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Friday, January 24, 2014

Show Review: Foster the People Mural Release DTLA

Show Review:
Foster the People Mural Release
DTLA/Santa Fe Condos Building

  When I go to these major label type events it's as a social guest.  I don't know anyone besides who I'm introduced to.  I don't have any business with the people there, but these events, whether they be radio show season jamborees, album release parties or tumblr parties (wait for it), I find them super interesting, just to see the audience and how they act.  I'll go anywhere for an interesting, attentive, down-with-it audience, whether they are listening to a top 40 country act or a band whose record I've released.

  This event, which I believe was sort of a launch event for the new Foster the People record, SUPERMODEL (March 18th, Columbia Records.) took place in a parking lot on the back side of the Santa Fe building in Downtown Los Angeles(hereinafter "DTLA").  Foster the People commissioned an artist to do a seven story high mural, and then the band played in the parking lot.  Tickets were free, and handed out to fans who showed up at MOCA earlier that afternoon, prompted by a tweet from the band.

 The crowd was about 1,000 people, with another 50-100 who only got in for the last three songs of the 45 minute set.   The mix was about 75% hardcore Foster the People fans and 25% harder core music industry people:  All of Columbia Records, in town for the Grammys, William Morris agents, ASSORTED ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY VETERANS, the guy from Sigur Ros(.?!?)  The event was well managed, the space wasn't overcrowded.  Sound was excellent but of course echoey (unavoidably so.) 

  I watched the set trying to figure out if I'd ever seen Foster the People life before. I wanted to say yes but settled on no.  I think they've added two back-up singers and maybe a band member or two in an effort to shake a (I'm not saying it's justified because I haven't seen them) "boring life" tag that has emerged in response to their top line billing at the 2014 Coachella festival.

 So are they boring live? Nope.  Mark Foster isn't exactly Prince up there but who among us can match that master showman.  The drummer was pushed up to the front of the stage in a move that seems designed to create more kinetic energy with the audience, and the two female back up singers will be also moved up stage for the summer festival circuit (they were positioned towards the back of the stage for this set.)

 The real audience was super into it- so many videos and photographs from the now ubiquitous pose of a concert goer with his or her hands placed together in rectangular fashion to accommodate a side ways oriented Iphone or Galaxy.  For a good number of these devices (1)  The screens of many of these devices are so big that you OFTEN get the visual impression of watching a live sporting event from the concession stand while the television mounted on the interior stadium wall plays said sporting event.

 The industry audience was politely attentive and respectful, thought I wouldn't go so far to say that Foster the People is so rapturous in a life setting that hardened industry professionals go fan boy for them.  And they certainly don't need to be, anchoring the set in the middle with a smash like Pumped Up Kicks.  There are other hits in there two, and at least three legit radio singles on the new record, so yeah, I think Foster the People is going to be ok on the summer concert circuit.   Not holding Pumped Up Kids till the end of the set is a class act and they should keep it that way.

 After the show Foster made a nice (if slightly surreal) speech about the meaning of art and the importance of doing stuff like painting murals on the side of condo buildings.   There might have been some irony in the juxtaposition of that sentiment with the actual residents of skid row looking on from across the street, but I fully agree with the sentiment, and I think it's better to bring people into economically mixed neighborhoods instead of "cleansing" them of low income people first.

 Neighborhoods like DTLA are places where establishing a community faces challenges, but it is also where community building can be at it's finest. For whatever reason, Mark Foster appears to genuinely support that idea, and good for him- that's awesome.  If its a market ploy to create sympathy for Foster the People among the minds of critical/internet elites who might otherwise be inclined to dismiss the radio friendly alt pop of Foster the People, then it is a clever ploy and one that deserves to be singled out for applause.   Good for Columbia Records, good for Foster the People.

  After the show the band invited the fans to add their own painted hand prints to the wall.  Almost all of them stayed to do so, lining up in a queue that curled all the ways around the parking lot and patiently waiting as the band laboriously painted their band name at the foot of the mural. 


(1) "Devices" is my early nomination for the Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year prize.  I'm using it in a sense that accommodates everything from an Iphone to a Roku and generally includes all contemporary cell phones, items of the "smart internet,"  game systems, stream boxes, etc.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Immoralist (1902) by Andre Gide

Book Review
The Immoralist (1902)
 by Andre Gide

 It is clear to me that one of the literary trends in late 19th century/early 20th century was the development of ennui/existentialism as a theme.  This proto-existentialism was classified as belonging to the "Fin de siecle" period (literally end of the century in French.)  Fin de siecle is typically applied to French art, making The Immoralist a clear example of the movement, but these works were spread all over Europe.  One of the most significant fin de siecle type books was Against the Grain, written by a Dutchman, Joris-Karl Huymans.

 Any description of The Immoralist will contain a lead like "Considered shocking when it was published."  Because so much emphasis is placed on that aspect of The Immoralist, it is worth noting that the narrator spends A LOT of time rhapsodizing about young Arab boys (he is Frenchman living in Morocco because his boo has tuberculosis.) I didn't catch an overtly sexual references to the young boys, but there is plenty of admiration of their cocoa butter skin and "long, smooth" limbs.

 On another level The Immoralist is a clear step down the road to the inky depths of literary modernism- only a couple of events actually happen during the book: He moves to Morocco and he moves to Normandy.  Much of the space is devoted to description of emotions, locations and people.  There is no conventional plot.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Culture of the Market: Historical Essays

Degas' Cotton Exchange painting

The Culture of the Market: Historical Essays
Edited by Thomas L. Haskell & Richard F. Teichgraeber III
Cambridge University Press
p. 1993

  World War I seems like a good point to give literature a rest for a minute. I think the free Kindle books, but after a solid year of reading nothing but 19th century lit. I could use a gear shift. I bought this book simply because of the title/publisher combination.  Love Cambridge University Press, and if I see one of their titles in a book store for less than ten bucks I'll buy it just for shits and giggles.  Also, I'm interested in the culture of the market, any aspect, so this was a natural.

 Unfortunately, The Culture of the Market is a compilation of grouped essays around the theme, rather than a soup to nuts exploration of the topic with a central thesis.  As a result, The Culture of the Market is like a bunch of papers written for grad school or tenure, with little or no unifying theme.

  Many of the included essays revolve around disproving existing ideas about what certain groups in the past thought about their relationship to "the market."  One notable essay discusses the 18th century French nobility, a groups typically thought to be "outside" the market, and how they were in fact explicitly dealing with the market in pro active ways in their day to day lives.  Other essays look at the treatment of the Market as a theme in specific works of literature- Balzac's Pere Goirot gets its own essay, as does the cotton market paintings of Degas.

  It's the Degas essay that comes closest to real insight, since Degas was notable for his public statements about how he despised the role of the market in art- a classic 20th century/19th century romantic influenced posture, but in reality he was busy behind the scenes literally making paintings because he thought he could sell them to a wealthy cotton merchant.

Monday, January 20, 2014

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) d. Nagisa Oshima

Eiko Matsuda plays the sexually obsessed Sada Abe in Oshima's explicit In the Realm of the Senses (1976)

Movie Review
In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
 d. Nagisa Oshima
Criterion Collection #466

  Another film watched from the last slot of my queue on Hulu Plus, In the Realm of the Senses is a perennial favorite on the Criterion Collection Hulu Plus channel most likely because it is chock-a-block full of enough explicit sex to make a hardened viewer of internet pornography blush.  How full of explicit sex is this 1976(!) Japanese film about the sexually obsessive relationship between the owner of a tavern and his ex-prostitute (but still horny) lover?  Well, in the first 30 minutes there is a blow job that is shot matter of factly and ends with him coming in her mouth.  The main couple is shown having explicit sex for over half of the film.  The main male character also more or less explicitly rapes 3 other women, employees of the various inns where they shack up.  By "explicit" I mean we watch him rape the other women.  I mean I don't know if what happens is rape in the context of 1930s Japan, where In the Realm of the Senses takes place, but that's what I saw.

  It's useful as we all wait for Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac to hit the streets to contemplate that Nymphomaniac is not the first film to use pornographic techniques to produce something other than pornography.  And although In the Realm of the Senses is shot without any preachy moral overtones, the super-dark ending, with the girl strangling the guy with a ligature and then chopping off his penis with a knife, makes it clear (if it wasn't totally clear already) that the relationship is not healthy.

  By the end, the sex has become deadening, and her obsession with sex comes off as the product of a deeply disturbed mind.  There is a scene near the end where we watch her try to have sex with his clearly flaccid penis that can't help but leave a distinct impression in the mind of the viewer.  Not an easy film to shake off, In the Realm of the Senses will stay with you over time.

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