Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Well, Hello There, Stranger!

My darlings! I have to catch you up on all the fabulous goings-on around these parts lately. Usually when this blog is quiet, it's just because I'm being a lazy-pants, but this time it's actually because I've been too damn busy to sit down and write (in addition to being a lazy-pants). We gotta get through this briefly or we'll be here all day:

The Flight of the Conchords, Live at the Arie Crown Theater
I'm not a huge fan of the Flight of the Conchords or anything--I've only ever seen the first season of the TV show and don't own the CD--but someone offered me a free ticket, so hell if I was going to turn that down. The show was at, of all places, the cavernous Arie Crown Theater. As soon as I walked in, I thought, surely the size of this room will be death to whatever charms there may be in this show. But, damned if those guys didn't prove me wrong. Though the show would probably have been much better in a smaller venue, they have soooo much stage presence that they managed to keep the place humming with laughter and energy for their entire (surprisingly lengthy) set. Of course, it helps that they let a good chunk of their real-life charisma seep into the songs, rather than playing up their helpless sadsack shtick from the show--these guys are pretty fucking funny and pretty fucking talented, and you know they know it, and that's not a bad thing. By the end of the night, it was feeling a bit like sugar overload, but overall, I'm supremely pleased I had the chance to catch the show. Pictures here.

Janeane Garofalo and Marc Maron, Live at the Lakeshore Theater
When I visited my brother in San Francisco last year, he scored us some last-minute tickets to see Janeane Garofalo and Mary Lynn Rajskub do some stand-up comedy. It was an incredible night, and I stole a ridiculous amount of material from Janeane's set (the most notable being her bit about "the gravy boat"--I'm sure most of you who spend any time with me in real life are infinitely annoyed by my constant reuse of the term by now). When I saw that she was going to be coming to the Lakeshore Theater with Marc Maron (from whom I've also stolen a ridiculous amount of material over the years), I couldn't wait to have the chance to catch her again. I went with some gay boyfriends, and we had a delightful time. She's such an amazing talent. I almost got a little choked up after the show was over thinking about how big a part of my adult consciousness she's been. I'd always been a stand-up comedy nerd, even when I was probably too young to be watching much of what I was watching, but I feel like seeing her stand-up specials on Comedy Central when I was in high school was this amazing shift. She looked like me and was angry like me and was just ranting on this amazing tear, rather than delivering punchlines with the more typical stand-up comedy rhythms like (as much as I adore them) Judy Gold or Joy Behar or Rita Rudner. And for her still to be around, and still to be operating at this ridiculously smooth, high level feels like such an amazing gift.

Aleks and the Drummer, Live at the Empty Bottle
It was hard for me to believe that I'd still never seen Aleks and the Drummer play live in a proper venue (last year's brief set at the Wicker Park Street Festival barely counts), so I made the effort to catch their show at the Empty Bottle earlier this month. They're really a fabulous band, towering over the current proliferation of other boy/girl drums/keyboards groups. I think this is due mainly to their appealing weirdness--Aleks is just about as bat-shit crazy as they come (in a good way--that voice! those clothes!), and Deric, in his spasmodic ferocity, absolutely stands as one of the best rock drummers around town (and I'm seriously not just saying that because he's a pal). Catch 'em while you can, Chicagoans. Pictures here.

Leonard Cohen, Live at the Chicago Theater
Leonard Cohen's always been one of those guys I knew I should be into, but just never took the time. Oh sure, I'd heard him sing some of his songs here and there, as well as all the covers, of course ("My penis is like a Leonard Cohen song: everyone likes it better when it's covered"), and just kind of figured "OK, I got it. Deep voice, poetic lyrics, female back-up singers. Done." Well, what I never took the time to properly realize is that fandom is the aggregate of letting Leonard Cohen work on you--you can't just listen to one song and leave it at that. You have to be willing to absolutely drown in Leonard Cohen for a while, and then you'll be baptized as a hysterical drooling fan. Which is exactly what happened to me at the Chicago Theater. Benji--who's been a fan ever since he heard a DJ playing Cohen Live as he was packing up at the end of the night at the bar in Bloomington--offered me one of his two tickets, and I'm infinitely grateful that he did. It was an absolutely magical night. First and foremost, of course, were the songs. And when I say songs, I don't just mean "bits of music and lyrics written and played by a singer and his band"--I mean, these are songs. There's just no denying the craft at work there. There's a reason why people cover his stuff all the time; it must feel like putting on a really well-tailored set of trousers or expensive pair of shoes. They're just that well done. But the man himself was absolutely oozing with energy and joie de vivre. He played for something like two and a half hours, literally skipping on and off the stage between sets and encores. His reverence for both the act of performing and for the other musicians on stage with him was deeply touching. He would step back and hold his fedora to his heart whenever anyone was taking a solo, and the two times he went around the stage introducing everyone individually, he bowed to them all with true respect, humility, and affection. And as all this was unfolding, it was hard also not to be reminded of his age, how this might be one of the last times any of us might ever see him perform live on stage. It didn't feel like a victory lap in the lazy or self-congratulatory sense--it felt like a man preemptively saying farewell on his own terms. Needless to say, I was a teary-eyed wreck by the end of the show. You can be sure I'm a huge Leonard Cohen fan now. Pictures here.

State of Play
If you're gonna go in for an elegy-to-newspaper-journalism movie, you'd be far better off with The Soloist. State of Play isn't bad, necessarily, it's just a bit...thin. (Unlike Russell Crowe, amiright? Hey-oh!) The cast is full of amazing actors (oh, Helen Mirren, cradle me to your bosom and insult me, please), but the script felt incredibly flat. It's hard to imagine what would have attracted so much talent to the project, other than maybe working with director Kevin Macdonald hot off his success with The Last King of Scotland.

Baby Teeth, Live at the Empty Bottle, with My Dear Disco
What the hell--springtime on a random Thursday: might as well go check out a Baby Teeth gig. They're getting ready to release their next LP this summer, and they brought a shitload of new jams to the Bottle last week. It really made them step up their game a bit, too. They played with an almost nervous intensity I've rarely seen in them before--and it suited them well. Perhaps they were also encouraged by the shit-hot opening set from Ann Arbor's My Dear Disco (between them and Nomo, what the FUCK is in the water up there?!). Imagine a version of Maroon 5 populated by a bunch of dorky yet adorable college-age dudes and a set of uilleann pipes, and you can kind of envision what they're up to. Apparently they usually work with a female singer, too, but her voice was blown out, so she wasn't on stage that night. I can't even imagine how much more over-the-top awesome that would make the group, though. They had incredible energy and incredible musicianship. I'll look forward to seeing them again soon. Pictures here.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Despite having been obsessed with the movie since its release in 2001, I'd never had the opportunity to see the show live on stage. The American Theater Company has been putting it on this month, though, and I knew I had to jump at the chance for tickets. Ohhhh, kittens, let me tell you how hard I sobbed. Going in, I pretty much knew I'd be a goner by the end at least, but I wasn't anticipating how much just hearing the songs themselves would kill me. I forget what an emotional attachment I have to them. All it took was the opening notes of "The Origin of Love" and I was like, "oh. Right. This music" and the waterworks just started flowing. I don't know that the production itself was necessarily exceptional--though the wardrobe person wins major points for putting Hedwig in a punked-out Obama "CHANGE" t-shirt dress for her entrance--but there's just something incredibly special about the show itself. Even though it's been a number of years since I've actually sat down and watched the movie, it was fascinating to see the emphasis the two media put on different aspects of the story. When you're not distracted by the physical presence of Tommy Gnosis, the relationship between Hedwig and Yitzhak gains so much more resonance and importance. Giving her back her power at the end of the show and ending with her on stage while Hedwig walks off, almost stripped bare, becomes such a beautiful gesture after you've spent an hour and a half watching her sit there, seething quietly, literally on the periphery of the stage and our awareness. And because we haven't been distracted by the actual sight of Tommy and Hedwig's love affair and we're not craving the sugar rush of that "first love" narrative, the D/s dynamic is allowed to flourish in a much more organic way here, whereas it always felt like kind of an afterthought to me in the movie. Anyway, I'm super, super glad I finally had a chance to see it live. (I snapped a quick picture of the awesome set design.)

Angels & Demons
Sublimely hideous. This thing was so talky it should have been a radio play, while also being gratuitously, graphically violent (to compensate?). Tom Hanks does a game job of trying to keep the thing afloat, but it's really Ewan McGregor's movie. The choice that he makes to play his character as perpetually soft-spoken was kind of brilliant. And the plot twist involving the helicopter totally sucked me in; I jumped right to the assumption they wanted me to make and loved them for playing on my gullibility. I found the overall logistical simplicity of the movie amusing, though. It seems that an easy attack that people often make on faith and Western religions especially is that they're reductive and binary--good/evil, right/wrong, eye for an eye, etc. But this movie was doing the same thing with "knowledge"/"research." It was never a matter of truly interpreting anything; it was just "here is a symbol; do you know what the symbol means? If yes, then proceed to the next plot point."

Destroyer (solo), Live at the Empty Bottle
Dan Bejar is becoming one of those musicians that I will immediately, reflexively go see if he's playing in town. It just feels like a compulsion, like I need to be in his presence if he's here, maybe as some sort of energetic exchange for all the pleasure that his music brings me. He played a solo set at the Bottle on Sunday night, and it, appropriately, felt like something holy. He reached deep into the Destroyer back catalog, thrilling the fanboys clustered around the edge of the stage, while also hitting us with some Swan Lake and New Pornos ("Streets of Fire"). I will also stand by my assertion that not nearly enough people give this guy credit for being as funny as he is. His ability to perform a meta-narrative of Sunday-night-intimate-club-concert at the same time that he's giving us a legitimately gorgeous Sunday-night-intimate-club-concert was just brain-ticklingly awesome. "Did I play anything from Your Blues?" he mumbled into the mic at one point about halfway in to the set. The place went bonkers with people shouting out song requests. "Forget it. That album's too hard," he mumbled back, not so much shooting down the idea as making it clear he never meant it in the first place. A lot of times that night I found myself laughing like I laugh at Wes Anderson movies--alone, in the odd corners around the jokes, not even so much at anything funny that's happening. He's really such a singular talent. Pictures here.

Less germane to the usual pop cultural subject matter of this blog, but no less time-consuming and significant in my life recently: I did another 30-day juice fast, lost ten pounds, cut off all my hair, and spent a weekend helping out around the Zen Buddhist temple that I attend during the celebration of the Buddha's birthday (kinda like Buddhist Christmas). So, yeah. It's been a busy few weeks. How about you, my darlings? What's going on in your corner of the world?

1 comment:

michael o'd said...

Apropos Angels & Demons, I came across this article from the New Scientist discussing "the five greatest mysteries of antimatter." I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that "antimatter" sounds so goofy that I had just assumed Dan Brown made it up.