Björk: Live! Tonight! Sold Out!

NB: above pic is not from the Feb. 3 2012 performance in Queens, NYC. But it is still very representative of the Biophilia show.

I know nothing about fashion. But hey, I think I have some baseline ability to appreciate art in varied forms, so during Summer 2011 I went with my lady friend (minimal cajolery required, believe it or not) to check out the Alexander McQueen exhibit at The Met. This was a pretty rewarding experience despite waiting in line for approximately five (yep) hours. One personally unforgettable moment: Björk’s "Frosti" was the soundtrack to a later section. It had been a while since I had listened to her, and yet I was instantly switched on like a Cylon. But more importantly: what eerie foreshadowing.

Fast forward to January and a friend of mine on Google+ pointed out that Björk would be playing some very special dates in not just NYC, but Queens. Actually, not just Queens, a science museum therein (with all due respect, it has a deep history). For those of you who don’t know, Queens is a strange place. It is one of the most diverse parts of the United States (aside: I didn’t know what to make of Jackson Heights when I first moved here, but I have come to greatly appreciate it), yet commonly derided by the mostly white NYC hipster (read: fuckwit) class. Brooklyn it ain’t. So, to recap: Björk, live, in Queens, science center. Sure, let’s do this.

A word on Björk’s latest, Biophilia: challenging. There are moments of it that I genuinely enjoy and appreciate, but I wasn’t coming back for repeated listens like Post or Vespertine. I wasn’t utterly losing myself in it like previous works. But then this thing happened; she performed on Colbert. Consider it the opposite of Lana Del Ray on SNL in every possible way. Biophilia was starting to make sense to me, finally. Or more controversially, maybe Biophilia as a recorded album is a failure in that it doesn’t capture just how powerful its songs are. Or maybe it was intended for something else…

As I remarked to some random guy I was chatting with as we waited to enter NYHS’s Main Hall, I’ve never been to a performance where the opening act was a science exhibit. For about 90 minutes before doors to the hall opened, we were free to check out the museum and its many interactive pieces. Space, physics, the body: such a strange prelude…but not. After all, Biophilia has lyrics about DNA and plate tectonics.

So here we were in the Main Hall. It’s small and it’s blue. It’s mellow and it’s welcoming. The stage was in the center of the room. Interesting because I was worried while waiting for the show to begin. I was between the percussionist’s kit and the keyboardist/nerd/programmer station. Crap? Ultimately, not in the least. While the aforementioned pair and the harpist (on the far side of the stage from me) were stationary, Björk and the choir moved all about during the performance. Nobody really had a premium location (actually, I did in the end, but more on that later).

It really wasn’t long before this whole Biophilia thing started making sense on multiple levels. Sonically, the recorded album simply does not capture the grandeur of the songs. Live, the choir is huge. The writing is extremely parsimonious and uses a lot of space, but live it isn’t wanting. I found myself lost in it just like the albums of yesteryear. What makes it even that much more different are the lyrics. Consider this section one of my favorite older tunes, “Possibly Maybe”:

Electric shocks?…I love them…With you dozen a day…But after a while I wonder…Where’s that love you promised me?…Where is it?

These lyrics are brimming with sensuality. I’m not sure I see that in Biophilia. Or, more precisely, I’m not sure that I saw that in Biophilia, until now. Live, these songs really blossomed. While Colbert joked (hilariously) about “ruining” art with science, the truth of the matter is that these songs are just as much paeans to science as they are metaphors for all of the sensuality, agony and joy typical of Bjork. The intimacy of the venue intensified this greatly. Björk herself was, as to be expected, commanding of the space—evocative, moody, whimsical all at once. The choir had a charmingly awkward and loose choreography (at times they huddled with hoods up, other times they sat, and they rocked out during the heavy dancier moments) and the instrumentalists were simply stellar.

So what about the set itself? I would guess it was about 70% Biophilia. I don’t know her complete catalog, so a few songs I did not recognize. But from the classics, an incomparable treat: “Pagan Poetry”. Earlier I said that the crowd got equal shares of Björk time. However, I was the clear winner tonight, because she basically sang 2:10-2:45 from a distance of approximately 10’ (perhaps less) from me. I realize the section that follows is what gives a lot of listeners goose bumps, but the 2:10 mark is the epitome of soul.

All in all, this was an unforgettable performance that transcended what we probably all think of when we think of a concert. I saw Björk probably about five years ago now at a larger venue. Despite the fact that that show consisted primarily of her classics, tonight was infinitely richer. Just like her best music, it annihilated the boundaries of what I thought was previously possible. Björk in a large venue? “Sex without touching”.

Btw., if you want to research all of the craziness that went into this production, Google “Andy Cavatorta”.

Raymond Cruz on Breaking Bad’s Tuco Salamanca


Q: How did you find out Tuco was going to die?

A: I asked them to kill me. Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to coming back and doing the part. [Laughs]. It’s really difficult to pull off. They were like, “We want you to come back and do eight more episodes.” And I said, “No. I’ll do one more and that’s it. You guys have to kill me.” They’re like, “We never heard of an actor that wanted to die.” And I’m like, “You don’t understand. This part’s really hard.”

Social Media and Metal

Advertisement*: If you aren’t interested in heavy metal, this post will probably bore you.

Over at Artisan Norway, Jens Fredrik Ryland has been musing on social media lately. There isn’t much to disagree with in his post; it’s pretty rational and straight forward. I think the punchline, essentially, is:

Social Media is really all about branding and marketing. And for bands like ICS Vortex or Borknagar it’s a brilliant opportunity to take a bigger part of how the band is presented, to form the image and to communicate directly with the audience. I know some people are sceptics, but what is it you really want to achieve as a band? When you release an album your goal should be to play concerts and with that meet the audience. And Social Media platforms allows us to interact with the audience we can’t reach in concert.

Platforms like Twitter rank very high in ease-of-use. 140 characters is limiting (call it a McConversation), sure, but I can remember corresponding with bands I liked via hand-written letters. Thinking back to those days, that was a lot of energy to expend. Nobody had a lightweight micro-blogging platform to compare it with, but the investment was still substantial. Let’s say you wanted to correspond with just ten fans a day; I’m sure most sane people would choose Twitter and Facebook as their preferred medium over snail mail. 

However, I think especially in a genre like heavy metal, social media brings with it certain artistic compromises. In the end, technology will prevail; that is simply how it goes. Reactionary luddites are wasting their time. But let me try and explain this compromise in a somewhat roundabout way.

Everybody knows Opeth these days, but if you discovered them early enough, this is the extent to what you knew about the guys behind the music (note that I think this image is from a more recent re-release of the album; it came out originally in 1995):

In the late 1990s I spent a fair amount of time wondering about this picture. Who the hell were these guys? This isn’t trivial: the mystique of the actual musicians themselves added to the atmosphere of the album. (Side note, I love buying albums on MP3, but boy do I miss holding the artwork in my hands.) Opeth’s Orchid changed me; it opened my eyes to things I didn’t think were possible in metal. I know a lot of people had this experience with Blackwater Park, and I’m not interested in that discussion here, but for me I don’t just recall the music; I recall the image. More precisely: I recall the silhouette of one.

Fast forward to the present day, and Opeth is in NYC with Katatonia for two shows at Webster Hall. Katatonia is a very important band to me, as well. Just this year I traveled from NYC to London to see their 20th anniversary show, where they played 2001’s Last Fair Deal Gone Down in its entirety. So Katatonia finishes their set, and the set-change for Opeth is underway. Opeth’s backdrop is a larger-than-life portrait of the cover to their latest, Heritage:

I don’t have to point it out, do I? What a difference 15 years makes. From mere silhouettes on the back to their faces on the front; it’s quite a contrast. And let me be clear on this: I’m not a reactionary, and I don’t expect a band to put out the same album for the entirety of its career. In fact, bands that can evolve and continue to release good material are the salt of the earth. You will note again that I flew to London to see Katatonia; by 2001 they were not even really a metal band anymore. Artists have this right to change, and the fans have the right to stop listening when they please. But back to the other night, here I was at the set-change staring up at this picture. A picture that, while quite strange in its own right, is devoid of the band’s earlier magical mystique. I ended up leaving Webster Hall before they went on.

Ultimately, this is much like what I see as one of the downsides to bands using social media: the loss of the mysteries behind the art. No, I’m not a teenager anymore and I understand that these are people too, but I’d prefer not to have to reckon with Ihsahn’s breakfast. To bring it back to Jens’ earlier point, the branding and marketing can, in my view, reach a saturation point. A point that is detrimental to an artistic aura.

Last year, my girlfriend and I went to the Twin Peaks Festival in Washington state. There’s a guy who runs a definitive site dedicated to the show yet religiously does not attend the festival. Apparently this is due to the fact that some of the actors regularly appear at the festival, and he doesn’t want to have to face them as real people. I’m deeply sympathetic to not wanting to peer behind this curtain as well. I worry that social media doesn’t just allow you to peer, either; instead, it tears the curtain down, lights it on fire, and everybody dances around it in the nude. Sure, I know, just don’t follow those accounts, then. It’s a fair objection, but again, I’m not interested in being a reactionary. I’m just trying to point out a problem that I see. I’ll live with it.

This probably won’t resonate with some. It’s fine with me if you listen to Jay-Z. But Jay-Z is sugar water. He said it himself: “I’m not a business man; I’m a business, man”. That line is as clever as it is true. I recently chatted with someone I met who works in social media advertising. I asked her about some accounts she manages, and soft drinks came up. I’m sure there are plenty of metal musicians out there who think of themselves as businesses as well; I’m not an idealist. But extreme music attracts an inordinately high percentage of people who care deeply about the artistry first and foremost. And quite often, it’s a very dramatic and painfully self-serious art (we make peace with this and love it all the same). But I’m not sure there is a hashtag to represent that.


*pun intended


Thaaaaaank yooooouuuu! <3

@ Cathedralavenue: You’re right. Fu Hu pics are on the way!

(Reblogged from giantpandaphotos)

This is the one of the most amazing bass drum heads I’ve ever seen.


July 4 weekend 2011

I’m looking forward to this. Tatoo #5 is going to be laid out. I think I’m going to head over to True Blue for this one. Queens, NYC.

(Source: mala-educacion)

(Reblogged from loquaciopod)

In response to my last post…

OK, I can deal with that.

GoT. Sigh.

Season 1 will soon be over. What then?

Tree of Life

One needn’t read the Book of Job or Heidegger or St. Thomas Aquinas or Thomas à Kempis to “get” The Tree of Life—movies can and should be taken on their own terms, and this one is a singular, immersive, and fully gratifying aesthetic experience for anyone open to it. But there is no doubt that Malick’s movie engages, explicitly and directly, with philosophical and theological questions raised by these sources, and that the rich intellectual tradition on which he draws for this film merits some consideration.

The above is taken from Chris Wisniewski’s review at Reverse Shot. I think it’s a pretty necessary starting point to wrestle with Malick and Tree of Life. One need not be intimately knowledgeable of Heidegger, but some, indeed, “consideration” is unavoidable and advisable. For my part, it’s been many years since reading him and I cannot with a clear conscience claim nuanced or accurate recollection (assuming I understood a lick in the first place). What I do know is that Heidegger is interested in the, for him, central question of Being, about this larger thing that the history of Western thought forgot and yet we singularly can ask.

Even this very surface level of understanding is useful, I think, in pondering Tree of Life. What to make, after all, of the space imagery, of the dinosaurs (yes, dinosaurs), of the deep sea and volcanoes, of the microbes? What might be the most frustrating aspect of this movie for the casual viewer is perhaps that which has the most profound force: the juxtaposition of so many every day things against this such greater and impersonal thing. Jack’s Mom will point to the sky and say “God lives there,” but is that any more a footnote than the sound a playing card makes in the spoke of a bike? And even though Tree of Life makes some nods to Tarkovsky (Jessica Chastain floating recalls Solaris, I believe), I’m unsure Malick desires faith.

But what does Malick want? Again, I believe it is to show us experiences against a monumental backdrop of space and time we cannot grasp (“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?”). And what is so beautiful is the relate-ability of these experiences. They appear very stray and random yet certainly have an arch—which ends in reconciliation (easily confused in this case with salvation). Herein for me lies Malick’s brilliance: the ability to show a collection of experiences, yet not lead us around by the nose in any traditional manner of storytelling. These scenes—these memories—insert themselves seemingly at will: a particularly violent and tense dinner dustup; the transgression of breaking windows in the neighborhood; that boy with the disfigurement; the mystery of your parents’ room.

This is a movie about boyhood. It’s a movie about our relationship to our fathers. It’s a movie about our fathers. It’s about them not getting what they wanted (in this case, a career as a successful musician), wanting us to get what we want, and us not getting it either (Jack as an adult is something of a one-note of emptiness despite what appears to be a successful career in architecture). And to be sure the grief in knowing that we may depart life early and not even get a chance. And yet still: what significance does it have in relation to Being, to the whole, to all of it? Any?

As one would expect, it’s stunning to see and hear Tree of Life. There are moments that can only be described as mesmerizing, aesthetic splendor. My only major qualm is over the dinosaur animation. I genuinely felt embarrassed during the scene. It looked horrible; I’m actually shocked it made it in. But all told, it’s an incredible film. From a narrative standpoint it’s less accessible than The New World, but even more pointed in its thematic explorations.