Thursday, September 27, 2007

Steve Earle & Allison Moorer, Town Hall, 9/26/07

Note from the Steve Earle/Allison Moorer Town Hall show last night:

I'm sitting in the audience left loge, in front of a pretty British brunette and across the aisle from a sultry blonde. Allison Moorer comes on, wearing a black dress that ends just above her knees and fishnet stockings. I have no idea what her first song is; I’m so captivated by her voice that I forget to write down the odd lyric so I can title-check later. After confessing that this is her first time at Town Hall, she sings three more songs (Fair Weather, A Soft Place to Fall and New Year’s Day) and then switches guitars.

MOORER: So I’ve got a new album coming out. It’s a cover album. Songs by female singer-songwriters. All girls. We don’t have enough of ‘em in the music business, despite what you hear.

Then she sings Clouds, and you can hear a pin drop.

MOORER: I think I just officially busted my Town Hall cherry. And, yes, I am wearing fishnets.

(Don’t have to tell me, Allie.)

She sings Getting Somewhere, then introduces her new husband: “When we started touring together, I didn't think I’d marry him. That’s life, I guess.” Earle comes out and hovers next to her over the mike as she introduces the next song.

MOORER: We’ve been singing this song for a while and we’re gonna keep singing it till this stupid war is over.

And they go right into Where Have All The Flowers Gone, and I’m in concert heaven. How often do you hear this and Clouds within ten minutes of each other? How often do you hear this and Clouds, period? It’s like going back in time and listening to WBCN.

And then Moorer cements the FM radio station analogy by singing Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come. (Personal echo: my friend Sarah in Virginia name-checked this song in an e-mail to me not more than ten days ago, and I e-mailed her back an mp3 of the Sam Cooke original. So of course I text her as discreetly as possible while Moorer is singing.)

During intermission, the sultry blonde goes down to an empty seat in the first row of the orchestra, where her hair shines like a good deed in a naughty world. After intermission, Earle comes on. He looks, well, relaxed and (gulp) happy. It's kind of unnerving. His last CD was the musical equivalent of one of those books in the Old Testament where the guy with the long beard shouts on a street corner and nobody listens; his current album is "a bunch of love songs to New York City and Allison Moorer, not necessarily in that order." (And by the end of the night, he'll have done 10 of them, out of a possible total of 12.)

He starts off with a talking intro to Baby Let Me Follow You Down.

EARLE: I used to be a folk singer. Now I am a recovering folk singer. I liked being a folk singer because folk singers have no regard for authority. Then I discovered that there were folk singer authorities. Rules and regulations. One of the rules is, you always start a song by saying where you got it. So I could start this song by saying I got it off a Bob Dylan album. On Bob Dylan's album, he says he got it off a guy named Eric von Schmidt.

After Baby Let Me Follow You Down, he sings NYC, and then some guy in the audience left balcony yells out "Troubadour!" Someone else yells out "Revolution Starts Now!" Earle ignores them both, says, "This one goes out to whatsername, wherever the hell she is now," and sings Now She’s Gone.

EARLE: Same girl, different approach.

And he sings Goodbye. Watching him sing these two songs back to back is like watching a guy knock on the door of a house he used to live in and ask the current owners if he can take a look inside before he drives off to his current home. It's not just a farewell, it's an F you. Then he gets political --

EARLE: I've decided to keep singing this song till it comes true.

-- and sings Jerusalem. The audience responds with cries of "I love you man!" "Earle for President!" and (yes) "Troubadour!"

EARLE: I"m not a hero, I'm just a Commie hillbilly.

He sings Billy Austin, switches guitars, and reflects that he writes "songs about juvenile delinquents in the 19th and 20th century; haven’t gotten around to the 21st yet," before he does Tom Ames’ Prayer . Then he talks about Townes.

EARLE: Had a friend who was also my teacher. Townes. [Applause.] I truly believe he was the greatest songwriter who ever walked this earth. [Applause.] He led a migratory life, summers in Colorado, winters in Tennessee and Texas. Not because he had to, just because he wanted to. And when he finally settled down, I know that’s when he started to die. He’s also the reason I don’t ski. [Laughter] We were up in the Colorado Rockies, and he wanted to take me skiing but I didn't know how, so instead of teaching me, he gave me a fair amount of LSD. “You don’t need to practice, man," he said, "you need to experience the mountain.” I experienced a tree.

He sings Van Zandt's Rex’s Blues, and without a pause swings into Fort Worth Blues, the song he wrote for TVZ and sang at that Austin City Limits tribute, the show where Nanci Griffith cried her eyes out as he played it. (You can watch the video here.)

A guy named Neil MacDonald starts up a drum machine. Earle sings Tennessee Blues, the first song on the new CD, then a guy comes out with a banjo. "This is not a sophisticated banjo," Earle explains. "This is the kind of banjo that scares sheep." He sings Oxycontin Blues from the new album, then switches to guitar for Jericho Road.

AUDIENCE: [Laughter]
GUY IN AUDIENCE LEFT BALCONY: How long do I have to wait?
EARLE: Keep your knickers on, man, we’re here for a while. [Beat] I’ve got 13 albums, there’s gonna come a point where I’m not gonna be able to sing a song off each of them.

He sings Sparkle and Shine off the new CD, (so obviously written for his new wife), introduces Allison again, and they duet on Days Aren’t Long Enough. Moorer sticks around for City of Immigrants and Down Here Below, and when she walks off, Earle shakes his head and confesses: "I am seriously over-married in every possible way."

Three more songs from the new CD (Steve’s Hammer, with a singalong chorus; Satellite Radio, and Way Down In The Hole), and he's off.

British girl and I are up on our feet clapping, and I feel bad for the Troubadour guy until Earle comes back and for his first encore introduces (yup) Hardcore Troubadour by declaring: "Being completely and totally pro-sex, I have to sing this song." Then he does My Old Friend The Blues, which sounds like yet another farewell, this time to an older version of himself, after which people start shouting for songs; I figure what the hell, and yell for Johnny Come Lately.

EARLE: I hoped I wouldn’t still be singing this song . . . [a sigh] I get asked a lot, “Aren’t you afraid that your old songs are going to be dated?” [Beat] God, I hope so.

He sings Rich Man's War. There's a line in the bridge that echoes back to the opening set: "When will they ever learn," Earle sings, and it's impossible not to believe he's deliberately quoting Pete Seeger, not after that wonderful duet earlier in the evening. Then he does Copperhead Road and goes off again, to come back on for a second encore and lead everyone in a singalong of Christmas Time In Washington. "Come back, Woody Guthrie," we sing. "Come back to us now."

I go out onto 43rd Street whistling the chorus, and the first thing I see is a fleet of town cars waiting the take Skadden Arps lawyers home from their long day of over-billing clients in the Condé Nast building. This corporate-looking guy walking beside me proves that appearances are deceiving by saying with disgust: "Skadden Arps. Now that's irony. You know what they're famous for? Busting the union contracts in the Delphi reorganization. Best union contracts ever set up. Skadden tore 'em apart." I nod my head like I know what he's talking about, making a mental note to look up Delphi in the morning. (I did; it's here.)

And I think to myself, the world is full of irony. Believe it or not, I just saw a happy Steve Earle. Old Sad Steve Earle would say, it don't get more ironic than that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Private Theatre strikes again!

Seems like Sunday's 7 AM cut off for the Private Theatre's production of Hair was a walk in the park compared to Monday. For Monday's performance, you had to be there at 11 PM Sunday night or you were SOL.

Pictures from Newyorkology

Monday, September 24, 2007

Weekend Update

HAIR-less. To get tickets to the free performance in Central Park of Hair Sunday night, you had to be online at 7 AM. I got there at 7:20. No tickets for Matthew. On the plus side, I am now two-thirds of the way through Proust. On the minus side, what used to be a fun thing to do in New York has turned into an overnight camping expedition. The people at the head of the line got there at 3 AM. When you have to do that to see a free show, then the Public ought to rename itself the Private.

In The Valley of Elah. On the one hand, you've got an ending that rivals Saving Private Ryan for sheer "I get it , I get it--will you stop beating me over the head already?" redundancy; on the other hand, you've got the impassive face of Tommy Lee Jones, whose age-lines and glancing looks make this film seem a lot smarter than it really is. Not as devastating as it wants to be, but not as didactic as it could have been. Except for that damn ending.

The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. A lot of historical movies make two mistakes right off the bat--they screw up everybody's hair (Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago? Hello, 1965!) and they get the pacing wrong, editing a story that takes place when people had to ride to get anywhere like they're on motorcycles instead of horses. Not this movie. It's as slow and deliberate as a walk to a funeral, with a breakout performance by Casey Affleck and the nastiest Brad Pitt you've ever seen. It also uses whole passages from the Ron Hansen novel as narration, making it an almost-too-accurate version of the book.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Best of Marcel Marceau

I can't remember which one of my high school friends had this (Tom? Gerry?) but, released in 1970, both sides of this album had 19 minutes of silence followed by 1 minute of thunderous applause. I cannot think of a more fitting epitaph. Except for maybe the (cough) sacrilege (cough incredibly unfunny moment in Silent Movie where Marceau has the only spoken word: "No."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I Lost My Camera At The Lakeside Lounge

Tandy was playing at 11 PM --
An eight-song set that really rocked the place.
I took some pictures with my Powershot.
I used the flash so I could catch Mike’s face.

I put the camera in my shoulderbag,
Said hi to Mike and then hi to Nicole, an’
When I went back to get my bag I found
My little Powershot had just been stolen.

I asked the waitress if she saw it on the floor.
She had an earring like a lavaliere.
She said, “Call back tomorrow after four.
Don’t get your hopes up, though. Another beer?”

I asked the bartender if it had been turned in.
He said “This bar don’t have no lost and found.
What people lose here they must find within.”
I said, “That’s great, Confucius –- one more round.”

Chief Sitting Bull knew Annie Oakley well --
He called her Little Sure Shot,
She called him Little John.
Not half a minute past their last farewell,
The Chief cried, “Oh, my Little Sure Shot’s gone!”

Oh, my little sure shot’s gone!
Somebody stole it --
Some little scrounge --
I lost my camera at the Lakeside Lounge.

You never say a thing is mine for now –-
You always say it’s mine forevermore.
So says the autumn leaf about the bough;
So says the gun about the .44.

Sometimes you never get to say goodbye.
Sometimes they leave you for a scalawag.
Sometimes they vanish in the dead of night.
Sometimes they’re stolen from your shoulderbag.

I’ve had that camera five or six years now --
I took a lot of sunsets,
I never took a dawn.
I used to think it was the cat’s miaow,
But now, my little sure shot’s gone.

Oh, my little sure shot’s gone!
Somebody stole it --
Some little scrounge --
I lost my camera at the Lakeside Lounge.

9/22/07 Matthew Wells

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Comic Book Wednesday

World War Hulk #4. Hulk smash! Or actually, Hulk make everybody he hates smash each other. Personally, the high of the first two issues has slowly faded into the realization that nothing is really going to change at the end of this. Maybe it's the fact that (because of scheduling) the war is long over in the rest of Marvel continuity, and there seems to be no lingering after-effects. (No mention of the Hulk, either. Hmm.) Or maybe I'm getting bored to death with "nothing will ever be the same again" crossovers which either go nowhere or set up the next crossover. Color me jade, for jaded.

Green Arrow Black Canary Wedding Special #1. Besides asking and answering the question "Why doesn't Amanda Conner draw a regular DC title?" (because her artwork is Kevin Maguire/Adam Hughes good, and along with membership in the JLI, that's the kiss of death in today's DCVerse), this comic delivers a light-hearted wedding-crasher battle royale which is completely undone by a sucker-punch epilogue that left a sour taste in my mouth. I can just imagine the cackles of glee in DC Editorial when this one was pitched. No glee here, though.

Captain America #30. Brubaker closes out the first half of his year-long Death of Captain America arc with another bar-setting high. Tony Stark gets a clue, Sharon Carter gets a test result, The Winter Soldier gets sputniked, and Cap's letter (remember that?) gets revealed, in yet another of Brubaker's perfectly-paced can't-wait-for-the-next-one issues. The first thing I'm going to do when I get home tonight is re-read everything from #1 on up to this one, because it's building like a novel and it deserves to be read like one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nebraska State Senator Sues God

Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers has filed a lawsuit against God, for causing "fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues" and other alliterative catastrophes of Charlton Hestonish proportions.

Described by the Christian Broadcasting Network as a man "who often criticizes Christians, is an agnostic, and skips morning prayers during Nebraska's legislative session," Senator Chambers filed this frivolous lawsuit in order to make a point about people who file frivolous lawsuits.

Personally, I don't think the defendant has a prayer:

Them that die'll be the lucky ones

It's Talk Like A Pirate Day!

So belay your job, pour a mug of grog, and watch this.

Arrrrrrrrrrrrr, matey . . . .

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Ballad of Penny Evans

Antje Duvekot sang this at the Boston Folk Festival this past Sunday. I really hope she records it; haunting is too mild a word for her version of this.

All of which will be on an upcoming episode of South Park

The Fox Network issued a one-sentence explanation of why it censored three people during Sunday's Emmy telecast. The explanation, in its entirety, reads:

"Some language during the live broadcast may have been considered inappropriate by some viewers. As a result, FOX's broadcast standards executives determined it appropriate to drop sound and picture during those portions of the show."

The inappropriate language?

Ray Romano saying "screwed."

Katherine Heigl muttering "Oh shit."

Sally Field using the word "wars."

Monday, September 17, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

Great Western; great movie; and even though going into it you know exactly which members of the crew guarding Russell Crowe are not going to make it to Contention, the way they go (with one exception) is a total surprise. (The exception is the one character who declares "Look at what I just did!" and immediately gets shot -- cf. Serenity.)

But make sure you stick around for the credits. Whenever Russell Crowe's name is supposed to show up (outside of the cast list), the name "Ben Wade" is inserted (as in Dialect Coach for Ben Wade; Personal Assistant to Ben Wade).

I wonder which one of the producers pissed off Crowe so much that he had every credit except his cast appearance changed to his character name . . .

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Seven Types of Continuity: Part Two

Casanova #9. Continuing the craziness in this delirious mash-up of Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius with Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD, the foxy blonde with the six arms at the end of last issue is revealed to be Sasa Lisi, the Girl from M.O.T.T. and she's looking for the answer to the question "When is Casanova Quinn?" Meanwhile, Cass' sister Zephyr gets a new potential love interest and a new assignment: eliminate everyone who knows anything about the H-Element Project, including (dum dum du-u-u-u-u-um) Daddy Cornelius, head of E.M.P.I.R.E. As usual, the five-page text epilogue by author Matt Fraction boogaloos all over the place as it delivers sources, references, and (cough) are you listening, DC (cough) footnotes. Also as usual, I finish reading this and feel like I need to re-read issues 1-8 again because I'm a little lost.

Welcome to Tranquility #10. Things do not look good for Wildstorm's home of ex-heroes. The dead are popping up all over the place, Satan's talk-show host is gathering the two sidekicks he needs to make up the three that all the zuvembies have been nattering about for three issues, and it turns out that the Greatest Story Ever Told is actually a Bronze Age funnybook. This will all make sense if you've been buying the title, which would not be the case if this was written by anyone else but Gail Simone. There's a bright Alan Moore ABC glow to this title; it's like Planetary crossed with Carl Barks. Unlike a lot of stuff I read, I have no frigging idea where Ms. Simone is going with this story or how she's going to resolve it, but it sure is a fun ride.

Justice Society of America #9. He's ba-a-a-ack. As usual if you're new to DC, you will have no idea who I'm talking about. But since this character's appearance was previewed on the last page of issue #1, it's no surprise to anyone who's been picking up the title. A definite prologue issue, with the Leaguers banding together to combat a low-key disaster (a building fire) that turns out to be a lot less mundane than arson. And (spoiler alert) here's Kal-L with his weird-shaped S, wondering where he is. He's not the only one. Doesn't anybody stay dead in the DCVerse besides Bruce Wayne's parents? (I'm waiting for the Judd Winick retcon on that one.) If anybody else but Geoff Johns was writing this I'd be worried. And since this is probably going to turn into a Countdown tie-in, I'm prepared to be totally ticked off.

A 3 Act Set-Up For Nina's Knockdown

--or as they call it in English class, The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. It all rests on Nina's shoulders, and if the actress with those shoulders takes her vision of the character from her line in the final scene about how awful it is not to know what to do with your hands while you're onstage, then you've been watching the Royal Shakespeare production at BAM this week. In a performance that makes you yearn for Blythe Danner (or even Gwyneth Paltrow), Romola Garai pretty much makes you want to slap her, or at least wish that someone on stage would tell her that "young and awkward" doesn't mean waving her arms all the time.

Which is a pity, because the rest of the production is wonderful, and in one way at least better than the concurrently-running King Lear. In Lear you get the sense that the little moments are being sacrificed for the set scenes, especially in McKellen's performance; in Seagull, there are little moments everywhere. And in a version that's more adaptation than translation, it's truly a comedy, which makes the serious moments even sadder. Nobody's happy in this play, from Monica Dolan's vodka-swigging Masha to Frances Barber's gloriously monstrous Arkadina, a performance that makes you wonder if Billy Wilder owes Chekhov royalties for creating Norma Desmond.

So it's a shame that, in Act Four, which is supposed to happen two years after the end of Act Three, Nina acts as if she just spent two minutes changing clothes rather than twenty-four months learning hard lessons about life and herself. In a scene that should make you realize that Chekhov sure knew him some young actresses (and then realize that Chekhov sure had it up to here with young actresses), all you get is what you've seen before. It should be heartbreaking. It should be stunning. It shouldn't make you think of snarky jokes. It shouldn't make you want to reply to Nina declaring "I am the Seagull!" by yelling "No--the Seagull was Paul!" It should make you want to commit suicide. And it doesn't.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More comic reviews: Seven Types of Continuity, Part One

Daredevil #100. I'm trying to figure out when Matt Murdock became a substitute for all the male comic book fans who can't get a date to save their lives, because it's turned into the Marvel version of Pass Go, Collect $200: Date Daredevil, Collect A Dirt Nap. (How many times has Elektra died now?) But if you're going to do a milestone book, this is the way to do it, with former artists for the flashbacks and a reprint which makes the current issue feel like a homage. A prime example of Marvel continuity porn (which is at heart softcore).

Booster Gold #2. A series which would not exist without continuity, the second issue is both a done-in-one and an extension of a mystery which began in issue #1. Think time travel through potential or real alternate universes, sort of like DC's answer to Exiles. Because Geoff johns is writing it, you don't need footnotes to understand the references, and the in-jokes (bwah-ha-ha) are actually in-jokes and not necessary plot or character points. Plus it's fun! Isn't it great when comics are fun? Whatever happened to fun?

Stormwatch #11. Speaking of curses, here's evidence of the Make Matthew Happy, Get Cancelled After Issue 12 curse. Stormwatch in its current incarnation is about to go the way of NextWave and Irredeemable Ant-Man as part of this year's entry in WildStorm's never-ending series of reboots. Which is too bad, because this is a smart character-driven series where black and white constantly shade into gray (with, currently, meh art) . Judging by the last panel, there's a major house-cleaning (and butt-kicking) coming up. After that, who knows? I'll probably pick up the next incarnation out of respect for all the others I've followed since the days when Warren Ellis was writing it, so we'll see . . .

Parade (with fireworks) #1. A based-on-a-true-story comic by artist/writer Mike Cavallaro, with whom I'm totally unfamiliar. The light, cartoony style of the artwork belies the seriousness of the story, which is a flashback from a prison cell to the days of pre-Mussolini Italy, when fascism and socialism were on a collision course. I'm just guessing, but I get the feeling from the final page that this all-too-real version of the Tybalt-Mercutio duel is going to result in this story's Romeo picking up a gun and blasting away like a Chicago gangster.

This week's comic book reviews

So how did this week's comics stack up?

Thor #3. The great: the Olivier Coipel artwork. Majestic is an understatement. The good: Iron Man gets his tin-can ass handed to him. Plus another Norse god shows up, and Asgard is now the Norse version of Latveria, complete with diplomatically-immune leader. The annoying: Marvel's contractually-required real world referencing sticks out like a sore thumb. Setting this issue in New Orleans and having Thor confronted with the unanswerable question "Where were you superheroes when this real world disaster happened?" (a) jolts you out of the story big time by (b) reminding you that the real world has no thunder gods. This is escapist literature, people. In the Marvel Universe, the twin towers are still standing and New Orleans was protected by a force field.

Justice League of America Wedding Special. Didio's Law states that continuity porn is to DC as current events referencing is to Marvel, and this issue is nothing if not law-abiding. I pity the new reader because [s]he won't get the visual echo to Meltzer's Justice League of America #0 opening, the Infinite Crisis throwaway about Luthor, and a dozen other non-footnoted references. Which means that this comic is aimed squarely at DC's continuity-obsessed-fanboy base, patting them on the back for "getting" the in-joke references. It's also a prelude to the next Justice League arc, as well as a continuation of Green Arrow, the Black Canary miniseries, and the Black Canary Wedding Planner. So is it any good? Yes, but only if you can rattle off all the different people who've been Firestorm. Would I recommend it as a jump-on point for new readers? Hell to the no. DC is many things, but in its current incarnation it is so definitely NOT new-reader-friendly.

More as I read 'em . . .

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen

I've been working on a novel set in ancient Rome, and it's hard not to think about the parallels these days. Are we living through the last days of the Republic? Are we already an Empire? Is the Senate nothing but a posturing mob of finger-pointing self-serving blowhards? (Yeah, like that could ever happen.)

After pondering the state of our so-called Democracy and going back and forth between "The inmates have taken over the asylum" and "This is all part of some evil long-range plan," the obvious (and depressing) conclusion is that we're being led by a crew of ignorant self-serving blowhards who claim to be speaking for the people and only listen to what pleases them.

But what if they're smarter than that? What if, gulp, they're really clever, and all this stupidity is actually part of some evil long-range plan? What would that plan look like?

So I challenged myself to come up with one -- an actual evil long-range plan which our current rulers have had in mind since the beginning of the Shrub Administration.

Sadly, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.

It's a five-part plan:

Step 1. Mire us in a no-win foreign war that will still be going on when Bush leaves office. (Check.)

Step 2. Make a token effort to win the 2008 election, but do whatever you can to make sure a Democrat gets elected. (This is the most important step of all.)

Step 3. If the Democratic President pulls out of Iraq, call her weak. If she stays in Iraq and it only gets worse, call her ineffective. (This is a no-lose situation. No matter what happens in Iraq, Republicans will blame the Democrats for it.)

Step 4. Mount a rabidly pro-American anti-Democrat 2012 Presidential campaign. Ignore the fact that Bush got us into the war; repeat the assertion that the war is the Democrats' fault. (Given the current state of independent thought in the media, this lie will become a given in oh, about two weeks.)

Step 5. Interpret a Republican 2012 victory as a mandate for "winning the war on terrorism" and "getting the job done right," and pre-emptively attack Iran.

In essence, the long-term plan is to lose in '08, knowing that it will lead to the kind of write-your-own-ticket victory in 2012 that will (hopefully) destroy the Democratic party and put the country in the kind of permanent war state that Orwell imagined as satire in 1984.

The only potential monkey wrench is if there's a terrorist atack on US soil between now and the '08 election. Given the current cycle (1993: World Trade Center bombing; 2001: WTC destroyed), there's a better than even chance that we'll get hit again in '08 or '09. (These people think in the long term too.) If it happens after the election, then the sitting President gets blamed for it. If it happens before the election, then it only adds to the probability of an eventual Democratic Presidential win. So it's not really a monkey wrench at all; or if it is, it just tightens the screw.

And it's not hard to imagine, in an even worse version of a worst-case scenario, that our current leaders are actually counting on something awful happening as part of their long term plan.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

9 out of every 10 King Lears

Saw Ian McKellen in King Lear last Thursday night (opening night, actually) at BAM. A very brisk production, with a very long (two hour) stretch before intermission, ending with the Fool's prophecy (which is in the Folio but not the Quarto) and then inexplicably cutting the joke at the end ("This prophecy Merlin shall make, for I live before his time."). But then, given the bleak way the end of this scene is staged, that's not really a surprise. In this production, you're not shocked when Lear says "And my poor Fool is hanged" in V,iii.

How was it? Engrossing and moving. Excellently acted. Best Regan I've ever seen (Monica Dolan). Fantastic duel scene at the end--a thrillingly-staged saber-on-saber fight scene that roams all over the stage. The two weakest parts (Edmund and Cordelia) were played by actors who are debuting with the National Shakespeare Company as of this production, but all you have to do is picture what a hash two Juilliard grads would make of the roles to realize how much better even the untested British actor is than his or her American counterpart.

And McKellen was fabulous. He has the Peter O'Toole trick of spouting seven or eight sentences together as if they're a single run-on line, and like O'Toole he makes it work brilliantly. There were moments when I wanted more from him (when the Fool gets him to repeat the words "Nothing will come of nothing," there was not a hint of recognition, certainly not Paul Scofield's halting moment in mid-sentence that still haunts me from the Peter Brook movie) (and why isn't that out on DVD, huh?) but there were also moments where I saw and heard things for the first time (the storm scene, the scene with Gloucester) and realized that, like Hamlet, the time that the title character spends offstage is the most important thirty minutes of the play.

So yes, it was very good indeed. Which puts this King Lear squarely in the minority of stage versions that I (or for that matter, you) will ever see. And worlds away from the worst, which remains the '96 New York Shakespeare Festival production with F. Murray Abraham, directed by Adrian Hall. After watching that one, I was moved to write a poem, which I have here revised so that it will be a little less particular in its libels and thus hopefully more universal in its appeal. It is a poem which is perfectly suited to every bad King Lear you are ever likely to see; and for those of you who felt like a fly to the gods in their sport during that '96 production, please fill in all the appropriate blanks.

9 Out Of Every 10 King Lears

King Lear, say scholars in the know,
Is Shakespeare’s most demanding show
And if you to [theatre name] go,
You’ll nod at this report
And feel like flies that small boys Mace
Because the gods who rule this place
Have offered up a mental case
To bore us for their sport.

The stage design is seventh grade;
That lighting person? Overpaid,
Because the actors stand in shade
And we sit in the light;
As for direction, it’s so small
There’s very little there at all --
It’s like a late-night men’s room brawl
Staged by a troglodyte.

The pacing’s wrong, the volume’s loud;
The Fool is dull and unendowed;
Cordelia yells like we’re a crowd
And she’s up on the terrace.
Thematically, it’s work-for-hire --
There’s very little to admire
When Lear’s eternal wheel of fire
Feels like a Wheel of Ferris.

Except for Regan, Goneril
And [male part], all the cast looks ill
As if this play was some horse pill
To purge them quick and dirty.
And [insert actor name] plays Lear
Like some demented auctioneer
Who has to meet a financier
For dinner at 10:30.

I know the play’s a field of mines
But this one’s full of moans and whines
From actors who shout out their lines
Like workers on construction --
They stomp across the ugly stage
Avoiding, in their mannered rage,
The depths you’ll find upon the page
But not in this production.

With all the play’s life dead or drained,
We sit there puzzled, bored or pained,
All sentenced to be entertained
Without a hope of pardon
By what should be some live grenades
But feel more like the blunted blades
Of skaters in the Lear Capades
At Madison Square Garden.

And in the end the actors weep
To prove that what they feel is deep;
But we have all been fast asleep
Since Tom O’ Bedlam’s song --
For we that were young when we walked in
Have taken it upon the chin
And by the end of all this din
Have never lived so long.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The music in this commercial makes total sense . . .

. . . when you realize that it was directed by Michael Mann, who directed Last of the Mohicans, from which the music is taken (the "Promontory" theme).

Awesome commercial. But as far as I'm concerned, you could play this particular piece of music while showing an empty room and I'd still be thrilled by it.

The 02:59 CD Release Concerts: Mercury Lounge - 9:30 PM, 8/16/07

I love the Mercury Lounge. The performance area, not the bar area. The bar area is the dive bar equivalent of a local train during rush hour, where everybody's all shoulders and elbows and if you ever do find a space to call your own, somebody's either leaning over your back to order a drink or pushing himself between you and whoever you're with like Germany looking for lebensraum.

The performance space is pretty much the dream black box venue, a room where no matter how far from the stage you are, you still feel like you can reach out and touch the musicians. Like the Continental; like Sin-é -- except that it's still here.

When Matt goes on, the place has thinned out from the previous show. There's a set list at his feet which I mistake for his, until I manage to translate the upside-down writing into song titles that I don't know. He plays some of the songs that I've heard from him this past week, as well as a couple of new ones and a cover from a Canadian friend of his. It's good, but not as memorable as the one he did at 11th Street, a song called February Snows by Al Tuck, lead singer of the memorably named Al Tuck and No Action. He does Tall Trees and dedicates it to Mike Ferrio; talks back and forth with Abe about what he should sing next; tells about meeting Bill Cosby at Duane Reade a few hours ago, where Coz was buying (you don't want to know). It's very loose and laid back, like a show at the Living Room.

In between songs, Matt tells the story of the first time he and El Torpedo played New York, which was also in the Mercury Lounge.

    We drive down all the way from Halifax, in our shitty van, and we pulled up, went “Oh this place looks cool,” did our sound check and we came back, and this room was just jammed. And we were like, “Aw man, right on, first trip to New York, it’s gonna be awesome.” Like bitchin’, yknow? And we didn’t really know the New York way of things, where people leave after shows all the time. Back home people stay at a show and never leave till they pass out. So we come on and the place is empty, I mean the only people there are the roadies from the Cyrus show, taking equipment out, and there are like two other people in the audience -- I think Abe was here and that was it. And we were all bummed out and going “Holy shit, we have to drive all the way back to Halifax after this.” So anyways, we left, and this woman -- she’s working tonight at the door -- she stops me and she says, “Wait a minute, you haven’t been paid,” and I’m like, oh okay, at least we get some cash money. And she handed me like six US dollars. Six bucks. One for each of us. And that was our first New York gig.

And he sings some more, and then it's the last few minutes of the last show, and it's hard to believe, the time has gone by so quickly. Like a song you don't want to end. You hear the first verse, and you know it so well you can count the seconds till the last note, but if you do that, then you'll miss the song itself, so you have to give in to the moment, ride the wave, let the words and the notes fill you up like a breath you've never taken before, and make each moment an eternal chime, like the song is a flicking fingernail and you're the tuning fork, and even when the sound that you can hear finally comes to an end, there's another sound, a sound beneath the silence, a sound that never dies, a sound you carry inside you like a heartbeat, and it lives forever like a great picture . . .

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The 02:59 CD Release Concerts: Lakeside Lounge - 9PM, 8/15/07

I wish I could say that this show topped them all, but the truth is, it's the last night when the guys are all playing together, and it's the Lakeside, which means two things: we're all expecting everybody to show up who said they were going to see one of the earlier shows and didn't (and if they don't show up, it's going to be disappointing); and because it's the Lakeside, you only get the one set and that's it, no encores, no extensions, no jamming till the hipsters come home. Plus Chris is having an asthma attack, so he's worried about having enough breath to wail like he usually does. Plus(how many pluses is this now?), after last night's show? I keep thinking of the theatre analogy as they tune up. If the 11th Street Bar show was a typically energized opening night, Lakeside is going to be a typically low-energy second night.

It's hard not to compare, but that's what we do. We measure this against that, judge those against these, see the present through the past, and expect something in the future based on what we did or didn't get, and how we did or didn't feel about it. This guy's new novel isn't as good as his last one, this woman's new CD is a step back, and don't get me started on Woody Allen's new movies versus his old movies, y'know the funny ones. It'd be a great world if we could take everything as it is, instead of measuring it against what it was or isn't, what it should be or could be. But that's what we do. And with my limited acting experience, I know that, as hard as it for an audience to let go of expectations and take something in without straining it through the colander of critical judgment, it's ten times harder for a performer to do it.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that tonight's concert can't compare to last night's, and I wish I could stop trying to compare the two of them, which would make me enjoy this final hour for what it is. If I had only seen this one night out of the week's shows, would I be disappointed? Hell no. Am I disappointed now? No. it's not disappointment. I just wanted to have a repeat of last night, and my ex-actor brain is just smart enough to know that's one of the things you can never do as a performer. Trying to repeat something doesn't bring it to life. If anything it does exactly the opposite. I know this, in my alleged brain. I know this all too well. So why do I still want to see a repeat of last night's experience? Because that's what you do when you see something great. And these guys are really great.

Thanks for a great week of music, guys. And Matt? See you tomorrow at the Mercury.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Edward Gorey meets Star Trek

Did you know that Edward Gorey was a massive Star Trek fan? I sure didn't. Not until I saw the drawing above and went here.

The 02:59 CD Release Concerts: 11th Street Bar - 9PM, 8/14/07

The 11th Street Bar (between Aves A & B on 11th) is one of those dying-breed Manhattan locals which you walk by two or three times in each direction before you realize you've walked by it two or three times already. The bushes on either side of the entrance give it the feeling that it's been set back from the rest of the buildings on the street; it has a couple of park benches for smokers, it doesn't have a glaring neon sign, in fact it doesn't have any signs at all except for the beer signs that declare it has a liquor license. Inside, it's set up like the bar version of James West's two-car train: the first car is the bar, with tables on the right and the bar on your left as you walk in, and the second car is the sitting room/music room, which opens up into a rectangle with tables and chairs. It also has the coolest speaker system I've ever seen, period:

It looks like the backboard to a portable basketball net, but it's actually the Bose L1 Model 1 speaker system, featuring what Bose calls "the unique Cylindrical Radiator® loudspeaker." Guitar World says that the "… sound radiates and fills the room in a way far more natural than a typical loudspeaker . . . it's a real breakthrough in amplified sound . . ." And they're not lying. This speaker makes the brick-walled back room of a local Irish bar sound better than half the music venues in Manhattan. No lie. (And God knows it's universes better than the rat's-nest sound board at Pete's Candy Store.) This weird looking thing that looks like the Sentinel from 2001 makes what turns out to be a magical evening even more special. Because yes, this is the best night of music these three guys have given us so far.

Maybe it's the day off, maybe it's the atmosphere, maybe it's the musical equivalent of a bad technical rehearsal (Pete's) leading to a great opening (tonight). It does feel like an opening. The crowd is relaxed, the mood is casual, and the guys are obviously having fun playing with each other and listening to each other.

During one of the tunings, Matt tells the Pirates of the Caribbean version of a joke I heard 20 years ago about Lord Nelson, the punch line of which is "Ensign? Bring me my brown pants." In Matt's version it's "Arrrrr -- bring me my brown pants." As he tells it, I'm trying not to laugh at the set-up, because I know exactly where it's going. Chris meanwhile does the song he wrote for his fiancee MC, the one he's going to sing at is wedding, and he mentions that she's in the audience. Everybody starts looking around, but luckily MC went to the bar so she's not sitting audience right at the table where she used to be, she's behind everybody else, and those of us who see her refrain from pointing her out. And Mike, as he talks to the crowd and puts everybody at their ease, sings the praises of one of Matt's new songs, the one Mike can't get out of his head, the one I think of as The great Lost Bodeans Song, Tall Trees," which Matt ends up doing after Mike requests it.

Matt has two different styles, one for when he's playing solo and one for when he's playing with El Torpedo. "Tall Trees" has such a solo feel to it that I can't imagine what the band is going to do with it when they sink their musical teeth in it, but then I could say that about most of the full-band songs Matt's been doing solo. Subtle tempo changes and intimate vocals turn them into something completely different. You almost never hear the timber wolf howl that Matt does when he's fronting the group; but when you do hear it in his solo performances, the effect is electric.

It's one of those nights where you don't want anyone to look at their watch or their cellphone to see what time it is, because when that happens, Time is actually going to intrude on what could go on forever, like a home-team rally with two outs at the bottom of the ninth: nothing but hit after hit, score after score, and the potential to go on forever.

Tonight, instead of the Neil Young song they usually do together, the one I recognize the second it starts and forget the name of the minute it's over, they do a cover of Lodi by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and it's fantastic.

And then it ends, long after anybody thought it would. And Matt puts his hat on, and Mike starts to put his guitar away, and Chris is smiling at his fiancee, and then everyone in the audience starts asking for an encore. Since Matt has to do at least one song a night wearing some kind of hat, this works out fine for him. The guys confer a little, and after some back and forth from the audience (Nicole: "Handle Me With Care!" Matt: "Damn, I don't have the lyrics on this guitar.") they wind up doing "The Weight" and it is just joyous, it's good enough to make me laugh with delight.

It's nights like this that remind me how lucky we are to live in these days of modern times. We are so spoiled by having music at our fingertips, and we forget how hearing a frozen recording of a single performance or a compiled production cannot ever compare to the charge of the impromptu, the energy of the improvisation, the joy of the back and forth that a great live performance gives you, if you're lucky enough to be there. Tonight all of us were lucky. Tonight all of us were there.