Thursday, July 11, 2013

Live Review: She & Him - July 6th and July 8th, 2013 - Central Park SummerStage

I spy with both of my bleary eyes…summer. I see lovers. I see buzzing bees. I see Zooey Deschanel jumping up and down with a tambourine!? This makes me giddy to no end! Wake up the overworked and underpaid, we like the same things and I like your smile: Crushes and cold drinks abound!?

I reckon it can’t be beat. And, I’m not talking with the perverted nature of The Man Show when they would have women with big bouncy boobs jumping on trampolines, though, obviously, Zooey is very beautiful. I’m speaking of a good, clean, giddy-fun rock show at one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

·       Did I mention the giddiness of Zooey Deschanel jumping around stage with a tambourine?
·       They played 25 & 28 songs respectively. In my mind, that’s giving it all you have. They played all my favorites!
·       The band put a strict cease and desist (not really, but lots of posts and security verbal reminders) on cameras and phones during the show. A stand I’d like to see taken more often and more hardcore in the future, if, somehow possible.
·       Anytime M.Ward would sing, the crowd would go berserk! His guitar playing was buzz-worthy. M.Ward has my full attention as a potential sleeper guitar God.
·       Vol 3 is a masterpiece album. The (new) material not only holds up, but it advances the sonic fortitude of the band. Reminds me of The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, but with female vocals. As I wrote on my Twitter, “Sunny with waves of darkness blended with effervescent romantism.”
·       Fantastic stage set up with a myraid of diverse lighting sets.
·       No gimmicks: How awesome would it be to hear M.Ward sing, “Who’s that girl?” Or, I think Zooey should wear a M.Ward shirt and M.Ward should wear a New Girl shirt. Though, I understand that they are more “fashionable” than that.
·       Lots of well-done, re-worked, unexpected covers.
·       That fun-go-lucky music just flourishes in the beautiful setting of Central Park. It’s lushness frolics through the parks nooks and crannies and into your brain, fresh and park air clean.

·       Zooey’s stage banter was sheepish. A bad sheepish. I was looking forward to this part of the show, and I just walked away not gushing all over her as my dreams had me. Perhaps my expectations were to high. She would ask mundane questions to the audience, as a time waster, but it wasn’t sincere or funny. Did anyone else think this?
·       Saturday’s show was TOO HOT. Not the band’s fault, but stuff like that does affect the overall mood.
·       Zooey didn’t pick me out of the audience and marry me on stage. )-:

She & Him just played two nights of glorious smile-glazed harmonies at Central Park’s Summerstage. Now, it wasn’t all greetings of giggles and blowing bubbles in the gentle warm sun. Saturday (the 6th) was a dense, compacted battle against the sun and its army of humidity, whereas Monday’s show (the 8th) was forced to grin and bear through a 15, or so, minute rain delay. The rain was hard and cold, but not as much of a nuisance as one might think, coming and going quickly and unabashed. The degree to which the audience was soaked, only seemed to amp up anticipation for the upcoming ZooeyFest.

Make no mistake about the duo’s name: It’s Zooey’s show. Though, at times, I would watch M.Ward with such a mesmerizing trance, it would seem like the band I was seeing was Him & She. This was quite unexpected, as I have followed the band from the beginning (though never live…), but my love of Zooey blossomed exponentially with New Girl, though again I would argue the best parts of that show are the Hims: Nick Miller and Schmidt. With that said, Zooey is the epicenter of fun, cute, quirky and all-world talent (actress, songwriter, performer, what can’t she do? What a life!?) allowing these amazing entities to orbit around her, with her own brand of grace.

It’s been well documented that M.Ward is more than fine taking the back seat to Zooey’s show (he does so with such a professional luster I might add…), as the whole thing started with a series of demos Zooey sent him, which eventually became Vol. 1. M.Ward a troubadour, a journeyman, a sleeper guitar God in his own right, makes out pretty well in the deal. He gets to work with someone that really has a gift for crafting top-notch melodies and lyrics and Ward can turn them into harmonic perfection. I wish I made this up, but the best thing I’ve ever read about Ward is so true it’s comically ridiculous: M.Ward can make a song from today sound like it was recorded in the 50’s and a song from the 50’s sound like it was written yesterday. The guy has a gift for tunings and knob turnings that can make anything retro, but at the same time, find that Rick Rubin digging into the personality of the musician, and make it come to life raw and urgent. That’s what he does with Zooey. With  She and Him, he’s brought the Zooeyness to the forefront of the music, along with lending an illustrious creditability to the end product that channels his idols: The Beach Boys and the Beatles, with the chemical artistry of a batch of Walter White crystal meth. 99% vs. 96%. Chuuch.

Speaking of The Beach Boys, She & Him’s new album appropriately titled Vol 3 I’m lovingly titling Pet Sounds with a Pussy. You may not like that word. You may think it’s unfair to compare any album to Pet Sounds. But, if you listen to “I’ve Got Your Number, Son” and “Never Wanted Your Love,” I really don’t see what other conclusion you can come to. M.Ward, mad scientist, uber-genius, really cooked one up here. Accept the reference and the alliteration!? It’s a lovely and updated sound, and with cute female vocals. What’s this world coming to, right? It’s so effervescent and fresh smelling park grass. Even the album cover has two beautiful faces with florescent bubbles flying around it. The art is right on. So, put your headphones on, wait for a gust of wind, and get the kite blazing! That, or find yourself a windy road and a convertible and let your hair fly on a lush coastal beach. These are the two places this album takes me. Either way, the Wilson brothers would be proud!

The first thing I wonder about a She & Him show, is how are they going to replicate all the layering of her vocals. Many times their songs break into multiple, sometimes as many as five, vocal layers. I call it a “brain full of cycling Zooey’s.” Ah, it’s a wonderful thing!? The more Zooey’s the better, am-I-right? For the tour, they have anywhere from just She & Him (two people if you’re counting) all the way to about a dozen people, on an occasional string boosted song. Just awesome. The “brain full of cycling Zooey’s is simply two backup singers (little Zooey’s?), who might I add are snapping and swaying in unison the entire show. It’s amazing to me how those little details make something so special. Just ask anyone that was in a Marching Band. The difference is in the details. Anyway, if you’re keeping score, the means the TOURING version of the band is: She & Him & Him & Him & Him & Him & Him & Her & Her (little Zooey’s).  

I was definitely impressed at Zooey’s vocal prowess. On the new album, Vol 3, her voice has a deep richness to it I haven’t heard before. It looks like when she sings the songs with this robust flavor live, she needs her full elongated straight up posture to hammer it out, but it sounds amazing. Like a singing Zooey oak tree. I would say about 96% of the show, she sounds elite and about four percent of the time she sounds like someone who’s really good at karaoke missing a note or two. As in, a couple of the songs like “Stars Fell on Alabama” (Frank Sinatra) and even though I love it, a couple of times I thought it sounded flat, “Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me” (Mel Carter). On the closing anthem of the show, M.Ward gently strummed a rockin’ “I Put a Spell on You” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins/CCR) to which Zooey left the mic stand, getting as close to the audience as possible and seemingly tried to blow everyone away with her voice. Literally. Physically. Using the wind of her voice like a powerful tornado. Show’s over, folks, you’ve been blown OUT of the park!!!? It was powerful, comical and quite impressive all at the same time. It reminded me of Tenacious D’s “Master Exploder.” It was THAT over the top and awe thumping. Everyone not bowled over, was at the very least knocked back to their heels and impressed. 

This was the last straw for me to make THIS comparison. She & Him, and Zooey, remind me a great deal of Jack Black and Tenacious D. Albeit more snapping your fingers, clean and poppy, lots of dick jokes to literally ZERO dick jokes… There are some crisp similarities. 1) We’re talking about an actress making music, but I and most I know, prefer the music 2) An A-list comrade to smooth out the edges, give illuminating credibility, and generally take things to the next level. For The D, it’s Dave Grohl, who plays most electric guitars, drums, THE DEVIL, lends his Studio 606, etc, etc. For She & Him, it’s M.Ward. 3) “Master Exploder” 4) They’ve both recorded three albums (we’ll say The D’s HBO show and S & H’s Christmas Album cancel each other out) 5) The D’s obsession with ROCKING correlates directly with She & Him’s songcraft to come up with a retro-style hook. 

Saturday's show was a heat stroke waiting to happen, with the pressure cooker of being a Saturday night in NYC. Saturday nights during the summer of NYC, just have a feel. Like something amazing is supposed to happen. It usually does, but there is still that kind of date-y like pressure. Monday's show, wasn't as hot, sold out, compact or pressurized. It was loose. Zooey's family was in attendance. It just seemed like everyone had a little bit of a better time. It made me very glad I decided to go to BOTH shows. If I only saw the Saturday show, my Midwest mindset perhaps would have left me feeling the band was conceited. Not in a terrible way, but Saturday's event wasn't the most gracious display. It's NYC. It was hot. They did their job, but there wasn't that feeling that this was THE MOST FUN THING EVER for them to do. I always love that feeling. Monday's show was at least a little closer to that. 

I did dig Zooey's Tweet. Perhaps it was PR, but it still made me feel good, and because of PR, and the diminishing returns of expectations, this is a real, real nice gesture...
“Never Wanted Your Love,” reminds me directly of the buzzing bees feeling of Pet Sounds “I’m Waiting for the Day.” Zooey’s lyrics are so cutting and urgent, “take a win, take a fall/I never wanted your love/but I needed it all/I’m tired of being clever/everyone’s clever these days.” That’s just flat out brilliant, and with that rolling drum beat and a rich “I could sing this song in the shower for hours voice,” it’s hard not to fall. Ok, make that a COLD SHOWER. All head over heels and drooling aside, Zooey is a lyrical and melodic force, with an absurd amount of sing-able, maudlin, love struck, love pained, well rounded, outright top-shelf tunes for your listening, discernable ears. I want to buy a tambourine and dance around my room with this shit on full blast. Her songs are as good, if not better than any of my favorite female artists: Norah, Feist, Carina Round, etc, etc. She has to be there, and with Vol 3 and a salient tour—the force is set free.

So cut the chit-chat haters, summer bubbles and bee stings are here. I’ve been stung and I cherish the wound. So, let yourself fall in love and have this retro-ly delicious soundtrack to do so. Buzz. Buzz. Swoon.

I Was Made for You
I’ve Got Your Number, Son
Over it and Over it Again
Take it Back
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me (Mel Carter cover)
Turn to White
I Thought I Saw Your Face Today
Brand New Shoes (Sat only)
You Really Got a Hold on Me (The Miracles cover)
Stars Fell on Alabama (Frank Sinatra cover)
Unchained Melody (Alex North cover)
Me and You
Ridin’ in My Car (NRBQ cover)
Don’t Look Back
Rave On! (Sonny West cover)
Magic Trick (M.Ward song)
This is Not a Test
Never Wanted Your Love
I Could Have Been Your Girl (Sat only)
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?
In the Sun

Sunday Girl (Blondie cover)
Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry cover) (Sat only)
Sweet Darlin’

I Put a Spell on You (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins cover) 

Author's Note: I DID adhere to the no pictures or phone 99% of the time. The pictures you see, were taken during the double encore of the Saturday show, when a bunch of people left. No, I'm not proud, but it DOES add to this blog post. So, I did it for YOU readers. I did it for YOU. (-: 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Live Review: Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine - Bowery Ballroom - July 3rd, 2013

Stolen Clip Art.
From the opening chords of “Too Drunk to Fuck” by the Dead Kennedys, smoothly transitioning into the ever catchy chorus from Nine Inch Nails, “I want to fuck you like an animal” in the most relaxed lounge way possible, and even for good measure, Khia’s “My Neck, My Back (lick my pussy and my crack),” Richard Cheese was the consummate professional. A lounge-y, well dressed, vulgar as fuck, lounging against the machine…professional.

He also donned the teacher cap, and taught the relatively middle aged, sold out, audience at Bowery Ballroom that the power of pussy comes in three’s—leading a chant of Prince’s “Pussy Control,” holding the mic out to, yes, “pussy-pussy-pussycontrooooooooool.” That’s a new jam on his latest release, The Royal Baby Album.
The day before Independence Day should ALWAYS be riddled with satire, laughs, too much booze, and the ultimate party host. And, really, what’s more American than all of that?

It seems like every single time Richard Cheese has been in town; I haven’t been able to go. This show seems like the kind of commodity that happens all the time in NYC, but not as often in other parts of the world. It’s why I love the ENDLESS options of living in NYC, but somehow, I haven’t been able to put it together until THIS TOUR. After eight long years, I finally got to see the Richard Cheese and the Lounge Against the Machine stage show!? Sardonic satire at it’s finest. Oh, Lordy what a treat!!

I remember back in dorm life (sigh…) this was some of the funniest shit ever. And, to me, a middle-aged white guy singing the most vulgar and hardcore pop songs from all eras will never cease to lose its amusement, or run its course. The one thing I didn’t think about, and I put this in my head by reading a few reviews prior to the show, will it over saturate itself during the show?

I typically enjoy a Richard Cheese laugh a couple tunes at a time, laugh, laugh some more, and then mosey my way onto something else. It’s always a treat to play for friends that haven’t heard it at the end of a party or something. I haven’t really made it a habit to listen to an ENTIRE Richard Cheese album in one sitting. Some of the reviews, albeit I randomly was reading them off Ticketmaster, fancied the idea that these cheesy lounge songs get old after two hours. Bah humbug!?

I didn’t really have that problem.

Musically, the show carries itself well enough, but what makes the show special is the ability Cheese has to ham it up with the audience. The Richard Cheese show is pretty much a comedy show. Obviously, it’s going to be hilarious, and that’s the point, but one way to transcend the songs and keep everything seamless, is an element of working a room and showmanship you really see out of standup comedians. This is the KEY element!

He had a wireless microphone and would walk around the room at his heart’s desire (he even went all the way up in the balcony) and mock people, banter, make jokes, do stupid shit, and for lack of a fancier team…entertain the masses. At one point, he even had everyone go on Twitter, and the facilitated a Tweeting contest!? Best Tweet including Richard Cheese would win a pretty ambitious music package from the band, including all their albums and so on and so forth. 
There were about 100 chairs (up front) at Bowery Ballroom, and sitting in the chairs, more or less meant you were in the show. Most of the front row was heckled on end, by name, the entire show. This particular show, some chick in the front row named Debbie was berated endlessly to the amusement of…well…seemingly everybody. Even Debbie. Her reward? She got to be the “Baby Got Back” dancer. To answer your question…yes.
The shtick is pretty predictable, yet impossible not to like. There were four jacket changes, from the neat and tidy tux, to the martini jacket, to the tiger stripped jacket and eventually back to the regular tux. Jazz hands. Self-depreciating humor by the truckload. Lots of talk about drinking. Enough cock jokes to capsize an Apatow or Todd Phillips screenplay. Yet, everything keeps moving right along, as Cheese continued to crank out the "hits." He pretty much played everything I wanted to hear, and made me laugh as much as I wanted to laugh..if that makes sense. For Bowery $35 dollars is an expensive show, but I can’t imagine getting more for my money anywhere else. It’s just an lovely evening of vulgar lounge music!? Like Sinatra on molly! I mean, Sinatra was probably on his generation's molly, but you get the point. 

It's all as delicious as a big block of Dick Cheese. 

Zerfas' Top 5 Richard Cheese Cuts:
5.     Gimme That Nutt – Easy-E (New addition. Holy shit I was on the floor)

(87.7% accuracy. Didn’t write it down, I was too drunk (to setlist?), and having too much fun. Order is askew, but for the most part this is how it went down. I may have missed a song or two. I don’t remember “Rape Me” or “Billy Jean” which are Cheese staples. Didn’t mean they didn’t happen!? I’m 97% sure they didn’t though.)

Too Drunk to Fuck (Dead Kennedys)
Closer (Nine Inch Nails)
Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 (Pink Floyd)
We Are Young (Fun.)
Brass Monkey (Beastie Boys)
Beastie Boys Medley (mostly turned into him saying Beastie Boys titles to Lounge Music. Still Funny.)
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Theme (audience request)
Tik Tok (Ke$ha)
Three’s a Company Theme
Buddy Holly (Weezer)
Gin and Juice (Snoop Dogg)
Like a G6 (Far East Movement)
Ice Ice Baby (Vanilla Ice)
Chop Suey (Sytem of the Down)
Sponge Bob Square Pants Theme
Gimme That Nutt (Easy-E)
You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC)
Hash Pipe (Weezer)
Pussy Control (Prince)
Down With the Sickness (Disturbed)
Baby Got Back (Sir Mix-a-Lot)
Fight for your Right (Beastie Boys)
My Neck, My Back (Khia)
Creep (Radiohead)