It’s shocking: no matter how I try, I can’t seem to get more than one post done a month. Anyway, thing’s are going to be changing a bit in the next few months–which means that I’ll either be able to finish this soon, or I’ll never finish it all… Here’s Part 3, for what it’s worth (and parts 1 and 2): Read the rest of this entry »
Did I say I would finish this in a few weeks? I suppose I must have meant “a few months.” Whever I start in a project like this it always ends up taking far longer than I anticipated. Anyway, here’s part 2, and I fully intend to post part 3 later this week… beyond that, we’ll just have to see what happens.
By the way, you might want to read part 1 first, if you haven’t already.
Last week, the quadrennial media extravaganza that is the United States Presidential Primaries kicked off (as tradition dictates) in the small, increasingly unrepresentative state of Iowa. The result was anything but conclusive: a virtual three-way tie between arch-conservative Rick Santorum, libertarian standard-bearer Ron Paul, and chronically underwhelming front-runner Mitt Romney. New Hampshire’s primary yesterday did nothing to resolve the issue. Romney did a bit better, and Santorum did a lot worse–which is exactly what you would expect given the demographics of the state–Paul continued to exceed expectations, and no-shot Jon Huntsman posted a surprise third-place finish.
All this has really proved is that the Presidential nominating process is broken. There are plenty of things wrong with the nominating process (such as a calendar which grants undue influence to a handful of small, demographically anomalous states), but I’m going to step up and point to the most fundamental flaw in the Presidential primaries: the political parties themselves. The political media gives nearly all of its attention to candidates from the two major parties, giving those parties unprecedented opportunity to shape the political discourse. To make matters worse, in Presidential election years, the media spends months covering the primaries–contests dominated by partisan activists. George Washington cautioned against the dangers of partisanship in his Farewell Address, more than two hundred years ago. Today, the Democratic and Republican parties have become so entrenched as to be almost their own branch of the government.
During my life time, the Democratic Party has moved generally towards the center, while the Republicans have embraced increasingly extreme conservatism. On the whole, this has had the effect of moving the political discourse farther and farther towards the right. The political parties have too much control over who is granted the status of a ‘legitimate’ candidate–and, consequently, what opinions and ideas form the American political conversation. A non-partisan presidential primary (like those used for state and federal offices in California, Washington, and Louisiana) would reduce the influence of the major parties and increase the opportunities for third-party and independent candidates, as well as those who do not fit into their party’s ideological boxes.
Let’s look at how a non-partisan primary might change the dynamics of the 2012 presidential election. The biggest beneficiary of a non-partisan primary would be centrist candidates, like Jon Huntsman, and eccentric candidates like Ron Paul, who could potentially build broad coalitions across party lines. But it’s not just moderates and centrists who might benefit from a non-partisan primary: some progressives have been calling for a left-wing primary challenge to incumbent Barack Obama–no one has actually tried to run against him because they wouldn’t have much chance of winning, but in a non-partisan primary that might be different. A progressive challenger would only need to come in second to advance to the general election, and since progressives make up more than a quarter of the electorate, that’s not such a far-fetched possibility. In any event, a non-partisan primary could provide an alternative between the increasingly inevitable choice between a pseudo-progressive and a pseudo-conservative.
Since late last year I’ve been wanting to put together a list of the best (or at least my favorite) movies of the last decade. Or, rather, the period from 2001-2010 (inclusive). Why? Well, 2001 is when I first started to watch movies seriously–I’ve kept lists of the best movies I’ve seen every year since then. In the intervening time period this list has grown from 20 films (much to few) to 50 (I hope you won’t be too bored). I’m going to post this in five parts over the next few weeks.
I’m not going to make any claims that this list is exhaustive or definitive; it’s heavily based on my own judgment and taste–and (obviously) limited to the movies I’ve seen. Hopefully this list won’t be too predictable, and may even inspire you to seek out some films you haven’t seen yet, or reexamine some that you had dismissed. You may detect a common theme in some of these selections, it’s one of my favorite themes in film.
And so it begins…
I know I haven’t been contributing to this blog very much. For any of my friends who might be wondering if I’ve dropped of the face of the Earth, I’ve been alternately taking some much needed relaxation after five years of college and working on an exciting new project that you’ll be hearing more about in the near future. For more info on that you can check out deeppresent.com. Now that I’ve finished school (for a while at least) I hope to be able to get more involved with other projects. For starters I’ll be overhauling my personal websites, estimatedprophet.org and martiansource.com, over the next couple of months–look out for some new stuff there. I’m also going to try to post on this blog at least once a week, starting with a new feature I’ve been wanting to write for over a year: an overview of the best movies I’ve seen in the last ten years, the first part of which will hopefully be up in a week or so.
I’ve covered a lot of ground with this blog in the past… and that’s not something that’s likely to change any time soon. So today I’m going to tell you about a remarkable resource for anyone interested in audio production: recordinghacks.com. They have an extensive and ever-growing database of information about all kinds of microphones. And it’s more than just a database; they also do cool things like this incredible ribbon mic shootout, and giving away a different microphone every month this year.
I can’t really describe how awesome this site is (at least if, like me, you think audio recording is awesome). You’ll just have to visit it for yourself and find out.
Inspired by this project compiling clips of every number 1 single into one track, I’ve made this overview of the catalog of one of my favorite bands of all time: the Grateful Dead.
This 12 min, 40 sec mp3 contains snippets of every song (more or less) recorded by the Grateful Dead during their 30-year career. It’s a fascinating illustration of the band’s evolution from the psychedelic rock of the ’60s to their mature, unique sound of the ’80s. If you happen to be familiar with their catalog, you’ll notice that that songs don’t appear in the order they do on the albums; instead, they’re presented in the order that they first appeared in the band’s setlists.
Download and listen here (12 mb): http://www.martiansource.com/archive/music/gratefuldead.mp3
Continuing my recap of Furthur’s summer tour, here’s my review of last night’s show at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:
The show opens with a sweet little jam which leads seamlessly into Feel Like A Stranger. Stranger is very loose and open–this is going to be a big show for jamming. After Stranger comes Shakedown Street (the Band’s printed setlist had these two reversed.) Shakedown, like Stranger, has lots of sweet jamming, but, also like Stranger, never really catches fire. The band isn’t as energetic as they were last night–but their playing is spot on.
From Shakedown, they jump straight into Alligator. I haven’t heard John Kadlecik sing Alligator before–I’m not entirely sure I’m satisfied with it. But, vocals aside, this is an excellent reading of a Grateful Dead classic–with a new twist: instead of a high-energy jam ramping up towards the usual Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks), this version gradually gets quieter and quieter… until it just disappears.
Next up is Money For Gasoline, a new Weir composition. I’m really excited that Furthur is doing this song; when I first heard it with Ratdog a couple of years ago I thought that it would be a great song for him to do with The Dead. This is a smooth, mellow version with some very nice jamming in the middle. I like the direction that Furthur has gone with this song–it seems much fuller and richer than the Ratdog arrangement.
Money For Gasoline is followed by another new(ish) song: Magnolia Mountain. Magnolia Mountain is a Ryan Adams ballad introduced into the Phil & Friends repertoire when Adams was their lead singer–Phil has kept it in rotation in all the subsequent lineups of his band. A fan on the PhilZone discussion boards once described this as the finest Hunter/Garcia song that Hunter and Garcia never wrote. I can’t think of a better way to describe this sultry ballad fairly dripping with poetic imagery. John turns in a fairly incomparable performance here.
Lost Sailor. Wow, this has been a really mellow set so far. Not that I’m complaining–all the songs we’ve heard are pretty mellow (or at least they work that way), it’s not like the band is tired or sluggish; in fact, they’re even tighter than they we’re last night. Los Sailor is one of the few true Weir ballads, and this is one of the finest versions I’ve heard. Bobby’s vocals are better suited to songs like this then they have been at any time in his career.
As tradition dictates, Lost Sailor is paired with Saint Of Circumstance, and I don’t think the transition between these two songs has ever been smoother. Perhaps it’s because this version of Saint is a bit slower than normal. But despite the slower tempo, this song still packs plenty of power. There’s an irresistible drive behind this version that I haven’t heard in some of the faster paced versions.
Midnight Hour continues the same mellow, yet irresistible groove that was driving Saint Of Circumstance. Midnight Hour makes a perfect conclusion to an excellent first set. This is a totally different band than the rollicking rockers we saw last night–but no less exceptional for it.
A long, spacey jam leads into a long, spacey Mountains Of The Moon. Awesome explorations and some nice vocals from Phil–what more can I say? From Mountains they jam smoothly and seamlessly into Saint Stephen. Stephen is mellow and solid. Phil misses a line during the bridge, the crowd bursts into raucous encouragement, and the band launches back into the song with renewed vigor–a perfect Grateful Dead moment. There’s a bit of an ‘Eleven’ tease during the jam. I can’t really put my finger on it, but, like with the Slipknot last night, there’s something about this Saint Stephen that doesn’t sound exactly like any one I’ve heard before.
Saint Stephen is followed by Blues For Allah. With its off-kilter rhythms and unorthodox melody, Blues For Allah is one of the Grateful Dead’s most overtly weird songs. They tried this out in Brooklyn at the beginning of this tour–and it didn’t really work–but this time it really gels. The Grateful Dead took this song to some awesome places the few times they played it in 1975, and this version explores some of the same territory.
From there the band moves smoothly into a Terrapin Station jam which leads to the concluding At A Siding/Terrapin Flyer portion of the Terrapin suite (they skipped over the first two parts). The Terrapin Flyer jam is excellent, upbeat, energetic, bouncy, with just a hint of dark undercurrents. A brief reprise of the Terrapin jam takes us into Let It Grow, one of Bob Weir’s epic barn-burners. This may not be the most intense version ever, but it’s got that irresistible driving quality that’s been present throughout the show.
There aren’t a lot of songs that can top a Let It Grow, but Morning Dew is one of them. Morning Dew has been a Grateful Dead standard for 43 years–it is one of the band’s most iconic songs–and anyone who still doubts that this band can match the heights of the original Grateful Dead should listen to this performance. It is one the sweetest, most powerful, most moving Dews that I have ever heard (if you don’t believe me, just listen), and it builds to a towering crescendo to…
Wait a minute, they’re not done yet? Far from it. Next up is Lesh’s classic Unbroken Chain. This one is intense–there’s nothing mellow about it. From the powerhouse jam section, to Kadlecik’s emotion-drenched solo at the end, this is one of the most powerful versions of Unbroken Chain they’ve ever performed. Then they segue into The Wheel. This is a top-notch performance–everyone is spot-on and the song flows along with an unstoppable groove. At this point I must again mention Joe Russo’s incomparable drumming: he combines the very best elements of the original Grateful Dead drummers into a single unit, and the effect is spectacular.
What could possibly be a better way to end a set like this but with Not Fade Away. The band is on fire, everyone playing off of each other in perfect synchronization in the ultimate Grateful Dead experience. And finally, the Brokedown Palace encore caps the evening with the perfect bittersweet note. Bobby delivers plenty of emotion, and John’s sultry, soulful solo sends us sweet and stately on the way back home.
Overall, this was a very different show than the previous night: much more mellow (except at the end) and with much more exploratory jamming (although there was a lot of great jamming the previous night too). I think that tonight’s performance was the better of the two (by a very narrow margin), but I liked the first night’s song selection better, so for me they’re just about even. Taken together, these shows formed a magnificent conclusion to a very strong tour, and may be the best shows these guys have played in close to twenty years. I can’t wait to see them in September.
P.S. Many thanks to Taperrob for making these shows available so quickly. Your service to the Deadhead community cannot be praised enough.
For those of you who don’t know, Furthur is a band composed of former Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, Dark Star Orchestra (the preeminent Grateful Dead cover band) lead guitarist John Kadlecik, veteran The Dead and Ratdog keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, and Bay Area drummer Joe Russo. Furthur is, most fans would agree, the best post-Jerry Garcia incarnation of the Grateful Dead legacy. In my opinion, they’re playing better now than at any time since Bruce Hornsby left the band in 1992. And they are just wrapping up a two-week tour of the northeast. For some time I’ve been at a loss what to do with this blog, now I finally have an idea: I’ll be bringing you my thoughts on the recent Furthur tour, and the Deadverse in general. (Which is certainly appropriate given the title of this blog–if you aren’t a deadhead, look it up.)
Thanks to the incomparable efforts of the taper community, most of the shows from this tour have been made available on the Internet Archive within a few days after the show. With last nights show, however, one awesome taper went so far as to post a stream of the show while it was still going on! (Posting the first set during intermission, and the second immediately after the show was over.) Making it was possible for people like me to enjoy this show the very same day–even all the way out here on the west coast (isn’t the internet amazing?) So, for today, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on last nights show at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tomorrow, I’ll give you all a review of tonights show (the last of this tour), then, over the next few weeks, I’ll recap some highlights from this tour. And, come September, I’ll bring you updates during the band’s west-coast tour (i’ll personally be attending the September 21st show in Los Angeles.) I’m not sure what you’ll get in the interim–but I’ll think of something.
And now, I give you a song-by-song review of Furthur at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia, PA on 7-10-2010:
The Golden Road gets things off to a fine, high energy start. This is the quintessential sixties-hippie-party song (it was the lead off track on their first album in 1967)–so when they open with it, you know that your in for a fun time. This version is smokin’ and you can tell the band is firing on all cylinders. Before they start, Phil apologizes for the late start; explaining that one of their equipment trucks ran off the road, and the crew had only about three hours to get everything set up (not a much time if you know anything about producing live music). You can tell that the band wants to make sure the fans will have a good time tonight.
After the rollicking intensity of The Golden Road, the band mellows things out with a sweet version of Here Comes Sunshine from 1973’s Wake of the Flood. This version is solid and silky-smooth, but it’s not really one of my favorite songs.
Things start to heat up again with Jack Straw, one of the Dead’s best rockers. This version is as powerful as they come–it might be the most powerful version they’ve played since the early ’90s. From an explosive climax emerges the groove of Muli Guli, a new collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. This is the fourth time they’ve played this song, and it’s finally coming into its own. It’s great new material like this that make me glad these guys are still playing together.
Muli Guli leads smoothly into Dear Mr. Fantasy–a Traffic cover that keyboardist Brent Mydland brought to the Grateful Dead’s repertoire back in the 1980s. Dear Mr. Fantasy was prized as a showcase of both Mydland’s passionate vocals and Jerry Garcia’s soulful lead guitar. John Kadlecik lives up to the legacy of both in this version.
Next up is Corrina, a Bob Weir composition from the early 1990s that received a less-than-enthusiastic reception from fans at the time. I really want to like this song; I think it’s one of Weir’s most unique and creative songs–unfortunately, most of the versions I’ve heard suck. (Although there is an awesome version from 1992 and a very good one on the 1998 Other Ones album.) This one doesn’t: the band really has a great groove going, thanks largely to Russo’s inspired drumming, and a great groove is exactly what this song needs to make it work.
From there, the band launches into the Rolling Stones classic Satisfaction, proving that they can still rock out as hard as ever. I’ve got nothing against this song, and this version has some interesting touches, but every time I hear it I think that I really wish they’d try Gimme Shelter sometime.
Finally, the first set wraps up with Viola Lee Blues, bringing us right back to where we started: 1967. While this one might not be as stretched out as some fans would like, what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in intensity. Overall, an excellent first set.
Things start off kind of mellow with a laid-back Playing in the Band that soon veers off into uncharted territory. This version, loose and exploratory (and complete–not segueing into something else) is very reminiscent of the awesome PITB jams from 1973-74: it takes us to the edge of space and then brings us all back down to earth in the way that only the Grateful Dead can.
Just when you thought this band couldn’t get any better, they pull out Althea, one of Jerry Garcia’s finest compositions off of 1980’s Go To Heaven. Althea, like Corrina, is a song that only works if the band can really get into the groove, and tonight they’re doing that to perfection. Everyone is absolutely on, and the groove comes together in a spectacular climax. Listening to this version, I can almost believe I’m listening to an early version of this song circa 1980.
Next up is an old one: Cassidy, from Bob Weir’s 1972 solo album. In the mid-’80s, Cassidy became a sort-of minor jam vehicle that showed up late in the first set. This version is solid, but really nothing special.
Now we come to the high point of the second set (probably of the entire show): China Cat Sunflower> I Know You Rider. This combination has been a cornerstone of Grateful Dead setlists since 1969, and has been legendary among fans since it appeared on the Europe ‘72 live album. And this is version is one for the ages. The band is riding the groove (as they have been all night) going from a picture-perfect China Cat to a driving Rider that builds to a towering crescendo.
But wait, the set’s only half over! China> Rider is followed by another legendary jamming vehicle: Eyes of the World. This version covers all the bases, from the uptempo, almost out of control jamming found in early ’80s Eyes, to the more mellow, jazzy improvisations found in early-mid ’70s versions. Eyes disintegrates into formless, spacey jamming (the first real Space we’ve heard on this tour), which leads us into Days Between–the last, and one of the best, Hunter-Garcia collaboration. This is one of the few Jerry Garcia songs where I really like Weir’s interpretation. I think he is able to imbue this song with an intensity of emotion that equals that of Garcia himself. This version is particularly intense: Bobby pours his heart and soul into it, and the band is right there behind him, pushing the music to new levels of emotion.
What could possibly follow that? Perhaps nothing other than a Help/Slipknot/Franklin’s Tower sequence. Remember when I said that China/Rider was the high point of the show? Well, I may have been mistaken. From Days Between, the band sidles into Help on the Way. Help is intense, with an unstoppable groove. The current arrangement has Bob and John trading verses, but I’d like to see John take this song on his own. Help slides smoothly into Slipknot, a truly unique version unlike anything I’ve heard them do with this song before. Finally, they wrap things up with a groovy (haven’t I used that word a lot in this post?), incomparable Franklin’s Tower. This is one of the finest versions I’ve heard.
After all of that, almost anything would be a disappointment. The One More Saturday Night encore feels formulaic, lacking in the enthusiasm that infused the rest of the show. (Phil comments before the encore: “It’s saturday night, so you know what we’re gonna play…”) It would have been nice to have them pull out something unexpected for the encore, but I’ll take what I can get. Overall, this show was one to rival anything that the Grateful Dead ever did… I can’t wait to hear what they come up with tonight.
Blogging is hard. Well, not exactly, but it’s much harder to find the time to maintain this blog than I had expected. That is why it has been three weeks since I posted the first part of my top ten movies of 2009 list (the list was finished some time ago). Here, at last, are my top five movies of 2009 (you might want to check out numbers 10-6 too):
5. The Brothers Bloom
Rian Johnsons impressed everyone with Brick, his debut feature about a Los Angeles teenager trying to solve the murder of his girlfriend… well, he impressed everyone who actually bothered to see it, so it’s no surprise that his highly appreciated followup was a box office flop. Nevertheless, The Brothers Bloom is a brilliantly stylized, intelligently written, and highly entertaining thriller which leaves nothing to be desired. Like Brick, The Brothers Bloom is built on its characters and their relationships, and the titular brothers form one of the most memorable pairs of shysters in the catalog of con-men. The younger Bloom (who forms the heart of the picture) is a magnificently constructed character, wonderfully impersonated by Adrien Brody. He, along with Rachel Weisz and Mark Ruffalo, bring Rian Johnson’s beautiful visions to life.
4. The Princess and the Frog
In 2004, Disney announced that they would produce no more traditionally animated feature films, now, five years later, they have rescinded that dubious promise, and in doing so they have secured the future, not only of traditional animation, but of the Disney company’s reputation as a purveyor of the finest quality family entertainment. The Princess and the Frog deserves to placed alongside such timeless Disney classics as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, One-Hundred-and-One Dalmatians, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; and hopefully, like The Little Mermaid, Princess and the Frog will launch a renaissance of (traditionally) animated Disney feature films. But The Princess and the Frog is so much more than just another Disney animated classic. Much ado has been made of the fact that Tiana is Disney’s first African-American princess, but there is more significance to this film than just some overdue minority representation–The Princess and the Frog is Disney’s first truly American (rather than European) folk tale. (And no, I don’t count Pocahontas, which was really all about the Europeans.) Tiana’s story is the quintessential American dream: to find happiness and prosperity by following your heart and believing that your dreams can come true. (And I should also mention that Princess and the Frog is one of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful animated films I have ever seen.)
3. Whatever Works and Synecdoche, New York
New York holds a hallowed place in the history of cinema–it has been the setting of spectacular musicals (West Side Story), gritty human dramas (Midnight Cowboy), brilliant comedies (Trading Places), and riveting thrillers (Inside Man). One defining characteristic of those movies is that they wouldn’t have been the same–may not even have been possible–if they were not set in New York City. The same is true of the latest films from two of the city’s greatest (and quirkiest) interpreters: Woody Allen’s Whatever Works and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. In Whatever Works, Woody Allen has created one of his finest and most endearing stories, that of a naive young woman who helps an old misanthrope discover how to love again. Whatever Works is Woody Allen at his best: quirky, lovable characters, improbable situations, and snappy dialog, all steeped in the ambiance of the City that Never Sleeps. Synecdoche, New York, on the other hand, is the exact opposite: it is the story of a man who becomes increasingly lost in himself, until finally even his family and friends seem to have forgotten him. But like Whatever Works, Synecdoche, New York, is Charlie Kaufman at his best: dark and uncertain, mixed with equal measures of hope and despair, Synecdoche, New York, exists in a world created by a great artist, a world where metaphors can, and should, be taken literally, and the life you create in your own mind can become more real than this life you live outside.
2. A Serious Man and Moon
The connections between the other pairs of movies on this list might seem obvious: Avatar and District 9 are both about xenophobia, Whatever Works and Synecdoche, New York are both about how we shape each other’s lives. But what does the the Coen brothers’ fable of Jewish life in 1960’s Minnesota have in common with an independently-produced science fiction drama directed by the son of David Bowie? Nothing besides the fact that they are possibly to of the most finely crafted films ever produced–and that they both depict characters for whom the very foundations of their lives seem to have crumbled into dust. Moon tells the story of Sam Bell, the lone employee of a lunar mining operation, whose only companion is a friendly (if conflicted) robot named GERTY, who, after an apparent near-death in an accident, goes on to uncover a terrible secret that the corporation has been hiding for years, a secret that undermines everything he believes about his life. A Serious Man, on the other hand, is the story of Jewish college professor in 1960’s Minnesota, a man whose entire life seems to be spiraling out of control. Although the milieu may be completely different, the psychological drama Larry Gopnik goes through as his familiar life collapses all around him is very much the same. I don’t know what else to say except that A Serious Man is the Coen brothers’ best movie of the past decade, and Moon is a classic must-see for any fan of great science fiction.
1. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
At last we come to the end of the list, and the best film of 2009 is… Wes Anderson’s stop-motion adaptation of Road Dahl’s story of a clever fox’s crusade against a trio of autocratic farmers. What can I say about this movie? It is probably Wes Anderson’s greatest film (I say probably because it is extremely difficult to chose between them). It has everything that we love about Wes Anderson’s movies: the brilliant writing, magnificent characterization, moving personal drama, and finely executed filmmaking. The casting, as one would expect, is excellent–Mr. Fox, with his attitude of lovable roguishness is the quintessential George Cloony character–and did I mention that the animation is absolutely beautiful? One shot features Mr. and Mrs. Fox standing on a ledge in front of a waterfall somewhere in the sewers where they’ve been trapped; it is one of the most beautiful shots I have ever seen in an animated movie, and just one of many such shots in this film. What can I say? This is one for the ages.