Saturday, April 30, 2011

Random Pop Culture Top Ten List: Top 10 Comics Events of the Last Ten Years

By Chris and Jordan

Random Pop Culture Top 10 List is a (fairly self-explanatory) weekly list in which the Review to be named gang take stock of the realm of pop culture, and come up with their Top Ten in a specific category.

The Event is a comic mainstay that brings characters from multiple books together to handle a crisis too big for any of them to tackle alone. Events are huge sales generators and generally drive the universe wide narrative forward in inventive and important ways. As such, comic book companies tend to rely on them fairly often, up to yearly. Here are ten events from the last ten years worth remembering.

10. Secret Invasion (Marvel)

Following the destruction of the Skrull Empire in Annihilation (scroll down for more on that event), a slow and steady infiltration of Earth by the Skrulls occurred behind the scenes in several Marvel books, before the invasion becomes clear and it is revealed that many beloved members of the Marvel Universe have been replaced by Skrull impersonators. Watching some of the world's greatest heroes deal with these seeming betrayals and with their failure to prevent a full scale invasion of Earth is compelling stuff, but Secret Invasion is most memorable for the huge changes it created in the Marvel Universe. Tony Stark is removed as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. following his failures, the organization itself is shut down, and former Green Goblin Norman Osborn becomes the head of National Security, ushering in the next era of Marvel Comics, known as the Dark Reign. None of the great story lines contained under that moniker would have been possible without Secret Invasion, and while the story itself is often less than stellar, what came after makes it a vital event to experience in order to understand the current state of the Marvel Universe.

9. 52 (DC)

Directly following the mediocre Crisis on Infinite Earths and filling in the "missing year" created by the one year jump all books took after that event, 52 was a landmark event if only for its format, which had a new issue released every week for a year. The longest weekly comic book in history, this was the first time DC had tried to do a weekly comic since the 1980's, and in that sense, the series was vastly successful. A sprawling epic that spans the globe and spotlights a huge ensemble of lesser characters from throughout the DCU, 52 begins with the disappearance of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, who have retired their costumed identities after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths. While there are duds among the multiple plotlines the series intercuts between (the subplots involving Animal Man, Starfire, Adam Strange, and the entire Black Adam saga are all kind of boring), the series gives some smaller characters, like Booster Gold, Ralph Diby, Renee Montoya a chance to shine and new roles to play in the DCU. Wildly ambitious and mostly very successful, 52 played so well with its ensemble of minor characters, we almost didn't miss the Big Three during their absence. Almost.

8. Civil War (Marvel)

The idea of splitting Marvel's super heroes down the middle and having them actually battle each other sounds like the stuff of childhood fantasy, a "Who would win: Captain America or Iron Man?" hypothetical writ large and writ real. It was an ambitious idea and an exciting one. After the deaths of a young, fame hungry super hero team the New Warriors results in the destruction of the city of Stamford, Connecticut the government decides to pass the Super Human Registration Act, which requires all super powered individuals to register with the government, revealing their identities and becoming paid employees akin to police officers. Iron Man believes this is reasonable and supports the act following its passage. Captain America sees it as a violation of civil liberties and the privacy of those who need to keep their identities secret to protect family or friends. And so the sides are chosen for a civil war in the super hero community. While the pro-Registration side is never as fleshed out or believable as the anti-registration side, and Iron Man in particular comes across as almost villainous at times, Civil War makes this list for originality and daring, even if the execution often lacked a bit compared to the other events on this list.

7. Blackest Night (DC)

Death is fairly circular in superhero comics, a fact that can be annoying at times as we discussed in our Top 10 Characters in Comics Who Should Have Stayed Dead list. Blackest Night attempts to deal with death in comics directly, bringing legions of the dead back to life and causing a fight between the living and the dead for the fate of the Universe. After being built to in the pages of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps for nearly five years, the event encompasses all of the DC Universe as dead superheroes begin to rise as Black Lanterns. Following the creation of seven armies, each representing a color and an aspect of the emotional spectrum, the event introduces Black Lanterns who represent death and White Lanterns, who represent Life, and culminates in a final battle that pits some of the greatest heroes and villains from within the DC Universe against those they have killed and failed to save. Smart, suspenseful, and action packed, Blackest Night is an event that did much more than just drive up sales. It was an event that mattered.

6. Annihilation (Marvel)

Set in Marvel's criminally underrated cosmic line, Annihilation brings together underused characters like Nova, Drax the Destroyer, Silver Surfer, Super-Skrull, and Thanos into an epic battle that changed the face of the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe and lead to the destruction of the Skrull Empire. Complex, inventive, and massive in scope, Annihilation is everything you could ever want out of a cosmic event.

5. Messiah CompleX (Marvel)

Following another mediocre event, House of M, only 198 mutants remain and hope for the species is at an all time low. So when the first mutant birth since M-Day occurs, a race to possess the child between the X-Men, the Purifiers, the Acolytes, The Marauders, The Reavers, and Predator X begins and grows increasingly dangerous as each side increases in desperation. Desperate to preserve what he sees as the only chance for the continuation of his species, Cyclops wrests control of the X-Men from Professor X, creates an assault team authorized to do whatever is necessary to rescue the child, and prepares to violate his own personal code to ensure the child's safety. The race against time builds to a final conflict between Rogue and Mystique, and leads to the death of Professor X and the dissolution of the X-Men. Taut, tense, and propulsive, Messiah CompleX put Cyclops in charge of the X-Men and showed him just how far he would have to go to keep his race going, a problem he has been struggling with ever since.

4. The Thanos Imperative (Marvel)

While the Guardians of the Galaxy debate whether to kill Thanos, Nova pursues the false Quaasar to the Fault--a new rift in space-time that opens up the doorway to a universe where death itself is extinct. Dealing with the possible destruction of the entire universe, and with questions about Thanos and his place within that universe, The Thanos Imperative again demonstrates the strength of Marvel's cosmic stories, and shows that they can be as layered and complex as their superhero-centered counterparts.

3. Second Coming (Marvel)

A follow up to Messiah CompleX and the less successful Messiah War, second coming has the now teenaged Hope returning from the future with Cable to take her place among the X-Men. Of course this is not as easy as it sounds, especially with Bastion and his associates and X-enemies Bolivar Trask, Steven Lang, William Stryker, Graydon Creed and Cameron Hodge beginning their final campaign to ensure the complete extinction of the mutant species. For much of Second Coming there is a palpable feeling that this is actually the darkest period in mutant history, which is a huge achievement considering how long the books have been running. As the X-Men struggle to keep Hope, and their entire species alive, Cyclops is forced to make moral compromises, reveal his creation of the X-Force (which has been killing enemies of mutantkind under his orders), deal with the deaths of several mutants including his old friend Nightcrawler, and finally come up against an impenetrable sphere that encases all of the mutants and most of San Francisco, and is slowly filling up with Sentinels who come from a mutant-less future and hope to ensure that future starts immediately. Second Coming starts strong and never stops, delivering one of the most compelling and memorable events of not just the last decade, but of all time.

2. Identity Crisis (DC)

Following the murder of Sue Dibny, wife of Ralph "Elongated Man" Dibny, the Justice League rallies to find her killer, with Doctor Light a prime suspect from the first. Dibny and Batman, thetwo most prominent detectives in the DCU, investigate the murder as the wives and families of other super heroes are targeted for execution. Identity Crisis highlights the importance of investigation in the DC Universe and also delves into an important ethical quandary, as various members of the Justice League agree to wipe the minds and alter the personalities of villains to force their reformation. Featuring the death of Jack Drake and the revelation that Batman's memory has been wiped by this contingent, Identity Crisis is a thrilling examination of the lengths these heroes are willing to go to in order to protect their own, and whether they are going too far to retain the moniker of hero.

1.Final Crisis (DC)

The final chapter in a trilogy of crises, Final Crisis is Grant Morrison's love letter to the DC Universe, beginning with the death of a God and ending with the apparent death of an icon. Following a plot by Darkseid to destroy reality, Final Crisis features the "death" of Batman, the release of the anti-life equation, and a final battle involving Supermen from throughout the multiverse, making it an endlessly fascinating and phenomenal journey through the past, present, and future of one of the most prominent comics companies and the lives of the characters it has created.

Read more Random Pop Culture Top Ten List here

Got ideas for future installments of Random Pop Culture Top Ten List? Well let us know! Follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here), or shoot us an e-mail at

Friday, April 29, 2011

My Year in Lists: Week Seventeen

By Jordan

My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger’s quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

“I saw the rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.”-Jon Landau

“Over their brilliant first three albums, Wire expanded the sonic boundaries of not just punk, but rock music in general.”-Stewart Mason

I’ve always thought Frank Sinatra got kind of screwed in the nickname department. The man was a musical God and an American legend for the majority of the 20th century, and he gets to be called Ol’ Blue Eyes. At his luckiest, he is known as The Chairman of the Board, a position which, in my opinion is extremely vague and at best not all that prestigious. Regardless of what Board he is chairing, it can’t be an impressive enough position for a man of his stature and acclaim. He ran with the Rat Pack and the Kennedys, played Vegas when it was a mob town and Vegas when it was just a modern den of inequity. He recorded Only the Lonely and Come Fly With Me. He sang “Strangers in the Night,” “My Way,” and everyone’s favorite version of “(Theme From) New York, New York” (with apologies to Liza Minelli). But somehow, in the nickname lexicon at the disposal of the American public, he never rose above an appointed position on some hazy organization, a fringe nickname for a man who spent his life center stage.

He couldn’t be The King, I guess. By the time his career got its second wind when he won Best Supporting Actor for From Here to Eternity (yeah, the talented bastard could act too), a young guy named Elvis Presley was already on his way to nailing that nickname down. Johnny Cash got to be the badass sounding The Man in Black, not that Sinatra could really have laid claim to that. And though Sinatra really should have had a nickname by the 1970’s that was something more prestigious (or at least more awesome) than The Chairman of the Board, it was at that time that Bruce Springsteen showed up and laid claim to the name The Boss.

I do think Sinatra got screwed out of a great nickname, but at the same time, I really do think Bruce Springsteen deserves to be The Boss. Somehow, it just feels right. His first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle were both released to huge critical acclaim but pretty much no commercial success. Springsteen was hailed as the new Bob Dylan and the future of rock and roll, a mantle that would eventually start to get to him but at the time just seemed sort of inaccurate. The man might be great (spoiler alert: he was), but if no one was listening to him, it was fairly unlikely that he would become the future of rock and roll.

When he began preparing his third album, he was handed a large budget and a subtle intimation by his label: make this one a hit or you’re finished. That third album, and Collin’s pick this week, Born to Run was the first commercial success of his career, becoming a smash hit while retaining the high critical praise of his previous albums, and eventually eclipsing those two entirely and gaining a reputation as the magnum opus of the man we now know as simply The Boss.

Born to Run is a wall to wall masterpiece of an album, with eight perfect songs pinging off each other and building in cumulative power like only the greatest of musical achievements can manage. The album took 14 months to record, with six months alone spent perfecting the title track, and it was worth every minute. Springsteen arranged the album with a “four corners” approach, beginning each side with uplifting odes to escape and ending each side with epics of loss, betrayal, and failure. The album opens with perhaps my favorite Springsteen song, “Thunder Road.” The song opens with a piano and harmonica interlude meant to serve as an introduction to the album as a whole and give off the feeling that something very special is following. It tells of a young woman named Mary and her boyfriend, who have “one last chance to make it real” by escaping the small town that has imprisoned them. Over his next several albums, Springsteen would become known for capturing the spirit of the common man, and that reputation begins right here with “Thunder Road,” which feels like someone snatching the opportunity that you might have let slip through your fingers and running with it to make their every dream come true.

“Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” tells the legend of the formation of the E Street Band. The song was one of only two singles released off the album, and never attained great success. It remains the most upbeat song on the album, however, and an important part of the myth behind Springsteen and the E Street Band. “Night” is about a blue collar worker who escapes dissatisfaction with his life by drag racing after dark. Side one closes with the phenomenal “Backstreets,” a tour de force about the disintegration of a relationship and the death of a love.

Side two opens with the title track, which was written by Springsteen as his last ditch effort to land a big hit. His record company had given him that big budget and one last chance for a breakthrough, and Springsteen put most of his energy into making “Born to Run” that breakthrough. The song is ostensibly romantic, but at its core is to my mind less about the love between the protagonist and Wendy and more about his burning desire to get out of his hometown. That song is followed by “She’s the One” about a woman who the narrator wants to be perfect, in spite of her obvious flaws.

“Meeting Across the River” is a pitch black character sketch with heavy jazz influences. The song forms a sonic bridge between “She’s the One” and the album’s closer, “Jungleland” and the river of the title is presumably the Hudson, signifying the album’s journey from New Jersey to New York, the setting the closing track. “Jungleland” is an almost ten minute long epic telling of love amidst gang violence and despair. The song’s protagonist Rat loses both his dreams and his Barefoot Girl because of the gang he is involved in, and finally loses his life to gang violence. The album closes on this down note, with dreams dashed and hopes lost, but fortunately for music fans everywhere, Springsteen’s career did not have the bleak coda he might have imagined.

Born to Run became a smash success and cemented Springsteen’s reputation as “the future of rock and roll,” creating hype he would fight against for years after the album’s success. Bruce feared that such high praise would inevitably create a backlash, and maybe it did. But he actually was the future of rock and roll, and while I guess it may be possible not to love Bruce Springsteen, it’s pretty hard to deny that he’s The Boss.

Just a few years after the release of Born to Run, a punk outfit formed in London of 1976, consisting of Colin Newman on vocals and guitar, Graham Lewis on vocals and bass, Bruce Gilbert on guitar and Robert Gotobed on drums. They called themselves Wire, and they too were about to change the face of music. They began as a punk rock band inspired by The Ramones, but would soon become instrumental to the development of post-punk.

Their debut album, and one of Tab’s two picks this week, Pink Flag is a fairly straightforward punk album, but even from the start the band played punk music with a rock and roll irony that would be instrumental to their later push into post-punk. Over 21 songs and 35 minutes the band used their punk sound to comment on and twist rock music standards. Never going as far into experimentation as, say The Residents on The Third Reich N’ Roll, Wire still managed to make punk rock that was simultaneously a commentary on the state of rock and roll and a statement of purpose from a new band with a bold sound.

The opening track “Reuters” sounds like a standard rock opening before the band’s punk-y vocals come in. “Field Say for the Sundays” is a 28 second song that sounds simultaneously complete and like 30 seconds pulled from a pretty god damn great punk rock song. The band’s shorter tracks, like the 41 second “Brazil,” tend to sound more like straight punk rock, while their longer songs, like the title track, sound more like rock and roll with a decidedly punk bent.

“Strange” especially sounds like a song that could have been recorded just as easily by The Rolling Stones if not for the distinctive punk touches sprinkled throughout. “Feeling Called Love” has an almost surf rock feeling to it, showing Wire’s diverse influences and ability to change up the routine. The song allows the melody to carry the song (which is fairly unique in early punk rock) more than the lyrics, which are done in a more speak-sing style.

The band’s second album, and Tab’s second pick this week, Chairs Missing has a much more developed song structure than its predecessor, taking some cues from prog-rock, psychedelia, and art rock. As fits with the band’s general style, Chairs Missing’s more developed sound leads to longer songs, with this album including 15 songs in 42 minutes. The opening track “Practice Makes Perfect” is heavily melodic, with a prog feel that almost overtakes the punk roots. “French Film Blurred” has a more experimental vibe than most of the tracks on their debut, but also a very melodic chorus.

“Heartbeat” is the band’s self proclaimed first love song, with a building tempo that comes to its peak as Newman repeats the title at the song’s conclusion. “Outdoor Miner,” though only 1:44 was so loved by EMI, the band’s label that they were asked to expand the song to turn it into a single. So melodic and even proto-New Wave it barely sounds like the band’s previous work at all, the song is amazingly catchy and fun without sacrificing any of the band’s complexity. “I am the Fly” is a perfect example of the band’s evolving style, with a complex arrangement and a catchy melody to go along with the punk philosophy the band still focused on.

The album’s closing track “Too Late” is nearly a straight rock song, with punk verses and a rock and roll chorus. We’ll follow the band’s continued development into post-punk next week, but for now, Wire developed in its first two albums from a heavily Ramones influenced punk band into something far more unique and original, while still managing to be just as fucking awesome (which is, I believe, a critical term).

We’re going to do things a little backwards here, kids, and I hope you don’t mind. We’ll be digging into The Cure’s formulation and early years with Boys Don’t Cry in just a few weeks, but due to timing and my desire to leave each contributor’s list intact as much as possible (my only alteration so far coming in Week Five’s Talking Heads marathon), we’re going to start in the middle with this band, looking at Ashley’s pick this week, Disintegration, and later retreating back to Boys Don’t Cry. Hope you don’t mind, but as always, feel free to bitch at me on twitter, in the comments, or at about how I’m destroying the sanctity of music itself if you’d like.

The eighth studio album by The Cure, Disintegration was released on May 1, 1989 and aimed to be a return to the gloomy and introspective gothic rock that the band had established earlier in their careers. Lead vocalist Robert Smith hoped to follow up on the group’s pop successes with more lasting musical contributions, and found himself dissatisfied with the group’s popularity, which caused him to lapse into the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Following the group’s growing success, keyboardist Lol Tolhurst was drinking heavily and Smith was taking large amounts of LSD. Smith decided something needed to change.

Smith wrote many of the songs himself before showing any of them to the band. He admitted that if the band didn’t like them, he was willing to record them as a solo album. The band enjoyed them and began to record (though Tolhurst’s drinking lead to him leaving the band before he contributed anything lasting to the album). The second track, “Pictures of You” is a nostalgic love song with a two minute long introduction before the song explodes into a wave of passion and sound. “Lovesong” is exactly what its title implies, a darker sounding love song that is still as full of emotion as any of the band’s upbeat songs.

The album’s longest song, the 9:19 “The Same Deep Water as You” is a dark examination that reflects Smith’s current mental state at the time he recorded it. The title track is another very long journey deep into the mental state of Smith during the writing of the album, as he worried about the “Disintegration” of both the band and his own life.

The Cure was one of the first alternative bands to be widely commercially successful. They have heavily influenced modern goth-influenced bands, including Interpol and My Chemical Romance, in addition to lighting a path for alternative rock bands to follow into commercial success.

Each of the musicians we looked at today was part of the inception of a new musical direction. Springsteen was the beginning of a new era of rock and roll. Wire helped usher punk into post-punk. And The Cure showed bands that there was a path to success outside of the mainstream. A person’s (or a band’s) musical legacy is to a large extent completely outside of their control. All they can do is make great music and hope for the best. If they are completely understood, they may come to be known as The Boss, but even if they don’t manage to land themselves a badass nickname, the important music will always be remembered, even if only through those it inspires to create.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next week on My Year in Lists:
We continue to look at Wire with 154 and The Ideal Copy, and take a look at self titled albums from Boston and The Stone Roses.

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 21: Everything Sunny All The Time Always

30 Rock has always been a weird show, often bordering on becoming a live action cartoon (honestly, its pretty much always been a live action cartoon). Of late, though, the show has been getting weirder. Last week we had a gas leak that gave us four Jack Donaghy's and a Liz-Dennis reunion. This week, the show was probably just about as weird (maybe slightly less so), but to much greater effect. As a rule, the weirder this show gets, the more I seem to enjoy it. And while I thought last week went a little too far, or at least didn't do absurd in the best way, this week handled the weird just perfectly.

In the A-plot, Avery is kidnapped by Kim Jong Il and forced to become part of the North Korean propaganda machine, and eventually to marry his son. Weird enough on its own, this plotline also involved Elizabeth Banks in a Reagan mask, tracy co-starring in a propaganda film with Kim Jong Il, Jack playing flute in a duel against his ex Condoleeza Rice on the piano, and an Ipad ap that allows for the shaving of legs. Madness, sure, but damn funny all the same.

Even funnier was the constant equating of Avery's kidnapping and marriage to a dictator's son to a bag being caught in a tree outside of Liz' apartment. That was a silly gag that just kept on giving, and allowed for some lunacy all its own, from Liz' trip to city hall, to the bag's message about human mortality to our Lemon's increasingly violent threats, this was just another string of weirdness, and I loved it a lot.

Finally, Tracy is upset about being left out of an inside joke while he was away and Dot Com, Grizz, and Kenneth tried to recreate it to catch Tracy up. This plotline wasn't that funny, honestly, and that might stem from the lack of absurdity. Tracy is often the show's most absurd character by a mile, but tonight he was pretty normal, upset at being left out and just a little too obsessed with getting in on the joke. Yet when two out of three plotlines in a 30 Rock episode are cooking, that's a good episode in my book.

The last two weeks the show has been going to the weird well a whole lot. Sometimes it has worked, and sometimes it hasn't, but in general I don't think flat-out absurdity is a bad direction for the show to go in. If it manages to keep the quality up at this level, I'll be a happy camper.

Grade: B+


-"When she's ready, Dr. Kevorkian says we have to put her down. He's a very good pediatrician, but that is an unfortunate name."

-"Lizbianism means I am a dyke...against the waters of hopelessness."

-"That's from Invictus. Wait, who's the white guy in that?" I like that Matt Damon can't exist in the 30 Rock universe, since he is just Carol.

-"I don't know why our daughter would be afraid of Reagan." "Are yo uaccusing me of not doing enough reagan time?"

-"Me plus you equals frowny face."

-"I am going to solve this. Just like you are going to solve your equally important bag in a tree problem."

-"Did I give up when tht squirrel I trained to retreive you ran away?"

-"We do a lot of plywood themed sexual play. I am a parrot."

-"I'm going to hang you in my kitchen and fill you with other bags. You will eat your family!"

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 22: Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts

I have been somewhat disappointed with the back half of Community's second season. By television standards, it hasn't been bad. Yet in its first season, and in the first half of this season, I often called Community the best comedy on television, and with the weak back half of this season as well as the flat out phenomenal run that both Parks and Rec and Archer have been having over the same period, that just hasn't been true of late. I have a theory about why this is true. When season two started, the show had terrible ratings. In fact, it was sort of surprising that it got a full season two pick up right off (if it wasn't on bottom-of-the-barrel NBC, it probably wouldn't still be on the air right now), and the writers probably lacked confidence that they could pull it off again and come back for a third season.

I posit the first half of this season was the show going for broke, afraid it was nearing the end of its run. But as the season wore on and NBC continued to suck, and shows like Perfect Couples and The Paul Reiser Show (both of which had been produced as fall premiere shows and held back because they were terrible), the liklihood that Community would get to come back for a third season increased exponentially. As the show's writers became more confident that they would get another season, things sort of stalled for the characters, and we have spent most of the back half of this season stuck exactly where we were at the end of "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas." Just look at the run the show was on before that episode: it was preceded by (in reverse order) "Mixology Certification," "Conspiracy Theories and Soft Defenses," and "Cooperative Calligraphy," very likely the greatest run of four episodes in the show's history (and, if we skip over the mediocre "Aerodynamics of Gender," that quartet was preceded by Epidemiology 206." Damn this show was hot at the beginning of season two). Afterwards, we had duds like "Asian Population Studies" and "Celebrity Pharmacology 212." Has the show lost something? I certainly hope not. My hope is that they've just been cooling their heels on the realization that they'll probably be around for a while.

All of this leads us to "Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts," the third bottle episode of this season (after the "this is a bottle episode" episode "Cooperative Calligraphy" and "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons," unless I'm missing something), likely a money saver before the two part paintball finale (thoughts on that down in the "Notes" section). The gang is in their "final" for Anthropology which involves drinking with Duncan and celebrating the blow off class, when the Dean and a reporter from Dean Magazine show up to observe the final in progress. There's nothing to see of course, and when Duncan fleed I feared this was about to be a big "fool the Dean" episode. Instead, it was the inevitable "Shirley gives birth" episode. I'm not a big fan of these episodes, as it's pretty impossible to do anything original, since this has been a stalwart of television as far back as I Love Lucy (which did a great job, by the way).

Look, I know the show had to do this (though I would have been so much happier if it had been one of the flashbacks to adventures we missed in last week's episode), but it didn't really do too much with it beyond the standards, which isn't much of a criticism considering anything they did would have been cliched. Shirley was forced to give birth outside the hospital, but would it have been less cliche if the whole gang gathered in the waiting room wanting to get in to see her give birth? No, not really. There are some character moments that land here, like Britta self righteously suggesting natural birth before being horrified by it, Troy mourning the death of his secret handshake, and especially Shirley finally bonding with Chang even though the baby is apparently not his (Changs are born with tails).

I didn't love anything in "Applied Anthropology," but I also didn't hate any of it. I enjoy Community, even when it isn't at its best. But I can't help but be disappointed when it fails to live up to my (admittedly very high) expectations for the show. When Community is at its best, I really do think it is the best comedy on television. Sadly, this show hasn't been at its best in a while. I miss the show I love. Hopefully it comes back soon.

Grade: B-


-Ok, here are my thoughts on the two part paintball finale, apparently entitled "A Fistful of Paintballs" and "For A Few paintballs More" (cute): I am worried about it. I loved "Modern Warfare," but that doesn't mean I am begging for a sequel. I think the show already covered this ground, and after a downturn over the last several weeks (months), I was really hoping the show would blow me away in the finale. On the other hand, I don't think the writers would return to this well unless they had some good ideas about how to do it (and from the preview shown tonight and the titles, it looks to be a spaghetti western episode, which could be fun). So, in conclusion, I am worried but choosing to remain optimistic for now.

-I have been watching a lot of Community over the last few days, seeing most of the first season again. That may have slightly colored my views on tonight's episode, and if so, I apologize. But this just didn't stack up to, say, "Contemporary American Poultry" or even "Beginner Pottery."

-"Wowee. This IS a real college."

-"Could someone please get every mop on campus?"

-"You ever try googling me? Can't be done!"

-"Hey, give me some respect. I may be that child's estranged father!"

-"$500." "That's like a million bucks in dog dollars."

-"I don't want to alarm anyone, but the World Food Festival has taken a dark turn!" Another great instance of Community mocking the awesome (or in this case, terrible) things characters are so often missing during bottle episodes. But in this case, I kin of wished we were at the World Food Festival instead.

-"Don't tell any doctors I said this, but at this point the bus pretty much drives itself."

-"Dean Magazine Shuts Down After Two Issues."

Chris' Comics Corner

Action Comics #900
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer (Main Story): Paul Cornell
Artists (Main Story):Pete Woods, Jesus Merino, Dan Jurgens, Rags Morales, Ardian Syaf, Jamal Igle, and Gary Frank (yeeesh!)

As the book's newly reinstated letter column is quick to point out, Action Comics is the first super hero comic to reach the impressive milestone of a 900th issue. For the past 9 or so issues, Paul Cornell has been scripting this book and focusing on a critically acclaimed examination of Superman's greatest enemy Lex Luthor. This issue brings the Luthor storyline to a close while transitioning the focus of the title back to the Man of Steel.

The fact that DC gave Cornell the privilege/burden of such a prestigious milestone is a testament both to DC's faith in Cornell, and the fantastic job he has done on this title to date. I can't speak from first hand experience, I've only been following the reviews thus far, but I can tell you that across the board, Paul Cornell's Action Comics has been the Reviewer's choice for buzz book of 2010.

Superman is one of my favorite DC characters, and yet it is very rare that I find a take on the character that I like, outside of the work of Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, and Kurt Busiek (Although I would also love to see Chris Roberson have a shot at writing Superman free of the influence of the ill conceived and aborted idea that was J.M.S's "Grounded"). So having been without my Superman fix since Geoff Johns ended his tenure on Action Comics, and having kept an eye on all of the good things being said about Paul Cornell and his work on this title, I jumped at the chance to jump onboard this series as Cornell ended his first storyline and began a new one with Superman taking the spotlight once more.

Cornell had a lot of hype to live up to on this issue, and you know what? It was very good. Not phenomenal, he didn't re-invent the wheel by any means. But he did tell a very solid Superman/Luthor story that revealed just how well he grasps both characters. The action was as large scale as one would hope for. The issue reviewed major events from Superman's past as anniversary issues are want to do, but there was a logical and story driven reason for these reflections. Superman and Luthor go head to head in a battle of strength and wills that truly showcases the amazing grit and fortitude of Superman and the inescapable flaw of Lex Luthor.

The art, as it is for most anniversary issues, was a mixed bag jam session. Some faired far better than others with Pete Woods being the only real stand out of the bunch. Ultimately the different styles just didn't mesh well and the result distracted from this milestone issue much more than it celebrated the monumental achievement.

While I am less thrilled about the "Reign of Doomsday" storyline Cornell has inherited, I am eager to return next month. Cornell, like Johns and Morrison before him, understands that examining Superman's humanity does not have to come at the cost of doing away with the limitless and fantastical possibilities for adventure that this character and his world affords writers (Yes, in addition to a compliment to Cornell that was also another shot at J.M.S. I'm sorry, I usually like to stay positive with these things but the whole affair just really pissed me off. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please email or tweet at reviewtobenamed and I'll happily fill you in.)

Grade: B+

Brightest Day #24
Publisher: DC
Writers: Geoff Johns & Peter Tomasi
Artists: Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado







I was originally going to write a longer column examining this series as a whole, but the more I thought about, the more I realized that this maxi series was neither stellar enough, nor terrible enough to warrant or benefit from any sort of in-depth scrutiny, and that my thoughts on the series as a whole are really very similar to my thoughts on this issue. They can be summed up as follows: A few neat ideas undercut by a lot of questionable ideas and a narrative that moved at break neck speed to set up the next big thing, overall resulting in a lot of missed opportunities.

Let me start off with the things that I did like. I liked the explanation of the threat our heroes were facing, as it made much more sense that I thought it would. I liked the Deadman and Dove interactions, these were always a highlight of this book. I liked the conclusion of Deadman's story, undoubtedly the strongest of the five narratives, it definitely ends on the strongest and most heart wrenching note. I liked the art. The different teams all working together, jamming on what is essentially one big long showdown in the Star City Forest, was not nearly as distracting as similar artistic relay races are (See above review of Action Comics).

What I didn't like was the still very vague and overly complicated plan the White Lantern had for our heroes to save earth. It seems like Johns and Tomasi were really having difficulty connecting the narrative of these 12 characters leading many of their missions to stretch the limits of logic and practicality. Osiris for instance (not a main player in this series) was brought back so that he could help bring his Sister Isis back. Ok, so why not just Bring Isis back and skip the middle man? Same thing with Professor Zoom's mission to bring back Barry Allen. And you could make an argument that neither Isis nor Allen were truly dead (dontcha love comics?) but I still felt like they were really unsatisfying justifications as to why these characters were brought back.

The other central protagonists of Brightest Day: Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Firestorm, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl, continue their best cover of Captain Planet this issue, even going so far as combining their powers within the new avatar of life on earth. I'm not kidding you, at very least Dove didn't jump in there to represent "heart." Say what you will about the various strengths and weaknesses of each character's respective story lines, the fact that in the end their ultimate end goal was to become spirit guides for their most closely associated natural element, and run interference for the true protector of earth is just…disappointing.

The topic of discussion on everyone's mind with the reveals of this issue and the end of this series is the ramifications to the DCU now that certain characters who have been exclusive to Vertigo are being reintegrated back into the DC Universe Proper. Yes, the new protector of Earth is Swamp Thing, and the issue ends with a brief cameo from none other than John Constantine. Yes this is an exciting and controversial move, the kind that will get fans talking and build some media buzz.

Swamp Thing (and Constantine) to a lesser extent really steal this issue. I think DC, Johns, and Tomasi's choice to focus on Swamp Thing and misdirect the conversation about this book with John Constantine's arrival is indicative of a greater problem DC has as a publisher and that is missing opportunities and squandering potential. The whole point of this maxi-series (regardless of what Johns and Didio intended or will tell you they intended) should have been reestablishing and elevating DC's lower tier A-List of characters.

If you look at the current DC publishing catalogue, you'll notice something strange (no not that the Bat titles represent a good fifth of the output, that's normal). See when you look at what DC is publishing, the most popular characters are all represented (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Flash, some with more than one title) and many of DC's more obscure yet fan favorite characters are also represented (Booster Gold, Jonah Hex, Power Girl, and a plethora of Bat associates and former sidekicks). Yet many of DC middle tier characters, namely the ones who until now were currently starring in Brightest Day are sorely represented and have been absent or struggling to support a title for years now.

With Brightest Day, DC had these characters under the brightest spotlight they've been able to shine their way in awhile. And rather than bringing these characters back to basics, highlighting the core elements that makes them unique, showing us the intrinsic specialness that allows them to endure, the story focused on revising origins (confusing revisions too) and tying into an overly convoluted super story that in the end did nothing more than set up DC's next big thing, the reintroduction of the Vertigo characters.

Yes. We know that Aquaman is spinning off into his own series by Johns and Reis after this (and I get the strong vibe that at very least Firestorm is getting one too), but why not announce that in the final pages of this issue, as the conclusion of Justice League Generation Lost announced a new ongoing Justice League International.

DC should have kept the focus squarely on the most clean and simple interpretation of these characters and then spring boarded each one off into new ongoing series following the conclusion of this story, helmed by some of DC's most buzz worthy young writers (My picks would be Firestorm by Chris Roberson, Hawkman by Scott Snyder, Martian Manhunter by Peter Tomasi, and Deadman by Kelly Sue DeConnick ((LOCK HER DOWN DC, DON'T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE YOU DID LOSING NICK SPENCER!!!!)))

But maybe the reason they didn't announce any new titles featuring the supposed stars of Brightest Day is that after this issue, who would care about anything but the Vertigo characters, as Aquaman, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter, and Firestorm really took a back seat to these characters in this issue despite the fact that they had headlined the previous 23 issues.

Standing on its own merits this was a decent issue, but viewed as a conclusion to a year long storyline and considering what it did accomplish as opposed to what it could have accomplished, ultimately, this was a disappointing book.

Grade: B-

Read more Chris' Comics Corner here

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Whose Film Is It Anyway?: Christopher Nolan

By Jordan

Note: The purpose of Whose Film Is It Anyway? is to examine the validity of the auteur theory through the lens of individual film-makers, taking a look at their bodies of work and highlighting the technical elements, personal style, and thematic consistency of their films. Ultimately, the goal of this column will be to generate a discussion of the merits of auteur theory through examinations of directors widely considered auteurs, analyses of directors whose status as auteurs is more tenuous, and occasional looks at non-directors who may drive the quality and content of their films with more assuredness than the directors they work with.

“It’s just not that common that someone as creatively inspired as Chris just gets carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wants. Anything he can think of—anything—he got to do it.” Joseph Gordon Levitt, on Christopher Nolan

One thing that is important to realize when considering the auteur theory, something that we have struggled with throughout the last year of this feature, is the collaborative nature of film. It can be difficult to argue for a single author of a film that involved the work of hundreds of people. Studios and producers can require input, screenwriters can exert their own voice, actors can change lines or even plot points, cinematographers can contribute a feel all their own to the film, and even costume designers, location scouts, and stunt coordinators can all play an essential role in putting together a complete film. Especially in our current age, many films are made or broken by studio executives based on very brief pitches.

So it is fitting that the final director I will cover in this first run of Whose Film Is It Anyway? columns is one of the few auteurs working today who has managed to solve this problem of studio interference and make big budget movies his own way. How has Christopher Nolan transcended the standard problems that plague a director of blockbuster movies? It’s simple, really: he made a fuck-ton of money (to be clear, “fuck-ton” is more an estimate than an actual scientific or mathematical term). Rather than examining the recurrent themes or technical accomplishments of Nolan’s career (though both could easily be the subject of a full column), I want to take this opportunity to look at the evolution of the auteur, from his humble independent roots to his huge budget freedoms, hopefully shedding some light on a path to vast success and unlimited influence for an auteur along the way.

Nolan started his directorial career with Following, a neo-noir released in 1998 and filmed for just $6,000. Shot using a cast who was working full time and locations made up mostly of the houses of his family and friends, the film follows a young man (Jeremy Theobald) who is drawn into the life of serial burglar Cobb (Alex Haw) and becomes increasingly involved in an underworld he fails to understand. The film introduces several tendencies that will recur throughout his work (non-linear storytelling, twist endings, noir-ish themes and even a man named Cobb will all be seen again in his career), but most importantly proved that Nolan could, and would, shoot a movie for little to no money in order to retain full artistic freedom.

After the critical success of his first film, Nolan was able to secure almost $5 million to produce his follow-up, Memento. Based on a short story written by his brother Jonathan and a screenplay he wrote himself, Memento follows Leonard (Guy Pearce), a man inflicted with anterograde amnesia who is searching for his wife’s killer (dead wives and lovers are another recurring element to Nolan’s oeuvre). Playing out in reverse order, the movie plays with notions of identity and reality, both of which are central themes Nolan returns to repeatedly. The movie scored two Oscar nominations (Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing), and got Nolan his first studio directing job.

Nolan directed the 2002 remake of the Norwegian film Insomnia next, working with his largest budget to date by far ($46 million) and working for the first time with the studio he has remained with to this day, Warner Bros. A psychological thriller following two detectives (Al Pacino and Martin Donovan) out to investigate a murder in a town afflicted with perpetual daylight, the film examines perception, memory, guilt and ethical compromises, effectively recasting the original film for American audiences (who, of course, hate subtitles).

Following the success of Insomnia, Nolan convinced Warner Bros. to take a chance on him for the revival of the Batman franchise, which had been dead ever since Batman and Robin killed anyone’s desire to ever see a Batman movie again. Fortunately, Nolan aimed for a more grounded approach to the story, and the resultant Batman Begins cemented him as a blockbuster director capable of handling big budget projects and turning them into hits. Unlike most big budget productions, Nolan refused to use a second unit (generally a back up team that shoots less important scenes, like establishing shots and cut aways, while the first unit shoots the big scenes with the actors or action set pieces) in order to keep his vision consistent. The film also plays with several of Nolan’s pet themes, examining fear, duality, father figures and differing notions of justice.

Nolan had been working on his next film, The Prestige for years, having been approached with the novel and having tasked his brother with the writing of the screenplay (which he eventually revised and rewrote, earning himself a screenplay credit as well). Working with a smaller budget than Batman Begins, Nolan was able to secure himself the freedom he needed to structure the film in his own inventive, nonlinear style to mirror the three elements of the illusion in the film: the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. The film thematically mirrors much of Nolan’s other work (focusing again on perception, duality, and obsession) and performed well at the box office.

Nolan achieved his biggest success, however, and the film that has assured him the freedom he now enjoys, was 2008’s smash hit The Dark Knight, which became the highest grossing film ever made, if only you don’t count that James Cameron guy. Arguably the apex of Nolan’s career, The Dark Knight plays with most of Nolan’s recurring themes while also serving as a meditation on terrorism, the limits of vigilantism, and the lengths a person must go to in order to truly battle evil.

After the monumental success of The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. was desperate to entice Nolan to return for a third time to the franchise. While this has never been confirmed, it is widely rumored that Nolan agreed to direct a third Batman movie if Warner Bros. would allow him total freedom to create the big budget project of his dreams: Inception. Based on an idea that had plagued him since high school and working off of a screenplay he had written over the course of the previous decade, Inception takes Nolan’s recurring questions about perception and reality, his predilection for dead wives, and the big budget aesthetic he has developed since Batman Begins and creates his most personal and original film to date.

Inception is more important, though, for what it represents than for what it is actually about. Based solely on his previous successes (and theoretically the promised future success of another smash hit Batman movie), Christopher Nolan was able to get Warner Bros. to hand him $160 million to make an incredibly high concept and complex movie exactly the way he wanted to. When he decided he wanted the trailers to reveal nothing of the plot, they acquiesced. When he chose to leave the ending ambiguous, they relented. When he wanted to build a rotating set and shoot Joseph Gordon Levitt in zero gravity, he was allowed to. All of this is important because of what it says about the potential of the auteur theory. Christopher Nolan has achieved a remarkable level of success, but he has managed to do so without ever compromising his vision, instead figuring out how to incorporate it so successfully that he can make pretty much any movie he wants at this point and set his own budget.

Movies are made through the collaboration of hundreds of people in one capacity or another. Most auteurs earn the label by transcending these challenges and miraculously leaving their own mark on their movies, even in spite of the pitfalls and people that often stand in the way of just that. Christopher Nolan is a different sort of auteur, though. Where most auteurs work within the confines of the system, Nolan has remade the system to allow himself the freedom he wants and the money he needs to communicate his vision. By using his vast marketability as leverage, he has managed to become the sort of director who can make any movie he wants, at any price, and always manage to ensure that it is completely and utterly his own.

Read more Whose Film Is It Anyway? here

Coming up on Whose Film Is It Anyway?:

Note: Whose Film Is It Anyway? will go on indefinite hiatus after the final installment.

5/8: Notes on the Auteur Theory in 2011

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Year in Lists: Week Sixteen

By Jordan

My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger’s quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

“With its members bizarre, Kabuki-like makeup, studded black leather costumes and arsenal of onstage firepower—both musical and literal—Kiss represents the most extreme form of hard rock in 1974.”-Bennington Banner, Rock Music

“They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song…and it was just a wall of noise…They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new.”-Legs McNeil, who founded Punk magazine in 1975, on The Ramones CBGB debut on August 16, 1974.

That music is an art form we can all agree on. This is something I have covered in this space constantly for the last sixteen weeks, so let’s hope if you’re still reading this you can go at least that far with me. Yet I have only briefly touched on an art form that is completely integral to the way we think of music now: performance. Music is written, sure, but it is not meant to remain on a page. To achieve the full splendor of its artistic intent, music must be performed, and with that performance comes all of the posturing and artificiality that comes along with any performance. Performing written musical compositions turns everyone into a little bit of an actor, and some far more than others.

People who are shocked when they see David Bowie in a movie should keep in mind he played Ziggy Stardust for over a year on tour and then became The Thin White Duke for years after that. When Bob Dylan comes out on stage, or gives an interview to reporters, he knows what audiences expect, and is therefore playing to those expectations, whether he chooses to meet or subvert them. In this week’s My Year in Lists: Interlude I discussed the weight that I think the ability to engage the audience carries in terms of whether a band is an effective live outfit, and if you don’t think what Kanye West does on stage is a performance, I don’t know what to tell you.

So when four guys took to the stage in New York City in the mid-70’s breathing fire and wearing full face makeup, it may have seemed completely shocking to the music scene at the time, but really, nobody should have been surprised. Singers have been wearing masks for as long as there have been songs to sing—the guys in Kiss just made those masks slightly more literal.

In 1972, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, co-founders of the band Wicked Lester, abandoned that group due to lack of success, moving on to form what they conceived of as a new version of that group. Later that year they found an ad in Rolling Stone for drummer Peter Criss, who auditioned and joined this new lineup. Inspired by Alice Cooper and The New York Dolls, they began experimenting with their image, wearing face makeup and various costumes.

In early 1973, after failing to secure a record deal with Epic Records, the group added Ace Frehley on lead guitar. As Frehley joined, the group decided on the new name for the band: Kiss. The name was chosen after Criss mentioned his tenure in a band called Lips and Stanley responded, “what about Kiss?”

At their first show on January 30, 1973, the band wore no makeup—their now iconic appearance debuted at a March 9 show at The Daisy in Amityville, New York. With their makeup in place, they took on altered personas: Paul Stanley became Starchild due to his tendency to be a hopeless romantic and “starry-eyed lover,” Gene Simmons became The Demon because of his cynicism and dark sense of humor, Ace Frehley became Spaceman due to his fondness for science fiction, and Peter Criss became Catman as a response to the joke that he had nine lives after his rough childhood growing up in Brooklyn.

In October of 1973, former TV director Bill Aucoin offered to become the band’s manager. The group accepted, provided Aucoin get them a recording contract within two weeks. On November 1, 1973 the group became the first act signed to Emerald City Records, which was soon to become Casablanca Records. The band’s first tour began on February 5, 1974 and their self-titled debut, and Collin’s pick this week, was released on February 18.

The opening track “Strutter” is one of the few songs written by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. “Nothing to Lose,” the band’s first single, was written by Gene Simmons and chronicles a man coercing his girlfriend into trying anal sex, which she discovers she enjoys. The song “Firehouse” has become famous due to the fact that Gene Simmons breathes fire on stage whenever the band sings it.

“Cold Gin” is Ace Frehley’s first composition for Kiss, and is about the rumored stimulating effects of the beverage on the male sex drive. The album closes with “Black Diamond,” which begins acoustically before exploding into a full on rock song, finally slowing down and fading out.

Kiss took the artificiality of performance to a completely new level, creating characters and an entire mythology around themselves, a legend that sustains to this day. They also formed a fan base devoted to the outsider mentality the band forwarded with its theatrical posturing; Kiss showed that hard rock and heavy metal were a different beast from old school rock and roll entirely. The band became eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and were finally nominated for a slot in 2009, though they were not voted in. This has been incredibly controversial among their fan base, though Kiss super fan (and one of our Top Ten Pop Culture Commentators You Should Be Reading) Chuck Klosterman believes their exclusion is for the best. As he put it at the time, “Kiss not getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is kind of like Pete Rose not getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame: it’s the best possible scenario for everyone involved. Every year they get shut out, they’re back in the news for not making it—people will actually notice far less if they ever get inducted. Plus, being denied entry into the Hall of Fame advances the idea that Kiss exists outside the canon of critically sanctioned rock, and it perpetuates the idea that Kiss fans are unjustly persecuted for loving Kiss, which is essential to the Kiss-fan identity. I hope they never get in.”

While Kiss was stepping outside the mainstream of rock and roll and forming a path for hard rock into the future, elsewhere in New York City an entire genre was about to be formed. Douglas Glenn Colvin, Jeffrey Ross Hyman, and John Cummings met in the middle-class neighborhood of Forest Hills in Queens, New York. Cummings and Thomas Erdelyi had been in a high school garage band in 1966-1967 known as the Tangerine Puppets. They became friends with Colvin and Hyman, and began to take shape as a band, in early 1974, just as Kiss was being released.

The initial lineup consisted of Colvin on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Cummings on lead guitar, and Hyman on drums, with Erdelyi as the group’s biggest supporter. Colvin, who soon switched to bass, was the first to adopt a pseudonym, calling himself Dee Dee Ramone, which he got from Paul McCartney’s pseudonym during his Silver Beatles days, Paul Ramon. Dee Dee convinced the others to adopt the name, and the band was thus named The Ramones. Hyman and Cummings became Joey Ramone and Johnny Ramone, respectively. Dee Dee soon realized he could not sing and play bass and Joey became the band’s singer (though Dee Dee continued to shout his signature rapid-fire “1-2-3-4!” before every song). Joey subsequently made the similar discovery that he could not sing and play drums (The Ramones didn’t have any musical training, and I’m willing to guess all had a bit of trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time as well) and after auditioning many drummers who were not as good, Erdelyi became the drummer, calling himself Tommy Ramone.

The Ramones played their first gig on March 30, 1974. The songs they played were very fast and exceedingly short, most clocking in at less than two minutes. They played their first show at the legendary CBGB on August 16, 1974. By year’s end the band had played the club seventy-four times, with their average set running about 17 minutes long. By the time The Ramones released their self-titled debut in 1975 they were the leaders of an entirely new genre of music: punk rock.

The band’s first live album, and Tab’s pick this week, It’s Alive, was recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London on New Year’s Eve 1977 and released in April of 1979. Titled after the horror movie of the same name, the album draws from material off the band’s first three releases. Among the songs included in the stellar set is perhaps the band’s most famous song, “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Other songs include “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment,” “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” “Surfin’ Bird,” the band’s covers of “California Sun,” “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Let’s Dance,” and the set closes out with “We’re a Happy Family.”

Listening to live music is a completely different experience than listening to a record. Some bands aren’t as good live; others have trouble capturing lightning in a bottle and never make a record as electric as their live performances. As is often the case with punk rock, there’s a vitality to The Ramones live set that is absent from many of their records. As far as live albums go, It’s Alive doesn’t really do all that much experimenting. There aren’t any long solos added in (economy was part of the band’s ethos, just as it would become part of the punk movement in general) and there’s very little banter between Joey Ramone and the audience. The band just gets up there on New Year’s Eve, plays the hell out of their songs for 53 minutes, and gets out.

The Ramones performed 2,263 concerts, touring virtually nonstop for 22 years. In 1996, after the failure of their fourteenth album, Adios Amigos, the band played a farewell show and disbanded. Within eight years of their break up, the three founding members were all dead (Joey died of lymphoma in 2001, Dee Dee died of a heroin overdose in 2002, and Johnny died of prostate cancer in 2004). The band almost single handedly created punk rock and influenced the development of popular music over the last 35 years as much as, if not more than, any other band. If you think I am exaggerating their influence, just think about how we have traced the development of “alternative” music so far in this column. The Ramones created punk. Punk branched out into new wave and hardcore in the ‘80’s, both of which were instrumental in the foundations of modern alternative rock.

On that note (I remain king of the segue) it’s time to continue tracing the development of alternative music and look at Jane’s Addiction. The band formed out of the disintegration of front man Perry Farrell’s previous band Psi Com. In mid-1985, Farrell was looking for a new bass player when he was introduced to Eric Avery. The two bonded over a mutual appreciation of Joy Division and The Velvet Underground and began practicing together while Psi Com was falling apart. They dubbed their new band Jane’s Addiction in honor of Farrell’s housemate Jane Bainter, who was unsurprisingly a drug addict. Eric Avery’s little sister Rebecca suggested Stephen Perkins as drummer, and though Avery was reluctant due to their different taste in music, Perkins was hired. Finally, Perkins and Rebecca Avery got their friend Dave Navarro into the group as guitarist.

The band’s second album (and first studio album, as their eponymous debut was recorded live), and Ashley’s pick this week, Nothing’s Shocking, was released in 1988. During the recording of the album, Farrell stated that he wanted fifty percent of the band’s publishing royalties for writing lyrics and a portion of the remaining half for writing music. Avery, Navarro, and Perkins were (rightfully) stunned by Farrell’s demands, but he refused to compromise, so the band decided to break up (for the first of probably a thousand times). Warner Bros., the band’s label, called an emergency meeting to resolve the situation and somehow Farrell ended up with the percentages he wanted (getting 62.5% of the publishing royalties) while the rest of the band was left with 12.5% each.

This understandably caused a rift between Farrell and the rest of the band, which manifests itself in some of the anger that permeates the album. The album’s longest song, the 7:23 “Ted, Just Admit It…” is a rage filled tirade mostly aimed at sex, repeatedly suggesting that, “sex is violence” before concluding with the album’s title repeated. “Summertime Rolls” is a slightly less angry and more melodic song, more about a successful relationship than the negative side of romance. “Mountain Song” became famous due to its music video being banned by MTV due to nudity and scenes of teenage girls dancing in diapers (apparently MTV didn’t agree with the album’s titular ethos). “Jane Says” is without a doubt the most traditionally catchy and melodic song on the album, sounding more like other “alternative” bands of the era, though that doesn’t hurt the quality of the song.

The band recorded one more album, Ritual de lo Habitual before breaking up (for the first, but not the last time) because, as Farrell puts it, “…I am an intolerable narcissist who can’t get along with anyone.” From all I have read about the man, that assessment seems entirely accurate. Farrell and Perkins went on to form the band Porno for Pyros, while Navarro joined Red Hot Chili Peppers and formed the band Deconstruction with Avery. The band reformed to release an album without Avery, 2003’s Strays, and toured briefly with the original lineup from 2008 through 2010. They are releasing another album (again without Avery) called The Great Escape Artist later this year. Then, if I was a betting man, I would guess they’ll break up again, reform in a few years, break up, get Avery back for a song or two, break up, and then release another album just around the time people stop giving a shit about them. But I’m no expert.

Performance is a key aspect of music, whether that ends up being a negative or a positive. For Kiss, that artifice became central to the ideas the band was pursuing. For The Ramones, a live performance was often the height of their musical accomplishment and the band was at their best when in front of an excited crowd. And for Jane’s Addiction, who seems locked into a never ending drama between their narcissistic frontman and the (clearly) masochistic rest of the band, their entire existence often comes down to how well they can pull off the performance, either of being able to pretend not to hate each other, or of being able to summon enough vitriol towards one another to generate news stories. Like it or not, performance permeates musical culture, and the medium, like most artistic media, relies on it for its very existence. Shakespeare once said that all the world’s a stage, and as we all know, the show must go on.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next week on My Year in Lists:

Bruce Springsteen was Born to Run, Wire has a Pink Flag but some Chairs Missing, and The Cure experiences some Disintegration.

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 20: 100

Tonight 30 Rock made it to 100 episodes, a pretty big milestone in any sitcom's life. 100 episodes is a long time to spend with characters, especially on a show as strange, fast-paced, and all around wacky as this one. When the episode opened, it seemed like it was going to be a giant clip show, and for a few minutes there, it was. But "100" actually used the clip show to say something about it's characters. I'm not generally a fan of 30 Rock trying to be meaningful, as its characters are purposefully drawn like cartoon characters and it often fumbles when it tries to get real, but the realness of tonight's message was undercut by the simple fact that this was also probably the weirdest episode the show has ever done.

The central thesis of the episode (I've decided it had a thesis, so bear with me) is that Liz, Jack, Tracy, and Jenna are all realizing that they have spent five years on this show, and that the general chaos that they live in jsut getting by week to week has kept them from realizing that half a decade of their lives has slipped away from them in the process. That's a fine, even interesting concept to hang an episode on, especially the 100th, but it also has some problems. For one thing, Tracy and Jenna aren't really characters so much as insane joke machines. This isn't a slam against the show; I've said many times before that this show manages to be one of the best comedies on tv mostly by avoiding making its characters at all realistic, but that also means that trying to do big moments with them is bound to fail.

Tracy's plotline is approaching almost a season long arc at this point, and his efforts to lose the credibility he gained after winning an Oscar came off as a whole lot less funny than one would expect. I enjoyed the callback to his "I am a Jedi!" breakdown in the pilot, but the pilot wasn't really very good, and most of Tracy's craziness was just lacking the absurdity that I usually love about it. Jenna's deciding she wanted to be a mother even though no one but Kenneth thought she should was a fine plot, ostly because it was basically a string of gags and never had to go anywhere.

Meanwhile, the Jack and Liz crisis, as usual, felt more rooted in actual feeling, and both made some good points. Jack was an up and comer at GE five years ago, climbing the corporate ladder and only making a stop in the microwave and television division. Liz had a new show, a boyfriend, and a life that seemed pretty much together. Now Jack is stuck in the husk that is Kabletown and Liz is harried to the point of insanity with no romantic prospects and no back up plan. There is an argument to be made that they have actually made each other's lives worse. But they haven't, not really, and we all know that. They both need each other to distract themselves from their obsessive focus on their work. Without Liz, Jack wouldn't have Avery and his daughter. Without Jack, Liz might have gone completely insane at this point. It's nice to see the characters recognize this, and their plotlines provided enough laughter to allow for a little learning along the way.

At the end of the day, I think the "gas leak" was a mistake. I enjoyed the multiple Jack Donaghys gag more than I probably should have, but otherwise the leak added very little and probably took the show a bit too far. Danny channeling Josh Girard was worth a chuckle, but it wasn;t funny enough to be worth how little sense it made. Jenna's hysterical pregnancy was a ncie nod to Jane Krakowski's actual pregnancy, but also wasn't a good enough joke for me to suspend my disbelief (which is honestly very suspended on this show). And beyond that, since when do the characters on this show need to be high on gasoline to be completely insane? It seemed like an unneeded coneit that only added the worst elements of the episode. Except those multiple Jacks. For some reason that stupid joke really worked for me.

This was the weirdest episode of 30 Rock ever produced. I am generally a fan of the absurd, especially on this show, but I think it occasionally pushed things a bit far. Jack's storyline worked because his hallucinations were built around his character's insecurities. The return of Dennis in Liz's plot didn't really work, because the Dennis storyline is exactly the same every time the character comes back. Funny, sure, but we've been there before. And most of the rest of the hallucinations seemed weird for weirdness' sake, not built around the characters so much as around the idea that this is a crazy show so anything can happen. This was certainly a weird episode of the show, and it was often a very funny episode, but I don't think I'll ever count "100" as among my favorites. However, there was enough solid material here, and just the right mix of nostalgia, that I can't really fault the show for what it was doing here. Unlike the characters, I don't hope 30 Rock lasts for 100 more episodes. But for now, I like it just fine.

Grade: B+


-That + was added mostly to give the show kudos for making it this far, and out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia. Be angry at it if you will.

-Am I the only one bothered by the constant references to TGS having run for the same length of time as 30 Rock. The show had already been running for a while when 3o Rock started, and bringing Tracy Jordan in was a retooling for the program to bump up its stagnant ratings. Maybe this was the 100th episode of TGS with Tracy Jordan but the show itself has been on longer, and Liz and Jenna have been there longer than five years.

-"Jesus was black!"

-"Albinos get to be watchers in the mating shed."

-"Who wants to kiss? "Let's get some fresh air." Michael Keaton was fun as the maintenance guy going through the cliche "last day on the job" crisis.

-"Wow, over the last five years we've had a lot of crazy characters and guest stars on this show..." "That's enough, Pete."

-"The gas is not effecting me yet, so I can lead you all to safety. Just follow these...TROLL PENISES!"

-"Stick around. We've got our no cook cooking hair make unders."

-"I'm getting too old for this shhhh sound that comes from this gas pipe."

-"You used to be a shark." "I still am! Look at my claws!" "Sharks don't have claws. You don't even know what a shark is anymore!"

-"What if we had a child that was prettier than us? We'd have to leave it in a desert..."

-"It's not rape if neither party really wants it!"

-"That's crazy! A man named Elia. That's a giraffe's name!"

-"You're a cook in the bedroom and a whore in the kitchen."

-"It's after six. What are we, farmers?" A great callback to one of my favorite Jack Donaghy lines of all time.

-"You're 87 years old? My God I'm outstanding!"

-"Ok, we're obviously all thinking it, so I'm just going to say it: we're all going to have sex with each other, right?"

-"Do TV. No one will ever take you seriously again." Oh Alec Baldwin. If only you weren't so bitter about leaving behind your mostly mediocre film career for a fantastic role on television...

-"Screw Williams!" I cannot beleive how consistently awesome Brian Williams is on this show.

-"Sorry recurring hobos!"

-"Dr. Stephen Poop is a homemaker and a centaur..."

"Clooney? Hanks. Actor Emergency."

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 21: Paradigms of Human Memory

The clip show is a pretty terrible TV tradition, stemming from all of the things I hate about the way television used to be before it started getting better. The basic premise of a clip show is that people are ok with reruns and willing to laugh at the same joke a bunch of times (both of these things are also true of me. I have watched Arrested Development through at least three times now), so why not just write a few minutes of new content, string a bunch of montages of old jokes together and call it a new episode? There is no way around it: clip shows are lazy. They're an indication that the writers have an episode order to fill but are completely out of ideas, so here are some of our old good ideas slightly repackaged for your viewing enjoyment. Clip shows are generally done because they save a lot of money and time (being that there are few new scenes in them to shoot), and I can't say I've ever seen a clip show that really worked (at least not outside of The Simpsons which is always willing to admit the reasons it's doing a clip show, and has also been running for so insanely long that I excuse its occasional reliance on clip shows to fill out another season).

Tonight, both shows I review did some variation on the clip show format, and both of them were very successful. But this is my Community review, so those of you looking for my thoughts on 30 Rock should probably just scroll up. Community gets a lot of mileage (some would say too much) out of mocking and subverting various genres and tropes, and so it is kind of perfect that their "clip show" probably took them a long time and a lot of money to shoot. The gimmick of the episode is exceedingly simple without ceding a single iota of the show's trademark cleverness: this is a clip show full of all of the wacky adventures the gang has gone on that we've never seen. Most television shows exist on the idea that we miss all of the boring stuff, only coming around every time something worth watching is happening. Apparently on Community the characters are always having crazy adventures, fights, and bonding sessions and we just get to see the ones they have time to fit into a season.

The premise of the episode is simple: Troy sees Annie's Boobs (the monkey, sadly for all of you Allison Brie lovers) stealing a paintbrush the group is using to finish their 20th diorama. Chang goes into the vents after the monkey and comes out with the pile of stuff we saw it collecting back in "Cooperative Calligraphy" (which, for added cleverness points, was mocking another television trope that saves time and money: the bottle episode). The stuff forces the group to reminisce about their year, which leads to them fighting about how often they do terrible things to each other, and leads to us seeing a lot of flashbacks, most of which are frankly pretty amazing.

The thing I love most about Community when it is at its best is the realistic way it handles the character interactions and slowly complicating relationships among its principle cast. This show has a memory, even when you think it doesn't, and the things that these people do to each other are often pretty terrible. That has been a major arc this season, especially in Pierce's story, and that is the center of the episode tonight. Jeff doesn't quite nail it in his ending speech like I hoped he would, but the reason this group sticks together is because on some level every character knows they are terrible and do terrible things to their friends, but each of them is trying (and fitfully succeeding) to become a better person. Yes Pierce forced everyone to confront their greatest fears while in the throws of his pill addiction. Sure, Jeff and Britta are completely self-centered and narcissistic. Shirley has a tendency to judge, Annie is a passive aggressive perfectionist, Abed lacks tact and social grace and Troy is having trouble understanding what growing up means. All of this means that these characters will sometimes do really terrible things, but what redeems them all, in my eyes, as in their own, is that they have come together to try and take advantage of a second chance to be better people.

I have talked a lot about how much I enjoy what the show has done with Britta's character, even though I often kind of hate that character. When the show began, they used her as the perfect woman Jeff would have to improve to attain, yet when that wasn't working they slowly revealed that Britta is self-righteous, hypocritical, self-centered and attracted to flawed men like Jeff, which means of course she'd come off as perfect at first. And while I am not pulling for Jeff and Britta to end up together (I'm a Jeff-Annie man, but we'll get there), I do think it makes perfect sense that these two have been hooking up all season. They both hate themselves and they have a wonderful love-hate understanding with one another. They get each other and they see what they hate in themselves mirrored in the other, yet they are both so narcissistic that this attracts the mto one another. The show has gone from presenting them as the ideal couple to being kind of repulsed at the idea of them together. But while their pairing is a bit repulsive and unhealthy, it also makes perfect sense for where they are as characters.

Jeff and Annie are more complicated of course, and the show doesn't have the time, energy, or inclination to try to sort all of that out here, instead serving us a montage of longing looks between the two of them, which Jeff immediately dismisses as easy to do with anyone (leading to a repeat montage between Pierce and Abed, and an ending montage between Chang and Annie's Boobs, all of which are hilarious).

Community can be a blazingly, thrillingly original half hour of television on any given week, which is why it remains one of my favorite comedies on television. It is such a smart show that tonight it spends much of the runtime taking digs at itself. We get jokes about all the genre episodes the show does (including a Western themed episode, and episode set in a haunted house, a robot attack episode, and an episode where the gang is institutionalized), jokes about Jeff's episode ending speeches, jokes about how often the group threatens to break up to insert forced tension into an episode, and even jokes about how much the show has forgotten to do class related storylines this season (the only thing the group has ever done for Anthropology is make dioramas, which is why their 20th diorama is a diorama of them doing their 19th diorama). We get some nice character moments here that remind us where everyone stands at the moment. If I have a flaw with Community's second season as we hit this final stretch, it's that we've been stuck in neutral for a lot of the back half of this season. The early part of season two did the heavy lifting on some of the less used characters from the first season, especially Troy and Shirley. But now that we understand where everyone is at the moment, I feel like the show has been giving us a lot of "this is where everyone stands at the moment" episodes in the back half of this season. Usually the gimmick-heavy episodes like this one are surrounded on all sides by strong character episodes that move things forward and cement relationships for these gimmicks. The last several weeks it has seemed like the character episodes have suffered for lack of a gimmick, which is slightly disconcerting. I have faith that the show will pull it together for the end of the second season, but when episodes are as funny as this one, it's hard to complain, even at some of the flaws.

Grade: A-


-Sorry for missing last week. I was travelling and couldn't see the shows as they aired. My quick thoughts on last week's episode: it was ok, which means it was slightly disappointing. I always love Steven Tobolowsky, so his Who's the Boss? plot with Abed was cute, but it felt rushed. The Troy and Britta thing was nice, if also a bit rushed, and I have to again give kudos to my friend who called them as a potential pairing early in this season. The Pierce-Jeff plotline seemed like a lot of filler, and it was the ostensible A-plot. I didn't review the episode, so I can't really grade it accurately, but I probably would have given it something in the B- area.

-"That guy was hardcore racist, like 1800's Disney style."

-"We are friends with a grown man that clearly still believes in leprechauns."

-"The reason we had to fill in for the Glee club is because they...died..."

-"Troy, drop a beat." "Just give them some examples."

-"This habitat was for humanity!"

-"Jeff and Britta, you are free to go because you didn't step forward and are therefore clearly innocent."

-"Feast your ear tongues on these memory pops."

-"You can yell at me all you want! I've seen enough movies to know that popping the back of a raft makes it go faster!"

-"Dean-eow! It's Feline AIDS awareness day!"

-"It's a locomotive that runs on us!"

-"The heart of the water is the truth."

-"Sometimes, I felt jealous of his interesting outfits..."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Year in Lists: Interlude: Musings on a Music Festival

By Jordan

My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger’s quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

My Year in Lists: Interlude is an intermittent addendum to the feature that takes a step back from the quest to examine music from other perspectives.

Every music festival that is ever organized has to think, at least for a minute, that it's Woodstock. That festival is so engrained in our cultural consciousness, in the way that we conceive of a music festival, that attending any festival ever will remind us of that touchstone event (an event which most of us never attended, myself included as it took place 20 years before I was born). However, right after any festival gets that idea in its head, it must be completely and summarily dismissed. No festival is Woodstock. Hell, even Woodstock wasn't Woodstock the way we have mythologized it. This, I think, is the paradox of the music festival. Everyone attending (and at least some of the people planning) are thinking, at least subtly, that they might be heading for their generation's Woodstock. Everyone is expecting all of the great music, copious amounts of narcotics, and free love mentality of the '60's will return for one glorious weekend of revelry and they will always tell the story of how they were there.

Spoiler alert: Coachella 2011 was not our generation's Woodstock. Our generation won't have a Woodstock, at least not in the way we probably conceive of it. Sure, some people in attendance threw on their best flower child impersonation, and if this were a different sort of column, I could probably examine all of the attempts to recreate the drug-induced, free-love inspired revelry of any modern music festival's forebear. But that is not what My Year in Lists is about, and rest assured, all you puritanical out there amongst my readers, that is not the point of this interlude. My Year in Lists is a musical journey (or at least I keep telling myself and my readership that), but one that is, for all intents and purposes, fairly sedentary. I am listening to a wider range of music than ever before and reporting back my findings and observations to you. Yet theoretically all of this could be done in my apartment, headphones firmly attached to my ears (to be fair to those who assume I'm some sort of agoraphobic, I often listen to the music for this column while in transit, and I also try to listen to it in different formats as opposed to just on my headphones), and I don't think that captures fairly the full experience of listening to music. A vital part of the musical experience is the concert, which provides the opportunity to listen to music you love in a starkly different context: performed live in front of your eyes and ears while you are surrounded by throngs of people who enjoy the same music as much as (if not more than) you.

The music festival experience is different than a single concert in several ways. For one thing, it's a lot longer. Since 2007 Coachella has been a three day festival, taking place from Friday to Sunday on a weekend in April. For another, you see a lot more bands at a festival than at a concert. And more likely than not, you see a few bands at a festival that you would never even consider going to see in concert, simply because there is down time between acts that you consider essential. In order to better express the experience of a music festival, and to get at the ways in which it starkly differs from the usual experience of listening to music, I took field notes whilst I was experiencing the festival. Hopefully they will shed some light on more than just what amazing bands I was able to see over the course of my three days at the festival. For those of you who were also at Coachella this year, or have been to any music festivals before, please feel free to share your thoughts!


12:40 pm: Arrive at the venue, after not too much traffic. See the first of many banks of porta potties and immediately think about hoe vile those things will become by Sunday night.

1:30 pm: After an interminable wait for my little brother to get a Coachella T-shirt, we arrive at The Outdoor Stage in time to see the Rural Alberta Advantage while we wait for !!! to begin. [ASIDE: The Coachella venue is laid out with the Coachella Stage, the largest area where the headliners play, taking up the center space, the Outdoor Stage, where the second tier bands play, taking up the field space to the right of the Coachella Stage, and then three tents, Gobi, Mojave, and Sahara lined up on the side of the space. There is also the Oasis Dome which provides electronic music and a cool place to escape from the sun, though I never made it there during my stay. The venue is also full of large art pieces, rom sculptures to interactive work, all of which liven up the space and provide an opportunity to showcase artists who might have trouble fitting their work into a studio space.]

1:54 pm: The crowd disperses after the Rural Alberta Advantage complete their set. Though I am not all that familiar with !!!, this is the first real set of the festival for me, and one of the first concert experiences for my brother, so we make sure to position ourselves front and center for the show. The band is a pretty exciting dance-punk outfit, and frontman Nic Offer is lively and flamboyant enough to put on a fantastic show. It's good to start out the weekend with a band that is new to me and just enjoy the performance.

3:23 pm: The Sahara tent, the furthest tent from the Outdoor Stage and Coachella Stage, is the dance tent, set up with light fixtures throughout and programmed with mostly electronic outfits and DJs throughout the weekend to keep people raving round the clock. I know Iwon't spend much time here, so when my brother suggests seeing Skrillex here, I take him up on it. As a rule, I think most electronic music is painfully redundant, finding a decent beat and just hitting it repeatedly for 5-10 minutes. It doesn't do much for me from a music standpoint, but then that's not why most people go to the Sahara tent anyway. No one is sitting back, relaxing, and listening to the music in this tent; this is where you go to move.

4: 03 pm: Fleeing Skrillex. I have had my fill of the Sahara tent for the whole weekend at this point.

4:33 pm: Positioned myself near the front at Coachella stage for the first act I am actually excited about. Cee Lo Green is on in 20 minutes, and I think he'll put on a great show.

5:18 pm: Cee Lo finally takes the stage, explaining his flight was delayed and complaining about his shitty time slot. The organizers of Coachella are on a tight schedule, and that means no one is going over their allotted time, especially not on the main stage. Cee Lo gets to play for only 20 minutes. I can't imagine how upset I would be if I had come to Coachella mainly to see Cee Lo. Fortunately for me, while I wanted to see him, he was low on my priority list. He got to play "Crazy" and "Fuck You," and while I actually enjoy some of the deeper cuts off of The Ladykiller those were my only essentials, so I leave the set aggravated but not heart broken. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that Cee Lo ends his set attempting to cover "Don't Stop Believin'" which sounded like it would have been awesome. Unfortunately the organizers cut his mike right after the first line, and cut the band's amps a few chords later. The band kept playing while the audience sand a long (everyone on Earth probably knows all of the lyrics to that song by this point), but Cee Lo just stormed off cursing at the people back stage. I felt his pain, but had to move on to greener pastures.

7:38 pm: Interpol comes on at Coachella stage. Again, I am not a huge Interpol fan and am actually mostly attending their set to ensure that I get a good spot for The Black Keys, who follow them and are assured to put on a great show. Interpol actually plays a solid set though, and is the first band to utilize the jumbo trons around mainstage for more than just showing them playing. I'm glad I saw this set, especially because I was in a great spot for The Black Keys, who played the first great show of the festival.

12:21 am: I know this can be a divisive issue among concert goers, but personally, I always give a lot of credit to a band who has great stage banter. Obviously the focus of any concert is hearing the band's music, and I understand why some people get frustrated when a band spends much of their set talking, especially at Coachella where most bands are confined to a 50 minute set. Flogging Molly, who played on Outdoor, were the closing act of the night, however, and thus had plenty of time on their hands to set frontman Dave King goof around and have a good time with the audience. By this point I'm showing my age, however. I haven't been to Coachella since 2007, and even then I only went for one day. This time I know I have a long road ahead of me, so I spent the last two sets here at Outdoor (Crystal Castles, who were cool, and Caifanes, a Mexican supergroup who didn't do much for me) just sitting down and spacing out, waiting for Flogging Molly, who I counted as essential, to come on. I wish they had played earlier in the day, if only because they were so awesome, and I was barely able to stay standing during their set. They played several songs off of the forthcoming Speed of Darkness which I would have bought anyway, but now am actively looking forward to, and also managed to get in several of their hits. I couldn't stay for the whole set (especially since my brother was basically asleep at this point), but managed to stick it out until they played my favorite of their songs, "If I Ever Leave This World Alive." It was as awesome as I'd hoped, and a great way to close out day one.


1:32 pm: We arrive at the venue for day two. Coachella is a marathon, not a sprint, and Saturday promises to be by far my most packed day, including two times where I am triple booked with bands I hope to see.

2:58 pm: The Tallest Man on Earth takes the stage at Gobi, and literally blows me away. Kristian Mattson is a Swedish singer/songwriter who can most easily be compared to early Bob Dylan, and standing on that stage alone with his guitar (and occasionally banjo) he was more powerful than many of the full bands I saw over the course of this weekend. He is definitely in the running for one of my favorite sets of the entire festival.

4: 20 pm: I stick around after The Tallest Man on Earth for Radio Department, who I haven't heard before. They are also really good. I will have to look into getting their album whence I return to the real world.

5:03 pm: Ok, I will give my father props for Erykah Badu. I know I rip on the musical tastes of my lineage occasionally in this space, but my Dad has been into Badu for a good ten years now, and on this one (if still not Phil Collins) I'll give him credit. She puts on a powerful, soulful performance, which is unfortunately cut off as she is about to end her set. I understand the importance of keeping to the schedule at a festival like this, and I can't fault the organizers for cutting Cee Lo off yesterday (I bet he would've gone on for a lot longer if they hadn't), but Badu was clearly finishing up her set. It's a tough compromise between letting the set end naturally and keeping to the schedule, and I see why the organizers are so dictatorial about the end times of the sets (I know I'd be pissed if everything was pushed back by an hour or so by the end of the night), but I still think a few minutes of leeway should be built into the schedule in future years. Cutting off someone's mike is not the ideal way to end a set, especially not one as relaxed and personal as Badu's, who sings every song as if it was written from pages of her own diary.

6:10 pm: Broken Social Scene comes on at twilight. Nice programming here, Coachella. This is my first crunch time though, as The New Pornographers come on at 6:35 and Elbow comes on at 7:00, so I don't get to stay for the whole set. I do stop by New Pornographers for a few songs (I've already seen them three times, so they aren't as high on my priorities list), but unfortunately miss Elbow trying to meet up with the rest of my group and actually put food in my body. It is shocking how little I eat during this festival, both due to time constraints and because of the crushing heat. When it is this hot outside, I am drinking water constantly, but other nourishment is completely forgotten about until the end of the night when I finally sit down in my car and realize I am starving, mostly because I have starved myself for a whole day.

8:41 pm: Mumford and Sons come on and play a set that is wall-to-wall awesome. I have liked the band for a while now, though they were never my favorites (I have often said that I think Frightened Rabbit does what they do, but much better). This show makes me a much bigger fan though. There is such passion and showmanship in every one of their songs, it's hard not to fall a little bit in love with them. They definitely also make my list for one of my favorite sets of the entire festival.

9:35 pm: I run from Mumford and Sons to The Swell Season, who would also make my list of favorite sets for the whole festival. Glen Hansard is a veteran showman at this point who knows exactly how to read his audience and perfectly mixes the stage banter with playing a set full of excellent songs. "Low Rising," "When Your Mind's Made Up," and "Feeling the Pull" all make appearances and are all excellent. This is one of those sets where you can predict easily what they will close with, yet that didn't even close to effect the power of "Falling Slowly." You could see it coming a mile away, but it is such a perfect song, it is exactly what we all wanted anyway.

10:16 pm: Leave the Mojave tent and head over to Gobi for The Felice Brothers, who are playing a shockingly underattended set. I have never seen the Gobi tent so empty, and despite the fact that I stayed through the end of The Swell Season, I am able to get right up front for this set. The band played a lot of music off of their upcoming album Celebration, Florida, which was cool to hear, but as a huge fan of The Felice Brothers and Yonder is the Clock, I was disappointed not to hear any songs off of those albums (though it is possible I missed them). In all, I expected a much folkier set from the band, who turned out to rock a lot harder than I had anticipated. They played a very solid set, but none of my favorites made appearances and they sounded very different than I had expected. This happens sometimes with live music, though. It can be tough to anticipate what a band will be like live just from hearing their albums.

10:55 pm: I always like to say I think I would like Animal Collective more if I was just really high all the time, but unfortunately I am not, so the band doesn't do much for me. I catch the end of their set, though, as Arcade Fire is up next and I need to be well positioned for this.

11:30 pm: Arcade Fire comes on and blows the doors off the place, playing an amazing set that is pretty much wall-to-wall excellent. They would also be a definite festival highlight, especially with the excellent closer, "Wake Up," during which they dumped a container full of balloons onto the audience. Each balloon was equipped with remote controlled lights, which made for a bautiful sight as the band played probably their most well known song. Fortunately, they returned for an encore, a luxury only afforded to closing acts, and thankfully encored with "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" the one song I was surprised they didn't play. Again, I would have guessed "Sprawl II" as the closer, and it was, but I love the song and the live rendition was amazing, so this was just another example of a band knowing what their audience wants and just giving it to them.


3:30 pm: Arrive at the venue later today for lack of earlier acts. For some reason the early sets on Sunday are incredibly sparse. Maybe the organizers figure everyone needs some sleep after Saturday night.

5:20 pm: I take the lack of acts as a chance to explore more closely a lot of the art that populates the venue, and to finally check out the Beer Garden. Again, it has been so hot out that I was focused solely on hydration rather than libations, but this is my last chance, and being as I am 22 now, it seems like a waste to have made it through Coachella without a drink. I catch some of Nas and Damien Marley while I am in the beer garden.

5:57 pm: Arrive at the Outdoor for Best Coast. Positioning is important on this one, not so much for best Coast (who I do enjoy) but because The National plays next and I want to be as close to them as humanly possible. Best Coast is a lo-fi band, which means they sound incredibly different live. They are much more rock influenced, and the instruments drown out Bethany Cosentino a lot of the time, but they still sound excellent, and Cosentino tells a cute story about how jsut a few years ago she was attending Coachella and now she is playing Coachella, so never give up on your dreams, kids. All in all a solid set.

7:23 pm: The National are definitely one of my favorite current bands, so it is with a lot of bias that I tell you they were one of my favorite sets of the weekend. They opened with "Bloodbuzz Ohio," played "Slow Show," "Fake Empire," "Conversation 16," "Mr. November," and pretty much every other essential song before the phenomenal closer, where Bon Iver's Justin Vernon guest starred on "Terrible Love." Everyone in the crowd was pretty much going insane the entire time, but when Vernon appeared, it was complete chaos. This also lead to my guess that he would guest star later for Kanye's set, which proved to be true.

8:16 pm: One of the toughest things about music festivals is the booking. Nothing is more infuriating than when two bands you want (or even NEED) to see are playing back to back. When I found out Duran Duran was playing this year, I decided they would be a fun set to see, and even bought their new album in preparation. Yet when the schedule was released and I saw they were playing agaisnt The National, it became no contest. Sure, I would have seen Duran Duran, but The National were on my essentials list, so fuck "Hungry Like the Wolf." Fortunately, mainstage was delayed a bit for some reason, and The National ended in time for me to see "Rio" and a James Bond medley that lead into "A View to a Kill." Seeing as those are the only two Duran Duran songs I really care about (I can't say I've ever really been a fan of the band, but I am a huge fan of James Bond movies), I felt particularly lucky to have arrived at that point in their set.

8:44 pm: The Strokes take the stage. It is pretty well known that the band does not particularly like each other (to put it nicely), and lead singer Julian Casablancas was not even present for the recording of the band's newest album, the New Wave-y Angles, instead opting to email his vocals to the band after recording them in an entirely separate studio. Because of this, I didn;t really expect a lot of stage banter, and I was corect. Casablancas was the most clearly inebriated act of the weekend, managing only pretty meekyl to engage with the audience at all, asking things like, "It was fucking hot this weekend, right?" and "You guys here a shit ton of music this weekend?" That didn't matter so much though, as the band played a set full of their greatest hits and without a dud in the mix. Casablancas may have been drunk off his ass, but The Strokes are probably the closest thing we have to a classic "rock band" at the moment, and like the rock Gods that came before him, Julian Casablancas can still put on a great show even if he is fucked up.

10:50 pm: Kanye West quite literally FLIES in to begin his set (on a crane. If he actually has super powers, he's keeping them secret for now), which has by far the best production values of any act at the festival. With a backdrop remniscient of Grecian art and something like 20 back up dancers during the big numbers, Kanye turned the usually relatively low key Coachella into a full on spectacle. Playing most of his biggest songs, including "Dark Fantasy," "Jesus Walks," "Diamonds Are Forever," "Through the Wire," "Golddigger," and "Runaway" before dedicating the show to his mother (who died in 2007) and closing with "Hey Mama," West was a sight to see. Along with guest stars Justin Vernon and Pusha T, a costume change, and motherfucking fireworks (I will rant about my general distaste for fireworks in a more appropriate place, but it was a nice bit of theatricality here), Kanye put on a hell of a show, and made me admit I need to get all of the man's music and catch up on what I've been missing.

So that, folks, was Coachella 2011. Music festivals are a strange (and, don't get me wrong, awesome) phenomenon. People go there ostensibly to hear music (and that is entirely why I for one went there), but I think that live music, especially in the festival setting is about more than that. Music festivals are a cultural experience, even if none will ever reach the mythic heights of Woodstock. They are a chance to leave yourself and your problems behind for a few days and allow yourself to dress in ridiculous costumes or act completely insane (again, neither of which I did). They are a chance to get carried away from your real life, wither by music or by engaging in activities that willfully remove you from your daily experience. So while no music festival will ever live up to the incredibly high hype placed upon them by people who hope to be part of the defining moment of their generation, they do provide something to us. Music, and all art for that matter, is a form of escape, a way for us to be removed from our issues, our concerns, and even ourselves for a little bit, and to see things in a different way. And if music festivals can exist as the embodiment of this escape, as an actual oasis from real life for a few days every year, I think that can be a powerful personal experience, even if it fails to be a transcendant cultural moment. Coachella will never be more than an artifice if you view it (and all associated festivals) as a potential cultural touchstone. I don't know about you, dear readers, but I'd rather have the personal experience than the mark on our collective consciousness any day.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).