Archive: March, 2008
The following thoughts may or may not have been going through the mind of Caribou bassist Andy Lloyd as the LED pierced his retinas on Saturday evening.
|"I grew up with that lampshade, man."|
|"Son of a bitch, there's a cold snap."|
|"Zelda looks lonely."|
|"Your face, it has no place."|
|That's yours truly about 30 seconds in next to Black Thought in a classic b-boy pose. (courtesy ArtOfRhyme|
"...built like a tank/smokin' on dank/walkin' through the Guggenhiem raw like black ink..." -Dice Raw from "Get Busy"
No menacing bouncer-dude or siddity fly-jawn with a clipboard asking ‘What the hell are you doing at Larry Gold's Studio for The Roots' Rising Down listening party?' Somehow a slovenly-chic insider like myself was able to breeze right through the lobby adorned with gold plaques, quiet as kept. I fully expected the third degree as we made our way into the inner sanctum of this already-renowned recording space.
That rarefied air is a strange thing. You could walk freely among some of Philly's hip-hop giants (actually, any number of musicians from across the country might have been up in there) but the ubiquitous celluloid-posturing from digital-maggers and jaded scribes was clogging the air with ill-tempered vibes. Not to mention, some looming rapcat with a rucksack (quite possibly housing his teenage brother) kept eye-jammying me every time I took a swig off my scammed Red Stripe (I thought dudes stopped wearing backpacks as party accessories back in '96).
DJ Excel was playing good shit but no one was there to do the wop-baseball-bat to Hiero and Native Tongues tunes, people were fiending for The Roots' latest labor of lovescorn. I spied a couple of Rising Down's leaked cuts cued on Excel's Scratch Serato interface: "75 Bars" and the toxically sharp "Get Busy," a menacing triple-team relay from Black Thought, Dice Raw & Peedi Crakk.
Foreshadowing was now complete and the blunt smoke thickened as the three-headed Philly monster's verses jumped out over ?love's's inspired percussive forays and Jazzy Jeff's minimalist cuts. Philly was in the house now, from the 40-something Kensington crew rocking vintage Tug McGraws to the shapely butter-pecan Phemme Phatales to the white-froed corny/cool types swilling free beer in the corner.
We squeeze into the cozy anteroom as the intro to Rising Down segues forward. The tracks are played in sequence but seemingly at breakneck speed; hard to get a handle on but dark digable-ness was the impression. I get close enough to the fishbowl window of the master studio chambers where the artists and cognoscenti are passing blunts and chanting lyrics. Thought seems to have a new cigar paper in-hand at every odd minute. No one in the control room seems to acknowledge our existence, which is fine; I consider myself lucky just to be there in the heady air.
The mood of the album is gray, brooding and chaotic — much like the city and times we live in; hipsterish rock hooks aplenty (see Game Theory) but raw sounds smacking more of the definitive chaotic-bap they have favored of late rather than the Bad Brains-esque explorations of Phrenology. Unlike many of the lot, I'm not there for quotes or to network, I'm there to soak it all in and blog it on out. I suspect many SigmaPhidelphians this spring and summer shall soon be feeling the same instant viral high that Rising Down induces.
When I heard that Brooklyn house and soul band Tortured Soul was joining Amp Fiddler on a U.S. tour, I was prepared to go anywhere within a three-hour radius to check them out. But I didn't have to go that far: Just in my backyard to World Café Live. Even better! And although the show was on Easter, I made it point to be there. Rushing to WCL after Easter dinner, we pulled into the area, immediately noticing a sea of available parking, which meant it was empty inside the venue. But that was OK. I was going to have a good time regardless. And that I did.
I got inside in time to see Tortured Soul on their third song. In total, there were between 50-75 people there, including those up on the balcony. I didn’t care. Lead singer and drummer John-Christian set the energetic vibe for the night as he kept the constant tempo without flinching (seriously). Bandmates JKriv (keys), Jason (bass) and guitarist Tewar (anew tour addition) were also on stage sweating it out, as they turned out songs like “Fall In Love," “Epic” and “Special Lady” from their new In Transit Advanced EP.
There were a few people up dancing, and as I looked around, most were nodding their head and enjoying the musicianship of the band. What makes me really dig Tortured Soul is the fact that the sounds they make with instruments otherse artists make with computers. Their lyrics are purely sweet and when combined with the heart-pounding beat and keyboard additions, TS creates an atmosphere not only for dancers, but for those who just like to sit back, chill and vibe out.
After a 20-minute break and stage change, Detroit native Amp Fiddler came out. He was joined by a drummer, bassist and two fierce backup singers. Amp’s outfit was, well … different. Whether backing someone like Prince or George Clinton or showcasing his own material, Amp has always had a flare for the eccentric – the left side of fashion and music. (He commented that his black-and-white checkered suit was his Easter outfit.) One thing about Amp I immediately noticed was his personality; he laughed off the empty room and made the best of it. He made a few jokes and immediately got down on his multiple keyboards. Forgive me that I’m not that familiar with the equipment, but the pictures should help if you're interested.
As he started to run through a cuts from his two albums — "Faith," "If You Can’t Get Me Off Your Mind," "I Believe In You," "Not" and "If I Don’t" (the album version is a cute duet with Corinne Bailey Rae) — he proved just how funky and different his music was. At one point, he laid down on the floor while playing his keys; at another, he played with his elbows. While you could clearly hear the soul influence in his rich lyrics and vocals, there was a heavy dose of other related genres, like house, dance and electronica, in the mix, as well. But none of them took over his overall sound. They blended together to create a spring/summer type feel.
The man is just funky — from his dress to his sound to his perfectly groomed afro. He played for around 45 minutes to an hour total. We had to dip out, so I’m not sure if he did an encore or not, but I do know the few heads left were clapping for more. This entire show was enjoyable.
The music that Amp and Tortured Soul brought to Philly is something that we don’t experience here often at concerts or in the clubs. It was just an overall vibe of energy and a heavy dose of feel-good. I wish more heads were there to witness what they both bring to music, but that’s OK – I'm pretty sure both acts made new fans that night. I also have a feeling this past weekend won’t be their last stop in Philly. At least I hope not.
When Legos attack
So, we right quite a bit about zombies here at the 1-Upper, but I think that's because they're the one life form you can plow through with an Uzi and walk away feeling OK. I mean, they are after your brains and all, right? And you need those to like think and stuff.
Anyhow, the Boxhead games plop you into the role of John Bambo, and guess what ... he's just like Rambo, only boxier. Boxhead: 2-Play Rooms also introduces a few new characters, who are also boxier representatives of movie roles, like Bin and Bonn. If you're familiar at all with any of the earlier games, it's more of the same: kill of an endless slew of zombies and demons all the while upgrading your equipment to fun stuff like cluster grenades, which, I have to say, are the most satisfying things I've ever virtually thrown at someone.
The great part about 2-Play Rooms is the co-op feature, hence the name. This time around, you can have a friend join you as you blast away. Just be careful where you throw those grenades, as they can cause residual damage if you aren't careful.
Go play Boxhead here.
|Photo | Danielle Reicherter|
I'm currently suffering from a the rare condition known as Confetti Lung, along with an acute case of Glitter Eye. These are the afflictions common to enthusiastic, prop-happy Tilly and the Wall fans. But, like a proud crowd surfer sporting multiple bruises, I consider the occasional sparkles I cough up proof of an eventful evening.
It was Philly's Bee Team, and not the heat of the packed Church basement, that encouraged attendees to take their shirts off. Though most tend to ignore opening bands, the locals won over the crowd by convincing everyone to sing "Happy Birthday" to drummer Joe Reinhart's over the phone, from there kept everyone's attention with charming, Moldy Peaches-esque songs about love and vegetables.
Capgun Coup (who, like T@TW, hail from Omaha) suffered som bad sound ju-ju, making all of their keyboard-rock songs come across too loud and mishmashed. Several folks, hands clamped tightly to their ears during the set, erroneously exclaimed the band was terrible, when they would probably be adding them to their iTunes right now had their sound not been cranked to 11.
After a wait that included dozens of balloons and "Push It," "Lose Control" and (for some odd reason) Hannah Montana, Tilly finally came onstage in animal masks. Somehow, all five members, plus a temporary drummer and an additional bassist, managed to find room among the space cramped with whimsical tsotchkes like a pinwheel flamingo and a coconut pirate. Almost instantly, the audience was following orders to "let that beat control your body, baby" and dancing wildly. That's right — not moshing, not arm flailing, not standing and bobbing their heads. Honest-to-goodness dancing. Probably because they wanted to join in with ever-smiling, ever-tap-dancing percussionist Jamie Pressnall.
|Photo | Danielle Reicherter|
Bubbles and balloons floated along with the constant shower of confetti poppers during fan favorite "Bad Education," and "Nights of the Living Dead" is probably the happiest I've ever felt while screaming obscenities. Taking a breather to wipe brow sweat off with a stuffed unicorn, singer Neely Jenkins sat down with co-singer Kianna Alarid to perform "Pictures of Houses," a calmer, acoustic song accompanied by guitarist (and, sorry ladies, Jamie's husband of two years) Derek Pressnall. Then it was Tilly's time to get back, performing new songs from their upcoming album and ending with a personal favorite, "Sing Songs Along."
With a giraffe mask given to me by keyboardist Nick White in hand, I left the First Unitarian with a bit of a crush on Tilly and the Wall. I find myself inspired to incorporate more tutus, brightly colored '80s leotards and golden dresses into my wardrobe, as well as vow to never again be afraid to dance at a show. That, my friends, is a testament to the power of a little band from Nebraska that's named after a kid's book.
Today marks the five-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion in Iraq, though it feels more like a hundred years. This widely criticized war has left our country (and pretty much every other one in the world) with a whole lot of questions and concerns and very few answers (at least not honest ones, anyway) from the people who put us there in the first place.
If you're one of the many who feel disheartened, particularly on a day like today, it may be in your best interest to pick up Quirk Books' The Anti-War Quote Book, edited by Eric Groves Sr. Quote books are a tricky business: While many truly inspire uplift, or even outrage, others feel like a compilation of high school yearbook entries. This book falls in the former category.
Groves, who writes a devastating introduction about the harrowing effects of war today and years past, found the best of the best from those who not only spoke of peace, but lived it. The words of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. seem as relevant today as they ever were. My only gripe is the glaring omission of one of peace's greatest supporters, the still-influential John Lennon. "All we are saying is give peace a chance" is a plea you'll hear at protests across the country today. Hell, it could have been the title of the book.
You’ll still be surprised at how many quotes from "lesser-known" figures truly stick out. Perhaps the timeliest of the lot, the quote by American writer Arthur Hoppe is insightful: "Old men declare wars because they have failed to solve complex political and economic problems. They send young men to go fight them. Of course, the old men have to make up patriotic and emotional rationales to justify their stupidity." It’s passages like these that make this a book you'll read over and over, aloud to yourself, over the phone to friends, family or anyone else within earshot. From topics of propaganda and violence to brotherhood and love, they’re all bound to stir emotions and, hopefully, conversation.
As I read this book on the eve of this troubling anniversary, I couldn't help but feel sadness with my hopefulness. Here, in bold text, are the words of great men and women spanning centuries, all expressing that war brings horror and that peace is the only way out of it. But it's on the last page, with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s "It is never too late to do right," that makes you realize all these words mean so very much.
Graduating is a bitch. I'm about halfway through my last semester of college, and I've got a bad case of wistfulness. I miss high school. Driving around my small town before gas prices skyrocketed. Listening to music on CDs I actually paid for. Having a disposable income.
Apparently, Rockstar Games misses high school, too, considering they recently re-released a "Scholarship Edition" of its 2006 game Bully for Xbox 360 and Wii. (You might remember it being mildly controversial.) Boasting eight new missions, four new classes and other add-ons, school seems more fun than it was the first time around. (Ain't that always the case?) Players take on the role of Bullworth Academy student and Bruce Willis-circa-Moonlighting lookalike Jimmy Hopkins, a perpetual reject with a penchant for catching beatdowns.
Bully essentially plays like a more family-friendly version of Rockstar's flagship Grand Theft Auto series. While players can't kill people, they can still live out violent fantasies in a non-linear story rife with profanity and explosions. And, just like GTA, Bully is a hell of a lot of fun. The gameplay is varied and strong throughout; mini-games abound in the form of classes, errands and even arcade challenges. Every so often, it can get tedious, especially as the game map expands beyond campus, but overall, there's a decent mix of fighting, exploring and puzzle-solving.
360 enthusiasts looking for a graphics upgrade will be disappointed — the game still looks a PS2 release, although the new biology class looks neat/gory. The overall freshness of the gameplay experience, however, more than compensates. The blunt, critical eye Bully casts on the traumas of high school — some of those preppy jokes certainly stuck with this La Salle College High School graduate — also lends the game some charm. The 360 port is glitchy, though, so be sure to save as often as possible until Rockstar puts out an online patch to prevent crashes.
So, if there's one thing an adventure needs, it's a set of freaking awesome pants, otherwise it would just be, well, unfashionable. Fancy Pants Adventure: World 2 picks up where its very excellent predecessor left off, finding our squiggly hero and his eponymous yellow pants enjoying a game of fancy pants golf. Once a menacing rabbit swipes his ice creamy prize, it's down the hole for more running and jumping goodness.
If you've never played the first game, think Sonic the Hedgehog meets line drawings. The gameplay is super similar to Sonic - you run around jumping on enemies and collecting things, in this case some kind of squiggle rather than a coin - but the graphics are great, especially for a browser game, and big step up from the first game. The physics aren't to be overlooked either. It's pretty amazing, at least to me, that a game with what appears to be a pretty sophisticated engine can be found for free on the internet. Be careful, though, as all the great things about the game make it pretty intense and can slow your computer down.
Play the game here. It also gives you the option of playing the first version, so make sure you check that out, too.
Black Landlord hit the stage to about 300 people at the TLA 10:30 Saturday night and laid down a heavy set of what I can only call Street Funk. Constant grooves kept the crowd bobbing and dancing.
Two sax players, a percussionist mainly working six or so bongos, plus a dirty rock core including a metal-ish drummer, rocked-out guitarist, a chill bassist holding a solid flow the entire time, a second MC and the Black Landlord himself in his pristine white pimp suit and hat. To start the show.
By the end, the Landlord was sans hat. And jacket. And vest. (Never had a shirt.) Along the way from pimp suit to gut and ass crack, though (I kid!), was a fat set of rap, funk and straight-ahead rock. The saxes kept a staccato-yet-smooth deep, dirty grind on top of the rhythm section, which held a steady pocket and provided the ultimate source of the funk.
I wish I could remember the song titles a little better, but it was really a first listen, as well as first show, so I can't offer much of a real song critique. "Mea Culpa" played out as a fitting open. "Dear God," the apparent single, rocked and wouldn't have even been necessary to consider the set solid. What I believe was "Philly Love Song" was a fit crowd and band crossover. The "No War" song really opened up, and I hope to hear it again.
Those who saw the whole Black Landlord set probably dug it as did the rest of the Grimace Federation crowd that filed in near the end of the set. The whole hour was pretty pumping. Still, I think I speak for more than just myself when I say to the Landlord: Please, next time, try to find a better belt.
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