Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Halloween Night, and I Ain't Got No Costume

As usual, it's All Hallow's Eve and I find myself not dressed up with no place to go. Still, as in years past, I've managed to come up with one fairly decent costume idea, though it's best suited for the ladies. So to my female readership: go ahead and steal my last-minute idea of dressing up as the Utz girl. I mean, how easy is that? Red T-shirt, lots of blush on your cheeks, big red bow in your hair, a sly grin, and your hand in a bag of chips. Just be sure to credit me when you get the inevitable compliments.

Meanwhile, Francesco Marciuliano, writer of Sally Forth, came up with an idea so obvious, I'm surprised it never occured to me: dress up as a character whom no one ever saw! Charlie from Charlie's Angels is just one example; it could also work with Maris, Niles's wife on Frasier, or the contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

Update: So, yeah -- of course the costume ideas start coming fast and furious in early November. These ones are not only easy, they're unbearably snobbish as well!
  • Young Antoine Doinel - all you need is a turtleneck, plaid coat and, if you're going the extra mile, a stolen typewriter.
  • Death - white face paint, a black robe with hood, chess set
  • The lead characters from Breathless - For him: snappy coat and tie, fedora. For her: skinny jeans, pixie haircut, New York Herald Tribune T-shirt.
What's that? Why yes, I do spend an inordinate amount of time browsing the Criterion Collection's website! However did you guess?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Other Meats For Uplifting Gormandizers

I suppose it's inevitable that a review of DBGB Kitchen and Bar, a Manhattan restaurant near the late CBGB, would inspire the New York Times' new food critic to let out his inner punk rocker. Two separate Ramones references in the headline and first line of the review? Check.

He does deserve extra credit for a less-obvious Talking Heads line, though.

(Also: a restaurant with a sausage-centric menu? I'm all revved up and ready to go.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Wonder Which Songs They're Gonna Play When We Go...

The '59 Sound, the breakthrough album from Jersey punks the Gaslight Anthem, completely snuck up on me last year; I don't recall hearing anything about the band before they started appearing on year-end best-of lists. And it's the rare album that actually lives up to the hype, an almost maddeningly consistent group of songs in what is possibly my favorite sub-genre: frequently anthemic rock music with smart, allusive lyrics (see also: the Hold Steady, Drive-By Truckers).

Seeing them live, though, offered a reminder that this was first and foremost punk music (and also a reminder that in all my years, I had never been to an actual punk show). At the sound of the first chord, the crowd around me pressed forward and the limbs of a crowdsurfer nearly knocked the glasses off of my face, and I decided to beat a hasty retreat further back from the stage. Even that wasn't entirely safe, though, as I was only a couple of yards from a circle of moshers. This was a far cry from the way I had previously experienced the band's music: through headphones, with the lyrics booklet in my hand. Under the circumstances, I preferred the slower, quieter numbers, since I could focus on the show and worry less about some dude knocking me over. The highlight of the evening was a hushed, singalong rendition of "Here's Looking at You Kid," although the album-closing "Backseats" and a cover of Tom Petty's "Refugee" were close runners-up.

The Gaslight Anthem most likely have pomade on their tour rider.
They also have the most bad-ass kick drum you're likely to see: that's John Shaft and Charles Bronson.

Considering that they share a name with a mystery spoof written by Neil Simon, I kind of assumed Murder by Death would be a fairly lighthearted opening act. Imagine my surprise, then, when the lead singer turned out to have mutton chops and a Nick Cave baritone, singing songs about, well, murder and death (words like "dust" and "whiskey" are liable to pop up in the lyrics) and whose backing band included a cello player. There were some die-hard fans in the audience; the guys on either side of me seemed to know every word, and both seemed to think that the only proper way to sing along was with their hands extended towards the heavens and head thrown back like a howling wolf.

Murder by Death's choice of cover song: Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)". What's that, Wikipedia? You say that song was originally recorded by Cher? Thanks, Wikipedia! You're the best!
The Loved Ones are local kids, and as such they were received enthusiastically by the hometown crowd. I'd be lying if I said I remembered any of their songs, though they did play a version of Conor Oberst's "I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)." A lucky audience member guessed the song before they played it, and was thus rewarded with a swig of the Jack Daniels bottle that the frontman kept nearby.

Later that week, and closer to the other end of the musical spectrum, I went to see St. Vincent and Andrew Bird. During the show, I came to the somewhat disappointing realization that, while I don't dislike either of those artists' musical output, I don't love a great deal of it either. It was fun, though, to see the virtuosic Bird effortlessly switch between violin (often creating on-the-fly tape loops to accompany himself), xylophone, guitar, vocals, and whistling. His stage setup was also impressive, with stacks of vintage-looking amps and oversized gramophone horns, including one two-headed monster of a Victrola that spun around during certain songs.

Oh, and if the guy to my right who kept shouting "Fake Palindromes!" between songs happens to be reading this: Try not to be such an asshole in the future, OK?"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Closing Time

Call it a Murphy's Law of concertgoing: if you spend weeks debating whether you want to shell out the money for tickets to see Leonard Cohen at the Spectrum (because, on the one hand, you'd feel like you're squandering an opportunity if you didn't see Mr. Cohen while he's touring for the first time in years, but on the other hand, you're skeptical that a large arena is the ideal venue to see him, sandwiched as he is between multi-night farewell shows by Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam), the show will end up moving to the Tower at the last minute (which would be an awesome venue, but is small enough to have completely sold out).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What I've Seen: Nosferatu the Vampyre

If you're in the market for a filmed version of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Werner Herzog's 1979 Nosferatu the Vampyre is but one choice among many: F.W. Murnau's silent Nosferatu (of which Herzog's film is a remake/homage), Tod Browning's version with Bela Lugosi, and Francis Ford Coppola's strangely cast and over-the-top but visually spectacular adaptation -- and those are just the ones that I've seen. And if all you're after is the basic plot -- real estate agent sells city home to Transylvanian count, vampire moves west with designs on the throat of said agent's wife, bloodsucking ensues -- pretty much any of them will get the job done.

But then, nobody goes into a Werner Herzog movie just to see a plot unfold. They go for the director's audacious, go-for-broke style. So it was disappointing to find that the beginning portion of Nosferatu is mostly missing that Herzogian quality. There's nothing necessarily wrong with it, but it feels like an attempt to make the movie that Murnau would have made if he had access to late-20th century technology: with color, sound, movable cameras, location photography, and an atmospheric score from Krautrock band Popol Vuh. As Johnathan Harker (played by Bruno Ganz, perhaps best known as the actor in all of those YouTube videos of an irate Hitler) slowly makes his journey to Dracula's castle, I was ready to dismiss the film as an unnecessary retread.

Ah, but when the Count himself finally appeared onscreen, it was a different story. Frequent Herzog collaborator Klaus Kinski is such a sinister presence that it's difficult to be anything less than transfixed when he occupies the frame. Kinski wears the same ghoulish makeup that Max Schreck wore in the original, and also copies Schreck's stiff-backed, slow movements (although he is also capable of quickly scurrying around, like the rodent he so closely resembles). It is also, at times, a surprisingly understated performance, as Kinski plays Dracula as a lonely creature tormented by his immortality. For better or for worse, the modern trope of the angst-ridden vampire has some of its roots here.

The film doesn't really start to get going, however, until Dracula arrives in Wisborg (the film's analogue to London in Stoker's novel). Beginning with unbroken shot of the ship carrying the vampire drifting slowly and eerily through a canal, this is where it felt like Herzog finally diverged from his source material and indulged in his own whims. As townsfolk keep dying mysteriously and everyone fears the Plague, Herzog sets many hauntingly apocalyptic images in the town square: lines of casket-carrying pallbearers (shot from above to look like centipedes), livestock roaming freely among the dwindling survivors, and a group holding a self-described last supper as hundreds of rats swarm at their feet (Herzog's fascination with animals is evident -- edited into the film are several slow-motion clips of a bat in flight). The film improves right until its final scene, where unexpected comedy and a bleak twist mingle side by side.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Internet Argument of the Week

This epic, incredibly vitriolic comment thread at Philebrity proves that people wearing snuggies and going out to drink is the most controversial issue facing the world today.

It was pretty nice outside this week, wasn't it? Then why is everyone so cranky?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More Songs from Pandora

I've been around a while, and during that time I guess I've heard Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" a couple hundred times. But it was always the live Budokan version. It wasn't until earlier this week that I heard the studio version, and holy hell I would never have guessed that this was the same band inspiring an arena full of excited Japanese girls.

Dig that honky-tonk piano solo!

While that's a pleasantly unfamiliar take on a familiar song, this next revelation made me question everything I thought I knew about the universe. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Tom Waits:

Obviously, this was before he switched to a diet consisting entirely of unfiltered cigarettes, cheap whiskey, and the occasional piece of sandpaper.