Friday, February 29, 2008

The CSI of comedy

Louis CK investigates bombing standup routines

Even if you didn’t catch comedian Louis CK’s short lived, off-kilter HBO comedy series “Lucky Louie,” you probably know his work all the same. Whether it’s from his blisteringly offensive and hilarious special “Louis C.K.: Shameless” or from appearances on “Opie and Anthony,” or his Emmy-nominated writing for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” his material is new, yet familiar. CK returns to his old stomping grounds for two nights this weekend to tape another performance, and to maybe fall flat on his face, which wouldn’t be such a horrible thing, according to him.

So, I hear you’ve been caught up with doing radio interviews all morning.
I’ve been doing radio interviews for 20 years now, and I’m still not totally used to it. It always depends on the people on the show. Sometimes they’re a good flow of energy and you jump in with them, and other times it’s just these weirdos who do these fake radio voices, and you can’t really talk to them.

Right, and then they say “HEY! WHAT’S GOIN’ ON!?” Like, literally that loud. And I’m like “Not much.” And there’s this dead air because they wanted me to go “NOTHING, DUDE!!” I don’t have a loud fakeness to match theirs. Today on WZLX, he asked me two or three things then got the f-ck off the phone with me fast, because I wasn’t matching his intensity.

Is it harder to do an interview when the guy is trying to do shtick?
To me, it’s about how real a person is. If they’re being bizarrely fake, I just don’t know how to relate. But people trying to be funny, that’s OK. You just laugh at their jokes and they feel better about themselves, and you continue talking.

You grew up in Newton. Were you a fancy rich boy?
You know, if you look at the demographics of Newton, like Newton Center and Chestnut Hill is really rich, but then there’s this whole part near the Mass. Turnpike that’s very working class people. They make their living by painting the houses of the people up on the hill. That’s where I grew up. The Pike literally went through my backyard, and that purple commuter train — I never found out where it goes — rumbled through.

You made it to 98 on Comedy Central’s greatest comedians of all time. Think your got robbed?
Oh, I don’t care. It’s not like they had an eminent think tank. Some intern at Comedy Central spit out this list. I never give a sh-t. I should probably be somewhere off the list. There’s some clear choices at the beginning, then it just gets weird and murky. They’ve never been the arbiters of who the funniest people in the world are, to me. Half the time, you put on Comedy Central and it’s like “Weekend At Bernie’s,” so I don’t really care what they think.

It seems comedians are the only ones who rehearse in front of audiences, unlike musicians who practice in private.
That’s exactly right. With comedy, the audience is almost the instrument you are playing. There’s no second part to your sentence without them. There is no way to simulate performance, which is what rehearsing is. It’s beyond Interactive. You’re doing it together. That’s why you have to fail as a performer. No standup exists who hasn’t had a huge amount of failure in their life. You can’t prepare, you have to at some point show very raw, untested, poor material to an actual paying audience. And it never gets easier, because as you get popular people come to see you and they’re happy to see you, and you think that is going to get you some benefit of the doubt, but it actually lays a huge amount of pressure on you, because they’re expecting a lot and they’re paying more. You have to surprise them.

Failure is funnier than success isn’t it?
Certainly. What makes me laugh is failing on stage. When we talk about performing, you might say in passing that someone had a killer set, but the thing that makes a room full of comedians laugh is talking about how a dude just bombed [laughs]. When I’m having a bad show, I can’t wait to tell my friends. While it’s going on and I’m sweating and flailing I’m thinking at least I can get some of my friends to appreciate this.

I find myself doing that if I have a bad interview, if someone has nothing to say and I’m struggling and getting nervous. Immediately I have to tell my friends that dude sucked.
[Laughs.] Yeah, of course. It’s way more interesting. And on a more productive level, failed sets teach you a huge amount. You gather so much data. In a good show you don’t. There’s so much euphoria and drugs in a good show, that all it does is delude you that you’re better than you are. When you have a bad show you get a really clear picture, and a forensics file that you will draw from for the rest of your life

You’re like the CSI of comedy.
Exactly like CSI! Where you’re kind of pointing at things on the floor with a pen with gloves on and going like “Well, clearly he tried to do some racial humor after some really smug self-aggrandizing humor so he was coming off like an asshole. If he’d just switched these around, no one would have gotten hurt.”

You’re working with Ricky Gervais soon. I think to myself, “Wow, that must be laughs all the time, but is the reality a little more mundane?”
We’re gonna start shooting in April. The whole thing shoots out of Boston. It’s called “This Side of the Truth.” He plays a guy who lives in an alternate universe, and no one ever lies. He invents lying, in a world where it doesn’t exist. I play his loser asshole best friend who he hates. I’ve hung out with Ricky once. He is a hilarious goof of a guy. He laughs a lot. There are times when comedians and funny people hang out together and it’s really funny. [laughs] It does happen.

Anything you would have done differently with “Lucky Louie,” in hindsight?
I don’t think so. All that show needed was another season. There’s no show that hit’s the ground running, perfectly. A show that’s that different than what was going on at the time, people need time to adjust. And everybody I know that loved that show — and people come up to me literally, daily to say that they miss it -- they also say they didn’t know what to make of it at first, then they grew to love it, because it was new. We intentionally made the sets very flat and underlit and theatrical, so that it would feel like a live show and be more about the characters than the photography of the thing. Some people thought we f-cked up and didn’t spend enough time building the set. And those people, if they kept watching would have caught on to what the intent of the show was. All I would say I would do differently is I would let us do more. And we also would have gotten better. Of course, the show wasn’t perfect.

It’s weird, you think an HBO audience would be a little more sophisticated than a network audience.
Well, I learned a lot about that. I think rather than being more sophisticated, they like to use words like ‘eclectic,’ but I don’t think they are eclectic. I think they want something shot on film, they like awkward comedy that’s based on absurd ‘cut to this guy being awkward’ things. People have a very specific palate that they enjoy, it’s just different than other people’s. It looks more educated, and I guess in some ways it is, but I don’t think anyone’s eclectic. People like what they like and that’s it. They don’t change easily. And to me, comedy has always been about taking people out of what they expect to like and making them like something new. But through being generous with them and helping to get there. That was what we were trying to do with “Lucky Louie,” we just didn’t have enough time.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Allison Moorer: "Mockingbird"

This heavy-hearted ballad waltzes on cornfield clouds of dreamy resignation with gentle brush strokes, boozy organ touches, and the saddest saxophone solo we've heard since . . . ever. Moorer wears her heart in her throat here, so why are we the ones choked up? Hear it at

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Sian Alice Group

On "Way Down to Heaven" from arty UK act Sian Alice Group, a filthy, foreboding bass riff groans and heaves and buzzes like a swarm of demons. One wonders whether singer Sian Ahern has her destinations mixed up. Her repetitive chanting of "I'm on my way to heaven" coupled with the infernal instrumentation makes you feel sorry for whoever's waiting there for her. Elsewhere on the new record, "59.59," the band stretches out broad, atmospheric canvases of sound as Ahern's vocals seep into the music like liquid. Catch the group tonight at Great Scott. 18+ 9 p.m. $10. Great Scott, 1222 Commonwealth Ave., Allston. 617-566-9014.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Tuesday Events

The case of the missing groceries

We just spent an hour playing "kitchen detective" when we couldn't find a stupid jar of peanut butter in the cabinet. But that's probably not what they have in mind at "The Kitchen Detective" event tonight. Chris Kimball, host of "America's Test Kitchen" and the editor of "Cook's Illustrated," will walk you through some of the new must-have gizmos and doodads for your kitchen and help you with ideas for getting rid of excess appliances. We're hoping he's got a blender that can cook a turkey. 6 p.m. $25. Boston University, Room 117, 808 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. 617-353-9852.

Going nowhere with a purpose

Have you been outside lately? Bitter, miserable, and cold. We can barely spend 30 seconds walking to the car, never mind sleeping in the streets every night. The people at HomeStart, a Boston-based nonprofit that helps house the homeless, know about the ravages of the weather all too well. They've designed a program called ICycle II to help raise money and awareness for the problem. Join today's second annual stationary bike marathon (riders must raise $250 for an hour) or just stop by and cheer on the participants. You were going to go to the gym anyway, right? 7 a.m.-6 p.m. International Place, Boston. 617-542-0338.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil you know

With their brutal metal, Prada aren’t trying to be different, just good

With a name like The Devil Wears Prada, you might dismiss the Dayton, Ohio, band as some sort of dreadful tween pop outfit. You would be completely wrong. In fact, the ascendant band is one of dozens of a new wave of harsh, screeching metal-core groups, ripping the faces off all-ages venues across the country. We caught up with Mike Hranica, the band’s refreshingly humble, if taciturn, 19-year-old front man. Blame it on the throat infection, perhaps? Screaming for a living does have its occupational hazards, it seems.

On your latest album, “Plagues,” you guys have a pretty cool juxtaposition of cinematic string sounds with brutal metal riffs. Is there an opposing effect you’re going for there?
I wouldn’t use the word “opposing.” It’s something that sounds good, I guess. I don’t think we’re the first band to do that. Strings just work well with that, I guess.

A lot of our readers may not follow your scene, but do you think your average rock fan could get on board?
You’d have to be open- minded to heavier music. We do have singing, and it’s really not traditional metal, by any means. ... I think the average rock listener could find something in it as far as it is emotional and hopefully intense.

The album artwork and general presentation of the band has some apocalyptic imagery. Is non-musical stuff like that important for a band to find an audience in a crowded genre market?
Oh, yeah. A lot of bands, especially in the indie metal-core genre aren’t exactly innovative. We’re not the most innovative band, by any means. I think it’s important for a band to develop their own style outside of just the music. It helps get an audience and a crowd and a following. What we’ve done, [the band] Still Remains has done and Underoath has done — lots of bands that incorporate keys into metal or hard-core metal-core. A lot of record labels boast that their bands are totally different, and I’m completely against that. It’s a lie. All the bands really sound the same. It’s just trying to do the sound well, which is important. Which is what we do, also, instead of trying to be the band that sounds different than everyone else, just try to sound good.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Bravery

If you told us a few years back that New York City's the Bravery would follow up the success of their insanely infectious single "An Honest Mistake" with another album, never mind another couple good songs, we wouldn't have believed it. And yet here they are, with two hits, "Time Won't Let Me Go" and "Believe," each a mature departure from the dark dance floor anthems that seemed to perfectly capture the tail end of 2005's neo-new wave hedonism era. We stand corrected. The stylish lads perform the second of a two-night stand at the Paradise tonight with UK glammy upstarts Switches. 18+ 7 p.m. $16.50. The Paradise, 967 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. 617-931-2000.

Armchair Mountaineering

Mountain climbing looks like great exercise and a way to connect to nature or what have you, but we prefer keeping horrible, deadly nature at a distance. Thankfully for the lazy and easily frightened among us, there are plenty intrepid souls braving the elements for some truly breathtaking perspectives of places on earth most of us will never experience. The Banff Mountain Film Festival brings all of it into the safe environs of a movie theater with environmental, mountain adventure, and sports films from around the world. Today and tomorrow. 7 p.m. $16.50. Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington. 781-646-4849.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

The Wrights

"Too Late Now"
The Wrights, a Nashville husband-and-wife duo, hit the right Americana notes (gorgeous harmony, slide-guitar tear-drop twang, lovelorn lyrics) on this pop-country track that doesn't wreak of hairspray and commercial desperation. It's roots music with actual roots.

Hear it at

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Say Hi

The Wishes and The Glitch
Blidsed-Out Pysch-Tinged Indie Rock
Memo to bands everywhere: joke names…not such a good idea. Turns out all the time I’ve spent intentionally ignoring what I thought was some poop-joke pop-punk band I could’ve been spacing out to sophisticated, pysch-tinged Rogue Wave. Style indie rock. Perhaps it’s maturity that drove Say Hi main dude Eric Elbogen to drop the …To Your Mom part of his band’s name, perhaps it was a relocation to Seattle from Brooklyn (that town could make anyone depressed). Or perhaps it was a broken heart. It all comes through on this eclectic collection of blissed-out, bass and synth heavy ruminations. There’s a quiet sense of dread in Elbogen’s off-kilter, echoing, wounded voice; a world-weary confusion that peaks tentatively through the moments of tension and release, particularly on songs like the beautiful, “Northwestern Girls.” Not that everything is dour. Elbogen and band employ bouncy Cure-style bass lines on “Toil and Trouble” and “Apples for the Innocent” and a resplendent “doo-doo” chorus on “Back Before We Were Brittle.” Turns out you can’t judge a book by its cover. (Euphobia Records;

Originally published in Alternative Press.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Great Bandini

And the Bandini played on

Sidemen step forward with Great debut disc

Go to see any band, and nine times out of ten, the sideman is probably the most talented guy on stage. A group of longtime Boston musicians may have had the same idea when they formed an alliance as The Sidemen. Scott Janovitz and Eric Barlow had played in Jake Brennan’s band, Matt Burwell had been with the Pills and Chris Zembower with Bleu. The band soon took off, and they reformed, Voltron-like, into a super rock robot called The Great Bandini. Metro caught up with Janovitz, who is set to release his band’s self-titled new wave pop and classic rock-colored debut full length this week.

Seems like there has always been a heavy classic rock influence in your music throughout various bands. What did the rest of the Bandini guys bring to expand your songwriting horizon?

And this was my attempt at a more modern rock band. Damn. No, you can’t escape the influence of the music you love and grow up on. ... But we quickly adapted our writing to the strengths of the band. For one thing, everyone can sing. ... So, I started putting together songs with counter melodies and lots of harmonies. I can’t speak for Barlow, but I was inspired by the way Chris and Matt play to write more rhythmic, angular stuff. Choppy guitars, trashy organ lines ... If I was thinking of anything classic rock, it was more ’70s than ’60s. The Jam, The Knack, that kind of thing ... though, I guess those bands, in turn, were very ’60s influenced. I forget the question.

Seems like its been an exciting race to finish the record. Is Great Bandini always so last-minute?
We are the loosest band on earth, easily distracted, and time just seems to slip away from us. We booked a record release show in order to motivate ourselves, but it didn’t kick in until about two weeks ago, when we realized we had to, you know, finish the record. Even just by the standard of musicians, we really have to get it together. That said, it is more exciting to have a record that is fresh to us than to sit on it for a couple of months and be tired of it.

You’ve been playing in bands for a while now. How long until you qualify for Elder Statesmen of Boston rock status?
I’m not sure what the requisite number of years is, but I’ll make it eventually. Maybe someday I can present a Boston Music Award. Barlow and I only agreed to do this in an attempt to reach that level. I think we blew it by getting into a band with really young dudes.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.

Barcode: Fifty Three South

As fine cuisine and martini culture slowly spreads from the city into the suburbs, restaurants like Fifty Three South serve as missionary outposts staffed by steadfast epicureans steeled against the brutal indifference of strip mall dystopia. On a recent bitter February night our intrepid crew of cocktail adventurers forged into the heretofore uncharted territory of the South Shore, fortified only on drinks like the Spicy Pear martini (Sailor Jerry's spice rum, Mathilde pear liqueur, and organic white grape juice, $10). The warmth of its honey and vanilla spice stiffened our reserve against the cold, and the peach flavor and hint of lemon from an elegantly carved twist, not to mention its translucent golden hue, evoked a welcome taste of summer.

The Bellini Tini (Absolut peach, Hypnotiq, champagne float, $11) with its tropical nose and blend of vodka, cognac, and fresh fruit juices had a similar effect. The contrast of its Caribbean blue and an edible orchid garnish made this one of the more interesting drinks visually. A shame we had to make it disappear. But the Green "tea" ni (Citron vodka, squeezed lemon, Hojicha green tea, and agave nectar, $10) was the hands-down favorite. It's hard to get tea to stand up to alcohol, but it worked here, particularly with the honey of the agave bolstering it.

An easy-to-follow wine list broken up into helpful categories like "juicy fruit," "beefy," "tickle your tongue," and "bubbilicious" would have to wait for another expedition. With half-glasses available, it seems ideal for trying new wines and mixing them with the small plates menu of delicacies like boneless beef short ribs ($8), slow-roasted roma tomato ($5), and maple glazed pork tenderloin bruschetta ($6).

Stacking martini glasses on the bar was made easier by a round of Asian-style chicken and lo mein noodle martinis ($7), and a warm brownie and ice cream martini with caramel, chocolate ganache, and whipped cream ($8) that proved one of our sneaking suspicions: everything, it turns out, does taste better in a martini glass.

Fifty Three South, 42 Washington St., Norwell. 781-792-0001.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Main Drag

Taking a Drag

Boston band resists the urge to rock

Like most good ideas — and people, for that matter — Boston’s The Main Drag was conceived in a bedroom. A bedroom at Tufts University circa ’05, to be more precise. Drag producer, vocalist and guitarist Adam Arrigo was working on a record with dance punk band Blanks.

“I got really close with them,” Arrigo says, “and we started collaborating on my music.” Finding a way to bring those ideas to fruition wasn’t so easy.

“What we would do is start out with a song on the computer, then take it to the practice space and record that form of the song, then put it back into the computer, chop it up and make a new song structure and then play it again live.”

It sounds complicated, but the result is a highly listenable brand of thoughtful, layered electronic indie with quiet, unfolding songs that take their time developing from one idea to the next.

Arrigo and Co. try to strike a balance between that recorded complexity and the demands of a live setting.

“The tendency is to try to rock out as much as possible,” he says, “even if you’re not playing straight-ahead rock. …We’ve hit our stride in the live realm recently and [are] better about preserving the dynamic from quiet to a gradual build.”

It’s an approach that sounds familiar to some.

“Everyone always compares us to the Postal Service,” Arrigo shrugs. “I guess, by default, if you have some electro element and a slightly soft voice, you’re bound to get that.”

It has also brought the band, who won a competition on for “Best Unsigned Artist,” a sizeable Web presence.

“We have more fans on the Internet than we do in Boston,” says Arrigo.

Originally published in the Boston Metro.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Everything's heavy underground

There are two sides to the subway. There's the everyday hustle and bustle of the average commuter, coming and going, coming and going. And then there is the darker side we don't often see - the comings and goings in hidden spaces. In the photography exhibit "Alone Together: Beneath the Streets of Boston," father and son duo B.D. and Ben Colen explore both sides of Boston's underground. Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (Through Feb. 29). Free. Brookline Arts Center, 86 Monmouth St., Brookline. 617-566-5715.

Magical romanticism

Much like our naive belief in unicorns, magic leprechauns from the moon, and compassionate conservatives, we like to think there must be women between the ages of 1 and 100 who didn't want to be exactly like Audrey Tautou's character after this film came out. So far we have no proof. "Amelie", the precocious and charming French neo-classic from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, perfectly captured the romantic zeitgeist in 2001 with its tale of romance and the cutest pixie ever captured on film. It's showing tonight as part of the "Great Romances III" series. 7 p.m. $9.50. Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Cambridge. 617-876-6837.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Barcode: The Blarney Stone

Romancing the Stone

As a neighborhood goes, so go its pubs. It's certainly true of longtime Dorchester favorite the Blarney Stone. Just as a lot has changed in that increasingly gentrified area in the 35 years that the bar has been pulling pints of Guinness (the first bar in America to do so, in fact), so, too, has the Blarney Stone changed. In 2001, the place underwent a major reinvention from a "very old school, older gentlemen's bar," says manager David Cawley, to the modern restaurant and lounge of today.

As if to illustrate our point, a recent visit found heavy construction going on in the street outside the bar. Of course, plenty of 99-cent bargain stores and hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants still line the street, but for how long? In many ways, the Blarney Stone, a space most certainly on the up-market side of the neighborhood divide, serves as a sort of metaphor for the area.

While bars of similarly imposing size often render intimacy unwieldy, there is a utilitarian charm at work here. Low communal tables with movable ottomans allowed our large group to mix and match our seating design. It also made sharing food easier. The mini cheeseburgers with caramelized onions, pickles, and Russian dressing ($9) and flatbread pizzas ($9-11) were particularly popular - and better than your standard pub grub. No big surprises from the cocktail list, although the Coffee Kick (vanilla vodka, Creme de Cacao, simple syrup, fresh ice coffee, milk, and caramel, $8.50) saves you the trouble of smuggling booze into Starbucks.

The video games, pool tables, and de rigueur flat screens provided ample opportunity for diversion, as did the striking prints on the wall. One, a bright red and gray overflowing pint of Guinness, brought the appeal of the Blarney Stone into focus: progressive and stylish, with a nod to its traditional Irish roots.

The Blarney Stone, 1505 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester. 617-436-8223.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Barcode: Metropolis Cafe

Small space, big comfort

Sometimes you can learn everything you need to know about a bar or restaurant's priorities by the size of its bathroom. If you can't reasonably reenact the trash compactor scene from "Star Wars" inside, reaching out to touch either side as if the walls were caving in, then its feng shui priorities are out of whack. Consider a Cheesecake Factory bathroom, for example: cavernous, soulless. No thanks.

No such problem at the Metropolis Café (584 Tremont St., Boston. 617-247-2931), a delightfully warm restaurant and bar whose grandiose name belies its Lilliputian layout and cozy water closet. Stepping inside on a recent frigid night and passing through the heavy drapes around the door was like crawling back into the womb, a womb that serves beer, that is.

A zinc bar with exposed rivets and gentle waves of metal presents itself immediately. Dark wooden banquets and intimate two-top tables covered in crisp white paper line the walls. The 10 swiveling, diner-style stools at the bar provide an interesting juxtaposition to the fine-dining atmosphere. From that vantage point the entirety of the room can be observed - either wall a mere crouton's throw from the other - as can the activity on the street outside. This would be a great spot to sip a glass of wine while people-watching through the large windows, particularly during Metropolis's popular brunches. The restaurant only serves wine and beer, but bartenders get creative with fruit-heavy variations on the mimosa ($7.95).

Wines can be broken down into two categories: drinking wines and eating wines. Metropolis' Chilean Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah ($11.95, $47), dry for a rosé but with plenty of berry, exemplifies the former. The same binary applies to bars as well, and Metropolis is a decidedly food-forward one. Choices like gnocchi with duck confit, Vermont Brussels sprouts, rosemary jus, and Parmeggiano Reggiano ($8.95) may be smallish, but, like Metropolis itself, the emphasis is on quality, not quantity.

Originally published in the Boston Globe.