HOORAY FOR EVERYTHING
I’ve been meaning to write several entries this week. It’s been rather busy, and so I have both had a lot to write about and a distinct lack of time for doing so. I’ve been going out quite often (including bowling with Steve Rolston last night, if you can believe it), while also trying to juggle my deadlines and make sure Gravitation volume 6 was turned in on time this past Friday. It was, but that pretty much monopolized my computer time (with, of course, the never-ending Oni workday being an exception).
Tuesday night I went to see Eddie Izzard on his current concert tour, Sexie. I have never seen him live before, and honestly know him for his roles in films like Velvet Goldmine and The Cat’s Meow more than I do his comedy. Still, this made it a great experience, as my expectations were probably vastly different than 95% of the audience—in that I had hardly any. To my surprise, he built a large portion of his routine out of superheroes, comparing them to transvestites for their desire to change. His references weren’t always spot on (no less so than anything else, though), and there was a certain secret shame to knowing that though he was only joking about Sue Storm stepping out on Mr. Fantastic, she really had with Namor.
I think the thing that strikes me most about his technique is his ability to sound like none of this is planned. Izzard always comes off as if he is making it up off the top of his head. I imagine that this may be partially true, that he likely has the skeleton of what he wants to talk about, and he can weave in and out of whatever subject he desires within that skeleton. But, I almost wanted to go back and see him the second night just to see how true that was. For all I know, he has it planned to the most minor stutter, and it’s exactly the same every time. It’s possible, you know. Just like how The Office is actually scripted that way, and not improvised.
Oh, and Eddie has boobs now. No, not saggy manboobs or even real implants, but jellies he wears when he feels like it. He suggested them for the male with a bit of a gut, as they can help you look slimmer. He demonstrated, and they actually did take attention away from his slight portliness.
Wednesday I made an unexpected detour into Washington. Keith Wood had found himself with an extra ticket to see R.E.M. and Wilco, and he convinced me to go along. I had wanted to when tickets had gone on sale, but I think had opted for a budgetary move for Bjork instead (still the right choice in hindsight). The show was at a new amphitheatre just outside Vancouver, WA, and it was actually a pretty decent place. Nice sound system, at least. You could definitely tell that R.E.M. is a band that has been around for a while. A large portion of the audience was made up of older men trying to pretend they were still college students.
I was dreading Wilco. I don’t really know their music, but know them in that “No Depression” lump they are in, which has always been unappealing to me. There was a certain earnestness to the movement—and I find earnestness leads to bad art. Similarly, it was all a little too studied. Guy with a complete Big Star collection picks up guitar, copies sound exactly, calls himself “authentic.” If you don’t have a good pop sensibility a la the very fallible Teenage Fanclub, you aren’t likely to get that rootsy shit across to me.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised. The first two numbers were exactly what I expected, in that it was a bunch of guys on stage playing very perfect, uninspired jammy-rock. They actually looked exactly like they do on the poster to that documentary about them, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. I feared that sort of polish was going to mar the whole set...
Those first two songs were off their first two albums, though, and I am told that those are the albums to avoid—and for the very reasons I disliked these numbers. What ended up drawing me in was a middle section of about three songs, including the aforementioned “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” (if that’s what it’s called; the song with that line in it, at least), that were built around a noise collage. Granted, said collage was fairly unspectacular. I mean, turning a radio dial and an alarm clock going off? Don’t we all own Dark Side of the Moon? Hell, even Moz did it better (check “I Know It’s Going to Happen Someday”). What made it work, though, were the songs laid on top of them—bare numbers with sparse melodies, sung very plainly, and by all accounts very sad. I could picture myself listening to something like that.
R.E.M. were exceptionally good. I had seen them on the Monster tour way back when, and they were relatively staid. Not so this time. From the get-go, it was clear this show was going to be different. Michael Stipe bounced onto the stage and shuffled up and down like a maniac in that gravity-defying way he has that is so mysterious (how does her do it?!). The band had a general passion about them that made for a rousing set. I had told Keith going in I was hoping to hear “Drive,” and they didn’t disappoint. However, that was eclipsed by the evening’s version of “Nightswimming,” which was gorgeous. Simply Stipe on vocals and Mike Mills on the piano, with Ken Stringfellow of the Posies (who should be in the lump with Wilco, even if they aren’t really) adding some minor effects. Heavenly. (The song itself was dedicated to Lance Bangs, which might impress my friend Christopher.)
The only complaints I could really have about R.E.M.’s set was that there was a certain artificiality to the structure. They seemed to go the fast-slow-fast-slow route in picking songs. They did do some digging back into their old stuff, and that was quite welcome (“Orange Crush,” the song that made me like R.E.M. in the first place, kicked a whole lot of ass), and of the new songs, “Bad Day” sounds like it will actually be a pretty good single. “Animal” was about as not-good as you can expect. No band that far into their recording career should do a song called “Animal.” That’s the sort of song you have to hit when you’re young, when chanting I’m an animallllll might actually be believable.
There was also a feeling that maybe they should retire the hits, or use them sparingly. “Losing My Religion” and “Man on the Moon” seemed perfunctory. They were, let’s face it, boring. “Oh, look, Peter Buck has the mandolin. Ho-hum.” At least with “The One I Love,” you could tell Stipe was having a little fun with it, probably enjoying the irony of the audience accepting it as a love song through and through. Same with the singalong nature of “Everybody Hurts.” Listen to that song again, and tell me, is it really the sort of song you and your friends should sing along to with your arms intertwined, swaying? Then again, maybe I really just am not the person this stuff is aimed at anymore. Judging by the woman behind us who was complaining about all the songs she didn’t know, maybe the guys do have to pander a little. (I don’t even think she was familiar with the more recent “Imitation of Life,” which is great in concert, despite being a little tepid on disc).
Similarly, despite being a great closer, Stipe’s jokey jig during “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” suggested it’s time to put that in the closet next to David Byrne’s oversized suit.
For those of you who are into such things, I was sent the set list by Keith (including album sources, which for me was damn helpful!):
01. Finest Worksong (Document)
02. These Days (Life's Rich Pageant)
03. Drive (Automatic for the People)
04. Animal (New Song)
05. Daysleeper (Up)
06. Orange Crush (Green)
07. Bad Day (New Song)
08. Electrolite (New Adventures ih Hi-FI)
09. The One I Love (Document)
10. I've Been High (Reveal)
11. Feeling Gravity’s Pull (Fables of the Reconstruction)
12. Begin the Begin (Life's Rich Pageant)
13. Nightswimming (Automatic for the People)
14. Losing My Religion (Automatic for the People)
15. She Just Wants to Be (Reveal)
16. Walk Unafraid (Up)
17. Man on the Moon (Automatic for the People)
1. Everybody Hurts (Automatic for the People)
2. Imitation of Life (Reveal)
3. It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) (Document)
Using the word “tepid” reminded me of a recent coffee shop observation. I think there is something mentally wrong with people who order their coffee “tepid.” It just doesn’t seem right to me. It’d be like watching a movie with only partial sound, or asking for someone to give you a half-hearted kiss. “Plant one on my like you don’t really mean it, baby!” Pick a lane, dude. Iced coffee or coffee. None of this wishy-washy shit.
Work-wise, I am off the manga for a little bit. After a rather intense biweekly schedule of doing 4 or so books in a row, I am going on pause while the translators catch up. Not sure when the next volume of one of the books will come along. Scott Ciencin is ready to get back to the YA series, though, so that may start occupying some time.
Oh, and did I link to this interview?