Friday, September 21, 2012

CHAPLIN (Ethel Barrymore Theatre)

(Guest Review by Madeline Bocaro)

Charlie Chaplin, the comic icon who deeply touched our hearts is always remembered with a smile. His silence was truly golden - words could not express the depth of pain in the little lost soul whom he portrayed effortlessly in his films - because he was playing himself. This man was so much more than a flickering monochrome image of a funny, charming poor little tramp. Chaplin was staging his own reality. His comedy was based on tragedy, and his artistry is timeless.

The rags-to-riches life of Chaplin seems too sad to be made into a Broadway musical. Abandoned by his alcoholic dad, a mother whom he loved dearly gone insane, three gold-digging wives and ruination of his career by a gossip columnist overwhelmed Chaplin’s incredible life. His on-screen alter-ego, the Little Tramp evolved into a Pierrot figure, reflecting his own feelings of dejection.

Under stark white lighting, spectacular Art Deco period props and costumes in black and white, glittering silver and gray took us back in time to the glamorous Hollywood world of the early 1900s - the birth of ‘flicker films’ before sound and color. Use of floor-to-ceiling vintage film clips and Chaplinesque movies as scenery evoked the era quite well.  But it was Rob McClure’s superb acrobatics, a fine salute to Chaplin’s own natural bumbling ballet, which propelled the entire production. Tightrope walking, juggling his hat and cane, tap dancing on roller skates and clumsy slapstick antics drive the story and bring to life the brilliant yet self-effacing Chaplin in his mismatched too big / too small clothing.

Amidst whirlwinds of dance by the entire troupe, the performance slows down and echoes back several times to the small boy, Charlie calling for his mother as she is being taken away to an asylum - the crux of Chaplin’s lifelong pain. His supportive brother/manager is his only ally, sharing in the agony of their mother’s illness. Success comes fast, wives come and go, and the horrible Hedda Hopper - the best singer in the cast - is relentless in bringing him down. After Chaplin makes The Great Dictator film mocking Hitler and begins to speak out for humanity, Hopper has him branded as a Communist. Despite the British born Chaplin’s fondness for America, he remains in exile in Switzerland with the love of his life, Oona O’Neill.

At the dawn of talking pictures, Chaplin fears that he will be lost in time. In the final scene, he receives an honorary Oscar in 1972. (The standing ovation he received was the longest in history.) The red carpet of the awards ceremony is the first burst of color we see all evening. Although surprised at his notoriety after so many years, the aged Chaplin’s brief return to Hollywood was bittersweet.

As Rob McClure waddled off stage for the last time in Chaplin’s oversized shoes, (he actually walked into the movie screen and morphed into his own film animation!) it felt like we had a true glimpse into the heart of this humble, passionate icon who will never be forgotten.   (page 1 of 2)

I wonder why the classic Chaplin-penned song ‘Smile’ was not used in the performance, as it sums up his philosophy so beautifully.

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you'll get by

If you smile through your pain and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through
For you.

Light up your face with gladness,
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near

That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

1972 Oscars Ceremony

The Great Dictator – speech

Chaplin Trivia:
I once stood in Chaplin’s footsteps in the cement at the doorway of his Tudor style Hollywood studio built in 1917, once surrounded by orange groves. Most of his films were made here. Many pop records were recorded there when it became A&M studios. The expansive Jim Henson building (since bought by Disney) still has a statue of Kermit dressed as Charlie on its roof. In 1969, it was designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

Chaplin’s mother Hannah was institutionalized at Cane Hill Mental Hospital in Croydon. Cane Hill was also home to David Bowie’s half brother Terry Burns, and to actor Michael Caine’s step brother.

Stan Laurel (of Laurel & Hardy) sometimes acted as Chaplin’s understudy at the British Music Hall. Chaplin and Stan Laurel arrived in America on the same boat from England.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Features "Floozie of the Neighborhood" b/w "I Wanna Be Your Man"

(Last Laugh) Never heard of this 1979 single (lovingly reissued with original art, I assume) so I'm really excited to hear this with fresh ears. Which I assume the Features woulda pounded into cauliflower if I rubbed them wrong way, as the photos on the back look like cast members from a Brooklyn high school production of Grease ended up on the right end of an actual rumble with the football team.. This double A-side woulda ruled punk jukeboxes if such a thing existed, and the great putdown original tune is only slightly awesome-er the Beatles cover.

Prefecture "Automatic Labor" ep

(Rerun) Should be called Prefucknture, because this snarling, savage, ridiculous, rapid-fire, punk mess will fucking puncture your ear holes!

Knots "Heartbreaker" b/w "Action"

(Last Laugh) Goddam this is good! 1980 NYC punk from an era when power pop/pop punk could still sound menacing. How the 90s pop-punkers so bizarrely misinterpreted the Ramones to make catchy punk nasal and impotent still confounds me almost 20 years later. If only Joey Pinter's band had made it big, as their ridiculously awesome song "Action" should have ensured, maybe the punk world woulda been a better place. This reissue is historical and hysterical and perfectly presented. You need this. See our great Roctober feature on the Knots from issue #49, posted at this blog:

Syntax Error "Syntax Error" ep

(Rerun) Lost lo-fi synth-wave madness from way back in the early 21st Century, dusted off with dirt intact. This past music represents the future as dystopia that is fun to dance around in.

Family Curse/White Murder split single

(Doormat) Family Curse offers some profanely, nasty punk, and on most split singles they would be the clear winner of the implied "Battle of the Bands." But White Murder continue to be one of my fave new bands, unleashing another pummeling rocker that had me worried. I worried because if White Murder and Chicago's sibling superheroes White Mystery are the top two trashmakers I like to shake around to these days, am I into White power movement?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

fIREHOUSE "lowFLOWS: The Columbia Anthology ('91-'93)"

(Sony Legacy) [GUEST REVIEW BY CHRIS BUTLER] This has been a really difficult review to write because, like most of humanity, I love the Minutemen. I loved them the instant I heard the song  "Search" on the Rodney On The ROQ Vol. 2 compilation. I loved them when I got to see them. I was bummed when I heard that D. Boon had died. Anyway, when I heard that Mike Watt and George Hurley had started a new trio with Ed Crawford, I was curious and mildly psyched to hear it. I remember thinking that 'Brave Captain' from the first fIREHOSE record sounded like Argent, for some reason. There was clearly a movement towards more mainstream/classic rock as well as a joining in spirit with a lot of the indie/college radio/120 Minutes type bands around at the time. So, by the time they rolled around to doing the 2 "major label" records compiled here, it seems to me that the Minutemen's anti-establishment-ism had mostly been subsumed by a big label contractual album fulfillment attitude. You know, a couple of good ideas per album with a lot of filler. "Hey guys, how are we going to fill up this record?" " I don't know, a calypso number?" And furthermore, there are the bonus and live cuts on here that I'm afraid point to some slackening of passion, you might say. 'Slack Motherfucker' for instance. I always considered it a sort of indie novelty song, and even Superchunk quickly grew tired of playing it. And it just seems to me that when fIREHOSE did it, it was like "Hey, this is what the kids are into these days," or something. Then they brought back "The Red And The Black," a B.O.C. cover which the Minutemen had done (pretty righteously, I thought) and I can imagine Watt and Hurley at practice saying to Ed, "Well, we already know it, you should figure out the guitar parts." OK, that's not fair, of course, but it's what I was thinking when I was listening to this reissue. And I know there are tons of fIREHOSE fans out there who will take issue with me. Like my brother who saw the James Worthy Tour in '87 and wore the hell out of the tour shirt and always dug fIREHOSE. And they had Slovenly with them on that tour, so you've gotta give them credit for that. And you've also gotta give them credit for reforming fIREHOSE earlier this year instead of going on tour with a Tupac-style hologram of D. Boon. That would have been a really bad idea.

On and Off Bass by Mike Watt

First off, let me start by saying that I have been a fan of The Minutemen and Mike Watt, the person/bass player/philosopher etc etc for a long time. So if this review sounds a bit, er, negative, then it's partly because Watt has set a pretty high standard for most of his stuff. So, here are some things I was thinking while looking at this book. 
Number one: This feels sort of like a punk rock Jonathan Livingston Seagull, mostly because there a lot of photos of pelicans and sea birds and the snippets of text seem to hint at some transformative events. 
Number 2: This book could have just been a series of FaceBook posts. And some of the text extracts (especially those concerning playing with The Stooges) I recognize from having read them before on Mike's web site.
Number 3: People LOVE Mike Watt. The folks that make up the blurbosphere on the back cover (Robert Pollard, Iggy Pop, Jack Black, Richard Meltzer, Lee Ranaldo and more) blow away just about any other author's dust jacket. 
So, anyway, good on ya, Mike Watt. You can add another book to your extensive list of cool accomplishments.


(Exotica Records) Guest review by Gary Pig Gold
While the very concept of the “Tribute” album has over the years become quite a scary one, the Beatle Tribute can strike downright terror into the hearts of any who still value their sensibilities, let alone that hitherto-durable 214-song catalog. Yes, as far back as Bill Shatner's 1968 stab at "Lucy In The Sky," John, Paul, George and even Ringo have had their melodic legacies sliced, diced, half-baked, botched and certainly butchered by those both well-meaning and, well, just plain mean. Truth to tell, these days I find it increasingly hard to sit through that Bee Gee/Frampton Sgt. Pepper movie even with tongue deep in-cheek.

But then, there is London's own Jim Phelan who, far from fearing Captain Kirk's "Lucy" upon first encountering her, took matters firmly into his own brave hands by launching not only an actual record label (Exotica), but an entire series of Fab compilations under the regal Exotic Beatles banner. Its nineteen-year (so far) mission? To, yes, boldly go where no audio Tribute of any sort has dared before. As in Maurice Chevalier, Mae West, Professor Stanley Unwin and Evening Standard art critic Brian Sewell casting their Mersey-coated throats alongside those of various hillbilly squirrels, metropolitan police choirs, Balsara's Singing Sitars and even Shang Shang Typhoon with their utterly Spector-silencing "Let It Be."

"The sound of the world going mad!" cried Record Collector Magazine, while no less a moppin' top authority than the Daily Mail On Sunday hailed Exotic Beatles 3 as, and I quote, "more exciting than the Beatles Anthology" (a sentiment which, by the way, I totally agree with).

And now, a dozen-plus years and one hard-drive theft later comes Mr. Phelan's latest and possibly even greatest collection yet: Exotic Beatles 4 – Plastic Soul.

It is, I most humbly proclaim, the greatest Beatle (-related) album since Something New and possibly even All You Need Is Cash.

After being introduced in their very own words, from their very own mouths, by none other than Tony Randall, Ed Sullivan, and the Japanese Beatles themselves, we're immediately sent "Back In The USSR" via one Irishman, one Hungarian, and one exquisite collection of Russian throat singers, all together now as Baba Yaga with an a cappella blend perfectly suiting this number through its B.Wilsonesque splendor. Why, I shall never hear the first two-minutes-forty-three of that White Album in exactly the same way again. And, hopefully, neither shall you.

Follow that with over an hour of additional Northern Songs out of Siberia (Bugotak's coldly Kraftwerkian "Kon Togethy"), Singapore (a 1964 "Can't Buy Me Love" from folk star Shan Kuan Liu Yun) (who obviously plugged in a year before Dylan ever unpacked his Strat at Newport), Germany (candlemaker Klaus Beyer, who could certainly teach Giles Martin a thing or three about Beatle mash-ups!) and a whole invasion of further tracks from Russia (special note given to the bands 7B and Boney Nem, who treat "And I Love Her" to both techno and death-thrash makeovers which would cause at least one half of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team to cackle in solidarity).

Let me just add that Exotic Beatles 4 also contains two "Hey Jude"s. One a Xhosa-language Bantu bossa-nova rendition; the other rendered by a severely alt.-mariachi Mexican marching band. Both versions, needless to say, I now prefer far, far more than the original Apple recording.

Garnish with a speed metal "Eleanor Rigby," a Dixieland "Here, There and Everywhere," "Day Tripper" as interpreted by barking dogs from New Zealand, and then a sub-waltz "Yellow Submarine" which flawlessly incorporates snatches of the Blue Danube, tie together with intricately inserted spoken-link segues courtesy of not only J,P,G & R but even B. Dylan (reciting "Hello Goodbye"!) and Michael Mills (the Minister of Youth and Evangelism at the Family Alter – or is it Family Altered? – Chapel in Battle Creek, Michigan, warning us of the evils of Beatle backwards masking) and we have an album of wild, wicked wonder which so easily deserves a place right there between Magical Mystery Tour and Meet the Beatles.

Needless to say then, Jim Phelan is much, much more than just another B-maniac with a great big pile of CD's strewn across the living room floor. This is obviously a man who not only collects the records, but absconds with, absorbs, then totally abstracts and recasts them in ways that make every ear within shot simply boggle. And this being written here and now by a man who has yet to outgrow his Dance and Sing Mother Goose with a Beatle Beat LP, I'll have you all know!

Hear for yourselves immediately then, not only on Plastic Soul, but each of its three excellent companion volumes as well.

Or, to put it even more exotically, "The Beatles Are Dead! Long Live the Exotic Beatles!"