Saturday, October 02, 2010
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Catchy as heck, no matter. And that's a mighty fun video, too. LA band makes good.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Friday, May 14, 2010
Tuned v. 1 no. 6: "Constructive Summer," The Hold Steady
In lieu of a concert review (for a killer show by THS at El Rey in LA on May 5), I thought it might be more instructive to examine "Constructive Summer," which I'd like to subtitle "It's All Over but the Rocking and the Pointing" and goes a little like this:
Sneaky, huh, how it passes up the "Lust for Life" drums it name-checks in line one, the bop-bop-bop bop-bop-de-bop-bop beat that even Colin Meloy nicked for "The Sporting Life," and that improbably Carnival Cruises stole as a theme song for awhile (Iggy at sea sort of confounds me, but what do I know about marketing), to opt for something much more straight-ahead, driving--even the piano makes a lie of its name and is all tympani. But that's the song, isn't it, cutting grammar off at the pass--"Me and my friends" indeed. No surprise later our singer didn't like schooling none, is it.
For this is a you and me song, one that throws its friendly arm over our shoulders. You have to sing along to one of our psalms for the "this summer" shouts, one of which turns out to be "get hammered," and why not, this town is dying. For maybe we're in a real place and maybe we're in Springsteenvania,* for Craig Finn, The Hold Steady's leader, certainly has an affinity for the Boss. In some ways at times THS seems to write its songs the way so many filmmakers now make movies--why write from life when you can write from the art that precedes you and moves you? Life can be a bore, but the best art--by which, of course, I mean the art you like--is even thrilling in its losses, so monumental.† "My friends that aren't dying are already dead," is just such a line, how grand our misery is, it proudly asserts.
Cause it can't be true now, can it, not with a song this zippy? It puts the vim in invigorated, the way we have to raise our hands in defiance, the way we have to rock really hard and of all ridiculous things hope. Sure the song ends dead on its last two lines "Getting older makes it harder to remember…we are our only saviors/We’re gonna build something, this summer," and you have the feeling our fine Finn-y friends sing this tune each and every Memorial Day with not much to show but a hangover back to work at the mill on Tuesday. But perhaps that's ok. It sure felt good thinking about it. And while all this hope can be fit in under a 3 minute rockin' nutshell, there might be a next song that kicks in before we know it. We can all be something bigger if it's nothing more than knowing that wherever two or three of us gather in rock's name...you know, they're called power chords for a reason.
*In particular nowhere more than "Racing in the Street," the closest Bruce has ever got to Raymond Carver goes to New Jersey, although that might be as much as close as Roy Bittan has got to Raymond Carver goes to New Jersey. You can check a video of the famous 1978 Capitol Theatre in Passaic NJ version, even. Note Bruce's version is a ballad. Perhaps that's where St. Joe Strummer comes in.
† Think of the sheer joy in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, say, before people started to like him and his moves codified, or to refer to one of Tarantino's references, the Truffaut of Shoot the Piano Player, all that joy in knowing what we know and letting you know it too. Come bathe in our collective cool.
Does everyone have a water tower in his or her past? There was one right outside the gate of our high school and I never climbed it let alone took part in the annual graffiti-ing, which was never clever, just a claim that Class of ____ was here and you damn well better remember it. (Till Class of ____+1 comes along.) Might my life be different, having looked down from such a lofty, and no doubt slightly drunken, perch, I do not know.
And that was even with hearing the call of St. Joe Strummer even then, buying London Calling at a Sam Goody's on 6th Avenue in New York, a double LP for $5.99 and liking it plenty, but of course they weren't really punk by then (just, for a moment, the world's best band? that title no one can hold for long as it's just too much to be that wise and sloppy at once to survive). And I was never punk, despite to this day thinking "Blank Generation"‡ speaks to me, but I came to The Voidoids late, and so much of that speaking is Quine's guitar, so the unspeakable. So I'm a fraud--the life of a secret punk isn't very punk at all.
That's why I need so music so much, something has to give me a way out, a way to hold steady.
‡ And how have I never seen this before on YouTube? And why the hell do they cut away from the song to interview wasted audience members? Richard Quine, how I miss you.
Monday, May 03, 2010
Good-Night, Sweet Prince
And may your noble, cracked heart fly with the angels, for certainly you could fly on earth. Here's what I wrote last November:
It's Mookie's 12th birthday today, and at least for now I want to think of him again as the fastest dog in the park, the one other dogs would chase and then they would cry, realizing how quick he was, how it broke their heart to witness such swiftness and point them out as the plodders they were. I want to hang to all the joy in that speed, that sense of singleminded purpose. To the lift of moving with all of you in the air. Young Mooks had that and more.
So here's to the wonder he was and the sweet old hobbler he is now, no doubt still lightning quick in the dreams he dreams in his daily snoozes, so often guarding a Milkbone he's not even sure he wants, he just knows Nigel doesn't deserve.
Poor Mooks gets to dream those dreams full-time now. He had been losing weight and growing weaker nearly by the day of late, and this weekend it was his breathing that started to go, too. The only gift we had left to give him was to ease his pain, and as much as that was the right choice, it's a "gift store" I don't want to have to shop at too fucking often.
In the mornings while getting ready to go off to work, Mookie would almost always assume his same favorite spot, on the top of the bed across all the pillows, exactly the kind of comfy a greyhound cherishes. Despite finding his perfect perch, if I came up and asked him if he wanted a hug, he'd scoot a bit up the bed to give me room, as if inviting me. And I told myself every day, running late or not (but of course almost always yes), I had to lay down and give him that hug. I cherished all of those moments, telling myself he wasn't going to live forever. Beauty, love, us, you and me--all so insubstantial.
I know that. And I know nothing at all.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Another Bolero, Another 10
Larry Keigwin + Company, Bolero Santa Barbara
Hands down, hands are crucial to the work Larry Keigwin choreographs, as was amply evident during the four piece performance his troupe (and a wonderful bunch of locals, but more on that in a bit) presented on Friday at the Lobero. Take one repeated bit the company made in the piece "Wind," set to a soaring Philip Glass soundtrack - often while circling, the dancers would bring their arms up from hips, bringing their palms together in front of their faces, as if taking off, as if supplicants in church. On a wing in a prayer literalized, you could say.
But of course I've zoomed in a bit too quickly to give an overall sense of this wonderful, wide-ranging night of movement. As usual (Keigwin has been a frequent visitor to town, thanks to Dianne Vapnek and Summerdance, now DANCEworks), the work was both poignant and playful, as anything involving humans on the move should be. The opening, "Air" (perhaps as in "as light as") had the dancers in natty flight attendant costumes, turning the usual safety instruction pantomime into something clever, all set to the Fifth Dimension singing "Up, Up and Away." (And while it's hard during such a number not to think of Bob Fosse's "Take Off with Us" from All that Jazz, the Keigwin piece stayed nice and far from naughty.) The second movement of "Air," a coy duet danced by Keigwin himself with Matthew Baker, popped clichés of love (even going so far as to include balloons), while still luxuriating in the danceability of a croonerly gem like Perry Como's version of "Catch a Falling Star."
"Triptych" was another piece fascinated with arms and hands, limbs swinging often in a mechanical way, dancers set in lockstep (what's the arm equivalent of lockstep?). At times a line of four or five would cut across the stage, the last dancer briefly breaking out of the routine, only to jump back in before leaving the stage. The piece seemed to tease the tension between being one with the group versus the need for being an individual, the comfort of the many versus the risk of going it solo.
The darkest piece of the night was a preview of "Exit," the work the company has been developing during their Santa Barbara residency. Performed on the bare stage with stark lighting, dancers often were up against the wall itself - a piece about limits, as if to suggest all dance is, since it's always about flesh. Composer Chris Lancaster played his original music on electric cello live, and its occasional grating was cleverly mimicked when one dancer would draw his hand along the wall, fingernails on the performance's chalkboard. It will be fascinating to see where the work-in-progress "Exit" ends up.
The evening ended on a much more joyous note, with "Bolero Santa Barbara," featuring 50 Santa Barbarans of all shapes, ages, and dance ability (plus one local dog Edhat needs to feature soon). Opening with the performers aptly moving from the aisles/audience onto the stage, it reveled in Santa Barbara as 3-D postcard - bathing suits, beach scenes (with surfing on towels across the stage), Trader Joe's bags, bikes, even a few bare bottoms (provided by the professional dancers - New York sassiness invading our poor provincial town). That it was done so lovingly took away any of the possible sting of condescension, and that the performers were clearly having the times of their lives added to the joy. For what is dance, after all, but celebration, and to make that celebration Santa Barbara-specific…well, that can only be a great time.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The Cows that Agriculture Won't Allow
If you started with the videos, there's really no point in reading what I've got to say, is there. For while this performance wasn't from Yo La Tengo's concert last night at Velvet Jones in Santa Barbara, it certainly is close enough to the version essayed yesterday to give you the full meaty flavor of what was a typically terrific show from the veteran outfit. "More Stars than There Are in Heaven" is probably my favorite track from their most recent CD, the tongue-in-cheekily named Popular Songs, with its lovely noisy wanting-keening, so it was wonderful for it to get such a mind-blowing, Ira-bending workout. Not that those of us who have been following the band for years expect any less--even back in the early mid 1980 days when 10 people might show up for a show and a peeved Kaplan would merely feedback solo for a half hour, the mild-mannered guitar hero was always in the making. Here, though, such control of that chaos. Such beauty out of noise. If only it were a land we could walk hand-in-hand in. (How fitting it can't be contained in one video.)
For it has to be said, Kaplan is a man possessed in concert. For not only was there this work out, and the set-ending opus that the magisterial instrumental "I Heard You Looking" became, but there was his all out attack on the keyboards for "Sudden Organ," too, blatty-blasts punctuating the song as he'd seemingly randomly fall onto his right elbow. In many ways while they performed much of the latest disc, the heart of this live set was Painful, a hint both of when the band came together with not just alternately but often simultaneously supple and muscular bassist James McNew, but a world view: Beauty hurts, it has to--it teaches us how much is ugly then it ups and leaves.
Take McNew's prime turn at the mic (well, except for the encore's "Ant Music," just as fun as you would have hoped) "Stockholm Syndrome." I'm far from the first person to point out its Neil Young-ish folk rock charms, but just as you get used to the gentle ride, Kaplan jumps in with a guitar solo that makes the tune a mad mash-up: if it were Disneyland, it would be like getting ripped from the carousel, and you're not even on one of the up-and-down horses, and ending up on Tower of Terror, everything about you free-fall guitar.
Alas, I don't mean to ignore Georgia Hubley, whose drumming keeps her wildman husband's ways pinned tight to the songs. How steady she is, mallets-aswinging. How unwilling she seems to want to step into the spotlight, even during a rousing encore version of "Emulsified" when she was called on to take a drum solo. (Perhaps, though, it was Kaplan saying, "take it my little lady," that kept her laughing, instead of drumming crazy.) And then, despite the crowd's noisy rumble (stupid crowd), she also got to sing "Hanky Panky Nohow," that gorgeous John Cale lullabye of sorts, and totally make it her own.
Forget about Ant Music. Let's hear it for YLT Music.