Senator, you may sing “Bomb Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”. You may pick an unqualified zealot from the hinterlands to be your second. You may have your vicious temper and your flights from reason and your lack of domesticy policy chops combined with flawed positions on foreign policy.
So this was our big brand-name rock show of the year. Terri instigated it (I kind of peaked with Devo sometime in high school), but I figured what the hey.
Tom Tom Club opened. I wasn’t really a fan of their music back in the day and I’m still not. But I really enjoyed their set; they were really pretty solid, and they had a ton of energy and they were just a great dance band. And now that I have gotten a little more of a taste for the NYC post-punk scene, I kind of get their context a little more– they easily could have showed up in Downtown 81 alongside James White and The Blacks or Kid Creole and the Cocoanuts. It was also much harder back when the Talking Heads were still in operation to see them as their own thing, but that is a little more obvious to me now. And the very afro-beat / world music sound of the last Talking Heads record seems less of a David Byrne tangent.
Devo was pretty faithful to their schtick– no big deviations in their stage show from the DVD we have of their 1980 stage show. Pretty similar set list, too. Their yellow hazmat suits are a little wider. But the spirit was still intact, and they had people up and dancing from the start. Some of the little films that they projected were clearly vintage Devo, but seemed like they might have been re-dubbed. And for the last song, Boojie Boy came out wearing some kind of frock and a pink baseball cap with a rhinestone skull-and-crossbones on it; during his nonsensical diatrabe I could sense the mood in the place was patient, but there was just a touch of “um, maybe you could take that stupid mask off and play Whip It again?”, but I think it was probably my favorite part of the set. And you know, it really is something to see the little film of them from 1981 in their Duty Now for the Future outfits with the wind in their hair, projected 30 feet high, with the Devo Corporate Anthem playing, with a few thousand other people in a place called the “Bank of America Pavillion” drinking a fluorescent green “margarita” from a slushee machine on a summer night. Mmmmm. Devolution.
Decent Slate piece on space imagery in African American pop, from Sun Ra to Lil Wayne. Could be expanded to be a whole thesis!
And they’re doing it in dialect!
“Heroes” was famously made in Hansa Studio 2, shadowed by the Berlin Wall and once used as a Gestapo ballroom, while Bowie grappled with smack addiction, “living at the edge of his nervous system,” in Eno’s words. But the latter’s talent for relaxing fragile superstars with creative play was already apparent. “We slipped into Peter Cook and Dudley Moore characters,” he recalled. “Bowie was Pete and I was Dud, and for the whole time we stayed in character. ‘Ooh, I dunno about that synthesiser part, Dud…’”
Sorely disappointed in the TMBG show tonight.
I guess you can’t go home again.
I tried to make sure it wasn’t just me being all jacked up and trying to hold them up to what they meant to me when I was 16. But no, I just didn’t see the guys born of some wacky DIY art scene Brooklyn of 1986. it was very much the ZZ Top vibe you mentioned, Marco. It was all rock, with a full band, none of the feeling of “holy crap, what are these guys going to do next”.
And I felt like I was bumming out the dorky girl standing next to me who seemed super excited to be there and was doing some dance that was a cross between playing the air keyboard and flailing like a beached squid.
I walked out during “Birdhouse in your soul”, and waited for Terri and Doug in the upstairs lobby, trying to figure out if it was the 2nd or 3rd worst show ever. (1st was the Godspeed You Black Emperor show we saw at the Somerville Theater in Feb 2001, 2nd or 3rd was the Screeching Weasel show in Bloomington IN that I fell asleep at in 1995 or so).
I sort of wish that the economics of pop music were such that they could just stop touring, like the Beatles or Glenn Gould in 1964, and just make brilliant studio music and sell it to millions. This may be the last time you ever hear me lament the heyday of recorded music, but there you go.
At one point I had seen They Might Be Giants more than any other band. Since then, that record was beaten first by Sterolab, then Yo La Tengo, then Interpol (though let’s face it, Dubs was the mastermind behind the latter, not that they are not a fine, competent, entertaining band, just that without her I perhaps might not have seen then 8 times in a year).
Anyway, it’s been 12 years since my last TMBG show (which was either at the College of Wooster in Ohio (Pere Ubu opened) or at Depauw University (Brian Dewan opened)). Tomorrow (well, tonight technically) I break the hiatus at the show at the Somerville Theater. It’s been a long time, but it doesn’t seem like it. While I haven’t thought about them much in the last decade, if I’m honest, both my worldview (which can shift from despairing nihilism to giddy levity within the space of seconds), and my sense of aesthetics are both but ripples flowing out from the grenade they dropped in the placid pond of my 15 year old brain.
Some links to get you in the mood. First, you must go here. You must watch the John Hodgman intro. You must watch Charlottesville (especially, especially if your name is John Sayles). You must watch one or two more. If you are from Pittsburgh you must watch the one about Mr. Smalls. And then, my friend, you must watch Dallas (also especially if you are John Sayles, because if you are, you will appreciate how frighteningly much it sounds like…)
Today I didn’t do a bunch of things I set out to do, and I ended up doing a lot of things I thought I wouldn’t do.
Well, truth be told, I did end up doing a lot of things I really did need to do (got the IP phones working @ work, did a walkthrough of the new site with one real live actual user. I also had dinner w/Terri@ the Middle East, and then, did some RPP work (got the cards I promised Nora printed [hmmmmmm... what did Nora order from me? Inquiring minds want to know, but I can't say... yet...]))
Because of all of this action, I fully thought I was going to blow off the Sons and Daughters show at the Middle East (a Monday show– urgh, I’m old!). But I managed to wrap up the Nora printing project early, and through the magic that is California wash, cleanup now takes 15 minutes instead of an hour. So I decided, I had a ticket, why not? The very fact that it was a Monday show sort of suggested that it would be a pretty laid back affair where I could have a beer or two and maybe even sit down if necessary.
So I drove over, and made it to the show at about 11:15, about a song or two in. The celebrity math on Sons and Daughters is (refinements encouraged):
X 2 [that’s X, the LA punk band, not the algebraic x] * Camera Obscura) + ( (Johnny Cash + The Clash)/2) + (The Jam * .25) + (Yma Sumac’s whip & eyeliner / Avogadro’s number).
The guitarist had great hair. Terri bought a CD from him.
*once again, credit where it’s due, “The Merry Old Land Of Ez” is yet another Terri coinage, following yesterday’s posts/discussion re: the Wizard of Oz
The movie starts with opening credits over scenes of sky and clouds, and a Debbie Harry voice-over. Then, a charming 19-year-old Jean-Michel Basquiat is in the hospital; he is released, the swooning nurses wave and giggle. Basquiat walks downtown, past the Guggenheim, through Times Square (of 1981), past the Empire State Building, into the Lower East Side (of 1981). He gets kicked out of his apartment, falls in love with a model driving a convertible, he says “I’m off to BE the wizard”, he walks into an underground club where— mid-morning— a rapper and DJ are kicking out out the beats to ten or so dancing patrons, he buys and smokes a joint, jokes around with Fab 5 Freddie, he says “in this town you have to think big just to survive”, he walks past several instances of his own grafitti, he tries to sell a painting, he sees all his band’s gear stolen, he tags some buildings, he talks his way into a limo, into several clubs, he kisses Debbie Harry, finds a fortune, buys a car, and drives until dawn. Interspersed are performances from various post-punk bands of the day: Tuxedomoon, DNA, The Plastics, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and James White and the Blacks.
It’s Downtown 81, a movie originally called “New York Beat Movie”, shot in 1981, thought lost, but rediscovered and released in 2000. The soundtrack was sort of destroyed, so all vocals were re-dubbed (Basquiat’s lines spoken by someone else, naturally; when we were watching, props to Terri for noticing how weird the voice sync was, and wondering if it had all been overdubbed, Fellini-style— she turned out to be correct). I went to see it at the Brattle with Matt Shaw back in the day, and recently, with Terri’s new interest in Tuxedomoon (my God, is “Luther Blissett” a great song, ) ordered it from Netflix. The plot is super hokey (I’ve got to find the girl/sell my painting to pay my landlord/recover the gear stolen by a rival band!), and much of the dialogue is atrocious. But it’s such a great slice of NYC in 1981, Basquiat is so smooth, and New York looks so totally beat, it makes you want to cry for a time when every square centimeter of Manhattan wasn’t overrun by hedge fund managers and their ilk (though perhaps that may be changing in a hurry, if last week turns out to be a harbinger of a sudden change in the economics of NYC and consequently its real estate).
We originally had tix to see Tilly and the Wall at the Middle East tonight, but decided not to go. Instead, we followed up Downtown 81 with The Wizard of Oz on TCM. How interesting to watch it as an adult. It’s so iconic; there is hours of entertainment in just trying to separate the icon from what’s actually there, whatever being actually there menas.
The Brattle used to have a contest where the winner got to pick out a double feature. Terri and I have batted about the merits of various pairings, and one that we keep coming back to (and props to Terri for originally thinking of it originally, I think) is a pairing of The Great Ziegfeld and The Wizard of Oz. Several cast members of the Wizard of Oz are Ziegfeld Follies alumni, namely Ray Bolger and Billie Burke (a.k.a. Mrs. Florenz Ziegfeld). Frank Morgan (a.k.a. the man behind the curtain) is in both films. And both have ridiculously over the top production numbers, sets, and cinematography. The Great Ziegfeld doesn’t have any flying monkeys, but then again, The Wizard of Oz doesn’t have William Powell and Myrna Loy.
Yet another perceptive note on Terri’s part (Terri, if I trusted you to blog every brilliant thing you said, I would just be letting you blog this yourself!): the black and white bit of the Wizard of Oz? If you look closely, it’s actually not really black and white. It’s sepia-toned. Some hardcore technically-oriented film geek probably knows the answer to this, but I wonder if it always this way, or if it has something to do with its conversion for color TV or if it was converted to all color film at some point after color was more common. Regardless of why, the effect is that the scenes in Kansas seem more bland than the sharp, classic look of true black and white; it seems more like nostalgia, like an idealized memory of farming America, or an idealized memory of home.
There has also been a WONDERFUL promo of John Waters running on TCM lately, talking about why Dorothy is insane for wanting to get back to Kansas. It’s not on YouTube, but there is a slightly longer version available on the TCM website that is well worth the minute or two of your life it takes to watch it! Go now! I don’t care if you’re at work! Money quote:
I’m the only child in the audience who wondered why she ever wanted to go back to Kansas. Why would she want to go back to Kansas in the this dreary black and white farm with this aunt who dressed badly and seemed mean to me, when she could live with magic shoes, winged monkeys, and gay lions?? I never understood it.
And for some bonus random connections, Waters talks much about Margaret Hamilton, whom Warhol did several portraits of in the 80′s, around the time he was collaborating with Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Debbie Harry was in John Water’s Hairspray.
I had a great time at the St. Vincent et. al. show at the Middle East downstairs last night. Terri already wrote it up, and I pretty much agree with assessment of the evening’s acts. I figured St. Vincent was going to be great, and they delivered.
But the big surprise for me was the opening act, Basia Bulat (and her band deserves some credit too because they were pretty great). It’s a little more straight up poppy and less edgy than the stuff than I usually go for (one of her songs was apparently used in a VW commercial, which I guess isn’t as bad as it sounds since some all-time-favorites have been in VW commercials). But her songs were solid, and they just radiated such youthful optimism that it was pretty hard to not like her and the band: they just looked so excited to be on stage and playing their music, and they just kept smiling. She had me at the first song; this tiny person goes out and starts singing a capella with this huge voice and instantly won over all the too-cool-for-school hipsters at the middle east.
And the autoharp, featured in about half the songs, is charming. Here’s some video I shot (again, with Terri in rock photographer mode, we got there early and stuck to the front, hence the awesome vantage point for said video).
Oh, and there’s an actual video for that song, with infinitely better sound quality, at the Basia Bulat site.