Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jive you like a hurricane

With Tragedy, Bee Gees become metal

The Bee Gees are that rare band whose music is timeless but simultaneously rooted firmly in its specific era. Can you imagine the brothers Gibb and company “Jive Talkin’” their way through the metal ’80s, for example? Well, you won’t have to imagine anymore, because New York City’s Tragedy, “The No. 1 Heavy Metal Bee Gees Tribute in the Tri-State Area,” have stumbled across a formula so ingenious it’s hard to believe no one has thought of it before. Metro took a peek behind the curtain with Tragedy singer/ guitarist Mo’Royce Peterson.

How did you get the idea to combine the Bee Gees with metal? It seems incongruous at first, but it totally works.

I was running one way with disco in my hands, and Brother Barry [Glibb, vocals, guitars] was running the other way with metal in his hands when we crashed into each other. “You got your disco in my metal!” “You got your metal in my disco!” And it tasted great. We were big fans of both genres and found that a lot of the Bee Gees’ songs really lend themselves to metal, with lyrics like “She’s juicy and she’s trouble, she gives it to me good” and “I get low and I get high and if I can’t get either, I really try.”

Is there a moment when you can see recognition spreading across the faces in an audience that may not be familiar with the band when they realize what songs you’re playing?
It is really funny to see that “sudden recognition” reaction when playing in front of an audience who doesn’t know who we are. Sometimes it blossoms into bliss, sometimes rage. Ideally, an evil blend of both.

On “You Should be Dancing,” you do a spooky spoken word part. Did you guys write that?

Actually, the producers of “Saturday Night Fever” made them cut that from the original. I guess virgin sacrifice and dead babies didn’t fit their “vision.”

I know no one ever wants to admit if they’re doing any kind of metal ironically, but what percentage of the time you guys are playing is it a laugh, and what percentage is it life or death?
666 percent. I believe, to my core, that life, death and laughter are all one in the same. The funniest stuff is inevitably profound. I have a hard time separating the humorous from the serious. The most honest answer I can give you is that we are having a lot of fun.

Do you think life was better in the ’70s?
Imagine disco and heavy metal being born in front of your eyes.

It seems like both metal and disco all of a sudden became cool again somehow a few years back. Now those are two of the biggest touchstones for new bands. How the hell did that happen?
There was a terrible backlash against the success of both disco and metal. It took a long time before people had enough distance to give both genres a fresh look and recognize how awesome that stuff is, musically and aesthetically.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.

Get Him Eat Him

Taste and see

Get Him Eat Him make spastic rock for the ADD set

At first blush, the songs on “Arms Down” by Providence’s Get Him Eat Him seem like the type of bass-forward, hyper-melodic, danceable rock you’d expect from a group of recent college-grads weaned on a diet of ’90s guitar indie. But singer guitarist Matt LeMay and band manage to weird things up with sonic spazz-outs and freaky keyboard squelches that make their humming rock buzz like a dancing cartoon robot. Metro spoke with LeMay about his band, from his new home in New York City, after inexplicably convincing him a career as a music journalist was a good idea.

There are a lot of components to the way you guys construct a song, what's the one thing that you can't do without?

Good question…I think it's changed over time. When I started writing songs, I was more concerned with things that sounded cool. Now I'm trying to focus more on the melody … a melody that works to unify a song with a lot of different things going, or gives it some sense of coherency or shape, even if there's a lot of weird, not necessarily related things happening around it.

You have a really idiosyncratic melodic style in your vocals that makes a lot of your songs really familiar. Is there someone you look to for ideas?
I think The Dismemberment Plan were a huge influence. They were a band that was able to pull off those weird chord changes that wouldn't necessarily make sense unless there was a melody over them that held them together. My allegiance is to mid to late ’90s indie guitar rock where the melody is the center of the song but you almost don't notice it because its function is just to hold everything together.

It seems you have penchant for taking what might otherwise be a pretty straightforward song and taking it in some divergent paths.

The way I write songs I usually don't structure them in a normal way. I think why our songs sound weird or different from normal indie guitar bands is because I have a short attention span, and I don't like to repeat things. As a result, I hope when repetitions do happen they have an effect instead of just repeating. I'm not someone who writes a verse, then a chorus, and builds a song around that. A lot of the time, I'll start a song with an idea that ends up being the second bridge that comes after the third thing that sounds sort of like a chorus, or I'll have a broader structural idea that then gets populated by whatever specific musical ideas. I'm interested in the idea of writing more traditionally. On “Arms Down, there are some songs that structurally and melodically are more recognizable. I hope we can keep going in that direction without becoming really boring. [laughs]

Does that approach keep a broader audience out?
I'm gonna try very had to not sound bitter when I'm talking about this. I think we're making the kind of music that's not really well suited to [today's listens]. We try to put a lot of stuff in there. We're dealing, I think, in emotionally complex territory sometimes. With so many bands, so much music, so many blogs and reviews, I think that music that reveals itself over time is a little bit handicapped in the game of indie rock fame. Long-answer-short, yes. I think if we were to go in a direction that was more immediately weird, if the idiosyncrasies of the songs were louder and simpler, then we'd have an easier time finding an audience. But, if we were to go in a more traditional verse-chorus- verse structure, maybe it would be easier, or maybe it wouldn't make any difference. I think we've come to terms with the fact that we don't sound like most of the bands that are getting super popular right now. At a certain point, you have to give yourself over to the fact that you're working in service of the songs. Whatever you're doing on stage, however you look, whatever you are playing, you're there to make something bigger than yourself happen.

My editor, who is a fan, said you don't sound like a Providence band. What do you think that means?
When people think of the Providence scene, they usually think of noise rock, bands like Lightning Bolt. Providence has a pretty rich music scene. It's a weird town that doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense. Which is great about it. There was a time when there was a very strong and unified noise rock scene…but that's kind of fallen apart. At this moment, there is really no Providence sound, there are a lot of bands doing really different things, which is exciting. You don't have the force of a scene behind you, but that's good and bad.

The record was produced by Jason Caddell from The Dismemberment Plan. What did you learn from him?
From Jason, and Champ Clark, who mixed our record and also mixed The D-Plan records, I learned to not over-crowd things. Every song has something at its core that prompted you to write that song. Your job as a songwriter and arranger and performer is to be as true to that as possible. Sometimes, when we were mixing, there would be three guitar parts I thought were interesting and they would say, "why don't we cut two of those parts," which I had a hard time accepting. I have this very young musician idea if one guitar part makes a good song, then five guitar parts is gonna make the song five times better! But on this record I [realized] you have to make a point of pulling back and letting the song make your decisions once it figures out what it is.

The old creative writing cliché, you have to kill your babies. So, you guys have done a couple national tours. What did you learn about the country by seeing it on tour with a rock band that you might not have otherwise known?
We've done a total of nine cross-country trips one way. The thing about touring in an indie rock band, you see the best of every city. All the narrow-mindedness and ignorance and racism that people might think about the sort of nether regions of the country…when you're traveling to rock clubs and meeting people putting on indie rock shows you never really see any of that. You just meet people who are cool, and will give you a floor to crash on and talk to you about bands you like. You get just enough local flavor to enjoy each place as a different thing, but you never feel too far out of your element. But, one thing I've learned is that regional food is amazing. Especially when we're traveling through the southwest, when they've just harvested all the green chilies. There's just amazing food to be had all over this country.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.

Chuck Ragan

Hot Water chillout

Chuck Ragan goes acoustic, stays punk

Punk rock never dies. It just sometimes unplugs its guitar and relocates from the basement to the front porch. And so it goes with Chuck Ragan, former frontman for the blazing Florida band Hot Water Music. His solo record, “Feast Or Famine,” is a quieter, acoustic affair, but Ragan’s stirring passion remains intact, and his trademark gruff vocals dirty up a pretty collection of traditional folk. Metro caught up with Ragan on the phone from California.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of playing mellower, acoustic-based music now?
It’s a lot more relaxing, for starters! It’s liberating. I’ll always love playing with the boys, plugging in, playing loud and going nuts and getting that energy from the crowd, but there’s really something about completely stripping down and getting out there, where there’s nothing to hide behind.

Sometimes a band can hide imperfections with noise. Is that a challenge now?
Absolutely. Like I said, you either pull it off or you don’t. And I’ve done both. Since there isn’t three other people up there to help push you when you’re down, it’s just straight and simple and about as real as it gets.

There are lots of different acoustic instruments all over the record. Did you learn to play them all?

Yeah, I played a lot of piano and organ and harps and lap steel all over that record, but I had some friends come in with a lot of other accompaniment. Jon Gaunt played fiddle, James Fearnley from the Pogues, Matt Hensley [accordion] and Nathan Maxwell [bass] from Flogging Molly, different guest appearances from good friends on vocals, and Ted Hutt, the producer, plays mandolins. I play what I can. I try to be a jack of all trades but surely a master of nothing!

“California Burritos” is a really great lyric about aging. Where were you coming from writing that?

I wrote that song when I was pretty young, in my early 20s. It’s always felt relevant to me, no matter what age I was at at the time or what I was doing. I thought it was pretty ironic, the lyric “I can’t stand feeling old,” since it came about when I was in my early 20s. There’s definitely a sense of irony.

Is the irony going away as you actually get old?
[Laughs.] Every day the more I play it, the more I listen to it, it makes more sense. I’m 33. I still sometimes feel like a youngin’. But I grew up skateboarding, so the knees and the back are going on about 50 now.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.

Monday, January 28, 2008

An aural collage becomes a collision

DJ Spooky digitally manipulated the sounds of cello, violin, and bass.

Subverting ways of perception in any medium, be it visual art, film, or music, is hard work. Or, to put it another way, tedious, which is an apt description of DJ Spooky's confused and jarring performance of "Subliminal Strings: Nature Morte."

Spooky, a conceptual artist when he's not at his day job making beats, intended the performance as a commentary on the interaction between software and instruments, but as is often the case in exercises like this, the emphasis fell too heavily on the concept without much consideration for the art.

Introducing the piece, he called it a "collision between recordings of the ensemble and the materials they are playing," although it's unlikely by collision he meant train wreck.

Creating an aural collage of live cello, violin, and bass, then digitally manipulating them in real time is an intriguing prospect, and at moments the ensemble made it work. In one passage toward the finale a dramatic four note pattern developed organically into a groove as the DJ worked sound bites of gentle string scraping into a percussive loop, but moments of cohesion like this were rare.

More often the musicians would begin with an idea - a creeping repetition, or an ominous, echoing stab - that could have landed well on its own as unsettling avant-gardism, but before long Spooky would come in with uninspired noise or incongruously arrhythmic drum patterns that merely distracted and unmoored any musical footing. The result was something like a symphony of car horns, or listening to a horror film soundtrack on a skipping record. Rather than playing off each other, Spooky and the trio played against each other, competing for the listeners' attention. It felt something like sitting between two rehearsal studios, a hip-hop group practicing in one room and a classical group in the other, snippets of sound bleeding through the walls. An accompanying film collage only further complicated matters.

Spooky described his "strange experiment" as a "work in progress," which is true in the way that falling down a flight of stairs is a work in progress toward smashing your head.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Night of the Dolls

Latex Lily brings back her ‘Dolls’

What’s a latex party? Your guess is as good as ours. Latex Lily organizes and co-hosts “Night of the Dolls” fetish and dance night, along with Patrick Fitzgerald. We figured Lily would be a good source. “A Latex party,” she says, “is a party where a group of people dress up in latex or PVC, basically something shiny and pervy.” Another long-running popular night at the old Manray club in Central Square, “Dolls” has now relocated across the street to TT the Bear’s. Metro dug in our heels for a little more detail.

So, what type of people come out to a latex party? Is there a thriving scene in Boston?
We get all sorts of people at these parties. Fetishists, goth kids, college students; people who like to be kinky and sociable. The scene in Boston is healthy.

The dress code seems a little intimidating. Do you have to turn a lot of people away?
I think, and I have seen this worldwide, that the advent of a dress code is not meant to be mean and exclude. ... It encourages people to get dressed up, so that people who want to dress up don’t feel overdressed. There is nothing worse than walking into a nightclub in a latex catsuit when you are surrounded by a bunch of people in jeans. ... It keeps people safe. Sometimes you get people who want to come in and molest chicks dressed in fetish gear or beat up some dude for dressing up with a collar. If a person is invested enough in the event to at least wear all black, then they probably want to seriously check the place out.

Do you think people would feel welcome coming for the first time?
The people that go are very friendly. I tend to be very friendly. If someone is nice and says hello, I will say hello back. Most of the people there are like that. Also, fetish people are always interested in meeting other fetish people. It makes their friend group larger. Being a kinky weirdo in a club for kinky weirdos is not so weird after all. It’s nice to feel like you belong.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cobra Starship

Extreme ‘Guilty Pleasure’

You like Cobra Starship, you just can’t admit it

With their giant pop hooks, disco punk aesthetic, slick production (courtesy of Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump), and tongue-in-cheek lyrics and song titles, Cobra Starship seem tailor-made for guilty pleasure status, a fact the hyper self-aware New York band seem cool with. In fact, the best of the propulsive dance floor anthems on the band’s second album, “¡Viva La Cobra!” is titled, “Guilty Pleasure.” Metro spoke with guitarist Ryland Blackinton.

I can’t stop singing “Guilty Pleasure” in my head today. How are you able to walk around and do anything when you have to play it nonstop?

Our mission is truly accomplished! I don’t walk around singing it my head all day, but sometimes, when I lay down to try to sleep at night, the songs just kind of invade and play in my head, which is fine. Especially right now cause we practice every day and we play them all day long. I don’t get sick of them, it’s always still pretty fun.

Do you have a song that you use to reset whatever is stuck in your head? I use “Billy Jean.”

Yeah, actually “My Sharona” does that for me. [Sings the chorus]. It’s like audio white out. You can blank out whatever was there.

Seems like somewhere not too long ago people decided rock was supposed to be fun again. Is that a big part of what you guys wanted to do?

Yes and no. I don’t think I was cognizant of it, myself. But, definitely as the band started to get going, as we started to do more and more tours, I realized it can’t be any other way. Our big mission statement is that we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. The minute that happens, it’s not fun anymore. I think it happened naturally, but we’re thankful that there are other people that are into the idea of music just being fun again.

Do you ever find yourselves slipping into that rockstar douchebag pose as you get more popular?

No, it’s funny because I think people maybe have a perception of that happening to people, but here’s the deal: At the end of the day, I can totally walk around, walk to my apartment, nothing’s different. We’re all really grounded, and I don’t see that changing.

What if the next record sells ten million copies, then can you get away with it?

I don’t think it’s a question of if you can get away with it, as long as you stay true to the fact that you’re doing it to have fun. But who knows? We might be having an interview two years from now, and I’m just a total douche. I hope not, though! I’m actually homeless tomorrow. We’re gonna tour so much it’s like, what’s the point? I know enough people that don’t have a problem with me staying on their couch that I’ll get by.

How many nights is the cut-off for crashing on someone’s couch?

It’s crazy that you ask, because being the overly analytical, neurotic, nebbishy person that I am, I’ve already thought through that all. I think it’s, like, three nights. Like a bed and breakfast.

Some of the band’s lyrics, like “The City is at War,” could be construed as serious stuff, but the song still sounds like a blast.

The subject matter is pretty dark, and there are people out there in the world like the people we’re talking about, but you can’t do anything other than laugh. A lot of people in our generation, we’ve watched a lot of f-cked up things happen in our country. Living in New York, you see a lot of f-cked up things. All you can do is satirize it and make light of it. That’s always been my personality about it and Gabe’s persona, as well, lyrically.

There’s this sort of dichotomy in your band, a scruffy indie rock thing matched up with big slick pop. Is that a contradiction to you or does it just come naturally?

I don’t know about that dichotomy. Whatever it is, it’s not conscious. We’re dirty on the outside, but clean on the inside, I guess. I’m not really sure.

Do you think genre has become irrelevant for kids today? It seems like mixing up disco, metal and pop is something just taken at face value now, whereas before it might have raised a few eyebrows.

We’re lucky to be able to do that now, to play an amalgam of a couple different scenes. I think it was maybe harder to do that in the early ’90s, when everything was more cut and dry. Again, it’s just a part of all of our influences. Gabe has a background in punk, [bass player Alex Suarez] used to play in hardcore and metal bands. I used to sing in a choir. It’s just a mishmash of everything we find fun, whether it be disco or freestyle, or stuff like that. We just brought it all to the table and put it all in the stew. Hopefully, it tastes pretty good. It might need a little salt.

You’ve done some pretty extensive international touring. What was your favorite country?

Japan was the coolest place, for me. A lot of cool things happened. We did a couple festivals with Dinosaur Jr. For me, in the ’90s, growing up in Massachusetts, that’s what it was all about. Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh, and here we go out on these festivals, and it was the original lineup, and I got to meet them, and it was an amazing experience for me to go and meet the people that were responsible for getting me involved in music.

You’ve played with a lot of bands I get crap from my friends for being into. Boys Like Girls, for example. Do you think there’s an age-appropriate demo for music like that or your own band?

I wouldn’t really know. I know sometimes people are funny about that type of thing. We just did this thing on MTV for an artist-of-the-week thing, and we were on there for every commercial break, and a lot of my friends from high school and college said they saw it, but no one would admit that they were just watching MTV. They were like “Oh, I was hungover and I was flipping through.” There is a funny stigma right now about being “too old” and being into this type of music, but f-ck ‘em I guess. We all have our own prerogative. That’s why they call it a guilty pleasure, because you can’t admit you like it.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.


Good ‘ol new wave

Holdin’ out for ‘Heroes’ at ’80s dance night

This version of “Heroes” has nothing to do with the NBC superhero drama. However, you still might find people dressed up in costumes (of a more fashionable sort) at the long-running ManRay ’80s dance party, “Heroes,” says resident DJ Chris Ewen. After a rotating tour of nightclubs throughout the city, the popular event seems to have landed a semi-permanent home at T.T.’s. Metro asked Ewen how he throws it down.

How long have you been a DJ?

I started spinning in the mid ’80s in Detroit. I used to go to a club called Todd’s. It was a gay club that had an underground dance night. When they fired their DJ for that night, I told them I knew how to DJ, even though I’d never worked in a club before. They let me spin one night, and then they hired me.

“Heroes” has moved around a lot. What’s been your favorite venue so far?

I obviously still have a soft spot for my time at ManRay.

Any songs you get sick of playing?

Funnily enough, not that many. “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners would probably top my list.

Why do you think ’80s dance nights continue to be so popular after all this time?

While there is obviously the nostalgia factor, I think there’s more to it than that. Some people enjoy hearing songs they grew up with or that they haven’t heard in a very long time. But the ’80s were about more than skinny ties, John Hughes movies and one-hit wonders. Musically, it was a very creative and diverse time and spawned the goth, industrial and electro club scenes that continue to thrive today. ... So, besides just playing the standard “new wave hits of the ’80s,” I like to mix in some of the darker and more obscure elements from that time, as well as newer bands that draw some of their inspiration from it.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Birthday Massacre

Oh great, another goth industrial band influenced by the Cure and Depeche Mode. Do they have a factory in China churning these things out or what? But wait just a second. Tortonto's The Birthday Massacre -- goofy makeup and haircuts aside -- have a way with a soaring synth hook and a powerful guitar edge that makes all the knee jerk criticism seem silly. In short, they rock. Metro spoke with singer Chibi from the road just after her first shower in days.

You do a pretty good job of mixing retro elements with a more modern sound.

I think when we write music we think about the music we listened to growing up. We all grew up in the eighties, and we feel sentimental for that time. I like that concept, of thinking back to when you were young. When you grow up it's hard to hold onto that feeling. We liked bands like The Cure and Metallica. And synthy stuff like Cyndi Lauper and Roxette. We try to put that together with what we're into now.

I don't think I've ever heard anyone namedrop Metallica and Roxette in the same sentence! That sort of comes about with the counterpoint between the sweetness of your vocals and the heavy, chugging guitars.

Ha. That's the first thing that popped into my head. I like the idea of contrast. Melody with an industrial vibe and softer, sweeter vocals. We do that with our artwork too, try to balance heavier with lighter. Scary images with cute images. We want to take two opposite things and mesh them.

How important is your visual presentation, including the fashion side, to being able to appreciate your music?

It makes things fun, I think. We try to be conscious of what we wear to keep it interesting for people who are gonna watch the show. We want to create an atmosphere for the show, for the website, and hopefully it all ties together. It's fun for us to do our hair…we want to make the effort. People come to our shows and hear something in the music and then dress up.

So what's with the weird names of people in the band like Rainbow and Chibi and M. Falcore? Is that part of the dressing up?

Ha. Chibi is my name in the band. It's an anime character from a cartoon I liked when I was younger. We picked them like eight years ago and they kind of stuck around. It's kind of fun. We try not to take things too seriously, so it's never like a pompous or pretentious thing. We take the music very seriously, some of it's dark, or whatever, but it's tongue in cheek as well. We dance and have fun on stage so it's not like this overbearing dark thing. We goof around. We don't want to be a parody.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.


"Bulls Make Money, Bears Make Money, Pigs Get Slaughtered"

Too-clever titles and Tim Burton art school reject imagery aside, this Michigan band rips through a series of heroically soaring pop metal songs on Bone Palace Ballet. Here singer Craig Owens' stratospheric voice knifes through the pounding chaos like a demented surgeon. myspace.com/chiodos

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Tuesday Events

Unless you’ve been living in a cave on the Moon for the past decade, then you know that the New England Patriots have become the model franchise in all of professional sports. And their unprecedented run this year has turned the national sports media into a 24 hour Brady love fest. It’s almost to the point where we couldn’t read another single word about the team. Almost. First we have to finish Boston sports writer Christopher Price’s The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower. Price reads from the book today. 6p.m. Free. Borders Books, 511 Boylston St., Boston. 617-236-1444. bordersstores.com

We’d love to live by the convictions of Alceste, the antihero of seventeenth century playwright Molière’s The Misanthrope. Fed up with the hypocrisies of upper class society, he decides to speak only the truth. Of course, as is the case in comedies like this, romance tends to get in the way, and the self righteous Alceste falls for Célimène, the vain ideal of everything he hates. Funny how that works. The classic comedy directed by Adam Zahler begins with a pay-what-you-will performance tonight. 7:30p.m. $30-55. Through Feb 10. New Repertory Theatre, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. 617-923-7060. newrep.org [Luke O’Neil]

Our friends tell us we’re funny all the time. Although we’re not entirely sure if they mean funny “ha ha” or funny “you’re scaring us, weirdo.” Perhaps we’ll take to the stage at the Comedy Open Mic night tonight at the Irish Times to figure it out. Hosted by comedian James Dorsey, the event gives up and coming talent seven minutes each to gaze into the abyss and fend off the creeping suspicion that they’re not laughing with you, they’re laughing at you. 21+. 8p.m. Free. The Irish Times, 244 Main St., Worcester. 508-797-9599. irishtimespub.com

Last time we tried to do the Tango we sprained both ankles, knocked over a priceless antique vase and spilled an entire tray of red wine all over the boss’ wife. Who knew something so sexy could also be so dangerous? Next time we’ll be sure to get some lessons before hand, like at The Odd Tuesday Milonga at the Lily Pad (the performance and gallery space in the old Zeitgeist Gallery location). Stop in tonight at 7p.m. for lessons, practice at 8p.m. and then get ready to dance your face off from 9p.m.-12. The trick is not dancing anyone else’s face off, apparently. The Lily Pad, 1353 Cambridge St., Cambridge. 617-395-1393. lily-pad.net

Much like the ubiquity of plastic surgery, shady film producers and movie star politicians, here in Massachusetts earthquakes have always seemed like a uniquely Californian problem. Thank God. But did you know we’ve got a pretty extensive history of tremors here in the Bay State, from the Boston Earthquakes of 1638 and 1663 to the Brockton Earthquake of 1697 and the Boston Shaker of 1800, to name just a few? Join New England folklorist John Horrigan for a discussion titled Great Earthquakes of Olde New England, 1638-1800 tonight and find out more about our shaky past. 7p.m. Free. Sudbury Goodnow Library, 21 Concord Road, Sudbury. 978-443-1035. library.sudbury.ma.us

Literary types will recognize illustrator Charles Burns’ work from his portraits in the Believer Magazine. Punk rock aficionados probably remember his work for the old Sub Pop fanzine. But Burns’ greatest achievement is no doubt the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Award-winning Black Hole, a series of comics about a mysterious sexually transmitted bug that affects a group of 1970s Seattle high school students. It’s a beautifully rendered portrait of teenage alienation. Burns appears today. 7p.m. Free. Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St., Brookline. 617-566-6660. brooklinebooksmith.com

The ubiquity of insider fashion shows like Project Runway has turned us all into budding fashionistas (in our imaginations anyway). After watching a handful of episodes we’re convinced we could easily design a stunning and wearable line. Ok, back to reality: What’s the actual life of a fashion designer icon like? In Lagerfeld Confidential, French director Rodolphe Marconi whittled down 150 hours of film with the man, the myth, the legend, and the result is as entertaining as it is revealing. Thursday. 4:30p.m. $6-7. Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston. 617-267-9300. mfa.org

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Barcode: The Spirit Bar

Back in my day, by which I mean a completely invented past, a sports bar was an indecent place where dentally challenged townies stacked rows of dead soldiers on the bar noon to night. But now, with the Manifest Destiny-like march of sports culture across the Boston dining landscape, things have changed considerably. We're not ordering $15 Randy Mossijtos in novelty mugs just yet, but it can't be far off, can it? Fortunately, those polar opposites of style leave room for a middle ground, and The Spirit Bar (2046 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-868-1555 thespiritbars.com), fills the gap ably.

Despite its unassuming take on Irish pub-style bric-a-brac, with tucked-away dining tables and high-top banquettes along the wall, the smallish space still manages to assault the senses with its seven flat-screen televisions dominating the interior. Good news if you're there for a game, not so much for peace and quiet. A recent Saturday afternoon found a group of boisterous UMass basketball fans barking along with their team.

Fifteen beers on tap ranging from PBR ($2.75) to 20-oz. Guinness ($5), as well a decent specialty cocktails list, leave plenty of room for decision. The Bailey's Mint (Stoli Vanilla, Three Olives Chocolate, Baileys Mint, $8.50), was a deliciously frothy and creamy drink served in a chocolate syrup-laced glass, while the Razberri Latte (Stoli Raz, Kahlua French Vanilla, Godiva Liquer, $8.50), was a less inspired alcoholic milkshake of sorts.

Next time I'll be sure to try the bar special: five bottles and a pound of buffalo wings ($19.95) (Note to self, wear loose pants). Aside from the expected finger food it's obvious Spirit takes pride in its menu - something you can't take for granted at pubs like this. Dishes like the crusty and fluffy arancinis stuffed with beef, carrots, and peas ($9.95) and a 10-oz., center-cut sirloin steak ($16.95) reflect well on the bar's ambition and affordability, proving that there's plenty of room for people interested in both decent drink and food and a gluttonous sports onslaught at once.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Guilty Pleasures: Writing This Column

I know it's hard to believe, dear reader, but we've been together for something like 70 plus weeks now. That's got to be longer than the average American marriage. And to think it was only a mere two months into writing this column that I felt like I was running out of things to feel guilty about. But something magical happened along the way that changed the way I was looking at the world, and myself. Namely, everything started to make me feel guilty! You might imagine that's something of a problem, but not for me. In fact, I relished it. Well, at first anyway. Because you know what? Feeling good about things isn't funny. What more is there to say about something enjoyable than "I like it."? Complaining and sarcasm and self flagellation, now those are what we call endlessly renewable resources. Shame, my friends, has no end.

But eventually the prospect of dissecting the minutiae of your eating habits, addictions, reading choices, shopping behaviors, exercise routines, manner of transportation, interactions with friends and family, holiday observances, eating habits again (and again), television choices and so on begin to add up to a catalogue of the weird. It probably would have been better to title this section Why Luke Is A Pretty Odd Dude, But Then Again You Probably Are Too So Let's All Laugh About It.

The important thing to remember though, is that aside from those generally harmful things, like smoking, for example, or, I don't know, murdering people, we really have nothing to feel
guilty about. So what if you have bad taste in music. Odds are the guy next to you does too and he just hasn't admitted it to the world yet because of some assumed pose. If I've learned anything writing about guilty pleasures, it's that no one, absolutely no one, is "cool." Everyone is strange in their own way. So we can all rest soundly at night, knowing that we aren't alone in our perversions.

Although they say in my beloved formulaic crime programs on TV that only the
guilty can sleep in prison, and the wrongly accused are so consumed with fear they cannot rest. Well, I've sat awake many nights trying to come up with something else to feel guilty about for a long time now. Then again, maybe that's because I drink way too much coffee. I should probably try to stop that.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.


This Is A Landslide
A surprisingly unified effort from indie who’s who
By their very nature collaboration albums tend to be disjointed affairs. Oftentimes the result is a spotty compilation effort at best. So it’s to Denver Dalley’s great credit that he’s managed to create a truly unified, moving, and in some ways anachronistic whole here: an actual capital A Album. On This Is A Landslide, the former Desaparecidos guitarist and Statistics frontman and his collaborator Sam Shacklock have stitched a recurring motif of loneliness and a commonality of heartbreak throughout a wildly varying cadre of singers. The juxtaposition of their cool, detached electronic beats and samples and the often heavily effects-laden vocals achieve a sort of middle ground of feeling. It doesn’t make sense that barebones compositions like this should come off so heartfelt, but credit great performances from Judah Nagler of the Velvet Teen, who howls like a sex starved Portishead on “Queens Of Comparison,” TJ Penzone of Men, Women and Children who adds a propulsive blast of energy on “Rocket” and Greg Dulli, to name just three, whose otherworldly lament washes over tides of feedback and piano on the chilling and memorable title track. (SLOWDANCE RECORDS; www.slowdance.com) Luke O’Neil

Rocks Like: Statistics, minus the rocking; Air’ s Moon Safari; Everything But the Girl’s Walking Wounded, but, you know, cooler.


How did you decide who to work with on each song?
A lot of them were just friends. About half of them were people I already knew. Some like John (Roderick) from the Long Winters I just emailed blindly and said I liked his voice. Basically it was anyone whose voice I admired, or thought had a signature sound or whatever. A pretty random mix. My friend Jeff Klein who is a singer songwriter from Austin introduced me to Greg Dulli in New Orleans when we were on tour. I mentioned I had a song I wanted Greg to hear and he forwarded him the song and he got back to me immediately. It was a huge moment for me, since I grew up listening to the Afghan Wigs.

Anyone you couldn’t get that you wanted to?
We were supposed to have Mark Hoppus from Blink 182 and Jim Adkins from Jimmy Eat World. Jim couldn’t do it for scheduling reasons and it sounded like it was going to be a legal nightmare to get Mark. I worked on the record for so long getting schedules to match up and dealing with legal stuff. It was quite a process. I’m like a licensed paralegal now! I figured it would just be like “so and so’s gonna play and it’s gonna be fun!” I was on Saddle Creek for years and the artists would just sing on each other’s records and there was no paper work.

Did you work on melodies and lyrics as well or leave that up to the singers?
They came up with all the melodies and lyrics themselves. I gave them complete control. I loved each track and what each vocalist did. One of the best parts of the process was to send them this blank canvas and to have them send back their parts. It was such a cool moment. A lot of it was just luck. There wasn’t a single track where I was like “oh, can you go back and…”

How did you arrive at such a consistent sound with so many people working on it? It’s all pretty melancholy.
The original idea was for it to be a good mix CD, and that it would be this great cross promotional thing for some of the bands that are brand new without much exposure and some that already have an established fan base. I tried to have the same mindset for each track, but that was just luck to have so many people collaborate and have it be cohesive. I was curious if the tracks lyrically would be so far off, but it’s not too repetitive and it’s not too far out there. Some of my songwriting, like with Statistics, people say they can hear a sort of longing to get out of the small city you grew up in. I don’t try to zero in on that, but anytime I write a song it’s at night when I can’t sleep. Maybe there’s that sense of isolation.

Originally published in Alternative Press.

Xiu Xiu

Women As Lovers
Folky Abstract Brothers
What we have here is a pot luck of heartrending, experimental cacophony broken up by moments of hushed beauty. On “songs” like “FTW“, front-weirdo Jamie Stewart injects a nightmare protagonist’s inner monologue into psyched-out landscapes while his roving band of art school carnies keep pace with the rhythm of an accelerating heart beat. The whole mess is roughed up by the squelches and squeals of spaceship funk and seventies b-movie horror soundtrack effects. It’s about as close a facsimile of the fractured and foreboding scattershot thoughts that haunt most of us at night as I’ve heard on record. In the furious collage of found sounds, folk tropes, ambient affectations and punk aesthetics, Xiu Xiu, as usual, have delivered a true original. Perhaps not an eminently listenable one, (although the Bowie cover is a nice freak-out touch) but original all the same. (Kill Rock Stars; www.killrockstars.com)

Originally published in Alternative Press.

Cobra Starship

!Viva La Cobra!
Party Rock for the Self Serious
Thankfully a few years back enterprising bands realized there was more to rocking out than crying about girls and shoegazing. Credit the end of his old band, Midtown, for this sort of epiphany for Gabe Saporta. On Cobra Starship’s second release, he blazes through a collection of party rock jams bursting with keytar energy, tits-out dance beats and cheeky lyrics taken straight from the Fall Out Boy style book, which makes sense, of course, because it was produced by that band’s Patrick Stump. And like FOB, Saporta and crew don’t take themselves too seriously. Consider the song “Guilty Pleasure,” a synth-cheese rocker that has Saporta fronting like a spandex clad, spin-kicking David Lee Roth. “I came here to make you dance tonight,“ he sings over a propulsive, uplifting chorus. “I don’t care if I’m a guilty pleasure for you.” That sort of party at the end of the world throb and pop carries over onto standout tracks like “One Day, Robots Will Cry” and the sexy “Smile for the Paprazzi” a song that melds a Miami Sound Machine style groove onto a Fall Out Boy chorus stomp. 80’s party abandon meets contemporary emo pop sensibilities on this record, and neither have sounded so good in years.
(Decaydence/Fueled By Ramen; www.decaydance.com /www.fueledbyramen.com)

Rocks Like: Fall Out Boy’s Infinity on High; Men Women and Children; Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away”

Originally published in Alternative Press.

His Name Is Alive

But His Record Isn't
The intersection of traditional styles like folk and blues with contemporary bedroom electro pop is a curious place. It's often bustling with beats and the noise-pollution of guitar fuzz, or studied and quiet with pockets of calm in a storm of modernity. Songwriter Warn Defever has stood fast at the helm of HNIA now for some fifteen years, weaving in and out of just such busy musical landscapes, weathering the ebbs and swells of this genre and that with a collection of beautiful silences. He's made an art of the quiet, the pauses and drones and electronic whirs that barely rise above a whisper. Not so on the stupidly titled Xmmer, a barely-there, under produced (or over, hard to tell) group of demo-like sketches. Singer Andy FM coos and sighs her way through a minimalist effort all around, but if she can't muster up much excitement, neither will you.
(Silver Mountain; www.silvermountainmedia.com)

Originally published in Alternative Press.

Freeloading: Grizzly Bear vs. The Knife by PARRKA

Every blogger's favorite found-sound NPR rock band, Grizzly Bear, fuse the spooky core of their track "Knife" to the best electro song of all time "Heartbeats" by Sweden's The Knife. Sounds like the ghosts of dead hipster whales making sweet love. grizzly-bear.net/audio

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Freeloading: We Versus the Shark

"The Lament of Sue Richards"
Reaching all the way back to the late nineties for its sense of jerky, complex rhythm and shouty, populist dance punk, this song, whose co-ed vocal volleys give way to a chaotic instrumental entropy, is sure to set basements full of beards everywhere dancing. Awkwardly. myspace.com/weversustheshark

Originally published in the Boston Globe.