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Archive for July, 2010

The Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense is a lesson in concert movie making. Director Johnathon Demme’s rotating angles and tasteful lighting choices provide a varied and exclusive view of David Byrne’s zany but cool art direction. From the onset, the film reaches you on an almost visceral level, from the opening minimalist rendition of “Psycho Killer” to the riveting physical aerobics of “Life During Wartime.”

The film provides a telling glimpse of the evolution of Talking Heads. This evolution is made literal by the staggered entrances of each band member, commencing with a nervous new wave solo act and culminating with a world-class funk-rock powerhouse. In the beginning, their funk is twitchy and anxious. But each personnel addition gives textural layers, soothing the twitchiness and letting the anxiety morph into unashamed peculiarity. This evolved funk is built off the music of James Brown and George Clinton and yet another example of a white band using black music. What makes Stop Making Sense such a good film (and Talking Heads such a good band) however, is that the funk is never forced, nor stolen. Rather, it is borrowed and incorporated into a style already flush with musical direction, complete with poly rhythmic gestures and dark post-punk tension. And the racial anonymity of this music (and the film) is a testament to the Head’s artistic sensibilities, but that’s a-whole-nother essay.

Visually, Stop Making Sense is unique for its genre. They aren’t any backstage and barely any crowd shots; it starts at the beginning of the show and ends at the end, with no between song interviews and after show babble. It is a no-nonsense concert film, and for that, its title is rather deceptive. The aforementioned aerobics involve some running, some balancing, and a whole lot of dancing. That peculiarity involves a big suit and a communal goofiness that almost makes you think the Heads aren’t serious about what they do. However, their wild, energetic stage presence is as honest as it is inspiring. And afterward I always grab my guitar.

Brilliantly conceived from start to finish, Stop Making Sense is a must see for fans of the band, fans of the cinematic genre, or, just fans of the funk. Here’s a fun little excerpt.

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One of the things I like most about Chicago–besides the wind and annoying public transit, of course– is the green spaces. In the areas that I frequent most (Northwest neighborhoods and the vast Lincoln Park territory) there are myriad parks and green boulevards that are most inviting, but also not intrusive enough to make you feel guilty for not stopping to soak in their radiance. Moreover, these parks add a delicate and necessary balance to a city that is filled with concrete and steel, whether you are basking in it, or just walking by.The deep greens and thick brown tree trunks of these spaces always excite me and make me grateful that the early developers of Chicago chose to keep some of the Illinois countryside in tact. The other day, however, I stumbled on an article in the New York Times that discussed exactly the opposite: turning already urbanized areas into green spaces and parks. For the most part, these parks (there are some in Paris and New York) are in abandoned parts of town and the development in greenery is an improvement from rusty old train tracks.

The article also spoke  about other American cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit that are in the early stages of these kind of transformations. In Chicago, the defunct elevated railroad track that was discussed is literally two minutes from my house. The tracks are called The Bloomingdale Trail and stretch about 3 miles east-west across the city’s northwest side. This somewhat-removed and secluded area is already a fabulous hang-out spot (late-night beer chats, usually) and adding greenery to a location like this is, I think, a marvelous idea. There is a non-profit organization called Friends of The Bloomingdale Trail which has modeled itself after the group that developed The High Line park in NYC. Friends has been trying to get this going since 2003 I believe, and with the success of The High Line and the press Bloomingdale Trail recently got in The Times, things could be looking up!

I have no idea the slings and arrows a non-profit like Friends has to suffer to get a project like this off the ground, but I intend to help out in any way I can. Although my undetermined after-college plans may inhibit me from seeing the completion of this decay-turned-garden, I’d like to know that I had a hand in its relative genesis. And who knows, maybe a decade or so down the road, I’ll come back and have a beer and a chat in a rose garden, rather than a bunch of gravel and rust.

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One of the only things that I like more than getting woken up at 4:15 on a Monday morning to my smoke alarm going off due to some annoyingly drunk cooking endeavors is having my bike tires slashed when I’m 4+ miles away from home. Both of these terribly fortunate things happened to me at the tale-end of a weekend that was nothing less than fantastic.

To me, a good weekend is a varied one. If I spend the entire weekend doing the same thing–even if I like it– I’ll get bored. It may seem obvious, but at the same time, I think a lot of people would consider a weekend where the highlights were getting drunk both Friday and Saturday nights (and maybe Sunday) to be quite eventful. Rather, I consider a weekend where I spend the majority of my time outside, seeing live music, and still doing a bit of drinking to be much, much better.

Saturday was a hot (but not too humid) day of park chilling and funny jokes. The cloudless blue sky was pleasant but made for little refuge from the beaming sun. Together, the five of us spent the afternoon in various green areas in Logan Square. Its always nice to be with a group of people that understand the concept of group jokes. This supports the democratic and comforting notion that we can all equally enjoy each others company, especially when we’re contributing to the communal mood. Saturday afternoon was full of this comedic ease, as well as some cool natural architecture by yours truly (Photo on the left, duh).

Much like Saturday, Sunday had its fair share of heat and communal jokes. However, this time humidity and the onset of some terribly annoying girls stifled the flow of a great summer day just a bit. Both of these agents, I believe, are innocuous and always bound to kill a buzz, so I don’t think my complaining about either will do much good. Rather, I’d like to delve into my experiences at Pitchfork Music Festival 2010.

Only going one day out of the three this year (mostly because of price but also because of the lineup) was a good decision. The two shows I was looking forward to the most–Beach House and St. Vincent– were certainly worth my scalped payment of $50, and Lighting Bolt was pretty cool too. Beach House’s dreamy synth pop tunes did not stray much from the tightly composed album versions, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Baltimore outfit chose to play the songs that everybody knows, exactly the way that everybody knows them. This created a feeling of comfort and relaxation that presumably took over the entire crowd. Lead singer Victoria LeGrand’s beautifully thick and wavy hair covered her face–and keyboard– for most of the show, seemingly making her just as blinded by the familiar melodies as the audience.

Next up was a short-but-enough viewing of Lightning Bolt, an insanely loud metal-free jazz duo. Only consisting of bass, drums and a heavily distorted vocal mic, these guys blitzed through fast paced, fuzzy grooves that at times bordered on parody. The strength and will power that it takes to listen to the noises they make is substantial, which I think is kind of the idea. Nonetheless, they were still pretty cool.

Afterward, we traveled through some of the tents and checked out the used vinyl and free swag, as well as some of the free Clif Bars–dope. Then it was onto St. Vincent, a musically varied and physically attractive pop group fronted by the stunning Annie Clark. The group’s sound is hard to pinpoint: on the albums its lush string section and careful pop arrangements are aurally fantastic. Yesterday’s show, however, was much more of a collage (or a casseroll?) of noises and sounds that is a kin to that on-the-record fantasy, but still very much its own animal. Ms.Clark’s delicate voice, whether manipulated by reverb or not, soared over the festival grounds like an eagle, I would say like an angel, but not when she’s “Laughing with a Mouthful of Blood” (lol). Much like Ms.LeGrand, Ms.Clark was vocal and visual candy, and her sloppy, Casey Sexton-like guitar playing was equally as enjoyable as her soft croon. Here’s a pretty bad picture of her and her bass player.

On the way out of the festival, as I was thinking of who Ms.Clark’s guitar playing reminded me of, I was surprised and angered to see that my bike tires, along with my friends’, had been slashed. After rambling aimlessly for a bit, we began our long trek home. Thinking optimistically and realizing the uselessness of complaining, we had some great group jokes. No notes were taken, but I do remember knowing that after such a pleasant weekend, this walk didn’t mean much at all. And, although I hadn’t been woken up at 4 am by two annoying girls yet, I knew that two other beautiful girls helped me think about things much more important than smoke alarms and humidity.

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Sampling

Earlier this year I was enrolled in a pretty cool music criticism course. Each week we had to turn in a 300 word opinion piece where we would address a certain issue or artist and take a stance. They were fun, but academic, and I kind of struggled to find a comfortable voice throughout. Nonetheless here’s one I did on music sampling and why its kind of preposterous to oppose it:

Most critics of music sampling label it as an unauthentic way to make music. These claims do not take into consideration that sampling is just an evolved form of musical borrowing, a concept innate to music. In the late 19th century, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak traveled to New York City to study American music. Dvorak asserted, “The future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies… the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.”

As the 20th century progressed, American popular music contributed to the seemingly constant co-opting of black music. In 1974, New York City duo Steely Dan overtly borrowed the first eight bars of a piece by black jazz pianist Horace Silver for their single “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Aside from tempo, Silver’s tune, “Song for My Father,” bared no similarity to “Rikki.” Still, “Father” served as a blatant influence for this now classic Steely Dan song. Thirty-three years later, Kanye West proved by sampling Steely Dan for his song “Champion” that borrowing was not exclusively an interchange from black to white, but rather from artist to artist. Borrowing brought these otherwise unrelated musicians together into a timeline of influence. This timeline initially followed Dvorak’s sentiment, but in time West proved by sampling Steely Dan that the age of influential citation had evolved.

While living in New York Dvorak wrote “The New World Symphony;” a piece that features prominently the ‘Negro melodies’ he had observed. Although he did not have the technological resources that Kanye West has, Dvorak’s creative avenue was the same: take a found piece of music and use it to create something new.

Borrowing is inherent to the nature of popular music, and it is only now, because of our evolved musical state, that we have the ability to directly cite, or sample, our sources.


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Sultan’s

I don’t go out to eat too often, so when I do, I like to make sure I enjoy it. And, whenever someone suggests we eat out, I almost always have the same reply: Sultan’s Market. With two locations in neighborhoods that I often frequent (Lincoln Park and Wicker Park), Sultan’s cheap Mediterranean cuisine is a safe choice. Locale and price, although convenient and beneficial, usually aren’t my main reasons for suggesting. Even if Sultan’s was in a pricey suburb spot, I’d still find a way to their crunchy falafels and savory shawermas. I’m no expert at food description, in fact I’m quite bad at it, mostly because my two favorite adjectives for edible satisfaction are “dope” and “tite;” but in tasting either selections I mentioned, or maybe going blind on a hearty Kefta Kabob sandwich, you’ll realize that a description just isn’t necessary. Sultan’s grub is the kind of grub where you say how good (or dope) it is at least three times before finishing your meal, usually with a recap when all is said and done.

The last time I went to Sultan’s I was with my buddy Dubes. He’s new to Chicago this summer and is currently realizing his love for Sultan’s. He decided to go blind on that kefta kabob and I got me a lamb shawerma. Jerusalem salad, creamy hummus, and a light dash of tabouli added a refreshing flavor to the just-greasy-enough lamb. And the decently sized pita pocket that carried this tasty art was warm and thin. I finished in under 10 minutes, as did Dubes, and we were able to digest and savor this Chicago favorite on their sun soaked patio–which is, of course, just another benefit.

Check ’em out! http://chicagofalafel.com/

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Grapevine

Every week or so, I become obsessed with a  song. This reoccurring cycle is usually replenished over the week’s end when I discover or am turned onto something new. This is not to say that my affection for this song only lasts a week, but rather the song just moves from an obsession to a point interest of which I’m completely familiar. I usually watch different videos of these songs on youtube.com (which is a great site for watching videos).

This week I’ve been SESSIED over Creedence Clearwater Revival’s rendition of the Motown classic “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” This swampy and ominous track from CCR’s fifth album Cosmo’s Factory is as haunting as the Marvin Gaye version, only this time with a dynamic 5-minute guitar coda. The sweaty-at-dusk groove of this tune makes me think of a bayou sunset in mid July and John Fogerty’s vocal (and guitar) contributions only add to the song’s dark nature. I’m gonna go listen to it again.

Short Radio Version

Dope Studio Long Take

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Introductory Post

Since starting this blog in November of 2009, I have barely thought about it. The first post was an assignment in my economics class (if you couldn’t already tell). Our teacher wanted us to start a blog and complain about something. I wasn’t crazy about the idea, and gave somewhat of a half-assed job on the whole thing. My new intention with this blog isn’t to complain lazily, however, but to share, at least with some level of interest.

Being 22 years old and living in Chicago, I am privileged enough to see and do some cool things. I sometimes work at  an awesome music venue and like to write about the bands I see there or just about music in general. I have a healthy obsession with food and beer and sometimes like them along side one another. I play a lot of music as well and have a cool phone that takes great pictures. And, because I spend a good portion of my work week in front of a computer screen, I have decided to start anew with Born Under Punches. This is not a Talking Heads/music blog, although there will be posts regarding both my current favorite band and my all-time favorite art form. There will (also) be snacks, #lol.

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