Thursday, February 26, 2009

Noble Beast

This Wednesday I stood outside In the Venue for about an hour, patiently waiting with my awesome sister-in-law Kate to partake of a musical experience unlike any before. A musical experience known as Andrew Bird, a man who has changed the way I look at sound.

Right after seven we were ushered in, after being subjected to a quick frisking. Yeah... I'd rather not talk about it. But standing outside in the cold for an hour sure paid off when Kate and I scored spots right in front of the stage, complete with a handy barrier to lean on. Take that people who walked by us in line! You might be too hip for existence, but those squares near the front of the line hit pay dirt. Here's a little something to put it in perspective: we were less than then ten feet away from Andrew Bird. Is that heaven? I wouldn't be surprised.

The first highlight of the evening came with the opening band, which was blessedly the only opener. I'd heard of Loney Dear when a pseudo-friend gave some of their music to me a year or so ago. I listened and thought they were OK but nothing too special. They were just a another Death Cab rip off with whiny vocals and heavy back beats. Yeah, so I was very very wrong. Seeing a band live can completely change opinions, and Loney Dear proved their chops. The lead singer Emil Svanangen had a voice that floated above the earthy beats provided by a band with one killer percussion section. He really strutted his stuff on "Ignorant Boy, Beautiful Girl", where the audience sang a backup vocal lick while the band dropped out, leaving Svanangen to wail on the waves of sound we provided. You could tell he was having fun experimenting, and we were just thrilled to be along for the ride.

But nothing compares to Andrew Bird. Ever. I (falsely) pride myself on knowing my way around music. I think I can tell when a person is skilled or not, whether they have a firm understanding of how sound works. Bird is without a doubt the most talented musician I have ever seen. Not only is he insanely full of ability, but his imagination when it comes to music exceeds all others. It might sound like I am gushing all over the screen (and I am. Disgustingly so), but I can't even begin to tell you about how he manipulates tones to create the most unique and beautiful music I've had the pleasure to hear. The joy merely increases with lyrics that are way too smart for me but create poetical tongue twisters so thick and delicious you can swim in them.

The man himself was adorable, so tall and thin and gangly, exuding a delicately intelligent persona that matched his movements. He reminded me of that mythical liberal arts professor you have a crush on, with his long face and wide smile, hair flopping in dark wisps. But what was really impressive were his methods. As a multi-instrumentalist, Bird played violin and guitar, all while singing and whistling (something he elevates to an art form). To provide the right sound, he looped licks recorded at the beginning of each song, working pedals to produce the loops through what can only be described as gigantic gramophone horns placed onstage. He could smoothly transition from recording to immediately playing something new, backed up by what he had been doing seconds before, so seamlessly that you didn't even notice the change and wondered how one man could make such noise. The performance was something so extraordinary you really do have to see it to believe it. And I don't use that phrase lightly. It's astounding.

And the pure variety! Andrew Bird coaxes sounds from his instruments that are diverse and moving, capturing ghosts of other instruments. I was playing a song for my family, and my mom swore that she heard a bass and a banjo, when it was merely layers of violin. One of my favorite songs from the concert was "Effigy", where he starts with a mischievous plucking pattern on violin, going to more conventional playing that was rich and mysterious, looping those for a guitar pattern which he broke in the middle to play a folksy fiddle solo in the old Americana tradition.

Here's the thing: I love it when I go to concerts and feel embedded in sound. Most musicians try to do this by cranking up the volume so loud that you feel the rhythm, but lose the melody. Bird didn't need to resort to anything so cheap, instead covering you with such dense amounts of options that you get lost. The whole hour and half he played my entire being trembled, carried away by the transcendence of the music. Even Bird seemed to be swept up in the effect, as he appeared to be on a higher plane. Throughout several songs, like opener "Masterswarm", his eyes were closed as he moved his head to accentuate his work, only opening them to gaze above the crowd and into the distance, literally reaching out his hand to grasp what was presumably the sound that played beyond him. During "Plasticities" I'm pretty sure I had a moment of pure Nirvana. One of his ... gramophone things... was double headed (and accompanied by a sock monkey so cute that I will not rest until I own it) and could rotate at increasing speeds when activated. This managed to throw sound in circles around you, creating something otherworldly and exuberant.

When he closed after an encore of jazzy "Why" and upbeat "Fitz and the Dizzyspells", I didn't want it to be over. I had heard him expand songs I knew into new creations (like what he did with "Fake Palindromes" and an unrecognizable "Nomenclature"), been witness to a heady mix of jazz and blues and folk, all with a healthy dash of indie pop and improvisation. It was a concert I've been reliving in my mind every moment since it ended, and if that's not a sign of something wondrous I don't know what is. I've tried to include entertaining flippancy in this post, but I can't be light with things I love, and this music is worthy of love.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Eighty One-th

I wasn't that excited for this years Academy Awards, because let's face it. 2008 was a sucktastic year for movies. I hadn't seen most of the nominees, and none of them were surrounded by extremely positive buzz. It was mostly "pretty good" films in a sea of "astoundingly mediocre".

The Academy was definitely feeling the pressure, as seen by the amount of press they were putting into advertising this years "changes". Some were good, some were disappointing, and overall it was a solid meh. I watched to see Ledger win the first posthumous Oscar, and that's about it. But I did get caught up in some things. It's the movies. I dare you not to.

First off, Hugh Jackman. Oh Hugh. Yes, you are the sexiest man alive, according to a questionable magazine that apparantly has the last word on attraction. He wasn't bad as a host, managing to be at least as funny as the last Stewart run. I loved his confidence, especially in the first number where I laughed out loud at the milk carton Batpod, Anne Hathaway (yes! Don't judge. You chuckled at the potential Frost/Nixon forbidden love too), and the complete lack of anything pertinant to The Reader. His enthusiasm for song and dance got a tad old after a while, especially with the whole "musicals are back!" rigamarole. Once Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens got on stage, I was ready for a return to the old formula of showcasing the Best Song Nominees--sidenote, I really missed that part. I loved getting fully acquainted with the songs, and the mash up right before announcing the winner didn't do it for me.

But as long as we're talking about Zac and Vanessa, let's get to my main complaint about the 81st Annual Academy Awards. Where the crap were the freaking celebrities?!? It looked like the first row was packed with all the nominees, and the entire theater behind them was full of faceless extras, or sound and editing people. And most importantly, WHERE WAS JACK NICHOLSON????? It's just not an awards show without Jackie Boy sitting front row center, wearing those sunglasses that allow him to look both old man creepy and lecherously cool. I mean if it wasn't for a nomination, I bet Meryl Streep wouldn't even be there. The whole thing had a B-list feel that left me feeling dirty and cheap. I mean Zac and Vanessa? Miley Cyrus? Robert "Edward" Pattinson? Apparently teenage girls wrote the guest list. Please, kill me now. Even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie looked more stiff and uncomfortable than usual. And that's saying something.

Also, my last complaint (maybe)... Sean Penn? Again? Hasn't the man won enough? We get it Sean. You're edgy, and outspoken, and take dangerous roles and pull them off. Bully for you. But I wanted it to be Mickey Rourke's turn. I don't really know why, but I was rooting for that man to win in the worst way. It's not like I've seen The Wrestler, or really have any intention of seeing it. But America loves a success story. Just look at Robert Downey Jr. We are estatic when someone makes a spectacular comeback, and man was Rourke's one for the ages. Plus, I really wanted to see a randy hobo pimp accept the Oscar. Please Academy? Couldn't you have done this one for me?

But the Awards were not without their charm. The majority of presenters was full of inspired groupings. I have a slight crush on Jack Black, and dug the easy way he and Jennifer Aniston (who is totally hot, even though she feels some need to validate that fact all the time) interacted. And the ever elegant Natalie Portman and Ben Stiller. Who doesn't a love a well placed Joaquin Phoenix jab? I know I sure do. And I secretly want Tina Fey and Steve Martin to run away together and make small bundles of hilarity. But the definite highlight was the montage set to Pineapple Express. I don't think I've laughed so hard at a contrived awards show sketch in my life. I almost died at James Franco's sudden thoughtful expression after the Milk kiss. And a lauded cinematographer saying "suck it"? Priceless.

Finally, a quick runthrough of the wins that brought me joy. When Wall-E won I nearly jumped out of my chair. I was so nervous about all the Kung-Fu Panda upset predections, and it's great to see that the Academy didn't deprive Pixar of an award they fully deserved, especially after the Best Picture snub. Also, I was fully expecting Gus van Sant to win for director, and LOVED it when Danny Boyle won instead. His films are always a little odd with plenty of quiet beauty (even when it involves running from Rage infected "zombies"), and I was pleased to see someone so beneath the radar take home the big prize. And then there's Kate Winslet, looking gorgeous and humble and honestly so pleased to receive this honor. I loved her speech, loved her dress, just loved her.

Still, this year was kind of a bummer, with no tense anticipation or real competition. The overall feel was apathy, and that does not make for a great Oscar show. But the previews for upcoming movies gave me hope for the 82nd Academy Awards. With Public Enemies, Up, Watchmen, and my personal favorite, 500 Days of Summer opening soon, there should actually be some shows worth watching this year. I can't wait.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Summer Lust

I long to sit in grass
enveloped in green ... yes,
that's the right word.
Emerald, with three syllables
and proper vowels is too cloying.
Verdant is better, but still borders
on lengthy, that extra
step that sinks the foot of description
into the slushy gutter
of overkill.
No, I'll stick with
Fresh and bright, pure
crayon and light. Bursting
through closed eyelids with
it's warmth and smell,
like the new cut grass
on which I wish to rest.

Friday, February 6, 2009

From the Desk of a Bored Office Worker

Well, it's the casualist of casual Fridays here in the workplace. The main supervisor is gone for the day, so the minions can play. I suggested ordering pizza and having a dance party to celebrate, which I still think is a great idea, but no one else got on board. Some people have no sense of freedom.

Random thought #1: I kind of love being facebook friends with my oldest brother. We don't know each other at all, and now I'm discovering he is amazing. And listens to music I would never have expected. I'm loving the "rebel rocker" Chris. Thanks!

Random thought #2: Poets are endlessly inspiring. Today for the English Department Reading Series, Natasha Saje did a reading and WOW. I swear every poem expressed a thought I've had but could never express, and now there it was! Out in the open! Written in a wry manner that embraced allusions and mere word meanings to the greatest power possible! In other words, it's back baby. The poetry is calling me, so expect feeble attempts soon.

Random thought #3: Ugh. Never mind. I don't want to think about it.

Random thought #4: My new favorite saying? "This should be a Seinfeld episode". Uttered by an advisor after we had debated for a half hour over whether to ticket someone who had held a parking pass overtime, only to discover they had already turned it in. Classic.

Random thought #5: I've discovered the key to a incredibly great nights sleep. Listen to Glen Hansard as you drift off to dreamland and I swear on my still living mother's grave you will have the sweetest slumber in the world.

Random thought #6: This post doesn't have any substance whatsoever, but I am trying to write more, so there you go. And here's something for no reason.Have a great weekend!