Saturday, August 30, 2008

Northwestern Football Mini-Preview 2008

I didn't get excited about going to home college football games until after I had arrived at school last year. I got the field over an hour before the game and sat in the front two rows of the student section with new friends, and had one of the most important experiences of my year, even in losing to Michigan 28-16. I became a die-hard Wildcat fan that afternoon, and it carried through the entire season as I watched every game in the front rows or on television, even road tripping to Champagne, Illinois to watch our season-ending rivalry game with the Illini.

Yesterday, the Northwestern University Wildcats' 2008 football campaign opened with a win over Syracuse University. Senior running back Tyrell Sutton got his season off to a great start, hopefully erasing memory of an injury-ridden 2007 season, and the defense started well, even getting a safety to open our scoring. The first quarter didn't go so well, but we went into the half in the lead and never looked back. We depend on a senior offensive trio of Quarterback CJ Bacher, wideout Ross Lane, and Sutton to light up the scoreboard. Our defense last year was incredibly leaky, bleeding yards and big plays all over the place, and hopefully will hold better this year with a new defensive coordinator.

Here's our schedule for the rest of the season (home games in bold):

at Duke University
Southern Illinois
at Iowa
Michigan St.
Purdue (Homecoming)
at Indiana
at Minnesota
Ohio State
at Michigan

Looking at that schedule, the Wildcats need to win their first four games. We've gotten ourselves a lucky schedule once again, avoiding Penn State and Wisconsin. If results are the same as last year, we take wins at home against Michigan St., and away at Indiana and Minnesota. If that hold true, we end at 7-5 and are bowl eligible, but that's not what could happen in the best case scenario. We should have beaten Iowa at home last year, and they haven't shown too many signs of being better this year, and we definitely should have beaten Purdue away as well. It isn't likely, but we could head into Columbus, OH with a 9-0 record. In the absolute best case, we'd steal a game from the Wolverines, take our rivalry game with Illinois, and have an 11-1 record through the Big Ten season. Will that happen? Probably not. We'll probably lose at Iowa and either Indiana or Minnesota, and home against Ohio State. Besides that, I think we've got a pretty good chance in every home game, and could steal a win from Iowa or Michigan. All in all, I'd say we go 8-4 and run off to a bowl game. I know I'd be making the road trip wherever we'd be headed, and so would a ton of my friends.

I Know Everyone Is Tired of The Movie Movies...

Yesterday saw the release of the latest "spoof" movie Disaster Movie. In the past 8 years since Scary Movie came out, there have now been 9 films in the series. It started with the Wayans brothers, moved to David Zucker (of Airplane! and The Naked Gun fame), then to Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg for the Non-"Scary" Movies. Here's a list of the loosely tied together "series":

2000 - Scary Movie
2001 - Scary Movie 2
2003 - Scary Movie 3
2006 - Scary Movie 4, Date Movie
2007 - Epic Movie
2008 - Meet the Spartans, Superhero Movie, Disaster Movie

I don't know about anyone else, but this series is pretty much the worst ever made. I don't think a single one of them has a positive score on the Tomatometer or on IMDB. I'll be honest, I enjoyed Scary Movie and Scary Movie 2. They had the right kind of bad humor going for them, and at least they parodied horror movies for their blatant silliness. Even 3 and 4 kept a reasonable amount of the parody within its own genre.

Anna Faris legitimized the series to a certain extent, and when she left, the writers just went off the deep end. Things started to unravel to the point of lunacy in Date Movie, but there was still the mostly-genre parody only for romantic comedies. It was in the last four that things have just become absolutely out of control. Beginning with Epic Movie, there has been essentially no semblance of plot along with stupid parodies of recent films that had almost nothing to do with the genre. It's as though the creators of these recent ones just think people will laugh if you put a joke in with a reference to a recent movie, instead of creating context for the joke and a reason why their observation is funny in light of the original. There's no substance here, only recreation of moments from recent blockbusters.

Meet the Spartans starts with 300, but devolves into referencing Britney Spears shaving her head and including such terrible movies as Stomp the Yard and You Got Served, and borrowed its title from Meet the Parents, which has nothing to do with the haphazard, piecemeal, Frankenstein monster-like screenwriting that apparently occurred. It includes references to Nacho Libre and Snakes on a Plane, two at-the-time-recent but distinctly non-epic films. There's also an obligatory scene involving a Paris Hilton look-alike saying "that's hot" before being crushed by a woman falling from above.

The newest, Disaster Movie, might be the worst offender. In the trailer, it combines references to Enchanted, Hannah Montana, Sex and the City, Don't Mess With the Zohan, Juno, Hulk, Iron man, and Hancock. It even repeats the joke of Paris Hilton getting crushed by having Hannah Montana die under a huge rock and bikini-clad women getting killed. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but NONE of those are "disaster" movies. Hulk and Iron Man belong with superheroes, Juno and the Sex and the City girls have nothing to do with disasters, and those two are combined in a single scene which also contains the completely unfunny and unnecessary reference to Zohan. They are mocking jokes from films nobody even though were funny in the first place!

The Hannah Montana scene confuses me the most. It posits that the character wants fans to go out and buy "2 new albums" as she's crushed to death. Now while I understand that Disney has made a ton of money from releasing Hannah Montana albums, created a tour for those songs, released a film version of that concert, and then released a DVD of that movie of that concert in a Star Wars-like cash grab, but all of that possible commentary is completely lost in how lame the joke is. Couldn't it have been a list of what they needed to buy? It's just an unintelligent parody of what could be an interesting commentary. That's what is lacking all over the place, there's no thought put into these jokes to make them subversive or intelligent, they just are trying to ham it up and hope that people laugh.

The proper parody of disaster films is Airplane!; this is just a cruel joke gone horribly wrong. Check the reviews on RottenTomatoes: they're the worst I've seen since Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, the famed worst-reviewed film of all time on the site. The best to me comes from : "So ugly, unpleasant and devoid of laughs that the notion of releasing a film with such a title on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is actually one of the least offensive things about it." Good lord does that sum up how it looks.

The box office can't sustain this, can it? There must be some semblance of intelligence in the American viewing public to stay away from the horrific downturn these films have been for our culture. Here are the numbers in domestic box office grosses, rounded to the nearest million:

Scary Movie - $157 million
Scary Movie 2 - $71 million
Scary Movie 3 - $110 million
Scary Movie 4 - $90 million
Date Movie - $48 million
Epic Movie - $39 million
Meet the Spartans - $38 million
Superhero Movie - $25 million

I'm thankful that the grosses have almost uniformly gone down, and that it looks as those this series could soon meet its end in the same way the Hostel films did, but we've gone on too long with all of this. There are fantastic indie films that have had total grosses less than the opening weekends of these disgusting excuses for film. Disaster Movie is predicted to make around $13 million this weekend, which is extremely high for how bad the film is. I can't believe that people would be so mindless that they would go see this steaming pile. That's not to say mindless entertainment doesn't have its place, but even in the category of mindless entertainment this ranks one of the lowest. Please, do me and everyone you know a favor, and do not see Disaster Movie or any subsequent film by these men. It's for our own good.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Take Two: Echo & the Bunnymen

Among my absolute favorite 80s bands is Echo & the Bunnymen. Ever since hearing "The Killing Moon" in the opening credits of Donnie Darko I've loved their music, and their 80s albums all have different feels to them. Their drummer Pete De Freitas died in a motorcycle accident in 1989, and on either side of that death they've released five proper albums (frontman Ian McCulloch left the band in 1988 and they released an album with a different singer which doesn't really count since they reuinited in 1997). In the interest of preserving my 1980s image of the band, I'm only going to pick songs from their five albums of the 80s. Maybe we'll catch up on the uneven records of the 90s and 2000s some other time.

"Crocodiles" - I don't know why, but the title tracks of most of these albums are right around my favorites for each record. Maybe they actually titled their albums after one of the strongest songs, or perhaps it was just intriguing names each time. Either way, this song rocks out. It's a good calling card for their early style, straight forward rock with a little punk in there. They just went for breakneck speed here with McCulloch's gravely voice keeping up with the pace.

"Villiers Terrace" - Definitely a harbinger of sound experimenting to come. It's the most memorable song on the record to me, especially with all the drug imagery. McCulloch's lyrics got a little too weird towards the end of the 80s, but here he's very focused, very visual, very cryptic about the place he sings about.

Heaven Up Here
"Show of Strength" - Everything about this song fits together perfectly to me. The bass and drums are in tune with each other's movements, the guitar floats around and punches when it needs to, and McCulloch's vocals careen from a hoarse whisper to a bellow in an instant over the course of the song. The ending breakdown is fantastic as well.

"Heaven Up Here" - Probably my favorite track they ever did. The emptiness the sound disappears into on the track is awesome. The bass line thunders for the entire song, and McCulloch's wailing is in full swing here. Pete De Freitas' drums are going wild for the entire song as well. RollingStone rated this album their highest in their ranking of the Top 500 albums, and I think that's actually accurate. It's not their most popular album, but I really do think it's their most well-rounded and best.

"Back of Love" - A fantastic opening riff makes this another visceral Echo classic. This album was the hardest to record for the band, and the tensions that began here followed them for the rest of their career. This is probably my least favorite Echo record, but they still keep it together on a lot of these songs. McCulloch's screaming and the repeating guitar work really well in contrast, and the strings in the bridge give it an interesting change.

"Heads Will Roll" - Great acoustic opening, with a tinge of the eastern influence that hangs over the entire album. This album did feel a little bit too much like Echo trying to do the Beatles' eastern bits with English rock, but they rock harder to make up for it.

Ocean Rain
"The Killing Moon" - Ian McCulloch claims that this is a candidate for the greatest song ever written. I think it has enough to merit entrance to the conversation for the greats, with the fantastic imagery of the lyrics and the lush, fully realized instrumentation. Everything is timed perfectly in this song, and it comes out as though it took absolutely no effort. The sequence in Donnie Darko that used this song originally was to be scored by "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS, and I think that changing the song in the Director's Cut of the film weakened it a little bit. The acoustic opening and the first verse fit perfectly with that shot of Jake Gyllenhaal biking down a hill.

"My Kingdom" - Far and away my favorite Echo & the Bunnymen song. It's my favorite riff and my favorite lyrics of any song they've ever done. The record itself is only 9 songs long, but the final 4 tracks are just about the best things they've ever done. This is their most popular record, and "The Killing Moon" shot them to some degree of popularity, and deservedly so. McCulloch got a little bigheaded after this album, but for just a short time, they were riding high on a wave of critical and popular success.

Echo & the Bunnymen
"Bedbugs & Ballyhoo" - Echo mastered the slow build on songs like this. They're pretty much on autopilot for most of the song doing what they do best, but damn if it doesn't sound good. Don't try to make sense of the lyrics, they're nonsensical, but the blending sounds, especially when the saloon-style piano enters in the middle, are amazing.

"Blue Blue Ocean" - My favorite departure the band took in terms of their musical style. On this album they got much more into epic 80s synth-style sound, and this one was one of the few that worked for me. They've still got and underlying guitar there that's doing some pretty straight riffing, which is nice. The band was too far apart to survive after the recording sessions for this album, and McCulloch left the band after its release, leaving the band with the terrible idea of replacing their front man for one album before calling it quits for the rest of the 80s.

Honorable Mention Non-Album Tracks:
"Bring on the Dancing Horses" -This is pretty much the most covered song the Bunnymen ever made, and I personally really enjoy it a ton. McCulloch may have been hard to work with, and the rest of the band might have not gotten along really well, but they could write a single.

"Do It Clean" - This song can be found on the remastered version of their debut Crocodiles. You know how Bloc Party releases one-off singles in between records that are sometimes really awesome? Yeah, Echo & the Bunnymen did that twenty years ago with songs like this. Sure it's probably not the first time a band did this, but it's damn cool to hear awesome singles that have no album context to pay attention to sometimes.

There you have it, one of my favorite bands tracked in two songs per album. If you've never listen to them, maybe now's the time to try them out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Roy Keane Making Moves at Sunderland

Right around the time I started following international club soccer seriously, Roy Keane left Manchester United to play for Celtic. I never really got to see him play, but man did I read a lot of his fiery comments on Manchester United and the game of football. He and Eric Cantona are the two most important commentators on football to me, and Cantona's "Joga Bonita" ad campaign remains one of my favorite commercials of all time.

Since taking charge of Sunderland two years ago, he's brought the team to the English Premier League and kept them from relegation in their first season. This summer he made an extensive effort to sign a lot of new talent. In the past two months alone he's brought Djibril Cisse on loan from Marseille, striker El Hadji Diouf from Bolton Wanderers, three players from Tottenham(midfielder Teemu Tainio, right back Pascal Chimbonda, and winger Steed Malbranque), and today landed West Ham's Anton Ferdinand.

Keane has a history of ripping players to shreds, and one of his more infamous tirades was against Anton's older brother Rio at Manchester United. It seems that Keane has some respect for the players he lambasted at Man U and Celtic, though, because he's brough a lot of cast off players from those teams into his squads in his first two years in charge.

I like the challenging personality Keane had against Sir Alex Ferguson at Man U, mainly because SAF likes to believe everything he says, does, and thinks is right. Keane looks to be developing a nice managerial career, and they've started their first games 1-0-1, so hopefully all the transfers will pay off in the end. While I really want to see Chelsea back on top in everything this year, it would be nice for someone other than the Big Four clubs (Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool) challenge for the title, a Champions League spot, the FA cup, Carling Cup, or just something major. We're in need of a shakeup in English football, and maybe Keane's approach at Sunderland can provide it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm Going Radiohead Crazy: Get Your B-Sides Here + Take Two Update

You know that period of time after you see a band live where basically all you listen to is their stuff? Yeah, that happens to me really badly whenever I see a show. It's happened for The Hives, Interpol, Daphne Loves Derby, and most recently Radiohead. Last year, right after the release of In Rainbows, I tracked down a ton of Radiohead b-sides over at The Good, the Bad, & the Unknown. I think in light of my recent Radiohead binge I'd like to point people on over there to listen to the two b-side "albums" he made over there: Caisson Disease and Photographic Memory. My favorite things about his b-side collections are that the titles that are inverses of actual releases (e.g. Photographic Memory instead of Amnesiac) and the awesome custom album covers. Check them out, these tracks are just fantastic and are really hard to track down one by one.

And in the spirit of there being some "unofficial" albums of b-sides, I'll update my Take Two from yesterday.

Caisson Disease

"Maquiladora" - That guitar riff, man does that just epitomize the sound of the 90s to me. Hearing Yorke wailing over those dueling guitars is magnificent. I find myself wondering why some of these tracks didn't make the album, but then I remember that the albums are pretty much perfectly sequenced and pared down so there's no filler. These songs work as a b-side collection, but I wouldn't ever really want one of them messing up the images I have of the albums as they are.

"Coke Babies" - That fuzzed out ending is pretty sweet, and I love the semi-floating feeling of the guitar and the drums up until the fuzzing of the chorus. For a gruesome song title, its a pretty sweet sounding track, which is all the more sinister. Considering the amount of material Radiohead releases and the number of songs they hold over from session to session, they really do have an amazing back catalogue of b-sides from over the years. To be able to get multiple collections out of the b-sides is intense, especially when they form albums that dwarf other bands' actual recording output in terms of quality.

Photographic Memory

"Lull" - The shortest song I put on the whole list of Radiohead songs, but I love the guitar work here. All of these songs are culled from different sessions so it's a little hard to place these thematically with one record or another. Caisson is from The Bends-era, and Photographic Memory is from Ok Computer until after Amnesiac, so I'm not really sure where to place this song amongst the records, but I really like it on its own. After a couple more re-listens, the drums are fantastic as well. Short, sweet, simple, altogether not really the kind of track that Radiohead releases, but still awesome. It shows how well they'd do if they were just playing straightforward rock, but we know they're capable of much, much more.

"Talk Show Host" - In a list of my favorite songs of all time it's a all-out-brawl between this song and "2+2=5" for the Radiohead slot (I limit myself to one song per artist). The atmosphere, the guitar, the vocals, the lyrics, the Romeo + Juliet connection, everything just fits for me. The first time I listened to the song outside the film, my jaw dropped I was in so much awe of its beauty.

Okay, now I'm going to stop with the Radiohead overload and try to write something else for once. Just give me a few days or something.

Take Two: Radiohead

A while ago I was wondering what it would be like to boil down the albums of an entire career into just a few songs. Beyond that, what it would be like to only be able to choose a few songs off each album, making a different kind of "greatest hits" collection. Most of the time you like some albums in a discography more than others and would choose more tracks from there, but that's not the case with these posts.

I'm going to go back into some of my favorite artists who have released four or more albums, and pick two favorite tracks from each album to list. I'm not looking for "greatest" song or big hits, I'm just picking the songs I like the most off of each record. It's especially hard to do because you end up with songs that would be on the list if you weren't limiting yourself to only two songs per album.

Pablo Honey
"Creep" - Just because they hated the touring after their one mainstream hit doesn't mean it isn't a great song. Hell, it's an iconic guitar entrance at the chorus.

"Anyone Can Play Guitar" - Their debut is certainly their weakest album (there aren't too many worthwhile modern bands you can say that about...), but I still find myself coming back to this song when I'm in a Radiohead groove.

The Bends
"Fake Plastic Trees" - I'm a sucker for Thom Yorke beginning a song with just his voice and acoustic guitar.

"My Iron Lung" - One of my favorite opening riffs of any song, ever. People say that this album is what Radiohead would sound like if they didn't go down the creative rabbit hole of Ok Computer, but I'd disagree a little bit. This is a huge step forward from Pablo Honey and was probably just as much of a departure as any of their other albums. They hated the late recognition "Creep" got them and just completely turned away from that attitude.

Ok Computer
"Paranoid Android" - The epic, operatic centerpiece of the album to me. The legend goes that the band stayed up an entire night orchestrating all the instrumentation for the song, and then Thom Yorke heard it and laid down the vocals in one take. The lyrics in the breakdown (especially "kicking, screaming, Gucci little piggy") are some of the best I've ever heard.

"Exit Music (For A Film)" - Originally composed for the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack in the mid 90s (I can hear the play's influence a little bit in the verses), it shows off one of my favorite aspects of Radiohead in the shift from just acoustic guitar and airy noises to a bellowing bass shift that thunders through the track.

Kid A
"Kid A" - I keep picking some soft songs off these records, but damn if Radiohead doesn't do both extremes fantastically and blend them together too. This is probably my 2nd favorite record, and I love the masked vocals so much. Deciphering the words coming out of Yorke's mouth surrounded by the lush sonic landscape is simply beautiful.

"The National Anthem" - How can this cacophany immediately follow the title track on Kid A. What balls, Radiohead! My favorite softer song is followed immediately by their most destructive rocking, but then the horn section comes in. It's like rock mixed with experimental jazz, and then everything cuts out to let Yorke say his piece.

"Like Spinning Plates" - There's no hiding that this is my least favorite Radiohead album after Pablo Honey, and there are songs off Ok Computer and Hail to the Thief that would bump these two songs off, but they're still great tracks. This track debuts the opening effect that went on to open another great track on Hail to The Thief ("The Gloaming"), and to my mind it kind of represents the sound of spinning plates pretty well. It's a hyper-realistic experience to listen to Radiohead, espeically in a dark setting and a contemplative mood. These are records that make me want to bring back the days of just putting on some music and sitting down with friends, or alone, to listen through it.

"I Might Be Wrong" - This is definitely one of the tracks that separates Amnesiac as something more than a b-sides album to the Kid A sessions. Its got a great backing beat and guitar riff, and the style just feels all its own. That's one thing that always amazes me about the band: their ability to write songs and keep them gestating over multiple sessions, but still have a stylistically cohesive album that sounds as though it was all written at the same time.

Hail to the Thief
"2+2=5" - This is still probably my favorite Radiohead song of all time. I love the guitar being plugged in at the start, the incidental dialogue, the opening riff, the frenetic, gasping-for-breath ending, the otherworldly post-apocalyptic 1984 feeling it instills right from the get-go. This song convinced me to buy into Radiohead as a band, and for that it remains my favorite.

"There There" - Again I choose contrasting songs, this with a much more mellow track, but there's still a feeling of claustraphobia, trapped anger, some emotion waiting just beneath the surface. This whole album feels very alive to me, like its a time capsule for that time in 2003. It's one of those records I can throw on and feel transported to the past.

In Rainbows
"All I Need" - The bass and piano make this song for me. This entire song feels effortless to me, but it's so well crafted and executed. It may have taken four years between albums for the band, but man was In Rainbows worth the wait.

"Reckoner" - I haven't really mentioned Johnny Greenwood a lot and have been mostly praising Thom Yorke, but good lord do I love the little guitar bits here. The things that impress me most about the guitars in Radiohead's work is how subtle it can be, and the many uses they've found for a guitar. They don't use the traditional rock instruments in the same way that all other bands do; they're able to use a guitar to fill gaps instead of set the tone.

So there you have it, my inagural Take Two post. I'll be putting up another one of these later in the week for another artist, I've just got to choose from among the four album plus contenders.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Radiohead Rule Outside Lands (+10 Songs They Didn't Play)

I considered holding off on writing about Radiohead's set on Friday night until after the first Outside Lands Music Festival ended on Sunday night, but the fact of the matter is that there is nothing that can top that single performance. Yes, the promoters of Outside Lands have some serious traffic congestion and concert layout issues to address in Golden Gate Park if they want to hold a festival like this ever again, seeing as how they tried to have narrow avenues for 10-20 thousand people to move quickly from band to band (many resorted to knocking down fences and walking through the park). Yes, the sound went out completely, twice during Radiohead's set (in the middle of "Airbag" and "All I Need"), but the performance was still flawless. I've waited years to see Radiohead live, and when the Outside Lands lineup was announced in the spring I was waiting on pins and needles until Friday night. I saw only a masterful performance, I can ignore any small glitches or hiccups along the way.

My dad and I frequently talk about the merits of music from his generation compared to mine. To be honest, I find that people claiming there was no good music after a certain calendar year to be completely and total idiots. Someone that says nothing after 1969 or 1979 was worth anything in music can be silenced with the idea that nothing good in music came after 1900, or after orchestra and symphony music stopped being the biggest music "scene." Those time limiting arguments are useless, what remains is that there are important musicians and bands for every generation. However you want to put it, band like the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and the like are creative forces that outlive their time period. When I end up in a conversation about what band from my generation will live on, I always end up thinking of Radiohead.

There are bands that I personally like better than Radiohead, and there are albums and songs I connect to better than Radiohead's catalogue, and by that extension like better, but no other band in my experience has been more consistently incredible than the five men from Oxfordshire. They've mastered the art of deconstructing who they are as a band and building something new and fantastic every time. When I hear bands release new material they wrote in old recording sessions, I usually think it's of lesser quality. Where Radiohead is concerned, they hone songs over multiple album recording sessions, preparing it until it's just right in their minds, and then put it on a record where it fits right in as though its brand new.

The band might not play Pablo Honey live much anymore, and its pretty much their only album that rests below the stratosphere as far as quality is concerned, but I just can't name any other band that hasn't made a bad album. You can debate personal favorites all you want, but Radiohead is the most consistent band in the world right now. They are this generation's Beatles, thankfully without the mania.

It's at this point that I realize I haven't even talked about their set yet. They played a lot off of In Rainbows, which had only the small drawback of them not getting to play many songs off Hail to the Thief. Otherwise, they played a pretty perfect set. After the show on our ride back, I made a playlist of songs they didn't play in their set that I'd like to hear, and it was exactly the length of their set. There are no other bands of our time that can double a set list and maintain their quality in the way Radiohead can. It's astounding. Songs sprinkled in from their entire discography and were met by roars of applause at every turn. While their albums are so disparate, they seem to come together and complement each other perfectly when mixed together in a live set.

Their light show on this tour is just incredible. They performed surrounded in what seemed like a prison cell of fluorescent lights that turned all different colors throughout the set. When rain imagery was necessary, little blue light streaked down the bulbs to imitate rain, during "Fake Plastic Trees" they turned green, during "The National Anthem" they turned red, white, and blue. The set was an all-engrossing experience for sight and sound. The two giant screens on either side of the stage were fixed camera perspectives from places like their piano, the bass drum, Thom Yorke's microphone, and gave an other-worldly feel to the performance.

They mixed songs that bled into each other perfectly, hitting loud highs with "Airbag" or "Bodysnatchers" and diving low with thumping beats on "Videotape" "Idioteque" and "Everything in Its Right Place." It was especially wonderful to hear "Talk Show Host," one of my personal favorites from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. I was more and more excited every time a song started and I recognized that I was actually seeing the band play it live with sensory overload courtesy of the lights. I've been to concerts and loved them before, but this was one time where the experience of the live setting outweighed the daunting quality of the music itself.

It took a while to get to Golden Gate Park, even longer to get situated for Radiohead, and even longer to get back out of the park to our car after the show. It was a completely overpriced ticket considering how poorly handled the festival seemed to be by the promoters, and the layout of the fields was far too small for the number of people that needed to move freely around the park. But in light of the two hours dropped on the Bay Area by Radiohead, none of those complaints matter, I'm nothing but ecstatically happy about that performance. I now will be able to say I have seen the greatest band of my generation, and I'll do it with a huge smile of my face remembering just how great it was.

Set List:
15 Step
There There
All I Need
Talk Show Host
National Anthem
The Gloaming
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Karma Police
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Exit Music (For A Film)
Pyramid Song
You and Whose Army?
Paranoid Android
Fake Plastic Trees
Everything In Its Right Place

And just for kicks, here are the 10 best songs they didn't play on Friday night:

"The Bends" - They played some straight up rockers off of In Rainbows, but before they went down the rabbit hole, this was as hard rock as they got for me.

"My Iron Lung" - I waited and waited for this song's intro to begin in the dark, but it never came.

"Electioneering" - One of my favorites from OK Computer.

"Kid A" - Oh how I wanted to hear those little intro piano sounds, followed by miraculous electric blips and Yorke's tweaked out vocal track.

"2+2=5" - The first Radiohead track I really remember knowing was them, as well as the first album I purchased. It's a longtime personal favorite, and the 1984 reference and feel of the entirely of HtTT strikes a chord with me.

"Sit Down, Stand Up" - They didn't really have time for a lot of HtTT material, but man would it have been cool to see.

"Backdrifts" - The beginning swooshing electronic sounds could've gone with another track from the album, "The Gloaming." To me they sort of play as the good/evil electronic sounds on the album, with "Gloaming" sounding menacing but "Backdrifts" inviting.

"Go To Sleep" - It could've worked right in to the part in their set with "Karma Police" and "Jigsaw" because they had the acoustic guitar going.

"Where I End and You Begin" - I love this album so much, it's a pity they didn't play more of it, but when you have so much great material there's no way they could play everything.

"House of Cards" - The only song from In Rainbows I wanted to hear that they didn't play.

Honorable Mention: "Creep" - You know they're not playing it, but why not put it down at the bottom of the wishlist?

Well, there you have it. Radiohead in San Francisco. I guess I'll just have to desperately try to see them again in hopes of hearing some of these 10.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Breaking Down the Beijing Olympic Medal Count

The 2008 Summer Olympics are coming to a close, and there's a little controversy over who is winning the medal count. The US holds a 13 medal lead over China (102-89), but the Chinese have 47 gold medals, 16 more than the Americans. The question is, who wins the medal tally, and how exactly do we measure medals?

There is no official "winner" of the games, but to pretend that some in the world would use the dominance in the Olympics to signify political power is a little ignorant. China wants to win the medal count, badly. Not even the former Soviet Union implemented the kind of athlete farming China is pulling now. They're leading in the number of golds, but are behind in the total medals, which begs the question of who is actually "winning" the games.

It's a little silly to simply say the highest total medals is the best, because by that logic 10 bronze medals beats 9 gold medals, which just doesn't feel right.

For the sake of argument, let's assign a gold medal 3 points, a silver medal 2 points, and a bronze medal 1 point, and see how the totals shake out, unofficially, with around 40 medals still to be awarded.

Gold: 31 x 3 = 93 points
Silver: 36 x 2 = 72 points
Bronze: 35 x 1= 35 points

TOTAL: 200 points

Gold: 47 x 3 = 141 points
Silver: 17 x 2 = 34 points
Bronze: 25 x 1= 25 points

TOTAL: 200 points

So, if you break it down that way, the US and China are currently tied at the top, but what about those 40 remaining medals?
Well, the US is guaranteed at least 5 more silvers (or potentially golds) by reaching the finals in men's and women's volleyball, men's and women's basketball, and men's water polo, and the potential for a bronze medal in baseball. The bulk of the medals to be given out are in boxing and track, but most likely the US will end up winning the "total medals" race, but in this fake analysis the US would have to win gold in a majority of those 5 finals to be the "winner" of the games.

It still doesn't officially mean anything, and it's not as though they're going to give a trophy out to the country with the most medals or with the most weighted points, that's not the "spirit of the games." But if the US does end up on top, it means China didn't come through on its goal completely, and I was completely wrong in thinking that Plan 119, hosting the games in Beijing, and using less experienced athletes in Athens in 2004 would give the Chinese a definitive advantage in winning the medal count.

Outside Lands Music Festival Preview

Today is the start of the best musical festival to hit San Francisco in my lifetime. Last year was the first annual Treasure Island Music Festival, and it had a fantastic lineup including Modest Mouse, Spoon, and Built to Spill, but it was too late to really be considered a "summer" festival.

This year, Outside Lands will bring down the house in Golden Gate Park, featuring Radiohead, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and (unfortunately) Jack Johnson. It's the first time anyone has ever played a night concert in Golden Gate Park, next to the infamous Haigh/Ashbury district of San Francisco, and Radiohead is popping that cherry. Here are my thoughts about each day:


It's pretty much smoothe sailing as far as conflicts go on the first day. Steel Pulse has a set to open the festival at 5pm, and then I'll be moving around to see Cold War Kids and Manu Chao. The problem comes in at the beginning of Beck's set from 6:40 to 7:50. He plays across the grounds from where Radiohead will headline the night at 8, and there's no way to get a good view if I stay for the Beck set. I've seen the man before, so I'll probably end up staying for the very beginning and then booking it over to the main stage to get myself ready for the only show I've wanted to see all summer long.


With the second day starting a little after noon instead of at 5, more conflicts start to arise. Early on I'll probably see one of my favorite local bands Rupa & the April Fishes (who I wrote about last year, and then I'm faced with a difficult decision. Lupe Fiasco and M. Ward play pretty much conflicting sets. I've heard a lot of Ward, but I really want to see another Chicago rapper, so I'd probably take my chances with Lupe. Then Regina Spektor gets some time to herself with no real competition, and then another road block. Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals go up against The Walkmen for about forty minutes, but Harper plays for about a half hour longer after The Walkmen finish, so I'll try to catch parts of both sets. Most likely I'll end up skipping Cake and Primus conflicting sets to set myself up for Tom Petty, because that Super Bowl performance made me wish I paid more attention to him back when he played the Bridge School Concert.


The weakest headliner by far in Jack Johnson means finding other sets during the day, and surprisingly two stages close to each other provide the best entertainment for the day. Stars kick things off around 2, followed by Andrew Bird, The Cool Kids, Broken Social Scene, Rogue Wave, and Wilco. The other bands competing with them are probably okay, but that lineup straight through with no conflicts is damn impressive to me. Then if you'd like you can waltz on over to Jack Johnson and just chill in the San Francisco air, and take in the first big summer music festival in San Francisco. Here's hoping it's one kick-ass time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review: Bloc Party - Intimacy

Bloc Party is pretty much one of my favorite bands in the world. I've said that a lot of times on this blog, but now it seems like I say it more in defense than in pride. After a day spent spinning their new record Intimacy, it looks like I'm going to have to continue saying it for the former reason.

When The Raconteurs released Consolers of the Lonely, they were criticized for using their rapid release strategy to cover up a less-than-stellar album. Bloc Party's strategy of announcing an album Monday and releasing it three days later might have more to do with their second album being leaked three months before its official release than mediocre quality, but you have to wonder if more time might've given them some perspective on this record.

To a certain extent, the opening track of every official Bloc Party album can describe the quality and feeling of the entire album. Those three tracks ("Like Eating Glass" "Song For Clay(Disappear Here)" and "Ares") are world apart. Silent Alarm was a party throughout, Weekend was the aftermath of that party, and now Intimacy doesn't seem like it knows what it is. It careens through a bunch of different feelings, much more incoherent than its predecessors.

Kele Okereke has said that the album is the first to really be about personal experience, having been recorded after a breakup. To be honest, I can't really tell that's the case at all. There's nothing here that tells me it's a breakup album, or that it's more genuine in terms of emotion that past albums. Songs like "Sunday" off their last record were more compelling than "Biko" here.

I hate to say it, but Kele Okereke has really started to turn the band into his own show, and that's not at all a good thing. The strength of Matt Tong, Russell Lissak, and Gordon Moakes make up a fearsome trio that were on equal pegging with Okereke's lyrics on their first album, and managed to stay afloat over the course of the Weekend album and b-sides. Here, Okereke hogs the spotlight, and not even the fantastic drumming of Tong shines through.

Anyone that questions "Halo" as the best track on this record doesn't have any ears. It's the track that links the best through their career and seems to step forward at the same time. "Biko" holds interest for a while, "Trojan Horse" is another standout, and the album closes on a great note with "Ion Square." Even first single "Mercury" seems much better and less of a crazy one-off departure in light of the context of the rest of the album. What seems to be lost is the element that makes "This Modern Love" my favorite Bloc Party song: the ability for that dynamic shift from soft to loud, slow to fast, calm to frenetic. Bloc Party isolate themselves to one or the other on these songs, maybe dabbling in a tiny element of the other here and there. I still found a lot to like on the record, and I'm sure it will grow on me in the way A Weekend in the City did for me two years ago, but right now I'm sort of scratching my head a little bit.

Like with most bands, I get a little annoyed when people complain that they should do the same thing over and over again. These guys aren't going to produce Silent Alarm for the rest of their lives, and we'd hate them for hitting the same note too many times. That hypocrisy aside, I just don't like the stretching they've done here as much as I have before. There are little bits that impress, and "Halo" goes immediately up with their best tracks, but for a bulk of the album's 45 minute run time, I feel like Bloc Party sound a way they never have before: forgettable.

I'm going to come back to the album in a day or so and write more reactions, and I can see myself justifying a lot of the problems I have with the album right now. This just seems like how a lot of people will react to the album at first, but I'm a big enough fan of the band to see how it grows on me after a bunch of listens.

I Am A Meet Joe Black Apologist

I'm a sucker for contemplative, well photographed movies. Meet Joe Black wasn't very entertaining to most people, but I had my eyes glued to the screen for every minute of its three-hour runtime. I could care less that the director, Martin Brest, went on to make Gigli years later. With this cast, this film, he made one wonderful film.

Based on the old play Death Takes A Holiday, as well as the couple film versions since the early 20th century, Meet Joe Black depicts the relationship between an aging, extremely wealthy man named William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins), and Death (Brad Pitt). Death comes to take Hopkins during a heart attack, but while in the body of a recently deceased man begins to fall in love with Parrish's daughter, and stays Parrish's "execution."

Cue many wonderful sweeping shots of a youthfully innocent Brad Pitt walking through a mansion, Hopkins prattling off lessons about life, and wonderful shots of Claire Forlani as Susan Parrish, the beautiful daughter. This was before Fight Club, before Ocean's Eleven, where we got to see Brad Pitt look dangerously curious about everything he saw. Death is fascinated by everything he sees in the world of the living, and has a strange fixation for peanut butter.

I can't really put my finger on why I love this movie. I love the performance of Pitt, Hopkins, Forlani, and even Jeffrey Tambor as Parrish's son-in-law. I find the film wonderfully photographed in almost every aspect, especially in HD. The end party scene with fireworks is masterful, and it's hard for me to think that Brest moved on from this and thought Gigli was the next film he needed to make.

Things get a little hectic when you add in Susan's sort-of-fiance, the sale of Parrish's media corporation before his eventual death, and the commentary on the corporate world and what it does to aging professionals, but the central trio of Hopkins, Forlani, and Pitt keep me riveted all the way through.

The idea of Death learning about the world of the living, and about love is just subject matter that interests me. Death, inhabiting the body of an adult, acts like a child, but that smile on Pitt's face is sinister...probably because his job is to take people to their death. It's an odd choice, performing the task of the Grim Reaper and continuing life as it should, or giving it all up for the daughter of a wealthy man. The scenes where Pitt and Hopkins argue over whether or not Hopkins should stop showing Pitt the world and just die are priceless and superbly written.

Meet Joe Black struck the right chord with me in a difficult balance between comedy, romance, mythology, and philosophy, sometimes all in the same scene. It has things I'd love to be able to replicate in a story or a script, and some snapshots I can easily bring to mind the moment I shut my eyes. It's a commitment to watch the thing, three hours isn't easy, but I still find a lot to like in the behemoth of a genre-bender.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Bloc Party Album: For Once, I'm Nervous

As has already been reported all over the internet, Bloc Party sucker-punched everyone with the announcement that they will be releasing their third album Intimacy on Thursday, August 21st.

I read the article on Stereogum about an hour after it was posted, and then read every little bit of news I could find on the release. I'd heard that the band was doing a live web chat, which is where they made the announcement.

So, one day a while ago Kele Okereke shows up at a British radio station and plays "Mercury" for the first time, and now the band pops up and says that their album which was rumored to be released in very late 2008 or early 2009 would be coming out in just a matter of days.

Am I the only one really nervous about this? Bloc Party is one of my favorite bands in the world right now, but from hearing "Mercury" and its b-side "Idea for a Story," then the leak of "Trojan Horse" today, I'm very skeptical about the direction the band is heading. Take a listen to the newest leaked track at Bloc Party's MySpace.

I remember the first bit of backlash to The Raconteurs guerilla release was that it masked a sub-par album, and right now that's exactly what Intimacy is shaping up to be in my mind. I've loved almost every song Bloc has put out, but these last three songs just aren't hitting the right notes for me. I can't quite put my finger on the problem, but when I can put it into words I'll give it a shot.

At least we've only got a day left to wait before hearing it, but I doubt there's an album worth of b-sides waiting to be discovered like the greatest easter egg hunt of all time following the release of A Weekend in the City last year.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Off to College Playlist

In just a few short weeks college freshman will begin their first exodus to their respective campuses to begin their four years of "wonder" away from home, relying on on themselves. This year I'm helping to run the dorm I live in, and out President sent out a message about a "Going To College" mix. I made just such a playlist last summer as I was preparing to go to NU...but it was a couple hundred songs long, so I decided to make a new, whittled down version and describe it here for incoming freshman that happen to pass by this page. Enjoy, the playlist is attached at the bottom for listening.

The Hold Steady - "Positive Jam"
We're gonna start it off with a positive jam ladies and gentlemen. If you don't know these Minnesota boys, "the best bar band in America," you better start looking them up.

Sufjan Stevens - "Chicago"
There are three kinds of Sufjan Stevens people. First there are those that just don't like him because it's not their kind of music, and then there are others around the country who like him a lot. Then there are the residents of the state of Illinois who deify the man, thus ruining his musical talent a little bit for the rest of us with how annoying they are. Nevertheless, Chicago is a stone's throw away from Northwestern, so this little beautie is appropriate.

The Strokes - "Is This It"
It is said that The Strokes titled their debut album Is This It in response to how they dealt with the veritable mountains of hype that surrounded their early recordings. You might find yourself at times wondering why you thought something about going to college would be so important or stressful. At those times, this song is for you.

Be Your Own Pet - "Adventure"
Never, ever be afraid to go on a new adventure during college, be it a weekend road trip to a random place to a midnight (or much, much later...) excursion to the beach.

Ratatat - "Wildcat"
I seriously consider this song to be my own personal fight song for the Northwestern Wildcats. It has a sample of an actual freaking wildcat in it!

Girl Talk - "Set It Off"
People like dancing, people like mashup DJs. Girl Talk (aka DJ Greg Gillis) came to Northwestern last year and people have been riding that dance high since last winter. If you haven't heard of this guy, get ready to be intimately involved with his music at parties.

The White Stripes - "Fell In Love With A Girl"
Who knows, this could happen to you. Plus the music video features Lego animation directed by Michel Gondry, and it's absolutely astounding.

Vampire Weekend - "Campus"
Another semi-truthful love song, only this time it overtly refers to college. Some of you will undoubtedly feel the emotions described in this song, but don't worry, because you'll get over it after a few spins of songs like this.

Built To Spill - "Strange"
Stuff in college is strange. You don't need me to tell you that in order to have some sort of idea of what I mean. Things just aren't the same on a college campus as they are in the real world.

The Decemberists - "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)"
For residents of my dorm who remember a performance last year of this song, it has remained the one single song I enjoy the most over and over again to come from any Performance Hour. Fall in love with it for the first time if you've never heard it, or fall in love with it again.

Polaris - "Hey Sandy"
People love to talk about TV shows from their childhood, unless you just watched PBS and never saw anything good (Arthur and Wishbone don't count). This was the theme to a fantastic TV show on Nickelodeon that featured guest appearances from many indie icons, and starred the lead character from this music video. Know the show?

The Strokes - "You Only Live Once"
Take the title to heart, and enjoy every single last minute of the first week, first quarter, and first year.

They Might Be Giants - "The Beer Song"
Yeah, drinking happens. Surprised? This is one of my favorite TMBG songs, up there with "Particle Man" and "Instanbul."

Arctic Monkeys (feat. Dizzee Rascal) - "Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend"
Some things can be tempting, like all the usual things (drinking, illegal substances, hookups), but often times the third one comes back to bite you in the ass. Just be careful, and listen to the sweet rap interlude from Dizzee on this track.

Foo Fighters - "Everlong"
This song always meant savoring moments for me and remembering what I wanted to keep in my mind forever.

New Order - "Age of Consent"
A very sweet song to dance to, but the title and some of the lyrics carry an important message about age difference...

Pixies - "Where Is My Mind?"
This song plays over the end of Fight Club, and is pretty much the sweetest song off of the debut record from the Pixies. Sometimes during college you may be asking yourself the title question.

Radiohead - "Talk Show Host"
A very calming song for me, originally from the Baz Luhrmann film Romeo+Juliet. It was a great sound for that film, and it's a great kickback track.

Spoon - "The Way We Get By"
No matter what happens, there will be people in the dorm to help out with stuff. You really do get by because of the people living with you.

Elliott Smith - "Needle In The Hay
This song was famously used by Wes Anderson in his film The Royal Tenenbaums. It still gives me chills sometimes to remember how perfectly it captured a terribly sad moment, but it's still a heartbreakingly beautiful song.

Weezer - "Pink Triangle"
Mistakes happen sometimes, and you need to get used to that. This song just makes a mistake funny and a little pitiful at the same time, which pretty much sums up Rivers Cuomo.

Radiohead - "Exit Music (For a Film)"
Another one originally composed for the R+J soundtrack that found its way onto Ok Computer, a beautiful ending song that I can just drift away while listening to on my headphones.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I Thought This Only Happened To My Parents' Bands...

In the past couple weeks, two bands that I really like have broken up. Be Your Own Pet announced they were parting ways a few weeks ago after the end of their UK tour. I was upset because I really like their two albums, but they're young kids and I'm sure they'll do something worth listening to in the coming years. I just regret never getting to see them play a live show, that would've been rad considering how wild they sound on their albums.

The more unsettling breakup was last week's announcement that Wolfmother had split, and that the lead singer planned on recruiting new members for the band while the bassist/organist and drummer formed their own band. They'd only released one stellar throwback of an album, and it'd been long enough where me and my friends were wondering what was keeping them from releasing a second album. I didn't think that in-fighting was the reason keeping them from recording.

Coupled with the breakup of The Format a while ago, I'm getting more depressed about bands I like breaking up. I wasn't really old enough to understand Rage Against the Machine breaking up, but I always thought of this stuff as what happened to all those 60s bands my dad liked. I hadn't yet made the connection that all the bands I like wouldn't age like the Stones or U2 and just keep making music forever and ever until I was willing to let them stop. I guess this is what keeps the good bands timeless, the ones that were good while they lasted and didn't stick around long enough to tarnish what made them great in the first place. I've got my own thoughts on the idea of band reunions, but that's for another post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Once Again, US Men's Soccer Disappoints...

Early this morning the US Men's Olympic Soccer team lost to Nigeria 2-1, eliminating them from medal contention. This is the latest in a series of really bad disappointments from the Men's National Team since their quarterfinal run in the 2002 World Cup (which should have been a semifinal run or more, the Germany game is still a mockery of officiating).

I hate to say it, but we still have not learned to properly compete on the international level. We've got players with talent, a slowly but surely emerging league (the MLS is adding Seattle, Philadelphia, and most likely another Canadian city in the next 3 years), and some of our best players are in the best leagues in the world. Jozy Altidore now plays with Villareal, Adu with Benfica and now on loan at AS Monaco. Even Damarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan, the two young promising stars from the 2002 Cup are still very good players.

We brough a mysterious U23 team to the Olympics, just like everyone else, with a few exceptions like keeper Guzan and Brian McBride. We played terribly in the first match, but still snuck through on a goal from Holden to beat Japan 1-0. We thought maybe this team of youngsters could pull something off. They fought back from a goal down against Holland to lead the game 2-1 in the final ten minutes, looking as though to go through to the quarters where they were expected to fail. Then...the usual team USA showed up. Freddy Adu got his second yellow in as many games, suspended for the final group game, and then was removed by coach Piotr Nowak, leaving nobody in the midfield to hold the ball away from the Dutch. Michael Bradley got it into his head to waste a ton of time around the 90th minute, and got himself a second yellow card in two games, suspending him for the thrid group game as well. And finally, the very same Holden that saved us against Japan made a costly foul in stoppage time to lead to the Dutch tying goal, screwing the US out of the win they deserved, and making the last group game against Nigeria a "can't lose" situation.

I'm not sure how the US would do in "must win" situations, but I know one thing: when all we have to do is tie, we always find a way to lose. It's incredible the kind of crap we get ourselves into when all we have to do is hold out for once.

All we had to do was hold for ninety minutes against Nigeria, one of the fastest teams at the games. We just had to settle in, not concede an early goal, and maybe carve out some possession to keep the Nigerians from cutting us up on the wings. Four minutes in, another typically American bonehead move cost us composure. Michael Orozco elbowed a man in the chest right in plain sight of the center referee, getting himself a red card. Playing a man down and without Adu or Bradley, the US allowed two goals to Nigeria before staging a desperate attempt at a comeback, leading to a Sascha Kljestan penalty kick and a Benny Feilhaber header off the crossbar.

Seeing the comeback fall just sort of the tie we so desperately needed just amplified how much we set ourselves back with the loss of Adu, Bradley, and Orozco even before the game really got started. The team shot themself in the foot once again, forced to play from behind in an insurmountable fashion.

Over the past six years we've failed spectacularly when everyone is watching. The 2006 World Cup was horrific in the opening loss to the Czech Republic, the two red cards against Italy, and Claudio Reyna's bum knee and Oguchi Onyewu's non-penalty against Ghana. Now with the collapse against Holland and playing from behind against Nigeria, I doubt the composure of any American team to compete on the highest level.

It's as though the run in 2002 didn't give us confidence so much as heap pressure on our team to the point where they are crushed under the stress. I don't really understand it, but with hope the senior national team can learn to relax, and perhaps play out the rest of World Cup qualifying with some ease, hopefully going to South Africa in 2010 with a new frame of mind.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Olympics So Far

I've been watching a lot of the 2008 Olympics, definitely more than I expected to. I stayed up to watch both US Men's Soccer matches, watched a ton of swimming, and have even watched a little of diving and gymnastics among other lesser events. Here are just a few reactions I've had:

NBC needs to stop putting "LIVE" on its broadcasts to anywhere but the East coast...because they're pre-recorded telecasts that are parading as live. Last night's 200m Freestyle was a perfect example. It was a live telecast at around 10pm Eastern Time, but was not broadcast on the West coast until three hours later, depriving a large viewing audience of the thrill of the live race. I'm just a little upset that NBC thinks they'll get higher ratings by rebroadcasting later when people are more likely to watch when they haven't found out the results on the internet.

This story is one in a long line to me that the Chinese Olympic officials just don't understand that you cannot be perfect. That level of tampering in order to acheive a perfect image is scary. We're talking V for Vendetta and Brave New World scary. It's adjusting and fine tuning an image to such a degree that we don't notice what's beautiful, only the huge amount of flaws. Shoving aside protesters and dissenters, not allowing full media and journalist coverage in the way that was promised, these are things that show they are too self conscious. The Opening Ceremony looked very nice, but they spent $300 million on it. A lot of things will look nice when Zhang Yimou is given a $300 million dollar budget to direct a performance, but what country has enough money to waste on PR like this?

I don't know, maybe I'm just at a cultural divide, but I'm just concerned that we're losing sight of the societal stories that were big before the Olympics. Pollution is still there, the treatment of Tibet is still afwul, and we're focusing on Phelps chasing Spitz and the Chinese Gymnastics team instead. The medal count is irrelevant to me, the US doesn't finish first every time (only in the past 10 years have they been dominant in the Summer games), especially when you consider the Winter Olympics. Why then is it a big deal if China tops the medal count? It's not a political statement to have more medals at the Olympics, there are still things wrong that can't be hidden by staging an elaborate Opening Ceremony.

On more sport related notes, I couldn't care less if Phelps matches or beats Spitz's record of 7 golds in swimming, he's a fantastic athlete and he represents the country well.

The men's soccer team put themselves in a terrible position to qualify for the quarterfinals with a 2-2 tie with Holland. Losing Freddy Adu and Michael Bradley to yellow card suspensions for their final group game against a very quick Nigeria team won't help either. Bradley got his yellow for time wasting after the 90th minute, an absolutely boneheaded move.

Team handball is kind of cool, but man is that Brazilian women's goalie annoying when she thinks she's winning. Good thing Hungary scored a last-second goal to tie it.

Week 1 belongs to swimming and gymnastics, Week 2 belongs to track. I'm just not sure how long China can keep up medal dominance when I've never heard of a Chinese track athlete doing well.

If softball, baseball, soccer, and other obviously athletic sports and competitions are in danger of no longer being Olympic events, then there's no way that a ton of the shooting events should be in play. A ton of these less athletic and less exciting events have a ton of medal categories whereas soccer, softball, baseball, water polo, and other team sports only award one set of medals to men and women. It seems a little bit weird to me that we've added these crappy events and don't change them as much as the big sports. I understand that the Olympics are the big competition for those "sports" and soccer, baseball, basketball, and the like have more important professional or international trophies, but the Olympics are still where these big world sports belong.

I'll probably have more reactions as the results come in, so I'll write more on the Olympics as they continue.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Am an Accepted Apologist

I am a little ways away from returning to Chicago for my sophomore year of college. I watched the application process happen up close two years ago when I was a junior in high school, went through it myself a year later, have watched friends go through it in the past year, and now my younger brother is just entering the cycle of doom for himself.

I didn't think it was that stressful when I went through it, but looking back on applying to college and that whole process, I hate it with a passion. I'm mostly upset that two years of my academic life in high school was not centered around learning material, but trying to look good to colleges on applications. I think it robs you of some freedom, a lot of fun, and the ability to relax and enjoy some potentially really good years.

Before the tornado really got going at the beginning of my senior year of high school, Accepted came out at the end of August 2006. It was light, funny, but not a great film. What was great about it was the message and the feeling of the film. It wasn't a pressure-cooker of college fright stories, it was exactly the attitude towards applying to college and going to college that those with too much pressure in the college process needed to see and hear. If I had it my way I'd show it to every rising high school senior in the country as a relaxation tool.

Justin Long is great as a lead in Accepted. He works better on the fringes of films like Dodgeball and Live Free or Die Hard, but here the same character works as the center of the story. His character Bartleby doesn't get into college anywhere, and decides to create his own to fool his parents. Trust me, no matter how sure someone is that they will get into college somewhere, they all have a fear of not getting in anywhere. I always just plain enjoyed the premise, because it was a passing thought I never gave much creedence to, but Accepted fleshed out the fantasy with reasonable success.

Jonah Hill has perhaps his best performance outside of Superbad in this film as well. I'd put this over Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, and even his hilarious bit part in The 40-Year-Old Virgin just for his likeability. Along the lines of bit parts, a before Gossip Girl-fame Blake Lively plays Bartleby's love interest, and she isn't half bad. It even has Lewis Black as the dean of the made up college, the South Harmon Institute of Technology, making their college regalia emblazoned with SHIT.

The plot doesn't really make sense when parents, a Harvard-esque college looking to expand its campus, and a few too many students get involved, but for light-hearted fun that has a good message about college acceptace it's pretty good. The film resonated with me at the perfect time in my life, and too far on either side of that window I think the film wouldn't work if you saw it for the first time. I definitely reccommend it to anyone about to start applying to college, or someone who's just gone through it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

New York Magazine Tackles the August Movie Graveyard

This week New York magazine is taking an in-depth look at movies released in August. I've always referred to this month (along with September, January, and February) as giant graveyards for studios to dump low-quality films or movies they just don't know how to market. That being said, there are always one or two quality flicks to come out of these couple months, and I'm glad the magazine has recognized that as well.

(Random side note: why greenlight or pay for a film you don't know how to market? If a studio ponies up the money to produce a script, they should be aware of what audience they're going for, or have some kind of contingency plan in place to target some section of the market. They don't skip out on marketing costs, these studios put up tons of money a year in advertising, so why do some legitimately great movies get lost in marketing. This issue never frustrates me enough to consider going into marketing, I just bemoan the hiding of great films due to a bad job done by studio advertisers.)

They've got two articles up: one charting the history of terrible films and diamonds in the rough from August 1993 to the present. The other is "A Theory of Awfulness", which examines why the August phenomenon has come to exist, and a possibility to better it for the future.

Most people are quick to point out that not every other month has a large supply of great films, and that's true. It's just that August, September, January, and February have the lion's share of craptacular movies. August gets the most terrible movies because schools are still out for the summer and some folks are still taking vacations, so they can attempt to squeeze "Well, it's the only thing playing that we haven't seen.." dollars out of some wallets.

And sometimes those diamonds in the rough shine incredibly bright. A few of my favorite films like Collateral, Hero, and Superbad were released in August, but they were one of the very few movies in that particular August to actually be good films. The desparity between films in these months is incredible: you've either got one or two films that would be great regardless of its release date, and then a ton of crap dumped by every studio so nobody associates their studio name with a crappy film.

I've only got one issue with the New York feature. In listing crappy August movies, it's a little unforgiving to some light, entertaining films that I probably apologize for (Accepted, Stardust, Airheads, okay I'll admit it, Air Bud), and claims that some terrible pieces of crap were good August films (Bring it On? Blue Crush for crying out loud???) I think 3 categories are necessary: Diamonds in the Rough, Light Entertainment, and Unforgiveable Crap. Sure there's still going to be debate, and the terrible movie months will have more than their fair share of bad movies, but people like a light piece of fluff that isn't terrible but isn't heavy intellectual lifting from time to time, no matter what the month.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Live: Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band @ Amoeba Records

Bright Eyes is one of those bands that I feel most of its fans don't understand. If you looked at the fanbase for the Conor Oberst moniker, it's mostly teen girls, but if was to describe Oberst's song writing, the one phrase that always comes to mind is "beyond his years." The music never really fit the age that followed it; I always figured that the girls were locked onto his appearance and hadn't really understood his music. Critics maligned Oberst for his youth following, and for never following through on his "next Bob Dylan" tag they stuck on him when he emerged from Saddle Creek at 13.

In 2005 Obherst released two albums of material on the same day, offering two directions his career could go. Down one road was Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, featuring collaborations with Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, electronic meddling, and a more youthful record. Essentially it was the album-length equivalent of the experimenting Oberst did on "Lover I Don't Have to Love" from his previous record, which had earned him legions of young, lovelorn fans just beginning to grip the "emo" label. Down the other road was the Emmylou Harris backed I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, a folksy, mature record that just felt right for Oberst. Not to say Digital Ash didn't have it moments, but it was clear that Oberst had finally found the clear direction he needed on IWAIM. Tracks like "Train Under Water," "We Are Nowhere and It's Now," and my personal favorite "Road To Joy" sounded like a contemporary of Harris, not a twenty-something.

On his follow-up Cassadaga Oberst attempted the growing up he needed, and fell just a bit short. He had shifted to more folk-rock, but the youth-courting hit "Four Winds" hung on the album like "First Day of My Life" did on Wide Awake, both good songs, but both carrying the lingering tag of young singer/songwriter.

Now Oberst is on the verge of the release of his first "solo" album in years (technically Bright Eyes is a solo band, but the shift from moniker to his actual name carries some weight). He's gone soft, gone quiet, retained the midwestern sensibilities, and hopefully has completed the shift to being seen as an adult songwriter. He may be embracing the Dylan comparisons a little bit, but it was an unfair connection to draw from the start - Oberst does the electric rock and acoustic folk in about equal numbers, but he has a more personal and less universal aura about him. That's just my opinion though.

For the album Oberst went down to Mexico, recording with the Mystic Valley Band, and that's exactly who showed up with him when he played an in-store gig at Ameoba Records in downtown San Francisco this past weekend. They tore through an 8-song set of exclusively solo material (with one Dylan cover, but come on, its Conor Oberst), and it was satisfying to see so many multi-ear-piercing-and-dye-job kids looking disappointed with the adult direction he's taken as a musician and a songwriter. I really hope this is the record to give him recognition as the almost 30-year-old man he is, and not stuck permanently stick him as a teenager who refused to grow up in his songs.

Take a look at the last song of his set, and check out the setlist below.

Cape Canaveral
NYC - Gone, Gone
Souled Out!!!
Smoke Signals (Non-album track)
Corrina, Corrina (Bob Dylan cover)
Lenders in the Temple

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Most Painful Conflicts at Lollapalooza 2008

I go to college in the Chicago area, but I'm home for the summer working, so I can't go to Lollapalooza this year. Oh well, I'll just go to Outside Lands here in the Bay Area and get my Radiohead live fix then.

However, my girlfriend will be working the lounge at the Hard Rock Hotel for Lollapalooza this weekend, apparently getting to schmooze with some big time bands. Consider me jealous. In honor of that, I figure I'd write a little bit about the festival.

With most of these big multi-day, multi-stage, gaggle-of-bands festivals, there are some conflicts between two or more awesome bands playing at the same time. Lolla08 is no exception, and here are the worst offenders for most difficult decisions.

FRIDAY - Bloc Party OR The Raconteurs OR Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Between 6:15 and 8:00pm

Bloc Party is perhaps my favorite live band, and one of my all-time favorites to listen to. Jack White is a great stage presence, and the last time the Raconteurs played Lollapalooza they had a fantastic set. Stephen Malkmus is coming off another great album and is an indie-rock legend.

So who should you see? My hand tips toward Bloc Party, because they're concert is the most fun I've ever had watching rock music, and one of the few times people have actually danced for a rock band's entire set. Plus, they're probably debuting some new material, which is always sick to watch live. Also, going by the schedules, you could watch both Bloc Party and Stephen Malkmus instead of just seeing The Raconteurs and being all the way on the other side of the festival, risking missing some of Radiohead's set which is on the same stage Bloc Party plays on. Play it safe and stick with Bloc & Malkmus.

SATURDAY - Broken Social Scene OR Battles OR Lupe Fiasco - 6:30 to 7:30pm

Do you see a supergroup from the Great White North? A math-rock powerhouse quartet? Or one of Chicago's Big Three rappers?

Broken Social Scene are always a pretty cool show, but some of their members are currently touring as Stars, so it's a little unclear whether its the whole brood or just whoever isn't off doing something else. That's the one problem about seeing the band live, they're unpredictable about members.

Lupe is known to give great hometown shows, and has been at the top of his game. He's one of the few rappers I can listen to, because I just don't really like the genre. I definitely enjoy his rapping a lot more than I do a huge amount of rap, though.

Battles is one of the best math-rock bands out there, and don't let the genre name turn you off to them. They're a tight, rhythmic, electric quartet full of high-energy tracks.

Who gets the nod this time? Well, BSS is missing members, so they get knocked down just a tad and are out. Between Lupe and Battles, I'm going to have to go with Lupe. Battles may be a better experience, but even with fellow Big Three Kanye West headlining Sunday night, Lupe is still performing to a hometown crowd that will make his performance so much more amped up.

SUNDAY - The National OR Girl Talk OR Flosstradamus OR Gnarls Barkley - Between 6:15 and 8:15pm

The National have been riding a buzz high after Boxer made a ton of top 10 lists for 2007, and with good reason. Gnarls Barkley had a legendary summer two years ago after the release of their debut, which culminated in a Lollapalooza performance. Girl Talk is the best ADD DJ around, and he's just put out what I think is his best record in Feed The Animals. Flosstradamus is spinning for two hours, and was such a surprise playing at Northwestern's Dillo Day that he made it up into this battle.

Gnarls has had their time at the top, so I think they're not the top of the list here. The National have had enough buzz, but they're still really, really solid. Flosstradamus put on a great show at Northwestern, but they're playing for 2 hours, so you could just see them in passing the other groups.

My suggestion is to start at Gnarls for the opening tracks, then run over to Girl Talk's set, then head over to see the end of The National, hearing some Flosstradamus along the way. Sound like a plan?

So there you have it, my guide to conflicting sets at Lollapalooza 2008. I could've covered Wilco v. RATM or Kanye v. NIN, but it's pretty obvious you should see Rage and Kanye because one isn't touring and the other is in his hometown closing the festival; those aren't hard choices to make.

As a final gift, here's my playlist for the festival featuring many of the performers. Enjoy.