Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Show Review: Terry Malts, Heavy Hawaii @ The Void

Show Review:
Terry Malts,
Heavy Hawaii
@ The Void

  Full disclosure: I left this show before either band played because it was running so late (second band hadn't taken the stage at 11:45 PM, four band bill.)  Doing the time calculations in my head that puts the headliner on somewhere in the neighborhood of 145 AM. I couldn't hang!

 While I was there I was thinking about a conversation I'd participated in with a few 20 somethings where the subject was the creation of new band.  It was the most interesting conversation I'd had in months and subjects immediately prior and following were the creation of social identity on the internet and the relationship of tumblr to other social media channels.

  One thing that has changed since I started this blog is the process by which new musical acts form.  In 2005-2006, almost every new act was a band.  People would either know one another socially or as part of a larger network or advertise and then start playing together, and people would either bring songs or write songs together.

 Flash forward today, and the main change has been the increase of solo/"bedroom" Artists who draw attention without a band and then may (or may not) assemble a band for touring purposes.  The rise in the number of those artists means, by definition, a corresponding decrease in the number of traditionally formed bands that can break out of a local to a national/international presence.

  At the same time, having a larger group can be most useful when it comes to the most basic acts of creating an Audience for specific Artist.  Namely, they probably have friends who will be that Audience, and they will make a live show more interesting to more people.  So that is an interesting contradiction in the area of forming a new band/music act.

  The rise of bedroom Artists in the last half decade points to an area where NOT having a band is preferable, and that is the creation of the style/iconography of a new Act.  When you think about a traditional rock band, the identity is typically formed by the demeanor and performance style of the live band.  Artistic/Graphic identity was something that only became a concern if/when the Artist in question obtained a substantial Audience.

 Today, that is reversed.  The live show is essentially meaningless to a potential wider Audience unless the graphic/artistic/style of the band is as compelling as the music itself.  I'm talking about something as simple as the band name, and as complicated to the growth and maintenance of mailing lists and social media channels.

  Thus, if a group of people decides to start a band- for the right reasons- that doesn't mean that the look/style of the band need be a collaborative effort.  Something I've noticed about younger people today is that because of the requirements of social media they are well versed at the construction of a social/artistic identity independent of their self at a young age.

  When you combine that fact with the reversal of polarity between the importance of a band having a good live show vs. interesting image/sound/style it's clear that the clubs are not necessarily the place to look for a young act to emerge.  It's unclear how this will play out but I think you can see what I'm talking about if you look at very popular recently emerged Artists like Vampire Weekend and Grimes(and of course the regular Artists I write about all the time here.) These succesful artists had a very well developed aesthetic even before they were noticed by a wider audience, and if you read about the people involved you can see that they were engaged with the process of forming an identity on the internet before they started their currently, succesful projects.

Cries and Whispers (1972) d. Ingmar Bergman

Liv Ullmann is smoking hot in Cries and Whispers (1972) d. Ingmar Bergman

Cries and Whispers (1972)
 d. Ingmar Bergman
Criterion Collection #101

  Couple of things I'm figuring out via the Criterion Collection.  First, if you want to break an art house picture in the US between 1960 and 1970 it helps if you cast a bombshell female in a leading role.  In L'Avventura it was Monica Vitti, here you've got Liv Ullmann looking divine.  God damn she is fine.  I could watch an hour and a half of her face.  Second, Ingmar Bergman makes watchable movies.  I enjoyed watching Cries and Whispers more then I enjoyed, say, Seven Samurai.   Cries and Whispers, in particular, resonated with me.

  Filmed in color- for once- Cries and Whispers is known and Bergman's most financially successful film.  It was also nominated for an Academy Award, oh and it features self mutilation of female genitalia decades before Lars Van Trier did it in Antichrist.  The plot of Cries & Whispers is minimal: Three sisters are together in an opulent house in the 19th century, two of them watching the third die a slow, painful death.  During the film the two watchful sisters are tormented by memories of the past- including the scene shocking self mutilation of female genitalia.

  After the third sister dies she returns to life for a spooky coda that leaves the other two sisters wondering, "Hey, what the fuck is going on here?"  Clocking in at 93 minutes it's eminently watchable and Bergman's use of color film-specifically his use of the color red- should remind contemporary viewers of the way David Lynch used the same color in Twin Peaks.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tragic Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Tess of the d'Urbervilles
 by Thomas Hardy
p. 1891

 Spoiler alert, Tess hangs at the end.  Tess of the d'Ubervilles was Hardy's most controversial novel because it depicts what passed for immorality back in the 1890s.  Today, Tess would be running just about par for the course on conventional morality but Victorian prudery was in high dudgeon when Tess was published.  Tess is a famous tragic heroine of the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, again, Hardy is pulling his trick of setting a book in the recent past but importing "Modern" themes.

  Here, Tess is seduced by an arriviste cousin, has a child, the child dies, then she marries another guy, doesn't tell him about her misfortune before the marriage, tells him AFTER the marriage, is abandoned by said husband, then picks up again with the cousin who got her in trouble in the first place, then her husband returns to claim her and she murders the other dude.  Then she hangs.

 Tragic, to say the least.  Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a good example of a work that had a mixed reception upon initial publication but which then gained lasting status as both a classic and hit due to critics simply being wrong/judging the work on the basis of "morality" as supposed to artistic merit or success at entertaining the Audience.

  Despite the rural settings, Hardy was a strong precursor to the modern Novelist, if only because his pacing, plotting and command of theme elevates him above the discursive style of the Victorian Novel (George Eliot excepted.)  As the Wikipedia page says, Hardy's work carries the "ache of modernity," and I would not disagree with that assessment.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Show Review: King Tuff @ Soda Bar, Barbarian @ The Void

Kyle Thomas is King Tuff

Show Review:
King Tuff @ Soda Bar,
Barbarian @ The Void

   Another win Tuesday night over there on El Cajon Boulevard!  Almost perfect save for the fact that both shows were 12 dollars.  If both shows are going to be 10 plus the only people who are going to travel between the two are people on the list at one or both venues.

   If you look at Garage Rock at a genre, there are two ends of the spectrum:  At one end there is Garage Rock that is mostly influenced by Punk and at the other end there is Garage Rock that is mostly influenced by Blues.  Psych influenced Garage Rock is on the Blues end of the spectrum.  Independent of the sound there is a different spectrum for the look/style of Garage Rock bands- one end of the spectrum is "Tough" and the other end is "Cute."  

  King Tuff is a garage rock band that is more on the Blues end of the spectrum, and they do a good balance of tough and cute that is probably a significant factor in their success up this point.  They came in town last night with close to 16 thousand Facebook friends and 850k Last Fm plays.  (1) They put out an LP on Sub Pop last year, and this year Burger Records re-released their 2008 LP. (2)(3)

   In their most recent review, Pitchfork called front man Kyle Thomas a "play ground legend" of garage rock and accurately summarized the nature of his appeal: His charisma is magnetic, his shows are akin to cheap-beer-soaked tent revivals, he combines the stadium-sized guitar licks of Erik Cartwright with the bratty whine of Eric Cartman, and his solo debut, 2008's Was Dead, was the sort of album most scuzz-loving musicians would incinerate their garages to make. (4)

  He was in fine form last night, and enthusiastically received by a packed house.  As far as I was concerned it was everything I expected to see. The obvious downside to being called a "play ground" legend is that it implies that one has not made it out of the play ground, and that the person is currently laboring in obscurity somewhere having failed to fulfill their potential.  That doesn't seem to be the case with King Tuff but with two LPs in five years he is nowhere near the work rate that the A list garage rock bands demonstrate, and the lack of productivity alone (and maybe his distinctive vocals) are the only things holding him back from what probably merits an international touring career.

  After that it was down to the Void to catch the record release set of local band Barbarian.  Barbarian is on a very short list of local bands that do not appear to totally fucking clueless about what it takes to get a career going in the indie music world.  They are just sitting around smoking weed and hoping to get signed.  Instead they are recording and releasing music themselves, which is ultimately the only thing you can do if the larger music world fails to take notice of your band.  Last night's show was further evidence that they are on the right track, if only that guaranteed success...

  Barbarian has five pieces, all guys, all white.  They play what sounds like trad alt rock.  They are facing the same problems that face many of the rock bands formed by white dudes in San Diego: those spots are filled.  I wish I had some idea of how to punch through the issues that arise from being a competent band with good professionalism playing a genre of music that is filled at the national level, but I don't.

  If you are a band in that situation, you can't very well be something you are not.  Five white guys with alt rock passions are not going to turn into a single girl playing a keyboard over looped samples of early 00's Warp-style electronics.  They aren't going to turn into a black metal band from Brooklyn that wryly subverts genre conventions while mastering them at the same time. And they certainly aren't going to turn into a EDM producer from Copenhagen who is able to seamlessly knit together different EDM genres and release limited edition 12"s on a Berlin based techno label.  And yet... those are the kind of acts that get noticed and have the potential to break out.

  What they do have is a bunch of local supporters, and an enthusiasm and passion for playing their style of music.  That might not be enough to get them noticed at the national/international level, but it made for a fun Tuesday night at The Void- even Seth Combs turned up- I don't think I've seen him at a show in five years.  My only advice to Barbarian is to keep up your head down and your work rate up.  Productivity is the only answer to being ignored by national/international audiences/press.  As a band, you can't really change who you are and what you stand for without risking your authenticity, and that means you can't be bothered if who you are is a genre of music that isn't particularly "cool." So fucking what? You can only be yourself.

L'Avventura (1960) d. Michelangelo Antonioni

Monica Vitti

L'Avventura (1960)
 d. Michelangelo Antonioni
Criterion Collection #98

  I think it is pretty commonly accepted that there is a well trodden path between the avant garde and canonical status in the world of Art.   Today's fringe Artist is tomorrow's Artist selling a work of art for twenty million dollars is next year's Artist being studied by students in school.

 The other main path to an Artistic canon is having a huge Audience for a specific work and then either initially generating or later generating critical acclaim to accompany the popularity.  Two main routes.  L'Avventura is an interesting case of Audience reception of a work that begins as Avant Garde and ends up Canonized.  Initially shown at Canned in 1960, the Audience booed and the Director and Star (Monica Vitti, va va va vooooom.) stormed out of the theater.  Then, as the story goes, the film was shown a second time and ended up winning the special jury prize.

  Watching L'Avventura today is like seeing what a half century of commercial art directors undoubtedly list as their favorite film.  Antonioni's sneaky assault of the grammar of film making up to that point caught the Audience- even a highly educated audience like the one at Cannes, off guard, and it maintains that ability to discomfort till today.  I had a rough time sitting through the whole film, though there were moments of beauty and of course Monica Vitti lights up the screen every time she does anything.

  On the whole though I would argue that L'Avventura is a dark path for film: characters standing around, gazing into the sea.  It's boring...on purpose, and that is a troubling development.  Worth seeing for Monica Vitti though.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Kreutzer Sonata by Count Leo Tolstoy

Book Review
The Kreutzer Sonata
by Count Leo Tolstoy
p. 1889

  Yet another head scratching inclusion in the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.  This Novella is, I believe, the fullest exposition of Tolstoy's fervent believe that sexual abstinence before marriage should be required both of men AND women.  He also thought men should abstain from alcohol and red meat. And this book was really successful at convincing Russians to adopt hie belief system, upon publication, Russia became the first country to ban the consumption of alcohol, and to this stay the ban remains in force, making Russia the dryest non-Islamic nation in the entire world!  It's quite a triumph for Tolstoy and his belief system, but somehow he doesn't get credit, which is  a shame.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pygmalion (1938) d. Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard

Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle in the 1938 film version of Pygmalion: BEFORE as cockney flower girl.

Pygmalion (1938)
d. Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard
Criterion Collection #85

  Yet another thoroughly enjoyable film I would have never, ever watched without the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus.  This play by George Bernard Shaw is better known in America under the name My Fair Lady- which starred Audrey Hepburn as the woman/project at the heart of the film.

 However, this version was actually written by George Bernard Shaw himself and shows it.  The dialogue is sparkling- standing up to 80 years of subsequent film comedy.  The idea at the center of Pygmalion: that anyone can be trained to "pass" as something they are not, is a deep subject and one that continues to be relevant today.
Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle in the 1938 film version of Pygmalion: AFTER.

 In this version, there is no dilution of Professor Henry Higgens' aggressive intellectualism.  He is a fervent apostle for the know-it-all style of early 20th century science- the attitude that intellectuals had before two World Wars shook their faith in the ability of humans to accomplish anything they wanted.  Eliza Doolittle, here played by Wendy Hiller is a Cockney flower girl from Covent Garden who Higgens takes under his wing to win a bet with noted Sanskrit expert Colonel Pickering.

 For me, it was Doolittle's initial cockney accent that was worth preserving- it is a true cinematic classic, like the voices I used to do with my ex wife when we wanted to poke fun at something unapologetically English.  As Henry Higgens, Leslie Howard is fantastic, he is an arrogant prick to be sure, but he's an arrogant prick who doesn't give a fuck about making waves in English society and that is a winning trait.

  Pre World War II English cinema is terra incognita on my cultural map and it is one of the areas where Criterion Collection is active.Pygmalion was very rewarding and easy to watch- it is recommended.

Show Review: Jessica Pratt @ The Casbah

Show Review:
 Jessica Pratt @ The Casbah

  Whenever a singer/songwriter makes it on to the national new music radar screen it is an impressive feat because there are so damn many singer/songwriters out there.  Trying to distinguish oneself as a solo singer/songwriter is something like trying to get picked for American Idol: Good...fucking...luck.  So even though I'm not a fan of the genre, I notice when a "basic" singer songwriter makes it onto the radar screen.

 For Jessica Pratt, that happened late last year when her self titled debut LP got a solid Pitchfork review. (1)  Something to consider when an Artist operating in such a crowded field "makes it" is that Pitchfork classifies review by GENRE- they themselves say that the Best New Music distinction is based on an Artist transcending their genre/s, so that must follow for the selection of album reviews themselves: i.e. that they represent the best of their particular genre.  (2)

  Thus, the most impressive achievements are artists who emerge out of crowded genres, and there is no genre that is more crowded and less popular on an Artist by Artist basis then singer/songwriter.

 One song is all that it took to establish that Pratt is a talented, accomplished singer/songwriter.  One of the aesthetic qualities that I look for is delicacy/fragility.  If you listen to Top 40 music, it is crystal clear that delicacy/fragility is frowned upon as an aesthetic quality.  Top 40 music is inevitably the opposite of fragile and delicate.  Pratt doesn't have a fragile voice, but her music has a fragile quality that really connected with me and my aesthetic values.

 For me, the essence of DIY is the idea that it could disappear at any minute; that you need to enjoy something right now because it may never return.  Jessica Pratt successfully engaged that emotion last night and I was deeply impressed by her performance- she is worth checking out on tour.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Show Review: Foals @ The Wiltern Los Angeles

Show Review:
Foals @
 The Wiltern, Los Angeles

  The only time I miss being married are the hours between 10 AM and 6 PM on Saturday and Sunday.  Those are the times when couple activities predominate, whether it be eating brunch, running errands or hanging out with mutual friends.  So thank god for LA.  Some place to go on the weekends where I'm not constantly reminded of my failed relationship.

  I went up to see Foals on Friday night not because I'm a fan but because I'm interested in any quasi-indie rock band that can sell 1800 tickets to a concert.  It's like "How does one get from 250 tickets sold to 1800 tickets sold."  I find actually going to such concerts and seeing the actual people who attend gives me some sort of concrete of idea of who those people are- that are buying tickets.  And of course I get to see the band itself, and the venue, and how the band, the audience and the venue interact.

  It's kind of like being an executive for a double A minor leagues baseball team and going up the major league ball park and watching a game in the big stadium. I was told as a young lawyer that when you are helping a more experienced lawyer and watching them do their thing in Court, pretend like you are doing it.yourself.  I try to bring that approach to music stuff.

  Foals was sold out or close to it.  The Wiltern is a class venue- a really great place to see the show because of the excellent sound and the art deco-y style of the lobby and building.  The crowd was impossible to pin down other then having a lot of music supervisor types and a whole bunch of guys and gals wearing striped sailor style shirts.

  I have no idea how Foals managed to get to 40 million last fm plays- let's say 100 million is enduring Top 40/legend status- so 40 million is almost half way there- without obtaining hardly any attention from the mass media.  At the same time, they've gone from a band that Pitchfork didn't like (first record 5.9) to one that Pitchfork respects (last record was a 7.)  So Foals are popular, critically respected and sell both tickets and records.  That is a pretty neat trick.

  It was clear from the live show that they do it by playing an accesible, likeable form of rock and roll that appeals to a wide range of potential audience members without alienating any of them.  There is no part of Foals that is alienating or off putting.  They are hugely likeable and people do in fact like them.  The conclusion I drew that any kind of lasting, significant popular success inevitably comes at the expense of abandoning "edgy" and alienating aspects of a look or sound that might alienate potential audience members.

 It sucks to write this, but I'm convinced that the future means releasing music that I personally find boring, because that is what people want.  They want boring, easy to digest music.  They do not want to be challenged- maybe you  can find 250 people who want to be challenged, but if you want to sell out the Wiltern on a Friday  night you had best sand off the rough edges and get with the program. Sad but true.

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