Five and a half years ago, at the close of their Expo 86 tour, Wolf Parade announced an "indefinite hiatus" and they followed through, playing a couple shows in 2011 and then effectively ending their band. Spencer moved on to multiple iterations of his Moonface alter-ego and Dan (after breaking up with his wife and bandmate in Handsome Furs) tried his hand in multiple efforts including Divine Fits (with Britt Daniel of Spoon) and Operators, his current band. In the intervening years, Spencer also announced that Sunset Rubdown was gone (his 'side project' during the Wolf Parade years that in my mind may have been the greatest band of all time) so basically five years ago, we lost Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade, and Handsome Furs, three of my most beloved bands of the decade. And the "Canadian indie rock revolution" also kind of died at the same time. Broken Social Scene stopped making records. Arcade Fire's 2013 release Reflektor wasn't just not good -- it was actively bad in retrospect -- and the indie rock that fueled my music love for more than a decade kind of dissipated. Even Spencer's Moonface albums, which started so promisingly, fell off a bit with his back-to-back piano based albums that felt more like leftovers than strong new entries and wasn't really anything at all like Wolf Parade. So it was with great joy that I greeted the news that Wolf Parade was coming back in 2016, for a small series of select shows, and a surprise EP release in the midst of the tour.
The shows began in New York - of course, five straight sold out nights at the Bowery Ballroom. Unfortunately they sold out in seconds and I couldn't get any tickets -- I found out too late about the pre-sale and tried all day on the actual sale date but the scalpers were active and the tickets were gone. I'm sure I would have bought tickets for every single show if I could have. Alas, I waited for a couple months for the re-sale ticket prices to go down (they didn't) and bit the bullet to buy a single ticket to their Thursday night show. Wolf Parade at the Bowery Ballroom. I mean, I pretty much would have paid anything. This was in May and it was amazing -- all the old favorites and I was right up front and Spencer and Dan were right there, in front of me on stage, taking me back to the dozens of times I've seen them both live, alone and together. By the end of the show I couldn't even speak.
They then did shows in Toronto and London but returned to New York last week for the Northside Festival, an amazing series of concerts on the north side of Williamsburg, playing a fully free (!) show in a parking lot near McCarren Park in Brooklyn. I waited in line on a bright sunny (but not too hot) day with my "reservation" (not a ticket) for a while but once they opened the gates, the line moved fast and there was plenty of space in the parking lot to wait for the show. Opening act Land of Talk played for about 45 minutes while I had a drink or two in the gated off drinking area before moving out toward the stage as Land of Talk left the stage. The crowd parted to use the port-a-johns (yeah, eww) and maybe grab some drinks and food and I diced through the remaining concertgoers up close to the stage. So again, I was right up front, in front of Spencer and Dan, when they came to the stage.
Their performance at Northside was something special to behold. By then they'd gotten their rhythm fully back, fully working together, and I'd had a month now to listen to the four new songs on their new EP -- they played three of them at the show. But ultimately, it was the beautiful outdoor setting, with the sun setting behind us, over the water, and the stars lighting up the sky by the end of the night as one of the greatest bands of all time lit up the stage. I can't say enough about how great they played -- ripping through perfect versions of all their greatest songs -- "You are a Runner", "Shine a Light", "This Heart's on Fire", "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts" and of course, OF COURSE, "I'll Believe in Anything". I pogo-ed so much to the music, more than I have for any show in recent memory, reminding me of an earlier time (a younger time) when the energy of the music I was watching overwhelmed me during a show. I don't know how many times I've seen Spencer and Dan (apart and together) and I don't know if they are going to get back together again now that this mini-tour has ended but I do know that for one amazing night (well two, but the Northside night was really special) I got to experience a joy for music I don't think I've felt in years and retain the hope that Spencer and Dan -- in every way, with every band -- will continue to give me that joy again and again. Thanks guys. (Oh and Dante and Arlen, thank you too!)
I have a lot to say about the movies, because I see a ton of movies (it's like the main thing my boyfriend and I can agree on to do together) and I saw most of the Oscar-nominated features but only recently, in the past week, finally got to see The Revenant. So I was holding off on my "best of the year" recap and/or discussions of the Oscars, until it's probably too late to matter -- it's deep into 2016 and Deadpool was great and I just saw 10 Cloverfield Lane and I'm dying to discuss but don't want to spoil so ... here's my Oscar recap post and new movie post all in one.
There were 8 films nominated for Best Picture this year -- Brooklyn, The Big Short, Room, Spotlight, The Revenant, The Martian, Bridge of Spies, and Mad Max: Fury Road. I haven't seen Brooklyn (no appeal to me), Room (looks very difficult to watch, but I will try to catch it on TV) or Bridge of Spies (there is some appeal, I plan to catch on TV). Of the others, I liked them all, actually, but if I were to rank them in order, my least favorite was Spotlight, which not only won Best Picture but also was positively reviewed by just about every single person who saw it. It was really tough to even find a negative review, although a few mentioned that it played out a bit like a glorified TV movie, which it sort of felt like to me. Not that I didn't enjoy it, my review would have been positive too, but I wasn't quite riveted by the story (which I kind of knew all about) or at least not about the reporters uncovering the story, rather than the priests and the victims, which seems the more compelling story to me, and alas, I actually fell asleep in the theater before the ending. Which yeah, maybe that keeps it from being such a positive review. In my defense, it was a drinking theater with comfortable chairs and it was after midnight but yeah, something tells me I wouldn't have fallen asleep under those conditions in Mad Max.
My favorite movie of 2015 wasn't in the Best Picture race, though (which sets it apart from 2014, where my favorite three films -- Whiplash, Boyhood, and Citizenfour -- were all in the Best Picture or Best Documentary race). I had hopes that The Revenant would take the mantle and when I finally watched it last week in Los Angeles's amazing ArcLight Cinemas experience, I was pretty convinced 20 minutes in this would be the greatest movie I ever watched. That opening sequence, shot in just a few long continuous shots, was brilliantly executed and immediately riveting and those perfectly placed arrows zipping through the necks of the fur-trappers under attack by misplaced Indians, on a big screen with the sound to match... wow, just wow. That's the brilliance of the moviegoing experience in a nutshell. And right up to the point that - spoiler alert, but I can't imagine you haven't heard of this - Leo is attacked by the bear, it's just a perfect, momentous action flick. Sadly, it doesn't quite sustain that momentum through a bloated middle and some unnecessary dream sequences that took me out of the film and I kind of couldn't wait until the climactic battle I knew had to be coming, some 2 1/2 hours in. It's a great film, don't get me wrong, but with a few more edits (something Inarratu isn't known for) I think this could have been brilliant. Alas, it's not my favorite Best Picture nominee, nor my favorite film of the year. Read on for that list and a spoiler-free review of 10 Cloverfield Lane.
I've seen a lot of new bands over the past six months or so, and here's a post to discuss.
This band was playing at a showcase I was at in the fall. Their song "Waitress" - which they played at the show -- is so abrasive that I kind of hated when it came on my iTunes mix but now I love it, I can't get enough of the shouting, and I think everyone should listen at least a dozen times before forming an opinion, at least as long as the first impression is negative. Long story short, they are from Philly and here's a little blurb from their Bandcamp page: Hop Along is Frances Quinlan, Mark Quinlan, Tyler Long, and Joe Reinhart who all went to rural suburban high schools (except for Joe, who went to a suburban suburban high school). Eventually they moved to Philly and started playing music together.
Get Disowned is their first full-length release. It was made piece by piece, over the course of two years, at Headroom Studios in North Philadelphia. Buy it here.
"I just wish you and your friends would leave"
Continuing the theme of too much work, too little time to enjoy life, and too much cold here in NJ this month to even consider going outside -- although I did brave the cold last night to watch Syracuse beat FSU - I'm sorry, destroy them, moving to 7-5 in the ACC after an 0-4 start and 17-8 overall (13-3 with Boeheim). This is a solid tourney team right now and if they keep playing this well, they will be a threat to at least make the Sweet 16, something unimaginable a few weeks ago (when NIT was dancing in my dreams/nightmares). Anyway, I digress -- where was I? Oh yeah, this song, I keep coming back to this song -- which sister is right? I don't know, but I really like the one who's floating around town going to coffee shops all day. I got about an hour of writing done yesterday at a local coffee shop between work and the game and I wish I had done more, there's always a wish for more, but I'm about 140 pages into my first draft of the follow-up novel to the novel being shopped by my agent to editors right now, so hopefully, maybe just maybe all this effort will all be worth it. Or you know, I'll just substitute the coffee for alcohol and move along.
I was looking for a job
"$$$$" is a rather old song. Part of the Read Music - Speak Spanish collection from Conor Oberst's then side project from his Bright Eyes days, Desaparecidos, one of several punk rock anthems railing against corporate greed and American consumerism, not quite reaching the heights of "The Happiest Place on Earth" or "Survival of the Fittest", but still a good song, a solid song towards the end of 10-song album (international version) that to this day still finds its way on my playlists, some 14 years after the February 2002 release, right at the height of my Bright Eyes fandom.
I’m overflowing with ambition but I got to keep in mind
That the bottom line ... is the dollar signs ... and the big bright lights
Inequality franchised, the next location is mine
Earnest, yes. Conor was never one to hide meanings in elliptical lyrics, but something about the straightforward attack with the hard rock base works on me, it always works on me, some 14 years later. I was driving home from LaGuardia the other night when I heard this song, on a weeknight, after midnight, my flight from Chicago delayed an hour or two and my return from my fourth straight week in Iowa delayed a bit, until landing at close to midnight in another state and having to drive home, go to sleep, wake up and start it all over again. At least the traffic was light.
Desaparecidos returned from a decade-long hiatus after their one and only album with a couple new blistering tracks and a small fall tour in 2012 that would extend into the new year, when I got to see them in January 2013, for three straight dates -- at Asbury Park, Philly and New York. The first night was at the famed Stone Pony in Asbury and at the time I was still living in South Brunswick, and I was suffering through the hell that had been two years of toe pain and surgeries and dozens of doctors and pills all to ease a pain that was finally going away, at that time, for reasons that had nothing to do with traditional medicine and everything to do with mental pain. On that weeknight in January at the Stone Pony, Joyce Manor opened -- I'd never heard of them and they were awesome -- and after three shows of seeing them I became a massive fan, so when Desaparecidos came on, me and the surprisingly young crowd were in full frothing excitement and the mosh pit started almost at once. I don't remember if I moshed that first night, I don't remember the state of my toe and the pain (but I know it wasn't great) and I don't remember the order of the songs that they played, but I remember "$$$$", I remember barely recognizing it -- having spent the intervening decade post Read Music - Speak Spanish focused more on the classics I loved than that track, but in the second crescendo, toward the close of the song, when Conor screams out in desperation "it's the dollar signs" the whole crowd chanted as one and I remember getting lost in the sound, lost in the moment, fully alive again and hopeful again for an excitement that had left me after two years of toe pain.
So the irony wasn't lost on me, 3 years later, when $$$$ came onto my iPhone shuffle while I was driving home from the airport after midnight on a weeknight for work instead of driving home after midnight from a concert, and I started screaming out in frustration at Conor's crescendo, for I have become the American consumerist he was decrying:
It’s the dollar signs and the big bright lights
Inequality franchised, every location is mine
You just do your part, form a line
Let's march under the golden arch
March, march, march, march
Since at least late September, my life has been an endless loop of work / fly / work / travel / write / work / pay rent / work / sick / sleep / Christmas yay! / write a little / work some more. After 2 1/2 years of joy in Hoboken that followed my move from South Brunswick, the cost of living here has caught up with my savings and coincided with a booming economy that has sent my consulting company's business booming and kept me full of work for all of 2015, more hours than I'd ever done before (and I don't think I was exactly slacking before), all in for a big bonus at the end of the year just to afford paying an expensive rent so I could live in a nice apartment right by NYC and ... never get to go to all the concerts I want to because I"m away all the time for work. I texted my friend Katie the previous week while I was Uber-ing home from LaGuardia (flight back from Iowa through Chicago to Newark got canceled so I had to fly back to LaGuardia, Uber home and then take 38 trains to get my car from Newark airport the next day, a Saturday) but anyway, I mentioned to Katie how sad it was that I was riding through Manhattan for the first time in weeks, in the back seat of an Uber. It's enough. I don't know what to do about it but it's enough. There's no point in working so hard to make more money just to afford living somewhere great but you don't have any time to enjoy it, there's never enough time, because you're working 50 and 60 hour weeks just to make more money and start it all over again. I hate capitalism right now (go Bernie!) and I realize these are fully 100% white people problems and I shouldn't be bitching that I don't get enough time to spend in my beautiful Hoboken apartment while others are working 50 and 60 hour weeks just to feed their families, but we're all on the same loop, and it's all an American capitalist dream that never ever gets fulfilled, unless you're in the top 1%. Maybe not even then. They say that the "Happiest Places on Earth" are in Sweden or other northern European socialist democracies, where people care for one another and it's not all about money but that's not here, that's not here at all. It's frustrating, and I'm frustrated, but the next day I went to lower Manhattan for a couple drinks and some food with Katie and other friend Laura and it was great, just peaceful and great, and we all bitched about our jobs and then we ate and I didn't care how much it cost, I needed a break, I was awakened with a call from a vendor the next morning at 8 am and I was back on the track working all day.
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.