Archive: May, 2008
"Sudan is my country. WARCHILD is my struggle"
On average, I get about a 6 or so emails a day claiming that THIS artist is "different", "here to change the game", "like nothing I've ever heard before", "eclectic", and in some people even have the nerve to use the term, "classic". After a certain amount of time, I've learned which will actually make it to my ears. When I read the story of Emmanuel Jal, it blew me away. When I heard the sounds, it took me to Africa.
Jal is a survivor of the Sudanese civil war. He escaped from being a child-warrior to being a recording artist, whose record WARchild (released May 13 on Sonic360 Records) recounts his horrific and hopeful story. The album also talks about 50 Cent, the oil/diamond/gold crisis in Africa, Hurricane Katrina, and the aid worker that saved him, Emma.
Born in the early 80's in a war-torn Sudan, Jal witnessed and experienced things most of us will never see. To quote the press release, 'He was taken from his family home in 1987 when he was six or seven years old, and sent to fight with the rebel army in Sudan's bloody civil war. By the time he was thirteen, he was a veteran of two civil wars and had seen hundreds of his fellow child soldiers reduced to taking unspeakable measures as they struggled to survive on the killing fields of Sudan.'
As genocide continues to disobey humanity and the international political community continues to do the minimum, there are many left in the same place where Jal was rescued. I got the distinct and humble pleasure of briefly talking to Jal and trying best to squeeze a soulful of questions into a 10 minute conversation. He's definitely got a story to tell.
Tell me a little bit about WARchild, and the concept/mindset you had while creating the album?
'The album is about my struggle. It comes out of pain. It is my story. I was born in the time time when my country has had war for 25 years, and I'm a survivor of that. I'm testifying about what happened in my hood."
Why is hip-hop your vehicle of choice?
'When I listen to hip-hop and how rappers talk about their communities, those things inspire me to talk about what happened in my community. I want to communicate to America what I went through. I need to talk about.'
Coming from Sudan, what is your perspective on the black-on-black crime that occurs in the USA, and in other parts of the world?
'It is sad. We (black people) are always divided trying to bring each other down and killing each other. Black men try to get their pride by putting down women. Instead of building ourselves, we are just killing ourselves. That is why I am happy to see someone like Obama. Even if he doesn't win, I hope he inspires kids and Black people. The world has been quiet of Black leaders and we need someone to step up. Also, I hope he proves to people that America can change and people can come together.'
Obviously, the whole album is personal and heavy, but can you tell me of a memory that you translated to song that really stands out?
'The song, 'Forced To Sin' is about the temptation to eat the flesh of my best friend when there was nothing else to eat. Food was hard to get and there was none. Soldiers began to eat dead bodies. All the night, I prayed for God to give me something to eat. I didn't have to eat his flesh, but the experience was something I wanted to share to make it real.'
How do those at home in Sudan feel about your music?
'They have my first and second album. I have a responsibility ' people are looking up to me, especially the people in Darfur. Singing is a stress reliever for me. I can't stop doing music. It helps me through the trauma. Music blesses me and in turn, I bless others. I am forgetting about my pride and sacrificing myself for my people, my country.'
Flaming Lips, Disco Biscuits and other prison jams.
Whenever I mention my lukewarm opinion of the Flaming Lips, somebody always seems to chime in that I should see them in concert. Then I would understand. Lips performances are said by many to be second only to those of Pink Floyd — so bright and stimulating and downright fun that you don’t really know the band until you see one.
By the time Wayne Coyne was on stage making sure the confetti machines and mammoth LCD screen was working, though, I was ready to leave the uncomfortable prison Jam on the River had become to me. After being locked in the festival pier for six hours with nowhere to sit but the back-breaking asphalt, nothing to eat or drink but monopolistically priced nourishment and free samples of Captain Morgan, and two sets of the Disco Biscuits’ endless druggy muzak, I considered plowing my way through the crowd and missing what all the fuss was about. If the weather hadn’t been so perfect I just may have.
Don’t kid yourself: Even though the Lips headlined, Saturday’s Jam on the River was a day for faux Deadheads by faux Deadheads. The only respite from the Biscuits was inside the Great Tent of Tastelessness, a giant indoor bazaar of hemp jewelry, fantasy stickers of elves sitting on mushrooms, crystals, tie-dye, crystals and tie-dye. In between sets outdoors, a DJ would make his way to the stage inside the tent and play battering beats for ravers for whom Bassnectar’s set was not enough. This was an event split between two opposed factions, and it seemed sadistic of Jam’s organizers to make us suffer one another.
Against all odds, the Flaming Lips saved the day. As Coyne walked onto the stage in between groups of folk costumed in Iron Man, construction vests, and what from my distance looked like a zombie bride, Thus Spake Zarathustra bellowed from the speakers accompanied by CGI stars on the LCD screen. Kliph Scurlock banged his drums just before the band went into “Race for the Prize” as confetti exploded from machines on both sides of the stage. Coyne climbed into his trademark crowd-surfer hamster ball, rolled around on top of the audience, and made his way back to sing in front of what were now images alternating between some time travel portal and a roughly sketched, frenetic naked women. The images on the screen changed throughout the night (shots of a Japanese game show and close-ups on Coyne’s face) but the overall tenor stayed just as lighthearted and fun throughout the night. If nothing else, Coyne can engage an audience.
Coyne did break the mood at one point to play “Taps” as a tribute to fallen soldiers in Iraq, and he reminded people that they must vote in November. It was actually refreshing: After a day surrounded by people riding a sailed ship by listening to music I feel has lost all its meaning, Coyne reminded everyone that this may be a party, but it can’t be done without at least a cognizance of the world at large. But the message didn’t reach the Disco Biscuits fans: They had already left when the Lips started soundcheck.
I want to be John Doe. As a drummer, I'd like to have the skills of D.J. Bonebrake, the classically trained percussionist of legendary California punk act X, but it's vocalist/bassist Doe that has the most swagger and charm. He plucks away at his bass maniacally on stage; he's smooth on the mic and he's aged pretty well. A poet who continues to write and record to this day (his latest solo effort, A Year in the Wilderness, was released last year), he also owns a shirt that reads, simply, "John Fuckin' Doe."
The band behind classic albums like Los Angeles and Wild Gift is currently on its "13 X 31" tour, honoring the group's 31st anniversary. A May 22 performance at the TLA with fellow punk/rockabilly enthusiasts The Detroit Cobras confirmed that this odd-numbered celebration wasn't unjustified — 21 years after its formation, X is still a top live act.
The Detroit Cobras were a perfect complement to X, and the crowd certainly agreed. While there wasn't too much dancing in the TLA — minus a smattering of enthusiastically ungainly adults — there was plenty of hooting and hollering after every Cobras song. Frontwoman Rachel Nagy's voice is a good selling point — soulful but ever-so-slightly cracked. The band's sunny, boozy 50-minute cover set included fine cuts from the rock canon, something the slightly older crowd appreciated.
It's cool to see the punk lifers in X. Frontwoman Exene Cervenka still rocks a black granny dress. Like Doe, she's still artistically active, with a slew of art collages ranging from postcard collections to a NYC gallery show, running through July 18, entitled "Sleep in Spite of Thunder." Billy Zoom looks almost exactly as he did in ' 77 — lightly older, of course, but he's still got the slicked-back blonde coif, the leather jacket and the wolfish grin. As for Bonebrake ... he's bald now, but he dominates the kit fiercely and pounds cans of Guinness awfully well.
An incredibly full rendition of "Your Phone's Off the Hook, But You're Not," the first song off X's debut, marked the beginning of the band's set, which ended up leaning toward the group's first two efforts, though a few mid-period tunes like "The New World," "Devil Doll" and "We're Having Much More Fun" from worked their way in. Tunes like "Adult Books," "We're Desperate" and "The Hungry Wolf" sound superior live. It was the Los Angeles material, though, that got the biggest response — the band pretty much played that album in its entirety.
X often posed for photos while performing. Doe engaged the crowd in conversations about voting, drinking and urban decay. Bonebrake, when he could get away from his kit, was quick with handshakes. Zoom made it a point to have every woman in the room touch his guitar. The instrument's phallic nature has never been so clear, nor so traumatizing, to me. After playing for an hour, X returned for two encores, busting out a few more favorites before bowing out. Doe and Cervenka trimmed down vocal parts here and there to save energy, but that didn't bother the crowd.
It's funny — in 1983, X released "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts," a song about being the last active punk act in the U.S. The Ramones and The Clash disbanded long ago; even X's '80s hardcore peers have burned out. But in 2008, X is still touring, enticing crowds to "bring the flag."
The Swell Season, an act comprising Oscar winners Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova along with members of Hansard's band The Frames, made the final stop of their tour last night in Philadelphia, and they went out on a perfect note. Several of them, actually. Hansard and Irglova, who made audiences swoon with little-movie-that-could Once, brought along with them the very same magic that you see and hear in the film. Hansard opened the show solo with an acoustic version of "Say It To Me Now" and even without playing with a microphone, the power of his voice no doubt gave chills to the folks all the way through the last row.
|Photo | Aly Semigran|
When the full band joined Hansard onstage, they launched a two-and-a-half hour set list that they kicked off with "Lies." The evening featured a mix of songs from Once, The Frames and even a couple of lovely covers, including a Van Morrison tune and "Pure Imagination" from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, which has never sounded more wondrous.
"Falling Slowly," the tune that won Hansard and Irglova the Academy Award for Best Original Song, was played in the middle of the set, a move that made it even more likeable. It would be too obvious to use it as a closer or encore. Instead, the track, which Hansard likened to kicking a ball not just into a goal, but rather all the way across the world (his explanations were, by and large, some of the most charming moments of the show) wasn't given preferential treatment, making room for their other equally beautiful songs.
"Star Star," "When Your Mind's Made Up," "If You Gotta Go, Go With Happiness" and "Fitzcarraldo," all highlights of the evening, managed to achieve something seemingly illogical — especially considering they were performed live. They're songs capable of breaking and mending your heart at the same time. Not aware of many other artists other than Glen and Marketa who can pull off that sort of thing.
Interference, the opening band for the evening, joined the Swell Season for "Gold," the song from the dinner party scene in Once. It was met with a standing ovation — just one of many on the evening. And they were rightly deserved. As you watch these performers, especially at this, their last show of a tour, you can't help but realize how much they love what they do. Their passion and honesty was apparent, and anyone who got to witness it received a gift of immeasurable wealth.
|St. Martin's Press, 242 pp., April 29|
Threat of Violence
In Stephen King's novel The Shining, a mother and son are terrorized for one night by an ax-wielding dad wild with cabin fever. In Augusten Burroughs' latest memoir, a child faces 13 years in surburbia with an alcoholic philosopher-dad, who lets family pets die and emotionally abuses his mentally troubled wife. No beatings, or blood. Instead, Burroughs gives a litany of his father's sins of omission, from the baseball he never bought him, to the hugs he withheld.
Written in choppy prose that slips too often into melodrama, this grim memoir shows Burroughs from infancy through his early teens, when his parents divorced, and he and his mother escaped. Its strength is its portrait of the terror involved in living with an alcoholic man who could keep his fists to himself, but was happy to flaunt his urges and capacity to break teeth.
The lack of true aggression haunts Burroughs. Because there is none, some of the reverie is at times maudlin, as the adult looks back in hindsight to pinpoint exactly how the blow that was never struck caused such lasting pain. When his father gives him a baseball glove, young Burroughs knows he should feel grateful, but feels sad instead, "because before I had a glove, I didn't need a father to throw a ball at me." The kid surmises, "[He'd] given me a glove, but nothing to catch." This exemplifies the self-pitying tone that dominates a large part of the memoir. The writing and story improve late in the book, when he chooses a cathartic laugh over smashing his fist through the wall, and tries to become different from the father he loathed. He finds he cannot succeed, or forgive, only wish things had gone better.
|Photo | John Vettese|
Really, any attempt to crystallize the sound of Nick Urata's voice into words is useless. No adjective-laden description does it justice, and even I felt a bit shaky selling it as "saintly" last week. That's close, but not quite it. To put it simply and hugely understatedly: Dude has pipes, and he's not afraid to use them to dramatic effect. He stands aback from his vintage '50s microphone, triangular eyebrow cocked, deeply inhaling before cutting loose with this wild trill or falsetto or an unbelievable octave range.
Amazingly — and in spite of the drunken swoons or Buckley/Morrissey/Sinatra comparisons that emanate from his crowd (a delightful cover of "Something Stupid" reinforcing the latter) — Urata somehow refrains from upstaging his fellow DeVotchKans. The players are tight and proficient, each handling at least two instruments — my favorite is Jeanie Schroder's working of both sousaphone and upright bass — and showing a remarkable willingness to follow a weird, moody brooder like "Transliterator" or "New World" with, like, a frenetic Balkan jig or a waltz or a mariachi celebration. Or a rock tune. Something with handclaps. More photos from DeVotchKa's appearance last weekend after the jump.
|Photo | John Vettese|
|Photo | John Vettese|
|Photo | John Vettese|
|Photo | John Vettese|
|Photo | John Vettese|
|Photo | John Vettese|
A vegetable to remember
Two weeks ago, we showed you some weird veggies.
Now that farmers markets are popping up all over the place (read more about 'em here), we figured it'd be a good time to introduce y'all to more not-so-identifiable stuff. Check back here every Monday for reports on whatever we ate over the weekend. (Yeah, yeah, today's Wednesday. Forgive and forget.)
So, anyway, that's Tokyo Bekana up above. Picked up a bunch from Weavers Way Farm at Sunday's Headhouse farmers market (10 a.m.-2 p.m., Second and Lombard streets) for under two bucks. It's basically the Japanese version of baby bok choy (aka Chinese cabbage), a bitter-ish leafy green that benefits from a little garlic and soy sauce. Farmer Dave Zelov suggests sauteing it. You can also stick it in soups and salads raw, just make sure to wash this baby really well. It had chunks of dirt and those little helicopter seeds that twirl down from trees stuck between its stems. Cooked, it retains its satisfying crunchiness and vibrant green color. According to some Web sites, you can store it in a plastic bag in the fridge for a week, but I dunno, I'd use it right away.
The verdict? Purdy tasty, and nutritious, too. (It's a good source of calcium and vitamins C and A.)
Recipe after the jump!
Asian-Style Greens with Sesame, Ginger and Soy Sauce
4 tablespoons light sesame oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons white hulled sesame seeds
4 teaspoons peeled, minced gingerroot
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds tender Asian greens
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
1. In a wide heavy saute pan or wok over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the sesame seeds and stir until they pop and become fragrant. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for 1 more minute.
2. Add the greens and 1 tablespoon soy sauce, raise the heat and cook, covered, for 1 minute. Uncover and saute for 1 or 2 minutes more, until the greens are tender but still bright green.
3. Stir in more soy sauce and vinegar to taste, and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe courtesy Peter Berley's The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen.
What's black and white and red all over? There's no point in acting like Shift 2, and it's predecessor, Shift, aren't direct conceptual copies of Portal - at least the Web version - so I won't. Both games are in the same exact vein (you're a lab experiment and must make it through a series of rooms using your unique item or ability), but Shift 2 makes you think slightly differently. Instead of making entrance and exit portals with a portal gun, you can employ the shift key (go figure) to flip over to the dark side of the level, thus enabling you to make your way past spikes, pitfalls, and other assorted nuisances.
One thing that Shift 2 has over Portal and the earlier Shift is that the writing is pretty funny. The opening scene, where the omnipresent mad scientist's spiked wall of death breaks down made me laugh early in the a.m.
Go play Shift 2 here.
A Trip to Pluto
|HarperCollins, 320 pp., April 29|
Louise Erdrich's new novel, The Plague of Doves, depicts the rise and fall of Pluto, N.D., a speck of a town near an Ojibwe reservation. We enter Pluto's history through the eyes of young Evelina Harp, just as her grandfather decides she's old enough to hear about the 1911 lynching of three men falsely accused of slaughtering a white family. Erdrich then shows generations of families in Pluto, who are either related to the mob, or know the true killer. Half the fun is learning who's related, and how, and whether or not they know.
Erdrich sifts the complexity of these families' lives to offer tender and terrible truths about what it means to be stuck every day facing such brutal history. Each character reveals secrets about the town's past — from a kidnapping plot to a religious cult — and no one's immune. As one character says, "[What] is the difference between the influence of instinct upon a wolf and history upon a man? In both cases, justice is prey to unknown dreams." Using a shifting perspective and multiple points of view, she delves into the minds of men and women, American Indian and white, giving each a distinct voice. They all ring so true individually that it's amazing just one author created them all.
Whether describing pioneers curled together under buffalo skins during a blizzard, or the soulful power of violin music, or the way clouds stack before a thunderstorm, Erdrich's lyricism propels the story. In rich and powerful language, she gives a beautifully honest account of the townspeople's lust and mysticism, pain and bleak humor.
Reading this story yields more wisdom and poetic entertainment than classics twice its size. And on top of that, Erdrich tells who the real killer is, too.
"Why do you guys do that?" a deadpan Bret McKenzie asked the sold-out Tower Theater crowd when a guy screamed what is inevitably screamed at any concert hushed enough to allow for audience contribution:
Surely, McKenzie and partner Jemaine Clement — better known as Flight of the Conchords, "New Zealand's fourth most popular folk parody duo" and stars of the tremendously popular TV series of the same name — have heard a douchebag express ironic lust for the Skynyrd standard at a show before. In fact, it probably happens every time they take the stage. But in many ways, a politely conveyed unfamiliarity with American life is the third member of the band — they crack us up because they act like they don't "get it." But as soon as Clement busted into what he called his "American Idol version" of the tune — complete with pained finger-in-the-ear vocal runs — it was clear they "get it" more than we'll ever know.
After a nice bit of prop-driven stand-up from opener (and occasional Conchords guest star) Eugene Mirman, the pair sauntered onstage and right into "Inner City Pressure," a synthtastic ode to urban living that Clement spiced up with the predictable but appreciated addition of a line from the Fresh Prince theme song. McKenzie apologized for the slight delay in start time, claiming they were sitting around backstage and had no idea they were supposed to be on until they heard cheering. The crowd promptly roared. Saying sorry isn't supposed to be funny. But then that's the key to their appeal — the Conchords' bumbling back-and-forth with the audience is crafted so meticulously that it doesn't seem even remotely meticulous.
The pair performed a slew of songs recognizable to fans of the series, many of which began as live standards pre-HBO/Sub Pop — "Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenocerous," "Business Time," "Albi the Racist Dragon," the robot anthem "Humans Are Dead" and the bizarre mistaken-identity piece "Jenny" among them. They also tested out some new songs, including one about Clement's ex-girlfriends that came off like an ass-backwards version of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" ("Britney hit me ... Mona, you told me you were in a coma ... Bruce, you didn't tell me you were a man").
The duo was even so bold as to launch into post-song banter lifted directly from their small-screen scripts, save for a few geographical personalizations. (After the amazing "Bret, You Got It Going On," which devolves into Clement admitting to McKenzie that he once put a wig on him while he slept to curb touring loneliness, Clement insisted that "I put a wig on you" is established Philly street slang.) On paper, it sounds lazy, like a comedian rehashing gags from his television special during a club date. But it worked. Everyone anticipated the punchlines, but you could tell that the laughs ran much deeper than the fleeting gratification that goes along with, say, reacting to a popular catchphrase. It was almost like people were relieved that Clement and McKenzie are the same in real life as they are on TV (which you're meant to believe is the same way they are in real life).
Of course, the Conchords run the risk of wearing out their self-deprecating, loveable losers schtick — jokes about crappy motels and playing to crowds of one tend to dry up when two dudes on acoustic guitars are able to sell out mammoth ampitheaters on a multi-city tour. But judging by the group's surprisingly varied fan base — seats were filled with everyone from underdeveloped packs of high school freshmen to fathers and sons to distinguished-looking touch-of-gray older couples — that's not going to happen anytime soon.
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