Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stephin Merritt Off-Broadway

As a logical extension of his creating music for the audiobooks of dark-themed children's literature, Stephin Merritt is the composer and lyricist for a stage production of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, now playing in New York. Merritt is best known for his band the Magnetic Fields, but he's got zillions of off-shoot projects. (He's like a nerdy Al Jourgensen.) Under the Gothic Archies header, he performed theme songs for each of the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events audiobooks, compiled as A Tragic Treasury when the series was complete, as well as music for the Coraline audiobook. Now the book has been turned into a full fledged off-Broadway musical, so who else but Merritt could provide the music.

Coraline plays at the MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., New York, NY 10014, (212) 279-4200, through July 5.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Concert Review: Nine Inch Nails, NINJA2009 tour, Comcast Center, Mansfield, MA, June 3

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Nine Inch Nails' debut album Pretty Hate Machine, but Trent Reznor and his current henchmen were hardly trading on nostalgia. They all but ignored that first album yet still had the audience enrapt. But also gone were the trappings of more recent tours, namely the heavy use of visual images as part of the overall presentation. The visuals were limited to occasional seizure-inducing strobes. They even eschewed video close-ups on the Jumbotrons flanking the stage.

Somewhat Damaged
Reznor is screaming, "Too fucked up to care anymore." I'm pondering whether Nine Inch Nails has received the academic examination it so clearly merits, and whether filling that possible void is why I should be heading back to grad school.


Appropriately addictive.

March of the Pigs
It makes fantastic use of dramatic pause. The band is in a total frenzy, especially the wild-haired drummer with primitive style resembling Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland (thank you to my husband for that comparison). They come to a dead stop, then resume the frenzy.

Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)
They manage to be both visceral and precise.

A Gary Numan cover. The staccato bass that dominates differentiated it from the band's own compositions, but they make it their own. For the first time in decades, I feel cool for having bought The Pleasure Principle in 8th grade. As the song winds down, the rest of the band backs away from their instruments to leave Reznor alone on keyboards.

The Becoming

The synthesized beats and heavy bass resemble New Order.

Reznor alternately attacks and retreats from the microphone.

Gave Up
Reznor turns "Feels" into a polysyllabic word.

La Mer
The typically taciturn Reznor hasn't uttered a spoken word to the audience but suddenly turns confessional. He gives an extended introduction about locking himself away 10 years, writing only one song and trying to kill himself. He acknowledges it is hard to go back there because it still feels haunted. While it sounds like he is only talking about the song as a metaphorical place, his explanation ends on a happier note; he is returning there to get married. The arrangement features an upright bass and Reznor on marimba.

The Fragile

Gone, Still

The Way Out Is Through
Reznor swaggers.

Reznor brings out friend-of-the-bad Dan for extra guitar punch.

The Hand That Feeds

Head Like a Hole
It took 1 hour and 20 minutes to finally get to something from Pretty Hate Machine for their traditional set closer.

This follows a brief ceremonial retreat to the wings to designate this an an encore. Even after 15 years, Reznor still makes this song sound like an open wound. It ends the set on an unexpectedly somber note.

I had incorrectly assumed that Jane's Addiction were the opening band for the tour, not co-headliners. When NIN took the stage first, my gut reaction was, "Oh, good, I can go home early." NIN and Jane's Addiction may have emerged almost concurrently, just as the awkward moniker "college rock" was giving way to alternative as a music and marketing force, and both both bands are loud, but the similarities soon end. Jane's is loud and merely busy, whereas NIN is loud and intense. With two ostentatious guitar solos and a drum solo in just their first song, JA clearly weren't drawing on punk's appreciation of brevity. NIN's early '80s antecedent was Gary Numan while Jane's Addiction's was Van Halen. I'll give Perry Farrell credit for rockin' the form-fitting gold satin jumpsuit as he strutted like a peacock around the stage. But beating the traffic backup exiting the parking lot was far more appealing than a whole set of this.

Traffic delays caused me to miss all but the last song by opener Street Sweeper Social Club, aka Tom Morello's new band. Morello used his tremendous charisma to exhort the whole audience onto their feet, even alluding to Rage Against the Machine lyrics, acknowledging, "There's always someone saying, 'Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me.'" Once everyone had arisen, the guitar-heavy band used their chops to earn the response. Morello is unlikely to match the heights of Rage again, but he is still impressive in working up a crowd. It's always good to see someone use their intelligence and talent for good, not evil.

Friday, June 05, 2009

So Long, Jimmy Sturr

The New York Times just reported that the polka category is being cut from the Grammy Awards.

The main outcome is that I and anyone else who follows the Grammy Awards closely while be forced to find a new punchline to replace Jimmy Sturr. The category has only been awarded since 1986, but polka "star" Sturr has won 18 times. In the presentations I have given on how to buy music for libraries, he was the prime and comedic example of why buying every winner in every category isn't necessarily a good idea. I'll need to find some new material before my next talk.