Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ted Nugent Live at the Iridium Jazz Club

(image taken from without permission)

I guess it’s fair to say I’m a bit of a concert purist. You may have taken that away from my last Minus the Bear piece. Venue, sound, audience, setlist and the whole experience are all factors to me. They make a magnificent blend of rock excellence.

That’s why I don’t like certain venues. I usually don’t like festivals, because you don’t get the full audience of one band as well as the buzzkill of a shorter set. I will sometimes avoid seeing bands if I believe they’re on the decline as it might lower my perception and fanship of their previous music. When I saw Tom Petty, he was too high to play the harmonica. It took me about five years to get over it enough to listen to him again. Snap perceptions are at a premium when the curtain goes up.

Ted Nugent is a dish best served outdoors. I normally don’t think outdoor concerts have the best sound, but Nugent rolls to town with enough amps and sound equipment to kill a Yak in Japan. Believe you me, he’ll be pumped when happens! The Nuge needs a big stage, a loud drunken audience of people that have been coming to his shows since the 70’s (and still think it’s the 70’s mind you) and the sweet scent of the great outdoors in the summertime. The man cannot be quarantined into a little indoor venue with puny little amplifiers and table seating.

Or can he? How about a jazz club in Manhattan? Can you just plug the outlandish Ted Nugent in with a legendary group of blues/jazz/R&B band as part of a tribute spectacle for Les Paul and expect everything to turn out normal? This ought to be interesting…

I want to unroll this out like a summertime concert blanket in three sections.

Pros: I’ve never paid more than 20 bucks to see Ted. In fact, I’ve seen him for free, seven bucks, 15 bucks and 19 or so bucks. The ticket at the Iridium Jazz Club in Times Square was more than all of that. What you’re looking for here is a unique experience. That was delivered.

One of my favorite things the Foo Fighters ever recorded was witnessed at the 2004 Grammy’s. They came out and played “Times Like These” with a jazz pianist. It was awesome, because they were able to string together both the acoustic and rock versions of the song into one budding explosion of rock awesomeness…PLUS…a jazz piano. See the video here! (not the best sound quality)

Ted was able to do similar here. I was worried about him playing his songs with a band that he’s never played with before (The Les Paul Trio). He has such a bond with his band and everything they (the “Motor City Funk Brothers”) do is a structure leading to the next jam. You really feel like they get better every night they are on tour as they continue to add to the recipe. Believe you me, the Nuge likes to BBQ.

Seeing “Stranglehold” with a jazz piano was really something to cherish. The Les Paul Trio is a pretty talented band and even though they didn’t look totally comfortable playing with Uncle Ted, they got through it. It’s not like he made them play “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” requiring those old dudes to chime in with backing vocals to “she looks so sweet when she gobbles my meat.”

The other cool thing is you could tell Ted was trying to be affable. He only really played three original Ted songs and the rest were basic jams that any blues player could easily plug into, however, not many can do it on the level of the Les Paul Trio. All of that marinated with that certain Detroit soul Ted brings to every performance really makes for something special.

Seeing Ted play blues numbers like “Honky Tonk”, “Red House” and “Johnny B. Goode" was unique and special to me. I just love the concept of jamming when someone points at another person to solo. Isn’t that what music is supposed to be about? Raw, unbridled enthusiasm and joy? Ted sets the pace in those qualities. It means a lot to me to see a musician (seemingly) enjoy what they are doing. It makes me enjoy more what I’m seeing.

See what I’m talking about in this ("Johnny B. Goode") video from the show. The sound quality is primo! (My favorite part is minutes 2 to 3)

Cons: It was a little awkward. The Les Paul Trio didn’t seem to know totally what to do with Ted’s banter and stage presence (even if he watered it down due to time and place). The venue was very small which you think would be an advantage in sound quality. It wasn’t. Ted delivered some blue ribbon Grade A quality guitar playing, but it just didn’t sound like Ted without all the amplifiers. You get to know how good someone is when they are playing in such a small setting and you certainly felt Ted had the “stuff”, but it all just felt a bit awkward for lack of a better word.

Also, when you play a jazz club like Iridium, one usually ends up playing two sets. It’s all about the green, and the consequence was instead of getting two hours of loud and proud American rock, we were treated to a set of just over an hour. It’s fine. It’s just less for more and that’s never an equation I’m comfortable to boast about.

Quick Tangent: Never go to the Iridium Jazz club. It fucking sucks!!! It took them over two hours to get the first crowd out and the new crowd in. Everyone was pretty hostile overall—true NYC experience I guess. Everything is so crowded and uncomfortable. Obviously, you’re looking at overpriced drinks and food, but that’s a given. I’ll throw it in there anyway for SPITE. It all just left a horrible taste in my mouth. I just cannot fathom mainly…how it took so long to get everyone in and out. It had a complete aura of chaos and disorganization. Avoid at all costs!

It’s funny, there was this guy that kept throwing ice cubes and acting like an imbecile the entire show. He would get up to talk to his friend who was sitting right in front of me. All the while, he was swinging his arms and elbows like he was “Skankin’ By Numbers” in the classic Ska era. For a moment I thought I saw black and white tile on the floors. He almost elbowed me a couple of times and I looked at the waitress with discontent to have her come up to me and apologize saying, “there’s nothing I can do, he’s the owner.” Well, that explains it all doesn’t it.

Question: Ted is playing three shows in NJ (fairly easy to get to, hour on a train, we take beer, it will rock!) this summer with his original lead singer Derek St. Holmes. Is anyone in!?!?!?!

Star Spangled Banner
Route 66
Johnny B. Goode
Red House
Honky Tonk
Cat Scratch Fever

Hungover Again

The bite size review: It’s 3/4th’s as good as the first. Only because the first…was first. If the Hangover II was first, the Hangover would be 3/4th’s as good. It’s the EXACT same movie. It’s just that little bit you lose when cloning. Nothing new to gain, but the sequel didn’t lose anything either. The Hangover II is still very much worth your time and theater money. You will laugh from the gut and isn’t that all that really matters?

Further thoughts: There is a tipping point to passion. When it’s “almost” (I use this sarcastically) no longer fun, because you’re so nervous, so into it and in such a state of anticipatory bliss it rakes your nervous system over the coals. You’re almost irritated until you experience the anguish and nervousness you’ve been craving. The event.

That’s where I’ve been all week about The Hangover II.

I know what you’re thinking, “Zerf, it’s not that serious,” and my answer would be sarcastically, “nothing is, kid…nothing is,” but just as I refer to everything I write here as “drivel,” it’s all serious shit to me. I was really nervous to watch this movie, because I didn’t want Zach Galifiankis and Ed Helms to come up short and be lame. We all saw what happened to Vincent Chase when he bombed on the big time stage.

Which brings us back to the beginning…

Summer of 2009, the Hangover graced us with an unexpected summer blockbuster. I don’t think anyone would have imagined the success it would eventually garner. At the time, Bradley Cooper was the big star and he was B list at best. Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis were pretty much unknowns. At the very least, they weren’t box office names you could bank on. They took a simple frat boy concept, going to Vegas and having…shit…go…down, but they had the weapon of dynamic, separating it from the pack (not the wolfpack).

Galifiankis shined as an extremely sands of Sahara dry, dufus. Ed Helms adds his zany spin on someone trying to be normal and perhaps slightly uptight, when in fact they are O.C.D. Bradley Cooper works as the glue—with sex appeal and candor—holding it all together with his take on ladies man with a soft heart and enough sensibility to keep everyone else in check.

The original had a production budget of around $35 million dollars and Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis took in a mere $300,000 a piece. Chump change in Hollywood. The movie went on to be the best selling rated-R comedy in history grossing $277,000+ worldwide, placing it 49th overall domestically, putting it just behind Meet the Fockers and just above Shrek.

It’s safe to say it worked.

This time around, the budget ballooned to $80 million and the “Vegas trio” were dished their sheckles as well, to the tune of $5 million a piece with a 4% cut of the profits. Needless to say, they will start getting residual checks dating prior to half way through Memorial Day weekend. But, I was never worried about the money.

I want these guys to get paid, yes, but I was more concerned with the product. Now that Galafiankis surprised the world and became a world-wide star and Helms has begun to solidify some steam of his own, would the Hangover lose its luster? It’s obviously no longer an underdog story for the Vegas trio. They have expectations and expectations eat lesser entities ALIVE.

I watched the Hangover II gripping my chair the entire time, very similar to how I watched No Country for Old Men. The second offering has a slightly more serious tone as it’s set mostly in Bangkok, which even on screen keeps one a little uneasy. I can’t imagine what it’s like in real life.

What worried me the most was the bigger budget being sunk into big time action sequences, like the one shown by Ed Helms on Jimmy Fallon’s show. The scene has Helms trying to get a little monkey back inside a vehicle whizzing in and out of traffic. Things like that would take the viewer away from what should be the bread and butter of this movie—comedic timing between three extremely funny guys. It does seem a bit out of context, except for the fact that it’s a freekin’ MONKEY. Ha. The monkey takes the 4th lead in this movie very nicely and overall one isn’t taken back by over-effort and unnecessary production measures.

The bottom line of it all is, Todd Phillips wrote a way to properly use the stand up genius of Zach Galifianakis. I also think it’s astounding and downright unfair that some people STILL don’t realize that ZG is a long time standup comedian. If you think of the entire history of stand up comedians from the greats to up-and-comers, there aren’t many examples of them being used effectively on the big screen (Steve Martin and Robin Williams are the only ones I can think of) as if their own stand up material seeped through the screen and into your heart via osmosis. Even if they have, the blend of comedic, critical and box-office success of The Hangover has never been matched. It sets the standard of how to use a standup comedian properly in a movie. Bravo Todd Phillips, others that have had ZG all these years must be jealous.

Most of the jokes Galifianakis delivers in the Hangover are formulamatic rewrites of his own standup he’s been doing for over a decade. It just doesn’t get old. Like any good stand up routine you can listen to over and over, watching the Hangover movies is like a series of taking those jokes and placing them in scenes. It makes Zach’s jokes come to life. Much of my enjoyment from these Hangover flicks derives from the fact that other people now get to enjoy the dry wit of saying the absolute worst thing possible at the least appropriate times. There is an art to it and I’m really glad it wasn’t lost in budgets, remakes and people’s sheer hatred of sequels.

Galifianakis has a couple of projects in the works with none other than Will Ferrell. That’s enough to make my head explode! I can hardly take it!

So let the critics say what they will…just shut your brain off for a bit and watch some shit that will make you laugh. It’s really as simple as that. Why do people make going to movies so complicated?

Friday, May 20, 2011

I HEART the Kinetic Positionability of Minus the Bear

I was walking to Music Hall of Williamsburg on an overcast, yet summery May day (not a surrender). I walked past a bunch of dudes in flannel shirts and other causal pageantries just outside and smoking. They were inconspicuous enough to blend in, but large enough that I had to walk around them.

Yes, it’s Williamsburg and there are a lot of hipsters and funny looking dudes that look like Terry Gilliam (Monty Python artist) plucked them out of a grunge era picture from Seattle. I saw one particular gentleman wearing a vintage Nirvana Nevermind hat. Perhaps, there is a store that sells those still somewhere online…but I doubt that’s where it came from. You’d have to have saved that hat, because it was in pristine condition. The thought behind that boggles me. I always wear my band/concertshit right away i.e. concert t’s, hats, bracelets, etc.

The POINT IS…I later realized the dudes I walked by were Minus the Bear. The band I was about to see were just chillin’, taking in some tasty beverages at the bar next door and conglomerating out in the street like a college frat party. True.

I stood in line to get tickets to the sold out show (I didn’t know if I wanted to go or not, so I did my walk up routine, which by the fact that I’m writing this right now was successful) and pondered how cool that is. I was in line with a bunch of other kids waiting for the show and the band everyone was about to see was 20 feet away. I wonder how many people knew?

This isn’t Mustard Plug people. It’s not any of my friends’ bands. It’s Minus the fucking Bear!? I thought about how I adored the kinetic positionability this band possesses.

I think they have it perfect. Well, perfect for what I, Ryan C. Zerfas, would want to be as a band.

First and foremost, they have a killer catalogue. They are four albums into their illustrious career, which puts them one album short of my milestone of “five albums that make a band legit.” Almost there, boys! Keep up the good work. Let’s take a look at what they’ve given us so far.

Minus the Bear Catalogue:

· Highly Refined Pirates (2002) – This is guitarist Dave Knudsen’s opus. He has the guitar tapping method method down to a science (he didn’t invent it, but he ABUSES it, boy) as well as having a plethora of effect pedals. This album is a masterpiece of up-tempo, throw the chicken on the grill, rock excellence.

· Minos El Oso (2005) – The Spanish album. Although I don’t regard this as “good” as the debut, it builds upon the sound and really mixes in more electronics and big rock choruses.

· Planet of Ice (2007) – The name creates an image of darkness and cold that the music sonically can not get away from. Despite the band name, prepare to be eaten by a baby snowy Polar Bear of rock!

· Omni (2010) – Versatility. This proves MTB can do anything they want as if it were auditioning for Paul Schafer’s old cover band show. No covers were recorded throughout the production of this album, except the colorful album cover.

That’s something I’ve always adored from bands. The ability to make albums of sonic diversification that stands alone as albums place-mark a style and time, as well as, still carrying the flag of the band.

The other thing every band needs is an X-factor. Something original that band can stand on, but isn’t necessarily known for. To me, for Minus the Bear, that’s their guitarist Dave Knudsen. I’ve never heard anyone bring up his guitar playing in a casual conversation, but they should. He really makes the band come alive on stage as well, because he’s always thrashing or tap dancing seamlessly on his guitar pedals, and we’ve already mentioned his mastery of guitar “tapping”. You really wonder how the guy is producing THOSE guitar sounds, but when you watch him, it’s just magical. More people should be talking about this.

I love the idea of having a guy like that, playing in a highly unique fashion. I remember watching in amazement during “Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister!’ as he seemingly had his right hand all the way up with his left hand on the guitar neck. In that song the guitar line just rolls out like a red carpet, although for me, it takes me on a journey like the Rainbow Road level in Mario Kart. I could even fall of the “cliff” per say, and just be spinning into darkness with inner jubilance.

Lastly, but not leastly, the fans. MTB has built a legion of partying concert-goers that are well versed in the catalogue, rowdy, and ready to rock! It’s very important. At both shows I’ve been to, the fans represent a key ingredient. It’s not that the music isn’t good or that there’s nothing else to entertain you, but the fans come through with fist-pumping energy in surplus. That’s something that you can’t always count on.

I know what you’re thinking. Every band has fans, Ryan. Yes, but what I’m saying here is the MTB nation has struck that proper medium. They don’t come off as pompous assholes like the Dave Matthews heads I associate with “fanship downfall”, but they bring the energy to the top degree—with love and friendship.

Like a hot girlfriend bringing you soup when you’re sick. It’s just what you needed, without going over the top. If your girlfriend isn’t hot, it’s still good soup, but you know what you really need to take it over the edge. Dave Matthews Band or Phish “heads” try to be Scarlett Johansson, naked with soup and cookies, but the arrogance leads to a prophetic spill that’s cringe worthy and ever burned into your rhetna’s. You’ll never get the soup and Scarlett Johansson will never be hot in your eyes again. You’re out of whammy’s, return all your “big bucks.”

Yes, MTB has the perfect amount of fanship at a rock show. People jump, but not into you. They wave their hands to the songs, but always fail to punch you in the face. They drink beer and get rowdy, but they never spill on you. If they puff…they pass. (ßI can’t actually back this up)

Let’s review the qualities we’ve talked about. The correct mediums in 1) catalogue 2) defining, but not redefining X-factor 3) fanship.

Everyone knows my favorite band is the Foo Fighters. I wouldn’t want to be them, because they are too big. Too much comes with being too big.

I like the idea of being able to play Bowery Ballroom, Webster, and Music Hall of Williamsburg instead of Madison Square Garden. They allow for big shows, lights, fans, etc without it having to be a mid-city spectacle. On the other end, shows at smaller places while cool, one knows the band cannot live properly filling Mercury Lounge. I wouldn’t want to have to get another job. I would want to music to sustain me, but with enough freedom that I could have a beer at a local establishment without getting MOBBED, yet I’d want some people to know who I was, because I AM awesome.

Unfortunately, bands are defined by their venues. If you play shows at Terminal 5 in the city, I will not see you. I like the mid-range venues and the bands that choose to and have the sack to fill them up. Even better, is a band that could be above mid-range, but is able to step down and fill it up righteously, brother.

Minus the Bear is a band everyone should see. They just opened a new leg of tours and wherever you are, you should make sure you get out and support this level of rock awesomeness.

Just don’t bring too many people with you, or their fifth album will be toured in stadiums, and I’ll have to find another band with the proper kinetic positionability to adore.

Use this knowledge with care; people…superlatives for kinetic positionability don’t come cheap.

Setlist for May 6th at Music Hall of Williamsburg
Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister!
Into the Mirror
Throwin’ Shapes
Ice Monster
Summer Angel
This Ain’t a Surfing Movie
White Mystery
Spritz!! Spritz!!
My Time
Hold Me Down
Pachuca Sunrise

Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse