Ballot to nowhere

I haven't been keeping up with LiveJournal but for a place to post some year-end stats and such, this will do until I get a real website up and running (is sportsalcohol.com still available??). I've voted in a few different best-movie polls and the lists below more or less reflect those votes, in various permutations, but now that the year is pretty much actually over, I thought I'd publish my final-until-I-catch-up-with-even-more-movies ballot with links to reviews from throughout the year and my many runners-up, because this really was an excellent year for film.

The Top Ten
1. Inside Llewyn Davis
Because this isn't the opera, jackass, it's a fucking basket house.
2. Frances Ha (review)
Because I'm not really doing it.
3. Gravity
Because "in space" is one of my favorite movie add-ons and this movie is pretty much all "in space."
4. The We and the I (review)
Because they buttered the floor.
5. Her (review)
Because we love our computers.
6. Stoker (review)
Because personally speaking I can't wait to watch life tear you apart.
7. The Great Gatsby (review)
Because Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.
8. The Bling Ring
Because I wanna rob.
9. Nebraska (review)
Because they really didn’t deserve you boys doing that to them.
10. Prince Avalanche (review)
Because I'm adhering to the equal-time boombox agreement.

The Next Ten
In many other years, these movies could've easily made my top ten list. 11-15 in particular could easily be shuffled into my ten depending on my mood or how recently I've seen them.

11. American Hustle
12. The Wolf of Wall Street
13. 12 Years a Slave (review)
14. Frozen (review)
15. Gimme the Loot
16. Drinking Buddies
17. The World's End
18. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
19. Short Term 12 (review)
20. Before Midnight

And Eleven More, Why Not?
I liked these eleven a lot, too. Not quite top-tier but strongly recommended:

Labor Day
Side Effects
The Place Beyond the Pines
This is the End
(review)
Prisoners (review)
The Spectacular Now
Trance
Enough Said
(review)
In a World
Star Trek Into Darkness
Iron Man 3


That's thirty-one movies I think you should watch! And if pressed I could probably name another ten or fifteen worth checking out (including some from both of the lists that follow).

Overpraised
Upstream Color (review)
Spring Breakers (review)
The Way Way Back (review)
World War Z (seriously, a lot of people gave this a pass for being not terrible; what the hell?)
Captain Phillips (review)
Blue is the Warmest Color

Undervalued
The Lone Ranger (review)
Afternoon Delight (review)
To the Wonder (review)
The To-Do List (review)

Somehow Both Overpaised and Undervalued, Depending On Who You Talk To
The Counselor

Nicest Surprise
The Wolverine being kind of awesome.

Biggest Bummer
A Good Day to Die Hard being kind of awful.

The Worst
I've heard eloquent arguments against doing worst-of lists, but look: I see a lot of movies which means I see a lot of bad movies, and there's something perversely enjoyable about cataloging those experiences, because there is something educational about them. Having a terrible time at these movies (well, OK, maybe I had some laughs with Paranoia) informed the great times I had at better movies.

1. Stuck in Love (review)
2. At Any Price (review)
3. Olympus Has Fallen (review)
4. Generation Um... (review)
5. Aftershock (review)
6. A Case of You (review)
7. Getaway
8. Paranoia (review)
9. Thanks for Sharing (review)
10. Girl Most Likely (review)

The Asterisk
Some movies I at least vaguely intended to see, but have not yet (I'll try not to lie too much about my intentions to see documentaries, which I generally do not see):
ACOD; August: Osage County; Black Nativity; Black Rock; Blackfish; The Brass Teapot; The Canyons; Dead Man Down; 42; A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III; The Grandmaster; Grudge Match; Hell Baby; The Kings of Summer; Like Someone in Love; The Lords of Salem; Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; Museum Hours; Philomena; The Purge; Room 237; The Sapphires; Salinger; Some Velvet Morning; Stories We Tell; Texas Chainsaw 3D; 21 and Over; V/H/S 2; Walking with Dinosaurs; The Wind Rises; Zero Charisma

That's it! At very least, March and April 2014 are lookin' FINE.

Mr. Mr.

Apparently I have only seen They Might Be Giants twice at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park, including last night -- checking the wiki, it seems like the last time they played there, in 2009, they did a family show and I didn't go. Nonetheless, I still thought I'd seen them in Prospect Park a bunch of times, maybe because I've seen them in most other parks (Summerstage, Williamsburg Waterfront, the Hatch Shell in Boston) or because I've seen so many of my favorite bands in Prospect Park.

This show capped a nice run of outdoor concerts this summer, and the only one that was free rather than like sixy bucks. For a band I've now seen forty-six times, my lifetime They Might Be Giants concert expenditures are actually, probably remarkably low (frugal transportation: subways and bumming rides). My lifetime They MIght Be Giants t-shirt and shoelace expenditures? No comment.

I'm also slowly making sure I've seen They Might Be Giants with as many different people as possible; this time, Marisa and I were joined by Sara and Hailey from One Story, both at their first (!) TMBG show -- though naturally I ran into a couple of former co-workers because I run in nerdy circles. Hailey and Sara bore witness to a true TMBG show rarity: a fight almost breaking out right behidn them. Even the "almost" is surprising for this crowd; usually the nuisances are more like the super-awkward kid who kept calling out the song names as soon as he'd recognize them (and the nerdiest part of me understood this behavior, if not his extroverted version of it. It was annoying but I can't say I didn't identify with his trivia-ish song-intro recognition compulsion, especially with this group of songs).

Speaking of which, approximate setlist:

You're on Fire
Withered Hope
The Guitar
Nanobots
Damn Good Times
Icky
New York City
Ana Ng
When Will You Die
Black Ops
Cloisonne
The Mesopotamians
We Live in a Dump
Don't Let's Start
Istanbul
Lost My Mind
Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head
I'll Sink Manhattan
Call You Mom
Doctor Worm
Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal
---
123
Tesla
Mr. Me
Birdhouse in Your Soul

Flansburgh and/or Linnell have described their shows these days as being about one third new-record stuff, one third hits/favorites, and one third weirder/deeper cuts. I love TMBG so much that I can't always tell which is which in that equation -- I mean, I know which third-or-so of the set was from Nanobots but who's to say, really, whether "Damn Good Times" is a TMBG hit or just a song off The Spine that they really like to play? Embrace the mystery.

Song notes:

--I've probably mentioned this before, but on the bootleg compilation of TMBG television appearances from 1986 to 1996 that obviously I have on VHS, you can watch John and John perform their hit cover song "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" on a long parade of chat shows, music video shows (!), and promotional appearances, and trace the performances from normal TV appearance enthusiasm to, many appearances later, the fellas trying their damndest to keep themselves from getting bored with the song, which is to say goofing around and kind of fucking with it, hollering and stretching it out and distorting it. Now, after many years of doing "Istanbul" in differently elaborate full-band versions, they've returned to performing it as a duo and also as kind of a goof, which I (at the moment) vastly prefer. At one point, the lyrics about how you can't go back to Constantnople became an extended plea (Flansburgh: "Just once?" Linnell: "NO"). Wonderful.

--"Black Ops" off of Nanobots got a garage-rock-y makeover a la "Why Does the Sun Shine?" As a result, the song loses a lot of its creepy atmosphere (on the record, about half of it is stark and minimal; in the new live version, it's fast and noisy) -- but I love to hear songs reinterpreted so quickly and I'll never say no to a faster version of a song I like.

--Horns! "Birdhouse" and "The Guitar" and "Dr. Worm" are all great with horns. "Withered Hope" is good with horns but not as good as "Museum of Idiots" which they did not play. Also, considering how often these New York shows have horns, you'd think they could break out more John Henry jams.

--Flansburgh mentioned that when they played the Williamsburg Waterfront a few years ago, they were at the shooting site of their first music video, for "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head," but did not put that song in the setlist, which, by his reckoning, activated some manner of rock and roll curse, which is why us concertgoers at that event were drenched with rain for a solid hour (though it cleared up before TMBG started!). Anyway, as a sacrifice to the rock gods, they played "Puppet Head" at this show and it was great. Is it possible that I now like "Puppet Head" more than "Don't Let's Start"? It is indeed possible. I like to imagine that shifting preferences in TMBG songs indicate some level of maturity but I'm not sure if I could explain how or why that would actually be the case here. This may alone be cause for a new Best TMBG Songs list from me.

--OK, obviously "I'll Sink Manhattan" is a deep cut, and much appreciated.

Toward the end of the show, they announced that they're doing a Pink Album show at Terminal the same night the Dismemberment Plan is planning Boston this fall. CONFLICTED! Although: is that really just because I'd like to hear a full-band version of "Rhythm Section Want Ad"?

Bottles and cans

Tonight was my first time seeing Beck in concert in almost five years, and five years ago it was my first time in about six years. I don't see Beck all that often, in part because that would probably become prohibitively expensive, but I feel like I've witnessed a great variety of phases over my four previous Beck shows. In the late nineties, still touring Odelay, he was in full-on goofball-showman mode, playing all the greatest hits from that record and Mellow Gold. In 2002, we saw him with the Flaming Lips for Sea Change, and he was in reflective-folkie mode; in 2008, he was touring Modern Guilt and doing most of his songs in the garage-rock style of that record. So in a weird way, seeing Beck tonight, almost five years since his last record, before the allegedly upcoming release of two new albums, and in between a bunch of one-to-two-off projects, was the fullest and most varied I've seen him tackle in a single show. He didn't play songs off of every record (two of my favorites of his, '98's Mutations and '99's Midnite Vultures, were ignored entirely), but folkie Beck, weirdo Beck, straight-ahead rock-and-roll Beck, and epic showman Beck were all there together in Prospect Park. And they cooperated beautifully; it turns out a career-spanning Beck setlist is very well-paced. Observe (courtesy of Marisa):

Devil's Haircut
Black Tambourine
Soul of a Man
One Foot in the Grave
Tainted Love/Modern Guilt
Think I'm in Love
Gamma Ray
Loser
Hotwax
Que Onda Guero
Girl
Soldier Jane
Chemtrails
Golden Age
Lost Cause
Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime
Just Noise
Heaven's Ladder
Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods
Sissyneck/Bille Jean
---
E-Pro
Where It's At

Notes on these songs:

--Two of them, "Just Noise" and "Heaven's Ladder," are from his non-album Song Reader project. Just before we headed off for the concert, I was talking about how I didn't ever get Song Reader and wasn't really feeling it even though it's a neat idea. Then he played a couple of nice little songs off of it and now I kind of want to get it. Though it's still ridiculously overpriced.

--I always kind of forget about "E-Pro" but boy does it get over. It's hard to look up data on this sort of thing, but was that song a way bigger hit than I knew at the time? It came out after a time where I felt I was able to approximate/quantify a rock song's hit level.

--Beck's band isn't quite as garage-y sounding as on that Modern Guilt tour but it is more on the organic side than the noisy/sample-y/DJ side. But he made a couple of nods to his sample-heavy discography by playing a cover of "Tainted Love" into "Modern Guilt" (and "Modern Guilt" has a similar enough rhythm that I actually thought he was just playing "Modern Guilt" from the beginning) and inserting "Billie Jean" into "Sissyneck," which, as you might expect, fucking killed.

--He played "Girl" super-fast and near-punky.

--He didn't play "Ramshackle" (sorry Marie) or "Steve Threw Up" (sorry Jesse) or "Debra" (sorry Ted and also everyone who ever lived).

Things are tough out there, high water everywhere

Here's how we got to Bridgeport [way back in July when I wrote most of this post]:

I've been looking for a summer show to see at SPAC up in my hometown for a few years now. When the Americanarama tour with Bob Dylan, Wilco, and My Morning Jacket was announced, it sounded ideal. But it's hitting Saratoga tonight, and Marisa and I are heading upstate on our way to the Thousand Islands this coming Friday. So: close to convenient, but in fact completely inconvenient. And then, while we're upstate, the tour hits the greater NYC area, with shows at Jones Beach and in Hoboken next weekend.

But: for some reason, the Bridgeport date wasn't in that cluster. It was a full week earlier. In a fit of jealousy that my mom and my sister and possibly Derrick and others would be able to see this show in the comfort of Saratoga, I bought tickets for the Bridgeport date.

At the time, they were for a ballpark. It seemed like an ideal summer evening: A festival, but not with too many bands; good acts but not so many that we couldn't take a break to get some food; outside but in a relatively controlled environment; outside of the city but not hard to reach in Marisa's car. But less than a week before the show, due to the neverending insane heat and endless empty promises of heat-breaking thunderstorms, it was moved next door to a standard-issue arena. Somewhat less summery, but somewhat less physically dangerous.

Something else I failed to consider in planning this 24-hour trip: I-95 sucks. "An hour away on I-95" is not really a thing, unless you are talking about a distance of 15 or 20 miles. We left the city before 2PM, but between traffic, stopping off to check in at the B&B where we were staying, got a tiny bit lost on the way to the arena, parked, and rolled up into the venue, we had missed the first two My Morning Jacket songs.

The show was also starting pretty early, even earlier than I anticipated, because MMJ and Wilco both played near-full sets of 75 minutes or so each, on top of which there was an opener-opener we missed entirely (sorry, Ryan Bingham), and Dylan's 100 minutes or so.

Here's what My Morning Jacket did:
Golden
Circuital
Heartbreakin' Man
The Way That He Sings
Masterplan (not a cover of the Oasis song)
Slow Slow Tune
Victory Dance
Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 1
Wordless Chorus
Butch Cassidy
Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 2
Anytime
Gideon

I'd like to say that I didn't know all of the songs because I don't have their full catalog, but really, I could've known the majority if I listened to Z more. Z was the first in a long line of attempts I've made to like My Morning Jacket, and it finally succeeded somewhere between Evil Urges (which has some awesome songs in addition to some songs like "Highly Suspicious" which probably set me back a few months at a time) and Circuital, which I belatedly picked up after getting tickets to this show. You see, it wasn't so much that Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Dylan together represented a powerhouse of music acts I love, the way it does for Derrick. I was just excited -- after seeing Dylan shows with openers like Mark Knopfler, Phil Lesh, and, most productively, no one -- to see him paired with more current bands.

Anyway, I didn't know all of the My Morning Jacket songs and I missed "Circuital" which is one of my favorites, but I receognized a lot of them, and they are obviously a talented band. I'd see them with other bands I like some other time. Marisa wondered if this was a Walkmen situation, where we'd have to go again to wind up hearing all of the really good songs. Maybe if they keep their following going, we can see My Morning Jacket at SPAC some other time. Or at the Hollywood Bowl, maybe? Or at Red Rocks? I think I'd like to go to Red Rocks, should I ever find myself in Colorado. Yes, there are many venues that I'm unlikely to be anywhere near where I'd consider seeing My Morning Jacket again. Even if I never make it out to those places, we'll always have Connecticut, MMJ.

Then we went to get some hotdogs and sit down for the first chunk of Wilco.

(Was I) In Your Dreams
When the Roses Bloom Again
Misunderstood
Forget the Flowers
Handshake Drugs
Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway(again)
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
One Wing
Impossible Germany
Waterloo Sunset (Kinks cover!)
California Stars
Born Alone
Radio Cure
Art of Almost
Heavy Metal Drummer
I'm the Man Who Loves You

I actually have even more Wilco albums than My Morning Jacket albums. I just don't like them all that much, try as I might, and to the extent that I do enjoy them, I think I prefer their earlier, country-rockier type stuff, or at least "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" is my favorite song of theirs ever. Which they did not play. They did play "Waterloo Sunset" and they generally sound a little heavier and more muscular in concert than they do on the records I've heard. Wilco is fine. Jeff Tweedy seems like a good dude. I'm glad I can cross them off the list. They're just not my thing. Toward the end of the set we went back to the floor (though we were there a few hours after doors, we were apparently among the first 2,000 people to try to get on the floor and get awarded a wristband -- because the ballpark show was GA, the arena version had to be GA too, and because this was also a Bob Dylan concert, a lot of people who got there early apparently did so to claim good seats rather than get on the floor -- understandably) to inch closer so we could move up when the post-Wilco exodus happened.

And it did, and we got pretty close -- not crazy close, but probably closer to the stage than I'd ever been for a Dylan show before. Close enough to deal with some mangy crowd issues, whether that's due to a big arena show in the de facto suburbs or the hippie-friendly line-up or what. But there's a particular type of dude at a show who just doesn't go to many of the shows I go to, and that is the dude who repeatedly addresses Bob Dylan as "BOBBYYYYY!!!" from the crowd, asking him to play guitar or play a certain song or keep rocking or whatever, because if there's one thing a seventysomething-year-old who's been gigging for five decades is apt to do, it's listen closely at what a yutz in the audience is yelling at him.

Anyway, setlist!

Things Have Changed
Love Sick
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Soon After Midnight
Early Roman Kings
Tangled Up in Blue
Duquesne Whistle
She Belongs to Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
Blind Willie McTell
Simple Twist of Fate
Thunder on the Mountain
Let Your Light Shine on Me (with Jim James and Jeff Tweedy)
All Along the Watchtower
---
Blowin' in the Wind


Strangely, my impression during the show was that this was a good set -- technically, with the origins of "Blind Willie McTell" dated to the early eighties even though it wasn't released until one of the Bootleg Series collections much later, hitting every decade of Dylan's career -- that could've been changed up a bit from the shows I saw last year and in 2010. Upon further research (say what you will about the somewhat corporate veneer of BobDylan.com, advertising products and assorted merchandise, I love that you can look up setlists going back for years and years), I discovered that this was not true -- this set was about fifty percent different from last time, seventy-five percent different from the Terminal 5 show. So, shows what I know. I guess there are enough almost-always-played songs in circulation ("All Along the Watchtower," "Thunder on the Mountain," "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," "Things Have Changed," "Tangled Up in Blue") that it's easy to pass over the part where I say: hold up, I don't know if I've ever actually heard "Simple Twist of Fate" or "She Belongs to Me," at least not recently.

So yeah, I got to hear two songs from Blood on the Tracks and a nice selection of his recent work plus some sixties classics. And three from Tempest, which is probably a record for me seeing him do songs off his actual most recent album at the time of the show. I think I'm done with Bob Dylan shows for the forseeable future just because I've seen him a fair number of times this decade so far, but I'm sure I'll be tempted again. With this show, he becomes the only classic-rock type act to make it onto my most-seen-artists list. Go Bob!

Make me dance, I want to surrender

I first saw Belle and Sebastian just five weeks or so shy of ten years ago, in the August of 2003. I was approaching my one-year anniversary of living in New York. I had a cold, which I had forgotten until I re-read the very brief and not very evocative LJ recap just now. I was interning at a literary agency, so I was poor; my mom sent me money so I could go to the show. (My mom is the best.) I went by myself. By myself! I only knew a few people who actually lived in the NYC area and my main concert buddy for the past year had moved back to California after graduating Sarah Lawrence that spring.

This decade-later concert, in the very same Prospect Park bandshell (though for a full twelve additional American dollars), was in some ways a culmination of past B&S concert experiences. For one, they are not particularly promoting a new record; they have a B-sides collection out next month, but they don't seem to be playing any songs from it, so this between-album tour (relatively rare for a UK band touring the US) has been very much a career-retrospective greatest hits type of deal. This concert also featured the unfulfilled threat of a thunderstorm, like the one on my birthday in 2010; heat, like the one on the Fourth of July in 2006; and a famous-ish opening act, like their tour with the New Pornographers, earlier in 2006. Marisa and I were old hands, finally, while Other Sara B was the newbie. A bunch of other One Story/writer folk were further out on the lawn, too, and I was surprised how few of them had seen Belle and Sebastian before. I really was lucky back in 2003, empty pockets, stuffed nose, and all.

Because B&S aren't releasing new material at the same clip they were in the nineties and early aughts, and because they don't tour here all that often, and because their most beloved album is at this point close enough to its twentieth anniversary (!), it's easy to take them for granted. I didn't even prep much for this concert, just throwing my rarely listened-to copy of their BBC Sessions record onto my iPod, feeling like, OK, I'm pretty much all set for this concert already. And in terms of familiarity, I certainly was. But not having listened to their proper albums in a little while, I forgot just how crazy solid the Belle and Sebastian catalog is. Seven full-length records, most of which are very good or better; three or four albums' worth of singles and B-sides, many of which are as good as anything on their proper LPs; and a live presence that apparently used to be a bit shambolic and amateurish but has always been polished, upbeat, and fun as all hell when I've seen them. It's funny that the sad-bastard image still looms over them, because Stuart Murdoch has never seemed remotely sad when I've seen him perform; he dances more than almost any frontman I can remember.

So, this is not a very unpredictable or likely controversial post: yay, Belle and Sebastian! But really, their setlist was impeccably chosen from all eras of the band, covering all of the records except Fold Your Hands Child, as well as crucial-to-me non-album tracks like "Legal Man" and "Your Cover's Blown." They played a fantastic number of my Top 10 B&S songs ever, and that they could play a set this full of great songs and still not get to "This is Just a Modern Rock Song," "If You're Feeling Sinister," "Jonathan David," "Write about Love," "Stay Loose," or several others, well, wow.

I'm not 100% on the order here but I think I have all of the songs:

Judy is a Dick Slap
I'm a Cuckoo
Another Sunny Day
Stars of Track and Field
I Want the World to Stop
To Be Myself Completely
Lord Anthony
Funny Little Frog
I Don't Love Anyone
Piazza, New York Catcher
Simple Things
Your Cover's Blown
I Didn't See It Coming
The Boy with the Arab Strap
Legal Man
Judy and the Dream of Horses
---
Get Me Away from Here, I'm Dying
Le Pastie De la Bourgeoisie

I guess I forgot to mention that Marisa and I are in the midst of a summer-concert marathon. Starting the weekend of 6/14, when we saw the Postal Service, and going through the weekend of 8/10, we only have two weeks without a concert (well, three for Marisa, not doing the Eleanor show with me), both because we're out of town (no one was playing in Rhode Island when we were there a few weeks ago. I haven't checked the Thousand Islands on Pollstar but my guess is that no one is playing there either). Next up: Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket, and Wilco in Connecticut, or as Marisa has been calling it, the Gathering of the Vibes.

In the sun

I don't have any pictures of me or Marisa or Meg or Sara or Thais at the She & Him show on Saturday. I don't even have any pictures of Zooey Deschanel or for that matter the handsome Mr. M. Ward.

It's not because the light wasn't good; we were sitting in the damn sunlight for over an hour and when it started to go down I bet there could've been some magic-hour action. It's not because I didn't have a vantage point or my camera; I had a backpack with snacks and my good camera and we were not far back at all, pretty much dead center. It's not even because we were all sweaty and gross, although: we were that (at least speaking for myself, I was). It's because She & Him asked everyone not to take pictures, and closer up, where any of the pictures would be worthwhile, they actually had security guys there ready to yell at people who took their cameras out, or rather, pointed their smartphones Zooeyward (I didn't take my camera out; I like to pretend this was out of deference to the band but it was just as much laziness, the heat, and a vague feeling of moral superiority).

This is a new-ish thing. When Marisa and I saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs a couple months ago, there was a sign extolling concertgoers to put away their (fucking? There may have been swears involved) phones and just enjoy the show -- that was the gist of it, anyway. When this message was broadcast to the She & Him line (or, excuse me, the She & Him throng: the Summerstage people told us, Kips Bay style, that this was NOT a line we were waiting on, and to bunch up! It was enough to make Maggie's head explode), the easy consensus was that Zooey Deschanel is such a diva. And she may well be. Last time we saw her in the sweltering heat, she certainly did (a.) wear tights and (b.) complain that she was hotter than we were, which was only true in the strictest physical attractiveness sense, not the temperature sense. But check it: this policy, best as I can tell, originates with M. Ward. At the link you can find an account of Ward trying to restrict camera use at his solo shows, and the NPR writer complaining that this is draconian and pointless and

It's an interesting debate and, as Sara pointed out when I brought it up, pretty much unwinnable on either side: obsessive photo-takers are not going to be convinced they shouldn't be allowed to take whatever photos they want -- indeed, dozens of people were unable to resist it even with patrolling security on Saturday -- and the more experience-minded, moment-living people are not going to be convinced that anyone has the particular right to photograph every moment of a rock show and potentially block other people's views while doing so.

I tend to favor the latter if only because (a.) there will always be plenty of shows where you can snap pictures to your heart's content, (b.) an artist absolutely can attempt to control his or her surroundings for his or her artwork, whether or not this is realistic or even possible -- it happens when a venue is chosen, it happens when a setlist is chosen, it happens when lighting cues are employed or not employed, and (c.) your pictures suck. I say this as someone who has taken some rock photos in my time, even photos of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. Everyone who took pictures of She & Him on Saturday: you just took pictures of a cute band on your phones. They weren't worth what little trouble you went to.

This made the final song of the night, an unexpected second encore when the crowd had a foot out the door, particularly nice: just Deschanel and Ward snuck back out to play "I Put a Spell on You" and while I'm sure some people grabbed their phones in time to take pictures, it caught them off-guard enough that for a moment people were mostly just standing there listening to a bonus song.

"Spell" was just one of ten (!) covers, if you count their now-standard inclusion of the M. Ward solo joint "Magic Trick." Normally, this would be way too many covers for my tastes. A well-placed cover, yes, can be great, but if an artist has a significant group of songs I like, I tend to think of too many covers as wasting of valuable set real estate. Like I know Springsteen has earned the right to play some old motown rock and roll type songs to pay homage to his roots and he'll always play the hell out of them, but I'll always be thinking in the back of my mind: you played two covers but you skipped ["Atlantic City"/"Girls in Their Summer Clothes"/"Streets of Fire"/etc.].

But! Covers are very much a part of the She & Him deal. All three of their proper records have at least two cover songs, and they always blend in pretty well with the kind of unambitious but very well-crafted retro-style pop-rock originals Deschanel and Ward cook up. In this context, it's actually pretty damn great to hear non-recorded covers like "Rave On" and "Roll Over, Beethoven" -- and She & Him aren't so legendary that I feel like I'd prefer one of their other songs at every opportunity. They pretty much nailed all of their best songs, although I would've liked to hear "Sentimental Heart" off the first record or "Somebody Sweet to Talk to" off the new one. Some of the prettier/slower S&H originals blend together, while there's no mistaking "Roll Over, Beethoven."

Also: ten covers are fine if you play one of the most epic setlists I've seen in ages. Which they did. At a She & Him show. I mean, I really like She & Him, but they're the type of act I tend to assume will pay for about 65 minutes (I guess without foundation: their above-referenced free July 4th show in 2010 turns out to have been over the two-dozen mark, too). I guess they also don't have many songs over three and a half minutes, and they aren't prone to wild jamming, or much between-song banter, so they can pack 28 songs into their 90ish minutes. But seriously, 28 songs: that's a lot. That's pretty much They Might Be Giants and Bruce Springsteen, who both have well over a dozen albums to draw from, and maybe the Hold Steady once they get another album under their belts and want to take a run past the 24-song mark. Kudos, M. Ward and Zooey. You don't want photos taken and you will play for 90 minutes and you are not the indie-rock lightweights you could be.

I Was Made for You
I've Got Your Number, Son
Baby
Over It and Over It Again
Take It Back
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me (cover)
Thieves
Turn to White
I Thought I Saw Your Face Today
Brand New Shoes
You Really Got a Hold on Me (cover)
Stars Fell on Alabama (cover) (not of the Mountain Goats song that I love)
Unchained Melody (cover)
Me and You
Ridin' in My Car (cover)
Don't Look Back
Rave On! (cover)
Magic Trick (sort of cover)
This Is Not a Test
Never Wanted Your Love
Together
I Could've Been Your Girl
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?
In the Sun
---
Sunday Girl (cover)
Roll Over Beethoven (cover)
Sweet Darlin'
---
I Put a Spell on You (cover)

You're halfway there

As it turns out: summer is half over. Well, by the actual calendar standards, summer is about ten days old. But by the revised calendar issued by the big six Hollywood studios, summer begins in early May and lasts through Labor Day, which means we are halfway through -- and seemingly past peak summer-movie excitement, well on our way to summer-movie fatigue. There are still plenty of movies I'm excited to see, like Pacific Rim and Elysium and even, God help me, The Wolverine, and there are even some movies I can tell you right now are worth seeing (Prince Avalanche drops in August! The To-Do List comes out the end of July!), but this summer was awfully frontloaded, especially when you consider that hardly anyone programs a big cool-looking movie past the second weekend of August, the unofficial Last Call of the season.

Remember Iron Man 3? It was this superhero movie that came out a couple of months ago, is the highest grossing movie of the year, will likely remain such through December. Ultra-controversial and biting commentary: I liked it! I liked it about as much as the other Iron Man movies while acknowledging it stands on its own a bit more than Iron Man 2. The villain isn't great, but you know, the villains in the Iron Man series are never really all that great, despite a pretty decent caliber of actors that paly them (and despite my love of the Rockwell/Rourke scenes in Iron Man 2). It's probably OK to have a superhero franchise where the hero doesn't have scenes stolen by the villain. And props to Iron Man 3 for kinda-sorta figuring out a final action sequence that isn't just Iron Man fighting a bunch of bigger and/or slightly different Iron Men. Also, the movie is pretty damn funny, thanks to Shane Black.

Iron Man 3 was also just about the only big May release I didn't write about in some capacity. I wrote a long essay detailing just what I liked and didn't like about The Great Gatsby, one of two summer movies I've paid to see a second time, so obviously it fell more on the "like" side. I also wrote a bit about the highly entertaining but slightly disappointing (in the big picture) Star Trek Into Darkness, which I intended to see again but never did. I did have a second go-round with Fast and Furious 6 (or Furious 6 as the credits rightfully call it), which probably wasn't necessary, but hey, I did like it a lot, almost as much as Fast Five (plusses: addition of Gina Carano; minuses: lack of surprise what-the-fuck-this-movie-was-awesome?! factor). It was definitely my preferred Memorial Day sequel as compared to The Hangover Part III, which I reviewed in an essay about Todd Phillips. And I didn't care much for Epic.

Despite those Memorial Day weekend bummers, May was a surprisingly satisfying month for mainstream filmgoing, and that carried over to the indie sector, too. I saw Frances Ha again in its proper release following its NYFF debut last fall, and loved it just as much. I showed Marisa Before Sunrise and Before Sunset as prelude to going to see Before Midnight, a funny, worthy, and sometimes upsetting cap and/or continuation of Richard Linklater's relationship chronicle. Sequels are so commonplace now that I feel like the can't-be-as-good-as-the-original sentiment has dissipated to some extent, but it's still rare to have a film series where each entry actually deepens and improves what came before it, as the Before sequels have. Sunset remains my favorite upon rewatch -- it's the most concise, proceeding in real time, and has a nice mix of romanticism and realism -- but all three are just terrific and, judging from some of the gasps in our UWS crowd, still able to surprise audiences despite or maybe because of their intimacy with the characters.

On a very different note, I also liked The Iceman even though it's not really shaped into a working narrative -- as it turns out, the central material and the actors are interesting enough for an episodic, stretched-out narrative to not matter so much.

On to June: I didn't think After Earth was so bad compared to other M. Night Shyamalan movies of recent vintage. The first ten or fifteen minutes is rough in the Shyamalan-forgot-how-human-speech-goes department, but once it zooms in on the father-son relationship, it's a reasonably compelling sci-fi adventure story. I think kids would like it. It makes no sense that it would inspire so much vitriol, which is why I wrote about that vitriol more than the movie itself. Marisa and I watched it in a double feature with Now You See Me, which is really not much less stupid than After Earth (it may be stupider), but in the tradition of magic tricks, provides some intense momentary enjoyment before dissipating.

Another movie that I didn't love but was surprised by the rancor it earned: The Internship, a not all that funny but reasonably warm-hearted and pleasant Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson comedy. It's not as funny as Wedding Crashers, but it's also not as mean as that movie at its worst, so, you know, kind of a wash. Granted, it is the weakest of the big June comedies: This is the End made me laugh a lot, as did The Heat, which is also maybe the the only real Bechdel Test-passing movie of the summer, if that means something to you. Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing is also pretty funny, and as I mentioned in my review, a lot of that is due to some fine staging and framing by the director (as well as, you know, that Shakespeare guy).

Marisa and I caught up with The East a little late; it's another in a series of Brit Marling thrillers, which Fox Searchlight seems really into. I was with this movie, wherein Marling plays a private-sector agent who infiltrates an environmental terrorism group, at least to the halfway point, but as Marling's character becomes more seduced by both the group's ideology and its supposedly charismatic leader, I stopped really understanding why (even as I felt sympathy for the group's concerns; the movie just doesn't really make the case for why Marling, supposedly a big-time professional, would fall so hard and so fast). In the end, I liked it less than Sound of My Voice but probably a little more than Another Earth. You know, for you Brit Marling completists.

More reviews: Monsters University is probably not essential Pixar, but it is a lot of fun, and also more thoughtful than you might assume [in the wake of Cars 2]. And back at Tribeca, I saw the now-playing Byzantium and liked it.

Maybe the most divisive big movie of the summer will be Man of Steel; appropriately enough, I myself felt divided over it. I like so many decisions this Christopher Nolan production made: Lois Lane becomes more actively involved in Superman's early days, and the movie dispenses entirely with the weirdly manipulative angle of the Donner Superman movies, where Clark/Superman sort of toys with Lois about her inability to figure out his identity (even messing with her head when she does). I loved the hardcore sci-fi-fantasy version of Krypton, and the Russell Crowe version of Jor-El, and pretty much most of the actors, actually, and Michael Shannon's General Zod, who has more understandable and better-developed motivation than his more fabulous Terence Stamp equivalent in Superman II (which I only recently watched). I loved loved loved the treatment of Clark's younger years: Superman as uncostumed traveling hobo, saving people and then getting the hell out before he gets discovered. A little Wolverine-y, sure, but the idea that this is how Clark learns about America is kind of beautiful. And much of the movie is beautiful-looking, too: lens flares and less primary but still-rich colors, nice grainy texture. Zach Snyder dispenses with many of his tics: slow-mo, speed-ramping, blood festishizing.

He does, however, find new tics, like the show-offy pseudo-documentary mini-zooms in the midst of action sequences (Star Trek Into Darkness does this too; it's fine a few times, but like anything Snyder likes, it becomes an overused go-to move), and his hyperbolic side comes out for the battles, which, fair enough, go a bit more on the destructive and violent and action-packed side following Bryan Singer's Superman Lifts Stuff (I kid: I actually really like Superman Returns and all things considered, it might be my favorite of the Superman movies so far; probably not the best, but my favorite). I kind of like the idea of seeing what it looks like if, basically, two gods fight each other on Earth. It's just too bad the Superman/Zod smackdowns are preceded by a lot of needless alien-invasion destruction of the Roland Emmerich/Michael Bay school. That just isn't an important or interesting part of the Superman mythos, even though I like the idea of stressing Superman's status as an alien being. There's also dialogue that shows what happens when David Goyer does a comic-book script without a Nolan Brothers polish. In fact, Man of Steel can't help but play a little like what a Nolan movie might be if he didn't have the clout to say no to certain things.

But on the balance, I did like the movie. It just feels like it was made without total focus on what was best about it -- probably a result of Superman Returns not making enough money and not gaining much of a Batman Begins-style rep in the meantime. There are some building blocks here for a good series of Superman movies, but I'm a little skeptical about the Warner Brothers/DC people being able to do this without Nolan actually directing stuff. Which is ridiculous! I love Nolan, but he's not the be-all-end-all of superhero directors. Other people should be able to do this. And I guess compared to Green Lantern, Man of Steel does count as doing this.

The day after Man of Steel, I saw a movie I liked as much as I wanted to like the Superman one: Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, a docudrama about teenage girls in Hollywood who burglarize celebrity homes. The tabloid emptiness of the story actually gives Coppola an extra kick of energy that wasn't there in Somewhere: a blasting soundtrack, laughs from the kids' vacant amorality, and gorgeous shots of those kids driving and scampering through the California night. Yet I don't think the movie is pure, vicious satire. Coppola doesn't seem particularly enraptured or in love with her characters here, but she does regard them with a certain fascination, and definitely shows sympathy for the boy in the group, who talks openly about his lack of "A-list" good looks. Coppola doesn't impose too much structure on the story; as ever, she's more interested in mood and moments than character arcs and as ever, her movie is beautifully made (the long shot slowly pushing in on Audrina Patridge's house as the kids run wild in it is one for the ages). It's perfectly in Coppola's wheelhouse (it even has a lot of superficial and thematic resemblance to this year's Spring Breakers) yet I don't feel like I've ever seen a movie quite like this before.

I could kinda-sorta say the same about World War Z: I have never seen a $200 million zombie movie, because there hasn't been one, and I haven't even really seen a zombie movie that treats the zombie apocalypse as a disease outbreak (there may be one; it's such a smart idea that I'd be surprised if it was never done before). But for all of the interesting aspects of World War Z, it's not exactly Contagion with zombies -- or, it kind of is, except it's nowhere near as good as Contagion. That Soderbergh movie cut to fascinating cross-sections of people dealing with a calamitous outbreak; the novel of World War Z seems like it could easily be adapted into that structure, but the movie sticks with Brad Pitt even as it location-hops. Pitt plays a guy who used to work for the U.N. and is good at his job. We know this because that's what the movie says, not particularly anything he does -- the movie is so bereft of ideas for characterization that it's reduced to just bringing Pitt to different places and having him notice super-obvious stuff (like, hey, the zombies are about to overtake the big wall you guys built!) and pretend this makes him some kind of hero genius. Pitt is a fine actor, but he hasn't played this nothing of a character in I don't even know how long. I haven't seen Meet Joe Black, but that seems like a decent candidate, so: fifteen years. Congratulations, World War Z. You ended Brad Pitt's fifteen-year streak of being interesting.

Moment to moment, though, the movie is less of a cheap-looking botch than I was fearing. It's not very scary, but it has some tense moments and lots of cool ideas. I just wish those ideas had been developed further, along with some characters, any characters, because really, this movie has no people in it. No people that give you any reason to pay attention to them, anyway, apart from good lucks (which, even/especially as Pitt approaches fifty, are really more superhuman than human, aren't they?)

Finally: White House Down, the other Die Hard in a White House movie. And boy, Die Hard 5 must have really sucked for a bunch of people to give two different Die Hard ripoffs these kind of passes in a single six-month period. Granted, White House Down is a hell of a lot better than Olympus Has Fallen. In fact, during its first 45 minutes of surprisingly protracted set-up, I found myself thinking: wow, for a Roland Emmerich movie, this almost qualifies as wittily self-aware. I mean, it's pretty preposterous stuff, but it's less pure cornball than Emmerich's usual disaster movies, and does a nice job of making us the characters likable and not just action figures. In fact, I find it weird that so many critics designated this movie as, you know, pure Emmerich, doing what he does best. Emmerich does big-scale disaster movies; he doesn't actually have a way with traditional action sequences like chases and shoot-outs. There is obligatory big destruction in White House Down, but it actually looks lousy -- so much green-screen was used in the DC exteriors that I was seriously shocked to see a DC unit in the credits.

Anyway, the movie sets itself up as a Die Hard knockoff, and for the most part is a pretty decent one, but follows that formula so stringently it can't be bothered to engage with its best idea: a buddy-action comedy where one of the buddies is the president! There's a little bit of that between wannabe secret service agent Channing Tatum and president Jamie Foxx, but Emmerich doesn't seem particularly interested in that angle. The movie is a fair amount of undemanding fun, but way longer than necessary, and stubborn in the way it winds up using that running time. The extra set-up is fine, but some of the payoffs are surprisingly clunky for a high-octane action thriller. It's shocking to me that so many people would give this movie a pass while ganging up on The Lone Ranger, but that's a July movie so that'll be another post down the road.

I forget what it's like to be gone

Remember when finding the "New Dylan" was a thing? I swear it was, all the way through most of the nineties. I read it about Beck more than once, even or perhaps especially when writers discussed how pointless and unlikely it would be to find a "new" Bob Dylan; I can only assume Dylan's spotty eighties and barely-existent-until-97 nineties output contributed to this fascination.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Eleanor Friedberger is the new Bob Dylan, but I will say, as I think I've mentioned before, that she reminds me of him a lot, stylistically. The long rambles of some Fiery Furnaces tunes recall the surreal side of Dylan, and the way she says "babe" in "Police Sweater Blood Vow," I mean, yeah, kind of easy, but still: something about the way she speak-sings it sounds like Dylan's "babe," not like, Styx's "babe." There's also the Fiery Furnaces' habit of rephrasing and rearranging their songs in a live setting, like Dylan, which, like Dylan, has garnered them a reputation as both an impressive live act and kind of a chore (and, as with Dylan, I fall more on the "impressive" end of the voting bloc).

The similarities accumulate listening to Last Summer and Personal Record, Friedberger's two solo albums, both about as good as, maybe better than, the best of the Fiery Furnaces -- which is why I feel comfortable attributing this more to Eleanor than her brother Matthew (although, to be fair, by which I mean totally unfair, pretty much everyone in the world feels comfortable attributing more to Eleanor than to Matthew. If Matthew Friedberger superfans exist, I can only imagine they feel the way I feel about Blake from Rilo Kiley). The way she uses her voice, particularly: it is distinctive and sometimes very pretty, yet she's just as likely to use to speak-sing cadences as a melodic lilt. She also tends to favor short, repetitive choruses, like a lot of recent Dylan songs, and she turns over certain words and phrases in a way that reminds me of him, like on "My Mistakes" where she sings "She's got kind of a native vibe before that was so cool" and then repeats the first part, more emphatically ("She's got kind of a native vibe before...") and pairs it with another phrase ("...I knew who was who"). The fact that it doesn't read that well on paper but totally makes sense on record backs me up further on this, or so I'd like to believe.

And even in her more straightforward solo work, there are re-arrangements. I read an L Mag interview with her where she talks about her most recent tour, one that concluded tonight at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, more closely replicating the album arrangements than some past tours -- and that is true, but there are still plenty of places where she sings a line with a different inflection or slightly different notes, or plays a song significantly slower or faster. In general, there's a slightly more garage-rock feel in concert than on the record, which is not so unusual for a live show, but you can sense a natural playing with her songs, the way Dylan still does.

For example: Before her set, the venue showed a short film called "She's a Mirror," sort of based off the song of the same name on Personal Record, mixing student-film-y footage of Eleanor acting weird stuff out with a lot of rehearsal and performance footage featuring what I assume are earlier versions of the song in question (I'm pretty sure one of them is from another edition of the Cabinet of Wonders show a bunch of us saw last year, which makes sense as John Wesley Harding working on Personal Record with her). These versions tend to be slower and sometimes more menacing than the version that wound up on Personal Record; you keep expecting the film (basically a longform music video) to break into the album version at some point to reveal teh changes, but it never does. Then, during the concert, I again expected the uptempo version to appear, but when the band played "She's a Mirror" toward the end of the set, the first half is as careful and slowed-down as some of the video versions -- before again defying expectations and kicking into the fast version halfway through. I guess I'm sort of describing something relatively simple (a live version of a song that starts slow and then gets fast) as if it's incredibly complex, but I do think it's indicative of the way Friedberger re-arranges her songs as she lives with them. Probably lots of musicians do this, but the insistence of it reminds me, again, of Bob Dylan.

The thing is, it doesn't feel fussy or precious or anything in concert, or like she's denying her fans the versions they've come to love (again, I feel the same way about Dylan, although opinions seem to differ on him as a live act. I've never been disappointed and am going for another round later in July). It's the good kind of restlessness, the creative kind -- the auditory version of the fidgety but never self-conscious dancing she does in between verses of her uptempo numbers. Live shows are where I got to know how good "Roosevelt Island" is. Also where I heard several of the Personal Record songs for the first time, and it was great to hear the final versions (or the tweaked versions of the final versions) tonight.

Songs:

I Don't Want to Bother You
I Won't Fall Apart on You Tonight
Heaven
Stare at the Sun
My Own World
Inn of the Seventh Ray
Roosevelt Island
I'll Never Be Happy Again
When I Knew
Other Boys
Early Earthquake
She's a Mirror
I Am the Past
Singing Time
County Line (cover)
My Mistakes

A longer set than I expected, even without an encore -- the full band left for "I Am the Past" and that seemed like about the point where there could've been an encore break. But Eleanor didn't leave the stage and the band came back out and played through, until, toward the end of "My Mistakes," Friedberger jumped into the crowd (via the shoulders of me and another dude in the front), ran a few rows back, and danced around to her band with a bunch of fans. It was probably the most spontaneously joyful thing I've seen a frontperson do in I don't know how long. It wasn't particularly Dylanesque, I admit. It was pretty great all on its own.

Seems so out of context

Do you want to feel old?

Probably not, but it can't really be helped, can it?

In case you think it can: the Postal Service album Give Up came out ten years ago. Hence the tenth-anniversary reissue. Hence the tenth-anniversary tour.

At first, I resisted this. Not because of the passage of time, but the principle of the thing. That thing is: The Postal Service put out one record. It was unexpectedly successful, especially in the longterm, as it slow-burned its way to one million copies sold -- one of exactly three Sub Pop records to achieve platinum sales (the other two: Bleach and the Flight of the Conchords record). They never recorded a follow-up. They didn't really tour beyond the initial promotional tour for Give Up. Then, ten years later, they "reunited," re-released the album, and mounted an arena tour.

This isn't so much different than bands like the Pixies, who have reunited basically to (a.) satisfy the desires and demands of a much-larger audience that never got to see the band live when they were originally together and (b.) make the money they never got to make when they were originally together. That is all fair enough. But something felt mercenary to me in the Postal Service's insta-reunion (perhaps yoked to some deep-down denial that it had really been a decade since the album came out). If this is the precedent we set, bands don't need to continue to work and struggle and create; they need to create once, and then wait around hoping they can make some sweet reunion money later. Where was the Postal Service's actual career?

Obviously in this case, that career -- those careers -- happened elsewhere, as everyone in the Postal Service has other music projects, to the degree that it feels more like a supergroup now than it did in 2003. But still: I resisted this reunion blitz. I saw the Postal Service at Northsix in 2003. Why would I pay like five times that to see them do the same songs? (Lest you think I'm indulging in stereotypical hipster coolness, it wasn't because I liked the Postal Service before it was cool; I actually don't think I heard the album all the way through before going to see them, which I did more because it was the same weekend as the White Stripes, and Rob and Sara and my friend Megan were all down with going.) But: Marisa did not go with us in 2003. And neither did my sister, not least because she was (cue Michael Caine voice) fif. teen. years. old. So they wanted to go and Kasia and Jon wanted to come into town and go and who am I to tell anyone not to go see the Postal Service?

(Marisa will tell you: I am the anyone who passively-aggressively implies that it's kind of a ripoff to go see the Postal Service.)

So we got tickets to see the Postal Service at the Barclays Center, NIGHT TWO because they booked two nights at a 19,000-seat arena. And I grumbled about it a little bit. And then you know what happened? We saw the Postal Service, and it was really good!

I'm sure it helped that I knew all the songs this time. It also helped that we got GA tickets to Barclays, which is regimented but in a mostly good way, and also, thanks to a heads-up from my friend Hailey, we knew that if you just get there kind of early, there probably won't be enough people in the GA area to keep you from a pretty close spot (I offered our spare ticket to Hailey, who declined in part because the Postal Service reminded her too much of feeling awkward and sad in high school. Yeah. No reprieve from me feeling old there). And it helped, for me anyway, that in their absence the Postal Service has been reimagined as a band with Jenny Lewis in it.

She toured with them the first time -- in fact, I'm pretty sure it was the first time I ever saw her, and Megan (friend Megan, not sister Megan) and I both traced our crushes on her back to that night. Even then, to my recollection she was taking up some of the shared vocal duties she didn't actually perform on the album proper. But ten years later in an arena, the band feels less like a Ben Gibbard/Dntel collaboration than a wildly popular Gibbard/Lewis rock band with Dntel working the soundboard. And I mean that in a good way. J-Lew and B-Gib (Death Cab B-Gib, not Bee Gee B-Gib) switch up instruments -- drums, different types of guitars, keyboards -- and Gibbard still drives the vocals, but Jenny steps up with the California rock star moves she's perfected in Rilo Kiley and on her own. My God but do I hope she doesn't turn into Stevie Nicks, either accidentally on purpose.

Also, I felt additional trepidation about paying for what I pictured as a 50-minute set, possibly involving playing Give Up in sequence with a Phil Collins cover at the end. But lo! They made a real setlist (albeit a setlist that was apparently identitical night to night). And it was good, and nearly 80 minutes:

The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
We Will Become Silhouettes
Sleeping In
Turn Around
Nothing Better
Recycled Air
Be Still My Heart
Clark Gable
Our Secret (Beat Happening cover)
This Place Is a Prison
There's Never Enough Time
A Tattered Line of String
Such Great Heights
Natural Anthem
---
(This Is) The Dream of Even and Chan
Brand New Colony

It was loud and had a cool light show and Gibbard's weird David Byrne running-man dancing and J-Lew's effortless charisma. It was... a really cool big arena rock show with some degree of simulated intimacy. Even the new songs sounded a bit more forceful and blended better than I would have expected from listening to the reissue where they appear as disc-two bonus tracks (apparently the results of aborted sessions for a Give Up sequel). I have said reissue because, you know what? I never bought the Postal Service album. My first NYC roommate burned me a copy. So I guess this anniversary celebration is sweeping some corners there.

Give Up actually seemed like the perfect record to pick up on vinyl (Marisa's mom got me a record player. I buy things on vinyl now. Sometimes. It adds a special layer of neurosis to the process of buying music. I tend to like consistency so if I have, say, thirty Bob Dylan albums on CD, I'm probably not going to suddenly switch over to vinyl when I scrape up a copy of Knocked Out Loaded... then again, my consistency goes out the window if you consider that I have Hard Rain as a download from when I got it on Amazon for someone else, as a gift. But even if I'm one album into a career, isn't it kind of weird or annoying on some level that I have the first Eleanor Friedberger album on CD and the second on vinyl? No, seriously, I'm asking, because I don't know. Really, the point is: I know I can buy the next Sleigh Bells album on vinyl. That will happen.) -- but it's also like thirty five dollars on vinyl, so screw that (ah ha! Reasoning emerges!). But when I paid ten bucks for the new CD and then some more money for concert tickets, I thought: OK so maybe I'm making back payments on all of the enjoyment I've derived from Give Up (particularly the first four songs from Give Up which I am most intimately familiar) (see? If anything, I am more poser than hipster. But come on, Give Up is frontloaded like a motherfucker, I don't care how much you love the "ba ba bas" on "We Will Become Silhouettes") over the past decade.

It would be a stretch to call this laying out of cash an investment, but it did wind up having decent return in terms of good feelings. Basically, everything about this show turned out better than I expected. I thought the opening band was going to be the Mates of State, which at once seemed deeply 2003-indie-rock-appropriate and exacerbated the feeling that I was paying premium ticket prices to re-experience the first few months of 2003 in a single evening (only without Rob!). But it turns out Mates of State handled Friday, while our Saturday band was Ra Ra Riot, who are contemporary! And who offhand I probably like more than Mates of State! The Postal Service reuniting also occasioned our first show attended with Kasia and Jon since the Dismemberment Plan reunited, which was probably the first one with Kasia since college. We were in a Postal Service zone of positivity, I guess.

But I'm still gonna roll my eyes when people pine for a Smiths reunion.

A footnote, or possibly a two-foot-note: Like I say above I last saw the Postal Service ten years ago, during my first spring in NYC. I also saw: Rainer Maria, Mates of State, and Palomar all together; the White Stripes with Loretta Lynn; and a slightly belated twentieth anniversary show from They Might Be Giants. Not all of those are on this LiveJournal because that's also when I started it: April 2003. Ten years ago.

I've been trying to figure out what, if anything, to do with it, since obviously I'm not getting much use out of it of late. I definitely think about posting here -- I think about doing my iTunes charts, my annual spring/summer album progress reports, my link-dump of movie reviews, and occasionally writing about movies that I don't get to write about other places. Oh, and sometimes a post about Nicki Minaj that I will probably Trip to Spain pretty hard (or just fold into one of those iTunes posts that I've started and stopped like six times in the past year). But among writing film reviews, working on fiction writing; screwing around on Twitter, writing emails to actual individual people (and/or groups of three to twenty-five), and updating LiveJournal, you can see what comes in last place quite consistently. But I do like having a place to collect my links and sometimes post setlists and such, and I should probably maintain a web presence that's more detailed than Twitter or Facebook and more controlled than clicking on my byline. I'm beginning to admit that maybe the solution to that desire/need is not a decade-old LiveJournal page.

But as long as bands like the Postal Service keep reuniting, I'm able to feel OK about putting off the figuring out of what the next thing might be.
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    Velvet Underground

Not So Great GoogaMooga

I did not attend the Great GoogaMooga festival in Prospect Park last year, and not just because of the massiveness of its name's stupidity. Food festivals are very rarely worth anything to me, even if they're free: how many times can you wait in line to spend ten dollars on a small meal before you (a.) get frustrated by the wait, (b.) run out of money, (c.) fill your stomach, or (d.) start wishing you were somewhere where you could just go and sit down and eat somewhere civilized? Like the ground or something?

I heard during the fact that film critic and Park Slope resident A.O. Scott hated the festival on principle, because it corded off large sections of Prospect Park that's usually public space for a ticketed (though, I'm pretty sure, free-by-lottery) event. I heard after the fact that people who attended it last year had a terrible time, due to exacerbated versions of (a.), (b.), (c.), and (d.) above, plus general incompetence on the part of the festival runners (I assume all of that overshadowed the stupidness of the name).

So, naturally, I bought tickets to GoogaMooga this year.

It made sense at the time! They announced an opening night paid-tickets component with full sets from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Flaming Lips. $60 tickets to this event seemed fair, even in this summer when it seems like every goddamned concert I go to costs $60, because both bands charge at least $40 if not more for their own concerts, and here I could see them together (and attend either Saturday or Sunday of the lottery-free portion if I were so inclined). Plus, there were plans to improve the festival. Booths would only offer one item, speeding up lines. Marisa was on board with this idea, and when I found out Derrick was heading this way that weekend, I sold him on it, too. We could eat some fancy unhealthy food and see two awesome bands. I saw virtually no downside.

As it turns out, it was a totally terrible idea.

The thing is, I don't really have any problems with how GoogaMooga was handled. I mean, I get A.O. Scott's point (reiterated this year) that it's just an indulgent mess, inviting all of these food vendors to sling their wares in a quarantined section of the park where normally people can go to get away from food vendors and city noise. And maybe I'm just a Prospect Park amateur, living in Greenpoint and spending most of my park time in McCarren, but this festival took place at a part of Prospect Park I had literally never seen before. I'm not saying this means the Nethermead Meadow isn't a big attraction for people who spend more time in the park, but Prospect Park is fucking enormous. Things happen in New York. That is one of the wonderful and sometimes unfortunate byproducts of living here. If you want to live near a park that never has ticketed events, there are many towns and cities in this fine country that offer this option.

Maybe that other-towns-and-cities thing could be the rejoinder for when I complain about traffic. But, seriously: traffic. Traffic delayed Derrick's bus for two hours, turning perfect timing for meeting him at Port Authority, going back to Greenpoint to drop our bags, and then heading to Prospect Park to meet up with Marisa and see the early-starting Flaming Lips into perfect timing for waiting at Port Authority, going straight to Prospect Park with his gear in tow, missing two thirds of the Flaming Lips set, and meeting up with Marisa, who missed even more of the set, due to the same goddamned traffic.


Here is the Flaming Lips set we saw:

Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (The Invisible Now)
Turning Violent
All We Have Is Now
Always There, In Our Hearts
---
Do You Realize??


Here is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs set we saw:

Sacrelige
Under the Earth
Bang
Mosquito
Art Star
Down Boy
Zero
Soft Shock
Subway
Cheated Hearts
Gold Lion
Despair
Maps
Heads Will Roll
---
Date with the Night

As Derrick pointed out, the YYYs have reached the point of being able to play all-killer no-filler sets. This one, drawing from pretty much everything they've ever released, was nearly worth the $60 on its own. It would have been fully worth the $60 if the band had seen fit to fill their allotted 90 minutes. To be fair, the 70ish minutes or so that they did play is pretty much exactly what the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play these days. I assume they played last more due to some kind of vampiric conditions that prevent them from being seen in daylight. Even so, it didn't seem a great use of time by the organizers: the Flaming Lips started crazy early (6:15PM! And on time!) with a de fact opening slot, and filled ninety minutes with no problems, then the Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrapped up twenty minutes early. I mean, I'm glad I missed the Lips rather than the YYYs. Frankly, the Lips set seemed pretty downbeat even when they weren't playing cuts from The Terror (I was surprised to see that we actually only saw them do two songs from that album; they just picked other songs from other albums that could be played in a similarly spare and funereal way) and their elaborate stage set-up wasn't very impressive-looking in broad daylight. But I would've been gladder if they worked it so maybe the main band doesn't start earlier than 7PM.


So we got some good pulled pork sandwiches and some bad vanilla milkshakes and watched a little Flaming Lips and a lot of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In the end, I didn't have a terrible time. Derrick and I and Marisa rolled with the punches and we saw a really good band kick some ass on a nice summer night. But before "Sacrelige" kicked in, it was kind of a mess.

This always happens, though, doesn't it? New York is not built for festivals. Yes, they have a couple of big film festivals, and yes, it has street fairs on the regular, and yes, that Governors Ball thing still seems to be going. But the traditional music festival just does not work, even when you try to sneak it in underneath food. So really, A.O. Scott shouldn't worry. This isn't going to become a festival town where every inch of our parks are co-opted by enterprising promoters. $60 for one band is about all of the ripoff NYC can handle.