It may seem like a strange thing to say about a band that strictly plays cover songs, but Nouvelle Vague has found their niche. But then, Nouvelle Vague are a far cry from the visions typically connoted by the words “cover band”. If their three studio albums and international touring didn’t already solidify that fact, then one only needed to be present at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall Friday night listening to the crowd demand their second encore.
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With temperatures hovering around minus 20 degrees Celsius, Thursday was the perfect evening to stay home under blankets, on the couch, watching a movie and sipping hot chocolate. But Toronto does love live music and when one of the night’s performers happens to be local talent Barzin, its well worth it to bundle up and brave the elements. The opening act of a three-band sold out bill, Barzin (playing acoustic guitar) treated fans to his special blend of melancholy folk-music supported by Nick Zubeck on electric guitar, Marshal Bureau on drums, Darren Wall on bass and Terri Parker on keys. The saturating red glow of the Drake Hotel’s custom stage lighting created a mellow ambience to the dreamy fluidity of “Let’s Go Driving” and “Past All Concerns”. Sitting and listening, it was easy to block out background conversation and get lost in the heart-felt sadness that Barzin’s voice so easily conveys. The band also performed newer material such as “Queen Jane” from the 2009 release Notes To An Absent Lover. A highlight performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me To The End Of Love” and “Just More Drugs” ended the set. A more personal highlight moment was actually meeting Barzin on my way out. One on one, he is soft-spoken, friendly and genuine, further convincing me that his stage persona and the emotion in the music he writes are completely authentic.
With all the talking set to surround the 2010 Oscar nominations, the loudest chatter (at least for a few days to a week) is typically about the snubs. And which film was snubbed the hardest this year? Crazy Heart, by many miles. Never has an actor, Jeff Bridges, made a downtrodden, whiskey-worshiping country singer look so insatiably cool. Although the film’s concept seems less-than-original, Bridge’s performance, along with that of the vivacious Maggie Gyllenhaal, keeps you riveted from start to finish.
Put Crazy Heart in place of District 9, I say. Those stupid aliens have nothing on Bad Blake.
Tommy Tavern’s is an anomaly in Greenpoint, a neighborhood gentrifying faster than you can say “is the G train running this weekend?” It’s more dive bar than you’ll find almost anywhere; the kind of place where your vodka tonic is a glass of rubbing alcohol topped with a splash of stale sugar water. Two dollar Schaffer’s are the house specialty and the only thing in the place that has been replaced or cleaned in the last decade is a shiny digital juke box, which spews Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, and if you’re lucky, Queen. At the back of the bar is a door that could lead to a closet but instead opens into a amorphous room painted in haphazard crimson. Inside is the bar’s bathroom, and a “stage”. When I entered, the lead guitarist of the night’s headliner, Pop. 1280, was collecting money at the door. The vibe in the room was pretension-free. Everyone was just waiting for the music, noticing little else.
It is the penultimate audition show before taking to Hollywood and weeding out the golden tickets, and it is clear that the process, both in the audition room and the editing booth, is starting to run on fumes. This episode had little in the way of either memorable performances, freakazoids, or sob stories. The judges agreed to send 26 total singers from Denver on to the next round, but we saw very few of them. Instead, the show spliced together more montages than usual—of quirky audition preparation rituals, of pissed-off rejects being hounded by American Idol cameras, of the upbeat yes-fest from Denver, and of the zany costume gimmicks.
To stay consistent with the general mendacity at this point, Denver saw the return of Victoria Beckham, heretofore the most reticent of the guest judges, who in this round was far more talkative, approaching outright astuteness. She was able to level that criticism first on a paunchy wiseacre named Mark Labriola, a guy who thinks he looks like Jack Black so he tries to act like him. His personal history offers some drama; his mom was a fugitive mother, hiding little Mark around the country since he was four-years old. Mark, now a father himself, sang Squeeze’s “Tempted”, which was passable, so all that backstory wasn’t in vain.