Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is Eddie Izzard a GBP billionaire yet?

There's this bit on Joni Mitchell's live LP Miles of Aisles when she comments to her (adoring) fans that no one ever asked Van Gogh to paint Starry, Starry Night again. Is wanting to hear a singer sing a song they've heard a hundred times already like wanting to hear a comic tell a joke you've heard before? Maybe. And (sic) maybe we want to hear Eddie Izzard tell oldies but goodies even though we know the punchline. A part of me wanted to hear one of Eddie's many famous quotables and chestnuts ("cake or death...?", " le singe est //sur la branche", the Englebert Humperdinck bit), but I knew it wasn't to be and in the end, am thankful for that. After all, I am an appreciator of art and Eddie is an artist.

The shark continues to swim.

The crowd (of which my wife and I am a part) is in love with Eddie. He is a total star with the radiation of a ten thousand other lesser comics. He talks of things that matter- life, the universe & everything. Although his hip Euro aesthetic might appear controversial stateside, Eddie won't censor his opinions. Eddie is always charming, lovable, achieving all this with a soft, sweet bite. He is the transvestite atheist who you could take home to meet your (non-cross dressing, theist) family. He mocks absurdity, takes shots at apathy and makes us all question our preposterous beliefs. He makes his points with undeniable brilliance, and perhaps he can change the world a little. For the better.

He's also a billionaire, apparently. I mean, what are his overheads?

- Ben Sumner

Kenny Garrett 7/26/08 At Dazzle

First of all let me say I'm a long time Kenny Garrett fan so I was excited for this show. I tend to prefer his more acoustic groups but any time you have the chance to see someone of his talent in a club the size of Dazzle the energy is bound to be exciting. The group consisted of Corey Henry on the organ, Lenny Stallworth on the electric bass, and Justin Brown on the drums. Kenny Garrett also doubled on the Fender Rhodes and keyboard at times, along with effects on the sax.

I went to the first set on Saturday hoping any sound issues from Friday would be resolved. The sound was clear and everything was distinct which is not always the case with a sax using effects. The house was packed, and the energy was good. The group started out with a vamping number that let Mr. Garrett stretch out and really run his bag of tricks, starting with long processed tones and moving to faster flurries. The bass and drums worked a two note motive/backbeat into the ground until given a signal by Garrett they ran a ending cycle to escalate tension and give more variety to Garrett's harmonic movement.

This band was more of a pocket band than a "jazz" band. Even though they reworked several of Garrett's older tunes Henry had limited solo space, Stallworth had one bass solo, and Brown also soloed in a limited capacity. The emphasis was on groove, audience participation, and Garrett's chops. Some other highlights were "Charlie Brown Goes To South Africa," and "Wayne's Thang." Even though these tunes spring from a different group concept, they transfered great to this group. If your favorite records by Garrett are Triology or Pursuance then this might not have been the concert for you, but it's hard not to respect Garrett's musicianship and also his desire to have a good time with the crowd. Garrett seems unafraid to follow his muse, he has made a great variety of records and always seems eager to tread new ground. Even though he plays amazing straight ahead, and great inside funk, his next record is supposed to with Pharoah Sanders. Anybody up for a Denver Kenny Garrett/Pharoah Sanders show?

Here is where you must give it up to Dazzle for bringing out Kenny Garrett, for a reasonable price, providing good sound, and a good three night stretch. Hopefully this leads to other artists of Garrett's caliber coming out and providing more good music.

-Doug Anderson

Friday, July 25, 2008

DVD Under the Radar 25/07/08

With this regular feature, I’m trying to bring attention to smaller stuff just coming out on DVD that is flying under the radar but is definitely worth a look for the discerning DVD viewer. Is that you? Then read on!

21 Up South Africa: Mandela’s Children
Following the premise of Michael Apted’s famous documentary series, this film explores the lives of a group of South African children, first filmed at age 7 in 1992 and revisited at age 14 and again now at age 21 to talk about track, and analyze the changes in their lives, their communities and country, and themselves. It’s a sociologist’s dream project – right up my alley, one could say – and a fascinating look at both the culture of South Africa and the individual within it.

Kill the Artist
This documentary explores the works of several artists – among them Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, The Baroness, and Mike Diana – who have gotten into legal trouble because of their art works. It’s an interesting look into where the lines are drawn between sexuality and pornography, between religious questioning and blasphemy, and between art and provocation.

Dirty Money (Un Flic)
Jean-Pierre Melville’s final film finds him working familiar territory, with a criminal underworld of thieves and drug-dealers and unclean cops working their jobs routinely without any of the excitement and levity of most American crime films. It’s shot in that low-energy, grimy way he has that seems to drain every scene of its color until the blues and grays match the mood of the characters. If you like your crime films fast-paced and dazzlingly exciting, Melville won’t be for you, but if you’re a fan of his earlier works like Bob Le Flambeur, Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge, this one’s sure to speak to you.

Also recently released were box set collection by directors Derek Jarman and Russ Meyer. Jarman’s Glitterbox set includes the films: The Angelic Conversation (1985), Caravaggio (1986), Wittgenstein (1993), and Blue (1993). Russ Meyer’s Cleavage Collection contains Common-Law Cabin (1967), Good Morning and Goodbye! (1967), and Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers (1968).

He's jus a Rascal

So, some friends and I set out early at 9:00 to go see Dizzee Rascal at Cervantes last Tuesday - we didn't wanna miss anything since there was no opener listed. Figured with me off on Wednesday this was an ideal situation to let loose a little and enjoy a great show. Inside it was kinda sad with maybe about 30 people in the venue. But it was early. And even so, there were probably four times as many people there at 9:00 when he played here in 2005. A sad state, yes, but maybe it was gonna pick up with a lot of late walkup biz.

We had drinks as it crept past 10:00, and then 11:00 rolls around and it's starting to look bad - only 50 or 60 folks total and still nobody on stage. Some DJ comes on starts playing reggae, segues into hip-hop and then starts playing dance stuff that's pretty far from what anybody is there for - but it got our attention, got people on the floor and listening. Around 11:45, an announcer abruptly comes on the PA system and announces that the show's cancelled and the crowd can get refunds at the door. Weird. What happened?

Bartenders and staff are pissed, claiming Dizzee refused to take payment from them in check form while crowd largely seems to assume that Dizzee doesn't want to play to an empty house. So what gives? To me it seems that the responsible thing to do is to go out and play, not to let the business side of things interfere with and punish your audience who did come out to support and who did pay to see you. If Diz didn't want to play to an empty house, he needs to just grow the fuck up - his songs are often about maturing past what his friends from his 'hood are doing. Well, if you really want to be taken seriously as an adult, behave like one. I don't have a lot of respect for the artist who allows that stuff to show through in their gig - yelling at soundmen, stopping songs because the crowd's too loud during the ballad, complaining to the audience about your monitors - that sort of thing is unprofessional and selfish. But to never take the stage when you're actually at the venue already? Really bad behavior. Worse than a no-show even.

Dizzee, if you didn't want to play to a small crowd, if you weren't willing to just come out and do your best even under mediocre circumstances, that's sad. If you used an excuse that you wouldn't take a check, it's also sad. If the contract specified cash or whatever, there shouldn't have been a check waiting for the artist - a contract's a conract - and if so, shame on Cervantes for it. If no such specification was made, it's again on Dizzee and again just sounds lame as can be.

I'm glad that I had good company to hang out with. I'm glad that a DJ at least came on to entertain folks while these sorry negotiations took place backstage. Wish he'd have been more in touch with what the crowd was there for, but it was a shitty gig to be thrown into so I feel for him. But next time Dizzee comes to town - and now it's dawning on me that the last time he came here (and played for the same club owner!) was only after at least two other gigs had been announced and cancelled (though both with some advance notice) - I'm gonna have to think twice about planning a night around it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dizzee Steps Up

Dizzee Rascal will be appearing at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom this Tuesday the 22nd, a step up from his appearance a couple years ago at the smaller sister venue Quixote’s. Last time he performed here was on the eve of the April 2005 blizzard that buried the city, but it didn’t start until after his show was over – a good thing, ‘cuz the show rocked (there’s a 14-second Youtube clip from the show, but the sound is so bad it’s not even worth posting). Weather did keep some people away, which was too bad because they missed out on some classic hip-hop. Two MCs and a DJ to keep things moving – it was total old school, post-Run-DMC style, though filtered through Dizzee’s modern sound, taking in drum & bass, UK Garage, Tricky and whatever else he likes to name as precedents to the “grime” he pushes.
Last time here he was riding his sophomore effort Showtime and still laid heavily on his debut Boy in Da Corner. This time he’s touring on the most consistent and mature record of his career (Maths & English - more on that in a moment) and I hope that maturity comes through in the show. He’s always avoided the gangster trap that snares too many young MCs – he wants to write about his hard times but doesn’t want to glorify them. But he goes further than that and enters those same tales within a framework set by songs like “Sittin Here” (from Boy in Da Corner) and the lead track on the new album (“World Outside”); songs that posit an image of him as a thoughtful, reflective, wondering what happens when he ain’t a kid no more and it’s not all fun and games. He knows, too - knows that it’s gonna be serious, knows you can’t go through life messing around like too many of his mates still do. That’s what makes songs like “Suk My Dick” and “Where Da G’s” palatable for me – it’s his way of talking live and direct to part of his audience (and also a way for him to indulge some petulant delights) and make them listen up when he chooses to get all serious. With luck they’ll learn from his wisdom.
And for me I’ll listen across the board because he knows how to make the music work - dense and aggressive on the first album, lighter, catchier tone on the second, and this time around he’s neither hard nor pop exclusively, yet retains qualities of both and blends them in a very engaging way. If his stage presence has matured the way his record making skills have, this ought to be in the running for one of my favorite shows of the year.

DVD Under the Radar 18/07/08

With this regular feature, I’m trying to bring attention to smaller stuff just coming out on DVD that is flying under the radar but is definitely worth a look for the discerning DVD viewer. Is that you? Then read on!

First thing that grabbed my attention this week is the release of Iggy & the Stooges Escaped Maniacs. A new DVD of Stooges live? How could it possibly be good, right? Well, when almost the entire repertoire comes from the first two records, as it does, you’ve got a much better chance of that happening than if they’re trying to pimp the new material. Even good stuff from Raw Power is left off as too late for this show and it’s better for it. If only a meltdown version of “L.A. Blues” had made the cut, it’d be the perfect throwback.

As for movies just out, the big little film this week that’s got my eye is the kung-fu comedy Eagle Shooting Heroes. Rather than some lame Jerry Zucker-styled lowest-common-denominator parody, this takes a genre already prone to self-mockery (90’s Hong Kong kung-fu epics) takes several of its biggest stars (Leslie Cheung, Maggie Chueng, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung and others) and goes for a comic take on the genre. Apparently it flopped upon release, but it’s taken on a life of its own now as a cult hit and you can see why – like Shaun of the Dead it makes sure it succeeds as the genre it’s making fun of before worrying about mockery.

Also of major interest this week is Chop Shop, from director Ramin Bahrani, who made the highly regarded Man Push Cart (which I haven’t yet seen). It’s a film about two young orphans living in the slums of Queens, NY and trying to make their way in the world by helping out in an auto shop and a food van and hoping to gain enough to make a better life. It’s a gritty, almost documentary feel not unlike the strong, street-level stories of The Bicycle Thief or Los Olvidados. Suffice to say that Man Push Cart will be moving up my Netflix queue in the wake of seeing this terrific film.

And one last one just out that I haven’t seen but have heard raves about is Stop-Loss, directed by Kimberly Peirce (who made the very good and very weighty Boys Don’t Cry). In it, Ryan Phillippe plays a soldier just home from a tour of duty in Iraq who is ordered to return just when he’d thought his life would return to normal. Sounds like not-too-light fare yet again, but the way it’ll play out in terms of loyalty and honor – both to his country and to his family – sounds like drama right up my alley. And according to most things I’ve read it steers clear of partisan issues, so it ought to speak to most anybody.

Stevie Wonder's Miracle

As we sat there at the mainly wretched Fiddler’s Green in Englewood, Co. the thing that struck me was the wide-ranging nature of the crowd. Every age group was represented, every race, every level of rock-starry self-importance or Joe six-pack ordinariness. It was really different than most concert experiences. The last time I remember a crowd like this was The Jackson’s Victory Tour. When the somewhat portly, but beautifully beaming Mr. Wonder took the stage with his 13 piece band the mood of the crowd solidified, and the aforementioned differences present melted into one gigantic love-fest. There are few concerts I see these days that I would term magical-but, as always, Stevie Wonder has a way of lifting the mundane reality of our everyday existence to a rare, life-affirming place.

This was the fourth time I had seen Stevie Wonder, and my wife’s first and we both went in with expectations pretty low. After all, Stevie’s output in the last two decades has been sparse and unsatisfying to my ears. He has consistently produced charting hits, and kept his icon status untarnished through the loving and intelligent charity work he has always done. But, let’s face it, after Hotter than July none of his albums have had the broad appeal of his classic work. His early Motown hits stand with the greats of the era (Marvin, Smokey, James Brown etc.) as some of the best. This show was a bit short on these (most notably present were “My Cherie Amour” and “Signed, Sealed , Delivered” with a little Obama love thrown in), focusing on his early and mid-seventies masterworks instead. That period (1972-76) ,however, stands as one of the richest periods in pop music history. Like the Beatles or the Stones’ great periods, that five album run ( Music Of My Mind, Fullfillingness’ First Finale, Talking Book, Innervisions, Songs In The Key Of Life) stand singularly in pop music as an impressive achievement-by anyone’s standards. So, when he started digging in to the deep cuts like “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,” an incredibly emotional version of “Isn’t She Lovely”( with daughter Aisha whom the song is written about –now a beautiful adult singer clinging to her father. Mid-song they both broke down in tears and, it is safe to say, there was literally not a dry eye in the house), the real value of Mr. Wonder became clear. He didn’t write a few songs that made the charts; he CHANGED the direction of popular music. Musically, he brought and unstoppable beat back to pop, making even the sappiest singles danceable and at least a little funky, but lyrically he opened up the floodgates. Songs like “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” take mere sentimentality and raise it to a level of heightened spiritual awareness. No small accomplishment.
And so it went for over two hours; hit after hit after anthem, after beloved staple. And what I said earlier about his later work being of less consequence; well there were people around me who shrugged when he played a medely of “Sir Duke” and “I Wish” but melted down during “Ribbon In The Sky” or “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a record store guy over the last 25 years is; music is great because YOU think it is great. Of course there has to be some aesthetic agreement about what is great and what isn’t; but transcending that has to be the real ability that a song can have to lift the spirit of man. I can name a hundred songs that are stupid, formulaic, trite and so on yet are rightfully beloved by millions. Stevie Wonder succeeds on both levels. He is a musician’s musician and simultaneously the people’s poet.

This last fact, that Stevie Wonder cuts across so many lines of culture and delivers emotional and musical sustinence to such a broad spectrum of listeners puts him in a very rarified group of artists indeed. One thinks of Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Lennon/MCcartney maybe Sinatra at some level, but the list is short. And of them, only Stevie Wonder is still out there touring, and making people happy through his performances. There are so few artists that can veer smoothly from genius to schmaltz and back again and keep the entirety of their audience happy.

Post show, the album that has drawn me in almost non-stop is Songs In The Key Of Life. What an amazing achievement that album is. It is one of only a handful of albums that I listen to all the through-never skipping any song. The fact that it was a sprawling 21 song double album makes the accomplishment even more impressive. It is such a wonderful amalgam of Soul, Funk, Rock, Jazz and Stevie (his own category) that it becomes more and more endearing as the years pass. If I ever did have to grab just one album before a fire engulfed my house, I’d probably roast with indecision as I stared at Songs In The Key Of Life and Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde. I really believe Stevie Wonder will be one of the few artists that history takes with it as proof that the era meant something.



In that heady first year or two of college, when I was finally away from my parents and was able to listen to music in the optimal situation, and, as Timothy Leary said, in the right “set and setting” I remember the first times I really started to understand the effect that the volume music was listened to had in the overall appreciation of the music itself. During my second year, Joel Berk (R.I.P.) and I met a guy named Enoch who became a close friend in that whirlwind, 20 year old-here today-gone tomorrow- kind of way. We were two Jewish kids from Denver, he was a very Southern, African American kid who shared none of our background but all of our youthful yearning to live and learn outside of the confines of our upbringing. We somehow got on completely the same page about listening to music…loud. It was from Enoch that I first “got it” about turning it up. He would say, “you turn it up and you turn it up, but you finally get to the point where it just turns the corner muthathafucka, and then…” and he would sit back, all 6’6”, 260 pounds with the most perfect, beatific grin on his face “and then… you are IN the music.”

That semester we were inseparable. We would spend hours listening to music loud. He would play us records (this was before CDs) by Funkadelic, Ohio Players and Earth Wind and Fire and we would play him Zappa, The Dead and Zeppelin. We all experienced the music “turning the corner.” We ruined many speakers and pissed off many neighbors. After Christmas break we never saw Enoch again. The experience was indelible for me. I had long been excited by loud concert sound, but just didn’t get the same experience at home. Through the years my appreciation of this fact has never diminished. I now have the loudest stereo I have ever had, and the most permissive environment in which to listen and I can more fully extol the virtues of “turning the corner” than ever. Headphones are one thing, but really turning it up and letting it just shake the room is truly one of the great visceral pleasures we are still aloud.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The livin' is easy, The Cotton is high etc.

Well I guess there is no question that summer is here now. Some season was missing. I'm not sure if we never got spring, or if summer started late or what but now it feels like it is supposed to-hot. You’ll be glad to know we got our air conditioner serviced yesterday and it is frigidly comfortable at Twist. Lots going on. Starting on the 18th we are embarking on something we have talked about for a long time. Our Underground Sound Series will give the opportunity to local DJs to play live in our dance room. Colorado’s finest DJ's will spin from 6-8pm, playing everything from House to Hip-Hop on vinyl and CD (no MP3’s!). We are aiming to strengthen our connection with the Dance/Hip-Hop community and create a place where DJ's and customers alike can listen to some good music, make connections, know that they have a store that supports the local DJ community, and know that VINYL IS ALIVE and still here. We also have a bunch of sales going on this month. First we have the hilarious and provocative Eddie Izzard's work on sale in anticipation of his upcoming show on Monday. We are also having sales on two of our favorite labels: Anti and Sub Pop. Find scads of great albums on sale by artists like Devotchka, Neko Case, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Band Of Horses, The Shins, Iron and Wine and much more. This is a great opportunity to fill in the gaps in some important artists’ catalogs.

Also, the new album by Boulder band 3OH!3 is blowing up! I ran numbers today, and local rock and local rap are HUGE. Way bigger than they have ever been before for us. Nothing makes us feel like we are doing our job more than seeing some success in our local music sections. Thank you for that. Me? I'm still breathing heavy over the Stevie Wonder show recently. It lifted me off the ground about ten feet. Look for a longer review of the experience when we launch our blog next week-wow! Have a great weekend and don’t forget the music.

See you in the aisles,
Paul Epstein