Sunday, August 24, 2008

Das Fun Haus: One

In October of 2006, when we signed the lease for 423 W. Vernon here in Normal, I was in the middle of reading Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s brilliant Please Kill Me. All we knew at that point was that we were going to have house shows. So when the question of what to call the house was, the natural answer for me was The Fun House, after the house The Stooges lived in and named their second album after. And Peter, the German major, added the twist of calling it Das Fun Haus.

Last year was great. Hardcore bands. Punk bands. Country bands. Folk bands. Straight edge. Solo acts. Whether the mayhem of Cross Examination or the catastrophe that was The Beauty Shop. It was unbelievable. And this year, I’m excited to chronicle the experience, posting about each show we have.

For our first show of the year, we had:

I don’t play solo shows often, but there are songs that I write that just don’t fit with Endless Mike. I tried to keep the set as short and as upbeat as possible. From the moment we planned the show I knew I wanted to start by covering The Hold Steady’s “Constructive Summer,” declaring that even though school had started, we still had time to “build something this summer.” I played four originals and planned to close with the Smoking Popes’ “Megan.” Though at the suggestion of my roommate Joey, I also played The Lawrence Arms song “100 Resolutions” which was really just me playing guitar for everyone to sing along.

Thom Crawford came next with his blend of dirty folk, “cornfield blues.” Thom puts together a mass of bluesy folk guitar with a throaty voice laced in misery. His guitar work resonates the tone that Rick Rubin put forth on Cash’s American Recordings­—not for the faint of heart. It’s depressing music, but it’s also unbelievably well written and heartfelt. On Thom’s myspace he has just loaded a new set of demos, and you can also get a free download of his release There Is Nothing Creepy About Being A Mess...

Ian Reynold plays in the tradition of Elliott Smith, except that Mr. Smith couldn’t hold a note compared to the pipes Ian’s got. The kid can fucking sing. And he writes some very intricate guitar melodies, keeping things even more interesting. Ian is one of my favorite solo performers to watch. He made a fantastic record this summer called See Thru Stars—I’ve got it, it’s excellent.

Playing their first show, Random Candy was the only full band of the night, putting together a blend of power pop and soul. They didn’t know they were a soul band yet though. Their faster songs were very reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub, but they also had some slow jams that were suggestive of a Motown influence. I tried to be their Jimmy Rabbitte, telling Pat Klazca, “come on, say it loud, ‘I’m black and I’m proud.’” We settled on the fact that he should just start listening to The Temptations and Otis. It was a fun set, a good party band. And Pat has some majestic mannerisms.

Maribelle is the side project of A. Ross, guitarist of DuPage County hardcore kings Weekend Nachos. A. Ross writes beautiful tunes, and is talented and comfortable enough with these songs to the point where he knows exactly how they should be played. Exactly. In the I’m Your Man documentary, Leonard Cohen talks about how songs took him, months, sometimes years to finish because he wanted them to be perfect. Aaron’s understanding of his songs and maturity as a musician allows for him to present what he’s written with a brilliant minimalism that is perfectly fitting. I was happy to see him.

It was an amazing way to start out the year. All the bands were people we knew and the turn-out was solid. It was a good welcome back. With love, and trust, and shows, all school year.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's a pretty good song, baby, you know the rest

The best record of the summer came out today. The Gaslight Anthem's The '59 Sound. I, of course, have been heralding this record for months, and even though I've had it for a while now, I was very excited for this day to come. Still waiting on my vinyl. But no matter. The other day I started writing on why this is my favorite record of the year. I've just got to sit on it til the end of the year now.

The press reaction was something that I was also looking forward to. They're a dark horse. Beyond a dark horse. Nothing from Pitchfork. Figures. But the New York Times gave a good review. As did Aside from that I was pretty disappointed, hopefully the word will spread.

Their myspace is giving a full stream of the record. Dig it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

14 is False

"Money Changes Everything" is great. But it's no "Oscillate Wildly"

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"Poor guy?" We're all fucked.

Season 5 Episode 11: “The Test Dream” When Phil and Billy Leotardo kill Angelo Garepe, the problems between Tony and his cousin Tony B. (brilliantly portrayed by Steve Buscemi—who also directed “Pine Barrens”) come full circle. Every bit of discomfort Tony B. has brought to the family becomes a call for full scale chaos when the news of the former consigliere’s murder is also met with the fact that Tony B. (Angelo’s former cellmate) is nowhere to be found.

After Tony makes every effort to contact his cousin, he drifts off to sleep where viewers are treated to a dream sequence which lasts nearly half the episode. (In the dream) Tony wakes up in bed with the recently departed Carmine Lupertazzi. Receives counsel in Dr. Melfi’s office from former gomare Gloria (who had killed herself after a fight with Tony). Rides in the backseat of his father Johnny Boy’s Cadillac with Ralph Cifaretto, Mikey Palmice, and Big Pussy. Meets Finn’s parents at Vesuvio (Finn’s mother is Annette Bening, who says of Tony B. “there’s something Bugsy about him” HA!). There is an homage to Michael Corleone where Tony goes into the bathroom looking for a gun, which he, as it were, is supposed to use on Tony B. before he kills Phil Leotardo. He is too late. And we find the dream ending in the office of Tony’s high school football coach, where he is berated for taking the easy way out and never being prepared.

The title of the episode refers to the common dream where a person shows up to a test unprepared—oftentimes naked. (For me it’s always my Physics final. Senior year of high school. Mrs. Sense. I have no idea why, there are few classes that I ever cared about less.) For Tony, he was unprepared in dealing with the situation surrounding his cousin.

This is the most visually stunning episode the show has ever produced. The scenes in Johnny Boy’s old Cadillac are eerie. The faces surrounding him sullen, covered with the heavy powder foundation one would wear at his or her own wake. In Vesuvio, the colors stand out beautifully (which is funny given the referencing to Michael Corleone and The Godfather, a film noted for its bold colorings). These bold colors remain through the episode, standing out to note the heightened sense of unease with which we watch the sequence.

The message of the dream is obvious. That Tony has allowed things to go too far with his cousin and he must act now or else it’s going to be war. That much is easy to comprehend, but there are some very interesting pieces to the dream which have been left for interpretation. Why is it that those guiding Tony through the dream are people that have died at his hand? Gloria in the office. Ralph, Mikey, and Puss in the car. They lead him through this dream, they bring him to Tony B. (with help from Artie Bucco, which is also curious. Why Artie? He’s as far removed from this situation as anyone, why would Artie know what to do?) Why are these the people that are helping him?

Even Pie O My appears in the dream to offer guidance. Sitting atop the horse in his living room, Carmella (who is separated from Tony at this point) tells him he can not keep her. And despite Tony’s love of the horse, he obliges, backing her out of the room just he must back down to his wife and acknowledging that in order to get Carm back, he has to make sacrifices.

When Tony wakes up, his visions turn out to be true. Christopher comes to tell Tony that Tony B. has killed Billy Leotardo and put Phil in the hospital. Tony’s inaction has led to a conflict that will continue until the end of the series.

But while the dream’s message about Tony B. was too little too late, Tony obviously saw the significance of Pie O My, and calls Carmella. They talk a bit about the dream. The kids. The sun rises with the hope that the two will be back together.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Guided Tour of Chicago

My apologies for the delay on the Sopranos postings. I know that many of you were out there losing sleep over my tardiness, especially if you were reading the blog through Internet Explorer. I’m not sure what’s going on there, I’ve had some problems with IE and the blog before, and being as bad with computers as a product of my generation can possibly be, I haven’t been able to fix the problem with last post. My suggestion is to use Firefox if you aren’t already.

And if you are already, look at the page through Internet Explorer. It’s weird.

But I was kept from finishing up my bit on the Sopranos due to a weekend of extraordinary circumstances. Not Lollapalooza. Cubs game Sunday. Reed Johnson. Wilco did the Seventh Inning Stretch. Helluva game and I still got to see Wilco!

From everything I’m hearing, the Lolla experience was great for everyone involved, but being a hater of outdoor festivals and an even bigger hater of spending money, I kept myself out of Grant Park for the third year in a row. This is not an easy process, mind you. Keeping myself away from that lineup is an act that requires constant justification.

I had to look at the schedule and note all the times when I would have been forced to choose between bands. I kept up with coverage from several sources, dutifully noting each disappointment, no-show, and complaint about prices within the park as I continued to convince myself that I did the smart thing.

I was very happy to see that Pitchfork had detailed coverage because they were the perfect source to pad my rationalization. The cynical hipster haters have enough to prove to themselves and their coffeehouse buddies as it is, but given the fact that their own festival was only a couple of weeks ago, they also had to make it known that they did it better.

But even though I was calling on Pitchfork for their pessimism, I couldn’t help but get completely annoyed. I’ve always taken the site with a grain of salt. On one hand their coverage is thorough and they’re an excellent source for news, but jesus christ can they get exhausting. It gets pretty old having to constantly look up words on just to understand what they think about Titus Andronicus. I liken my relationship with Pitchfork to the relationship I had with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in first grade. Making fun of all those rat-tailed kids that were obsessed with the Green Ranger on the bus, but running home the moment I got off so I didn’t miss a minute of Zordon and co. It’s great to see how much maturity can come from fifteen years of getting old.

Editor Amy Phillips’ coverage of Saturday stands out as the definitive piece. Particularly her take on Wilco’s performance. In the typical emotion-free experience that defines indy rock concert-going, Phillips is unimpressed with the Wilco performance. Refusing to acknowledge that Kicking Television put their review of A Ghost Is Born to shit, she is still riding on this concept that Wilco will never do anything better than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But then things change:

…during "Pot Kettle Black", a guy in a Hawaiian shirt standing next to me with a beer in his hand asked me how I was enjoying the show. I said I was kind of bored. He looked stunned. "But it's such a nice night!" he exclaimed. "Everybody's having such a good time!" He waved his arms around to indicate all of the happy people around us.

You know what? Fuck it. He's right. How can I hate on a Wilco show on a beautiful (and not humid!) night in downtown Chicago? Regular dudes having a good time making music for regular people having a good time listening to them. Couples with their arms around each other, families sitting on picnic blankets, high school kids sneaking cigarettes. Everybody singing along to "A Shot in the Arm".

Well, gee, Amy. How about a pat on the fucking back? Despite all your efforts to sit their with your arms crossed you were able to see a rock n' roll concert for all the natural beauty it can bring. You were able to forget about all the underlying bullshit and actually enjoy yourself. Jesus, what the fuck are you there for in the first place? Reporting on the music, but are you so caught up in fitting the mold of your website that you’ve become this distanced from actually enjoying rock n' roll? Why did you get into this gig in the first place?

As I said, I’m reading this because I want to hear their cynicism—to hear that Grizzly Bear was disappointing or that seeing The Black Keys Thursday night at The Metro was way cooler than at Lolla (which I am happy to say I did do. And they ruled). But come fucking on. Wilco. In Chicago. Going there and trying to make it look bad—that’s about as close to pushing an agenda as you can get.

Thankfully the music was there to set Ms. Phillips straight. But should it really have to in the first place?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sometimes I wish he was my uncle, too

Season 3 Episode 11: “Pine Barrens
Top five Sopranos characters:

1. Paulie Gualtieri

2. Christopher Moltisanti

3. Bobby Baccalieri

4. AJ Soprano

5. Junior Soprano

Any fan of the series will be able to spout that one out for you with relative ease. While the plot twists of the business and the findings of the therapy sessions keep us on the edge of our couches (I once watched four episodes in a row. Season Four. No regrets.) it’s the characters that keeps us relaxed and at home. Sopranos writers rewarded viewers over the years by taking the care to develop each character of the ensemble through the show’s tenure. To me there’s an understanding between creator and viewer, a closeness that’s hard to come by. David Chase was in touch with the rabid fans and rewarded them by paying a special, precise attention to each character on the show. And never were viewers rewarded as we were with “Pine Barrens.”

Tony sends Paulie and Christopher out to make collections for a sick Silvio. (This is already exciting for me, not only are these my two favorite characters, but two personalities that are always going at it.) Among those due for a visit is a Russian named Valery. Madness ensues.

They drive to the Pine Barrens on the southern coast. Turns out Valery ain’t dead. And when he runs away, Paulie shoots him, but we never find him. Never find out what becomes of him. (Apparently David Chase still gets asked whatever happened to the Russian) And when it’s all said and done, Paulie and Chris have no idea where they are or where the car is. They spent the night wandering the barrens, freezing, eating ketchup packets, and threatening to kill each other. Between Christopher’s dim-wittedness and Paulie’s tendency to FREAK THE FUCK OUT the experience is phenomenal.

Eventually, Tony decides that he needs to drive down to the Pine Barrens himself to find the two before they kill each other (freezing to death being in a distant second). At the suggestion of Uncle Junior, Bobby, an experienced hunter, is called to help. While Bobby would become a prominent earner in later seasons, at this point he is only known as the mild-mannered, shy assistant to the ailing Junior who plays a really lousy Santa Claus. But the moment Bobby walks into Junior’s kitchen decked out in his hunting gear, the lovable dork has secured his spot in the hearts of every Soprano viewer. It’s priceless. As is the laughter brought on Tony and Uncle June as Bobby walks through the door.

Talking to people and looking around the internet, I’ve found that this episode seems to rank up there with everyone. And not for the reasons you’d expect. This is a unique episode that relies on the interaction of its characters. The hilarious exchanges between the irritable Chrissy and Paulie. The heartwarming conversation about Uncle Junior between Tony and Bobby (“Sometimes I wish he was my uncle, too”). It’s an episode that stays with you, as you watch these people grow.

Season 4 Episode 10: “The Strong, Silent Type” Christopher’s drug problem comes to the forefront when he, after shooting up, sits on Adrianna’s dog Cozette and kills her. This effectively brings forth an intervention which ends with Paulie, Silvio, and Benzie beating the shit out of Chrissy. But it’s a success, he goes to rehab.

In the previous episode Tony killed Ralph Cifaretto after finding out that Ralph set fire to his horse stable, killing his horse Pie O My. Tony’s deep connection with Pie O My comes to a head in his rehab session as we see him sobbing over the death of the horse. The emotions that we see in Tony, as Dr. Melfi notes, are comparable only to the ducks from the beginning of the series. The complexity to Tony’s connection with animals is very deep, though puzzling because the man feels nowhere near the same empathy towards people. During the intervention, he remains focused on the fact that Christopher killed Adrianna’s dog. Not that he gave Adrianna a black eye. Not that he needs professional help. There is nothing but Cozette.

And the relationship between Tony and Pie O My also leads to some unforgettable actions from Paulie. When a painting Tony had made of him and the horse arrives at the Bing, T storms out of the room, abandoning the discussion and on-going game of pool (which Paulie notes as a forfeit, making his team the victors). Despite Tony’s orders to torch the painting, Paulie takes it home because, as he puts it, it’s classy and valuable. But after taking the picture home, Paulie gets spooked out by it. Haunted by the image. He takes it to a professional and asks him to paint an old war outfit on Tony. To get rid of the eeriness. It’s classic Paulie, the superstitious fuck. (Marone! Now I’m talking like I'm on the show!)

This episode may be my favorite out of them all. It brings together many of the elements of the show that I adore. The psychology of Tony Soprano takes very poignant turns. The process of trying to really get into his head. How he can weep over a horse dying and not flinch over the human lives he has taken and the suffering he’s caused? Tony visits Ralph’s son (who had an accident earlier in the season) in the hospital and there is a very sullen moment where Tony is just sitting at the foot of the boys bed watching him sleep. He feels guilty for Ralph, but that guilt is transferred completely onto the situation Ralph’s boy is in. A terrible situation. One that makes you question "what kind of God would let this happen?" And Ralph’s death certainly adds to guilt. Anything that Tony has done, though, is transferred onto the events that put the boy in the hospital. And T is allowed to blame the world for being a fucked up place. His hands are clean.

We see him reaching out to Christopher, taking care of his problem with as much love as he can, but still having to face that this is a problem effecting business. And what has always made the relationship between those two interesting is how much Tony’s love for Chrissy effects his ability to be boss. He has so much invested in Christopher being the future, but he’s a fuck up. But he’s also his nephew. And Tony is often faced with toeing this line. And constantly examining this line.

But as I mentioned with “Pine Barrens,” the characters make the show shine. Paulie being Paulie. Silvio being Silvio. These are the people that keep it all exciting for me. I get enjoyment out of every single thing these characters do. The madness of the intervention, seeing a bunch of stubborn, old school guys turning this “non-confrontational, non-judgmental” process into a complete fiasco is absolutely perfect. The moment Paulie knocks Christopher out of his chair, it’s settled. Classic Sopranos.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What happened to Gary Cooper?

Well, I am finished with summer work, so I came back to the suburbs to kill some time. I’m at my mom’s right now which is a place I’ve come to enjoy. Aside from my mother and her dog I’m always happy to spend time with her Sopranos DVDs.

Surprisingly I haven’t mentioned this already, but The Sopranos is the best show that was ever on television. Ever. And while I’m at my mother’s (or should I say “my muddah’s”) and have each episode at my fingertips, I thought I’d share with you my favorites.

Season 1 Episode 1: “The Sopranos” From the very first, anxious session between Tony Soprano and Dr. Jennifer Melfi, I think everyone could tell that there was something special coming. Granted there are some growing pains. James Gandolfini doesn’t have the Jersey accent down, yet. The direction is nothing to write home about. But the moment Tony utters the words “waste management” to the uneasy doctor, you’re hooked.

And by the time Anthony Jr. cries out, “so what no fuckin ziti?” you know that you’ve seen the inception of a classic.

Principle characters—in all their glory—are introduced. Plot lines and themes which will extend throughout the six seasons are set. The ducks. Gary Cooper—the strong, silent type. The sad clown.

I’ll always contend that each Sopranos season, but what is unfortunate about seasons 3-6 is the absence of Tony’s mother, Livia. Of course this was because of Nancy Marchand’s untimely death, which certainly speaks volumes of the series when the only complaint I have is based off of something out David Chase’s hands. But Livia, the source of Tony’s depression was an unbelievably written character. Written out of Chase’s own experiences (poor guy), she was a manipulative, conniving, evil sad-case. She drove the show early on, as we learned the deep-rooted psychological damage she inflicted on Tony. Driving Junior against T. Having her around longer would have been interesting to say the least.

Also worth noting: The music for the closing credits is Nick Lowe’s “The Beast In Me”