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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015
With the party game, the real experience is having fun in the company of others, not winning.

If there’s one genre of game I don’t get to play really anywhere other than at Indiecade, it’s the party game. Party games are made for large groups of people, often for the sake of an audience of onlookers. They are games that emanate fun through the spectacle of their chaos. They are challenge and competition, and in the same breath, they are light and harmonious. Nothing is worse than when a party game becomes serious. In short, they are the perfect sort of game for a gathering of fun loving people at a small expo like IndieCade East.

Doubly so, because I can’t get together a large group of people at my house to play a party game. It takes a lot to get just a single friend to to drop by to play a co-op game. So these aren’t games whose experience I can bring home with me. Still, there is that expressionistic joy that comes from being able to play these types of games that is worth experiencing, even if it can’t be any time I want.

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Monday, Mar 30, 2015
"Half a Chance" finds the Cuban-Canadian singer/songwriter Alex Cuba joining his smooth brand of songwriting with that of legendary troubadour Ron Sexsmith.

The bilingual, acoustic guitar-led “Half a Chance” is one of the standout cuts from Healer, the new LP by Alex Cuba, the self-described “Spider Man of Latin music”. Like the rest of the album, “Half a Chance” represents the two different perspectives from which Cuba approaches his songwriting: as a Cuban-born immigrant to Canada, his music reflects where he’s been and where he’s come from. Cuban and Latin influences are prevalent in his music, but so too are pop and singer/songwriter tropes from North America. For “Half a Chance”, Cuba is joined by fellow Canadian Ron Sexsmith, who provides some nice harmony vocals in the chorus.

Tagged as: canada, cuba, latin music
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Monday, Mar 30, 2015
The combo of Umphrey’s McGee and Joshua Redman has become one of the present day's top showcases of sonic wizardry.

A Friday night in the City of Angels with Umphrey’s McGee in town at the historic Wiltern Theater is an occasion that will draw music fans from all over the Golden State. Some were coming from San Diego, since they either had no desire to see the band at the cramped House of Blues the night before or were dedicated enough to attend both shows, while others were down from the Bay Area to make a run of it with the next night’s show in Oakland.

This show would also feature the guest appearance of virtuoso saxman Joshua Redman, an occasional collaborator with the band who always adds some extra musical fireworks to the mix. The combo of Umphrey’s McGee with Joshua Redman has become one of the present day’s top showcases of sonic wizardry. This led to a festive vibe of anticipation early on, as some fans started lining up in the five o’clock hour to obtain the evening’s coveted limited edition show poster from renowned artist Chuck Sperry. This one was a gem, featuring one of Sperry’s trademark psychedelic cartoon hippie women on a silver foil paper stock print that soared exponentially in value by the end of the night. 

The Koreatown area around the Wiltern isn’t quite as happening as the resurgent East Hollywood scene around venues like the Fonda Theater or Hollywood Palladium, but the vibe is coming along with establishments like Beer Belly. The gastropub up the street on Western Avenue features what some fans would call a heady craft beer selection and has thus become a popular pre-game spot for the Wiltern.

Umphrey’s McGee like to collaborate, having shared bills in recent years with musical compadres like Widespread Panic, STS9, Galactic, and others, so it was fitting to see them welcome a rising band to open the show here in the Revivalists. The seven-piece New Orleans-based rhythm and blues outfit delivered a rewarding opening set for those who ventured in early. The band mixes New Orleans soul with vintage blues and rock vibes, conjuring an authentically old school sound to provide a contrast with what was to come.

Umphrey’s McGee may be steeped in an classic rock, but old school they are not. The band has been moving in a cutting edge direction in recent years that has seen them chart a bold course through the sonic byways and highways of the modern music scene. The band’s sound is not for everyone, with guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss known for wicked prog-rock guitar pyrotechnics and hard rock riffage that may not appeal so much to those looking for more danceable funk. But the virtuoso sextet has carved out a niche with the devoted “Umphreaks” who can’t get enough of the unique way the band blends guitar-heavy hard rock with advanced syncopation and high energy grooves.

The band warmed things up with the melodic rock of “Bridgeless”, seguing into the tight staccato riffage of “Gents” before landing back into “Bridgeless”. The over-the-top metal guitar on “Rocker Part 2” threatened the eardrums of some in the audience, but many reveled in the energy. The set went to another level however when the evening’s special guest was introduced. “Ladies and gentleman, the fifth Beatle, his name is Josh Redman”, Bayliss said to introduce the dynamic saxman. The band jumped into a groovier vibe with “Professor Wormbog”, a tune that features some more sonic space where keyboardist Joel Cummins could make an impact with his skillful piano plunking while Redman started to conjure his horn magic.

The energy level surged on “Bad Friday” with the band rocking on a tight arrangement that featured a platform for Redman to weave in and out with dazzling lines to elevate the group’s sound to another level. There’s something about adding a sax to a jamband that triggers a higher dimension of sonic magic and this jam was a dazzling case in point, with Redman and Cinninger trading lines as if flying in tandem on a Quidditch team. The effect was even more pronounced thanks to the Jedi level psychedelic light show from lighting man Jefferson Waful, easily one of the best in the business. There was a tangible energy in the crowd as the Wiltern audience synched into a collective groove as the band led the way on a trip through the light fantastic with Redman playing Pied Piper.

The second set followed a similar pattern, with Redman absent again at the beginning while the band rocked out in an edgier fashion. Cinninger and Bayliss sizzled with their twin guitar melodies on “Miss Tinkle’s Overture”, sort of like a heavy metal Allman Brothers Band. The rhythm section shined on “Hajimemashite”, with bassist Ryan Stasik, drummer Kris Meyers, and percussionist Andy Farag locking into a simple yet impactful heavy groove. The band executed another masterfully seamless segue into “In the Kitchen”, where they seemed to throw in everything but the kitchen sink with the fiery guitars blending with trippy keyboards for a psychedelic jam that ignited like a flambé dessert.

“Are we having fun yet?” Bayliss asked the elated audience at the end of the jam before welcoming Redman back to the stage. “Wife Soup” featured more sonic space for Redman to shine, setting the stage for the biggest jams of the evening. “California, you guys are into weird shit, right? Alright let’s get weird”, Bayliss said as the band launched into “1348”. The dynamic tune soared with the addition of Redman’s sax, which veered from following the guitar melodies to leading his own jazzy forays into time and space for a true sonic spectacle.

A sharp cover of the Police’s “Driven to Tears” closed the set in style, with the band nailing the Police’s sound but elevating the groove to another level. The evening was another dazzling showcase of the rare air that Umphrey’s McGee occupies in the modern music scene. The music may be overly challenging to process for some, but there are few touring rock bands who can execute such intricate arrangements with jazzy jams and a guest sax player on board to boot.

Splash image: concert shot of Umphrey’s McGee courtesy of their press page. Concert poster by Chuck Sperry.

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Monday, Mar 30, 2015
The music video to the buoyant bit of synth-pop that is "Shining Armor" pays homage to Azealia Banks's "212" video.

Featuring an ultra-catchy chorus hook and synths that bring LCD Soundsystem to mind, “Shining Amor” is a capture of the Brooklyn trio Basic Shapes’ sharp pop sensibility and sense of fun. The latter particularly comes out in the new music video to “Shining Armor”, which you can view exclusively below. What began as a tribute to an Azealia Banks music video became something else entirely: something goofy, charming, and well within the spirit of the tune itself.

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Monday, Mar 30, 2015
by Steve Leftridge and Steve Pick
Double Take heads out West and into the disfigured psyche of Ethan Edwards. Do we figure him out completely? That'll be the day. But we went out looking hard for him anyway.

The Searchers asks one main question: What makes a man to wander?

Steve Pick: We come to the first Western in our series, the John Ford masterpiece The Searchers. I say “masterpiece” because there are few films so tightly focused, so beautifully filmed, and so aware of ambiguities. From that wonderful opening shot through the door of the small home out on the Texas prairie on through the final shot through another door, as John Wayne saunters away from family, friends, and purpose, this is a movie which takes away breath so often it should come with an inhaler. Yet, there are issues to discuss, not the least of which include the treatment of Native Americans, questions of cultural identity, the meaning of the word “family”, and the general concept of the “hero” in American films. The Searchers exists in the context of hundreds of other western films, not to mention thousands of dime novels, pulps, and paperbacks. While delivering the thrills inherent in the genre, it seems to me that The Searchers does not take its tropes for granted, but digs deeper into their meaning than we are used to seeing.

So, Steve, I’ll let you start by asking your take on The Searchers in general, and more specifically your opinion of John Wayne’s character in the context of the film.

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