Archive: October, 2008
|Photo | Jimmy Viola|
Music often ferries us off to faraway places or shines a new light on old memories, but there are few artists like Toubab Krewe, whose music — especially live — is a living, breathing, constantly changing collective experience. Their songs are adventures: Afro-rooted hoedowns, chill Southern blues, surfer rock. Rarely are two measures the same.
I spoke with Krewe percussionist Luke Quaranto following their performance. Decked out in long black traditional African garb, he sported a fist-sized silver medallion that looked like it was lifted off the neck of a witch doctor over his stomach. His presence onstage amplified his role beyond pounding the djembi. He was a shaman, eyes shut and brow furrowed, entranced by the rhythm of his palms against the canvas.
The five-piece's performance meandered every which way, but they still managed to stay intertwined via a central heartbeat that was impossible to pinpoint to a single instrument. Being well-rehearsed is one thing, but knowing where a syncopation or improvised nuance will land before it even happens borders on telepathy. Such preemption, Quaranto said, comes from years of living, eating and sleeping with his bandmates. Embracing change is also important, he went on to explain, as those unexpected moments born of spontaneity lead to new, exciting ventures.
For two full sets their music washed over a swaying, ecstatic crowd. The set list fluctuated between heavier, groovier, more guitar-based new stuff and their older material, which often sounded new because they experimented with it so often. All five musicians united on drums for a 20-some-minute-long percussion piece at the end. If you wanted to shuttle off to the Serengeti, all you had to do was close your eyes.
Toward the end of our conversation, Quaranto quoted a recent article that summed up his band as a "a futuristic, psychedelic neo-greo frenzy" (In Malian culture, a greo passes on stories and traditions through song and dance), which the most accurate description of Toubab Krewe as any — if such a band can even be defined.
I'll put it more simply: See them before you die.
|By Jordan Mechner, A.B. Sina,
LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland
First Second, Sept. 2, 208 pp., $16.95
Well, I just enjoyed the hell out of this one.
For those unfamiliar with the pop culture phenomenon that is Prince of Persia, let me enlighten you: It was one of the earliest PC games where art was at least as important as function, incorporating rotoscoping and beautiful artwork into its animation. On top of that, the storyline was unique, and much more complex than the sort of shoot-or-be-shot that both preceded and succeeded it in the market. (Doom was the downfall of the series.) Recently, the game saw a resurgence in popularity, and games in the series are being released once again, enjoying enough a fan base to have a movie coming out in 2010.
So how does it translate into a graphic novel? Most console and PC games have found little success on the page — graphic novel readers tend to be somewhat pickier than video gamers — but the assortment of storylines through the PoP series have lent themselves well to explorations of history, philosophy, metaphysics and the West’s obsession with the “exotic.” (The 2003 release, Sands of Time, even accurately incorporates the physics of time travel into a game platform.)
Game creator Jordan Mechner describes the process of creating the book in his afterword, where he approached reclusive author A.B. Sina with these concepts, and basically offered him carte blanche for the plot. Sina took the assortment of themes presented to him and created a tale that incorporates romance, adventure and politics, spanning four centuries of Iranian history and culture. Everything from Sufi mysticism to Mongol hordes finds its way into the pages, with two stories in different times drawing together as their connection becomes apparent on every level.
On top of that, husband-and-wife artist team Pham and Puvilland have drawn heavily from the French bandes dessinés to create a visual feel very different from some of the tripe gracing the graphic novel shelves in Borders. The lines and colors pop from the page, perfectly arranged; several pages have no dialogue because they don’t even need any. Maybe it just seems particularly dazzling because I have such low expectations for game-based graphic novels, but the artwork in this one sparkles like a gem. Doom sure as hell couldn’t come anywhere close to this.
The book is a bit opaque the first time you read it, so it bears reading again (when it will make much more sense). But if you’re a discerning graphic novel reader who wants a much richer experience than what one usually expects from the medium, pick up Prince of Persia — you’re in for a treat.
We'll have a full CritMass review up later today, but for now, enjoy this sweet morsel.
This was the best show I've been to all year.
Photos by Patrick Rapa
"I'm not Barack Obama," Bruce Springsteen said to the crowd that gathered for his free show on the Parkway. "But I'll do my best."
Half the crowd took the comment at face value. They were there for the junior senator from Illinois. But the other half took it with a grain of salt. The show may have been organized to register voters before today's deadline. But you have to remember, when it comes to a die hard fan, a supergroup made up of Elvis, Gandhi and Jesus could open and Springsteen would still kill.
Alone except for his guitar and harmonica, Springsteen opened with "The Promised Land" and continuing with a short set that was only vaguely political in nature. "I've spent most of my creative life measuring the distance between that American promise and American reality," Springsteen said, before introducing "The Rising." But it wasn't until 2004, when he stumped for Democratic nominee John Kerry with the likes of Connor Oberst and Eddie Vedder, that he became overtly political and the setlist reflected these ambiguities. "The Ghost of Old Tom Joad" and "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" are narrative versions of why Springsteen supports Obama. It wasn't about issues, which can be alienating when it comes to a guy who appeals to a wide demographic and has built his persona on being the Everyman. His speech before "The Rising" was more about healing the country than anything else, about upholding the Springsteenian ideal of the American Dream. If only so he was something to write about on his next record.
While Bruce is a natural band leader, able to harness the power of his backing bands (E Street, Seeger Sessions, those terrible people he used in the mid-'90s) on sheer charisma, he's also proved himself to be an adept solo artist (although, I'd be lying if I hadn't hoped Clarence Clemmons would spontaneously appear). Granted "Thunder Road" could be played on spoons and it would still be one of the best pop songs ever written, but "No Surrender," the rollicking pump-'er-up song from Born in the U.S.A., went over surprisingly well with minimal backing. He avoided "Born in U.S.A.," an obvious choice and instead chose to end with Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," which he'll break out now and again even when on E Street.
For a concert that was seemingly thrown together in a week, it ran smoothly. Angelo Cataldi welcomed the crowd. Nora Whittaker and Amos Lee opened. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (one of the least enthused speakers in the world) and Gov. Ed Rendell (who was met with cheers of "We love you Fast Eddie!") made their introductions. Guys hocked t-shirts saying things like "Stop the drama, vote Obama," with the cover of Magic, Springsteen's latest, on the other side. At one point, the crowd broke into a "Yes, we can" chant with Springsteen providing percussion but that was just a distraction from the show at hand. A woman wearing a homemade "Obama Mama" pin turned to my friend and me and said, "I was about your age in 1969 when I marched on Washington. I'll never forget it and now you're here." We both smiled, but were too polite to tell her that Obama was cool and all but we weren't there for him. Two guys behind us were smart enough to pack cans of Yuengling lest we forget the Boss was here.
The Promised Land
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street
This Land is Your Land
|Springsteen, Rendell and Bob Casey Jr.|
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
Ratatat — Brooklyn-based duo Mike Stroud and Evan Mast — creates catchy-as-fuck Generation Pro Tools jams that kids like to dance to. It's the type of stuff that helps sauced party poopers get off the couch to mug and bop. The type of stuff that makes you wish you were actually good at The Robot. The type of stuff that inexplicably catches rhythm with your turn signal when you're stuck in traffic.
Ratatat is F-U-N fun. Then why does it seem like they're not having any live?
After a quick, loud and dirty-dirty set from Cobra Commander-masked DJ E*Rock (Mast's brother) and a bit of crunchy, energetic reverb from Panther, Stroud and Mast materialized onstage, sleek Ratatat logo blinking and popping behind them, greeting the audience with something to the effect of "hi." (They would end with an equally emphatic "thanks, bye.")
The set list, which leaned heavily on the duo's Afro-Cuban-laden, light-on-guitar latest, LP3, came out as cut and dry as a term paper outline, not a single lick of extension or experimentation dressing the thing. They blasted out utterly flawless, exact-replica recreations of album tracks ("Wildcat," "Mumtaz Khan," "17 Years," "Mirando," "Falcon Jab") back to back to back, never daring to take a peek into the improv box or dive into an onstage recreation of one of their many excellent remixes.
The shoulder-swaying, single-finger-raising crowd crammed between the Starlight's awkwardly positioned roller rink columns did not care — too busy screaming and bumping into each other. And there is nothing wrong with that, because fun is fun. But it was hard to ignore the fact that, with the exception of a few moments, Stroud and Mast acted nonplussed to the point of indifference. True, they are on the last leg of their U.S. tour before shipping off to Europe in November. And perhaps the pair, who come off as modest, normal dudes, feel more comfortable in the studio bouncing ideas off each other than communicating with a shitload of sweaty kids in scarves. Excuses aside, this seemed more like a master's recital than a show.
|Episode 12's winning design
Watching this episode was a waste of my time. No one got eliminated this week, and each contestant was been given the chance to make a collection. Similar to the face-off between Rami and Chris March last season, all four designers are still on the chopping block. But at least Jerell has some reason to keep his chin up: He did take this final challenge, so if nothing else, bragging rights on three total wins!
This week's task was to make an evening gown inspired by nature, specifically, the flowers and foilage found in New York's Botanical Gardens. The end products showed the wacky-tacky side of Kenley, the sad and somber evocation of Leanne, the unfinished qualities of Jerell and the pageantry in Korto. All in all, "the closest Runway show ever" was so close because it was all so bad. Though, give credit where credit is due: Leanne's bodice was stellar and Korto's frontside construction was impeccable, even if her gown did look like a melting creamsicle.
This week's shining moment was, without a doubt, when the judges ripped Kenley a new ego-slashing asshole. Nina told her she sucked (in so many words ... ), Michael Kors wrote "cliche," and Heidi put it out there that her purple snakeskin, scaley petal disaster of a gown wasn't elegant and that her "attitude is annoying." Those 90 seconds of bliss were the only pieces of justice to be had this week. Oh yeah, and how could I forget when Kors equated Kenley with a homicidal murderer? Gotta love him.
As far as future episodes go, there really can be no more speculation. Tim will play catch-up (and apparently take his life in Kenley's hands on a two-bike), and before we know it: Bryant Park. It'll be nothing short of exciting to see who doesn't make it though - all hopes on Kenley, but realistically I think it'll be Leanne or Jerell. I don't
know about you, but I'm still hoping for a reunion show. Cat fights and unseen Gunn footage = the stuff of dreams.
After watching the last few episodes of Mad Men, plus the preview for the next episode, I am starting to suspect the presence of a longer story arc — one that will extend beyond Season 2.
- The scene in Episode 8 where Cooper and Sterling explain to Don that he is being groomed to be the new public face of the agency, and will from now on will be attending black-tie events where he will meet people who actually run stuff. Like the world. Or at least New York. To most New Yorkers, it's kind of the same thing anyway.
- The severity with which Don rides his team over the office blood drive. Note the subtle turn toward the civic we are seeing.
- The Episode 10 preview, which consists entirely of Don prepping Peggy, Kinsey and Pete for a trip to California, where they'll try to fish in clients from the burgeoning aerospace industry and schmooze with the congressmen fighting for the accompanying budget appropriations. Don's lecture to them is very big-picture American politics stuff, and stunningly cynical. Oh yeah — it's accurate, as well.
My assertion: Don is going to become an astronaut.
I kid. Seriously though, Don is going to be pushed into public life in some way or other at the behest of his bosses. Unable to resist the pressure or the temptation — Don is obviously bored with advertising by now — he'll do it. This all but ensures that his shady past will come to light in the biggest possible way and, in the end, destroy him. Plausible? I think so. If I'm right, it's also proof that Matthew Weiner, like David Simon before him, is way into Aeschylus, Sophocles, et al. Funny how that's becoming a formula: Is enrollment swelling at classics departments all over the country thanks to hordes of aspiring cable drama writers?
Other thoughts on this week:
Whoever wrote the scene where we watch Freddie Rumson's drunken downfall definitely knows their alcoholics. Freddie's pants-peeing/blackout, total failure to do his job and confused return to consciousness hours later is exactly the kind of primal shaming event that signals to most pathological alcoholics that rock bottom is rapidly approaching. And that's exactly what happens to Freddie: Pete, sensing an opportunity, narcs him out. Duck, a white-knuckle drunk who sees his own weakness in Freddie's behavior, pushes Roger to fire him. Roger obliges. Peggy gets Freddie's job. She also, in the frantic rush to cover for him while he's unconscious, is years ahead of her time in understanding what is happening to him. "We'll say he’s sick," she tells Pete. "It's true."
Did anyone catch the awesome reference to Don's dad in the late-night bar scene? Don has just finished punching Jimmy Barrett in the nose and has retired (one step ahead of a neckless bouncer) to a neighborhood bar with Sterling. "That was a classic Archibald Whitman move,” Don tells him. "Who's that?" Sterling asks. "Just a drunk I used to know." As for the punch itself, it seemed much like an expression of genuine rage and much more pro forma. Jimmy violates some basic rule of decorum that has to do with men and their wives and their homes; Jimmy gets punched in the nose; society is preserved. I also appreciated that they made it clear that punching someone in the face really hurts your hand, even if you do it right. Most TV shows leave that part out.
What I'm leaving out: Betty crawls out of a bottle of Zinfandel long enough to play matchmaker between her (married) riding friend and the weird engaged sweater guy. Everyone is super-bummed that Marilyn Monroe died. Oh, and Don accidentally uses his salesmanship to convince Sterling to leave his wife — for Don's secretary! Don doesn't like surprises, especially not when he finds them out from Sterling's angry wife, Mona. He immediately demands a new secretary.
Being Don Draper's secretary is kind of like being head of the Indian National Congress or the Pakistan People's Party — enjoy the job, 'cause you're not going to have it for long!
He may look like a younger ginger version of Uncle Fester, but John MacLean knows the recipe for the perfect dance show: a live band rounded out by !!! drummer Jerry Fuchs and LCD Soundsystem keyboardist Nancy Whang, a bar venue that's pulsating but not overcrowded and enough sexy vibrations pumping out of the speakers to get James Brown shaking his hips righteously from beyond the grave.
MacLean's alter ego, The Juan MacLean, cooked this all up at Johnny Brenda's last night. People went crazy. Hips swayed; arms raised. Converse-shod feet stomped Morse code. Whang, completely absorbed in the music, sang for the majority of the songs. Tracks like "Happy House" and "The Simple Life," off MacLean's new The Future Will Come, married vibrant electronic music and vintage funk. Movement on the dance floor became especially intense when older singles like "Titos' Way" — I always imagine confetti exploding every which way and go-go dancers bursting out of giant birthday cakes when I hear it — and "Give Me Every Little Thing" hit live.
One of the only dampers on the night was when The Juan left for a DJ set at Silk City after a little more than an hour — the energy at JB's was palpable enough to merit a few more songs. The other tarnish was recorded when a friend of mine — presumably executing the move immortalized by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever — set her index finger on a collision course with my eyeball as I boogey-oogey-woogeyed. Luckily, I had consumed enough Dogfish Head Pumpkin Ale to resist clutching my face in horror and screaming something like, "Ow, my eye."
I'm just so gosh-darn folksy!
Alright, folks, your regualrly non-partisan 1-Upper is going to get a bit political here. There's not much to this game - in fact, I made up the name in the title - but i was amazed at how fast someone came up with this post-Couric interview.
Use the arrow keys to aim your Palin cannon and blast Mr. Putin's head from Alaskan airspace. God knows he's running illeagal trade missions or something there. Right? Just don't let the bomb's accumulate at the bottom or the National Review will be calling for you to step down from the race!
Blast Putin here.
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