, a crazy, hopping mass of ecstatic humanity. Now that's why I love baseball.


I'm about to cross over into super-dork territory here (and the audience shouts, "Too late!" in unison), but so be it. I was sitting here last night, clicking between the Angels game and an NCIS rerun on USA, and I couldn't help but think about how much I really like that show. These days it's basically a coin flip as to whether you'll catch it on USA at any given moment, but I remember when it first came on CBS almost seven years I scoffed at the commercials, thinking it looked like just another disposable police procedural. Not long after that I got sucked into the HBO drama factory and plowed through some of the best television ever produced in Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos and more, presumably making me even more snobby to case-of-the-week style drama. Then USA went and acquired NCIS and started airing it in three hour blocks right when I got home from work, and it slowly worked its way into my heart. There are some pretty clear reasons why this happened:

1. Mark Harmon
As Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Harmon is the badass that every guy wishes he could be. A former sniper when in the Marines, he's also tougher than the grey hair and usually calm demeanor would lead you to believe. As anyone who's seen The Presidio knows, Harmon even managed to pull off badass next to one of the original badasses, Sean Connery, and that's no small feat. My brother thinks that they waste Harmon's natural charm in a role that isn't exactly gregarious and can seem a bit cold, but I would say they play off of it to show you why his team respects him so much, even while he seems like such a tough leader. Also, it never gets old watching him kick ass when up against it, though usually in a realistic way that includes him getting worked over as well. Yes, I realize I've used "ass" in various permutations four times in this paragraph, but what can I say? This show brings out the G.I. Joe-loving little kid in me.

2. The rest of the cast
There's lots of fighting, gun play and gore, but the real appeal of the show lies in the interactions between the characters, and the people around Harmon all have an easy, sometimes quirky charm that makes you care about what happens to them, adding suspense to scenes that would feel like an obvious win for the good guys on any other show. There have been a couple of deaths by major characters over the course of six seasons, and these guys make you feel every one as if it were a beloved character in a series of books. Which, in a way, they are.

3. The writing
The individual cases are usually interesting, if a little far-fetched at times. What makes the writing really stand out is the effort to build the relationships between the characters, so you understand why they do what they do, and why they care about each other. It seems like such a small detail, but it's really what makes this show stand out, especially when one of the cases directly involves someone on the team. Not many case-of-the-week shows can claim they have back stories and mythology, and it makes it worth coming back to. There's also a lot of goofy humor, and it works all the more because you've seen these people in dire situations with each other.

I doubt I can really convince anyone to watch, but I'm telling you, it's really good. Everyone who knows how much I like to watch egregiously awful horror and sci-fi films may find my opinion dubious, but just go turn on USA for a bit and see what you think. At the very least, Ziva is hot, right?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Birthday Boy and His Band

I don't want this place to be any more personal than is entirely necessary, but I feel like some birthday wishes are in order for Mr. Shayne Fee, the man who went from the clean-cut (though shirtless) young man in the top picture to the hippie in the one below in the blink of an eye. He's one of my best friends though, so happy birthday, Shayne!

Also, for any music fans around here, Shayne's band Free Lions is playing the Yost Theatre in Santa Ana next Friday, July 31, in support of another band's record release. It is my opinion as a listener of music that you should fork over the $8 and attend.

Here's the flyer:

Toadies at the El Rey, 7/17/09

As a music fan, I came of age in the Nineties, so I was developing my tastes right in the middle of grunge, alternative, and the punk revival. The only station in my area that offered all those genres was KROQ in Los Angeles. Now, I'm sure many of you are booing, but think back on it--in the Nineties, KROQ was a tastemaker, and actually helped bring us so many of our favorites of our teenage years: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Weezer, Radiohead, The Offspring, Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Oasis...I could go on, but you get the point. My friend Spencer and I would spend the night at each other's houses, listening to the radio and talking about what we liked, what was totally lame, and what we hadn't heard yet. I can still remember lying in bed, changing the lyrics to Foo Fighters' "I'll Stick Around" to something typically juvenile like 'I'll stick around/your butt is brown/better wipe it/better wipe it,' both of us cracking up at our bit of wordplay. Oscar Wilde, eat your heart out.

The point, if there is one, is that I love Nineties music because it was first for me, and you never get over your first love. With that in mind, I was extremely happy to see Toadies for the first time in thirteen years last Friday night. Now, I realize that most of you don't know who Toadies are, or if you do it's likely only due to your memory of "that one song," (a friend's reaction when I told him who I'd seen on Friday: "Wow, I don't think I ever would have thought about that band again if you didn't bring them up just now"), but I'm a card-carrying fan and have been ever since Rubberneck came out in 1994. It struck it rich on the strength of hit single "Possum Kingdom," the song that promised to treat you well, my sweet angel, especially if you wanted to see its dark secret behind the boathouse. That may sound like the plot to a late night cable film, but apparently that sort of thing was big in the mid-Nineties because that song was everywhere. Luckily for all of us who went out and snatched it up, the rest of the record was strong as well, and holds up surprisingly well fifteen years later. Driving drum beats, catchy (if dark) choruses, and lots of lead guitar added up to one of the great underrated albums of the decade. Sadly, the next one was rejected by their record label, they didn't put anything out for another seven years, and then they broke up, leaving us fans crying into our Toadies shirts.

But now they're back, and I got a chance to re-live my adolescent joy, and the band came through for me. They charged right out, ripping into "Mister Love," a song from Rubberneck, and the entirely partisan crowd went nuts; clearly everyone was hoping to take the same trip back I was. The next was a new track, from the No Deliverance album they released last year, and it was fine, but they knew to stick to what made us all fans in the first place and pulled heavily from their breakthrough and its very enjoyable follow-up, Hell Below/Stars Above. When they came to "I Come From the Water," a Rubberneck standout, they let the crowd sing the choruses, and we didn't let them down. There may not have been a ton of people at the show, but every person there was singing along joyously and as loud as they could. Then, in a sign of confidence in the audience, they played "Possum Kingdom" right in the middle of the set, knowing we'd come for more than just the hit.

By the time they got to the opening of "Tyler," they'd played the majority of Rubberneck and made us all very happy. As we all sang along to the rather creepy final part of "Tyler"--"I found a window in the kitchen/and I let myself in.../I can't believe I'm really here/and she's lyin' in that bed/I can almost feel her touch/and her anxious breath/I stop her in the hallway/outside her bedroom door/I hear her call out to me/I hear the fear in her voice/she pulls the covers tighter/I press against the door/I will be with her tonight"--I wondered what could have been with this band. They were never going to be a Radiohead or Pearl Jam or even one of the newer bands like TV on the Radio, but they were a very good rock band, derailed in their prime by label executives' opinions. Then I decided that if Todd Lewis had continued to write mainstream songs like these he probably would have been investigated by the FBI, so maybe it was for the best, and I should just be thankful that for one night I got to be 14 again.

Set List (with some new songs missing): Mister Love / So Long Lovey Eyes / Little Sin / I Come From the Water / No Deliverance / Sweetness / ? / Song I Hate / Possum Kingdom / Mexican Hairless / Push the Hand / ? / Quitter / Awake

Encore: Backslider / Hell in High Water / Heel / Tyler / I Burn

Monday, July 20, 2009

Love and Respect to the End

In an earlier post I talked excitedly about going to the Outside Lands Festival at the end of summer, but I failed to mention that the Beastie Boys would be headlining the third night because, honestly, I was only mildly excited about it. The Beasties have a bunch of singles I've really enjoyed over the years, especially "Sure Shot" and "So What'cha Want," and I even owned Ill Communication back when it came out, but they've never grabbed me the way they have so many others. Blame my bias against rap, if you like. However, I have always respected them as musicians, performers, and especially philanthropists, so this news today is particularly sad: Adam 'MCA' Yauch has announced that a cancerous tumor was found in his neck, and that all upcoming tour dates would be postponed and the release of their next album pushed back until further notice while he seeks treatment. The good news is that it's been discovered early, hasn't spread, is very treatable, and despite being in a salivary gland in his neck will not affect his vocal cords, so hopefully he'll be back out on the road with the band soon. Good luck, MCA, and here's to a speedy recovery; I'll definitely come out to see your comeback.

MCA's video announcement of his diagnosis:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

One More Time for the Last Time

I wrote below about the Nine Inch Nails farewell tour, assuming that in all likelihood I had seen one of my favorites for the final time. Well, I guess it's hard to keep a big, angry man down, as Trent Reznor has announced a final burst of shows in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. That link will take you to his explanation, but he basically says the NIN/JA tour wasn't satisfying enough as a finale because of restrictive set times and performances in daylight, which I have to agree with from my own experience in May. As if the return of NIN weren't big enough news, the quartet of LA venues he's chosen to play are of a size that he has long since outgrown: The Hollywood Palladium on 9/2; The Wiltern on 9/3; The Henry Fonda on 9/5; and The Echoplex on 9/6. All four went on sale yesterday at 5PM, and the Fonda and Echoplex shows are sold out, but the Wiltern and Palladium shows have only sold out the pre-sale tickets and will have their proper on-sales on 7/31. After some log-in problems and failing to get tickets to the Fonda or Wiltern, yours truly was able to purchase two tickets to the Palladium. Nine Inch Nails at the Hollywood Palladium! I'm giddy with excitement, though my ears are a little worried. The website has "1989-2009" at the bottom of the tour dates page, and his post makes it sound like he's really serious about hanging it up this time, so anyone who even likes this band a little bit should try to get tickets on the 31st and see an iconic performer while you still can.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nine for the Money

The World Series of Poker Main Event has been going on since July 2, and after starting with 6,494 players--a number so high that they needed four Day 1's and two Day 2's just to whittle down the field sufficiently--last night that number was cut to nine, or the November Nine, as they're called. In previous years there had been complaints that by the time the tournament actually aired on ESPN the results were already widely available, so in an effort to increase the drama and poker's mainstream exposure the WSOP decided to have a four month layoff before playing the final table. Hence, the November Nine. Last year was the first year with the new setup, and it definitely attracted a lot of positive attention, even while some pointed out that stopping a tournament that's been going for eight days and then re-starting it months later takes away all the momentum for the players. Last year's chip leader going into the final table finished 3rd, and you have to wonder if he thinks he would have kept blowing by people if not for the layoff. On the other hand, each one of the players must have made all kinds of extra money in endorsement deals from all the popular poker sites. That's right, I said "endorsement deals" and "poker" in the same sentence; apparently I'm wasting my life sitting at this keyboard. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TV: Mad Men Season 2 on DVD

Just a quick notice that Mad Men: Season 2 comes out on DVD today, and everyone should watch it. Not to sound too dictatorial or anything, but I'm serious. I say that even as I acknowledge it's a hard show to describe in a way that makes it sound particularly appealing, but here goes anyway: the story centers around a man named Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm, above) who works at a New York ad agency in the 1960s, and it details the lives of him and his co-workers, as well as his wife and kids. And that's basically it. I know, it sounds exciting, but just watch it and try not to get sucked in. The performances are excellent across the board, the look and feel of the show is spot on, and it's amusing to see everyone smoking and drinking in the office, littering with impunity, and marginalizing women to the point of absurdity. I'm not advocating that last point, just bringing it up to show how authentic the show is as a period piece. That said, the women are some of the best characters on the show because they have so much more to overcome, and they wrestle with trying to advance themselves or building their own niche within the existing societal constraints. Simply put, the show is a study of human behavior in a particular setting, and the writing makes you care about these people, even as some of them do deplorable things. There's a reason it's been called the heir apparent to The Sopranos as the best drama on television. (The Wire was actually the best drama on television, but let's not pick nits.)

Season 3 premieres on August 16, so you all have plenty of time to go back and watch the first two seasons. So what are you doing still reading my nonsense?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Hold Steady at the El Rey, 7/7/09

Before I talk about this show, I think I should provide some context for how I feel about this band. For a few years now, at least since the release of Separation Sunday in 2004, The Hold Steady have been a big, drunken, rocking blip on the indie scene's radar, and my friends who know such things have been telling me how much I would like them. Reasons have ranged from "They rock!" to "They're like the world's best bar band" to "You'll dig the lyrics" and even pointing out my general physical resemblance to the lead singer, Craig Finn, who is pictured above. (I have to give them that one; just imagine him with a beard and a little more hair and it's not that much of a stretch.) So there was all this incentive but for some reason there was no action, and I went about my business, listening to lots of bands that weren't The Hold Steady, and I didn't know any better.

Then, one random night earlier this year, while killing time at my friend's apartment he brought out last year's Stay Positive and put it on. I started to hear what it was everyone was talking about, but it didn't truly grab me until I put on the freshly-borrowed album on my way home and the first song, "Constructive Summer," filled my ears. I listened to it once and bobbed my head a bit; the second time my steering wheel felt the wrath of the drumsticks I suddenly had growing from my hands; by the third time I was shouting along with Craig: "Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer! I think he might have been our only decent teacher." And I don't even listen to the Clash! People, this was some serious rebirth I was experiencing. I quickly came to the conclusion that The Hold Steady had been created with my tastes specifically in mind: the punky song structures filled with classic rock, the generous use of piano, the group singalongs, the casual shredding, the clear joy they took in what they were doing and the lyrics that told a tale and still lent themselves to singing as loudly as possible. Now here was a damn band.

With all of that enthusiasm, love, and borderline hero worship, imagine my excitement when my good friend Dave got me and my girlfriend Nikki tickets to the show last week. I'd seen them at Coachella, and they were awesome, but I was stupid drunk and Craig's voice was a little torn up, so I was geeked up to see them again. Well, they didn't disappoint. Right from the opening declaration of "She says 'always remember never to trust me'" the crowd was singing along, fists in the air, feet up and down on the floor, hips and heads moving in all sorts of directions. The band pulled heavily from Separation Sunday and Stay Positive while giving short shrift to my favorite, Boys and Girls in America, but that's a minor complaint--the whole set rocked. For my part I spent most of it air-guitaring, -drumming and -pianoing while jumping around and screaming the stories right back at the stage. Occasionally I'd turn to Nikki, throw an arm around and sing her a part that seemed especially relevant to my partially beer-addled brain at that moment, or dance around with some of my other friends while singing about good dancers who aren't especially good girlfriends. Somewhere in my euphoria, I realized I was living a Hold Steady record right there underneath the chandeliers of the El Rey: I had my girl, my beer and my rock n' roll, and I was as happy as I'd been in a long time. Like they say in "Constructive Summer," we are our only saviors. Indeed, though it doesn't hurt to have The Hold Steady there to give a little push.

Set List: Hornets! Hornets! / Sequestered in Memphis / You Can Make Him Like You / Navy Sheets / Banging Camp / Stay Positive / Constructive Summer / Multitude of Casualties / Don't Let Me Explode / Your Little Hoodrat Friend / One for the Cutters /Cheyenne Sunrise / Magazines / Joke About Jamaica /Yeah Sapphire /Lord, I'm Discouraged / Milkcrate Mosh / Chips Ahoy! / How a Resurrection Really Feels

Encore: Stuck Between Stations / You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came With) / Southtown Girls / Slapped Actress