Friday, January 29, 2010

Barcode: Stork Club

It’s the nature of the business that restaurants and bars come and go. All the same it seems like just the other day we were reviewing Circle, the spot that replaced the longstanding, beloved Bob’s Southern Bistro on the Roxbury/South End border. Circle had only been open for little over a month before it went under. Blame a bad economy, or a weak concept, for its demise, but either way it’s always sad to see a place go so fast. Enter Stork Club, a restaurant hoping to replicate the more successful run of Bob’s, and some of its musical spirit, even if the new place has maintained much of Circle’s stylish bistro build out.

Paying attention to the neighborhood and the room’s rich musical tradition are two ways it hopes to pick up where Bob’s left off, says manager Simone Nakhoul. “This neighborhood has had a long history of jazz and live music throughout the years and when Bob’s left, it nearly ended altogether,’’ he says. “Our mission is to bring that history back to this neighborhood and the community because it deserves it. And it’s happening. A new restaurant just opened around the corner and there are more to come soon. Which is great; it’s a great part of town that hasn’t been properly utilized. Yet.’’

Speaking of tradition, the spot’s name references another old favorite, the legendary Stork Club in New York City. There’s a spiritual connection to what the new club’s trying to do, says Nakhoul.

“On any given night you could find celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, John F. Kennedy, and Joe Lewis with performers like Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong. Despite having so many high-profile clients, there was also an entire club full of everyday, average folks who were there for the music and to experience the club itself. That is our connection, it doesn’t matter who you are. At the Stork Club anyone is welcome, and you can have as much fun as you like, or you can disappear into a dark intimate corner away from the rest of the world and vibe out.’’

You might draw some of that vibe off of the lengthy, retro-leaning cocktail list broken down by spirit and flavor profile. Orange You Glad (Old Overholt Rye, Aperol, Regans’ orange bitters, cane syrup, lemon juice, all drinks $11, pictured) is a favorite of the staff and people who they can steer toward it, says bartender Chris Mahoney.

“People don’t always order it, but when they ask me to suggest something, it’s this. They always end up getting a second.’’ It’s lightly bitter and citrusy, with just enough sweetness. A little less so is the Ezekiel (Benedictine and Brandy, Campari, Fernet Branca, grapefruit), which sounds like it might be too bitter, but it’s easily drinkable.

“We can’t have you trying only the manly drinks,’’ bartender Victoria Barnaby says, offering her version of the Raspberry Drop (Grey Goose vodka, fresh muddled raspberries, lemon juice, cane syrup, sugar rim). We were happy this sharp, tart drink brimming with fresh fruit wasn’t the normal sugar-rim-style sweet overload.

Much of the wholesome tastes in drinks like this come from the approach to mixing ingredients. For its Mai Tai, Stork Club makes its own orgeat from almond milk, rose water, and orange blossom water, and grenadine from organic, unsweetened pomegranate juice, rose water, sugar, star anise, and cloves. The sangria is made to order with a Malbec infused with house-made orange marmalade. It’s the type of contemporary meets classic riffing that you might expect from a jazz-inspired bar. The trio laying down the tight groove while we drank at the bar would surely be impressed.

Stork Club , 604 Columbus Ave., Boston. 617-391-0256.

Boston Globe

La Roux

La Roux singer on why the ’80s are not back, they just never went away

Anything you’re going to read in the press in the next few months about the impending Stateside success of U.K. electro duo La Roux will no doubt make reference to their ’80s synth pop style influences and declare “The ’80s are back!” The only problem with that is that the ’80s never really went away, particularly in the indie dance scene.

“The underground dance scene has always been influenced by genres like synth pop, disco, breaks, or old school house and techno,” says singer Elly Jackson, who’s garnered as much attention for her glam style as for her wounded dance diva persona. “They fall in and out of favor in the mainstream though so it’s natural that the media will make statements like that. It was the same in the U.K. A similar thing happens with fashion all the time, Vogue will suddenly declare that ’70s flares are back, but there are people out there who only ever wear ’70s flares, regardless of whether it’s on trend or not.”

Whether it’s indie acts like Robyn or Sally Shapiro, or more mainstream explosions of synthy-kitsch ala Lady Gaga and Key$ha, the market for this type of exuberant pop still runs across demographics here.

“It’s all pop. We all like catchy hooks and are speaking to people about normal emotions and things we experience and people empathize with that. If my music was sung by someone with a more mainstream image then I think it would appeal to a more mainstream crowd, but because I dress like David Bowie and Annie Lennox’s androgynous love child it will probably appeal more to the indie scene,” says Jackson.

“What’s been amazing in the U.K. is that we had mainstream chart success and I’ve had so many letters and emails from girls saying ‘You’re really different, I love it! I’m not like all the blonde girls on TV and you make me feel like that’s OK.’”

Jackson says the move from underground dance clubs to the mainstream was a bit jarring.

“It was quite drastic and sudden actually. We were catapulted from doing very small club shows to larger venues with a mainstream crowd. It is different but that is the nature of chart success and I’m thankful for it. I guess one difference is that a mainstream crowd tend to wait for the hits, which is natural I guess but can be disheartening. The other thing is that the crowd are often quite young. It’s great to have young fans but they’re there with their parents and not drunk so the gig has less of a party/club vibe and is harder to play to. People tend to dance less too, because they’re filming the whole thing on their phones. Why not just enjoy the moment?”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Hard rocking Florida band on why mellowing out a little has been a key to their success

It seems strange to say that a band who have had all of their dozen or so singles reach the top of the modern rock radio charts has been flying under the radar, but that’s how things have played out for Florida-based hard rock band Shinedown. Outside of their passionate fan base, the band has proven an uncanny knack to blend into the post-grunge power ballad pack led by the likes of Nickleback. In fact you’ve probably heard — and quite possibly sung along to — vaguely inspirational power-anthems like “I Dare You” and their biggest hit to date “Second Chance” off their most recent album “The Sound of Madness” without even knowing it was them.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, says frontman Brent Smith. “A lot of people that are coming to see the shows, they know the name of the band but they don’t know what the band looks like. A lot of it has to do with ‘Second Chance.’ People come and say, ‘Oh I didn’t know they did that song, oh they wrote that song too?’ The songs kind of just keep coming out and people are kind of shocked because they didn’t realize that was us.”

Bringing the fans in with the hits is the easy part. Keeping them is hard work.
“We never got in this to run a race,” Smith says. “We always said we were in this to run a marathon. Anything that’s handed to you if you don’t work for it is honestly not worth it. If you climb to the top of one mountain you’ve got to say, ‘OK let’s climb a bigger one now.’”
‘It’s like sex...’

Balancing their riff-heavy hard rock with more populist slow jams is key, says Smith.

“It would get really boring if it was the same type of style over and over again. I think there’s a lot of depth to this band because there are a lot of peaks and valleys in the music. I get bored playing fast stuff over and over again. I’m very much into melody, and big wide open choruses that you can just look out into the audience and see every person singing at the top of their lungs. It’s like sex, sometimes you want hard and heavy and sometimes you want it nice and easy.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Nothing Personal--How One Overzealous All Time Low Fan Exposed The Dangers of Social Networking

Comb through any of the thousands of interviews AP has done over the decades and you'll find one common refrain: it's all about the fans. Bands are proud of their down-to-earth approach to fans; their casual interactions with them after the show at the merch table or outside the club. In fact, the idea of no barriers between the band and the fan is one of the most basic tenets of hardcore and punk, an idea that has manifested itself at indie venues for years where bands have literally eschewed the stage, opting for a more level playing field.

In recent years, the prominence of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have further solidified this equalizing balance in the relationship between fan and artist. Back in the ancient times before the internet, there was no way to know what your favorite band was doing at that very moment at all hours of the day. Now it's just a tweet away.

Protracted waiting periods for band/fan interactions and the general scarcity of information coming out of musicians' camps engendered a certain respectful distance for the band, no matter how populist they were in their politics or behavior at shows. Sure, fans would still go crazy at the concert, and many of them would hang out afterwards hoping to meet their heroes, or even go so far as to sneak backstage. But in the internet age, that model of fanhood all seems very quaint now. In a time where you can literally track down the movements of your band crush as he crosses the country, lands in the airport, gets in a cab, stops off for a bite to eat and then heads home, the idea of fanhood--or fanaticism--has finally found its perfect storm.

Blame the bands, too. One surefire way to make sure no one is following you is not to broadcast your whereabouts. But social mores still dictate that just because one has this information, it does imply a license to act on it. This is something that most people have always known. Social networking has diminished that respectful distance. Fans come to see the artists on the same level as their friends. Look, there's ALL TIME LOW frontman Alex Gaskarth's Twitter feed sandwiched between your sister's and a friend's. One can't help but begin to equate the two on a continuum of potential social interactions.

Stuart Fischoff, a professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, who has studied the psychology of fan obsession, says social media has eroded these boundaries and made it easier for fans that may have already had a propensity to express their obsession inappropriately to act on it. But, he concurs, it takes two to tango. "Celebrities are using the fans and the fans are using the celebrities," he says. Artists see it as a means to further their sales, or to enhance concert attendance. Twitter, in particular, confuses matters. "With Twitter, it almost feels like a one-on-one relationship," he says. "You can personalize it: 'He or she is tweeting me.' All these things feed into people who have a little trouble holding it together in the first place. All of this can fuel vanities and passions and people who want to get next to you will make greater efforts to do that. The people who fly across the country to be at someone's house also represent the biggest potential threat."

That's something like what one All Time Low fan did last week, taking the idea of fanhood and crashing it right through the wall of stalkerdom when she tracked down singer Gaskarth's home address, used Twitter to predict his arrival, then waited with her friends in the driveway until he got there. The most troubling part? She documented the entire story online with pictures. Tracking the development through other people's Facebook and Tumblr sites is easy because the story has become such a flashpoint on the internet. "I got alex gaskarths address. seriously. i feel like a badass stalker. ;) who wants to come sit outside his house with me?" reads the first posting. It only gets worse from there.

"YOU BITCH! YOU DID IT WITHOUT ME!" A friend responds. "Oh we are totalllly stalking him. MY IDEA! Hahaa :] we cann get arrested together."

Maybe it's all just harmless fan girl conjecture, right? It's the type of thing kids say all the time when they're talking amongst themselves about their favorite band. But when you consider the rest of the friend's reply, and the fact that they actually went through with it, it starts to look much more troubling.

"OMG we could tell the cops he raped u[s] and then we could ride in the same police car as him! FUCK I AM GENIOUS."

What follows is a sort of new-millennium internet-style descent into madness, and it would be pretty awesome if it weren't so weird. Fortunately, this girl's story has been met with widespread condemnation among her peers. Dozens of sites have reblogged it, and general reaction has been one of shock and disproval. Keaton Kustler, a 17 year-old from New York City is one of those bloggers who found it outrageous. "I think, yes, this is totally over the line, almost to the point of absurdity," she says. "But at the same time, I am not entirely surprised by it. The pop-punk music scene has become pretty mainstream in the past year or two, blurring the line between fame and normalcy. Bands that I was seeing in completely empty, 50-person capacity rooms last fall are now all over MTV, going on world tours, and playing for huge crowds. I think that because of this phenomenon, if you want to call it that, fans feel like from initially meeting these musicians in more intimate situations they are able to build relationships with them, which is not necessarily the case. Fast forward six months down the road, the bands are selling out Hammerstein Ballroom, all the fans that have been following them for x amount of time believe that they have some sort of personal relationship with them, and 'the guys' are 'just normal dudes' and 'the nicest people ever' and 'totally love me cause Jack remembered me!'"

That's just the thing, they are normal dudes and ladies. They're just dudes and ladies who happen to play a guitar or a sing well. They need to keep up as much of a normal lifestyle as possible in order to maintain some semblance of normalcy on the road. "When you cross the line from fanhood into the next level, it makes it difficult for the bands," says Justin Aufdemkampe of Rise Records act MISS MAY I. "I think the line between being a fan and a stalker is realizing that people in touring bands or maybe your favorite band are people too. We still live normal lives and sometimes people take it too far and try and be a part of your personal life. I've had a few encounters with kids opening the van doors when you're sleeping trying to get an autograph or girls saying they know you to other people when they have never seen you or talked to you before," he says. "I do think sometimes musicians need to understand the life they do live will attract people like this so you should expect it sometimes, but it can get a little uneasy in some situations still."

For example when you show up at a band's home unannounced and hide in the dark waiting for him to come home?

"Sooo we found his address againn, and drove to his house. All his twitters and shit said that he was coming homee today but didn't say whenn. Soooo we went to his housee, the lights were on but nobody would answer the door. Buttt, i got plentyy of pictures of Peyton and Sebastion. (their dogggsss.) Soo, like the stalkers we are, we waited outside his house for an hour withh nobody comingg homeee."

Gaskarth, who didn't respond for a comment on this story, took this incident in stride, even posing for pictures with the fans infringing on his personal space. Later, after the incident had time to sink in, he took to Twitter, (of course) to share his dismay. "Brb, building a castle wall and moat around my house. Archers will fire at anyone who doesn't know the password" and "Creeped the fuck out by what went down tonight. Who waits outside of someone's house for three hours with their lights off? Not ok."

In psychological terms, this type of behavior is known as parasocial interaction. It's a relationship in which one person knows a lot about the other party and the other does not. Rock bands and fans are a perfect example. There is a wide spectrum of how these interactions play out, says Fischoff. "You've got people who want to get close, perhaps do harm to somebody, depending on how complex the emotional reaction they had to the star or celebrity. You've got people that are delusional that they think they're supposed to kill somebody like John Lennon, then you have people who simply want to marry them, or be their lovers."

But why is that? Celebrities serve a lot of different functions for people. "Depending on how stable the personality is, those functions can become flattering and complementary," he says "or obsessive and lead to stalking." It all depends on the stability of the fan. "There's an ability we have to recognize who we are, what constitutes us, and who are other people, and recognize that you have to give them a zone of their own separateness," says Fischoff. "Some people can't do that, they're always leaning on people, putting their hands in other people's food, touching people. These peoples have more boundary difficulties. That's what we see physically, but psychologically it can be something where the person doesn't recognize that the celebrity should have a life that's separate from the fan's adoration of that celebrity."

The reason these types of interactions have taken on a different tenor in the internet age is because social media has tipped the balance of information toward a slightly more even level. A young music fan like Kustler says that bands encourage this sort of thing to an extent. "In terms of social media, things like this have already happened, but initiated by the band," she says. "Do you remember when Britney Spears had [fans] 'find Britney in NYC' based on her Twitter riddles? What happened with Alex and this stalker fan is the same thing: [The fan] put together the riddles of where he lives and when he would be there. The barriers that social media have broken have helped artists develop better, more loyal fan bases, because of how it allows fans to interact and communicate with their favorite artists, but I think that these artists have forgotten about the potential repercussions. Do I necessarily think this is going to be a common occurrence? No, but if bands or anyone really doesn't want every one of their Facebook friends and Twitter followers knowing their every waking move, they need to be more selective as to what the share with the world."

Paul Banwatt of electronic indie duo WOODHANDS says they've had all manner of weird interaction with fans, ranging from the minor to the downright sketchy. One girl got hold of his partner Dan Werb's e-mail address, Facebook page and phone number, and started texting him in the middle of the night. "Eventually it got the point when whenever we would go to the city she lives in, she would show up at the show and say these crazy things to Dan, the epitome of which was 'My father told me I'm supposed to marry you and he's been dead for two years.'"

But for every scary or annoying incident, there are plenty of positive interactions that arise out of social media too. After a show Banwatt thought was a bust, a fan sent him a Facebook message that cheered him up. "Before Facebook, I don't even know how someone would send that message. I do think there's a tough line, but it can be really nice too. There's such an advantage to these type of things. It's just so awesome. I wouldn't trade it."

"In some ways, it's good," says Krista Loewen of dance-punks YOU SAY PARTY! WE SAY DIE!. "I remember being a teenager and my friend and I e-mailed our favorite band, and when we actually got an e-mail back, it was so thrilling! Of course that was pre-Facebook or MySpace or anything. But getting personal interaction with a band can be super meaningful as a fan, and it means something to the band, too. [But] you're open to a lot more negative attention. The internet is so instant and accessible, it's not the same as the days where you would actually have to write a letter."

That accessibility shifts some of the onus back onto bands to guard what they're willing to share. "If you're putting yourself out there as a person seeking public attention, it's part of the new reality where you have to be a bit guarded in terms of helping people stalk you," says Banwatt. He says he realized at one point that he had his phone number and personal information up on Facebook all while he was adding hundreds of "friends" he wasn't sure if he legitimately knew. He promptly purged his account. Banwatt has also sent e-mails to bands he's a fan of to say he likes what they're doing. But, he says, "no one really thinks that what they're doing is weird." Until it gets really weird, as in the Gaskarth stalker scenario. One in which a fan, thinking she was going to have this meaningful, life-changing encounter with hero, really only ended up freaking him out.

Alternative Press

Friday, January 22, 2010

Barcode: The Regal Beagle

Considering the Regal Beagle’s sitcom pedigree, we were expecting something more ironic. Bartenders decked out in bell-bottoms and butterfly collars perhaps? Waiters with bushy sideburns on the make? While there are a few nods toward ’70s retro-kitsch here - crushed red velvet wallpaper and a Fleischmann Gin poster in which a mustachioed, leisure suit-wearing gentleman oversees the scene with an approving grin - this is essentially your modern, dimly lit neighborhood bistro.

“The name the Regal Beagle we of course chose from ‘Three’s Company,’ ’’ says manager Rich Murphy. “On the show, that was the spot that they went to all the time and met up with everyone from the neighborhood. We wanted our place to be that spot for Coolidge Corner. A place you could go to a few times a week and either meet friends, make new ones, or just run into people from the ’hood. With regards to the design, we went for a more subtle interpretation with the dark reds and wood, as opposed to a literal, kitschy 1970s re-creation. . . . I would describe the feel as warm and inviting with a few unique, whimsical touches. We want people to feel comfortable here.’’

Whether you feel comfortable probably depends on your susceptibility to claustrophobia. This is an exceptionally small space, with a seven-seat bar, and a long, thin dining room that filled up quickly on a busy Saturday night. Everything is so packed together, you’re practically forced to get to know the person next to you. Also there’s no TV at the bar. Looks like you might have to actually talk to someone. Mission accomplished.

It also seems to fill a long-standing need in the Brookline neighborhood for a casually sophisticated neighborhood bar.

“Every night, guests tell me that Coolidge Corner needed a place like this,’’ says Murphy. “Of course, we love hearing that.’’

“One of the owners, Kristian Deyesso, has lived in this neighborhood for years and has always said that the neighborhood needs a cozy bar/restaurant,’’ says Murphy.

“We were looking at places like the Franklin Cafe, Anchovies, Silvertone, Central Kitchen, and Temple Bar as models for what we would like to provide.’’

We were surprised to see a cocktail list with rye, rum, gin, and tequila drinks highlighted. This could very easily have been a flavored vodka-based bummer. But most of them are simply classic cocktails made with quality spirits that have cheeky names referencing the television show: a simple daiquiri called the Dizzy Blonde (La Favorite Rhum Agricole, fresh lime, and simple syrup, $10), an Old Fashioned called the Old Landlord (Old Overholt rye, Angostura bitters muddled with oranges and cherries, $9, pictured), a Manhattan called the Ladies Man (Rittenhouse rye, Angostura bitters, sweet vermouth, Amarena cherries, $10). The Flower Rickey (Bulldog Gin, hibiscus syrup, fresh lime, and soda, $9) is simply a lime rickey with floral sweetening touches. We were more pleased with the beer selection, like the Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA and the Avery White Rascal ($6 each).

“I’m just glad there’s a bar here that isn’t for 19-year-olds,’’ a woman seated next to us said. “It fills a hole in the market. There are plenty of coffee shops, but almost no bars for young professionals.’’

From now on, if we ever accidentally blunder our way into a date with two stewardesses on the same night, this is the place we’d want to be. If we lived in the neighborhood, we’d definitely be back for a few laughs.

The Regal Beagle, 308 Harvard St., Brookline. 617-739-5151.

Boston Globe

Monday, January 18, 2010

Antitrust Superstar--How merging Ticketmaster and Live Nation might change everything

Antitrust Superstar--How merging Ticketmaster and Live Nation might change everything

It's a marriage straight out of the most gruesome horror film: Two lumbering behemoths team up to wreak havoc on the landscape, their insatiable hungers never satisfied. No, it's not Alien vs. Predator. This is actually real, and this time the victim could be you, the music fan. At least, that's how opponents of the impending merger between Ticketmaster (the undisputed heavyweight in the ticket sales industry) and Live Nation (the country's largest concert promoter and second largest ticket seller) are framing it. Call it Night Of The Living Convenience Fees.

When the proposal was first announced last February, it was met with immediate disapproval by antitrust and consumer advocacy groups who say the merger will amount to an unfair competition edge for the new entity; one with a virtual stranglehold on the ticket selling industry. Ultimately, it will have an effect on your ability to see shows, and artists' chances of making a living.

But how much worse can things really get at this point? Ticket prices are already bad enough, aren't they? At some point, music fans will have to say enough is enough and just stop going. Won't they?

"You've seen ticket prices go up and up and up and, particularly in this economy, I think that's something that consumers are rightfully seeing and deciding to take their money elsewhere," says John D. Breyault of the National Consumers League. His group has partnered with the National Association of Ticket Brokers in an effort called "Ticket Disaster" designed to oppose the merger. "Unfortunately, if fans aren't going to see the shows, artists aren't going to play. Most [bands'] money now is coming from live events; not from CD sales the way it did in the past. We think the ability of artists to receive the benefits of competition from venue management and artist management is going to be compromised if this merger goes through. We're scared of what the results are going to be. But fans are gonna see less shows."

From an artist's perspective, the prospect is a bit daunting as well. "This sounds pretty terrible," says Christopher Chu of Rough Trade act the Morning Benders, who are set to head out on tour in March and April. "It's already becoming increasingly difficult to survive as an artist because fewer people are buying records, and even fewer people are going to shows. Increasing ticketing fees and prices isn't going to help. In the end, not only will the artists never see any of this money, but fewer people will go to shows because tickets are so expensive."

Brent Smith, frontman for modern rockers Shinedown, is surprised an agreement like this hasn't happened sooner. "I think that companies are having to merge together to keep afloat the way the industry is right now." Smith is less pessimistic about the idea than many others, suggesting that having all of the costs of going to a show under one umbrella may streamline the process. But there needs to be transparency involved. "I don't think people get upset as long as they know what they're getting, and know what they're going to have to pay." That means no surprise fees and no hidden costs. "Then again, it doesn't leave any room for any negotiations either. You got one company, you got to deal with what they give you." Therein lies the crux of the issue. Not all bands will get the short end of the stick like Chu suggests. When you consider Live Nation's relationship with hundreds of artists--some of whom are signed to all-encompassing deals with the promoter covering merchandise, albums, live shows and everything in between--and Ticketmaster's purchase of big time artists management company Front Line Management last year, it only further complicates matters. Now, it seems, the company would be controlling much of the concert industry from both ends, representing many of the artists fans would pay to see, the venues who promote the shows and setting the prices on a huge majority of the events that take place throughout the country. All of which is coming on the heels of Ticketmaster already purchasing secondary ticket sellers like TicketsNow. Bruce Springsteen was one of the many vocal detractors from that deal last year when it came to light that Ticketmaster was sending customers to TicketsNow for sold-out shows. In effect, they were scalping their own tickets. Shortly thereafter, Springsteen released a statement condemning the practice, adding, "The one thing that would make the current ticket situation even worse for the fan than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near-monopoly situation in music ticketing."

Unsurprisingly, when the Boss speaks, the Garden State listens. Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey followed up with a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division asking for an investigation into the potential antitrust implications of that deal. Then again in July, he did the same concerning the Live Nation merger, alongside 50 other bipartisan members of the House of Representatives. It read in part:

"Ticketmaster Entertainment is the industry's overwhelmingly dominant ticket seller, its largest provider of talent management services, and its second largest reseller of tickets. Live Nation is the industry's largest promoter of live entertainment events, the second largest ticket seller, and the second largest owner/manager of entertainment venues. The transaction therefore would create an entity, Live Nation Entertainment, which would enjoy a virtual stranglehold over the live entertainment industry. Together, the two parties sold more than 100 million tickets domestically in 2008, and there are few artists, promoters, venue owners, or concertgoers that would not feel the impact of this merger. In our view, the merger should be prohibited....Consumers, business managers, artists, independent promoters, and music fans in every state are likely to suffer if the merger is allowed to occur. We urge you to give this transaction the closest possible scrutiny and provide citizens the antitrust protection they deserve."

Over the intervening months while the Department of Justice continues its nearly yearlong investigation into the merger, opposition has grown exponentially, partly through the efforts of Ticket Disaster. The group are calling on music fans to contact their representatives and the Attorney General to voice their displeasure. "As far as what DOJ is planning, they are very tight lipped about where they are in the process," says the National Consumer League's Breyault. A spokesperson from the DOJ responded to a request from AP by stating that the matter was pending, and that they have no further information to share at this time.

Originally, Live Nation and Ticketmaster expected the deal to be done by the end of last year, although general consensus seems to be that a decision is impending. People who are following the situation expect a decision anytime from this week to within the next month. Despite the uncertainty over whether or not they will actually be allowed to proceed, the two companies have taken it all in stride, forging ahead with their plans. Earlier this month, Ticketmaster and Live Nation shareholders voted overwhelmingly to approve the deal. In a statement released in response, David Balto, former Federal Trade Commission policy director and counsel to the consumer and industry groups opposed to the merger, said stockholder approval has no bearing on public approval. "While this move is necessary for the companies to proceed, it has no impact on alleviating antitrust concerns or DOJ's decision in how to move forward."

Adding further fuel to the speculative fire, the United Kingdom Competition Commission approved the same merger in December of this year, arguing that the potential share of the market controlled in that country (roughly 50 percent) does not amount to its control in the States (near 80 percent). Does that bode ominously for the outcome here? "I don't think so," says Breyault. "We were surprised to see the U.K. do a 180 [degree turn] on this. In the fall last year, they came out with a preliminary report opposing the merger. Then they approved it without asking for any significant concessions. That said, the U.K. is not the U.S. These are two U.S. companies, and the DOJ should be conducting a thorough review. The U.K. market is very different than the U.S. Most shows you have choices from where you're going to buy your tickets from. In the U.S., it's not that way. Unless you're buying your tickets directly from the box office, nine times out of 10 you're going to be paying Ticketmaster."

It all sounds very grim, but one wonders if there's isn't an element of hyperbole at work here. How bad can it actually be? The bottom line, says Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America, is that "it's anti-competitive, it will raise prices and have other negative effects on consumers."

Breyault says, "We think it's as bad as everyone is making it out to be, honestly. We've heard from tens of thousands of consumers through this coalition who have e-mailed the DOJ to register their complaint, and signed online petitions. We've got the major consumer organizations in the country as part of our coalition, along with independent venue owners and ticket brokers. From our point of view, the only people that seem to be in favor of this merger are the two companies merging. It's not hard to see why. This is a merger that's going to give Ticketmaster an unprecedented level of control over the primary ticketing industry, where it already has 70 to 80 percent market share. It's also going to give them control over every level of the live event industry--from selling the tickets to managing the acts to promoting the shows, all the way down to selling concessions. We think, from our point of view, it's a no-brainer for Justice to block this on antitrust grounds and we hope they're listening to our voice in the coalition and the consumers we've organized."

Another group with a lot to lose is a smaller companies like Ticket Biscuit, the online ticketing agency that cedes much of the control to the 400+ venues they work with throughout the country. They've decided to put their money where their mouths are by establishing the Music Liberation Fund. The effort allocates $10 million for venues and promoters looking to become or remain independent of Ticketmaster and Live Nation.

"This is a campaign that we came up with as soon as we heard about the proposed merger," says Ticket Biscuit CEO Jeff Gale. "We pretty quickly concluded that that was going to be no good for anyone but Live Nation and Ticketmaster. We wanted to do what we could to preserve the independent spirit of the American music community, venues, artists and promoters outside of that umbrella. It was a portion of our projected revenue that we set aside to help further that effort by being able to make very attractive ticketing deals with venues that want to remain or become independent of that conglomeration, or artists or promoters that want to do the same thing."

While many companies may be inclined philosophically--if not financially--to operate independently, there is a very real fear among them that damaging their relationship with these larger companies may ultimately hurt them, or put them out of business. In this David and Goliath story, it's usually not the little guy who wins.

"They're caught between the frying pan and the fire," says Gale. "While they're scared of losing out on whatever their relationship with Ticketmaster affords them, they're also scared to death of being under the thumb of this company that's going to be two or three times as powerful as it already was. They're frightened any way they turn. We think they've got to take one of those fears head on and liberate themselves. Their businesses are so already controlled either Ticketmaster or Live Nation, or any in many cases, both of them already. Once those two companies combine and control the entire supply chain from the fan to the artist to the venue to the ticketing, an independent promoter or venue is holding no cards at that point. The combined company can go to the a venue that was previously independent and say, 'We know that you don't like the Ticketmaster system and the high fees that Ticketmaster charges, but if you want us to continue putting these artists who sell a lot of tickets and get people onto your stage then you're gonna use the Ticketmaster system.' I think Ticketmaster has attempted to probably deny that that's gonna be the type of business practice they'll follow, but I don't believe it for a second."

Most people who would respond to the spirit of the MLF wouldn't be interested in maintaining their relationship with Ticketmaster anyway, he says. "Basically, it's gonna result in fewer choices for the customer. Whenever the customer has fewer choices they get shafted." Self-interest certainly plays a role in the push back from companies like Ticket Biscuit. It also plays a role in music fans' opposition as well. After all, much of their fear is based on the idea of having to pay more than they already do to see a show.

But aside from the companies in question, there seems to be little upside evident in the merger. Either that, or no one who is willing to make the case--no one without a vested interest. Among the big name artists who have expressed their support for the merger in letters to Congress include Shakira, Eddie Van Halen, Seal, Journey and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. "This is a new model that puts power into the hands of the artist, creating a dynamic synergy that will inspire great works and attract healthy competition," Corgan wrote to the Senate Committee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. "Anything that can strengthen the link between music creators and music lovers has my support," wrote Seal. "I believe the combined company will achieve that by aligning resources, talent and services."

It should be noted that Corgan, Seal, Journey and Van Halen are currently managed by Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff and Front Line Management. Shakira is under contract with Live Nation. Testifying before the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary last February, Azoff made his case for the deal. "This merger will let us fully integrate our complementary strengths and eliminate about $40 million in inefficiencies--money that could be invested in more innovation. It is designed to address the obvious inefficiencies in the entertainment supply chain -- the large volume of unsold tickets to events, higher costs, surcharges and the explosion of the resale market. It will give us greater flexibility in how we promote, market and sell tickets to events. It will give us a pathway to alternative pricing and fee structures. And we will be better able to develop new and innovative products and services that enhance the fan experience and make all forms of entertainment more accessible to everyone."

One of the key points of his argument was the effect that secondary ticketing has had on the industry. "Secondary ticketing is driving up prices for the fans, with absolutely no benefit to the artist," he said. "We cannot just cling to old ways. This merger will allow the live music industry to avoid repeating the mistakes of the record business." It's a good point, and it would be a lot more believable if Ticketmaster hadn't bought up secondary ticketing companies like TicketsNow, a deal that has lead to suggestions of impropriety like those implied in the Springsteen scalping scenario.

One big-name musician who finds the secondary ticketing scenario particularly problematic is Trent Reznor. In a post on the Nine Inch Nails message board around the time of the Springsteen issue, Reznor wrote "My guess as to what will eventually happen if/when Live Nation and Ticketmaster merges is that they'll move to an auction or market-based pricing scheme--which will simply mean it will cost a lot more to get a good seat for a hot show. They will simply become the scalper, eliminating them from the mix."

A spokesperson for Ticketmaster declined to comment for the story. Instead they directed us to the Lefsetz Letter, the long running music-industry newsletter written by Bob Lefsetz. It's a piece that aims to move some of music fans' and smaller ticketing companies' ire towards musicians and back onto themselves. It's difficult not to conclude that Ticketmaster at least tacitly supports this line of thinking. Ticketmaster and Live Nation are stagnating on Wall Street. The mercurial fan dollar has become harder and harder to pin down and the musicians themselves rule the game, says Lefsetz. "But the acts don't want to appear greedy, so they utilize Ticketmaster to generate more dollars. By adding fees, that are kicked back to themselves, or starving concert promoters, or utilizing Ticket Exchange/platinum packages to in essence scalp their own tickets. Because, you see, the acts are greedy, they want more money! But they don't want you to know this. Ticket brokers are also greedy," he says. "Efforts like Ticket Disaster are just a ploy to get you the fan to buy tickets from them instead of the bigger company."

Yes, everyone is greedy. Including fans, who've become notoriously stingy and entitled over the past few years, viewing music as a free commodity. But there are so many layers of self-interest at work in this issue, it's hard to get a foothold on who stands to gain what. Better perhaps to focus on who stands to lose. While Ticket Biscuit's Gale admits companies like his aren't acting entirely out of charity to the fan, there are places where their interests overlap. "Certainly our opposition to the merger comes from the fact that it's going to reduce competition in our market place and make it harder to do business," Gale says. "I'm not gonna say the only reason we're opposed to the merger is that we care about the fan and we want to have best thing happen for them. But it turns out what's in our interest is also in the interest of the fan. When competition is preserved in the market place for the businesses, it's also preserved for the customer. Those are the kind of things you don't have when you have one giant guerilla company controlling the marketplace. That's the reason antitrust laws in this country were developed. The Sherman Antitrust act was developed [in 1890] because a single company controlled all of the oil and put all of the small producers out of business. We want to see those laws put into effect to do what they were originally intended to do."

The Consumer Federation of America's Cooper agrees. "We think it obviously hurts the consumer because it hurts competition. Our primary concern is the consumer, but the status of competition is what determines the consumer's fate."

There are opportunities to break the stranglehold, says Cooper, particularly with the internet as a ticketing marketplace. "There are aspects of this merger having to do with the resale of tickets that the merging parties have already begun to exercise their market power and that's why we need to constantly be vigilant about people who want to restrain trade, which is what they're doing. The secondary market is one way to put downward prices on tickets, and they're trying to strangle that market."

All of this is essentially speculation at this point, and no one really knows how things are actually going to play out, or what will happen when it does. Not even the parties involved says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, the concert industry trade publication. "This whole thing is gonna have an impact on this industry one way or another, even if it doesn't go through. That will force both of those companies to make alternative moves. And even if it does go through, we don't know if there will be some conditions imposed by Justice that will effect the competitive nature of the markets."

Some have speculated that possible concessions might include Ticketmaster selling off some of its subsidiaries, or licensing its ticketing software to other competitors like AEG, the second largest promoter in the country. AEG currently uses Ticketmaster for its ticketing purposes. It seems unlikely that they will continue to do so if it becomes a part of Live Nation, their chief competition. AEG CEO Tim Leiweke has spoken out strongly against the proposed merger. Bongiovanni says, "All of the other promoters are concerned about the fact that if it goes through, they're going to have use essentially a competitor, as their ticketing vendor, and that doesn't sit well with them. Whether Justice does anything to make that point moot or not is another question."

In the meantime, it's become a waiting game, as Justice continues its lengthy review. One thing that does seem evident, is that people aren't happy with the prices they're paying now to see live music, particularly the type of "convenience fees" and add-ons that Ticketmaster made notorious, but have since become standard industry-wide. Nearly everyone we spoke to for this article seems to agree that it's that issue, one of transparency, that is the crux of the problem, and the one thing people seem to think will only get worse if the merger is allowed to go through. "I think from a fan perspective, the bigger issue is all of the add-ons that go into the ticket price," says Pollstar's Bongiovanni. "I think it's disingenuous and probably deceptive the way we sell concert tickets to the public now. You don't even know what it's going to cost you until you get to the end of the transaction. I think that's probably what pisses people off more than anything else. It's not just Ticketmaster, most of the other ticketing companies are doing the same thing. Just tell people what it's gonna cost and then they can decide. Don't lure them in with a lower price, then when they get to the final check out find out that it's 30 percent higher. It's unconscionable that we do it, but it's just become the way it's handled."

That's the real monster in this so-called horror story, one that's not likely to stay dead even if the DOJ strikes a blow to the merger in the month to come. Like any villain worth its salt, it's one that will likely keep haunting us forever.

Alternative Press


In This Light And On This Evening

Tough market for the UK’s poor guitar players these days. With the current electro explosion, there’s almost no need for them anymore. On Editors’ latest and third album, there’s nary a guitar riff to be heard. Instead vocalist Tom Smith’s brooding dark-wave character sketches are carried along on a flood of liquid synths. Dirty propulsive bass and disco beats still drive the songs, but it’s a departure from the band’s early, stunning work. It’s also a huge bummer. “Darling, just don’t put down your guns yet/ If there really was a god here/ He’d have raised a hand by now,’’ Smith sings in his hangman’s baritone over the hook of “Papillon.’’ Let’s dance to that! On the title track, a percussive Morse code riff adds to the album’s dystopian tone - like the band is sending off secret messages underground through a desolated landscape. The message? That Editors - who, to some, are just another entry in the UK’s search for its own Interpol - aren’t content to ride out the diminishing returns of that post-punk disco apocalypse.

Boston Globe

Editors perform at the House of Blues on Feb. 18.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Prefuse 73

By any alias, he's making a name for himself

Mixing old and new technology, Herren creates his own niche

The practice of spinning through the radio dial has become as outmoded as physical records themselves, so it feels like an oddly retro approach to reach for that constantly churning, searching effect in sequencing an album. That’s essentially the experience that glitch-hop artist Guillermo Scott Herren, a.k.a. Prefuse 73, perfected last year on “Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian,’’ a tapestry of 29 genre-randomizing and globe-trotting songs, many of which clock in under one minute long.

The music is equal parts live instrumentation put to analog tape and progressive-electronic computer wizardry. Hip-hop beats are stacked and unstacked on the fly, each snare hit kicking up its own dusty halo of static. Bursts of glitchy dissonance coalesce into moments of melodic coherence and exotic funk grooves. Synth washes and crate-digging samples are snatched from the ether and crackle briefly around a unifying concept before being cut into moments of devolving noise. At its best it’s an efficient listening experience for the genre omnivore who has little time to sit through three or four records at a stretch. At worst it’s a fractured and schizophrenic psychedelic trip.

“Ampexian’’ was just one of Herren’s ambitious projects of 2009. The prolific producer released “Ice Capped at Both Ends,’’ under the name Diamond Watch Wrists, another of his myriad aliases. In its more traditional song-based approach and largely organic instrumentation, “Ice Capped’’ was roughly antithetical to “Ampexian.’’ Herren also found time to drop a third record of Catalan acid-folk called “La Llama’’ under the moniker Savath and Savalas.

For new listeners approaching his music, it’s a lot to take in, especially since “Ampexian’’ was like nothing else he’d ever done, says Herren, who’ll bring Prefuse 73 to the Middle East Downstairs on Wednesday.

“It kind of naturally did fall under the you-love-it-or-hate-it category,’’ says Herren, 33, who has issued five full albums as Prefuse 73 and more than a dozen under other names, not to mention production and remix work he’s done for other artists. “Some praised and heard that it was different. There’s nobody behind that record to steer anyone in a particular direction. It’s basically up to the listener. A lot of the criticism that I picked up along the way was that these songs are too short and once you get into them they just end. It’s like, you know, there are a lot of songs on here. If I let them all run, it would be the opposite criticism.’’

The recording process, too, found him wading in uncertain territory. “Everything hit analog tape, as opposed to just doing it digitally. I used outdated stuff, broken stuff. I kept a lot of things implied rather than hit you over the head. There was a lot of progression on my part too, not putting the kick and snare where I normally would and just holding back on a lot of stuff. I learned a lot working on that record. It sounds nothing like the rest of the [stuff] that I’ve done. It’s a huge departure.’’

Presenting those songs in a live setting brings its own set of challenges. But the learning process itself is largely the point, he says. A concert gives him and his band a chance to expand upon the templates put down on record.

“I wouldn’t want to play a show if it didn’t involve an effort to change up what’s prerecorded and fight against the machine that made it,’’ he says. “We’ve been changing the intensity of the songs. I’ve been using two microphones rather than relying on the computer for things, creating things out of vocal loops straight on the fly. We got ourselves out of that boundary of presenting electronic music live, which is the whole point.’’

When you play it too straight, he says, it’s like creating your own cage. Audiences want to see how he’s creating sounds on stage as well, so there’s a bonus to flying closer to the edge.

“I used to do things by the book, but now I don’t,’’ Herren says. “I feel like there’s a lot of programs and ways to make music where everyone can get their hands on them a lot cheaper than they used to, so therefore you have a lot more people doing stuff that are gonna end up presenting the same type of shows. I like all this new music, but I don’t want to do the same show.’’

That improvisatory spirit means dealing with the occasional snafu. “Of course I [mess] up all the time. But . . . sometimes it ends up with some weird hidden beauty that only happens one time.’’

Or regularly over a decade-plus career.

“Those accidents that happen are kind of the foundation of what I started doing with Prefuse. I started thinking about hip-hop, using the same machines and same mentality that I had, but just working backwards and sort of deconstructing it then reforming it again. It’s unintentional a lot of the time. The mistakes can become a whole song of their own. I think that applies to all music as well.’’

Boston Globe

Barcode: Bistro du Midi

Simple, uncluttered recipes, straightforward, natural ingredients and a focus on classic spirits all tied together with a unifying concept. It doesn’t sound like it would be that hard to do, but it’s something that eludes many bars striving for some sort of identity. These are the goals at Bistro du Midi, the new Provençal bistro occupying the old Excelsior space.

Two bars offer different ways to experience the predictably solid wine selections and surprisingly on-point cocktails. Downstairs is a cafe-style bar, more casual and direct, with a scaled back bar menu and an open kitchen. The upstairs bar is an extension of the elegantly rustic dining room with a burning hearth and long window views of the Public Garden.

“I think my goal is always to provide something interesting and fun but also to make people think a little,’’ explains sommelier Kelly Coggins. “I take a very classic and minimalist approach to cocktails. Like food, it is for me about less being more. Instead of a drink with 50 things in it I want as few components as possible so that each shines but enhances the others.’’

Seeing to that means putting the same level of consideration into the drinks as the food. “Chef [Robert Sisca] spends a lot of time crafting the menu and perfecting the recipes,’’ Coggins says. “It would just not match if the cocktail list was not as interesting. So with that in mind we set out to work with some very classic Provençal ingredients in different and fun ways.’’

The herb gimlet variation in the Canadaire (tarragon infused gin, fresh lime juice, $10), for example. Provençal tarragon struck him as something that would work well with gin. Served up with a perfectly chipped layer of ice, it’s light green in color, and smells like freshly mown grass. Like all of the other drinks, it comes with its own naming story. An old French tale tells of a dragon that ate a bush of tarragon which caused him to breathe fire. The drink that helps put out that fire is named for the plane that drops water on forest fires in France.

The Avignon (Old Monk Rum, fresh lime juice, $11), is deceptively simple, and cleverly named as well. This daiquiri uses dark Indian rum aged seven years and demerara sugar, a raw sugar cane from Guyana that adds depth to the simple syrup. It’s named after the Rhone Valley town Avignon where the popes were exiled during the great schism.

A lot of bars don’t spend any time naming their cocktails, so Bistro du Midi’s a nice change of pace. The Coco (Dubonnet Rouge, fresh lemon juice, sparkling wine, $9) is a fortified red wine-based aperitif cut with citrus and a touch of effervescence. A striking red color, it’s named for Coco Chanel’s legendary designs and the red French coclico flower. Fun, right? Coggins’s version of the margarita, a floral, soothing tequila infusion called the Pétanque (lavender-lemon infused tequila, Triple Sec, fresh lemon and lime juice, $11; pictured) is named after the bocce ball game that is played in lavender fields in the south of France.

“I probably could have made my life easier by using Crème de Violette, but I take the long way everywhere because it’s the fun of the job,’’ Coggins said.

Sometimes it’s hard work making things look so simple.

Bistro du Midi , 272 Boylston St., Boston. 617-426-7878.

Boston Globe

Friday, January 8, 2010

Barcode: Lord Hobo

New spin on the old B-Side

For months leading up to the opening of Lord Hobo there was much hand-wringing, naysaying, and speculation in the local foodie community, particularly online, where people are not known for their nuance, or sanity. What would become of their dearly departed B-Side Lounge, the institution whose influence in the bar scene had had such a far-reaching effect? Controversy surrounding the new owner’s attempts to deal with the liquor license commission, and significant push-back from the neighborhood over alcohol sales percentages further thickened the plot.

But any questions about whether the new space would be able to find a crowd in its first few months were quickly put to rest when we stopped in on a snowy Monday night to find the room’s communal dining tables and bar packed. It’s what the Hollywood re-imagining of the B-Side’s life story might look like: shiny and new, younger and less gritty, but with the essential plot elements still recognizable.

“It’s interesting. We opened at a weird time, around Thanksgiving, so it’s been hard to gauge,’’ bar manager Kevin Scott says. “It does seem like we’re busy all the time.’’ On the day Lord Hobo opened, there was a line down the street at 4 in the afternoon. “There was a lot of anticipation.’’

It’s not every day a beloved, thriving neighborhood bar shuts down out of nowhere. With that in mind, says Scott, “we kind of wanted to keep a similar vibe to the place as far as it being dark and comfortable.’’

The big change, however, comes in the approach to beer: 40 draft lines, three hand pump cask lines, gravity kegs on the bar, and 40 bottles, many of which you’ve probably never heard of.

“I think what’s different is that people aren’t coming here for a $2 beer and shot of Jack,’’ says Scott. Instead perhaps, they’ll be having the Mayflower IPA (Plymouth, 16 oz., 6 percent, $6.50) or the mild, zesty Coniston Bluebird Bitter (England, 20 oz., 4.2 percent, $8) or any of a large number of Belgians like Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba (Belgium, 12 oz., 4.5 percent, $9).

“It’s all pretty much world-class stuff,’’ says Scott. “Small breweries, craft breweries, micro distilleries. Some of them are esoteric but they’re phenomenal.’’ The California IPAs, for example: The Green Flash West Coast IPA (16 oz., 7.2 percent, $6.50) or the Port Wipe Out (16 oz., 7 percent, $6.50) are mild, bitter beers perfect for enjoying with food.

Lesser-known names from smaller distilleries abound on the spirits and cocktails list as well. It’s 20 entries long, and for the first time ever we wanted to try them all. The Soylent Green (green Chartreuse, muddled lemon, mint and cucumber, $10; pictured), a herbaceous whiskey smash variant, is like a greatest-hits reunion of recent bar staples. The Interloper (Plymouth gin, Barenjager, fresh lemon, Lagavulin, flamed orange, $10) takes cues from a Bee’s Knees with its honey, gin, and floral notes then rinses the brandy snifter with peaty Scotch for a light kiss of aromatics.

The spirits of the B-Side Lounge past would probably be proud. Even without that cheap domestic and a shot.

“Maybe it’s the sign of the times,’’ says Scott. “People’s palates have changed and they’re open to trying these beers that are new to them. I was worried we might be losing some of that crowd who are like, I want my can of beer!, but there are so many other places around here where you can do that.’’

Lord Hobo, 92 Hampshire St., Cambridge. 617-250-8454.

Boston Globe

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Julian Casablancas

For a musician who took us on a guided tour of turn of the millennium New York City on his band's era-defining 2001 album “Is This It” – detailing the scuzzy dives, beer soaked basement clubs and tales of fleeting romance amidst the squalor – it seemed apt that The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas would be ambling through the Manhattan streets while we spoke on the phone. The soundtrack of the city played out behind him in bodega transactions, thumping traffic and a symphony of polyglot murmuring. Harder then to make him out as he paused, considered his answers carefully, and shrugged each one aside as irrelevant or more than he was willing to share, but all the more authentic in the process.

For a generation of music fans The Strokes recast the entire concept of a perpetually amorphous New York City, not to mention set the course for contemporary hipsterdom and all of its attendant solipsistic woes and sartorial miscues with their spiky, hooky post-punk and oft-imitated image. In the midst of a hiatus since the 2006 release of the uneven but underrated “First Impressions of Earth,” one that has seen a few of his band mates branch off into side projects themselves, Casablancas has cast his own lot in the frontman gone solo sweepstakes with “Phrazes for the Young.” It's a meandering, imaginative collection of keys-driven new wave. Not a Strokes record perhaps, guitars are less evident, but that's part of the point. New York City has changed, as Casablancas sings on the banjo bouncing urban pastoral of “Ludlow St.”, so too should its soundtrack.

Are these songs you've been accumulating over the years that didn't fit with the band?

Oh man, it's a little complicated. At first I assumed they were gonna be Strokes things, because I never planned on doing anything other than that. But certain circumstances arose in which I felt like I should just do something. I was just waiting. Other people were doing other things and I just needed to keep shaking. Man, I really want to be forthcoming and honest and just tell you everything on my mind.

Please do, it would be great for me.

I know, it would be great for the article, probably bad for my life though.

Did you feel freer or more unsure of yourself not having the guys to bounce ideas off of?

Well, I mean naturally at first I felt a little unsure, but as I got in the process, toward the end I felt a little more comfortable and it was very freeing.

There was a time where a rock singer making a synth record might have been surprising to people. Not anymore.

You mean offensive? I've always written on keyboard and guitars. With The Strokes it was obviously all guitars. But this time around if I wrote something on a keyboard it would stay on the keyboard. A lot of songs were not necessarily synths, we used organs or pianos or phasers. It was fun to mess around with. I'm definitely not like “I've always loved synths and I've just been waiting for this moment to tell the world!”

Do you care about that rock purist thing?

To be honest I've never been like “Rock and roll!” When I was getting into music it was more like being a modern composer, not that I pull that off at all. But the idea was arranging twenty parts to make a little machine of music that works together in a modern way. I'm more about that than just “The rock! Some guitars! Play that AC/DC beat and let's just rock it!”

Do you feel the palpable change in the city that you sing about on “Ludlow St.”?

I have to say yes. Definitely from when I was growing up it's gone crazy. The whole of New York is like 42nd St. There used to be quiet neighborhoods... you had nice neighborhoods, busy ones, whatever. But now all of Manhattan is like a big Starbucks. It's like Times Square everywhere.

You don't seem to want to talk about it, but is there anything else happening with The Strokes?

We'll be doing stuff for sure. They're starting to work any day now. The songs are pretty much done. They'll be recording them, and I'll sing on them at some point. I don't make predictions on it because I did for months and they were all wrong. It will happen, I don't know when though. I don't know if I'm excited yet. We'll see what the process is like. Hopefully things are gonna be different in a good way. We'll see.

Juliana Casablancas performs at the Paradise Rock Club on Friday. Tickets are $20 at 877-598-8497 or

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Best Boston Records of 2009

My picks from the Metro's best Boston records of the year. See link below for the rest.

Passion Pit
Label: Frenchkiss Records
Somewhere in the past few years, indie rock regained its sense of otherworldly grandeur. Albums like this consensus year-end list pick are a big part of the reason. “Sleepyhead” and “Moth's Wings” are the spritely, electronic soundtrack to our childhood dreams.

“Don't Steal My Night Vision”
Label: Lunch Records
Hurtling close to the edge on sweeping guitar anthems like “We Have Just Arrived” the perennially underrated Boston indie rockers married their maelstrom of melodrama to a refined musicianship this time out.

Mystery Roar
Self-titled EP
Don't be fooled by the synth washes and electronic twiddling, this is a down and dirty funk party. Hand clap beats, filthy bass grooves and cooly effected vocals in a scandalous man on machine love affair.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Barcode: Woodward

In the restaurant and bar business it’s always a good sign when your peers are early adopters of your product. It probably bodes well for Woodward, the new restaurant in the precious, high-end boutique Ames hotel, that we saw so many other industry types eating and drinking on our visit. There’s chef Barbara Lynch, here’s bartender Misty Kalkofen of Drink, over there the staff of Lynch’s Sportello, and elsewhere Matthew Curtis, owner of Middlesex Lounge and Tory Row. Our guest and us, industry veterans too, fit right in. Or we would have, if we didn’t feel slightly underdressed in the business suit and cocktail dress crowd. OK, only she did. We have no sense of shame.

Some of that draw comes from another familiar face, Bill Codman, who’s spent time mixing at Locke-Ober, L’Espalier, and No. 9 Park. “Industry people are always excited for a new place,’’ he said. “We’re directed to industry people as well as the general public.’’

There’s room for both in this two-floor space that rides the line between historic Boston charm and deliberately stylized “style.’’ The upstairs loft juxtaposes segments of sleek, artsy surfaces and calculated warming touches. Rows of glass display boxes break up the dining space and draw attention with their curated wood-crafted curiosities. It amounts to a contemporary art museum cocktail reception for an episode of “Antiques Roadshow.’’ Black steel girders jut from ceiling to floor, an antiseptic-looking fireplace growls in the corner of the room and the expansive windows overlook the Old State House. “Benjamin Franklin meets a supermodel,’’ the press release says.

It’s a peculiarly postmodern take on the concept of a contemporary bar, down to the tiniest details. We felt like the armrests of the bar chair we sat in were bracketing us like a set of air quotes. Codman pulled us back down to earth with his relaxed and informative bar style. The offering of pickled bar snacks - grapes, carrots, beets - helped as well (pickled food for a soon-to-be-pickled liver). He’s the type of bar man who’ll explain the varying methods for extracting oils from cocktail herbs, be it through slapping, muddling, or smashing, and has spent time carefully considering a signature shaking style of his own after attending a workshop on shaking techniques. In other words, he’s the ideal of the New Bartending, which is really the Old Bartending, come to think of it.

The product he’s most excited about is their Woodward Ale ($6), an exclusive beer developed with Smuttynose. A fine eating beer, it’s not as aggressive as an IPA but has many of its qualities. “There’s some cumin and cardamom in there. It’s a little cloudy but ever so soft. Like a younger brother to an IPA.’’

We found the State St. Smash (Grand Marnier muddled with lemon and mint, $14) bewitching. It’s a deceptively simple cocktail we’ve been trying to re-create with varying degrees of success since. The Dedham Winter (spiced apple cider, Cabana Cachaca, chartreuse, clove, $13; below) is the apple martini substitute here, Codman says. Apple and rosemary are very complimentary, and combine here for an herb-heavy, tart, crisp confection that’s so easily drinkable. More adventurous, but nonetheless eye opening for us, was the Scarlet Letter (Milagro silver tequila, Del Maguey mezcal, fresh cranberries, $12). Mezcal is a tough hang for some but we were captivated by the tart smokiness.

“This is one I would drink,’’ Codman explained.

Wouldn’t he drink them all though?

“I’m not making cocktails for me; I’m making them for you.’’