Friday, November 30, 2007

In Concert: M.I.A. (9:30 Club, Washington DC)

Things kicked off full on, revolutionary style last night for Sri Lankan-British M.I.A.'s stop in the District. Before the electronica-infused MC (ne. Maya Arulpragasam) made an entrance in all her spandexy glory, a video of ultra-leftwing activist turned Tokyo gubernatorial candidate, Koichi Toyama, played across huge screens lining the stage. "This nation must be destoryed!" read the subtitles, as Toyama shouted in a campaign speech. "If you think you can change something by voting, you are COMPLETELY wrong," he said, middle finger raised, as the speakers' bass buzz grew boomingly loud. "That guy's in jail now," Arulpragasam told the sold-out 9:30 Club crowd as they screamed upon her arrival. Thus began the evening's audio-visual assault.

I'm not complaining. Just listening to her excellent records, 2005's Arular and this year's Kala, is enough to overwhelm you - as much to take action on justice issues as to shake your moneymaker (Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield aptly described her music as "the sound of jump rope rhymes in a war zone"). One would expect the live show to meet that challenge. After Baltimore's DJ Blaqstarr and Chicago's Cool Kids (think Neptunes meet Beastie Boys) hyped the crowd, Arulpragasam - decked out in a crazy costume, naturally - got everyone moving with Bollywood sample-laced opener "Bamboo Banga."

Regularly stage-diving and inviting others up front (during "Bird Flu," she brought up dozens of audience ladies onsatge), Arulpragasam's considerable charisma and insane beats were on full display. Taking advantage of her visit to Washington, she even graciously took the time to thank the F.B.I. and C.I.A. "I probably won't be allowed back in the country until you have another president," she said of her soon-expiring Visa. In front of an always-colorful backdrop of what looked like video games, African documentary footage, and music videos, she and right-hand-woman Cherry led the sweaty masses in fist-pumpers like "World Town" and "Pull Up The People," before giving the chance for another Baltimore native, MC Rye Rye, to spit onstage for a bit.

But the party seemed to hit its peak just before 2 am, post-set and pre-encore, as the audience joined together in spontaneously singing the "Ya ya hey!" refrain of M.I.A.'s breakout hit, "Galang." When she again took the stage for the first of three encore songs, the Clash's "Straight to Hell"-based "Paper Planes," everyone seemed to be feeling the love. "DC! I love all of you," said Arulpragasam as she walked off after closer "URAQT." "Good luck with your election."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Crispin Glover: Still one weird guy


Fresh off his turn spitting Old English as Grendel, here he is promoting his latest crazy movie, It is Fine! Everything is Fine. Oh, C-Glo - you'll always be my density.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Beetlejuice?


In case The Dark Knight's slew of viral sites aren't enough to keep you busy, Empire has an exclusive look at The Joker from their new cover story. In keeping with other Joker pics released so far, it's pretty creepy.

Yes, he looks a little like Beetlejuice, and no, I'm not completely, 100% sold on Heath's take yet, but Batman Begins got so much right that I'm not at all worried.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sweding - To Swede, verb


The official website for Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind is now up, with lots of cool stuff...like what "Sweding" means.

Monday, November 26, 2007

More indie Xmas presents


Sleeping at Last has done us another holiday solid by offering their new version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for free (download it here) - just like they did with "Silver Bells" a couple years back, after releasing the Ghosts of Christmas Past EP.

Also, you Chicagoans have another reason to be happy, as Sleeping at Last plays House of Blues with a string section next month, where you can surely expect to hear a carol or two.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In Concert: The Hold Steady (9:30 Club, Washington DC)

Part of the reason Lifter Puller, the previous collaboration of Craig Finn and Tad Kubler (the frontman and guitarist for The Hold Steady, respectively), broke up was that - big though they were in their native Minneapolis - they just couldn't seem to break much into the general market. "It'll happen any day now," people would tell them...but it didn't come. It was a little funny, then, that they were more or less immediately crowned the new Princes of Rock when Finn and Kubler moved to Brooklyn and started a very similar band. 

Not that they don't deserve it. The Hold Steady's international tours and critical darling status are all the sweeter for those of us who've been following the guys for a while, and last night at a sold out 9:30 Club (you can listen to it here), it was great to see just how much everybody in the place - the band included - was enjoying it. "There's so much joy in what we do up here," said a smiling Finn to the crowd, repeating a sentiment he often shares during shows. When he enthuses, "You guys out there, and us guys up here, we're all The Hold Steady," it's hard not to root for them. 

The set, divided pretty evenly between songs from 2005's Separation Sunday and last year's exceptional Boys and Girls in America, relied heavily, naturally, on Finn's trademark hyper-nasal-storytelling delivery and Kubler's classic rock guitar virtuosity (at one point, performed from atop a set of speakers). But standouts included two new songs which showcased their punk influences, "Stay Positive," and "Ask Her for Some Adderall." The first, with its shoutalong chorus and Minor Theratesque power chords, was dedicated to DC hardcore ("Basically, hardcore when it was good," Finn said) after some kind words about the honor of playing the 9:30 for the first time.

Everybody's favorite bar band gave us just enough of exactly what we wanted - good times, solid riffs, crazy stories - and a promising glimpse into where their continuously evolving sound is headed next. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For those not keeping up...

So, what do you think? Is it Cthulhu? Is it a non-Godzilla Godzilla? A giant whale? An adaptation of the video game Rampage? I'm talking, of course, about Cloverfield, JJ Abrams's (until recently unnamed) monster movie, which entered the hearts and minds of geeks everywhere when its teaser was released alongside Transformers this summer. The speculation - over what exactly the creature(s?) wreaking havoc in New York will be - was further fueled when the new trailer premiered before Beowulf this weekend.

Theories abound across the internets, which is to be expected when you market your film as Blair Witch meets Godzilla - complete with an
endless array of websites somehow connected to the film, whether officially or not. But general consensus, weirdly, seems to be that the Japanese Slusho, a fictional slushy drink Abrams made popular on Alias, is heavily involved in the plot.

Yup, word is that Rob, the protagonist from the trailers, was planning to leave New York for a job move to Japan's Slusho parent company,
Tagruato Corp. Turns out, Tagruato has been deep-sea drilling for the mysterious secret ingredient ("seabed nectar") which makes Slusho so addictive. Now that Slusho has begun its American marketing push, the story goes, all this somehow gets tied back to our monster.

Does drinking Slusho when it hasn't been properly frozen cause consumers to literally
burst, as we seem to see in the trailer (Slusho's website tells us, "I'm so happy and full of Slusho that I might burst!")? Or somehow become mini-versions of a giant whale (the site also informs us that "Everyone who drinks Slusho will become a small whale!")? Or, worse yet, cause an infection which results in little monsters - or "parasites" to burst out of them? However they show up, there seems to be some evidence of smaller creatures terrorizing people in the trailer. But why does the monster show up in the first place? And is this going to turn out to be a Heroes movie? (It better not.)

So many questions. The most important of which may be, "Are they just pulling our leg?" I'd say chances are good that we'll never even really see this monster (you'll recall that we never saw the Blair Witch, and didn't see much of Jaws the shark or Alien the alien). Chances could be equally good that, come the infamous 1-18-08, some folks will be mad they were thinking hard about Slusho when that didn't turn out to have anything to do with anything. But hey, when there's this much hype and mystery, some people are bound to be disappointed, right?

In any case, two things are certain: Abrams is a marketing genius; Cloverfield's gonna be crazy.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Answer to previous Beowulf post: "Yes"

I know I've posted on the dangers of "messing with the story" (especially when the story happens to be the oldest one in the English language known to humanity), but, it turns out, the best thing about Beowulf is that it isn't a brainless excuse for stuff that looks cool, but rather, a classic myth retold in an exciting way...with stuff that looks cool.

Some initial concerns about the movie remained (wrinkly King Hrothgar looks real; unblemished Queen Wealthow looks like an unused Shrek character), but director Zemeckis retains visionary status by creating a strange, visually stunning rumination on human mistakes rather than heroism. Screenwriters Gaiman and Avery weave a kind of postmodern take on both the epic grandeur of the original poem and John Gardener's philosophical Grendel, striking a compelling balance between the in-the-moment action of heated battle, and the pride which clouds it. Also, it doesn't hurt that the 3D is sweet.

From the moment Grendel smashes on screen (his appearence should silence any naysayers - me among them - not immediately impressed by the trailer), and the effectively creepy, brutally violent scene that follows, it feels like we're witnessing something new - which is an accomplishment, considering the source material. Beowulf truly pushes the envelope, which almost gives a pass to the fact that the characters' unblinking eyes still look pretty dead.

What ultimately makes Beowulf a success is the strength of the story's retelling, which, rather than losing anything in translation, has been satisfyingly updated for today's audience, as it has been for centuries (the "campfire" quality of the oratorically-passed-down poem remains, in all its crassness). What we're left with is a cynical, if still hopeful, view of humanity. "We men are the monsters now," says Beowulf toward the film's end. "The time for heroes is over."

Grade: B+

Friday, November 16, 2007

Go ask Disney Digital 3D Alice


Speaking of Tim Burton, dude just signed with Disney for two 3D features. The first is Alice in Wonderland, which - like every Burton project - certainly sounds really neat. With Burton, though (genius he may be), these ideas can sometimes be much more exciting than the movies themselves turn out to be. Mercifully, the film will be live action with motion capture elements, rather than entirely "mo cap." We'll see what this looks like a little further down the line, but let's hope it's more in the realm of Pan's Labyrinth than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The second, somewhat strangely, is a full-length adapataion of Burton's live action short, Frankenweenie, shot in stop-motion (a la Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride) - as will be Coraline, yet another 3D production, directed by stop-motion veteran/Nightmare director Henry Selick (and adapted from the similarly Wonderlandish Neil Gaiman novel). I'll try to not get prematurely excited about these movies so as to not be potentially let down, but I gotta say, it'll be tough. Maybe Steve Jobs was right, and sooner or later, everthing will be in 3D...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

You Chicagoans better count your blessings...


Kim and Kelley Deal, Steve Albini, Jeff Tweedy, and Will Oldham will play the sixth annual Christmas benefit show at Second City next month. This, after hometown hero Tweedy plays Chi City's Old Town School of Folk Music 50th Anniversary show a few days prior. Jealous.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Eye of the Raven?


Imagine...if you dare, a biopic about Edgar Allan Poe. Which writer/director of gothy sensbilities do you picture taking on the task? Tim Burton? David Lynch? Jean-Pierre Jeunet? (That'd probably be awesome, actually.) Nope. Try First Blood himself, Sly Stallone. In case you hadn't heard, John Rambo wrote a script - "the best thing that I've ever written" - for the tentatively titled Poe, in the 90s, and intends to direct it soon. Interesting.

Robert Downey, Jr., was once attached, but, Dark Horizons tells us, Viggo Mortensen has now been offered the part. (Good call.) The whole thing is made a little less surprising with the knowledge that Stallone has clearly expressed an interested in branching out - at one time, he was set to helm the now-shelved Notorious, about the murders of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, for HBO (not to be confused with Fox Searchlight's Biggie biopic of the same name). Go figure.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Will Beowulf be any good?

After the disappointing film adaptation Beowulf and Grendel, a proper movie version of the Oldest Longest Poem Ever, directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery no less, sounded pretty sweet. But, as much as I'd like to be 100% on board, trailers don't get me there.
Cons:
This mo-cap thing isn't perfected yet
The digital motion capture process, which works so well for Gollums and King Kongs, still isn't entirely convincing with human characters...and, y'know, that's what we'll mostly be watching for 2 hours (although it must be said that they've clearly come a long way from Polar Express)

Story's been messed with
I get the whole "It's been retold in different ways for centuries; we're just retelling it again" angle, but why tinker with the classic story? I'd be willing to let the reinterpretation of Grendel's mother as a slinky seductress slide if they weren't marketing the whole movie around something that's not even a part of the poem

Can it really work?
There's a reason adaptations of the poem haven't been done much, and the trying-to-go-after-key-demographics journey to the big screen can sometime leave big projects like this a little muddled or uneven...will the idea be better than the realization?

Pros:
Really cool-looking
There are worse things than movies with an exciting, distinct style - even if it's a style that trumps heart or intelligence

In 3D
Anything in Imax already looks great, let alone Imax 3D

Certain to be action-packed
With epic battles, monsters, yelling, and other things that fill the holiday Lord of the Rings void which still lingers

Um...did I mention it looks cool?

Monday, November 12, 2007

As Mighty Ducks taught us: Greenland is full of ice, but Iceland is very nice

Since they're winning this month's poll (and since I posted on it last month), it might be worth turning your attention to a clip from Sigur Ros' new documentary, Heima, due on DVD next week.

Hvarf/Heim, the accompanying double album (featuring one disc of unreleased and live songs, and another, all acoustic, disc) was released last week.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Radiohead continue to use Interweb good


Last time I posted on Radiohead - y'know, after the time before that - I asked (somewhat rhetorically) what Thom & Co. would do next. Here's our answer, according to NME: "Radiohead released a 'testcast' last night in the build-up to the likely release of their webcast tonight."

The testcast, which you can
watch here, features - among other things - the band covering Bjork's "Unravel." As mentioned, they're expected to do a BBC webcast at www2.radiohead.tv at about 5 PM EST today.

What do you think they'll reveal in the webcast? That they're playing DC next year? Probably.

UPDATE: In case you missed it, Pitchfork has a nice
play-by-play of the webcast, featuring videos and mp3s.

Another Festivus miracle!


Looks like Sufjan heard my plea for some new Christmas stuff this year, and has responded with a wacky gift exchange: Suf is recording a holiday track and only "releasing" it to whoever wins a contest for the best original Christmas song - it could be you! Just write and record a hot yuletide jam and send it in. If you win, you'll own the rights to Sufjan's song (submissions will be streamed, along with his Songs for Christmas, on the Asthmatic Kitty site).

All of which is pretty sweet. Almost as sweet as if he was actually doing a 2007 Christmas record...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Area3 has gotta be just around the corner


Old crazy Moby is at it again, doing more of that Robin Hood philanthropy reported on last month. This time, he's offering up his songs to non-profit filmmakers in search of a soundtrack for free at MobyGratis.com (commercial films can get them "for a small fee," which is then donated to the Humane Society). How 'bout that? If we were all a little mo' Moby, the world would be a better place.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Just in case...

...you haven't seen the trailer for the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men yet - it's awesome. (The movie's site also has a "Redband" R-rated trailer option.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Does it come with a sensible tote?

In addition to its regular posting of great, full concerts (largely recorded here in the District), NPR's music site has had a recent makeover, and now, they've got all kinds of cool stuff going on.
Including a new blog by former (?) Sleater-Kinney words-and-guitarist Carrie Brownstein; the new "All Songs Considered" series "Project Song," in which artists (first up: Magnetic Fields' Stephen Merritt) are given 48 hours and a studio full of instruments to write and perform a song; and an NPR-exclusive Media Player. Just try not giving in to those pledge drives now!

Monday, November 5, 2007

One can safely assume there's no rain of frogs in this one


Know what's interesting? The trailer for There Will Be Blood, which is now up. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, star Daniel Day-Lewis, composer Jonny (Radiohead) Greenwood, and muckraker Upton Sinclair, author of the 1927 novel about an oil tycoon, Oil! (upon which Blood is based), also, are each exceptionally interesting. All of which certainly implies Blood, opening December 26, should be, too.

Friday, November 2, 2007

In Concert: David Bazan (Black Cat, Washington DC)

Ex-Pedro the Lion/occasional Headphones frontman David Bazan brought his solo show to the Black Cat in DC Thursday, and it was a decidedly rockin' evening, as - unlike his last couple tours - this time, he plugged in. When headlining Black Cat last year, he was in the midst of his first set of solo dates supporting the Fewer Moving Parts EP, and armed only with an acoustic guitar, presenting stripped down, though surprisingly intact, versions of songs from his entire artistic catalogue. The time spent as a solo performer clearly did him good, with his voice stronger than ever and increasingly sophistocated approach to songwriting on display last night, playing electric guitar exclusively.

The usual depressing tunes of murder and adultery were showcased, but, looking svelte and clean-cut (by Bazan standards), not to mention decidedly sober, Bazan's standouts were new songs like possible faith/lack-of-faith allegory (aren't they all?), "Curse Your Branches," the strong-melodied "Heavy Breather," rocker "Weeds in the Wheat," and Johnny Cashesque "Please, Baby, Please," all of which continue the increasingly autobiographical tone of the EP and pick up where the twangy, complex structures of Pedro the Lion's final record, Achilles Hill, left off.

Bazan and his show, like the new songs, seem more focused than ever. Even when closing the set with the uber-covered "Hallelujah" (a move that seems more like a Bazan choice from ten years ago), he effectively answered the question, "Why would someone else try this song after hearing Jeff Buckley's version?" by sticking closer to Leonard Cohen's original, and somehow managed to still make it sound like a revelation.


David Bazan's first solo LP, Black Cloud, should arrive in the spring on
his new label, Barsuk.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Anyone else think it looks like it might bee lame?


I'm a little concerned about Bee Movie.

At first, the idea of a cartoon feature truly pitched to "kids of all ages" (take a hint, crappy computer animated movies: Pixar's Ratatouille and The Incredibles were great because they didn't pander to any audience, and thus, pleased everyone...a tired pop culture reference doesn't automatically mean "adults can have fun, too!") written by Jerry Seinfeld sounded pretty great. And when I read stuff like this or this, I'm temproarily reassured - "Maybe it will be different and funny!"

But from (the admittedly little of) what I've seen, it comes off like any other lame Dreamworks CGI: ugly animation, unfunny jokes, nothing new or exciting. Still, I have faith in Jerry...we'll see.