Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How Sweet to Be An Idiot

No, the title of this post has nothing to do with Sarah Palin.
To those who followed the classic British comedy of the early 70's, a guy named Neil Innes was (is) a musical hero who worked with Monty Python and was a member of both The Bonzo Dog (Doo Dah) Band and The Rutles. He appeared last week at Jammin' Java and I popped in to see his one man show, a mix of classic Python numbers like "The Philosophers' Song," Rutles favorites (in a piano medley) and new tunes, some of which were actually more poignant than novelty numbers. I meant to write an in-depth review, but time is tight and I'm off to Toronto Friday morning, so I'll give you some photos and odd bits between.

I recently pulled out a factoid from an UNCUT magazine compendium of rock trivia that fits here and now. There's a popular indie band that took its name a Bonzo Dog Band track. The title of the song – and the band’s name - comes from the lyric: “Death cab for cutie/Someone’s going to make you pay your fare.” So now you know.

“I've suffered for my music,” he famously said once, introducing a song. “Now it's your turn."

The picture above was taken from a song that mocked Elton John, the one below shows Neil leading the crowd in blowing raspberries.

"How Sweet to be an Idiot" was performed at the piano, with duck chapeau.

If you want to see Innes in action, here are the remaining dates on this tour:

Neil was very nice about hanging out after the show and signing all sorts of fan collectibles. I brought a vintage Rutles ad from the Rutland Dirty Weekend Book. (I am not in the habit of destroying my books; the glue had lost its stick'em and the pages were loose.)

And so ended the evening for two "veterans" of Back in The Day. Take that, you young whippersnappers.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Banksy and Beiber and old skool VHS

In Sunday summation, my past few days in music, movies and old skool video:
On Friday, the Hubby and I saw a screening of “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” the new film by British artist/provocateur Banksy. It has been, as Hubby put it, “tickling our minds” ever since. While "Exit..." is presented as straightforward documentary, I have my suspicions; after all, this is Banksy. He appears – a hoodie covering his face and his voice electronically altered – to say that this is the true story of an obsessive videographer who documented the illegal street art scene before becoming the artist known as Mr. Brainwash, but I’m not buying all of it.

My personal theory is that the first half of the film is an accurate depiction of how a Frenchman named Thierry Guettathe became chief chronicler of a scene that included Banksy, Shephard Fairey, Space Invader, Borf and others. But about midway through, when the previously un-artistic videograher begins to create his own, highly derivative pieces for a massive LA exhibition fueled by hype and the name-dropped power of his friends, I began to believe that Mr. Brain Wash is a new Bansky creation and his biggest prank yet on the art community. (In looking up Mr. Brain Wash's real name just now, I see that one reviewer wrote that Sundance viewers were guessing that maybe Spike Jonze actually directed!)

For me, the film might well be a cerebral, art-themed “Spinal Tap.” I’d break it down as 60% true, 40% bullshit and 100% brilliant, moreso if it is, indeed, created from whole cloth (or canvas?). Looking forward to seeing it again when College Girl, a huge Banksy fan, returns from school. In the meantime, be sure to see it and get back to me with your theories.

Risking intellectual whiplash, and the backlash of more discerning (snobbish?) readers, I will now discuss my second favorite cultural event of the week – Justin Beiber on “Saturday Night Live.” There have already been aghast comments on my Facebook page for saying that I muchly enjoyed The Kid. Yes, it's a big switch from making joyful, drunken fun of him at a New Year’s Eve party full of cynical revelers who couldn’t believe this unknown (to us) little pipsqueak was a featured performer.
When the Easter Bunny left a copy of My World 2.0 in my candy basket, it was a joke, inspired by the fact that writing about JB for earned my greatest number of reader hits yet. But by then the scales were already tipping in the teen sensation’s favor. I wrote about the takeover of the Funny or Die site (“Beiber or Die,” along with other April Fools pranks by musicians (Coldplay’s new fragrance, Angst, and the super-deluxe 176 disc reissue of “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” The latter, alas, has been removed from the Backstreets site.)

But The Kid (shall I trademark the nickname?) won me over with his self-mocking display of video diva-dom on FoD and, when I actually listened to the disc during a Wii sports workout (I am the Joan Jett of bowling, Hubby says), I liked its pop smarts. And I’ve since learned that Beiber was not concocted in the test tubes of the Disney music laboratory but earned his first break through YouTube exposure. Good on you, JB.
For a mere 16-year-old who just happens to share my March 1 birthday, Beiber was an MVP on SNL, appearing in skits and doing right by his dual live performances. In the second, during “U Smile, I Smile,” he even ad-libbed a sweet little shout-out to Tina Fey and held his own with my comic heroine in a wildly inappropriate – and all the better for it – teacher/cougar sketch.
So, yeah, I’m on Team Beiber. And all the snotty older white male music critics who would deny my rock credibility as a result can go back to their own ridiculous/childish entertainment choices and KISS my ass.

As for today’s musical adventures, it started innocently enough with the perpetual cleaning of the basement/rec room/media storage facility and the viewing of some vintage VHS tapes. I started with the family home movies, which need to be organized and labeled in hopes of eventual conversion to editable digital video (anyone out there have any good ideas of how to do this at home, cheaply?). Watching them has been a delightful, sometimes moving peek back to the past, complete with adorable children and views of since-departed loved ones. It’s gonna take a long time to get through them all, but I’m looking forward to it.
Along with the family tapes, there’s an unhealthy bunch of music/TV videos – concerts, SNL segments, MTV award shows and other remnants of LBT (life before TiVo) as I recorded things to watch later and then didn’t record over them. I pulled one random tape out to survey as I began typing this, thinking that I could send it off to the Thrift Store after confirming that there wasn’t anything of a personal nature on it. But now I’m having second thoughts.
The first third of the tape consisted of live performances taken from SNL and some MTV show that featured in-studio appearances from the likes of Hole, L7, TMBG, Cracker, Blur and Liz Phair (who pretty much butchered “Supernova"). Then the tape switched to a History channel show on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. At this point, I was fully confident I could toss the tape with no regrets – or offer it to anyone reading this blog who might want to claim it.

Even as the History channel show gave way to some old MTV clips, I didn’t feel any attachment. If I want to see Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” again (how did they get away with that crucifixion imagery back then?!), I could always call it up on online.
But then, after a Beastie Boys clip cut short, I’m looking at Michael Stipe hosting “120 Minutes.”
I used to love that show, the Sunday evening (right?) two-hour block of music that really excited me at the time. Here’s Weezer (“Buddy Holly”) and PJ Harvey (“Man-Sized”), Soul Asylum in a clip with Kevin Smith, Grant Lee Buffalo (like “Heart-Shaped Box,” “Mockingbirds” was directed by Anton Corbijn and is even more bizarre), where-are-they-now stars like James and Luscious Jackson and, of course, vintage R.E.M. Other highlights are Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly” (Wayne Coyne with bright orange hair), a B-52s video I don’t even remember (“Revolution Earth,” looking like MGMT with zebras) and “Supernova” again in its video version, where Phair can sorta hold her notes.
Even with its smattering of people I didn’t relate to (Samiam, Dink, Bad Religion), the show is great fun to see again and Stipe is a host unlike others. Changing his shirt for nearly every new segment, his deadpan intros are initially off-putting, but then he seems to warm slightly to the task, as when he introduces Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” and I remember why he was such a major figure in my life at the time.
Damn. Looks like I can't let go of this one.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

We Get Out - Norah Jones

So, that column I keep asking you to subscribe to doesn't pay worth a damn, but it's always been less about making money than staying in the loop. And, there are the delicious perks - not just the free music, but comp tickets, too. Having done a short piece about Norah Jones' fine album, "The Fall," late last year, I was emboldened (though not necessarily entitled) to ask her publicist if there might be tix available for the concert in DC, Friday night at the 'luxe Warner Theatre.To my pleasant surprise, she sent back a confirmation and the hubby and I were in for a real Friday night date (as, it seemed, were many other couples!) The opening act was Sasha Dobson (seen in the photo below, at right) who sings with a lovely, Jones-like voice and plays guitar, also helping out in NJ's back-up band. Dobson's short set - marked by beautiful contributions by her two sidemen (a graceful guitarist and a pianist/xylophone-ist?) and largely dull songs - sent my head back, eyes closed, as I nestled into the comfy Warner seats and nearly fell asleep. Contrary to what some of her detractors might say, there's nothing sleepy about Norah Jones in concert. She actually spent more of her time onstage playing guitar and, as the songs on the latest album push a little harder and deal with a love gone wrong, there's more bite to her music than you'd suspect. Three songs into her set, she moved to a keyboard to play the delightful "Chasing Pirates" and, awhile later, sat at a piano for some other highlights, including a most moving, "Back to Manhattan" and a reworked "Don't Know Why" that kept things fresh for the players while displaying the melodic hooks the fans wanted to hear.
During the encore, Jones came out with a handful of players, all bearing acoustic instruments, and they huddled around a single mike, looking more like a folk quartet than a jazz or soft rock outfit. It was a charming end to Date Night Friday.