Black Taxi live at Skipper’s Smokehouse w/bonus Bright Light Social Hour vid!

Black Taxi is an indie rock band out of New York that I’ve been following for about a year and a half now. I was lucky enough to catch them at Skipper’s Smokehouse last night. We managed to wind our way pretty close to the stage and I got some decent videos although the bass player on the right was absent in most of these because I couldn’t fit him in the frame.

Black Taxi is a really phenominal group. They’ve got an interesting blend of garage punk and really gritty pop with some songs almost echoing some of the 80′s groups that influenced them. They’ve got a unique stage presence and in one song the keyboardist played a trumpet, a glockenspiel, and sang through a bullhorn all in the same song.

These guys just really have a lot of fun on stage and it was great to be able to finally see them live. Check out some of the vids below, especially the last two.

Black Taxi opened for The Bright Light Social Hour which was a favorite at last year’s SXSW music festival. They are a great band in their own right and I intended to get some footage of them as well but my camcorder ran out of batteries. In lieu of that, here’s a clip from their NYE performance of Shanty:

Once again I sing the praises of Skipper’s Smokehouse for bringing bands like this to the bay area. I’d encourage anyone to get out there and support them in their endeavor. Will be catching Enter the Haggis there next friday so hope to have some vids posted from that concert as they always put on a kick-ass show.

Being Human, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy and The Recipe Project

Being Human

The premiere of the second season of this show aired last week and this is a series that I’ve meant to talk about since it started last year. So I figured this would be a good time to do so.

I was attempting to describe the plot of Being Human to a friend of mine and I started with “A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost…”

“Walk into a bar?” he interrupted. Honestly I should have seen that coming.

I’d read reviews about the original British version of this show which typically used the words “dry” and “soulless” and I wasn’t comforted by the fact that the American version was being produced by the SyFy channel. Normally anything produced by SyFy tends to be pretty bad but every so often they knock one out of the park. In my opinion, Being Human is one of those home-runs and I’m glad I took a chance on it.

The series follows two friends, Aidan and Josh, a vampire and a werewolf respectively, as they make a decision to try to stop living like monsters and instead attempt to live normal lives (or at least as normal as is possible for a vampire and a werewolf to live). They rent out a house close to the Boston hospital where they both work as orderlies and are surprised to meet Sally, the deceased fiancée of the house’s owner who was recently killed on the premises (being supernatural creatures, they can see and hear her). Sally soon joins them in their attempt to obtain some semblance of normalcy and rounds out the trio.

As cheesy as the plot may sound, it’s actually a great deal more layered and complex. There’s an overarching inference that a monster lurks inside all of us and learning how to resist those primal urges and desires is no small feat for anyone. However in addition to this, each of the three main characters brings a further metaphorical layer to that.

The vampire, played by Sam Witmer (who serious geeks may recognize from his role as Galen Starkiller in The Force Unleashed series), is a metaphor for addiction. Aidan is attempting to quit “live blood” cold turkey, ingesting only the pre-pumped blood of voluntary donors rather than seducing and biting living people. This puts him at odds with the coven he recently abandoned (and their leader who happens to be Aidan’s “sire”) as they don’t take kindly to either deserters or “vegetarians.”

The werewolf, played by Sam Huntington, is a metaphor for adolescence and the torrent of awkwardness and emotion that often accompanies it. What kid goes through their teenage years without thinking at least once, “no one is going to understand what I’m going though?” Josh was bitten two years before the show’s start and he still hasn’t come to grips with the fact that he turns into a beast every full moon. He up and left both his family and his fiancée for fear of hurting them during the transformations and he spends every full moon isolated in the remote woods hoping he doesn’t stumble across people he could potentially hurt. He carries that isolation even further by refusing to get close to anyone and thus refuses to date or even keep friends outside of his two supernatural roommates.

The ghost, played by Meaghan Rath is a metaphor for feeling lost. Sally, being recently deceased, has no idea how to exist as a non-corporeal entity. There are rules to being a ghost that no one ever taught her, specifically those governing how she is supposed to “move on.” To make matters worse, she doesn’t remember the circumstances of her death and she is reluctant to leave the house for fear that she won’t be able to return and it the only anchor she has to the world.

Of the three main characters, I can relate the closest to Josh with his awkwardness and isolation and he has fast become my favorite character (compound this with the fact that I’m more fascinated with werewolves than I am with either vampires or ghosts). Both Sally and Aidan’s plotlines are definitely interesting however and still manage to keep me interested. If anyone is going to relapse and give into the monster, I’ve got my money on Aidan.

I’ve never really been into the True Bloods, Vampire Diaries or any other vampire-centric television show. Admittedly, I’m the kind of viewer who always looks at the deeper meaning in everything I take in and I feel that Being Human is more of a meatier production than a lot of what’s out there now. In addition to that multi-layered storytelling, there is a healthy dose of both drama and humor and they all combine to form something really worth watching.

As with most SyFy shows, each season is only 13 episodes long so it’s doesn’t take long to experience. In my opinion it’s worth it.

 

The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy by Nada Surf

I’ll be honest here, I haven’t really been nuts over a Nada Surf album since 2003′s Let Go which is definitely on my list of favorite LPs of all time. Some of the more recent additions to their discography were simply weaker than Let Go. This isn’t to say any of those albums were bad; they’re still great indie rock, mind you, but weaker nonetheless when compared to that insanely stellar performance.

The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy may not quite reach the lofty heights of that album, but it comes about as close as they’ve gotten in almost a decade. This newest LP takes me back to that moment almost 10 years ago when I laid down on the floor to listen to the first track and stayed there transfixed and unmoving for the length of the disc as I mentally turned phrases like “drowning in my id” over and over in my head.

Nada Surf is quite well known for not loading their albums with “filler” songs. Their albums are meant to be experienced as a whole and I’ve never had to buy an mp3 of one or two songs to test drive them before purchasing one of their full discs. You can trust Nada Surf to deliver an experience that’s worth the price of admission. The melodies on this album remain smooth and lyrics are still delightfully poetic. 

Some of my notable favorite songs so far are Jules and Jim, Teenage Dreams and the rather catchy Looking Through. However Waiting for Something is without a doubt the most memorable track on the album and manages to hit a deeply personal note with me (so I could be biased). Bear in mind I’ve not yet had the experience of absorbing the complex layers with multiple listens so these are surface favorites as of now.

If you’re a long time fan of their music, you’ll dig this album, and if you’re new, I’d recommend starting with the aforementioned Let Go before moving into this one. Understand that Nada Surf is coming up on almost 20 years old which probably puts the trio close to their forties if not there already. “Age is a state of mind” is not a phrase that is lost on them and The Stars are Indifferent is their proof-positive of that.

 

The Recipe Project

The Recipe Project was a Christmas Gift given to me over the holidays by one of my closest friends who really knows how to hit the nail on the head when it comes to books I’ll dig. I never really thought I’d be reviewing a cookbook, but this particular one is something special. I’ve made no secret about my love for cross-media and I’ve written numerous articles detailing specific instances over at the Cover Stories website. Hell the entire premise of Cover Stories itself is the fusion of music and prose. This is probably why I’m enjoying The Recipe Project as much as I am.

The main goal of the Recipe Project is the merging of food and music. Recipes from some of today’s top chefs are simply set to music by the band One Ring Zero (the CD of which is included in the back of the book). It all seems kind of arbitrary at first until you actually sit down and try to cook Mario Batali’s “Spaghetti with Sweet 100 Tomatoes” dish while listening to the music which is surprisingly catchy and quirky.

The recipes themselves are varied and I’ve loved the ones I’ve tried to make thus far. The book also includes various essays, stories and musical playlists from the included chefs as well as some of the country’s most notable culinary writers and food bloggers.

I think the Recipe Project initially intended itself to be more of a gimmick but it wound up totally transcending that and becoming a legitimate culinary curiosity in its own right. As the back of the book states, it’s “fun stuff for the super-music-nerd-foodie who has everything.”

The Visible Man, Super 8 and Bastion

Well, the holiday season is over and the year has come to an end. What better way to fight off the post-holiday blues than by talking about some of my favorite media from 2011. Today I’d like to discuss Chuck Klosterman’s The Visible Man, Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams’ summer popcorn flick Super 8 and Xbox Live Arcade’s artistic dungeon-crawler, Bastion.

 

The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman

I tried to read Klosterman’s first attempt at fiction, Downtown Owl, but I really found it lacking. It sounded more like he just wrote himself into a bunch of characters and then spouted the same pop culture observations that he makes in his non-fiction pieces. Not that this kind of device is a bad thing, I just didn’t see much difference between it and his other books which made it seem less like fiction. I know some critics trounced it and they weren’t necessarily that far off the mark.

I’m happy to say that Klosterman has apparently learned from his mistakes.

The Visible Man is what I can only refer to as a fictional triumph for Klosterman. It’s an intelligent, creepy look at human nature and a cutting observation of our culture’s obsession with voyeurism.

The Visible Man’s plot device is a series of transcripts submitted by therapist Victoria Vick to an editor in the hopes that they can be worked into a manuscript suitable for publishing. The transcripts center around her sessions with an anonymous man who she only refers to as “Y___.” Initially contacting her via phone, Y___ claims to have perfected a technology that allows him to become invisible and is now somewhat addicted to “observing” people. Not interacting, but just watching.

Part of the novel is Vick’s attempt to figure out whether or not Y___ is completely delusional. Klosterman writes his character very well and Y___ indeed straddles that line between crazy and sane with the utmost dexterity. The other main plot point is her attempt to distill Y___’s rather candid observations about the people he claims to be watching.

Much of what Y___ observes is based upon Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle; once you interact with something you change it. He insists that the only way to truly know a person is to see them when they’re alone because that’s the only time they’re truly being themselves. Through Y___’s twisted filter we are introduced to a humanity that is extremely raw when compared to the humanity we see every day.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I live alone which made the book resonate with me, but more times than once, I caught myself looking around the room in search of a hidden watcher. When a work of fiction causes that kind of thought in the “real world” you know it’s hitting chords on many levels.

Give this one a shot folks. If you’re already a fan of Klosterman I don’t see why you wouldn’t like the Visible Man and if you’re not, this is a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with his entertainingly superfluous writing style.

 

Super 8

A recent Blu-Ray purchase is what inspired me to talk a little bit about this film today.

Maybe it’s my love of all things 70′s. Or perhaps it’s the fact that I spent much of my youth trouncing around my neighborhood with a video camera on my shoulder barking orders at my siblings and cousins as we filmed the next great action/adventure epic. It could be very fond memories of the first time I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind with my dad so many years ago. Whatever the cause, Super 8 definitely struck a chord with me and stands out as one of the best movies I got to see this summer.

If I had to catagorize this film I’d call it a cross between Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Goonies with a dash of J.J. Abrams signature mystery-building thrown in for good measure. Both did what they do best and the end result was just a great film.

While filming a zombie movie in rural Pennsylvania outside Pittsburgh for a local film festival, six friends witness an astonishing train crash. They soon come to realize that the train was a military transport and something escaped that night and took refuge in the surrounding area. What results is an exciting adventure that captures something that has really been missing in summer movies as of late: heart.

The filmmakers addressed something that has been overlooked ever since digital effects rose to prominence; you can have the greatest effects in the world but if you don’t care about the characters they serve no purpose whatsoever. Transformers: Dark of the Moon was filled with amazing eye-popping effects, but after three flims, I still don’t give a rat’s ass about Sam Witwicky, his relationship with his comic-relief parents or the vapid women he’s shacking up with. Super-8 tackles this by giving us main characters that are both deep and realistic and by putting them in personal situations that are very relatable. Additionally, the decision to use less mainstream or no-name actors really helped to suspend disbelief.

I can’t go into much more detail without spoiling one of the main plot elements so I’ll just say that I can see this becoming a summer classic. While it can’t quite completely replicate that sense of wonder that was often evoked by Spielberg’s earlier summer popcorn flicks it comes about as close as any film I’ve seen in years.

Bastion

It was my intention to do a full fall harvest season gaming wrap-up, but to be honest, this year they really overwhelmed me. The sheer number of games that came out, the size and scope of some of those games and the fact that I’ve had less time for gaming as of late resulted in a poor sampling of each title and even one or two that are still in the package (I’m looking at you Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition). Perhaps as the holidays wind down and I have some more downtime I will be able to toss out some reviews of some of the most impressive fall titles.

But seeing as it’s the year-end, for now I’d like to focus on one of my favorite titles of 2011, Bastion. Bastion was a summer title but it still sticks out in my head as one of the best and most visceral gaming experiences of this year.

Developed as an Xbox Live Arcade downloadable title, Bastion is both artistic and unique in a way that I’ve only ever seen matched by 2010′s Limbo. When I first saw the preview screenshots it appeared as just another dungeon-crawler. However, once I loaded the demo I realized that’s where the similarities ended and it was so much more than that.

You begin the game as “the Kid.” Sometime after an apocalyptic event called “the Calamity” you set out to find and restore the “Bastion,” a sort of spiritual fallout shelter where any survivors were supposed to meet if they could. The most interesting thing about this game is that the moment you awaken your every move is narrated by an old man who is observing your journey.

The story line is incredible and in some moments heartbreaking. I haven’t vicariously felt the sadness of a video game character since watching the glassing of New Alexandria in 2010′s Halo: Reach. That’s an impressive feat for an Xbox Live Arcade title.

The storyline is accompanied by an AMAZING score and soundtrack. It manages to add a tremendous feeling of immersion that really helps you connect with the characters and to feel what they’re going through. Once I heard “Build a Wall (Zia’s Theme)” by Darren Korb, I immediately began scanning Amazon’s Mp3 downloads until it showed up a few weeks later and that tune became a mainstay on my playlist.

The visuals are on par with the rest of the title. The whole game feels like an artist is painting the landscape around you as you move forward towards each destination. This style really helps to solidify the dreamlike state the story is supposed to exist in. The enemies are sometimes simultaneously funny and creepy. Moving through areas that were once populated only to see the frozen remains of once living people crumble to ash as you touch them establishes the gravitas that you feel throughout the game.

The gameplay, while far from original, is solid with plenty of ranged and melee weapons to level up and tinker with, elixirs to drink which create different effects and a shard system that helps you power up the Bastion which in turn helps you to do more.

Bastion is one of those special titles that prove gaming can be just as artistic as other forms of media and I would love to see more titles follow this line of development. I really can’t recommend this title enough. If you haven’t gotten a chance to pick it up, do yourself a favor and at least download the demo. If you’re like me you’ll instantly be hooked and the full title purchase will be as good as yours. As this was a summer title I’d have to imagine it’s selling at a pretty hefty discount at this point and if it’s not, it soon will be.

Enjoy your 2012 folks. There’s some great stuff on the horizon for this year and I hope you all get to enjoy it.