Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pavement Brings 1990s Finest Rock Back to Central Park

Thirteen months after buying our concert tickets, the night finally arrived. Late Tuesday afternoon, we arrived in Manhattan on the Amtrak and proceeded to make our way to Central Park's Summer Stage for the indie-rock concert event of the year.

Rachel and I dropped our bags off at a friend of a friend's house. Then we grabbed Mexican food and margaritas with the friend of a friend (Dan) and his buddies Alex and Eric. Two of the three were from St. Louis, so I had lots to discuss with them.

Then we met fellow DCites Fran and Morgan at the show. Oh yeah, who was playing, you ask? Pavement, who routinely land in my top three bands of all-time (along with The Beatles and Guided by Voices).

They were in every bit as good a form as the handful of times I saw them before their breakup in 1999. Leader Steve Malkmus exuded confidence in his unusually quirky vocal stylings and played guitar behind his back and hit chops that were like a cooler and looser version of a college-rock Jimi Hendrix.

Several of the traditionally tight and concise Pavement classics were stretched into jammy territory, clearly influenced by Malkmus' post-Pavement band The Jicks. Where this probably worked best was with set closer "Stop Breathin'," which actually pulsated and sent waves of guitar dueling through the city reminiscent of the Pink Floyd concert I saw in 1987.

Pavement can do no wrong, because even when they ventured into psychedelic jams, you knew it was never long before pop perfection would return. Particular highlights of the first of four nights at the Central park venue included "Gold Soundz," recently deemed by Pitchfork as the best song of the 1990s, "Box Elder," Stereo," Silent Kit," "Shady Lane, "Rattled by the Rush," "We Dance," "Perfume-V," "Debris Slide," "Trigger Cut," "Range Life,"and "Cut Your Hair."

The only thing that could have been better would have been if the band played longer. For instance, the next night, they played several tunes that I would have loved to hear, including "Summer Babe," "Zurich is Stained," "Two States," "Lions (Linden)," Here," and "Father to a Sister of Thought."

Pavement is one of life's grand pleasures. It's good to have them back again.

***** out of ***** stars

Photo courtesy of Music Snobbery

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Runaways Forget to Leave a Good Story in Their Movie

One of the many interesting tidbits left out of the mildly stinky new rockumentary The Runaways is the fact that lead singer Cherie Currie (the blond at the bottom left) was briefly married in the 1990s to actor Robert Hays, the legendary lead in Airplane!

Lack of detail seems to be a specialty for this slow-paced movie, which tries to give us lots of rock 'n roll debauchery. And that's usually a good thing in a rock movie, but if there is no strong character development or back story, it's not enough.

People can learn as much about The Runaways by reading their Wikipedia entry and listening to their few great tunes here.

It's a shame. I was excited to see this. And I still like rhythm guitarist Joan Jett's later work, so it was good to at least get a little bit of that story at the end of the movie. And I should add that Kristen Stewart does an impressive job of looking and singing like Jett.

**1/2 out of ***** stars

Climate Science Needs Less Wonk, More Anecdotal Stories

Climate science is filled with great metaphors, anecdotes, and characters. After all, what issue wouldn’t kill to have a day like Earth Day or an icon like the polar bear serving as brand managers?

The problem is that journalists, climate scientists, and others need to tell these stories better, especially in a rapidly shifting media landscape. These were some of the highlights of a panel today hosted by the American Meteorological Society on “Media and Climate Change” at the U.S. House of Representatives’ Rayburn Building in D.C.

Bud Ward (pictured) of the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media recommended that scientists adopt some of the best practices of communications and that journalists, in turn, will fare better if they are allowed to specialize in topic areas such as environmental sciences.

He said universities and science academies fail to prepare their students to know how to communicate the important science they undertake, which is extremely pointless if the public and politicians don’t know about the science, can’t understand it, or fail to avoid the pitfalls of a highly politicized topic like global warming.

One of Ward’s great tips falls in line with a blog I’m helping redesign and relaunch this month for The Nature Conservancy (more about that soon). He said when someone starts a conversation with, “I don’t believe in global warming,” ask them what their interests are. If they say, “I love my Hummer,” engage them on military and national security issues. Stop framing these kinds of discussions in terms of global warming. This is so important because climate relates to just about everything we care about.

Most people just don’t make the connections, and why would they? Climate is something way up in the atmosphere (unlike our daily weather) and seemingly generations away (even though it's already very much here). As co-panelist Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism added, “It’s harder to know what to think than what to believe.”

Ward also touched on the poor framing used by environmentalists and journalists. They don’t know whether to call it global warming or climate change. They don’t know whether to call them climate skeptics or deniers. No wonder so many people are left struggling with what to believe or think.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vampire Weekend Bites Merriweather Crowd with Exuberant Worldbeat Indie Pop

Vampire Weekend put on an exuberant late-summer pop show at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday night. For the uninitiated, they are indie rock's answer to Paul Simon's worldbeat Graceland. They also reconfirmed their place as one of my favorite bands of the 2010s, right up there with Wilco and a reunited Pavement.

Baltimore's Beach House opened and was enjoyable, despite their songs being mellow and samey (and their lead-singing chick looking like one of The Really Rottens from Hanna-Barbera's Laff-A-Lympics).

My friend Francis Chung put it best in his review for DCist (and, even better yet, check out his great photos):

"Thousands screamed along to the infectiously rudimentary chorus of 'A-Punk,' and at the end of the main set, [Vampire Weekend lead singer Ezra] Koenig’s diction did not drip with disdain during the vibrant 'Oxford Comma.' The three-song encore began somewhat dubiously with 'Horchata,' before Rostam Batmanglij’s keyboards signaled the start of 'Mansard Roof,' an almost absurdly catchy song highlighted by Chris Tomson’s propulsive drumming. The evening concluded with a rousing rendition of 'Walcott,' as the audience collectively thrust its hands skyward in a euphoric response even Bruce Springsteen would probably be proud to get."

****1/2 out of ***** stars

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Young Victoria Needs a Little Maturing

The great thing about period pieces is that you usually get to educate yourself about an interesting part of human history.

The problem with The Young Victoria is that there is hardly any learning curve. Sure, before seeing the movie, we already knew that she took the throne in the 1830s when she was still a young woman. And we knew there was some sort of minor power struggle to work through in the early days of Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert. And we knew that there was an assassination attempt on the queen, but that she was unharmed and ruled until ripe old age.

Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend are both likable and steady in the lead roles, but the story seems to breeze along before it's suddenly gone and done. The movie simply leaves you wanting more, but not in a good way. It's more like it leaves you wanting.

The art design, makeup, and costumes were each nominated for 2010 Academy Awards and truly go a long way towards making the movie better than the sum of the script.

**1/2 out of ***** stars

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Punched in the Face By Brutal Realism

It's great to see my friend Tim Getman getting better and better parts. He is firmly entrenched as a leading light in the formidable DC theater scene.

The production of Cherry Smoke at Silver Spring's Roundhouse Theater, of which he both stars and co-produces with Jessica Burgess (who helped produce my own Wiener Sausage: The Musical!), is a powerful exploration of the small-town psyche that accompanies extreme poverty and hopelessness.

Getman plays Fish, a miscreant boxer who can't get anything right other than beating other people senseless. Tangled amidst the sparse setting of ropes hanging from the ceiling, he does a pretty good job of abusing the minds of those closest to him as well.

Cherry is played with Huck Finn-like goodness by Julia Procter. A country tomboy, she loves Fish with all her heart, waits for months at a time for him to return from his frequent stints in lockup, and seems to turn to smoke without the hot breath and embrace of her soulmate.

Fish's little brother, Duffy (Cliff Williams III), and Duffy's wife Bug (Jjana Valentiner, a veteran of one staged reading of Wiener Sausage), help move Fish's story along. As Duffy narrates, he and his wife's ultimate normalness is an excellent contrast to Fish and Cherry's more passionate, but ultimately less sustainable, relationship.

The performances are top-notch and Burgess has done a lot with a fairly minimalist script. The story is eventually tragic, and by the end, the audience cares greatly about and sympathizes with four characters whom urban theatergoers likely have little in the way of commonalities.

**** out of ***** stars