Monday, October 31, 2005

Is Jarhead's War Chest Half Empty or Half Full?

By Evan Ferstenfeld

The spittle-spewing, soldier ingesting drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. The helicopters of death ripping into a quiet Vietnamese countryside like a pack of military Hell's Angels, blaring classical gas while releasing mustard gas in Apocalypse Now. The shaky camerawork that feels like you are constantly surfing the crest of a mortal shell blast in Saving Private Ryan. Taken together, these images represent some of the ultimate cinematic icons of American warfare. Any new recruit rising up from the Hollywood platoons to record their vision of the last few American conflicts has taken great strides to maintain their distance from the classics, instead pointing their laser scopes towards the smaller details that made the experiences in wartime unique.

The marines populating the ranks of Jarhead, director Sam Mendes's latest stab at the American experience (American Beauty and Road to Perdition were both directed by this prolific Brit), have been ogling these iconic visuals since infancy, as has the movie-going public intent on seeing a new comment on the first Persian Gulf war with fresh, more learned eyes. Almost obsessively at first, Jarhead seems hell-bent on not only paying obvious homage to those cornerstones of cinematic combat carnage, but sometimes strikingly cuts to the direct feed of these original sources.

Mendes treating his film like a greatest hits package of the past's war zones and movie reels is no mere coincidence. Told from the true recollections of a marine grunt on the eve of the Kuwaiti invasion, Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal, joining Tobey Maguire on the short list of indie film nerd alerts-turned-buff unlikely action moguls) and his group of expertly trained life-takers (including Jamie Foxx trying his damndest to convince us he kills people for a living) are shown engaging in the highly monotonous journey from shooting holes through cardboard silhouettes at training camp, to shooting at nothing on the scorched white expanses of Kuwait. From the pressure of waiting in an alien environment, to the boredom and hypocrisy that ensues when soldiers are wound up and held on their tightest setting is labored over in excruciating detail. Jarhead is at its frisky, smart-aleck best during the first half of this adventure, consisting of a tone somewhere between the goofy inanity of Pauly Shore's In the Army Now and the poetic insanity of Coppola's Apocalypse Now.

As the war finally turns its crank from Desert Shield to Storm, the promised action that both the audience and Jarhead's characters have been strangely salivating for seems to be only a SCUD's throw away. Striking hard from unexpected territory, director Mendes finally launches his gleefully frustrating full-scale sneak attack, all to fling those iconic gung-ho constructs from all of our collective minds. For better or for worse, he aggravatingly succeeds in his mission.

Filming a war story fought almost exclusively by modern, long-range machinery from the perspective of an old-school, single target sniper is quite a challenging and noble endeavor, making Jarhead one of the few dramas detailing what didn't happen at wartime rather than what did. However, Mendes and screenwriter William Boyles Jr. offer little reward for watching this inaction in action: Jarhead's artier aspirations are left simmering half-baked on the desert floor, while no conclusions or dramatic payoffs - no matter how ambiguous - are even attempted so that the audience might have something to hang their helmets of frustration on.

Jarhead does offer starkly beautiful visual luster and scattered fresh Intel on the psyche of a soldier who unknowingly participated in America's first large-scale scuffle for mainly economic reasons. However, Jarhead's primary statement is summed up within the first two minutes of David O. Russell's superior Gulf War heist thriller Three Kings. After capping in the back a completely oblivious Iraqi who may or may not have been part of the resistance, the ecstatic American gunner hoots out, "Hot damn!! I didn't think I was gonna get to shoot ANYTHING for this entire stinkin' war!"

Grade: C+
Rating: R
Running Time: 115 Mins.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Cream Always Rises To The Top

By David Schultz
(photo from

Befitting a show that drank deep from the well of classic rock nostalgia, Ginger Baker closed out Cream's triumphant return to New York's Madison Square Garden with a 15 minute drum solo. That's right, the show concluded with a drum solo. Conjuring up the ghosts of the most stereotypical arena rock artifact, Baker delighted the awestruck crowd with his percussion prowess during the set closing "Toad," while band mates Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce watched from just offstage. Clapton and Bruce returned to the stage for the closing riff, but Baker surely closed one of the unlikeliest reunions in the most unexpected of fashions. To no one's surprise, the audience rewarded rock's pioneering blues-rock power trio with waves of adulation.

Regrouping its original lineup of Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, Cream sounded as fresh as they during their celebrated run in the late 60s. Without employing any gimmickry or stage tricks, Cream produced a thunderous explosion of sound that other bands today struggle to achieve on their own. Eric Clapton may have brought more star power to the current mix, but no charity work was being practiced here. Clapton easily slipped into his old role of lead guitarist while bassist Jack Bruce stepped up front handling the majority of the vocals. Though an unfamiliar sight to see Clapton figuratively sharing his stage, he asserted himself often, offering unsubtle reminders that the "Clapton is God" graffiti that adorned England's walls so long ago did not overstate the matter.

Despite the long layoff, the trio seemed quite comfortable on stage. Much more at ease than when clad in the suit and tie of the master bluesman, Clapton strode the stage in jeans and a T-shirt while Baker pushed the merchandise by wearing a snazzy new Cream concert-T. In fine voice throughout the evening, the wild-haired Bruce belted out traditional blues standards with the same fervor as Cream's classic rock radio standards. Clapton has never shied away from playing his Cream hits throughout his career, making Bruce's turns on "White Room" and "Sunshine Of Your Love," initially disorienting. However, Bruce's voice, as well as his demonic thundering bass on "Sunshine," brought a refreshed authenticity to extraordinarily familiar material. Clapton came front and center for an incendiary rendition of "Crossroads" and delivered an inspired guitar solo during "Badge." Those two songs, especially "Badge," which Clapton stretches out considerably during his solo shows, seemed criminally short given the fire power Bruce and Baker can supply.

But for the inclusion of Disraeli Gears' "Tales Of Brave Ulysses," the Garden set lists did not vary significantly from those of last May's Royal Albert Hall shows. Cream’s predilection for the blues loomed large throughout the evening and they played old favorites like Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday." The opener, "I'm So Glad," retained every bit of its bluesy psychedlia but, for sheer 60's hippieness, it paled in comparison to Ginger Baker's rendition of "Pressed Rat and Warthog." Always fun to let the drummer sing a song, especially one with goofy, stoner lyrics like this one. If the song selection didn't show the band's age, it came closer to the forefront when Clapton made no effort to hit the pseudo-falsetto verses of "White Room."

Until earlier this year, the possibility of a Cream reunion, much less one occurring in America was remote. A major roadblock to this three night October run at the Garden involved clearing up Ginger Baker's immigration issues so that he could obtain a U.S, visa. Without overstating the matter, this late October, three night run at Madison Square Garden qualifies as historic. Other than a brief set at 1993's Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction and their Royal Albert Hall run earlier this year, these are Cream's only gigs since breaking up in November of 1968. Unfortunately, the palpable excitement over a Cream reunion transformed the event into a corporate boondoggle. The majority of the seats, including the entire floor, were long gone by the time the tickets were made available to the general public. Unless you had connections with a beer distributor, real estate title company or other corporate outlet, you were not getting anywhere close to the floor. Once the ticket booths opened, the only available seats were in the upper reaches of the Garden and located behind the stage.

The knock on this show will be that Clapton, Bruce and Baker are too old and, like other classic rock dinosaurs, are raping the corpse of their musical legacy for one more gigantic payday. The astronomical ticket prices, floor seats sold at the box office for $350, provide fine grist for many a detractor's mill. To dwell on the cost of these shows is to miss the point completely, especially in light of the fact that the upper level seats were a relatively reasonable $65. Reunion shows like Cream's work because music is not a sport. Unlike athletes, musicians don't necessarily wear down with age. In fact, sometimes they get better.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Free-Form Radio or Die

By: David Schultz

At the end of this year, Howard Stern, arguably the most significant figure in the history of commercial radio will be leaving the medium he reinvented to become the biggest star of the emerging technology known as satellite radio. Coming with Stern to SIRIUS Satellite Radio will be approximately two million listeners who will discover a radically different radio landscape. For many, it will be their first exposure to the multitude of intelligently programmed channels, efficiently segregated by musical genres, playing songs and artists rarely heard on commercial radio. In addition to finding a wider range of music, the newcomers Stern will bring with him to SIRIUS will find 60-plus channels wonderfully devoid of commercial interruption. The grim reaper may not have come for commercial radio just yet. However, he is sitting in the lobby calmly awaiting his 3:00 appointment.

The entrée into satellite radio entails a modest initial investment of a receiver. Although SIRIUS' competitor, XM Radio has a larger variety of less expensive portable radios which act as a handheld receiver, a receiver will set the listener back approximately $250 with a monthly subscription fee of $10 to $12. Downplaying the growing sales of satellite radios, devotees of commercial radio steadfastly cling to the belief that as long as music is available for free, terrestrial radio will continue to dominate the market. Infinity Broadcasting seems to feel as such, titling their Stern replacement programming FREE – FM. Such a belief is eerily reminiscent of those who thought that cable TV would never blossom because the majority of homeowners already received network TV channels for free. Viewers now demand much more than their MTV: they demand hundreds of channels, fork over hundreds of dollars a month for them and cannot fathom living without cable. Since Stern's announcement, SIRIUS' subscriptions have quadrupled from 600,000 to approximately 2.2 million. Once Stern becomes exclusive to SIRIUS, those numbers will only rise.

The most attractive aspect of satellite radio is the absence of commercials. Your average radio station interrupts the music every two or three songs to insert roughly three to seven minutes of commercials. While academic that commercial radio will have commercials, no listener exists that prefers ads to music. Satellite radio also offers a great number of stations, each devoting its airtime to a different genre of music. Although each commercial radio station defines itself by its genre, the play list of its satellite radio equivalent skews towards deeper cuts from a wider variety of artists, providing an aural treat to musical gourmands.

Clear Channel Communications' radio stations best illustrate commercial radio's self imposed limitations. Over the past decade, the Clear Channel conglomerate has gobbled up hundreds of stations nationwide, implementing their own programming standards and practices which devote the lion's share of airplay to established artists and current hits. Consequently, Clear Channel's programming, like that of most top-40 stations, is homogenized, uninspiring and uninventive. Even the classic rock and alternative rock formats are beset with similar problems. Classic rock radio typically hesitates to break any new artists while conversely, alternative rock stations ignores many older acts. Even with the specialty formats, long time listeners of any station become familiar with the limited number of songs they generally hear from any particular artist. While preparing for Jethro Tull's live reconstruction of Aqualung on XM, Ian Anderson touted the burgeoning network's classic rock stations as the place to hear "the other Led Zeppelin or Yes songs."

Commercial radio, especially top-40 radio, exerts no quality control with respect to their programming. There is sound logic in playing what listeners want to hear. In fact, it's smart business. However, playing what others have made popular, instead of playing music someone subjectively finds worthy leads to a Catch 22 of epic proportions. By playing only what mass marketing has determined the audience wants to hear, commercial radio consistently fails to give artists worth hearing an audience. Given the difficulties in establishing a hit or an artist on commercial radio before breaking them in elsewhere, it's not surprising that the Payola scandals that once rocked the industry in the 50's have once again resurfaced.

The failings of commercial radio rise entirely from the banal and predictable programming. If there is no reason to see what comes after the commercial, no one will. It's simply too easy to change the channel and find something worth listening too elsewhere. The relatively new JACK format attempts to rectify this problem. Marketed as the commercial radio equivalent of an iPOD shuffle, JACK's play list consists of hits from numerous genres of music. Under the slogan "playing what we want," JACK radio has no qualms following Springsteen's "Born To Run" with Rob Base's "It Takes Two." Rather than inventive, the format is as pedantic and patronizing as the canned radio banter played during song breaks. Although the format attempts to remedy the homogenization of commercial radio, acknowledging that listeners can be fans of numerous genres, JACK's fundamental problem comes when the listener decides that JACK's taste in music isn't as adventurous as the iPOD culture it's intended to attract.

Commercial radio is in trouble: given the choice between satellite radio's uninterrupted, creatively programmed selections or regimented, repetitive play lists with incessant commercial breaks, who is ever going to choose the latter? For commercial radio to hold their audience, it has to give people a reason to stick around through the end of the commercials. At the present time, once the advertisements start, listeners start fumbling around the dial looking for music.

Satellite radio has already surpassed commercial radio in regards to the number and sheer variety of available formats. As satellite radio becomes more affordable, commercial radio’s market share, once thought indomitable will slowly erode. For its own survival, commercial radio needs to differentiate itself and make radical changes to its on-air programming. Commercial radio should concede the battle of the formats to satellite radio and differentiate itself by eliminating the genre format altogether and bring back free-form radio.

Usually associated with the "left of the dial," free-form radio, when allowed time to develop, has attracted music enthusiasts in droves. When stations let a DJ cultivate a following, the show prospers. In New York, free-form radio had its heyday in the late 60's early, early 70's with old-school classic rock DJs like Scott Muni and Dave Herman turning on listeners to whatever new music caught their fancy. On the strength of their DJs, WNEW earned its reputation as THE classic rock radio station. Over the years the programming decisions were removed from the DJs and placed in the hands of less adventurous, more corporate minded programmers. Unsurprisingly, the ratings slowly slipped over the years and now the classic rock WNEW is no more.

In the 90s, Vin Scelsa's Idiot's Delight, commercial radio's last bastion of free-form in New York, aired on Sunday nights from 8:00 in the evening till whenever Scelsa tired after 2:00 a.m. Holding unilateral authority over the content of the show, Scelsa played music that caught his fancy, obeying the mantra of respecting the elders, embracing the new and encouraging the impractical and improbable, without bias. During his program, Scelsa would follow his own muse. In the absence of a rigorous format, Scelsa would mix songs from various genres, invite musicians into the studio for a live, intimate session, read from a novel or discuss whatever topics seemed relevant, be they musical or otherwise. Rather than play a song and move on, Idiot's Delight progressed at a slow, leisurely pace with Scelsa taking time to provide the background of certain songs and their artists. Scelsa didn't just play music: he introduced you to it. Removed from the groupthink approach that poisons most programs, Idiot's Delight possessed a creative, unique quality that by its very nature cannot be duplicated. Even though Scelsa made significant contributions to expanding the boundaries of commercial radio, he could not avoid becoming its victim. Since February of 2001, Scelsa and his listeners have found a home on public radio on Saturday nights. Like the Pied Piper, he led those who enjoyed his music with him. SIRIUS has noticed, since 2004 they have enlisted Vin to return to his old Sunday night timeslot on their adult alternative formatted station.

Over the years, free-form radio, essentially a relic of the classic rock, baby-boomer generation, has become associated with the adult alternative format. However, there is no need for free-form to be limited as such. The strength of the format comes from the creativity of the DJ. A heavy metal or hip-hop audience might not find Idiot's Delight to be their cup of tea, but surely there is Scelsa's equal who can appeal to that audience's sensibilities. Fans of music love being exposed to new things and the current state of radio fails to tap into that desire. Imagine the possibilities when a fan of Dream Theater becomes exposed to the duets of Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim, or vice versa, because an astute DJ recognizes similar musical patterns underlying both songs. Listeners will be attracted to a DJs musical sensibility and instead of searching for a familiar genre of music might seek a kindred musical spirit instead.

Musical diversity aside, commercial radio will always have commercials and it would be naïve to imagine a scenario where advertisements disappear from its airwaves. The reason radio stations play music they perceive as popular comes from the desire to attract listeners for their sponsor's ads. The more listeners they attract, the more they can charge for the commercials. Clearly, radio stations fear that free-form radio will not attract the core listeners of their current sponsors and as such, feel there is no place for it. Such shortsighted thinking ignores the possibilities presented by the audience free-form radio can attract. If each DJ develops and builds their own niche audience, advertisers targeting that demographic will surely purchase ad time. With the advertisements tailored to the listener base, a whole new sponsorship base could be opened up. While there will always be room for beer ads, there exists airtime for additional products.

If the programming is interesting, listeners will stick around to see what happens at the other end of the commercial break. Once listeners understand that they are listening to something unique, interesting and most importantly, only available on commercial radio, they not only will make certain radio shows "destination" programming but they will refrain from channel surfing during the commercials. Once that occurs, advertisers will be happy, programmers, station owners and DJs will be happy and most importantly, the listeners will be happy.

Vin Scelsa and other free-form DJs like San Francisco's Bonnie Simmons have proven that, given time, a DJ can grow and maintain a devoted following. Surprisingly, the music industry has not recognized the role a free-form DJ can play in the promotion process. What better way to interest someone in a song or an artist than by having it endorsed and played for them by someone they trust?

Come January of 2006, Howard Stern, the ultimate free-form DJ, will demonstrate the power one DJ can have on the radio industry. Since Stern's announcement that he will move to SIRIUS, the commercial radio industry has made ridiculous efforts to downplay his unparalleled significance to the medium. Instead of undercutting Stern's legacy, they should be figuring out how to save their industry when Stern takes the majority of their listener base to satellite radio and keeps them there.

Commercial radio has imprisoned the freedom and creativity that should be present on the airwaves for long enough. It is time for the right thing to be done, free radio by returning free-form to radio.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Liz Phair at Irving Plaza

MILF Mania Running Wild
By David Schultz

It would probably be an overstatement to term Liz Phair's Tuesday night show at New York City's Irving Plaza a Return To Guyville, but it also wouldn't be misleading. In the midst of a club tour to support her disappointing new album Somebody's Miracle, Phair fortuitously forewent pushing the new product and entertained loyal fans with classics from her revelatory Exile In Guyville as well as her most artistically impressive follow up Whitechocolatespaceegg. After remaining acoustic for her opening two songs, Phair and her band plugged in and raced through a surprisingly full and satisfying 90 minute set.

In the mid-nineties, legions of fans got turned on to (and by) Phair's graphic, sexually frank lyrics and stripped-down guitar style. With her last two albums, Phair has sorely tested her audience's patience, moving towards a mainstream sound with blander, more family-friendly songs. Comparable to Bruce Springsteen's experience when he outgrew teenage angst-ridden songs about escaping New Jersey, Phair, now a mother in her late 30's, struggles with her audience's unfair expectations that she perennially keep churning out the same R-rated tunes from her musical adolescence. True fans would never stand in the way of an artist's attempt to grow musically and lyrically. However, in light of her remarkable early triumphs, Phair's recent efforts have paled significantly.

While Phair moves artistically backward, her live performances greatly vault forward. Once beset by tremendous stage fright, Phair has transformed herself into a confident, adventurous headlining act. Especially during her older material, which her band dove into with relish, Phair radiates an ageless sexy coolness, offering a coy reminder of the vixen that lurks underneath. Claiming that she wanted to challenge herself, Phair delighted the crowd with a rare recitation of Only Son, effortlessly transforming the composed opening stanzas into the song's rocking guitar-heavy finish. Weaving her "disgust into fame," the show's highlights came when Phair and the band opened up the throttle and ripped into her Guyville-era classics Help Me Mary, Divorce Song, Mesmerizing and Whip Smart's orgasmic Supernova.

Phair's newly targeted audience skews much younger than may be comfortable for most concert goers. Approximately 2 years ago at a Phair show at the Roseland Ballroom, the 12-year-old girl standing next to me exuberantly sang along to every word of Fuck and Run while her clueless mom obliviously danced nearby. Fearing that merely listening to her might constitute a minor felony and petrified that she might also know Flower, I fled to the other side of the arena. Phair's excellent renditions this past Tuesday caused no such vexing conundrum, mostly owing to the 18+ age requirement. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for Phair's recent descent into pop-chart mediocrity. The hidden blessing? Next to her newer, disappointing material, Phair's remarkable classics stand out as truly groundbreaking feminist masterpieces.

James McMurty launches political blog

AUSTIN, Texas – James McMurtry has created a forum in which fans may share commentary on the state of the union with the singer/songwriter. "I've always been a little put off by activists. So you know it's a dire situation when I have to become one myself," he explains. McMurtry makes regular posts on topics that range from airport security to the current presidential administration.

In 2003, James McMurtry joined forces with Houston's Compadre Records and released the universally praised Live in Aught-Three. This summer finds McMurtry back with his first studio album in more three years, Childish Things, was released September 6 on Compadre Records. The new album features ten new McMurtry-penned tunes as well as covers of Peter Case's "The Old Part of Town" and the country standard "Ole Slew Foot."

While Childish Things isn't an overtly political record, the centerpiece has to be "We Can't Make It Here," McMurtry's commentary on the current state of the union. McMurtry made the song available as a free download on his website during the 2004 election. The response to the track was immediate and overwhelming and the song continues to be one of the most requested on stations across the country. Stephen King described the song as "stark and wrenchingly direct, this may be the best American protest song since (Bob Dylan's) 'Masters of War.'" Congressman Bernie Sanders is using the song on his Senate campaign, and McMurtry is slowly entering the world of political activism - he just played the national Veterans for Peace convention and Farm Aid. In August, McMurtry joined Steve Earle for a free concert at Cindy Sheehan's anti-war demonstration outside George W. Bush's home in Crawford, TX (NOTE: McMurtry is actually one of the artists the White House confirmed was on President Bush's iPod). Childish Things marks the first time the track will be available on disc without FCC-sensitive words censored.

Author Stephen King describes Ft. Worth native McMurtry as "the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation." The son of acclaimed author Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment), James grew up on a steady diet of Johnny Cash and Roy Acuff records. His first album, released in 1989, was produced by John Mellencamp and marked the beginning of a series of critically acclaimed projects for Columbia and Sugar Hill.

McMurtry's new blog:


Fri Oct 21 Pittsburgh, PA Club Cafe
Sat-Sun Oct 22 -23 New York, NY The Mercury Lounge, with Joel Plaskett Emergency
and Stephen Clair 10/22, TBA 10/23
Mon Oct 24 Northampton, MA Iron Horse Music Hall, with Joel Plaskett Emergency
Tue Oct 25 South Burlington, VT Higher Ground Showcase, with Syd Straw
Wed-Thu, Oct 26 27 Ellsworth, ME Grand Auditorium, with Joel Plaskett Emergency
Fri Oct 28 Somerville, MA Johnny D's
Sat Oct 29 Philadelphia, PA North Star
Sun Oct 30 Arlington, VA IOTA
Tue Nov 1 Virginia Beach, VA The Jewish Mother
Wed Nov 2 Charlottesville, VA Gravity Lounge
Thu Nov 3 Raleigh, NC The Pour House Music Hall
Fri Nov 4 Greenville, SC The Handlebar
Sat Nov 5 Atlanta, GA The 5 Spot
Sun Nov 6 Birmingham, AL Vulcan Park
Tue Nov 8 Little Rock, AR Sticky Fingerz
Thu Nov 10 Fort Worth, TX The Aardvark
Fri Nov 11 Austin, TX Continental Club, with Matt the Electrician
Sat Nov 12 Houston, TX Continental Club - Houston
Fri Nov 18 Helotes, TX Floores Country Store
Thu Dec 29 Dallas, TX Granada Theatre, with Reckless Kelly

Thursday, October 20, 2005

K-Dub Covers New York

by David Schultz

The one man tour-de-force known as Keller Williams swept into New York City this past Friday, invading the Nokia Theater, Times Square's newest music hall. Williams' unconventional stage show relies as heavily on his ability to play numerous different instruments of varying difficulty as it does on his proficiency with his looping machine. Throughout the evening, Williams, a prodigious guitar player, captured various guitar riffs with the machine, using the repetitive loop as the backbeat. The looping track frees Williams to mischievously scour the stage, allowing him to add a second guitar or mix different instruments into the loop. While this seems like a lot of work, Keller effortlessly mixes everything together with a practiced ease that obscures his impressive technical skills.

Williams' inventive stage shows have made him a darling of the jamband circuit. Even without strong record sales or radio airplay, Keller's well-deserved reputation for providing an entertaining show, based on his ever-changing set lists of original songs, improvisational jams and eclectic covers, make his concerts sold-out draws. Williams' easily identifiable originals, typified by flowing guitar riffs and sharp, bouncy staccato percussion, though eminently enjoyable, often sound alike. At times, but for the vocals, it's hard to differentiate one Williams original from another. During brief sets, this presents a minor annoyance: over the course of a 2 hour headlining act it can become infuriating.

At the Nokia, Williams deftly avoided the issue, shying away from his own material while devoting almost half the show to other musicians' songs. Williams skillfully adapted the covers to his own style. For the Beatles' Drive My Car, Williams incorporated a triangle and his own mouth-trumpet into the backing loop. In tackling the Steve Miller Band's The Joker, Williams accompanied himself on a traditional stand-up bass. Straight forward readings of Jimi Hendrix' The Wind Cries Mary and Cracker's Teen Angst sounded fresh without the Williams' gimmickry. Slyly acknowledging the spectacle taking place down the road at Madison Square Garden, Keller adopted Bonoish mannerisms to close his version of U2's Bad. Williams' cleverly interpreted covers are a trademark of his live shows. However, relying on them to the exclusion of his own material puts Williams at risk of becoming labeled a cover act, albeit a witty and entertaining one.

Keller included a good smattering of his own tunes, working longtime favorites like Sally Sullivan, Roshambo and Inhale To The Chief into the mix. With the exception of Celebrate Your Youth, Williams did not offer lengthy versions of his own material, preferring instead to move quickly from one to the other after only a verse or two. Disappointingly, Williams relegated Freeker By The Speaker, his most popular song, to an instrumental introduction to the Grateful Dead's St. Stephen. In addition to another Dead cover, Jack-A-Roe, Williams reached deeper into the catalogue of his jamband roots, finishing his first set with Phish's Runway Jim and Run Like An Antelope and closing the show with his Big Summer Classic tour mate Michael Franti's Stay Human, praising "all the freaky people making music in the world" before segueing into Bob Marley's Rastman Chant.

The mélange of sound created by Williams nicely filled the wide, spacious and inviting Nokia Theater. The Nokia, which opened last month, contains a wide expansive floor in front of the stage with small balconies overlooking the sides. For those who don't wish to stand for an entire show, the rear of the theater has approximately a dozen rows of unreserved seats, leftovers from the Nokia's prior incarnation as a movie theater, available for those who get to them first. Logistics aside, the sound system for the theater is truly first-rate with Williams' every note clearly heard throughout the hall. More evident during Steve Winwood's show earlier in the week, the sound quality problems that plagued Winwood and his band during their Bowery Ballroom performance weeks earlier were noticeably absent. With the ability to provide both size and intimacy, the Nokia quite possibly could be the best venue to see and hear music in New York City.

No matter how good the theater, the music on stage remains the important factor. To the uninitiated, Keller Williams' untraditional approach can be off putting. Without seeing how Williams concocts the music, you can't appreciate the genius of its creation. The description of a guitarist playing and singing along to a backing loop might give the impression that Williams should be dismissed as a quirky karaoke artist. To categorize Keller Williams in such a simplistic manner would be an injustice to an inventive creative performer. To grasp Williams, he must be seen and simply purchasing an album or downloading one or two tracks won’t give you the full understanding of Williams' music.

Good Luck Finding a Better Factual Drama This Month

By Evan Ferstenfeld

George Clooney, the man who ruled the NBC roost for half a decade with little more than a Caesar haircut and well-chiseled stethoscope, clearly despises current television. This is hardly a radical stance for the once small-tube behemoth to broadcast, now that he has moved on to Tom Hanks/Brad Pitt/Random Celebrity Scientologist stature on the big screen. What is most shocking is that he has such a cogent argument against the state of network intellectual desolation, born from a story that takes place in the 1950's, an era of TV where the laughter heard on sitcoms wasn't faked and leggy pouches of chewing tobacco high-stepped their way into every nuclear family's living room.

Wiping from his canvas the psychedelic whirlwind of outrageous facts with only slightly more outrageous fictions in his 2002 directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Clooney instead leans almost exclusively on documented occurrences for Good Night, and Good Luck. Visually showcasing its right vs. wrong thematics, the black-and-white look of the film perfectly matches the 50's mindset and its citizen's need to blend in with bland attire, sterile interiors and the tensions between two superpowers to rid the world of one other. Irrational fears of a Communist invasion nesting inside our nation led Senator Joseph McCarthy and others to spray paint red anyone with a nose for change. David Strathairn plays the venerable Edward R. Murrow, a pioneering network muckraker for radio and then CBS television, whose high-minded ideals and cojones of steel paved the way for McCarthy's eventual public splattering.

Strathairn already gives off the appearance of a winged bird of prey waiting for its future meal's final gasp to escape, which Clooney uses to superior effect to highlight Murrow's intellectual precision. The effect of this has Murrow's televised re-creations playing the part of the bookworm bully, pinning you to your seat with an all-knowing stare and shaking you down for loose modes of thought, armed with a switchblade of knowledge. Robert Downey Jr. works well with this seasoned and well-matched cast, and Jeff Daniels and Frank Langella dutifully inhabit the constipated corporate nature of their positions at the CBS network, rewarding us with awkward acting gold.

It's hard to view the timeliness of Good Luck's moral lessons on due process, and journalistic fearlessness to properly educate the public as mere coincidence. Is this film a snap-shot biography of a man dousing the filthy rags of intolerance with his educated verbal liter fluid, igniting the fire that topples an evil mindset and pleads for our country to once again break out the matches? Is it merely an elaborately arty excuse for Clooney and his Hollywood cronies to again call out the current administration's all-purpose explanation for invasion of privacy in terrorism as McCarthy cited Communism? At times, Good Luck seems to become the souped-up moral equivalent of a Jerry Springer Final Thought, all hopefully pious preaching on topics that have already been dissected with more flair and far-reaching appeal (1976's Network, which Clooney is prepping a live televised re-tinkering of).

Even with a theme in search of a viable film to sync up with and doling out lessons that have probably schooled you before, you have seldom had such a convincing teacher on its many important subjects. In fact, Good Night, and Good Luck is a lot like Murrow himself - intensely direct, sticks to its guns and asks you to ponder over the larger questions it leaves unanswered, perhaps because the answers are even further away and cloudier than when Murrow first posed them.

Grade: B-
Rating: PG
Running Time: 93 Mins.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cowboy Mouth: Take Me Back To New Orleans Tour

Cowboy Mouth's rock anthem "Take Me Back to New Orleans" has long been a favorite at the band's concerts, often closing out the night as a tribute to their hometown and the adopted hometown of their fans all around the world. And now it is a rallying cry for the band, their crew and a large number of their devotees who, like the band, have no homes to return to in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

And so without a city they can go home to, at least at the moment, Cowboy Mouth's Fred LeBlanc, John Thomas Griffith, Paul Sanchez and Sonia Tetlow have announced that they will extend their current tour and do what they have been doing best for the past 15 years: bringing the incomparable spirit of their beloved city to as many people as possible through a live show that is "part Mardi Gras celebration, part Gospel-like revival and 100 percent pure rock 'n roll spectacle."

Kicking off Wednesday, September 21, at the Coca Cola Roxy Theater in Atlanta, GA, the appropriately titled Take Me Back to New Orleans Tour will weave across ten states, from California to the Carolinas, all the while raising money for the newly established Cowboy Mouth Hurricane Relief Fund, a 501(c)3 organization specifically designed to aid families, friends and fans of the band that have been affected by Hurricane Katrina.

From Atlanta, Cowboy Mouth will continue across twenty cities in their "home on wheels" tour bus, which is sponsored by Southern Comfort, a company also deeply rooted in New Orleans. The Take Me Back to New Orleans Tour will wrap up close to home in Baton Rouge, LA at the end of November.

"So many of our friends, families and fans lost their homes, not to mention their livelihoods, so we are very fortunate in that we can continue on with a portion of our lives, which is playing music, being positive and making people feel good," said LeBlanc.

"That's our mission, and right now people in New Orleans and all across the Gulf Coast need as much positive support as possible, even if it's from a stage across the country."

As a writer once claimed of Cowboy Mouth's legendary live show, "...on a bad night they'll tear the roof off the joint and on a good night, they'll save your soul." Indeed, with fans ranging from the ages of five to 85, Cowboy Mouth has become known for their intense, soul-saving, revival-like concerts, their overwhelming optimism and the maniacal antics of frontman Le Blanc, who keeps audiences glued, leaving them as drenched and spent as the band. Performing songs such as "Take Me Back to New Orleans," "At the Door of Canal Street," and new songs such as "Voodoo Shoppe," which is slated to be the title track for their upcoming release on Eleven Thirty Records, scheduled to drop in early 2006, the band is committed to keeping the New Orleans Spirit alive and bringing the big sound of the Big Easy to people across the country.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Death Cab for Cutie: Plans

by Adam Carroll

Can this be true? Did it really happen? Is this the end? Thankfully it is not. Our used-to-be, best kept secret of the independent record industry, the lyrically profound and ever-growing Death Cab For Cutie, released their fifth album, Plans, on Atlantic Records late August. They left the small but successful independent label and their home since 1997, Barsuk, located in Seattle. They signed on to Atlantic back in November of 2004, but made it official with their new release. They successfully left all us "original" fans in complete, worried suspense.

Fans and new-comers alike should take comfort, in that not much has changed. Lead guitarist Chris Walla remains the band's main producer and Benjamin Gibbard the coordinator of metaphors and similes in their lyrical masterpieces. The only difference, as of now, exists in their growing tours and biggest sales yet. Debuting at number 4 their first week on the Billboard charts and selling 90,000 copies, their move to a major label has been a positive one. Their first single, "Soul Meets Body," has been played on the O.C. as well. The ten other tracks on Plans offer a literal smorgasbord of melody and sound that will tickle any listener's senses.

"Soul Meets Body," the first single, displays Death Cab's ability to take somewhat simple compositions and build them into intricate combinations of harmony. Gibbard’s voice blends well and showcases its uniqueness, especially when replacing lyrics for "bapa bapa" in the chorus of this song. Hints of his side project’s influence, The Postal Service, surface in the opening of "Marching Bands Of Manhattan." The band's ability to make loneliness seem like a welcomed, introspective vacation comes across in such lines as "Sorrow drips into your heart through a pin hole, Just like a faucet that leaks and there's comfort in the sound."

Plans has its share of piano driven songs, like their previous album, Transantlanticism. "What Sarah Said" and "Brothers on a Hotel Bed" are beautiful pieces for example, with stories to match. "Summer Skin," a lyrical collaboration between Gibbard, Walla and drummer Jason McGerr, doesn't fall far behind. "Crooked Teeth" is a head-bobber with electric guitar leading the way, while "Your Heart is an Empty Room" is bound to be anybody's favorite. Death Cab spares our lonely hearts with the acoustic love song "I Will Follow You into the Dark." You can't go wrong with Death Cab's latest. You can listen to the album in its entirety, which is a definite rarity now days.

Death Cab Cutie ceases to amaze in Plans, not only with their music, but with their ability to retain both artistic and business control. In a recent Seattle interview, lead guitarist Chris Walla cited this as main encouragement for their change of labels. Craig Kallman, co-chairman of Atlantic, said it best when stating that Death Cab For Cutie "has only begun to unlock their full potential," (The Seattle Times). Frankly Mr. Co-Chairman, I agree.

So purchase this new album. Unwrap the plastic. Rip off that annoying sticker-seal and take a deep breath while inserting Plans. You are about to enjoy the latest, beautiful creation from Death Cab For Cutie.

The Who's Pete Townsend joins the blogging set

Pete Townsend speaks directly to fans on his blog: "The Boy who heard Music" - and unlike many celebrity blogs, Pete's allows comments back from the fans. Of course, this site isn't dedicated to the Who's glory days. Rather, its a blogging of his novella.

This is a terrific marketing tool used in an expert manner. Kudos to Pete (and whoever advised him to use blogging in this fashion!).

Franz Ferdinand shine in sophomore release

by Emily Tartanella

Ah, the second album. We know you well. From the Stone Roses to the Strokes, British music has had its share of sophomore slumps. Now, the boys who "just want to make girls dance" will have to make that dance floor just as tempting yet again.

Because, let's face it, a lot is riding on this album. There can be little debate that when Franz Ferdinand arrived on the scene in 2004 they brought with them a new wave of rock. Britpop, mach 2. The resurrection of Art Rock. Call it what you will, Franz Ferdinand sparked something among us, and they've become the prototype for dozens of new bands, each wanting to "do a Franz." So if these golden boys of indie-gone-big fail, there's plenty willing to take their place.

Well, is it time for Franz to retreat oh-so-artfully beneath a rock somewhere? To nurse their wounds as the disco plays yet another remix of "Take Me Out"? Is this album the proverbial assassination that will mark the end of our current indie-rock Renaissance?

Nope. Not even close.

Instead You Could Have it So Much Better is crammed full of more tunes than Kaiser Chiefs, more swagger than Oasis, and more sex, drugds and rock-n-roll than Babyshambles.

But that would be nothing if Franz just rehashed their debut with a few lyrics of tourbus discontent. Instead, they take their old format (dancey, arty, and far too clever) and amp up the riffs, dirty up the content and (gasp!) bring out the ballads.

Opener "The Fallen" just proves how much this band has grown, taking a story of a friend-of-the-Franz who believes himself resurrected as Christ (after all, the initial title was "Robert Anderson is Christ.") Yes, the lyrics are memorable, but they're not why this song is so shocking. The difference is in the sound. And what a difference, gone is the slightly tinny production on songs like "Tell Her Tonight" or "Come On Home." The problem with Franz Ferdinand is that some songs sounded more like sketches than fully realized works. By comparison, You Could Have it So Much Better is an oil painting.

This same glossy, powerful production comes up again and again in the album. "Evil and Heathen" threatens to throttle the listener with its bassline and slyly menacing lines "Fill your thirst/And drink a curse/To the death of death instead." Gothically glorious hedonism is everywhere, from the disco-punk menace of "Outsiders" to the Bowie-gone-Cure rush of "I'm Your Villain," which manages to be pure, undiluted sexuality. "I see the passion emerge," Alex croons in his best withering call, "I'm your villain." "You're the Reason I'm Leaving" struts in but loses its footing, becoming a meandering middle-finger to an ex-lover. The unabashedly superb title track becomes a rallying call for disaffected youths everywhere. It may be the most political Franz Ferdinand get, but when Alex assures "I refuse to be a cynical goon/ Get up! Get up!" you know he's not just talking about dancing at the club.

"This Boy" and "What You Meant" feature the heavily styled, punk in a suit act that put those girls on the dance floor over a year ago. "This Boy" in particular crashes breathlessly into a rant of "I want a car! I want a car!" Shallow? Perhaps, in its depiction of characters living for the moment and relishing their excess. But it's brilliant, so forgive Franz Ferdinand for not being obtuse. In fact their candor is refreshing but not surprising, drug references creep up in almost every song and the line "Your famous friend, well I blew him before you" isn't exactly subtle. "Do You Want To?" (the song that, while no "Take Me Out," still rotates around your head in a regular basis) takes voyeurism to new heights, all over a sugar-rush of a beat. "Well That Was Easy" is (surprise, surprise), hip, catchy, and begging to be played at every in the know club for the next five years. It's saved from boredom by its nifty, slowed down chorus and dark lyrics of drug abuse and loneliness. Angular riffs a la Gang of Four pop up often, but Franz somehow make them their own.

But it's the slower numbers that are the most surprising here. Perhaps "Eleanor Put Your Boots On" bears the most striking change from the rest of the album, doing B-Side Beatles with subtle grace and beauty. True, ushering your lover to jump off a rollercoaster isn't exactly traditional love song material, but it's all the better for that. Over a gentle strumming guitar, Alex pleads "Leap and let the jet stream set you down/I could be there when you land," and unexpectedly, hearts are broken. Flimsy number "Fade Together" wants to be taken seriously but just feels malnourished and underdone. Future single "Walk Away," while not being a ballad necessarily, still creates a soundscape of slow, melodic beauty with a slightly amped-up chorus. Surrealism triumphs in a song like this, with Stalin smiling, Hitler laughing, and Radio 4 static. Oh, boys, you sure know how to charm the ladies.

Perhaps it's a testament to this album just how charming it really is. Your feet still dance, your head still shakes, and maybe you get a little choked up at the end of "Eleanor." Maybe not, but the point is that Franz are just as danceable as ever. They've grown up and gotten famous, but they haven't forgotten what brought them to the top. True, at times the production gets a bit repetitive, and there's only so much dance!art!rock! you can handle in one sitting. And no, You Could Have it So Much Better isn't going to change the world. But that's okay. Right now, amidst all the chaos this generation's been through, it's nice to have a band that knows how to throw a party.

So, who's next? Bloc Party, Razorlight, M.I.A all have to prove themselves worthy of the hype. As for Franz Ferdinand? Don't worry, I have a feeling they're going to be fine.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Multi-faceted bassist Dave DeMarco signs on with Hilltown Media Group

BALTIMORE, MD (October 14, 2005 Press Release) – Independent bassist, composer and producer Dave DeMarco is the latest rising talent to attract the attention of Hilltown Media Group, a Maryland-based public relations, marketing and promotions agency. HMG was founded by attorney-turned-marketer Jeff Davidson who quietly observed DeMarco's career ascension a full four years before offering his services. Says Davidson, "I've watched Dave create his own opportunities and develop his unique brand identity for years and now he's reached the point where he needs to hand that part off to specialists so he can devote more time to his craft."

Dave welcomes having the freedom to delegate this part of his workload to HMG. He's currently producing two CDs – the latest installment in the Turn It Up and Lay It Down series of jam-along CDs for drummers (on which he also plays and wrote all the material) as well as the debut release of southern/surf rockers The Perfect Poor. This is in addition to gigging with 6 bands, juggling studio work and maintaining a robust roster of students for private bass instruction.

The HMG relationship has already yielded dividends. Recently, HMG introduced Dave to Robert Rush of Vintage Tone Project, makers of boutique effects pedals for guitarists and bassists. Robert quickly signed Dave to an endorsement deal, placing him in the company of John Fogerty and Brad Paisley and then dove into working on a custom pedal for Dave, tailored to his needs. In return, the burgeoning pedal designer is confident that the allegiance with Dave will help broaden his company's exposure to the pro-but-not-yet-famous segment of players who have migrated away from mass-produced equipment and who actively seek out boutique gear.

Visit Dave online at

Saturday Night Live alum Charles Rocket death ruled suicide

Officials have labeled the death of former Saturday Night Live cast member Charles Rocket as a suicide. Rocket, whose real name was Charles Calervie, was infamous for blurting out the "f" word on an SNL broadcast. Born in Bangor, Maine, Rocket, was a castmember in 1980 and 1981 and turned 56 in August.

Rocket also appeared in several addition television shows and the cult comedy classic film "Earth Girls are Easy" with Jeff Goldblum , Jim Carrey and Geena Davis.

Who is James Dobson?

I have been reading and hearing the name James Dobson in the news a lot over tehe last year or so. I still don't know who he is, but I'm now thinking he must be some type of James Dobson must be a "super citizen" given the privileges and access he has that most of us regular citizens don't. He's not an elected official of any sort, and to my knowledge never has been. Yet, he is privy to have private conversations with top White House officials and federal judges. (quick aside: it seems to me that federal judge should have to answer for participating in such a political conversation) In our democracy, its my understanding at least, that all citizens are to be treated equally as possible. My question is then how do some citizens become so powerful that they get to influence policy and obtain private access to elected officials? Are some citizens more special than others?

I'm a citizen. I've got a clean criminal record. I've served my country in the military and in two civilian government positions. I pay taxes. So, where's my call from Karl Rove? How come I don't get to talk to federal judges about who should be on the Court? Of course, I do have a Congressional representative and Senator that are supposed to do those things for me. And, its probably more efficient for the nation if I call my representatives and have them act on my behalf. Of course, James Dobson, assuming he's a citizen, must have a Congressional representative and Senator? (unless he lives in DC, whose citizens are not represented with voting powers in the Congress) So, shouldn't James be calling his Senator instead of getting these private chats? What kind of show are they running down there?

Obviously I don't have an answer to that. I do though believe that kind of access should not be limited to the super rich or super connected if we are going to have a healthy democracy. And, that is a key issue. Indeed its now my belief that many in government do not want an honest and healthy democracy. Many elected officials and their insiders treat the White House and Congress as their private power clubs and could care less about doing the people's business. They believe that they alone have the right to hold office and make policy. They believe that the rest of us should trust them and never question their actions, motives or decisions.

Well, it shouldn't take too much thought to realize how un-American and anti-democracy that type of attitude and behavior is. My opinion here isn't breaking any new ground and I'm basically writing this on the fly. So, I'm not looking to enlighten anyone with this brief missive. But, I do hope to spur some important questions in some of you. One - what kind of democracy do we want? (since the one we have needs a lot of work and is slipping toward something else) and Two - what are you prepared to do about it? I hope you at least think about it.

Monday, October 10, 2005

In Her Shoes Does Its Best To Not Give Male Moviegoers The Boot

By Evan Ferstenfeld

Now that romantic comedy trailers boast about how many tears they will make you leak as if they were shilling for Schwarzenegger’s latest blood-letting actioneer (the tagline for Love, Actually christened itself "The ULTIMATE Romantic Comedy," apparently ending a century of heated debate on the subject), where does In Her Shoes stack up hormonally in the suddenly ultra-competitive chick flick sweepstakes? Directed deftly by Curtis Hanson, a man who specializes in disguising touchy-feely cinematic journeys by plunking a testosterone-approved male at the helm of his emotional roller-coasters (Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys, Eminem in 8 Mile), In Her Shoes reverses the amount of screen time of his film's genders to complete Hanson's brilliantly triumphant conversion of the brute male psyche, from his Alpha Male smoking-gun drama (1997's L.A. Confidential) to simply baby's momma drama.

Unlike a smattering of other estrogen-fests that place a steel barricade out front with a "Ladies Only" sign to assure no male presence will interrupt the cinematic pocketbook party (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Waiting to Exhale), In Her Shoes spins the gender-friendly tale of two sisters on opposite ends of the compatibility lifestyle spectrum who need drastic changes of pace in lives screaming towards unfavorable endings in their current trajectories. Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz, finally putting to ironic use some of her fluff-piece performance tendencies she has drifted through in the last few years) is a female temptress who worships famous people for being famous, who can set invisible traps to seduce any guy she might fancy for the evening. Her sister Rose (Toni Collette looking nearly unrecognizable in a nicely understated performance) buys scads of provocative footwear only to pile them in the back of her closet and would have to statistically pinpoint who her Prince Charming would be before even thinking of reeling him in. Kudos go to screenwriter Susannah Grant for not morphing author Jennifer Weiner’s everyday but not stereotypical characters into the umpteenth rendition of a familial Odd Couple, instead injecting into all involved a relatable and realistic way about every goofy joke and awkward silence.

In fact, the key description to properly fit In Her Shoes's size is springy, eager humbleness. Where scores of modern romantic comedies attempt to jerk every last tear from the depths of a woman's heart like estrogen oil derricks, In Her Shoes glides along at a leisurely two plus hours, letting its jokes and main themes take their time to soak in, showing how sometimes changes come and feelings heal through the passage of time alone. The film also does not shy away from potentially creep-out subjects such as how senior citizens are as hot to trot with each other as their MTV2-infused grandkids.

Nearly every classy chick flick of the past decade has contained a member of the older Hollywood order coming in and trying their damndest to disperse their seasoned elegance and charm on the bawdy proceedings. As the sister's long-lost grandmother, Shirley MacLaine gracefully and quietly superglues the film's many plots and winding stories together, specifically casting off her glamorous sheen and disappearing into the skin of an ordinary senior citizen who is neither off her rocker nor down for the final count.

In Her Shoes puts its best foot forward to genuinely wear its heart on its sleeve and its brain in its title. While not nearly as thoughtful as it tries to finally resonate and is perhaps a little too literal in its underlying meanings (the plethora of pumps that play a honking huge role to symbolize the grandness and diversity of, you know, life and stuff), In Her Shoes doesn't seek to rock the boat like some of the more adventurous chick flicks in recent years (Bridget Jones's Diary, About a Boy). Instead, the film takes the spirit of a lazy, sparkly pop song that reminds us of simple wisdoms and bonds between blood, and has you humming along to its warmly familiar tune for days to come.

Grade: B
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 130 Mins.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Vans Warped Tour Teams With Habitat For Humanity To Help Victims Of Hurricane Katrina

Last Friday, the Vans Warped Tour donated $300,000 to Habitat For Humanity. The donation will help build five new houses for Hurricane Katrina victims.

Vans skaters and artists as well as members of the Vans and Warped Tour organization gathered together to help build a prefabricated home, load it onto a truck and ship it off to Louisiana where it will be given to a family in need. In addition, for the summer 2006 Vans Warped Tour trek, the tour will stop into areas affected by the hurricanes to assist communities with rebuilding homes.

Fans can log onto for direct links to multiple ways to help.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!