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 TheDailyCity.com, 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]

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