Friday, July 31, 2009

David Byrne is the man

It's common consensus around these parts that a). David Byrne is the man, and b). U2 sucks. So then imagine my delight when I found this post by Byrne on his always-insightful blog:

Thank You U2!

Mark E pointed out as we prepped for our show last night in Warsaw (at a not so big club/venue called Stodoła) that these undersized dates are in effect being subsidized byU2’s world tour. The promoter of these dates, and of much of the U2 stadium tour, is Live Nation, the global conglomerate. A venue like Stodoła could not possibly afford to pay for us, the catering, or even their local crew given the relatively small number of tickets to be sold here — and it’s not even an “exclusive” VIP-type venue. It’s not like they can charge $200 a seat and make up their losses that way — this is a standing room club… with a floor made of plywood. So in order to book our date, they must (we figure) be losing money now, then making it up with what they expect to earn on the upcoming U2 stadium dates.

Those stadium shows may possibly be the most extravagant and expensive (production-wise) ever: $40 million to build the stage and, having done the math, we estimate 200 semi trucks crisscrossing Europe for the duration. It could be professional envy speaking here, but it sure looks like, well, overkill, and just a wee bit out of balance given all the starving people in Africa and all. Or maybe it’s the fact that we were booted off our Letterman spot so U2 could keep their exclusive week-long run that’s making me less than charitable? Take your pick — but thanks, guys!

I'd offer more, but I really don't need to — Byrne says enough in that one post.

Gov't Mule/ Poor But Sexy


I'm not going to lie — it was pretty cool to make a phone call and have Warren Haynes answer on the other end. He's got one of those unmistakable Southern voices that immediately makes you feel at ease with him. He's also a legend, having toured with The Allman Brothers band and The Dead, as well as fronting a pretty successful band in its own right, Gov't Mule.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend last night's Mule show in Washington, but I did write up a nice feature on the band for the Washington Post Express' Weekend Pass section. In it, Haynes discusses how the band is returning to its roots with newish bassist Jorgen Carlsson, as well as the new Mule album, By a Thread, due next month.

I also did a feature for The Washingtonian — where I'm interning this summer — on DC act Poor But Sexy. The band is made up members from various defunct Washington outfits (Dismemberment Plan, Travis Morrison Hellfighters) as well as a few that are still in action.

The band doesn't have an album yet, and doesn't really tour, but it is working on its first full-length. A four-song EP streams for free on the Poor But Sexy MySpace. It's worth checking out, the band brings some fun and funk to the DC rock scene.

Thursday, July 30, 2009 Review - Funny People

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures via

It'll be interesting to see how Judd Apatow's Funny People -- his follow up to the universally loved Knocked Up -- will fare at the box office. Because word of mouth may get out pretty quickly that:

a) Despite all the dick jokes (and there are MANY) and the title, Funny People actually gets pretty serious.

b) It's not your typical "Adam Sandler" movie, i.e. he gets to do a little more than flail around speaking in his famous Sandler jibberish speak.

c) The thing runs almost two-and-half-hours.

None of these are bad things (well, in regards to concern c), the film probably could've lost a few minutes) and on a whole, I was pretty impressed. It's a big leap forward for Apatow, even if the film can't go laugh-for-laugh with Knocked Up.

I have more opinions on this, so to catch my Funny People review in full, head over to

Saturday, July 25, 2009 Review - Repulsion (DVD)

Image courtesy of Compton Films/Criterion Collection

Ah Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski's Repulsion - so beautiful, so dangerous. I've blogged and blabbered (albeit briefly) on this film before, so I'll just keep things simple.

The ever-reliable Criterion Collection is releasing (on DVD and Blu Ray) Repulsion on July 28. I wrote a review. Check it out at

Side note: for any big fans of Criterion's prior home video work, Barnes & is currently having a 50% off sale on all Criterion Collection home video, through Aug. 2.

Criterion's great work does tend to come at a price (to be fair, they have to purchase distribution rights, pay for the transfer and correction work and for the special features), so it's always great to catch their stuff on a big sale. also tends to have a Criterion sale around this time of the year, but nothing has gone up yet (just to prove I'm not a shill for any single outlet).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You Gotta Be Effin Kidding Me! - Beck + Wilco + Skip Spence = Awesome

Yes, as part of Beck's Record Club feature on his new website -- hang with friends, record a song-for-song cover of a classic album -- Beck will be releasing his rendition of Skip Spence's absolute classic, Oar. Oh yeah, and as the headline indicates, he recorded it with freakin' Wilco.

As I told my co-MMM scribe, Rudi, earlier today, my head is ready to explode just trying auralize (take that Merriam-Webster's) Jeff Tweedy in harmony with Beck, with the boys just tearing things up. It's a perfect unison of two daring artists on such a loose, psychedelic masterpiece ... ahh, this can't come soon enough.

All due respect to Spence's other esteemed outfits -- Moby Grape (briefly) and Jefferson Airplane (even briefer) -- but I play and enjoy Oar more than either of those hallowed groups' prized albums.

This isn't the first time Beck's taken on Spence -- he covered "Halo of Gold" on a Spence tribute album, a song he'll take another shot at on his full go-round of Oar.

Please - if you're listening Beck -- find a way to release this thing physically, or at least offer a pay option for a hi-res download. I love what we've heard so far of Record Club's Velvet Underground & Nico, but Beck and Wilco's Oar is something I've got a feeling I (and many other like me) will want to own.

Ahhhh this is just too cool. Be still my heart. Review: (500) Days of Summer

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight via

You know, I ended up liking this one more than I probably ever thought I would. After the trailers, I was a little worried -- the Joy Division t-shirt, record store diving -- it looked like it might stink of a bit of that pop culture pillaging, hipsterdom BS that Garden State dabbled in.

Not so. The flick gets a little too caught up in itself, but hey, ambition and over-cleverness are hardly the biggest sins. Lest I trample on my own feet, check out my full review at

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hey Look an Update!

Image courtesy of Portugal. The Man

Yes, I know, it's been forever since I updated. So it goes. I have a backlog of articles to post, but for now, here's my track-by-track feature on Portugal. The Man's latest album, The Satanic Satanist, a soul- and funk-inspired psychedelic trip of an album.

I'd also like to point out that the interview would not have gone so well had Zach not shown me "Wizards" (If you don't know about the film, read the article), earlier this year. It's a trip, and had quite the effect on the young lives of Portugal. The Man's lead singer, John Baldwin Gourney and Zach.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sneak Peak: Thom Yorke does Mark Mulcahy

Image courtesy of

I'm not going to lie - until I heard about this Mark Mulcahy tribute CD, I had no clue who Mulcahy he was. However, I, like many of my generation, grew up on Pete and Pete and practically knew the opener "Hey Sandy" by heart.

Later, in high school, I went on a nostalgia kick and found the full Peter and Pete soundtrack, which was done by Mulcahy-fronted outfit Polaris. Pretty cool stuff.

Anyway, the real occasion for this post is that Stereogum has Thom Yorke's version of Miracle Legion's "All For The Best" up and streaming from the upcoming tribute album. I have to admit I am not familiar with the original but Yorke's version is fantastic. Definitely worth a listen and only makes me more interested in this tribute and taking the time to discover Miracle Legion/Mulcahy's back catalog.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More Beck Record Club - "Venus in Furs"

Record Club: Velvet Underground & Nico "Venus In Furs" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

Kind of speaks for itself, so why bother you with my inane blabbering? Well, because Beck's got more stuff, which was brought to my attention thanks to a news item on P4K. It appears that Beck plans to stream, one week at a time, all of Modern Guilt performed acoustic. Here's "Orphans", the first entry.

Modern Guilt Acoustic "Orphans" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

Friday, July 10, 2009

BLURT Feature: Soul Power interview

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics via

Nothing like a little funk to start off your Friday. Soul Power -- a documentary pulled from the Zaire 74 concert, a show planned in conjunction with the Rumble in the Jungle -- is rolling out across the country in select theaters the rest of the summer. I was lucky enough to talk to director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte about his experience putting the footage together.

The feature is up over at BLURT magazine online - check it out.

Thursday, July 9, 2009 Review - Bruno

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures via

I have to say ... I was a little let down by this one. But don't take my (condensed) word for it - check out the full Bruno review over at Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Unemployment Movie Marathon: Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

(Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures via

There have been many recent entries in my ongoing "Unemployment Movie Marathon" -- yes, I decided to give it a name -- and I don't think Kramer vs. Kramer has necessarily been the best or my favorite of my recent, non-blogged entries. But there's something about the film that struck me and is worth my brief and humble two cents.

I'm not sure I'd even go so far as to call Kramer v. Kramer a great film. It's Oscar win over Apocalypse Now for 1980's Best Picture is the sort of travesty that has given the Academy Awards its reputation for utter uselessness. 30 years after its theatrical release, Kramer v. Kramer feels striking to me because it's the sort of film you really don't see coming out of the Hollywood mainstream anymore. It's a bit melodramatic and over-the-top at times, but for the most part and especially considering the story at hand, the film is remarkably restrained.

There's no real emotional manipulation, no tear-jerking or tugging of the ole heartstrings. It's astounding to think that Robert Benton was responsible for directing 2007's weepy, contrived garbage indie flick, Feast of Love. As both screenwriter and director on Kramer vs. Kramer, Benton's approach is 100 percent no nonsense. Nestor Almendros -- shooting in a visually toned down palette from his sweeping photographic masterwork on Days of Heaven -- most lets the camera observe statically. The action and emotion comes out within the frame, much thanks to Dustin Hoffman's and Meryl Streep's excellent work (they both took home Oscars that year for their roles, Benton took home one for direction and one for acting).

It's a pretty straightforward arc -- Hoffman is a workaholic whose wife (Streep) leaves him and his 7-year-old boy high and dry in NYC. Kramer (Hoffman) battles with his high pressure advertising job while trying to raise his kid, Mrs. Kramer reappears, litigation insues. There's nothing incredibly bold in the script or execution, which is also to say that nothing is overintellectualized. Benton lays out the relationships and once the wheels are in motion, it all just clicks.

The closest thing I can think of in recent memory is this year's unjustly shafted Two Lovers, which I should note was distributed by Magnolia Pictures, i.e. not one of the major studios. Both films, Two Lovers and K vs. K, get a little sappy here and there but ultimately the films are just about failed relationships. James Gray and Benton, respectively, get you to invest in their characters and they don't pull any cheap tricks to keep your attention.

And here's the kicker - Kramer vs. Kramer pulled in $106 million, which according to the first inflation calculator that came up on Google, would be roughly $310 million today. In short, the movie cleaned up at the box office. I don't know if the moviegoing audiences of 1979 were so radically different from those of 2009 (to be fair, Hollywood was just beginning to discover the blockbuster), but I can't imagine any big studio exec. hedging their bets on a film as plainspoken as Kramer vs. Kramer.

The film really comes with no strings attached, and that's rare today. Even the film's so-called happy finale feels uncompromised, because in the end, a marriage has still been dissolved and both Kramers have had to endure the pain of being dragged through the mud in court. Divorce is ugly and there may be no complete recovery for either party.

Benton has the decency not to beat his audience over the head, a courtesy we are rarely shown at the movies. One single shot says it all to me -- Kramer is in bed with his son, Billy, reading him a bedtime story just after his ex-wife has announced she will seek custody. It's a lovely personal moment between father and son, but it's threatening too. The open door is only a sliver in the frame, a drastic take on the traditional doorway framing shot.

It's a simple, static shot (until Kramer gets up), but at the same time, there's complexity to it. On one hand, the walls seem to be closing in on the father and son, and it looks impossible -- they're barely present. But that little sliver, all they're afforded in the shot, is very warm and alive. There's something safe about that little space, as if nothing in the world could breach what the two of them share.

Anyway, that's what I got. Stay alert, a Bruno review is on its way.

Monday, July 6, 2009

More Beck Record Club - "Femme Fatale"

Record Club: Velvet Underground & Nico "Femme Fatale" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

Another week, another entry from Beck's take on Velvet Underground & Nico. Thanks to my ailing computer, I haven't listened yet. So, for those of you who don't have trouble with streaming video, enjoy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009 Review - Moon

(Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

Duncan Jones's Moon is probably the best thing I've seen all summer. Head over to to see me express that in big boy words. That is all. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

John Hammond at Haddon Lake Park - 07/01/09

(Photo by Zachary Herrmann)

Every year, I'm continually impressed with the great offering of free summer concerts courtesy of Camden County, NJ. Granted the July 4th show usually sucks -- this year is Marshall Tucker Band opening for Foghat -- but it's been nice to catch the likes of Leon Russell, Graham Parker, Duke Robillard and, tonight, John Hammond without spending a dime.

Hammond was on the top of his game -- unlike his departed friend, Mike Bloomfield, he seems to be riding gracefully on the benefits of relatively clean living. There's not the slightest hint of deterioration in the 66-year-old's voice and his playing ... it's just magnificent. With only an acoustic guitar, a resonator and a harmonica, Hammond kept the park swinging for over 80 minutes of classic blues.

The guy has sort of lived and played it all -- like Bloomfield, he was a young white guy hanging out and playing with all the old, black veterans of the blues. His set covered everything you could think of: Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estee, Skip James, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and a bit of the newer blues via Tom Waits.

In addition to the music, which was a history lesson if and of itself, Hammond recounted many stories about gigging his way from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles and back again in the early 60s, telling little bits about the blues idols he opened for and played with along the way. His approach to the songs was achingly faithful -- beautiful, simple and delivered with the power and conviction of one man, the way the blues should be.

The music was great, the stories were fascinating and as a non-taxpaying dependant, I can say that it truly was (someone else's) money well spent.