Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I Love... Michael Ian Black

When you ask a C-list celebrity out to drinks, it's probably a good idea to know what you're going to talk about beforehand.

Tonight Leah, Bob, and I went to the Michael Ian Black comedy show. Black is best known for his commentaries on the VH1 I love the ... (insert decade here) shows. He has also appeared in movies including Wet Hot American Summer. I was debating whether or not to go as I had class until 8:05 and wasn't sure if I would make it, but I decided the $3 ticket charge would be worth the risk. I did make it and Leah kindly saved me a seat up close.

Black wearing an orange sweatshirt (he obviously did his SU homework) and performed a routine he knew would go over well with college students. He joked a lot about college and sex. His show was billed as "The Awesome Life with Michael Ian Black," chronicling life as a C-list celebrity and giving audiences a peek inside the Hollywood food chain, but he did not speak on this topic and stayed away from the pop culture commentary he is so known for. Although he did reference Suri, Maddox, and Mel Gibson.

He was animated on stage and bantered back and forth with the audience, tolerating questions like, "Boxers or briefs?" and, "When was the last time you shit your pants?" in good humor.

After the show, there was a reception at the Hillel center. We decided to go and I think we were the only ones there not active in Hillel, although I am Jewish, so it's ok. He seemed bored, tired, or both. He hardly smiled, but he was amicable to everyone who asked for a picture or autograph. First Leah and I wanted his autograph, but we didn't have anything to sign. I did have a copy of Entertainment Weekly so I thought it would be kind of cute to have him sign that since it's all about popular culture and Leah had him sign a magazine that she had. I'm not exactly sure what he thought of us at that point (I can't say I'd be too impressed if I were him).

We stuck around, snacking on free food, and decided we wanted to talk to him more. We had to wait around for the undergraduate Hillel girls to ask banal questions about summer camp, and then he noticed that Leah and Bob look alike (I don't see it) and asked if they were brother and sister or dating (the answer is neither). Then I brought up the fact that we are graduate students in arts journalism and he started asking us about that and I asked him if he wanted to go for a drink with us. To my surprise (and delight), he said yes.

The Hillel president was going to escort him to the Sheraton, but he said he would walk with us there. Along the way, I started to wonder what the hell I was doing or what to say to him. I would have loved to discuss popular culture, but I could tell he didn't want to do that as he pretty much said that he doesn't care to talk about I Love the '80s or '90s.

I lost the nerve that I had in the second it took to ask him for drinks because at the bar, I was straining to come up with things to say that wouldn't make me sound like a stupid fan or an idiot. Bob pretty much saved the day, talking about movies and Halloween in Des Moines.

On TV, Black seems so funny and dynamic, but in reality he is very mellow. It might have to do with the fact that he was tired after the long drive, but I think that's just his personality. He is a normal guy, a husband and a father who takes his children trick-or-treating. Being funny is his job, but I kind of like that he wasn't putting on an act for us.

We talked a bit about journalism and he said he doesn't like to answer questions, so that made it kind of difficult to know what to say. But he is a very kind and generous person. This is all kind of blur to me now, so I'll have to think about this some more to make sense of what just happened, but it was a nice way to kick off my birthday.

Michael Ian Black, if you ever google yourself (which he claims to do quite a bit) and come across this posting, thanks for hanging out with us.

P.S. I know I'm supposed to keep this blog professional, but I can't resist, if he wasn't married, I'd totally want to marry him.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thursday Style

I loved this illustration in the Thursday Style section of the New York Times today and I had to share it. The article about Andy Warhol was also quite interesting. Apparently, everything Andy Warhol is in right now. I've read quite a lot of articles lately about various cultural art forms coming back into style. In the New York Times Style Magazine on Sunday, there was an article about the resurgence of the grunge scene of 1993. In the Daily Orange today, there was an article about classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin having a following on college campuses. But bands like Zeppelin and icons like Warhol always have a following, so is it really fair to say they are back? Perhaps I'll post more thoughts on this at a later date when I have more time, but for now enjoy the picture.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Burgers and Cupcakes

The brown awning with orange and pink lettering seems out of place on the stretch of Ninth Ave. between 35th and 36th in Manhattan. Mitchel London's restaurant, Burgers & Cupcakes, is trendy (in that it's so kitschy it's cool), but on a Saturday at lunch, there were plenty of tables. Perhaps it's the location, or perhaps word hasn't spread, because New Yorkers will wait any amount of time for some good burgers or cupcakes, and Burgers & Cupcakes has both.

As the name suggests, there are few food options besides burgers and cupcakes, but there is a breakfast menu. At $5.95 and $1 for each additional toppings, the tiny burgers are not cheap, but the veggie burger was one of the best I've ever had. Toppings include different types of cheeses, vegetarian chili (which they were not serving that day, much to my disappointment), pizza, and cranberry sauce. Burgers come with pickles not fries, but it's worth paying a little extra if you like your fries salty.

The cupcake display is the first thing you see when you walk in and it will taunt you all through your meal, so it's impossible not to get one. Small cupcakes cast $2 and large cupcakes cost $3. There are traditional cupcakes, vanilla and chocolate, and some more unusual like carrot with cream cheese frosting. The blueberry with buttercream frosting is delicious (you can't get that at Magnolia). The frosting is piled high on all the cupcakes, but it's not too sweet and just the right consistency.

With such a winning combination, Burgers & Cupcakes probably won't stay a secret for long, especially since they deliver. If there's anything New Yorkers like more than burgers and cupcakes, it's free delivery.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Find a Box to Put BK Inside

After the Ben Kweller concert Friday, Oct. 20 at Webster Hall in NYC, an audience member who had never even heard of Ben Kweller before the show said, "I would have paid $100 for that show."

Ben Kweller played his best tracks from all three of his albums. He chose some fan favorites and some that had sentimental value to him resulting in a concert with a personal touch that was more than worth the $20 ticket price.

He made his NYC audience feel like family by dedicating "My Apartment," which is about his Brooklyn home, to them. He also dedicated "Family Tree" to his proud parents who were in attendance.

During "Thirteen," Kweller stopped mid-verse claiming he had a hair in his throat, but it seemed pretty obvious that he was choking up. He has said that "Thirteen" is his favorite and most personal song and before he began he dedicated it to his wife and baby. The mishap did not faze the audience who cheered as Kweller recomposed himself.

On My Way, Kweller's second album, is his weakest, but he chose the strongest tracks to represent it-- the pensive "On My Way," the amusing "Hospital Bed," and the "The Rules." "The Rules" is not a standout on the album, but Kweller always rocks that number live, dancing around the stage like a teenager.

By the time Kweller played his second encore, the popular "Wasted and Ready" from his debut album, Sha Sha, everybody was singing along. Even when the lights came on, fans were waiting around, hoping he'd come out again for one more song.

Orthodox Rocks

I had an article published in the New Times last week previewing Matisyahu's performance in Syracuse. The article is not available online, but if you live in Syracuse, you can pick it up until Wednesday. My original article was much longer and I really like some of what they cut (although I can understand why they did and I was happy with the published piece), so this is my original article:

Reggae artist Matisyahu is a musician, but it is rare to hear about his music. He gained attention from the fact that he is a Hasidic Jew and the buzz followed. He has been described as a novelty and criticized for using his yarmulke, tallis, and payas as a gimmick.

Matisyahu is playing at the Landmark Theatre on October 18 as part of an international peace summit hosted by Syracuse University, and if you are going to spend $32 or $52, you should go for the music. If you’re interested in Lubavitch Judaism, the strict sect of Orthodox Judaism to which Matisyahu belongs, take a pilgrimage to Crown Heights or go to a Chabad House.

Matisyahu’s latest album, Youth, reached gold status and is a blend of reggae, beatbox, rap, rock and traditional Jewish music. Youth is not without its faults, mostly in Matisyahu’s unpolished voice. But the songs are catchy and easy to dance to, which should translate well to the stage and make for an entertaining concert.

Album highlights include the rocking rap-inspired hit “King Without a Crown” which includes the choice line, “Crown Heights Burning Up.” The rebellious “Youth” and the Zionist “Jerusalem” are the rallying cries he is most known for, but lesser known songs like “Dispatch the Troops” and “What I’m Fighting For” offer a melodic change of pace. There is even a love song in the form of “Unique is my Dove.”

Matisyahu is not the only artist to mix reggae music with the music of other cultures and he believes that both the music and the subject matter of reggae account for its versatility.

“The first thing that jumps into my mind is the content of the music,” he says, “A lot of time it is borrowed or inspired by the Old Testament. It’s something that all religions stem out of.” He says that universal ideas like unity, hope, and redemption come from the Old Testament.

He describes the music itself as “soft music.” “All cultures relate to it. It’s not like hard rock,” he says. He adds that reggae music is in the same vein as rock and roll music in that a lot of types of music are born out of it.

As a teenager growing up in Westchester, Pa., Matisyahu, then Matthew Miller, was not religious. At that age it was hard for him to relate to Judaism, he says, and was certainly not interested in Orthodox Judaism.

His first connection to the devout sect, not surprisingly, had to do with the music. Reggae music connected him to Jewish ideas. Songs like Marley’s “Exodus” painted scenes that young Miller could relate to. However, the life changing moment occurred when he visited Israel for the first time at the age of 16.

It was Simchat Torah (sometimes pronounced Simchas Torah), a holiday he was not yet familiar with. Simchat Torah is a festive holiday which involves dancing around with the Torah. Matisyahu recalls hearing drumming in the backstreets of Jerusalem. He approached an ally and saw a group of Hasidic men banging on a table and drinking wine. It was a “whole different world” he had never seen before. Seeing Orthodox Jews “happy and celebrating and joyous” juxtaposed his idea that they were always serious.

Matisyahu’s music reflects this celebratory spirit.

Matisyahu will perform at the Landmark Theatre on Wed., Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster and are $32 and $52.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

My brother, David, sent me this review he wrote about the Roger Waters concert. Since I love embarrassing him, I'm going to post it here. He is a senior in college and he is studying film (journalism is just a hobby). It's not perfect, at times he sounds like a fan who will enjoy anything Roger Waters performs, and this takes away his authority. When I was discussing the concert with him, he did have some criticism (mostly that Waters doesn't have a good voice and the new work was not very good), but this didn't make it into the review for some reason. In any case, there are some really good things in this review, especially the way he describes the crowd. I really feel like I was there, though sadly I wasn't, but he did call me during "Wish You Were Here."

Waters Shines on the Dark Side

As I stepped into the Hollywood bowl, the usual smells of marijuana and beer filled my nostrils. I immediately glanced over at the stage, too anxious for my own good, obsessed with what was to come. From my seat in the Promenade section, I could only make out what looked like a giant glass in the center of the stage. On the left, there seemed to be an equally large bottle of some sort of alcoholic beverage. Behind all this seemed to be an old radio. I took my seat and waited, for I knew it was only a matter of minutes before Roger Waters, the bassist and lyrical genius of Pink Floyd, would make his way onto the Hollywood Bowl stage. It was Sunday, October 8, and I had been waiting for this night since early August.

The lights went completely dark and the now overcrowded venue was drowned in cheers. A large hand appeared, pouring a bit of the contents of the bottle into his glass. The hand fiddled with the radio, giving the audience some jazz and Elvis to listen to. At one point, the hand switched to a station and the synthesized beginnings of an all too familiar Abba song were heard. The station was quickly switched, met with laughter by the audience.

This unordinary introduction was soon over and the lights went dark again. In a flash the spotlight was on him. The crowd got to its feet in honor of Waters, who was smiling and ready to jam, bass in hand. And that he did, performing "In the Flesh," from Floyd's celebrated The Wall, complete with sounds, lights, and pyrotechnics that brought the Bowl to life. After this, Waters continued with another hit from the same album, the semi-autobiographical "Mother."

Without a break for even the shortest of breaths, he jammed right into "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" from Floyd's second album, A Saucerful of Secrets. All the while I was immersed in surround sound and special effects, allowing me to step into the songs and be one with the music. I had not taken part in something so intense since the time I stepped into the movies at Universal Studios.

Now the crowd was pumped full of rock, and the arena turned to dark once again as I heard the space-like opening of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond." The stage was transformed into the universe; planets, stars and comets rushing past. The audience, now spacemen, flowed through space, listening to the ingenious keyboard intro. The guitar soon joined in and a rush of drums and the other instruments got the crowd up, applause filling the air. This was exciting for me, my favorite Pink Floyd song, performed to its full potential. The song was written by Waters for his childhood friend, Syd Barrett, the badly fated, doomed musical genius and original creative force of Pink Floyd. Due to his schizophrenia and innately insane mind, Barrett was forced to leave the band early on. "Shine on" is the first song in an album dedicated primarily to Barrett, Wish You Were Here. Sadly, Barrett recently died in July, at age 60. As I watched Waters perform the song, I could feel his mixed feelings of love and loss pouring out of him for Barrett, as pictures of him played on the screen. When the first lyrics were sung, "Remember when you were young. You shone like the sun," the crowd cheered and joined in for the chorus, "Shine on you crazy diamond." There could not have been a better farewell for Barrett, a filled Hollywood Bowl in perfect unison, ensuring that he will forever shine on.

I was thrilled to see the commemoration for Barrett continue as the band played two more numbers from Wish You Were Here. First, "Have a Cigar," amazingly performed exactly as in the album, right up to the crescendo jamming at the end of the song with a sudden sharp decrescendo transition to the same tune, only softer and lighter in feel. I remained in awe at how Rogers conceived this transition on stage. In a flash the band was gone, and the hand returned, turning the radio volume down. The best was yet to come. The hand began to tune the radio to different stations as something sounded vaguely familiar to me. My suspicions were accurate, the hand stopped its fiddling, and the ever recognizable opening riff of "Wish You Were Here" began. The crowd went a little insane at this point, many unable to contain their excitement for the highly lovable ballad. The song, originally Waters' cry for Barrett who could not share in the band's success, now lived on as a remembrance of the talented musician.

The concert could have ended at this point and I would have gone home happy. But Waters did not stop here. He went on to perform more Floyd favorites from their 1983 album, The Final Cut, "Southampton Dock" and the gorgeous, soft "The Fletcher Memorial Home." I was also exposed to some of Waters' solo work which was previously unknown to me, such as "Perfect Sense" and "Leaving Beirut."

After this, the recognizable opening of "Sheep," a huge success from Floyd's 1977 Animals rang in my ears. This song had some great special effects, with pyrotechnics and lights galore. On stage was a screen showcasing a three dimensional view of the building, familiar to Floyd fans from the Animals album cover. I nearly jumped from my seat as I noticed a giant pink pig rising from the stage. The pig made its way throughout the entire crowd. On closer inspection I noticed graffiti had been marked on the animal, including "Impeach Bush" and "Don't be led to the slaughter."

The evening was going great when Waters spoke into his mic, "Ok, we're going to take a 15 minute break, and when we get back we're going to do Dark Side!" As the lights came on, the surround sound echoed of nature's finest noises. Soothing waterfalls and birds filled the crowd's ears, which remained until the end of the break. I could not have been more pleased with Waters endurance and ability to put on such a lengthy show, full of great hits. I rushed to the bathrooms and chatted with some overly stoned Floyd fans. I also realized that there must have been some sneaking in, as the place was packed, even for Hollywood Bowl standards. Fist fights were also taking place; the security guards definitely had their work cut out for them this night.

I rushed back to my seat and anxiously awaited the second half of the concert. Waters came on stage and to everyone's great pleasure introduced Nick Mason, Pink Floyd's original drummer. As a drummer myself, I was elated to see one of my most favorite percussionists live on stage. Waters announced that usually The Dark Side of the Moon begins with the beating of a heart. However, the sound effect was not necessary at this point. The audience being so anxious to hear Dark Side, we were able to provide a sufficient heart-beating soundtrack. Waters could not have been more correct.

The rest of the background noises blasted on the surround sound speakers, my neighbors lit up their various joints and pipes and The Dark Side of the Moon officially began. Waters and Mason performed superbly. All of the background noises and special effects from the original album remained intact and reigned over the audience. Of course, "Time," "Money" and "Us and Them" dominated as crowd favorites. The lady who sang "The Great Gig in the Sky," my favorite song from the album, put on an outstanding show. The song is quite difficult, with many high and long notes. The album shined even more than usual with live special effects reminiscent of Pink Floyd concerts of happier times past.

The greatest moment was when we reached the zenith of "Brain Damage," the second to last song of the album. At this point the triangular prism, decipherable to all Floyd fans from the Dark Side album cover, rose high above the stage. I was amazed, as were my neighbors, probably more affected in their non-penetrable state of highness. A white light shone and hit the prism, allowing a rainbow of colors to shine through on the other side. The audience cheered wildly; here in its paramount glory stood the sole symbol of Dark Side, rising above Hollywood.

In a flash, "Eclipse," the last song of Dark Side was played and the album was over. The crowd cheered as if it was to save their very lives. The band bowed, Waters and Mason shared an affectionate hug. But Waters was not about to end here, and once again I smiled at his will to go on and please his fans. The band ran away for a bit, as most do during this point in any given concert, but soon came back to a variety of cheers, whistles and yells.

In a beat, the familiar sounds came of an airplane overhead as the band struck up "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" and "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt.2," arguably Floyd's most popular song. The entire crowd remained on their feet at this point and sang along the infamous words, "We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom. Teachers leave them kids alone. Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone. All in all you're just another brick in the wall." The crowd became one, a joyous moment for all present.

Next, to everyone's great delight, Waters performed both "Vera" and "Bring the Boys Back Home," from the same album, The Wall. The crowd immediately recognized the opening of the next number, "Comfortably Numb," from the same album, a legendary piece in its own right. This was naturally the last song of the night and as the words "Hello, hello, hello" reverberated in our ears, bright lights and videos shone on stage. The song ended with fireworks ablaze, towering over the Bowl in perfect synchronization with the music. Beautiful.

Although saddened that the evening was over, I remained in a state of constant bliss throughout the rest of the evening. I walked back to the bus, dodging some of the stammering fans who had a bit too much for their own good. When one rather drunk woman asked me if I had ever tried it with a 55 year old, and if I would like to tonight, I honorably declined the offer. She stumbled away and seemed to pass out by some nearby trashcans.

All in all, the night could not have gone better. Waters has announced that he is planning on touring again next year. I highly recommend to those who missed him this time around: plan on seeing him next year. You will not be sorry, and a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Don't Read This Review

You will probably only get that reference if you read Lemony Snicket. And likewise you will probably only get this review if you're somewhat familiar with his work. This is my 300 word review:

Daniel Handler is a marketing genius, which here means a children’s book author with the ability to entice readers to buy his books. Lemony Snicket is not just his cool sounding pseudonym, but an enigmatic character as interesting as the Baudelaires, three orphans who are the central characters of his A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Snicket’s latest book, The Beatrice Letters, is a companion to A Series of Unfortunate Events and capitalizes on the intrigue surrounding his relationship with Beatrice, to whom every book is dedicated. Letters was conveniently released a month before The End, the final installment in the series, to be released Friday the 13th.

The Beatrice Letters is prettily packaged—a large hardbound book which opens like a file and contains a poster and the short book of letters between Snicket and Beatrice. The book itself can be read in less than half-an-hour.

The letters include clues to the mysteries laid out in the previous books. The most revealing is the fact that Beatrice’s last name is Baudelaire, but we also learn that there are two Beatrices and it is unclear whether the Beatrice who is writing to Snicket is the same Beatrice he is writing to. The fact that the letters are probably not in chronological order (no dates are given) adds to the confusion.

If it wasn’t for Snicket’s humor and clever use of the English language, this book would be nothing but frustration. But Snicket’s volunteer job as assistant obituary spell-checker at The Daily Punctilio where he corrects headlines like “Duchess of Winnipeg is Deaf” and other anecdotes are there to mitigate the pain.

The Beatrice Letters may be a clever marketing ploy which provides readers with more questions than answers, but it will satisfy Snicket cravings for those anxiously awaiting The End.

Revised Kweller Review for Class

Here is the updated version of my Ben Kweller review, which proved to be very difficult:

Ben Kweller’s third solo studio album, Ben Kweller, is unmistakably Kweller with his boyish voice, innocent lyrics, and piano driven power pop. Yet this album is more mature than his previous attempts. Not only does he play all the instruments, including the glockenspiel and the xylophone, but he no longer sings nonsense like “sha sha sha do” as he did on his first album, opting instead for heartfelt, autobiographical lyrics.

For those not familiar with the 25-year-old singer/songwriter, he was in the band, Radish, at the young age of 15. Radish was touted as the next Nirvana, but its initial success soon fizzled. Kweller released his first solo studio album, Sha Sha in 2002 and since then has retained a dedicated fan base, but he has yet to hit it big in the mainstream.

Ben Kweller, released Sept. 19 by ATO records, opens with the upbeat and catchy piano and tambourine intro of “Run.” The lyrics are reminiscent of a nursery rhyme—“Over hills, over dales, I’ll run with you”—but also deal with Kweller’s rock star on the run life as a teenager. The piano and tambourine hook, killer bridge, and overdubbed instrumentation result in a feel-good pop symphony. With “Run,” Kweller excels at a polished sound, a contrast to 2004’s raw On My Way, which was recorded with his band using no headphones or overdubs.

“Sundress” begins with restrained pensive vocals over the slow piano motif and gradually picks up speed with the addition of the guitar, leading into the carefree chorus. The infectious harmonies are trademark Kweller.

Kweller has written plenty of piano ballads and love songs, but he seems to have mastered this genre in “Thirteen.” Musically, the song is fairly simple, driven by a repetitive piano melody. The listener is left with nothing to focus on but Kweller’s vulnerable voice. Without the presence of an intro or chorus, the lyrics sound like a stream of consciousness about his wife with lines such as, “I kissed your dry lips/We jumped off the high cliffs and splashed down below/Skin to skin in the salty river.”

The bluesy “Red Eye” sees Kweller successfully experimenting with a sound he has never attempted before. His voice, usually shaky and somewhat screaming, is more controlled, even in moments of desperation.

Ben Kweller succeeds in improving his sound by holding onto his youthful charms. And that is what makes him so Kweller.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Saturday Night at the Mall

This summer I wrote my enterprise story on the Carousel Center's parental escort policy. Anybody under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult on Friday and Saturday nights in order to shop at the mall. A few weeks ago, Kathleen posted this on her blog:

"Saturday afternoon, probably around 5 pm, I'm wandering through Carousel Center Mall chatting away on my cell phone with my parents, when a tubby, acne-ridden teenage mall employee, complete with red vest and walkie-talkie, gestures to get my attention and says something to me. Realizing that he is in fact addressing me, rudely ignoring the fact that I am mid-conversation, I look at him inquisitively, at which point he firmly repeats what he just said.
'Miss, you are aware that the under-18 policy is in effect right now?'
'The under-18 policy is in effect.'
'Uh, yeah. I'm 23.'
'I'm gonna have to see some ID.'

When I read this I felt Kathleen's rage, but I was also kind of amused, and then it happened to me. I posted her description because it is almost verbatim my conversation last night. I was on the phone with my family and it must have been the same kid because he didn't look 18 himself and he asked the question in the exact same way. The only difference is I offered my I.D. and he made me whip it out. Did he really think I would say I was 23 and offer to show him my I.D. if I couldn't prove it?

The other thing that I find ridiculous is that the policy is meant to keep groups of teenagers from causing trouble, but I was by myself with a shopping bag so I was obviously there to shop.

Speaking of ridiculous, I overheard this on the bus on the way back from the mall:
Girl 1: How do you spell ridiculous?
Girl 2: R-E-D...
These girls go to Syracuse. They were also trying to figure out what year to put on their fake I.D.s in order to be 21. Then they wanted to go to a "sleazy seventies" party and they were trying to figure out what to wear. One girl suggested hippy outfits and the other girl said that everything about the seventies was sleazy.

Needless to say, my ride home made up for being carded.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Things of Note

Here are a few things that caught my attention recently:

My favorite city:
I don't know how I found this because it's a few months old. I must have been googling something and came up with this. It's an article from Slate about Buenos Aires. It is mostly about Argentine film and I haven't seen any of the films referenced so I can't comment on those, but there is some amazing stuff (besides dulce de leche and alfajores) that comes out of that country and it's nice to see some recognition. If anybody is interested in Argentine cinema, check out Nueve Reinas.

I also loved the sidebar on things you need to know before you go to Buenos Aires, especially the part about the pizza (it used to make me ill, but I've grown accustomed to it).

Drinking Pancakes, Yum:
Starbucks has done it again. Following its success in the New England market, maple flavored drinks are now available at Starbucks nation-wide. If you've always wanted your coffee to taste like pancakes, this drink is for you. The maple latte is pretty tasty, but I'd recommend less pumps (ask for 2 for a tall instead of 3) otherwise it tastes too much like drinking syrup. Don't be fooled by the maple macchiato, it's really just the maple latte with the shots on top. The drizzle on the top is the same as the syrup on the bottom (the caramel macchiato uses vanilla syrup on the bottom and caramel sauce on top). It's better if you get caramel sauce on top instead of maple drizzle.

A Message for Ben Kweller:
Please stop making music videos. Has the giant strawberry from "Wasted and Ready" taught you nothing?

You can view his new video for "Sundress" at www.benkweller.com. It's cheesy and it takes away from the song. Kweller's no actor and he should stick to what he does best.

Syracuse Hates Film:
So I'm not in the film concentration here, but I do enjoy me some independent films every now and again. But it is next to impossible to find these here in Syracuse. There are a few exceptions, but you'd think in a college town, there would be more opportunities to view something other than Snakes on a Plane or a frat pack movie (not that I don't love those).

Most of the movies I want to see are fairly mainstream. I'm not talking totally obscure movies (although those are good too), I'm talking about films like The U.S. vs. John Lennon which was released a few weeks ago in select cities and this week nationwide (I guess that excludes the 'Cuse). It might take a few weeks (that's what happened with Trust the Man which turned out to be a disappointment, but I'm just asking for the opportunity to see it).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Torrance, the home of... teenage gambling?

When I tell people I'm from Torrance, I always preface it by saying I'm from a suburb of L.A. It's not that it's a very small town, but I never expect anybody to have heard of it. So I was surprised to see an article about Torrance in Time Magazine. Well, it wasn't about Torrance, it was about parents who let their children play poker.

I wasn't aware that this was a trend in Torrance or anywhere else and I wonder why the author went to Torrance to write this. I don't have much to say about it, I just thought it was interesting.

A Bittersweet Homecoming

I'm not sure why they call it homecoming. Tufts may have been my home once, but it's not anymore, and it will never be again. So when I went back to Tufts for homecoming last weekend, I wasn't really going home. I didn't really belong there anymore.

It was nice to be back at Tufts and see my old haunts, but I was looking at everything as an outsider.

Some things were just as I had left them. South Hall, where I spent three years of my college life, still looks more like a castle than a dorm. But I no longer have a Jumbo FOB to let me in. I watched the students coming in and going out with a little bit of jealousy.

South, once the newest, cleanest, and most modern dorm, is now upstaged by the new dorm, a modern looking building with huge windows and fun, colorful furniture. The new dorm was not the only addition to the campus.

The new music building, promised for so long, is finally almost finished. Aidekman, the old music building, is still there and the new building will connect to it. I spent many happy hours postering for the music department at Aidekman. The pictures on the walls next to Balch Arena are still of productions from when I was a student, which made me feel like it really hasn't been that long. Then I went downstairs and saw the completely redone basement. The dingy, cockroach infested basement was done up with state of the art practice rooms.

I had to stop by Dewick, the dining hall where I worked for four years, but I drew the line at going in and eating, no matter how badly I wanted a piece of white pizza. I did, however, say hi to one of the ladies who worked there who claimed to remember me (she could have been being polite) and she informed me that the dining halls are shockingly now opened to 9 and that fewer students are TUDDING (working in the dining hall). The full time workers are not happy.

Perhaps the biggest shock of all was 154 West Adams Street, my off campus home before I went abroad. It actually looks like a nice place to live now. Everything gets better after I leave.

Homecoming itself was an interesting experience as I'd never been even while I was at Tufts. I didn't go to the football game (I am told that there was actually a game), but I did learn that Tufts has a marching band and a cheerleading squad. Who knew?

I opted instead for tailgater's village where college graduates from as recently as a year ago to as long ago as say 50 years ago (that's not an accurate number, just a guess) can get together to relive their glory days.

Reconnecting with people I didn't care enough about to stay in touch with in the first place seemed superficial. It's a little tiring to have to explain to people what arts journalism is (I stupidly assumed it would be self-explanatory), especially when I know they don't care/I won't see them again until the next reunion I choose to go to.

This sounds pretty pessimistic of me. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of people who meant a lot to me in college and those are the people that made homecoming worth it (the free food helped although it was not of Dewick quality).

Graduating from college was hard for me. I really love Tufts and I do still miss it. But I know that I have to let go. So going back home was really a way to say goodbye.

This doesn't have to do with Tufts, but the T (the Boston subway) is finally getting rid of tokens. The "Charlie cards" as the new entry cards are called are so much more convenient and you can finally pay with credit cards. The drawback is that the new machines are not available in all the stations yet so if you arrive in Boston and load up a card full of money, you might be stuck having to buy tokens on top of that.

He's So Kweller

My second review for class. I was limited to 400 words which proved to be a bit of a challenge. I'll have to revise it after my classmates critique it:

Ben Kweller’s third solo studio album is unmistakably Kweller. Maybe that’s why it’s self-titled, but he pushes himself further than he has before. Not only does he play all the instruments Paul McCartney style, but he goes from singing nonsense like “sha sha sha do” to heartfelt, autobiographical lyrics.

For those not familiar with the indie rocker/power pop singer/songwriter, he was in the band, Radish, as a young teenager. Radish was touted as the next Nirvana, but its initial success soon fizzled. As a solo artist, Kweller has retained a dedicated fan base and he has been compared to everyone from Tom Petty to the Beatles, but he has yet to hit it big in the mainstream.

The album opens with the upbeat and catchy piano and tambourine intro of “Run.” Kweller recently became a father and the song could have easily been written for his son. The lyrics are reminiscent of a nursery rhyme—“Over hills, over dales, I’ll run with you.” This is not to oversimplify the song. The aforementioned hook, killer bridge, and emotional vocals create a sound that combines the best of the pop and rock genres.

He goes from “Sundress,” the infectious music that Kweller is best known for to the guitar infused rock and roll number, “I Gotta Move,” to the beautiful “Thirteen.”

Kweller has done plenty of piano ballads and love songs, but he seems to have mastered this art in “Thirteen.” Musically it is fairly simple, driven only by a repetitive piano melody, but he breaks with tradition by not including a chorus. Kweller’s boyish voice and innocent lyrics are two of his trademarks and they are still present here, but his words expose him. In this stream of consciousness, he honestly speaks about his wife with such sentiments as, “I kissed your dry lips/We jumped off the high cliffs and splashed down below/Skin to skin in the salty river.”

The bluesy “Red Eye” sees Kweller in another departure, experimenting with an R & B sound he has never attempted before.

The last song on his albums is usually reserved for a power piano ballad, but Kweller surprisingly closes with the rocker “This is War.”

There is not a bad track on this album, which is rare in the pop music world. Kweller may never fill stadiums, but he can take comfort in the fact that he’s created his best album yet.