Sunday, November 29, 2009

Timber Timbre and Do Make Say THink

I almost didn't make it to this show. At tiny postage stamp of a venue Casa del Popolo (still perhaps my favorite place to see shows, though only when the crowd and the show are well matched), the show sold out. Fortunately, someone got sick and passed his ticket off to me. So, I did make it. Woo. Timber Timbre is one of my favorite bands, sort of eerie and haunted but also sort of rockabilly or bluesy in style too. Not the most well known band, but one I think I stumbled on accidentally some time ago (3 years?) and have gladly followed since.

At any rate, the show was so crowded that I found myself miserably staring at a bunch of heads in the back of the room. I'm not at my healthiest these days, fighting off some kind of virus (no, not swine flu) and so my desire to stand in a crowd is about zero. I sat on a chair and tried to glimpse what I could of the show. It was pretty solid, by all accounts, and I was pleased. But, something is lost when the artists are entirely not within eyesight. Although live performance always sounds richer and more exciting than a recording, not being able to see the artist(s) play kind of makes me think -- shoulda stayed home. But this is indicative of one thing and one thing only -- timber timbre has gotten more popular. And that, if nothing else, should make me happy.

After the Timber Timbre show, I meandered off to catch do Make Say Think across the street at Sala Rossa. I had tickets to this show the next night (which I did go to, but only lasted through the first two incarnations of Do Make Say Think before my virus urged me home). So, I'm going to lump together two shows as one report. Do make Say Think is one of my psychedellic band favorites. Let's just say its been a great week for me with show after show of favorites coming through. I almost feel like its planned this way, someone is putting together line ups just for me. Anyways, pyschedellic fused with a smart serving of punk is the best way to describe it. I think dmst is one of the bands that I most often listen to on CD -- just letting their album roll as I go about my business.

Well, dmst also has a number of side projects, and two of them made appearances at this show. The Years made me think of Godspeed! You Black Emperor with its huge, lush, soundscapes that built from the simple to the grand. This was followed up byt he Happiness Project, which consisted of different people talking about happiness and then having their vocal recordings transformed into melodies. It was pretty cool stuff. And then, of course, the main course for the night, DMST goodness. Huzzah.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Apostle of Hustle

I thought Craig Mercer would be the reigning king of my favorite Canadian guitarist in my heart forever. Craig, you've met your match. Andrew Whiteman, frontman of Apostle of Hustle and guitarist of the Broken Social Scene, is pretty damned close. The two are stylistically similar -- as if born from the same little Fender factory -- but somehow come from such divergent backgrounds it can't be possible. And yet, to me, there was something so oddly familiar. Mixed reggae-indie-electro styles with more funky pedal action than I can fill my ears with? Chops? I dunno. I'm just a music fan, not an expert or critic.

What do I care? I've got a new band to love.

I don't know why I hadn't seen Apostle of Hustle up until now. Some bands just manage to escape my heavy concert calendar, I guess. Well, on a whim, I thought I'd head up to Il Motore (a venue that is growing on me since my kind of lukewarm feelings of it since it opened) and see the hoopla and hee haw. I missed the openers -- that's how indifferent I was to the whole thing. Ah, man, I was just totally enraptured from the get go.

The sound is exactly what me loves most. Fused styles that become their own style, wildness, dancing tunes, crazy lyrics, sampled sound, tambourine action, and a lot of give'r as they used to say back east. The drummer... Jesus Christ... he was on fire. If you haven't seen these guys yet, don't sit on your hands waiting and watching for hummingbirds. These guys are amazzzzzzzzing. With that many zeds.

Muchas gracias! Muchas muchas muchas.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

American Radical at Cinema Politica

Cinema Politica continues its run of excellent documentary film screenings with American Radical, the Trials of Norman Finkelstein by David Ridgen and Nicolas Rossier. Finkelstein is an outspoken critic of Israel's policies on the Palestinians and Lebannon. He is also the author of a number of controversial books, including the very ominously titled the Holocaust Industry. He has been called self-hating, self-loathing, and a number of other adjectives of this sort by those who have difficulty with the idea that a man of Jewish descent whose parents were Holocaust survivors has critiqued and lambasted long cherished Jewish icons and rallying points. In consequence, Finkelstein has had difficulty securing a permanent academic position and has nomadically traveled from New York to Chicago and back again, seeking a place of employment.

I am not familiar with Finkelstein's work nor am I knowledgeable about the conflicts between Israel and Palestine. I read the papers and hear the news, same as anyone else. However, with a deep appreciation for history and personal experience in academia, I am well aware that the situation is extremely complex. The film does try to present Finkelstein as a scholar who backs up his conclusions with serious research, but has a tendency to use inflammatory language. I, for one, can not comment if the filmmakers are correct on those points. I can not even comment if they are biased or not, or if their implied message -- that Finkelstein's situation is a question of academic freedom -- is valid.

However, as a film, I did find myself rather fascinated by a portrait of an unpopular and hermit-like scholar. I was impressed with his willingness and openness to face opponents in debate. I liked the fact they did not try to portray him as a hero, but rather as a man who questions his choices. There were also some half-hearted studies of psychoanalysis, on the relationship of Finkelstein to his politically vocal mother. If nothing else, though I know little of Finkelstein's scholarship, I did get a sense of the difficulty of his life and the precarious position in which he finds himself. I am more interested in learning more about the issues he seems so adamant about, if only to see if I agree with him. On the other hand, I don't think his dismissal from Hunter College and De Pauw was handled adequately by the filmmakers. If there intent was to question academic freedom, they barely scratched the surface of the situation. On the other hand, if they wanted to indicate that Finkelstein has alienated himself through his controversial viewpoints -- I certainly think they did an excellent job.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bullshit from Cinema Politica

For all my good intentions, I keep forgetting to write about the films I see.

This week I managed to make it to Cinema Politica's pick of the week, Bullshit. Contrary to all advertising attempts that try to sell this film on the poop, it is about the Indian food-farming activist Vandana Shiva and her fight against corporations. She is shown in action, standing up to Monsanto and Coca Cola, as well as making appearances at the ever overhyped World Trade Organization meetings.

I think i should begin by stating the following: I am not opposed to genetically modified foods. Although I am not impressed with large scale agriculture and mono-crop economies, I have absolutely nothing against genetically modified foods. If we produce genetically modified insulin, that's fine. If we can treat genetic diseases by altering the genes, that's fine. But, if we can grow a corn plant that requires less water, that's dangerous! Well, I'm not entirely convinced. But, then again, I do have certain admiration for science's wonder babies. I am willing to change my opinion in the face of evidence. Good evidence, that is. I also take proud activist stances when I have seen gross abuses, such as Walmart's strikebusting. I don't shop at Walmart. Neither should you.In sum, I try to remain neutral until something has convinced me one way or the other on a particular issue.

Perhaps it is my neutrality that caused me to watch Vandana Shiva with a certain amount of revulsion. The cameras follow this petulant, incessant, pushy Indian woman around the world as she speaks on behalf of her cause. When the photo op moment comes, such as the day of the big announcement of a court decision, she is present. I never really understood her reasons for opposing Monsanto, except that she connected the company with a series of Indian farmer suicides.

It is not that I think her work unimportant. Rather, this is a case of some sloppy film making that did not present the issues in a meaningful or considered manner. Shiva is shown as a scattered, overworked, good natured freedom fighter. The companies are presented as sterile, out of touch, almost sinister colonialists. I was under the impression that the filmmakers didn't remotely understand what genetically modification to a food was -- neither the process nor the purpose. I further didn't see questioning of Vandana Shiva, who struck me as rather sinister in her own way with her cult-like farming and somewhat empty speeches about seeds being a good. The most egrigeous filmmaking concerned the Coca Cola company in the Kerala region of India. Why didn't the filmmakers follow up to see what happened to the region when the Coca Cola company shut its doors in the area. The situation is far more complicated than the filmmakers imply -- rainwater shortages are frequent in the area and other activities affect the water, not just the Coca Cola company. I would have preferred to see a more balanced and nuanced presentation of the culpability of Coca Cola in the water problems of this region. However, the film points a finger at the easy target without presenting a full story.

All in all, this film simply repeats beloved party lines for those that are already sold on the cause. However, for a fence sitter like myself, with some critical awareness, I was left unconvinced of Shiva's merits and the corporations' guilt. Instead. I saw a film made by those with an agenda twisting a story to serve their purposes. Boo.

For all I disliked Bullshit, I rather loved the opening short, the Bicycle. This film followed Pax, who bikes 20 miles a day to visit villagers of the Zomba district of Malawi, Africa. The grassroots movement under the banner of the group DIGNITAS to help stop the spread of AIDS and treat those already inflicted, but unaware of the benefits of ARV (anti-retro-viral) drugs is one that makes me proud to be a human being. In fact of such incredible suffering and sadness, men and women are doing their part to better the lives of others. Bravo to the NFB director in residence Katerina Civek for this moving gem.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Elliot Brood at La Sala Rossa

Perhaps its from my days working as a merch girl that I have become sensitive to the ways in which bands will try and plug themselves. I noticed, in particular, that Elliot Brood had more than the usual assemblage of merchandise. Usually, a band will have a CD and a T shirt available, maybe a poster. This band had several shirts, screen printed posters, CDs, stickers, and pins! The whole enchilada, I guess. Is this how bands have to pay for the gas to get from place to place these days? But there was something also about the stage, with its folksy set up of red lights, triangle flags, that made me feel as though this band was offering not just music, but a package experience. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the matter either. Neutral, I suppose. But, this trend toward increasingly savvy self marketing and the presentation of an experience, rather than just music, is a trend noted from my side of the stage.

Anyway, good show came down at Sala Rossa with Elliot Brood, with openers the Deep Dark Woods. Elliot Brood (I'm always fond of bands that have names that have no connection to anyone in the band) put on a barn burner of a performance. CBC was in the house, taping away, so the band seemed to make an extra effort to increase enthusiasm. I didn't think it was necessary given their outstanding performance and high energy, body moving songs. The band sits in the realm of alt-country, I suppose, or alt-folk. Sort of Sadies--esque, Corb Lund-esque, but not quite so twangy as those two notable Canadian outfits. Ultimately, it means that Elliot Brood has its own distinct sound.

Openers, the Deep Dark Woods from Saskatoon seemed less inspired than the headliners. This band was far more C&W in its songs and mellower in general. Pleasant, but also a bit too overshadowed by Brood. Although, maybe that is the point of an opening band. It warms the audience without stealing them. I was rather more absorbed by the incredible amount of facial hair than I was by any particular song.