I like to think of Controller.Controller as my band. This would likely come as a surprise to them, since we’ve never formally met, and I certainly have no ownership over them. However, despite living in a city where worthwhile shows are few and far between, I’ve seen Controller.Controller three times over the past six months. This has to be worth something — maybe part-ownership rights?
Last Friday’s show, though, was the first time I’d seen Controller.Controller in a headlining role. They’d opened for Tangiers and Death from Above 1979 in June, and for The Organ in October. But this time was different. People were paying to see my band; not the bands that’d follow them onto the stage. Understandably, I was pretty excited. But something funny happened on the way to my Controller.Controller dance party.
After arriving halfway through the set of the first opening band, Uncut, I moved up to the stage to check out Read Yellow, the night’s second act. Having not heard anything about, or by, Read Yellow, I was entirely unprepared for the performance they were about to unleash on us unsuspecting Controller.Controller fans. Put it this way: By the end of their first song, frontman Evan Kenney had already broken two guitar strings and fallen off the stage. And he was just getting warmed up.
According to their website, Read Yellow’s live show “encourages audience participation and attempts to eliminate the division between band and crowd.” Yeah. Kenney spent nearly as much time off the stage as he did on it, creating his own spastic dance moves amidst the front row of the audience. Even on the stage, he was a fury of movement. He did headstands against speakers, then tried to hold his microphone and sing from that position. He careened across the stage into other band members. He fell off the stage some more. The level of energy he maintained throughout Read Yellow’s entire set was practically super-human. Is he always like this? Does he stand on his head while he’s eating dinner? Does he fall out of bed every morning, just for practice? Even if he just takes on this entirely insane persona for a half-hour a day, it has to take its toll. Considering how infrequently I see that kind of passion from bands these days, I was impressed.
Oh yeah, Controller.Controller played next. It’d be unfair to say that they were overshadowed by Read Yellow. After all, I can hardly complain about a set that opens with “PF”, a song that’s arguably tighter than anything on their History EP (check out a version of “PF” that the band recorded for CBC Radio here). And some of Read Yellow’s audience-loving tendencies even rubbed off on bassist Ronnie Morris, who wandered down to the club’s floor during two or three songs. But, after watching Controller.Controller outshine headliners like Tangiers and The Organ on past tours, I’m a little surprised that my memories of this show constantly return to Read Yellow.
If songs like “PF” are any indication though, I’m happy to have Controller.Controller remain my band, as they prepare to record their debut LP in the new year. I might have even told them as much last Friday night, if I hadn’t had to leave right after the show to prepare for a 9:00 exam the next morning. That’s rock and roll, baby!
Doesn’t it seem like these things are becoming a bit over the top? In the last two days I’ve been sent 2 links to 2 different extreme mash-ups. Check these out and then ask yourself if these games with sounds are really creating more than a giggle and a burp. Sure, they glorify the mashability of the particular creator, but really how much do we need to be impressed. Particularly if it comes at the expense of good music:
The Beastles: A mash up of (you guessed it) Beastie Boys and Beatles. What has Danger Mouse foisted upon us?
The Who Boys: The Who and The Beach Boys together as, perhaps, they should never be. With beats.
Not to be a sourpuss, it’s all good for a laugh. But it’s getting a bit over the top, isn’t it?
I’m in a very isolated setting right as I write this, a (currently way off-season) resort/retirement community that is an hour’s drive away from the nearest town with one venue with regularly featured live music. Tuesday was the acoustic singer-songwriter night. I rudely talked to one of the performers during another’s set. “Do you like Jefferson Airplane”, I said. “I like Alan Parsons Project”, she replied, “and the Doors.” I said “You should check out Mazzy Star.” “Nazzty Scar?” “No, Mazzy Star.”
“It’s like blues/country but with a total psychedelic vibe, like…” Then I grabbed a piece of paper out of my pocket, it was a page copied off the internet with the lyrics to “Drain You” on it, I said “I don’t want to rip this piece of paper…oh whatever” and ripped off a corner and took a pen from the bar and wrote down “MAZZY STAR ‘She Hangs Brightly’ ‘So Tonight that I Might See’” on it, and explained “Mazzy Star is the name of the group and those are the titles of the records next to it”.
“Can I find these on the internet?”
“Oh yeah, they’ll be on there. They have the CD in (*names nearest town*).”
“If I hear the name on the radio I’ll stop what I’m doing and listen.”
“They’re not on the radio very much, they’re like from the 90s. Well…” I paused. “They had one big hit, they might play that. No seriously, just like go on the internet and get it, it’s fuckin’ good.”
She nodded in impressed disbelief of my seriousness. “You think I should check this out.”
I nodded like I had total Zen power and said “Oh yes.” I paused again, squinted at something to the extreme right of her, and said “You…should…definitely…have…a listen.”
Then I turned away, realizing that I should stop talking. I caught the barmaid’s eye and (having really bad cottonmouth) signaled for more water, and at the same time somebody initiated conversation with the woman I’d been talking to, so I could end the conversation. As soon as I asked for the water, I started writing on the ripped piece of paper just so I could look intense. I wasn’t trying to demonstrate any personal dislike, or visibly disparage the conversation – in fact, I continued it when it resumed. I just thought it had ended perfectly, because if she checked out Mazzy Star she would have another really cool CD to listen to, to start with.
Later, I thought…why had I deliberately not mentioned the third album? I (later still) decided that I could not justifiably recommend an album of which I knew so little. The title, and vague memories of two separate songs, are all I know of the third Mazzy Star album. I have made no effort to acquire a copy, and if presented with one will listen to it if only out of obligation to the donor, and come up with tiresome excuses for taking fucking forever to do so. Everybody has to deal with the third Mazzy Star album their own way, and some never will. But there are no bad consequences to spreading the first two records as far and wide as possible.
Except for, if somebody hears it and listens to it again a few years later, they might remember what you were like when you told them about it. (If you don’t know them anymore by then, it’s fine, but if you’re still around, it could get bad.) Although this time wouldn’t be as bad as the other times, like what’s the harm of some stoned guy in a bar, talkin’ bout a nazzty scar, now he’s got a car, to drive real far, not concerned about the way we are, in my mind my dreams are real, not concerned about the way we feel. Tonight, I’m a rock and roll star.
When the subject came up again, she said, “I don’t really know a lot of stuff from the 90s, you know?” with a mischievously experienced look that I DID dislike, due to being prone to it myself.
“Yeah”, I nodded, still not used to the ultra-strong weed in this part of the world. I thought of mentioning Primal Scream, then decided that you couldn’t try to get people into too many bands at once, so I stuck with the Mazzy Star topic. “I wasn’t actually there.”
(The reason I used the first album for the ‘subject’ instead of the second is because I think more people have the second one already. If you have it and don’t like it, or if like it and haven’t bought the first one, that’s cool. I haven’t got Hope Sandoval’s record either, but if somebody gave me that one I wouldn’t take fucking forever to listen to it, although I am getting pretty bad. I’m still working through a mix CD somebody gave me three months ago. There’s a good Josh Todd song on there, it’s written by Nikki Sixx [which is surprising, when you hear it] and reminds me of “Cut You Loose” by Royal Trux.)
About a week ago I was privy to a premier screening of The White Stripes recently released DVD Under Blackpool Lights, because I work at Tower Records, and we were running some sort of promotion where people who bought the DVD got a free pass to the screening at the AMC Theater in downtown Chicago. Needless to say, I didn’t have to buy the DVD (although I later did, anyway.), and the experience was a pretty mixed one.
I arrived with my company about two songs into the DVD, which isn’t too outrageous, considering the candy cane duo played over 20 songs at the show. The audio quality in the theater left a little to be desired, as you didn’t really feel like you were feeling the classic left-right channel acoustics that I am accustomed to hearing. The video was even worse. The DVD was shot on super eight, and on a gigantic movie screen, it just looks really grainy and, well, dated.
So what exactly was good about the whole thing? Well, the performance itself was extremely spirited. I have seen the White Stripes live in person, and this DVD gives a terrific portrayal of Jack’s considerable guitar talents live, in addition to the charming camaraderie Jack and Meg possess on stage. The film also has some excellent shots of the band as they play. As the viewer, you’re afforded a number of very interesting camera angles that really lend the performance a bit of artistry.
I left the theater fairly well convinced I didn’t need to own the DVD if it was going to look and sound like what I saw on the screen that night, but pleased that I went. The next day at work we heard from several customers that had attended the showing and bought the DVD that the video and audio sound much better when not projecting out of a huge movie theater, so I bit the bullet and bought the disc. It has turned out to be worth it. If you can find it on sale, I’d definitely recommend picking it up if you’re a fan of The Stripes.
I’m having a hard time guessing what effects we’ll see from the recent shooting of Dimebag Darrell. Coming on the heels of the NBA violence, it seems possible that — at least for a bit — security will tighten up at smaller venues. I truly hope it doesn’t. I love the intimacy of club shows: you can talk to the bands, walk right up to the stage, you don’t get frisked at the entrance…
It’s hard to imagine most of the little venues I go to actually being able to provide any increased security, but who knows? I also wonder if the fallout would be different if the victim had been a major star (or even Dimebag at Pantera’s peak).
In some ways, it would be easy to read this event as somehow fitting into our times (despite the obvious lunacy of the shooter), but I’ve never felt unsafe at a show beyond the casual dangers of drunken revelers, etc. Flaskaland has an interesting post up today with stories of club violence going back to ’60s.
Of course, I know there’s always been violence everywhere, and of course I know I’m getting a bit rambly, but I want the killing to have some sort of significance, I suppose, other than “here’s what happens when disgruntled fans lose it”. Is that really the only thing we can take away from this?
I’ve been naughty. I think Mr. Wolf would love it if I hadn’t already read the hand-scrawled letter on his website admonishing people against the early download of his forthcoming release, Wind in the Wires. But, Mr. Wolf, I’ve simply got to disagree here. I know I’ve opened up the presents a few months early, but I couldn’t wait. In listening to Wind, it’s immediately clear that Wolf’s songwriting has taken a great leap forward; sure, there’s the Isle-style poesie and all of his antiquated language manipulations and distortions of imagery, but for the most part, gone are the overwrought and cringe-inducing yarns about child-rape and the queasy distractions of Lycanthropy. Sonically, Wolf has stripped back the electronics a bit, and allows his songs their proper languor, haunted by dried-out violins and Celtic acoustic guitar parts. I, for one, thought Lycanthropy was daring enough to outlive and outgather its rather gaping flaws. It was in my top ten list for the year. 2005 is not yet here, and I fear that I’ve had another top ten entry snatched from my ‘tips.
P.S. As long as I’m in a mood for proper shout-outs this morning, given the Album of the Week this week is Augie March’s Strange Bird, I have to say that the import of their debut, Sunset Studies, is worth the price of carrier-admission as well.
Every Saturday night at around midnight I head downtown, about five minutes from my apartment, to the local Punk Night. It’s in a small bar called Shadow below an extremely sketchy “hotel” (but the bar is cool, at least on Saturdays). My brother goes there, as do many friends of mine, and Molson Stock Ale is $2.50 a bottle. It’s always a good time, but the reason I mention it here is because the music is uniformly awesome.
Much of it is the usual suspects (Drew, the DJ, is of the principle that you play what people want whether you love it or not, albeit hopefully with some overlap between the two); Rancid, the Clash, Good Charlotte, Blink-182, the Dropkick Murphys, and so on.
But Drew also has The Futureheads and will usually play something for me (so far: “Stupid And Shallow”, “Robot” and “Trying Not To Think About Time”, all of which sound awesome live), Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” has been a near-weekly standard, and My Chemical Romance is played often.
And that’s to say nothing of the dozens of songs I love after hearing repeatedly without ever finding out what they are. I could sing along to them in a second but couldn’t tell you their names. One I did ask about wound up being by Buccaneer, who (dancehall or not) gets played down there because he’s covered a punk song (can’t remember which), and it’s great. About the only thing I could request within the broad outlines of what gets played down there (punk, hardcore, emo, and all attendent subgenres of each, plus a little ska and reggae and some odds and sods)
Sure sometimes a song comes up I’m not a huge fan of, but he’s never played anyhing I outright hate (in over a year, no less), and it’s a really outstanding night, one I look forward to each week. Now if only I could only afford beer every week…
Vietnam opened the Vice Records show last night, looking like a late ’60s caricature (a combination of spaghetti-Western Eastwood, every male audience member at Woodstock, and Stillwater, complete with MASH-stache), but they’ve got chops. Listening to their EP, I had never felt a heavy-handed use of their influences, but it came out last night, especially the Velvet Underground side of things. They really rocked hard but at times they stretched it out way too much, and let the attempted trippy-ness drag the show. They ended with a guy from the merchandise table (I think) climbing on stage with a blanket over his head and singing, beating a drum, and dancing around. It looked like my imaginary version of an MC5 show.
Death from Above 1979 took the stage next, and they were as much about the quotes as the music:
“You say, ‘Why didn’t I just shit at home?’ and I say, ‘The rock club is my home.’”
“I sound great.”
“Everyone gets spit on sometimes.”
“I held a jellyfish in my hand.”
The spitting comment came about because the guitarist spat on an obnoxious fan. I guess it happens, but the band too often crossed the line from surly rock stars to what one audience member aptly described as “douchebaggery.” We’d get these exchanges, and then the band ripped into another number that really had the crowd going. DFA79 sounded great, and their set ended with the lead guitarist from Vietnam dragging a bunch of fans up on stage to dance (”If you knock over these drums, I’ll punch you in the face”). He looked pretty gone by this point, and kept getting worse. The MC5 feel was back, but now the drugs, drinking, music, and “fucking in the streets” had been stripped of any political context, reducing the party to the most basic hedonism and turning the concert into a bit of a sideshow.
Then the poor Panthers had to follow this display. They’re not a bad band, really, but they couldn’t live up to either of the preceding acts, despite their psychedelic video backdrop (to really help kick out the jams). Even worse, the mix was a disaster. At one point I could only hear the drums, one guitar, and some unintelligible vocals. Then the quality got messier. I felt bad leaving early, since the headliners had lost quite a bit of the audience (far more hipsters than headbangers), but I was glad I did because my car had been towed.
The moral: 2/3 of the acts on tonight’s bill have the potential to be incredible performers but, counterintuitively, they actually need to rein themselves in a little. Vietnam’s drugged out noise jams are 30 years out-of-date, and especially off-putting given the group’s strong songs. Death from Above 1979 definitely has the tunes and the skills, but they can’t lose the music for the spectacle — it gets old, and they look like a quick burnout waiting to happen (but I hope I’m wrong). When both these bands play their music, they’re impressive; when they get off track, they aren’t. Fortunately they’re on way more than not, and definitely worth the sprays of beer going to and from the audience. At least if you’re not directly in the spray.
If I were to choose a single film this year that stands above all others I would, without hesitation, select Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset. No more a sequel to Before Sunrise than Stolen Kisses serves as a sequel to The 400 Blows; Before Sunset is a breathtaking achievement that can be analyzed independently from its predecessor.
As challenging as My Dinner with Andre, as romantically restrained as My Night at Maud’s and as brilliantly shot as Le Boucher, Before Sunset doesn’t merely borrow elements from these films, it stands beside them. That’s quite a compliment considering many contemporary films aren’t aware of a film history that extends beyond the American 1970s.
The most striking aspect of the film is its sense of ontological realism. Usually when a film maker attempts to document real time it comes off as a sort of gimmick (Time Code, Nick of Time). However, Linklater explores reality in a way that would make Bazin proud. In his essay on the Evolution of the Language of Cinema Bazin states that “the camera cannot see everything at once but it makes sure not to lose any part of what it chooses to see.” With Before Sunset I feel confident that every moment Jesse and Celine spend together the camera has thoroughly documented. We capture every second of their life in those 80 minutes, and while we never see any other aspect of Paris beyond their own subjectivity, we see every moment of their personal reality.
In a certain sense, Before Sunset represents Bazin’s neorealist notion of endlessness. The ending suggests the sort of continuation of the everyday demonstrated by such directors as Rossellini and De Sica. If its themes of lost love are a bit grander than most neorealist endeavors, that is excusable since its foundation rests upon something as mundane as a conversation between two everyday people.
In fact, by allowing both Delpy and Hawke to write their own dialogue, Linklater has reduced his Hollywood stars to the status of nonprofessional actors simply playing themselves. There is no heightened sense of characterization because these are the people they are, not the people they play.
Before Sunset’s greatest success, though, is the way it incorporates disparate topics into a cohesive narrative. With conversation, there isn’t usually a specific focus, so by having his film revolve around a conversation, Linklater allows his actors to discuss a wide range of issues from broad social topics such as the current political state of the world, to their own personal issues and relationships.
In effect, its tangential concerns surpass the brilliance of those most salient features in some of the most respected films of the year: its politics are more honest than Fahrenheit 9/11, its love story more fully realized than Eternal Sunshine, its ending far more effective than Sideways, and it dialogue more skillfully written than Kill Bill.
And yet, it’s also the most humble film of the year, never attempting to add any more to its image than what is present. Its reliance on subtlety and restraint may frustrate some viewers, but if given a chance I believe anyone can find something to latch onto in its self-contained universe.