October 08, 2014

FILM REVIEW: "20,000 Days On Earth"

Cover design for 20,000 Days On Earth.  Photo courtesy of DraftHouseFilms.com.
Near the end of the film 20,000 Days On Earth, Nick Cave, with the Bad Seeds behind him, performs among a throng of fans. He grabs the hand of a young girl, pressing her palm onto his chest as he whispers into the microphone, "Can you feel my heartbeat?" He repeats the line, at the end of “Higgs Boson Blues,” until the fan can only look him in the eye and nod, yes.
   When the song ends, Cave jumps back onto the stage, his energy restored. "When you enter the heart of the song," Cave explains in the film about performing live, "you can be taken away...and feel godlike."
   The improvisational documentary by filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard is meant to play like one full fictional day in the life of one of rock and roll's greatest frontmen. The audience sees how the man is currently living and working and encounters a glimmer of insight into his creative process.
   Throughout 20,000 Days On Earth, the Bad Seeds are hard at work on their fifteenth album, Push The Sky Away. Cave and his right-hand man, multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, work on an off-the-cuff song about Lionel Richie. They share a lunch and reminisce about a Nina Simone performance at the Cave-curated Meltdown Festival in 1999 that left them with mouths agape. Ellis rides an elliptical and conducts a children’s choir for the recording of “Push The Sky Away.” The viewer is given a rare opportunity to gaze deeply into Cave's dark blue eyes as he sings.
   The film does not follow the basic linear retelling of the average rock documentary. Instead, it’s Cave offering stories of his early days with Birthday Party, growing up a brooding boy in a small Australian town and balancing church life with drugs when he was a young adult.
   At one point during Cave’s day, he stops to revisit old photographs and various pieces of memorabilia from his life. He seems delighted, even giddy, to be pouring over and celebrating his past.
   Rather than simply regurgitating old clips from a storied career, what the filmmakers have done is show their subject's emotional reaction to his past. This is where the film succeeds most.
   Seeing a bubbly Nick Cave, grinning from ear to ear, looking over photos of himself isn’t exactly the image one would expect from the cagey prince of goth. He isn’t the most forthcoming about personal details so it’s welcoming to witness him acknowledge his own personal and creative past.
   The film intermittently is cut with Cave opening up to his therapist. The whole time the therapist looks just as transfixed as the audience by what his patient is telling him.
   When asked about his first sexual experience, Cave discusses being turned on at 15 by a girl with black hair and a very white face. He insists the experience wasn’t outrightly sexual, but admits that her contrasting features flipped a switch inside him. At that moment he became aware of the power of arousal--a power that would go on to greatly influence his songwriting.
   The most stunning revelation of the film is that the man with eyes like coal has his own set of fears. As Cave drives through rainy Bristol and navigates his day, he looks back on the past with a host of guests. With longtime collaborator and friend Kylie Minogue in the backseat of his car, he discusses the vulnerabilities of being a rock star.
   His whole life, he explains, he imagined becoming the man he is today: bold, acerbic, lyrical, confident, a showman. The success of becoming a famous persona has outweighed his inner self and he finds it difficult to retreat to any sort of normal life. Not that he would want any soft of “normal” life.
   Ultimately the film inspires the creative heart to dig into something deep, something profound. We live in our work. Our art is our reality. Cave talks a lot about memory and how our personal histories are shaped only by what we remember. His biggest fear, he says, is to lose his memory because it would then be as though he were never there. Songwriting for him is the net that captures his life experiences as he finds a perspective on them that makes sense.
   Find out where 20,000 Days On Earth is playing in your city here.

October 06, 2014

St. Vincent at Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Annie Clark performs in Prospect Park August 9, 2014. All photos by Eli Jace.
It is fifteen years, two-hundred and twenty-one days into the 21st Century. August 9, 2014. St. Vincent -- that’s Annie Clark in Brooklyn -- stands in the shadows of the Celebrate Brooklyn! stage in Prospect Park. She comes to take aim at our fractured, disseminated digital lives and hold our focus for one night.
As Clark stands in the dark an electro-computer voice reads a disclaimer. Please refrain from capturing the concert with all digital devices. I snapped two quick blurred images, posted one to Twitter and felt horrible about myself. 
The show was the finale to Celebrate Brooklyn!'s free summer concert series and was easily the most anticipated. The line to enter curled around and past the park. At the entrance, signs warned of the use of strobe lights--always a positive sign.
Clark's form came into view as the strobe lights sputtered for the opening fuzz of "Rattlesnake." She stood straight and defiant dressed in black stockings, black leather skirt and a white button-down top. When the solo came, she rocked up and down like she was blowing in the wind. Her frazzled newsprint-colored fluff of hair shimmered and her high cheekbones reflected each flash of light like a shield.
The song opens St. Vincent, Clark’s fourth album, released early this year. The album is sure to fit at the top of every year-end best-of list. The setlist was heavy with new songs and ones from Strange Mercy from 2011. Further back, off Actor, “Marrow” and "Actor Out of Work," a tightly wound chunk of krautrock, showed up early in the first half.
Clark’s four-member band was impressively locked in. The colorful arrangements of the recordings were expertly re-contextualized on the stage. Songs were kept mostly intact as heard on record, but there were pockets left open wide for improvisation and expansion.  
Bassist Toko Yasuda and Clark interlocked their guitars beautifully for the brain-tingling climax of "Surgeon.” Their subtle syncopated choreography charged on “Birth in Reverse" and other songs. Toward the back of the stage sat a white three-block pyramid. Clark’s soapbox. She hopped up the white steps for "Cheerleader," pounding her black high heel on the top step.
Clark wore the expression of a Stepford Wife pixie doll. She moved in a mechanized drone, focused on the performance she was engaged in. Surely she was sweating, but her makeup never smeared. She changed guitars as often as some pop divas change outfits. An assistant rushed out between songs with a fresh axe in hand. She stayed close to the microphone, stepping back momentarily to go cross-eyed in a hypnotic guitar excursion.
Before "Every Tear Disappears" Clark took a moment to welcome the "freaks and the others" in the audience. She called out the millennials chiding them for the generation they were born into, then launched everyone further into space.
She followed the spotlight to the white block pyramid for "I Prefer Your Love." The sweet rhapsodic ballad rocked back and forth as Clark sat, folding her legs on the second step. "All the good in me is because of you,” she serenaded, her gaze growing distant. “It's true.” 
As the feedback rang out, Clark fell to the pyramid steps like a piece of jelly. She writhed and spilled over the steps, pulling herself across each one until she slumped head-first to the bottom, legs crossed and pointed upward in a v-shape.
Toward the end of the set Clark’s face took on that of a growling bobcat, lip upturned. She turned feisty, trying to rile the sitting crowd into consciousness, spitting curses between songs. During a few, she added extra spite to the lyrics. "You traced the Andes with your index," she sung on "Prince Johnny," "and bragged of when and who you're gonna fuck next."
The stuttering snare shuffle on "Huey Newton" turned the energy up. When Clark cooed, "It was a lonely, lonely winter," a chill swept through the crowd. Her rising falsetto then lead us blindly into the tar-thick guitar crunch of the song's last blistering half. "Entombed in the shrine of zeros and ones," Clark screeched, "You know."
The nerve-pinching space-grind of "Bring Me Your Loves" finalized the proper set. Clark took us off our leash and exited into the dark, but we would not leave. We wanted more. After a 14-song set that thrilled, exasperated and numbed the senses, the band returned for a skull-cracking encore.
Clark walked on alone. She took our excitement and anticipation and molded it in her palm like a clump of clay. She stepped to the block pyramid's top step frosted by a single spotlight beam and eased into “Strange Mercy.” She teased out each note of the honey sweet ballad, letting them hang in the air. The crowd fell into a collective trance, growing so quiet, the cicadas sizzling on the tree branches could be heard between the bars. "If I ever meet the dirty the police man who roughed you up," she sung with alarming relevance, "No. I don't know what."
A second song in the encore of a free show is a wonderful thing. What St. Vincent gave us was an extra show within the show. "Year of the Tiger," off Strange Mercy, dumped onto the stage with booming guitars and buzzing electronics. For a moment it felt as though all of Brooklyn was put on standby. 
As the song played through, it began to take another shape. It grew limbs and threw a tantrum. The strobes flickered incessantly with the clashing energy. Clark finally gave in to her punk thrash heart, shredding like Kurt Cobain on live TV and tumbled into the collecting crowd of VIP at the front. Feedback rang out. 
She ended with "Your Lips Are Red," off Marry Me. The pounding psychotic episode, with chants of “Ashes in downtown, ashes in downtown,” just about sucked the remaining brain nodes from everyone’s head.
Free or not, St. Vincent at Prospect Park was one of New York City's top shows this year.   

A few days after the performance Clark appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers, sitting in for two nights with the 8G Band. She batted her eyelashes while Meyers informed his television audience of the 15,000 people that packed into Prospect Park to see her. "I did that," she quietly purred against the blare of television lighting. Why, yes Annie. You sure fucking did. 

PHOTOSET: St. Vincent at Prospect Park, Brooklyn

PHOTOSET: St. Vincent at Prospect Park, Brooklyn

"She took our anticipation and molded it in her palm like a clump of clay."
Read the live review here.
All photos by Eli Jace.

October 02, 2014

REVIEW: "El Pintor" by Interpol

El Pintor sets Interpol back on track
Beware the gloom mood descending on downtown. It’s been four years since Interpol’s last album and even longer since they’ve put out a cohesive piece of music. With El Pintor, their fifth album, the New York City band regains their footing.
   From the very first ache of "All The Rage Back Home" the new album falls into that familiar Interpol tone. The morose hypnotism of singer/guitarist Paul Bank's voice. The full-speaker swirl of Daniel Kessler’s repetitive guitar and Sam Fogarino’s jerky-lean drum beats.
   El Pintor is Interpol’s first full session without the assistance of founding member and bassist Carlos Dengler. He left after the completion of their fourth, self-titled album in 2010 and took his gun holster with him. Dengler was a main factor in forging the sound and iconography that Interpol can now claim as their own.
   It’s relieving then, that Dengler’s absence hasn’t thrown off their direction. In fact, the lineup change has been a positive adjustment. It forced the remaining members to focus on tight, direct songs. Dengler was never replaced. Instead Banks played the bass himself and Brandon Curtis added a lacquer of ambience with keyboards.
   The rainy downtown melancholia that Interpol has perfect over the years is prevalent on songs like “My Desire” and “Everything Is Wrong.” On "Same Town New Story," Kessler’s guitar flickers while Banks delivers an impassioned story of a suffocating romance. The female suffers through a broken relationship she wishes she could save. "Feels like the whole world / is up on my shoulders," Banks emotes. The line unspools into the brain.
   El Pintor is pulled into the vortex of a fast-spinning whirlpool during the song "Breaker 1." Banks's vocal squall challenges a pummelling crescendo of bass, drums and cymbals. The song  teeters on the edge of destruction, but falls in line before the end.
   Each song is crisp and doesn’t get caught in lingering outros. El Pintor has a depth that outlasts its relatively short set. With ten songs it clocks in at just under forty minutes, but only gets better with each repeat listen.
   Interpol just might be better off without Dengler. Since their powerful debut, every album they’ve released has been a lesser effort than its predecessor. El Pintor is easily the group’s best album since Turn On The Bright Lights, the debut that made gloomy New York City seem cool.

Key Tracks: “All The Rage Back Home,” “My Blue Supreme,” “Same Town New Story,” “Breaker 1”

source: http://imp