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.