Tuesday, February 19, 2008

BJ Novak: A Personal Encounter

Saturday night was a big one for me. I got to see B.J. Novak perform at Ryan Auditorium at Northwestern with a sell-out crowd of 600 people, then went on to a fraternity event that started terribly but ended fantastically.

Whereas other events I've seen put on by student run production groups, this one went off essentially without a hitch. The opener (Dan Mintz) was great as a deadpan comic, and that was a perfect contrast to Novak's energetic approach. I had my reservations about seeing a man who is great as a TV writer do standup, but in the first five minutes of his act Novak made my waiting outside the Norris box office two hours before opening to get tickets completely worth it.

The meet & greet afterwards was crowded and quick, and I had an event to get to for my fraternity, so I sort of pushed his act out of my mind for the rest of the night, until around 2 in the morning when I ended up at the house of a bunch of seniors, where Novak was partying with some of his siblings.

Having a celebrity visit your campus is one thing. Having that celebrity show up at a house party with a bunch of guys you know is quite another. I heard a story that Mitch Hedberg did something similar a few years back, although I assume he was drinking and using a lot more than Novak.

Novak didn't have to show up that night. The writer's strike was over, he was already back to work, and his performance at NU had been delayed multiple times because of work conflicts, but he came out and performed anyways because of the fervor the campus had been sent into when tickets went on sale. For him to go out and party with students at houses and a bar in Evanston was just the cherry on top. With Girl Talk and B.J. Novak as the last two events on campus, maybe we're finally going to get some more cool events here at NU.

Monday, February 18, 2008

(Hopefully) A Return to Form

I thought that Heath Ledger's death would get me back into writing, but I've still neglected to post in the past 3 weeks. Full disclosure: I am currently pledging a fraternity, which eats away at most of my time. It's awesome, but it's a real time-sink, so I haven't been able to write as much as I would like.

Like I posted about before, I started writing for North By Northwestern, an online news site here at Northwestern. I also got some free press from them a day or so ago, which was nice. Besides my article on Ledger and my review for Vampire Weekend below, I've written a review of a Girl Talk show here on campus, and a piece about movie relationships for Valentine's Day. Check 'em out if you feel like it.

In other news, I haven't posted some new songs in a long time, so here's some post-Valentine's Day indie rock for you. Gimme Fiction is my favorite Spoon album, though they seem to be aging like a fine wine.

The other song is by a Swedish singer/songwriter who goes by the name of Hello Saferide. For Northwestern students, the name is shared by our unreliable late-night transportation service, but she's a fantastically simple musician. For some reason I've lately had an obsession with small indie singer/songwriters, which all started with this girl. The song is definitely a bleak view of the day, which until this year I would've shared. At any rate, I like both songs, and I felt the need to post.

Spoon - The Two Sides of Mounsieur Valentine
Hello Saferide - Valentine's Day

Look for a post in the next couple days about last weekend's featured performance from BJ Novak of The Office. You can find an interview with him here, but I'll wait to tell my own personal story about the night later.

Review: Vampire Weekend

This article originally appeared on North By Northwestern

Most of the time, bands don’t get too much mainstream press before they actually release an EP or album of material, but New York outfit Vampire Weekend isn’t your everyday band. The quartet of recent Columbia grads broke all over the net with an EP last year and got so much buzz before the release of their debut that Rolling Stone put one of their songs on their Top 50 of 2007. Heavily talked-about bands from NYC like The Strokes and Interpol have endured this kind of premature media attention with varied results, but now that a record has finally been released, count Vampire Weekend among those that have survived the hype and put out a seemingly effortless and wonderful record.

The band is led by singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig, who paints various northeastern scenes with his lyrics throughout the album. The band is clearly influenced by Afro-pop, with African-tinged beats and elements on almost every song. Bands have included this element before, most notably Dispatch, but Vampire Weekend uses the Afro-pop style in a completely different way.

Vampire Weekend eschews traditional indie-rock, opting instead for a very pop-oriented sound. Their songs are, at first glance, very stripped-down. Koenig’s guitar doesn’t hang around in lasting chords, but pulses in staccato sounds over a snaking bass line and thumping drums. Songs like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Mansard Roof” exhibit the African influence very clearly, but always subtly, in an element snuck into the back of the production. Album standout “A-Punk” boils down the best parts of the band’s style into a single, two-minute piece, and its accompanying video is evidence enough to show that low-tech styles have re-invigorated the art of the music video. The song and video are a simple kind of pretty, washing over the audience with an assured calm of its high quality.

While most of their songs appear to be very simple, there is always one buried element that makes the songs stick out. A string arrangement here, electronic sounds there, a little garnish on every song that elevates the track into a realm of originality. Vampire Weekend hasn’t crafted a masterpiece of a debut, but they have given themselves a great blueprint to work from. The album would be very easy to put on and listen straight through, not realizing it has finished, then wanting to immediately put it back on and listen through again. It’s too early in the year to think about what will stand in December, but Vampire Weekend’s first record is a very good starting point for the band, and hopefully is a sign of great things to come.