Sunday, May 31, 2009

Heeeeeere's Conan

Well, friends, it's Conan Eve! We are about 24 hours away from the debut of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. I will be LIVE BLOGGING during the show tomorrow night, so be sure to watch this site as you watch the show.

In preparation for this historic event, I've found myself taking stock in what will become the late night schedule. Since I've got the summer off, I'll be able to dig in and evaluate how the shift in time slots changes my late night allegiances.

Let's start with Leno.

In his 17 years at the desk, I watched one full Tonight Show with was on Friday...and I watched because Conan was the guest and my girlfriend loves James Taylor. I think Leno's move to 10pm takes pressure off Conan because Jay's elderly viewers will simply shift up to 10, no longer needing to avoid Law & Order: Pervert's Row, or whatever version they have Coolio starring in. But unless Conan someday takes over, I won't be watching. And I think he was lying about those 68 offspring of the show. Still, seeing that clip of him dragging a 30-year-old Conan onstage was pretty funny.

Alright, from here on out, we're gonna go with a basic pros and cons list.

The Late Show with David Letterman
Letterman was my first taste of late night TV, when he moved to CBS. I was 12 years old, and just starting to stay up that late on Friday nights. I loved him, primarily because my family did. He was wronged by NBC, and we weren't going to support that sissy Leno. As an adult, I've eaten at the Hello Deli, to this day call my college buddy "Gator" and he calls me "Skunk" (because at some point, Dave and Paul used those nicknames for each other), and this is the only late night show I've been able to watch in person. The line-up that night was David Alan Grier, some dude who climbed the 7 Summits, and the Von Bondies. The only saving grace of that trip was being on Broadway earlier that week when Phish played outside on the Late Show marquee. But enough about the past. Here's where Letterman stands now...


The Late Late Show with Craig Furgeson

I used to watch this show when the other Craig hosted, having followed him from The Daily Show. And when the guy from The Drew Carey Show took over, I didn't take much notice...until a recent development involving puppets.

  • his interviews are unscripted and personal, rather than, well, scripted and impersonal
  • creative monologues that don't follow the typical structure of NYC joke, current President joke, former President joke, celebrity drunkard joke, Kirstie Alley joke.
  • even more creative "cold opens," usually involving puppets, and sometimes involving Steven Wright pushing Brittany Murphy on a swing.

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

I know a lot people were afraid that Fallon was either going to (a) not be funny or (b) be funny, but not be able to stop laughing at himself. I was never really that worried, because all of these shows follow the same formula, and there was no way he was going to be as badly recieved as Conan when he was first hired.

  • relies too much on SNL connections
  • worst. interviewer. ever.
  • beer pong is incredibly boring to watch on television
The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien

I'm predicting great things for Conan at 11:30. He's going to steal some viewers from Letterman for sure. But I also think his vacancy from 12:30 will probably move some of his audience to Furgeson, not Fallon. Bring Andy back is awesome, and we can only hope that Will Ferrell has a sweet new birthday suit for the big event.

Anyway, be sure to tune in here tomorrow night for a LIVE BLOG of the first ever Tonight Show with Conan!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Runaway Daughters

We don't want to steal our own thunder from the annual year-end music video post (only seven months away!) but thus far Patrick Daughters is dominating the '09 field. In just the last three months, Daughters has made three ridiculously awesome clips. Time to pick up your game, everyone else.

Depeche Mode: Wrong
Two items of note here:
1. The most shocking this to me about this clip is that a record label actually spent some significant cash on a music video in 2009.
2. I initially thought this video was simply edited backwards, a la Coldplay or Mute Math. But after 60 seconds or so, I realized this was not the case. Soon after that, I realized that this video apparently takes place in CREEP CITY, USA. Population: Nightmare Fuel.

Department of Eagles: No One Does it Like You
Since the beginning of time, mankind has wondered, "Is it possible to feel an emotional attachment to ghosts lacking facial expressions?" Finally in 2009, this question was answered: Yes, but only if one of these ghosts has a limb amputated. The dancing/skating/shooting doesn't hurt either.

Grizzly Bear: Two Weeks
This was just released today, and I'm not sure what on earth is going on here. There's clearly something "off" about the faces from the get go, like a much more subtle use of the Black Hole Sun manipulation. But after that initial creepiness, things are taken to the next level, and your guess is as good as mine as to what it all means. Testify!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Teenage Lobotomy

During my last visit to my parents home, I picked up 2 crates of CDs in the basement. They had been there for over a year and I realized that at this point, I might as well add them together with the 2 crates currently in my apartment and sell off whatever I can though I have come to realize that I don't really have any attachment to CDs over music on my iPod. I can understand why those who grew up in an age of only vinyl find comfort in the physical product, but I've come to accept that such sentimentality no longer exists for me within CD liner notes.

This apathy was confirmed when, within 4 days of entering my inventory into Half's database, my resolve was tested with the order indicated on the right side of the column. One person taking all 6 Elliott Smith studio albums. This had to be a test of resolve! I felt nothing packing them up and taking my $43 and change in return.

That said, it's obvious that when going through a music collection you learn about your past and present self. This is even more so the case when going through music you don't listen to anymore. You remember old guilty pleasures which now seem embarrassing, pleasures which probably should seem embarrassing but don't, and my favorite reaction, "How did I even end up with this album?" Among the things I learned while liquidating:

1. I stole a LOT of CDs in college
We would get so much music sent to the radio station, and about 90% of it was horrible. But often when receiving something worth playing or heavily anticipated, we'd get a few copies sent to us. A professional way to handle this would have been to put one copy of the album into rotation and give the other copies away as call-in promotions, but ethics have no place at a college radio station when your entire GM salary is $350 a semester.* Plus CD burners were just coming onto the scene, so how else was I supposed to get Built To Spill albums? Go buy it in a store with money I didn't have, or take the free one that's literally sitting in my lap a month before release? You do the math. In any event, a healthy portion of my CD selling descriptions include the phrase "Promotional stamp on front cover."

*Ethical sidenote: We once submitted our weekly playlist to CMJ and included a band that did not really exist. It was simply a name we came up with for when we played in our basement, and we thought it would be funny to see the name published in a magazine. It wasn't really that funny.

2. The Unmentioned Reason that record labels can't make money anymore
When entering album info, you have to input the UPC code from the back of the CD case. However, this UPC code is missing from all albums bought through the BMG music service or Columbia House - the companies that flooded every newspaper/magazine/mailbox with their "12 CD's for a penny" promotions in the hey day of CD sales. BMG's website indicates that they no longer accept new members, though apparently they're still serving current members? There are STILL current members of the BMG service? Columbia House has moved their racket into DVD sales (5 for 49 cents!) The majority of these CDs in my possession seem to come from the "default BMG starter kit collection." Eric Clapton Unplugged? Check. Automatic For the People? Check. The Division Bell? Hilariously, yes, though it falls under the "I don't ever remember acquiring this" banner. And of course, the banner album of the BMG service: Bat Out of Hell, which must owe 40% of copies sold to the power of mail-order.

The fact that this service came of age right as I was starting to finally buy my own music made for some solid binging.* As I recall, with BMG or Columbia House, you could place your initial order of 12 CDs without giving any credit card info (this policy changed pretty quickly as I recall) and then could simply send back the default album that they would send you every month at a cost of $19 each. I don't know how the services ever made money unless they just assumed people would be A) lazy enough to routinely buy albums at a markup instead of driving to a music store, or B) absentminded enough to forget to cancel or send offering back. As a 13-year-old who fell into column B, I forgot to send any music back until my parents received a bill of $40 for 2 months worth of music. The two albums I was sent in that time: The Best of Elvis Costello, and Johnny Gill's self-titled album. Guess which one I kept?

*Related: Up until this time, the only music (tapes, of course) that I received were from my mom on Christmas or birthdays, and usually any tape that I asked for would be accompanied by 2 or 3 that my mom would "give" me, even though I never asked for them, and they would conveniently end up in her car. I vividly recall unwrapping a package that included tapes of Billy Ocean and Peter Cetera. I requested neither of these, but in the long run they're probably each more respectable than the tape I DID ask for: Milli Vanilli.

3. Unsurprisingly, I've owned some awful albums
Here are the five worst albums I ever bought. The list is not numbered as they all tie for #1. This list is based solely on the album itself, or the band at the time of the album. For example, Smash by The Offspring - a still decent album of the genre - doesn't apply simply because that band later became a complete joke, but owning any Offspring album that is NOT Smash WOULD apply because every other album (and that band in general) is awful.
  • August and Everything After - Hootie and the Blowfish are the cultural punchline of 1990's pop chart dominators, but Hootie is nowhere near as embarrassing as Counting Crows. I would have a hard time compiling a list of friends who did NOT own this album, but history has taught us that will of the masses is no excuse for deplorable behavior. I tried to look up just how many copies this album sold, but hilariously I can't find any sales info past 1996. It's as if everyone just agreed after a couple years that we'd all be better served to stop counting our mistakes.
  • Rage Against the Machine - I may never be able to reconcile this. A major-label marketing stunt parading under the charade of anti-establishment "revolutionaries". The less said about them the better.
  • We Can't Be Stopped - This Geto Boys offering actually probably doesn't qualify as awful as much as simply bizarre. Toward the end of 8th grade when my entire class developed an affinity for rap, David Collins sold me this CD for $5. Within a week, he offered to buy it back for the same amount. That's how grade school business gets done apparently. I still love this Geto Boys video, especially the last 70 seconds which feature midget Bushwick Bill trick-or-treating, LEAPING to punch a guy in the face, and tossed onto a stretcher.
  • Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved - I've never owned a KISS album, but at one time I felt it necessary to buy a KISS tribute album. And why not? Who wouldn't want to hear Toad the Wet Sprocket's take of "Rock and Roll All Nite," performed in all it's mellow Toad the Wet Sprocket-ness? Evan Dando sleeping his way through "Plaster Caster" and Lenny Kravitz dropping a deuce on "Deuce" are among other highlights. Garth Brooks actually pulls off an excellent version of "Hard Luck Woman," but that high point cannot make up for...
  • Chris Gaines' Greatest Hits - This falls into the category of albums sent to the station that obviously would never be played, but I took it, so I will swallow my pride in the same fashion that Garth Brooks seemingly swallowed Trent Reznor's 1991 look. That said, we can't really treat songs like this as a complete joke if we're not going to do the same regarding the catalog of Babyface. Call it both way, America! Also it's worth noting that the wikipedia page for Chris Gaines A) exists! and B) has an entire biography on it! That someone took the time to write and edit! And it's more comprehensive than bios of Nobel Prize winners! You win again, internet.
"I won a damn Nobel Prize and my wikipedia page is a joke."

"Ask me about my fictional 1992 car crash!"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bad Idea Show Review: Iron & Wine at Lakeshore Theater

Sam Beam does not look like a particularly humorous gentleman. Then again, he doesn't particularly have the look of a teacher either, which he was before be started writing songs in the vein of an outdoorsy Nick Drake/Elliott Smith. Despite physical impressions though, Beam is a funny guy, and comedic chatter was on display throughout a solo request-based acoustic show at Lakeshore Tuesday night. At one point when the theater sound system disagreed with Beam's guitar, he killed time by asking if anyone had any questions. Naturally, this prompted the nerdiest question asked at a concert ever. "What have you been reading?" came the request from the middle of the 300 packed seats. Without missing a beat, Beam responded, "Twilight." Perfect. But his literate admirer would not be denied. "No, seriously," he implored. "Seriously? New Moon." Outstanding stuff.

Despite the technical difficulties and dalliances into open mic comedy, the concert itself was powerful stuff. I saw Iron and Wine last year at Lollapalooza, but the time of day and cumulative effect of the weekend kept me from enjoying the set too much. But with the arrangements stripped down to Beam's guitar and voice, along with the setting of playing in an absurdly small and intimate theater, all the lyrical imagery is heightened and as a spectator you don't want to move a muscle.

The fact that the setlist was open to internet voting before the tour started ensured a healthy mix of newer tracks (Boy With a Coin, Song of the Shepherd's Dog) and more obscure older cuts (Upward Over the Mountain), along with a cover of New Order's Love Vigilantes. The spontaneity factor was high while Beam tried to remember lyrics of songs he hadn't played in years, and also remarked on the age old concert-going tradition of cheering upon immediate recognition of a song (Beam: "I always wonder if that means people just really love that first chord, as opposed to the actual song. Give it up for C!")

There are many songs on my iPod that I wish lasted twice as long, but "The Trapeze Swinger" is the only song that clocks in at 9 1/2 minutes, yet still always seems too short when it ends. This was again the case last night when he closed his main set with an epic version of the non-album classic. If you don't already own this track, you should download it from SubPop for free HERE and make your life complete.

The setlist:
Sodom South Georgia
He Lays In The Reins
Woman King
Swans And The Swimming
Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)
Mary Ann
Evening On The Ground (Lilith's Song)
Friends, They Are Jewels
Upward Over The Mountain
Loss Vigilantes (New Order cover)
Pagan Angel And A Borrowed Car
Beauty And A Family
Boy With The Coin
The Trapeze Swinger
Resurrection Fern (encore)