Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Reviewing Spiritualized

There are some shows that I attend because I absolutely love the artist performing. I know that I'll be able to sing along to practically every word, and that there will be songs that provoke specific memories, and that I'll stand there clutching my arms and staring at the stage in open-mouthed awe. Then there are the shows by artists that I'm not too familiar with, but I attend because they have a legendary status and I want to see them while I have the chance, or because I've heard a lot of good things about them, or I feel like I should like them, even if I can only name one of their songs.

I was in the audience at the Spiritualized show at the TLA on Tuesday night because of the last reason. But more on that later. The first band to play was Philly's own War on Drugs. They treated the few earlygoers to a thunderous set, backed by two drummers. For the first couple of songs, I was enthralled by the propulsive percussion, until I noticed that the music playing on top of it was the sound of a bunch of guys in love with their sustain pedals.

There must have been a two-for-one sale on drum kits somewhere, since the Dirtbombs also had a double-percussionist setup (along with a pair of bassists; I don't think I've ever seen that particular configuration before). Aside from that, though, it was an entirely different experience. The band played a set of grimy garage rock, frequently sounding like a larger version of their fellow Detroiters the White Stripes (what exactly is in the water up there?). Singer/guitarist Mick Collins used almost every trick in the frontman book, from the high kick to the playing-guitar-behind-the-head. But the strangest and best moment may have been at the end, when the rest of the band started packing up their gear while Drummer #1 kept right on playing the beat from the last song for about five minutes, eventually joined by Drummer #2, who stood atop the kick drum and savagely attacked the tom-tom. I'd never heard of these guys before, but they make a hell of a first impression.

Spiritualized certainly seems like a band I should enjoy. I mean, they play "space rock," and if there is a genre that I should love based on name alone, that would be it. As J. Spaceman led his ensemble through the first few songs, I started picking up on some spacey influences here and there: bits from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, an organ that sounded like Deep Purple (they sang about Space Truckers, right?), and the fog machine and spotlights that served as the band's backdrop had a planetarium laser-show quality to them. Then I lost interest in that line of criticism and noticed that Spaceman's voice sounded like a cross between Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum and whichever Gallagher brother sings for Oasis. Then I started thinking of some pretentious phrase like, "Spiritualized incorporates the best bits of prog and album rock of the 60s and 70s, then recontextualizes it in a distinctly 90s alt-rock milieu." Then I realized that I didn't know what I was talking about and tried to focus on the band that I had paid money to see.

My point here is that a Spiritualized concert gives your mind ample opportunities to wander. There are plenty of shapeless intros and codas, and a few of the quieter or more upbeat songs seemed flat. There were, to be sure, lovely moments of grandiose crescendoes, which were what I came for, but unfortunately I would have to say that my lofty expectations of this group were not met. Then again, let me reiterate that I was mostly unfamiliar with them when I walked in the door, so maybe it's my expectations that were all wrong.

In Other News...
  • Here's my usual concertgoing strategy: as soon as I get to the venue, I head to the bar and order several drinks in a row. That way, I get my intoxication out of the way and don't have to worry about relinquishing my primo spot for a beer later in the evening. I did not stick to the strategy for Spiritualized, however, and learned that this is how it works if you try to order a drink after the opening act leaves the stage: you go to the bar, where you will spend a good five minutes leaning on the bar, twenty dollar bill in your hand, before being acknowledged by the bartender, who promises, "I'll be right with you." You will then spend another five minutes looking at yourself in the mirror behind the bar, thinking that in this light, your moustache does not look too ridiculous. Eventually, the bartender will finish waiting on the parties who are ordering 12 beers at a time and take your order, and upon finally receiving your vodka tonic, you will be so thrilled that you will stuff your change into your pocket and only realize later in the evening that said bartender only gave you change for a ten. This experience will, perhaps, taint your opinion of the headliner's set.
  • Note to rock bands: when the lights dim prior to your performance, please be courteous and take the stage as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more jerks in the audience will feel the need to shout "Whoo!", "Yeah!" and "Ow!"
  • Note to audience members: if a band's frontman has played his entire set without any kind of interaction with the audience (and went so far as to face the side of the stage, not the crowd, while he played), he is probably not going to be especially receptive to the requests you shout out during the encore.
  • Bonus note to audience members: if you're trying to avoid being caught smoking up during a show, you probably shouldn't exhale while a spotlight is sweeping right over your head.

Ted Stevens is Not a Big Truck

Please, oh please, let this Ted Stevens business stay in the news for the next three months or so. I might finally have an excuse to break out my quick-and-easy Sen. Stevens Halloween costume (involving nothing more that a Hulk necktie, some pork products, and an Internet for Dummies book).

Monday, July 28, 2008

...And That's When My iPod Died

Thunderclap Newman - Something in the Air

Saturday, July 26, 2008

It's Been a While Since I Used Bullet Points...

  • I never thought that I would look back on the Clinton Body Count as seeming somewhat believable, but that was before I saw the Obama Death List. I can't figure out if this started out as satire and got picked up by the sort of people who thought that New Yorker cover was a photograph, or if it was written by someone who truly believes that the Democratic Presidential nominee was running around Indonesia chopping off heads when he was in grade school. It's gonna be a long, miserable time before November rolls around.
  • I never had much use for Rogert Ebert as a movie critic; he seems to inflate his reviews of middling flicks while unfairly dismissing others, and he has an unfortunate tendency to lapse into schticky writing (I make a distinction between Ebert the reviewer and Ebert the film writer; his two-volume book The Great Movies is excellent, and his Movie Answer Man column is always a worthwhile read). Still, I always enjoyed watching Ebert and Roeper (even when, in recent years, Ebert has been notably absent), so I was saddened to hear that both critics were leaving the show. Ebert's farewell to the program is probably the best send-off his co-hosts, living and deceased, could have hoped for.
  • This is pretty cool; if you go to HBO's website for Generation Kill, select "Troop Drive," and enter your e-mail address, they'll add an item to care packages being sent to Marines stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The items are mostly the sort of things you'd expect Marines to request, like deoderant, Maxim magazines, phone cards and, um, Flight of the Conchords CDs? Hey, whatever. Blondes, not bombs!

Adventures in Misunderstood Headlines

Barbara Ann Teer, 71, Dies; Promoted Black Arts

Turns out that Teer was a supporter of African-American culture and founder of the National Black Theater in Harlem, and not (as I originally thought upon reading the headline) a witch.

Friday, July 25, 2008

...And That's When My iPod Died

Nada Surf - Blankest Year

Read This Immediately

Thanks to her unspeakably awesome Random Roles interview, Teri Garr has now been added to my list of age-inappropriate crushes.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I'm Always Late to the Meme

It's been a couple of weeks since I first came across this, and I figure I'd better post my own before it loses all sense of timeliness. So here goes: my favorite album from each year I've been alive (with annotations!):

1982: Prince - 1999 [1]
1983: R.E.M. - Murmur
1984: Prince - Purple Rain
1985: The Smiths - Meat is Murder [2]
1986: The Smiths - The Queen is Dead
1987: U2 - The Joshua Tree
1988: Traveling Wilburys - Volume I [3]
1989: Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique
1990: They Might Be Giants - Flood [4]
1991: U2 - Achtung Baby
1992: R.E.M. - Automatic for the People
1993: Pearl Jam - vs.
1994: Jeff Buckley - Grace [5]
1995: Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
1996: Wilco - Being There
1997: Radiohead - OK Computer
1998: Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Live 1966 - The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert
1999: Ben Folds Five - The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
2000: Outkast - Stankonia
2001: Bob Dylan - "Love and Theft"
2002: Bright Eyes - Lifted, or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
2003: Fountains of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers
2004: Drive-By Truckers - The Dirty South [6]
2005: Kanye West - Late Registration
2006: The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
2007: Feist - The Reminder [7]
2008: The Hold Steady - Stay Positive [8]

Feel free to create your own list and/or make fun of my highly pedestrian taste.


[1] In the course of making this list, I discovered that I don't really own any albums released in 1982. I picked up a copy of 1999 on vinyl a few weeks ago, but haven't heard it yet due to my lack of a turntable. Still, it got in by default.
[2] Tough choice, with a lot of seminal college-rock albums that I like, but don't love (New Day Rising, Psychocandy, Tim). The Smiths won because of familiarity, and because Meat is Murder is one of those albums that I will forever associate with a specific time and place.
[3] "Hey, wasn't Daydream Nation released that year?" Hey, I'm not doing this to look cool. OK, I am, and I'm failing.
[4] Nerrrrrrrrd alerrrrrrrt!
[5] A tough choice between this and Stone Temple Pilots' Purple. Yes, I am serious.
[6] A really good year, with Drive-By Truckers narrowly beating More Adventurous, Funeral, and A Ghost is Born.
[7] If you ask me a week from now what was my favorite album from last year, you will almost certainly get a different answer. I'm yet to fall in love with anything that was released in '07.
[8] To be fair, I haven't spent a lot of time with most of the albums I've bought this year, like the new Death Cab for Cutie, My Morning Jacket, and R.E.M., and the debuts of Duffy and Santogold. That said, I really, really, really like Stay Positive.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

...And That's When My iPod Died

Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fun Things To Do On Your Birthday

1. Go to Wikipedia's list of people who died before the age of 30.
2. Read the list of artists, authors, musicians, and other notable people who you have now outlived.
3. Reflect on the fact that you have yet to accomplish anything as lasting as those people did by this point in their lives.

4. If that bums you out, then consider that while you may not have achieved immortality in your time on the planet, you at least managed to avoid being gunned down by the police, catching tuberculosis, or being the victim of a prominent unsolved murder.

Monday, July 14, 2008


So, do you remember what you were doing a year ago today? I do; I started a blog*!

This is actually my third blog; I experimented with it twice in college. My first attempt lasted a few weeks, the second dragged on for a few months. This one has lasted an eternity, relatively speaking.

The credit (or blame) for this longevity rests with you, dear readers. Specifically, those among you who have responded to things that I've written over the past year. So even if my entire readership could fit comfortably in a minivan, I'd like to thank all of you for letting me know that you exist.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my loyal commenters: that spammer, that other spammer, and the guy who told me I was full of shit.

*With an astounding four posts on the first day! And the sad part is, I probably expected to keep up that pace.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What I've Seen (Short Subjects): Amelie and Firefly

Actually, I'd already seen Amelie a few years ago, after it came out on video. I remember enjoying it quite a bit. Then again, my taste for those sorts of whimsical romances has waned somewhat in recent years, so when I revisited it this week at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, I wasn't expecting to be as delighted as I was the first time.

Well, it would appear that my sense of romantic whimsy is still there, since I spent practically the whole movie staring at the screen with a big, dumb grin on my face. If you ever get a chance to see Amelie on a big screen, I recommend it; Audrey Tautou's eyes are even more charming when they're the size of cantaloupes.


I was vaguely aware of Joss Whedon's sci-fi show Firefly when it premiered in the fall of 2002. I soon started seeing geeks, nerds, and television critics everywhere penning borderline-evangelical paeans to the show's greatness. I responded to these recommendations the way that I always do: I dismissed the show as "not my thing," and assumed it was being grossly overpraised (See also: my initial reactions to Futurama and Veronica Mars).

Anyway, I recently got around to watching the first episode of Firefly, and I have to say that those vocal geeks may have been onto something. I'd heard the show described as a western set in outer space, but I didn't realize just how true that was. The characters talk like they're on a PG-rated episode of Deadwood, the music is heavy on acoustic guitars and fiddles, and the pilot episode ends with horses, cowboy hats, and an old-fashioned shootout. It's a strange concept, to be sure, but one that manages to hold together fairly well.

The pilot does occasionally suffer from the burden of exposition, but considering the amount of backstory that needs to be filled in on a typical sci-fi show, it's hardly a major problem. In fact, I was impressed by the things that were deliberately left unexplained, like the way characters occasionally break into (unsubtitled) Chinese. I was equally impressed by the production values, which are quite impressive for a TV series. (One of the things I like about contemporary science fiction shows is how CGI lets the special effects department make it look like there's an actual camera filming the various spaceships, with lots of pans, zooms, and objects going in and out of focus; compare this with the repetitive, mostly static shots from the various incarnations of Star Trek.)

Oh, and even for a show that aired on Fox, there's a surprisingly large amount of suggested nudity. Anything to get an audience, huh guys?

If I had tuned in for this episode back during the series' original run, I probably would have decided to come back the next week and keep watching. Of course, since the rocket surgeons at the network didn't bother to air the pilot episode until three months into the show's run, that hypothetical would not have come to pass anyway. As it is, I get the satisfaction of watching a show that promises to be highly entertaining without being that guy who spent the last three years telling you how great it was and the terrible injustice of its cancellation.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Comment of the Day

Well, since I don't have commenters (sniff) I'll have to borrow one from the A.V. Club's boards:
I hate Ira Glass. If I saw him on the street, I'd be like "fuck off, Ira Glass!" And then I'd say "Act one: I punch you in the nose, Act Two: you drop to the floor, Act Three: I stomp on you."
-Liberal Apologist

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Stuff White People Complain About*

  1. Punctuation: A few weeks ago, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, I re-read the text of the Second Amendment. While I came to no new insights about the constitutionality of gun ownership, I was reminded that there are way too many commas in the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment has three of them when it only needs one, right between "state" and "the right." The whole document is just swimming in unnecessary commas . Were the rules of grammar different in the 18th century? Did the states mistakenly ratify a rough draft of the Constitution? Are there qualifying clauses that somehow went missing ("A well regulated militia, and not some bunch of yahoos with automatic weapons, being necessary to the security of a free state...")? This is why I tend to be suspicious of people who talk about the Founders' original intent; it overlooks the possibility that the Founders may not have really put a lot of thought into what they were writing.
  2. The New Yorker: I am surely not being controversial when I say that the cartoons in The New Yorker are not funny. I don't necessarily mind that; "Beetle Bailey" isn't amusing either, but it's presence in the newspaper doesn't offend me. My problem with the cartoons is the way that the magazine publishes them on their website in the middle of an article, as though they just ripped a page out of the latest issue and scanned it. Look, all I want to do is read Seymour Hersh's latest depressing article on the inevitable march to war with Iran; I don't like being distracted every few paragraphs by some incomprehensible doodle. Come to think of it, I do mind that the cartoons aren't funny. If you're going to interrupt my bleak predictions of endless war, at least let me have a laugh.
  3. Bob Dylan: Last week, a situation too long and strange to recount here spurred me to pull out a mix CD that I compiled several years ago and listened to maybe once. I've played it at work a few times, each time writing a little self-review in my head ("Song selection too reliant on a handful of artists, many obvious choices given subject matter, sequencing is overly literal and, frankly maudlin. Still, I made it, so B-"). Things are going smoothly, and despite the disparate song sources, I manage to keep it at a volume that is audible, but courteous to my co-workers. That is, until I get to Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" (the version from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, not Nashville Skyline; don't try to argue with me on that one), on which the vocals and guitar are apparently mastered at 1/10th the volume of the harmonica, so when Bob starts his harp solo it sounds like a damn fire alarm, I jump three feet in the air, and rush to turn down the volume before everyone else in my office asks me what the hell I'm doing. I doubt I'll ever meet Bob Dylan, but if I do, I'm gonna bitch about that damn harmonica.
*Hey, Random House! Can I have $350,000 now?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Building the Perfect Song

(The first in an occasional series listing things that make me like a pop song. Taken together, this will serve as an exhaustive guide for any songwriters looking to compose something specifically to appeal to my tastes.)

#1: The song should contain multiple background singers who, at some point, should punctuate the song by shouting out a list of numbers.

Please see below for examples:

Los Campesinos! - My Year in Lists

Black Kids - I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Trivial Shortcomings of the Media

I suppose that verisimilitude is not hugely important in a political cartoon that features talking animals floating atop the bloated corpse of Santa Claus, but c'mon Mike Lukovich! Everyone knows that penguins don't live at the North Pole!

(To me, this is a minor annoyance, but I'm sure that some conservative blogger out there is seizing on the error as evidence that global warming is a liberal fantasy.)

If You Haven't Gotten Me a Birthday Present Yet...

...Amazon has Borat thongs for sale.

(Also, check out the "Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed..." section, which disturbingly consists largely of Care Bears.)

In Which I Underestimate Myself

Remember how I recently suggested that I'm the sort of person who surfs Wikipedia while listening to Girl Talk?

Well,I learned tonight that after a few drinks, I'm also the sort of person who dances like an idiot to Girl Talk.

(I am large, I contain multitudes)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Things I Just Discovered

It's not news, but it's news to me:
  • Rob Thomas of the late, lamented Veronica Mars is no longer writing for that new version of 90210. Good to know I can stop pretending to be optimistic about that show.
  • This is from over a year ago, so who knows if it's still accurate, but apparently there's a film adaptation of Edward Gorey's The Doubtful Guest in the works. Considering that Gorey's books make Dr. Seuss's stories look overplotted, I'm going to make the bold prediction that this will not turn out well.
  • It would appear that Noel Murray and Donna Bowman are married to each other (maybe this was no big secret, but I only recently put the evidence together). What's that? Nobody in their right mind follows the personal lives of little-known pop-culture writers as though they were on the cover of US Weekly? Very well, then; I shall drop the subject.