Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Timing Is Everything - Twilight Singers at the Paradise, May 29

Most of the time, I have the most God-awful timing. Not yesterday.

Let me start off by saying that I carry huge admiration for great songwriters. Some people admire doctors, great philosophers, authors, and all of them are surely noble. But I find that nothing moves me emotionally like a good song. Songs that make the hair on your arms stand up, or send a shiver down your spine, or put a lump in your throat. Sure, a great lyricist alone is to be admired, as is a great composer, but the synergy of when the lyrics and music mesh to form an awe-inspiring song is so rare, so noteworthy, that it really makes me feel alive.

That's why I really admire great songwriters. And I have a long list of those I think are great. Way too many to list here, but let's just say that the lead singer/guitarist for the band we saw last night at the Paradise is way up there on my list.

With us both having the day off, Xteen and I decided to spend a good chunk of the day in Boston before the show. As usual, we left a little later than I was hoping (this, after Xteen wondering if we should bother bringing the camera to which I said, "You never know who you are going to run into") and we made it to one of our favorite watering holes for some overpriced beer and tasty spinach and artichoke dip. The ambience at this joint makes the overpriced beer completely worth it. Not to mention, they have 100 different beers from all over the world available for consumption. If you desire, you can ask them for a card that has a list of all of the beers. When you drink them all, you get your own special mug inscribed with the name of a dead author of your choice: "The Dead Author's Club". The kindly bartender yesterday provided us with a list of the mugs already taken. It was cool to see who was chosen and despite the fact that many of our choices for our own mug (had we decided to try and join the Dead Author's Club) had been taken (George Orwell, Douglas Adams, Poe, songwriter Elliott Smith), one, C.S. Lewis, was noticeably absent. Maybe one of these days Xteen and I will fill out one of those cards.

So, we probably stay at this joint a little longer than we wanted to and then head toward the venue. The plan was to park near the gig, walk to a restaurant for some dinner, and then head back. We ended up getting an outstanding spot, pretty much right in front of the Paradise. But then a friend of Xteen's called from California and we spent some time in the car while she talked to her. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out how to receive photos on my new cell phone (I still can't figure the damn thing out). We get to the restaurant and couldn't decide on what to eat or drink right away. This place has a thousand different beers and a million different menu items. We finally settled and, while the food came pretty quick, the waiter was pretty slow in getting us our check. Doors at the venue opened at 7 and we left the Sunset at around 7:15 for the 10 minute walk to the venue.

You're probably saying to yourself, "Jeesum Crow, Dim, this post is already torturously long! You haven't even gotten to the review of the show yet and you are bogging me down with minutia about leaving late and a lazy waiter. Why??"
Well, I thought it important for you to know all of the little things that had to happen in the course of our day yesterday that caused us to be walking toward the venue at the precise time we did. Yesterday was a gorgeous day in Boston, and usually people are always milling around the Paradise, waiting for the show, but the crowd was very late-arriving, probably out enjoying the weather. So, it was pretty sparse outside the venue when Xteen and I approached it. And then, what to our wondering eyes did appear...but Greg Dulli, lead singer/guitar player/songwriter extraordinaire of the Twilight Singers.

He was leaving the venue to head back to the bus unabated, or so he thought, when Xteen and I approached him. I had some trepidation, since I heard that for all of the bravado Dulli has on stage, he's kind of a quietly intimidating guy off it. I heard that after shows, he pretty much bee-lines right to the bus and really doesn't like all the smiley gladhanding that goes along with any post-gig festivities.

So, to a bit of our surprise, Dulli was such a great guy and took a few minutes to talk to us and take pictures. Xteen spoke to him first, I think, something along the lines of "never would have expected to run into you out here" to which Dulli cavalierly replied, "Well, I had to pee!"

I gushed that he was one of my favorite songwriters ever and Xteen levied praise all over one of the discs put out by Dulli's prior band, the Afghan Whigs. Now, all of the Whigs' stuff is absolutely aces ("Up In It", "Congregation", "Black Love", "1965"), but "Gentlemen" is one of those desert island discs for me. I have well over 1,000 discs in my collection and if you told me I could only pick 5 and the rest would be destroyed, the achingly disturbing swirl of "Gentlemen" would be one of the illustrious five. Without hesitation. Even Xteen, who usually isn't one for fanboyish behavior had the Marcia Brady meets Davy Jones stars in the eyes thing around Dulli.

I complimented him on his awesome new disc, Powder Burns, to which he coyly replied, "They are all my little babies". I also gave Dulli shit because the last time he was in town in 2004, the Red Sox were breathing their death rattle to the Yankees in the ALCS. Dulli, a Cincinnati native and INSANE Reds fan, took great delight in yet another Red Sox collapse. Only thing was...they came back to win the Series. I reminded Dulli of this and, of course, he tempered my enthusiasm by mentioning that he was glad the Sox won that series since it made him a lot of money and then he rubbed in that the Reds have won more Series in his lifetime than the Sox have won in mine. That Dulli can be a real asshole sometimes.

We sheepishly asked for pictures and he graciously obliged. Even giving Christine a "Of course, darlin'" when she asked. And instead of me getting all bent out of shape about Dulli making moves on my best girl, I just kept thinking two things: "Good Lord this guy is fucking SMOOTH." and "I wish he called ME darlin'". Well, not really.

We thanked him and he went back in the bus while Xteen and I entered the venue with our jaws still on the floor.

I'll keep the review section short since you are all probably grey-haired already from reading this novel.

The place was pretty empty when we walked in, so we set up camp right at the foot of the stage. Austin, Texas singer/songwriter Jeff Klein was up first and I felt bad as he only played to about 20 people. But he had a remarkable presence and his solo delivery, complemented by various guitar loops and effects, was pretty striking. His Texas drawl was rough around the edges, but perfect for the lovelorn tales he was spinning. He was pretty impressive.

Then, next up was a band from Milan, Italy who absolutely blew me the frig away. They're called Afterhours and man, did they rock. One of the guitar players also played electric violin and the keyboard player busted out a saxophone on occasion. Can't wait to pick up their CD, though I fear that it won't be able to touch their live show. Quite honestly, these guys were one of the best opening acts I ever saw. Is it me, or does the lead singer look a little like Trent Reznor in this pic?

Finally, the Twilight Singers came on. Dulli, in all of his swaggering glory, bellowing rock-infused R&B, was the showman of showmen. A commanding presence on the stage, from the second he stepped out, the audience was his. Flanking him was his amazingly tight band, Dave Ross on guitar (who looked just like Alton Brown with a short blonde mohawk), Scott Ford on bass, Bobby McIntyre (who would give Animal from the Muppet Show a run for his money) on drums, and the lead singer of Afterhours, Manuel, who also doubled as Dulli's keyboard player.

With now four brilliant Twilight Singers discs under his belt ("Twilight", "Blackberry Belle", a cover album "She Loves You" and the recently released "Powder Burns"), Dulli left the Whigs stuff behind and focused on this band's material and that was just fine with me.

Occasionally switching off to piano, Dulli's usual cigarette-ravaged voice was more powerful (and on-key!) than ever. Passionate and aggressive, yet sometimes soft and vulnerable, Dulli spun tales of love and addiction and everything in between. High points were many and neverending, but some of the more notable tunes were "Esta Noche", the Martina Topley-Bird cover "Too Tough To Die", "Martin Eden", "Teenage Wristband", and practically everything played from the excellent "Powder Burns". So, go NOW and check out the amazing Whigs and Twilight Singers!

Only one three-song encore as the setlist here says they should have played "Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair" as the final song, but maybe curfew didn't allow it. Honestly, I could have heard them play for another hour, but I'm not sure Dulli could have held up that long. There are few performers out there that pour themselves into a show. By the end, Dulli was spent, the crowd was energized, and I remembered exactly why I so admire fantastic songwriters.

You know, sometimes my timing absolutely friggin' ROCKS.

I'm a fanboy. I admit it.

- Dim.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Murder By Death at the Middle East Downstairs, May 22

The name sounds scary, doesn't it? Murder. By Death. Redundant. By Redundant. Yeah, I know it's also the name of a movie starring Columbo and his fucked up eyeball. But not everything is as easy to categorize as its name. Take the jellyfish. Sounds like a nice and benign species of sea life. Remember that as you slip into paralysis and plummet into the depths of the sea bed all courtesy of one its nasty bites, Jacques Cousteau.

Murder By Death happens to be a killer band, so to speak, in addition to being a movie with the guy who played the grandfather in Princess Bride to the kid who played Kevin Arnold in the Wonder Years.

Confused? Good. So was I when I went to my local record store (who usually knows their shit) about a year ago to pick up the Murder By Death CD only to find it mistakenly filed away in the Metal/Hardcore section. MBD is about as hardcore as Celine Dion, but what they are, unlike Celine Dion, is a practically uncategorizable band - one that relies on excellent musicianship and songwriting to weave disturbing tales of the murder, the supernatural, and zombies. Oh, and they are not Canadian either.

Hailing from Bloomington, Indiana, these four youngins are musically mature way beyond their years. They carefully craft a sound that is totally unique, yet sprinkles of influences can be heard, especially in their live show. Guitarist and vocalist Adam Turla has perfected his Johnny Cash timber, all while writing murder ballads that would make Nick Cave proud. The band has the subtle bombast of Squirrel Nut Zippers while harkening on the droning, yet awe-inspiring dischord of Godspeed You Black Emperor! and if that ain't enough to check them out, I don't know what else to tell you.

Xteen and I decided to venture into Cambridge to see MBD after she had a nap and I got to see the Red Sox beat up on the Yankees. Going to this show was no slam dunk, as I had called the venue earlier in the afternoon and found out that they would be going on at 10:45. I'm getting too old for this shit, especially on a Monday. But Sleeping Beauty awakened and I was jazzed from a pretty good game and we decided to make the trek into town.

We arrive at the venue about 10 minutes before the band hits the stage (we missed the openers, Metal Hearts and Langhorne Slim, but a buddy of mine raved so much about Langhorne that I bought the CD on a whim...and boy, is it good). Anywho, we find a spot up off the floor (and around a bunch of talkers, natch). The band comes out and my eyes immediately go to cellist (yes, I said cellist) Sarah Balliet. Expressionless and well-dressed, like a porcelain doll, she sits behind her electric cello and drags the bow across the strings and it was "whoa..." from that point on. Far in the back, ultra-tall drummer Alex Schrodt was a dervish behind the kit. Hunched over, he played mostly shuffling beats, yet occasionally threw in such an impressive fill that my jaw dropped. Off to the right was bassist Matt Armstrong, who laid down the important low end, and right in the middle was front man Adam Turla, who was surprisingly captivating without being distracting from the music.

Now, the thing you have to realize about the Middle East Downstairs is that it is probably the absolute WORST sound in the entire Boston area. Makes sense, though. Not a lot of bands come through Cambridge. It's not a big college town.

Anyway, the band was too loud for their mix (meaning the mix should have improved; the band shouldn't have turned down), but Marlee Matlin was behind the soundboard and was too busy flirting with some dumb dude to do anything about it. But when Armstrong's bass buzzed so loud that the floor shook (oh, and he wasn't playing it at the time), I said pretty loudly, "When the fucking bass buzzes so loud that the fucking floor is shaking, you should turn the fucking bass DOWN!" But she didn't hear me. She didn't hear anything. She's Marlee Matlin.

They had a movie screen playing all old silent black and white horror movies behind the band. This couldn't have been a more perfect backdrop for the set and the performance as I was immediately struck at how much noise these four could make and how dense they could sound. This was a good thing.

Their set focused largely on their sophomore effort, Who Will Survive And What Will Be Left Of Them?, a concept album about the Devil who is drinking whiskey in a bar in Mexico when he gets shot in the back during a bar fight. Well, the Devil doesn't like getting shot, especially in the back and double especially not in Mexico, so he goes out and levies his wrath on the town. A truly wonderful and macabre narrative, Turla and the band absolutely nail the mood with shuffling saloon-style tunes punctuated by creepy cello counterpoints. From this disc, the band launched into "Until Morale Improves, The Beatings Will Continue", "A Masters In Reverse Psychology", the spooky "The Desert Is On Fire", the haunting "Three Men Hanging", and the epic "End Of The Line". And for good measure they threw in the most upbeat sounding tune (musically, not lyrically) about zombies I've ever heard, "Killbot2000", which featured Balliet going absolutely apeshit during a cello solo in the middle of the song.

Also receiving a lot of attention was their brand new disc, In Bocca al Lupo, which is out today. A much looser concept than Who Will Survive..., In Bocca al Lupo finds Turla channeling Cash more than ever, yet refining his songwriting skills as the band clicks on all cylinders. For a band that deals with a lot of "noise" in parts, they were remarkably tight as evidenced by the continued macabre tales behind "Boy Decide", "Brother", the chilling "Dynamite Mine", "Sometimes the Line Walks You", and "Steam Rising". Even when the band left the stage for Turla to tackle "Shiola" alone and on an acoustic guitar, the horror vibe was still alive and well.

The mix got a lot better toward the end as the band winded down with an instrumental from their debut Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing disc called "Those Who Left". Again, the band was a tornado of sound, stopping and starting again, with Turla's swirling guitars, augmented by Balliet's cello and the remarkable rhythm section. Pretty sure they played more songs than this, but by then, I was completely delirious with a fucking ear infection that has made me more than just a tad irritable.

And a mere 60 minutes after they went on stage, they disembarked into the night as a stagehand shut off the movie projector. I was left, ever-impressed, with how tight they were, how good a singer and frontman Turla was, how much Baillet's cello added to the vibe, and just how impossible it is to do this band justice in words. To attempt to describe them is criminal. You just need to hear for yourself. So...what are you waiting for? It's not THAT scary...

(note...black and white photos of Adam and Sarah were by poster Frank Stallone on the-amb.com. He did a great job).

- Dim.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Car Repairs, Or How I Pay Dearly For My Automotive Idiocy

The other day, at a red light, my silver 2000 Ford Taurus made a shriek under the hood similar to the one I make when Xteen says "Let's see what's on the Hallmark channel."

However, instead of going into the kitchen and immediately pounding four beers and then sitting in front of the computer while the wife watches "The Day The Gym Teacher Cried", my car decided to continue to make the noise while idling until I decided to take it into The Cash Vacuum shop, also known as my dealership.

Xteen followed me to the joint and as soon as I got out of the car to leave it, a downpour unlike no other seen since Noah levied its wrath on my head while lightning and thunder filled the sky as a I tried to wrestle my metal car key into a metal hole in a metal repair bay door.

I should have taken that as an omen.

I get into work and call the place, since it wasn't open when I dropped the key off. I get Mr. Personality Plus on the phone. His alter-ego is Mr. Conversation Killer.

Me: "Hi, I dropped my car off this morning to have some work done."

Him: "Yeah?"

Me: "I thought you might want to know which car is mine, where I parked it, where the key is, what is wrong, and where I put the lube to make this a little less painful."

Him: (silence)

Despite his reluctance to hear any information that would help him a) do his job and b) charge me an outrageously high price for said job, I divulged all the info anyway and told him I thought the problem was "a belt".

I'm certainly not Mr. Goodwrench at all, but usually when my car does the Hallmark Channel screech, it is usually a "belt" of some kind, or at least that's what all the other con artists tell me is the problem. I usually just hand over my credit card and $100-$200 later, I am back watching ESPN and don't have to worry about a Jaclyn Smith movie for a good long time.

So, I'm sitting here waiting for "the call" and it inevitably comes. I should have known it was the dealership, because instead of ringing, the phone taunted me with a laugh like Renfield from Dracula.

I answer the diabolical call and a man is on the other end, a different man than Mr. Personality Plus. This is Mr. Take a Deep Breath and Maybe It Won't Hurt So Much.

He starts the conversation with "Sir, hi, sir, how are you doing today, sir."

This phrase is the aforementioned "lube". Each "sir" in the sentence is an increment on how much I am going to be taken for. This is not a good opening sentence to hear.

What follows this is the equivilent of getting a prostate exam by a doctor who has had his arm cryogenically frozen and also happens to have fingernails the size of the chick from David Bowie's "China Girl" video. Oh baby, just you shut your mouth indeed.

He then tells me that he has a "list" which seems odd to me because unless it is a one item list that has "belt" written on it, I'm in for a suck-ass day.

I'll save you the grizzly details, but I heard words like "pulleys", "water pump", "new parts", "the best I can do", "prison sex", "financially cripple", "put my kids through college", and "you know jack shit about cars."

Quite honestly, he could have said, "The problem is that the johnson rod is chafing against the philpot gasket causing a rudimentary friction disintegration of the alevium shaft which will ultimately cause you to have to watch the Hallmark Channel indefinitely."

Either way, it results in drool pooling in the corners of my mouth, my eyes glassing over, and me instinctually reaching for my wallet.

The alternative options to getting the damn thing fixed are not good:

Take it to another place for a second opinion.

This isn't optimal because it is SUCH a pain in the ass to be without a car for the day, nevermind an additional day to bring it someplace else where they will undoubtedly find something else wrong with the friggin thing. Plus, the original place will still change a ridiculous "diagnostic fee" even if I don't have them fix the car.

The other option is to learn all about cars and know exactly what needs to be done and, gasp!, do it myself. That's also not optimal because I'm lazy and really don't like Lava soap.

I was going to treat myself to a cool 35th birthday gift, but now, it looks like that gift to myself will appear as "labor" on the receipt.

So, right now, those bastards are laughing their collective asses off at me while replacing my johnson rod or ball bearings, or whatever else is supposedly wrong. Me? I'll just go there after work and fork over the plastic. They'll take their $600 from me with nary a kiss on the cheek or a promise to call in the morning. A heavy price to pay, but let's be real. It beats the hell out of sitting through the Rosie O'Donnell as the Retarded Sister movie.

- Dim.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Another Work Cafeteria First!

My work cafeteria is whacked sometimes.

Today is Cinco de Mayo, as everyone who drinks Corona knows means "fifth of mayonnaise". So, my cafeteria has this whole Mexican theme to it: Decorations, ethnic food, Carlos Santana playing on the radio. You know the drill.

Anyway, I skipped breakfast in the caf because the special was called something like "Paco Gutierrez's favorite omelet". That's as descriptive as it got. As far as I know, Paco Gutierrez could have been a mentally ravaged lunatic who loved his omelets stuffed with dung beetle larvae, mole sauce, and arugula. I'm staying away from the most important meal of the day, thanks very much.

And because I knew they were going to have all of these horrible Mexican dishes, I decided to Target bag it and bring a salad from home with Xteen's awesome honey mustard vinaigrette dressing on the side.

But I felt the need for something more substantive, so I went down and got a soup in the caf...the traditional Mexican "split pea and ham" soup, to be exact. Or, as I like to call it on Cinco de Mayo: "el splitto pea-o y ham-o". Es verdad!

Anywho, I'm digging the soup, because as truly vomitous as it looks (the nature of all split pea soups, not just the Mexican version), it tastes pretty good. I'm tasting the ingredients:
  • Split peas
  • Ham

We're off to a pretty good start. I would hope those two things would be in it, or else I got the gaspacho by mistake.


  • the most minute sliver of carrot peel I have ever seen

Carrots are perfectly acceptable in split pea and ham soup (as are potatoes, which were lacking...apparently, there are no such things as potatoes in Mexico). But what I got to at the bottom of the container was a tad troubling:

  • A leaf of some sort. Not oak, maple, or larch, from what I could tell. Certainly not bay leaf. Almost looked like it came from a celery stalk, but that would be impossible, since one shouldn't put celery in split pea and ham soup. I thought I was hallucinating, until I came to:
  • lima beans. What the fuck?! And...
  • CORN!

Corn?! In split pea and ham soup?! I half expected to get to the bottom and find a nice mushy paste of zucchini and summer squash, just for me.

You might ask yourself, what moron puts lima beans, corn, and flora of undetermined genus in split pea soup? I think I know the answer:

Paco Gutierrez, that's who. Or as I like to call him:

El diablo de la sopa de guisantes.

Feliz navidad,


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