Friday, September 30, 2005

Biff, Bam Zowie: The White Stripes Take Over Gotham City

By: David Schultz

Success can do strange things to a band. It can also do strange things to the band's fan base. The White Stripes have always had a following amongst discerning listeners who pride themselves on their exceptional taste in music and concomitant ability to detect talent long before the rest of the world catches on. Fans who picked up on the stripped down, minimalist sound of the Stripes' eponymous debut and sophomore effort De Stijl watched like proud parents as White Blood Cells, Elephant and their latest release Get Behind Me Satan skyrocketed the band to credible success. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the crowd at this Sunday's show at Coney Island's Keyspan Park, there is a dark side to this story. The Stripes' popularity has spread to the high school level, causing a crowd more apropos to a Blink 182 show to come screech their little brains out. In the general admission atmosphere of the ballpark, the younger concert-goers lack of concert "etiquette" became mildly distracting as the evening wore on.

Striding onto the stage constructed in dead centerfield, the Stripes, clad in jauntily matching white outfits with red trim, looked like a pair of villains from the campy TV version of Batman. With Meg White quietly and demurely taking her seat behind the drum kit, brother, ex-husband, passing acquaintance and local hobo Jack White prowled the stage in a manically possessed state taking self photos with a Polaroid camera and then dismissively flinging them into the audience. Launching into When I Hear My Name, the Whites proceeded to speed through an intense 90 minute set showcasing Jack White's distinctive ability to adrenalize blues riffs into a menacing mélange of noise. With the stage basically to himself, Jack bounced like a child with ADD between different sets of keyboards, the marimba and several strategically placed microphones all while unleashing a devastating aural assault from his guitar.

In concert, the Stripes do not expand or significantly deviate from the studio versions of their songs. However, they hardly recite them note for note either. The most notable difference came during Denial Twist, forgoing the piano accompaniment for electric guitar, Jack managed to give the song additional swagger. The Stripes touched on their current hits, racing through Blue Orchid and My Doorbell and used Meg’s admonishing Passive Manipulation as a bridge to a foot-stomping version of Dead Leaves In The Dirty Ground. Perpetual motion personified, Jack White rarely stood still, stopping only momentarily at the keyboards for an intriguing cover of Bob Dylan's Love Sick and pausing at the marimba for The Nurse.

There is nothing fancy about Meg White's drumming, but then again the same could be said could be said for Maureen Tucker. There was also nothing fancy about the featured opening act, The Shins. They may not have changed anyone's life this evening but they did prove deserving of the hype surrounding them. In their tight 45 minute set, the Shins gave their songs a looser workout relieving them of the mopey mood that permeates much of Chutes Too Narrow.

The Stripes saved their most intense onslaught for the end. Saving the hardest and the funkiest for the end, the White's interjected the howling Red Rain into The Hardest Button to Button before revving up the blues on Ball and Biscuit and bottoming out the bass on Seven Nation Army. Anticlimactically, the show finished on its slowest note with Jack beseeching the audience to sing along with him on the last verse of Brook Benton's Boll Weevil. White's attempt to end the show on a sentimental note fell slightly flat, owing to the fact that he usually evokes more emotion with his aching heart on his sleeve and the amplifiers cranked to 11.

The Stripes' popularity presents problems to their core fan base. As each new album pushes past the boundaries set by the previous one, they attract a wider audience. Much like Pearl Jam in the early 90's, the Stripes are outgrowing their old haunts and trying to find their comfort zone in newer ones. While outdoor shows usually disappoint due to the difficult acoustics, Keyspan Park, home of minor league baseball's Brooklyn Cyclones, the Stripes turned it into a surprisingly intimate venue. The crowds will grow as the arenas get larger and it will be interesting to see how the Stripes broaden their stage show to match their popularity while still making the same connection with the audience.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Steve Winwood at the Bowery Ballroom: Good Old-Fashioned Traffic Jam

By David Schultz

Classic rock dinosaurs rarely become extinct. Rather, it's become quite commonplace for aging rock bands to stave off the death rattle of irrelevancy with reunion tours replete with bombastic explosions of staged grandeur. Opting to open his 2005 fall tour at New York City's Bowery Ballroom, Steve Winwood, a lesser deity in the classic rock pantheon, has chosen a more understated manner of preserving his legacy. Exhibiting a demeanor in line with the coziness of the 500+ occupancy Ballroom, Winwood displays none of the egotistic excesses you might expect from someone who has jammed with Hendrix and earned equal billing with Clapton.

Reconstructing archetypal Traffic songs and resurrecting other lost classics, Winwood created the type of Traffic jam guaranteed to please any New Yorker. Although focusing primarily on Traffic-era tunes, Winwood covered material from his entire forty year career. Opening both sets with songs from his most recent album About Time, Winwood quickly moved on to crowd-pleasers like Empty Pages, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone and Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, a song that will always be inextricably linked to Winwood. The intimate surroundings provided a perfect setting for lesser-known favorites like 40,000 Headmen, Rainmaker and the rollicking Medicated Goo, which closed the first set.

Remaining seated at his keyboards for the majority of the show, Winwood allowed his band, featuring flautist/saxophonist Jay Davidson, to remain center stage. Though Winwood gave his band every opportunity to shine, practically handing Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys to them in its entirety, they failed to captivate the audience. While blame can partially be attributed to the sound difficulties that plagued the band early on, a failed microphone completely muted Davidson's sax solo on Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, the band's weaknesses were too apparent to ignore. Winwood's supporting musicians did not shine on their own but they did not detract from the show and were extremely competent in complimenting Winwood while he touched on music from all phases of his career.

Over the years, Winwood has become so closely associated with the keyboards, his proficiency with the guitar is oftentimes overlooked. Stepping out from behind his organ, Winwood fronted a scorching version of Blind Faith's Can't Find My Way Home as well as an absolutely transcendent version of Dear Mr. Fantasy. His jaw-dropping guitar solos during Fantasy should convince any doubters of whether Winwood deserves his status as a rock icon. Worth the ticket price alone, Winwood's version of Dear Mr. Fantasy has clearly become the centerpiece of the show. Winwood even made the mandolin cool, tacking a surprising eyebrow-raising solo onto the end of Back In The High Life Again that bandoliers of old surely never contemplated.

To close the show, Winwood delved deep into his past with the Spencer Davis Group chestnut I'm A Man and remained there for his encore. After running through the blues classic Crossroads, a song on which he famously jammed with Clapton at 1973's Rainbow Concert, Winwood returned to his origins, delivering Gimme Some Lovin, with an authenticity few others can legitimately muster. Throughout the fall, the Rolling Stones and Eagles will continue to tour the country filling stadiums and arenas with overpriced extravaganzas of nostalgia. While his colleagues milk every last penny out of their adoring fans, Steve Winwood, one of the most unassuming rock Gods on the planet, will be offering a more reasonably priced alternative and delivering a show worth more than the ticket price.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Flightplan Runs Out of Gas On Its’ Own Holding Patterns

By Evan Ferstenfeld

From the steely bluish hues of the airplane's insides to the icy, soulless stares and body language of its unconcerned flight attendants, director Robert Schwentke wants to ensure that no one feels the slightest warm welcome from the screen while trying to even remotely enjoy his new "Hitchcockian" no-frills thriller, Flightplan. In an age so desensitized to other's needs that one can barely find a customer service rep who doesn't want to personally destroy every caller from the inside out before a question is even uttered, Flightplan's sole redeeming quality is its fine, perilous example of a world that has taken information overload to its extreme, made mili-second judgment based on incomplete information, and has completely drowned out other's concerns in a sea of self-indulgence and i-pod equipment. Flightplan feeds off the notion that we live in a damn cruel world that is only getting more indifferent to every human’s existence, an environment ideal for the disappearance of a quiet child (Marlene Lawston) and disastrous for a frantic mother (Jodie Foster) attempting to alert others to help her with such a predicament.

The feeling of detachment and animosity that Flightplan works overtime to rattle the audience with unfortunately seeps into every rivet of both the "Titanic of the sky" double-decker airplane that serves as the film's centerpiece and the attitudes of the movie's creators. Even before we have a chance to get to know our fearless protagonist and her lovely lil' one, Flightplan hurls everything at the audience besides a movie usher shaking you around in your seat to amp up the intensity of a missing child that cannot be found in a space with only so many places to hide. Jodie Foster, an actress that several cinematic ages ago drew blood while trading serrated dialogue with a hockey-masked people eater in the nerve-wrecking thriller Silence of the Lambs, is given the unfair task of making us care about a woman the audience has barely even shook hands to greet yet, as well as revving the audience up to be concerned about a little girl who might as well be replaced by a wet-nosed puppy dog with eyes that melt hearts. Foster rants, raves, scoffs, smashes, and beguiles everything around her as she goes from zero to manic within moments of her child's missing status, pushing into action a series of cinematic clichés so rampantly unrealistic, predictable and joyless in execution you can actually hear the audience’s eyeballs glazing over in unison.

Where most competent thrillers dump the audience into a sandbox brimming with shiny, misleading objects and the vaguest of instructions on where to dig for its many hidden secrets, Flightplan plops the viewer onto a cold, cement slab that has a pile of breadcrumbs leading to an "X" marking the spot. Peter A. Dowling's shockingly simplistic script leaves no room for guessing games or red herrings, but is keen to include the least menacing bad guy since Ah-nold's goofy Mr. Freeze of Batman Forever infamy. Only Sean Bean delivers a rousing, unflappable performance as the stern Captain Rich.

While Flightplan's creators ably constructed a premise that perks up the ears in anticipation and snaps the head forward with complete attention, the remaining ninety percent of the feature rarely puts forth any serious participatory involvement in its pacing, plot twists or payoff. While most modern-day thrillers make or break themselves by forever striving to be one step ahead of the audience’s trail of discovery, Flightplan's outdated and out-of-shape plot contrivances wheeze their way up to the obvious ending, miles behind a theatre of moviegoers already standing at the finish line.

Grade: D
Rating: PG-13
Running time: 98 Mins.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Particle at CMJ In NYC: You Snooze, You Lose

By David Schultz



When is the best time to play in the City that never sleeps? The answer is simple: in the dead of night. Making good use of New York City's seemingly unlimited nocturnal energy, Particle invaded Irving Plaza for a late night show in conjunction with the closing festivities of this weekend's CMJ Marathon. Hitting the stage well after 1 in the morning, Particle refused to let their fans grow weary, keeping them grooving with their exceptional high powered, techno-based jams. Perhaps owing to the late hour, Particle played to a half-full auditorium. No worries though, the audience gamely filled the space, dancing and twirling until the wee hours of the morning.

This night, Particle derived its energy from hirsute keyboardist Steve Molitz. Throughout the evening, Molitz, who has expertly cultivated the Godspell-era Jesus Christ look and easily could be mistaken for a less anorexic Chris Robinson, alternated between setting the mood for the band, providing synthesized soundscapes for them to play over, and setting the place on fire with his unassuming keyboard solos. Completely owning the crowd, Molitz often took over the show, getting the crowd to spasmodically bend and contort with him while he literally draped himself around his synthesizers. To a lesser extent, guitarist Charlie Hitchcock captured the crowd with his steamrolling techno-rock guitar work, offering a nice contrast to Molitz' more mellifluous keyboards.

Following their own muse, Particle included only two songs from their debut release Launchpad, while storming through a furious set of instrumental jams. Anchored by the stellar rhythm section of drummer Darren Pujalet and bassist Eric Gould, who swayed metronomically throughout the show, Particle joyously and tirelessly stretched each song to its musical limit. Opening with a roaring cover of Beck's E-Pro, the band reveled in their California roots, later including a rendition of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Suck My Kiss with Gould expertly emulating Flea's gut-rumbling bass line and the audience gleefully singing the chorus.

In a refreshing move, the band appeared to forego the farce of the traditionally staged encore break, finishing their set with Sun Mar 11. The quartet added significant muscle to Launchpad's laid-back closing track, building to a false finish before finally winding up the show after a furious 2+ hours. After spending a couple minutes glad-handing with their fans, the band returned to their instruments and gave the crowd an encore of Harold Faltermeyer's Beverly Hills Cop theme Axel F.

Early arrivals caught a glimpse of the eclectic Gabby La La. Decked out with a shocking pink wig and oversized ski goggles, Ms. La (or is it Ms. La La?) played a short, perfunctory set. Accompanying herself on the electric sitar, accordion and Theremin, Gabby riffled through covers of Technotronic's Pump Up The Jams and Roy Orbison's In Dreams before finishing with a call-and-response sing-along of her own Boogie Woogie Man. La La, a winsome performer with a pixyish voice, engaged the audience but the limitations of being an opening act weighed heavily on her performance. Given just a short period of time, the sweetly off-kilter La La seemed like a children's performer who had been sent to the wrong party instead of Les Claypool's latest protégé.

Particle does not simply play their songs, they make commitments to them. A typical tune customarily clocks in somewhere around fifteen minutes and leaves no musical stone unturned. However, these California rockers should not be confused with their jangly, laid-back, blues-rock jamband brethren. Calmly but relentlessly tackling every song from start to finish, Particle wastes no time driving their audience into a frenzy. Counting on the band to deliver, Particle's fans hold up their end of the bargain, bringing an upbeat excitement and oftentimes loony energy into the mix. The hybrid works and the ravelike atmosphere of a Particle show could shortly turn their tours into must-catch events.

Photo Credit: ParticlePeople.com

Lord of War: When Bad Movies Happen to Good Ideas

By Evan Ferstenfeld

Taking its cues from the first parcel perspective opening of Robert Zemeckis"s human progress meditation Cast Away, the starting gunshot of writer/director Andrew Niccol's gunrunner opus Lord of War shows the life of an individual bullet casing from its own viewpoint. Starting with the spotless machinery of a secure and efficient Western superpower's bullet factory, we are shown its "birth" by gunpowder and aerodynamic metal merging together for its conception, all the way to the bullet's final resting place deep within the brain cavity of a third world country's anonymous assailant. It is an inventive, jolting piece of cinema trickery which highlights the best and worst qualities that this War has to offer. Whereas Cast Away contrasted the UPS package's travel route within strict timelines to its title character's timeless island existence, Lord of War's crosshair display is a mostly flashy, highly technical affair which makes its audience go "Ooh!!" but whose videogame detachment makes the scene unable to shoot us through the heart with any poignant meaning.

Nicolas Cage, who by this career point has sold away his entire Oscar award piece by piece to whatever mainstream action fodder ponies up the most cash, plays Yuri Orlov, a young entrepreneur who for reasons even the movie doesn't bother to investigate, decides that millions can be made by selling more illegal firearms to a country than they have in actual population to use them.

With its cynical, wise-guy voiceover narration calmly guiding us through a movie that shows a young immigrant's journey from normal civilian to illegal arms-dealing lothario, Lord of War mimics Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas like a little brother who wants to be as respected as his older sibling when he's all grown up, yet compensates for the lack of experience by vaguely miming his brother's tough talk and mannerisms. While milking several instances of blood-choked laughter out of Yuri's oddly passive/aggressive profession and presenting a slew of solid foundations for firm ideas to grow out of, Niccol's script mostly delivers cringingly cheap thrills and trite laughs at his movie's expense, offers surprisingly simplistic, ho-hum scoops on what should be fascinating gunrunning insider's knowledge, delivers wisdom usually no more profound than "Peace is bad for business," and most tragically of all, does not invest enough personality or passion into Cage’s character to make him either despised or immortalized.

Painting a pretty picture to go with his otherworldly writing style has never been a problem for Niccol, from the sinfully underrated elegance of 1997's Gattaca to the script for the sci-fi-that-is-now-reality-TV oddball charm of The Truman Show. Lord of War is no exception in the looks department, as Niccol's penchant for wonderfully pointed symbolism has machine guns ringing up bullets like a cash register, as well as Yuri perched atop a fallen statue of Lenin as thousands of Russian tanks lined up and designed for US destruction are auctioned off across the globe by an American war profiteer. Unfortunately Niccol's writing styling, which is best at rendering distant lands that symbolize important elements and issues found in the real world, is at odds with a story begging to be told in a straight-forward factual manner with characters that must feel natural and authentic.

Lord of War has a lot of ideas going for it, as it valiantly tries to shoot from the hip about the ravages of munitions-pushing nations and their cycle of violent repression of third-world hot spots with government-sanctioned dictators. War's daytime soap performances and melodramatics ensures that it can never pull the trigger on its most prized comments, relegating itself to mere flesh wounds instead of a dead-on head shot.

Grade: C
Rating: R
Running Time: 122 Mins.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rockin' Beats and Guitar Feats Abound at Bloc Party Show

By Evan Ferstenfeld

Who knew four rag-tag blokes that look like random participants plucked from a soccer hooligan beat-'em-up parade would turn out to be such shy, bashful folks? Since releasing their crackling debut Silent Alarm in May of this year, Bloc Party has made it their duty to update the high minded ideals of the sonically mix-and-match Clash while musically entering the funktastic regions where Gang of Four houses their riffage. Bloc Party is a band that can find it within themselves to rage against the machine with shiny dance songs about English Imperialism, only to stop its sonic wrecking ball long enough to shed a tear and sweep ladies off their feet.

The way the Party was kicked off on their September 10th concert, housed within the suitably rough-around-the-decibel crowded confines of the Electric Factory, the frontal attack of the four member formal alliance seemed poised to make a memorable first strike. As the lights shone down on the three men equal distances from one another at the front of the stage, stroking their guitars like ironic members of a Spinal Tap tribute band, the group wordlessly propelled the room into a frenzy by launching into the first track of their CD, "Like Eating Glass." Unfortunately there was no sign of jig dancing midgets or miniature Stonehenge emerging from the rafters, but apparently since I was the only one anticipating this development, no one seemed too bummed out.

Bloc Party quickly laid waste to the brunt of their catalogue within the first thirty minutes of the proceedings, speeding up its thinly-sliced riffs for the drum-and-bass anti-consumerist shambling of "Positive Tension" and the ping-pong guitar antics of "Banquet," giving the scene the frenzied feeling of a final minute bidding war on Ebay. It soon became clear that the album-perfect reproductions screaming towards us by guitarist Russell Lissack and bassist Gordon Moakes were leaving little room for any jam-outs to take place, something sorely lacking from a band with just enough solid singles to reach double digits.

At points the night felt like a confidence builder for the band, with the enthusiastic audience playing the role of the nurturing, aggressive girlfriend pushing them to the places that would get the crowd all hot and bothered. By the fourth song, the band's muppet coifed lead singer Kele Okereke, whose voice sounds like the high-pitched emoting midpoint between Tears For Fears lead singer Roland Orzabal and Robert Smith's vocal chords, finally bridged the national divide by meekly approaching the clearly enraptured audience to breathlessly tell us "You guys are soooo much more embracing than the New York crowd ever was!" I thought for a moment this might be the line he conjures up for every crowd he attempts to make aural love to, making it all the more easy to get into our hearts and ears, but soon felt foolish for doubting the honesty of our fearless hero when he informed us "This is the best show of the three we have done so far on our first American tour!," as the band quickly forgave me for such horrible thoughts with a rousing call to arms in the ass-shaking and thought-pondering stomp of "Pioneers."

As a sign of goodwill or perhaps to literally demonstrate how America is sometimes blinded by its tunnel-vision patriotism, Bloc Party flooded the Factory with a streak of patriotic American lighting displays, from the white strobe-light electrical storm created for "Like Eating Glass," the glorious reds streaming down from high above during the achingly beautiful crescendo of "Here We Are," and bathing us in colors that transformed the entire audience into a village of Smurfs for "Blue Light." The Bloc-heads concluded the formal chapter of their show with a fist-pumping rendition of the oh-so-aptly titled "Price of Gas." Singer Okereke obviously pointed out "This is a song about Evil!!!," but never specified if the crude barrel bubbler was a tribute to Dr. Evil or Evil Knievel, both anti-establishment heroes in their own charming ways.

Acting as if they were too embarrassed to tell us the show would eventually be coming to an end, the Party members disappeared off the stage so quietly it took a good two minutes to muster up a suitable encore hub-bub from the slightly under whelmed but high-spirited crowd. The band silently glided onto the stage for two more encores, finally loosening up and unhinging expectations with two new (at least new to us bloody Yanks) juicily decadent sonic experiments. Bloc Party's final song of the evening opened with numerous rib-cage rattling guitar pulsings, while Okereke prowled the stage like a mad scientist trying his damndest to get his Musical Insanity Apparatus to kick over and start up. Drummer Matt Tong's lightning cymbal blasts eventually had the crowd screaming "It's Aliiiiiive!!!" as the experimental beats and guitar shrieks re-animated a crowd who had mostly rushed back into the venue from the parking lot to catch the finale’s excitement. On a night filled with songs begging to be re-imagined in a live setting but had retained their studied rigidity, Bloc Party thankfully broke loose and become the outrageously entertaining Rock Gods we always knew they were, sending our expectations over the rainbow.

Coldplay: Madison Square Garden

Coldplay's back to back gigs last week at the legendary Madison Square Garden in NY showed a band at the top of their game. The performance opened with a stopwatch counting down 2 minutes on the background screen. The intro to Square One gives the crowd its first taste of Chris Martin's crisp vocals. The clock hits zero and the song kicks in along with the light show. The band's energy was at full tilt from the beginning which is a must at The Garden or the venue can swallow the performer (as happened the last time I saw Coldplay there).

Politik gave Martin his first opportunity to emulate Bono's stage presence and lyrical improvisation - "Brooklyn, Bronx and then to Queens; and send your love to New Orleans" pleaded Martin with typical sincerity. On the second night, Martin's spontaneity was a little weaker - "Please don't let it happen again; sorry for the Hurricane". Either way, the song is brilliant live and the crowd loved it.

I was surprised to hear their first ever hit single Yellow so early in the concert but then remembered (once again) that this is a very young band - only 3 albums. Coldplay doesn't exactly have a repertoire of early material. I'm sure they eventually want to have a U2-like group of fans who only like their "older stuff". For now, though, they'll have to settle for a unified fan base. The coda to Yellow had balloons (yes, yellow ones) released from the rafters of The Garden. That probably seems cheesy but hardly surprising at a Coldplay concert.

God Put a Smile was followed by Speed of Sound, both great tracks. Unfortunately, the middle portion of the show lulled slightly - Low, Amsterdam, White Shadows - descent songs but nothing special. They also played A Rush of Blood, which I just don't think plays well live. It's a multi-layered studio track and stands out on the album as an epic wall of sound. However, this effect does not come through on stage.

The lull was fortunately followed by the strongest part of the show. Chris Martin was in control when he took the stage on his own to begin The Scientist. As is the case with much of Coldplay's material, the band tend to chime in after a few bars and fade out toward the end to let Martin finish the song off delicately. The acoustic set is perfect for Coldplay and another leaf out of U2's veritable Gig Gospel. Till Kingdom Come was dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They then broke into a short rendition of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire which, although novel and entertaining at the gig, is definitely NOT a Coldplay song. The 'Man in Black' makes Chris Martin look like a frat boy singing karaoke. Green Eyes finished out the acoustic set.

I was convinced during the intro to Clocks that the band were about to break into U2's powerhouse Where the Streets have No Names. Comparing Coldplay to U2 seems like an obvious and hackneyed thing to do. But it really is unavoidable. Chris Martin doesn't just try to emulate Bono. He wants to be Bono. Period. And there were times when Jon Buckland's lead guitar was absolutely meant to sound like The Edge. Even his guitar playing posture mimicked the U2 lead guitarist in the way he wanders forward on stage as he belts out his searing melodic rifts.

The show ended with Talk, and the encore opened with Swallowed In the Sea. Of course, In My Place had the crowd singing the "Yeahhhh" refrain with gusto. Coldplay finished with Fix It as girls frantically embraced their boyfriends, determined to make the ballad 'their song' as if the moment would make their wayward beaus realize that love conquers all. Coldplay certainly think so.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Duo's New Groove

By David Schultz

At first blush, keyboardist Marco Benevento and drummer Joe Russo, more familiarly known as the Benevento Russo Duo, do not appear musically intimidating. With a stage setup evocative of two outcasts who have staked a claim in the basement to privately create weird and unusual music, Benevento and Russo face each other rather than their audience. This past Thursday night at New York City's Bowery Ballroom, the Duo, feeding off each other's energy, pounded away like mad scientists showing off the inimitable sound that won them New Groove of the Year at the 2005 Jammy awards.

The BR2's "new groove" stems from Benevento's creativity with the keyboards. Like a demented Beethoven, Benevento musically shifts back and forth between the traditional and the innovative while physically shifting between his Wurlizter electric piano and synthesizer. Equally important, Russo displays his brilliance by never letting the percussion, essential to the mix, overwhelm or distract from the overall sound. Most of the compositions start with Benevento laying down a series of harmonious musical phrases over Russo's whip-quick, staccato drumbeats in a neo-prog rock montage. With interplay more familiar to a jazz duo, the Duo exhibit an uncanny feel for each other's musical style. Reminiscent of the Friends episode where Ross unveils his "sound," Benevento has a penchant for adding squelches, squeaks and other odd noises from his synthesizer into the mix. The comparison ends there though: Ross wasn't a ridiculously talented keyboardist and Chandler wasn't a kick-ass drummer. To the rowdy approval of the Ballroom audience, Benevento and Russo fused their distinctive amalgam of sound, building each song to impressive, majestic crescendos more characteristic of classical music.

The Duo dedicated a fair portion of Thursday's performance, the penultimate show of the eastern leg of their fall tour, to their debut release, Best Reason To Buy The Sun. The album fairly captures the musicianship of the band but only offers glimpses of the energy Benevento and Russo generate live. With Benevento wildly bouncing around between his multitude of keyboards and Russo a frenzied dervish behind the drums, the Duo fleshed out the 70's funk, blaxploitation-soundtrack feel of Becky, hit the harder edges of Scratchitti and brought a moodier, jazzier sensibility to Welcome Red. Slower songs like the Curtis Mayfield-tinged Mephisto and Memphis, a new song featuring Russo on guitar, provided a pleasant change of pace but fell flat with the audience which was politely appreciative but generally unmoved by the softer tunes.

Since their formation in 2002, BR2 has developed an interesting and creative repertoire of covers. They have been known to break out entire sets of guitar-free Led Zeppelin covers or lengthy free form versions of Phish tunes, often with Mike Gordon lending a hand on bass. On this night, the Duo closed out their show with a funky, upbeat rendition of Radiohead's Myxomatosis. During the encore break, Marco Benevento exploded the myth of the hedonistic, self-centered rock star when, through an open stage door, he could be seen receiving hugs and kisses from his parents. Perhaps still feeling the familial vibe, Benevento invited the audience on stage to circle around them for their encore of My Pet Goat.

The maxim that writing about music is akin to dancing about architecture aptly applies to descriptions of the Benevento Russo Duo. To truly appreciate the Duo's accomplishments, they need to be heard as they have created a different and refreshingly unique sound. The symbiosis that occurs on stage between the two is infectious and it is impossible to not be drawn in by their insanely inventive musicianship. At times Benevento and Russo can be baffling, at others they can make you see God – and in the end, isn't that little glimpse of heaven all we really want?

The Exorcism of Emily Rose kickstarts a new genre: Law and Order horror

By Evan Ferstenfeld

Of all the tall tales the cinema has made us swallow over years of asteroid spelunkers and yapping barnyard piglets, none may be as unbelievable and recklessly exploitative than that of films "based on a true story," or its sister tagline which is held even less accountable for its chronic fibbing of source material, "inspired by true events." James Cameron's Titanic replicated the nose-thumbing decadence of the doomed vessel's confines and everyone within them down to the smallest golden ashtray. However, most features end up like Ron Howard's Cinderella Man, who completely fabricated the James Bond-villain delight in which the movie's head rival explodes his cartoon mallet-strength jabs onto opponent's craniums. The Coen Brother's icy humored and icy weathered Fargo playfully neglected to tell people that the supposedly true drama unfolding in front of them purposely didn't contain a shred of fact.

It should come as little surprise to people that if they dig into the actual events surrounding the unsuccessful exorcism on the German student Anneliese Michel that has been smoothed into The Exorcism of Emily Rose, they will find much to cluck their tongues at. Eye-witness accounts have been bounced through numerous funhouse mirrors, and people involved have been combined, created or magically placed in harm's way all to drive up the movie's intensity while de-valuing its authenticity.

Fortunately, whatever writer/director Scott Derrickson's Emily Rose lacks in true nature is made up in its ability to arouse the unsettling fear of the unknown from its audience so convincingly, while simultaneously showing them how easily each of its scares can be thoroughly debunked in the proper light. The film embarks on a mental tug-of-war with the audience's emotions and mindsets, taking place almost entirely in a crowded courtroom setting as a religious but shrewd lawyer (Campbell Scott resuming his rightful place within A-List Hollywood affairs) attempts to factually prove criminal negligence against a priest (a moving Tom Wilkinson) who claimed exorcism in place of medicine would be the key to Emily's salvation. Laura Linney plays Father Moore's ambitious and agnostic defense lawyer, an initial skeptic of her client's claims but soon finds herself questioning some of her most basic beliefs.

As a horror film, Derrickson (Hellraiser: Inferno, Urban Legends: Final Cut) digs deep into his demonic sack of scare em' tricks, delivering subtle but clever tweaks on established genre clichés (bravo to the sound department) in a successful effort to jam our feelings into the mindset of a young woman crawling with creepy cursed beings. Derrickson's greatest achievement is not in his movie's frights, but in its approach of his film's supernatural elements without fear of a secular air of doubt seeping into the scariness. The dual battle of good vs. evil and facts vs. faith also doubles the mystery, as the film thematically shrugs its shoulders as to who is right or wrong in the courtroom battle while showing an unknown entity's grisly results on Emily Rose (a frightfully good Jennifer Carpenter). Call Derrickson's new genre Law and Order horror, with a dash of Inherit the Wind and the X-Files skeptic/believer set-up grafted onto the leading lawyer characters.

Despite the predictable, half-assed Hollywood contrivances the film needlessly distills in its outside-the-courtroom character development and action scenes, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is riveting when detailing the events and aftermath surrounding Emily's demise. Instead of drenching the audience with holy water and irrefutable belief in demonic possession, Emily Rose takes the role of the new-age theology professor who challenges you to explore the multitude of possibilities for what forces hide just beyond our immediate world's existence.

Grade: B+
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 114 Mins.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson Suicide Note: Football Season is Over

A short allegorical note from Gonzo before he killed himself:

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun - for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax -This won't hurt.


Everyone is different and we don't know what anyone's life is like before we walk a mile in their shoes. But, I hope to never get to the point where I make this decision. I hope to grow old and be relatively healthy enough to keep posting random thoughts on the internet and play catch with my dog until I'm no longer able.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Musicians continue to step up for Katrina relief

THE NEW ORLEANS MUSICIANS HURRICANE RELIEF FUND ESTABLISHED:

This fund is established by Preservation Hall to provide musicians with financial support during this tragic time. The group says that 100% of money raised through this fund will go directly to New Orleans musicians.

The Urban Gospel Alliance responds with help and prayer.

Sean 'DIDDY' Combs and Shawn 'JAY-Z' Carter, to donate $1 MILLION To The American Red Cross.

RADIO GROUPS COME TOGETHER TO FORM UNITED RADIO BROADCASTERS OF NEW ORLEANS:
Clear Channel, Entercom And Local Independent Stations Combine Resources To ProvideContinuous Information To New Orleans And The Surrounding Area.

HARD ROCK INTERNATIONAL ANNOUNCES FUNDRAISING ACTIVITIES FOR HURRICANE RELIEF
Benefit Concert Featuring Velvet Revolver

Ozzfest Tour Finale At Sound Advice Amphitheatre In West Palm Beach To Include Red Cross Donation Booths To Raise Funds For Hurricane Katrina Victims.

FARM AID OFFERS IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE FOR FARMERS DEVASTATED BY HURRICANE KATRINA:
Activates Family Farm Disaster Fund To Provide Emergency Relief

JUVENILE SPEARHEADING NEW ORLEANS RELIEF EFFORTS:
Rap Star's Home Destroyed By Hurricane Katrina

Dave Matthews Band, Denver Mayor Hickenlooper and Chuck Morris announce special show for Hurricane Katrina victims.

BET, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE, AMERICAN RED CROSS to announce prime time telethon to benefit Hurricane Katrina Victims.

James McMurtry: Childish Things

By David Schultz

James McMurtry has always sounded older than his years. Matching a deep, knowing, beleaguered voice with songwriting ability derived from his father, western writer Larry McMurtry, son James has been creating achingly beautiful songs with concisely but eloquently described characters since his 1989 debut album Too Long In The Wasteland. His latest album, the wistfully named Childish Things, presents McMurtry in an aging, contemplative state of mind, mourning the loss of his youthful innocence when happiness could be attained from such childish pleasures as a trip to Richmond to see the elephant at the traveling show.

Literary in scope, Childish Things' opening trio of songs lament the erosion of the happiness to be derived from the simple entertainments of our youth, ultimately to be buried under the weight and responsibility of adulthood. In See The Elephant, our young narrator wants nothing more than his father's permission to go with his friends to the county fair, using every argument in his arsenal to secure his dad's approval. McMurtry never discloses the father's answer, but the sorrowful delivery of the final stanza powerfully delivers the message that responsibility takes more from you than an opportunity to see an elephant.

In Childish Things, our narrator, now in his 40's, like McMurtry, has put away his lust for childish things and assumed the mantle of parenthood. Recalling his Aunt Clara, who always had the Bible close at hand in case advice needed to be rendered, a jaded McMurtry sings about no longer believing in heaven but still believing in ghosts. Although time has made him world-weary, a still hopeful McMurtry remains optimistic about the future, his own and his son's.

By the trilogy's conclusion, We Can't Make It Here, all hope has been abandoned with cynicism and disgust for America's declining character filling the areas of the soul once claimed by naiveté, wonder and optimism. Filled with righteous, vituperative indignation reminiscent of Lou Reed at his most cantankerous, McMurtry skillfully and eloquently elucidates the frustration and troubles of the working class and expresses his disgust at the CEOs, politicians and so-called rich elite who remain blissfully ignorant and apathetic to the plight of others. Phenomenally written, We Can't Make It Here can rightfully take its place with the poignant protest songs of Peter, Paul & Mary and Bob Dylan. Where Bob Dylan eloquently expressed how his generation felt, McMurtry focuses on what he sees before him to illustrate his dissatisfaction with this country's government and power structure that he feels has ignored, mistreated and disrespected America's working class. His imagery of a struggling America without access to its own leader seems prophetic in light of the current events in New Orleans and Cindy Sheehan's futile vigil to get another face-to-face meeting with President Bush.

McMurtry's singing, if it could fairly be called that, gives his songs a unique feel. In addition to channeling Lou Reed's cynicism, McMurtry also adopts Reed's conversational singing style. While his vocal limitations are noticeable, especially when partnered with Joe Ely on the Jimmy Webb tune Slew Foot, McMurtry's lack of range does not detract from his songs. Quite the opposite, his low, comforting voice gives his songs a warm, old-fashioned, intimate feel best typified on the album’s finale, Holiday. With cinematic breadth, McMurtry describes various scenes, including an Iowa guardsman's childhood memories of soldiers returning from Vietnam to the same airport in which he awaits his departure to Iraq, and paints a cinematic picture of the restlessness inside us that is as "deadly as Texans on ice."

Childish Things defies classification, but it wouldn't be an injustice to call it a kissin' cousin of a country album. The difficulty stems from McMurtry's gift of investing potentially pedestrian fare, like Memorial Day and Six Year Drought, with a cerebral intensity absent from traditional country music, transforming them beyond simple little throwaway tunes. McMurtry's prior albums have been inconsistent efforts, usually containing three or four extraordinary songs strewn amidst unremarkable filler material. Centering the album on the unifying theme of how quickly our lives become burdened with unavoidable responsibilities, McMurtry's Childish Things is anything but childish. To the contrary, McMurtry's latest is his finest, most mature album to date.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Hurricane Relief Concert Saturyday Sept. 10th

On Saturday, September 10th, multiple live concerts will air on MTV, VH1, and CMT to raise donations and awareness for the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The live performances will be held in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Nashville, featuring Ludacris, Green Day, Gretchen Wilson, Usher, Alicia Keys, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews Band, Rob Thomas, David Banner, Linkin Park's Chester Bennington, and more.

Donations can also be made at MusicRelief.org.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!