Archive for December, 2008

“Terror Masala”

Posted in Movies on December 31, 2008 by jkiparsky

A recent article in the Boston Phoenix (quod vide) discussed the recent phenomenon of terrorism as a theme and a plot device in Bollywood film. The article is quite interesting, and clearly written by someone who knows India and Indian film quite well, and who thought about her topic a bit more than usual for such a paper.
Not to defame writers for such papers by this: the pay rate for even a feature article in a local free weekly is not likely to be sufficient to pay for a lot of time spent on writing and revising. This is why their content is so often cheap throwaway stuff, and their humor so predictable. It’s not the writers’ fault – they are simply trying to build up portfolio and get to better-paid assignments!
In any case, Seetha Narayan has written an interesting article, which I commend to your attention. That is all.

Review: Martin Sexton, Berklee Performance Center

Posted in Music on December 19, 2008 by jkiparsky

Another review for the Boston Music Spotlight. This week, it’s Martin Sexton.

To read the review in its native habitat, and to see the pretty press photo they put on it, follow the link in this sentence.

Martin Sexton – Berklee Performance Center – 12/12/08

Martin Sexton brought his full band to the Berklee Performance Center on Friday night: a drummer, a rock-solid bassist, a trumpeter, a violinist, and a very impressive electric guitarist, as well as at least four different singers. The funny thing is, there was only him on the stage.
On his “Solo” tour, supporting the live album of the same name, Sexton is alone on the stage, in a physical sense, giving him room to exercise the full range of his prodigious guitar and vocal talent to conjure up a host of backing musicians. This ability may have evolved from his days busking the subways of Boston, when being able to conjure up a vocalised “guitar solo” would catch the ear of a commuter on the red line and possibly pull a dollar out of their pocket, but it’s gone far beyond that. Today, it’s a way to give an audience a show quite unlike anything they’ll hear anywhere else.
Sexton opened the show in a gospel mood, with a reverent reading of “There Go I”. His vocal was Al Green, his guitar called up the Motown backing band, and when it came to the break he sang a solo phrased like a good violin player. This was not scat – though he can do that, too – it was a solo, played on the voice, by a fairly ordinary-looking guy with a “look what I can do” grin on his face. That grin got bigger throughout the night as he pulled out more tricks from his bag. It was pretty big when he played the the swing-oriented “Diggin’ You”, early in the show, and he got to watch a few hundred jaws drop in unison as he pulled out a dead-perfect drum break, followed by bass and trumpet solos, all executed with his guitar and voice. When he called up a chorus of angels on “Hallelujah” – okay, not angels exactly, but the crowd at Berklee sang sweeter harmony than I hear at most folk shows – the grin got even bigger. And that was all by way of warming us up. As the evening went on, he stepped over to a second microphone through which – assisted by a fair bit of signal processing – he sang howling electric guitar solos, with all of the distortion, feedback, and whammy bar trimmings for the rest of the night.
A well-seasoned showman, Sexton built the night up from simply doing things that you and I can’t do (sing in three octaves and four distinct voices, for example) to a version of “Gypsy Woman” that turned into a credible jam – still all by his lonesome – and wound up in a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”. The Jimi Hendrix version, that is. And having sung a song widely considered to be unsingable by most humans, and sung it in a way most would consider completely impossible, he returned to center stage, and that grin was pretty big indeed.
In all of this instrumental and vocal bedazzlement, there is a tendency for the content of the songs to be obscured. Sexton’s delivery is none too clear, and some lines do get lost in all of the vocal acrobatics. This is not such a bad thing, though. Sexton is a good lyricist, but not a great one, and hearing his lyrics partially obscured gives them an added air of mystery which serves them well, like a cathedral in a fog. A song partially heard draws the listener back to gather up the missed pieces, and gathering up a song in this way gives it a depth that its simple lyrical content might not convey. This is nothing new in rock and roll – think of the generations who struggled to decipher Jack Ely’s vocal on the Kingsmen’s recording of “Louie Louie” and ultimately made the otherwise forgettable song an eternal rock and roll staple. And if a performer as good as Sexton can benefit by focussing on his prodigious strengths, and by using them turn an otherwise average lyric like “Hallelujah” into a transcendental experience of communal singing, I certainly won’t complain if I’m there to hear it.
And sure enough, after the climactic jam and “guitar” breakdown, Sexton returned to a much simpler form, singing an adorably schmaltzy “Blue Christmas” and finishing his set with one more of his own songs, “Angeline”. For an encore, he returned to the stage with a simple acoustic guitar and a nice old-fashioned large-diaphragm condenser mike – the sort you see in the old radio booths – to sing one last song, “The Way I Am”. It was straight-forward and plain, and you could hear every word, as if the spectacle of the night had all been designed to focus our attention on this one song. And it was well worth hearing.

The show was opened by Sexton’s sister Colleen, a Boston resident who performs around town regularly. Based on this short set, the younger Sexton’s songs seem to fit into the light folk vein of a Mary Chapin Carpenter or a Dar Williams, with some jazz influences in the melody and phrasing. Lyrically, the songs have some good lines, but I’d like to see her push her writing a little more. As yet, the songs are fairly unadventurous, almost timid. But she’s got a fine voice to work with and some solid chops on the guitar, so it’ll be interesting to see where she goes from here.

Review: Loudon Wainwright III (Boston, MFA)

Posted in Music on December 6, 2008 by jkiparsky

Loudon Wainwright III is finally getting his due. For years he was known as the author of funny songs like “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” and “The Swimming Song”, a minor member of the “Next Dylan” club who never made the team. After a time, he got some attention for writing “Jesse Don’t Like It”, in which he lambasted Jesse Helms’ desire to serve the country as its censor-in-chief. More recently, he was known as the father of his son Rufus. This was only fair, really, since Rufus had made plenty of appearances in the early Loudon’s songbook, and it was high time he got something back for “Rufus is a Tit Man”. Now, however, at the age of 62, Loudon is becoming known for something else: his songs. With the release of Strange Weirdos, a collection of songs around and about the film “Knocked Up”, he seems to have found some acceptance with mainstream America.

At the Museum Of Fine Arts’ Remis Auditorium last Saturday night, Wainwright hit the stage with a big smile, looking like a perfectly ordinary guy: tall, friendly smile, clean cut, button-down shirt. He looks a little like a child psychologist nearing retirement, who’s swapped his briefcase for a guitar. He says hello, he says he’s happy to see us, but he’s looking at us as though he’s trying to diagnose us.

The irony there is that, listening to the songs, anyone would think that we were the ones there to analyze him.

…the review continues

Review: Enter the Haggis – Somerville, MA

Posted in Music on December 6, 2008 by jkiparsky

Another review, this one is of a band I quite liked called “Enter the Haggis”. The audience did them no favors, but the band soldiered on manfully. Professionals, I like that.
The review starts:

Enter The Haggis, an energetic young rock outfit from Toronto, performed two sets of mostly original songs in Somerville on Thursday night. The group, with whom I had not previously been familiar, has a lot going for it. At this stage, I would call them a bar band with pretensions to arena rock, but in a few years I might have to simply call them arena rock, and save their bar band years for the closing paragraph: the last band I described in these terms was a group in Portland called the Decemberists. This is a game of confidence, and the boys from central Canuckistan have that in spades.

Get past the name. It’s a lousy name, but you remember it, and that’s the point of a band’s name. Don’t be fooled by the fiddle and the pipes – this isn’t a “celtic rock” band any more than Jethro Tull was about an 18th century agricultural innovator. This band is simply good bar-room rock and roll, with an emphasis on variety rather than on fealty to one style or another. In the two sets they played on Thursday, I saw them move with admirable facility from the opening “Marti’s Last Stand” (think of class-conscious rockers like the early Springsteen and Steve Earle) to the rousing pub-style shout-along “One Last Drink” (they’re going for the Clash or the Pogues, but they wound up something more polite than that) to a prog-rock folk song to a reasonably credible funk jam (there was no hiding the fact that these were Canadians, but they did their level best, and it was charming).

…the review continues

Review: Daniel Lanois – Berklee Performance Center

Posted in Music on December 6, 2008 by jkiparsky

So I started writing reviews for a local music web site called Boston Music Spotlight. It’s sort of fun, I get to play journalist, and they get to sell ads. Works for me.

Starts like this:

“When you lose control, sometimes you come up with better stuff.” This was an offhand remark between songs from Daniel Lanois, but it could have served as a motto for the show. What he didn’t say is that in order to lose control, you have to have it to begin with, but his complete control of the night was evident in everything from the impeccable pacing of the concert to the hand gestures he used to conduct his bandmates from the microphone. This tension between control and chaos defined the night.

Lanois the writer turns out simple, direct folk songs with melodies well-suited to his limited range; Lanois the producer places those songs on a stage with the ideal band to support them; and Lanois the guitarist pushes them past the simple chord progressions into spaces reminiscent of performers like Henry Kaiser and Thurston Moore, as well as more traditionally “folk” oriented guitar heroes like Neil Young and Richard Thompson. Losing control, or rather the illusion of losing control, seems to be an essential part of the process.

…and there’s more

To Anyone Interested (Saramago)

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on December 4, 2008 by jkiparsky

A brief note published on 4 December 2008, on O Caderno de Saramago, or “Saramago’s Notebook”.

In full, it reads:

    To Whom It May Concern
    I presented the Journey of the Elephant in Lisbon and I will take the opportunity to say that my head is spinning with the new book. Oof!

    The original text is almost shorter than the link, so here it is:

    A quem interesse
    By José Saramago

    Apresentei A Viagem do Elefante em Lisboa e aproveitei para dizer que a minha cabeça anda às voltas com um novo livro. Uff!

Salomon returns to Belém (Saramago)

Posted in From Saramago's Notebooks on December 3, 2008 by jkiparsky

The following text was published, in Portuguese, by José Saramago, on 3 December 2008, at his journal/web site. The original text can be found here.

This evening Salomon the elephant will return to Belém. That is to say, the literary figure, by fate, will be introduced in the place from where the real elephant departed, in the sixteenth century, to Vienna, Austria, with stops in Catelo Rodrigo, Valladolid, Rosas, Genoa, Padua, and other places until crossing the Alps and ending his days in the court of Maximillian.

The writer António Mega Ferreira and the professor and also writer, Manuel Maria Carrilho, will be charged with directing a conversation that will have as its central theme a book, I won’t be astonished if other topics are addressed which interest the three of us because they are, as the journalists say, on the day’s agenda. No, it doesn’t matter to me if the presentation of this elephant serves to speak of the world, this world which is breaking at so many seams because from Salomon the elephant to today, although it was possible, we didn’t consolidate the improvements that we needed. To avoid the night that approaches us.

A lovely dictionary entry

Posted in General on December 2, 2008 by jkiparsky

From my rather-battered-but-still-holding-together two-volume Michaelis Portuguese-English dictionary (“brought up to date of 1945 by an appendix of new words and phrases”), the entry for “horto” caught my eye:
horto, m. 1. the Garden; this word is only used in speaking of the garden called Gethsemane and mentioned in the sacred writings (v. horta, “garden”) 2. a sort of cabbage.

The second sense is just so prosaic, it spoils the wonderful sense of purpose built up in the first…

Luis Fernando Verissimo: On Hangovers

Posted in General on December 2, 2008 by jkiparsky

In my drunkard’s walk through the world of lusophonic letters, I’ve come across high-concept novelists like Saramago, exquisite craftsmen of rustic simplicity like Amado, a handful of overstuffed self-declared poets, and Luís Fernando Verissimo. For Americans, think Dave Barry with a certain amount of class, or Woody Allen without quite so much absurdism. Here is a paragraph from his essay, sure to become a philosophical classic, “On Hangovers” (“De Ressaca”):

Today, there are miraculous pills, but I still belong to the age of the great hangovers. The benders of old were more worthy, because you took them knowing that the next day, you would be in hell. Beyond good health, you needed courage. The younger generations don’t understand the hangover, which might explain their lack of the old values. The hangover was the proof that divine retribution exists and that no pleasure goes unpunished. Each shot was a defiance of heaven and its furies. And they came – Nausea, Anguish, Headache, Existential Doubt – in droves. Today, benders don’t have the same grandeur. They are, literally, inconsequential.