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Archive for the ‘Saturday Night Live’ Category

2020_03_16 (1)SOUNDTRACK: MOUNT EERIE-Tiny Desk Concert #944 (February 12, 2020).

maxresdefaultI’ve heard of Mount Eerie, but I didn’t really know that much about them. And when I say them, I really mean him, Phil Elverum.

Phil Elverum’s songs come full circle, swooping down like vultures and floating up like ashes from flames. Throughout his work in Mount Eerie and The Microphones, idealism comes up against realism, existence entangles with impermanence and love discovers new forms. So when he sings, “Let’s get out the romance,” in close harmony with Julie Doiron at the Tiny Desk, there’s a history going back nearly two decades to an isolated cabin in Norway where he first wrote the phrase.

I have never really enjoyed quiet, sad music.  It’s just not my thing.  So this Tiny Desk is definitely not my favorite.  Although I can appreciate the intensity of his lyrics and the beautiful way his and Julie’s voices combine.

They recorded an album, Lost Wisdom Pt. 2, last year.

the sparsely decorated, deeply felt album meditates on a heart still breaking and mutating, but also gently reckons with a younger version of himself. That refrain on “Belief” is performed here with only an electric guitar and a nylon-string acoustic bought in Stockholm during that Scandinavian trip many years ago.

“Belief” opens with quiet acoustic guitar and then the two of them singing together.  And it’s pretty intense:

Elverum remembers himself as a young man who begged “the sky for some calamity to challenge my foundation.” We then become the Greek chorus, witness to the unfolding tragedy: first, the death of his wife and mother to their child, the musician and illustrator Geneviève Castrée, in 2016; then the marriage to actor Michelle Williams in 2018 and their divorce less than a year later. “‘The world always goes on,'” Doiron sings in answer, quoting a Joanne Kyger poem, “‘Breaking us with its changes / Until our form, exhausted, runs true.'”

Doiron’s guitar contributions are so minimal, she doesn’t play for most of the song.   The song runs almost seven minutes and does seem to end mid-sentence.

When “Belief” suddenly ends, seemingly in the middle of a thought, Elverum’s eyes search the room. The audience responds with applause, but a version of this dynamic plays out everywhere he’s performed for the last three years — long silences broken up by tentative claps, nervous laughs struck by grief and absurdity.

The second song, “Enduring The Waves” is only three minutes long.  He begins it by speak/singing “Reading about Buddhism” and I wasn’t sure if it was a lyric or an introduction.  It’s a lyric.  This song features Julie and Phil singing seemingly disparate lines over each other until their final lines match up perfectly  The construction of this song is really wonderful even if it is still a pretty slow sad song,

“Love Without Possession” Julie sings the first verse and after her verse, Phil starts strumming his guitar in what can only be described as a really catchy sort of way.  They harmonize together and Doiron includes minimal electric guitar notes.  This is my favorite song of the bunch.

[READ: March 13, 2020] “My High-School Commute”

Colin Jost is one of the presenters on Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update.  I think he’s very funny and has a great sarcastic tone.  Although, I have to agree with the title of his new memoir: A Very Punchable Face.

This is an amusing essay about his daily commute to high school, in which he took “a journey by land, sea and underground rocket toilet.”

His grandfather always told him about the value of an education–protect your brain! was his constant refrain.

It was his brain that got him out of Staten Island.  It got him into a Catholic high school called Regis* *Regis Philbin was named after my high school but went to Cardinal Hayes High School which was full of kids who beat the shit out of kids who went to Regis.

Regis is one of the best schools in the country and it is free–tens of thousands of kids apply for 120 spots. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FREDDIE GIBBS AND MADLIB-Tiny Desk Concert #920 (December 6, 2019).

I was watching this video and I thought–that piano player looks like Marco Benevento.  And holy cow it is!

And he is amazing–playing his jazziest, prettiest melodies.  In fact, the whole band is fantastic.  They’re a band that I didn’t know Benevento was part of called El Michels Affair.  Okay, maybe he’s not.  It turns out that El Michels Affiar is a band founded by Leon Michels (who plays saxophone here).  And check this out

After performing with Raekwon at a concert, the group began working with other members of the Wu-Tang Clan and covered several of their songs … [which]…  yielded an album released in 2009 as Enter the 37th Chamber, a play on the album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).  El Michels Affair followed this with a second album of arrangements of songs by Wu-Tang Clan and from its members’ solo releases, titled Return to the 37th Chamber.

And evidently producer Madlib really wanted to work with El Michels Affair

This Freddie Gibbs and Madlib Tiny Desk performance was a year in the making, largely because Madlib insisted on playing with El Michels Affair, a vintage funk and soul band based out of New York. But it was worth the wait. When pianist Marco Benevento opened with a delicate, almost jazzy run, it created the perfect opening — and juxtaposition — for hard-hitting emcee, Gibbs to jump in and ride the hell out of that beat.

Gibbs brags about Madlib the legend while Marco plays and Madlib makes all ind of weird sounds with the thunder stick.  Marco opens with a pretty rill, the funky bass from Nick Movshon kicks in and the horns (Leon Michels and Dave Guy in trumpet) play a wonderful melody. Its jazzy and improvish.

From the moment they launched into “Education,” a cut off the latest MadGibbs project Bandana, it was obvious Gibbs has spent countless hours honing his style. Meanwhile, Madlib, an enigmatic and reclusive producer known for his analog head-nodders, brought along a small thunder tube and vintage electric bongos circa 1960. Just getting a chance to see him ignited excitement in the NPR crowd.

I love the way drummer Homer Steinweiss shifts gears in what seems like mid song to a faster beat for “Gat Damn.”  Marco is on a soft synth sound while Madlib plays electronic bongos.  Of course, there’s some funky bass too.  Gibbs does some impressive quick jazzy rapping through the middle part.

“Soul Right” sounds great with some soft keys and horns. It’s slow and smooth and has a really catchy chorus.

Throughout the set, Gibbs’ uses the N-word about a million times and this song has a fantastic refrain of

‘Cause I been struggling my whole life, yeah
So I broke it down and it was all white, yeah

I had to wonder if it was awkward that everyone in the band is white.  Although Freddie says that there’s a white nigga up there-Leon.  The band is all his fam.  Leon… My boy!

But the conclusive jam in this killer set was “Freestyle S***,” a track that drips with the smoothness of satin and swagger of the seventies. It and the rest of the set elevated the room for both longtime purists and new fans alike.

“Freestyle Shit” opens with a great horn riff and Gibbs does some great fast rapping in the middle.  It is a fantastic musical jam.

But the way Gibbs emphatically showed his love for Madlib was just as beautiful to witness. There’s little doubt about their deep admiration and appreciation for each other. It was hands down, for me, the best Tiny Desk of the year.

This has turned into one of my favorite Tiny Desks.  Let’s hope this gets Marco Benevento his own show!

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Koftaesque”

This is an excerpt from Szabłowski’s book How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hokha, Fidel Castro and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of their Cooks.

This sounds absolutely fascinating and this excerpt was certainly enough tom make me want to read more.

I’m also fascinated that this book was written in Polish (translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) and was most likely translated to him from whatever the chef’s language was.

The example in the except is from Saddam Hussein’s chef Abu Ali.  He says that Hussein invited a bunch of friends on his boat and Ali, his personal chef, was to cook for them.  They were not at war with anyone and everyone was in a good mood. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ENDON-Through the Mirror (2017).

Endon’s Through the Mirror is one of the most punishing musical experiences I’ve ever had.  They opened for Boris a few months ago and their live show was incredibly intense.  It’s no surprise that their album is, too.

When I was looking at their merch, this guy came up behind me and said, that their debut album, MAMA made him want to kill himself.  But this album was different, more enjoyable.  I thanked him for saving my life.

Endon hail from Japan and call their music “catastrophic noise-metal.”

The first song is the five and a half-minute “Nerve Rain.”  It is, simply put, a wave of noise.  The guitarist plays a loud distorted guitar–very quickly.  Non-stop for 2 and a half minutes.  It is accompanied by fast pounding drums.  In the background there are all kinds of warbling electronic noises.  After two and a half minutes the noise ends abruptly.  It starts again exactly the same after a few seconds.  This continues for the rest of the song, stopping and starting at more frequent intervals.  It is relentless.  Somebody please put the entire Republican party into a room and play this at them for 24 hours.

The second song, “Your Ghost is Dead” introduces a singer, Taichi Nagura.  The drums are twice as fast, the guitar is also incredibly fast and when the singer comes in, he uses a complicated mix of cookie monster vocals, screams, wails and desperate lashing out.  I have no idea if there are any words to these songs or if he’s just making noise.  Sometimes he’s buried under the rest of the noise.  Interestingly there’s even a cool somewhat mellow guitar riff in the middle of this song–if you removed it from the noise surrounding it, it would be very catchy.  About half way through the song, the noise stops, the riff comes through clean and then Taichi Nagura can be heard crying.   And then it all takes off again.

“Born in Limbo” slows things down with an interesting drum beat.  But the bulk of the song is manipulated sounds and effects–primarily screams, from both tapes and the lead singer.  In fact Taichi Nagura’s screams are rhythmic and strangely catchy.  There’s a Mike Patton component to this song for sure.  The middle of the song even has a somewhat traditional (wailing) guitar solo.

“Pensum” is only 90 seconds long and it is 90 seconds of pummeling noise.  It’s followed by “Postsex” which is more of the same with extra focus placed on Taichi Nagura ‘s vocals which are varied and run through a gamut of pain.

“Perversion Til Death” is 10 minutes long.  It opens with some crazy fast drumming and a slow melodic guitar melody that’s more or less buried under a wall of noise.  This song is a lot slower and more ponderous than the others, with some heavy drums, squalling guitars and screamed vocals just done at a different pace.  Until the final two minutes which are just heavy pounding.

“Through the Mirror” has some interesting guitar ideas buried under a wall of squealing feedback.  Just before the song turns into a breakneck hardcore pace there’s a ten second respite with an interesting riff and nothing else.  And then pummel.  Around three minutes the noise drops away and you get super fast drums with some electronic sounds and Taichi Nagura all-out screaming but in that strangely melodic way again.  It lasts for about 30 seconds before ethe breakneck noise (and growling takes over).  The song slows down with him weeping as pleasant guitars take over.  While these pleasant chords continue playing through, he starts screaming at the top of his lungs in mortal pain.

“Torch Your House” ends this disc with a 9 minute epic.  The song begins quietly, with some pretty guitars and gentle washes of sounds.  They explore chords for about 2 and a half minutes before the drums and noise take over,  but the guitar solo is able to pierce through the wall of noise.  Taichi Nagura screams throughout in bursts, but the guitars stay largely guitar-sounding not noise-making.  Around five-minute the whole things turns into a rocking metal song.  For the last minute or so, it all mellows out with an acoustic guitar playing the melody.  Until the last 30 seconds when the noise returns over and a five-beat drum pattern as the song crashes to an end.

Musical endurance.

[READ: September 23, 2017] “Who’s Laughing Now?”

I have enjoyed most of Tom Bissell’s writing in Harper’s  He writes about a wide array of things, including entertainment.  A while back I read a lot of his older articles and it was enjoyable to read things hat were not current anymore.  And that may be why I didn’t enjoy this article as much.  It is too current.  Too painful.  I can’t believe he hasn’t been impeached yet.

Bissell suggests that trump and SNL were made for each other.  He was the rare novelty guest to have hosted twice.  Once in 2004 to promote The Apprentice and again in late 2015 to soften perception of a presidential campaign widely seen as alarming.  Some would accuse SNL of normalizing him after this (although his being a celebrity of three decades certainly had something to do with it).

Both Times he was on ratings were great so… who used whom? (more…)

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basoonSOUNDTRACK: THE MUSIC TAPES-Tiny Desk Concert #182 (December 20, 2011).

musictaopesJulian Koster released an album in 2008 called The Singing Saw at Christmastime.  It was a complete CD of Christmas songs played on the saw.  That should tell you that Koster is an unusual fellow. But that doesn’t prepare you for what he unleashes during his Tiny Desk Concert with The Music Tapes.

Koster has a very high-pitched voice (I have a recording of him doing “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm,” which is almost unbearable.  His singing is really close to the fine line of unique and bad (and I imagine for many it crosses the line). He’s also got a fascinating way of looking at things and of storytelling.  So this Tiny Desk show winds up being quite long (20 minutes) with quite a lot of different things going on.

First he tells a lengthy story about his great grandpa.  And how his great grandpa told him that baby trees can walk.  But they are tethered to the ground by an umbilical cord. And when we cut them down, we sever the cord.  And a Christmas tree is adorned and worshiped for two weeks and then set free to roam the earth.  It is a warm and strange and delightful.

Then he and a second member of the group play “The First Noel” on two saws.  It’s weird ad wonderful.  At the end of the song he has his saw bow, and Bob says he didn’t know a saw could bow.  Julian says they do and in fact that singing saws sing by themselves but we encourage them by petting them and placing them in our laps.

I don’t enjoy everything Koster does, so the second song “Freeing Song For Reindeer,” a banjo based piece about a tired old reindeer transporting Santa is slow and kind of sad and not my thing.

But then he tells a story of growing up with all kinds of culture and Holiday traditions which leads into a version of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus Blood.”  I enjoy the original and didn’t know what to expect here.  They begin with a tape loop of an old man singing the song (possibly the one Bryars used, but I don’t know).  And then Koster starts playing the banjo with a bow.  And then a second guy does the same. Then the percussionist stars playing the toy piano and the noises build.  He switches from piano to trumpet and plays along.  Meanwhile the second banjo player switches back to the saw for the end. It’s really quite a lovely performance.

“Takeshi And Elijah” is another slow and keening banjo based song.  It’s pretty long, I don’t really like it, but by the end, as it builds with trumpet and toy piano, he ends the song sith a puppet Santa doing a tap dance as percussion.  It’s a great ending to an okay song.

The final song is “Zat You, Santa Claus?”  It’s played on bowed banjo and sousaphone.  It’s a fun and crazy rendition.   It’s one of the weirdest Tiny Desk shows and certainly the weirdest Christmas set.

[READ: December 5, 2015] The Bassoon King

I really liked Rain Wilson in The Office, but I haven’t seen him in much else (I forgot he was in Six Feet Under and Galaxy Quest) . I wanted to like Backstrom, but it got cancelled before we even watched an episode.

So why did I check out this memoir of an actor I like a little bit?  Well, primarily for the title.  The Bassoon King had an absurd ring that I really gravitated towards.  When I saw there was an introduction by Dwight Kurt Schrute, I knew this would be a good book.

The introduction (by Dwight) is very funny.  I love Dwight and I love thinking to myself “FALSE!” whenever I disagree with someone.  Dwight wondered why anyone would read a biography of a young semi-famous actor.  “Fact. NO. ONE. CARES.”  But then says he doesn’t care either because he is making a lot of dollars per word for this thing.

Rainn begins his memoir by making fun of his big head (especially when he was a baby).  It’s pretty funny.  And then he describes his hippie family and his weird name.  His mom changed her named from Patricia to Shay in 1965.  She wanted to name Rainn “Thucydides.”  But his dad always liked Rainer Maria Rilke.  Now, they lived pretty close to Mt Rainier, so they went for Rainn (“Tack an extra letter on there for no apparent reason”). (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: April 29, 2015] Bossypants

bossyAfter listening to Amy Poehler’s audio book, it made me want to listen to Tina Fey’s book.  Sarah had read the book and said it was very funny, but I imagined that the audio would be even funnier.  And boy was it ever funny.

And here’s where I apologize to Tina Fey.  I had always heard her spoken about in such lofty terms as the funniest writer, the golden child (insert various rave here), and I wound up holding her to an unfair standard.  I never found her funny enough for me.  She made me laugh, but, for instance, I thought Mean Girls could have been…more somehow.  After listening to this, I realized what the problem was for me.  I always felt like her stuff could have been more pointed or something, but I realize that given the media she works with she was unlikely to “get away” with anything more pointed–certainly not on Saturday Night Live or 30 Rock.  Rather, she did lots of subtly feminist (or sometime over the top feminist) jokes that I didn’t really appreciate for what she was doing.  But when she lets loose in this book it is really amazing to hear what she herself–not a team of writers–has to say.  Of course, having said that, and having listened to the book, I absolutely need to rewatch 30 Rock (although I never cared for the Tracey Morgan or Jane Krakowski characters) and maybe even some old Weekend updates.

But, I already know Tina’s response to me, because she says it in the book.  And, it talks about something Amy Poehler once said.
(more…)

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[LISTENED TO: March 29, 2015] Yes Please

amyI typically don’t read memoirs.  I don’t really care that much about celebrities to bother with most of them. I do like author and comedian memoirs, however, because they’re usually well written and/or funny accordingly.  I have recently been on a big Amy Poehler kick because of the end of Parks and Recreation, so I was really exited when this (finally) came in at the library.

If you have read the book, note that the audio book is chock full of things that are not in the book.  She talks a lot about the “studio” she is recording in (she says she built it).  She and Seth Meyers seem to have a fun improv banter going on (which I assume is not in the book).  And the final chapter was read live in front of a UCB audience.  To my ear this chapter is the funniest thing in the book, probably because it is the least formal sounding and the audience really enjoys it.  On the other hand, after having looked through the book in the store the other day, I see that the book is chock full of things (mostly pictures) that are not in the audiobook.  So choose wisely.

The audio book is read by Poehler, which is pretty cool.  She has help from Carol Burnett and Kathleen Turner (although I don’t think either one says more than a few lines) and Patrick Stewart who recites her poetry and epigrams.  Seth Meyers gets a chapter and Amy’s parents chime in a few times.  But here’s the thing, evidently her Leslie Knope character is almost Poehler’s talking voice, but not quite.  There is something disconcerting about listening to her sound not exactly as you are familiar with her sounding.  I think she talks a little more slowly and deliberately (which makes sense for an audio book) than Leslie does.  So that actually took some getting used to.

Here’s the other thing.  This book is not all that funny.  And it is not really meant to be all funny.  I mean, there are funny parts sure, but it’s not a laugh a minute story.  Poehler gets into some serious issues (a lengthy chapter about apologizing to a disabled girl whom she inadvertently offended on national TV, visiting a third world country, and various other dangers of growing up and being a parent).  Poehler sprinkles these humor but they are quite serious. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-BANG goes the Knighthood (2010).

I’ve really enjoyed The Divine Comedy since their earliest Michael Nymanesque music.  I loved the orchestral pop that Neil Hannon seemed to effortlessly create.  His last few records have been less exciting to me.  He has toned down the orchestration and made his songs more subtle.  They’re still beautiful but they’re not always as immediately arresting.  I thought that was true of this album as well, although I found that when I sat down and really listen to the music and words together (what a novel idea) the music played so well with the lyrics that the album overall is easily one of his best.  Although I still prefer the pomp and full orchestration of the earlier music, this newer stuff is very interesting. An artist has got to grow, right?

The new sound is more Tin Pan Alley.  It’s piano with guitars and occasional horns–very limited strings are present at all.  And, as any fan knows, Neil writes wonderful songs about love, and the songs on here are some more great love songs.  The non-love songs span the gamut of ideas–from emotionally wrenching to downright silly.  Neil is definitely a “get to know him” kind of songwriter.  And it’s rewarding when you do.

“Down in the Street Below” is a piano based song that morphs into a jaunty little number after some quiet verses.  It features yet another of his great melodies.  “The Complete Banker” is a jaunty piano song that mercilessly mocks the banking industry.  Not terribly original but certainly fun and lyrically it’s quite clever.  “Neapolitan Girl” is a faster song (reminds me of a Broadway musical or movie instrumental) which is (as they all are) very fun to sing along to).  “Bang Goes the Knighthood” is a musical hall song that is really quite funny despite the somber sound of the music (it’s about a knighted man who indulges in certain proclivities that might cost him what he has).

“The Indie Disco” is the exact opposite, it’s bouncy and shuffly and yet understated as only an indie disco can be (this may be the softest, least excited “yea!” in any song ever.  Name checking Morrissey may not be original but it would be a less real picture without him.  The songs he mentions are kind of dated, but are probably pretty accurate to what gets played in an indie disco these days.  “Have You Ever Been in Love” could be used in any rom-com film montage.  Although maybe it’s too obvious?  Sweetly filled with strings (yes strings).

“Assume the Perpendicular” is a slightly faster song, as befits lyrics, “I can’t abide a horizontal life while “The Lost Art of Conversation” is another bouncy tune with a whistle for an ending!

“Island Life” is one of the first duets I can think of from the Divine Comedy–it sounds like something out of the movie Brazil.  “When a Man Cries” is an emotionally wrenching song.  It seems somewhat out of place for Hannon’s usual topic, but it’s quite beautiful.  The silly fun of “Can You Stand Up on One Leg” is the perfect antidote.  Each verse provides something that’s harder to do than you think.  The final verse offers, “can you hold a singing note for a stupidly long time…. Let’s see how long you can hoooooooooo….oooold on to a note.” For the record, Neil’s note is 29 seconds long….stupidly long!  Is that really him holding that high note for 29 seconds?

The final song “I Like” is a wonderful poppy ditty, in which the full band rocks out (more or less) to another great melody.  It’s a perfect love song (even modernized to include a kind of rhyme with sexy and texting).

Initially I was a little disappointed by this disc, but it really proved to be fantastic.  More, Neil, more!

[READ: December 28, 2011] Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Mindy Kaling a big enough celebrity to write a book (memoir or otherwise?).  To use her own in-book comparison, she’s nowhere near Tina Fey’s level of fame, right? (although I actually think she is funnier).  I mean, she’s a minor character on a popular show.  True, she’s also a writer and producer, but that’s not going to lead you to fame or anything.  The more I read about her in the book, the more I wondered exactly who would know her aside from fans of The Office.

None of that is to say that Kaling isn’t awesome.  She is.  She’s funny and talented and I am thrilled she wrote a book–sometimes within an ensemble your individual voice will get lost.  But I have to wonder how much name recognition she has.  And the book doesn’t do a lot to dispel this sense for me.  I mean, she tells about everything she’s done, and really all she had done was write Matt & Ben (which sounds awesome and which I remember hearing about back in the day) and work (a lot) for The Office.  Not minor accomplishments by any stretch, but not a fame-inducing resume.  Nevertheless, good for her that someone was interested in letting her write a book.  And good for us who read it.  If you are amused by the use of the subtitle of the book (which I am) you will like enjoy the humor here.

I had read some excerpts from the book so I assumed it was all funny essays and whatnot, but it’s not.  It’s actually a memoir with funny essays mixed in.   Of course, Mindy’s life before Matt & Ben isn’t really very “interesting” (the book is very funny during this time of her life, even if she really didn’t do much more than babysit for rich folks and watch Comedy Central).

In the Introduction, Mindy provides a FAQ about the book.  One of the questions is if she is going to offer advice and she says yes.  And here’s the thing, Mindy’s advice is outstanding.  She offers advice about many topics and I don’t think I disagreed with her about anything (except maybe pea coats).  She’s like the voice of reason in a world gone mad and an excellent role model for anyone. (more…)

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