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by John Bohannon

13 Jun 2009

After the never-ending ordeal of plunging into the campgrounds, another prolific year for Bonnaroo is underway. Now in its eighth year, it has become one of the world’s most diverse and popular festival destinations and it’s parked dead in the middle of Tennessee. No different from previous years, the backpacked druglords and the eager and willing are in full force. After a setback on Thursday night that involved a torrential downpour and the quick scare of a tornado warning rumor, Friday proved to sit among the row of ducks for impressive days having taken place at the festival. On initial thought, the excitement I managed to muster up for this year’s trek in the mud was minimal at best. Communing with Phish and Public Enemy fans alike, the atmosphere filled with the smell of patchouli and weed smoke somehow draws me in to its, well, unyielding charm.

Friday’s madness kicked off with a phenomenal set from critical-darlings (and David Byrne advocates), the Dirty Projectors. Every little thing about this band is complex in its nature, but simple in its approach. Building layers of beautiful vocal harmonies and spastic guitar-lines, the band somehow finds a groove that is grounded in the pop world of Wings-era McCartney and Paul Simon’s Graceland, and the convulsive, quirky approach of Talking Heads. Considering they were playing on the David Byrne-curated stage, it only made sense for them to have him guest on the Dark Was the Night sensation, “Knotty Pine”—a beautiful way to end a near perfect set.

After having standards set high, it was inevitable something was set to fail. It just happened to be possibly the most hyped band of 2009, Animal Collective. Their set was a complete and utter failure. Full of electronic meandering and slowed down renditions of their otherwise, upbeat and sunny songs, their Merriweather Post Pavilion-driven set fell flat on its face to a monstrous crowd. In order for this band to take the next step in their career, they should spend time learning to wow larger audiences and how to adapt a set in stadium-sized situations.

BELA FLECK [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

BELA FLECK [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

Bonnaroo has always had a knack for exposing world music to American audiences, one of my favorite aspects of the festival. This year, they had the Africa Rising tent featuring the likes of Toumani Diabate & Bela Fleck, Toubab Krewe, Amadou and Miriam, and African beat legend, King Sunny Ade. The Nigerian-based Ade brought the funk from across the Atlantic. Known as the king of Juju, his new compositions sound just as fresh and soulful as those he created over 20 years ago, melding the best elements of the west’s approach to pop music with traditional Nigerian music. The only shame was this was probably the least attended performance I saw on Friday (probably due to the fact they were competing with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). Ade and his band, the African Beats, showed artistic integrity and dedication to an art form unlike anyone else on Friday, and lets hope it paid off with a new, dedicated audience.

TV ON THE RADIO [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

TV ON THE RADIO [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

After a quick nap in the lovely hammocks behind the stage, I managed to get some liquid courage from the fine Tennessean whiskey and pummel through TV on the Radio’s set. I think its fair to say Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone are two of my favorite figures in modern music. They are so charismatic and inimitable with their approach, its hard not to love what they are doing. I’m not quite sure what the hell Tunde is doing when he dances, but after watching the man act in Jump Tomorrow and Rachel Getting Married—it makes complete sense. His awkwardness is his allure, and creates a stage presence that’s unparalleled.

DAVID BYRNE [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

DAVID BYRNE [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

After curating a stage for the day, David Byrne had a performance to take care of himself. There’s a reason why he is one of the biggest figures in the world of avant-garde pop music, and it comes out in every aspect of his live performance. Playing everything from Talking Heads era classics such as “Born Under Punches” and “Burning Down the House” to cuts off of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Byrne is truly a seasoned veteran, controlling the crowd with every word and fluid movement. He also had the help of a brilliantly choreographed dance-routine that was about as offbeat and spastic as David Byrne’s music itself (which I’m sure was intentional). Truly sensational and one of the best experiences I’ve had at Bonnaroo in my six years attending.

PUBLIC ENEMY [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

PUBLIC ENEMY [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

Capping off the night was a solid performance from political-minded hip-hoppers Public Enemy. I have the feeling a good 75% of the crowd came out to see Flava Flav, and rightfully so—the man looks about 65 but holds it down like he’s 25. There’s a reason he was and is the best hype man in the game. Chuck D brought the brains to the operation, doing exactly what he has been doing for over 20 years, informing an audience that’s willing to listen and encouraging them to be socially conscious. That’s a deed to the death for Chuck D, and its obvious even in a constant party environment.

After a day of blistering heat and constant exhausting, the back of my car had never sounded so good (my tent got flooded the night before, which never fails to happen). Prepping for a Saturday of Springsteen and a hefty endurance test is on the horizon. Looks like Bonnaroo will be yet another success.

by Bill Gibron

13 Jun 2009

It’s one of the rare times when the fans got it wrong. The faithful, ever vigilant in their protection of their beloved macabre myths, pounced all over Marcus Nispel’s remake of Friday the 13th as if it were the anti-Antichrist of scarefests. They lamented its decision to deconstruct the entire Voorhees fright folklore, turning Jason and his equally mental mother into cogs in a killing machine set-up that saw none of the original series classicism. Of course, much of this kvetching was pure revisionist history. The Friday films were never masterworks. Indeed, they played like preplanned facets of a well-honed formula, slice and dice offered up in convenient, precise, 90 minute running time packages. But Nispel wanted to amplify the one thing the previous 10 installments lacked - pure visceral brutality. And he did so magnificently.

True to the tenets of the Voorhees family tree, Friday the 13th 2009 begins with Jason witnessing his mother’s decapitation. Fast forward a few years, and he’s a murderous recluse living near the ruins of Camp Crystal Lake. When a group of teens arrive, looking for a hidden marijuana patch, the machete wielding maniac does what he does best. Soon, a young man named Clay Miller is traveling into the area, looking for his missing sister. He runs into yet another college age collective out to have a good time and party hard. Little do they know that Jason is still around, hoping to add to his already ample body count. As he hacks his way through the unwitting young people, Clay still hopes to find his lost sibling. And our slasher, spurred by a sense of loss for his long dead mom, has a secret. It involves an underground lair…and a hostage.

While they have never been known as a director’s series, the Friday the 13th films definitely live and die (no pun intended) by who is sitting behind the lens. The first film had the solid work of Sean Cunningham behind it, and while Steve Miner showed some flash with Parts II and III, it was Joseph Zito who gave the series its potent punch with The Final Chapter. Sadly, since then, there were more misses (Danny Steinmann - Part V and Rob Hedden - Part VIII, specifically) than hits (Tom McLauglin’s excellent Jason Lives, Ronny Yu’s remarkable Freddy vs. Jason). So anyone who argues for the sanctity of this dynasty is clearly functioning on sense memory, not it’s more ‘common’ component. Besides, none of the arguments made against Rob Zombie’s equally impressive Halloween remake (messing with Michael Myers as a character, too much FBI profiler BS) are present here. Nispel knows the Friday fabric, and he weaves a wicked frightmare out of it.

This is a director who completely understands the basics of menace, dread, and terror. He sets up his locations with recognizable consistency, allowing us to put ourselves in the place of the victims. There is a familiarity and a foreignness to the situations, a way for the individual to escape their fate and an inevitability which literally chills the soul. Because of the approach, because Nispel pulls no punches and proceeds with unbridled drive, this Friday the 13th seems more “realistic” than its predecessors - and this may be another aspect of the film that old school fans didn’t like or really appreciate. The original movies were masquerading as morality tales, the sins of sex, drugs, and debauchery repaid by a vengeful spirit in a hockey mask. Here, Jason is a cold blooded killer, not some symbol of victory over vice.

And the newly released Blu-ray version of the Friday the 13th 2009 “Killer Cut” amplifies all this. In the extended sequences within Jason’s lair, we see him frantic over flashbacks to his mother’s death. As the decapitation replays, our tormented homunculus trashes his retreat, showing off the years he spent trying to compensate for the trauma he experienced. There are also longer looks at the initial murder and little Voorhees’ reaction to same. While it’s easy to see why this material was removed from the original theatrical version (as well a subplot which shows how Whitney, Clay’s sister, initially escaped from Jason’s clutches, only to be recaptured later on), this new cut illustrates how dense the Friday the 13th scenario really is - as well as how versed Nispel is in same.

Sure, during the picture-in-a-picture trivia track, the director argues that his only two suggestions were for an underground hideout and the elongated prologue (a genius move, considering the expectations viewers had about what would be different about this take on the franchise), and there is still a need to supplement the slaughter with the MPAA excised gore (the Blu-ray is R-rated, only). Yet there is an undeniable cruelty to this Jason’s actions. He is less about the gimmick and more about the mayhem than previous incarnations - with, perhaps, the exception of Final Chapter Voorhees and his Part VI “zombified” counterpart. Sure, the murders here are inventive, but there’s no flare to the mouth or gardening sheers to the eye sockets. Instead, Jason burns, vivisects, and smashes his prey with surprising sadism. Before, our hooded anti-hero was someone to cheer for. Now, he’s truly something to fear.

And that is perhaps Nispel’s gravest cardinal sin - at least to those who are reliving their Saturday Night sleepovers within the Friday the 13th “double dare” horror melancholy. By reinventing Jason into something he always was - a terrifying visage of corporeal destruction - and taking away the camp and the kitsch, the 2009 movie stays true to the basics of the slasher genre while avoiding its more ‘juvenile’ trappings. This film still sets up a random group of victims and then finishes them off, one by one. Yet anyone hoping the update would be something more akin to the more irreverent revivals of the last few years was, indeed, sadly mistaken. For them, this will be a dire trip into territory a limited genre purview can only imagine. But for true aficionados of fright, for those who have longed for Jason Voorhees to be taken seriously as a spree killer, Marcus Nispel truly delivers. Friday the 13th 2009 is indeed the ‘classic’ the other installments in the franchise claim to be.

by shathley Q

12 Jun 2009

The Wildstorm Universe is just the obvious shiny surface of an Earth with superheroes, Warren Ellis writes in the original 1997 proposal for Planetary. What if, underneath all that, there was an entire classic old superhero world? What if there were huge Jack Kirby temples underground built by old gods or new, and ghostly cowboys riding the highways of the West for justice, and superspies in natty suits and 360-degree-vision shades fighting cold wars in the dark, and strange laughing killers kept in old Lovecraftian asylums… what if you had a hundred years of superhero history just slowly leaking out into this young and modern superhero world of the Wildstorm Universe? What if you could take everything old and make it new again?

In a surprise reversal of over-hyped emotions on the cusp of the new millennium, Ellis would offer Planetary as a meditation on the promise of tomorrow by delving into the history that prepared the world for things just about to come. Planetary was about the future of the Wildstorm Universe, but only in that it was an exploration of a past that shaped that future. Over the course of 26 issues, Ellis and artist John Cassaday would treat readers to a heady mixture of hard sci-fi, superhero archaeology and strange, but also familiar analogs of pop-culture. Ellis would draw a continuous narrative thread through a century of superheroes, laying down his own vision of Golden and Silver Age for the Wildstorm universe. Doc Savage, Tarzan, the Shadow, Ellis offers a near-exhaustive list of pop-culture icons. “It’s a strange world,” the series blurb reads, “Let’s keep it that way”.

In perhaps the most heart-rending of twists, Ellis offers the Fantastic Four as a template for group of villainous scientists who secretly dominate the globe. Simply known as The Four, these scientist-explorers have withheld technology that could have supercharged human advancement. Although the “mystery archaeologists” of Planetary have already skirmished with The Four in issue #6, it is here in “Magic & Loss” that readers discover exactly how The Four have made themselves a true adversary to human growth.

In the issue’s framing device, protagonist Elijah Snow crouches over three artifacts in an abandoned Four laboratory. Unable to explain them, but awash in a deep sense of loss, Snow finds his resolve to dethrone The Four strengthened. The artifacts themselves, a blue lantern, a red birthing blanket and a pair of magical wristbands are emblematic of the DC superheroes Green Lantern, Superman and Wonder Woman. The current Planetary issue tells the stories of how these artifacts’ owners were assassinated by The Four.

Encountering these very familiar objects through the eyes of character wholly unable to recognize them, explains the sense of loss felt by the Wildstorm universe. These three characters, Green Lantern, Superman and Wonder Woman would have been the vanguard of a Silver Age of superheroes. Because of The Four, the Wildstorm universe would never know a world where superheroism is legacy passed from one generation to the next.

by Sarah Zupko

12 Jun 2009

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Atlantic correspondent and journalism professor Ellen Ruppel Shell is an engaging and compelling look at the ramifications of American’s desires for endless bargains. The book comes out in July and is an essential read for anyone interested in getting another perspective on both the current economic crisis and how drastically Americans’ lives have been altered over the last 50 years.

 

by Sarah Zupko

12 Jun 2009

“Summertime Clothes” is the second single from the critically acclaimed Animal Collective album Merriweather Post Pavilion. The video features the Brooklyn-based FLEX dance crew and is fittingly psychedelic and colorful. The band is also giving away an MP3 remix by Dam-Funk if you sign up for their mailing list.

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