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On Paul Levinson And “Welcome Up”

It seems like just yesterday I was sitting down for eggs at City Diner with Paul Levinson. In reality, though, it has been over ten years (!!!) since I interviewed Paul for WFMU’s Beware Of The Blog. In the decade since our chat, I have followed him on Twitter (he’s a good follow!) and peeped his blog when he’s reviewing a TV show I’m currently watching. I guess you could say I’ve kept up with him from afar. As I’m not active enough on Twitter to wade into cultural or political matters beyond a like or a retweet, I mostly show my support for Paul by regularly spinning the vinyl copy of Twice Upon A Rhyme he gifted me. As someone who comes across new and fascinating musical artifacts on an almost-daily basis, you’d be amazed how singular Twice is in the world of Private Press/Acid Archives/Psych Folk albums. In the past month alone I’ve picked up records from Cy Timmons, Chris Portigal, and Songs For The Masses. It never ceases to surprise me that 99% of these discoveries cannot hold a candle to Levinson’s masterpiece from 1972.

You can imagine my excitement then when Paul reached out recently to share an advance copy of his new album with me. Titled Welcome Up: Songs Of Space And Time. To be officially released on February 7th via Old Bear Records and Light In The Attic, you can currently hear the album on Paul’s Bandcamp page. You can pre-order the vinyl (limited to 100 copies) courtesy of LITA here. Produced by Chris Hosington and recorded at Old Bear Studio, these 8 new compositions sound exactly how one might expect Levinson to sound nearly 50 years after Twice Upon A Rhyme. It’s hard to describe an album as a “natural progression” when the progression has stretched nearly half a century, but I really can’t think of a more apt descriptor for Welcome Up. The vibe is similar to what fans of the first album originally fell in love with, while still offering something modern and fresh for those who may not be as familiar with Twice

Artist names who come to mind when first listening to Welcome Up range from Stephin Merritt (aka Magnetic Fields) to The Beach Boys, and even Jerry Solomon. The abundance of synths and computer-generated sounds also reminded me of the Super Furry Animals album Radiator. Paul’s lyrics and Chris Hosington’s production definitely skew towards the cosmic, with some of the songs directly inspired by the songwriter’s science fiction writing. “Samantha”, “Welcome Up”, “Tau Ceti” and “Picture Postcard World” are standout tracks. According to Paul, he began writing “Welcome Up” back in 1968 before finishing it in 2018. And “Picture Postcard World” was penned in its entirety in 1968! Whatever his original intentions were with those songs, they blend modern production techniques flawlessly with a “vintage” feel. In his brief note to me announcing the album Paul mentioned recent additions to his growing family (his two grandsons), and how family helped inspire him to get back into songwriting and recording. One can only imagine how giddy they were to learn that the disembodied voice — sounding at times like a collect call from another dimension mimicking Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons — is their grandfather.

I cannot overstate how happy it makes me to see Paul Levinson continue his musical journey on Welcome Up. I’ve grown weary in recent years of artists trying to strike gold twice decades removed from when they started making music. Without naming any names, I can name dozens of artists who have released follow up albums 20, 30, 40 years on only to disappoint and/or tarnish their legacies. Welcome Up is a welcome change in that regard — it’s quite triumphant, actually — and any fan of Twice Upon A Rhyme will be overjoyed by it. It’s a testament to Levinson’s innate talents as both a songwriter and storyteller. As otherworldly, mystical and far-out as the subject matter may be, the songs burst with love and warmth and humanity. Check it out, I think you’ll dig it.

Paul Levinson’s Welcome Up: Songs Of Space And Time will be released on February 21st, 2020. Pre-order the vinyl here. Stream/Download available here.

Ah, screw it. I’ll name one name who tarnished a legacy with a shitty follow-up album: Linda Perhacs.

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Two New Ones From Nate Hall (U.S. Christmas)

When last we encountered Nate Hall, he was releasing his first (I think?) solo record, A Great River. This was a couple years ago, though, and things on the USX/Hall front have been relatively quiet for what feels like an uncomfortable amount of time. I’ve often wondered — and still wonder — if another full-length from his band would magically appear in my inbox one day. And although that hasn’t been the case yet, I did receive a note from Nate the other day alerting me to some new solo releases. So let’s talk about ’em, shall we?

First up is Electric Vacuum Roar, which features two slabs of blackened guitar drones juxtaposed to sundry affects and distant chants. There’s a sixteen-minute buzzing, swirling meditation followed by eleven-minute of gauzy guitars and nightmarish howls…and a Caustic Resin cover (“People Fall Down”). It screams late night intoxicated haze. It reminds me a lot of living back in New Jersey and blowing out speakers in my father’s basement trying to build epic swaths of feedback layered with samples of old records and infinite looping bass riffs. All while consuming bottles of red wine or smoking my way through a brick of hash. Of course, I sucked at doing that, and Hall is a thousand times more advanced than I, so I’m happy to hear that part of his solo career consists of similar sounding sonic adventures.

The album Fear Of Falling is credited to Nate Hall and Poison Snakes. Tony from USX plays drums, so this one is more in line with Hall’s former recording project than the other solo recordings. The album’s title (and title track) were derived from a quote by poet Francois Villon, “In my own country I am in a far off land / I am strong, but have no voice or power / I win all, yet remain a loser / At break of day I say goodnight / When I lie down, I have a great fear of falling.” Sonically it doesn’t quite capture the spaced-out psychedelic swamp blues bliss of yore, but it’s close enough that I can crank it up and enjoy it immensely. The visceral vocal delivery and lyrical content is right in line with all of Nate’s previous output, whether as part of a band or a solo musician. Much like Electric Vacuum Roar (and A Great River) this one was recorded totally live so there is a rawness and grit to the sound that is distinct from the latter USX records. I like it a lot. Fear of Falling is definitely worth your attention.

Nate Hall – Heat And Sway [MP3]

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LOST 10th Anniversary Reunion Paleyfest Event @ Dolby Theater; Los Angeles, CA

Remember when I was obsessed with LOST? How long ago was that!?

It’s hard to believe the finale aired almost four years ago. It’s even harder to fathom how ten years have passed since the show premiered way back in 2004. I was still in college at the time. Hell, I didn’t even watch the pilot. I don’t think I really heard about the show until the “numbers” episode created national headlines. Apparently so many fans went out that week and bought lottery tickets in the hopes that 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 would win them millions of dollars it made a headline on CNN’s website. I remember reading that article and thinking, “God people are stupid.” Of course, had I been a fan of the show at the time I probably would have done the same.

As it turned out, I became  obsessed with the show. I was just later to the party than most. But the costume parties, large group viewings, paraphernalia-purchases, podcast interviews, weekly blog recaps, and attempted bids at that Profiles In History auction cemented my hardcore fandom. Of course when I heard there was a 10th anniversary reunion it was met with shouts of, “We have to go back!”

LOST @ Paleyfest; Dolby Theater, Hollywood

So there we were last night: Me, Nate, Tom, Mark, Louise, and David. It was just like old times. Except we were seated in the nosebleed seats high atop the Dolby Theater (like, eye level with the catwalk that spans the roof) staring down at a panel discussion — moderated by Paul Scheer — with Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, Josh Holloway, Jorge Garcia, Yunjim Kim, Ian Somerhalder, Maggie Grace, Henry Ian Cusick and Malcolm David Kelly (WAAAALT!).

The evening began with a viewing of the penultimate episode of the first season, “Exodus Part 1”. Then the panelists took the stage and answered some of Scheer’s questions. Josh Holloway (Sawyer) told a great story about an obsessed fan, while Carlton Cuse recounted a story about Terry Quinn being literally abducted by a fan while he tried to hitch a ride home from the set. The cast members spoke about props that may or may not have followed them home after shooting wrapped. There were anecdotes about casting, filming, and life after LOST. A few of the actors mentioned how they were cornered by fans who offered up really, really bad theories about the future of the show during earlier seasons. There were discussions about how much the actors knew at various times during production. It was interesting to learn the answer was, “Not much.” As in, they were pretty much going from script to script without having any idea about the broad strokes of the main story arc or their own character’s life expectancies. There was even some talk of how the Jack character was supposed to die in the first episode of the show. The showrunners spoke about how one idea was to have this character appear on all the posters, and in all the commercials, only to die in the first episode. But then an executive at ABC — smartly, and rightly — suggested that if you take away viewers’ trust that quickly, they’ll never believe anything you tell them for the remainder of the show. Smart executive, whoever that was.

Then the floor was opened up for questions from the crowd (and one Twitter user with a really pathetic username I can’t recall at the moment. Something about CSI, though…). This turned out to be a pretty terrible idea, and led to Scheer reinterpreting some of the inquiries to make them more interesting. Of course the first question was some nerd talking about the outrigger during that scene in Season 5 where Sawyer is shooting at some unknown people whose identities are never revealed. And, of course the answer was a non-answer. I don’t think it’d be so bad for Lindelof and Cuse to just say, “We fucked up” or “The director fucked up,” but when they try to feed the mythology by saying, “Oh know, we know who was in the other outrigger but we can’t tell you — there’s a script that reveals it — maybe we’ll auction it off in another ten years” is kiiiiiinda bullshit. I could give a fuck what the answer is, but I thought the answer was a cop-out. The rest of the fan questions were generally terrible. Oh god, the nerds. They were out in force last night. I think one of them even said, “I bought this jumpsuit at the auction after the show…” then asked Josh Holloway, “…is this really Sawyer’s blood on it? Can you sign it?” Cringe.

Overall it was a good time. The nostalgia factor was high. There was clapping and cheering throughout the episode they aired before the show, and learning  more behind the scenes intel made for an informative and fun evening. LOST will always hold a place in my heart for being one of the most engaging and exciting television experiences I’ve had. I think Paul Scheer hit the nail on the head when he said that LOST was the first show that ushered in this culture of “binge watching” television shows. Its influence on pop culture is massive. And if any series should be trotted out after 10 years and patted on the back once more in a very public forum, it should be LOST.

Afterwards I had a shitty margarita and stale chips from Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina. And it was still better than sitting in Hollywood/Highland traffic after a huge event at the theater.

The La’s – I Can’t Sleep [MP3]

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Brewery Ommegang Game Of Thrones Beer Night @ Sunset Beer Co.

Last night at Sunset Beer Co. here in Los Angeles there was a small tasting event/launch party for the new Brewery Ommegang release “Iron Throne,” a blonde ale inspired by the television program Game Of Thrones. And if you thought for one second I wouldn’t be attendance…you would be dead wrong. Wait. How many negatives are in that sentence? Is that grammatically accurate? What I’m trying to say is, you’re damned right I was there to imbibe with friends and try to glean some information from the brewery’s west coast sales representative.

As I walked into the tasting room shortly after 5pm, I learned that the brew was available on draught (and for an extra few bucks you could score a Game Of Thrones tulip glass) and in bottles. There was a limit of one bottle per customer, but you could order glasses for as long as the venue’s keg would allow. Since I was waiting on friends, I enjoyed a glass of Cistmontane Pandion Pale Ale first. I really love Cistmontane. They (along with Strand and Ladyface) have become one of my favorite local breweries. That beer was delicious, by the way, featuring a wide variety of hops, a very floral aroma, and a crispness perfect for spring sessions. Once friends arrived, though, the night turned solely to consumption of the celebratory Ommegang brew.

Iron Throne Blonde Ale, a supposed collaboration between Brewery Ommegang and HBO (although I don’t know how much brewing experience HBO has) is a 6.5% ABV Belgian-style blonde ale that wonderfully blends fruit and spice. In talking with the sales rep from Ommegang I learned that it’s brewed withStyrian Golding and Hallertau Spalter Select hops. It’s spiced with a combination of lemon peel and grains of paradise. Malty in flavor, Iron Throne definitely fit the flavor profile of a Belgian-style ale. Very lightly bitter, crisp and sweet, the second pour I found even better than the first. Suffice to say I’m excited about breaking into my bottle on Sunday night during Season 3 Episode 2.

In talking with the Ommegang rep in the tasting room — who, by the way, was kind enough to provide my friends and I with free t-shirts, keychains, and coasters — I learned more about where the beer is going to be available in and around Los Angeles (there’s an event at Stout in Hollywood tonight, which you probably won’t make it to, but it’s also at Surly Goat, Faculty, Rosewood Tavern, and a few other spots you can seek out via Ommegang’s website). Of course, I also prodded as best I could about the upcoming Game of Thrones beers. Although unable to give direct answers to any of my questions, I’m pretty sure I could infer from the answers I received that come October/November, there will be another offering from Ommegang that is a stark (pun intended?) contrast to the Irone Throne, perhaps a more darker, heartier brew. I’m sure once it has been announced the Internet will be all aflutter, just as it was when Iron Throne was announced. Maybe next time those of us in LA should make an event of the beer release. We’ve got until autumn to set it up and make it happen.

Go seize the Iron Throne. An opportunity such as this does not arise often.

Ramin Djawadi – The Throne Is Mine [MP3]

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Enjoy The Experience Now Available For Pre-Order

If you and I are officially Internet friends — and by that I mean we’re connected via Facebook — it’s likely you saw an exciting status update I shared yesterday. No, it wasn’t the April Fools joke I played on my sister where I added an important “Life Event” officially terminating our brother/sister relationship. It was a photograph of the Jerry Solomon entry I helped contribute for an upcoming coffee table book called Enjoy The Experience: Homemade Records 1958-1992.

Edited by Johan Kugelberg, Paul Major and Michael P. Daly, Enjoy The Experience is the first ever major work detailing the history of American private press records. As you all know, this is a realm of American music that I am extremely fascinated by, and endlessly trying to share with the masses. If you’ve ever downloaded a self-produced, self-released record from this blog (be it by Jr. and His Soulettes, or Dana Westover, Tres & Kitsy, or Paul Levinson, or any of the dozens of albums I’ve promoted in this space) you’ll want to order a copy of this book.

How to define a private press record? Well, I happen to like the description used by the book’s publisher, Sinecore Books: “An endless stream of psych-rock hopefuls, Holiday Inn Elvises, pizza parlor organists, funk bands aspiring to become to JBs, high school bands performing all of Jesus Christ Superstar, cult leaders who never found the right cult, jazz bands inspired to fore a new stream all sincerely hoped to become stars, they committed themselves to record, and they left themselves vulnerable to an industry no understanding of nuance, not appreciative of character. This is not a gathering of kitsch and novelty, though: the records cataloged in Enjoy The Experience are funkier, more psychedelic, more idiosyncratic and more emotionally rewarding than the mainstream music product it aspired to be.”

If you pre-order the book from Sinecure, not only will you receive the product itself…all pre-orders include a unique slipcase for the book, a fold-out poster, a facsimile clear vinyl 7″ manual on “How To Make Your Own Record,” and a free download card featuring dozens of the most amazing artists featured in the book. Furthermore, you can purchase a companion double LP and CD anthology that’s been pressed by Now-Again Records. It’s entirely worth the price — not only because you’re getting a whopping TWO PAGES I helped contribute, but because you’ll be supporting artists that deserve the recognition they never received when these albums were produced. My (and hopefully yours as well) enjoyment of these private press records often comes at the expense of the artists. When only hundreds of copies of records are made, the artists never profit. And more often than not we hear the music via ancillary media (MP3s, CDrs, etc.). Downloads do not often translate into success for those who have struggled to bring their music to the masses. But hopefully if enough people show support for this important — yet marginalized — thread in the fabric of American musical history, more of the artists will have the chance to reissue their albums in greater numbers, thus reaching and even larger audience.

That makes sense, right? I’ve been drinking non-stop for the past five hours and, honestly, I’m having a hard time telling if what I’m saying is getting through and making some semblance of sense.

To pre-order Enjoy The Experience: Homemade Records 1958-1992, please click here.

Don’t do it for me (I literally get nothing out of it other than a credit I can put on my writing resume), do it for the artists whose music you’ve enjoyed on this blog for the past few years.

Better yet, order two. I mean…it’s a fucking coffee table book. There’s a ton of pictures, the topic is music…pretty much anyone who receives a copy is going to appreciate it.

Michael Fitzgerald – Brand New Day [MP3]

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Sam Lipsyte @ Vroman’s Bookstore; Pasadena, CA

The thing about John Peel is, the more you click around the Internet, the more you find references to eclectic bands he “championed” during his long, illustrious career as a DJ for BBC Radio 1. Hell, his own Wikipedia page uses variations of the word “champion” four times. Saying that John Peel championed a band is the epitome of hyperbole. It’s like calling something “the best.” Or, in my case, it’s like saying so-and-so “is my hero.”

Last night, novelist and short story writer Sam Lipsyte was in Pasadena reading from his new collection of stories, The Fun Parts, at Vroman’s Bookstore. I raced over there after work and caught the second half of the reading. Afterwards, Lipsyte answered a number of questions from the small crowd of maybe thirty folks who had gathered upstairs to hear him speak. The evening concluded with a book signing.

A couple years ago a high school friend of mine who shall remain nameless (you can read a horrible interview I conducted with her about our sexual activities here) asked for my mailing address. She had read a book called Home Land, and she said it reminded her of something I might write. She said, specifically, the word combinations the author — a guy named Sam Lipsyte — used to depict women and sex could have been my own. When the book arrived, I cruised through it. I loved it. It was the most refreshing, fun book I’d read in a very long time. I purchased Lipsyte’s first book The Subject Steve and a collection of short stories called Venus Drive. The former was great (although personally I liked Home Land more) and the latter was remarkable. In fact, Venus Drive was so perfectly written it inspired me to start writing short stories for the first time since college. In particular, the story that concluded the collection struck a chord. “Less Tar,” it’s called. It’s a memory of a dead parent, a cancer memoir written by a son mourning the loss of his mother. It contains the most brutal passage ever about how when the son was a child he tried everything in his power to get his mom to stop smoking. He’d even ask for it when his parents asked what he wanted for his birthday. And I used to do the exact same thing when I was young. I would make these elaborate, colorful wish-lists of birthday gifts for my parents, and number one would always be, “Dad Stop Smoking.” When I read that story, “Less Tar,” I almost broke down crying. After two novels and a collection of amazing short stories, Sam Lipsyte was officially entered in the annals of “Evan’s heroes.”

I was moved enough to write Lipsyte a letter. I never do that. But, I figured, he teaches at Columbia…he’s got to read his e-mail, right? I didn’t know if the address I found would work, or if what I said would capture how inspired I was by these stories I was reading, but I figured I’d try. I told him about the girl and Home Land, about the note she stuck in the front of the book that said, “You two are the same person.” I said…well, I said a lot. Reading the message back right now I’m almost embarrassed by how personal I was. In just three paragraphs I pretty much said I hated my life, my job, my relationship, and my lack of drive. But I wanted advice.

It took less than a week, but he responded. He gave no-frills, honest advice and recommended more reading material: Airships (Barry Hannah), Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy), Firework (Eugene Marten), and a few others. I didn’t respond again, but I appreciated the gesture more than words could express.

So as I’m standing there last night in the back of the room listening to this literary hero of mine reading, I’m trying to think of things I can say when I approach him afterwards that will let him know how much I appreciate both his coming to LA for a reading/signing AND for his complete oeuvre. Once he’d completed his reading, and once he’d answered questions from the audience — some of which were borderline insane, like the older woman who basically told him she didn’t like his writing — I had my chance.

The guy in front of me spoke about some pictures that appeared in recent news articles of Lipsyte in his old punk band from the early ’90s. I tried not to listen to the back-and-forth because I was going over my lines in my head. When it was my turn to approach Sam, book in hand, something compelled me to shift gears. I started by asking about his old band, and whether any recordings existed. He said yes, but they were locked away.

“So, can you sign this one to [name withheld]. I used to fool around with her in high school, and after a long period of not speaking to one another she mailed this book to me. She said that the way you wrote about women and sex reminded her of me. I don’t think she meant it as a compliment, but I took it as one. Anyway, I figure sending it back to her signed and personalized after three or four years would be quite a surprise. It’s the least I can do for introducing me to your writing. ”

He laughed, then we spoke a bit longer about his old band, writing and how grateful I was for his coming to LA for this, and that I couldn’t wait to read the new stories. We shook hands and I departed.

That’s a lie.

In a perfect world, that’s how it might have gone down. But, alas, for that to have happened I would have to be somebody else, as I’m as socially cool and collected as Francium is stable.

I don’t remember what inane bullshit I blurted at him, but it was entirely fucked up, confusing, stutter-y variation of my planned “speech.” My mangled, ruinous story must have mixed tenses or something, because I distinctly remember him saying to me, “Well you’ll have to let me know if it’s true once you read it.”

Instead of correcting him and saying, “Wait. Huh? No! I’ve already read it — twice!” I think I just said, “Okay. Heh” and walked away with my hands in my pockets. Why clarify? In all likelihood I sounded like a budding Mark David Chapman and it was better to cut myself off and slink on home than stand around saying “Duh…Um…Uh…” That was it. That was my chance to chat briefly with a hero of mine, and I turned all blubbering idiot on him.

I guess this is why, when assigned to write a personal response to George Orwell’s “Why I Write” essay in college, I handed in a one-sentence paper that simply stated, “I write because I cannot speak.”

Mark Lane – Mystery Hero [MP3]

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Delocated Live @ Largo; Los Angeles, CA

A few weeks ago the Delocated blog announced there would NOT be a fourth season of what (in my opinion) is one of the funniest shows on television. There will be a series finale airing on Adult Swim next month, but after that…no more bone zone, no more FRRT, no more brevs, no more bad vodka jokes. Alas, in e-mailing the teaser video for the series finale to some friends, I learned about an incredible Delocated-related comedy show happening here in Los Angeles. And that event was just last night. At Largo. And, oh the humor. It was…humorous.

Billed as “Delocated Live!” the evening was hosted/MC’d by “Jon” from Delocated (Jon Glaser) and featured performances by Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifanakis, Tim Heidecker, Jerry Minor, Kristen Schaal, Brett Gelman, and Reggie Watts. It was without a doubt the most powerful comedy lineup I’ve ever seen in person. Then again, I don’t see a lot of live comedy. I’ve frequented the Paul F. Tompkins show at Largo a handful of times and always enjoy it. When I first moved to LA in ’07 I regularly attended the Tomorrow Show at the Steve Allen Theater. Other than that, you know, I’ve been to two of Tom’s Emerson Mafia events and that’s really the extent of my comedy club-going experience. I don’t know why I don’t see more live comedy. I like to laugh. I think I like to laugh. It’s right up there with crying, binging, and purging on the list my favorite hobbies.

So…yeah, to see all these incredible performers on the same stage on the same night made for a memorable night. “Jon” opened the show (complete with ski mask and voice modifier, of course) and shared with the crowd some highlights of a new book he wrote. In the tradition of Kim Catrall’s book on sex, “Jon” wrote his own book that mimics/mirrors the Sex In The City actress’ take on “the art of the orgasm.” Complete with beautiful charcoal drawings of a loving couple finger-blasting and engaging in anal sex. Classy!

By the way, I’ve never…you know…reviewed a comedy show before. Sorry if this sucks.

Sarah Silverman took the stage and worked on some new (I imagine?) material. Personally my favorite bit involved a recent study published by the University Of North Carolina. As the joke is probably a work in progress, I’ll not spoil the punchline(s). Let’s just say it involves a touchy subject and a very beautiful, very hands-on sex act. Sarah’s attempt to one-up “Jon”‘s high-concept comedy (ie. telling bad jokes but using a voice modulator to garner laughs) was a pre-recorded bit on her iPhone where her vagina tells a joke.

Zach Galifanakis had one of the best-received sets of the night. I’m sure you’ve all seen enough videos of him online to understand his brand of observational humor. I don’t know exactly why, but a joke about being stoned and thinking a random woman walking two dogs “must be REALLY blind” stuck with me. So simple, yet so brilliant. His set, I think, was the longest of the show. Whether or not those texts and phone calls he kept receiving telling him his time was up were a joke, we may never know. But it definitely added to the performance.

Brett Gelman was the comic I was most excited to see other than Jon Glaser last night. I’m such a huge fan of his work on Funny Or Die (the “Subtext” video has to be one of the best FoD productions ever), his podcast, and his work on “Eagleheart”. I wanted to know what he’d do on a stage by his lonesome, and the performance — I think — left most of us speechless. Even “Jon” when he returned to the stage could only muster a stunned “Wow” in response to what I’ll simply describe as Brett Gelman’s psychotic meltdown and dance party. Truly unbelievable and so, so funny.

Jerry Minor (who you might know from Mr. Show, Lucky Louie, or his character Mighty Joe Jon The Black Blonde on Delocated) gave the surprise performance of the night. After “Jon” introduced him as “Michael Winslow, the black guy who does all the voices in the Police Academy movies), Minor (in character as Winslow) took the stage and attempted to tell two very serious, very emotional stories — about a Matthew-Shepard-esque annecdote and the recent murder of two innocent civilians by Christopher Dorner — were punctuated by Winslow-style sound affects that elicited much laughter from the audience. When the laughter got too loud, Winslow freaked out and stormed off the stage, unable to finish either of his heartfelt, sincere stories.

The last time I saw Tim Heidecker perform stand-up was at the Tomorrow Show, maybe four years ago? I was probably drunk or high at the time but I remember him bumbling around the stage pretending to be a novice comedian whose material wasn’t quite stage-ready. Last night he came out in a similar fashion, but ratcheted up about 500%. He spent the first five minutes of the set trying to set up his microphone. He wound up demolishing the mic stand and giving himself a pretty nasty gash on his hand in the process. Never breaking character, he preceded to absolutely KILL IT with his horrible timing and joke-less jokes. At one point he switched gears and transformed into a gimmick comic trying to make a new catch phrase happen. In his attempt to work the crowd, he asked one audience member what he had done that day, when the guy responded, “I watched Tim Heidecker make an audience feel really uncomfortable,” Heidecker flung his microphone across the stage and stormed out of the room.

I like Kristen Schaal on the Daily Show and on Bob’s Burgers, but I didn’t know anything about her stand-up material until last night. She was excellent, and her rendition of two “Taint Monologues” in the style of the Vagina Monologues were brilliant. Outside of that Mr. Show sketch, there’s but a minuscule amount of Taint-related comedy out there for fans of the genre to enjoy. It’s a sadly unheralded GOLDMINE of material. I mean…considering its size, it might actually have the highest comedic value relative to its size. Oh, and thanks to Kristen Schaal, the number of references I make to eating Thanksgiving dinner off a girl’s taint is about to increase tenfold. Fiftyfold. A hundredfold? Sure, why not.

Oh, Reggie Watts. Up on stage with his Line6 DL-4 (I’ve got one of those!) making some killer MOIST BEATS for the crowd, was the perfect comic to close the show. His persona shifted from proper English gentleman telling an arcane story to promote a specific pair of hiking boots into two musical improvisations, which were both fantastic. I’m not a Comedy Bang Bang listener/viewer but according to friends Watts is a major part of why the podcast/show is so successful. I’ll just say the deftness with which he utilizes that effects pedal makes me looping guitar drones for hours at a time seem like the least-interesting thing you could possibly do with the DL-4. I’m not a big podcast listener (I have a hard enough time keeping up with The Best Show on WFMU, and became so overwhelmed after missing two episodes of the Paul F. Tompkast I had to delete it from my iTunes — have I mentioned I’m overwhelming by the most menial things imaginable?), but if his set last night was indicative of what I’d hear on Comedy Bang Bang, I might have to tune in soon.

After the show we sat down and had some beers next door, I got to shake Jon Glaser’s hand and tell him what a huge Delocated fan I am. That was enough for me. I’m a man of few (spoken) words so I don’t really possess the proper elocution to converse with people whose work I admire. A simple “Thanks for doing what you do!” is about the most I can muster. I should work on that.

All in all, Delocated Live provided me with an evening of memories that will not soon be forgotten. Seeing stellar performances from some of the biggest names in comedy in the perfect setting isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence, so I’m grateful I had the opportunity to attend the event. And, you know, even though there won’t be a fourth season of Delocated there’s still one more new episode to eagerly anticipate. After that, I’ll just keep preaching the gospel “Jon” to (hopefully) new converts for as long as the show remains available via Internet streaming and/or DVD.

Klaus Schulze – Windy Times [MP3]

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Record Review: Sweet Starchild Speaks

Think about all the shitty music you’ve had to listen to, and all the horrible shows you’ve had to see, just because you were trying to support a friend. We’ve all been there. Hell, most of us live in a perpetual state of there-ness. Our creative friends look to us for smiles and nods when they ask if we like a song they wrote, or if we would please come to a show at a club we’d rather not go to. And what do we get for it? A whole lot of unmemorable experiences and wasted time we could have spent pursuing our own creative endeavors. Hell, instead of listening to your friend’s shitty band you could be blogging about your friend’s shitty band, right!?

So you can imagine my trepidation last week when a friend — and regular reader of this website — sent me a note asking if he could ship me a copy of his new CD to review. Oh, man. It’s bad enough telling people who write you e-mails or Facebook messages that you only run like, five record reviews a year. It’s even harder when the person requesting a favor is a friend. He and I spoke about it, and my sense of dread quickly dissipated, only to be replaced by an intense desire to obtain this recording. Check it. In the man’s own words:

The premise is this: we recorded a CD and are calling it/us Sweet Starchild. Now, the concept of Kiss tribute bands has been done to death. We all know this. But we only cover Paul Stanley’s song intros, culled from bootleg MP3’s. The result is 27:25 of heartfelt pleas of rock and roll domination but delivered to a soundtrack of crickets (and other surprises), that feels really outside in a way you can dig.

Yeah, I was psyched. The CD arrived last week and I took it around at work telling everybody about it and playing clips for them. It’s fucking unreal, guys. Not only is that first track the 27:25 of complete Paul Stanley “Give me a few seconds and I’m gonna sell you on this next song” absurdity that was promised, but on the CD track 2 is track 1 reversed. Those 55-minutes of screaming and hollering do more to harness the power and intensity of ROCK ‘N ROLL than playing any music EVER could! And you’d think after a while it would wear you out, or get boring, but since the guys mimicking Paul remain as heartfelt about it as Paul likely did all those times he reached deep inside himself for a little something extra for the fans, it just gets BETTER as it goes along. When somebody screams at you for that amount of time without relent, at some point it starts to affect you in ways you’d never expect. You start to probe each affirmation or request or command or joyous hurrah for its deeper meaning. You travel the full spectrum of human emotions and delicately tread the line between simple listening skills and our innate thirst for understanding. From “Why does Paul want this place to burn hotter than hell?” to “I used to have dreams of being in a rock’n’roll band, too!” to “HOW CAN I DO MY PART!? I WANT TO BE THE BEST KISS ARMY SOLDIER I CAN BE!”

The front cover apes the original artwork for Rock And Roll Over, and the back cover is a newly designed Paul Stanley paint by numbers. Its directions are simple: “1. Paint #1 black 2. paint #2 white 3. paint #3 gray 4. paint #4 red 5. rock’n’roll 6. party, 7. you people are beautiful.”

Sweet Starchild Speaks. It’s out there, man. Truly, as the label’s website proclaims, it is the ultimate party CD for the ultimate never-ending rock party. Now available on CD or cassette via Lion’s Care Recordings

Sweet Starchild Speaks (sample) [MP3]

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Film Review: Strange Fruit – The Beatles’ Apple Records

My boss offered me this DVD, and because I’m a huge music nerd with an insatiable thirst for arcane knowledge (and because I had nothing to do last night) I took it home and watched it. In short, Strange Fruit is a story about the birth and death of the attempted media empire known as Apple Records. What was more commonly known as The Beatles’ Record Label “came to exist under extraordinary circumstances, produced some extraordinary records, and was operated under the most extraordinary guidelines.”

That’s my review. That one paragraph. Look at me, I’m the next Roper At The Movies!

So, what did I think of this documentary? Let’s start with the bad, because I would be me if I didn’t find fault in everything I encounter each day of my life. The film runs kind of long. At 160+ minutes (that’s almost three hours for you non-mathletes out there) it kind of trails off after 1971, so really the filmmakers are spending an hour a piece on the first three years of Apple’s existence. And for all the information that is given about the artists who recorded for Apple, the only first-person perspectives we are privy to are those of Jackie Lomax, Joey Molland and Ron Griffiths, and Garyvon Scyoc. There’s no Mary Hopkin (who needs her, “Those Were The Days” only sold 8-million copies!), there’s no James Taylor (he only recorded one record for the label, but so?), there’s no Hot Chocolate (who cares if all they recorded was “Give Peace A Chance?”) and no Billy Preston (what do you mean he’s been dead for six years!?). I’m kidding, but only slightly. I accept that Badfinger was the most successful of the non-Beatles Apple roster, but that there are only a handful of perspectives writing the narrative hurts the overall product.

That said, there’s a lot to like about the film, like its lack of Beatles content. There’s but one clip of John Lennon actually speaking about the label, and it’s shown more than two hours into the film. There are only a couple of Beatles songs sampled. And the film didn’t pull any punches. It is made very clear that Apple was established to help the Beatles pay less tax money than they would have had to as world-renowned superstar musicians. Fuckin’ tax dodgers! They were like the Derek Jeters of their generation! Jackie Lomax (who I kept calling Alan Lomax in conversation with my boss today, HA!) seemed bitter as hell about how he was treated by the label. Furthermore, the band members’ fledgling interest in their own creation is harped on repeatedly. I never knew that David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were all taken into consideration as future Apple recording artists and none were ever signed. All of the artists who were signed — and who appear in the documentery — seem to agree that the Beatles’ decision to cease touring in 1966 actually hurt their own careers, as the label’s founders pretty much ignored touring as a means of supporting albums in any market, anywhere in the world. The fact that Strange Fruit is not an out-and-out Beatles propaganda documentary definitely makes it more enjoyable.

There. I’ve weighed the pros and cons. Now I’m going to retire for the night, as I’ve lost the will to live. That makes six times so far this week, and it’s only Tuesday!

Buy Strange Fruit – The Beatles’ Apple Records from Amazon.com

Sleeze Boyz – RoboCop [MP3]

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Film Review: Jiro Dreams Of Sushi

Ohhhhhhhh folks. Have I got a tale for you. Last night I had a vision. I saw my future. I am supposed to drop everything and surrender my life as a young American male struggling to find his place in the workforce. I am going to hop on a plane to Japan, and I am going to Jiro Ono’s little business in the basement of an office building in the Ginza district of Chuo, Tokyo, and I am going to ask to be his apprentice. It will be a ten year commitment, but it will be worth every moment. Sure, the first year will just be wringing hot towels for the customers, and I won’t be able to even attempt to cook my first Tamagoyaki until year ten, but…Jesus Christ. How could you not want to work for a boss who demands that level of perfection, after which I could return to America and immediately be one of the greatest chefs in the country (granted the quality of the fish would suck by comparison, but what does THAT matter to the greedy, unrefined average American palate?)? If you are reading this and still have no idea what I’m talking about, go watch Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. It’s streaming on Netflix right now.

The documentary offers a history of Jiro Ono, sushi master, 3-Michelin-star recipient and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro. His restaurant seats ten, there is no bathroom, it is cash only, and a tasting menu of 20 pieces of sushi starts at over $350. The meal takes less than fifteen minutes from start to finish. The film follows Jiro on his quest to perfect the art of sushi, and his elder son Yoshikazu’s “struggle” to live up to the legacy of his father. I use scare quotes around the word because he’s most definitely not struggling, nor does he ever really give the impression that making sushi is not his dream. Maybe he doesn’t exactly dream of sushi like his father did, but he is easily a master chef with an incredible wealth of knowledge who is more than capable of taking over his father’s business. The film also focuses on former apprentices (who become known as shokunin, or sushi chef) who have started restaurants on their own after working for Jiro, as well as Jiro’s younger son Takashi, who runs a restaurant that is a mirror image (literally!) to his fathers, but with cheaper, and with a more relaxed feel.

Almost as impressive as the footage of the restaurant and the meticulous fish preparations are the scenes that occur in and around the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, which has been referred to as the best seafood market in the entire world. Jiro no longer travels to the market every day — Yoshikazu has taken on that role now, as he’s but 50 and his father 85 years old — but the dealers who buy and sell the fish that Jiro and his son cook are almost as interesting as the film’s protagonist. The tuna guy, who can tell by touching each fish’s meat how it will taste, apparent almost as careful and diligent as the chef. Of course, that does not compare to watching the apprentices massage octopus by hand, or seeing how the fish is charred, or watching the process of roasting nori seaweed by hand, or…hell, just looking at the sushi everyone eats on their lunch break is fascinating.

The documentary was made by a guy called David Gelb, who’s father is the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and who is friends with renowned food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto, who appears in the film as well. The documentary was supposedly conceived while watching BBC’s Planet Earth, and the way that Jiro and his food are filmed is no different than those beautiful, super slow-motion scenes of nature that appear on the BBC series. It’s a relatively brisk film (81 minutes) and easily worth every minute. I think I alluded to the only weakness of the film earlier when I mentioned the somewhat-manufactured feel of the Yoshikazu story, as it never appears as if he’s scared of continuing his father’s legacy. He does not seem to struggling with the notion that one day he alone will be responsible for maintaining reputation of the business.

As someone who only recently discovered sushi (as in, was nauseated by the idea of it until about 5 years ago) I was completely enraptured. Enough so that as soon as I finish this review I’m going to pack my things and sell all my belongings to pay for my airfare to Japan. You guys, I found my calling, I’m supposed to be Jiro’s apprentice. I’m supposed to be the next great American shokunin!

Or, you know, I’ll wind up like the guy in Enter The Void. But either way at least I’ll have gotten to visit Tokyo.

Far East Family Band – Mystery Of Northern Space [MP3]