Sunday, July 1, 2012

Inside the Wall, Vol. 2 (7.1.12)

Here at the half-point for 2012, I'm ready to add Passion Pit's performance of "Sleepyhead" at the Governor's Ball to the short list of "best live performances of the year."  It doesn't hurt that their visually arresting but often lackluster performance up to that point in the show had drained much of the energy of their studio cuts.  It's hard to blame front man Michael Angelakos for cutting much of the falsetto intensity from his vocals; that kind of mania has to be impossible to maintain over an entire show.  Still, it's the most striking feature on Passion Pit's otherwise standard-fair synth pop style that put them above tepidly enjoyable bands like Chromeo, who took the stage shortly before Passion Pit but generated barely half of their audience enthusiasm.

I had the opposite experience at Fiona Apple's performance, finding her studio output to be moody and introspective, yet her stage performance was unhinged, with her bone-thin frame wildly gyrating around the stage for close to half the show.  For old school Beck fans, hit Odelay hard, even digging back to surprise the crowd with a straightforward rendition of "Loser".  Only Midnite Vultures suffered, getting barely a reference as "Where's It At" winded down.

Besides the amazing culinary selections (yeah, suck it, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd - more on her later), the high point of which for me was the discovery of strawberries on a white pizza, Governor's Ball also featured fantastic performances by Freelance Whales, Modest Mouse, Devendra Barnhart, Phantogram and Cults.

We walked in with just enough time to catch Santigold play the one song that caught my attention on her latest album, "Disparate Youth", which would fit comfortably in M.I.A.'s catalog but suffers from the absence of such great 80s-retro throwbacks as "Lights Out" and "I'm a Lady".

On a far more intimate stage, I also caught Theresa Anderssen playing to a few dozen people at Bell House.  My anticipation level wasn't that high, despite enjoying both her full length albums.  But then, I didn't realize she was a one-(wo)man band in the vein of the excellent Owen Pallett, and despite an uphill challenge for a (roughly) 5-foot tall sprite of a woman to fill even the modest Bell House stage, once she's harmonizing with a quadruply-looped quartet of her own voice, she becomes a force of nature.

Other artists burning up my iPod these days include  

  • David Bowie's Low (inspired by's excellent "Trust Me On This" series) which only confirmed for me that Bowie's best work will always sound as if it came out last week no matter when you hear it for the first time;
  • Jukebox the Ghost's respectable grab at mainstream success, Safe Travels ...

  • ... and the two albums released by Oddisee, including the recent People Hear What They Want to See.

Turning to the big screen, I've had a lot  to say about Prometheus, which I maintain is both one of the more thought-provoking and clearly the most visually arresting film to come out this year.  I also caught Moonrise Kingdom, and if I say I'm hankering for Wes Anderson to take a shot at working off of someone else's script for a change, it's only because he's so clearly mastered his own storytelling approach that I'd like to see what he does without completely free reign to direct without limitations.  Just imagine what a Wes Anderson-directed Spider-Man would look like?  The man clearly knows how to get amazing performances out of kids, and what director in Hollywood these days understands the friction between self-conscious youth and cynical adulthood better?

On the small screen, LOUIE IS BACK!!!  I have nothing else to say about that, and if you're not excited, you have a couple of seasons to check out.  I'm sure TV Guide or Netflix or whatever defines the show as a "comedy" ... and I've had a few things to say about that, too (and more to come).  Really, it's better described a series of short films, and they can just as dark as they are hysterical, sometimes even more so.  But don't be put off by the somber moments, the man is damn funny.


Elsewhere on the dial, The Newsroom tries and fails to do with a million exclamation points and "heartfelt" (that is, "utterly phony") monologues what Veep did with half the running time and a hundredth of the media hype.  Slipping in quietly behind Girls on a female-centric block of high quality writing, Julia Lewis-Dreyfus's latest vehicle only got smarter and more compelling over the season without drifting into the overwrought, self-important style that is the Sorkin trademark.  I should hold my judgment until Newsroom has a chance to find its groove, and it also remains to be seen whether Veep can maintain this level of quality in its second season (which is typically when an HBO show either truly distinguishing itself or veers down the path of absurdity).

Speaking of HBO shows, there's been a lot of attention lately given to that notoriously, overwhelmingly caucasian drama that barely features a single minority, and then only in stereotypical fashion.  I'm talking, of course, about Sopranos.  Wait, no, I mean Hung.  Or maybe it's Sex and the City, or In Treatment, or Curb Your Enthusiasm, or ... Deadwood?

No, no, none of those.  I'm talking about Girls.  Now, I am a big fan of that show, if only as a much needed counter-point to the glossy emptiness of Sex and the City (particularly after its first few seasons).  My personal affection for the show notwithstanding, I recognize that no piece of art is above criticism or analysis for the social values it reflects and promotes.  Yet, for some reason, Girls hit the runway with a target drawn on its back, perhaps because it very self-consciously adopts a "gritty", "real" style, with a lead female who's neither a "drop-dead gorgeous" (yet adorably self-conscious) waif or the "loveable fatty"sidekick (a dreadful TV trope that was brilliantly demolished - but not eliminated - by Mellisa McCarthy in Bridesmaids).  But, but, but how "real" can Girls possibly be with a nearly all-white cast in the racially diverse Brooklyn???  Okay, point made, criticism heard ... now how about a critique that isn't a lazy cut-and-paste job with the absurd premise (even if only in jets) that a white-only cast of a mid-level HBO hit show is the worst kind of racism?  Here's the quote from Julianne Escobedo Shepherd that really set me off:
So after watching the full season, which I sometimes hate-watched and sometimes like-watched, the ultimate message was clear: despite all its frank talk about abortion and HPV and sex, this show's advances in the realm of progressive womanist television are very nearly undermined by its oblivious, exclusionist and unknowingly racist (the worst kind, no?) aspects.
NO! Hell no! Not even in jest!  In no universe is getting under-represented on a modest HBO sort-of-phenomenon "the worst kind" of racism.  Is that fun to joke about???  "Well, the lynchings were awful, but getting left out of a millennial dramedy about middle class ennui?  That just hurts."

(And with all due respect, as a three-year Halemite and frequent guest of the more diverse corners of Brooklyn, Shephard is particularly full of it when she criticizes the "group of hard-scrabble b-girls, airlifted right out of The Warriors or Breakin’" featured in the finale of the first season.  Catcalling, fashion put downs and 80's throwbacks are as real as New York gets.  I get that Shephard was on a Dunham-hatin' roll there, but that's just poor research on her part.)

For a wittier, more eloquent rejoinder, here's Kate Carraway writing for writing generally on the Great Girls Hate-Off of 2012:
Calling Girls racist is a problem for everybody because Girls is racist insofar as everything on TV is racist, and insofar as everyone is racist, in degrees (what does your racism journal say, dummy?), but especially because calling racist Girls “Racist” is a red herring for how all of this is Lena Dunham’s pre-destined public whipping for being a tattooed, tits-out 25-year-old woman in a very cool position of cultural power. If she were anyone else, making any other show—any other show!—we wouldn’t be inside of a misogynistic—secretly jeally girl-on-girl misogyny; rage-jeally guy-on-girl misogyny—and overcritical maelstrom intent on punishing Lena, if not Lena the person then Lena the Idea (that’s her rap name) (racist!).

And speaking of hating on critics who hate what I love, the back catalog of the /Filmcast podcast turned me on to this marvelous take-down of Jim Emerson's own take-down of the SWAT team chase sequence in the middle of Dark Knight.  Here's Emerson's video as your starting point:

In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight) from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.


Rounding out the past few weeks:

  • Alison Bechdel put out another engrossing graphic memoir, Are You My Mother?  A meta follow-up to Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic about her closeted, temperamental father, her new book explores both her complex relationship with her mother as well as the archetypal parent-child relationship in general.  I first discovered Bechdel reading Dykes To Watch Out For in the local St. Louis alternative press. As much as I enjoyed that comic in passing, her non-fiction explorations elevate both the memoir and the graphic novel as art forms in their own right.
  • Finally, I caught  a marvelous live performance of the Radiolab podcast on the subject of darkness  - "In the Dark" - at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  They've recently announced new tour dates, so check it out!

Until next time!

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