Category Archives: navel-gazing

Hey, Girl. Sorry About the Gallbladder Thing.


I ride public transit. Every day. And at the risk of saying a deeply male-privileged thing, I enjoy it. Decrying the crumbling state of Metro is—like paying federal taxes while being denied voting representation in Congress—a part of life in Our Nation’s Capital, and it is indeed embarrassing that what is ostensibly the seat of power on Earth has such an easily stymied subway system, one that now shuts down at midnight even on weekends. But my commute is short, six stops, and the number of times I’ve missed having to sit in traffic every day since I moved to DC 11 years ago is exactly zero. Zero times.

I love people-watching on the subway and the bus. I especially like to peek at what they’re reading. This is becoming more difficult as Kindles and other tablets replace paper books, but if I see that someone has a book I feel compelled to angle for a glimpse of the cover.

Sometimes a specific person will catch my eye for no easily identifiable reason—and sometimes for the most obvious, lizard-brain reason. Continue reading

Andy Cirzan sent me his yulemix!

Cirzan-2012-front-coverI’m so honored and excited I’m sweating. Yes, it’s 70 degrees and muggy here in DC this December 4th, but it isn’t the climate that has me — svichting? Swatching? Whatever. It’s the fact that Andy Cirzan, my yulemix-making senpai, sent me his 2012 Christmas mix CD.

When it comes to holiday mixtapes, I am a mere padawan to Cirzan’s wizened Jedi master, dispensing ancient wisdom via oddly structured sentences he splashes around the swamps of Degobah. (He’s from Chicago, actually.) As you may recall if you happened to read my recent Washington Post essay about my yulemix, the seventh installment of which shall drop forthwith, Cirzan has been issuing compilations of obscure and often inexplicable seasonal gems for more than 20 years. Continue reading

A . . . Masterpiece!

One of the things I lament about the steep drop-off in newspaper movie ads — aside from the obvious, which is that it’s hurt newspapers I’d like to see survive — is that we’re not seeing as many ads wherein studio publicists dig deep to find reliably nearsighted pseudo-critics whose endorsements of shit like Old Dogs or the punctuation-offending Law Abiding Citizen they can quote. I always wondered if the people putting these ads together actually believed that anyone inclined to plan their weekend around a screening of Leap Year cares what film critics have to say.

I like it even better when publicists take real critics’ words completely out of context. I’ve been pull-quoted myself once or twice, but wouldn’t you know it, my meaning has always been preserved intact.

Publicists practice context-ignoring pull-quotery all the time, I know. But to me, at least, it never fails to amuse. Continue reading


I’m not much of a list guy. Because it’s universally agreed we’ve just closed out a year, and somewhat more controversially posited that we have in fact, cut the lights and bolted the door on an an entire decade, critics both pro and semi- have been gunking up the interwebs with their lists of the year and decade’s best movies, albums, songs, whatever.

I get it. People read these. Moreover, unless one takes the list-making enterprise to an absurd extreme, lists are the easiest things in the world to write. The biggest problem of writing — structure — is already solved for you.

I tend to react more strongly, to movies, plays, albums, and concerts than most people I know. (Yes, I read, but I seldom get around to books in the year they’re published). But to the list-making, I am resistant. Maybe if I’d made a few more lists I’d have got myself somewhere in life by now. But that’s all spilled milk under the bridge. Continue reading

Best. Concert. Ever. (Wherein, Upon Seeing Bruce Springsteen Perform for the 14th Time, I Surrender to Hyperbole)

By Thursday morning last week, I had made up my mind to give the show Bruce Springsteen played in Baltimore on Friday night a pass. My attempts to procure a ticket through honorable means had failed. The aftermarket bidding for general admission tickets to the arena floor, where my friends would be, had inflated beyond my rationally justifiable price range. I’d already seen the great man perform with the E Street Band twice in 2009; five times in the last 24 months. That’s enough Boss, surely.

Even before I was a semi-pro critic, I was skeptical of superlatives. To me, they always reduced criticism to mere marketing. I don’t even like the year-end lists nearly every professional critic is compelled to compile. So that’s why, after returning home in the small hours of Saturday morning having experienced a concert that left me elated like no rock show has in years, I hedged. “One of the three or five best gigs I’ve ever seen,” I wrote in a excited Facebook post before going to bed.

But after chewing the matter over in the cold, clear light of a couple of days, I’m prepared to go all in: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first show in Baltimore since 1973 was the best concert I have ever attended, by The Boss or anyone else. Continue reading

Before I Lose the Minutiae

NEA Fellows in Los Angeles, April 24, 2009

Aw, Hell, it’s already gone.

It’s been six days since my NEA Fellowship wrapped up in Los Angeles with ace program director Sasha Anawalt dancing to U2’s “Beautiful Day” (twice) while making her closing remarks to me and my 22 new best friends from media outlets around the country. The program was a 11-day motion blur spent talking about the nature and purpose of Art, and criticism, with journalists and theatre artists; of sobering reports of arts journalists (including many of the ones in the room) losing their jobs; of experiencing theatre; of being schooled in writing, but also in dancing and acting; of critiquing each other’s written work; of being isolated in a fancy hotel together; eating together; being bussed everywhere together; and of drinking together every night, accumulated sleep-dep and looming deadlines be damned.

Continue reading

“Under Lincoln’s Unblinking Eyes”: We Are One


U2 perform “Pride (In the Name of Love” at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday.  Photo by Martin Locraft.

Yeah, words largely fail me these last few days here in Our Nation’s Capitol.  Or more truthfully, my will to sit at home trying to think of the right words has failed me, because there’s been too much to do, see, and experience.

I covered the big We Are One all-star concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday for DCist.    But after watching our new president take the oath of office yesterday  (albeit via  Jumbotron), down on the National Mall with one to two million of my closest fellow citizens, that seems like no big deal now. 

Read all about it anyway!

Everything I Need to Know About Economics I Learned from Oscar-winning Screenwriter William Goldman, or Sober Insight into the Financial Crisis (No.)

So I looked at my checking account balance this morning and saw something new and unwelcome: red numbers. Scary. But also wrong — right?
I’ve managed to keep a positive balance in my checking account since I finished college. (The fact that I’m actually sort of proud of this fact probably tells you everything about my comfort level managing money as well as my own assessment of my long-term employability.) On the 15th and 30th of every month, my wages are deposited automatically into my account with wonderful, convenient, benign digital efficiency. On the first of every month, my mortgage payment is withdrawn automatically from my account with cold, brutal, relentless digital efficiency. Except that for a few hours this morning, it was looking like the mortgage had come out without the paycheck going in. And so: Red numbers! Panic in the markets!

Admittedly, I know roughly as much about economics as Sarah Palin does about foreign policy. But everything I’m reading and hearing about the current financial crisis says that the problem is essentially that lenders have stopped lending. They’ve lost faith in the systems they rely on to tell them who is solvent and who is broke, and so they’re afraid to loan money even to companies that until recently were universally regarded as good credit risks. Companies, even stable, well-run, reputable companies, borrow money every day to cover their operating costs — including payroll. I’ve heard several journalists who specialize in all this crazy voodoo say that the “crisis” that for the moment is still an abstraction to most Americans (as evidenced by their refusal to back the bailout) is going to become smack-in-the-face real when employers can’t borrow the cash they need on payday.

So when I looked at my bank balance this morning and saw that the end-of-the-month deposit that until today could claim a perfect attendance record just wasn’t there, I figured the crisis had just hit home for me.

I called my employer’s Human Resources department, which assured me I’d been paid. Then I called my bank. After about five minutes on hold, I reached a customer service guy and explained my predicament. “I’ll try to find what’s going on,” he told me, and back on hold I went for a few more tense moments, until I heard the phone ring again and found myself connected to another customer service agent, a woman this time. Naturally, she knew none of what I’d just explained to the other guy. As I was repeating my story to her, I saw my paycheck suddenly appear in my account. The red numbers preceded by a minus-sign were gone, replaced by a positive sum. Not a big one, mind you, but one presented in a font of reassuring black.

“Unfotunately, we’ve been experiencing some processing delays,” the agent told me, her voice oozing professional empathy.

This before coffee.

When I bought my first home two years ago, my tenuous-at-best grasp of the fundamental workings of real estate, mortgages, interest rates, and all that drove me nuts. I’m embarassed to admit that I was relieved to settle into the groove of simply paying the mortgage every month, which while burdensome, was still preferable to having to think about it. I just don’t understand money, I lamented, cursing myself as unworthy of the wealth-creating, innovation-rewarding, capitalist utopia in which I was privileged to live.

In recent weeks, as bank failures and other portents of fiscal doom have proliferated, what keeps flashing through my head is William Goldman’s maxim from Adventures in the Screen Trade: Nobody knows anything.

I wish that revelation made me feel better. I really do.

Coldplay Rock the Balls at the Phone Booth

One strives to avoid the wholly predictable, but sometimes you just can’t stave off the obvious lede that fate fairly dangles above your head:

Coldplay grow some balls.

Coldplay deliver ballsy performance.

Coldplay counter critics with raw ballin.’

Viva la Balls, or Death and All His Balls.

(Okay, so what was your brilliant idea, Mr. Christgau? Coldplay Go Globe-al? Weak.)

Retarded puns unretracted, Coldplay’s sold-out show at the Phone Booth last night was all about the balls — specifically, the half-dozen vaguely ominous, economy-car-sized white orbs that descended from the ceiling like Rover, the high-tech balloon-as-border-fence from the trippy 60s British TV show The Prisoner (stick with me, the most of you who have no fucking clue what I’m talking about) and displayed projected video around all 360 degrees of their surfaces. The balls were definitely the newest, most impressive props in a choreographed-down-to-the-second 85-minute performance. No question, the show was state-of-the-art — “the art,” of course, being that of high-tech stage production rather than songwriting, which has never been Coldplay’s long suit, exactly. Indeed, the Phone Booth show had originally been scheduled for a month earlier, and had to be postponed along with the first segment of the tour due to “production delays” — presumably those balls, since every other high-tech trick in the show, while impressive, was familiar from other visually-inventive tours, particularly those of — all togther now, friends — U2, the band Coldplay is most frequently accused of ripping off.

One thing we can say for sure is that while seeing Coldplay perform live — as with any artist that understands intuitively how to connect with an audience in performance — can only increase your estimation of the band’s merit, it ain’t gonna dissuade anybody who thinks of them as merely the best U2 copyists to come along since Radiohead’s OK Computer-era evolution into something much more unique. (If Coldplay were even the least bit worried about the comparison, they wouldn’t have hired Brian Eno, midwife to all of U2’s most successful albums, to produce their latest, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends — winner of this year’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness award for album title that makes you most want to issue a wedgie to the clown who came up with it.) But the likeness is as palpable onstage as it is on record. Chris Martin, Coldplay’s ebullient, charismatic frontman, comes off as a taller, less garrulous Bono, from his loose-limbed, ecstatically reclined dancing to the way he seems surprised and delighted at but also completely at ease with having thousands of people gape at him. He’s a natural showman.

Coldplay’s set last night went heavy on Viva la Vida material, perfomring the album almost in its entirety, along with half of 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head and a lesser sampling from their first and third albums. They certainly played every Coldplay song I needed to hear, and still managed to wrap up in 85 minutes — not exactly a marathon, especially considering that the top ticket price was $97.50. The show was expertly paced, however. The band performed behind a mesh curtain for the opening instrumental wash of “Life in Technicolor,” then slammed into first single “Violet Hill” as the curtain went up. A giant backdrop of the 1830 Eugene Delacroix painting that forms Vida‘s cover was suspended unnecessarily behind the band. Song 3, “Clocks” — the theme that launched a thousand movie trailers circa 2003-4 — brought the laser cannon barrage, and gave us our first glimpse of the video-testes in action.

Actually, ’twere only a single vidi-ball activated for this number, hung dead center of the arena. As the set continued, five more spheres would float down from black chutes in the rafters — the thought of sitting beneath a giant hen was difficult to avoid. Had all the vidi-balls been pressed into service initially, they could have eliminated the unnecessary and distracting video screen stage backdrop that replaced the album cover with the now-obligatory high-contrast black-and-white video footage of the band performing, which was probably much appreciated by the occupants of the 400-level sets but, closer in, competed distractingly with the the band itself. The video balls were a lot cooler during “Clocks,” when they were a replacement for, rather than a supplement to, traditional big-screen video. The removal of the screen would have allowed CP to sell the seats behind the stage, too.

The mid-floor B-stage was another idea Coldplay recycled to great effect (from U2, yes; at least that’s who Keith Richards says the Rolling Stones stole the idea from) performing a rousing “Chinese Sleep Chant.” Pretty funny title for the hardest-rocking song on the album. Accompanied by more laser fire, it sounded echo-y and ethereal and great, even if was so heavily processed it was impossible to tell if any of it was actually being performed live. Next up was a downbeat, whammy-bar heavy number. For a hopeful second, I thought Coldplay were going to show some Eno-love by covering “Life During Wartime” or something else from those great Talking Heads albums that Eno produced back when I was still in diapers, but no such luck — it was a rearranged, sinister “God Put a Smile on My Face.”

A few minutes later, Chris Martin cut whatever watery piano ballad he was playing abruptly off, saying “That’s enough of that” before slamming into “Yellow,” the dumb-but-difficult-to-resist Y2K anthem that put the world on notice that even with their first album, Coldplay had designs on a hockey rink near you. The sepia-color-wash that accompanied the tune sort of made me think of what Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog would have to say about the show. Even so, events took a distinct upward turn when Martin, after botching an acapella coda to the tune apologized, saying, “Some days I don’t know whether I’m trying to be Johnny Cash or Barry Gibb. I hope in 10 years’ time to have the voice of Johnny Cash and the hair of Barry Gibb.” Yo, Chris: We’ll handle the snarky quips about your voice if you don’t mind, or even if you do. But that was a pretty good one.

After a pounding “Lost!”, the four Coldplay-ers lept from the stage and ran across the floor through the audience, slapping hands while enveloped in beefy security guys. (I know you want to ask, and, yes, I have in fact seen U2 do this, too.) But then they did something I’ve never seen anybody do: They performed a pair of tunes, not quite in the nosebleeds, but from some random seats in the 200 level of the arena almost directly opposite the stage.

“So this is what we’re like up-close,” Martin told the lucky occupants of that section. “Not that impressive, right?” His affable banter broke sharply from Bonodom when he said, “I’m going to stop talking because I’m starting to bore myself.” Then came an acoustic take of “The Scientist, “ followed by “The Goldrush / Death Will Never Conquer,” sung by drummer Will Champion, replete with some comments from Martin about the ineptitude of his own harmonica-playing. Though truth be told, he blows harp at least as skilfully as . . . yeah, why don’t we drop that now.

A video-ball clip of Bill O’Reilly dissing Chris Martin gave way to a sort of geopolitical mash up video while the band made their way back to the main stage to bash out a driving “Politik.” The closing sequence of “Lovers in Japan,’ “Death to All His Friends,” and “The Escapist” was accompanied by a storm of glow-in-the-dark paper butterflies, blown aloft my confetti cannons. Perhaps it wasn’t the vidi-testes, but rather the real buttterflies — feral, carnivorous, ravenous — used in early dress rehearsals, that were to blame for the “production delays.” “Oh, God! Not the eyes!” screamed people all around us as the winged beasties flew their hellish, day-glo sorties. Okay, so I made most of that up, but the paper butterflies were there, and people were screaming, albeit in fits of apparent euphoria.

I did hear a few people grumbling on their way out about the sub-90-minutes performance time. Coldplay have shows booked through the end of the year. Then, presumably, they’ll have to find something to do with the vidi-balls they spent so much cash on. I have a few ideas:

1) Both feature-film and TV remakes of The Prisoner are in the works; the TV version is already in production with Jim “Jesus of Nazareth” Caviezal and Sir Ian “Magneto” McKellen in the two leading roles. The 60s version was pretty successful at making viewers afraid of a growling while balloon, but a growling white balloon that showed its victims live video of Coldplay before devouring them would be both topical and scary.

2) Rumor has it this other band will be touring again next year, one with a reputation for eye-popping live shows, chiming E-chord-driven anthems, and collaborations with Brian Eno. Coldplay has been stealing their sound and their stage tricks for close to a decade now; perhaps that other band would be willing at this point to return the favor. Or at least to give them a decent price for a half-dozen gently used vidi-balls.

Old 97s at Old Low Prices

How many things cost only one-third more now than they did seven years ago? Concert tickets, following their stratospheric mid-90s leap (another reason to hate Don Henley) may actually have leveled out in the first part of the 21st century. When the Old 97s play the 9:30 next week, they’ll be charging only $5 more face than they did back in 2001. (Good seats still available, incredibly.) These guys have kids and mortgages! How can they do that?

Here’s my review of their reassuring latest, Blame It on Gravity, from today’s Weekend section. I haven’t been able to find it on the Paper of Record’s web site anywhere except for right here.

Seven Nights to Rock: Catching Up with Waco Brother-in-Chief Jon Langford

Spoke to Jon Langford again last week in advance of the Waco Brothers marvelous but, sadly, ill-attended show at the Rock and Roll Hotel last Thursday night, part of their seven-somewhat-far-from-one-another-cities-in-seven-nights tour. I was hampered somewhat by a very dubious bit of string connecting the cans between New York City and here, but Langford really doesn’t need me asking him questions to make him funny and insightful.

Sonic Doom: Bell X1 at Ram’s Head Onstage

“We don’t know how rock to get,” confessed Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan at Ram’s Head Onstage in Annapolis Saturday night. He was talking about the awkwardness of turning it up to 11 in an all-seated supper club (“We don’t have shows like this back home in Ireland”), but his band has bigger problems: It you haven’t got the songs, then your chops are worth about as much as a Johnny Buckland guitar solo. (I just had to look up the Coldplay guitarist’s name to complete that sentence, so there you have it.)

Bell X1 is what remained of Irish indie-rock outfit Juniper after Damien Rice left for a solo career, so no surprise that Rice is one of the many purveyors of the atmospheric balladry Bell X1 tries very hard to emulate. Their genteel, out-of-focus soft rock — imported to the States when “Eve, the Apple of My Eye,” ha-ha, got picked up by “The O.C.” a few years back — sounds like a diluted Coldplay, itself a soggy imitation of better bands, like that other Irish rock band named after a famous Cold War aircraft. (Give yourselves another point for originality, Bell X1! Maybe that’s why you called your album Flock.) But the biggest flaw of Bell X1’s white-glove sound is that it allows you to hear the lyrics — the one about the angel and the devil playing poker in the Garden of Eden, for example (“I’ll See Your Heart and Raise You Mine”), or the one about how you have the most beautiful face, and we’re all floating in space. Surprisingly, there have been a handful of decent pop songs written about Writer’s Block; Bell X1’s “My Firstborn for a Song” is not among them. Somebody get Glen Ballard on the phone!

No wonder that for most of their 70-minute main set, even the band seemed bored. For Shame: Noonan, the former drummer who inherited lead vocal duties when Rice left, is a capable and charismatic singer. With a good song to sell — the Talking Heads’ “Heaven,” for example, performed during the encore — he’s plenty watchable.

Bell X1 closed with their best shot, “Flame,” which boasts funky “Miss You”-by-way of Scissor Sisters-flavored guitar part and a snaky bassline that immediately hooks you. The buzz lasted all the way until the chorus, when the five grown onstage squinted to sing in unison about how they want to “toast marshmallows on a cold, dark night.”

Honestly. Some bands just won’t help themselves.

Bell X1 play the 9:30 Club with opener Brooke Waggoner on Tuesday, June 3rd. A shorter version of this review appears in today’s Paper of Record.

Now That You’ve Found It, It’s Gone: SC / ATTE_RED DIS_P/ATCH_ES FR O M TH/E B_IG RAD_IO/HEA D SHOW

Radiohead rocks the Fortress of Solitude at Nissan Pavilion, Sunday, May 11, 2008. Photo by Luke S.

So, yeah, I was there . . . and here’s where I would ordinarily say “though no effort of my own,” since I came as the guest of the author of the Official Record of the concert. But it ended up being a major effort to get there, one in which hundreds, if not thousands, of Radiohead fans way more devout than me, failed. Biblical levels or rainfall compounded the piss-poor traffic management that has been a defining feature of Nissan Pavilion since it opened in 1995, and many would-be concertgoers, as we all know by now, sat in their cars, engines idling, for four or five hours before being told by the police to turn around and go home.

But since I was one of the lucky ones was actually inside the venue a couple of hours before Radiohead took the stage, I feel all the more foolish for not being able to offer much insight into the band’s performance, other than to state the obvious: I wish I could have seen it in dry clothes.

My benefactor had left DC late enough to have gotten the memo about the coming torrential rains, and had caparisoned himself appropriately in Gore-Tex. Once he arrived, he was escorted from the VIP lot by a Live Nation staffer with an umbrella.

Me? I’d left the District hours earlier, actually planning to stop somewhere along the W&OD trail and get a nice seven-or-eight-mile run in before heading out to my folks’ place in Chantilly to shower, take my mom out for an early Mothers’ Day dinner, and then cover the remaining third of the trek from Our Nation’s Capitol to Nissan Pavilion. I was dressed in a short-sleeved cotton shirt, a polyester jacked, an cotton jeans, which are excellent for retaining rainwater. As the day had gradually revealed its evil plan, I’d bailed on the run, and cajoled my folks to “dinner’ — in picturesque Centreville, another few miles down the road in the direction of Nissan — at 4:30 p.m. (My parents are now at the age where I really need to be careful about encouraging them to dine while most 9-to-5-ers are still at work.)

Anyway. I was parked in Lot F, about half a mile from the venue, when the gates opened at 6 p.m. In the four minutes it took me to jog from my car to the administrative office, every fiber of clothing on my body was soaked through, along with my notebook, my cel phone (which hasn’t made a call since), and my copy of The Ten-Cent Plague. (Since getting there crazy early was part of my plan, I brought a book. Yes. To a rock concert. Fuck you, Pal.) Having not a dry stitch anywhere on my body made the rest of the evening really enjoyable, especially when the high winds kicked up, driving little needles of rain flying in every direction and rendering the pavilion roof effectively useless.

So even though I had a ticket that thousands of fans would have committed premeditated murder to have — wrist-banded access to the general admission area right in front of the stage — I kind of feel like I didn’t see the show, because all I could think about was hopping up and down, trying to generate enough friction to warm myself up. Some vague sense that I was witnessing a truly commanding performance by a fiercely original and confident band did penetrate my consciousness, but the rambling account that follows is all I can piece together now. Reading some accounts of the concert today, I actually found myself wishing I was there. That’s funny. And truly bizarre.

The Peformance

I’m unfamiliar enough with Radiohead’s ‘tween OK Computer and In Rainbows catalogue that even if my notebook wasn’t soaked through and my fingers weren’t frozen, I probably couldn’t have compiled a setlist. It’s here and here.

After “All I Need,” the very, very subdued first song, with Thom Yorke playing piano with his back to the audience, he turns to meet his public: “Hello, Wet People! We’re having problems with the wet.”

Later on, he gets all mushy: “We know how tough today has been for you guys. Sorry. This is a nasty summer. It’s not nice.”

Perhaps out of solidarity with the crowd (or perhaps because it was warmer under the stage lights), no member of the band was bundled up. Ed O’Brien was wearing a scarf and sport jacket that seemed chosen more for sartorial flair that for warmth, and Yorke was in an unzipped hoodie sweatshirt over a T-shirt. Colin Greenwood actually took off a layer, performing much of the show in a T-shirt.

Jonny Greenwood looked at his shoes throughout the main set, but Colin, Ed, and Thom interacted with the crowd to greater degree than I’d expect from these guys. Thom had a spastic little dance to begin all of the upbeat numbers, when he wasn’t playing piano, and there was a lot of audience eye-contact from him.

For the second half of “15 Step,” O’Brien put down his guitar and picked up what looked like giant remote control for some kind of toy airplane. It wasn’t obvious what he was controlling with it — samples or loops, maybe — but he was very animated with the thing, posing with it in kind of a parody (I guess) of the kind of guitar theatrics from which he generally abstains.

Thom played along with Phil Selway using a little toy-looking drum kit brought to the front of the stage for him on one song. It would be nice if I could actually identify the song, but no. (This is where not being able to take notes really hurt me. Wet pages and frozen fingers = no notes.)

The stage set was sort of minimalist by big-rock-show standards, but very cool, with dozens of vertical filiments suspended from above flashing various colors and patterns in time with the songs. The video panel behind the band, meanwhile, showed processed and color-washed live video of the band performing, shot from dozens of angles — there must have been little cameras hidden all around the stage, but you couldn’t see any of them from the audience , so that was cool.

There was a great moment when the band played “Paranoid Android,” and the whole place joined in for the “rain down, rain come down lyric” that comes two-thirds of the way through the tune right on cue, followed by the sound of thousand of people laughing. Even some of the guys onstage smiled at that. Not Thom. But others.

Which brings me to an important point . . .

The Audience

The Radiohead Nation was utterly fantastic, enthusiastic and demonstrative despite the rain-shrapnel throughout the show. They still cheered, they still sang. You couldn’t tell if the band were at all moved by this, but they sure should have been. As with every concert I’ve ever seen with this kind of configuration, the people with the worst tickets (farthest from the stage, completely exposed to the elements, though I did see dozens of plastic tents out there) were the most vocal. The people with the primo tickets, the general admission pit, where I was, were way more subdued, which sucks, but still pretty fired up.

Exit Music (For a Film I Never Want to See Again)

During the encores, while I was wandering around trying to find my car (since I’d been sprinting for shelter when I’d left it hours earlier, I’d neglected to note which row of lot F I’d left it in), my feet sinking a half-inch into the muck with every step, I recognized “Karma Police,” “Planet Telex” and the rarely-performed “Fake Plastic Trees,” dedicated, I’ve since read, to all those who couldn’t get in.

I have left concerts early exactly twice in my life. The prior time was in 1995, at a Cranberries concert at the then-brand-new — wait for it — yes, Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge. God, how I hate that place. And now that U2 has signed with Live Nation, Nissan’s owner/operator, for next three tours (12 years), what’s the over/under that their next “DC” show will take place 35 miles West of town?


So today the postman brought me my long-awaited copy of Momofuku, the late-breaking, just-released-yesterday new album from Elvis Costello and The Imposters. I’ve been badgering Elvis’s People to send me a review copy ever since I head it was coming out, which was not very long ago. Elvis addresses the record’s quick genesis (“The record was made so quickly that I didn’t even tell myself about it for a couple weeks”) and novel release strategy — vinyl yesterday; MP3 as a courtesy to those who bought the vinyl next week; CD on May 6 (which is how I’m justifying reviewing it in the May 4 edition of “Media Mix” in the Paper of Record) — in a post on his refurbished official website:

” . . . The real version [emphasis mine] is pressed on two pieces of black plastic with a hole in the middle. You may prefer other, more portable, less scratchable, editions that will soon become available for your convenience but this is how it sounds the best: with a needle in a groove, the way the Supreme Being intended it to be . . . “

This is maybe not the wisest thing for a semi-professional music writer to confess, but I do not own the requisite equipment to play those two pieces of pierced black plastic. The record player I used to play my complete music library on vinyl circa 1987 (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the soundtrack album to Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Vietnam movie Platoon, and a copy of George Michael’s Faith I got as a radio station giveway — B106, I think it was) might still be resting beneath a shroud of dust in my folks’ basement. I may have to go find out sooner than later, since my review is due Monday, and the Best Buy that just opened up around the corner a couple of weeks ago does not stock turntables.

Weirdly enough, the first phone call I got after first opening Momofuku ‘s gatefold sleeve (so much more inviting than a CD, though that die-cut cut sleeve for the Flight of the Conchords CD is pretty nice) was from Noted Actor Steve Beall, which was propitious and surprising for three reasons:

1) Steve is an unreformed vinyl advocate;

2 ) Steve was actually at that great 9:30 show I reviewed last May where Elvis performed “American Gangster Time,” the only song on this thing that I’ve actually heard; and

3) Steve never calls me. Ever. Today was only the second time.

Since Steve is always going on about “180-gram” vinyl (grams are like horsepower, apparently, or the bit rate of a compressed audio file; more = better), I asked him how I could tell if the 12-inch grooved black plastic disc in my hand was “180 gram.”

“If you hold it in your hand, and you whip it back and forth, you can tell,” said Steve. “If it’s stiff, then it’s probably 180-gram.”

“Okay,” I said. “Whipping.”

“You really have to whip it kind of hard.”

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “No one will ever know we had this conversation.”

Hurry Up and Kill Yourself Already: Solas Nua’s Portia Coughlin


We know just how she feels: Linda Murray is just asking for chronic back pain in Portia Coughlin.

It’s no fun reviewing a show created by people you like and respect unfavorably. (And there’s a bit of it going ’round lately, seems like.) But this is The Job.

Also on DCist this week, my first Weekly Music Agenda.

Conspicuous Consumption


There are surely innumberable ways to do this, but we at Snake Oil HQ thought we would, as a public service, suggest one of the means by which you, as a Columbia Heights resident who wants to contribute to the community, pay your honorarium to the new Target that is being touted as nothing less than the dawning of a new age.

In the course of two visits within 53 hours of the store’s ahead-of-schedule opening at 0800 Wednesday, we managed to drop just over $100. (It would have been $5 more if not for the coupon we got in the mail the day the store opened, inviting us to come and spend after the opening on March 9 — still two days in the future as we write!)

  • Nightstand/lamp combo thing ($45)
  • 26-watt lightbulb ($4.99)
  • 18″ by 24″ poster frame for sweet gig poster commemorating last weeks pair of Wilco shows at the 9:30 ($19.99)
  • Eggo frozen waffles ( $2.49)
  • Superpretzel froxen pretzels ($1.69)
  • Replacement razor cartridges ($8.99)
  • Jif peanut butter ($1.75)
  • Kleenex ($4.79)

So, we’ve done our part. Have you done your duty? Let’s get the bottleneck started now!

Also: Approximately 11 hours into the Target’s life, we returned home via the car we try only to use once per week, and were still able to find street parking on our usual block. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Mr. Showoff


The live CD/DVD release of Richard Thompson’s 1,000 Years of Popular Music show, shot and recorded three years ago, includes 10 of the roughly two dozen songs Thompson performed at Lisner Auditorium Wednesday night. Five-twelfths would be an acceptable, even generous, reply ratio for any tour but this one, wherein he has — What was it? Oh yes: 1,000 Years of Popular Music from which to choose.

My first Richard Thompson show was underwhelming; read all about it in the Paper of Record.  I don’t want to sound like one of those jackholes who goes to a solo-acoustic Bruce Springsteen show and then yells all through because the E Street Band didn’t show up, or the guy who interrupted a moving performance of “Fallen” by Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve at Royce Hall a few years ago to bellow for “Pump It Up.”  But for Thompson to play three or four of his own tunes at the end of the show would not have violated the show’s conceit at all: A guy who even half-fills Lisner is still “popular” in my book, even it he ain’t Nelly Furtado.  And he had time, too.  Minus the 20-minute intermission, Thompson performed for only about an hour and 45 minutes.  Not a short show, but not a long one, either.  Though it sometimes felt that way.

It’s Irish Genius Week in my Clip File!


po-faced [poh-feyst] – adjective, Chiefly British. having an overly serious demeanor or attitude; humorless.

And U2 Week in the Style section at the Paper of Record, apparently, what with yesterday’s gushing front-page profile of Bono, my review of the 20th Anniversary reissue of The Joshua Tree in today’s paper. Maybe I’ll post a longer version of that review here. Or maybe I’ll just say “enough is enough” and get on with my life, too much of which has already gone to cutting that thing down to the not-ungenerous length at which it ran. Verily, writing about your sacred cows can be a tricky business.

The other Irish genius of whom I speak would be Samuel Beckett. The National Theatre of Great Britain Production of his 1961 Happy Days starring Fiona Shaw is at the Kennedy Center’s Terrance Theatre for a short run of concluding the day after tomorrow. I reviewed it for DCist. Not exactly light entertainment — for that, there’s A Christmas Carol 1941 at Arena, which I took my parents to the following night; DCist review forthcoming — but, you know, thought-provoking, imaginative, ballsy. Beckettian, I guess.

The Electric Version


. . . of my Georgie James review from today’s Paper of Record.

Retro-pop duo Georgie James are a cinch for the short list of DC’s most promising bands: Their full-length debut, “Places,” is so addictive a confection it ought to be covered by the Controlled Substances Act, and their concerts have been hailed far beyond the District. So the notable awesomeness deficit of their headlining set at the Black Cat Friday night is a bit of a mystery.

Call it “A Homecoming, Sort Of.” At what doe-eyed, honey-voiced singer/keys player Laura Burhenn said was their first hometown gig since their album’s September release, the band — core members Burhenn and singer/multi-instrumentalist John Davis, plus live ringers Andrew Black (drums), Paul Michel (guitar, vocals), and Michael Cotterman (bass; also a Washington Post employee, we must tell you) — served up 45 affable minutes of 70s-inflected sonic sunshine, ably recreating the Paul McCartney-esque hooks, Paul Simon-esque harmonies, and Paul Weller-esque grooves of their record. But there was no added urgency, or humor, or grit, or any of the qualities that, when present, make a live show superior to listening at home.

To be fair, the largely (and typically) indifferent Black Cat crowd might not have been seeing their local heroes at full strength: Last month, the band cancelled 10 shows due to illness on Davis’s part. That said, both halves of Georgie James were in fine voice; Burhenn, especially, showing off a becoming vocal huskiness that gave “Cake Parade” and “Long Week” a smokier feel than their recorded incarnations.

For all their unber-hummable tunes and irreproachible chops, Georgie James were at a disadvantage, going on after Aqueduct, a Seattle-based novelty act that can’t begin to approach the Davis/Burhenn partnership’s level of songcraft, but could teach them a thing or four about how to rock a crowd. Maybe they can give each other lessons.

Invert, I Say, Invert that Pyramid, Son

It makes your work easier to pare down to fit in the Paper of Record.

ritter.jpgThe Springsteen comparisons are legit; Idaho neo-folkie Josh Ritter is the real deal. But whereas the Boss can’t produce a note without squeezing his face into mask of constipated anguish, Ritter can’t sing without smiling. Or so it seemed at the 9:30 Club Tuesday night, where a literally hopping-glad Ritter jumped, jived, and wailed his hyperactive way through a buoyant 20-song, 100-minute set. “This is going to be really, really fun!” he sqeaked early on. Dylanesque? More like Elmo-esque — but he wasn’t wrong.

Opening with “Moons,” a 51-second epic from his new The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, Ritter slammed straight into a double-timed “The Dogs or Whoever.” By the time “Wolves” careened seamlessly into “Rumors,” Ritter and the four players sharing his stage (there was also a horn section that came and went as required) had proven themselves a band rather than a cast of session players surrounding a freshly-anointed star. Rough-hewn, ramshackle barn-burners would alternate with delicate acoustic performances all night. On the latter, Ritter’s command of the crowd was so assured you could actually hear receipt-printers chirping annoyingly from behind the bars.

Cuts from the new album and 2006’s The Animal Years dominated, though earlier concert staples “Harrisburg,” “Kathleen,” and the set-closing “Lawrence, KS” all elicited lyric-mouthing reverence from the die-hardest segment of the audience.

There were snags: “The Temptation of Adam,” a tale of blooming pre-apocalyptic romance, was a bit too fragile for Ritter to negotiate after 45 minutes of loud, loose rock and roll. “Girl in the War,” too, disappointed in a leaden, big-rawk arrangement ill-suited to the song’s inclusive humanity. But things got back on track quick when the horns returned to lend “Right Moves” and “Real Long Distance” a quality of celebration.

Ritter also demonstrated he shares Springsteen’s penchant from eras past for rambling anecdotes that are sometimes poignant but just as often silly, like the potato story (!) that preceded “Temptation.” Better was the atmospheric recollection of his high school paper route that gave way to a haunting solo version of Springsteen’s “The River.” The busted-strings rave-up of “Next to the Last Romantic” (featuring openers Old School Freight Train) that followed sent everyone home wearing beatific grins that seem destined to be called Ritter-esque.