Saturday, December 27, 2008

Best Boston Albums of '08

The Fatal Flaw “We Are What We Pretend to Be” (LUNCH)

With an ear for big, Brit-pop-style melodies and the economy of a hard-hitting pop punk band, The Fatal Flaw charged out of the gates with their debut.

Midatlantic “The Longest Silence” (UNDERGROUND SUN)

The brooding post-punk anthems, chiming guitar sheen, and pulsing disco beats make us so sad we just have to dance it out.

Township “Township” (SELF RELEASED)

The ’70s haven’t sounded this groovy since, well, the ’70s. Dirty grooves and power-riffing make this one throwback worth looking forward to.

Barnicle “Friends of B” (SIDEHATCH/BAMPF)

Speaking of retro, it’s the ’90s all over again with this collection of hard-charging, female-fronted power pop from Barnicle. It’s basically the sound of Boston’s recent past packed into three-minute nuggets of furious guitar pop.

Boston Metro

Friday, December 26, 2008

Barcode: Mantra

Just as the menu at the French-Indian restaurant Mantra is a fusion of cultures, so too is the atmosphere. A mix of old and modern, East and West, the restaurant's a converted bank from the 1800s with the original Italian marble floors and walls. Flourishes like an ornate wooden hookah den, a glowing Buddha statue, a luminescent waterfall, and luxurious, high-backed Indian-style couches make for a blend of upscale dining spot, opulent nightclub, and savings and loan. We weren't sure whether to dance, eat, make a deposit, or ask our server to wave palm fronds over us. So we decided to drink.

"Mantra is a feeling of relaxation," explained general manager Demetri Tsolakis, who said the drinks (sampled above, from left: the Gilas, Teeka Meeta, and Mirchitini) on his brand new cocktail menu are designed to appeal to the seven chakras, or force centers of the body. "Our drinks are more for your mood, to relax you."

Whether or not you'll find some of the spicier cocktails we sampled relaxing or internally combusting probably depends on your threshold for heat. Many are focused on spices found in Indian cooking such as coriander, cilantro, turmeric, and tamarind.

The Teeka Meeta (cayenne pepper, fresh tamarind, pineapple juice, mango-infused Christiania vodka, $12), which means sweet and spicy in Hindi, takes sweetness and spice from the tamarind, and a peppery warmth from the cayenne, which spreads out nicely across the surface of the drink before gradually settling. It's reminiscent of a curry with a bit of burnt pineapple off the grill.

The Hindi word for jalapeno is Mirchi, and it features prominently in the Mirchitini (muddled jalapenos, green chili peppers, cucumber, cilantro, simple syrup, Rangpur Tanqueray, $12). It has a chilled, vegetal crispness, with cooling cucumber and cilantro balancing the muddled peppers. But sip with care, the peppers will catch up with you.

If they do, finish off with the soothing Gilas (chocolate covered cherry juice, Heering cherry liqueur, Baileys, Kahlua, $12). The Hindi word for cherry, the Gilas is dark, silky chocolate shot through with ropes of sweet cherry.

What's the Hindi word for completely satisfied?

Boston Globe

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Living the Dream

The Economy Finally Exists

The economy is a lot like other people's dreams. No one wants to hear you talk about it unless it directly affects them in some way, and while it's entirely inscrutable, vague and ultimately bereft of any real substance, lots of "experts" claim to be able to read the proverbial tea leaves and tell you what they mean.

Also, like all of our dreams, the economy is totally homoerotic, am I right? Well, OK, that one could just be my own thing I'm working through.

Anyway, the point is that the economy, for anyone working in such recession-proof fields as, say, journalism, is completely fake. After all, we're too poor to own anything of value anyway, and we don't get paid enough for make believe swings in Magic Numbers Land to flutter on little butterfly wings into our invisible bank accounts and fuck shit up that isn't there.

In short, the economy is a scam. A confidence game perpetuated by a bloated industry of speculators and slaves to the dollar. A dick-measuring contest propped up by greedy, small-minded people in a country that's long forgotten how to produce anything of substance, so instead have turned the accumulation of money into some perversion of a fantasy role playing game.

Or so I thought, until recently, when the floor finally fell out of this jalopy of a freelance writing career I've been holding together with duct tape, lickspittle and incriminating photos of a number of high-powered Boston editors.

Then again, like almost everyone else who's ever written about the economy, I really don't have any idea what I'm talking about. Hey, get me, I'm a clueless moron. Now where's my fat consulting contract with CNBC?

Turns out—and the rest of you with liberal arts degrees out there might be hearing this for the first time too—the entire economic system in the country is interconnected. That means that when the robber barons have finished gorging themselves on the spoils of war, wrists slick with oil and the tangy sweet blood of evil-doing Iraqis and when the feudal lords pull the old bait-and-switch on dim-witted Americans drunk on the potent, tub-brewed moonshine known as the American Dream of homeownership (no coincidence they call it a dream there), and when the fabulists who've made a princely living moving imaginary money from one column of numbers into another let us peek backstage at the entire rotten, shit- and greed-smeared production, that the omnivorous tendrils of economic calamity will have reached out even unto the furthest reaches of the fairy tale kingdom.

It's a pretty simple cause and effect process here. You lost your house, or your trailer, or cardboard box, or wherever it is you store your flatscreen, and that means you no longer have any money left over to buy newspapers and magazines. Any discretionary spending has to be reserved for staples, like milk or iPods. So publications' circulations, and more importantly, freelancer budgets, are plummeting. Guess whose mouth that warm golden stream of economic hardship is finally tricking down into?

So much like in the aftermath of 9/11, it's time for you to do the patriotic thing, America: throw caution to the wind, take out an extra credit card and start buying tons of useless shit you don't need. Newspaper subscriptions, for example. Go ahead, live the dream.

Weekly Dig

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

Berlin: Live At St. Ann's Warehouse

The crucial obstacle live albums have to overcome is how to capture the immediacy of a concert experience that doesn't readily translate to the recorded medium. But any concerns on that front on this 2006 recording of Lou Reed's classic and classically controversial 1973 album "Berlin" at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn are lost with the first boozy, bluesy piano notes of the title track. There's a similar scene-setting intimacy evident on songs like "Men of Good Fortune," an arrangement that startles with the seeming proximity of its dirty guitar crunch. Its rousing choral chorus and dramatic instrumental climax, as on "Caroline Says Pt. 1," push the charged live crowd atmosphere through the speakers, overcoming Reed's typically downcast lyrics and obliterating any sense of second-hand remove. Although it was largely panned upon release, it's hard to see what was so disagreeable about the record some 30 years later. If anything, the songs seem to have improved with age. Perhaps credit is due to the crack band, seven-piece orchestra, and cast of guests like Sharon Jones and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Reed assembled to bring the album to life. It's a dark, brooding life, indeed, but life all the same.

Boston Globe

Friday, December 19, 2008

Barcode: Craigie on Main

Classics with a twist

When celebrated chef Tony Maws recently uprooted his popular Craigie Street Bistro and moved to a larger space in Central Square, he provided the new Craigie on Main with more room to flex its culinary and cocktail-mixing muscle.

An elegantly rustic space, the barroom has a lived-in charm. Low lights, muted green paint, well-worn wooden floors, and a steady warmth off the open-air kitchen add to the sense of comfort and style. Maws's dedication to seasonal and locally grown ingredients carries over to bar manager Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli's concept for the cocktail menu as well.

"We wouldn't be true to what we are doing in the restaurant if we didn't think about seasonality and try to make as much in house as possible," he explained from behind the bar. He was cracking ice cubes and measuring ingredients at a hurried but precise pace. "That means artisanal and small-producer sipping spirits.

"We're steeped in classics and classic techniques," he added as he presented the Martinez (Old Tom Gin, Craigie's Antica Replica, maraschino, bitters, $10), a cocktail from the late 1800s that many consider to be the predecessor to the martini.

"We put this on the menu because we make the vermouth here," he said. A Carpano style vermouth, it's made with a base of red wine, which gives it a spicy, tannic quality. Extraordinarily aromatic, with bitter tannins and touches of cinnamon and cherry, it certainly lives up to its billing on the menu as "the rebirth of martini's mother cocktail."

The description of the Camino Cocktail (Rittenhouse rye, Mirto, Craigie Ambre Vermouth, $10) was a bit more poetic: "Myrtle Berry, Pennsylvania Fire." "I'm a rye guy, the bartender explained, testing a row of cocktails he'd just lined up across the bar. "This is what I would order off the list." Served straight up in a rocks glass (above), he added a kiss of burnt orange oil made by touching a lit match to an orange peel. It's a nice bit of showmanship, but it also brings out the spice of the rye.

Using locally grown pumpkin for a puree made with cardamom, cinnamon, and other spices, and finished with nutmeg, The Hunter's Moon (Reyka vodka, Musque de Provence, honey, $10) was eye-opening as well. It's lighter and cleaner than you'd expect, but there's a richness in the taste that comes from the squash and the rounded sweetness of the honey.

"It's meant to be a seasonal option for a vodka drinker," Schlesinger-Guidelli said. "It fits into what we do." Yes, and they do it quite well.

Craigie on Main, 853 Main St., Cambridge. 617-497-5511.

Boston Globe

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Greater Boston Alternative Comedy Festival

Greater Boston Alternative Comedy Festival proves that our town is still wicked hilarious

ROUNDUP. It’s no secret that the Boston area has a great reputation for producing comedy talent.

Everyone from the heralded hilarious (David Cross, Amy Poehler, Louis CK) to the mediocre superstars (Jay Leno, Dane Cook) and everyone in between (Denis Leary, Conan O’Brien) spent time honing their chops in the Bean. But as with any other art form, there is a rich underbelly of talent that doesn’t always get its proper shine. Comedian Robby Roadsteamer wants to remedy that with The Greater Boston Alternative Comedy Festival.

“There’s a really exciting scene brewing on the outskirts of Boston,” he says. “[There are] comedians who bring a unique energy and ideas to the stage and don’t necessarily prosper in front of tourists at the Comedy Connection who were choosing between the Paul Revere Trail or comedy.”

It really shouldn’t be a difficult choice. You’ll find more laughs and a lot less boring history tonight at this showcase of Boston comedy talent.

Boston has a good track record of producing famous comedians. Why do you think that is?
Roadsteamer: The community of comics support each other. That’s the bottom line. I think Boston’s in a unique position because in order to do comedy up here you have to want to do it for the love. Most of the time you’re not getting paid, and you tend to have shows where you play in front of bitchy tourists and chicks who watch “Chronicle.” ... Seems like up in Boston, the best you can hope for is a Ticketmaster commercial, but it makes an honest performer out of you.

Bethany Van Delft: Because the combination of Northeast sarcasm and New England sh—y weather breeds hilarious douche bags.

Mehran X: In New York, it’s brutal, soul-crushing competition that loses you in a sea of millions. In L.A. it’s errant stupidity and standards that set a higher premium on looks than content. ... Neither city really creates an environment that encourages a wiseass to discover and develop her or his unique voice. In Boston, we’re doing comedy because we love it.

What’s the funniest thing about Boston?
Shane Webb: Red Sox fans.

Dave Walsh of the Walsh Brothers: The funniest thing about Boston is easily the Boston accent. That's, like, a classic. It's so hilarious. And we don't even know it because we all sound the same. We can't hear each other saying "Y'all" and "G'day Mate". It's just regular language to us.

Chris Coxen: That people still get angry and surprised about winter. From what I can tell, the existence of winter is more or less a consistent pattern and something we should accept and expect each year.

The least funny?
Webb: Red Sox fans.

Coxen: The least funny thing about Boston is that we have an infestation of rats instead of male cheerleaders. Rats aren’t funny. Male cheerleaders are extremely funny.

Walsh: The least funny thing is the Jimmy Fund. Kids sick. No joke.

Got any material about Metro or newspapers in general?

Coxen: No. I’m still learning to read. I can write, obviously, but I can’t read yet.

Walsh: We hate newspapers because you get all that stuff on your hands while reading and then you go to pick up your sub sandwich and you end up getting an Archie cartoon on your sub. That doesn't happen when I pick up the Internet.

Webb: I do now.

Van Delft: We’ll see after this interview.

Boston Metro

Monday, December 8, 2008

Neil Gaiman Part 2

Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Luke O’Neil had a chance to talk with Neil Gaiman about a myriad of things over at Metro Newspapers, but O’Neil had a ton more info from the interview that wasn’t used, so we thought it was something you guys would like to take a look at. Let me pass the mike over to Luke for the interview.

A lot of the time doing interviews with well known artists (particularly big time actors and musicians) can be like pulling teeth. Rotten teeth, that is, since most of the quotes you end up getting are barely passable as coherent thoughts. But every now and again you find that rare interview that's not only extraordinarily talented, but also capable of reflecting on, and talking about his or her implementation of that talent in full, thoughtful sentences. When we interviewed Neil Gaiman for the Metro Newspapers last week, he was, unsurprisingly, just that. Unfortunately the paradox with print is that when subjects actually have something to say you never have enough room to let them say it. Consider this the special bonus features from that interview, with the rest of the stuff I had to cut. Here Gaiman discusses the reason most mainstream comic titles are no good, how he ruined comic book stores forever, why there will probably never be a SANDMAN movie, and the legacy of his beloved title below.

The original interview can be found here.

With its swirling, dream-like blend of mythology, fantasy and horror, Neil Gaiman's seminal THE SANDMAN series remains one of the finest achievements in comic book history to date. When it first appeared twenty years ago it combined a literary credibility with a crossover appeal and radically changed the pop culture landscape for years to come. Metro spoke with the British ex-pat about its legacy after the recent release of the fourth THE ABSOLUTE SANDMAN COLLECTION.

LUKE O’NEIL (LO): Obviously there has been extraordinary praise for SANDMAN over the years, including from outside the comics world. How do you explain its sustained crossover appeal?
NEIL GAIMAN (NG): The truth is I don't anymore because it has lasted twenty years. If you asked me while it was going on what the appeal of SANDMAN was I would've talked about it not being costumes and capes, about writing something for an audience of people like me, and hoping that they were out there. But I don't think even at my most madly optimistic I would ever have predicted a future in which twenty years after the first issue it would be selling more copies with each passing year. I think at the time I thought I was doing something that was fundamentally transient. That was going to be around for a little while. The joy of SANDMAN for me now is that it wasn't something that was time specific. And that…I can't explain it, but I delight in it.

LO: Has the genre ghettoization of graphic novels and literature abated since then?

NG: Well, for a start no one would have used the phrase graphic novels because nobody knew what it meant. Today of course no one knows what it means, but we use it all the time, which is different. There was definitely a ghettoization going on back then that you don't get now. One of the most interesting thing in some ways, looking back on it, is that now, and even back then, SANDMAN was making it onto university syllabuses. You would get students forcing their professors to read it. Students would discover it, start talking about it, the professors would have no idea what they were talking about and they would make their professors read it. Now of course you have professors making their students read it, which is kind of different. When we began, SANDMAN was pirate literature. The idea that you could have a quality monthly comic with a story was strange.

LO: Do you think it was sort of a Trojan Horse, sneaking literature in through the back door?

NG: I don't think it was exactly a Trojan Horse, but whatever it was, the magic of it was that it was happening in a place that nobody was looking. We didn't get written about in the New York Times until SANDMAN had been over for ten years. Eighteen years after it began. Which is not that I ever wanted an article in NYT. I think part of the strength and the power that it had was that it existed in the gutter. Nobody looked and nobody cared, and that in itself is a wonderful and empowering sort if thing, because it gives you complete freedom. It wasn't like I was trying to sneak in literature through the back door. What was much more fun was just that I got to tell my stories, and people let me.

LO: It's almost like an underground rock band with a huge following before the money interest have taken a hold of it. It has more time to develop on its own.

NG: I think that's very true. There was a point where SANDMAN was a little indie band. It loved being an indie band. Nobody told us what to do, because nobody had done anything like this before. There weren't any rules. It was amazingly empowering.

LO: You could probably trace the explosion of more serious, or adult, imprints like Vertigo directly to SANDMAN. Then there are of course the books that are obviously indebted to your influence like LUCIFER and FABLES to name two. What do you think of the scope of your creation -- your Dreaming if you will?

NG: It's always really, really hard to figure how much real influence you had on the world. I read an article the other day on one of these online blogs called "Five Ways that SANDMAN Changed the World." And I thought 'well I don't know about that.' I'm all of a sudden much more critical and harder to impress than the people reading it. So it said 'Ok, SANDMAN started the whole neo-superheroes thing' and I thought no. I think the most important thing SANDMAN did, and it did create some important things, was that it was the first mainstream comic ever to finish a story. And I think that cannot be underestimated. The idea before that had always been that if you were writing a monthly comic, let's say Superman or whatever, you couldn't finish it. You weren't ever allowed to do the last one, to have the story mean anything. You had to turn back to the soap opera.

LO: Too profitable to stop.

NG: Exactly. The great thing bout SANDMAN was it was the very first time that anyone ever said, we have this comic, it's selling better than anything else is selling, and when it's done, it's done. And that, in many ways, changed a lot of things. On the other hand, I still get complaints from comic store owners who blame SANDMAN for the graphic novel collections, and for many ways destroying their business. They'd say, look, in the old days if you wanted to read a comic, and it was something that had been published a while ago, the only way to read it was too pay extortionate prices for back issues. These days, if you're interested in what happened, you can go and pick up a trade paper back, which is pretty much everything now that has been reprinted. When SANDMAN began, the idea that what we were doing was not going to be collected, but was going to be in print, was enough. Comics were things that if you wanted to find out what happened in an old comic, you'd rummage in the clutter bin. That was where and how you found out.

LO: There are no stakes in a Spiderman comic. You know no one is going to die.

NG: If SANDMAN changed anything, it's that we got to do things the way we wanted to do. And one of those things that we did was the idea…especially when it's a story fundamentally about stories…that for stories to be important, they have to able to finish.

LO: How have you adapted with the way producing comics over the years has changed? It must be a lot different now than mailing pages across countries…

NG: Well actually there were definitely wonderful things about the world of mailing pages back and forth across countries. Because you could use Fed Ex, as a writer, and everything had a 2 or 3 days buffer zone. These days when people say they want something now, what they mean is email it to me. You could write up to the point that the Fed Ex would come! But overall I love the instant gratification. I am writing my first mainstream periodical comic years, doing Batman, just really mostly to keep my hand in it and find out if it was fun. One of the strange things about that is that I get emailed these glorious pages, and they come in and I look at them on screen, and I think, I would have never have seen this level of detail if they had faxed them to me in the past. It's kind of cool.

LO: How will you square working with Batman with what we were talking about before about finite stories?

NG: Well, one of the things that attracted me to it was when they asked if I would be interested in writing the last Batman story, so that's what I'm doing. The last Batman story.

LO: Movie adaptations are of course a big deal lately. A potential SANDMAN film has been in discussion for years. Do you think we'll ever see it come to fruition?

NG: I think for years the biggest problem that everyone had with the film, which honestly is no less a problem today, is that it was never cheap. By its very nature a Sandman film is going to be filled with special effects. But it also has to be intelligent. You can't turn it into a regular blockbuster, and it's also much too deep. You can't do Sandman in the same way you do Spiderman and say "ok here's one of the villains." Or even Batman. “Everyone loves the Joker, so let's have fun with a Joker story.” SANDMAN doesn't really work like that. Warners has been aware for fifteen, twenty years, that they have something that is one of the jewels in their crown for filming. On the other hand I had a meeting about three years ago with the current heads of Warners studios, who were getting lots and lots of calls from people saying they wanted to make a SANDMAN movie. They wanted to know what this thing was, could I explain it to them. Could I summarize SANDMAN for them. So I went out to Los Angeles and essentially did a three hour presentations with illustrations that we had done specially, statues, all that kind of thing, and explaining the whole story. When I got to the end of the presentation, the current head of Warners, he explained to me the reason that HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS had done so well was that they had very clear cut good guys and bad guys. And they wanted to know does SANDMAN have clear cut good guys and bad guys, and I said no, not even a little bit.

LO: Do you think hundreds of years from now some of our comics will have evolved into myths that we use, the way we think about the ancient stories of gods and so forth now?

It's lovely to think so. Actually what would be even cooler is the idea that all of today's and yesterday's pop culture would evolve into the giant stew, and when they talk about our days they vaguely remember this world in which, you know, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock went to the sky, and Superman and Spiderman kept New York safe, and Batman came out at night and hurt people. And through it all, the Sandman wandered through people's dreams. That would be a lovely kind of world.

Aint It Cool News

Kaiser Chiefs

ESSENTIAL "Like It Too Much"

The Kaiser Chiefs have been very busy churning out bratty, punk-pop hits over the course of their relatively brief but prolific recording career, so you'd imagine that they'd have to hit a speed bump at some point. After all, there are only so many hooks to go around, and they've made a habit of using up three or four songs' worth each on single tracks like the 2005 smash "I Predict a Riot." Inevitably the dreaded third album conundrum rears its spiteful head for everyone. Bands can either start repeating themselves then or call in a big-gun producer for a creative kick in the trousers. Kaiser Chiefs opted for the latter option on "Heads," turning to Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse; Lily Allen, who contributes backup vocals here) to lend some of his neo-soul Midas touch to the effort. The hurtling, new wave keyboard rush of "Never Miss a Beat," the pop-radio swirl of "Like It Too Much," and the casually brilliant bass-bounce of "Good Days Bad Days" prove the band still has more than enough hooks, and brash charm, to get it through even the longest of songwriting winters.

Boston Globe

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Starflyer 59

Dial M
The M stands for Melancholy, Marr
Jason Martin has had ample time to tinker with his band's sound since he first made a name as a guitar-happy shoe gazer in the nineties. The latest incarnation of his band finds him in a reflective mood, treading softly, wielding a heavy heart, and mostly skipping the guitar pedals. Instead moody acoustic strumming and plinking keys as on "The Brightest of the Head" move the misery forward here with a decidedly Smithsian bent. It doesn't hurt the comparison when Martin sings on the reluctantly powerful, understated "Minor Keys" "the saddest songs were wrote in minor keys, like Johnny Marr I want my Please, Please, Please." The pace picks up here and there with the thumping bass and high end synth rush of tracks "Taxi" and "Concentrate" but by and large this is just a bummer…in the best way possible. (Tooth and Nail;

Alt Press

Alternative Press' Anticipated Records of 2009: The Decemberists

EXPECT IT: April, 2009 on Capitol Records (
Fans have come to expect narrative-driven songs from these literate folk rockers, but perhaps not as thematically grandiose as Hazards of Love. "This one is a much more epic undertaking in that it's one story that goes through the whole record," says bass player Nate Query. "It has multiple characters played by multiple singers like Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond." Another curve ball: "There's a lot more guitar on the record than anything we've done…And weird A Clockwork Orange style synthesizer stuff."

Alt Press

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Barcode: Egg Nog

Cheers to the holidays

There aren't many things we're willing to wait for anymore.

Christmas starts right after Halloween now. Seasonal fruits and vegetables? Ship them in from wherever. Holding hands on a first date? What is this, the 1950s? And music floats around free on the Internet months before albums are released. But eggnog is the holdout, the one thing we've collectively decided is worth pining for each year, because with eggnog, the seasonal anticipation is part of the tradition.

At UpStairs on the Square, chef Susan Regis looks back to a tradition of her own with her father's recipe for Holiday Egg Nog (Sailor Jerry spiced rum, Cruzan Black Strap Rum, eggnog, nutmeg, $12.) With billowing waves of puffy cream and egg, this unique take on the traditional cocktail (below) is about the furthest thing from the boring old store-bought eggnog we remember from our own family holidays. Then again, none of us were award-winning chefs. With powerful vanilla bean undertones and a heavy hand of cream, this concoction has an almost foamy quality, and is viscous enough that you could eat it with a spoon. That comes from hand-whipping the egg yolks, then folding in the beaten whites. A generous serving of grated nutmeg, and some nice burnt caramel spice from the rum round out the flavor.

For an entirely different style of eggnog, Dante mixologist Stephen Shellenberger took a multicultural, historical approach. He used the once widely popular American drink the Tom and Jerry as a starting point, then looked for some international inspiration.

Eventually, he settled on the Italian zabaglione, which is a type of custard made from yolks and sugar beaten to incorporate a lot of air. When you combine that eggnog-like product with coffee, it is known as a Bombardino, $8.

"The goal in general is to add a creamy, dairyless texture to something hot and boozy," he says. "Eggs and sugar do it awesomely." Here, the alcohol comes from Fernet-Branca . A lot of coffee drinks are too sweet, but this has just a hint of grape that mellows the coffee. The yolk mixture is so light it mostly dissolves, giving the coffee a creamy thickness.

For a decidedly simpler recipe, consider the Botticelli (Absolut Vanilia, Faretti Biscotti Liqueur, eggnog, $12) at Da Vinci. It's a much lighter, crisper offering than the other two, largely because of Shingara Singh's (better known as Chef Peppino) recipe, which calls for a heavier milk than egg ratio. The liqueur, with its almond flavors and whisper of citrus is also a delightful touch here, as it quite literally tastes like biscotti.

We've been waiting a long time to try these seasonal cocktails, but now that we have, we should be all set with eggnog for another 12 months or so. We already miss missing it.

Upstairs on the Square, 91 Winthrop St., Cambridge. 617-864-1933,; Dante, 5 Cambridge Parkway, Cambridge. 617-497-4200,; Da Vinci, 162 Columbus Ave., Boston. 617-350-0007,

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Neil Gaiman

Gaiman talks legacy of ‘pirate literature’ and sneaking into public consciousness

INTERVIEW. With its swirling blend of mythology, fantasy and horror, Neil Gaiman’s seminal “The Sandman” series, about the Lord of Dreams, remains one of the finest achievements in comic book history to date. “The Sandman” title was published in 75 monthly issues from 1989 through 1996. “The Absolute Sandman” collection, the fourth and final edition of which was recently published, is a gorgeous reproduction of the series in hard bound, handsome volumes with extensive bonus material such as original sketches, scripts and extra short stories. When it first appeared 20 years ago it combined a literary credibility with a crossover appeal and radically changed the pop culture landscape for years to come. We spoke with the British ex-pat about the recent release of the fourth “The Absolute Sandman” collection and the legacy of the series.

How do you explain “The Sandman”’s sustained crossover appeal over all these years?

If you asked me while it was going on what the appeal of “Sandman” was I would’ve talked about it not being costumes and capes, [but] about writing something for an audience of people like me, and hoping that they were out there. But I don’t think even at my most madly optimistic I would ever have predicted a future in which 20 years after the first issue it would be selling more copies with each passing year.

Has the genre ghettoization of graphic novels and literature abated since then?

Well, for a start, no one would have used the phrase ‘graphic novels’ because nobody knew what it meant. Today, of course, no one knows what it means, but we use it all the time, which is different. ... Back then “Sandman” wasn’t making it onto university syllabuses. Students would discover it and the professors would have no idea what they were talking about and they would make their professors read it. Now, of course, you have professors making their students read it, which is kind of different. When we began, “Sandman” was pirate literature. The idea that you could have a quality monthly comic with a story was strange.

Do you think it was sort of a Trojan Horse, sneaking literature in through the back door?

I don’t think it was exactly a Trojan Horse, but whatever it was, the magic of it was that it was happening in a place that nobody was looking. ... I think part of the strength and the power that it had was that it existed in the gutter. Nobody looked and nobody cared, and that in itself is a wonderful and empowering sort of thing because it gives you complete freedom.

New York Metro

Monday, December 1, 2008

Girls, Guns and Glory

GGG prepare to send an ‘Inverted Valentine’ to the world

PROFILE. They may not make rock bands like they used to anymore, but then how do you explain Girls Guns and Glory? A group that seems to have arrived fully formed from some bygone epoch of country rock, the young Boston band’s Americana sound is rich with a maturity that is well beyond the reach of their years and the breadth of their experience. It’s a quality that a dusty, well-worn song like “Temptation” from their most recent release “Inverted Valentine” trumpets instantly in its opening salvo of mariachi horns and singer Ward Hayden’s golden honey and biting whiskey croon.

The latter is GGG’s not-so-secret weapon.

“I’ve got a lot of natural cracks and breaks to my voice,” says Hayden. “Most mornings I sound like a teenager until I’ve been awake for an hour.”

He says he used that cracky voice in his high school choir, where it was not as an appropriate a place for it as rock ‘n’ roll.

“They used to try to train me out of it, but breaking into my falsetto is just how my voice wants to flow,” he says. “I used to always think I’d be better suited for singing country music, but it wasn’t until my early twenties that country and Americana music really caught my ear. Since then I just fell in love with the sound. It’s how I hear the music and it’s much easier for me to sing with a twang and falsetto kind of style.”

Something about that singing style, not to mention the band’s backwoods roadhouse thump, caught the attention of label Lonesome Day Records out of Kentucky.

“Their founder happened to be in the audience at one of our gigs in Lexington, Kentucky,” says Hayden of the fortuitous meeting. “He approached us after the show, wanting to talk further. Long story short, he got in touch with our manager and after a few months of talking back and forth, they seemed like the right label for us at this time.”

Lonesome Day has plans to re-release “Inverted Valentine” early next year with national distribution. Soon thereafter the band begins work on the next album.

In the meantime, their increasingly busy touring schedule continues to ramp up with high profile dates like the Warren Hayes Christmas Jam in North Carolina alongside acts like Steve Earl, Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers Band. So far, the touring has been a series high with a few lows tossed in to keep things interesting, says Hayden.

“The increased touring has definitely helped make the band a lot tighter. When you’re on the road playing every night, sometimes doing two to three sets, it really gets you on the same musical page as the other guys in the band,” he says. “But, some of the drawbacks are that every now and again you find yourself in a small van with four guys that want to strangle each other over something silly, like ‘who has better sleeping arrangements’ or ‘who threw up in the van and won’t claim it?’ The latter only happened once, but the mystery is still unsolved.”
At this rate it won’t be long before they’ve achieved every band’s real dream: having someone on staff to clean up the throw up for them.

Boston Metro

Bell and Sebastian



It's hard to overstate the importance of these Scottish folk-pop romantics to music fans of a certain persuasion (moping) and world outlook (wearily sarcastic) who came of age in the late '90s. For many of them (OK, us), the literary, lovelorn missives of songwriter Stuart Murdoch and his merry band of miscreants were like a longed-for second coming of Morrissey. Anachronistic in style but utterly modern in outlook, the band changed the musical landscape with its heavy-hearted acoustic strumming, brassy retro bounce, and lonely bedroom confessionals. This collection of live radio performances from the band's early years is like a letter from an old friend long delayed in the post. Favorites in the vein of the bitterly arch "The State I Am In" and the swooning ode to athletic beauty "The Stars of Track and Field" are well represented here in mostly familiar arrangements, as are non-album singles like the swelling march "Slow Graffiti." But it's the quieter takes on the bouncing Motown blast of "Lazy Jane" and unreleased songs like "Nothing in the Silence," featuring the last stunningly precious, tragically beautiful contributions from early band principal Isobel Campbell, that make this a past worth revisiting.

Boston Globe

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Barcode: Tamo

This marks our fifth trip to the Seaport/Fort Point area this month (more times than we've been there in the past couple years), so yes, it looks as if the predictions about this neighborhood on the rise might finally come true.

It doesn't hurt that there's such a wealth of bars and restaurants to choose from. Now add Tamo, the high-end lounge at the Seaport Hotel, to your list of those worth a visit.

The people behind Tamo know their way around some simple classics, but also have an eye toward pushing conventioneers, travelers, and loyal regulars outside their cocktail comfort zone. Still, with the economy the way it is, one can't help but wonder about the future of the $12 martini bar.

"This is a sad night for me," bartender Micah Eli lamented last week. "All my regulars are getting laid off." Our sense of empathy was momentarily short-circuited when he offered up a bowl of nuts, wasabi peas, and dried cranberries. Yes, we are easily distracted.

The return of bar snacks, by the way, is a trend we're glad to see.

Eli's first recommendation was the Basil Gimlet (Grey Goose, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, fresh basil, $12). Nothing surprising, but the fresh lime and basil gave a crisp, airy touch to this popular standby.

Next up was the PB&J (Frangelico, Chambord, Butterscotch Schnapps, milk, $12). "The Frangelico is your nut, and the Chambord is like your Concord grape jelly," said Eli. "The butterscotch combines the two and keeps them together." There's something innocent and playful about this one with its echoes of childhood bag lunches.

We moved onto the Blueberry Peach Cobbler (Absolute Peach, fresh blueberry puree, milk, graham cracker crust, $12). Expecting something overly sweet from its end-of-the-sugary-bowl-of-cereal color, it was surprisingly balanced, with a mixture of tart blueberry and a whisper of peaches.

Eli gets a lot of help with ingredients - like the blueberry puree from chef Rachel Klein, whose restaurant Aura encompasses the Tamo bar. "She's so creative she's brought us a whole new dimension," he said.

The lychee puree used in the Lychee Martini (Grey Goose, Soho Lychee Liqueur, lychee puree, cranberry juice) is another product of the kitchen. Looking like a robust Cosmo, it has a nice round fruit to it, and a potpourri of perfumes on the nose. None of which is going to matter when we all get our pink slips, but at least we can go out drinking in style.

Tamo at the Seaport Hotel, One Seaport Lane, South Boston. 617-385-4000.

Boston Globe

Friday, November 21, 2008

Barcode: Legal Seafoods

Surprisingly, it's legal

The cocktail scene in Boston can seem a little insular at times, particularly with a lot of the same boldface names popping up in columns like this one. So we thought we'd move beyond the beaten martini path and try a place you might not expect to put much thought into its drink list: an East Coast (albeit locally based) chain restaurant.

We should have suspected something was up while looking over Legal Sea Foods' suspiciously interesting "Raising the Bar" menu, with its fresh fruit purees and house-made syrups. But when Legal's beverage operations specialist Kara Kukull explained that the company has been working with Eastern Standard's renowned bartender Jackson Cannon as a cocktail consultant, it all started to make sense. Whoops! So much for our plan to branch out.

"There's been a revival of these classic cocktail techniques," Kukull told us from behind the bar at the Kendall Square location. "There's more awareness of the value of quality in general."

To illustrate her point, she designed a taste test for us, setting two Tanqueray gimlets on the bar. One was made with Rose's Lime Juice, and the other was their Gimlet Classique (all drinks $9.95) made with fresh lime and real cane sugar. The difference was remarkable. There is simply no comparison between the pure flavors in the house-made lime cordial and the cheaper character of the Rose's. The color helps as well. Sipping a drink that's the color of icy lime as opposed to Martian green makes it feel like it's something that actually came from nature.

The Cranberry Bog Lemon Martini (fresh cranberry puree, Absolut Citron, house made sour, bitters; pictured above), a seasonal appropriate cocktail, was similarly well-received. The skins of the cranberries gave it a depth of texture, while the blend of the citrus and the bitters added layers of flavor and aromatic complexity.

Speaking of seasonal, The French Canadien (Benedictine, Canadian Club, caramel syrup, half and half) had us pining for Thanksgiving. A hard-shaken, frothy mix that puffed in the glass like a cloud, it pushed forward notes of clove and nutmeg and cinnamon. A second dessert-like option was The P.C. (house-made pear puree and caramel syrup, St. Germain, Bacardi Limon). The caramel syrup was like the liquid of the gods and the grapefruit and florals of the elderflower liqueur and slight spray of fresh citrus blew our minds.

We're not sure how well they'll go with a cup of clam chowder, but at least you know you have options.

Available at any Legal Sea Foods location.

Boston Globe

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nightlife Picks

THE CRYSTAL METHOD Pioneers of the big beat electronic explosion in the nineties, Las Vegas duo The Crystal Method put an American stamp on the genre with smash crossovers like "Busy Child." Since then they've been the go to team for spicing up action movie soundtracks with a thumping techno rush. 10 p.m. Nov. 20. $20. Underbar, 275 Tremont St., Boston. 866-926-8499,

SAVORY Sometimes you want to take in good DJs without the pressure of, you know, moving around on the dance floor. Savory on Friday nights at the artistically-minded bistro Channel Café is your chance to take it easy. Tonight guests Mark Ingram and Patrick Barry serve up a menu of funk, deep house and down-tempo while you dine. 6 p.m. Nov. 21. Channel Café, 300 Summer St., Boston. 617-426-0695,

ANGULAR HAIR AND GUITARS You would think that DJs Brian L. and Matt Ransom, both employees of Harmonix, the local company behind the wildly popular Rock Band video game series, would know a thing or two about rock. Saturday night they focus on post-punk, new wave and 80's. 9 p.m. Nov. 22. River Gods, 125 River St., Cambridge. 617-576-1881,

BIAS DESIGN Bias, the Boston-based screen-printing, urban style company celebrates the launch of their new fall line with a sneak preview party and pre-sale at the Other Side Café. With music, drinks and hip new fashion, there's plenty to be, ahem, biased about. 9 p.m. Nov. 20. The Other Side Cafe, 407 Newbury St., Boston. 617-347-1019,

Boston Globe

25 Most Stylish Bostonians of 2008 -- Jennifer Thompson

Jennifer Thompson

Age: 35

Profession: Twelve-time Olympic medalist in swimming, anesthesiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital

Residence: Brookline

Where are your favorite places to shop in Boston?

What are your most indispensable clothing items?
I've always loved my jeans. I've been a jeans snob for many years. I'm a longtime fan of 7's and True Religion. I have several pairs; I shouldn't buy anymore, but I tend to. I like wearing sundresses a lot too, so that's why I picked one for this shoot. I tend to be a fan of the $200 party dress. For no reason! If I'm going out for dinner or drinks I try to dress up. I lived in New York City for a while where dressing up is an everyday occurrence. I kind of like that about it.

What are you saying about Boston?
Well, people don't wear sparkles here too much. I'm trying to bring it to town.

Being a doctor is a job that probably doesn't give you much opportunity for stylish expression, does it?
Well, I do wear scrubs every day, so I try to mix it up a little bit with gold sneakers, or a fun scrub hat. Otherwise we all look the same. It also frees up my wardrobe money for fun clothes versus work clothes.

Is there a stylish way to accessorize with Olympic medals?
Well, they're a little heavy for earrings, otherwise it would be a nice option.

Do you still swim much? How have swimming styles changed for better or worse since you started?
I just recently joined the Cambridge Masters swim team. I've only been about five times though. The suits have gotten paradoxically bigger and more material. You'd think less material would be better, but the material is so fast, now we cover our whole bodies.

Got any big style regrets from the past?
The big high school perm. That's something I won't repeat.

You got to see a lot of the world through swimming. What was the most stylish city? I like a mixture of boutiques and H&M. This place I discovered recently that I really like is The Velvet Fly . . . Mint Julep, and various ones on Newbury Street. I can't keep track. Barcelona and Rome.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ani DiFranco

DiFranco strikes a responsive chord

Something often overlooked in the journalist-driven mythologies of Ani DiFranco (paragon of indie-minded business success, charged symbol of conflicted gender politicking) is what a dynamic guitar player she is. Those in attendance at Symphony Hall on Sunday night were quickly reminded of this as DiFranco transformed from busker to poet to rock star and back, sometimes all within the span of a single song.

On the crowd-pleasing "Little Plastic Castle," DiFranco worked up a percussive acoustic rhythm, strumming out rapid bursts of punchy chords as thousand of diehards hung on her every word. It was hard to say who seemed more excited by the results: DiFranco basking in the glow of the rapturous welcome or the capacity crowd standing throughout the performance, laughing at her stories, and screaming out declarations of love. Standing up, DiFranco said of the stately hall, "is probably not what this room was designed for."

What it is designed for is maximum acoustic efficiency. The three other members of the band (on drums, upright bass, and percussion) worked the angles of the room with light cymbal brushes, chunky bass notes, and reverberating vibraphone chimes that created an organic, enveloping warmth. Here the band built a funky jazz rhythm, there they offered only minimalist embellishments. On the new song "Nov. 4, 2008," DiFranco beamed with delight as she sang: "The victory was ours. Never had so many people donated to a campaign." It was presumably about Barack Obama, although it was hard to make out the rest of the lyrics over the roar of the crowd. At the very least, the thundering applause settled any question about the political affiliation of an audience at an indie folk-rock concert in Boston.

Less exciting was DiFranco's jazz-club slam-poet persona, with its by now dreadfully cliched exhalation meter, or the reliance on corny sexual innuendo she often employs (to the audience's delight). She hit her stride on the rocking numbers, wringing the neck of her acoustic as if coaxing some imaginary feedback from it, finger plucking rapid-fire melodies, and bouncing about the stage in rhythmic glee. Better still were the moments of defiant optimism, such as on the title track of her latest album, "Red Letter Year," where her plangent voice unwound from anguished whisper to rabble-rousing indignation.

Kindred spirit Erin McKeown opened with a set of forcefully projected, emotive folk. On the songs "Put the Fun Back in Funeral" and "Born to Hum," she directed the audience to accompany her on whispers and three-part harmony humming. The fact that we all played along should give an idea of the performance's intimacy and winning charm.

Boston Globe

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nightlife Picks


FLOSSTRADAMUS Fresh off spinning uber hip parties for the likes of Vice, The Fader and South by Southwest, Chicago DJ duo Flosstradamus pull into town for a sick night of indie electro and mashups like their cracked-out mix of Lil John and Zombie Nation on the "Act a Fool" remix. Yikes. 10 p.m. Nov. 14. $15. The Estate, 1 Boylston Place., Boston. 617-351-7000,

HOT FOR TEACHER In the immortal words of the philosopher David Lee Roth, "I think of all the education that I missed, but then my home work was never quite like this." Join the naughty school kids for mix of top 40 and old school at the Place's weekly school-themed dance party tonight. 10 p.m. Nov. 19. The Place, 2 Broad St., Boston. 617-523-2081.

CHRISTOPHER'S CATWALK Boston On Your Feet Project comes together with some of the area's hottest boutiques for a fashion runway show to benefit children's cancer charity Christopher's Haven tonight. Expect styles from The Velvet Fly, Rick Walkers, and Oak, complementary rum cocktails. 8 p.m. Nov. 13. $20 - $25. Parris, Quincy Markey Building, Faneuil Hall, Boston.

TETON GRAVITY RESEARCH The extreme sports production company throws a party tonight for the Boston premiere of their ski and snowboard film "Under the Influence." Athletes from the film will be in attendance, and DJ Franklin will get the crowd moving. Let's see if they move as good on a flat surface as they do on a downhill. 7:30 p.m. Nov 14. The Roxy. 866-926-8499,


BOSTON SWING CENTRAL This weekly dance party offers lessons for beginners at 8 p.m. followed by a dance party at 9 p.m. Tonight the six piece band The Swing Legacy set the hoppers swinging to the sounds of Duke Ellington and more. Nov. 14. $10 - $13. Boston Swing Central, 8 Inman St., Cambridge.

HAVANA SATURDAYS And you thought the Copa Cabana was the hottest spot north of Havana. With dance lessons for beginners and hundreds of dancers every week from newbies to pros, the rotating cast of Djs and live bands keeps the crowd on their toes, literally. And unlike a lot of these others nights, they serve alcohol, (aka magic dancing juice.) 9:30 p.m. Nov. 15. $15. Jorge Hernández Cultural Center, 85 West Newton St., Boston. 617-312-5550,

BELLY DANCE CLASSES It's not really a "belly" dance if you're learning how to move your entire body, now is it? Get the footwork down, learn how to move your hips, and master that all important question of what to do with your arms (finger cymbals help), at this three session belly dancing class. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19. $17. Jose Mateo Ballet Theater, 400 Harvard St. Cambridge. 781-962-1983,

TANGO SOCIETY OF BOSTON Check out the Argentine Tango dance lessons and party every Wednesday at the Tango Society of Boston. Whether you're a beginner or one of those smooth villains always whisking everyone's wife away for a breathless dance romance, there's a level here for you. 7 p.m. Nov 19. $8- $15. The Tango Society of Boston, 16 Bow St., Somerville. 617-699-6246,

Boston Globe

Ten Cheap Drinks

Chill Out

Feeling budget-minded? Here are 10 great cocktails that refresh for less.

Like everything else in the city, bar prices have been steadily inching upward over the past few years. These days, $12 is about average for a specialty cocktail at a lot of forward-thinking bars, and some of them are even worth it. But we've also seen some drinks trending toward the $13-$15 range, and a few as high as $18. That's fine if you sleep on a bed made of money. But with the economy the way it is, you may be minding the drinking budget for a while. That doesn't mean you've got nothing but well liquor to look forward to, however. We've found 10 (relatively) cheap but still interesting drinks for you to choose from at bars you'll actually want to spend time in. Thank us later.

Demi-Peche (wheat beer, peach syrup), $6.

This cocktail takes the idea of adding fruit to your wheat beer (usually lemon) and kicks it up a notch with the sticky sweetness of peach syrup. A totally thirst-quenching and refreshing drink, consider ordering one of these next time you're here, dancing all night.

Middlesex Lounge, 315 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-868-6739.

Negra Noche (Patron XO Cafe, cream liqueur, coffee, coffee rum), $7.

Sneaking a shot of tequila into your morning iced coffee, which roughly sums up the appeal of this cocktail, sounds like the type of thing that could improve your day. Still, it's probably a better idea to wait until after work to try it. Silly rules.

Silvertone, 69 Bromfield St., Boston. 617-338-7887.

Sherry Julep (pale cream sherry, muddled mint, sugar, Cava), $8.

Tapas are usually relatively inexpensive, but not if you order the way we do. Better, then, to keep the drinks on the affordable end. A twist on the mint julep, this cocktail's deep fruit flavors of apple and plum make for a crisp, fresh combo with the mint. Not sweet, just fruity, and with plenty of sparkle from the Cava.

Toro, 1704 Washington St., Boston. 617-536-4300.

Raspberry Lime Ricky (Stoli Razz, Chambord, fresh lime juice, sugar, soda), $8.

All the sugary goodness of whatever half-mythical soda-shop past you want to draw from, but served in a dimly lit, cramped but cozy city bar. It's like getting drunk on nostalgia, but, you know, also in the literal sense.

Columbus Cafe, 535 Columbus Ave., Boston. 617-247-9001. www.columbus

Sauza Gold Margarita (tequila, sour mix, lime, salt), $6.50.

Nothing out of the ordinary about this standard margarita, except for two key things: Like most of the other margaritas at this affordable Mexican restaurant, it's really, really big, and really, really cheap. Unlike other giant margaritas, it's not just loaded with sour mix. You'll actually get tequila all the way to the end.

Border Cafe, 32 Church St., Cambridge. 617-864-6100.

Golden Goddess (Gosling's gold rum, Amaretto, pineapple juice, orange juice, grenadine), $8.50.

It was cold outside and the heat was blasting at River Gods when we ordered this nutty, fruity, and sweet take on an old rum favorite. A few sips in and we almost forgot where we were. The sun came out, we could hear the sounds of the surf on the beach.

River Gods, 125 River St., Cambridge. 617-576-1881.

Mango Ginger Breeze

(house-infused ginger vodka, mango puree, sweet and sour mix, ginger beer), $8.50

When even the sports pubs like Tavern in the Square are doing in-house infusions and using fruit purees on their drink lists, you know that mixology style is spreading far and wide. Here, the combination of the ginger-infused vodka and ginger beer makes for a snappy mango flavor that tickles the tongue.

Tavern in the Square, 1815 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-354-7766.

Shiver (Campari, grapefruit, Eau de Vie of Douglas fir), $8.

After one sip of this bitter cocktail, there'll be no question about where it gets its name. With licorice and vaguely medicinal aromatics from the Campari, the citrus of the pink grapefruit, and the bracing, holiday pine notes of the brandy, there's a lot to digest here. But it's got a pleasant, spine-stiffening bitterness to it that's easy to get used to, especially when you give it a big squeeze of the plump, juicy orange garnish.

Chez Henri, 1 Shepard St., Cambridge. 617-354-8980.

Pineapple Mint Sangria

(Spanish table wine, pineapple, mint, ginger ale), $7.50.

In terms of buzz for you buck, you can't do much better than sangria, and it certainly doesn't hurt when it's as fun and drinkable as this one (pictured on front). A little too drinkable in fact. Deceptively strong, the smooth pineapple washes this one down in thirsty gulps.

Pho Republique, 1415 Washington St., Boston. 617-262-0005.

Margarita Caliente (jalapeño-infused gold tequila, triple sec, fresh sour), $7.50.

Tequila is spicy and hot enough on its own, but when you soak jalapeños in the bottle, well, that's asking for trouble. Except when it's not, like with this surprisingly drinkable cocktail. Sure, it's like doing salt licks off the side of the sun, but this infusion radiates a golden, salty, sour heat that doesn't bite too much. Unless you want it to.

Zuzu, 472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-492-1886.

Boston Globe