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by Allison Taich

2 Oct 2009

An audience of loyal Chicago fans patiently awaited Built to Spill to take stage at the Vic Theater last Saturday night.  Introducing their set was Chicago’s native rock poet Thax Douglas, who wrote an original piece entitled “Built to Spill Poem #7.”  After the band took the stage, and after tuning and gear fiddling, guitarist Brett Nelson interjected an apology: “Hey, sorry we’re fucking around, you know, taking for ever.  I’m sorry.  We’re gonna do it! Let’s do it!”

The group—Doug Martsch on guitars and vocals, Brett Nelson on guitar, Jim Roth on guitar, Brett Netson on bass, and Scott Plouf on drums—started their set on the mellow side with the new track “Oh Yeah,” followed by more tuning, and the old-school, melodic, up-tempo piece “In the Morning.”  By the forth song, “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss,” the band was content with their intonation and ready to give Chicago their all.  As people nodded, swayed, bopped and sang along to the music their expressions were nothing but smiles of approval and joy.

The set list covered the span of Built to Spill’s career (16 years and counting,) including “Oh Yeah” and “Hindsight,” both off of their upcoming release There is No Enemy, due out October 6th.  Some tracks were kept brief, while others strayed into extended, intricate jams—the most notable was encore “Conventional Wisdom,” which lasted a good half-hour before the band brought it to an end.  The entire time stage lights matched the music’s intensity, becoming brighter during build-ups and peaks, only to fade out as the musicians backed off.  Closing the show with “You Were Right” brought down the house. 

The band’s beautiful melodies and intricate guitar playing were ideal for filling and warming the theatre’s small, more enclosed, setting.  They could not have played a more perfect venue.  But what was most impressive was how Marsch, Nelson and Roth complimented and layered their guitar parts into one unifying sound.

When the performance ended both band and audience thanked each other for a stellar evening.  In the most modest of fashions band members broke down their own gear, sans roadies, taking time to mingle with fans.  They enthusiastically passed out set-lists and guitar picks upon request, and dutifully signed ticket stubs and any other concert paraphernalia handed to them.  Not just a great band, they were also a class act.

Set List
“Built to Spill Poem #7” (Thax Douglas)
1. Oh Yeah
2. In the Morning
3. The Plan
4. Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss
5. Hindsight
6. Wherever You Go
7. Reasons
8. Three Years Ago
9. Sidewalk
10. Timetrap
11. One Thing
12. Stab

Encore:
13. Car
14. Conventional Wisdom
15. You Were Right

by Ashley Cooper

2 Oct 2009

On a nonspecific afternoon, comedian Chris Rock was spending time with his daughter. The little girl, who recently admired the hair of her Caucasian friend, turned to her father and asked, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”

The question inspired Chris Rock, along with director Jeff Stilson, to travel to hair salons, barbershops, and trade shows to ask haircare professionals, clients, barbers, and beauticians alike to share their stories and definitions of “good hair” in an effort to educate himself enough to be able to respond to his daughter’s question.

In his travels, Rock manages to keep the conversation educational and humorous. He speaks to regular Janes and Joes, and also talks to celebrities—such as Ice-T, Al Sharpton, Paul Mooney, and Dr. Maya Angelou—to get their perspective on what “good hair” is, how it can be attained, and if it’s a realistic goal to have. The film will hit select theaters on October 9th, with a wide releasing coming October 23rd.

by Rob Horning

2 Oct 2009

A reader of Felix Salmon’s blog named Chris seems to have written the comment heard ‘round the blogosphere, about financial innovation and risk:

The person most willing to take on risk is the one unaware he is doing so. He charges no risk premium…
The resulting market equilibrium is that the guy who is unaware of the risk ends up loaded with it. Then the music stops.

Salmon’s gloss on this is that it serves to explain investment banks’ profits during the recent bubble: “They charge their clients a lot of money to take risk off their hands, and then they transformed that risk, using sophisticated financial engineering, into instruments which didn’t, on their face, look risky at all, and which could easily be sold to risk-averse investors. Bingo, massive profits.” This means that financial innovation had become a matter of making risk disappear, not managing it better, as was so often insisted a few years ago (all that talk about how CDOs spread risk and made everyone safer, etc.). Financial innovations had become, as Salmon notes, “tools of obfuscation” in the hands of investment bankers. Further proof that the market for financial products is a market for lemons.

One might argue further that the innovation was designed to trick not gullible investors but the rating agencies those investors relied upon, only it’s probably true that the rating agencies were in on the scam all along and didn’t need deceiving—they got paid when the instruments become AAA rated, and they helped the banks figure out how to make them pass muster.

It seems obvious that regulation should aim to prevent hiding risk from being a profitable business. If there is to be an overseer of systemic risk, that regulator’s main function would be precisely to ensure that risk is visible and not tucked away in the shadow-banking system. The larger question is whether there is any way to direct innovation efforts toward things that actually help society rather than destroy it in the name of private gain.

by Nick Dinicola

2 Oct 2009

I’ve never played an MMORPG. I’ve always been fascinated with the genre, but have never felt a desire to enter one of those massive worlds and explore it myself. Until recently. When I heard what the latest expansion for World of Warcraft would do to the game world (that it would completely change it by turning deserts into forests and so on), I felt a sudden urge to play it and see these parts of the world for myself before they were gone. Unlike other games when an MMO changes, it’s changed forever. My experience starting World of Warcraft now would be very different than if I had started it years ago. This past year has seen two MMOs shut down for good, Tabula Rasa and The Matrix Online. It’s strange to think that these games are now completely lost in the past, and it begs the question: how can games be preserved over time?

This issue isn’t unique to games. There were several VHS movies that never got transferred to DVD, and there are several DVD movies that will never get transferred to Blu-Ray. The blockbusters are always preserved, so it’s usually the niche gems that suffer. Re-releasing older games is a popular trend right now what with Games On Demand, PSN, and Virtual Console, but there are inherent flaws in that process. Every game can’t be re-released, so only the chosen few that are deemed important enough will be remembered as time passes. The end result is an incomplete and arbitrary archive. 

Even when an old game is re-released, the traditional console cycle moves so fast that even that update quickly becomes outdated. Square Enix re-released Final Fantasy VI as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology for the original PlayStation, which is now unplayable on PlayStation 3. The highly consumerist attitude within gamer culture only furthers this problem; today’s “day-one-purchase” is tomorrow’s used game sale. It seems painfully inevitable that many great games will be forgotten.

But I believe that the situation is not as doomy and gloomy as it first appears. Games usually become unplayable when a new console is released, and a new console is usually released when increased computing power enables better graphics (of course, there are other factors that go into the creation and launch of a new console, but better graphics are always the biggest selling point because the difference can be seen immediately). But the industry’s quest for better graphics has hit a wall with the latest generation of consoles: Graphics simply can’t get much better. No matter how powerful the PS4 will be, it won’t be able to make the same graphical leap that the PS3 did from the PS2.

Currently, characters in video games are a lot like characters in cartoons. They’re obviously not real, but we can look past their stylized reality and feel for them. Better graphics allow for more emotive characters, and more emotive characters are easier to get attached to. But we’re standing at the precipice of the “uncanny valley,” go any further and we’ll no longer feel empathetic towards these characters, since we’ll only notice how inhuman they are. The computing power and programmer effort required to jump the valley are not worth the investment. As a result, the push for a new console cycle has slowed. Without that push, this generation of games will last longer than previous ones and give any interested parties more time to re-release games for the current crop of consoles. It’s my hope that by now the industry has matured to a point where it doesn’t have to keep reinventing itself every five years.

Sony is actually doing a commendable job releasing original PlayStation games on PSN. I was surprised to see Intelligent Qube, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, and Ape Escape for sale along with games that are now sold as new for absurd prices considering their age like Xenogears, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy Tactics.

Of course this does nothing to save Tabula Rasa or The Matrix Online. MMOs and other multiplayer-centric games are unique in that once they lose their audience (or when their audience becomes too small to finance the upkeep of the game) the game is gone for good. A while ago, L.B. Jeffries posted a couple  MMO stories from EVE Online and Ultima Online. Reading about other people’s experiences in these worlds is fascinating, and I think recording these experiences for others is one way to keep these social games alive. Even when they’re gone, they won’t be forgotten.

by Ashley Cooper

2 Oct 2009

Well-known actress Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut with Whip It, the story of a Texas teenage girl Bliss (Ellen Page) who decides to rebel against her beauty pageant upbringing and trades in her chances for a crown in for a pair of roller skates to enter the world of roller derby. “You are my new hero,” Bliss tells one roller derby star who she watches pass out flyers for an upcoming event. The derby star tells her, “Well, grab a pair of skates and be your own hero.” Her mother (portrayed by Marcia Gay Harden) vehemently disapproves against her choice and makes her opinions known as her father secretly supports her efforts.

The movie is about relationships, focuses on female empowerment and the world of derby gives Bliss the opportunity to find out where she belongs, make some friends and find herself along the way.

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