30 April 2007

My Parents Gave Me Life, But Bill Watterson Gave Me Trees

Bright Eyes at the Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre 28 April 2007

First of all, Pitchfork, we get it. Conor Oberst now has long hair. He's 27 now, and decided to try a different haircut then he's had since he was a teenager. Big deal. Saturday's show at the Buell Theatre as well as Cassadaga have now definitively proved that Mr. Oberst has grown up, both musically and personally. Gone is the definitive haircut, gone is the quavering, shouting, pleading voice, gone is the crazy onstage behaviour (well, not quite, more on that later). The only problem is that this new adult Conor Oberst means that the music and the show suffer.

The show started off extremely well, the band took the stage to the beginning of "Clairaudients (Kill or be Killed)" with all thirteen (13!) people looking resplendent in white, then proceeded to play the songs very well while the screen behind them showed various random things the fellow in the back was putting in front of the camera, in this case different shades of blue and a picture of a bird. Of particular note during this song, and the entire show were the two female drummers, including former Decemberist Rachel Blumberg, who together slayed the crowd with precisely choreographed dual drumming. The rest of the show consisted of mostly Cassadaga tracks, with only 5 of the extremely short 15 song set not from this album, and only one from before 2005.

Incidentally, this older song ("False Advertising" from 2002's masterpiece Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground was the highlight of the set. During this song, the guy in the back running the screen started out by drawing straight lines on an Etch-A-Sketch, up until the pre-bridge ("Now all that anyone's listening for are the mistakes"), whereinupon he commenced drawing various curves and scribbles, creating a really cool effect. The screen gimmick ranged from the neutral (blue backgrounds), to the distracting (marker scribbling), to the cliche (picking the petals off of a flower during "Make a Plan to Love Me"), to the sublime (the aforementioned Etch-A-Sketch), but was overall a bit detracting from the show. This screen, rather than masking his apprehension, was just part of the show during which Mr. Oberst was much more confident.

Conor was also much, much nicer than the last time I saw him. During that October 2005 show, he seemed much more withdrawn, drank around 5 PBR's, and played probably the best encore I've seen, "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and To Be Loved)", again from Lifted.... During this show, he frequently said "thank you's," told us we were the nicest crowd they'd had all tour, drank only one Rolling Rock, and told the high-schoolers that had skipped Prom to come that that was the sweetest thing he'd ever heard before later making fun of them, much to mine and the older crowd's delight. (Coincidentally enough, I was all set to skip my junior Prom to see Bright Eyes, although first of all, I was forced to eventually go (damn royalty nomination), and second of all, I wouldn't have been annoying as hell during set breaks).

There was, however, something nagging me during the whole show, (and when I listen to Cassadaga) that I couldn't put my finger on, up until right before the closer. At that point, Conor introduced the song ("Road to Joy" from I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning) by saying that they used to be a political band, but were now a hippie band. This pretty much put it into perspective for me. Bright Eyes used to be the vehicle of only Conor Oberst. He was a teenaged/early twenties kid singing about intensely personally things such as substance abuse, depression, and miserably failed romance, and when he wasn't doing that, he was writing phenomenal political songs, (see "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and To Be Loved)", "When the President Talks to God", anything by Desaparecidos). Now he's (relatively) clean, more universal in his lyrics, and unfortunately for us, more together. His show was incredibly professional, but that was the problem. The band sounded great playing the new songs professionally and capably, but it wasn't until "False Advertising" and the last song that they, or he, showed any passion. These showed how much I missed the old Bright Eyes, and the way that what he wrote was so easy for me to relate to (except for the substance abuse). Perhaps he said it best himself: "I could have been a famous singer, if I'd had someone else's voice. But failure's always sounded better. Let's fuck it up, boys, make some noise." And indeed, it did sound better, with walls of feedback, Conor running around the stage, dissonant strings from the orchestra, drumset kicking, and even some guy running onstage knocking over the mic stand, which forced Conor to sing the final verse while a roadie held the mic. For that song, the old Bright Eyes was back, imperfect, loud, and mad as hell about the leadership of this country and the war in Iraq.

Disclaimer: Although it may not sound like it, I do still like Cassadaga; it's just not absolutely breathtaking. It is still my second favorite album this year, behind the phenomenal, buy-this-immediately Neon Bible by the Arcade Fire. And I do still really like the new Bright Eyes, they are just not as impactful to me as the old Bright Eyes was/is.

Here are two songs that made me wish that Conor Oberst was still a political singer:
"Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and To Be Loved)" from Lifted...
"The Happiest Place on Earth" from Desaparecidos' Read Music/Speak Spanish

And here is the setlist.
Clairaudients (Kill Or Be Killed)
Hot Knives
If The Brakeman Turns My Way
False Advertising
Four Winds
Make A Plan To Love Me
Soul Singer In A Session Band
Gold Mine Gutted
Lime Tree
Cleanse Song
I Believe In Symmetry

First Day Of My Life
No One Would Riot For Less
Road To Joy

28 April 2007

Dave, You're Going Nuts.

Dialogue with a Homeless Man:
Me: Hey, here's some change.
Him: No thanks. I don't really need it.
Me: Really?
Him: Yeah.
Me: Well, take it anyway. You need it more than I do.
Him: No.
Me: Take it. At least buy yourself a new pair of gloves.
Him: I don't really need any gloves. You can have mine if you want.
Me: Why would I want your gloves? They don't even have fingertips any more.
Him: Shoot.
Me: What?
Him: You know what, I've go to go.
Me: What?
Him: I've got to go to the bank.
Me: Why do you need to go to the bank?
Him: I need to check my account balance.
Me: Just take the money, already.
Him: You don't understand.
Me: Understand what? That you're nuts?
Him: No. This gypsy cursed me once.
Me: And that's why you're homeless.
Him: I guess, in a manner of speaking.
Me: A gypsy cursed you and now you're homeless.
Him: She made me immortal. I put all my money in a high-yield savings account and went out to the streets. 5.04%APY.
Me: I've got to go.
Him: You want me to prove it? Here, I'll jump the roof of this building. It's like, what, a hundred feet?
Me: No, please, I really just want to go now.
Him: It'll just take a minute. Only a minute, come on.
Me: Ugh.
Him: Ok, hold on a second.
Me: ...
Him: You see me?
Me: Yeah. You really don't have to do this. I believe you already. Just come back down here.
Him: Ready?
Me: Just come down.
Him: Here goes!
Me: Wow.
Him: Pretty cool, huh?
Me: I must be going insane.
Him: You're not. At least not like Dave.
Me: Yeah, Dave.
Dave: Shut up, you guys.

26 April 2007

Rock it Like Old Times

Let's rock it like old times. Take me home to my friends and we'll all spend the night together.

25 April 2007

This Sh!t Just Got Real

So I am a bit late on this review, (I wanted a chance for it to sink in, and also saw it again), but better late than never. We here at I Always Wanted To Be A Tenenbaum cannot get enough of the genius of Messrs. Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost. These are the geniuses behind 2004's brilliant, cult new classic Shaun of the Dead (although if you are the sort of person drawn to the erudite, witty writings and well-made drawings that are our staple, and you are adventurous enough to delve deep into Internet to find them, then you are most likely pretty swell and you probably already knew that).

I, for one, never thought that they (nor anyone else for that matter) could touch the slick editing, brilliant timing, and extremely well-executed injokes and riffing that Shaun of the Dead was rife with. Well, sirs and madams, I was proved wrong. Hot Fuzz surpassed all of my expectations, which were frankly quite high. This movie manages to capture all of the things that make action movies action movies and take them to such a ridiculous degree that they become sublime. Mr. Pegg is perfect in his first foray from playing slackers (See Shaun, Spaced's Tim Bisley) and brings the right amount of seriousness to his portrayal of supercop Nicholas Angel. Certainly there are large traces of Shaun's lovably clueless best friend Ed in Nick Frost's Danny Butterman, but really, does anyone mind? Completing the crew is the similarly great directing of Edgar Wright. This time he overdoes his signature quick-editing style to mirror the new crop of action directors (and with a reported 1,700 shots and 6,500 edits, we're talking extremely slick and quick). There are also enough cameos of British comedians to keep any observant fan of good comedy happy, including the always hilarious Stephen Merchant as the owner of a mischievous swan. Also watch for Peter Jackson as a particularly stabby Father Christmas. I don't want to ruin any of the jokes by giving them away here, but please just go see for yourself. I, being the Anglophile I am, may be a little biased, but suffice it to say, Hot Fuzz is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. I am not the sort of person that exaggerates a lot, ("like OMG, that was like the funniest thing ever, lolzz" equals "shoot me now"), but I will repeat it: Hot Fuzz is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. Do yourself a favor and rush out to see this immediately.

Hot Fuzz Official Site

Hot Fuzz Metacritic (see compiled reviews)

23 April 2007


22 April 2007

Out the ears

The Imaginary Foundation inspired me to sketch this a month ago. I encourage you to check out their wonderful t-shirts. I am the proud owner of their 'Birdman' tee.

Imaginary Foundation

13 April 2007

Bluebird Singing in the Dead of Night

(c) 4.13.07 Ian Smith

Emotion is the source of reason. Epistemology is overrated.


Cute-Core Music:
Shelby Sifers
(I would also add our good buddy Jacob Borshard to this category).

12 April 2007

So It Goes

Yesterday, April 11, 2007, America lost one of its most distinct and darkly satirical literary voices. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was a journalist, author, playwright, sometime teacher, essayist, and social critic. I personally find him to be the most unique writer I have encountered. I first came upon Mr. Vonnegut when reading his short story "Harrison Bergeron". I was immediately hooked and proceeded to read nearly all of his work, starting with the wildly inventive masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five, and continuing on through my personal favorites Cat's Cradle and Bluebeard, to Breakfast of Champions, Deadeye Dick, Sirens of Titan, the short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House, and even the lesser known God Bless You Mr. Rosewater and Galapagos. In honor of the passing of my favorite author, I present my top 5 Kurt Vonnegut works.

1. Bluebeard (1987)- The fictional autobiography of Abstract Expressionist painter Rabo Karabekian. This isn't known as the best Vonnegut work, but it is my favorite. It is also the reason I can appreciate Jackson Pollack (No it was not Mr. Haller).
2. Cat's Cradle (1963)- A (sort of) apocalyptic novel that introduces Vonnegut made-up religion Bokononism. Incidentally, in 1971 the University of Chicago awarded Vonnegut his Master's degree in anthropology, accepting Cat's Cradle as his thesis.
3. Breakfast of Champions (1973)- The story of Pontiac dealer Dwayne Hoover and recurring character, science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout. This work includes Kurt Vonnegut as a character himself, and weaves through convoluted narrative the story of one man going insane due to his "bad chemicals."
4. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)- The story of Billy Pilgrim, his presence during the allied bombing of Dresden, and his journey through time to the planet of Tralfamadore. This work explores Vonnegut's own experience in Dresden.
5. Welcome to the Monkey House (1968)- This collection of short stories features such standouts as "Harrison Bergeron," "Report on the Barnhouse Effect," and "The Euphio Question."

All told, Mr. Vonnegut produced a staggering body of work that spans six decades and features more than one contender for the great American satire.

Lastly, here is Mr. Vonnegut being interviewed by Mr. Stewart on The Daily Show, from 2005.

01 April 2007

You Sparkle Like Our Filthy City

I noticed something really strange recently when I was checking out my Last.FM profile. While perusing the top overall artists section, I noticed an aberration. Certainly the first two are no surprise to me; Bright Eyes is the unquestionable numero uno, and for some odd reason, I find listening to The Crane Wife to be extremely comforting while riding my bicycle to class (explaining the number two rating for The Decemberists), yet sitting there in number three was this man. I knew that I'd been listening to a lot of him recently, I have had "You're In Love Again" stuck in my head more times than I can count in the past few weeks, and "Grass Stains" is pure joy to listen to (as well as quite a lot of fun to watch), yet this still was a surprise to me at first. Where were the Ben Kwellers and the and the Sufjan Stevens' and the Arcade Fires'?

The answer is that considering that my profile reflects my listening from late January on, they are right where they should be. Granted, with enough time, such kicks will be neutralized, and the charts will reflect everything accurately, but when that does happen, Jacob Borshard won't be left in the dust. He is legitimately making a case to be included in my top 10 at least. This is a case where the sum of the music is much much greater than the sum of the parts: in this case, a beautiful tenor and a ukulele.

Mr. Borshard manages to write bedroom pop in the vein of a less orchestral Stuart Murdoch, or a poppier Ben + Vesper, yet despite the somewhat twee sound, he backs it up lyrically too. Phrases like "I know the black of your dress like the back of your neck" from "For Karina" invoke gorgeous imagery and beauty in even the most callous listeners, and the titular "You're in love again, and I've never seen you look so pretty, you sparkle like our filthy city" from the previous "You're In Love Again" just capture my imagination and tug at the old heartstrings. Best of all, however is that both of his albums, 2004's "Songs for a Small Stereo", and 2006's "The Last Brontosaurus" are available as free downloads from his website.

On the Moon/On the Move/Desolate

Abe-Kido and Other Games

Brandon Bird's illustrations are farcical interpretations of cultural mainstays. His sense of humor is unique with a fair measure of cultural criticism; I think his work characterizes April 1st (except without the fooling part). I think I would compare the overall effect of his humor with that of Heath Robinson or David Shrigley. The imagery of his work resembles any of the advertisements done by one of my heroes, Norman Rockwell.

I think his illustrations would translate nicely into street art, and especially t-shirts.

Brandon Bird
William Heath Robinson
David Shrigley
Norman Rockwell

I am planning a trip to London. So far I have the airfare to $401. More on that later.