Monday, September 24, 2012

The Lightning & The Pouring Rain Can't Stop The Boss On His Birthday

Not even bad weather could stop Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band from taking the stage on the eve of his 63rd birthday. Shortly before the show began this past Saturday, the public address system at MetLife Stadium came to life, and an announcement advised everyone to move inside due to severe thunderstorms in the area. After two hours of huddling together inside ramps and concession areas, fans were allowed back into the stadium. Bruce & the band took the stage about 10:30pm, as he joked “I think I just invited 50,000 people to my birthday party,” before launching into a rousing “Out in the Streets.” The three and a half hour show that followed (his third & final concert in New Jersey on this leg of the "Wrecking Ball" tour) can only be called epic.

Springsteen’s energetic live performances are always part concert, part physical & emotional workout and part spiritual revival. The show moved from the straight ahead rock & roll power of songs like “Badlands” to the moving, elegiac “My City of Ruins,” originally penned in the aftermath of 9/11. There were a few stories & quieter moments, including some beautiful words about ghosts & departed souls, as Bruce asked the crowd to reflect not only on departed E Street Members Clarence Clemons & Danny Federici, but those we've lost in our own lives, and to remember that their spirits are still with us. Material from Bruce’s latest album, Wrecking Ball was mixed with some excellent covers, including the very appropriate  “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” and a generous selection of E Street classics: “The Ties That Bind,” “Working On The Highway,” “Glory Days” and many more. Special guest Gary US Bonds joined the band and performed “Jole Blon” and “This Little Girl,” from his 1981 album Dedication, which was produced by Springsteen & Little Steven Van Zandt.

Just before midnight, Bruce launched into “Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart” which was followed by the crowd singing “Happy Birthday,” to the delighted Springsteen, who shouted back “Let me hear you!”  The guys then tore through a soulful version of ”In The Midnight Hour,” which kicked off the show's second half, which was even more amazing than the first. As usual, the whole band sounded fantastic; Max Weinberg's drum attack & Nils Lofgren’s searing guitar work were outstanding, and a particular highlight. Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew, did an admirable job playing his late uncle’s memorable solos, especially on “Jungleland” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Springsteen’s high energy was contagious, charging up both the band & the fans throughout the show, as he danced, leapt & ran across the stage, braving the rain that continued to fall on & off throughout the evening.

The Wrecking Ball material sounded wonderful live (especially fantastic versions of “Rocky Ground” and “Shackled & Drawn”) and as usual, Bruce threw in a few surprises, including “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” and “Meeting Across The River.” During the encore, Bruce’s Mom and some other family members brought out a cake for the rocker. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” again as Bruce handed out pieces of cake to some lucky fans in the front row. The Boss’s Mom even danced & sang backup on the final song “Twist & Shout.” As the show ended around 2am, a tired but very satisfied group of fans filed for the exits, having seen yet another classic Springsteen show. I've seen Bruce several times, and he never disappoints, but I have to say that this was one of his best live performances. The man & his music never fail to entertain, enthrall & inspire me. And he can still rock like nobody's business. Here's a link to the performance of "Badlands" from 9-22-12 : Here's the set list for the show:

1. Out in the Street

2. The Ties That Bind

3. Cynthia
4. Badlands

5. Who'll Stop the Rain
6. Cover Me

7. Downbound Train
8. We Take Care of Our Own

9. Wrecking Ball

10. Death to My Hometown

11. My City of Ruins

12. It's Hard To Be A Saint in the City
13. Jole Blon (With Gary US Bonds)

14. This Little Girl (With Gary US Bonds)
15. Pay Me My Money Down
16. Janey Don't You Lose Heart
17. In the Midnight Hour
18. Into The Fire
19. Because The Night

20. She's The One

21. Working on the Highway

22. Shackled and Drawn

23. Waiting on a Sunny Day
24. Meeting Across The River
25. Jungleland

26. Thunder Road

27. Rocky Ground

28. Born To Run

29. Glory Days

30. Seven Nights to Rock
31. Dancing in the Dark
32. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
33. Twist and Shout

Next time: We begin a month long series of Halloween recommendations as we check into Horror Hotel (1960)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Everybody's Talkin' About Harry Nilsson

Who is Harry Nilsson? You probably know some of the songs: “One,” made famous by Three Dog Night; “Without You,” the heart-wrenching ballad later covered by Mariah Carey; “Everybody’s Talkin,” the theme to the movie Midnight Cowboy; "Jump Into The Fire," which was also recorded by Warren Zevon, or even "Best Friend" from the television series The Courtship of Eddie's Father. He hung out (and worked with) The Beatles, The Monkees and many others. It’s an often told tale in the music business: struggling singer-songwriter makes it big, has great success, but eventually spirals into a self-destructive tailspin, abusing alcohol & drugs. The artist later rises out of that dark place, but dies too early. In some ways, that template fits what occurred with Nilsson. But that’s only part of the story: the fascinating 2010 documentary Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?) gives us a well-rounded picture of the man, his music, and his all too brief life.

Nilsson came to prominence in the 60s as a singer-songwriter, and his first real success came after The Monkees recorded his song “Cuddly Toy.” As he started recording a series of albums (including Pandemonium Shadow Show, Harry & Nilsson Schmilsson) with songs featuring witty & incisive lyrics, hummable melodies and beautiful production, fellow artists like The Beatles took notice. In fact, when asked in a late 60s interview who their favorite American group or artist was, John & Paul both responded “Nilsson.” That mutual respect (Nilsson was a huge Beatles fan and covered several of their songs) grew into a strong friendship with the Fab Four, especially John & Ringo, which is discussed in the film. Interviews with family members, as well as other famous friends like Yoko Ono, Micky Dolenz, Eric Idle, Randy Newman and others sketch a thorough, loving, but honest & realistic portrait of Nilsson.

Producer Richard Perry, who worked with Nilsson on several of his most successful records, talks about his great talent, his perfectionism & his complicated personality. One of the best stories Perry tells is how the hit song “Coconut,” was recorded using different voices for the various characters. Nilsson could often be his own worst enemy, and sometimes sabotaged his own success. But he also did things that later became trends in the business. Well before rock stars sang pop standards on a regular basis, Nilsson recorded an entire album of them entitled A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night (1973). He also released a well-regarded album of compositions by fellow singer-songwriter Randy Newman, Nilsson Sings Newman.

Another interesting point made in the film is that Nilsson never toured or performed live concerts during his most successful years, but still managed to have best selling albums & hit singles. He even recorded a BBC “live” concert special that had no real audience! The movie also highlights some of the other projects Nilsson worked on, including the acclaimed 1971 animated film The Point, featuring a story & songs by Nilsson including “Me & My Arrow,” the critically lambasted and little seen 1974 rock musical Son of Dracula (which featured Ringo) and his work on the songs for the Robert Altman film Popeye (1980), which is discussed by Robin Williams, one of the stars of that film. 

Also covered are the darker periods of Nilsson’s life, when drinking & drug use took its toll on him, professionally & personally. His partying took on legendary proportions, including his part in John Lennon’s famous “Lost Weekend” in LA. The interviewees don’t flinch in their honesty about this aspect of his life, but through it all their love & respect for the man still comes through. While this period was perhaps his most self-destructive phase, Nilsson managed to get healthy and enjoyed renewed happiness with third wife Una and their children. After Lennon’s death in 1980, Nilsson spent the later part of his life advocating gun control, and was very active in lobbying for better handgun laws, even appearing at Beatlefest conventions to raise money for the Coaliton to Stop Gun Violence. He started recording & performing again and began working on some new projects. Sadly, Harry died of heart failure in January 1994.

The film (written & directed by John Scheinfeld) is a comprehensive portrait of this complex, talented man. One of the observations made by Yoko is that Harry's younger years echoed Lennon’s in many ways, and this informed the way both men viewed the world, and how they lived. Though the portions of the film covering Nilsson’s later life are sketchier, there are many wonderful performance clips & in-studio footage from almost every phase of his career. The stories and music alone make the film worth seeingThe film is available on DVD and for digital download & viewing. The DVD features extended interviews and additional performance footage. If you are a fan of his music or the songs & artists of the 60s & 70s, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?) is well worth your time.

Here's a link to the trailer for the film: and
and performances of "Everybody's Talkin" and "Gotta Get Up"

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" is a World Worth Visiting

Writer-Director Wes Anderson is one of our most creative & dynamic filmmakers. His movies can be beautiful & offbeat, funny & heartbreaking, with idiosyncratic characters & unique settings. His latest effort, Moonrise Kingdom, is one of his best. The story is set in 1965. On a small island off the New England coast, orphan Sam Shakusy is attending “Khaki Scout” camp and Suzy Bishop lives there with her parents and her younger brothers. The two kids fall in love; they decide to run away together and find a place of their own; that decision affects everyone on the island as various characters search for the children, including Scoutmaster Ward (Ed Norton, in a fine comic performance), police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents, well played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Special kudos to the amazing young actors who play Sam & Suzy, Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward; they’re both wonderful, and have fantastic chemistry.

As the kids go off on their adventure, we get to visit with the usual (or is that unusual?) gallery of Anderson characters; Norton’s by the book Scoutmaster, Willis’s low key cop; Murray & McDormand, who are both attorneys, and define everything in legal terms, and even a narrator, played by Bob Balaban, who interacts with the characters in the story. There are some wonderful moments (Sam first falls for Suzy when she’s playing an animal in a performance of Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten) and the kids bring along books & a portable record player on their journey; Suzy reads aloud for the pair, and they listen to music & dance on the beach. Like Martin Scorsese, Anderson (along with music supervisor Randall Poster) is a master at selecting music that perfectly fits the mood of a scene. The well-written, original screenplay is by Anderson & Roman Coppola (Francis Ford’s son), who also collaborated on The Darjeeling Limited (2007). The marvelous production design is by Adam Stockhuasen, and the excellent cinematography is by Robert D. Yeoman.

Brief descriptions like that can’t really give you an idea of the wonderful characters, quirky situations & amazing look of this wonderful film. Any commonplace synopsis would ruin the fun, and the enjoyment of discovering this excellent story for yourself.  Like all of Anderson's movies, the visual style draws you in; it's as if the setting is another character in the story. Anderson’s movies tend to take place in a universe of their own, from the school in Rushmore (1998) and the family home in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) to the underwater world of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and even the outdoor home of Fantastic Mr. Fox in the 2009 animated tale. This film may be Anderson’s most fully realized world to date, with beautiful production design, and a great visual look for the characters (including fabulous costume design by Kasia Walicka-Maimone) & locations, right down to the covers of the (fictional) books Suzy brings with her, and the drawings that Sam does of his true love.

I admit that Anderson’s stories can be an acquired taste; in fact, it took me until The Royal Tenenbaums (his third film), to fully embrace his style. Tenenbaums has become a personal favorite of mine, and I highly recommend that film as a starting point for getting into & appreciating Anderson’s world. In a way, I'd compare his films to the fiction of John Irving, author of The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire. Both artists have their own storytelling style, and introduce us to characters & stories that are unusual, and yet have a lot of feelings & emotions in common with our own. Sam & Suzy (like many of Anderson's other characters in this film, and his others) are fully realized people, who aren't different or quirky just for the story's sake; this is just how they are, and Anderson celebrates that fact, along with their atypical worldview. Moonrise Kingdom is unlike any other movie you’ll see this year. Highly recommended if you’re looking for something different, or are already an Anderson fan. The film is currently finishing it’s run in theaters, and will be released on video on October 16.

Here's a link to the trailer for the film:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

An End of Summer Playlist

Here's a little playlist for the "unofficial" end of summer...Happy Labor Day Weekend!

1. The Summer Place by Fountains of Wayne from Sky Full of Holes
2. A Summer Song by Chad & Jeremy from The Very Best of Chad & Jeremy
3. The Boys of Summer by Don Henley from Building The Perfect Beast
4. Let Him Run Wild by The Beach Boys from Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)
5. Soundtrack of My Summer by Mike Viola from Electro de Perfecto
6. Summer in the City by The Lovin' Spoonful from Hums of The Lovin' Spoonful
7. Summer by War from Grooves & Messages: The Greatest Hits of War
8. Beach Baby by First Class from The First Class
9. All Summer Long by Kid Rock from Rock N' Roll Jesus
10. Summer's Gone by The Kinks from Word of Mouth
11. Come Monday by Jimmy Buffett from Songs You Know By Heart: Jimmy Buffett's Greatest Hits
12. 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) by The Hollies from Cover Me: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen
13. Summertime by Billy Stewart from One More Time: The Chess Years
14. Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran from Greatest Hits
15. Night Moves by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band from Night Moves
16. Summer Nights by John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John from Grease
17. Hot Fun In The Summertime by Sly & The Family Stone from The Essential Sly & The Family Stone
18. Summer of '69 by Bryan Adams from Reckless
19. The End of The Summer by Dar Williams from End of The Summer
20. Summer is Over by Dusty Springfield from A Girl Called Dusty

Bonus Track: The Other Side of Summer by Elvis Costello from Mighty Like a Rose