Closing down sale

New thing:

Bookmark it, add it to RSS readers, do whatever it is you do.

We had a nice run here, but I've less and less time and write in AYGH.

So please come with me to the new digs, and I hope you'll enjoy it just as much.

4Play: Good Reads 2010

Since it’s part of the Blogger Terms of Service that, if you have a blog, you have to post lists in the last three weeks of every year, I’m legally obliged to write about some of the things I’ve enjoyed since the clock turned 2010. To do so, I’m bringing back the long-dormant feature 4Play to Are You Gene Hackman? Lists of four, you see, are easier than lists of ten, or fifty, or whatever. Let’s get started!

4Play: Books I liked.
(I wish I could think of a better title than that. I'm not creative.)

I’m not as well-read as I’d like to be. What with jobs, families, planning a wedding (oh, I got engaged), Angry Birds and comedy podcasts, who has the time? But I did read and enjoy these worthy tomes. They all came out in 2010, although Mark Watson’s only came out in the UK, and won’t be available in the States ‘til the Spring. Oh, and please excuse my formatting with the pictures. Blogger is not an easy mistress at times.

Mark Watson – Eleven
Watson is a British stand-up, TV personality and Bristol City supporter. Once, I was watching ‘Have I Got News For You’ with my parents, and he was on it, and my mum said “Hey, he looks like you and is funny like you.” He also wears sweaters and glasses, so I took that as a compliment. His novel is about a group of people who don’t know each other, but become connected as a result of each other’s actions. What a horrible description I just gave it. It’s a great novel – not “brilliantly hilarious and hilariously brilliant” as Stephen Fry’s blurb suggests – but well-observed, occasionally poignant, and very fun. Look out for it next year.

D.C. Pierson – The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To
I just finished this one today, which was awfully convenient as regards making this list. D.C. Pierson is a Napoleon Dynamite-lookin’ dude whose comedy troupe Derrick Comedy made last year’s terrific movie Mystery Team. He’s younger than me and I hate him for that. His debut novel showed a great understanding of both high-school outsiders, and giant monsters that smash things. I liked it a lot.

Julie Klausner – I Don’t Care About Your Band
In which Julie Klausner hilariously illustrates that type-A jock/frat apes don’t have a monopoly on being insensitive, oblivious, horrendous boyfriends. That’s right, even turtleneck-wearing The Sea and Cake fans can be awful. Klausner’s compilation of bad partners is impressive as well as troubling, and her narratives are a joy to behold. I wrote about this book months ago – what are you waiting for?

Nathan Rabin – My Year of Flops

I love minutiae, and Rabin’s second book is packed with details about films both bad and awful, plus a few diamonds in the rough. As with Klausner, I really dig Rabin’s voice in the book, it’s funny and pop-cultured just to the degree that’s not over the top. And I appreciated that he gave every movie in the book a chance, keeping an open mind and never just dumping on a film. Even the ones that deserved it. Here’s a more full review I wrote of the book for another site.

St. Elsewhere

Here are links to things I've written in the last couple of months. Perhaps you'd like to give them a read.

Recently, I've been writing for, where I reviewed

Interpol live
Phoenix/Wavves live
Nowhere Boy
Exit Through the Gift Shop

Elsewhere, I also wrote about Nathan Rabin's new book about cinematic flops.


Hey dudes

As you'll have noticed, I don't write in here a whole lot. But I have started writing about music and comedy at The Daily City, a leading Orlando-based arts and culture blog.

When I write a review for that site, I'll throw a link in here...

Here's one: Interpol at the House of Blues. (Short version: better than I expected, but got a bit samey.)


We're not afraid / We have our faith

After falling for The Hold Steady about four years after it was cool to do so, I was terribly excited to go and see them live this past weekend. I’d never seen them before, due to a girlfriend’s birthday, the imminent Florida Bar Exam, and the simple fact that they rarely come down to Florida. So when they announced two nights (two!) at a smallish venue only a short drive from my house, I bought tickets for Saturday immediately, and after some internal debates (that’s a lie: “debates” would imply that there were points and counterpoints, and this would be patently untrue), I decided to get a Sunday ticket too. Who knows when they’ll be down here again, right? Right? You guys?!

There were some very noticeable differences between both shows. On Saturday, it was sold out, the (party) pit was absolutely crammed, it was incredibly sweaty, the crowd tossed a beach ball around for a while, and the atmosphere was amazing. On Sunday night, there were fewer people, it was easy to get a good spot near the front, and the crowd was a little more relaxed. The band probably noticed this: Sunday’s set featured a lot more deep cuts and non-album tracks. It was fun to hear ‘You Gotta Dance With Who You Came To The Dance With” and “Girls Like Status” and “Goin’ On A Hike”, even if only about six people in the house knew the latter. (I’m not one of the six, I’m sorry to report).

Considering many people find the band’s newest record disappointing, the songs from it were received very warmly. On Sunday, ‘Barely Breathing’ had everyone dancing while ‘We Can Get Together’ had everyone swooning. I’m still not sure what ‘A Slight Discomfort’ is about, but it does feature the word “succubae” which is pretty cool, and featured some killer drumming. The place was small enough, and the audience rapt enough, that a lot of times the intro riffs to songs would be obscured by cheering. This may be due to where we were standing, or just because people really adore this band.

I think it’s really cool that the band entirely changed their set over the two nights. Only the three singles from the new record were played both nights, meaning that I saw them play a total of 43 different songs over two shows. Massive kudos for shaking things up, boys!

One thing that was constant over the two nights, was the bloody-minded enthusiasm of the six gentlemen onstage. Again, I’d never seen them before, and it was everything I’d hoped for. Craig Finn is a joy to watch, and he dances the way I do, without all the self-consciousness that I have. As he often says, there is so much joy in what they do onstage, and it’s impossible to see them up close and personal and not feel moved. He thanked everyone for skipping the Lost finale. He introduced the band. He told us that he had been fined that day for smoking weed in his hotel room. Even if he’s starting to show his age on ‘Heaven is Whenever’, he’s still the cool older brother we all wish we had.

And those songs… holy crap. Being in the crowd when everyone’s shouting “Whoah woah” or some variation thereof is just such a fun experience. They didn’t play ‘Chips Ahoy!’ the first night, but did ‘Stay Positive’ and ‘Slapped Actress’ instead. And then, on Sunday, the familiar opening riffs of the love song about a man, a woman and a horse began and everyone went ape.

I’d say that Saturday was the better show, not just because they played more of my faves that night (‘Cattle and the Creeping Things’! ‘The Swish’! ‘Massive Nights’!) but also because I had friends with me on Saturday to share the glory, whereas I was a Larry Loner on Sunday. No matter. Both shows were fantastic – reminded me of how communal and triumphant and spectacularly fun live music can be. Come back soon, The Hold Steady.

Come back soon.

SATURDAY: Sweet Part of the City/Constructive Summer/The Swish/Magazines/Hurricane J/Stevie Nix/Multitude of Casualties/The Smidge/Cattle and the Creeping Things/Rock Problems/Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night/Lord I’m Discouraged/Our Whole Lives/Stay Positive/Sweet Payne/Southtown Girls/Stuck Between Stations/Your Little Hoodrat Friend/Massive Nights/Slapped Actress // Citrus/First Night/The Weekenders

SUNDAY: Positive Jam / Sequestered in Memphis / Navy Sheets / Banging Camp / Rock Problems / Ask Her For Adderall / Hot Soft Light / You Gotta Dance With Who You Came To The Dance With / Charlemagne in Sweatpants / Chips Ahoy! / Hurricane J / You Can Make Him Like You / Barely Breathing / On A Hike / Milk Crate Mosh / The Weekenders / Same Kooks / We Can Get Together / Most People Are DJs / A Slight Discomfort // Hornets! Hornets! / Girls Like Status / How a Resurrection Really Feels


Hey guys,

I'm going to be covering the Florida Film Festival, which begins later this week, for Hollywood Elsewhere.

My first post, a kind of preview of sorts (I don't know why I'm saying "of sorts" - a preview is exactly what it is) is up now:

Keep an eye over there for updates over the next couple of weeks.

The best of an imperfect world

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists / Screaming Females
Tallahassee, Club Downunder
April 3, 2010

…But first, let me tell you about my journey to Tallahassee. It was a beautiful Saturday, I was listening in the car to Michael Palin read his Diaries, and I was just south of my old hometown, Gainesville, when suddenly my car started violently shuddering. Never a good sign, much less at 80 mph. Luckily, I was in the far left lane, so I was able to pull to the side of the Interstate and get out of the way. I’m a paranoid, worried driver at the best of times, and this was certainly not the best of times. I got out of the car, and found a spectacularly blown out front tire on the passenger side. Called AAA for assistance, and when they asked where I was, all I could think of was “I’m between the exits for Jai-Alai and the strip club”. I knew the area but only by its landmarks. The guy soon came and bravely replaced my tire, inches from cars whizzing by. When he was done, I hobbled up the interstate as fast as the crappy spare tire would allow, and made it to Gainesville, where it was replaced with a real one. I’m fortunate, I suppose, that it happened close to a town I knew my way around, which was not in the middle of nowhere. If it had occurred an hour further up the road, around Lake City, I’d have been in trouble. As was, I got to see a couple of old friends, roam around Target, and made it to Tallahassee only three hours behind schedule.

Anyway, on to the rock.

Screaming Females were up first, and I didn’t know anything about them other than that they had a great name. Sho’nuff, they’re led by a singer/guitarist named Marissa, who has long hair that covers her eyes and also she is great. Seriously, her guitar playing was really interesting, and the band were tight, and it was a terrific set. I’ll look them up, you should do the same.

Then came Shorty Award winning Ted Leo, who, along with his Pharmacists, has just released an excellent album called ‘The Brutalist Bricks’. They opened with ‘The Mighty Sparrow’, which, unlike its video, succumbed to the stupid laws of gravity, but only just. Cut to the chase: this band is on fire. When they were done, I felt like it had been a short set, but look at that list: they played 20 songs! And that’s just what I remember two days later. Throwing three singles into the first four songs might be a problem for some bands, but TL/Rx didn’t lose any momentum, and I’m happy to say, the crowd was really into it too – not always a given at Club Downunder. There’s not a lot to say about the performance: they ploughed through great song after great song, and I was struck by how hard Big Steve hits his drums. That guy means it.

I was surprised at how few songs from ‘Living with the Living’ came up, but not too saddened by the emphasis on the new album and ‘Shake the Sheets’. Everything I wanted to hear got played. ‘Bottled In Cork’, the highlight from ‘The Brutalist Bricks’, and one of Ted’s finest ever songs, sounds a lot more muscular live, and it was a goosebumps moment to see Ted, James and Marty Violence all harmonizing “I’m falling in love” as it sped to its conclusion. The only way that ‘Timorous Me’ could ever be improved would be for it to segue into another great song, and that’s what happened. During ‘Walking to Do’, Ted gave a shout-out to The Cowhaus (now the much less cool-sounding Engine Room), the scene of TL/Rx’s first Tallahassee show, many many moons ago. Everyone loved them – even the guy who heckled with “Play some songs!” and Ted stuck around afterwards to shake every hand and be in every photograph. If anyone ever tells you that Ted Leo isn’t the world’s nicest dude, slap them and call them a liar.

The Mighty Sparrow / Heart Problems /Me and Mia /Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone? / Where Was My Brain / I’m a Ghost / One Polaroid A Day / The Stick / Counting Down the Hours / Little Dawn / Even Heroes Have To Die / Bottled In Cork / Colleen / A Bottle of Buckie / Gimme the Wire/The High Party // Fisherman’s Blues / Timorous Me / Walking To Do /Biomusicology

The music is really, completely, in charge of us

Though I've been known to complain about good touring bands rarely making it to my part of the world, I honestly do realize that central Florida ain't so bad. There's plenty of good venues, bands that I like come by Orlando - or Tampa or Tallahassee - with some frequency, and while it may not be a London or a Chicago or an Austin, it's fine. Besides, it could be worse, I could be living in the middle of nowhere, perennially covered in snow, a thousand kilometers from the gigging circuit. I feel for the young (and old, but mostly the young) music fans in those areas, who never get to experience a dickhead shouting for "Freebird" every three minutes.

Apparently, The White Stripes feel similarly, as their new film Under Great White Northern Lights documents their tour of a country called Canada. They didn't just play Toronto and Vancouver, though. That's too mainstream. They played a series of gigs across the country - one in each province. In addition to playing in concert halls in places that rarely get red-hot rock and roll bands, which is cool enough, they also did a series of sideshows in each town. Some of these are pretty cool: an unannounced little performance in a town square at lunchtime draws out hundreds of people. Most of them don't even know who the band actually is, but they're excited that something is happening in their town. It's lovely to see the kids get excited for this. Even better is when they play "The Wheels on the Bus" on a school bus, and best of all is seeing Jack White play his guitar during a show at a bowling alley, while rolling an 8. Not too shabby! They also perform the world's shortest ever concert, literally playing one note, to a decent-sized crowd. I guess it's cool that they're in the record books, but if I were in the throng, waiting for ages, watching the bands' casual-assassin-looking roadies set up the instruments, and then the concert lasted less than five seconds, I might be a little annoyed. And apparently they didn't even make the record books. Yikes.

The documentary features a lot of interesting footage of the band on tour: meeting Native elders, talking about the band in that enigmatic not-really-saying-anything way we've come to expect, and there's a decent amount of songs from their shows. 'The Union Forever' is spliced with corresponding footage from 'Citizen Kane', which I thought was pretty cool. There's 'Black Math' - hot damn, that song is ace - and many other songs. Some of the praise that's mentioned in the trailer seems a little over the top, but as a document about an interesting tour with some pretty ace songs, the doc is solid. I don't think it has much repeat-watching value, but very few documentaries do. Check it!

Desired satisfaction

I had some long stretches of drivin' to do recently, so in the absence of an iPod dock in my car, or any radio stations that ignore 'I Gotta Feeling' in America, I went to my local library to get an audiobook for the journey. Now, I'm not saying I'm picky, but I spent half an hour browsing the new releases (first floor) and the bigger archive (AV room, third floor). After much deliberation, I opted for The Guinea Pig Diaries by AJ Jacobs. As I'd find out on the drive back home, this would be a gutsy choice: one chapter begins with Jacobs discussing the time he got into a dangerous car accident because he got distracted while driving by an audiobook about Einstein. Yikes. Luckily, I had no such lapses, and have lived to tell the tale.

In each of his two previous books, Jacobs conducted an experiment and wrote about it. This time, there are about eight different experiments, which made each story more concise and interesting. Most of the stunts he gets up to are totally ballsy and/or fascinating. He pretended to be Shine's Noah Taylor at the 1997 Oscars, successfully convincing everyone except co-star Geoffrey Rush. He spent a month practicing Radical Honesty, which is basically 'Liar Liar' without all the gurning. He also outsourced his entire life to a couple of companies in India for a month; lived for a month closely following the tenets of George Washington (step one: don't shake hands), and masqueraded as his pretty au pair for internet dating.

I only really found one of the stories a little boring - it concerned Absolute Rationality, and was much more long and less gripping than the others. (Though Jacobs, like Jonathan Safran Foer in 'Eating Animals', which I'm currently reading, makes the point that there's no rational reason why we don't eat pasta for breakfast. My girlfriend would doubtless approve.) Jacobs' storytelling is personal and witty throughout, though you do start feeling for his long-suffering wife, who has to put up with all these insane experiments. Fittingly, the final piece in the book concerns a month where he obeyed his wife's every demand.

Whether you like this book will depend entirely upon how you feel about this kind of experiment-based journalism. As long as you're not one of those people who can't stand it, you'll get a kick out of the book.

Footnote: You must (MUST) check out AJ Jacobs' appearance on Seven Second Delay. It was on December 2nd, 2009, and AJ was the first guest on. It was the episode where Ken was drunk, and it's entirely glorious.

Paging Dr. I Don't Think So

Hey, you guys, I wrote a review of Julie Klausner's hot new book 'I Don't Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I've Dated' for Half Deserted Streets.

Why not hop over there and read same?

Relish in your energy

Last year, I saw precisely one live gig. In the entire year. This is the fewest since I was eleven years old, and frankly I'm ashamed at how infrequently I made it out. 2010 will be different. To that end, last night I went to see the hotly-tipped new band Surfer Blood play at Park Ave CDs, which conveniently enough is a seven minute drive from my home. And yes, a four-song set counts as an entire gig, such is the lack of live music in my recent past. Though I had heard their name a few times recently, I hadn't really paid Surfer Blood any attention until their recent hot review on Pitchfork. It's amazing what wonders an 8.2 from that site can do for a new band.

So anyway, Surfer Blood are from West Palm Beach, and their being really quite good counteracts at least one terrible Florida band. They're all in their early 20s, but don't look a day over 18. My girlfriend taught English to 17 year olds two years ago, and they look older than the guys in the band. But if we learned anything from Aaliyah, it was that age ain't nothing but a numerical depiction of how many years a given individual or entity has been alive/around for.

Live, SB were a lot of fun. Though I've never been much of a Weezer fan, there's a nice nod to the Blue Album in most of Surfer Blood's songs, and that's okay with me. Of their four songs, the single 'Swim (To Reach The End)' got the most love from the crowd, with a nice - and not the first of the night - drums versus cowbell showdown. They also dedicated a song to the late Jay Reatard, which was sweet, and played another that shouted out David Lynch.

The band is playing a few shows in the UK next week, before returning for a big tour, including several shows at SXSW. Catch them if you can, but just make sure they get home before bedtime.

I had a strange dream

I never remember dreams, so it's remarkable that this one, from last night, has stuck with me for an entire day. Psychoanalyists, start your psychoanalysin'!

So I'm at a bookstore, with my good friend Jon Hamm, the star of a very popular TV show that I've never got around to seeing. Not regular handsome Jon Hamm, you understand, but current, bearded Jon Hamm. Is it weird that I can tell you exactly which bookstore it was, too? It was Waterstones, Piccadilly. Jon Hamm and I were classmates in some college class, and were at the bookstore to pick up a textbook, which as fortune would have it was written by Jon Hamm. After much scouring the shop and its eight stories for the book, we finally found its one remaining copy, on a display. Just as we were going to grab it, some woman took it from the display. What a jerk! Jon Hamm was mad about it (no pun intended, although I suppose that isn't actually a pun so much as half a reference to his popular television drama) and a war of words developed between he and the woman. "I'm Jon Hamm and I wrote this damn book!" he said, as he snatched the book away from her, and then we ran away, triumphant in the knowledge that we had outmuscled a lady, and that security would doubtless be on their way.

From the dusty crates #7: Younger Younger 28s

Holy Moses, it's been a while since I wrote in here, hasn't it? Why, the last time there was new content on Are You Gene Hackman, it was a different decade, Conan was comfortably settling into The Tonight Show, and Gordon Brown was the Prime Minister. How times change!

Over the holidays, my old schoolfriend John came to visit from Newcastle, which was lovely. Always nice to see an old face, from my pre-moving-to-America life. Predictably, we spent a large chunk of our day together discussing forgotten bands of yesteryear, whom we used to cover for my webzine. (I still maintain that the 'zine was way ahead of its time, incidentally.)

Today's inductee into the Dusty Crates Hall of Fame, which is something that definitely exists, is Younger Younger 28s, a band that showed up in 1999, played some gigs and festivals, released an album, and then disappeared. How you feel about them will depend very strongly upon how you feel about The Human League. YY28s employed the same dynamic: two guys, two girls, synths, stories about working-class teenagers, and such. The dude that sang went by the handle Joe Northern, and is now an artist/comedian whose bio is interesting and well worth a read. The press didn't know what to make of them - they pretty much got lost in the shuffle.

I happened to see the band play at the Improv Theatre in London, a gig I attended with aforementioned John, along with Stephen Eastwood, who wrote for Teletext Music at the time and was my most famous friend. (Teletext recently closed its music site, Planet Sound, which was a great resource but was rendered sort of superfluous by the internet). At the gig, I happened to bump into a guy named Duck, who played keyboards in a band named Straw, who might show up in this column at some point in the future. It was at this gig, my friends, that I had my first (social) alcoholic beverage. Duck offered to buy me a drink and I had to say "Uh... whatever you're having" since I was sixteen, and had only ever had a beer with family and therefore had no frame of reference as to what to drink to look cool. I think he bought me a Jack and Coke. That's my primary recollection of the gig, which is probably a bad thing, but my review at the time suggests that I liked it a lot. I saw them again on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury that year, too, and remember people in Bush and Marilyn Manson shirts looking unimpressed.

It's hard to listen to their album 'Soap' now and not dismiss it as overtly cheesy, but 'Sugar Sweet Dreams', particularly, could still hold up as a dark, brooding, 80s sounding disco smash.

[download Younger Younger 28s - Sugar Sweet Dreams]
[download Younger Younger 28s - We're Going Out]

AYGH's 25 Films of the 2000s

Since everyone with a website and hands is pre-occupied at the moment with making lists, here’s one I made about films that I like. I don’t know if I’ll do a corresponding one for music, because I’m lazy and that sounds difficult. Here’s the list, in chronological order. Why don’t you list YOUR favourites in the comments? That’d be ka-blamo.

O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)

My favourite Coen Brothers film. I know, I know. It almost got me into bluegrass music, but fell a little short. That aside, the scene towards the end at the Klan rally is insane, Clooney is really funny and I’ve enjoyed many hours of saying “I thought you wuz a tooooad” like Tim Blake-Nelson.

Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Loved it, will never watch it again. The sequence where she sings ‘I’ve Seen It All’ around the train is mesmerizing. It’s the only von Trier film I’ve really enjoyed, and even so, I can’t imagine I’ll ever watch it again. It’s a shame the film is only remembered for Bjork’s Oscar dress.

24 Hour Party People (2001)

Coogan and Winterbottom (they’ll be back later) told the story of Tony Wilson’s life in full, bonkers, technicolour glory. From the introduction, that’s addressed plainly to the viewer, to the closing Revelation, this was enjoyable, often funny, didn’t gloss over Ian Curtis’ suicide too flippantly, and featured some amazing tunes. Also, the scene where the Ryder brothers put rat poison on bread and then dead pigeons fall out of the sky is way funnier than good taste would suggest it should be.

Hero (2002)

My pal Nick brought this one back from Japan, a year or so before Tarantino got onboard and it made decent money in the States. We watched it on DVD at Kirk and John’s, and it blew my mind. Maybe it’s because I didn’t see Crouching Tiger until long after its hype had died down, and seeing this felt like a little secret. After this one came House of Flying Daggers, which I didn’t like nearly as much. The scene where there are thousands of raining arrows is the only thing I can remember all these years later – I really need to see this again.

City of God (2002)

This one almost cost me a girlfriend. We were watching it at the SLB, and the violence was too much for her, so she said “I’m going home.” Apparently, good boyfriends would get up and walk their partners home in this situation, but I was way too immersed in the film, so I let her go alone. Admittedly, our residence hall was a one minute walk away, but I appreciate the principle that makes me out to be a jerk. But in my defense, how ace is ‘City of God’? The cinematography, the way the colour saturation changes as the movie progresses to indicate the passing of time… it’s tremendous.

28 Days Later (2002)

The first of two London-set zombie films. Here, the zombies appeared to be well-mobilized, though. This one really worked on an emotional level. When Cillian Murphy’s character roams the deserted streets of central London, and then goes to his parents’ house, it’s genuinely affecting and creepy. Plus, ‘am180’ in the supermarket made me all happy.

Spellbound (2002)

How did a documentary about some kids manage to be both incredibly suspenseful, and also really really funny? While I naturally had a soft spot for the Indian kids, but my friend Nadia and I mostly just did impressions of the little boy who spoke like a robot. Wiki tells me that kid is now studying for a PhD. I feel very unaccomplished.

Jackass: The Movie (2002)

Yeah, yeah. Turn your noses back down, snobs. I didn’t really have any interest in this, missed it in the cinemas, but was working the night we played it at the SLB. I sat in the back row, so I could see the entire audience – all 380 seats were full – and it was an amazing movie-going experience. It was insanely fun to watch a big roomful of people all turn away, shriek and cover their eyes at the same moment. And later, I have fond memories of going to John and Kirk’s and watching the extra footage on the DVD that was also insane. There’s going to be a 3D Jackass movie soon? Hooray! I mean... probably not.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Will Gondry, Kaufman, Carrey, Winslet, Wood or Ruffallo ever reach these heights again? Also, T-Wilks!

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Probably my fave of the decade. They just get everything spot-on. When it has to be, it's hilarious, and the last act gets really heavy. I just found out that Shaun's last name is Riley. I live for trivia like that.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Not my fave book in the series, but definitely the best film. The final act, with the Time-Turner stuff, is majestic, and I’m always happy to see David Thewlis in things.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

Despite the best efforts of everyone who still quotes it to death, ‘Anchorman’ is still the balls. I’m no cine-anthropologist, so I won’t go into how its success opened the door for many other great comedies, but regardless, it probably did. The giant newscasters’ brawl still makes me fall out of chairs, so I usually watch it while sitting on the floor.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Beginning to end, I just love it. My #1 Wes Anderson film. I am not on drugs.

Kung Fu Hustle (2005)

I saw this one by myself at the Paramount Theatre in Austin for SXSW. Obviously, I wasn’t alone, but everyone else in our group went to see something else, leaving me as Billy No-Mates. Luckily, the film is magical. The opening scene features bad guys getting laid to waste by some stylish vigilantes, culminating in a woman getting SHOTGUN’d. From there, it just gets better and better. Stephen Chow is a pretty bonkers filmmaker, and even his kids’ flick CJ7 had some things to love. But Kung Fu Hustle is his greatest.

Brick (2006)

I’d heard a lot of good things about Rian Johnson’s film, but didn’t bother to actually seek it out until it was recommended by my Torts professor. I’ve never claimed to be cool. Really gritty, with especially noteworthy dialogue and some really well-defined characters, it is an under-the-radar gem.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Wow, writing paragraphs for each of these films is getting tiresome. So I’ll try and be briefer. Firstly, this film made me even more afraid of amputations than I previously was. The magical creatures are only half the story here – the plot is amazing, and the ending perfect.

Mission Impossible 3 (2006)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If ‘The Woods’ was a film, it’d be Mission Impossible 3. And I love ‘The Woods.’

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2006)

Coogan and Winterbottom reunited, and it feels so good. An entirely self-aware film that is very very funny and features a brief appearance from the late Tony Wilson.

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2006)

The lineup was made in my dreams. One of the most straight-up JOYFUL films of the last few years. My favourite character was the dude in charge of the marching band who was disarmingly proper throughout.

Man On Wire (2007)

Oscar winner!

Once (2007)

Oscar winner!

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Should’ve been Oscar winner!

The Wrestler (2008)

Should’ve been Oscar winner! Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to bitch about how ‘Big Fan’ STILL has not made it to Central Florida. What the hell, distributors?

Wall-E (2008)

Pixar at its finest. If you didn’t get misty-eyed when Wall-E was nursing Eve, and wrapped the Christmas lights around her and held her hand (claw?), then you’re made of granite or some other, more porous rock.

In the Loop (2009)

“No, you're right, I'm being unfair. I should be thanking you for not throwing up. Well done, you're a star. You didn't wet yourself, did you? You're in the right city. You didn't say anything overtly racist. You didn't pull your cock out and start plucking it and shouting "Willy Banjo". No, I'm being really unfair. You'd got so much right, without actually being there in the beginning of one of the most important moments of my career. Thanks, you're a legend.”

Unrelated: ‘The Thick of It’ as greatest TV show of the decade?

From the dusty crates #6: My Vitriol

Unlike some of the other bands mentioned in here thus far, My Vitrol were actually from London, and as such, there was an eighteen month period when they were always around. I'm sure I've seen them like ten times, supporting Mansun, King Adora, JJ72, Feeder, at festivals, at random headline gigs... and I don't even like them that much. What's most significant about why I kept coming back to My Vitriol despite my, at best, kinda liking them, was that a) two of them were Indian (possibly Sri Lankan?), and b) their PR guy pushed them REALLY heavily. As in, I'm sure I received their album - and their subsequent and entirely superfluous album reissue - at least three times. They put out a string of singles that were okay, with 'Always Your Way' being a favourite that was released twice. The band's primary influences appeared to be My Bloody Valentine and Nirvana. Vincent Gallo appeared in the 'Grounded' video. Wait, what was that last one?

Once, at the insistence of said PR guy, my friend Natan and I went to interview the band, prior to a gig at Shepherds Bush Empire, supporting Mansun. We went to a pub around the corner, and half the band couldn't be bothered, and went off to talk with their mates. So, Natan and I chatted with Carolyn and Seth, the bass player and guitarist. I thought it went rather well, both were very nice, and just to give you an idea of how long ago this is, we discussed Zach de la Rocha's "imminent" solo album. Yikes. I was happily typing it up the following afternoon, and their PR guy called me up, saying that the band had complained about us, that we'd been really horrible, and that we're never allowed to talk to My Vitriol again. That definitely was unexpected, and took a little sorting out.

That mostly turned me off the band, although our paths continued to cross for a while longer. As far as I can tell, they still haven't put out a second record. Apparently, they are on the covering-Crazy-bandwagon, and were the last band to rock the Astoria before the Man won.

[download My Vitriol - Always Your Way]
[download My Vitriol - Falling Off the Floor]

The Rakes break up

It's that time again, another band I quite like have called it quits.

A statement from the band explained that their hearts just weren't in it any more. "The Rakes have always been very adamant and proud of the fact that we give 100 per cent to every gig we've ever played," the statement read.

"If we can't give it everything then we won't do it. That was the rule we set ourselves from day one. After much deliberation we have come to the shared conclusion that we can't give it 100 per cent any more and regret to announce that The Rakes are calling it a day."

Play it loud, play it proud.


[download The Rakes - Strasbourg]

From the dusty crates #5: JJ72

I'll admit it. JJ72 was one of the first bands I really fell in love with from the ground floor. First heard about them in Select, interviewed them before they headlined the Barfly, wrote some overly sycophantic reviews about their live shows, left the country right before their second album came out. Incidentally, that show of theirs where I interviewed them was when the Barfly was still at the Falcon, before it moved. Supporting them that night were My Vitriol, who may also appear in this column at some stage.

But JJ72 were a three-piece from Ireland who were only a few years older than me, had a sexy bass player, and knew how to do choruses. Also, the singer kinda sounded like a girl. I read a review at the time that said "This is the first band to listen to 'Everything Must Go' and think "Yeah, we can do that"", which probably explains their appeal to me at that time. In a few months, I saw them a lot of times and fell in love with them. Their faster songs were, and remain, okay, but they wrote some really great slow and pretty songs, that still hold up. Supporting the Dandy Warhols at the Astoria, the Reading Festival, two nights at ULU, a couple of other times that I can't remember. I was head over heels. The rest of the world, not as much. I remember other writers for my site saying "The guy sounds like a girl and all their songs sound the same" which was a pretty valid criticism. Also, when playing live, he'd always - always - smash a guitar at the end of set closer 'Bumble Bee', which came off as contrived after the seventh time of seeing it.

By the time they headlined the NME Tour (supported by Amen, Alfie and Starsailor - yikes) even I had grown bored. Or more likely, found a newer band to get behind. The band's second album 'I To Sky' came out very soon after I left for the U.S. and after that they broke up. Mark Greaney started a new band called Concerto for Constantine, with a dude who was in Idlewild, but I don't know anything about them.

[download JJ72 - Undercover Angel]
[download JJ72 - Willow]

Just don't put that calzone in your pillow

I've been meaning to write about Matt Braunger's standup album 'Soak Up The Night' for a while, but didn't get around to it, what with the packing, moving, and unpacking. And then I saw him last week on Conan and thought "Damn! If I write about it now, people will think I only heard about him because of his appearance on national late-night television" and that's not the case. It is terribly important for me to be seen as cool and ahead of the trends at all times, so there.

Matt Braunger - not be confused with Matt Besser or Matt Belknap, two other L.A. comedy types - used to be a cast member on MAD TV but I only heard of him recently, due to his appearances on I Love Movies and some other pod-oriented broadcasts to which I subscribe. The album, which was put out by Comedy Central Records, is pretty good. The comedian that Braunger reminds me the most of is Dane Cook. Wait, come back! It's mostly his style of delivery - very confident and with a bit of swagger - and the fact that there's quite a lot about drinking, and a bit about watching pornography. But even these are funny, so don't let the D-word C-word put you off, indie-comedy-nerds. That demographic will especially enjoy a bit that's entitled 'Lifting Weights to the Smiths'. Like me, Braunger doesn't like The Doors or 'Piano Man', but unlike me, he hates Cadbury's Creme Eggs, which, if I gave scores, would cost him some points. My favourite bit on the CD is here for you, and involves the guy with the funniest name in all of Portland. I laughed out loud, and hopefully you will too.

[download Matt Braunger - The Two Funniest Names in Portland, Rusty Nail]

[Matt Braunger - MATTs Radio/ twitter / tumblr]
[Listen to 'Soak Up The Night' at lala]
[Buy 'Soak Up The Night' (iTunes)]

From the dusty crates #4: Regular Fries

The other day I mentioned a genre called 'The Scene with No Name', which a) did, in fact, have a name, and b) it was a fucking stupid name. Well, today to (almost) match the inanity of that title, let me tell you about Skunk Rock. The Lo-Fidelity Allstars were the biggest names within this scene, and that ought to tell you something about it. Other bands in the bracket included Campag Velocet (starring the world's most handsome man), and London heartthrobs The Regular Fries.

Now, usually when you hear about bands with journalists in them, you think "oh, this probably won't be good", and that's what I first thought about the Fries. They were an eight-piece who put out a couple of insane EPs that were simultaneously funky and confusing. Seeing them live was equally mesmeric - there were grooves and beats and also camouflage netting and birdcages. They had a single called 'King Kong' which might have been a love song. And then came the album 'Accept the Signal', which paired some pretty great songs - witness 'Dust It', below - with some truly horrific lyrics. "Deep sea diver, dear Lady Godiva, lend us a fiver... the girls" went 'The Girls'. It got mostly poor reviews, but catching them at festivals and around London was always fun. I remember one time they supported Asian Dub Foundation at the Astoria, and it was a severe mismatch between the bands, and I was one of the few who enjoyed both sets immensely.

And then... somehow their second album, 'War on Plastic Plants' was MORE mental. For one thing, there was a song called 'Africa Take Me Back, which was incongruous coming from the whitest, palest men you will ever look at. But there's a track featuring their spiritual forefather Kool Keith, a man so nuts, he makes the Fries look like Dr. Stephen Hawking or something. My buddy Sal once wrote of the band, "they're what you get if an Ikea Store crashes into Cape Canaveral with 8 joyous, energetically manic Bez type people including a legionnaire, thrown in? That covers it pretty well, I feel.

I don't know what happened to them, I can only assume they broke up and did some more drugs. Here's a couple o'tunes for you.

[download Regular Fries - Dust It]
[download Regular Fries - Supersonic Waves ft. Kool Keith]

From the dusty crates #3: Crashland

Well, we moved into the new place. You know what's a whole bucket-ton of fun? Carrying eight car loads worth of stuff across a car park, up a flight of stairs, and down a hallway. Fortunately, it's done now, so I can return to the feature that internet denizens the world over are calling "instantly forgettable" and "more than superfluous".

Today, we're talking about Crashland, a three-piece who I believe were from the West Country. That's Bristol, not, like, Arizona. I may be wrong about that, though. For a very short time, they were a staple on Steve Lamacq's Evening Session, and every time, without fail, Steve would refer to them as "the tightest power trio in the country." The singer came off as arrogant in interviews, but they didn't get much press, and though their album 'Glued' was pretty good, they disappeared not long afterward, leaving very little impact on the music scene, and, as my research this evening concludes, even less impact on this Internet.

They wrote pretty straightforward indie-rock songs with big choruses which were, by and large, unremarkable, but struck a chord with me at the time, and 'Glued' remains a CD that stays (guess what word goes here) to my car stereo most of the time. The last song on there, 'We're on Fire', is especially lovely, although calling it this generation's 'Yesterday' may be pushing it, writer of Crashland's bio. I once saw the band open for Reef (Terrifying true fact: Reef had TWO number one albums) at Shepherds Bush Empire, and of course Crashland were vastly superior. After 'Glued', the band was dropped by Independiente and put out a pretty killer EP before calling it a day. When the EP came out, we went to see them at The Monarch, and it was one of those gigs. We got there (we being myself and Alex Wells), assuming that it'd be pretty empty, and it was a sellout, with every single person - band and crowd - being surprised to see so many fans for the band. Here's a couple of songs and the video for their first single, 'Standard Love Affair'.

[download Crashland - We're on Fire]
[download Crashland - Money Shot]

From the dusty crates #2: Ikara Colt

Since the inaugural post in the new series was a runaway, resounding success that people are still talking about worldwide in hushed, reverent whispers, it's time for volume two. Today, it's London's own Ikara Colt. For a while, the NME put them, the Parkinsons and some other bands that I remember even less than the Parkinsons into a sub-genre called "the scene with no name" or just "no name". This really did happen.

I first received the band's debut single 'Sink Venice' to review, and while the lead track, was okay and featured the lyric "two thousand damp bricks won't save you now" which is far better than okay, the b-side 'At the Lodge' really caught my attention. They followed it up with a couple of singles that were both stone-cold stunners: 'One Note' and 'Rudd,' and then the album 'Chat and Business'. A singer who couldn't really sing, some killer choruses and a ton of energy, they became a live staple in 2001, and I caught them at Reading and supporting my beloved Six by Seven (future candidates for this feature?) amongst other places. Glancing at old reviews, I noticed that my esteemed pal Olly Parker once said of them:

The Colt have a song, it is a fine song, tight, honest, rocking, catchy and cool. Unfortunately their insistence upon playing the song five times diminishes from the overall effect. They're a fine band but any longer than twenty minutes and you would see me expressing some entirely different opinions.
And that sums it up very nicely. Apparently, in the States they were on Epitaph, where I'm sure they didn't sit comfortably next to all those punk bands. I never listened to Ikara Colt's second album, and apparently they split in 2005. Remind me to ask Eddie Argos if IC were an influence on Art Brut - I definitely can hear the resemblance.

Here are two of their best songs.

[download Ikara Colt - One Note]
[download Ikara Colt - At the Lodge]

From the dusty crates #1: Audioweb

I'm moving house this week, and as such, cleaning out the existing house. Trying to get rid of stuff that I really don't need anymore, rather than carry it to the new place, and then the next place after that, and so on and so on until I become a prime candidate for 'Hoarders'. During this process, I've donated a load of old books to the local library, and made two trips - so far - to Goodwill, giving them a box of movie posters*, lots of old cassette tapes**, and most crucially, loads and loads and loads of old CDs. Most of these were things I got for free during my time as a music writer in London. So, there's a preponderance of British indie bands from 1998-2001 that nobody has thought about for years and years.

Looking through these CDs, I got a bit nostalgic and gave them a play. I thought it'd be interesting to write a bit about some of these bands, who are long forgotten, who I was into as a youngun.

First up: Audioweb

These guys were on U2's label, and even supported the Irish behemoths at Wembley Stadium once upon a time.*** They put out two albums, both of which I have, before calling it a day in 1999. Musically, they were pretty much a standard indie band, with decent riffs, choruses, etc. But their singer Martin brought an extra element, with a soulful voice (bear in mind: other bands around at this time were Space and Shed Seven), and he threw in some "lawdamercy" and skankin' over the songs. In hindsight, I think what appealed to me the most about this band was that they weren't just four identical looking white guys, like just about every band I was listening to at the time. Also, Ian Brown was a big fan, and as we know, that guy's judgment is top notch.

Here are their two "biggest" singles. I must confess: I heard their version of 'Bankrobber' before knowing that it was a cover. Imagine my surprise when I heard the Clash's original, which doesn't have any lyrics about cocaine. Also, 'Policeman Skank' from their second album, which is ace and tells the story of a fight in a courthouse.

Another forgotten indie band tomorrow, probably!

[download Audioweb - Bankrobber]
[download Audioweb - Policeman Skank]

* Including, but not limited to, Stealth, The Barbarian Invasions, War of the Worlds, Hustle and Flow, and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.
** Turns out, I did own 'Music Box' by Mariah Carey.
*** The lineup for that gig, amazingly, also featured the Longpigs.

If this is my public, I'm ready for you

My little sister, who is very busy and important, went to see Colin MacIntyre last week, here's her review.

Colin MacIntyre

The Living Room, New York
October 6 2009

The curly haired Scotsman from the Isle of Mull delighted the audience at the Living Room in New York’s Lower East Side on Tuesday night. Playing a mix of songs from his Mull Historical Society days to his new album, ‘Island’, Colin’s sensational voice and amusing commentary in between songs entertained the audience for the hour long set.

Sitting solo on the stage, facing a dozen or so small round tables, Colin played two songs from his new album, ‘Island’ early on in the set: ‘Cape Wrath” and 'The Edge of Nearly'. Both are my favorites on the record, particularly because of the powerful violins which give each song an eerie complexion. That is what I love about Colin’s music. It’s hard to pinpoint, but there is something joyful and yet slightly haunting about it. His adaption of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Maps’ was a beautiful and touching acoustic piece. It truly tugged at the heart strings.

He played the next few songs with excitement and energy – stopping in-between to share some stories with the audience. He pulled out a music report card from his schooldays, in which the teacher wrote “Colin spends too much time showing off to ever make anything of himself” and sharing the inspiration for ‘Tree Scavengers’ – a trip to upstate New York where he felt as though turkeys were flying in the air. He was cheeky and charming, at one point mentioning, that he “really learn to play the guitar for this one” before starting one of his more difficult musical pieces.

But it was Colin’s performance of ‘Samuel Dempster RIP’ that was the most memorable part of the evening. Before he started playing, Colin explained that the song is about his great grandfather, a man who served in world War and never returned, or knew that his girlfriend was carrying his child, “the girl he’ll never know as his own”. It felt as though the entire room was moved almost to tears as he poignantly shared this tragic moment in his family’s history.

Colin closed the set on a high note with “You’re a star” – leaving the crowd head-bopping, fist pumping and grinning ear to ear. He even managed to squeeze in a Letterman gag mid-song when he sang, "TV hosts write their own epitaphs”. It was pretty amusing.

In summary, Colin is simply a brilliant musician. His beautifully written songs are moving, thoughtful and at times heartbreaking. He is tremendously talented and an absolute pleasure to watch. Thankfully, Colin mentioned that he married a New Yorker, so in his own words…he’ll be back soon.

- Anu Mathur

[download Colin MacIntyre - Samuel Dempster RIP]

He played 'Watching Xanadu'!

You've never won anything fairly

When I was in London in March, I had a conversation with my friend Tom1 about the big-screen adaptation of David Peace’s hugely acclaimed novel The Damned United. We played the parts of one of the film’s producers2 and an American studio executive. The role-playing went something like this:

American studio executive (ASE): So what have you got?
Damned United Producer (DUP): Well, it’s a British film about soccer.
ASE: Ugh. Well, Bend It Like Beckham did well enough. Go on.
DUP: This one is set in the mid-70s. In northern England.
ASE: …
DUP: It’s a biopic, about Brian Clough.
ASE: Who?
DUP: One of the greatest managers of the 70s and 80s. You know! Ol’ Big ‘Ead.
ASE: Never heard of him.
DUP: The guy from Frost/Nixon is in it!
ASE: (Momentarily interested) Frank Langella?
DUP: No, the other dude.
ASE: Oh.3
DUP: Did I mention, there are no women involved.
ASE: Thanks for coming by. We’ll… uh, we’ll call you. Good luck with that.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a harder film to market in the United States. I caught it today, and try as I might, it’s hard to detach it from the novel, which is terrific and dark and gets deep into Clough’s neuroses and psychoses. The film strips most of that away, and what remains is a solid story of a man addled by ambition and principle. It’s hard to talk about the film without getting into football philosophy, so I’ll try and keep it brief. Cloughy believed in playing attractive football and as an Arsenal fan, I can relate. In Arsene We Trust and such. His nemesis, Don Revie, succeeded at Leeds by having his player kick lumps out of each other and worse, once refused to shake Clough’s hand after a match.

Performances in the film are uniformly great, with Timothy Spall and Stephen Graham as standouts. Sheen himself didn’t work any miracles for me – maybe it’s because I’m only familiar with Clough as an older man and didn’t know him in 1974.4 As a debut feature, this was good stuff from John Adams director Tom Hooper – there was a nice combination of archived footage, the voice of Barry Davies, and Bowie5 over the credits. There’s definitely a gravity that the book had, that this doesn’t have. But the look and feel of the 70s, the sodden pitches, the ugliness of the game – and the players – come across very well.

I don’t think you have to be a football fan to really enjoy this film, though that’s easy for me to say, so hopefully it’ll catch on here in the States. But I wouldn’t put any money on it.

1 Not the Tom I mentioned in a previous post, but another Tom. What? I know a lot of Toms. Get over it.
2 For some reason, I played the producer as a bumbling, effete, Hugh Grant in Four Weddings type.
3 The suit actually thought the producer meant Oliver Platt, but that’s neither here nor there.
4 Or anyone, for that matter, for another nine years.
5 ‘Queen Bitch’, since you ask.

Now, THAT'S interesting

As you know, I don't update this site much. Consequently, the site gets - at best - modest hits. I've a decent collection of archived pages, so if I get about fifty visits a day, I'm pretty happy. Of course, if I updated more regularly, that'd go up, but in this era of cars and sunshine and Netflix Instant Queue, who has the time?

So, imagine my surprise when I checked my Statcounter this mornig, for the first time in a while, to see that, since Sunday, I've received over 500 visits to the site. 296 on Sunday alone. "What the what?" I said, not out loud because I'm at the Honda Dealership and that would mark me out as a crazy person, but to myself. I assumed that someone had linked to one of my posts on a more popular blog, and that's what brought in the traffic. But no, that wasn't it - there wasn't one source link that was responsible.

Turns out, lots of people were coming to my site after Googling "Is Gene Hackman Gay?" and one of my old posts - a review of the already forgotten film 'Blades of Glory' - features the word "gay" in its title. But why the sudden interest, since Sunday? After some curious research: apparently there's a reference to the Mighty Gene's sexuality in the pilot for 'The Cleveland Show', and so people wanted verification.

So, that's one good thing to say about that show, then.

Just thought it was interesting how the internet works, sometimes.

The five steps of Muse

This week sees the release of the new Muse album, their fifth, entitled ‘The Resistance’. I’ve not yet listened to it, so I can’t write about it yet, but I am interested in the band’s progression from fresh-faced Radiohead rip-offs to VMA playin’, Stadium-sell-outin’ multi millionaire crazy people. I’ve seen Muse five times, and here are the stories of each.

1. Glastonbury Festival, June 1999

They played the new band tent, which was a long, long trek from where we were camped. Having heard ‘Uno’ on the radio, we were intrigued. We made the journey, losing two or three good men on the way – to ice cream vans, not death – and the band promptly opened with ‘Uno’. The rest of the songs all sounded the same, and we all left very unimpressed. Also, they played ‘Instant Messenger’, a song that’s both instantly forgettable, and a spiritual forebearer for both ‘LOL Smiley Face’ and the band LMFAO. Not a good thing. “Hah,” I said on the walk back to the Pyramid Stage, “I don’t imagine we’ll hear any more of these losers.”

2. London ULU, February 2000

Alright, so I went to see them again because Soulwax were supporting. And guess what? Somewhere after ‘Showbiz’ came out, Muse became amazing. They played a couple of new songs, including a Nina Simone cover, and a little song called ‘Plug In Baby’, which Matt Bellamy would later say is about genetically engineered puppies. The band was pretty unrecognizable from those I saw the previous summer. I was well and truly converted.

[Note: At that year’s Reading Festival, I foolishly chose to see Oasis headline the main stage, rather than Muse on the second stage. The reason: that week there was a strong rumour that Oasis were about to break up, and I wanted to catch them at least once before they did. Unfortunately, they somehow dragged themselves through another nine years, and I missed what I’m sure was a much better show in the tent.]

3. London Brixton Academy, May 2001

This one was cool. I received a promo copy of ‘Origin of Symmetry’ a few weeks earlier, and frankly, I played it to the point where the ink was dripping off the compact disc. Their PR guy called me the day of the show – about a week before the album came out – to say there was a single spot on the guest list for me, so I hurried along, alone, to south London. The Cooper Temple Clause played first, and I like them, so it was fun. Then Muse came out and began with ‘Citizen Erased’, an amazing song that is eight minutes long, and at that point, hardly anyone had heard. But I loved it. At the end, during ‘Bliss’, some fat guy gave me a hug as the giant balloons dropped from the rafters.

4. Orlando, December 2004

Oh, look, I’m living in the United States now! This was on the ‘Absolution’ tour, and as I remember, we drove from Tallahassee to Gainesville, to pick up my sister, and then on to Orlando, but got stuck with the worst traffic in history. Made it to the gig just in time to miss support band The Exit, but given that I have never heard of them, I can live with that. The set was rather new-album heavy (not a surprise) but hearing ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’ live gave me butterflies sans hurricanes.

5. Jacksonville, April 2005

This gig was at a very nice, fancy looking newly renovated club in a strip mall. Openers on this occasion were a little band called Razorlight, who only had one album out at that point, and didn’t play ‘Dalston’ so I was mad at them. Muse played a pretty similar set to the one a few months earlier, but the fact they had RETURNED to Florida after only four months was a big deal. A couple of songs that wound up on ‘Black Holes and Revelations’ were played, but none of them did much for me that day.

So those are the five times I’ve been to see them live. The last album didn’t wow me too much, and I haven’t really been back to it since then. I thought it took itself a little too seriously – the sense of fun was missing from previous work. But then, the ‘Knights of Cydonia’ video addressed that particular concern of mine.

Can’t wait to hear ‘The Resistance’ – apparently there’s a clarinet solo?

[download Muse - Citizen Erased (live)]

I Ain't No This Or That

Rather than pick up physical copy of David Cross’ new book, I Drink For A Reason, like some sort of pre-historic Luddite Neanderthal, I took it in in audiobook form. This was a wise move for two reasons. Firstly, by many accounts, the book is addled with spelling and grammatical mistakes, which would bug me if I was exposed to them because I’m annoying like that. And the audio recording obviously doesn’t have these problems. Secondly, the book is read by Cross himself, and this definitely benefits the collection of essays, lists, true stories and made up stories. This way, it’s more like his stand-up, with accents, inflection and pauses, which are lost in print. Also, there are little cameos from H. Jon Benjamin, Les Savy Fav and Kristen Schaal, which is pretty cool.

The content itself is fairly uneven, as you’d expect from a compilation of thirty or so pieces of varying length and humour. There’s a fantasy segment where David is a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s show, which I didn’t find too entertaining, and one about disgraced-by-Oprah writer James Frey’s latest book, which stretched one joke out for a long, long time.

I far prefer Cross when he’s being rational and making fun of stuff. There’s a great essay about a scrapbooking convention in Michigan, which he happened to chance upon. There’s a reprint of his legendary open letter to Larry the Cable Guy, which you should definitely read if you never have. And a really interesting explanation of his feud with Jim Belushi. Cross’ feud that is. I don’t know if Mr. The Cable Guy is feuding with Jim Belushi. Although the correspondence with Patton Oswalt regarding Cross’ appearance in ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ is omitted, there’s a nice discussion about the “hipster backlash” that he went through. Cross, that is. Not Patton. I’ve gotta cool it with the pronouns.

As with Cross’ stand-up, the strongest material in the book concerns religion and nationalism. There’s a brief section concerning Orthodox Jews who have devised various technological methods to “get around” the laws of the Sabbath. I liked the essay towards the end about our overuse of the word “Hero” (Firefighter? Yes. Guy who ate nine hot dogs in three minutes? Not a hero). And one of the highlights is called “I Hate America! Or, I Hate America?” where he quibbles – very reasonably and articulately – his perception as a liberal Jew that hates his country. (Unrelated: one of the companies behind this book is called Liberal Jew-Run Media Productions, Inc.)

The book is resolutely not a memoir, but Cross teases some anecdotes that will be in his life story when he gets to it. In the meantime, this collection is worth checkin’ out, but if you can, definitely get the audio version. Do that.

A drinking town with a football problem

A quick glance at my friends’ statuses on the Facebook will confirm: It’s college football season again. At the time of writing this, seven of the most recent ten updates are “Go Gators!” and a lone “Go Noles!” although to be fair, they don’t play until Monday. Try as I might, I’ve never got whole-heartedly, drop-all-else into American football. Plenty of people have tried to explain it to me, and I’ve been to Superbowl parties and even an ACC Championship game. And while I’m definitely more into “football” – at the college level, at least; the NFL still holds no appeal – I have trouble with paying attention to a fixture for more than three hours at a time.

All that said, I really do enjoy the game-day atmosphere. This is the first season in six years where I’m not in a college town, and I do miss the environment, the team unity, the tailgates, and for want of a better word, the inebriation, that a home game brings. My experience in Gainesville over the last three years lacked some of this excitement because at my house, we sold parking to match attendees, and this overlapped with pre-game festivities. By the time we were done, everyone would be settled inside the stadium, so there’d be no fun left.

Since FSU is facing Miami on Monday in Tallahassee, I’m reminded of my favourite experience – four years ago today. Again, Miami were up in Tallahassee on Labor Day (a Monday), and as you might expect, the drinking began sometime early on Friday. After something of a rest for a couple of days, I got the call on Sunday at lunchtime that everyone was meeting at Tim’s. These were the days when I didn’t have a car, so someone came and picked me up, and after picking up a 24-pack, we got to Tim’s house. We spent the next thirty hours drinking, barbecuing, watching sports and movies – it was one of the most fun nights of my college career. In the morning, we went to the supermarket, bought eggs and made breakfast for about twelve people, all of whom had made it through the night.

The house was a few blocks from the stadium, and on the way there, we joined an ever-growing throng of painted people heading to the game. In the stadium parking lot there were more burgers and beers, and by the time we sat down, we’d been awake for about forty straight hours. I don’t know if this is a standard thing for hardcore football fans before every home game, but for a curmudgeon like me, it was taking its toll. At half time, FSU was up 10-7, and I could barely keep my eyes open. I headed home – an uphill walk on Pensacola St. that took far longer than it ought to – and went straight to sleep. Luckily for me, no more points were scored in the second half, so I didn’t miss anything.

I definitely miss the days of spending entire days doing nothing but feeling like it’s everything. And even though following one football team is stressful enough, I promise: I’ll try and care more about the college game this season. For at least a week.

And now for an old favourite.

You think it's King Lear

There once was a time, a darker time, let’s call it the late 1990s, when I was a big, big fan of the band Manic Street Preachers. I’ve mentioned that before, no big whoop. I didn’t do the whole eyeliner-and-tiara thing that many MSP fans used to go for – and, I presume, still do – but there do exist photos of me in a feather boa. On the scale of obsessive Manics fans, I was pretty tame, although I did go to a fan convention in Cardiff once, which was a lot of fun. For me, being a fan of the band was more of a social thing: it provided a group of friends who loved the same songs and went to the same gigs.

One time, my friend Tom and I bought a bootleg tape from Camden Market of the Manics’ headline slot at V99. At this gig, the band debuted their forthcoming single ‘The Masses Against the Classes’, and so Tom and I sat for a couple of hours, trying to transcribe lyrics from the terrible quality recording that we’d just dropped a fiver on. We thought one of the lines was “Attack me wearing Tommy Girl”, which it obviously wasn’t. The reason we were trying to figure out all the words was simple: we were members of the newsgroup, and nobody had yet posted them. There was a real sense of pride when we posted our take on the lyrics, plus an mp3 file, encoded at a dial-up friendly 32Kbs, of the song. Man, we felt pretty cool when the praise and admiration started pouring in from people we didn’t know.

The reason I bring up this episode is because I just finished reading an advance copy of the new Nick Hornby novel Juliet, Naked, and there’s a very similar situation in there. One of the main characters is an obsessive fan of an obscure American singer and longs to be envied in the eyes of fellow fans, people who he’ll never meet, who share his passion for a musician that most people have never heard of. There are three main players in Juliet, Naked, and they all have very distinct personalities and motivations, but I found Duncan, the music fan, to be the most interesting. He’s pretty much dedicated his life to being an “authority” – whatever that means – on the life and work of singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe. He’s dismissive of anyone else’s opinions, be they about Tucker or anything else.

The book begins in a toilet. In Minneapolis. Duncan has dragged his long-suffering girlfriend Annie on a pilgrimage across the States, going to various places of interest to Tucker Crowe fans, all six of them. And this toilet is supposedly where the singer made the decision to disappear from the public eye. That ought to explain to you the levels of Duncan’s devotion, and also why Annie might be a little sick of it.

Tucker Crowe, meanwhile, is portrayed as a quiet parent of five, from four different mothers, who is trying to settle down with his young son, having made a lifetime of mistakes. He takes his kid to little league games and doesn’t think about his earlier glories and transgressions. The book charts the relationships between the three, and I found it very good. I don’t know when Hornby became really uncool – was it the Songbook? – but this is a solid piece of work. There are some parts that call for serious soul-searching from Tucker, where he has to reconcile with his many estranged ex-wives and even more estranged children, which I found rather unsatisfying and hollow, but those aside, it was fun to read. Hornby makes good use of Wikipedia postings and message board posts to convey the joys of being an internet fan of a musician. There's even a troll who loves Morrissey!

Best part of the book? There’s a couple of guys who are really into Northern Soul! Shout outs to Major Lance and Dobie Grey! I'm a big Northern Soul fan.

I’m a dork.

One of the plot points in the book involves the rival reviews of an album from Duncan and Annie, so why not read a review of Juliet, Naked by Lauren over at HalfDesertedStreets?

Can't wait to come home from school because it's a drag

Well, I'm back, everyone! The Bar Exam has been taken and - hopefully - vanquished, and now I'm back home, searching for jobs, swimming in pools, rediscovering reading for enjoyment and generally being quite cool. Here are a few bits and bobs to warm you up for what I hope will be more regular posts in here from now.

- I was in severe danger of failing my exam because of PFT and Kid Jersey's discussion about the Gathering of the Juggalos. It's been a long time since I've laughed this hard. Listen to it here - it's the fresh-ass-est comedy you'll hear today.
- After the first day of my two day exam, I returned to my hotel in Tampa, feeling a little deflated, turned the telly on, and was greeted with Southland Tales on Starz. A film that I rather like despite everything. It is just insane, and I appreciate that. Once I played it for my (now-former) housemates, and one of them got up and left within six minutes.
- Saw 'In the Loop' - it's very very funny. Maybe I'll write more about it another time. Weird to see all those people from 'The Thick of It' as different characters, except for Jamie and Malcolm.
- Charlie Brooker's newest column contains the phrase "Nic Cage: My Life as John Lennon the Cow", which is very funny, but his TV show 'You Have Been Watching' is surprisingly not very funny. I blame the involvement of other people.
- Friend-of-a-friend Ross appears in this music video as Edward Cullen. It needs to be seen to be believed. The band is so earnest! None of the deliriously silly fun of Harry and the Potters.
- These STFU facebook sites are pretty funny. Some more than others.
- We got rid of Adebayor and Kolo. We'll miss one of them.
- There was a great series that just finished on UK television called Inside Nature's Giants, which enabled me to say "That woman is knee-deep in whale" for the first time and hopefully the last time. Look it up on youtube, it's amazing.
- Got rid of a bunch of old CDs through - turns out, someone wants my neglected Blue States albums.
- Congratulations to Slipknot for winning big last night.
- Guerrilla is ten years old! I still remember when Nico bought an advance copy, and we all listened to it while studying for our GCSEs. Here's my copy signed by the artist Pete Fowler. What a great, summery album.
- Last week some relatives came over, and one of my nephews asked "How OLD is this?" in reference to my Game Boy. When I told him it was from 1992, he said, and I quote, "Wow, that's three years before I was born". I felt old.

[download Super Furry Animals - The Teacher]

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