Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Reviews in five lines or fewer

I'm counting my five lines as they appear on Blogger, not as they'll appear on the page. Still shorter than my usual.

New Pornographers at Webster Hall, Oct. 13. Canada's greatest supergroup had Dan Bejar, Neko Case and Carl Newman on stage simultaneously. Did that thrill me more than it should have? Probably. Although Webster Hall's handling of rock shows is so chaotic as to threaten public safety, the Pornographers are worth being crushed to death. Sing me Spanish techno, please.

U2 at Madison Square Garden, Oct. 14. The crowd at the Garden was more enthused than the lethargic stumps that slouch into the venues below 14th Street. It was a long, somewhat exhausting show; when your band is out to save the world, it's hard to rock out. Friends who've seen the show all have been enthusiastic, and I don't think U2 will ever bore me. They know how to run an arena show. Still, I miss their personas from Pop and Zooropa.

Neil Young, Prairie Wind. I like Neil enough that I own 21 of his albums and plowed through Jimmy McDonough's 700-page biography. His last album, Greendale, was the only successful artistic response to post-9/11 America. Prairie Wind trades Greendale's ambition and vitality for a trite folkie retrospective, with lyrics like, "It's a long road behind me/it's a long road ahead." It's worthy of a lesser artist; I expect better from Neil, who's still primed.

Marah, If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry. I made the mistake of listening to this album before going to bed last night. Hence, I stayed up late. Great drinking music. These guys must have listened to Sticky Fingers several hundred times before making this record. Not that it's in the same league, but it's the same boozy combo of blues, country and party rock, meant to be heard after four too many beers and ten too many cigarettes.

Tim DeLaughter, Thumbsucker Soundtrack. The brains behind The Polyphonic Spree has been talking about this album since at least last winter. I haven't seen the movie, but standing on its own, the soundtrack didn't offer much. More of a film score than a Spree splinter project.

The Go! Team, Thunder, Lightning, Strike. Peppy, poppy, energetic. Sounds tinny in my iPod earbuds, better on the stereo. If the New Pornographers had a D.J. and a cheerleading squad, they might sound a little like The Go! Team. Will provide serviceable ambience at a future monkey clap dance party.

The Colbert Report. Still struggling to find its voice, but entertaining. Colbert has had some timing problems, and if the show is going to be a deadpan satire of cable news, it needs to smooth out the more conventional late-night talk show moves (banter with the cue card guy, etc.).

Turner Classic Movies. The best excuse for having digital cable. M., Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Vertigo and Psycho in four nights? It's my new go-to channel.

Capote. Impressive performances in a meandering movie. I felt like I learned too little about Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, or the New York literary world. Philip Seymour Hoffman owned the screen, though, which is no small thing.

The Squid and the Whale. I'll stop blaming Noah Baumbach for The Life Aquatic. This was a Wes Anderson movie stripped of whimsy and sentiment. For the last half, I expected the next scene to reveal that one of the four main characters had committed suicide. This is a dark movie, and its many funny moments made me feel guilty for laughing -- a portrait of existential dysfunction gilded by appreciation for absurdity and the importance of good books. I agree.

Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor. I always want to lump O'Connor in with Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers. Instead, she's more a progenitor of Cormac McCarthy or David Lynch with a religious bent. Creepy, icky, depraved, scarier than anything Stephen King has written in 15 years. I have no idea what it all means.

Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh. Making amorality entertaining.

Will in the World, by Stephen Greenblatt. A synthesis of Elizabethan social history and Shakespeare's plays masquerading as a Shakespeare biography. Sure, there was plenty about Shakespeare himself, but the real fun was the book's detailed look at life in Elizabethan England -- plague cures, pets, tenancy and landowning, crime, bear baiting, and the monarchy's efforts to maintain social stability, which Greenblatt blends into an analysis of W.S.'s plays.

Amos Berry, by Allan Seager. Out-of-print, published in 1953, long forgotten. I'm not going to pretend that anyone will go to the trouble to track this down. Seager was a hell of a writer, clearly influenced by both Hemingway and Faulkner. As is true for Seager's short stories, Amos Berry is better than any of Fitzgerald's lesser (translation: non-Gatsby) works. Someday Seager will be re-discovered.

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