Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Decemberists in Central Park

I've been to my fair share of Decemberists shows. Six, in fact. And even though they do tend to play some of the same songs each time ("crowd-pleasers" I think they call them), they never get old. Whether that's because the songs themselves are timeless -- they are -- or whether the band just never plays them the same way twice -- they don't -- I'm not quite sure. But the fact remains, as long as I live, I don't think I'll ever walk away from a Decemberists show unsatisfied.

The most recent such show was last night, at Central Park's SummerStage. I left work a little early and got to the park at about 6:00 pm. It was a hot day, but the sun was setting and by the time the band got on stage it had cooled down enough. But before that were two openers, Land of Talk and Grizzly Bear.

Land of Talk really impressed me. They had a certain Cardigans-esque quality, probably attributed to the singer's accent, that made me instantly want to hear more. Where have the Cardigans been, anyway? Are you out there, Nina Persson? If so, make another album. Anyway, Land of Talk were good, good enough to follow up on, anyway. Grizzly Bear, on the other hand...

Let's just say, if it weren't for the sweltering heat, I may have fallen asleep on the astro-turf during Grizzly Bear's performance. Each song was the same mixture of soaring vocals and one line repeated for what seemed like eight minutes apiece. Sometimes the drums or the bass would play a nice fill and give me some hope of enjoying the song, but they would inevitably be drowned out by high-pitched warbling and/or that song's one line repeated for the ninetieth goddamn time. D-, Grizzly Bear. See me after class.

But then the Decemberists came on. Oh, Decemberists, you can make any opener worth putting up with. You and your 9,000 instruments and your lovable bass player.

They opened with "July, July!" which I suppose I should have expected, and they tried to put together a Summer-themed setlist as best they could. But when a band has songs like the Decemberists', it's hard to play too many songs that are even remotely uplifting or "Summer-y."

After leaving the stage due to their park-mandated curfew, they returned with the announcement that they in fact had plenty of time left to play, so their encore lasted for three more songs. They even had time to finish with their trademark "Mariner's Revenge Song," which included a nap in the middle for all the tired children in the audience.

In all it was a great show, exactly what I've come to expect from the Decemberists. They never fail to impress me each and every time I see them play. Even after so many years of touring, and so many times seeing them play, each show is a beautiful and unique snowflake.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Remember when I used to be a music blogger?

No, you probably don't. It's tough to believe it's been more than a year since Radio Free Internet, my little slice of musical heaven, closed down for good. Those were the good ol' days, though. Back when Dreamhost was actually worth $10 a year.

I say it's time to resurrect a little bit of music blogging love, just once. Who knows, maybe it'll get me back in the habit.

First up is (are?) Tegan and Sara, who have an album coming out on the 24th called The Con. It's a CD/DVD, actually, and the music is produced by indie-King-Midas Chris Walla, so there's two good reasons to check it out. Here's a preview of the DVD, for those interested.

The album's definitely pretty standard T&S fare, but that's far from bad. The title track is especially catchy, and at least half of the songs could easily be singles. I still don't know what it is about them that makes all of their songs so infectious, but if we could bottle it we'd be half way to world peace. Have a listen:

Iron & Wine is also releasing an album, The Shepherd's Dog in September, which has me pretty pumped.

From what I've heard of the album, Sam Beam's definitely continuing the trend of filling out the band's sound a la Woman King EP. Long gone are the sounds of a single guitar in a dusty basement on badly-recorded tape, that's for sure. I kind of miss that down-home feel, honestly. The album sounds a bit too polished to be Iron & Wine.

I do like the rhythmic direction they've taken, though, toward a more African sound and away from their Southern roots. I think "Boy With a Coin" proves my point pretty well, especially:

And if that wasn't enough for you, then there's just a little more. Below is the video for Rilo Kileyr's new song "Moneymaker" from their upcoming album Under the Blacklight. Be warned, though, the song and video are all about porn stars so it's borderline NSFW. But the song's so catchy I couldn't help but share it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Today after work I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which I have been looking forward to ever since I finished the book. I loved the book, so I had high hopes for the movie. And I was not disappointed.

Yes, plot elements were cut -- they always are in Potter movies. Kreacher and Grawp and the Centaurs got about a minute of screen time between the three of them. But when someone takes a 900-page book and condenses it to a little over two hours of film, sacrifices must be made. I felt the story was perfectly workable, and probably the best it could have been given the book's length.

One thing that did bother me was Daniel Radcliffe. His acting was really good, as usual, but the kid's turning eighteen in a couple weeks. Hard to believe that little kid from Sorcerer's Stone is going to be able to buy alcohol (in the UK) soon. There's a huge difference between the size of an 18-year-old and that of a 15-year-old, and there were a few times it was painfully obvious. Hopefully they finish the next two movies before he hits 30. And it wasn't just him, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson looked a little old too. Not to mention Maggie Smith.

Aside from the occasional over-sized adolescent, the rest of the movie was spectacular. The acting especially blew me away at times. Whoever decided to cast Helena Bonham Carter as Belatrix LeStrange deserves a medal, as does the genius that picked Imelda Staunton for Delores Umbridge, and Alan Rickman stole every scene he was in (as usual). Gary Oldman didn't blow me away, but I couldn't put my finger on why that was.

And beyond the acting, the special effects were also pretty stunning. The CG was well-done, but I still think it'll be a few years before entirely-CG'ed characters (e.g., Grawp, Kreacher, etc.) don't distract the viewer at least a little. But like I said, they weren't on-screen for very long so it didn't matter much.

The battle at the Department of Mysteries was really well done, but I wish it had lasted longer, and Dumbledore v. Voldemort was just as pulse-pounding as it was in the book, if not moreso.

All-in-all, well worth the price of admission. I passed a theater on the way home and thought about going to see it again, but I thought nah forget it, yo home to Bel-Air! (I don't know where that came from, I apologize)

Great movie, stop reading this and go see it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Storm of Swords

It's been a good summer for reading. As previously blogged, I've been working through the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and I started the third book, A Storm of Swords about three weeks ago. Well I finished it last night, so I figured I'd write about it.

A Storm of Swords is the best book so far in the series, and probably one of the top five books I've ever read (if not, easily top ten). In 1,100 pages it includes dozens of unique and memorable characters, at least ten separate storylines, and more betrayal, sudden twists and gut-wrenching emotion than a fantasy book has any right to be.

And moreso than its prequels, it is a fantasy book. At first I liked that the series wasn't what you would consider "normal" fantasy (i.e., elves, dwarves, magick). But in Storm, Martin subtly sneaks in those familiar fantastic elements that you hate to admit you love; there are still no elves, but there is sorcery, the undead, and even mythical beasts riding other mythical beasts. And there's a dwarf, but he's no Gimli.

As soon as I turned the last page, I knew I would have to start on the fourth book, A Feast for Crows as soon as possible. So I did.

So far I've got a few misgivings about the latest installment, but I'll keep my mouth shut about them until I'm done with the book. If all goes as planned, I'll finish it before Deathly Hallows comes out in a couple weeks. And then what should I read? Suggestions?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Nerdtopia, Lauren, Harlem, Rodgab, Squab, Valjean, Magnolia, Redrum and Lauren

Once again, I've let the blogging slip. This time it's been two whole weeks without an update. What a failure. But really, isn't it better to be out actually doing things instead of sitting around blogging about how you wish you were?

And boy did I do things. A quick play-by-play:

Saturday the 23rd (which seems like forever ago) I went to Baltimore for Games Day, which I'm fond of calling Nerdtopia™. I won't bore you with the details, but it was a pretty sweet time. Our bus broke down on the way, so when we got there they made up for it with $80 gift certificates. So that was cool.

Sunday the 24th I went to a rooftop party with some Googlers. It was a pretty sweet time. I got to hang out with some work people, eat corn and get a drunker than I anticipated (all positives).

The following Monday and Tuesday I worked late, because I knew I would be taking Wednesday off, because...

Wednesday the 27th, Lauren came into town! She arrived way earlier than anyone should legally be allowed, so there were multiple naps in order that day. We did carve out enough time to travel downtown and do some preliminary shopping; the Apple Store, Saks, Tiffany's. She did a ton of shopping while she was here, Wednesday's outing was more of a scouting mission than an actual raid.

Thursday night we went to see Ratatouille, which for being probably the least advertised Pixar movie in history, was actually a pretty great movie. They keep getting better and better with the animation. Makes you wonder if a movie is good enough you don't have to advertise it into the ground.

After the movie we trekked down into the village to get some ridiculously overpriced drinks. It's the weirdest thing, for the price of two glasses of Scotch at a bar, you can almost buy a whole bottle of it at a liquor store. Does New York have some insane tax on drinking glasses and barstools or something?

Late Friday night Lauren got an insatiable craving for some fried chicken, and after consulting the internet, we found a place that was rated well and open late. And it was in Harlem. And so it was we found ourselves wandering aimlessly down Frederick Douglass Blvd at 11:00 at night. The food was fantastic, and in retrospect I think I expected the experience to be a lot worse than it was. That'll show me.

Saturday we woke up to go shopping again. So back to 5th Ave, and back to Tiffany's. Lauren loves Tiffany's, and I loved taking her there. After that it was all a blur of stores and walking.

Sunday we went to Central Park to see Rodrigo y Gabriela play SummerStage (for free!). It was a great show, even though we were pretty far back. Those two never cease to amaze me with the many thousands of ways they can make a guitar make sound.

Monday after work Lauren and I had reservations at the swanky Gotham Bar & Grill. The place was so swanky I don't think either of us knew what to do with ourselves. I'm glad she was there or I would have felt very out of place. She had the Maine lobster tail, and I ordered the roast squab, not even knowing what squab was (spoilers), but it turns out it was pretty delicious.

After dinner we took a cab up to Broadway where we had tickets to see Les Misérables. I hadn't seen it since I was much younger, and she'd never seen it, so we figured it was about time. The show was amazing, and it had me humming tunes all night afterwards.

Wednesday was the 4th of July, and in perfectly patriotic fashion, we decided it was too much of a hassle to find a place to watch fireworks. Instead we went to New York's famous Magnolia Bakery for some delicious cupcakes. Then we went shopping some more, supporting the economy for our beloved country.

Thursday was Lauren's last night in town, and I think we were both pretty worn out from a solid week-plus of constant activity, so we rented The Shining, which I'd never seen before and she hadn't seen in a while. I definitely liked it, very suspenseful, and pretty damn creepy.

Yesterday morning, I took Lauren to JFK to get on a plane back home. Looking back, it was a fantastic time having her here. I can't believe we did so many things together this last week and a half. Hopefully she'll get a chance to come again, I miss her like crazy and she's been gone less than 36 hours.

Today was boring by contrast. I woke up, read, went to the nerd store for a few hours, came back, caught up on my Reading, and blogged like a crazy person. Tomorrow's another Googler roof party, so that should be fun.

That's it for now. Hopefully it won't be two weeks before I post again, for your sake as much as mine.