Saturday, December 23, 2006

JTM's Best of 2006 - The albums

UPDATE: The entire list is now posted here.

This one stubborn friend keeps telling me that 2006 was an under-achieving year for music. And I keep telling him that he's terribly mistaken. We go back and forth like this for a good while. It's really a fascinating conversation. No, not at all actually. But consider this my final argument: the list speaks for itself. I don't make this shit up, I just report it. Personally, I can't find a weak link in the bunch. In fact, I have expanded this year's best album list up to 25 from last year's top 10. So if anything, I've found more to love this year than last.

The albums: 25 - 1

25. Tom Waits - Orphans
Technicalities might normally keep this 3-disc compilation of both new and old material from qualifying on this sort of list, but Tom Waits gets a pass. The Brawlers disc alone is worthy of a ranking. The man and his music are from another time, place and world. All I ask is that he visit my world once. Please, Tom. You're high on my list of dream concerts to see before I die.

24. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
I first heard of Beirut early this year from the always enthusiastic blogging community who have become the online equivalent of the British press. So the hype was there. Luckily, there was substance behind it. There's no denying the unique talent of Zach Condon's debut album of Eastern European orchestra pop. This 19-year-old has created a mini-masterpiece that isn't quite Neutral Milk Hotel, but since they aren't making music anymore, and since The Decemberists are overrated, Beirut will fit the bill for me.

23. Sparklehorse - Dreamt for Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain
Linkous basically picks up right where he left us some 5 or so years ago with his last album. And there's nothing wrong with that. There's even a track or two on this disc dating back to It's A Wonderful Life's recording session. The most noticable change with Dreamt for Light Years is a more fast paced rhythm, that at times almost approaches rock 'n roll. Nah. This is an album meant for headphones, and not some ear-bud iPod action. I'm talking those huge high-fidelity headphones that are bigger than your head.

22. Mission of Burma - The Obliterati
There are some older gentlemen included on this list. But listen to Tom Waits, listen to Bob Dylan. They sound their age, they're acting their age. So what are we to make of MoB? In today's youth-centric music culture, there is no way we should be taking 50-year-olds seriously when they're acting like angst-ridden 20-year-olds. There's no way around it. Then again, listen to this album which is blistering with post-punk fury in ways that the younger crowd can only imitate. They kick the ass out of any Franz Ferdinand or Interpol in the circuit. Burma was already legendary before The Obliterati but I'll admit that this disc was my first encounter with their music. I'm late to the game, but better late than never.

21. Swan Lake - Beast Moans
This one took time to fully absorb. Didn't get to me on the first few listens. I put it away for a few weeks and came back to it to give it second chance, and it clicked. What at first sounded to me like a muddled mess became something much different. Something oddly beautiful. Carey Mercer's influence here is the star and although Spencer and Dan each have their characteristic songs, the Mercer/Frog Eyes trademark of beautiful, noisy chaos is prominent and reveals itself to be the creative force behind this excellent album.

20. Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Claustrophobic? Yes. A downer? Sure. Ripe full of Thom Yorke patented colloquialisms? Of course. But while Thom shouldn't consider quitting his day job, this unexpected solo effort is a powerful suite of electronic beats and melody led front and center by one of Thom's best ever vocal performances.

19. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
Winning the award for catchiest album of the year, The Life Pursuit also represents a welcome return to form for Belle & Sebastian. Their sound has evolved well beyond the whimsical 60's pop found on the early classics. The new B&S are now more inclined to embrace influences from R&B, blues and glam rock. The result is an addictive combination of B&S pop and T. Rex boogie.

18. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - The Letting Go
I only discovered Will Oldham's amazing songwriting chops this year after stumbling upon his LP I See A Darkness. And while The Letting Go remains a far cry from that late-90s release, the new disc is nonetheless an accomplished piece of songwriting and harmony. The songwriting and instrumentation is perfection but for me, it's the beautiful dance of vocal harmony between Oldham and featured vocalist Dawn McCarthy that makes these songs so potent.

17. Cat Power - The Greatest
Chan Marshall has had one hell of a year. I won't go into the details except to say that The Greatest is the definitive statement that she's turned a corner. Backed by a band of Memphis all-stars, Chan has put together a haunting collection of sultry soul numbers. Better yet, all signs indicate that her live performances have embraced a surprising degree of soul as well.

16. Liars - Drum's Not Dead
The only album on the list without a single pop hook. A lack of melody is typically not something I would label as praise but in this case, it is somehow the best compliment I can give. In any case, for some reason I keep going back to this droning, tribal, drum-based concept album as if under hypnosis.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This list is taking me longer than I anticipated. Too many words, not enough list. I'll let the rest speak for itself, almost.

15. My Brightest Diamond - Bring Me The Workhorse
My Brightest Diamond came through town twice this year and I missed her each time. That means the only time I've seen Shara Worden live was as leader of an enthusiastic and musically-inclinded troupe of cheer leaders spouting factoids about the 50 states.

14. Islands - Return To The Sea
My own little revelation of 2006 is indebted to this band's former incarnation, The Unicorns. But Islands keeps up the pace nicely. If nothing else, it's cute to hear Canadians rap.

13. Grizzly Bear - Yellow House
Prog as folk.

12. Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up I Am Dreaming
Better than Wolf Parade? No, but damn close. And that fact, along with the inclusion of Swan Lake on this list, crowns Spencer Krug fuckin' king of the musical universe in 2006.

11. Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
Genre alert: Soft adult contemporary is oh so cool again.

10. Xiu Xiu - The Air Force
Let's face it. This is as accessible as this band is likely to get. Enjoy it.

9. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
They began as noise rock with a pop sensibility. Over twenty years later with Rather Ripped Sonic Youth is an unabashed pop band with just a hint of that noise hangin' around in the background to make 'em still cool. Hey, it works.

8. Magnolia Electric Co. - Fading Trails
Great album but to be honest, I first became obsessed with Jason Molina's music upon discovering the final Songs:Ohia disc, coincidentally titled Magnolia Electric Co.

7. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
Dan Bejar has become one of the most accomplished songwriters of our time. Don't you just love sentences like that? It's so frustratingly generic and exaggerated that there's no way you can argue with me. I win.

6. The Knife - Silent Shout
I prefer to pronouce their name phonetically.

5. The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America
My wife is seriously annoyed by these guys. I am not.

4. Bob Dylan - Modern Times
Lately, he can do no wrong. Point of fact: this record.

3. Joanna Newsom - Ys
Here's a formula for you aspiring rock stars out there...
Jim O'Rourke + Steve Albini + Van Dyke Parks x A one-of-a-kind harpist/lyricist = Epic.

2. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
That voice! But you should also be reminded that she's a truly talented songwriter. And of course, she's smokin' hot!

1. TV on the Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
Told you so. Six months later it still socks me in the gut, blowing my mind today like it did the first time I heard it. Plain and simple: TVOTR delivered on the ridiculous expectations of Young Liars and Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes. No one else sounds like 'em and no one else can top 'em. This is their OK Computer. The scary part is that based on their live show (which I saw 3 times this year), they are getting better and better.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

JTM's Best of 2006, Part II

A bit of everything...

Best Live Music of 2006

10. The Hold Steady @ First Avenue
9. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah @ 400 Bar
8. Bob Dylan @ Rochester, MN
7. Wilco @ Duluth, MN
6. Sonic Youth & The Flaming Lips @ State Fair
5. Wolf Parade w/ Frog Eyes @ First Avenue
4. TV on the Radio @ Emo's, Austin, TX
3. Austin City Limits Music Festival @ Zilker Park, Austin, TX
2. Neko Case @ Bimbo's 365 Club, San Francisco, CA
1. Radiohead w/ Deerhoof @ The Greek, Berkeley, CA

Live Music Regrets of 2006 (gigs I could have seen, but didn't)

10. Ghostland Observatory @ 7th. Street Entry
9. Low @ First Avenue (although by pure luck, I did see Low the next night in Duluth at a coffee house!)
8. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy @ not sure where
7. Danielson @ Triple Rock
6. Islands @ First Avenue
5. Yo La Tengo @ First Avenue
4. Joanna Newsom @ 400 Bar
3. Cat Power @ Varsity Theater
2. Magnolia Electric Co. @ 400 Bar
1. Destroyer @ 400 Bar

Other Musical Disappointments of 2006

5. Ridiculously overhyped Arctic Monkeys album
4. The Flaming Lips' new release
3. Bands breaking up: Grandaddy and Sleater-Kinney
2. Never being able to see Sleater-Kinney live
1. Missed out on Bonnaroo

Favorite Musical Discoveries of 2006 (not necessarily corresponding to any new music released in 2006)

10. Joanna Newsom
9. Explosions in the Sky
8. Dirty Three
7. Okkervil River
6. Xiu Xiu
5. The Unicorns/Islands
4. Frog Eyes
3. Destroyer
2. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy/Will Oldham
1. Songs:Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co.

Best Music Site of 2006

Daytrotter - for the best live music recording sessions, the best interviews, progressive reviews and if nothing else, then simply for their original artwork.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

JTM's Best of 2006, Part I

The Songs

50. Nature of the Experiment - Tokyo Police Club
49. Get Myself Into It - The Rapture
48. Letter to Bowie Knife - Calexico
47. Brother - Annuals
46. Rear View Mirror - Grandaddy
45. Midnight Voyage - Ghostland Observatory
44. Did I Step On Your Trumpet - Danielson
43. Yell Fire - Michael Franti & Spearhead
42. Broken Boy Soldier - The Raconteurs
41. Don't Take My Sunshine Away - Sparklehorse
40. Mr. Tough - Yo La Tengo
39. Cha Cha Cha - The Little Ones
38. Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives - Voxtrot
37. Violets - Candy Bars
36. Brace Your Face - Aloha
35. Cheated Hearts - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
34. Lazy Eye - Silversun Pickups
33. I Want You So Hard (Boys Bad News) - Eagles of Death Metal
32. Hospital Beds - Cold War Kids
31. The President Is Dead - Okkervil River
30. Postcards From Italy - Beirut
29. Don't Fade On Me - Magnolia Electric Co.
28. How It Ends - DeVotchKa
27. Road to Peace - Tom Waits
26. Game Theory - The Roots
25. Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above - CSS
24. Stadiums and Shrines II - Sunset Rubdown
23. Auto Rock - Mogwai
22. Pile of Gold - The Blow
21. Goin' Against Your Mind - Built to Spill
20. The Greatest - Cat Power
19. In The Morning - Junior Boys
18. Sexy Back - Justin Timberlake
17. Roscoe - Midlake
16. And I Was a Boy From School - Hot Chip
15. Insistor - Tapes 'n Tapes
14. The Funeral - Band of Horses
13. John Saw That Number - Neko Case
12. Funny Little Frog - Belle & Sebastian
11. Boy Soprano - Xiu Xiu
10. Free Radicals - The Flaming Lips
9. Swans (Life After Death) - Islands
8. We Share Our Mothers' Health - The Knife
7. European Oils - Destroyer
6. Incinerate - Sonic Youth
5. Harrowdown Hill - Thom Yorke
4. Southtown Girls - The Hold Steady
3. Sister Winter - Sufjan Stevens
2. Wolf Like Me - TV on the Radio
1. Crazy - Gnarls Barkley

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Mark Mallman

Well guys, this is as close as I get to an 'exclusive,' so enjoy! Last Thursday night, I was lucky enough to hear about an unannounced, last-minute show by Mark Mallman at the 400 Bar. Lucky for my lazy ass (this WAS a worknight), the set time was 9pm.

I've been looking forward to Mark's publicized, headlining gig later this month at the 400 Bar (Nov 24th w/ Espionage! and The Alarmists). But apparently, this was one of those spontanteous "can you play tonight?" sort of gigs and Mark was happy to step in and fill a slot. Due to the short notice, instead of his usual full complement of musicians, Mark came with a pared down configuration: just him, the new touring drummer (an incredibly talented Aaron LeMay, formerly of Planes for Spaces) and a digital recording of guitar, bass, etc. cued up by Aaron prior to each song. Sounds like it wouldn't come across live, but believe me when I say it does.

Mallman is famous for his live performances, including the so-called 'Marathon 1' and 'Marathon 2' gigs at the Turf Club in which he played continuously for 26 and 52 hours respectively. The 52-hour show almost made it into the Guiness Book of World Records! Bottomline, any live show from Mark is highly anticipated around here. Most shows aren't marathons, but he typically puts on a highly stylized, multiple-costume-change glam-influenced bonanza. Or so I've heard. You see, this was my first time to see him live. This is a shaming fact coming from an avid Twin Cities live music junkie, but true nonetheless.

So this isn't the Mark of legend I was seeing on a Thursday night with 30 other people (set time of only 45 minutes!) but it gave me a good flavor of what's to come later this month. First and foremost, Mark is a very charismatic performer. Secondly, he is a stellar piano player, singer and songwriter. Think of a glammier Billy Joel. And speaking of piano man, damn, the abuse Mark gives his poor keyboard is impressive. One moment he'll be laying across it in a sultry pose of mock-seduction, the next he climbs atop and stands, teetering in balance, to sing from the rafters. All of this and he never misses a note. He pauses between songs only to offer self-depracating acknowledgement of the non-existant crowd and thank us for coming to see the "Aaron LeMay Band" all the way from Champaigne, Illinois for their first show in the Twin Cities. Meanwhile, Aaron cues the next track, plays the straight man in Mark's routine and expertly leads each song with a working man's ethic. Together, they seared through some great new material found on the recently released Between the Devil and Middle C, an album I'm now inclinded to purchase. So, an all-around great gig, albeit abreviated. I consider it a teaser for the show on the 24th. It can only get better from here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Day

The setting:
A southern plantation estate, a rodeo, a bus of drunk frat boys, an evangelical mega-church, a business convention, Washington, DC;

The day after the election, with politics on our minds, I could be describing the heart and soul of the Republican party, red-state conservative strongholds, the voting base of one George W. Bush (Editorial note: a shame about those election results, guys). Instead, I'm talking about the playground of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, a horny anti-Semitic journalist on loan from Kazakhstan to document the great American experience.

These two worlds couldn’t be the same thing, could they? This is the year 2006. Surely, we’ve moved beyond the days when our country was populated by the startling prejudice and idiocy that Borat encounters on his journeys. Right? Right.

Last night, election night, I saw Borat with a packed, lively crowd. I’m a firm believer in the communal experience of seeing movies on the big screen, sitting in a theater with strangers in the dark. Nowadays, most of us prefer Netflix DVDs on a flatscreen tv in the privacy of our homes. But I think we can all agree that a comedy is always best seen in a theater, or at least in a group setting. There’s just something infectious about a large crowd in synchronized fits of laughter.

Borat does nothing if not trigger hysterical laughter. This is comedy at its satirical best and outrageously offensive worst. You will marvel at Sacha Baron Cohen's tenacious performance. Borat’s ability to draw out the prejudice in his surprisingly willing subjects is jaw-dropping. These aren't actors, folks. I wish they were. I kept asking myself if this or that scene was staged. Did the person know this was a put-on? How could anyone say that with a camera on them?! Pamela Anderson surely was in on the joke, right? I’m not so sure. In any case, watching Borat interact with these people is constantly hilarious and often sobering. While the satire is sharp and intelligent, Borat also has some of the most brazenly obscene and offensive content I’ve seen in some time. I’m not giving any specifics here. I really want to. But I won’t. Don’t want to spoil anything. Needless to say, Borat is brilliantly subversive in its intent and hilariously juvenile in its execution. Most moviegoers will buy tickets for the absurd, gross-out sight gags but many will leave thinking about what Cohen is really up to, what he's saying, what's real, what's not. It's a low-brow comedy that makes you think.

So yes, all the hype surrounding Borat is dead-on. I don't know why I tried to resist. Borat is indeed one of the funniest movies ever made. The list-maker in me is already comparing it along side other comedy classics to see where it ranks, but why bother. There's no need. Just for god's sake, go see it if you haven't already. As for me, I'm still coming down off the high. If nothing else, it was perfect entertainment on election day and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Great expectations for Borat

I am just one of many who have been waiting with giddy anticipation for the release of Sacha Baron Cohen's feature-length epic Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. As a well-versed fan of Cohen's Da Ali G Show, I have a good idea of what to expect, but I'd be lying to not tell you I'm a wee bit worried about how things are shaping up. First of all, you have these reviews, the most glowing of which are written by some very elite and well-respected critics. Then, you have the phenomenal box-office results. Universal acclaim AND strong box-office is a rare feat, my friend.

Anyone with a pulse has to admit that Borat looks to be hilarious, and I'm sure it is. But how often do you hear that a film is the 'funniest movie ever made?' Let me repeat, 'The Funniest Movie Ever Made.' I'm prone to hyperbole myself, but even so, that is a very bold statement. And yet I've read that very claim in several professional reviews! This worries me. As with most things, it all comes down to expectations. Who are we kidding? At this point, my expectations are so ridiculously high that I fear they're impossible to meet. I'm just saying that it ain't looking good. Expectations are powerful filters and can have startling effects on our experiences. So my worry is simply that it could be all over for me and Borat. Let's hope not. I hope to see it this week and I'll let you know. If any of you have seen it already, I'm curious to hear your impression. Funniest movie ever?

Friday, November 03, 2006


The supergroup is an interesting but often sketchy phenomenon in pop music. I'd venture to say that most are nothing more than publicity stunts that result in sub-par material. However, sometimes the stars align and for whatever reason, the right people come together to create music that actually transcends their prior works.

In honor of the upcoming release Beast Moans by newly formed supergroup Swan Lake, I present a list of the most impressive lineups in supergroup history. This isn't a list of the best music per se, but simply the most star-studded lineups. I also tried to spread the wealth over different eras as best as I could. The music itself is hit-or-miss, most often miss. Let me know if I missed any big ones...

One important note...I don't count retroactive supergroups, or bands who later spawned huge artists (e.g. N.W.A., Wu Tang Clan, Genesis, The Yardbirds, etc.)

10. Swan Lake
Spencer Krug - Frog Eyes, Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown
Dan Bejar - Destroyer, The New Pornographers
Carey Mercer - Frog Eyes

9. Temple of the Dog
Eddie Vedder - Pearl Jam
Jeff Ament - Pearl Jam
Mike McCready - Pearl Jam
Stone Gossard - Pearl Jam
Matt Cameron - Soundgarden
Chris Cornell - Soundgarden

(honorable mention in the supergroup grunge category goes to Mad Season)

8. The New Pornographers
Carl Newman - Zumpano
Neko Case - Neko Case & Her Boyfriends
Dan Bejar - Destroyer

7. The Firm
Jimmy Page - Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin
Paul Rodgers - Free, Bad Company

6. Blind Faith
Eric Clapton - Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Cream
Steve Winwood - Traffic

5. Oysterhead
Trey Anastasio - Phish
Les Claypool - Primus
Stewart Copeland - The Police

4. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
David Crosby - The Byrds
Stephen Stills - Buffalo Springfield
Graham Nash - The Hollies
Neil Young - Buffalo Springfield

3. The Super Super Blues Band
Howlin' Wolf
Muddy Waters
Bo Diddley

2. The Highwaymen
Johnny Cash
Willie Nelson
Waylan Jennings
Kris Kristofferson

1. The Traveling Wilburys
Bob Dylan
Roy Orbison
Tom Petty
George Harrison - The Beatles
Jeff Lynne - ELO

Liriano Update


The headline reads: "Twins' Liriano likely to miss '07 after elbow surgery."
Enough said, but if you must, the story is here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween??

What is going on here? I wish I had dressed up in some elaborately scary or hilariously inappropriate costume and gone to a party or gone to a show. Instead, I gave piles of candy to kids who don't say "Trick or Treat?" and weren't even in costume?! Now since when are kids just coming up to some stranger's door and asking for candy without fulfilling those very simple but also very necessary requirements? Because without those key pieces of the game, they're just fuckin' kids stealing candy from a stranger. Call me the Halloween grinch. Next year, we're turning off the porchlight and having a Halloween party of our own. You are invited!

Speaking of the grinch, now that Halloween is here and gone, time for X-mas season! If you didn't just throw-up in your mouth, come with me and celebrate the upcoming season with your pal Sufjan right here. You know you love Christmas albums. Admit it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Xiu Xiu

Tickets went on sale months and months ago, but finally the time came for Xiu Xiu (pronounced "Shoe Shoe") to play their Triple Rock show on Saturday night. Not sure how these things work but Xiu Xiu ended up with the early all-ages time slot, before the later 18+ gig featuring Margot & the Nuclear So & So's with headliner The Elected. No matter.

My first note of commentary is on the audience. Other than a Low show from a few years ago when everyone on the main floor literally sat down to listen, I think this may have been the most still and silent crowd I'd ever witnessed at a rock concert. Eerily so. It was so quiet, I swore I heard a cat meowing somewhere near the back of the room. I'm just glad my phone didn't ring for fear of being yelled at. This is just not the sort of atmosphere you expect. So I couldn't get a read on the crowd. Was this silence in reverence for the indie avant-garde stylings of Jamie Stewart? Or a case of unenthusiastic concert-goers bored to tears? You got me. I'm thinking a bit of both. For example, Jay Flyer, my concert comrade on this evening, was unimpressed and decided a chicken sandwich was in order next door at the bar. But as you could probably guess, I was more on the reverent side of the spectrum. Still, the crowd sucked. Come on, people. It doesn't kill you to dance a little!

So anyway...Xiu Xiu is a fascinating band. They feature confrontational lyrics combined with some explosively violent sounds. But don't let that scare you. Add on Jamie's vulnerable voice and a surprisingly great sense of melody fighting through the chaos and you have some awesome tunes. The Cure is an obvious point of reference but there is no derivative aspect to the band. If you're interested, I strongly recommend Fabulous Muscles or their new release and one of the year's best, The Air Force.

So how are they live? Amazing and volatile. One moment, the music and lyrics are so delicate and hushed that you can barely hear the song; then suddenly, they explode in a fury of raucous (and often danceable) electronic beats and aggressive guitar. There's just three of 'em on stage, and each showcases multi-instrumental talents. But immediately, the first thing that strikes you is that frontman Jamie Stewart is one intense dude. Seriously. I thought he might break down at several points during the set. Whether "break down" meant pulling out a gun and blowing me away, or instead just crying his eyes out, I'm not sure. But that's the intensity I'm talking about. It's this dichotomy of violence and vulnerability that makes Xiu Xiu so damn fascinating.

Take these lyrics from one of their best songs titled "Fabulous Muscles" (which they didn't play unfortunately):
Break my face in
It was the kindest touch you ever gave
Wrap my dreams around your thighs
And drape my hope upon the chance to touch your arm
Fabulous muscles
Cremate me after you cum on my lips
Honey boy place my ashes in a vase
Beneath your workout bench
No romance no sexiness
But a star-filled night
Kneeling down before the now familiar flesh
Of your deformed penis
Wigging out before the unfamiliar flesh
Of my broken neck

So this is not exactly light reading, folks. Jamie Stewart is one serious fuckin' musician. And my god, he could kick my ass, too. Who knew he was some sort of weight lifter? Fabulous Muscles, indeed. Anyway, he is a passionate guy and it comes through in the music and the performance. I've been a fan for only a short while, discovering their music gradually over the last year. It isn't instantly accessible and can be downright frustrating at first but it really grew on me. For anyone who is already familiar with their material, all of this commentary comes as no surprise. But seeing them live really added to their punch for me, even if all this sounds a little too heavy for a rock show. I'm sure that chicken sandwich was good, too.

These postings go on way too long. I apologize. I could have just written this: Shitty crowd, awesomely intense performance, chicken sandwich.
I'll work on my brevity.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Hold Steady

On Tuesday night, The Hold Steady was in town for the first of two big homecoming shows at First Avenue. By far the most Twin Cities-obsessed band on the planet, The Hold Steady throw out so many TC lyrical references that even the most jaded local listener feels in-the-know. Example: Best local reference of the night goes to Craig Finn's dedication of a song to obscure Minnesota Twins sidearmer Pat Neshek. So you can imagine how this highly geeked-out crowd might embrace these guys upon their return home.

First let me back up a sec. Robot Boy was the first of two opening acts. They sounded fine if not a little repetitive. But the real problem here was their stage presence which left something to be desired. Oddly, that something turned out to be an absurdly enthusiastic dancer who suddenly appeared on stage for two songs, quickly drawing the crowd's attention with his unapologetically flamboyant moves. Hard to describe but as the band continued to shoe-gaze, this dancer stole the spotlight for a fleeting moment. I hadn't seen that running-man move in years! He was wearing a First Avenue "Staff" shirt but I'm thinking you can just buy those anywhere and that he probably wasn't an actual employee. Anyway, once he left stage, so went the crowd's attention.

Next up was the always entertaining Sean Tillman (another local musician come home), tonight appearing with Sean Na-Na rather than as his more infamous, and scantily-dressed persona Har Mar Superstar. All the same, Tillman and his band rocked the house with some surprisingly accomplished tunes. But enough with the music already. The highlight of any Sean Tillman appearance is the between song banter, which doubles as an improv stand-up comedy routine. I could quote some of the better lines, but it wouldn't come off in text.

So back to The Hold Steady. I have been really loving their latest release Boys & Girls In America and looking forward to this show for months. Never short in enthusiasm, they played a consistently energetic set of songs mostly pulled from Boys & Girls and Separation Sunday. Hoodrats, Southtown girls, Lyndale, Rainbow Foods and Craig Finn's beloved Mississippi River. They all made an appearance on this night. Finn was in top form weaving story after drug-ridden-Minneapolis-story while branding an enormous dorky grin throughout. He clearly loved playing to such an adoring crowd. How could he not? My only complaint of the night was the surprisingly poor sound mix during The Hold Steady. Muddled is the word for it. Finn's words were hard to make out. My second complaint is that they didn't play "First Night" which is my favorite song from the new album. Or at least I don't remember them playing it. I ended up getting a little toasted by the end, no thanks to the over-sized bottles of beer they serve at First Avenue.

This leads me to another point. I'm beginning to truly dread weeknight concerts. I hate to admit something like this, because I sound like an old fart. I'm only 27. Still a young pup right? I should have the energy and the stamina but I'm finding that I often don't anymore. It's pretty sad. But honestly, who are we kidding? I have an intense passion for live music, but for better or worse, I feel just as strongly about sleep. Doors open at 8pm. After two opening acts, the headliner doesn't even get on stage until 11:30. Add alcohol to that long haul and you can just kiss the rest of the week goodbye. Friday and Saturday night fellas, that's all I'm asking.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Scare me

With Halloween on its way, I'm hoping to solicit ideas for scary movies. It has been a long time since I've experienced a truly frightening film...the last one that scared me in any significant way was probably Open Water and that should give you an idea of the type of horror I like. I tend to respond more to the psychological horrors in the vein of The Shining, The Vanishing, The Tenant and also the "real-life" horror scenarios like the aforementioned Open Water. Admittedly, I haven't seen the latest crop of violent slasher-type films (the Saw series, the new Texas Chainsaw films) nor the re-makes of the likely far superior Japanese horror films (e.g. The Grudge and Ring series) But at this point, I'll give anything a shot. So please speak up. What was the last film that scared the hell out of you? I'm talking nightmare-inducing, sleep-with-the-lights-on scary. And clowns! I am scared shitless of clowns!!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Departed

The third film in the last five years pairing legendary director Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed at last offers the exhilarating pay-off worthy of the Scorsese/De Niro collaborations of years past. Gangs of New York and The Aviator had their moments. Both were above-average pieces of filmmaking. Maybe just too epic, too dry and historical. But I'm here to tell you that the third time's the charm, because this is what I've been waiting for. The Departed, which I saw Saturday night, is the Scorsese of old. The legendary director returns to a recipe that has worked so well for the man. The ingredients: urban, immigrant neighborhoods populated by criminals who commit unrelenting violence, curse with amazing creativity and typically carry some hefty Catholic guilt. This time around the source material is the hit Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs and the translation has not been lost.

The acting is superb across the board. Jack is Jack. He damn near falls into caricature with his role as the devilishly violent Boston crime boss Frank Costello. He may chew the scenery but don't tell me it isn't fun to watch. Matt Damon and Leonardo are both fantastic. I have come to expect great acting from Matt Damon but I had forgotten that Leo had the chops. This is his film and he carries it all the way through, bringing a fiery intensity to the man of Billy Costigan, a cop deeply undercover within Frank Costello's crew. The supporting cast is filled with great actors and roles, but none more entertaining than the twosome of Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg. They play a pair of intense and enthusiastic police with some of the best lines in the film, save those of Jack's of course.

Although the movie is well over two hours, you'd never guess it. The plot is taut and the story fast-paced. Credit goes to the great editing to keep things moving along with such a brisk and intense rhythm. Like all of Scorsese's best films, the use of rock music is excellent featuring The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Dropkick Murphys, etc. Music plays almost constantly from beginning to end and adds a punch to many scenes. The violence is as graphic as hell but shows up only in short, explosive jolts. The film may not be particularly deep or emotionally stirring. You don't walk out of the theater with any sort of insight into these characters and the world they inhabit. So this fact keeps it from rising into the ranks with Scorsese's best work (e.g. Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas) But all the same, The Departed is a raucous and thrilling film and definitely one of the year's best. Welcome back, Marty.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Broken Social Scene

Thanks to guest blogger Jay Flyer for posting on Indianapolis BSS show...and damn them for skipping Mpls:

Last night’s show at the Vogue in Indy sounded great… Amy Milian was present, but no Leslie… boo. Anyway, there was a bit of tension on stage… in the midst of Almost Crimes the lead guitarist/backing vocals missed his queue… Kevin Drew immediately stopped the song waving his hands in the air demanding everyone to stop. He looks down the line at the unabashed guitarist (not sure who… face to name thing) and says something along the lines of, “I guess someone doesn’t want to sing his part tonight. Fine, that’s the end of the song.” They move on to the next. Drama!

Btw… I’m from Mpls and was at their show at First Ave. last year and the number of fans easily doubled the number in Indy. What’s up with Indy? Not aware of good music out there? Congrats to all who were there.

Do Make Say Think were there as an opening act. A few played with BSS. They are a young and talented band who can rock when they want to rock. I met Justin and Jimmy; Justin is by far the highlight of the act, his frail, tattooed body can wail on a guitar and steal the show… good thing for Jimmy, his level head can probably (hopefully) keep Justin in line.

Scott, they have never heard of… they’ve been educated. Crazy Canadians.

Jay Flyer

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Early short films by Kubrick & Scorsese

Here is an awesome example of how the YouTube phenonmenon has profoundly affected media access. Essentially, it has opened up a historical archive of material that would have previously been impossible for the average person to view.

The new blog "...We're Going To The Pictures" features, via YouTube, early short films by Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick. Amazing stuff.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Quebec is indeed a gorgeous gem of a city, exceeding all of my expectations. Vieux-Quebec (Quebec's old town), resides behind fortified walls and within, it's as if you're suddenly transported to Europe. Since French is the national language around here, you quickly forget you're in North America at all.

Every night so far, I've searched the streets and alleys with the hopes of finding a spot with some live music but such venues are either non-existant or simply too difficult to locate for a naive and unresourceful foreigner who knows no French. I'm assuming the latter to be the case. But all is good for the food is delicious and the sangria bountiful.

See below for a couple choice pics of Quebec in case you're curious. As my timing has it, I'm here during the peak fall colors.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bound for Quebec

Forgot to mention, I'll be out of touch for a short while. I'm headed to Canada, to Quebec City actually, for a work-related conference. Heard it's a beautiful city (very French, very European) so I'm excited to take in some sights and discover some tasty food and drink. Wish I had time to take the quick trip over to Montreal, but that ain't gonna happen. If I see anything of even remote interest or aesthetic value, I'll post the pics when I return.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Current's in-studio archive

MPR's 89.3 The Current, the local FM radio fav around town, is quickly building a sizable and impressive archive of in-studio appearances. The featured artists typically depend on who is coming through town, so the latest addition to the site is my recent fav TVOTR. Since you're surely sick of me talking about them, you'll also find unique performances by Yo La Tengo, Calexico, Asobi Seksu, Ghostland Observatory, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, The Walkmen...I could go on and on.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Grind House

Watch this fantastically grotesque trailer for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's upcoming film Grind House coming out in April 2007. Quentin's half of the film is called Death Proof and Robert's is Planet Terror. You'll immediately get the idea. Nothing remarkable. Just more exploitation movie pastiche from T & R. Almost like the filmmaking equivalent of masturbation. It's gets old quick but with a little bit of creativity can be surprisingly entertaining. Problem is, when the show's over, it's never as good as you had hoped.

I do admire the spirited marketing on Grind House so far...the posters (see below) and now this new trailer are pretty striking. Usually this sort of thing doesn't do it for me, but I have a geeky soft spot for anything Tarantino. Rodriguez not as much...though Sin City had its moments. Love 'em or hate 'em, these two directors are experts in a particular kind of painfully shallow, obnoxiously self-aware entertainment. Is that a compliment or an insult? I don't even know but together again, it looks as if they are raising the stakes (maybe even competing against one another) to create an alternate universe of over-sexed, ultra-violent B-movie tropes of the sort I have never experienced firsthand. Not sure I want to either.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sick & Tired

I've been out of commission since Friday night with a dreadful, life-altering flu bug. I'm just now coming out of the fog. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to get out of bed and stand for longer than 5 minutes without breaking into a cold sweat and coughing up dead lung tissue. If I can do that, making it into work should be a breeze. On the bright side, I've decided to treat this experience as a subtle sign from my body to quit smoking. Haven't lit up in four days now so I'll see how far that gets me. Wish me luck.

The true tragedy of this story is how on this particular weekend I had tickets for two highly anticipated gigs. I missed Saturday's Yo La Tengo show entirely. It pains me to say it, but I didn't even consider leaving my bed for the show. It simply wasn't an option on that night.

Gig #2 was TV on the Radio on Sunday night...and it would take a lot more than a little case of the bird-flu for me to miss two shows in a row, especially one starring live favorites, TVOTR. And so, against all reasonable medical advice (and my wife's), we made it to First Avenue. Buzzed up on a casserole of legal, over-the-counter cold medicines, I planted myself in the usual prime spot behind the soundboard and somehow maintained consciousness through Grizzly Bear's opening set. They sounded great by the way. More psychadelic than expected (you can read into that what you will) but as my wife put it, "not very danceable." She's right, but in my state, dancing was not in order.

During the deadtime between sets, the meds wore off, my pain escalated and I coughed on everyone around us. We decided it was better to reposition ourselves to the outskirts in case of a quick exit, but I was willing to risk staying just a little longer to make it through TVOTR. In defense of my wife, all this time I had been minimizing my sickness, insisting that I was feeling better and would be ok, etc. And at this point, there was no turning back. We made it all the way down here, fought the sold-out crowd, saw the opening set and now TVOTR would be on stage any minute now. Any. Minute. Now. Instead, the time crawled by as it never had before. I mean, sure, we all hate waiting between sets, but this was getting ridiculous. So I finally gave in and admitted that I was in awful pain, soon to die and probably shouldn't be out in a club late at night. Right on cue, TV on the Radio came out on stage. Resisting her natural instinct to punch me in the nose, my wife agreed with my assessment, dragged me home and nursed me back to health. By the time we finally left, I did hear a couple songs of TVOTR's set and I could tell already it wouldn't top seeing them at Emo's last month. So it was really for the best.

In closing, I'd like to sincerely thank my wife, Annie, for putting up with her husband who is endlessly stubborn and has no tolerance for pain. I really don't. And I whine incessantly when I'm sick. It's pathetic.
Let's hope that this public acknowledgment of my idiocy and her wisdom will go a long way to prevent any resentment on her part...after all, she woke up with a sore throat this morning.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Three and out

In retrospect, perhaps I was a tad too optimistic and eager for our hometown Twins. I was excited, very excited but yes, maybe, could have, yes, I'm sure of it...I gotta little ahead myself with some lofty expectations. Thanks to very uncharacteristic play for three games (e.g. errors, poor bullpen pitching, bad baserunning), we've been swept by the Oakland Athletics. Last night, I drowned my post-season sorrows in pale ale. But this morning, I'm renewed and ready for next year. I'm sticking with the Twins as World Series Champs in 2007 (and 2008). In the meantime, with the Twinkies out, I'm rooting for the Cardinals to win it all. So it goes.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Half Nelson

Been a while since I've posted about a film..mostly because I haven't seen a good one in some time. But Fall is here and the crop of quality options is growing thicker each and every week.

This past weekend I saw Half Nelson directed by Ryan Fleck. The film first drew critical attention way back in January at Sundance, scoring a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize. Properly released a few weeks ago, this unassuming but powerful drama stars Ryan Gosling as Dan Dunne, a young, idealistic history teacher by day, a disillusioned coke-addict by night. One day after school, the teach is caught smoking a crack pipe in the school bathroom by one of his 13-year old students, Drey, played by the talented Shareeka Epps. After their mutually startling encounter, the two eventually develop a tentative father-daughter relationship. Their new bond is contrasted to Drey's interaction with her other father figure, Frank (played by Anthony Mackie), a polite and considerate drug dealer from the neighborhood. Although on the surface, Frank is easily the nicest and most watchful eye in Drey's life, he also has ulterior motives to recruit Drey into some of his unsavory errands.

The plot sounds like it could fall in all sorts of traps, most obviously the "white teacher/coach who shows the black kids how to find their inspiration within themselves." This ploy has been obnoxiously portrayed in countless films over the years. But writer/director Ryan Fleck and and co-writer Anna Boden take that seemingly insulting and worn-out premise and turn it on its head. Better yet, the film is politically and morally resonant, with insightful commentary on ideals and one's ability (or lack thereof) to change the world we live in.

But enough with the synopsis. This is a fantastic film, maybe the best I've seen this year. There are several arresting and emotional scenes in this film of the sort I long to see but rarely do. I should also note that the film strongly features Broken Social Scene music throughout. But I find it very surprising (and disappointing) that Half Nelson has not garnered more attention. I can't remember seeing a single ad upon its release and only through my incessant reading of online critics and blogs did I take notice. The reviews were outstanding across the board and Ryan Gosling (post-Notebook fame) is now an established name. So what's the deal here? Ryan Gosling kills in this role, proving that he is this generation's Sean Penn. The Oscar prognosticator's are charging full-steam with award-season predictions but Half Nelson is hardly registering. True, I haven't seen half as many films as most this year, but I find it hard to believe that Gosling's performance and Half Nelson wouldn't be up there in the top tier.

Subjectivity's a bitch. So go check out this great film...I promise you will not be disappointed.

This is just the beginning...
In case you're wondering, here are a few more films I'm looking forward to seeing over the next few months:
The Departed, Little Children, The Fountain, Fast Food Nation, Flags of Our Fathers, Borat, Babel, Volver, The Good German, Children of Men, The Good Shepherd and Dreamgirls. Check out trailers for most of these films on my release calendar link over on the sidebar.