Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shiny Toy Guns

In order for a remix album to work on anything other than a crate-digging beathead or hedonist dancefloor-prompt level the songs you're working with have to have enough going on internally to withstand the barrage of editing, condensing, rearranging and recontextualizing that efforts like this entail. For electro/dance-rock mainstays Shiny Toy Guns, the function has always been as vital as the form. That is to say they're not a sound-driven outfit who write songs, and they're not songwriters who simply color around the edges with ex post facto production tricks--they're somewhere right in the middle of that equation. Songs like fan favorites "Rainy Monday" and "Le Disko" provide enough substance in terms of both vocals, hooks, guitars, and/or distinctive crunching synths to be chopped up into a thousand little pieces. When the base is solid, a remix usually won't end up being a case of perpetually diminish returns. On the other hand, filter nothing through a strainer enough times and you end up with nothing.

That said, this collection of career spanning remixes and a few unreleased originals mostly disappoints. While Alexander Ridha (aka Boys Noize) ups the glitchy quotient of "Le Disko" with a swirling synth buzzsaw, chopping out the vocals and turning up the loops quashes the song's sassy fun. Ferry Cortsen fairs better on a second "Le Disko" remix, lengthening the canvas of the song, giving it more room to breathe. Likewise, the emotive "Rainy Monday" gets treated for both good and ill. Herve splices the earnest guitar track into a thumping house waste that wipes away most of the original's new-wave charm. Just because you can pull the hook, echo it, stutter it and add a cheeseball four-on-the-floor party beat doesn't mean that you should. The Bimbo Jones radio edit version included here brings down the guitar punch of the original, but maintains at least some semblance of the general forward momentum and groove. Elsewhere BT, Kissy Sell Out and the Teenagers bring out the knife, to varying degrees of success. Fans will be excited to have longtime live staple "Rocketship" in CD form for the first time, as well as the band's otherworldly industrial dance cover of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom." That soaring '80s space disco update alone almost makes the record worth it. Otherwise you're probably better off going back to We Are Pilots and listening to the originals. You could already dance to them anyway, but at least with those mixes you could also feel something while you did. (ULTRA)Luke O'Neil


GO DOWNLOAD: "Rainy Monday (Bimbo Jones Radio Edit)"


Alternative Press

New Year's Events

Scratching your head about what to do for New Year's Eve? We line up the best options, for singles, couples, families with kids, and those who just want to nest at home


Carnival Masquerade: Sometimes we end up regretting our New Year’s Eve shenanigans. One way to remedy that is by wearing a disguise. Blend into the crowd at this Brazilian Carnival style masquerade party. Complimentary masks, a live Latin band, Brazilian appetizers and costumes bring a little bit of Rio heat to freezing Boston. 9 p.m. $50. Felt, 533 Washington St., Boston. 617-350-5555. www.feltclubboston.com

Thunderdome MMX: Boston’s underground dance scene goes big tonight with a fancy take on its normally hedonistic dance party. Formal dress is encouraged, but it won’t get too classy - there’s a PBR toast at midnight. Resident DJs Mistaker, Redfoxx, and David Day throw down with Chicago’s Gatekeeper performing. 10 p.m. $20-$25. Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, 85 West Newton St., Boston. 617-412-8594. www.brownpapertickets.com

Great Gatsby New Year: Gatsby - now there’s a guy who knew how to throw a party! Put on your best 1920s suit (you can make an exception and wear white), get your fortune read, and drink like your name was Fitzgerald. Just try to ignore that whole cynicism about American materialism thing and you should have a blast. 8 p.m. $75. Alibi at the Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles St., Boston. 857-241-1144. www.alibiboston.com

Game On!: Balloons and confetti can be tedious on New Year’s, but not when they’re filled with prizes. Dance to top 40, eat from the complimentary buffet, and at midnight grab one of the 200 balloons released from the ceiling. They’ve got tickets to sporting games, gift certificates, and other prizes inside. Can’t see how that could go wrong. 8 p.m. $35. Game On!, 82 Lansdowne St., Boston. 617-351-7001. www.gameonboston.com

Joshua Tree: The list of New Year’s songs is admittedly pretty short, but there’s no doubt about the best one ever. Pretty likely you’re gonna hear U2’s “New Year’s Day’’ when Joshua Tree takes the stage tonight. Otherwise you should totally demand your money back. 9 p.m. $25. Hard Rock Cafe, 22-24 Clinton St., Boston. 866-777-8932, www.ticketweb.com

* Kristin Hersh: Most musical performances on New Year’s are dance-driven, party atmospheres. The quintessentially peculiar Hersh, founder of seminal New England rockers Throwing Muses in the ’80s and now a riveting solo performer, is the antithesis of that. She’ll perform two sets of her haunted, hallucinatory indie folk tonight. 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Emmanuel Church, 15 Newbury St., Boston. www.emmanuelboston.org

* ICA: It’s a time for reflecting on the year and making plans for the one to come. Where better for a few moments of contemplation than a museum? First Night button holders can avail themselves of free admission to the Institute of Contemporary Art today. Need a resolution? Damian Ortega’s series of installation deconstructions, “Do It Yourself,’’ might help you learn to appreciate the small stuff. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ICA, 100 Northern Ave., Boston. 617-478-3100. www.icaboston.org

* Bombay Cinema: Think you’ll see some interesting costumes and dance movies around the city tonight? Just an average day for Bollywood. Boston’s Bombay Cinema presents a film festival featuring some of the best in recent Bollywood hits free for First Night button holders. 12:30 to 11 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

The Honey Brothers: There are probably a lot of people out there who’d love to spend New Year’s partying with Vinnie Chase from “Entourage.’’ That’s not gonna happen. You can, however, see the actor who plays him, Adrien Grenier, and his band the Honey Brothers (below) perform a set of countrified indie and ukulele rock at this KISS 108 New Year’s bash. Close enough. 9 p.m. $65. The Roxy, 279 Tremont St., Boston. 617-931-2000. www.ticketmaster.com

* Best of Both Worlds: Having trouble deciding how to spend the evening with two friends, one that likes gospel and R&B, and another who reads Shakespeare? This musical adaptation of “The Winter’s Tale’’ splits the difference. 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Free for first 100 button holders, $25-$69. ART Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge. 617-547-8300. www.americanrepertorytheater.org



Red Bull Sled Style: Can’t make it to the slopes this week? They’ll come to you instead. Freestyle snowmobiling stars like X Games bro Heath Frisby bring their sleds downtown for an afternoon of aerial awesomeness. 2 p.m. Free. Boston City Hall Plaza. www.heathfrisby.com

* Grand Procession: The centerpiece of the First Night celebration rolls its way through the streets. The Back Alley Puppet Theatre and Puppeteers Cooperative will display their wildly imaginative creature creations while jazz and marching bands, cyclists, circus performers and everything in between wow the crowds. 5:30 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

* New England Anime Society: If there’s one thing on which kids and parents usually agree these days, it’s a love of animation. The New England Anime Society brings together a program of popular Japanese anime including two of our favorites, “Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still’’ and the amazingly titled “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.’’ 1 to 10:30 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

* Kaiju Big Battel: The only thing better than watching giant anime monsters fighting on film is seeing it in person. Kaiju Big Battel brings fantasy to life with its often-hilarious, always-weird pro-wrestling-meets-disaster-movie spectacle. 9:30 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

* Ellis Paul: He may have just won the Boston Music Award for folk artist of the year, but the veteran troubadour has a few tricks ups his sleeve for the kids as well. His album for children, “Dragonfly Races,’’ won him a Parents Choice Award last year. Music that the whole family can appreciate. 3:30 and 4:45 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

* Guthrie Family Show: Speaking of music that crosses generations, this show from Sarah Lee Guthrie and family has a little something for both grandparents and the kids. Alongside her husband, Johnny Irion, she’ll perform playful children’s songs, traditional favorites, and incorporate some of granddad Woody Guthrie’s old lyrics into new songs. 1 and 2:15 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

Odyssey Cruises: Staying up for the toast at midnight isn’t always feasible when you’ve got the kids in tow. Doing it at noon sounds a little more feasible. Toast in the new year a little early with this lunch cruise while coasting around the harbor and taking in the view of the city. Kids with a sitter? Later that night the real party starts with a dinner and dancing cruise with great views of the fireworks display. 10:30 a.m., $38.90, $19.45; 8 p.m., $152.90. 866-307-2469. www.odyssey.com/boston

* Maximum Velocity: It’s a good thing the ceilings inside the convention center are pretty high, because the dudes from Maximum Velocity are going to grab some serious air. This high-energy skateboarding and biking stunt team brings its act to Boston today for a family-friendly exhibition. Your New Year’s resolution? Convince the kids not to try this stuff at home. 1:15, 2:15, and 3:15 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

* Yorick’s Marionette Theater: Death-defying stunts a little much for you? Perhaps the relative calm of marionette theater will agree more with your constitution. Wooden puppets bring the timeless story of “Sleeping Beauty’’ to life. After all the excitement today, we’ll probably all need a nap. 1:30, 2:45, and 4 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org



Maybe you don’t want to head out into the crowds tonight. Who can blame you? There’s enough on the tube.

Countdown to Midnight: Anchors Lisa Hughes and Jack Williams give you the play by play live from the steps of the Boston Public Library, in Copley Square, the center of much of the First Night festivities. The swaggering noir-rock band Black Taxi rock us through the countdown with cinematic excursions. 10 p.m. Channel 4

Live From Lincoln Center: Classical music aficionados will find much to revel in when the New York Philharmonic and baritone Thomas Hampson celebrate with a program of Gershwin, Copland, and old Broadway hits. We’ll be checking in to watch host Alec Baldwin crack wise. 8 p.m. Channel 2

New Year’s Eve With Carson Daly: Say what you will about Daly - at least he’s not Ryan Seacrest. He also knows how to put together a pretty good bill. Daly and company broadcast live from Times Square with a slate of performers that includes Green Day and Rihanna. 10 p.m. Channel 7

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest: Speaking of Seacrest, he continues his gradual takeover of the universe hosting the latest edition of this long-running New Year’s staple. He’ll tag team with Fergie checking in from Las Vegas. The slate of heavy hitters set to perform includes the Black Eyed Peas and Jennifer Lopez. 10 p.m. Channel 5

Billboard’s New Year’s Eve Live: It’s a very “American Idol’’ New Year’s with performers Kris Allen and Allison Iraheta. Take a look back at some of the best moments in entertainment in 2009 and ring in the year with host Carmen Electra in Vegas. 11 p.m. Channel 25

Boston Globe

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Barcode: Beacon Hill Bistro

Charles Street is one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in the city. Tourists come from around the world to breathe in its rarified brahmin air; locals avail themselves of the bounty of high-end boutiques so precious you could snap them in half in your hands. Gliding down the gaslit, cobblestone streets framed by handsome, historic brick buildings decked out this time of year in holiday luminescence, it’s easy to imagine yourself playing a part in some idealized Capraesque vision of city life. Minus all the traffic and cabs blasting their horns, that is.

There’s also a wealth of dining options to choose from here, cozy Italian bistros and pizza shops in particular. Bars not so much, unless you’re partial to the quintessential dive bona fides of the Beacon Hill Pub, or the slouching collegiate charm of the Sevens. Perhaps it’s that dearth of bar real estate that made the Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro such a welcome respite when we ducked in on a glacial December evening. The dry blast of warmth from the fireplace didn’t hurt either. Coupled with the flush on our cheeks and the smell in the air, the fire made us feel like we were coming home for a family holiday gathering, except no one criticized what we were wearing or pestered us about getting married.

There are only about six or seven seats at the bar, and that means competition for a spot can be tough. A cushion in front of the fire was occupied by two women drinking hot coffee drinks, so we bided our time with the Monsoon (Wu-Wei tea infused Woodford Reserve bourbon, ginger beer, all drinks $11) until a seat opened up. With the heavy spice of the AJ Stephans, one of the more intense ginger beers, and the variety of herbal notes (Wu-Wei is a tisane made from a mixture of hibiscus petals, orange zest, lemon balm, cloves, lavender, licorice root, and sweet leaf), we were a bit taken aback by this cocktail at first. Alternately the ginger would overwhelm, or the tart citrus of the herbs would bowl us over. Next the bourbon would punch through with heat. It took us a while to realize we actually could drink it, but we’re glad we waited. The Monsoon recipe evolved when customers found the simple bourbon infusion too heavy and strong, says bartender Francie Doyle. “The ginger beer helps to thin it out a little while still complimenting the spices nicely.’’ We found the infusion again in the Seven Suns (We-Wei tea infused Woodford Reserve bourbon, Peychaud’s bitters, simple syrup, cinnamon stick) where it was more instantly palatable with the leavening sweetness of the syrup.

As a seat opened up we relaxed a bit more with the Mistletoe (green chartreuse, St-Germain, fresh lime, sparkling float, sugar-coated cranberries). “We bartenders are big fans of chartreuse, and we’re trying to make it a little more user friendly,’’ Doyle says. “St-Germain is hugely popular right now, so we thought it would be a good addition to a chartreuse cocktail. Looks like we were right; it’s selling like crazy.’’ A third spirit, gin perhaps, wouldn’t hurt, but we appreciated the light touch, in terms of alcohol content and flavor.

With the weather howling, and the fire burning, rum seemed to be in order. The Ginger Snap (apple cinnamon infused rum, ginger simple syrup, fresh lime, cinnamon stick) came through in the clutch. “The Ginger Snap was an easy one once we tasted the ginger simple,’’ says Doyle. “The spiciness of the ginger cuts out any cloying sweetness from the sugar. We added it to our house infused apple cinnamon rum with a dash of lime for some acidity. Another holiday cocktail was born.’’

Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro 25 Charles St., Boston. 617-723-7575. www.beaconhillhotel.com

Boston Globe

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Selections from 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do

Herewith is a modest list of dos and don’ts for servers at the seafood restaurant I am building. Veteran waiters, moonlighting actresses, libertarians and baristas will no doubt protest some or most of what follows. They will claim it homogenizes them or stifles their true nature.

Bruce Buschel, New York Times, October 29

Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting. Like, literally, do not let them enter. For example that means if someone walks into the restaurant and you greet them less than warmly, march them right back outside and tell them to wait until you're ready to apply a greeting of sufficient warmth. But not too warm, because in certain remaining cultures this can be interpreted as threatening and/or discourteous. A lukewarm greeting perhaps. Not too lukewarm though. Also, don't show your teeth. Consult the audio portion of your trainee media packet for clips of acceptable greeting-like sounds in your specific geographical sub region. Not on the clock though.

Do not make a singleton feel bad. Do not say, 'Are you waiting for someone?' We do not want to make the significant percentage of our clientele that is friendless feel ashamed about their enduring loneliness. Consider reminding them that life for each of us is brutish and short, and that we all will die alone someday. Actually, don't do that. But sort of imply it. Another idea might be offering to join them at a table for two, although we're a little behind on that table situation as of this week, so perhaps the bar instead? We should have a bar installed soon. You will be required to punch out for the duration of this meal, however, and any expenses incurred will be assumed by you. See, life is unfair. Just a reminder again though, no go on showing the teeth. Not joking on that one.

If someone is unsure about a wine choice, help him. That might mean sending someone else to the table or offering a taste or two. Unfortunately in re: of last month's staff re-imagining there is no one else, which is probably best not to think about. We also don't sell wine anymore on account of that whole thing with the grapes and the fire. Perhaps suggest a nice ginger ale instead?

Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness. In order to be safe here, it's probably best to just avoid any sort of conversation whatsoever with the guest. There are certain methods we're working on downstairs (Related note: no going downstairs) that should soon enable the restaurant to operate almost entirely without imposing upon guests our corporeal forms what with their perfumes and oils and petty human names and those cute little flirtatious things we do with our perfect noses and the way our hair looks when it's pulled back and such, as in Elizabeth that one new girl we just hired, say. Back of the house guys have nothing to worry about on this one though, we should point out. Even the thing we've got going downstairs could never wash dishes like Manuel, ha ha! Just kidding Manuel, you're fired. But seriously though, you are. We told you about going downstairs.

Do not lead the witness with 'Bottled water or just tap?' Both are fine. Remain neutral. Leading questions will be saved for the standard cross-examination following the meal. However, if at any point the witness becomes hostile, it might be permissible. Granted, this won't happen so long as you avoid questions like the one about water, with respect to bottled or tap as per above. Questions that contain implicit assumptions, on the other hand, are fine. A classic example of this is “Why haven't you been eating in our restaurant lately? Were you beating your wife?” (Note: most of customer's do not have wives, but you know what we mean).

Know before approaching a table who has ordered what. Do not ask, “Who’s having the shrimp?” Because we don't serve shrimp, which you should know from page 217 of your trainee rules manual novela. Incidentally, constructive criticism of the book is welcome! For example, what did you think about introducing the character of the race car-driving vampire in the second half?

Do not recite the specials too fast or robotically or dramatically. It is not a soliloquy. This is not an audition. Except that it sort of is in that you're auditioning for the role of keeping your job every time you head out there onto the floor. Also, we have robots out back we could use to recite the specials all robot-like, so don't make us put them back on the schedule. Those robots are strong.

When you ask “How’s everything?” or “How was the meal?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is not right. Unless the guest's response mentions loneliness in one fashion or another, in which case see above. Maybe offer them a copy of a certain novela to just sort of page through a little bit if the opportunity arises.

Do not turn on the charm when it’s tip time. Be consistent throughout. Except of course in instances where consistency might be reasonably construed as redundant.

Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad. Although it's important to keep in mind the implications with respect to relativism this philosophy suggests. If every guest's choice of any given item on the menu is considered valid, then that simultaneously implies that all choices are equally worthless. The calamari for example, which just between us is not so great. Relativizing truth to an individual server, one might argue, destroys distinctions between truth and belief, and then what sort of restaurant would we be? A bad one that's what. Be prepared to defend this argument at length upon the presentation of the bill and/or if any incidents concerning “cold fold” or “not what I ordered” arise. Which they won't, by the way, or else the thing about the robots.

Never mention what your favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant. Except on Favorite Dessert Wednesdays, whereupon replace “never” with “always, under penalty of termination” and “irrelevant” with “paramount.”

Do not curse, no matter how young or hip the guests. This rule may be treated as flexible in some of our younger, hipper locations, if and when any such branches are opened. (They will not be).

Do not compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. You are insulting someone else. Insulting someone else in front of the guest, provided they are dining alone, which who are we kidding, they definitely will be, is actually encouraged, provided this information is communicated non-verbally. Like with some sort of dance or pantomime. Per above, “this is not an audition,” although some of our past employees of a certain attractiveness, say, have used this opportunity as a stepping stone to move on to bigger and better things in the world. Maybe it was show business, maybe it wasn't. Hard to know for certain, but anyhow we are just saying Elizabeth.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Barcode: Bristol Lounge

Luxury can be taxing

When your cocktails are $15 and the average price of a glass of champagne is over $20, you’d better be bringing some added value to the experience in terms of atmosphere and service. You’d better be, well, the Four Seasons. For many of the regular clientele here, residents in the luxury condos upstairs, hotel guests, visiting politicians and celebrities and the like, price may not be much of an issue. But for average bargoers like us, the amenities here might make up for the cost. As long as you don’t plan on stopping by every day, that is.

If we did, we would find a variety of ways to experience the Bristol Lounge. The bar is humming with an after-work crowd early in the evenings, but it ebbs and flows over the course of the night. Lounge seating scattered throughout the stately dining room creates ample space for romance by the fireplace or near the piano. There’s live music every night of the week and a jazz trio on weekends.

“The atmosphere changes like that,’’ says Jason Irving, the beverage director. “Late nights and weekends it is romantic. People will come and dance in front of the piano. And we’ve got all these window tables. People love looking at the park.’’

Describing the bar’s style? “You’ve got people who want to come because it’s the Four Seasons and we do have a lot of businessmen and lots of actors and celebrities. But we like to consider ourselves casual,’’ he said. “I’d like to see more of a younger scene, which is why I’m trying to do better cocktails.’’ He’s also doing nightly specials like “Burgers and Burgundy’’ on Wednesdays, where their gourmet burger is paired with two Burgundy style wines ($30).

Wine is his specialty, but gently changing the cocktail habits of his guests is something he hopes to do - incrementally. “These people know what they want and they don’t want change. I hate pinot grigio, for example, but it’s our highest seller. It’s the same thing with Cosmos.’’

With that in mind, the specialty cocktails here are primarily based on vodka. That’s what people want, he says. “A lot of women are afraid of brown liquors and a lot of guys only drink vodka.’’ With a drink like the Yule Mule (Hennessey VS, house-made sassafras syrup, fresh lime juice, ginger ale, $15), he wanted to make something that was different, but approachable for everyone. The sassafras also turns up in the Macintosh Manhattan (Crown Royal, Grand Marnier, fresh apple cider, sassafras syrup, $15), where it brings a buttery root beer flavor.

Scotland’s Negroni (Hendrick’s gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, cucumber, $15) and the Not So Old Fashioned (house infused apple bourbon, fresh ginger, cranberries, fresh lemon juice, $15) are the two we’d order, but they aren’t the populist, approachable sort. The latter is tart, crisp, and seasonal, not to mention very strong. Skip the dessert cocktails like the Mink Coat (B&B spiced cognac, Bailey’s Irish Cream, milk, $15) and the Icebreaker (Reyka vodka, crème de cacao white, crème de menthe, chocolate garnish, $15) unless you’re hankering for chocolate.

As for that issue of price, you’ll notice most of the cocktails are made with top-shelf ingredients, and four ounces of alcohol. In the Strawberry Blossom (Ketel One vodka, St. Germain, rose champagne, fresh strawberry puree, $15) they use the Duval-Leroy Brut Rose Champagne that goes for $20 a glass. That stuff adds up. So will a lot of visits to the Bristol over time. But one or two certainly won’t hurt.

Bristol Lounge, Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston St., Boston. 617-338-4400. www.fourseasons.com/boston/dining/the_bristol_lounge.html

Friday, December 11, 2009

Barcode: Starlite

We can already hear the ghosts of rock scenes past rattling their chains: yet another neighborhood dive gentrified. But considering our beer-soaked memories of the dingy old Abbey Lounge, we think Trina’s Starlite Lounge is an improvement. Maybe we’ve just gotten old.

“I used to hang out there, I can appreciate it more than anybody,’’ says co-owner Beau Sturm. “But before it was a rock club, this was a neighborhood bar for 70, 80 years. We wanted to harken back to that feel.’’ That manifests itself in the touches of ’50s and ’60s decor. It’s a tastefully executed retro approach to what can be an overly stylized cliche. The dark-stained wood walls, hardwood floors, comfy black leather vinyl seats and bar wrapped in stainless steel are practically gleaming with that new bar shine and smell. The old green room is now the walk-in freezer. The stage is a kitchen.

It will feel like home to fans of the old B-Side Lounge, Silvertone, or Highland Kitchen. (Co-owner Josh Childs also owns Silvertone; Sturm worked at the HK bar.) “We wanted that older feel, but still relevant and modern,’’ says Sturm.

Befitting the cocktail-forward, tradition-minded pedigree of those other bars, the drinks here match that description exactly. The Fallen Angel (spicy mango margarita, Angelique tequila, BBQ dusted rim, all drinks $9) gives off a peppery blast of heat, but the thick mango throws the breaks on before you fly over the cliff. The BBQ rim hints at the dinner menu’s southern-style cooking influence. Samata (Bison grass vodka, Canton ginger liqueur, lemon juice, green tea, mint), like some of the other drinks here, is carried over from co-owner Trina Sturm’s stint at City Bar. It’s a nice contrast to the Fallen Angel, with high grassy notes of the tea and the tickle of the ginger as an undertone.

As with other like-minded bars, playful variations on traditional cocktails shine here. Santa’s Little Stinger cuts out the crème de menthe by infusing cognac with candy canes. We were skeptical at first, but the peppermint is subtle. “We don’t do sweet,’’ explained bartender Dan Beretsky. “The rule is we have to want to, and be able to, drink the drinks ourselves.’’ Adirondack (butter infused bourbon, real maple syrup) is rich and full of flavor, but candy-driven as well, like a butterscotch lifesaver. “This time of year we do a few dessert-type drinks, but they are still serious drinks. There’s some purpose to them.’’

One misstep, for our taste, was the Woo Wha? (raspberry infused vodka, Mathilde peach, lime and cranberry juice), which, it turns out of course, is the most popular. “You need that drink that appeals to a Cosmo drinker. We don’t want to do throwaways, but we’ll at least do infused raspberries and use Mathilde instead of Schnapps. We get a lot of cocktail-savvy people, but we want everyone to come in and feel comfortable.’’

We were quite comfortable with the wintery and spicy but soothing Brenda (vanilla chai infused cachaca, Canton, lemon and orange juice), an idea that came from a traditional Brazilian winter festival drink, says Beretsky. Likewise with Popeye (Old Monk rum, tamarind syrup, lime, ginger beer) which brings fresh and tangy tamarind pulp into a Dark and Stormy.

If none of that sounds appealing, you can always order a Carling Black Label can, $3 and try to relive the glory days. Just don’t hold it against them too much, says Sturm. “We’re not Starbucks, we’re not this corporate thing that took over the old rock bar. For the most part I’m the guy who used to hang out at the Abbey. Now he’s in his mid-30s.’’

Trina’s Starlite Lounge, 3 Beacon St., Somerville. 617-576-0006. www.trinastarlitelounge.com

Boston Globe

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Hello Hurricane

It doesn’t take a music critic to connect the dots between U2 and “Needle and Haystack Life’’ from Switchfoot’s seventh full-length album. The San Diego band has long been drawing from its forebears’ deep spiritual and musical well with shimmering guitar anthems. It’s a vibrant blast of accumulating momentum tailor-made to run over an inspirational montage of slow-motion football highlights. And it’s no surprise if you detect tonal and thematic similarities to like-minded dreamers of a more recent vintage on ballads like “Your Love Is a Song.’’ Switchfoot was the Fray before the Fray was the Fray. It’s where the band diverges from the well-trod blueprint that the pleasant surprises come in. On “Mess of Me,’’ singer Jon Foreman trades his earnest croon for a more blistering attack in a punchy, hurtling screamer. On “The Sound,’’ the band rolls out the type of filthy bass riff and drum loop that UK dance rock outfits like Kasabian hurl in controlled blasts of hedonism. More than a couple of the mid-tempo light rockers here lack teeth, some of them even lack gums. We’ve heard Switchfoot as weepy soundtrack peddlers before, but Switchfoot the rock band, it turns out, is pretty darn good.

ESSENTIAL “Needle and Haystack Life’’

Boston Globe

Friday, December 4, 2009

Barcode: Biltmore

In a musical mashup you take the bass line of one song, lay it out over the beat of another, then drop in the hook of a third to create something entirely new. The Biltmore translates all that into bar form. It’s one part gastropub, one part sports bar, one part history-rich tavern, one part dive, and one part retro-cocktail-scenester enclave.

That means you can order carefully crafted drinks mixed with house-made bitters and shaved ice in a former speakeasy while basking in the warm glow of football on the TV near college kids pounding Schlitz and neighborhood couples on a date night drinking from a wide selection of carefully chosen beers. All of that plus authentic Nashville barbecue and a surprisingly cool soundtrack of old punk rock on the juke? Welcome to every bar ever all at once.

The room is chockablock with retro kitsch, like antique beer adverts and old gas pumps, but they jockey for space with video games and a few too many TVs (and this is coming from a sports fan). All of that comes before you even consider the century of history in the room; the place was a speakeasy during the Prohibition era. It was also a run-down dive for many years before owner and chef Jason Owens came aboard in 2008.

“When we renovated, our vision was that of a revival of how we thought the Biltmore would have felt like in its original 1930s prime,’’ he says. To that end they restored the original pressed-tin ceilings and hardwood floors.

In keeping with that old tradition, says Owens, “We feature many pre-Prohibition cocktails and pay homage to their creators. I feel that craft cocktails are a lost art and many libations have been bastardized and watered down over the years.’’

Bar manager Mike Stankovich keeps the flame alive behind the bar with revived staples like the Tequila Sunrise (tequila, lime juice, crème de cassis, soda, $9.75). It’s served in a tall, thin glass, like a cocktail in a flower vase. It’s a cascade of billowing purple and cloudy, shaved ice. “It’s classic, not what you think of when you think of a Tequila Sunrise.’’ Definitely not. We used to think of permed ’80s hair and fluorescent suit jackets.

His Jack Rose (Laird’s Applejack, fresh lemon, grenadine, $8.25) is commendable as well. The house-made grenadine is the key. “You boil fresh pomegranate in sugar and water for long enough and the little seeds pop and release all the juices.’’ The Jack Rose has come back to prominence of late in trendier bars, but how it still hasn’t completely taken over everywhere remains a mystery.

For his Old Fashioned (infused blended rye, bing cherries, navel orange, $6.75) he infuses rye with cherries, orange zest, and sugar and simply serves the product over ice. “I drink a lot of Old Fashioneds and people make them different from place to place. The real way you take a sugar cube, pour the whiskey over it and just add garnish. Now people muddle fruit in them and stuff.’’ No need for anything but the rye here, which carries over all the flavor of the fruit.

The Bees Knees (gin, fresh lemon, organic wildflower honey, $7.25) was a winner as well, something like drinking a zesty bed of flowers. The Minuteman (Laird’s Applejack, local cider, bitters, $8.25) and the Autumn Apple (Woodford Reserve bourbon infused with fresh apples and spices, $9.50) misfired for us though, the former being too sweet with cider and the latter too heavily spiced with nutmeg.

There’s a lot here to take in, both in terms of drinking and bar history. But this is the type of mashup that will definitely mix well in our drinking playlist.

The Biltmore Bar and Grille , 1205 Chestnut St., Newton Upper Falls. 617-527-2550. www.thebiltmoregrill.com

Boston Globe

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


California screamers have delved deep into the ’80s to bring back a type of song you thought you might never hear outside of the roller rink

Nearly everything from the ’80s has been brought back by this point. But the quintessential power ballad has remained mostly on the sidelines. Not for Newport Beach, California screamers Saosin.

Their hit “You’re Not Alone” from the 2006 self titled debut was a direct line between the thrashing metal and hardcore riffing of the Warped Tour set and the lighter waving sentimentality of ’80s hair metal weepers. Tracks like “It’s All Over Now” and the expansive, eight-minute ballad “Fireflies” from the band’s latest “In Search of Solid Ground” continue in that sensitive vein.

“I feel like a lot of bands are scared of doing it,” bassist Chris Sorenson says. “There’s this whole tough guy aspect that revolves around the genre, or one side of the genre I guess. But we’re just huge fans of that stuff. If we love those types of songs why should we not pay tribute to that style? Especially in the late ’80s, as crappy as some of those songs were, there were some really, really good songs. It’s kind of weird to see your typical hardcore kid in the pit, then when ‘You’re Not Alone’ comes on him and his buddies are singing it the loudest. I guess that’s proof that there’s room for songs like that.”
‘In Search of ...’ a balance

On the new album, Sorenson says the band tried to strike the right balance between the two extremes of their scorching metal style and pop aspirations.

“I feel like the most important thing for us is that if we’re going for a more harder edge song we incorporate some of those pop elements and vice versa. If we’re going for more of a pop song we incorporate the technical aspects of the riffs. If a song is good, it doesn’t really matter what type of song it is.”


Friday, November 27, 2009

Barcode: Burtons Grill

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, so it’s probably safe to say you’ve met (and surpassed) your quota of eating and drinking for the moment. But since we usually gorge ourselves on turkey and stuffing, there’s never any room left for the best part afterward: the pumpkin pies, cranberry and apple desserts, cinnamon spiced ciders, and warm rum drinks. By Friday, the last thing most of us want to do is go out to eat, but the craving for holiday flavors lingers. The seasonal cocktail menu at Burtons Grill provides a chance to savor some of the ingredients - without sitting down with a plate full of food.

“We’re using cranberries, cinnamon, ginger, apple cider, and pumpkin in sort of a comfort food approach to it,’’ bartender Chris Little says. “Things people are familiar with this time of year. We’re being a little more adventurous with it, but it’s also accessible.’’

The Spiced Berry Kir Royale (pureed berries, cinnamon, Grand Marnier, Domaine Chandon, cranberry and pomegranate juice, $9), for example. Fizzy and thick with fresh fruit, but light enough to drink on an already full stomach, this is made with a puree of blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries and organic pomegranate juice. The cinnamon comes from the bar’s homemade cinnamon simple syrup. A splash of organic cranberry juice adds a dry tartness.

Cranberries also figure into the Cranberry Apple Cider Rum Punch (Captain Morgan, Van Gogh Applefest, house-made cranberry apple cider, Myer’s dark rum, cinnamon sugar, $9, below). Little adds cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel to the cider before simmering. A floater of dark rum brings a little smokiness to the mix. For a garnish he recycles the byproduct of a cranberry infused with rum. “It’s like eating spiked cranberries.’’

The Baked Apple (cinnamon and caramel apples, Leblon cachaca, lime, brown sugar, $9) is deceiving. It’s made from the same apples they use to make an apple crisp dessert, which are then muddled with lime and brown sugar and a caramel syrup, but it’s a light, refreshing New England take on a South American staple. Same idea behind the Spiced Cider Mojito (Captain Morgan, Stoli Gala Applik, apple cider, green apple puree, muddled lime, cinnamon and ginger, $9). The cinnamon simple syrup turns up here in place of sugar, and instead of soda Little uses a splash of ginger ale. “It’s to get those warm flavors from the spice of it,’’ he says. It’s a tricky balance of sweet and tart here, but it mostly works.

Didn’t have room for dessert yesterday? Try the Pumpkin Martini (house-made pumpkin puree, Stoli Vanil, $9). Yes, every bar has one now, but, says Little, “This tastes like real pumpkin as opposed to a lot of places that make it with a pumpkin syrup or pumpkin liqueurs.’’ He’s right, it’s thick, wholesome, and creamy.

And while we usually shy away from whipped cream on cocktails because it melts and sours so quickly, the hand-whipped stuff here is fluffy and solid and cold and maintains its shape throughout. It’s used again in the Irish Coffee (Jameson 12 year, brown sugar, coffee, $8), but in this case the cream is hand-whipped to order with Guinness and Navan vanilla cognac. “You get those nice vanilla notes and the Guinness gives it those smoky chocolate notes,’’ he says.

Guinness, coffee, and Jameson, it’s a trio our Irish family certainly knows its way around on the holidays. Maybe that’s what we need to help pull out of this Thanksgiving food coma.

Burtons Grill , 1363 Boylston St., Boston. 617-236-2236. www.burtonsgrill.com

Boston Globe

Friday, November 20, 2009

Barcode: Gargoyles

The idea of digging into the cocktail archives has become de rigueur in recent years. For Gargoyles owner James Conforti and bartender Paul Christie, that was the plan from the get-go when they opened in 1996. Back then, martini and cocktail culture wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. One of the easiest ways to get that concept on the map, they decided, was by going big.

“I first met James back in 1995,’’ says Christie. “He kept stressing that he wanted the restaurant to be known for its martini. He wanted Gargoyles to have the biggest martini in Boston. And I think that’s the mentality we’ve stayed with. The majority of drinks we make have always been classic vodka and gin martinis and Manhattans.’’

The bar offers two sizes for their martinis, 6 ounces for $9, 10 ounces for $11.25. “We have a reputation for filling our 10-ounce glass to the point where there is noticeable surface tension, a positive meniscus, between the liquor and the rim of the glass. The perfect martini for us is one that can’t be picked up on the first sip, but rather must be bowed down to.’’

Martinis worthy of reverence. And while that respect for tradition has spread out over the years to most quality bars, it’s something that is spelled out at Gargoyles - literally. One page of the menu features specialty recipes designed by Christie and longtime colleague Maureen Nuccitelli. The other lists a selection of classics along with their genesis. “People order them all the time, but they might not know the history,’’ says Christie.

The history of the Davis Square Trolley, a sidecar made with Navan, a vanilla liqueur made from cognac and natural vanilla spice, begins here. The vanilla should round out the citrus, Christie says. The drink has a wholesome blend of spice and fruit, and a thickness brought out by the house-made sour mix, made with egg whites.

The winter spice angle is a main focus at the moment at Gargoyles. Its Maker’s Mark infused with apples, cinnamon, clove, and vanilla bean turns up in infused Hot Toddies, Winter Manhattan, and sparkling bourbon ciders. Try the bourbon solo first. It works well in the Manhattan, but there’s so much flavor going on you almost don’t need the addition of vermouth and bitters. Standard bourbon works well in the Almond Jimmy (Jim Beam, Amaretto Di Saronno, bitters, sour, soda, pictured below) although the nutty sweetness softens most of the burn.

Another updated classic on the menu is the Gargoyles Vesper (Hendrick’s, Citron, Lillet Blonde, cucumber, rose water). “It’s very clean,’’ says Christie. “You should catch a little of the rose water to finish it off.’’ Light rose water is key here, or anywhere. The Lillet Blonde, an aperitif made from brandy and wine, soothes the bite of the gin.

The Backyard Cocktail (Sauvignon Blanc, St. Germain, cucumber, soda, prosecco) is nothing but soothing. A more sophisticated wine spritzer left over from the summer menu because it’s so popular, it has absolutely nothing to do with winter. Perhaps that’s why we liked it. It’s usually so dark, crowded, warm, and cozy in the bar here, it’s tempting to lean back into one of the lounge-area rocking chairs and drift off. This cocktail is a defiant ray of light through the heart of approaching winter. That’s something that will never go out of style.

Gargoyles on the Square , 219 Elm St., Somerville. 617-776-5300. www.gargoylesrestaurant.com

Boston Globe

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brand New

Ever-changing rockers tour with a new album, ‘Daisy,’ its style markedly different even to them

Pity the creative rock band with perpetual forward momentum. By the time people have come around to your latest game-changing effort it’s time to move on. Fortunately for Brand New, that scenario has not proved detrimental to the critical acclaim the Long Island quartet has won over the course of 10 years and four divergent albums.

One might not have expected as varied and fruitful a career from the band at the time of its 2001 debut, “Your Favorite Weapon.’’ An uneven if exuberant and scrappy affair, it struck a deep chord in the crowded emo, pop-punk scene that dominated the early part of the decade. In 2003, “Deja Entendu’’ had singer Jesse Lacey temporarily assume the mantle of voice of the postmillennial generation with lyrics that exhibited a caustic eye for detail, a mischievous sarcasm, and world-weary ennui. With woebegone, singalong, stadium-punk anthems like “I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spinlight’’ and “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows,’’ Brand New seemed the rare band populist enough to explode, but smart enough to retain its underground edge.

The 2006 follow-up, “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,’’ was a confounding encore. A more contemplative effort, it eschewed much of the band’s crossover potential and sonic breast-beating for meandering, reserved diversions. It proved to be a creative milestone in the band’s career. For the first time in years, fans in the scene seemed to be saying here was a band we could actually believe in.

Yet some are still pining for a return to the majesty and grandeur of “Entendu.’’ With the release of “Daisy’’ this summer, it became clear there would be no return to that form for the band, which plays the House of Blues on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Daisy’’ is such a contrast to Brand New’s earlier work that it’s almost hard to believe it’s the same band. The caustic, dirty throwback to mid-’90s guitar indie and punk screaming is a pretty mess. It’s a credit to the band’s reputation that it can release a neo-grunge record and have it seem like a big step forward in contemporary punk.

Drummer Brian Lane says it surprised the band, too. “I know when we came out of the studio and listened to it, we were like, I have no idea who this is. I don’t understand where this came from!’’ Being able to change styles like that is a blessing, he says. “I think there’s a leniency in some regard from people who listen to us.’’

It’s also a necessity. “We need to do that stuff in order to keep ourselves entertained and keep ourselves intrigued as well. We don’t do it because we can get away with it, but because we get bored with what we create. Especially when you’re writing a record for a year, the song that you started with, thinking it’s going to be the best song on the record, suddenly you hate, so you have to create something else. And that something else that you create is probably the antithesis of what that song was to begin with.’’

It’s a refreshing rejoinder to many of their contemporaries who seem content to ride out the last waning days before the emo apocalypse on the fumes of scenes past. “That’s just boring,’’ Lane says. “When you write a record, then go on tour playing those songs for two years, it seems crazy that you can go back into the studio and write the same kind of stuff.’’

What they’ve written here is a collection of thrashing, scream-driven rockers, like album opener “Vices,’’ interspersed with chopped-up blues experiments like “Be Gone’’ and shouting, swampy marches like “At the Bottom.’’

The combination, as many fans and critics have pointed out, seems to find the band hovering somewhere at the nexus of Modest Mouse and Nirvana. Lane doesn’t see it. “It’s kind of weird that people say that,’’ he says. “To say that was the big influence on the record is definitely not true. I mean, those bands have been staples in our lives for a long time, so maybe that had something to do with it, but that’s as far as I can even think about it.’’

None of that matters when you dig into the record on a visceral level. Lacey, venerated as one of the best lyricists in contemporary rock, shared some of the writing duties with guitarist Vincent Accardi on this record, and the difference shows in a handful of clunking metaphors. But on tracks like “At the Bottom,’’ the brutal simplicity of the idea and the sincerity of the delivery render pretensions to rock poetry almost moot.

“I carry this box to its proper place. And when I lower it down, I let you fade away. I know that you would do this for me,’’ Lacey sings. He sells the drama raw, and fans are happy to take it home with them and use it. With Brand New that’s one thing you can count on staying the same.

Boston Globe

Monday, November 16, 2009

Guitar Villain? The Battle Of Video Game Likenesses

The cover song has long been an important element of a rock band's arsenal. For a new band, it can serve as a means of getting immediate attention. For more established acts, inspired cover choices allow them to serve as curators of overlooked influences (cf.
NIRVANA Unplugged). Still others like NO DOUBT have used covers (Talk Talk's "It's My Life") as a playful bridge to their pop roots. Suffice to say, a lot of thought goes into picking the right song to convey just the right message about who they are, or who they want to be.

But what happens when you take that choice away from the band? That's the question at the center of a conflict between those two bands and the video game company Activision, producers of hit games Guitar Hero and Band Hero. On Nov. 4, No Doubt filed a lawsuit against the company alleging that the game has "transformed No Doubt band members into a virtual karaoke circus act." In the game, the band's avatars can be manipulated into performing numerous songs by others artists: No Doubt claim that wasn't part of the deal. Back in September, Courtney Love and the remaining members of Nirvana had a similar complaint

You might be wondering what the big deal is. Weren't both these bands known for covers? Perhaps. But when you consider some of the unholy pastiches the game allows, the bands' ire begins to make sense. Cobain mugging like Flavor Flav? He may have had a good sense of humor, but probably not that good. No Doubt complained that bassist Tony Kanal can be used to sing "Just A Girl" in a female voice. There's nothing wrong with it if he chose to do it himself, but in this case, the band says, he did not.

Or did he? The people at Guitar Hero think so. Eric Hollreiser, vice president of public relations at ACTIVISION told us that, until now, there have been very few--if any other--artists to express displeasure with their inclusion in the games. "Clearly, if you go back and look at artists who have spoken about their participation in the game over the last four or five years, there are a lot who have felt very positive about their participation." That may be the case, but intent and results are often two different things altogether. As for the No Doubt issue, Hollreiser and Activision's official statement reads:

about a Kurt Cobain avatar that could be used as a playable character in the game. In September, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic released a statement, reading in part: "It's hard to watch an image of Kurt pantomiming other artists' music alongside cartoon characters."
"Some of the world's most popular and iconic artists have been featured in Guitar Hero as playable characters, and we are proud to count No Doubt among them. Activision has a written agreement to use No Doubt in Band Hero--an agreement signed by No Doubt after extensive negotiations with its representatives, who collectively have decades of experience in the entertainment industry. Pursuant to that agreement, Activision worked with No Doubt and the band's management in developing Band Hero. As a result, Activision believes it is within its legal rights with respect to the use and portrayal of the band members in the game and that this lawsuit is without merit. Activision is exploring its own legal options with respect to No Doubt's obligations under the agreement."

At this point, Hollresier says, nothing has come of Love's threats to file suit against the company. And it may simply turn out to be a case of buyer's remorse with No Doubt, who did not reply to requests to comment on this story. But what of the argument? Does Guitar Hero sympathize at all with claims like the ones No Doubt have made? Is it reasonable to assume that the band, even if they've legally agreed otherwise, might have a case for understanding? "That's really a question for the bands and their management," Hollresiser says.

It turns out there's no easy answer there either. Jon Bon Jovi (around whom some of the controversy about Cobain has revolved) seems to agree games like Guitar Hero 5, in which he and Cobain share a potential overlap, are a little weird. Speaking to BBC News, Bon Jovi said, "I don't know that I would have wanted it either. To hear someone else's voice coming out of a cartoon version of me? I don't know. It sounds a little forced."

Opinions in the gamer community are mixed as well. "I think there's a little bit of a gray area there when you talk about how artists are portrayed in these games," says Emmanuel Petti of That Videogame Blog. "I think it really depends on if they're still alive or not. I think when the artist is still around to defend themselves, the responsibility lies in their hands to explicitly make sure their image is portrayed the way they want it to be. But I think in the case of deceased artists like Cobain, some responsibility lies with the publishers and developers of a game to make sure that the image of the artists represents what that person was like or would have wanted. Something just doesn't sit right with an artist like Cobain singing Bon Jovi songs regardless of the legality of it. It potentially sets a nasty precedent and before you know it, we have Jimi Hendrix strumming to Miley Cyrus and Buddy Holly rapping next to Jay-Z in DJ Hero."

Petti's argument is an interesting one. The specifics of the No Doubt legal case have yet to play out, but even if everything is legally sound, from a music fan's standpoint, one wonders if it is right. "How much does having Cobain sing Bon Jovi songs actually add to the experience of the game?" asks Petti. "If anything, it detracts from it. So why even bother?"

Other artists don't see it as a big deal. Jeph Howard of THE USED said, "The idea of being able to become your favorite musical icon for a game is fucking awesome. Who cares if you're not playing the same band's songs? That's not the point. The point is to have fun. It's a video game not a documentary." SMASHING PUMPKINS Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan--a character in Guitar Hero World Tour alongside Paramore's Hayley Williams, Jimi Hendrix and Ozzy Osbourne--find it a harmless curiosity. Corgan says that in regard to any potentially incongruous in-game mash-ups, "I had no reservation, because it's just a game. I understand other artists I respect having a problem with it. But I just don't see it as a big deal. I think it's kinda funny to see me singing some song I don't even know."

It is funny, and that's sort of the point. There may be no such thing as a sacred cow in a time of musical pastiche acts, freedom of information on the internet (aka stealing), and a general demystification of the rock star as anything more than a man or woman doing a job well. But while it's refreshing to see artists express a sense of humor about themselves, your image is your image. With megastars like Metallica and Aerosmith, for whom Guitar Hero has produced their own specific, segregated titles, image is easier to manage. In Band Hero and Guitar Hero 5, where Cobain and No Doubt are in the mix with other artists' music, not so much. It's something that was a major concern for Harmonix Music Systems, MTV Games and Electronic Arts, the companies behind The Beatles: Rock Band.

"We knew from the start that we didn't want to turn the Beatles into puppets and have their avatars singing other people's songs from the Rock Band library," says Paul DeGooyer, senior vice president of Electronic Games and Music at MTV Networks Music Group. "That just felt wrong to us on many levels and was never presented to them as a possibility. That's why the Beatles game is a walled garden with its own downloads." The Beatles, however, are still the Beatles, and carry that weight, so to speak. But for a generation of kids who grew up comfortable with the idea of digital representations of themselves, Nirvana were their Beatles. At this point, for bands such as Nevada screamers ESCAPE THE FATE, the idea of exposure through video games is a given. Their song "The Flood" was featured as a downloadable track as part of the Warped Tour Pack for Rock Band. "We'd be comfortable with it," says Escape The Fate drummer Robert Ortiz. "We come from that generation." But when it's a beloved musician who represents something meaningful to a lot of people, it's a different story.

"There comes a point where you've got to realize certain people stand for shit," says Ortiz. "I'm not personally the biggest Nirvana fan, but I know at the time when Kurt Cobain [was alive], he was against anything that resembled pop and cheesy-ass shit and he wanted everything to be real. Now that he's deceased, he can't control his own legacy. He has other people making decisions and making money off him. When he came out against all the hair-metal bands that were out at the time, he wanted to do something completely different. And then you go and you choose him as a character on a video game--and that sucks. You see him playing all those songs he would have been against, and he has no control over it."

Nick Chester, editor of the video game site Destructoid agrees that consent is the crux of the issue. "I get why there's a push to get these faces into games," he says. "It's all about mass-market appeal. It works particularly well with games like the Top 40-themed Band Hero, where the target audience is going think an animated Taylor Swift is the coolest thing since being able to browse the internet from your phone. You know, if Swift signed on the dotted line and was legitimately okay with players being able to make her sing the Spice Girls' 'Wannabe,' that's great and totally her choice. But if No Doubt were blindsided as they claim, that's a different story. I think stuff like that could be potentially damaging to Activision's relationship with bands and the music industry, especially with those musicians who value their long-term appeal as artists."

Exposure is certainly the appeal for bands, particularly ones less well known than No Doubt, says Ortiz. "For musicians, it's a chance for people to hear your music through a new outlet. Radio isn't as big as it used to be, and MTV [as a video outlet] is gone. Guitar Hero is a great way for people to find your shit. Even for younger generations to get in tune with music they might not be exposed to. Everyone has heard of the Beatles, but they might not know their music. It's a really great tool." While Escape The Fate have only been on the Rock Band soundtrack at this point, what if they got big enough to become playable characters in future versions down the line? "I'll take it," Ortiz says, laughing. Performing pop songs, as well? "I don't give a shit. I have a respect for all music. I like everything. I just think there's a right way to do it. Aerosmith and Metallica, they did their own thing, but also had bands that they listened to growing up and influenced their sound. So you take them and perform those songs with the characters of Aerosmith or Metallica, because when they were young, they actually did play those songs. There's a way to do it right. If you want to use me, I don't care. As long as the kids see me and it allows them to hear my band's name somewhere, then go for it."

Chester concurs that the band-specific titles are good examples of the right way to do it. "I think Harmonix has proven that it's completely possible to do this in a respectful way that pays tribute to the musicians," he says. "Just take a look at The Beatles: Rock Band. There was a lot of room for error there, but it was handled carefully and with class, and that resonates with gamers and fans of the music. Even games like Guitar Hero: Aerosmith or Guitar Hero: Metallica were inoffensive in that it was the bands, for the most part, playing their own songs. To see Kurt Cobain singing 'Bring The Noise' with Johnny Cash on drums is more comical than anything else. You almost feel embarrassed on their behalf."

Alternative Press

Friday, November 13, 2009

Barcode: Ginger Park

When a cocktail recipe gets too busy, one superfluous ingredient can obscure the intended flavors. In mixing, as they say in poetry or music, sometimes the things you take out are just as important as the ones you leave in. The same can be said about the design of a bar as well. At Ginger Park, the new modern Asian restaurant and bar occupying the former BanQ space in the South End, the fluid wooden architectural waves throughout the dining room have survived the editing process. But the removal of one dividing wall between that space and the bar has worked wonders. The bar seems a piece of the whole now, and the swooping design grabs hold of you and pulls you into the movement of the room. “Now it’s about function and design, not just design,’’ bartender Don Wahl told us. “Getting rid of that wall fixed the whole feng shui of the place.’’

The renovations have also increased the size of the bar itself, which is good news for drinkers looking to avail themselves of the cocktails designed by bar manager Geoffrey Fallon. Fittingly, a few of them revolve around sake, as in the Kyoto Cooler (sake, grapefruit juice, agave nectar, lemon juice, $8). Served on the rocks in a tall glass, it’s made with Gekkeikan, a light sake that’s both salty and slightly sweet. It makes for a clean, crisp tartness. It also shows up in the Sake Bulle (sake, St. Germain, prosecco, $11; below left). It’s 15.6 percent alcohol, but you wouldn’t know that by taste. This martini is like lightly perfumed sparkling water, and just as clear.

“We utilize sake to deepen the flavor of other liqueurs,’’ Fallon says. It also works well in combination with other spirits like gin and vodka. “A lot of people try the cocktails and say, ‘What is that flavor?’ It’s very ethereal.’’

Savory and sweet or sweet and spicy cocktails are a particular favorite for Fallon, as in the Tamarind Margarita (tequila, orange liqueur, tamarind paste, lime, agave nectar, salt and pepper rim, $10). The margarita is thickened with the tart, citrusy tamarind paste, and the pepper on the rim makes the flavors pop. They’ll also be mixing chipotle peppers in with the recipe soon. It’s easy to add whatever to margaritas these days. Harder still to make a memorable one. And what of reinventing the poor, maligned mojito? After trying the Shiso-Jito (rum, yuzu, shiso leaf, simple syrup, soda, $10, below right), we might never go back to the original. This cocktail combines bright fruit from the yuzu and an herby, medicinal quality brought on by the muddled shiso, which is sort of a cross between cilantro and mint. With the type of heat found on the small-plates menu, this cocktail’s cooling effect is not something you’ll want to leave out.

Ginger Park , 1375 Washington St., Boston. 617-451-0077.

Boston Globe

Friday, November 6, 2009

Barcode: Tempo

For the jaded bar scenester, the prospect of heading outside the city is daunting. Too many bars are mired in outmoded mixing habits and ingredients. But on the plus side, you’ll occasionally find a spot like Tempo in Waltham where the things that seem old hat in town - house-made infusions, kitchen-driven mixing ingredients, classic-cocktail excavating - are tinged with a genuine air of enthusiasm and a refreshing lack of pretension.

Not that Waltham is some barren outpost. The stretch of Moody Street where you’ll find Tempo is a veritable hot spot. Tempo’s interior, seemingly pulled from the ideal of “modern Cambridge bistro’’ wouldn’t seem out of place a few miles further east.

Speaking of infusions, bartender Hafsa Lewis was jazzed about the ones she’s working with here. The Sparkling Pear Martini (house infused pear vodka, St. Germain, fresh lime juice, sparkling wine, $9) in particular. It’s hard to get too enthused about St. Germain any more; it’s like the bar equivalent of music’s auto-tune. Sure it can make for a hooky song, but overuse has soured its appeal. The sparkling wine here toned it down though. We might’ve added a bit more.

“A lot of people drink this on its own,’’ Lewis said of the vodka. We can see why. It’s smooth and fruity, but thick with a sticky presence that made us nostalgic for bag lunch fruit cups.

After that, the Ginger Lime Martini (house-infused citrus vodka, ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, $8) pulled us back into the drier realm we’re more comfortable in. Sipping this back and forth with the Sparkling Pear was like a push and pull between two extremes. The Japanese Plum Martini (Pearl Plum vodka, ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, red wine, $9) was our favorite. It’s also the most popular and the favorite of the staff as well.

“I like the complexity of the Japanese Plum,’’ manager Erin Barnicle told us. “It offers a bold flavor and you can drink more than one. Some martinis you have one and they are so sweet you can’t drink another.’’ Too true. A dry but fruity splash of Shiraz brings this one back from the edge. The ginger syrup made in house by the pastry chef gives a nice spicy finish.

Tequila, rum, and gin make token appearances on the list here, but we would’ve liked to see a little more movement beyond vodka for variety. A few older cocktails come out of left field like the Gensac Stinger (Marquis de Gensac VS Cognac, White Créme de Menthe, $8) which, if you’ve never had one, is a lot like drinking brandy and brushing your teeth at the same time. But the type of hipster cocktailer who instinctively turns up her nose at vodka martini lists doesn’t need columns like this to decide where to go to drink. Everyone else looking for a nudge to check out a place outside the city that’s still excited about what it does, consider this your notice.

Tempo , 474 Moody St., Waltham. 781-891-9000. www.tempobistro.com

Boston Globe