17 October 2008

Weekend Review

Last weekend was a return to almost-form for us... Jewish holiday + Columbus Day gave an excuse to head up to Syracuse, dump the kids for a few days and come back to the city for a few days to celebrate our 9th anniversary in style. Let's break it down by the numbers: 3 shows, 2 movies, 3 cheesburgers (5 patties total), 1/2 a Katz's pastrami, ~10 very tasty beers, 6 Jameson's, 0 kids. Fun time.

Some reviewing...

Cornmeal @ Westcott Theater, Syracuse, NY, 9 October 2008

The first time I'd ever heard of these guys was at the Jammy's earlier this year and the fiddle player's jamming w/ Tea Leaf Green that night was a rare highlight, so when I found out they were playing a stone's throw from my parents' place it was clear it would make a perfect post-break fast apertif. The Westcott was a dingy but great independent theater that we were sad to see go last year. Thankfully someone saw some potential in the space, ripped out the seats and made a nice little music theater out of it. Still dingy, but if they can draw some good acts there, will be a nice addition to a pretty weak music scene. Featuring Magic Hat beers, they had their own "Westcott Ale" which I was happy to find cost $3. We're not that far from NYC...

Cornmeal is one of many in the jam-it-out bluegrass style best exemplified by Yonder Mountain. They do have a drummer which is, admittedly, a turn off for your bluegrass purist... thankfully, there is little purity about these guys. They showed a nice balance of nodding to the traditional sound while exhibiting great ease in opening it up and just jamming. My initial impression of the fidlle player was spot-on, as she is just a fantastic musician. Every time she started a solo it was clear that she had a vision of where it was going, how she was going to build it from something slow or quiet to something blistering and awe-inspiring... and rarely did she fail. Really, really awesome. By midway through the first tune, "Hasten Jason" they had the small-but-rowdy crowd boot stomping around the room. They definitely excelled when they left the 'grass behind and just jammed out, as they did on multiple occasions, the "Dirty Black Nag" being a highlight -- this tune starts with a nice Celtic/reggae melody that opens up into some real OtherOne-esque nasty grooving. It's during those moments that the drummer is not just tolerable, but completely necessary. Really good stuff, highly recommended. Near the close they did a great cover of Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved" which, once again, fliped over into some mind-left-room improv. It was a nice long set considering it was an opener and plenty for us... we left right afterward.

Recording of the Cornmeal show can be found here.

Of Montreal, Roseland Ballroom, NYC 10 October 2008

There were literally a dozen choices for shows on Friday night, but we settled on catching Of Montreal. I really loved their "Hissing Fauna" album... one of my tops from last year and I've heard that their live performances were "shows" in every respect, so I figured it'd be worth putting up with Roseland Ballroom. I had thought I had purchased mezzanine tickets which always makes that room more tolerable, but when I was printing them out, somehow they were floor seats, which was the 1st sign that things wouldn't be as perfect as I'd hoped.

When we got there, it was obvious that there would be plenty to feast our eyes and minds on. There were multiple risers with different heights -- two drum kits on either side, three large screens above the stage, the other kind of screen (the type you get dressed behind) in the middle of the stage and a full house brimming with energy. The show started shortly after we got there and they wasted no time getting right into it. The band was dressed like some bizarro Village People with no overall discernable theme unless you count "total weirdness" as a theme. That set the tone. The first few tunes were explosively fun, the crowd was just eating it up and the visuals and vibe made me feel like I had been sucked into some alternative animated universe -- at a concert in some Hanna-Barbara cartoon. Over the course of the next 90+ minutes I saw things I am quite sure I've never seen before at a concert. Kevin Barnes, the lead sexually-ambiguous singer performed songs: with his head in a noose faux-hanging from a gallows; from the inside of a coffin; in a loin cloth with his body painted red; dressed as the pope sitting on a throne; dressed as a Centaur with another person hanging off his ass as the horse portion; and, just in case that wasn't enough, from the back of a real live freakin horse!! That's right, there was a live horse trotted out on the stage of Roseland Ballroom and he sang a song from the back of it. Whole lee sheet! If that wasn't enough, there was a cast of "actors" that roamed around the stage essentially play-acting music videos for each song. One tune they played out a Western saloon scene, another they were dressed as armed militia (wo)men and so on and so forth. All the while there were images of all sorts flashed on the screens behind and above them and costume changes and the whole 9 yards... maybe the whole 10 yards.

What of the music? Well, here's the problem with that... about half of it was brilliantly good -- upbeat, groovy, dance-inducing fun. The tunes off "Hissing Fauna" were clearly the crowd favorites and rightly so -- they were the best of the night. One tune featured not one, not two, but three (3) (III) bass players! And they needed every one of them, it was so, gosh-darn funky. Lots of appropriate instrument switching so that at any time there may have been multiple guitarists, keyboard players, drummers, singers, etc. The band was adequate, but not a superlative player in the bunch. Anyone could have been replaced and the music wouldn't have suffered at all. In the end it's probably a good thing that they had so much going on, to distract you from the mediocrity of the music itself. The songs are good, but don't all translate well and probably benefit from the controlled environment of the studio. The biggest issue, though, was that they played a bunch of stuff off their newest album which hasn't even been released yet. These tunes are less upbeat than the last batch which doesn't help, but mostly the crowd was just totally unfamiliar with them. They played 3 tunes off "Hissing Fauna" and should definitely, no doubt, played more. Poor show management, the crowd lost its steam and then it's just "I wish I was stoned" kind of waiting to see what craziness they could pile on top of the craziness they'd already been shoveling.

The show was fun, no doubt. It was a good show. It was not a great show. You can check out some (great) photos here, which will give you a good idea of what you missed. You can grab a recording of the show here. They did pick the pace back up toward the end and the encore was a total hoot. They did a raging, straight cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that had the audience at full-tilt. I had known about their sweet covers (check out the band doing Shakedown Street at Langerado), so was glad to get this one.

Rana, Mercury Lounge, NYC, 12 October

If there's a Rana show every 3 months, I can live with that. These guys are pretty much picking up where they left off and this one was no exception. Doesn't match the pure party perfection of their previous return show earlier in the summer, but for a Sunday night, this was quite a rager. As it so happens, it was Scott Metzger's 31st birthday and he played as rock solid a guitar all night that I've seen in quite some time. It's always amazing to see someone you didn't think could possibly top themselves get better and better and it's pretty clear that Scott's time away from Rana has done good things to his skills. They decided to keep it at one long set and probably could have done a better job arranging the setlist to avoid the lull or two that crept their way into the set, but alas, I feel like I've got unconditional love for these guys. In fact, it struck me while shaking my ass at this show that Rana is not the best band, and the guys in it are not the best at what they do, but that it doesn't matter. They are the best fit with each other and they are the best fit with their fans... maybe they'll never fill more than the Merc on a quarterly basis, but for them and for us it will always be enough and always be the best shit ever. If not... please stay away. And that's all I got to say about that.

Movies: Happy-Go-Lucky. Mike Leigh's newest. If there's a movie that could single-handedly remove all the anxieties of living in the world of today, this might be it. I've read reviews that use the word "bliss" and that sounds just about right. I could read deeply into the various episodes that befall the heroine "Poppy" and link them to all the crazy shit that's going on here on planet earth, but really, this is just the story about being happy... no matter what. It's better than how it sounds. Great performance.

Burn After Reading: perfectly self-contained comedy from the Coen Bros. It's being regarded as something lesser, I guess after their "No Country" success, but this is fairly brilliant and hilarious all around. It reminds me a lot of "Blood Simple" -- where every single action is completely miscontrued, misinterpreted and misplayed leading to a crazy spiral of destruction. Spiral is a good metaphor. It starts out with slow, wide turn which get sharper and tighter and quicker and then bam! Good shit... give it a shot.

Food: Burgers at Burger Joint, Shake Shack, American Roadside Burger (Smithtown, LI). I still have yet to have a better burger than the double cheeseburger @ Shake Shack, but of course, that's my personal preference. ARB is a nice alternative and it is on Long Island. Glad we checked that out, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. Burger Joint has been hyped a bit, but I've had two disappointing experiences there out of two visits and am not sure I'll return any time soon. They basically screwed up my order the 1st time and did something bizarre with the cheese the 2nd time. Also, overcooked.

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