Monday, August 31, 2009

‘Acting Out’ of humanity

ICA conducting ‘Social Experiments’ on viewers through October

Gathering five works from a group of young, socially engaged international artists, “Acting Out: Social Experiments in Video,” at the Institute of Contemporary Art, focuses on the shifting interactions that establish the differences and similarities between people throughout the world.

Curator Jen Mergel says though the subjects range from young kids in Croatia to teens at about the age when they might get conscripted into the Israeli army, to the elderly in a small Scottish town, there is a similarity.

“The fundamental human relationships that are revealed — what isolates or connects us — really cross any national or political or cultural boundaries,” she says. “You could speak any language, come to the show, and still get the most fundamental message in each of the works; the dynamics between us, they really do define us.”

In each of the five pieces on display, she explains, the artists “engage non-actors in challenging situations and record them, in an effort to get a sense of how their reactions within these challenging situations might give us a glimpse into the complex dynamics in our political and personal relationships.”

Among the works, a broad range of tone and subject matter play out, from pop culture to politics to poetry and symbolism.

In “He Who Laughs Last Laughs Longest,” artist Phil Collins (not the one of “Sussudio” fame) plays with our ideas of reality TV, engaging a group of citizens from the small Scottish town where TV was invented in an exhausting laughing competition. Joanna Billings’ “Magical World” features Croatian children learning how to sing a song in English. Venezuelan artist Javier Tellez’s “Letter on the Blind, for the Use of Those Who See” updates the old parable “The Blind Man and the Elephant,” inviting a group of blind people to share their interpretations of touching an elephant.

“Unlike a documentary, or reality television, or even social science,” says Mergel, “these artists are specifically choosing situations that they know will have some poignant resonance and be able to remain open ended, layered and complex ... They aren’t looking for neat conclusions or short answers. They really are trying to reveal complexities, not answer questions.”

It’s within the emotional intensity of the unscripted participants’ reactions that the drama and tension of human social interaction plays out. In the laughing contest, “the piece runs for the length of the longest laugh,” Mergel explains. “You’re feeling this excruciating transition from what should be a natural expression of release, into one that’s forced, into something almost painful and hysterical. It’s really sort of revealing to us how such a medium can alter our own behaviors or emotions.”

‘Acting Out: Social Experiments in Video’
Through Oct. 18
Institute of Contemporary Art
100 Northern Ave., Boston
MBTA: Red Line to South Station
617-478-3100
www.icaboston.org


Boston Metro

Friday, August 28, 2009

Barcode: Ecco

We're not entirely sure how we ended up in East Boston. It was either a tunnel or a bridge, or both. Perhaps some sort of time warp? Anyway, it's always exciting when you can travel within your own city to a neighborhood you don't frequent and feel like you've landed someplace distant. The important thing is we eventually made our way to the welcoming environs of Ecco, whose bar embraced us like a long lost friend opening his arms to a weary traveller. The artfully placed mirrors, artsy light design, dark woods and sparkling stone bar make it the type of low lit, stylish martini lounge that wouldn't seem out of place in the Back Bay or Cambridge. Sure, Eastie has long been renowned as a foodie haven for its diverse take out options, but until Ecco opened (they celebrate their one year anniversary in September) they haven't really had anything like this. “East Boston has a lot of Hispanic and Italian eateries,” says Ecco chef David Fitzgerald. “But we're the only place of this caliber.”

OK, so Eastie isn't really that far from Boston proper. “It's only a quarter mile away!” says manager Jon Larkin. “But that bridge really separates people,” he explains. “You can't walk here. You can walk to Charlestown, you can walk to South Boston.” True, but just take a few stops out on the Blue Line and you're ready to explore. You'll find a pleasant reward in Ecco's Cilantro Gimlet (Svedka vodka, cilantro, fresh squeezed lime juice, $8.95) waiting for you. This one's got a sharp, bright citrus and a fresh herby grass quality that cuts right through the feeling of the late August humidity outside. Although in the temperate comfort of the dim, cool indoor bar (note to bars with retractable windows: keep those things shut when its 90 and humid, ok?) you might feel ready to take the plunge toward the more fall inspired flavors of their Infused Bourbon ($8.95). With soft, rounded notes of vanilla and cinnamon, you'll get the most of its flavor by sipping it straight. Working it into a Manhattan, which we also tried, took away some of the subtlety. Beginning with a Jim Beam base here, Fitzgerald then adds dried cherries, fresh vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks and a touch of molasses for sweetness.

There's relatively little sweetness to be found in Eccos version of the cosmopolitan, the Cucumber Cosmo (Svedka, muddled cucumbers, splash of cranberry, touch of simple syrup, fresh lemon and lime juice, $8.95). Cucumbers are everywhere now, but they're most commonly mixed with gin. “Hendrick's is great with cucumber,” says bartender Kate Caruso. “But this is one I've never seen anywhere before.” What a difference the addition a few ingredients can make to a tired recipe. Maybe she just has a light touch with the simple and cranberry, or maybe the cucumbers make this the driest Cosmo we've ever had. “When people say they don't like their cosmos too sweet I recommend that,” Caruso says.

Moving people away from their comfort zone was something they set out to do, says Larkin. “When we first opened we didn't want to stick with the 'flirtini' thing." At first people would order a gimlet and complain about the lack of Rose's lime juice. The drinks simply didn't taste like what they were used to. But overtime people have come around to Ecco's focus on fresher or new to them ingredients, he says.

The Calvados Martini (Lecompte Calvados, St. Germain, Svedka, $8.95) for example. It's a tug of war between the dry apple of the brandy and the sweeter elderflower notes fortified by a bracing shot of vodka.

“Crafted cocktails are big in Boston,” says Larkin. “But we thought we could do that too.” And while he admits Calvados or St. Germain aren't a big step in Boston, it did take people in the neighborhood a little while to get used to here. Now it's all going smoothly. “People know our bartenders are from Eastie. They trust them.” We do now too.

Ecco, 107 Porter St., East Boston. 617-561-1112. www.eccoboston.com


Boston Globe

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jeff Lemire

The misconception that comic books are all about steroidal morons in tights flying around into buildings has long been out of fashion. But reading through contemporary comics, you'd still expect plenty of action, right? A crime noir perhaps? Intrigue? Spies at the very least. Not if you're reading the work of Toronto based artist and writer Jeff Lemire, whose new book “The Nobody” is yet another in DC imprint Vertigo's long line of genre-defying, literary quality titles.

Lemire, whose body of work has largely focused on the sleepy, rural towns of his native Canada in standouts like the “Essex County” series brings a quiet intensity to the page, with panels more about stillness and slow epiphany than explosions and gun shots. You might call it minimalist, or even, “emo” as some have done, and you wouldn't be far off. But don't expect overwrought handwringing and crying about girlfriends. There is plenty of melodrama all the same, even if you have to pay close attention to the subtle shifts in the way one of his woebegone character's eyes are drawn from panel to panel.

“I think subtlety is a lost art in all aspects of popular culture, and comics are not exempt from that,” says Lemire. “The easiest and loudest and most obvious ways of communicating ideas, visually or otherwise, seem to be the default. But in comics, film, literature, etc., there are always challenging and thought provoking artists worth sifting through the mud for.”

Lemire, for example. Loosely based on HG Wells' “The Invisible Man,” “The Nobody” brings Lemire a little closer to standard comics themes. The story telling approach, however, is still unmistakably his own. “You need to make the reader work and become engaged in the story,” he says. “To invest some of themselves as well, or what's the point?”

“I think I always try to put character before plot,” says Lemire. “My books are about people, not high concepts. In a way I was having some fun with this too in 'The Nobody.' Take a high-concept idea like 'The Invisible Man,' and see what those characters would do after the end credits role, or between the scenes we normally see in the Hollywood version.”

Metro: So much of your work seems rooted in setting and scenery more than other artists I can think of. The setting is almost a character. Is that your intention, and how much of that place is real, and how much based upon your home?

Lemire: Well, in terms of the Essex County, I think it is, in some ways a romanticized view of where I grew up, and in other ways a colder, starker version as well. The way all the characters know each other, and their lives intertwine so neatly is obviously a bit idealized and manipulated to tell a “complete” story. In the real world everyone is connected, but in much less obvious and, um…thematic ways. Also, visually, I took the things I loved the most about the Essex County landscape, (old rust farm equipment, tattered wooden barns, vast open fields, endless telephone lines running off into the horizon), and focused on these, almost creating an idealized, almost timeless visual shorthand for the setting. And then I use that to constantly reflect plot, mood and character.

What do you think makes your work stand out from other mainstream titles?

Probably more than anything it is one single person writing, and drawing the books, unlike most mainstream books where there are several creative people involved and the work is divided up almost assembly line style. As a result, for better or worse, you are getting the single vision of one creator directly on the page.

This is your first book for DC, very much the mainstream. But under the the Vertigo imprint there is plenty of leeway it seems. Did you feel any difference in the way you approached the new book? Were there outside considerations you weren't used to? Meddling editors, money concerns etc?

No not at all. Vertigo gave me my freedom to do my thing, and any editorial input I did receive was welcome, and always intelligent, thoughtful and helpful. The only difference was having a set page count ahead of time, I'm used to just making my books as long as they want to be, but the set page count also led to some interesting discoveries on ways to be more economical as a storyteller.

Is subtlety a lost art in contemporary comics?

I think subtly is a lost art in all aspects of popular culture, and comics are not exempt from that. The easiest and loudest and most obvious ways of communicating ideas, visually or otherwise seem to be the default. But in comics, film, literature etc., there are always challenging and thought provoking artists worth sifting through the mud for.

I like the way the central mystery of The Nobody is never addressed. Are you discouraged when everything is spelled out directly for the reader in other books?

Yes very much so. To me the key to a good mystery is never giving it all away. You need to make the reader work and become engaged in the story. To invest some of themselves as well, or what's the point?

What aspects, aside from the obvious, inspired you from The Invisible Man? Other influences from outside comics in general on your work?

I seem to be obsessed with exploring rural settings, and small town life in my work. I think this was me having a little fun with that, and doing a pulpier, darker version of Essex County.

It seems to me books like the Nobody and the Essex County stuff are more about stillness and sort of quiet epiphanies washing over the character's faces. More like short stories in literature as opposed to novels that gallop along on plot developments. Does that sound right to you?

Yes, I think I always try to put character before plot. My books are about people, not high concepts. In a way I was having some fun with this too in The Nobody. Take a high-concept idea like The Invisible Man, and see what those characters would do after the end credits role, or between the scenes we normally see in the Hollywood version.

Loneliness seems to be a pervasive theme in your work. Where does that come from? Is there something about rural Canada that makes for a deeper loneliness in contrast to the general disconnectedness of modernity?

I think I was always a bit lonely growing up...isolated. Yet, now I actually prefer it that way. I don't really think that that is a Canadian trait, just a personal one.

Do you think the public at large is even aware, at this late date, that comics aren't all superheroes at this point? Will that stigma ever go away? Not that I mind superheroes every now and again.

I love superheroes! But, obviously there is a lot more out there too. I really do think there has been a general shift in the public awareness to the idea of "graphic novels" being these things that are out there and are not just kid's comics anymore. That may have come from a more diverse pool of books to draw from now, or from Hollywood's obsession with remaking everything. Either way, I think it's a good thing.

New York Metro

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Marc Anthony

MARC ANTHONY
At: Agganis Arena, Sunday

With so much speculation about Marc Anthony’s romantic ups and downs in the press in recent months, you might not blame his fans for losing track of what it is he does best. In case they had, the singer took to the stage Sunday night and set about jogging the memories of 3,000 of his enraptured followers, throwing what was probably the steamiest Latin dance party ever held in a freezing hockey rink.

Dressed in a sleek dark suit, the sprightly Anthony worked the audience into a lather with his powerhouse vocals. His 14-piece band - complete with multi-percussionists, horns, and pianos - laid down a series of tropical salsa grooves that kept the rhythms charged and the audience dancing.

The songs were drawn entirely from Anthony’s Spanish-language catalog, like the crowd-pleasing Héctor Lavoe salsa classic “Mi Gente’’ from Anthony’s “El Cantante’’ soundtrack. One less-than-fluent reviewer aside, the audience didn’t miss a cue. Anthony milked his eager collaborators for all they were worth, letting the thundering crowd share in the singing spotlight. Not that he seemed to have much choice in the matter. All the while the bounding showman flirted back and forth between his trademark tortured lover-man and playful party-starting personas and treated the crowd to what may well have been the only known example of charming air drums ever performed.

“Hasta Ayer,’’ from the album “Todo a su Tiempo,’’ began as a sparsely strummed acoustic lament embellished with mariachi horns and progressed to a flurry of riotous piano figures cascading over the shuffling rhythm. On too many of Anthony’s recorded ballads, the vocal-heavy arrangement and sometimes downright chintzy production are often to the song’s detriment. With the full force of the band behind him, he lifted the slower romantic songs to their proper heights.

The most striking instrument in the house, nonetheless, belonged to Anthony. On songs like “Tu Amor Me Hace Bien’’ he unfurled drawn-out, operatic notes that hammered home the songs’ emotive urgency and, if for only a few brief moments, brought the party to a pensive halt.

Boston Globe

Friday, August 21, 2009

Barcode: Mead and you

And you thought you were digging deep into the past by drinking Prohibition-era cocktails. Those sort of pale in comparison to millennia-old mead, a drink whose story is as old as civilization itself.

There’s evidence of the production of this honey wine all over the world throughout history. In fact, many people think that the accidental discovery of fermented honey may have led to mankind’s first experience with intoxication somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago.

You can also thank mead for your honeymoon. It’s thought that the practice is derived from the ancient tradition of partying with mead for an entire lunar month after the wedding. Sounds better than a weekend in the Bahamas, doesn’t it?

And yet, for a number of reasons, mead fell out of favor. Most people have never even tried it. They’re aiming to remedy that at Henrietta’s Table with the introduction of two locally produced mead varieties on their cocktail list.

“When we got it in, I had never really tasted it or worked with it,’’ says restaurant manager Mike Powers. “It’s exciting to use an ingredient you haven’t worked with before. Especially if it’s something you don’t see everywhere.’’

The two varieties in question, a Dry Reserve and a cassis-flavored mead, come from a company called Green River Ambrosia in Greenfield. The Dry Reserve is a traditional dry mead made from honey, water, and yeast and aged for 18 months. The cassis is made with black currants.

“To compare these two is a completely different ballgame,’’ says Powers. “The cassis is easier to work with. It has a great flavor behind it and fruit in front. Compared to cassis liqueur this is all natural. It blows it out of the water. There’s not a lot of sugar or sweetness. [It’s] as bare bones as it gets for cassis.’’

The cassis shows up in the Mead Manhattan (Seagram’s VO, cassis mead, dash of orange juice, $9.50). Taking the place of vermouth here, the cassis mead gives off an extraordinarily dry dark fruit flavor. It’s a pretty eye-opening take on a Manhattan, however, and people accustomed to experimenting with new cocktail variations will find it remarkable. Although there is a learning curve. It’s certainly not for everyone.

The Dry Reserve mead is more challenging. It’s something of an acquired taste, and, like the cassis, is probably best served to someone with a passion for unique cocktails. It does, however, work well with champagne, which is why Powers is serving it in their mimosa (Dry Reserve mead, champagne, orange juice, dash of triple sec, $9.50; left). The Dry Reserve has a little carbonation to it and a lot of honey on the nose and a big yeastiness. It tastes almost exactly like a Hoegaarden or a white Belgian ale in fact.

“It seems as if it’s raw, right out of the bottle,’’ says Powers. It also makes for a much fuller body than a normal mimosa.

Powers is still looking for new ways to incorporate mead into cocktails, saying it’s not easy to work with. But going into the fall he plans on trying the cassis with brandy or bourbon to bring out the autumnal flavors.

“We’re not by any means done with them,’’ he says. “The exciting thing will be finding out what’s next.’’

Henrietta’s Table , The Charles Hotel. 1 Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-661-5005. www.henriettastable.com

Boston Globe

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lightning Dust, 'Infinite Light'

Lightning Dust
Infinite Light

Jagjuguwar
ESSENTIAL “History’’
Lightning Dust plays T.T. the Bear’s Sept. 17.

Think of yourself hovering on the verge of tears. The quickening pulse, a warble in the throat, the involuntary urge to choke it back lest your vulnerability show. Now imagine stretching that out across an album of minimalist indie folk and you’ve got “Infinite Light,’’ the latest from Lightning Dust. It’s a feeling immediately conveyed through Amber Webber’s breathy, tremulous vocals. She seems perpetually near breakdown, even on the relatively upbeat keyboard bass jaunt of “I Knew.’’ Listeners familiar with Webber and bandmate Joshua Wells’s day jobs in neo-psych, stoner-rock band Black Mountain will recognize that outfit’s gloomy sonic worldview, but its stripped-down application here is worlds apart. With little more than piano, drums, and the occasional marching string arrangement, the duo shoulders a heavy burden with quiet reserve. Relatively rocking tracks like “The Times’’ show they’re capable of kicking up their heels, but before long it’s back to staring out the window at the dreary void on “Never Seen.’’ For many listeners Webber’s descent into Cat Power-style calamity will be the hook; others may find it a precious affectation. Then again, some people can’t see any beauty in a lonely overcast day.

Boston Globe

Friday, August 14, 2009

Barcode: Radius

We don’t regularly find ourselves hanging out near South Station, but for many of the area’s office workers the bar at the swanky Radius is a prime spot for throwing a few back before hitting the commuter rail home. “This is definitely an after-work bar,’’ bartender Savannah Barker-Fornal explained on a quiet weeknight. “I sell so much Bud Light you wouldn’t believe it.’’

It is hard to believe, with so much else to choose from. We were seated at the swooping white stone bar adjacent to the elegant dining room where the lights were so low we had to hold a candle up to our cocktails to see what color they were. Many of them, like Watermelon (Leblon Cachaça, St. Germaine, watermelon juice, lime juice, parsley oil, $14; below left) were visually stunning. With a bright pink hue from the fresh squeezed watermelon juice, and green oil speckling the surface, it looks something like a cartoon dinosaur’s skin - although it tastes much better than that sounds. Over time as you sip, the colors blend into a kaleidoscopic swirl. To get that effect the oil is added to the bottom of the martini glass first. It beads up when the other liquids are introduced. It may leave a slight oily taste on your lips, but that only helps to savor the fresh fruit flavors.

What’s with the boring cocktail name though? “We just changed the list on Saturday,’’ Barker-Fornal said. “They usually have clever sort of names, but this is a summer fruit focus. The idea is picking one ingredient to focus on.’’

As in the great-looking Strawberry (El Milagro Silver tequila, fresh strawberry, Crème de Fraise de Boise, lemon juice, agave nectar, black pepper, $14; below right). We enjoyed stirring up the contents with our straw and watching the chunks of fruit and flecks of black spice swirl together in a maelstrom of color contrast. We are very easy to amuse. The single muddled strawberry adds texture, but doesn’t clog up the works, although we might have preferred a touch less of the sweet liqueur and more heat.

Black Cherry (Belvedere Vodka, Pimm’s, basil, lemon, orange, black cherry soda, $12) was airy and light, but still had plenty going on. Basil always adds a fresh herbaceous quality, and the citrus and spice of the Pimm’s blended well with the black cherry soda. In Blueberry (lavender-enhanced vodka, blueberry juice, fresh lime, $12) the light notes of floral aromatics were a little subdued, and the thick blueberry was too aggressive. Those whose tastes skew sweeter won’t be disappointed in its sugary syrup feel.

Others should skip ahead to Calaminth (Maker’s Mark, Meyer lemon, calaminth, agave nectar, cranberry, sparkling wine, $14). Served in a tall pilsner glass, it’s another brilliant presentation. It has a bipartite color separation of ingredients; sort of a sunset with a halo of cloudy ice. The sparkling wine top is discernible here, unlike in many drinks where it gets plopped in uneventfully. The bourbon carries the taste, but the calaminth herbs and touch of cranberry tartness creep in every other sip. Occasionally you’ll get a chunk of calaminth through the straw that bursts open with minty flavor. With drinks like this to choose from, ordering a Bud Light at Radius seems like a waste.

Radius, 8 High St., Boston. 617-426-1234. www.radiusrestaurant.com.

Boston Globe

Monday, August 10, 2009

Patrick Wolf

Indie Rock
Patrick Wolf The Bachelor
Bloody Chamber Music
ESSENTIAL “Damaris’’
It’s usually not a good sign when you have to keep checking to make sure there aren’t any other open pages playing music in the background on the computer. So it goes with London musician Patrick Wolf’s latest. It’s probably some sort of baroque, electronic pop experiment, but to those with an underdeveloped taste for the avant-garde, it sounds more like hanging out in the hallway of a particularly pretentious band rehearsal complex. In Wolf’s defense, the obfuscation is intentional. Throughout, he shuffles a deck of alternately haunted and just plain scary vocal tracks haphazardly while violins and piano churn away like the groan of a rusty tin shack shifting in the wind. A general hum of ambient conversation noise fills in whatever cracks are left over. It’s a shame, because on the rare focused song (“Hard Times’’) Wolf works with a deep, resonant voice that proves more than capable of carrying a thoughtfully skewed tune. On “Damaris’’ he leaves room for the cinematic string sweeps to stretch out over an electronic beat and keeps the vocals understated. There’s talent here, but it seems Wolf’s spent so much time devising a plan to smuggle abstraction over the pop barricades that he neglected to pack the payload. Here’s a Wolf who didn’t even bother to dress in sheep’s clothing. (Out now)

Boston Globe

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Boston: Top 10 Bars for Expertly Mixology

Eastern Standard (Fenway) - This huge bar and restaurant is always packed because of its proximity to Fenway Park. They also have some of the best bartenders in the city, many of whom have branched out into the other spots below. If your bartender apprenticed here, you know you're in good hands. Try the Whiskey Smash -- they've served 21,000 in the past four years.
Craigie on Main (Cambridge) - The food here is justifiably renowned, but the bar deserves a lot of credit too. Stop in for an impromptu lecture on the history of the martini while it's being made, or just let them mix you a Threadneedle Pimm’s, replete with pineapple syrup and juniper branches.
Drink (Fort Point) - Another gathering spot for the area's best bartenders who are drawn to the creative theme of the bar. No drink list, just spirit and flavor suggestions from the customers. Allows for experimentation on the fly, and an opportunity to school us noobs on what a cocktail really is.
Green Street Grill (Cambridge) - The only thing that could make this neighborhood bar any more cozy is tossing back a few of their signature drinks. Try the Diamond Back—Old Overholt Rye, Applejack, green chartreuse.

The Blue Room (Cambridge) - Longtime favorite is known for its rustic charm, fabulous brunch, and lived-in feel. Tenders here know their way around a bar, be it with classic mixing techniques, how to use experimental ingredients, or turning on the charm. Go with The Dark Side—Plymouth gin, Erbaluna Barolo Chinato, Peychaud’s bitters, lime, star anise.
Dante (Cambridge) - A hearty red wine with one of the rich pasta or seafood dishes here is great, but consider sipping a light refreshing Italian style cocktail like the Amoroso Fizz (Aperol, orange juice, soda, Prosecco) on the patio overlooking the river, and it’ll feel like Rome.
Beehive (South End) - This creative spot has a throwback artist’s colony vibe. The drinks are just as creative and full of flair as the decor. Be sure to try one of the champagne cocktails, like the Yellow Jacket—yellow chartreuse, St. Germaine, lemon.
Franklin Cafe (South End) - There’s a few locations to choose from, but we prefer the South End classic. It’s small, romantic, and not as common as you’d think. Drink list has a classics focus, so stick with what they do best, like a Ward 8—rye, lemon, grenadine).
The Independent (Somerville) - Don’t be fooled by the dim Irish pub interior—they can mix a Manhattan here just as well as they pull a pint of Guinness, which makes this a favorite stop for hipster neighborhood beer heads and cocktailers alike.
Sonsie (Back Bay) - There’s plenty of people watching to do sitting by the big open windows overlooking the Newbury Street promenade. We recommend gazing into a Re-Fresh Cocktail--Hendricks Gin, St. Germains, muddled cucumbers, lime).

Black Book

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Between the Trees

Between The Trees - Spain

FILE UNDER: Posi-pop

[3/5]

When this Orlando, Florida, group's resume first landed on our desk in the form of their 2007 debut The Story And The Song, we moved it right to the top of the pile. Their objective: to secure an entry-level position in the vaguely Christian, spiritual pop-rock department headed up by the likes of Switchfoot and Relient K (two groups with whom BTT share more than a few sonic and philosophical similarities). Over the past two years, the young upstarts have turned up early at the office every day, even if it's only in the form of their earnest sing-along "The Forward" popping into our heads first thing in the morning. And what they may have originally lacked in job experience they readily made up for with enthusiasm and raw talent.

7 In the meantime, they've been logging long hours, with some 400 dates and three stints on Warped Tour to their credit. A collection of chest-beating inspirational power pop, Spain proves all that hard work has paid off. There's nothing as immediately accessible here as Story's standouts, but the band prove even more adept at laying out wide open, gorgeous panoramas throughout which frontman Ryan Kirkland's vocal prowess wends and weaves, alternating between a wounded falsetto and a surging power. There's still a current of positivity at the foundation, which is a nice change of pace, but also makes for some listening confusion. By all rights, music in the emotional pop vein such as this is supposed to crackle with negative energy and heartbreak. Instead, there's a disconnect here between the overarching sound and lyrical optimism of songs like "Move." "All I know is nothing can stop us now," sings Kirkland. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but he's not too far off the mark. (BONDED)
GO DOWNLOAD: "Spain"

Alt Press

Friday, August 7, 2009

Restaurant Week Cocktails

A couple times a year Restaurant Week provides an opportunity for diners to expand their horizons. With more than 200 restaurants participating this week and next - and with three-course prix fixe menus for $33.09 - there’s a lot to choose from. But some of the restaurants make that decision process a little bit easier by offering special cocktails with their menu for reduced prices.

“Everyone does Restaurant Week now, so we want to give them something extra,’’ said Dante bartender Dennis Cargill. The Amoroso Fizz (Aperol, orange juice, soda, Prosecco, $8; below) is one example. This classic aperitif is light on alcohol, and has a nice mix of bitterness and fruit from the Aperol and freshly pressed orange juice. “This is the taste of summer,’’ he said. “It’s on the lighter side, perfect for sipping on our patio.’’

At Vox Populi, general manager Andrew Corbin is making strides with a vastly improved, and relatively healthy, new cocktail menu. “We’re using all natural organic products and trying to be more environmentally conscious,’’ he said.

The Ty-Cuke Cocktail (Ty Ku Junmai Ginjo sake, organic Crop Cucumber Vodka, Blue Curacao, muddled cucumber, lemonade, $8) is one example. Don’t be fooled by its bright blue color, this is no sugary sweet concoction. “You get cucumber right off the top and can feel the super-premium sake on the palate as well,’’ he said. His Tru-ly Watermelon-tini (Tru Organic Vodka, Ty Ku citrus liqueur, watermelon stirrings, white cranberry juice, $8) is deceptive at first as well. But the citrus liqueur is a complex blend of super fruits and teas that is very mixable and mellow.

At Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse they’re mixing a different type of melon cocktail with the Cantaloupe Martini (Kettle One vodka, fresh lime juice, watermelon pucker, orange juice, $8.95). “This is geared toward the Restaurant Week clientele,’’ explained manager Terilynn Haak. We marveled at the ingredients’ ability to replicate the cantaloupe flavor, although perhaps that was just the smell of the fruit garnish guiding our taste. There are 100 wines by the glass here, many of which would probably pair better with a steak, but consider this as an after-dinner option on a warm day. Likewise the Italian Embrace (Prosecco with limoncello-infused strawberry puree, $11) at Olives. It’s eminently drinkable, not too fizzy, and with just the right consistency. “This is more readily available to people who aren’t big drinkers,’’ said manager Cheryl March. “You could drink this before dinner and on into dessert.’’

We don’t always want to finish the cocktails we try on the job, but that one was gone in a flash.

That’s an experience we replicated at Bambara with their Bambara Mama (Flor de Caña 7 year rum, coconut, banana puree, pineapple puree), a drink we enjoyed so much we ordered another one immediately. Normally, we’d look down our nose at a frozen daiquiri-style drink like this, but something about the smoothie-like texture of this warm weather cocktail, made with the always delicious Coco Lopez coconut milk, completely bowled us over. And since they’re offering this one at one cent with the Restaurant Week menu, there’s really no excuse not to try it. More important, we found something we didn’t know we’d like. During Restaurant Week that’s the whole point.

Dante, 40 Edwin H. Land Blvd., Cambridge. 617-497-4200. www.restaurantdante.com; Vox Populi, 755 Boylston St., Boston. 617-424-8300. www.voxboston.com; Olives, 10 City Square, Charlestown. 617-242-1999. www.toddenglish.com; Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, 217 Stuart St. Boston. 617-292-0808. www.flemingssteakhouse.com; Bambara, 25 Edwin H. Land Blvd., Cambridge. 617-868-4444. www.bambara-cambridge.com

Boston Globe

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Coldplay

MANSFIELD - For the casual fan seeing Coldplay live for the first time since the band performed at the Paradise in Boston many years (and many millions of accumulated fans) ago, last night’s triumphant two-hour performance at the Comcast Center was like seeing your younger family members for the first time in years. You just can’t stop marveling at how big they’ve gotten.

In a set that reached back to their 2000 breakout album Parachutes, where they first sewed the seeds of their anthemic Brit-rock grandeur, Coldplay flipped through the pages of a hit-rich catalog. With crowd-pleasers like the love drunk “Yellow’’ and the chiming, downtrodden plea of “In My Place,’’ vocalist Chris Martin and company laid down their deviously contradictory m.o., using heartbreak writ largely to buoy the spirits of the masses.

On those two songs in particular, each note of Jonny Buckland’s delay-heavy guitar shimmered and fell like bursting teardrops.

Tears of the literal sort were in abundance as well, particularly on ballads like the resounding organ climb of “Fix You’’ and an acoustic mandolin version of “Green Eyes.’’

The foursome, dressed like a thrift store Sergeant Pepper’s, performed the latter from a satellite stage in the lawn seats before kicking into an ad-libbed blues harmonica jam, a song featuring drummer Will Champion on vocals, and a cute but underwhelming cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.’’

An electronic dance medley of “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face’’ and “Talk’’ changed the tempo considerably, transforming the space into an impromptu dance club - although anyone in attendance looking to keep up with the lithe, yoga-like stretching of Martin’s aerobic pace had their work cut out for them.

The majority of the set was given over to tracks from the band’s winning Viva la Vida. On “Lost’’ Martin sang, “You might be a big fish in a little pond. It doesn’t mean you’ve won.’’ One imagines it’s not easy hitting the right piano keys with your heart weighing so heavily on your sleeves.

For the album’s title track, drummer Champion conjured a marching cavalry with timpani drums and church bells embellishing the song’s rhythmic string section sample attack. None of which managed to distract from the real draw, which is Martin and mates selling the drama like they mean it. Singing songs this sad has rarely seemed like so much fun.

Boston Globe

Monday, August 3, 2009

Portugal. The Man

Portugal. The Man
The Satanic Satanists
Approaching Airballoons

ESSENTIAL “Lovers in Love’’

And you thought Sarah Palin’s absurdist non sequiturs were the trippiest thing to ever come out of Wasilla. On “The Satanic Satanists,’’ the prolific Alaskan-bred outfit Portugal. The Man channels Motown and funk excursions, folk anthems, and “Abbey Road’’-style rock and soul experimentation into a collection of songs as tightly wound, and potent, as stuffed rolling papers. Although hippy art collective aesthetic belies the focused song craft here, aided by local production guru Paul Kolderie. Rather than indulging the impulse to ride grooves this mellow off into the sunset, the band keeps one eye trained on the meter (most songs clock in under three minutes), while the other drifts off into the clouds, like on the ’60s-era antiwar singalong “People Say.’’ On “The Sun’’ vocalist John Baldwin Gourley’s high falsetto unfurls like a lover man whispering sweet nothings to nature. Elsewhere “Lovers in Love’’ drops listeners in the thick of a ’70s B-movie car chase with its galloping bongo rhythm. “Mornings’’ finds the band blasting off on a Bowie-esque journey that situates its sound somewhere between the organic earthly roots of the instruments and the spacey ideals of the lyrics. And that’s just where the band belongs.

Boston Globe