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.

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.

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.

Boston Globe

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Taking Back Sunday

Stuck In The Middle With You

The middle ground is a curious space to occupy. Not popular enough to encompass universal name recognition, but with a fan base devoted enough to support big headlining tours, sell a few million over the course of a career and keep the band members decked out in girl jeans for life. It's a vantage that the ever-evolving, cast-shuffling Long Island punks Taking Back Sunday are quite familiar with.

Having just spent the summer touring with Weezer and Blink 182, the band rolls through Foxborough this week with All-American Rejects and Anberlin in tow. That's the type of pop-punk/lite-metal sandwich in which the band is familiar being the crossover meat.

"To guys like Blink and Weezer, we're certainly not new," bass player Matt Rubano says. "We've played with both in the past, although we haven't been around as long as them, and we're not as new as someone like Gaslight Anthem or something like that. We've never approached super-mainstream, rock-star-diva-type stuff." Part of that is maintaining their inner fan, he says. "When we're on tour with Weezer, the best part about that is that we get to see Weezer every night. And when we toured with Jimmy Eat World a few years ago, it was mind-blowing for us because they were such a huge influence to each of us that being able to share a stage with them—let alone as co-headliner—was a really big deal. So I think that kind of stuff keeps us humble." It keeps them from big-timing themselves, too.

So where does he place his band in the pantheon of millennial punk? "I guess the future will answer that question better than I can because I'm a little close to it. There are still people discovering Taking Back Sunday all the time because, like I said, we never really had that blast of mainstream popularity the way My Chem or Fall Out Boy did."

It's hard to figure out just why that is. The band's first two records, Tell All Your Friends and Where You Want to Be, are classics of the emo/post-emo/stop-using-the-word-emo genre. The latest (New Again) shifts the blueprint a bit with yet another lineup change. It's a bit more straightforward pop-rock than efforts past, but the band sounds better than ever. Songs like the title track and "Summer, Man" are as poppy, pissed-off and sarcastic as always, and singer Adam Lazzara maintains his rep as a spitfire of hooky scorn.

Someone blow these dudes into the stratosphere already, will ya? Or don't, says Rubano. "I'm very content with what being in Taking Back Sunday is and what our career has been. We've always thought that we were successful, but as far as that TRL mega pop star thing, that just hasn't happened to us. I can't say that it bothers me. It keeps a lot of things on our terms. It means that we have a fan base that might be smaller than a band that has that type of success, but is quite loyal and isn't dependent on whether or not you have a snappy single the next time around.

"A lot of people hit that pop-sensation level and don't come back. Bands that will have a significant hit and then they don't come back with another one, there's this weird thing that happens where your core audience abandons you. And the audience that discovered you that way through their local radio station or whatever, if you don't come up with that again, they just kind of go away. I'm glad we've never had to face any sort of consequences like that."

The middle ground: a curious place to be, but it's a comfortable one.

TUESDAY 11.10.09-WEDNESDAY 11.11.09

Monday, November 2, 2009

Barcode: City Table

The food may have been good at Azure, but the atmosphere was stuffy. You certainly wouldn’t have popped in for a snack and a cocktail. The transformation of the space into City Table aims to change that.

“We wanted to get rid of the formal feel and make it a more casual neighborhood restaurant and bar,’’ explains general manager Rob George. Casual, sure. Neighborhood bar, though? Not so much. This is a relatively swanky affair. Still, it’s a welcoming space all the same.

The stately, arching windows and ceilings remain, and the bar glows with a soft yellow lighting that is a natural match for the ornate chandeliers and handsome browns throughout. A lounge area of high-top tables is separated from the dining areas by ceiling-length, flowing curtains. On the TVs behind the bar, old black-and-white films are in rotation.

“When you walked in before it was a lot more stark,’’ says bartender Casey Decker. “I think the clientele is going to change drastically.’’

None of this would matter to us if the cocktails weren’t any good. Not surprisingly, with many of them being carried over from the adjacent City Bar, we found a few to like. We’ve been drinking Alaskas lately, so the Pallazo (Bombay Sapphire, Acqua de Cedro, Yellow Chartreuse, $12) was right up our alley. The Acqua de Cedro is an Italian liqueur made from the citron fruit. It’s dry with a slight burn and a syrupy consistency, but a sweet finish. Sort of a clear, drier version of a limoncello. Like the other martinis here, it’s served with a crushed ice rim.

“Not only does it look very nice, it’s to keep the drink very, very cold, which is what most people want when drinking a martini,’’ George says.

It also helps in savoring the flavors of cocktails like the Kentucky Flu (Maker’s Mark, Licor 43, citrus juices, $12) as the crushed ice melts on your tongue. Bartenders shake their martinis so hard because they’re looking for this chipped ice effect. The bourbon is masked here mostly by the lemon and the sweet vanilla liqueur, but it’s a good match. Bourbon virgins might consider this a gateway cocktail, but aficionados will want something less adulterated.

The refreshing, herby, and easily drinkable Chartreuse Sour (Green Chartreuse, lemon and lime juice, egg whites, $11) has got citrus and an anise nose up front with a dry finish and only a light egg froth. “Most people forgot about the egg when they started making sour drinks again,’’ says George. Another classic variant comes in the P/C Southside (Plymouth Gin, cucumber, mint, pomegranate liqueur, lime juice, $11). Served over crushed ice, it’s grassy and bright in flavor.

There are still a few opening week quibbles. Some of the cocktails aren’t made with the ingredients listed on the menu, and the charm of the Marx Brothers short on the TVs waned as it replayed some 20-plus times while we sat there. Groucho didn’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like him as a member. But if City Table had offered, he might’ve reconsidered.

City Table, 65 Exeter St., Boston. 617-933-4800.

Boston Globe