Monday, April 28, 2008

Time Machine

If MySpace or Facebook had existed 10 years ago I would, without a doubt, had Portishead as one my favorite bands. So today, when I got my grubby impatient hands, on the new P album, Third, it was like the 10 long year's I'd waited hadn't existed.

Sure, a lot of bands that warmed my teenage, high school heart aren't so great these days. And there's always the fear of being that aging hipster who is still so enamoured with the good old days that it's easy to get lost in nostalgia.

There was nostalgia for a few minutes. Thoughts of the old t-shirt that was tossed out in a post-college clearing out. Of driving around past curfew with friends that have long since disappeared. But then I thought of the Smashing Pumpkins--another love back in the day. When the Pumpkins--well Billy Corgan--put out an album last year I listened to it. Once. And I never thought of it again.

Third is different. It picks up where the band left off, but doesn't imitate what made them so good the first time around. The instruments are clearer and deeper, whereas in the past they rang out with pain. Now they simply moan with it. Singer Beth Gibbons' voice stronger and more assured. The cigarettes she smoked during the taping of the live album so many years ago aging and deepening her vocal chords to new levels of emotional sexiness.

But what of a band that helped spawn a genre--trip-hop--and remained, really, only one of two popular, and good, bands of that genre. How do they go back to what they've been doing and reinvent it without bringing back the 1990's that we're all better leaving behind--well, all of us but the record industry.

First: Speed things up. Throw in some beats that are a hell of a lot faster than anything you've done before.
Second: Start the album out with some Spanish alongside the signature James Bond-groove and bust out a killer dance track for what's just about a full song length before letting your singer break in. (This should detract anyone from saying that it's Gibbons alone that makes this sound like Portishead. It sounds like them--just really fast. And the Spanish is the only indication that the vinyl is a 45, not a 33.)
Three: Cowbell, '90s Portishead probably wouldn't have used it, or would at least have distorted it so much that no one would know what it is.
Four: Toss in a cheerful little doo-wop ditty. It'll confuse the hell out of everyone.
Five: End a track abruptly in the middle of a groove that has bodies moving and go immediately into a guitar-driven whisper-like dream.

Somehow these subtle changes help cheer up the sound of the most gloom-poppy band on the planet, but not enough that they're going to be skipping through fields of daisies anytime soon.

Yes, the nostalgia is there, but the decade long wait has been so long that all expectations, at this point, are a distant memory and the album stands on its own as a much needed touch of class to an indie scene that's trying just to damn hard to be this complex, this all over the map and, frankly, this simple.

Ground Control to Major West

I reached a few conclusions after the Kanye West Glow in the Dark show at Journal Pavillion Saturday (April 26) show:

1. Kanye West may not be the "greatest star in the universe" as hyped during the show, but he comes close.
2. The end of April is too cold for an outdoor show (and I've got the cold induced by freezing for five hours to prove it).
3. There is way too much alcohol for sale at the Pavillion.

First off, I don't want to neglect mentioning that openers Lupe Fiasco and N.E.R.D. were phenomenal. Interestingly, although Fiasco went first, he was, clearly, much better known to the crowd than N.E.R.D. and got lots of back-up vocalizing from the way hyped crowd as he ticked off Hip Hop Saved My Life and Superstar. N.E.R.D. also was a crowd-pleaser, particularly when Pharrell Williams brought up a very authentic-looking group of ABQ-area ladies for a song whose lyrics seemed to consist of, mostly: "I want to fuck tonight/I feel horny." (Although he did bleep out the F-word, so maybe I just have a dirty mind. Not). I was particularly happy to hear Rock Star, a song I can no longer play in the car because I have gotten two speeding tickets from playing it while driving. It just kind of makes you want to lean on the gas.
But folks were there for Kanye and he delivered. Unlike many rappers who sound like ass outside the studio, West was high energy and his rapping was flawless. The theme to the show was, um, Kanye alone in the universe. His spaceship has become lost in space and he can only communicate with its computer (named "Jane"). I'm sure I'm not the only person who was thinking, wow, how David Bowie is that? Or, well, maybe I was, given that the average age at the show was about 20 and the average blood-alcohol level about four times the legal limit. Still, the technical aspects of the production made it an out-of-the-ordinary experience for a hip-hop show and if it had a little bit of a geek-meets-megalamania flavor to, so be it. Kanye's sing-along version of Good Life was particularly intense and brought the house down. Gold Digger also was a great one, and worth noting that West bleeped out the N word while singing. But not the F word on other occasions. I should have some theory for the selective self-censorship, but I don't.

2. It was freaking freezing outside, which was good for sales of Fiasco's hoodies, but not so good for those of us not in the mood to chalk over many bills to keep from catching pneumonia. Achew. I can't begin to imagine how the many girls wearing almost no clothing managed to survive. Unless, somehow, drinking a lot keeps one from feeling the cold.

3. Speaking of which, before the show even began, I witnessed young-looking girls throwing up in the bathroom and banging, drunkenly, into one another everywhere I looked. It's beyond me how the Pavillion can sell SO MUCH booze at a venue that you've got to drive in and out of. I mean Jaeger Meister shots? Also, one can drink anywhere (there are no designated drinking areas so popular at Santa Fe events), so any kind of control over minors having access to liquor is zilch, from what I could tell. I hate to sound super old or super Santa Feish, but the whole thing seemed like a DWI waiting to happen. Also, a coffee stand wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.

At any rate, I'm glad I went!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Seconds of Cinema

180 seconds sounds like a decent amount of time to tell a story. Certainly that's longer than even the longest of jokes. But three minutes, ouch, that's quick. So call it 180 seconds or call it three minutes, whatever you call it people get creative with a small amount of time.

Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff and I had the opportunity to be judges for the Santa Fe Reporter Three Minute Film Festival, which debuted at The Screen last Friday night at a big awards ceremony/party.

But the question everyone has been asking: Who won?

Before I answer that, I've got to give props to all the filmmakers. Movies came in from all over the world and they were great. Some were glorified you tube videos--and they were hilarious--and some were super arty student films. It was a pleasure to watch them, short and sweet and with a lot of thought and love. Damn there are some creative brains out there.

And the winners are:
Best Performance: Meow Wolf for Mega City
Best Comedy: Seth Cohen for One Man Two Cars
Best Animation: Boundary of Moab by Aaron Barreras
Jury Award: Potage de ma Mere by Leonard E. Hoffman
Audience Award: Sole Soul Sol by Benjamin R. Nathan
Best Film: Things She Would Tell Me by Miryam Welbourne

Yeah! And before anyone else asks, no, I don't know who from Meow Wolf's Mega City got the group the best performance nod, Meow Wolf is a collaborative effort so they all did. And their cardboard city was awesome!

So there you go, this is movie making people. Get thinking about next year. Three minutes is a really long time, but it's just around the corner.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Music As Lover

For the second time in as many years the super weird and wonderful Xiu Xiu hit up the "stage" at CSF's SUB. "Stage" because the tiny riser in the corner of the student union building doesn't really put the band anywhere above the audience--though the music puts the band miles away.
For a Monday night the turnout wasn't bad. Why these shows are being held in what is really a cafeteria rather than one of the fine performance spaces on campus is a little confusing, but fuck it. That just makes it all the more punk rock.
Xiu Xiu is one of those bands that I tell people about and expect about 1/3 of them to react positively. It's not easy to listen to or to get. Singer Jamie Stewart throws himself head first into lyrics that are both difficult to unravel and a little hard to understand. He screams and sings his way through his tunes with an enthusiasm that has got to be hard to match night after night.
About half way through all the screaming took its toll on the singer who just about passed out during the set. Having met Stewart last year during the band's CSF performance I know that he's an adamant vegan but I imagine most people thought he was drunk. Two glasses filled with what looked like apple juice or green tea sat in front of him. He certainly looked like he was a little tipsy when he just sat down on the stage and took a breather. But, like a good rock star Stewart jumped right up and kept at it.
Xiu Xiu isn't a band that I'd recommend to just anyone and I'd certainly not have a live performance be a person's first contact. Xiu Xiu's albums are well produced, somewhat dancey and carefully perfected; live the band has a much bigger rock feel, with guitars and drums overtaking the sounds of keyboards and bass.
Ches Smith, Xiu Xiu's drummer, is unbelievably good and has quite a track record himself, playing with the underground artist Carla Bozulich as well as avant garde jazz guru John Zorn. Smith was a little more laid back, as was most of the band, during this performance than last, but still a very solid show.
As you can see if you check out blogger and New Mexican writer Steve Terrell's blog you'll see that he and I were taking pictures from nearly the same vantage point. I'm not sure why the older folks nudged out the college kids on this one but there you have it. The music critics were all about blowing out our ear drums for this one.
I'd travel hours to see this band, so the fact that they've played in Santa Fe to such small crowds seems unbelievable to me. I'd still like to see them on an actual stage, far above their audience, but the intimacy that's created in such a small atmosphere is perfect for a music lover who wants to try to figure out why the dance grooves are coming from the guitars and the feedback is coming from the keyboard.