Column 134: Mid Year Report; Reviews: Film Streams, St. Vincent; Vampire Weekend/LotM/Sad Sailor tonight…
First an apology for the extreme length of this entry. I’ll get to the column in a minute, first a look at last night’s show at Film Streams. How exactly do you review a movie theater? I guess you consider the environment, the seating, the picture, the sound, the whole experience. Taken as a whole, Film Streams gets four stars.
The facility has a classy, simple elegance, with its gorgeous lobby designed in the same concrete-glass-and-steel modern-Euro style as Slowdown. Clean lines, big windows that look out to the street. I didn’t get a chance to test the ticket window as entry was handled entirely by a guest list. Instead, the ticket booth was being used to film “testimonials” about the facility and the concept of Film Streams (Interestingly, Slowdown also has a ticket window, but I’ve never seen them use it). No idea on concessions as complimentary popcorn and soda were handed out. I didn’t see anything unique in the candy counter, but really, I’m not looking for anything beyond Milkduds. Eventually, the theater is supposed to also offer Blue Line coffee and baked goods. I’m not sure how that’ll work (actually, I’m not sure where Blue Line will be located in the new complex, I just know it ain’t open yet).
Onto the important stuff: The auditoriums. They were pretty much what you’d expect from a new, modern theater — high-back seats with drink holders, plenty of leg room (though, like every theater I’ve been in, still a bit tight for me, which is why I always sit in an aisle seat). Picture and sound were, of course, immaculate.
If I have a quibble, it’s with the large auditorium. The seating is done in typical “stadium style” — rows climbing up at a steep angle — a welcome innovation in theater design. The problem is that the screen seems hung too low. The best seats are in the middle rows. If you go too high, you feel like you’re looking too far down to the screen. If the auditorium were my living room, I’d either get a taller screen (probably not possible due to the theater’s width and aspect ratio issues) or move it up about 10 feet (there’s plenty of room to do that). The smaller auditorium has more traditional (non-stadium) seating, and feels more intimate. I kind of like it better, actually. The screen seems huge, and as a result, the best seats in that aud are in the last row (though, because the narrow slope of the rows, you my have a problem if you’re sitting behind someone with Marge Simpson hair).
Film Streams is doing another Alexander Payne presentation tonight for special guests, then tomorrow is opening day, with Seven Samurai playing in the big theater (Payne might introduce it?) and La Vie en Rose in the small theater. The long-term plan is to have the first-runs in the big aud and the retrospectives in the small room.
So how was La Vie en Rose? I knew next to nothing about Edith Piaf before going to this. I still don’t know much about her afterward, other than she lived a rather horrible, painful life that started drenched in illness and poverty and ended drenched in illness and loneliness. Along the way, there was plenty of great music and lots of morphine. Since the film is non-linear in nature, you don’t get a sense of story so much as a sense of being — not for who Piaf was, but what she was like. Great performances, especially by Marion Cotillard as Piaf (though she doesn’t do the actual singing in the film). Ultimately, it was an utterly depressing two hours of film, as you watch Piaf experience one personal horror after another, ending with her death at age 47 of liver cancer (which isn’t explained in the film). In French, with subtitles. If I were a movie reviewer, I’d give it three stars.
Speaking of reviews… I got out of Filmstreams at around 10:30 and high-tailed it to The Waiting Room in time to see St. Vincent. My take: She’s going to be as big as PJ Harvey. Maybe bigger. I was under the impression she’d be playing solo, but instead, had a three-member band in tow — a violinist, bass/keyboardist and drummer. Frontwoman Annie Clark impressively handled the lead guitar herself, with a tone reminiscent of Jack White’s work in White Stripes (though she varied between hard-edged fuzz and a gentler sound). When she ripped into the heavy stuff, the music was cathartic. I stand by my earlier opinion that her voice is similar to Carly Simon’s, especially on the more laid-back tunes, while it became chipped and PJ-like on the hard numbers (To give her vocals more dynamics, she switched between two different microphones — a standard mic and one piped through an effect’s pedal). After finishing her set, she came back alone to do a cover of Nico’s “These Days” sitting on the edge of the stage with an acoustic guitar, surrounded by fans bent close to hear her quiet voice. A star is born. See for yourself when she opens for The National at Slowdown in September.
Now onto this weeks column. Like I said earlier this week, I didn’t listen to a lot of music in Cape Cod, but I did on the flights out there and back.
Column 134 — Mid-Year Report
A glance at the first half of ’07.Like our overblown, underachieving movie industry, so far indie music in 2007 has been a year of sequels, but with big question marks attached. Can Arcade Fire match the austere genius of its debut? Can Spoon keep its streak alive after the break-out success of 2005’s Gimme Fiction? Does Bright Eyes have what it takes to keep the ball rolling (toward musical maturity)? Has Modest Mouse turned its back on the weird brilliance of their early records? Here’s my take on the biggest (but not necessarily the best) indie releases so far this year.Arcade Fire — Neon Bible (Merge) — With “(Antichrist Television Blues),” Win Butler has declared himself a modern-day Bruce Springsteen. I beseech anyone to listen to this song and — in their mind — replace Butler’s beaten-child warble with The Boss’ brassy New Jersey croon and not think of that upbeat era of Springsteen from the ’80s just after he discovered Nautilus. It’s one of the record’s standout tracks, along with “No Cars Go” and “The Well and The Lighthouse” and most of the second half of the disc (after the rather droll, overly produced first half). I still like the debut better.Modest Mouse — We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (Epic) — Ah, for the days of dirty madman splendor that were Lonesome Crowded West, back when these guys could stretch out on head-case ballads like “Heart Cooks Brain” or “Styrofoam Boots/It’s All Nice on Ice, Alright.” Sure, “Dashboard” is a fun, kick-drum-driven dance track in a Franz Ferdinand sort of way, but do we really need another fun dance band (or even one Franz Ferdinand)? Nice knowing you, Isaac.Wilco — Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch) — I don’t like Wilco. Never have. Little bit too hick-jam for my taste. But I like this record. A lot, in fact. This is a departure for Tweedy and Co., who throttled back the twang and opened up something genuine and richly melodic and slightly overcast. I’ve heard Wilco fans whine that it’s too laid-back. Well, they can go back and spin Yankee Hotel Foxtrot again while I enjoy the dark-blue tone of songs like “Either Way” and “Impossible Germany.” This is Tweedy’s Sea Change, which means, like Beck, it’s also the best thing he’s ever done.Spoon — Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge) — Not hugely different from Gimme Fiction. Maybe a bit more thought-out, but ultimately, just another bouncy Spoon album in a series of bouncy Spoon albums that stretch back to 2001’s Girls Can Tell. And then there’s “The Underdog” — with its handclaps and horns, it might be the best song Britt Daniel ever recorded, thanks, in part, to Jon Brion’s production chops (but, sadly, only on this track).The National — Boxer (Beggars Banquet) — You could say they’re a newer, fresher version of Interpol, with the same militaristic drums, the same rich, droning vocals, the same elements that forced people to compare Interpol to Joy Division (whether they sounded like Joy Division or not). The difference is The National’s variety of sound and song (a quality that Interpol too often lacks) and the willingness to soften the edges with piano or a cushion of synth strings, or a simple acoustic guitar, something Interpol would never consider (nor, I suppose, should they).Interpol — Our Love to Admire (Capitol) — People were quick to discard Antics as just another disappointing follow-up, only to later realize just how good it was. This is the one that deserves that sense of disappointment. You get the classic Interpol rhythmic thrust, their usual chugging, echoing guitars and Daniel Kessler’s trademark Ethel Merman-esque bark. Missing, however, is the starkness of melody, the dismal pall of bleakness that was so irresistible in their debut. Songs like “The Heinrich Maneuver” and “Who Do You Think?” would have you dance rather than mope. Sometimes I prefer moping.Bright Eyes — Cassadaga (Saddle Creek) — Yeah, you already know all about it. But three months after its release it bears revisiting. It’s still not as good as Wide Awake or Lifted, but it’s growing on me the more I isolate the songs from the over-the-top production. Rumor has it that Conor may be stripping the sound down on the next one. It could be a revelation (or a naked emperor’s curse).LCD Soundsystem — Sound of Silver (DFA) — The album explodes out of the runway with opener “Get Innocuous” and never reaches that level of pure-build dance-itude again (though it comes close on the title track, whose fortune-cookie lyric is more disturbing than revelatory). Still, nothing here is as good as “Yeah (Crass Version)” or “Daft Punk…” or the genius “Losing My Edge,” which is why the debut is still the one to own.Once — Original Soundtrack (Canvasback/Columbia) — This soundtrack to one of the best movies about music that I’ve seen in a long time is a postcard reminder of the film’s finest choke-up moments, much in the same vein as Magnolia‘s soundtrack (minus the Supertramp songs). If you’re smart enough to see this indie gem before it leaves The Dundee, you’ll pick up this album the next day and wonder what happened with those two crazy kids. Kind of sappy; absolutely gorgeous.
Tonight at Slowdown Jr. it’s New York’s Vampire Weekend and Omaha’s own Landing on the Moon along with special guest Sad Sailor, a new 7-piece improvisational, psychedelic, group featuring Brian Poloncic of Tomato a Day. Get there early to check them out. $7, 8 p.m.
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