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Monday, October 29, 2012

Synth Week (Or the Week my Wife Questioned my Sexuality)

About four songs into Grimes set last night at Bowery Ballroom my wife politely leaned over to me and whispered "You have to be a little bi, right?"


You can't be a little gay, or a little bi, right?  And if you are bi isn't that just another way of saying gay? It's like saying hipster, or experimental college phase,  or suburban gay.   But it is gay nonetheless.

So let me premise by saying by each and every account I am a straight man.  Be out and proud I say and I will support you 110%.   Gay marriage is as great (and flawed) as straight marriage.  But I draw the line at skinny jeans and ain't no way men turn me on.

But what is the stance on watching (and enjoying Project Runway and Top Chef?!)  I cancel that out with a love of baseball, football and college basketball, don't I?

Flannel shirts can go either way I suppose.  But I loathe shopping for clothes.

And where do you stand on synthesizers??  I mean, for someone who grew up in the 80s isn't the appreciation of synths my birth right?

New Order.  Human League.  Thomas Dolby.  Thompson Twins.  Depeche Mode.  Real Life.  Icicle Works.  INXS.  Those are just a few that come to mind.  Who am I missing?

And today the mighty synth is back and bigger than ever.  Naked And the Famous, Foster the People, Cut/Copy, M83, Passion Pit, The Sounds, Gotye XX, Walk the Moon to name a few. There are plenty more, like 2 the 2 acts I saw last week.

Tuesday 10.23 American/Swedish act Miike Snow made their Wellmont Theatre debut.  Andrew Wyatt, leader and central figure for the band, is a strong ringleader.  And this is something of a circus.

Front stage is positioned as some sort of spaceship contril room.  Synths face each other stage left and right and light up like a Star Trek set piece.  Think Wrath of Khan, not the tv series.

The only thing distinguishing them from a dj set is live percussion, which they employ quite effectively.  The drum kit gives the illusion of a rock show, even if it is secondary to the proceedings.  This is a synth act.  Swede's Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg were/are a formidable songwriting and producing act without Wyatt.  They won a Grammy for the Britney Spears song "Toxic."

With Wyatt they spin/play/program the beats and allow him enough freedom to act them out.  His voice and their harmonies breathe a toe tapping energy to the live show.

This is as close to a Jersey club as I am ever gonna get.  Even though the place was very quiet (Tuesday night show in NJ soon after they played NYC was ambitious- couldn't have been 1000 people there) those in attendance enjoyed the production.

Wyatt is confident and charismatic.  The Swedes are animated and engaging.  And the hooks, oh the hooks.  ""Paddling Out"" and "Silvia" have earned their rightful place in the synth canon.

Make no mistake, this is as much theatre as it is music.  Lots of the music has been sampled, manipulated on computer and played like your favorite mix tape.

M83 played Wellmont a few weeks prior and absolutely killed it.  Maybe they set the bar too high because Miike Snow left me slightly disappointed.  The small crowd was a little soft too.  Tuesday nights are a challenging night to bring the high energy.  These boys have been touring for like 30 years consecutively too.  That cannot help.  Good stuff for sure, but not life changing.

Which can be also be said of Canadian toddler Claire Boucher, nee Grimes.  We caught her at Bowery Ballroom 10.27.12  performing one of 4 (!!!) sold out NYC shows.   Truth told she is 24 years old.  Tastemaker magazine has called her and her music "as an alien love child of Aphex Twin and Abba."  She played Enya before taking stage.  The set consisted of 3 keyboards and 3 floral covered microphone stands.

It is dream pop.  It is dark wave.  Dark ambient.  Industrial.  Experimental.

The lighting is an integral component as well as Grimes pixie voice and meek, ethereal stage presence.  It was Halloween weekend in NYC too so the kids were all in costumes.  Or were they??

The Grimes set is all synths and moody, mystic vocals.  Boucher can sing.  Her voice brings Julee Cruise to mind.  Does anyone remember Cruise and her work with Angelo Badalementi for David Lynch?  Her look is an amalgam of Kate Bush, Sinead O Connor and Karmin.

What puzzles me most is the lack of live percussion.  It makes the whole event seem MORE theatre than concert.  It was also an issue with Sleigh Bells's show earlier this year.

The whole thing seems contrived.  Do we need the mere appearance of the keyboards.  Is it the same show with the lights and Grimes singing alone on stage?  Probably.

Maybe I'm a bit old for the scene.  Maybe more specifically, I'm no longer taking the drugs required to fully engage with this type of artist.

It plays much better on a lazy Monday afternoon stranded due to a Hurricane.  Pop in the dreamy soundtrack to mellow and let it be.

Live, in front of an under appreciating bunch of twerps, is quite different.  She came on closer to 11:30 too which was annoying too.  Her openers were off stage around 10:45 and let's be honest it does not take much to set her up.  Find an outlet and plug in keyboards.

Thankfully we were able to see Futurebirds earlier in the evening.  They are a guitar band from Athens, Georgia.  Lots of guitar in fact, including a pedal steel.  Sorry, pedal steel is my kryptonite and with the Futurebirds it's pretty darn good.  They were opening up for trendy and buzz worthy band Heartless Bastards.  Their set and stage presence/demeanor were both likable to say the least.  

The guitars help with my heterosexual credibility don't they?  Can I keep my straight card?

Or as a few friends suggested my card may be either a) missing or b) the mere mention of straight card calls for immediate removal of it.

Judge all you want.  More synths shows are on the horizon.  I'm comfortable with it.  Maybe if you aren't you are the one who should be questioning yourself.  ;-)

Uh oh, an emoticon.  Back to square one.  Admitting the problem is step one.

Futurebirds Irving Plaza 10.27.12

Full head dress and feather cape for Halloween.  All I could think of was how warm that must be.

Grimes Bowery Ballroom 10.27.12

Just could not get a decent picture at this one.  Might be time to upgrade phone.  Samsung or Iphone?

Miike Snow Wellmont 10.22.12

They came on stage with creepy Eyes Wide Shut masks on.  Totally cool.

If Eminem were a synth loving, emo singer he might look like Andrew Wyatt

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Preparedness. Will the Power Stay On?

A storms a brewing.

Never in my 40 years on Earth have I been witness to such hype.  Not for a Super Bowl or an upcoming election.  Not even an imminent threat from a foreign land has concerned me as much.  i was witness to the Trade Center burning but that was a shocking surprise.  This is Let me tell you about Hurricane Sandy!

Oh that's right.  We all know!  On one hand you are hoping this thing really takes hold and causes destruction.  That is, with all the hype if it blows over without harming anything you are forced to think of all the monies wasted prepping, not working, etc...  Or does all the shopping over a fall weekend provide enough consumer activity that it cancels out millions not working Monday and Tuesday.

Obviously, on the other hand you want Sandy to head off the Coast and die a fast and harmless death.  In like a lion and out like a zephyr is best case scenario.  Watching Chris Christie labor through a press conference struggling to breathe does not give me a warm, safe, confident feeling.

Bottled water is already off the shelves at my local supermarket.  At 8am this morning it looked like Soderbergh's Contagion both on the roads and in the stores.  Plywood covers the windows of precious shore houses.  Schools have been canceled for the next few days.   Turn on the Quiet.

Last year the Northeast saw Halloween ruined with a rare October snowstorm.  Now "Frankenstorm" approaches.  A Category 1 hurricane with a publicity machine that would make Justin Bieber envious.

Since trains into, out of and around New York City are also suspended that means no work for many folks to.  If all goes well that means catching up on Homeland and/or other DVR favorites.  It also might mean getting sucked into a comfortable movie.  It happened again yesterday afternoon.

Saturday afternoons are often a wasteland for television.  But if you have enough channels you can get lucky.  The best case scenario is finding one of those films you simply cannot escape.

Bull Durham stopped me in my tracks yesterday.  Baseball movies tend to do that to me.  Eight Men Out, The Natural and even Field of Dreams are also guilty pleasures.  America's pastime on America's top entertainment option (television)  is a can't miss proposition.  Throw in a comfortable chair/couch and the rest is history.

Ron Shelton's baseball comedy has terrific performances and chemistry from its leads.  Kevin Costner was in his prime.  Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins met on the set, fell in love off screen and became one of Hollywood's power couples shortly after.  It is a comedy with some heart.  It has plenty of memorable one liners.  Quite simply it is the gold standard for sports movies.  And don't give me the Slap Shot or North Dallas Forty argument either!  Those movies either haven't aged well enough or have Burt Reynolds in the cast.  Or worse, both.

Annie Hall is another picture that can play on a continuous loop without the slightest chance of annoying.  This is Woody Allen's most succinct, sweet and funny film.   Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy cannot seem to get it right.  Underdog comic and quirky actress type try to navigate a relationship in NYC.  It is as timely today as it was 30 years ago.  Allen's insights and observations were never better.  He attacks pretentious people in line.  He berates Los Angeles and awards shows.  He questions the validity of red meat and college.  Diane Keaton plays the la-di-da free spirit to perfection.  Who else can pull off the tie/vest/hat post tennis look like she does?  At a brisk 90 minutes Allen packs a whole bunch in.  No editing problems like you see these days.  Seriously, do all Judd Apatow movies have to be 2 and 1/2 hours??!!  You can pick this flick up at any point and before you know it the end credits are rolling.

Science Fiction is very often an acquired taste.  Rarely are you ambivalent about this genre.  Most either love it or leave it.  More often than not I head for the hills.  That is not the case with Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.  Harrison Ford puts the ego away that made his Han Solo so memorable.  He manages to keep the smirk and we don't hate him for it.  He is a bounty hunter in a futuristic world that Scott makes so rich in color and imagery it is difficult to look away.  It is Times Square on crystal meth.  It is Madison Avenue meets Thunderdome, before there was a Thunderdome.  A rain soaked landscape filled with robots, replicants and weary warriors.  What is real?  What is imagined?  How will you survive?

Sean Young was a movie star not a train wreck.  Darryl Hannah's wide eyed, short haired, and dead sexy.  And Rutger Hauer's villain is unnerving.  His stare is bone chilling.  Scott's story is straightforward good versus evil stuff, like your standard sci-fi fare.  But the presentation and production design remain the benchmark for modern filmmakers.   JJ Abrams can make a thousand more films and never capture the mood here.  It is nearly impossible to switch channels when this comes on the small screen.  Big, HD screen???  Forget about it.

"Forget about it" gets me thinking about Brooklyn, which is in NYC, which has been host to the best movies of all time.  More specifically the best mafia films were set in New York.  The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 are without question worthy of best of all time category.  But it is Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas that stops me in my tracks.

Maybe it's the card game where Spider forgets to get Tommy a drink.  Maybe it's the long tracking shot that follow Henry Hill and Janet through the Copa.   Remember the music montage that accompanies Hill as he avoids helicopters in his coke fueled paranoia?  Rolling Stones tracks slide into a George Harrison song then back to the Stones.  Jump cut/close up/tracking shot/song change.  Film perfection start to finish.

It may not be Scorsese's best film.  After all Dances With Wolves beat it for Best Picture that year.  Ordinary People beat out Raging Bull too so you can safely discard all that Hollywood nonsense.

It is his most captivating and thrilling work though.  A lesson in storytelling and filmmaking which also happens to include tremendous acting.  Joe Pesci is a force.  Has Lorraine Bracco ever made anything else even comparable?  DeNiro, Liotta, Sorvino, et al chew up scenery like so many cannoli's.

It is a masterwork.  And as the storm moves we all desperately hope the electric hangs in there throughout.  Is there anything better than being stranded at home with the family watching an old classic?

What are the films you cannot turn away from?  Disagree with any of the above choices?

Let's hear it!  Looks as if many of us are not going anywhere the next few days.  Diversions people!!

Get through it safe and happy.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Did I Miss Anything?

It has been a while since last post, but do not fear.  This blog is very much alive and kicking.  Some urgent home repairs, coaching duties, work, etc... has kept this humble reporter from, well, reporting.

What did we really miss though?  I'm told there were a few Presidential debates.  The only thing that means is there are no more and the election is almost here!!  Yippee.  Let's pick one of these clowns and move on already.

Should Obama win we can safely assume a lame duck President who fights resistance at every turn, no?

And a Romney Presidency would scare the liberals enough to fill the House and Senate with ultra left delegates rendering anything from really happening.

These days can one man (or hopefully a woman someday soon) really make a difference in the Oval Office?  This is not your Founding Father's White House.

Did George Washington have to deal with lobbyists?  Was the Lincoln/Douglas debate hijacked by questions on their respective faiths and/or views on abortion?  Once television entered the picture (sorry for bad pun) the game of politics was forever changed.

Richard Nixon had the audacity to go on film without make up in his debate against Kennedy.  Naturally, he sweat like Arod in the postseason under those hot studio lights.  JFK could have told stories of his romantic conquests for an hour and still won.  He looked better on screen damn it!

And remember James Stockdale back in 1992?  He was Ross Perot's VP candidate and one of our Navy's most highly decorated veterans.

But he may have had a hearing problem.  And he may have been a bit older than most.  Most importantly he did not play well on the small screen.

That is what defines the process now.  What did you see in the headlines this morning?  Any substantive coverage of Libya and Iran from the candidates mouths?  Or were you inundated with the zingers and gaffes that have defined this race?

"We have fewer horses and bayonets Mr Romney"  "Binders full of women."  "Please proceed."

We root for the other guy to fail more support our candidate to succeed.

Did he catch him in a lie?  Is he/she flip flopping?  Who looks more alert?  What is his wife wearing?  Will they hug at the end?  Kiss?

Is the moderator biased?  Are the pundits?

Who on Earth cares and what does it all really matter???

In a few weeks this sordid train wreck will meet it's inevitable end.

And for the vast majority of us things will remain exactly the same regardless of the outcome.

Both men will be unable to curb the price of gas or our fervent need for its usage.

They will be unable to solve the issue of global warming because how can you when some of us do not even think it exists?

Jobs will come from the private sector with or without the governments help.  Seriously, can we expect DC to come up with a plan to add high paying jobs??   And really, why should they?

Interest rates, inflation and the housing market will continue to be based on what Wall Street and the Big Banks think and do.

Grocery prices will continue to rise whether you buy organic or not.  Our children will continue to be overweight.

It's all a freaking mess and I can't be the only one who thinks it.

It will take more than these two clowns to make a difference.

Any ideas?  I nominate myself as Minister Of Concerts.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

When Good Concerts Go Bad, Fiona Apple, Wellmont Theatre, 10.12.12

This is waaayyyy too far away to see Fiona Apple

She is still super thin, and has some Madonna-esque definition in her arms.

Her voice, and band were both strong.  She commands the stage and is most comfortable there.  No, it's not the hash!
When Friday night rolls around a few slices of pizza, bad tv and the couch can be heavenly.  The weeks are difficult and I know I/we are not alone.  There is work, parenting, coaching, trying to avoid election coverage, eating, sleeping among other things.  Finding money for entertainment is one thing.  Finding the time to go enjoy said entertainment is most certainly another.

We catch a fair amount of shows, not enough movies and an embarrassingly small amount of museums over the course of a year.  Weekends are spent pursuing excitement and relaxation.  More often than not they end up an exercise in housework and menial chores.  It is why Friday nights are coveted evenings of decompression and abject disinterest.

A Tuesday concert really is not that awful.  For the most part your body and mind are turned on.  You will more than likely get to sleep around midnight regardless.  Wednesday's alarm clock will go off whether you go out the night before or not.  In other words, Wednesday is gonna suck concert or no concert.

It was with some trepidation we decided on a Friday night show.  And not because Ms Apple is unworthy.  The poster child of 90s heroin chic and pretty darn accomplished singer/songwriter/pianist
Apple is certainly worthy.  Is she $50 a ticket at Wellmont in Montclair worthy?

Answer:  Unsure.

This blog pays nothing but the joy of writing it and, hopefully, you reading it.

Naturally I thought that ticket would get me on the floor.  We have all become pretty accustomed to being near the stage.  Take a look at some recent posts for my usual view M83Naked and The Famous or White Rabbits .  Those pics are from the World's worst camera phone. Thanks for nothing Droid!

$50 a ticket is steep.  Especially for a New Jersey show.  And more specifically for a general admission theatre ticket.  Wellmont is a redesigned 1922 movie theatre.  Large netting covers the art deco ceiling in an attempt to shield its patrons from falling plaster.  The stage is a nice size and the sound is pretty darn good.  It is not however the Beacon Theatre or Radio City.  It's swell that it is not on the other  side of the Hudson.  It's amazing how crossing through the tunnel, just a few miles from Wellmont/Montclair, affects a trip.  5 minutes of City driving can be enough to put you in a foul mood. Couple that with any Jersey driving, all of which DOES put you in a foul mood...  and you get the drift.

After arriving at 9 on the nose we headed to our usual spot (right stage side on the floor.)  After another shit week we deserved some cocktails.  Excuse us for missing the opening act.  Sometimes you need a little fried food and spirits.  But, besides staying thirsty my friends, act responsibly.  When we showed our stubs to the usher he politely said "Oh, you are upstairs."

"Huh?" was probably my response.

Apparently our tickets were General Admission "Balcony."  The balcony has seats, as opposed to the standing room only floor section.  The GA seats were first come first serve.

First things first.  The Wellmont is much bigger than I thought.  We ended up about 10 stories high and fully able to smell the very plaster that threatens to fall.  $50??  For this.

Ms Apple took the stage about a minute after we sat down.  She looked skinny.  In fact, she literally looked like a toothpick from our viewpoint.

Her band started playing the wonderful  Fast As You Can, we think.  Cause we could not hear much.

$50?  For this?

No, this is a $20 seat you pick up on the spur of the moment.  At $50 your seat should be assigned.  That was the only GA ticket available at point of purchase and nowhere did it say we would be responsible for dusting the ceiling.

But perhaps worse than that nonsense was the obnoxious crowd that surrounded us.

First we had to climb over 20 something make out crew.  We are not talking lovers embrace and mild kissing either.  This was full on, kissing like 7th graders in the closet of a house party, not coming up for air, off to war not seeing you for a while, make out crew.  At a Fiona Apple concert???!!!

"Excuse me. can you stop violating her kidneys with your tongue and let us through?"  They did, grudgingly.

During Shadowboxer, when others around us started chattering and talking over Apple's ballad.  It was clear things were not going to get better.

Bad view, bad sound and a crowd unwilling to give the artist a modicum of respect.

It all went terribly wrong so fast.  We climbed over the make out crew again and headed downstairs.  Picture the yodeling hiker on that The Price is Right game when you think of our ascent/descent to our seats.  It was up there!  And we did not get a parting gift for getting there!

Pawn Stars and spending the night with our daughter was being sacrificed for this?  And the baseball???  The glorious baseball playoffs that we could have been watching.

And this isn't a knock on dear, sweet Fiona Apple.

We got to the floor (kinda) after alerting the head usher of our dilemma.

"Yeah, they should be on the floor, let em in," he hollered to his underlings once we made it downstairs.

Too little, too late.  The floor was mobbed, we were aggravated, and the crowd at the backbar was as annoying as the folks upstairs.

But we managed to hear some songs as she intended, notably "Werewolf" from her latest LP, the impossibly titled The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.  She is strong in voice, piano, stage presence and material.  A good show and pleasant experience was in there somewhere, probably for all those within ear/eyeshot of the concert they paid good money for.

Maybe another time, at another venue, we will be able to buy whatever she is selling.  For now a certain bitterness fills the air.  

An incomplete grade on an event that held such lofty expectations makes for a piss poor start to the weekend.

Thankfully the next show is on a Tuesday.  You hear that Miike Snow??!!  The pressure is on.

For a legitimate review please take a look at Tris McCall's take here: Tris McCall Star Ledger Fiona Apple review

She plays the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ and Terminal 5 in NYC.  Go get yours should you dare.

Friday, October 5, 2012

M83, Wellmont Theatre, 10.4.12

Sometimes a little theatre, placed at precisely the right moment, can go a long way.  Last night at Montclair's Wellmont Theatre, as the house lights went down, a tiny "alien" appeared center stage.  He had a jawa meets Henson puppet look to him.  He?  Hmm, it might have been female.   As a bass driven synth sound filled the venue he raised his hands and lasers lights beamed from his fingers.  It was silly camp and clearly over the top.  And it happened to be very effective and good clean fun.

M83 was coming on stage.  Be prepared for something just a bit different.  For 90 minutes or so come join the mothership.

It's been over a year now since their song "Midnight City" captured the alt world's attention and as long that M83 has been touring in support of their 6th LP Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.   The time on the road coupled with a strong catalog has suited the band quite fine.  Born from Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez's vivid imagination and attention to detail M83 is a formidable live act.

They say the style is "shoegaze."  You know, "the extensive use of reverb effects and lyrics spoken softly over loud instrumentals."  Gonzalez and his cohorts, brother Yann (guitars/vocals/electric percussion), Morgan Kibby (synths/vocals), and drummer Loic Maurin are a kind of pop/synth jam band.  For this show Jordan Lawlor from NJ band Future Future sat in for Jann.  There are detours within songs highlighted by sly ambient beats that soon explode into drum fills and soaring vocals.  At times it is both melody and chaos.  It's an exercise in futility to really label it at all.  

Although to call it performance art set to a wonderful score might be appropriate.  Anthony Gonzalez has said Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (a monster double album w/ 22 songs) was written as a kind of soundtrack to an imaginary movie.  It's no wonder that several of its tracks have appeared all over films, commercials and television shows.   You most likely heard some M83 in shows like HBO's 24/7,  CSI Miami, Gossip Girl, Project X, ABC's Revenge and Cloud Atlas and this Expedia spot.

The songs are strong on their own.  Put that record on during the day and it will provide ample smiles and soothed nerves.  Pay closer attention to a track or two, most notably "Intro", "Reunion", "Wait," "Steve McQueen"and "Outro" and you might find yourself dreaming of a far off planet, or a lover's touch, or infinite possibilities.

Performed live, with M83's enthusiasm and joy, and the songs are a pure celebration.  A superb light show adds to its overall "other wordly" effect.

The concert was their first one in New Jersey and they seemed genuinely happy to be there.  The only real banter between songs was some awkward shouts of "New Jersey" from A Gonzalez.  It is a time tested tradition to illicit cheers be simply stating where one is.  Where else can you do that but on stage?  Try going into your office Monday morning and screaming "Office!!"  How long before they take you away?

Mostly the band stayed in character, knocked it out of the park, and sent the  (large) smiling crowd on their way.

You can label it "shoewave", or "80's retro," or "synth laced trip rock."  

Or call it what it really is: "rock and roll" (and I like it.)

More on M83:  M83 Official or M83 Unofficial 


"Sitting"  Yann pounded away on some sort of Digital keyboard/cowbell a few times during the night.  His big head of curly hair bounced with him as he frantically pounded away to this fast moving jam Tron would be proud of.  One of their older tracks but fit right in with the newer material.  One of the show stoppers for sure.  A glow stick waving ride if there ever was one.

"Wait"  Who doesn't like the slow, and we mean slow starting track that ends with a huge crescendo.  Bon Iver comes to mind with the first 3 minutes of this one.  The harmonies are outright splendid here.  When brothers Gonzalez and Kibby sang "No Time" it induced goose bumps.  A very powerful synth ballad.  Ridley Scott must have this on his iPod.

"Steve McQueen"  Again, arena filling vocals and an immense beat/vibe.  Hard to stay mellow with this one sending shivers up your spine.  A splendid pop song.

Alien ringmaster starts the proceedings.

Kibby rocked out in a flowing red dress and high freaking heels.   It was a little hot.

Some nice sax moments throughout the night...  notably during "Midnight City".  It had a very St Elmo's Fire and/or Thunderdome Tina Turner shirtless sax guy feel to it.  Totally cool and fit right in.

Jordan Lawlor from Sparta, NJ band Future Future, frantically pounding the synth/drum/whatever the hell it is.

M83 10.4.12 Setlist, Wellmont Theatre