Sunday, February 22, 2009

Marah and Brandi Carlile

Dave Bielanko and Marah

I make it a rule to see Marah at every reasonable opportunity, and I'm never disappointed. We were all psyched to see them in their latest formulation (temporarily without Serge, the other Bielanko brother, and with a new drummer and bass player plus Christine, the keyboardist) and arrived at the appointed place...only to find it completely deserted! Refusing to believe it, we got out and saw the sign pinned to the door -- the show was moved to another bar. Every time I've seen them, they've been relegated to a smaller, crummier venue. They really ought to be packing out the Palace or the Waterfront on a summer night. I think it bothers me more than, say, Dave Bielanko, who seems to take it in stride. I think he's genuinely more interested in the music and the experience than achieving wealth and fame, and they never shortchange an audience, no matter how small.

On this night, I was in the middle of an allergy attack, which made me feel miserable, but between a medicinal, near gag-inducing swig of my hubby's bourbon and Marah finally coming on, it magically dissipated. It was a somewhat surreal evening of kick-ass music, a dirty backroom dive, and these crazy-dancing ladies who kept drinking white russians and buying them for the band, prompting Dave to claim, "It tastes just like Christmas morning!" And through all of this, from the time we got there until we left around 2 a.m., some poor dude was sitting on a stool, as completely passed out on the bar as I've ever seen anyone. I never saw him stir, apparently not even when the gals playing foosball adjusted his chair to give themselves more space, or -- needless to say -- while the band ten feet away ripped through, "Coughing up Blood." Someone else needs an intervention.

Well, one good thing about such intimate gatherings is that you actually get to talk with the band if you want to. I had to stick around to buy a new tee, since my only other one from Marah is too small to wear in public. I told Dave how much we always enjoyed the shows and asked him about the new album. He said they were close to finishing it up in Nashville (the next stop) and that he thought Serge would be ready to rejoin them when they toured in April. He and Christine were both very nice, tired, and grateful for kind words. I'm so glad I stayed up past my bedtime.

Brandi Carlile and Sondre Lerche

In the Pops series, the Louisville Orchestra teamed up with Lerche to open and Brandi for the headliner. Lerche is really impressive. Such a youngster, but with lots of poise and a fabulous crooner voice. I think the crowd in Whitney Hall was well-pleased with his performance, since of course, everyone was really there for Brandi. And even though he didn't play guitar with those huge, Norwegian mittens from the PR headshot, I still enjoyed it!

My expectations were high for Brandi, since she's one of my very favorite artists; I actually think she was even better than I thought she'd be. Her voice is phenomenal -- really, really big and strong -- the recording process does not add a thing that's not already there. And if you possibly can, you aspiring leaders-of-the-band, manage to frame yourself with identical twin musicians! I love the harmonies Phil and Tim Hanseroth bring, and of course, the guitar skills. Oh, and I should not forget the barefoot cellist, Matt. She sang new songs from the forthcoming album, which were strong -- "Dreams" and "Oh Dear" -- some from her other records including "The Story" and "Follow", and great covers of "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Hallelujah." She does the best Johnny Cash since Johnny Cash! She's so inspiring. She's the reason I bought a guitar (even though it's currently gathering dust in the corner), and now that I've seen how skinny she is in her second-skin blue jeans, I'm also inspired to get a little more running in. Dang you, Brandi Carlile!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Good stuff

We saw Gary Louris and Mark Olsen last night. My husband and I were both impressed by G.L.'s guitar skills, and I was astounded at how great they sound together live. Like Simon and Garfunkel, theirs are just two voices that blend together beautifully. I was happy to see the bar packed for them (SRO), even though that sort of thing is harder and harder on my back and knees. Orthopedic shoes? I'll just suffer for other people's art, I guess. Lots of Jayhawks' fans there -- all, as they say, "of a certain age."

I just rediscovered Okkervil River after hearing some of "The Stand Ins" -- a sequel of sorts to "The Stage Names," which when I first heard it, didn't grab me at all. I like the other so well, I'm going back now to give it another listen. Also, I'm still fascinated by Antony and the Johnsons (they have a new CD out); I first heard Antony on the Leonard Cohen tribute, "I'm Your Man," and I've been checking him out since then. I still haven't bought anything, but I'm still trolling through some of the songs, trying to figure out what I'd like best. He definitely has a different sound going on, but I like it -- there's something a bit otherworldly in his music, but you wouldn't want to dance to it, unless you're dancing over someone's grave maybe.

I've embarked on the fourth and final volume of War and Peace, which has vaulted into my favorite novels of all time very easily. As lengthy as it is, or maybe because of it, I'll be sad to finish it. If I'm stranded on a desert island some day, and the smoke monster isn't coming for me (Lost -- I'm in too deep to stop now), I'd like to have a copy of W&P with me.

Monday, February 09, 2009

On crap

I generally stay away from commenting on things that I don't like. Rants can be very tiresome and there's no end of things to deprecate, whereas there's so little that approaches sublimity. One should be more selective. However, having subjected myself to a weekend of UTTER crap, I feel compelled to flush it out of my system. I wanted to call this post On Bullshit, but it's been taken, of course.

I'll start with the movie Beowulf, starring a high-profile cast of actors who might have thought they would be less embarrassed as CGI "enhanced" versions of themselves in this stinker. My husband called it, jokingly, clay-mation. Other than stealing some of the same names and general setting, this Beowulf bears more resemblance to the Grand Theft Auto video franchise than the epic, Old English poem. Why not just make your movie without attempting to reference the original, if nothing about it suits you? It's as if the screenwriters were still so ticked about having to read it for their British Lit survey, they decided to give it a good, old-fashioned Hollywood fucking-over just for spite. Please! Blame the teachers, not the poetry.

The movie was both gross and inappropriately funny as when nude, faux-Beowulf's manly bits kept getting the Austin Powers sight-gag treatment. Helmets, chandeliers, roof beams all kept getting in the way of the "camera." Naked Beowulf slithering all over Grendel's mucousy backside was just inspired...but by what I don't know and don't wish to know. And instead of a shaggy, swamp beast, insert Angelina Jolie with weird, barefoot stilletto-heels. Now that's some monster! Oh, it was just so very awful and juvenile in it's presentation that it seemed downright mean-spirited. My husband had the good sense to fall asleep -- at least until I poked him and made him sit up.

Sadly, a moody, artistic, elegiac movie version of Beowulf could be made with the right spirit and creative people involved. I thought of something like Julie Taymor's Titus, which also starred Anthony Hopkins (the unfortunate Hrothgar here). A throbbing score, beautiful Scandinavian vistas, and dialogue studded with that wonderful Old English cadence would be something to see. But instead, crap. Utter crap, even.

The Grammy's

Thankfully, I was reading War and Peace while this was going on, which is kind of like viewing an eclipse through a pinhole -- you won't risk permanent blindness. It was one trainwreck performance after another, with only a few exceptions. Strangely, everyone seemed better dressed than usual. You should at least be able to count on the Grammy's for some really tacky getups.

The benighted idea of pairing classic acts with newcomers served neither well. The greats seemed desperate and sad, while the newbies were just plain bad in comparison. Stevie Wonder with the Jonas Brothers? Ouch. And what about trotting out the only surviving member of the Four Tops? More pain. Which brings me to a few points about Katy Perry, bless her. Some of it really wasn't her fault, because I assume she wasn't responsible for the "production" components.

First, if one is going to be vamping while surrounded by giant fruit, at least go with the sexy kind -- pomegranates, figs, juicy mangoes. At any moment I expected to see the Fruit of the Loom guys popping out from behind an apple. And they might have busted better moves than Perry, which leads me to the second point. Sign that girl up for Madonna's dance camp! Of course, she probably felt justifiably ridiculous having just descended from a giant banana. And from all the hoopla about this song, you would think she invented lesbians, or lipstick lesbians, or even lipstick. I'm bemused since Jill Sobule was the first woman to sing a song titled -- gasp!-- "I kissed a girl" way back in the pre-Twitter era of 1995, while Perry was still going to Vacation Bible School. All of which is not really a knock on Katy Perry herself, who seems clever and is trying to make the most out of what may only turn out to be 15 minutes of fame.

So, there's really no moral here, other than that I find crap disturbing. I just needed to get that out of my system.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

In the grip of winter, distractions must be found

The snow and ice did not quite melt away before the chill set in anew -- today, a brisk wind blew clouds of snow off the rooftops of the office buildings producing, for a few moments, a faux blizzard. Real snow fell this morning, but didn't last, and it's rather bitterly cold, refreezing the old snow and ice. I wrestled the wheeled trashcan to the curb this morning, up and over the ridges of snow and found a cove between shoveled mounds to perch it near the curb. Everything becomes difficult -- routine chores, walking, driving, concentrating on work.

Companionably, London was hit by a snowstorm that brought the city to a halt, and the citizenry is none too happy about it. School closings! One quote in the Guardian was someone bemoaning the officials' unpreparedness and remarking that a bad example was being set for children, who were being taught that when things get difficult, just stay home and have fun. If that person were transported to the U.S. and could observe our love and acceptance of snow days, he might wonder afresh how it is that we became the most powerful nation on earth.

And in yet another example of American sloth compared to the British -- we who choose a mere 25 or 50 or at most 100 "best novel" lists from time to time -- the Guardian newspaper has compiled a list of 1000 novels "everyone must read." Now seriously, Americans don't even want to read a list that long, much less the actual novels! I feel certain that I can die without regret, if die I must, not having read John Grisham's A Time to Kill, or even anything of Martin Amis. Of course, those Guardian folk are probably indulging in some good-natured hyperbole with the "must read" directive, particularly when one of their own, the lamentable Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice), infamously claimed never to have read a single book. I thought every English person was born clutching a copy of Bleak House.

And finally, my browsing uncovered another tribute to John Updike by one of my very favorite writers, Ian McEwan, summing up thusly:

The Updike opus is so vast, so varied and rich, that we will not have its full measure for years to come. We have lived with the expectation of his new novel or story or essay so long, all our lives, that it does not seem possible that this flow of invention should suddenly cease. We are truly bereft, that this reticent, kindly man with the ferocious work ethic and superhuman facility will write for us no more.
Under the banner of welcome distractions, it seems as if the music world is conspiring to send all my favorites to town in the next two months. I already was planning to see Gary Louris and Marc Olsen, Brandi Carlile, and Ryan Adams. Today, I see that Marah is also stopping over this month, and the Cowboy Junkies are playing a gig with the Louisville Orchestra in March. I need to win some radio tickets or I'll go broke. I did find one freebie last night -- the Von Bondies' (also touring, but not nearby) new song, "Pale Bride." He may be Jack White's sworn enemy, but I like Jason Stollsteimer's voice a lot; the VBs certainly have a lot of attitude live. It's still one of my favorite rock shows. I'm sure the small venue had something to do with it. I thought they'd disbanded, it's been so long since I heard anything out of them.