Hit the Spoon show at the Riv on Friday night. It was so great to finally see them live in a theater, where all the propulsive energy they unleashed could be contained and harnessed and manipulated more acutely. Spoon's expert minimalism is such an easy talking point by now, but it's still such a thing of beauty to behold, especially to my ears, which are so accustomed to orchestral bombast and wall of sound. Their songs are these little miracles, walking around and beating people up despite the fact that they have no skeletons! Or, if skeletons they do have, they're the hollowed-out, bird skeleton kind. Fragile and delicate and uniquely adapted to flight in their particular environments. My one sort of major-ish complaint about the evening is that it really sped by. And I don't think it was just that I was enjoying myself so much; all the grooves felt a couple clicks too fast. "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" seemed most glaringly up-tempo, when it should have lingered malevolently in the air as a kind of slow, ballsy stomper. They also, curiously, arranged their setlist chronologically, many of the songs in album order, too. I dunno; if I were in a more cynical mood about it, I probably would have found it annoying or pandering, but I actually think it was kind of genius. The night wasn't paced like a typical rock show, where there's a big explosion when they first start playing, then a mellow-out while they whip through the older songs for the more hardcore fans, and then another explosion for the set-ending barn-burner, before the requisite encore. The setlist, in actuality, at least from where I was sitting, allowed for an effective crescendo up to the newest songs (songs that pretty much everyone was guaranteed to know). It gave the audience a reason to keep blowing up, repeatedly, to suspend their excitement throughout the show, so that by the time we made it to "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb," "The Underdog," and "Black Like Me" (not to mention "Chicago at Night"), the place was in veritable rock and roll ecstasy. Oh, Spoonsters--you Zen masters, you! Using minimum effort for maximum results. (In the conservation of energy sense; no one would ever dare call these dudes lazy. They just work, and play, smarter.) Also, I kind of wouldn't be surprised if the next album, whenever it comes out, is full of songs like "The Ghost of You Lingers." I don't think I'd ever really heard what an exquisitely fine song it is, but live, its strongest points absolutely could not be denied. Thrilling. Pictures from the night are here.
Finally had a chance to catch up with The Darjeeling Limited late last week. I have no real reading of the piece yet; I need to sit with it some more, and see it again soon. I know I'm usually queen of the knee-jerk, but past experience has taught me that Anderson's films don't start revealing their true essence until at least the third viewing, so I'm withholding judgment for now. But, overall, on a fairly shallow level, I liked it. I liked when Adrien Brody says "I liked how mean you are" to Schwartzman about his autobiographical short story near the end. I liked the way they used Schwartzman as the one who gets all the tail; it supports the theory I started formulating, circa Shopgirl, that, post-Cusack, he's the thinking girl's pin-up boy for this decade. I liked that the scene(s) in the convent were, as far as the mise-en-scene goes anyway, almost direct homage to Black Narcissus. I'm also totally fascinated by the way that Anderson, as a director, has, in one way or another, abused Owen Wilson in every movie they've done together, and by the fact that it's only gotten more intense the more famous Wilson has gotten. I don't mean to be indulging in any tabloid schadenfreude here, but come on--he's wrapped in bandages throughout Darjeeling, the casually cruel yet oblivious, bossy oldest brother/surrogate father figure who can't, despite his best (?) efforts, hold any of his relationships together, much less his own body. This, of course, comes on the heels of the delectable meta-punishment of The Life Aquatic, where Esteban, the fictional director Zissou's best friend, gets eaten by a shark only a few minutes into the movie, and Wilson, as an actor, is forced to subsume his most valuable asset as a Hollywoodized commodity, his wry, wily charm, to play an incredibly wide-eyed naif who also dies a violent, watery death. Um, all of this would seem to me to be the sound of Anderson working out some, uh, issues. And detractors accuse him of being twee. Anyway, additional thoughts on the film to come when I least expect it, I'm sure.
Lust, Caution is apparently Ang Lee's best attempt at a Wong Kar-Wai impression. (He even steals Tony Leung Chiu Wai for the male lead.) Yawn. It's a nice, safe middlebrow examination of loyalty and sexuality and torpid self-seriousness in times of war. I guess. It's not overly gorgeous visually, merely serviceable, and the sex (whether real or simply realistic) doesn't do much to enrich the politics of the piece, or vice-versa. I was all set to get up on my high horse about how the only way the sex scenes would have been interesting was if the Mr. Yee character, instead of revealing himself to be (surprise!) the sadist in the relationship, would have showed up for his first assignation with Wong Chia Chi/Mak Tai Tai with a desire to get tied up or flagellated or something. But then I realized that that plot twist would have annoyed me just as much. ("Of course they'd go to the easy plot point of showing that the political hardass who's collaborating with the Japanese deep down just wants to be spanked," etc., etc.) So, I'm not sure what would have redeemed the film for me. Other than it just being better. In summation: BROKBAK KITTEH WISHES HE CUD KWIT U.
Sasha Frere-Jones throws it down in this week's New Yorker. I don't have the kind of encyclopedic knowledge at my fingertips to be able to effectively enter the ring in the debate, but I do admit that any exceptions I've been able to come up with (like Beck) kind of seem to just reinforce the point rather than modify or challenge it. Which is as it should be, probably. Also, be sure not to miss the follow-up post on his own blog with the extra-strength linking action to the fantabulous Lester Bangs piece from approx. thirty years earlier covering pretty much the exact same issues ("nothing short of a hydrogen bomb," indeed).