Monthly Archives: March 2009

Stand Up Wit… Paul Nardizzi

 

I see that you've got the pulled and the jerk chicken - I'd like mine fudgepacked into a mallard.

I see that you've got the pulled and the jerk chicken - I'd like mine fudgepacked into a mallard.

Paul Nardizzi has a Boston accent thicker than stew, and combined with his world-weary delivery he just drips sarcasm. A staple of the New England comedy scene, Nardizzi has also written a few humor books including 602 Reasons to Be Pissed Off and 602 Reasons to Be Ticked Off.  If you’re familiar with those, you’ll recognize that the quick quips and brief bits approximate the pace of his live performances, most recently captured on his second CD, Turducken.

Very rarely is there a set-up over a sentence long – Nardizzi drops a quick line and then just pounds it with several punch lines stacked up one after another. Not every line works, but he’s got more punch lines per premise than most other comics. Combine the cadence of a Henny Youngman with the attitude of Larry Reeb, another comic who balances self-deprecation with a piercing intolerance of other people’s faults. In other words, we’re all idiots.

Like his first CD, Turducken is a mix of routines, although this time they were taken from different shows (sound quality is noticeably different on some tracks). Some of the material is repeated between the two albums, but modified with enough changes to warrant having both. While both use observational humor as launching pads, Turducken is probably the more offensive of the two for the sensitive listener. It contains more gay and racial humor than the first, yet his riff on gay marriage is a fresh angle and hilariously funny.

Most of his material just mines the familiar, like sports, marriage and kids, strange food, traffic and jobs, so the audience is on board immediately. Who hasn’t followed Mapquest into a cow pasture miles from the intended target, or wondered if explosive diarrhea and impotence wasn’t quite the trade-off you wanted when you used that anti-baldness cream? And if you don’t laugh at a joke, give him ten seconds…because another one is coming.

Both CDs from Nardizzi feature strange titles and related but disturbing artwork that does make sense once you’ve heard the albums…although the Turducken image might haunt me for a bit. But I doubt Paul is targeting the display at Wal-Mart as his brilliant marketing plan, anyway.

Paul has a live DVD, two CDs and copies of his books available at his website.

You can also buy Sucking A Cow’s Udder During a Solar Eclipse and Turducken at CD Baby.

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Under The Radar: Sloan

Really…it’s ludicrous to consider that a band like Sloan can still be under anybody’s radar, but the complete lack of success here in America is absolutely mind-boggling. Like fellow Canadians The Odds, Sloan features well-constructed songs, lots of hooks, great vocals and a string of albums with songs that jump out of the speakers. But it’s as if we erected a sonic fence along the Canadian border…what little does get through fizzles quickly, at least in the mass media mindset, and it’s not as if Canada wants to get all pushy about it. Maybe they like keeping these bands to themselves, but there are some hardcore fans down here who can’t fly to Winnipeg or Vancouver or Toronto for live shows.

Hey Canada! We took Howie Mandel off your hands, how about a little help down here?  

Parallel, perpendicular, who cares! Just PLAY IT...

Parallel, perpendicular, who cares! Just PLAY IT...

Sloan:  Parallel Play

I’m out of superlatives for these guys – “Canada’s Beatles” should have been sufficient – but here’s yet another stunner from four guys that undeservedly float under the radar here in the United States. Four singers (and more impressively, four songwriters) somehow finding enough space to satisfy their own creative urges. Yet even if working independently, when together to perform the songs live, it’s as if it was a total team effort all along. Guess that’s the best definition of band that I’ve heard in a while.

Song-wise, they’re all over the map, from the chunking Stooges guitar of “Emergency 911” to the Beach Boyshooks of “Witch’s Wand” to the Dylan-esque “Down In The Basement” (oh, those clever Canadians!). With kudos to Patrick Pentland‘s Oasis-sounding “Believe In Me”, I think the overall strength this time around is the pure pop knack of Jay Ferguson. “If I Could Change Your Mind”, “Cheap Champagne” and Witch’s Wand” are the probably three of the four best songs on the album.

Maybe the smorgasbord of Never Hear The End Of It kicked them into a higher gear, because the confidence, energy and assurance that radiates from these songs is something that’s been missing for a while. And maybe, finally, that gets them noticed in The Land Of The Free And The Home Of Bad Radio.

 –> Click here for a live “Witches Wand” video

 

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Blast From The Past: Rod Stewart

Not Forever Young

Not Forever Young

 

When I realized that The Faces finally really broke up, I was devastated. The Kinks and The Faces were (are) my favorite bands, and during Ray Davies’ Preservation rock opera era in the early 1970s, the boozy raucous songs from Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Ronnie Lane clearly took the lead. Even more amazing was that every year, The Faces would release and album and so would Rod Stewart, and in those days the material on both was largely interchangeable. But soon enough, the lure of solo fame and the huge dollars waiting in the American market led Rod in a different direction. Where before he might have been saving his better songs for the solo projects, it was all a moot point now. First Lane quit in disgust after watching the band he started being referred to as Rod’s backup group once too often, then Wood succumbed to the umpteenth invitation to join the Rolling Stones, and it all ended with a whimper, not a bang. It just…dissolved. Ironically, although Stewart had the most critical success, Wood, Lane and Ian McLagan all released solo albums that were probably better records overall; had they been able to continue to pool that talent one can only imagine the heights they might have reached.

Then one night in February 1993, Stewart performed a set recorded for MTV Unplugged and brought along his partner in crime, Ronnie Wood. The show and the subsequent album were a hit (hitting #2 on Billboard and spawning four singles) and seemed to re-energize the perception of Stewart as a serious singer, songwriter and interpreter. Unplugged and Seated drew heavily on his early years (a logical choice when Woody was sharing the stage) and although lesser solo hits like “Hot Legs” and “Tonight’s The Night” were included, the arrangements were stripped down and improved. Stewart had always chosen cover material well, and the performances of Van Morrison‘s “Have I Told You Lately” and Tom Waits‘ “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda)” are especially strong here. In the coming years Stewart would write less and less and record sets of rock covers (When We Were The New Boys and Still The Same) as well as a career-changing move with the Great American Songbook series.

I guess technically I could have also listed this under the New Album header, since it is a newly released CD/DVD combination, and the audio version of the show does include two songs (“Gasoline Alley” and “Forever Young”) not included in the original album release. The audio sounds great, of course – a warm but full core band of multiple guitars, mandolins, banjos and keyboards propelled by solid rhythm from drummer David Palmer and bass player Carmine Rojas. Several songs benefit from the addition of three soulful background singers and/or a small orchestra, the presence of whom keep Stewart comically pinned to a three foot radius on stage. There are times when he looks like he’s about to launch out of his chair, while the more pensive songs allowed him to simply sit and get caught up in the moment. The space limitation brought the focus squarely upon his personality and his voice instead of the flamboyance that he had gotten used to as an arena rock act, and it must have felt like the old days in more ways than one.

I’m thrilled to finally have a DVD version of this brilliant performance to enjoy again and again, the warmth and camaraderie between Wood and Stewart is palpable, a genuine bond we haven’t reaped the rewards of for so many years. Besides being excellent songwriting, collaborators, they simply bring the best out in each other; Wood is fine as a Rolling Stone, but he was majestic in The Faces. When he’s onstage, the camera wisely focuses in on the two-shot, and it’s obvious we are watching two friends who have probably run the gamut of emotions with each other but are truly savoring the moment. Wood doesn’t always flash – Jeff Golub frequently plays the lead lines while Woody plays rhythm – but it’s a real treat to watch him energize the room during “Maggie May”, “Mandolin Wind” and especially “Stay With Me”. When they leave the set, arm in arm, headed for the pub (and no, they weren’t kidding) how I would have loved to tag along for when the real fun probably started…

The show itself appears to be the original broadcast performance, complete with fade-outs at what would have been the commercial breaks. This also means that it’s still an edit from the actual show, so in addition to missing “The First Cut Is The Deepest” and “Highgate Shuffle” (included on the CD) we don’t see “It’s All Over Now”, “The Killing of Georgie”, “I Was Only Joking” and “Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller”, which never aired. Rhino‘s package, as usual, is attractive and contains solid liner notes from one of my favorite writers, Bud Scoppa, a man who was there the first time around. Video is decent quality and probably as good as can be expected from a sixteen year old taping, but there are no extras – no commentary, no retrospective interviews, no rehearsal footage. Perhaps none exists, or perhaps this Collector’s Edition will someday be eclipsed by the Expanded Collector’s Director’s Cut. (I kid.)

 

Had Them a Real Good Time

Had Them a Real Good Time

I don’t know how I feel about the long-rumored Faces reunion. Not having Ronnie Lane there to celebrate would be hard to swallow, and if the guys got together and play “Debris” and “Glad and Sorry” and “Ooh La La” without him it would be bittersweet. Ian McLagan has been keeping Ronnie alive from the stage at his every gig by featuring several of his songs, and Kenney Jones has quietly continued to make certain that the legacy of both The Small Faces and The Faces is rescued from legal and managerial madness. No matter what kind of arrangements would have to be made between the four surviving members (read: what Stewart’s manager would insist upon), I can’t see Wood or Jones or Mac participating unless Ronnie’s legacy got its due. But one can’t help wonder how things might have been different had The Faces been able to pull it off in 1993, when Ronnie would have been able to benefit spiritually and financially, let alone a few years earlier, when he might have been able to participate even in limited fashion. Rod Stewart might have surrounded himself with more technically proficient musicians over the years, but the results never exuded that pure soulful joy since he made his Atlantic Crossing. But more on The Faces another time, and at greater length, which they deserve.

Although I would have liked a complete, full-featured release of the show, Unplugged and Seated is a set to be treasured as is, a wonderful reminder of just how good Rod Stewart can be when he puts his heart and soul into it. On that night in February 1993, he definitely did.

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Lasting Impressions

I love good impressions. Some targets are so classic (Walken, Nicholson, Cagney) that it’s hard to add a new wrinkle to them after all this time.  Other times you nail someone so well, you can’t get away from it, and if something happens to make that impression taboo…well, you’re Vaughn Meader.

Not too many people do impressions any more as a full time endeavor; Jim Carrey was one of the most brilliant impersonators I ever saw but even he walked away from it. You can even see that someone as well-known as Frank Caliendo is getting stale by almost being compelled to constantly do John Madden. Having him play a show and not do Madden is probably like the Rolling Stones trying to get offstage without playing “Satisfaction”.

The days of full time impressionists like Frank Gorshin and Rich Little surviving outside the casino circuit seem to be long gone, so we just have to find people who drop a few in their act.

 stand-up-comedy

Even though it’s pretty mean spirited, I don’t think I’ve laughed harder all year than watching Anthony Jeselnik do Dane Cook.

When someone has the gift, they have the gift. Kevin Spacey rules.

And I know Christopher Walken impressions are a dime a dozen, but Kevin Pollack is the master.

Gilbert Gottfried does Andrew Dice Clay.

And finally, an old classic: Andrew Dice Clay does Eric Roberts, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Robert DeNiro, and Al Pacino. The gestures are better than the voices for Pacino and DeNiro, but he nails Travolta and Stallone, and that has to be the best Eric Roberts impression I’ve ever seen.

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I Know Noir, But What Am I?

Who is cooler than Lee Marvin, anyway?

Who is cooler than Lee Marvin, anyway?

I was thinking about how it’s been a year since we lost Jules Dassin and Richard Widmark, both of whom lived into their nineties and died within a week of each other. Dassin, of course, was blacklisted in the famous McCarthy-influenced purge in Hollywood but moved to France and had a tremendous career. Widmark is one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen, from his debut as psychotic killer Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death through a litany of westerns, war films and crime movies. In 1950, they collaborated on Night and The City, about a street hustler who tries to gain control of the wrestling racket in London, but of course is way over his head. It was a brilliant film, and like most noir features less-than-savory characters trying to make a move, and getting tantalizingly close before everything starts to fall apart. In a way, these are twisted morality plays, but I was first attracted to the genre because the stories seemed to be far more realistic than the typical Hollywood happy ending.

The noir era was before my time, but as an avid reader I devoured books by Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, and when lucky enough to catch them on pre-cable TV I would be mesmerized by Double Indemnity and D.O.A. and Out Of The Past. Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is a masterpiece, and one of the first instances of retelling of the plot from each character’s perspective. Now, thanks to cable channels like TCM and AMC, many of these films found a whole new audience, and the advent of DVD made most available for fans like me. With few exceptions, these aren’t going to be at Blockbuster, but I’m thrilled to be able to buy and enjoy them in my own home. Recently both Fox and Warner Brothers issued film noir series, and apparently sales are good, because more surface every day. The Criterion Collection also releases many noir titles and they’re meticulous about print quality, bonus features and whatever extras (booklets, interviews, etc.) they can assemble to present as complete an experience as possible. Their releases can be a bit pricey, but you can find many of them at decent used rates, and better library systems will probably carry quite a few.

One of my favorites, and a steal even at the retail price, is The Killers, with both the 1946 film starring Burt Lancaster and the 1964 TV movie directed by Don Siegel and starring John Cassavetes and Lee Marvin, the latter having one of the greatest closing lines in movie history. Oh yeah, and there was this Ronald Reagan guy playing a bad man, which some Americans swear he did again years later in real life. And today – the event that led up to all those thoughts about noir and Widmark and Dassin – Criterion announced the April release of one of the best post-noir classics, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. I am geeked!

I could list dozens of great films and probably fill a book about my love of film noir…and perhaps I will someday. But I wanted to use today’s blog feature to pay tribute to some of my film heroes like Widmark, Mitchum, Marvin, Lancaster and Cassavetes, as well as directors like Dassin, Sam Fuller, Don Siegel and Jean-Pierre Melville. I am so thankful that they were inspired to create such wonderfully vivid stories that are as thrilling to watch today as they must have been at the time. So if you are one who can appreciate that a great film is a transcendent journey, I encourage you to make the time to immerse yourself on the dark side of the street.

A series of noir and neo-noir films are being featured by Criterion  right now.

FOX studios has a noir series.

Warner Brothers does too.

***

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NEW ALBUM! Felice Brothers: Yonder Is The Clock

 

Grab your shovel, let's get to it...

Grab your shovel, let's get to it...

You have to take press releases with a grain of salt. While some are effervescent hyperbole, others spin wild yarns about the origins of the band (are The Hives still staunchly defending their Svengali bullshit?) and then there are the ones that fall in-between. But whether or not you believe that The Felice Brothers adopted a wayward dice player and tossed him on bass, or that the newest album was recorded in a studio built from remnants of a chicken coop doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Yonder is the Clock is a big step towards bringing recognition to one of the more genuinely interesting bands to come down the pike in a while.

The album both begins and ends with somber, quiet songs shouldered by the off-kilter vocals of Ike Felice. I’ll be blunt – there’s a good chance that you will absolutely hate his vocals, a nasal hybrid of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits (“Sailor Song” would fool a Waits fan) and Townes van Zandt. But like those artists, there’s so much emotion, heart and feeling happening within those vocals that you would do yourself a disservice not to make the effort. I mean really – does anyone complain about Dylan’s voice anymore, or do they simply celebrate his music and accept it? I’m not trying to put Felice on that pedestal, he’s nowhere close to earning that kind of comparison, but don’t judge a book by its (aural) cover.

There is one line in the press release that does capture the album’s impact – “the record is teaming with tales of love, death, betrayal, baseball, train stations, phantoms, pandemics, jail cells, rolling rivers and frozen winter nights.” Part hoedown, part revival meeting, The Felice Brothersare a cacophony of stringed instruments, organs and pianos, accordions and fiddles, like a rough-and-tumble version of The Band. Sometimes the instruments sound like they are slightly out of tune, and I can’t guarantee that everyone hits the beat exactlyon the mark every time, but songs like “Chicken Wire”, “Penn Station” and “Run Chicken Run” could kick-start any room full of people into a throbbing mass of jello.

But they can also toss out something as pretty as “Katie Dear”, a song that could be slipped into the tracklist of any album by Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chancewithout raising suspicion. My favorite track might be “Cooperstown”, a song so visual that a screenplay could be written around it. “Rise and Shine”, the closing track, is anything but a wake-up call, rather it sounds like Shane MacGowan singing a prayer at last call . But as the gentle coda to the rest of the album, it’s a gentle roll to a stop. I’ll be playing this all year long.

The Felice Brothers recently rolled to a stop in my town along with opening act Taylor Hollingsworth – read my review of their concert at Blurt Online.

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Stand Up Wit…Nick Di Paolo

"Am I that old that I have to warm up before I give somebody the finger?"

"Am I that old that I have to warm up before I give somebody the finger?"

Detractors call him a racist, a misogynist and/or a homophobe. I prefer the term equal-opportunity offender. But whatever you call him, Nick DiPaolo is funny.

Although the name and accent might scream “Brooklyn”, DiPaolo is originally from the Boston area, although he’s been a fixture on the NY/NJ comedy scene for years. His blunt, brutal sarcastic edge might flow like a river of well-directed bile, but that cadence is a product of great instincts and skill, highly polished over a two decade career. For Nick, nothing is sacred (including, and especially, himself) and we’re all along for the ride. A veteran of the comedy club and late-night TV circuits, Nick was also a main panelist on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn and is a frequent member of the dais for the Comedy Central roasts.

Funny How is a Gatling gun of intolerance towards marriage, bad customer service, reality TV, drug commercials, sexual and racial inequality and the general stupidity we encounter every day. Recorded at the ACME Comedy Club in Minneapolis prior to the 2008 election, DiPaolo naturally spends a bit of time skewering the candidates, but not too much; only a tiny bit will risk sounding dated years from now. (The John McCain bits were great, but you could tell the physical gestures he was making made it twice as funny for those in the audience!) Despite being an avowed Republican, he rightfully whacks everyone – on both sides of the aisle. Yes, folks, Nick DiPaolo is a uni-ter, not a divi-der

Lots of laugh-out-loud moments; my favorite bits were the “Bat Story” (a bat loose in his bedroom turns Nick into a pussy) and “To Catch A Predator”, which almost made me drive my car into the guard rail. Half the fun is listening to Nick toss out three jokes in a single sentence, see the audience catch one or two and then chide them for missing the money shot. I’ve caught a lot of his televised appearances, and although I imagine a lot of this is seasoned club material to NYC fans, most of it was new to me. The couple of routines that weren’t (like “Dead Pope” ) remain so strong that I laughed as hard as I did the first time I heard them.

If you buy a Nick DiPaolo album you know it’s not something to play at the children’s party, so those with the right wavelength for this material should go grab it right away without reservation. (Also be sure to check out Nick’s earlier albums, Road Rage and Born This Way. Both are really funny, and if you like any of the three, you’ll like all three.)

 roast_logo

I wish I could say the same for the album released by Nick’s frequent Roast partner in crime, Jeffrey Ross. Granted, I popped the CD in with high expectations having enjoyed Ross’s brutal podium work in the Comedy Central roasts. But No Offense: Live From New Jersey is a big disappointment, thin on material and containing very few funny lines. Half the CD is an extended bit where two audience members (and I suspect the second was a plant) come onstage and play piano as Ross recites nonsense poems about his balls or whining in Chinese. It’s the kind of joke that works once if you do it right (Sam Kinison did it to great effect years ago) but it gets tiring the second and third time you trot out another poem, and then after that it’s just painful to sit through. Ask Dice.

I will not smell that finger, no sir!

I will not smell that finger, no sir!

Maybe it was the blue hair crowd at the casino that caused him to milk a routine that was working, or maybe he didn’t want to cross the line too deeply in front of an audience of relatives and friends…I don’t know. But silly poems? Ross isn’t John Valby, he’s a throwback to the quick-jabbing comedians of yesteryear, only more vulgar and gross because time has changed what’s acceptable in a commercial theatre (the old timers could be filthy and vile too, but most kept that in the clubs). The sharp put-down, whether to others or himself, is his strength, but he didn’t play to it. Then again, I’ve only seen Ross on television; I’ve never seen him headline a full show – maybe this is his act.

Or maybe the whole album was satire and it went over my head? Nah. He’s better than this. Hope he documents a stronger performance on CD/DVD soon.

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