Sunday, August 27, 2006

Farewell to Summer

Today, my bro-in-law moves out and heads back up to Duluth, MN for his fall semester. It's been great to have a guy and fellow music obsessive in the house. Lately, JB’s had a case of the end-of-summer blues so we decided to have him go out with a bang. In his final week in the big city, we went on a rampage of live music mayhem. Granted, ‘rampage’ may be an overstatement but we did catch three great live shows this week around town. A proper way to send him off, wouldn't you say?

1) Monday - Low @ Loring Park
One of JB's favorite bands played the final night in the summer “Movies in the Park” series held annually in Loring Park, Minneapolis.

Review: Quietly impressive set of songs from their entire catalogue. Relaxed, sunset-picnic-in-the-park vibe was a perfect setting.
Highlights: “Dinosaur Act” and thanks to JB’s Duluth connections, hanging out with Matt Livingston (Low's bass player) after their performance.

2) Thursday – Sonic Youth & The Flaming Lips @ The State Fair
Yes, you read that correctly: The State Fair. The very same ‘Great Minnesota Get Together’ that usually features a Toby Keith clone or even better, a butt-rock reunion band (e.g. Poison). Not on this night. Instead, thralls of unlikely fair-goers descended on the fairgrounds despite the evening's foreboding weather to watch a too-good-to-be-true pair of headliners. As ordered, the rain halted and the skies cleared just in time for the show.

Review: Sonic Youth played an energetic show featuring mostly tunes from their latest LP. A few too many obnoxious teenagers in the crowd whining about wanting to see the Lips and not this ‘noisy band’ …damn, I sound like an old man. Anyway, Kim Gordon is one sexy dancer, oh and she is a good musician, too. Sonic Youth's been around forever, but these guys are aging gracefully and their live chops are as good as ever.
Highlights: Opener “Teen Age Riot;” Thurston and Lee sword fighting with their guitars to wonderfully noisy effect.

Review: The Flaming Lips are well known for their live extravanganza and they did not disappoint in this regard. True their stage setup took over an hour but once they took the stage it was impossible not to get caught up in Wayne Coyne’s delirious antics, including his bubble crowd-surfing, endless explosions of streamers and confetti into the crowd, puppets, dancers in alien and Santa costumes, etc. The over-the-top show is truly a remarkable entertainment and unique from most shoe-gazing performers in the indie music scene. In fact, he is one of the most unashamedly gleeful rock stars I have ever seen and it is infectious. They also play music, too.
Highlights: Opener “Race for the Prize” and encore cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” with expected political video. Also, a quick two-song acoustic set by the Magic Numbers whose opening act was canceled due to stormy weather.

3) Saturday – Damian Marley and Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals @ Roy Wilkins Auditorium
I’ll preface by saying that I’m actually not too familiar with Ben Harper but I’ve always heard his live shows are not to be missed. This show was originally to be held outdoors in Somerset, Wisconsin but due to fire-hazard conditions it was moved to St. Paul.

Review: Opening act Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley set the bar high with an energetic show of flag-waving Jamaican reggae. A very danceable and lively performance, with two of his father’s songs included for good measure.
Then, Ben Harper. My expectations may have been mixed but the rumor was undoubtedly true: he is incredible live. I now know this first-hand. I had never heard most of his original material but I didn’t care. His stage presence is fantastic and welcoming. His musicianship is startling. Who knew Ben was such a mean slide-guitar player? I guess most people know but I didn’t until now. And each one of his Innocent Criminals is an incredible musician in their own right. They must have played for nearly 2.5 hours and I could have used at least another hour.
Highlights: The entire show. I don’t know the names of his songs except for the aptly titled “Burn One Down.” But I can say his selection of cover songs was impressive, including Prince, Bob Marley (with Damian joining in of course), Marvin Gaye and Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.”

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Perfect Trailer

Having recently posted on the art of the trailer, I now have a perfect example in the just released trailer for Todd Field's upcoming Little Children. No flash at all, just very music, minimal dialogue and only a suggestion of a plot surrounding marital infidelity. The standout here is the use of sound, which is incredible. You'll see what I mean. Amazing how such a simple trailer can pack such an emotional punch. The film hasn't really been on my radar for this fall's releases but I am now paying attention. Todd Field also directed the highly-lauded In The Bedroom and the tone of Little Children appears to be in the same vein as that surprisingly affecting domestic drama.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


My brother-in-law and summer roommate, whom I have dubbed J. Barrington, is an aspiring songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. I thought I'd share a sample of what he's been up to this long, hot summer. Have a listen to this wonderful little tune of post-rock bliss titled "Lost in Self Destruction" streaming here.

Last week we took in the superb double feature of Wolf Parade and Frog Eyes at 1st Avenue. Over the last few months, Frog Eyes has quickly become a favorite so I was very pleased to see Carey Mercer (a dead ringer for Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his bandmates in a live setting. They blitzed through a stellar set brimming with yelps, feedback and beautiful, buried melodies. If you're not familiar with their catalogue, proceed immediately to an online destination of your choice to download albums or at least a few tracks from The Bloody Hand, The Golden River or The Folded Palm.

Of course, the headliner of the night was Wolf Parade, who has endlessly toured in support of their amazing debut LP Apologies to the Queen Mary. Last year around this time, the Parade were opening for The Arcade Fire and here we are, a year later, and they're still on the road only now a well-deserved feature act. In retrospect, Apologies is one of two albums that should have easily earned a ranked spot on my Best of list from 2005 (for the record, Broken Social Scene's self-titled release is the other). I digress... Wolf Parade put on a fantastic set, featuring nearly every track from their LP plus around 4-5 new tracks led by the busiest man in Canadian rock, Spencer Krug. But you have to give props to that "other" lead singer Dan Boeckner. True, he is skinny enough to border on concern, but he does provide a welcome raucous rock 'n roll presence, that night proudly wearing a Metallica sleeveless t-shirt (ironic or not, who's to say). Maybe hinting at the next album, the new cuts feature Dan more than Spencer and less synth. It was a hell of a show and left me excited to catch their ACL set this September.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Art of the Trailer

Film editing is a hobby of mine, but anyone can clearly see that there is an art to the movie trailer. Obviously, they're a mixed bag. When poorly done, a trailer will spoonfeed you the entire narrative arc of the story. They often give away the 3rd act and show you the best shots. Comedy trailers are notorious for revealing all the best gags. Most trailers are generic and repetitive, one indistinguishable from the next. However, when expertly made, a trailer will capture the mood of the film through sound and image, only using moments of the plot to hint at the larger story. The best trailers provoke an emotional response and work as stand-alone short films in themselves. A bit hard to explain so let me find some recent examples...

Garden State: maybe the best trailer from the last couple years. And it is also a good example of a trailer that ended up much, much better than the film itself.

Requiem for a Dream: a fantastic trailer which skillfully captures the mood and style of the feature-length version. Still scares the shit out of me.

Jarhead: another good example of a trailer that far exceeds the film. The actual movie is boring in comparison.

Marie Antoinette: more a teaser than a fullblown trailer, but the use of unexpected pop music (New Order) makes this a standout.

Elephant: another perfect use of music to much different effect.

Syriana: in this instance, the trailer makes more sense out of the plot than the actual movie.

Kill Bill: an example of a great action movie trailer and yet again, awesome music.

Pearl Harbor: remove all memory of the actual film from your mind when watching this one. Yes, the film sucked but this trailer is amazingly effective and packs much more of an emotional wallop than the film ever did.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What Happened?

As a loyal Grandaddy supporter, I carried high expectations to the Fine Line on Monday night to see Jason Lytle perform in support of the now-defunct band's recent album, Just Like the Fambly Cat. In effect, this was Grandaddy's farewell tour, or as close as anyone was going to get.

About three years ago, I saw Grandaddy in their prime at the 1st Ave-Main Room. As a unit, they put on a fantastic show, expertly translating their heavily-produced tunes into a thrilling live performance, led by the bearded-Jason's melancholy crooning, retro keyboards and grinding guitar. So an unplugged Grandaddy...err...Jason Lytle, was sure to be equally great. I was excited to hear how Jason would reconfigure his songs into a more acoustic setting. But as it happened, the Fine Line show was altogether different than I had hoped: it was a resounding disappointment.

If I were to choose highlights, I'd pick the fittingly minimalist version of "Jed the Humanoid" or the slow-tempo "Hewlitt's Daughter." But highlights were few and far between. Jason, clean-shaven, was joined on stage by multi-instrumentalist and fellow-Californian Rusty Miller. The two sat in folding chairs facing each other from opposite sides of a card table. The table was littered with cables, Casio keyboards, Rum & Coke, microphones, a couple recorders and various electronic gizmos. A quirky and quaint sort of setup. But oddly, Jason and Rusty performed to each other rather than to the eerily quiet audience of around 60 people.

Overall, the entire set was sloppy, disconnected and seemingly unrehearsed. But not in a spontaneous and off-the-cuff-creative sorta way. Jason and Rusty, who I suspect were inebriated, appeared to be figuring things out as they went, a problem that could have easily been solved with...I don't know? Practice, maybe? I guess you could say it felt like watching their rehearsal, or better yet, watching what its like to see Jason fucking around on the keyboard with his friend. Sounds cool enough. And it had potential. I still think it could have been great, but in the end, the show was a swell concept, lacking in execution.

Furthermore, the sound was for shit, with incessant feedback buzzing through every song and filling the dead silence in between. We did have the pleasure of watching Jason and Rusty awkwardly swap places, back and forth around the table like musical chairs, tangling cords and passing their drinks after every song. Jason gave little in the way of conversation or even acknowledgment to the crowd. Boring is a word that comes to mind and I never thought I'd say that in describing the mesmerizing music of Grandaddy. To cap things off nicely, the set ended in anti-climactic fashion without an encore. Ta da!

This was not the Grandaddy...uh, I mean the Jason Lytle I had come to see. But perhaps that's my problem. One of my favorite bands broke up and I wanted to see one final triumphant performance. Instead, I saw the talented, but surprisingly uninspiring front man on his own. Or maybe it's just the beard? The beard was Jason's mojo and he lost it somewhere in Modesto, California.