Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ben Folds Live at Beacon Theater 12.14.10

Broadway & 75th was not so lonely Tuesday Night
(Photo by Deena Bahu)

Having been to four previous Folds concerts that were all life changing in their own unique way—I feared losing the legacy of Ben Folds Live in my mind. Understandably so. But, I fought through it and saw Folds at the Beacon Theater, conveniently located less than two blocks from my apartment.

I’m here to say folks, Folds still has it, big time! He’s the consummate pro at delivering an enjoyably unique performance every night, all the while seemingly having a blast while doing it.

I personally think Folds is at his best when armed with only a piano and beer driven, raucous audience. I feared with a five-piece band, all of the shenanigans and improv would be cut for a professional grade, adult rock show. Fortunately, the CATCHY chorus from the opening song throws that notion of boring maturity out the picture window, “I’m a fuckin’ redneck…I like to shoot the shit and do some chillin’ I guess…you fuck with me and I’ll kick your ass.” The song was catchy BEFORE I knew the quote was taken directly off Levi Johnston’s Facebook page or even who exactly Levi Johnston is.

The Breakdown: seven songs from his Lonely Avenue collaboration with author (High Fidelity, Songbook) Nick Hornby (a great album by the by), 6.5 (“Hiro’s Song” was a B-side) from his quintessential solo album Rockin the Suburbs, three Ben Folds Five classics (sorry folks, no “Brick”), two 10 minute improv jams (one revolved around “Free Bird”) and one Ke$ha cover—28 songs of totally joyous Ben Folds elation.

Folds is touring the Lonely Avenue album with an ironically numbered five-piece band (Ben Folds Five…was three). Between that and the majestic scene and landscape at the Beacon Theater, the sound was rich and full as a California Cabernet, though Folds’ charm is more reminiscent of a Carolina porch PBR. The ever upscale Beacon had Beck’s…good enough.

After the Devo prog-rock, poet with a fun name tribute, “Saskia Hamilton” and a rip-roaring version of “Bastard” that finds me always wondering how they’ll recreate that 10-part harmony in the bridge—Folds gave the theater THE moment of silence they craved. This allows the drunks and knee slapping comedians to shout their comments. Naturally, “Rock This Bitch” and “Free Bird” were the two prime choices for this mission.

Folds took it all in for a brief moment, made a funny face, and warned “be careful what you wish for young lady” before launching into a 10-minute version of “Free Bird.” This particular version Ben chose to improv the lyrics about how he took an oath as an artist to play the song when requested, but he didn’t know the words. It then blended itself into a “kill two birds with one stone” version of “Rock This Bitch (the Free Bird version).” Epic.

Fans like me that enjoy just Ben and a piano, were treated to a short four-song solo set. The set ended with “The Last Polka” which when played solo sounds like a show-tune and college fight song played pureed in Bose blender. It’s astounding. Half way through the song, Folds stopped and admitted guiltily that he had a “brain freeze” before picking up where he left off.

Folds looked sort of embarrassed while calling his band back onto the stage. He proceeded to launch into an improv jam around “sorry I forgot the words…” which featured five minutes of piano jam, five minutes of cranking on the toy looking synthesizer next to his piano that sounds a lot like “Sandstorm” on crack, and finally he took over the drum set for another jam pointing his stick at other members of the band to jam with. When they looked semi lost and confused, he goofed through a poor, yet charming, version of “Hiro’s Song” playing drums, singing and laughing. The band and the audience alike were in shock and awe.

It’s as if he said to paying guests of the Beacon “I messed up folks, here’s a gift that will never ever be created again.” Sitting behind Jason Sudekis, it’s impossible not to make the Dana Carvey “Choppin’ Broccoli” train of thought connection to the way Folds makes up songs. Although, I don’t think Carvey would dare attempt the outro to “You to Thank.” (Concert goers note: always see Ben Folds left center so you can watch his ridiculous piano playing)

Acknowledging the loosely unscripted madness Folds stated “…and now for some songs that were rehearsed”, before bringing the crowd to its feet with seven hits that found even elder white women of the Upper West Side “in a loving trance”, making it possible for all Beacon residents to dance.

And they did.

You can’t leave a Ben Folds show anything but giddy. He delivers a little bit of everything. The five piece version of his songs was as rockin’ as I’ve ever seen. The improv was as astoundingly witty. You get a taste of Ben Folds Live. This is as good of a show as you’ll ever see. What more could one want from an artist?

He can fight it all he wants, but he’s still got it.

Levi Johnston’s Blues
Doc Pomus
Sleazy (Ke$ha cover)
You to Thank
Saskia Hamilton
Free Bird (“I don’t know the words to this song improv”)
Rock This Bitch (Free Bird Version)
Still Fighting It
From Above


Picture Window
Practical Amanda
The Last Polka

(band returns)

Sorry I Forgot the Words to Last Polka Jam
Hiro’s Song (Ben on drums and vocals)

(hit parade)

Annie Waits
Zak and Sara
You Don’t Know Me
Rockin’ the Suburbs (You Better Look Out, Because I’m Going to Say Fuck Outro)

Not the Same

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Matisyahu Live at Brooklyn Bowl November 29th

There are a select few artists who fill a category for me. It’s a category that’s hard to characterize. But, if I had to put words to it, I would title it “Artists That Are Better Viewed Live And Only Really Worth Listening To If It’s The Live Album, Rather Than The Studio Albums (That Aren’t Bad), It’s Just Not The Same And Is Really Kind of a Buzzkill Otherwise.”

That’s just not punchy, but I think you know what I mean. All three of those aspects have to be conveyed.

  1. They are a good live band (most likely play their songs totally different live than on the album)
  2. Have a stand out live album
  3. You really can’t even listen to the other albums, because the live album is far superior and anything less seems like a waste of time in comparison

I’m thinking of a few specific examples. You may not agree with all of these, but I think you get the general idea. Nirvana Unplugged in New York, Barenaked Ladies Rock Spectacle, Mxpx Attheshow, and Five Iron Frenzy Proof That the Youth Are Revolting. Two other examples are close, but I’m such a big fan of the artists’ catalogues that they don’t fit all three categories, but are worth mentioning. Ben Folds Ben Folds Live and Neil Young’s Live Rust.

The crowning example (pun intended) of this genre of artist I’m talking about is Matisyahu’s (how the hell do you plural tense Matisyahu?) live album Live at Stubb’s. It’s the cat’s pajamas of live albums. In fact, it’s the only Matisyahu album I own. It’s the only thing he’s ever done that I would ever choose to listen to enough to carry with me (and I still keep Hootie and the Blowfish on file).

That all changed after this show.

First and foremost, I must mention how awesome Brooklyn Bowl is. Clutch sound. It’s very small, yet expansive in layout. The bowling alley is directly parallel and dynamically in view of the stage. There is a restaurant with fantastic food and a wonderful selection of Brooklyn Brewery and Six Point beers. What more could you ask for! I know I will hang out there any chance I get.

It’s not that Matisyahu put on a terrible show. The sound was good. He played a two hour and change set, which is something I enjoy. I love a long set, usually, although this time around I sadly found myself checking my watch. I don’t even own a watch.

It just had such high expectations from the previous shows I went to and the marinated versions of Live at Stubbs firmly graced my taste buds. I wanted to cured, smoked versions of his music and I was served cheese and crackers.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cheese and crackers. Just not when I’m expecting the multi-course meal Matis has always delivered. I can say the word always, because once a band has a SWEET live album, one just assumes they always KILL it live.

I hated to see this notion die.

What never dies is the joy I get from Matisyahu beat boxing. I know I could pay $2 bones and see someone who is an actual professional beat boxer do similar work (if not better), but there is just something about it being Matisyahu doing the beat boxing. And his new material really uses this skill well. Therefore, you get to see him work the mic in this fashion multiple times a set. That is the plus.

On the negative side, it didn’t really seem like he was passionate about his old material. I remember him dancing (in a perplexing, awkward circle formation) around the stage, talking to the audience with ridiculous stream of conscious banter and making cattywampus gestures throughout long jam sessions. His backing band seems to have lost some luster. Back in the day, it seemed like he had multiple percussionists and the music was so real and authentic. Pure. No electric drums or computerized sounds.

This time around, he had a three piece backing band called The Dub Trio that opened the concert with 40 minutes of bland noise. Just as I cleaned my palette with enough Brooklyn Lager to forget how boring they were, they marched back on stage with Matisyahu (as the backing band). Oh dear. I knew from there I was in trouble.

Then the 180 has happened folks. Because of the musicianship of this concert and all the dynamics that are in play including, but not limited to, my preparation for the show—I like a new Matisyahu album. Released in 2009, Light offers a brand of Matisyahu I cannot get from Live at Stubbs.

It’s better on album than live. WHOA!?

Light belts you in the face with an expansive sound. The songs come from a wide range of influence and the structures themselves are complex and ever-changing. Just how I like it. When he played these songs live, he was pumped—sort of. They came off well. It was just the “classics” that seemed like a drag. And that’s too bad. A concert legend was slayed today. But, I won’t let it take away from what I gained out of the experience.

It’s like the Sir Lancelot killing spree scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I feel like the father who watched the bride get murdered before his eyes, but at least he gained a son-in-law. And in this case, that’s not as bad as it sounds.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Due Date

Let’s look at the data. IMDB gives the movie a 7.1. That’s solid. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 38%. That’s crushing and unjustified in my book. The gross so far is $15.4 million. Yikes. It’s bombing people! Why?

This movie did look pretty predictably shitty from the previews. Robert Downey Jr. has always seemed like a tool to me and I really only went because I blindly support anything Zach Galafianakis does. I’m a good guy. My people can always count on me!

But, people, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. It made me laugh…HARD. It’s stupid and insanely predictable, but in the end, the laugh is all that matters. And Due Date delivered. (Wow… nice)

Everyone has that star, show, band, or thing “they discovered” before everyone else. I don’t have many, but without reservation I’ve been on the Galafianakis boat for a long, long time. Most likely, when you boarded (after The Hangover I presume), I was there to give you a life preserver and tour.

You know I’m a long time fan, if I didn’t even have to double-check the spelling of his name to write this piece. Ok, I did, but the song remains the same. How many of you know his middle name is Granddad?

I don’t know how to feel about Zach in movies yet. He notoriously belongs as a stand up comedian, but nobody (except perhaps George Carlin) wants to do that forever—it’s a tough life.

As a long time standup, Zach built a cult audience for experimenting with awkward silences and having EXTREMELY dry comedic timing usually to the tune (oooh) of a piano. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen. It’s why he’s the best. Pick up Live at the Purple Onion if you’ve never seen the man perform outside of the big screen. His brand of humor unfortunately never translated into movies until The Hangover. And now Zach Galafianakis is one of the most in demand movie personalities in the world. Who knew!?

He’s had two movies come out over the last month or so. The updated, yet not as serious One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest indie outfit lovingly titled It’s Kind of a Funny Story. And the latest is a more flamboyant version of his Hangover character working again with genius screenwriter/director Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School, Hangover).

Due Date is your classic mismatched pair goes across the country, everything goes wrong, Planes, Trains and Automobiles story. It’s been done many times before (even by Phillips himself), but this still remains a worthwhile viewing…because of Robert Downey Jr.

Did you read this right? Galafianakis junkie Ryan C. Zerfas claims that Robert Downey Jr., an actor he didn’t even like previously, makes a movie with his all-time favorite comedian, someone he would blindly support through Out Cold (good movie by the way). And Downey is the hero? Yes.

Perhaps it’s my own obsession with Galafianakis, but when I see him in these movies I feel like I’ve seen these jokes before. It’s still very funny, but a funny like when you’ve seen a movie a thousand times. You know what’s coming before it’s said, even if you’ve never seen the movie before. You look forward to it, but it doesn’t strike you—in a laugh out loud funny sort of way—like a joke done for the first time.

Robert Downey Jr. plays a character much like Richard Dreyfus in What About Bob. He has your respect as a classy dignified human being, but you know he’s out of his mind. It’s a good spot to be in as a character. It allows him to bring down the house when he spits on Zach’s dog or when he punches a drug dealer’s kid. Hilarious stuff. He KILLED it in this movie!

I feel this movie for Downey Jr. is much like Bad Santa for Billy Bob Thorton. It puts him on the Zerfas map—in a hurry. Like Billy Bob before Bad Santa I never understood what all the fuss was about. Downey was in movies like Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes, and Tropic Thunder. I just have never understood why he’s so “storied” or why he’s garnered such respect. It all doesn’t matter now, because he kicked the shit out of Due Date and will always be a legend in my mind.

And we all know that’s all that matters.

As I get older, stupid movies make me laugh less and less. When one comes through, it’s a joyous occasion. Due Date was funnier than any of the summer comedies I saw. So, perhaps it’s a renter, but it’s certainly not a clunker.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Eastwood. Hereafter.

This new blog moniker is a feature of all things Zerfas. The tagline itself is a string of one word sentence punches in a stream of consciousness intertwining things that make up Ryan C. Zerfas. One of my many obsessions of this world I live in within myelf—the work of Clint Eastwood. It’s to the point that I feel comfortable defining myself by it. So, I see all of his movies, and will naturally feel the urge to share some thoughts…

I think Gran Torino was the perfect close to Clint Eastwood’s acting career, yet it makes me sad that we’ll most likely (baring a Michael Jordan Bobcats like resurrection) never again see Clint grace the screen. We do have his work as a director and his touch is certainly a heavy one.

Without a doubt, there is a running theme (intentional or not) to Eastwood’s latest movies, and it’s very logical. He’s not going to live and/or be able to make movies forever. He has the option to be incredibly selective. The movies he’s been choosing lately tackle heavy topics with characters that are struggling with said topics of great weight and life circumstance. It’s also fun that he’s only working with the big names and besides Morgan Freeman (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Invictus), unique and unpredictable choices to pair with Eastwood, like Angelina Jolie.

Although, I’d love to see another light and airy cop movie from Clint, I have enjoyed the popularity, dignity and respect this last batch of films has garnered Eastwood. I don’t necessarily need everyone to LOVE everything I love, but the respect and shared enjoyment of films like Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, Mystic River, etc. have brought many of my friends into the Eastwood circle. There’s nothing like a good circle of shared entertainment.

The latest epic endeavor Hereafter finds Eastwood again teaming up with Matt Damon. Can’t lose formula right from the start.

This film uses the parallel story method much like Magnolia or the Chuck Klosterman book Downtown Owl, blending three seemingly unrelated stories together. Because it’s “the movies” one can’t help but know everyone is going to come together in the end somehow. But, the joy in this method is you get multiple perspectives in one story. And each set of characters in this trio did a nice job continuing the story in a compelling nature as Clint weaved it all together.

What I love about Matt Damon is his ability to be a sex symbol, smartest man EVER, James Bond, college wiz kid, but somehow seem so normal. The Ocean’s series really capitalized on this. I can’t help but think about how normal Matt Damon seems in movies, yet he’s obviously a movie star with sex appeal, power, money, fame, etc. In this movie he totally seems like a guy you could run into through the streets of some suburban Ohio town. How does he do that?

I think this brand of Damon is the only thing Leo can’t do. DiCaprio just can’t pull off “normal guy” like he tried to in Revolutionary Road. He just always has class like Jim Helpert in a tux. Leo can’t shed the class, while Damon can shed movie star. I guess that’s why I found The Departed so compelling, but that’s for another day.

Eastwood has this uncanny ability with lighting to make these suburban environments seem so dark and real. His continued use of shadow lighting continues to baffle me… how it engages scenes with his trademark shots and somehow I have yet to get sick of it. It’s almost laughable how he abuses shadow lighting over and over and over again. Like Vince Vaughn stumbling over lines to make his characters seem more off the cuff. With Clint everything is always pieced together in a precise fashion, one can’t help but be engaged.

Even if the movie is mediocre, people stick with it. Like a famous chef slinging cheese and crackers, you’d be entertained throughout the eating experience, even if the substance wasn’t everything you’d really want from that chef. You take what you get and it would still be a cut above anything else out there.

I think Hereafter is a cut above Invictus, Changeling, and Flags of our Fathers. I left Letters From Iwo Jima off the list, because that was a monumental achievement beyond words. Perhaps, also for another time…

Until then, I’ll be looking forward to the next listed (IMDB) project for Eastwood…wait…wait for it…. Leonardo DiCaprio playing J. Edgar Hoover.

Should be EPIC!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Eddie K Live

Ed Kowalczyk (of Live) at Bowery Ballroom, September 30th, 2010

Ed Kowalczyk is a very happy man these days. Once known for selling 20 million albums worldwide and touring with the band Live for the better part of two decades, he has hit the road again. This time around he takes the stage with his brother (Adam Kowalchzyk) and a few friends from Austin, TX. That’s how he presented the band to an average sized crowd at Bowery Ballroom.

Kowalczyk never broke stride and seemed genuinely happy to be able to perform music. It only took a few minutes for the first reference to water or wine, which is how I deduct Ed is in a good place. The reference came from his new solo album appropriately titled Alive.

The happy Live songs all feature this water theme. If you listen to Mental Jewelry, The Distance to Here and the first half of Throwing Copper, you’ve experienced this transcendent smile upon the world Ed is having. Early into the set Ed concurred “if you’ve been following my lyrics over the years…you’ll realize I make a lot of references to water...I really like water. I wish we could be doing this at the beach right now.”

Speaking of bee-ach, there was also talk of his new song “Drink (Everlasting Love)” being co-written by Daughtry. Ed joked about neither guy having hair, but both can really sing. Well isn’t that special? That combination seems like a bad sketch mocking Duplicity to me, yet a fitting working dual. The song was decent. I think my favorite new tune was “Zion”, because it featured a “White Discussion” like scream throughout.

Looking at the nation wide setlists, it seems that “Overcome” is only featured in NYC dates. I think that’s fitting, but sad, due to the songs unintended tie with 9-11. I’m not sure how I feel about that. On one hand I love the idea of a regional tie to a particular song, but I feel Live has many better ballads such as “Dance With You”, which I cannot believe they still play. I was much more excited about that, but I would still rather hear a classic like “Turn My Head”, rather then the surprising tributary song.

The set played like a plywood version of Live karaoke. A layer of new songs, followed by a layer of Live classics, repeat. And the band tried to keep up with Kowalchzyk and really “jam” some of the Live hits, but it just isn’t the same. Bowery could have just as easily set up a lyric projector, hit the play button, and let the Live legend belt his tunes—like a rolling thunder chasing the wind.

With that said, there is nothing like hearing Ed Kowalchzyk sing. I contest he’s one of the best vocalists and passionate performers the world will ever see. Live may never resolve their “contract dispute” or whatever allegations broke up the great band, but I’d always find the cash to see any of my favorite singers in a Sing Sing Karaoke. Wouldn’t you?


  1. Just in Time
  2. The Great Beyond
  3. The Distance
  4. All Over You
  5. Selling the Drama
  6. Zion
  7. Drive
  8. Dolphin’s Cry
  9. Soul Whispers
  10. Drink (Everlasting Love)
  11. Stand
  12. Heaven
  13. I Alone
  14. Overcome
  15. ----------
  16. Fire on the Mountain
  17. Beauty of Grey
  18. Grace
  19. Lightning Crashes
  20. Dance With You