Saturday, December 29, 2007

New England New Year

Very quick, as I'm in the midst of one of those whirlwind trips through Massachusetts. I'm in Waltham now with Sue and Steve, fighting off a cold and getting ready to go visit Beckett, then into Boston/Cambridge for some grub, the Patriots game (S & S are fans, and it's the big final game of what has potential to be the first undefeated season since '72) and a show by Buffalo Tom at TT the Bear's Place. All of which should be fantastic.

Tomorrow I get to see Seattle Amy, whom I almost never get to see. And either tomorrow or Monday it's off to Williamstown for a New Year's party courtesy Sue and Kevin (all these Sues - it gets confusing, I know).

Happy New Year's Weekend, everybody.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

kind of blue

Sometimes, Miles, John, Cannonball, Wynton and Paul are the only ones who can say anything worth listening to.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


The argument over whether uptown or downtown yields better art/entertainment is essentially a pretty boring one: uptown art is reputedly commercial, and crassly so, whereas downtown art is presumed to be edgy and authentic. Or: uptown art is professional, highly skilled and attentive to its audience while the downtown variety is shabby, amateurish and self-absorbed.

As it happens, the cliches are true sometimes, but not all the time (shocking!), and that both good and bad stuff happens in both areas, uptown and downtown having as much to do with attitude as geography, especially since much of what used to be 'downtown' Manhattan has all-but-utterly commercialized and much of the exciting new work is being done in the outer boroughs and (gasp!) New Jersey. Yes, there has always been a bunch of crap happening on Broadway, trite, thoughtless pablum aimed at the lowest imaginable common denominator; but there are also fantastic productions put on by true artists, brilliant playwrights and some of the best acting in the English speaking world. And the downtown scene is full of posers who create intentionally oblique nonsense and couldn't put two coherent thoughts together on a bet; but it also provides some of the most adventurous, exciting and vital work I've ever seen. My personal pet peeves from working in the worlds of conventional and experimental theater extend to the stick-up-the-ass cowardice of some of the decision-makers in the more commercial environments, and the crazy disorganization and overwhelming disregard for people's time in the fringy stuff (ok, ok - maybe an inflated sense of respect for scheduling does smack of the patriarchal, but that whole thing about never starting rehearsal on time gets old. Really.)

This all returns us to the shows I started writing about last week. Rock 'n' Roll was one more example of Tom Stoppard bringing it all back home with a team of top-notch artists at the top of their game. The central trio of Rufus Sewell, Brian Cox and Sinead Cusack are impressive in a way you just don't get to see very often. Damn Brits.

And the play itself is one of those shows that you walk away from smarter than when you walked in that night. Don't know much about the history of Communism in Czechoslovakia? You will. Unclear about the progression of British intellectual thought on the subject of the Party before and after the '68 invasion? Serving of mental Windex, live on stage. Wait a minute, wait a minute: you think those subjects might be boring? The use of rock and pop music to tie the scenes to the culture of the time and place isn't sugar to help it go down; it's a dramatic framework that makes an essential connection between popular expression and political environment. The fact that it's an irresistible musical element is a pretty bitchen bonus though.

Couple quick questions: might the show have benefited from some more truly underground or radical music? Not to take anything away from the Stones, Dylan or Pink Floyd, but I'm guessing there were more radical/less 'classic rock' musical forces at play in Prague, as there surely were in London. The Velvet Underground is a little closer to a counter-cultural phenomenon, and The Plastic People of the Universe certainly fit the bill. Maybe it wouldn't have been worth the time to introduce bands that would have required explanation, but I wonder if this uptown play could have used some more downtown sounds to illustrate its points. And where was the Zappa?! Not only was he important to the London scene, and absolutely integral to the Czech scene, his music spurred the very name of The Plastic People of the Universe, and, with the Velvets, was their most important influence both musically and theatrically. He was barely mentioned in the show, and not one note of his music was used. Why not?

And the mention of that musical artist who below-the-belted his way to a permanent spot in the fringe pantheon brings me back to The Nutcracker: Rated R. What a fun show! Not polished to a shiny gleam, the rough edges were part of the point, kinda like the sharp edge of a broken bottle. The fantasy of a bourgeois girl in this version of the Tchaikovsky ballet takes a turn through pre-Giuliani (and mostly pre-Dinkins) New York of the 80s (or at least someone's version of the 80s). Some creative variations on the music were employed, and the dancing had raw energy that got through to the packed audience.

There was a nasty line in the cold for the box office, in spite of our having bought tix in advance online, that I'd have liked to avoid (ah, the downside of downtown). But I digress. The show was worth the wait, however aggravating. Good primal energy in service of good arty entertainment. The sexuality could have gone farther without crossing any dangerous line (and this show sort of tempts one to cross dangerous lines - at the very least, it advertises itself as 'R-rated' ) but they delved into different dance forms and style choices with exuberant abandon, and made living contact with the audience that, well, that you don't always get.
Not so sure about the pat anti-drug message-y kind of resolution. (Did you know that coke can give you a sense of euphoria and energy to party all night? But that then it might kill you? I know, so did everyone else.) But they had to end it one way or another, and those after-school specials were part of the 80s too. There were some sound problems early on in the performance I saw, which caused the company to stop for repairs and start over, but I actually think the way they handled it was pretty perfect, and if anything juiced the dancers up to give a little extra on this cold and rainy matinee day. Way to have a show ready to weather any storm. Good luck bringing it back next year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


For some reason the photo at the header of my blog is now cut off in a very odd way. Anyone know why? I've played with the layout, and haven't been able to find the way to restore it.


Monday, December 17, 2007

English anyone?

Well, this is the kind of thing I could do a lot more than I do, but it seems borderline unkind...
Today however, the dayjob is sufficiently annoying and crazed, that I will indulge the smug snotty side of myself and share with you a comment included in an email having to do with sales at a particular retail outlet:

They stores we extremely!

This was written by a native English speaker with (I think) a college degree. Even in the world of texting and e-speak, I really can't figure what she is trying to say.

Tee hee!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Weekend Update

After the highs of last week's concerts (which included the two I've already written about, plus a choir concert last Sunday and another YLT show on Monday) came some various lows, but also some more sustained highs with Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention, and Angela Harriel's The Nutcracker: Rated R. Three very different pieces of performance, two On Broadway, one waaaaay Off, each with its pros and cons, but each also with an important spark of life. I'll try to put in more specific thoughts about these sometime soon; that will depend on, well... a bunch of things.

Besides that, I got to go to a really rad party in Dumbo, hosted by a designer I know and a couple people (another designer and an architect, I think) who share a studio with him. It was a good group of people, including some famous and semi-famous personalities, got to meet some interesting folks and I got to see a friend I don't get to see often enough, so that was bitchen. And I got to some other friends' Christmas Carol in Manhattan too. Oh - and some really good Ethiopian food at a place in Hell's Kitchen called Meskerem. Yum!

'Tis most definitely the season.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

President Yo La Tengo

Ok, without wanting to go too deep into nose-rubbing territory, I'd like to rewrite for your amusement a missive I sent some friends up in Boston, regarding one of the best shows I've seen in a long time, courtesy of Hoboken's own...

First of all, let me just say that when I offer you guys tickets to a yo show in the 'boken, don't say no. Especially if it's one of the Hanukkah shows! Unless your own band is booked to play the Garden, you are performing on Broadway, or you're getting married that night, change what plans you have and get your ass over to Jersey. It is so worth it I can barely put it into words...

The opening band on Saturday, Dew Claw, was maybe a little on the 'eh' side, but it was still pretty neat that they featured the original YLT bass player, and also the guy who currently does many of the graphics for Tengo's t-shirts and such. And their own shirts-for-sale were designed by that guy's 9-year old daughter. Which is nice. Plus, they wore flannel pyjamas on stage.

Sarah Vowell was the evening's comedy act, and she was superfun indeed; I have to say, though, she was upstaged by Amy Poehler, who came on in the guise of Ira's Aunt Judith to tell us all about the Kabbalah in the light of a broken Menorah.

The set was amazing. Started in mellow, moody mode. I mean, very very good, just chill. Until... they did 'Mr. Tough', which not only completely rocked, but kick-started the rest of the set, which from then on was a non-stop mess-you-up powerhouse. Included a completely incendiary 'Big Day Coming,' (the raucus 'reprise' vesion, of course) and an orgasmic 'Story of Yo La Tengo.'

And then for the encore, out came Alex Chilton. Yup. Among other songs, they did: Hey! Little Child, the Modern Lovers' Government Center, Velvet Underground's Femme Fatale. I am not even kidding.

This was the kind of show that reminds you why you like music.

And I haven't even mentioned last night's show yet... :-)
Hopefully I can get some photos of that gig from Sherin for the next entry. Whew. My ears are ringing in all the right ways.


Friday I saw a play on the East Side. It was very good; in many ways one of the best new plays I've seen in a while. Interesting ideas, well acted for the most part, well staged and lit, costumes were good, if a bit obvious. But I don't want to write much about it, because there were a couple bad holes that really weakened the whole thing in the last quarter, and I don't like talking shit about my peeps in the theater in a public forum if I can help it.

Afterwards, Beth and I walked down Fifth Avenue through Tourist Christmasland. We didn't do the windowgaze routine full out, but we did check out Bergdorf and Cartier and the star at the intersection of 57th. Gaudily spectacular, natch. And, of course, since we were there, we looked at the tree at Rockefeller (so purple this year!) and passed by the skating rink.

Finally we ended up at what may be my new regular bar on the West Side. I'm definitely not going to write about that, because I don't want it getting around. So many of the great down-to-earth bars are gone now (McHale's, Dave's, Collins) or changed irremediably (McCoy's, Film Center) - when you discover one, or a new one pops up, you have to preserve it.

So then, this entry would be me almost writing about what I did the other night. Oy.

Delusion of the Fury

Holy crap, so much has been going on since the last time I wrote here! Most of it really really good, nigh unto great.

On Thursday, I went with E-beth to see and hear Harry Partch's Delusion of the Fury. Extraordinary, and almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Partch wrote this in I think 1967, it was performed - once - in 1969, and had never been performed since. Until last week, when Dean Drummond's Newband ensemble joined forces with stage director John Jesurun, choreographer Dawn Akemi Saito and a solid group of performers to stage it at the Japan Society. Really fascinating stuff - a musical introduction followed by Act 1, which was drawn from/inspired by a Japanese Noh Drama; then a musical interlude, followed by Act 2, which came from an African comic story.

One of the main reasons that this piece is done so rarely (read - pretty much never) is that it depends on specific instruments of Partch's invention, like these here 'Cloud Chamber Bowls'.

Parch composed in microtones, which you can sort of think of as the 'notes between the notes.' These tend not to exist in Western music, and most Western instruments can't play them (at least not very well). This didn't slow down Harry Partch though - he just invented a bunch of totally rad and innovative instruments that look like they've been pulled from Dr. Seuss stories via a mad scientist's laboratory.

This little guy, for instance, depends on liquor bottles to make its music:

Specific liquor bottles, no less. It's called a Zymo-Xyl, and when Partch was playing around with it in the early stages, he discovered that each brand of whiskey, gin, vodka, etc. has its own specific tone (some of which fall into the microtone category) So ultimately, the specs called for certain empty booze bottles to go in each slot: Tanqueray here, Bacardi there, that kind of thing.

So you need these instruments to do this music, and as far as I know, each and every one is one-of-a-kind. And most of them are big, and i suspect rather fragile, so a bunch of traveling isn't apt to happen. Result: you get to see his music, when at all, in small doses at the Partch Institute in Montclair, New Jersey. The large-scale works, you don't get to see at all.

Except for last week!

I admit, when I was told about this show, I was suspicious, especially since it was a pretty expensive ticket. The whole "Yeah, this looks fun on paper, but am I going to get there and yawn through the whole thing? 'Cause I don't want to be spending my bucks on that for the sake of doing something 'arty' just because it's rare."

But E-Beth talked me into it, and let me tell you, people - I didn't yawn. It was by turns fascinating and exciting and moving and funny. Really really fun. Plus, you know, so far it happens one time in every two generations.

As I see it, this is one of the reasons we live in New York.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Return of Magic 8Pod

What do you foresee for the GRE for Sherin?

Happy Days - McCoy Tyner Trio. Well, gee Sherin, you can't
ask for much better than that. :-)

How about the Yo La Tengo show on Saturday?
Jack-a-Roe - Bob Dylan. Hmmm... this one's trickier. An old English folk balad, it sounds dark and moody, but it ends with triumph over great adversity. Good portent for a benefit concert, I'd say. And - the verse tacked onto the end of the story is amusinglyhopeful.
This couple they got married, so well they did agree
This couple they got married, so why not you and me
Oh, so why not you and me ?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Seems likely that we'll be having some more discussions of politics here from time to time as the '008 U.S. Presidential Election gets nearer.

For the moment, have a look at this viddy dramatizing the 'fairness' of the medium-early Democratic debates. It's more effective if you watch the whole thing (takes about 2 & 1/2 minutes)

Brings to mind George Orwell, no? "All animals are created equal. But some animals are more equal than others."

Yeah, there's more to come on the issue of the 'liberal media' too...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Let it Snow!

Woke up after a blissful sleep in (those are pretty rare these days) to find a snowy Sunday out my window. It's been an up-and-down weekend: Friday was dinner with a Pete, of whom I've seen precious little for too long, followed by drinks with him and Rashmi, followed by the Jazz and Jewels gig benefitting Planned Parenthood with bunches of people - way to go Sherin, Jacqueline, Beth and Michelle!! - followed by more drinks at one of my new favorite bars in the Village. It was one of those evenings that devolved from French Wine to Irish Whiskey to Belgian Beer to a long walk home, thankfully impervious to the cold. So, yeah, yesterday I was moving predictably slowly, but did manage to motivate for dinner with some theater friends I also hadn't seen for a long while, and then pulled off that unlikeliest of feats: the last minute movie date with friends. On a Saturday? In New York?? Unheard of! But there it was - Susan and Daniel live around the corner from where I was, and they didn't have firm plans, so we went to see Michael Clayton. Really good film, guys - catch it before it leaves the theaters if you can. Then went home and watched the second half of Dig! which is the movie about the parallel stories of the bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. If you have any interest in them, or in recent indie rock at all, you'll want to check that out too. Those crazy rock-n-rollers! Got to bed late-ish, but not unreasonably so, and woke up to the Winter Wonderland.

So this morning I went downtown in the season's first proper snowfall to get bagels and other foodstuffs, and have been just hanging around my place with the Sunday New York Times, having coffee and noshing, listening to excellent holiday music and chatting with people on the phone. No laundry will be getting done by me this weekend (unless I blow off that dinner in the East Village, but who wants to be rude?) but it's been nice just having some semi-snowbound solitude. Plus it was a reminder that I should get the actual, physical Sunday Times more often; been too slack on that for too long. Otherwise, I would have missed the article about the Hello Kitty Vibrator. I'm sorry, I mean "shoulder massager." Yeah, it's there in the online version, but no way would I have seen it. And that would have just been a shame. Oh, my!