Friday, August 07, 2009

 

AltCom Festival, Somerville Theater, 5.8.09 Live Review

AltCom Festival, Somerville Theater, 5.8.09 Live Review
By Jordan Clifford
clifford.jordan@gmail.com

Friday May 8th
Janeane Garofalo, Jamie Kilstein, Leo Allen and Myq Kaplan & Micah Sherman.

I arrived at the Somerville Theater 45 minutes early in hopes that the funniest part of the AltCom Festival would be outside before the show. Not to undermine the billed performers, but maybe if the Theater had billed “Crazed Right-Wing Teabaggers” on the marquee alongside Janeane Garofalo’s name, they would have shown up and caused the huge scene that they so ineffectually threatened . Unfortunately, the only teabagging I would see that night would be… when I got some tea after the show, you pervert. I had been so looking forward to the laughable protest signs of the nutjobs who, deserving every intended pun, were estimated by the entendre-happy media to arrive in hundreds and destroy Garofalo’s mostly apolitical stand-up with incompetent heckles. Instead, the only protests came when the lively Somerville audience slowly realized that the theater stopped selling beer somewhere between 9 and 10pm.

The festival was hosted by the largely unprotested duo of Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman, two homegrown favorites that recently migrated to New York. With Kaplan on the ole comedy geetar and both on vocals, they proved that Jews are still just as funny as New Zealander’s with a song about the conventions of hack comedy (a brave move in a comedy song), and Sherman’s self-deprecating song about his awkward looks.

I was excited to see Leo Allen, a remnant thankfully recovered from the canceled May 7th show, and Jamie Kilstein, both well known in New York’s “alt com” scene. Allen, with credits from UCB, SNL and Comedy Central, is a casual neurotic who concluded that Microsoft Word was designed by anti-Semetic Rastafarians (based partially on the program’s assumption that the word ‘jew’ is a verb) and reacts violently in his head to imagined confrontations (deciding the stupidest thing to think about someone else is “he’s so judgmental!”). Jamie Kilstein, a last name that is itself anti-Semetic, hit his highest with religious questions. Like jokes about the “what’s next?” conservative position on gays being unnatural, Kilstein asked about how “natural” can the son of God who was born of a virgin possibly be?

As good as these acts were, Janeane Garofalo, whose expected death-by-heckle via misguided historical recreationists did not come to pass, completely owned the night. Her enthusiasm resonated through the audience in a physical way, starting most literally when she ran through the isles like the cheerleader she never wanted to be, climbing back on stage while covering her backside to the exclamation, “never let them see your taint.”
Addressing the much-overblown Teabagger talk, she began with “Welcome and, as always, white power” - a statement as subtle as her original MSNBC claim. She recounted how earlier, the lone protester, Ken Pittman, a small-time conservative radio host who apparently orchestrated the entirely fabricated protest, followed her into a Starbucks with a camera demanding for Bill O’Reilly that she apologize. “Can you imagine?” she said in a tone of adorable pomp, mocking such a preposterous idea, and proceeded to call the queasy sickness in her stomach “the ole Hannity’s” or “the Glenn Becks.”

What surfaced through the hype of her caricature as a loud-mouthed liberal hard-ass is that it isn’t Garofalo’s politics that make her popular and infamous, it’s her personality. Of course she’s a loud-mouthed liberal hard-ass, but in the best, most endearing and purest sense. Her set is political when it needs to be, social commentary when it strikes her, and any number of other things when - and only when - it is randomly woven into her tangential tapestry of a set. Less a set than it is Garofalo loosening the spout for as long as they’ll let her talk, she is admittedly unaware of time on stage and is herself unaware, after some frequently long and multi-branched tangents, of what she’s talking about.

Personal insights, such as “life’s too short not to try anti-depressants” and that Twitter is narcissism from people who don’t have the self-hate to recognize it, are interrupted with abrupt exclamations of “Oh Wait! Listen to this!” segueing into how Natalie Portman is made of porcelain and has but a mere suggestion of genitals (“like a dent in a car door”), or “-oh by the way, when will David Caruso get his Emmy?” make her set endlessly entertaining.

Garofalo is a thinker, and maybe as a byproduct she’s a comedian – or as she puts it, she’s “very stupid, but intellectually curious.” She equates the g-string with carrying buckets of rocks up a hill and, once at the top, howling, “Yes to the Patriarchy!” She uses effective, precise language, like the word “precise” in describing the burning pain of freshening her lady bits with hand sanitizer in a public bathroom. She narrows her childhood stint with religion as rejecting life, and makes sense of religion by thinking of God as an adolescent boy with Aspergers, which is as perfect a philosophical view as any, but funnier and truer than most.

Her closing bit warned us not to wear flip-flops because when it’s time for the rapture, or fast-running zombies, or the ape uprising (whichever comes first, I suppose), we won’t be able to get away. If the threat of right-wing conservative idiots protesting in hordes and then wimping out is any indication, the apes are among us, but they no longer have the interest for an uprising.

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Summer Comedy Preview


Summer Comedy Preview
By Jordan Clifford
05/17/09

With the AltComFest behind us and the BostComFest waiting in the A/C until summer officially ends, it might seem that the only jokes now are on those hilarious popsicle sticks. While it doesn’t get too much better, Boston’s comedy scene has plenty to peel you from your fan-side seat at home.

The Wilbur Theatre has the big names as usual, but if Carlos Mencia’s “humor” hasn’t made you laugh since… ever, Kristen Schaal and Eugene Mirman will bring their somewhat absurd comedy to the otherwise mainstream venue on June 26. Cream from the New York crop and cast in the Flight of the Conchords, these two on one bill is a comedy cream dream. For more As Seen On TV, catch Tracy Morgan, who is crazy, on August 8, and Dave Attell, one of the most consistently funny (and/or drunk) stand-ups, August 14.

The guys in Anderson Comedy, producers/hosts of The Gas at the Great Scott (and approximately 400 other shows a month), are amping up their already good Fridays with touring headliners. On May 22 is Christian Finnegan (of VH1, Comedy Central and being-really-funny fame) and June 19 is Rob Cantrell (Last Comic Standing, the Marijuana-logues).

The newly opened Tommy’s Comedy Lounge is literally taking the place of the old Comedy Connection, located in its original room, the Charles Playhouse. Their first season is a merging of old generation and new, a return to the local-based original model. It doesn’t get more original model than Steve Sweeney on June 5-6, and Tony V on June 26-27.

The staple venues are always dependable, but more specifically: Mottley’s lets you feel good about your formative years by laughing at someone else’s with monthly installments of “Mortified”, the therapeutic journal-reading show, June 4, July 9, August 13. Speaking of feel good, celebrate Pride Weekend with host Erin Judge, June 12-13.
Fast-rising star Myq Kaplan is back at his old spot, the Comedy Studio, on June 6; and following Nelly’s summer heat-induced advice, Improv Boston has Naked Comedy on the first Wednesday of each month.

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Why Made? - Balkan Beat Box remix review


Balkan Beat Box – Nu Made (remixes)
By Jordan Clifford for The Weekly Dig

Remixing BBB is a confusing concept: Remixes render things more danceable, but BBB, a gypsy-klez-funk hybrid, is itself a sort of remix project (of traditional/modern, live/taped, cultures, genres) and has always equaled the dancinist party around. So why a remix album? Well for one thing, it features the unreleased “Ramallah-Tel Aviv,” written to heal the Israeli-Palestinian divide, and until that happens is at least a good song. For another thing, the super fun “Red Bula,” a mash-mix-up of B3 and the Romanian trad-style Mahala Rai Banda, is as good a song as they’ve ever produced. Then there are the remixes, which I guess serve as filler for those two new essentials.
Among the otherwise hit-or-miss collection of already dance-floor worthy favs mixed up by an assortment of DJs and producers who often add as much as they subtract, “Joro Boro” stands out because it was cut and collaged by BBB themselves into new melodies as a song distinct from the original. Alternately, "Habibi Min Zaman (BBB Remix)" doesn't diverge enough, with the disappointing exception of a new repetitiveness, while "Adir Adirim (Nickodemus Remix)" gains a beautiful oud solo that seems now to fill a void from the original, but at the expensive of the percussion. The new beat takes it off the gypsy dance floor and into the club, which is a downgrade, even if that was their goal.
Even with little discernible reason for the collection, if this noble attempt at extending the dance party means another live tour, that’s reason enough.

Appearing April 1st @ The Paradise, Allston, MA.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

 

N.A.S.A. preview


N.A.S.A. live preview
Jordan Clifford


N.A.S.A is a party music collabo between Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon and everyone they’ve ever heard of, ever. N.A.S.A. stands for North America/South America, though for all the exploration of star power, you’d think it stands for whatever the real NASA stands for. Their guests for The Spirit of Apollo reads like their Myspace Top 40 Friends: David Byrne, Kanye West, Tom Waits, Karen O, Kool Keith, Cali 2na, Gift of Gab, Z-Trip, Chuck D, Ras Congo, Seu Jorge, E-40, DJ Swamp, Barbie Hatch, John Frusciante, KRS-One, Fatlip, Slim Kid Tre, Santogold, Lykke Li, Sizzla, Lovefoxxx, George Clinton, Spank Rock, M.I.A., Nick Zinner, Kool Kojak, DJ Babao, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, DJ Qbert, The Cool Kids, Scarface, DJ AM, RZA, Method Man, Ghostface Killah AND Ol’ Dirty Bastard. All appear on the album, but won’t appear at Harper’s Ferry on March 11th. Be sure to friend them on Myspace and you might be featured on their next album.

N.A.S.A. appearing at Harper's Ferry on March 11th.

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Passion Pit - new local music blurb


PASSION PIT
by Jordan Clifford

The only thing in Passion Pit’s Myspace “Sounds Like” section is a picture of George and Weezie from “The Jeffersons.” While arguably every group of kids from Cambridge, MA is influenced by black television comedy, the reference to “movin’ on up” pretty accurately describes this music. It’s airy and fun, and the band is rising higher and faster than “The Jeffersons” TV ratings. “Passion Pit play the type of pop that taps directly into the joy centers of the brain. Their infectious single "Sleepyhead" would work plastered all over Top 40 radio.” – The Weekly Dig

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The Necks @ The ICA 2.13.09 Live Review


If I were, for some reason, stranded on a deserted island and had to pick a series of things to entertain me, I would want Ned Rothenberg and Marty Ehrlich to curate that series of... desert island activities. Even if that scenario never happens (big if), their background as accomplished experimentalists in the New York avant-garde community means good curatin' for the ICA's New Music Now series. So far, it hasn't missed a beat (unless it was an intentionally missed beat). This month's program added Craig Taborn, a main NYC ingredient, and his new Ancients and Moderns Ensemble, with Australian super-star free-form trio The Necks, for another unforgettable show.


This show offered a pairing of two divergent styles of improvising and arrangement that amplified each other. The essence of this began even within Taborn's ensemble—Taborn on piano/electronics, Thomas Morgan on guitar, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Dan Weiss on drums and Chris Speed on clarinet and sax—as its five-part conceptual suite unfolded around the questions of the future versus the past, and "centenary hubris, a Dream Memory of the fin de siècle." The program notes say that the inspiration came from the works of Alexander Calder, the artist who invented the mobile, and Conlon Nancarrow, who perfected human-less mechanical music and composed for player pianos.
The Ancients and Moderns flirted as much with names and themes evident in their thesis as with the fringe of jazz. Amid passages of fluctuating connectedness and intensity between the reeds, trombone and guitar, a crank music box and three dusty-looking turntables at Gerstein's feet played ominously vague, detrital noise alongside various electronic blips and manipulation. Taborn's piano playing was prickly, at times blistering, and often used repeated themes played with one finger, like someone just learning to type, obliterated with flourishes of improvising over Weiss' clamoring drums. Taborn goes from playing a burst of staccato notes to spare notes that set the mood of eerie discovery circulating through the hypnotizing drones of the recorded noise.
By the final section of their uninterrupted suite, it sounded like a band coming slowly back to life after an entire yet-to-be-realized new industrial movement, with the rusty sprinkles of things floating on heavy air behind them, into beautifully meditative jazz melody. After that certain commotion, The Necks would pick up with uncertain exploration.



The Necks make the kind of music that forces reviewers to be creative. It is not enough to simply take the easy route and classify a fully improvisational minimalist trio as unclassifiable (even though I just classified them twice), to define them as outside of whatever the box is. That seems, in a way, more a comment on the reviewer than the music because, of course, if I may paraphrase philosopher Keanu Reeves, there is no box (no spoon, either). I'm no more creative than the next guy sloppily taking notes on what an unbound piano trio sounds like in their moment. The band isn't using notes, so there's no use in taking any. At some point, I decided that instead of trying to see outside the moment, I should close my eyes and be in it with them.
The Necks, who fall sufficiently under the description of "improvised music," are not somewhere in between jazz and ambient, this genre or that. They're in between sleeping and waking, in that creative space where your best ideas come and you forget to write them down because you're too enrapt in being aware that you're asleep to move. It's not unlike falling asleep passenger-side on an hour-long road trip and still somewhat catching the scenery. They exist in the same hypnagogic states they put the listener into, and yet, like the driver, they must be there at present to allow the audience not to be.
It started with a deep low note, as bassist Lloyd Swanton pulled the bow across the strings of his upright, and that's as much as it took. Chris Abrahams dabbled about on piano while whistling his tune along in duet, and Tony Buck tumbled softly over the drum. The set began as it ended; they started playing when they were ready and stopped playing when they were done. Fifteen minutes in, the bass lines changed from bellowing to finger plucking, and the music changed with it. The mingling of cymbal scratching into hand drumming in polyrhythmic pace, into Abrahams' repetition of piano notes like they're stuck until he pounds and the sound flutters. Their improvising makes each change come naturally, like the weather. It expands upon itself before your eyes, and yet you can't watch something grow slowly any more than they can watch you listen to them. Your mind wanders, but you're still there.
Most interesting—and potentially puzzling, appearing as if they're doing nothing interesting at all—is they take their time with each minute of music, as if to give each audio idea, however small, proper justice in the time and length. As the cymbals take the queue to step back for the heightening piano, they melt or devolve or return to a similar arrangement of ideas as when it started. It came from silence, a silence that is as improvised as anything, and must necessarily return to it. Sound minimizes to air. Heads down. Lights down. The band waits, the audience with them. The audience finishes the piece with applause. Outside of that, there are just ideas left in the room, as the audience looks around as if to ask, "Are we home?" as the car pulls into the garage.
THE NECKS WITH CRAIG TABORN'S ANCIENTS AND MODERNS ENSEMBLE
LIVE | AT THE ICA BOSTON
ON | 2.13.09
(pictures from google, not from the show)

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Bill Burr @ the Wilbur Theater 2.6.09 Live Review

Bill Burr @ the Wilbur Theater 2.6.09
by Jordan Clifford

Bill Burr is, admittedly, kind of a fag. At least as defined by his buddies, who will f-bomb him for something like using an umbrella in the rain ("Put your head down and hunch your shoulders up. What are you, a fag??"). He explains that, according to this, doing anything that shows any amount of logic or sensitivity makes you a fag—basically, being a good person. Burr's theory (he's got a lot of theories) is that this kind of thing causes men to die early. But what makes Burr kind of a "fag" is that despite his antisocial ranting, he's not really an asshole at all, and that's what makes him so unsettlingly relatable, so damn funny. If he didn't let his sensitive side win over, he'd be doing comedy specials from prison. While that's not in itself a bad idea (Monique did it, sort of), luckily he's on his first national headlining theater tour with his uninformed theories, and it's the best material he's done so far.

What elevates Burr's comedy is a mastery of the Angry Man Perspective style without being the guy you love to hate, or, like the majority of angry comics, hate to hate. He's the guy whose anger you love, because you think it's shared with you alone. He takes observational comedy to new heights through new lows.

After his long overdue, acclaimed one-hour Comedy Central special, Why Do I Do This? (now on CD/DVD), Burr wrote an entirely new hour for the Uninformed Comedy Tour. While the CD/DVD is great, there's nothing like seeing Burr live. He's a ball of bitter energy, a little dog barking like a Doberman. His personality onstage is vibrant and high-volume, and exciting in the way that it looks as if he's thinking of it for the first time.

It's loaded with his disproportionately huge frustration over the minutiae of life, like how pissed you'd have to be to yell the sentence "Fuck this! I'm buying a pumpkin!" Much of his thoughts are the kind that, if most people said them, would make them sound like a lazy, raving prick (like wanting to shout, "I don't fucking work here!" when expected to add condiments to his own deli sandwich and yet still pay for it). When he says it, he's preaching to the choir. Amen, brother.

And it's not depression that makes Burr feel suicidal, but his exceptional laziness. His story about claiming that he'd make a pie for Thanksgiving, and the crippling annoyance that comes with realizing he actually has to do it, mirrors me at my laziest. The biggest laughs come from these tiny tragedies, the places where Burr puts so perfectly into loud and angry words the exact thoughts you reserved solely for your own deranged head. And yet, even in a room with hundreds of others laughing in recognition, you still think it's just you and Burr who really think these things, just as I'm sure he still thinks he's the only one.

He called his new tour Uninformed because that's what he is, and he wants to be perfectly clear that what we're listening to is a guy who doesn't know shit about anything talk about his theories on everything. In the time of Joe the Plumber and YouTube, where anyone can let ignorant bullshit fly to a decent-sized audience of equally stupid morons, I'd normally say that an uninformed person ranting on topics like homosexuality and population control is absolutely the last thing we need. But uninformed or not, Burr's usually not very far off from the truth.

Burr has also focused his uninformed expertise into a pilot for Comedy Central called Purgatory, where he rants on a different topic each week. At the very least, it will be better than Fox News, and with any luck, just as funny.

Worth mentioning is Burr's hand-picked opener, old friend and Boston-native Tony Moschetto. His set, which I've enjoyed many times, is full of self-deprecating honesty and had the crowd laughing the whole way through. His tales of dating, his personal crotch-shaving preference (the Abe Lincoln—use your imagination), coaching tennis and the many levels of MILFdom are framed within the truth that he lives with his mom in a trailer. It's not that bad though, because, like he says, "We have a skirt around our trailer, because we're not scumbags."

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

 

Total Eclipse of the Heart: The '80s Love Song Sing-Along @ Coolidge Corner Preview

NOW THERE’S ONLY LOVE IN THE DARK

Total Eclipse of the Heart: The '80s Love Song Sing-Along
by JORDAN CLIFFORD

There's a certain amount of bitterness that goes with Valentine's Day—at least, if you're single, or male. Before letting the pink blues get you down, ask yourself this: Are you tired of listening to the sound of your tears? Are you sitting at home, a little bit restless, and dreaming of something wild? And are you nervous, even a little, that the best of all the years have gone by? Well, they have gone by, and they're called the ''80s. But don't worry; we all– every now and then, fall apart, and Coolidge Corner understands.

Typically, if it's midnight on V-Day and you're in a dimly lit room listening to '80s love songs, and it's not a bedroom with a mix CD strategically ordered for optimal seduction, while making your euphemistic cupid's arrow penetrate a heart or something similar, you've probably failed Valentine's Day. Consider, though, how fun this scenario would be with tons of other late-nighters in that dimly lit room, singing joyously along to those '80s classics as your date, a little bit terrified until she sees the look in your eyes, says, "I really need you tonight. Forever's gonna start tonight."

While the day, filled with Hallmark-enabled materialism and the manufacturing of romance, is to real love what boy bands are to real music, that doesn't mean we can't chant their ballads in a mix of irony and passion. Besides, nothing is further from materialism than the '80s, and never before have poets like Tyler, Benatar, Prince, Springfield, Hall, Oates and those hilarious guys known as Air Supply written so profoundly on that thing we call love.

[Total Eclipse of the Heart: The '80s Love Song Sing-Along. Sat 2.14.09. Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline. 617.734.2500. Midnight/$10 all seats, free for members. coolidge.org]

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

 

AZIZ ANSARI @ the middle east downstairs, 1.29.09 Live Review

AZIZ ANSARI at the Middle East Downstairs, 1.29.09 live review
by JORDAN CLIFFORD

Aziz Ansari has been the darling of the new wave of comedy since he jumped in headfirst in 2005. Such buzz often amounts to a pile of hype, but with the pure talent to back it up, Ansari's rise to greatness reminds us that stand-up comedy can lead to more than just horrible sitcoms. He's got enough under his belt to make any man confident, the least of which is his critically acclaimed Human Giant TV program. Thus far, 2009 has seen many progressive firsts in America, and Ansari's "Glow in the Dark" tour, which came to The Middle East on Thursday, is among the best.

The style of Ansari's set was not unlike that of his longtime muse, R. Kelly: ridiculously smooth and sometimes focused on children. He mixes conversational flow with quick punches and turnarounds. He's so comfortable, it's like listening to a friend tell a funny story, and that friend is a professional comedian and is telling it to hundreds of other people in the same room.

A fan of Ansari from the beginning, I was worried that the old 15-minute sets he told while hosting the Upright Citizens Brigade would add up to a full-length show of recycled material. But among classics—like his response to civil rights petitioners on the street ("I kill for gay people, what do you do?")—there was a lot of great new material. He exposes the falsehoods of bedsheet thread counts, a crime equivalent to a drug dealer pinching a bag and deserving an equally violent reaction ("I woulda shot Hotel Linens in the face!"). He also accepts the apparent universal credit that can be taken by all Indians for Slumdog Millionaire and the hypocrisy of MTV censoring a Human Giant sketch about the impossible (and therefore innocent) scenario of being raped by a dinosaur, but not the disturbing offensiveness of shows like Next.

There were two major highlights: his account of making his chubby younger cousin, Harris (who watches shows like Burn Notice to the point where his yearbook quote is "TNT Knows Drama"), as mad as possible on Facebook, and the material Ansari did as his alter-ego, Randy, a comedian character he plays in the upcoming Judd Apatow movie Funny People.

Without exposing too much [Errrrr—Ed.], Randy is literally R. Kelly if he ever—and God willing, he will—did stand-up. Ansari has spent entire shows exploring Kelly, who is either so hilariously unaware of himself or so completely in his own world that he knows exactly what's he's doing. This ongoing character study clearly informed Randy. It's all there: the inexplicable singing of random words, dancing (and spinning) for emphasis and flagrantly funny misogyny. He acts as his own comedy DJ (a technique rarely treaded on unironically) by playing samples that announce his own name. Starting off Randy's set with a Kelly-esque "Fuck Story, AKA a Fuck Tale," he recounts pleasing a lady while underwater in a hot tub, and lamenting that had he died in the course of it, it would've been "the most baller death ever." In perhaps the best audience-interactive segment ever, he continued, asking the enthusiastic and nerdy crowd for suggestions for where Randy could get his dick sucked. Three of them were Star Wars related; Ansari was impressed.

Ansari controlled the crowd despite the saturating music of the multilevel rock club that would have thrown off a lesser comedian's presence. After finishing his normal set, he did a few older bits as a kind of encore. The tour is almost over, but it will produce a live album, one I would surely recommend picking up.

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