Sunday, September 30, 2007

Babel Article

[Paragraph 1] Babel begins in a small mountainous village somewhere in Morocco. We see a man enthusiastically selling a high-powered rifle to Abdullah (Mustapha Rachidi) a goat herder, who then hands the gun to his two young sons Ahmed (Said Tarchani) and Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) with the instructions to shoot at jackals. The two boys take turns shooting the gun, finding much entertainment in a land where we see there is none. The boys shoot the gun skimming rocks, realizing this isn’t exciting enough; they single out a tour bus, aim, and shoot. The tour bus shakes and shutters to a stop. We are anxious to see who inside the bus is the victim. But then, instantaneously, the scene changes from rocky stark land, to the interior of a well designed home, where a middle-aged Mexican woman, Amelia (Adriana Barraza) feeds breakfast to two small white children (Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble). We are confronted with a new story, spliced into the action of the first story even before we have a chance to digest what just happened.
[Paragraph 2] Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu in collaboration with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, have toyed with the use of this stylish genre, which, for the purpose of this review, I will call ensemble drama. This technique uses multiple stories woven together, to create a larger concept. Most memorably was their usage in the movies’ “Amores Perros,” (2000) and then again in, “21 Grams” (2003). But their newest movie, “Babel,” uses this technique, but is less successful forming a cohesion structure, causing it to be difficult to comprehend how the stories are related. This makes it virtually impossible to fully grasp Iñárritu’s message on the universality of human suffering.
[Paragraph 3] Babel is a well-made catastrophe because it does not follow what I understand to be the rules used to create an ensemble drama, which in short is just finding a way to connect the stories together. Only through speculation we understand that all the characters suffer thus making this the theme of the movie. In order for this movie to have worked in a way that we understand why we are watching these four stories the characters must be linked together through its formation. This should be done through any of these three ways: 1.Characters must be linked together through each of the story. 2. Through an accident, which introduces a character from one story to another character in a different story. 3. Connecting a scene where a character enters into another scene in a story that is revealed later in the movie. What ever the link might be there must be some cinematic connection shared in all of the stories.
[Paragraph 4] Though the movie lacks the kind of clear cinematic connection that is needed in this type of genre, it does show us that through the theme of the stories suffering happens to all mankind no matter what class, race, or age. We see this through his many portrayals of grief whether it is caused by isolation, death, or coming of age. There are many variations of pain in this movie seen through the hardships of the main characters. In the story about the Southern Californian couple, Richard, (Brad Pitt) the stoic husband makes no successful effort to heal his wife Susan (Cate Blanchatt), who is grieving over their infant son’s death of SIDS other than taking her to Morocco to be alone. Pitt natural aging look with his newly developed grey hairs and face full of wrinkles really adds on to the painful expression that his character goes through while waiting for help to arrive after Susan’s shot to the neck by the goat herder’s son’s bullet. Richard is also dealing with the other impatient tourists who are selfishly complaining about being delayed on their vacation from this incident. In this story we see how from the suffering from the accident causes the couple to become closer and be able to grieve the lost of their baby together.
[Paragraph 9] Meanwhile, the tension from the police thickens with Abdullah and his sons. They must run and escape the raft of the police who believe this incident is a terrorist attack. We see the despair of the family when the father realizes that his son is the culprit of the crime. Their suffering is intensified when we see the son being shot at the end of the movie. This story runs parallel with the story of Susan and Richard. Even though the incidents are connected through the theme of family suffering the stories remain not in the same frame throughout the entire movie.
[Paragraph 10] In another instance, we see Iñárritu attempt to abstractly attach the Moroccan story to the Japanese story by the news. The Morocco incident is inaccurately broadcasted as a terror campaign on an American tourist. This incorrect news story makes its way on television screens all the way across to Japan, where a teenage girl named Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) (the main character of the Japanese story) is watching it on television.
Although the Japanese story is the most detached from the other three stories, Cheiko’s story of suffering is by far the most engaging. Cheiko is deaf; she is starved for attention and acts out with some intense scenes complimented with other entertaining scenes of her adolescent attempts at flirting. Cheiko’s story is mainly about her grief from her mother’s suicide and her disengagement from her disability. The detachment between Cheiko and her father is somewhat intense especially when he attempts and falls short to be a part of her life. His effort at being a good parent is rather painful to watch. In one scene, Cheiko and her father sit in a car; the father changes the subject of her mother’s death to remind her of her dentist appointment. The next scene we see is that of Cheiko trying to shove her tongue down her dentist’s mouth and then being thrown out of his office. Even though, Iñárritu tried to make the stories equally appealing, the strength and the development of Cheiko’s character through her struggles for attention are powerful. The viewer really sees Cheiko’s displacement when we are taken to an ear busting Tokyo club, the sound goes dead, so we hear nothing like Chieko. Iñárritu helps us sympathize with her even through all her attempts to seduce men in the movie with her Japanese schoolgirl outfit.
[Paragraph 12] Iñárritu left the story of Susan and Richard’s children and their nanny, Amelia completely unrelated to the Japanese story failing in following the rules of ensemble drama. If any connection could be drawn it is only in the mind of Iñárritu, which he decided to leave out in showing his viewers. We are expected to understand that this chapter of the story is happening simultaneous to the incident in Morocco. Amelia’s failed attempts to find an appropriate baby sitter for the children complicates her bigger crisis of how she is going to be at her son’s wedding in Tijuana. She decides to take the children illegally to Mexico accompanied by her rough and carefree nephew Santiago (Gael García Bernal). Because the characters in this story are the least developed out of all the stories, it is also the least engaging.
[Paragraph 7] It is important for Iñárritu to give at least one character depth in each of the story being developed, which we see he doesn’t accomplish. We see that the most engaging story is with Cheiko because of the way we follow her throughout her day and get an insider’s view of how she feels. In the Mexican story, we don’t see any of the characters achieve this richness of depth as we see in Cheiko’s story. In order to enhance this argument lets consider a movie that uses the ensemble drama technique very successfully.
[Paragraph 6] For example, Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 dazzling gangster film, “Pulp Fiction” does this devilishly well even though the movie does not have a strong theme; Tarantino gets away with it by having a balanced structure. Each of the story lines he uses are equally engaging and fulfilling to watch. By giving us the most dramatic scene in the beginning of the movie the results is knowing this climatic point gives us a great interest in what will happen to the characters at the end of the movie. This is done along with intriguing scenes that lead to an overall absorbing story. The stories come together in a tight well-linked package. We know even before the movie comes to an end that the story lines will connect and we will be left with an understanding of what Tarantino wanted to show us.
[Paragraph 7] Where as Pulp Fiction is an exercise of formation, “Babel” doesn’t focus on formation, but instead on connecting its characters emphasizing on showing how human’s suffer. Iñárritu focuses so much on this theme it may be the reason there is a lack of structure in the movie. Susan is the victim of the bullet from the goat herder’s sons. Richard and Susan are the parents of the small children in the San Diego story. Though these stories seem connected, the Japanese storyline is unrelated to the other storylines. The only puzzle piece that connects the stories together is through the subject of grief and its relation between parent and child. This turns out to be the only clear translation that we are left with in the movie.
[Paragraph 14] The biblical story of Babel reveals what Iñárritu was trying to convey in the universality of human suffering. Although Babel is set thousands of years after this biblical story took place, it is important to understand it, even in brief. The legend starts out at one time all people lived relatively close together and spoke one language. This all changed when some overly ambitious men tried to reach heaven by building a tower. God punished all mankind by devising different languages. In its result— a world of miscommunication and human suffering.
[Paragraph ] If this movie were a puzzle the pieces would have to be forced into their frames for them to fit. Every character in this movie is lost in places they don’t understand. Some of these horrific circumstances happened just out of bad luck while others are involved in highly politically charged fallouts. Through these stories we see how carelessness and human stupidity repeatedly grow. Even though, some of those characters we see how bad decisions and fate can also bring them together.
[Paragraph 15] “Babel” takes on the big concept of what it means to be a human and to suffer, and for the most part succeeds in what it does. The lack of structure is where the movie fails. The stories should conclude in a nice round about way like in other movies that use this technique. For instance in the movie, “Crash” the characters in this multicultural cast come in full circle with each story connecting each character in its completion. In “Babel” the characters don’t nicely come together at the end and we aren’t left feeling like there is a greater understanding to human suffering. But perhaps, that is why “Babel” works, it is real to life. Real life doesn’t always come nicely together.
[Paragraph 16] Even though, the movie’s attempt to use this technique of ensemble drama falls short, it does succeed in leaving you moved by its vivid human interactions. We are set in a position where we sympathize with the suffering of a family in Morocco, see how life changes after a death for a family in San Diego, and then shaken into identifying with victims of Bush’s immigration policy. All pulled together, in a nonsensical order, Iñárritu shows all of us how to understand and care for people outside our on personal sphere, this in itself is an applaudable accomplishment.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Peter Wolf Takes Center Stage

Cornered in Union Square, the Tír na nÓg, a brightly colored club shaped like a of wedge of cheese is where Peter Wolf secretly performs. Wolf stands center stage dressed in black while he croons the blues doing a two-song cameo for a local rock group, David Johnston Band. He jiggles and jolts erratically as if he was receiving an electric shock. “ The crowd was completely into him, and they didn’t want him off the stage.” said Mark Arnold, 24 a bartender at the club. Wolf knows how to move his audience from his 17-½ year run as lead singer of the J. Geils Band. Wolf would perform in sold out arenas across the world. At 60, he still plays hard. But since his last solo album, “Sleepless,” five years ago, he has remained out of the public eye, only performing in small clubs around Boston. The audience is dancing, while Wolf sings his heartbreak directing his attention to the prettiest girl in the audience.
First Passion’s Art, Love, Music
“Performing is something like …being very attracted to [someone] and kissing them,” said Wolf. While his legions of fans may think of him as a born rock star, music isn’t what brought him to Boston.
Wolf or as he pronounces it “Woo” said in his teens, his first passion was for creating art, which led him on a journey from college to college where he passed as a student in order to gain access to art supplies. “I just hitchhiked around schools and became a student because no one was asking for IDs back then,” said Wolf. During his travels he sent some of his drawings to the Museum School of Fine Arts College in Boston. Shortly, afterwards he was accepted into one of their art programs. “When I rolled in[to Boston], I was an art student” he said. “I was only concerned about one thing, which was painting. Music was an inspiring catalyst to get me further into painting.”
While the solitary role of the painter fulfilled his passion for visual arts, Wolf sought new outlets of creative expression through performing. He is best known for his theatrics with the J. Geils band, transmuting his legendary monologues to his audience-filled arena. He would preach to his screaming fans, “Love comes once and you better grab it fast.” Despite heartbreak he doesn’t have any regrets about grabbing the one he loved.
“I grabbed it fast, but it had a tragic end because that person died,” said Wolf, referring to Edie Marie, who was a dominant figure in his life. They were both art students who lived together until Marie’s untimely death from a car accident in 1972. Wolf did try to love again. He married actress Faye Dunaway, but their marriage lasted only five years. “I’m single, disengaged and double-parked in the highway of love,” he said.
Early Career
After Marie’s death, Wolf abandoned his dream of becoming a visual artist and focused on his love for music. Wolf’s rock star status virtually fell into his lap; at a house party Wolf was asked to take the place of the lead singer who was too drunk to perform. He was well received and shortly after became lead singer of The Hallucinations, an untamed band of art school dropouts. “We were neo punk R&B rocked out wild manic bunch,” Wolf said, “Our first gig was backing up John Lee Hooker and later we played with the Velvet Underground.”
Wolf’s voice exploded onto the Boston music scene not through his live performances, however, but through his midnight radio show on WBCN. “ The Woofer Goofer Mother Toother]” show brought rock ‘n’ roll to Boston’s airwaves in the 60s. Since TV went off at midnight young people looking for entertainment would switch on the radio to hear this fast-talking deep voiced DJ. “I would bring boxes of 45s and play lots of John Lee Hooker, The Five Royals, Loretta Lynn, anything goes, said Wolf, “It had no beginning, middle, or end it just had this kind of mania to it.”
The Woofer Goofer notorious for his interviews with famous musicians would electrify young Bostonian rock fans. “People of the night would randomly drop by, including regulars like Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker,” he said. The Boston music scene had a voice, which lasted until the 80’s even during his career as lead singer of the J. Geils band.
Richie Bezjian, co-owner of Leo’s Place in Harvard Square has been a friend of Wolf for the past 30 years. He remembers Wolf from the beginning of his musical career. Bezjian while cooking breakfast for his customers said, “Not many people know that Wolf is a musicologists, some just think of him as in J. Geil’s Band, a party band, but he is so much more than this,” referring to Wolf’s personality and his radio show where he would play everything from bluegrass to the blues. Wolf is still a regular at Leo’s Place, he arrives in the evenings and always orders breakfast.
Working at the radio station and singing in one of the most popular American bands of the eighties was what this showman loved to do. When the other band mates asked him to leave because of artistic differences, Wolf was devastated.
Solo Artist
“It’s almost like a marriage that went astray, which is sad because real groups are hard to come by,” said Wolf, “I dedicated a lot of my life to the band, and now I’m sailing my ship alone because that’s what I do and what I chose to keep doing,” Wolf referring to his career as a solo artist.
Even though Wolf creates solo albums, he is far from remaining alone as a performer. Each of his albums has had a mix of talents, from Rolling Stones member’s Mick Jagger and Keith Richards all the way to Michael Johnson who created one of the first hip hop infused rock groups, The Johnson Crew. “I enjoy a group atmosphere,” said Wolf, “When you have a lot of creative people come together it works. It makes something special.”
Wolf has an intense connection with all of his six solo albums. “With each one it feels like I’m creating a new family,” he said. Rolling Stones magazine rated his 2002 album, “Sleepless” featuring Jagger and Richards, as being one of the greatest 500 albums of all time.
Five years after the release of “Sleepless,” Wolf is currently working on a new album. He is optimistic about the future. For his new album he experiments with slow and fast melodies. For some of the songs that will be part of the album, he will ask his favorite artist to perform with him. As for what the future holds he said, “Its, like the song said, ‘tomorrow quite never knows,’ I have my desires, just toast in a nice warm cup of tea and… the rest I’ll play by year.”

In all Seriousness- When Comedians Take on Serious Roles.

[Paragraph1] The thought of Will Ferrell taking on a serious role may make us laugh, even if this isn’t his intention. Mr. Ferrell, whose resume is filled with roles cast to reveal his bottom side, has decided to take what has become the familiar exit from comedy in his newest performance in Stranger Than Fiction. These days there are but a few in the world of comedy that don’t take a detour into serious drama. Most comedians aspire to playing it straight by taking on these somber faced roles that highlight their talents as actors. This transition has been seen many times before; Robin Williams went from a zany alien (Mork & Mindy) to a murderer and stalker (look up title). Again we see it with Jim Carrey from a dumb guy with a bull hair cut (Dumb and Dumber) to an earnest lover (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind). In a notable conversion, Tom Hanks struggles from doing silly comedic roles (Big, Splash) into being seen as a quality actor in his dramatic roles (Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan). Even at the top of his comic career, Mr. Ferrell is the newest comedian to transform into this realm of seriousness. But the question is, why convert?
[Paragraph 2] Comedians commonly strive toward the more reputable career path of dramatic acting. Those who have prospered on their talents in comedy normally desire to be taken more seriously. This evolution begins with a comedian taking a risky choice of casting generally in an independent film or with a Hollywood newcomer like in Stranger Than Fiction, which features first time screenwriter, Zach Helm. If the comedian is successful, those many years of making funny faces in the mirror or working on impressions get tucked away in their portfolios. A dazzling gift for nuance can be bloomed from their knack of good comedic timing, which can be transferred into dramatic timing to form prosaic actors.
[Paragraph 3] Mr. Ferrell has gained a cult following by those with a taste for his particular comic creations. Viewers can appreciate his labor in creating impressions that are filled with frequent outbreaks of crying or laughing. These comic tendencies amount to his winning formula for producing characters deemed funny by the general public. In his first big screen motion picture, A Night at the Roxbury, Ferrell played Steve Butabi, a spoiled side kick to fellow comedian Chris Kattan (Doug Butabi). This persona of an unbalanced man-boy is one of the character types he has created. Synchronizing head bops to dreadful techno and showing brotherly love in times that really count, such as when he is rejected by woman after woman in posh Hollywood clubs. This kind of character proved to be the beginning of his career as a typecast comedian. Mr. Praised by a younger demographic, Mr.Ferrell performed similar characters in years to come like Frank the Tank (Old School), Ron Burgundy (Anchorman) and Ricky Bobby (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby). It seems that to consider Mr. Ferrell in a dramatic role, viewers would have to take a complete leap of faith.
[Paragraph 4] Perhaps, Mr. Ferrell may feel a need to return to his career’s foundation, which was of acting and not comedy. Ferrell attended the University of Southern California, graduating with a degree in sports information. Following graduation he started off as a sportscaster on cable television. Ferrell decided that he wanted to follow his dream of becoming an actor. He enrolled in some acting courses at a local community college, but when he joined a small improvisational group his career took a turn towards comedy. There he was an instant smash as a comedian even from the beginning. His interest landed him an invitation to the famous improv comedy club called The Groundling in Los Angeles. Mr. Ferrell’s dream of acting was side tracked by his career as a comedian, but now he has a second chance to establish a career as a serious actor with his newest film.
[Paragraph 5] However, for most comedians, it takes a great effort to escape being cataloged as a comedic actor. For one famous example, Tom Hanks struggled to transition from a comedic actor to a romantic actor and finally to a dramatic actor. Remembering Hanks in drag as a costar in the 1980’s sitcom Bosom Buddies is a strain. Nevertheless, through this experience he developed his comic timing and unique witticism, which are crucial skills in his subsequent acting career. Hanks started off making many unsuccessful comedies but, finally became celebrated when starring with Daryl Hannah in the Disney comedy Splash!. This role became a hit and introduced him to future leads. It wasn’t until he starred in Sleepless in Seattle, that he earned acclaim for his transition to a romantic role. By the mid 90’s Hanks had earned critical respect for his roles as an AIDS patient in Philadelphia, where his career as a funny man disappeared in a flash. Hanks recent movies have low critical appeal, but Empire Magazine as 17th out of "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" in October 1997 for his wide range of many different ranges of acting.
[Paragraph 6] Other comedians, like Adam Sandler (Little Nicky, Happy Gilmore, or Billy Madison), have been less successful, possibly because we don’t want them to escape these endearing goofball roles. Director of Punch Drunk Love, PT Anderson, perhaps saw the darker side of Sandler, expressed in his comedic chatter, and wanted to show that these could be transmuted into a dramatic role based around all of his eccentricities. Although, his dramatic role as a maladjusted loner with an anger problem in Punch Drunk Love was critically praised, he still struggled to transfer over to more dramatic roles. Because his performance in Spanglish was a flop, critics forgot about his dramatic talent. When casted appropriately Sandler sails, when he is not, like in the movie, Spanglish, we see no flexing of his talent. Through his role in Punch Drunk Love we know that Sandler’s claim to fame lies in his sweet, tender, loving, and sometimes-comedic fury, which he will be forever pigeon holed in comedic roles.
[Paragraph 7] While Sandler has the talent to escape comedy, Jim Carrey may not. In brief, his talent as a comic is seen through the roles that exhibit him as a gleeful menace. His defining showcases for his definitive humor include Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and his maniacal role as cable repairman in The Cable Guy. Carrey attempted to increase his appeal to his viewers by taking on his first serious role in The Truman Show, which undermined him in being a suitable a serious actor. Even in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, his best movie to date, revealed that his acting range was minimal. If nothing else, Carrey takes on interesting roles that serve to maintain his credibility as a performer.
[Paragraph 8] Perhaps the medium is the problem of the modern comedian. Whether it is from stand-up to improvisational comedy, the comedians of the past 30 years may be not properly suited for expressive versatile roles. It seems that quick wit would be not useful in the silver screen and more appropriate in late night appearances or sketch comedy shows. Some of this generation’s funnymen may simply not have the artistic expression of cinematic television.

[Paragraph 9] An example of success in both genres is Bill Murray. He turned to acting in more serious roles later in his career and has the luxury of not having to choose one genre at the cost of the other. Of all of the many performers to hurdle into films from television sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live, Mr. Murray has been most noted for shift into roles of both low-brow mockeries to clever adult dramas. Mr. Murray’s recent turn to dramas of midlife disillusionment has been lucrative. The secret behind this transformation is that the characters that he plays are much different than the roles in his previous comedic roles (Ghostbusters, Groundhogs Day etc.) The roles he plays in now (Broken Flowers, Lost in Translation) still offer insight into the being of Murray’s melancholy and unassuming charm of his straight-faced matter-of-fact humor. No matter what genre Mr. Murray plays the roles never lose their Murray appeal, but only add to their made-up lives.
[Paragraph 10] Which takes us back to Ferrell. In Stranger Than Fiction, there are still hints of the slapstick Ferrell, but they are few. Ferrell plays a solemn IRS auditor Harold Crick, who finds out through a dry British voice over that he is the main character in Kay Eiffel’s (Emma Thompson) novel entitled “Death in Taxes.” Eventually, the female voice declares that Mr. Crick will have to face his imminent death. The best scenes of Ferrell’s dramatic acting are those paired with Dustin Hoffman who plays a literature professor who is unable to counsel Ferrell, but instead is trying to figure out whether Ferrell is in a comedy or tragedy. Ferrell in these scenes shows restraint, basically making Hoffman seem like the comic and Ferrell like the realist. Ferrell’s tone of voice is calm and assertive, unlike any of his other characters on screen. He sits perched with perfect posture, answering poignantly the questions that Hoffman is using to determine if Crick will live happily ever after or die as a hero. Through Crick, Ferrell becomes to his viewers a normal man with obsessive compulsive tendencies of counting how many strokes he brushes his teeth, but he is well-spoken and expresses real human concerns for himself and the people in his life. The film may have a cliché message of live your life to the fullest, but Ferrell hits upon the fact he can excel when given the right dramatic role.
[Paragraph 11] Will Mr. Ferrell succeed in following Mr. Sandler’s or Mr. Murray’s footsteps with his future dramatic acting roles? We know now that Ferrell acting persona is well transmuted into drama. Though, it is hard to speculate until we see his next performance and whether or not he is poorly cast like Mr. Sandler causing him to be stuck in nothing but comedic roles. Stranger Than Fiction caused the critics to believe in Mr. Ferrell in dramatic roles. Perhaps now, there will be a good chance that his next movie will be his defining career masterpiece like what took place in Mr. Murray’s role in Lost in Translation. If Mr. Ferrell becomes the next Anthony Hopkins with any luck there will still be room for the man-boy roles we all have came to love.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Camera Obscura Review

Whiskey and Song

Camera Obscura, the Paradise, January 27, 2007
January 30, 2007 4:22:31 PM

REDEMPTION: Camera Obscura offer raw emotion tempered by hope.
Lovelorn songs with sorrowful lyrics are key ingredients for any respectable emo band. But adding a sense of hope or even a taste of redemption to those tunes is a real achievement. And that's a big part of what sets Camera Obscura apart from their peers. They're not the first to realize that offsetting raw emotions with uplifting music is a winning formula. But in an arena where introspective male singer-songwriters are the norm, the sweet vocals of Tracyanne Campbell, who hit the Paradise stage last Saturday night in a lil' orange vintage farmgirl dress, make all the difference, putting a fresh twist on the familiar.

The six-piece Scottish band didn't come charging out of the gate. The first three songs were mellow, sway-inducing numbers. But then the petite Campbell started clapping rhythmically along to songs with a bit more energy to them — "Let's Get Out of This Country," the title track from their latest Merge album, and "I Need All the Friends I Can Get" — the crowd warmed up, and the band began to hit their stride. Campbell loosened up too, throwing a few lines from the Paul Simon tune "You Can Call Me Al" into a Motown-style tune. And instead of sticking to the usual guitar, bass, and drums, her band kept things interesting with the addition of horns and mandolin. "We do this thing to try and see who is the most generous audience," Campbell said a bit mischievously. "We like whiskey." And, fortified with a few shots, they offered thanks by way of taking requests during a generous encore.

Bright Eyes Review

Bright Eyes, Somerville Theatre, February 28, 2007
March 2, 2007 11:46:28 AM


Conor Oberst, lead man of Bright Eyes, took up playing shows at the age of 12, and he still looks like one of his young audience members, wearing black jeans, long stringy hair, and a pair of vegan boots, but at 27 he's become the definitive emo/folk rocker. And he's come a long way from being an introverted solitary performer with an acoustic guitar. On Wednesday night, he and a diverse band played for a packed Somerville Theatre with talented, raspy-voiced opener M. Ward. With Ward joining the band after intermission, they played sets marked by Bright Eyes' eclectic sound — seductively poetic story-telling songs with raw guitar licks and country charm.

Oberst was backed by a mix of multi-instrumentalists. At one point drummer Janet Weiss (of Sleater-Kinney) took up the ukulele while Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott swapped their guitars for keyboards, violins, and even a French horn. The set was a mix that included everything from M. Ward songs to pieces from 2002's Lifted to the forthcoming Casadaga (Saddle Creek, due April 10). And the surprisingly effusive Oberst kept encouraging the audience to applaud "my beautiful band."

He ignored frequent yells by girls confessing their love for him and focused on more important things: "How's the Big Dig — you still digging?" What happened to the sad eyed emo boy from Omaha? Instead, he danced, gave the guitar techs a hard time, then made up for it with a hug, and closed his set by passing his band mates' microphones to the audience for a sing-along of "la-la-la's" during "Laura Laurent." During their half-hour encore, Oberst squealed that the audience made him feel like Dolly Parton and declared his nostalgia for the Somerville, a venue he has performed at frequently since 2001. By the end of the encore, feedback and chaos reigned. Another difference from the old Bright Eyes.

Clinic Review

Clinic ( not published...)

I missed deadline.


Last Saturday, the Middle East stage filled up with four men in surgical masks, dressed in scrubs and top hats. Not your typical indie show, but Clinic is not your typical indie band. It was a little after 11:30 when the Liverpudlian quartet took the stage to play fast organ-driven punk not wasting any time to build momentum. Their fans knew what to expect when they got on stage— well-calculated tunes and some English etiquette. With their newest album, Visitations out (since October) we see a stunning return to form-- pleasingly unhinged sound and numinous lyrics. We hail Clinic for their steadiness in creating gratifying tunes that combine genres from surf to primitive punk.

Clinic's set was an electric mix of songs from their acclaimed 2000 debut Internal Wrangler (The Return of Evil Bill, 2/4, Porno) to their radio hit, Walking with Thee. Front man, Ade Blackburn stared out over the heads of his audience with a sincere expression as he sang Animal/Human while drummer, Carl Turney gave the right dosage of cowbell. Although watching Clinic's performance generally delighted fans, the songs they played off their newest album, weren't immediately recognizable. The band has a distinctive sound that blends in with much of their other albums. Honestly, Clinic by nature can't sound much different than their previous albums with their familiar blend of unusual instruments (melodica, flute, clarinet). For indie fans, Clinic advances the scene, and that says more than most bands out there.

Ode to Melancholy- Calla Review

Ode to Melancholy- Calla Review

It was fitting the band Calla played on Friday the 13th at the Middle East, with their newest album about desperation within doomed romances. At this time Strength By Numbers, is their fifth full-length album, but nothing has changed the band's molecular structure so now it's impossible ~at least for any Bostonian standing in a crowd at their concert ~to hear songs like "Defenses Down" and "Malicious Manner" and think they don't have a fascination for writing music about agonizing relationships: "Your in mind/ Your in my head/ At this moment your as good as dead."

Calla has never struck me as an explicity depressing band, but their lyrics are dark enough to pigeon hole them as yet another heartbroken band whose selling point is based off of their murk. Perhaps it's the lead singer, Aurelio Valle's signature edgy and painfully sexual voice that appeals to something vulnerable inside all of us. Or maybe it's the band's drummer, Wayne B. Magruder who seems to drum as steady as a heartbeat woking overtime as heard in "Sylvia's Song"

The band experiments less with sound in this newest album compared to their previous album, Collisions, where their control over ghostly distortion laid a foundation for ambience that guitars and drums couldn't create alone. Frankly, some of the songs they played sounded a bit recycled from their previous albums. Yet what makes the new songs appealing is their return to form and now we see its been finely tuned.

Musically, Calla is among the best of their kind out there. They could easily sit comfortably next to bands like Interpol, Massive Attack, or even more down into the archives Echo and The Bunnymen. While the more cynical Bostonians among us may dismiss them as mere melancholy musicians, there's no doubting this is their appeal.

Jamaica Via Vermont- Casual Fiasco review

Jamaica via Vermont- Casual Fiasco review

Jamaica via Vermont
Casual Fiasco, Paradise, April 27, 2007
April 30, 2007 1:13:32 PM

It's a strange state of affairs when white guys in guitar bands start purposely mispronouncing the words of their songs to sound Jamaican. But that's the topsy-turvy world we live in, where reggae jumbles with jam band improvisationality, and, surprisingly, it sometimes works. We saw it before in Sublime and Mad Caddies; now, Casual Fiasco, who played Friday at the Paradise, show they know how to get their pucca shell-wearing audience to really groove.

The band proved their abilities by playing a buffet of cheery, storytelling songs. Three members of the Burlington, VT quartet shared the mic to sing. Lead singer Josh Cleaver possessed the impressive ability of throwing his entire band's laid back deportment into a country western pick-me-up with his self-titled "Cleaver Song." The audience switched from swaying and skanking to swinging their partners and dancing a do-ce-do. This oddity came as a pleasant surprise in a set which included breezy tunes like "Tribe of Believers" and "Down on Sunday" from their 2005 EP Body Over Mind.

The wave of reggae/rock-mania kicked into high gear with Sublime, but the real force behind this style of music comes from the college radio stations, and Casual Fiasco is well circulated in college radio stations around the US. Despite playing within a genre limited to an audience made up of mostly college kids, Casual Fiasco shows true talent.

Indeed, a good reggae/rock band borrows from its forebears. Fittingly, the band closed with Talking Heads's "Psycho Killer." Fragments of rhythm guitar played by the shoeless and moppy-haired James Reilly controlled the song. And lead guitarist Will Read led the cover and quickly stripped the track down to an audience-only chorus of the "Fa-fa-fa's." When the song came to a close, the audience was satisfied to be a part of the act.

Manny Mania: Skate or Die

Manny Mania: Skate or Die


For years one of the most awe-inspiring sports was under attack in Boston, and we were powerless to stop it. It's still illegal in Cambridge and Boston to skate board on public property, though Friday afternoon, Red Bull's Manny Media was a perfect example of the simplest way to confuse any Bostonian skater. The city opened up a sponsored skate boarding competition to ride risk free at City Hall Plaza, about 100 ft away from the Government Center T stop. This four hour event took 32 hand picked skaters from all over New England to see who could perform the most creative manuals (balancing on two wheels and all the variations of tricks) off of three ramps- C-pad curve, a pyramid, and a flat box. The young skaters competed in one of seven heats while drinking down free red bulls. The top five skateboarders rivaled in a final jam, riding for 20 minutes for the judges to determine who deserved the title of the best unsponsored New England skater. The winner, Marshall Heath, a 19-year-old from Huntington, Vermont received many prizes, among other things, which included a $1000 dollar Oakley watch along with a hair full of red bull. This event proved the city is starting to open up to skaters. Perhaps the afternoon serves as a small preview of what's to come when the city opens the first official state park sometime next year in the banks of the Charles River. (

Red Bull's skateboarding competition at City Hall Plaza

Skateboarding on public property still falls under the Banned in Boston category. But on Friday afternoon, City Hall Plaza was opened up for skaters to ride risk free as part of Red Bull's Manny Media skateboarding competition. Over four hours, 32 skaters from all over New England competed on, along, above, against, and over three ramps: a C-pad curve, a pyramid, and a flat box. They competed in one of seven heats and the top five skateboarders battled in a final jam, riding for 20 minutes for the judges to determine who deserved the title of the best unsponsored New England skater. Marshall Heath, a 19 year-old from Huntington, Vermont, took top prize, which included, among other things, a $1000 dollar Oakley watch. Perhaps the afternoon serves as some small preview of what's to come when the city's first official skate park opens on the banks of the Charles next year.

Negativland- Creative Optimism

This is from a show I reviewed a couple months back. Never got published. For shame.

Negativland-Creative Optimism

Melissa Pocek
Middle East
August 1, 2007

The howling vintage sound clip echoed through the downstairs at the Middle East on Wednesday night. "There is no God," it rang, and then looped back on itself "There is No God"

The openly atheist members of Negativland performed a mostly improvised show as an effort to bring their 25-years-on-the-air "Over the Edge" radio show to the live stage. This underground group, from San Francisco is best known for their projected images and other extraordinary visual devices from mass culture refashioned to say themes that they never intended to say. However, this show had none of their normal visual stage props. Instead, the audience members watched the making of live radio. In case, watching three similarly dressed (matching business attire) middle-aged men making sound affects from monkey noises to rattling chains got to heavy handed, the audience members were given piñata colored blindfolds and instructed that the blindfolds would enhance their viewing experience- by creating "theater of the mind."

Negativland's religious criticism can be described as hard hitting in a hammed up way. That was the case with the first of several radio skits. A shoddy sounding radio host, Oslo Norway, CEO of One World Advertisement, guided us through the show. "We at Its All In Your Head FM say that when it comes to God, just like radio, humans invented it."

Various tape machines, mixing board, and sound files repeated quotes and snippets about monotheism and then evidence backing up why God is only superstition. Scrapes of interviews from renowned atheist: Sam Harris ("End of Faith") and Richard Dawkins ("The God Delusion") made for compelling arguments against the existence of God.

After the break, Muslims fundamentalist hijacked the radio show causing the subject matter to get weightier with sound clips on religious fundamentalist terrorist. To counter this material, the Negativlander's kept it comical "We are all Mohammed's now," with "It's a Small World" playing in the background.

Repetition proved to be the theme of the show, and because the group are improvising, every show being performed is different. This Negativelanders were well received by the audience making it known their goal of – "Putting the less back in Godless" was achieved.

Behind the Scenes at Revenge of the Book Eaters Show

Last night I worked an 826 event called Revenge of the Book Eaters. Members of the band Of Montreal were there among many other eclectic performers and comedians. My job most of the night consisted of carrying around a video camera and interviewing the performers and volunteers. This job was something I had no intention of doing, but there was no one else to do it. It turned out to be extremely amusing. I got to see the green room, where the bands relax and prep before going on stage, which was a first for me. In the green room, Of Montreal was practicing and I went up to talk to them and asked a couple of questions. I looked at them (and usually never get star struck) but I did, and it was god-awful, I couldn't speak. I badly stuttered and wasn't able to form the words to ask if I could video tape them. They gave me a puzzling look, shrugged, then picked up their guitars and just started to sing a improvisational song. I just stood there with the camera until they were finished performing. It was brilliant! I thanked them- felt foolish, and walked away.

Then later during the night at the VIP reception (still holding the camera). Kevin, (lead singer) came up to me. I had a cookie lodged half way into my cheek and I turned to face him. He said, "What's up video girl?" Still with a cookie in my mouth, I said, "Doing well," covering my mouth. I told him that I can normally talk and that I usually don't stutter or have a cookie in my cheek. He said that my stuttering was very endearing. Then continued to talk to me about the stages he performs and how acoustic sets makes him nervous and how when he performs at smaller acoustic events he feels insecure because he can hear himself and that makes him really nervous. I told him that I could relate to his nervousness.

After the show, the volunteers and performers went out to a bar down the street. I only stayed for a bit, I was exhausted from running around helping out. Kevin was sitting alone and so I came up to him and told him that he played a very amazing and memorable set. He sat back, with a blank expression and stared at me for what felt like minutes. I told him that he played my favorite songs from his newest album and a great Buzzcock cover song. Then after I was done he mimed "Thank You". It was fairly strange interaction.

It was a glorious night and volunteering for 826 proved to be pretty successful- I met a couple new friends and had a semi-successful experience as a videographer.