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by Mike Deane

27 Feb 2009

Not being from Chicago, the Chic-a-go-go show is somewhat bewildering to me. It seems too good to be true that there’s a Public Access show where ? and the Mysterians, the Specials, and Nobunny would all play. This Nobunny clip from the end of 2005 is especially excellent—possibly because of the carrot as microphone or the gentle and awkward dancing/bobbing of the teens, adults and children. Also, the song is excellent. I’m posting this because I won’t be able to see Nobunny on his latest tour, so to make up for it I watch this YouTube clip over and over.

by Robert Celli

27 Feb 2009

Nils at the piano.

Nils at the piano.

Neil Young’s seminal 1970 record, After the Goldrush, yielded so many classic compositions, many would be surprised to find out it was panned by critics upon release. Now, the album routinely occupies “top 100” and “best of” lists by fans and critics alike.  It is a record I’ve heard so many times it often goes unnoticed by me when played, sinking into the background like the wallpaper on my grandmother’s kitchen walls; familiar and comforting but long since removed from piquing any real curiosity. Some records are like that, essential but no longer warranting of examination.  Or, so I thought.

Recently, I mindlessly reached into the stack of vinyl I have next to my stereo. Retrieving the worn, frayed, musty scented copy of “Goldrush”—bearing more than a striking resemblance to the patchwork jeans displayed on the back cover—I decided to put it on while I folded the pile of laundry gathered on my couch. T-shirt in hand, out of the speakers the folksy strums of Neil’s acoustic guitar filled the room. He plaintively asked to be “told why” and I reflexively hummed along.

Suddenly, with the opening piano chords of “After the Goldrush” my ears stood up at attention. I must have resembled a dog that hears the word “TREAT” go un-spelled from his owner’s lips, I was struck by how simply the progression was rendered. Having seen Young play this many times before on piano, I assumed he was also on the recording. The back of the album, however, revealed Nils Lofgren was credited with piano.

Lofgren, a guitar player and Chicago area native, was only 17 and had virtually no experience playing piano. He reportedly practiced his parts around the clock during breaks in recording. His rapport with Young would last overtime, appearing next on guitar for the recording of Tonight’s the Night. But it was his turn as piano player on “Goldrush” that would serve as his introduction into rock music’s pantheon.

Nils and Neil live onstage.

Nils and Neil live onstage.

Originally, Young sited inspiration for the songs on the album came after reading a screenplay written by Dean Stockwell and Herb Berman entitled After the Goldrush. The film was never released but the songs generated for the soundtrack were.  “Goldrush” came out just fifteen months after Young’s Everybody Know This Is Nowhere with Crazy Horse and his collaboration with Crosby, Stills, and Nash Déjà Vu. He recruited members of Crazy Horse and tapped relative unknown Lofgren to play piano on the record.

With each track on the album I was drawn to the economy and restraint of Lofgren’s playing. His chordal approach added heft to Young’s vocal delivery while providing foundational support for the songs melodies. It’s the type of playing that suggested nods and eye contact amongst the participants. Langdon Winner, in his original review of the record for Rolling Stone in 1970, described the band’s performance of “Southern Man” this way; “By today’s standards, the ensemble playing is sloppy and disconnected. The piano, bass and drums search for each other like lovers lost in the sand dunes, but although they see each others’ footprints now and then, they never really come together.” This “half-baked” quality-as Winner further characterized it- become the hallmark of Young’s work with Crazy Horse and went on to inform subsequent alt-country playing in further decades. Lofgren was integral to this dynamic.

You need only listen to “Cripple Creek Ferry” to hear its echoes in the work of Wilco, Ryan Adams, Old 97’s and others. The piano comps along just behind the beat, lending the rollicking atmosphere of a honky tonk to the track. “Oh, Lonesome Me” features reticently delivered fills bridging the gaps left by guitar and bass. The playing throughout is earnest and textural, framing some of Young’s best-known melodies, without clogging up the space.

On the more up-tempo track “When You Dance, I Can Really Love”, the staccato plinking of single notes drives the tune forward. He tackles each song more like the guitar player he is better known for being.  It is this sensibility that lends “Goldrush” a vacuole quality. Less self-aware players might have tried to overcompensate for their lack of experience by trying to prove too much.

There is no better evidence of this type of restraint than on “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, one of Young’s best-known vocal melodies. The vocal is simply augmented and nurtured along by Lofgren’s piano line. A more virtuosic and accomplished player could easily have cluttered this song.  Instead, the lullaby at the song’s core is left unmolested. That may be precisely what Young saw in the neophyte.

By album’s end I was filled with the type of excitement I seem to only get from discovering a new band these days.  In a sense I had.  Now, when I listen to After the Goldrush, I hear melodies I had never considered before. Lofgren has of course gone on to achieve fame as both a solo artist and as one of the most heralded sidemen in rock.

Nils with his new \

Nils with his new “Boss”.

Bruce Springsteen, whose E Street Band Lofgren has been a member of since the mid-‘80s, once quipped that the best guitar player in his band was relegated to third-string status.

I’ve since begun to take a different view of albums I’d written off as fully explored. Given the right frame of mind, a mundane, distracting task, and open ears, undiscovered wonders lie buried just beneath the surface of records you’ve heard thousands of times before. It only takes one more listen.

by Robert Celli

27 Feb 2009

The rumored reunion of one of the previous decades biggest acts, Faith No More, looks to be true. Blogs all over the net are reporting, and the band has confirmed, that a late summer European tour is in the works, after the band’s ten year hiatus.

Rumors of a possible set at this years Coachella Festival have been floating around on the message boards.  Singer Mike Patton is scheduled to perform with the Roots Rahzel currently.

The band posted a statement on it’s website explaining the decision: “What’s changed is that this year, for the first time, we’ve all decided to sit down together and talk about it. And what we’ve discovered is that time has afforded us enough distance to look back on our years together through a clearer lens and made us realize that through all the hard work, the music still sounds good, and we are beginning to appreciate the fact that we might have actually done something right.”

More to follow as this story develops…

by Mike Schiller

26 Feb 2009

What NOBY NOBY BOY does for you is entirely dependent on two things.

First, it depends on your tolerance for the utterly bizarre. Its entire color palette is made up of pastels—no primary colors, really, but never quite reaching the unnatural glow of pure neon. You start as a peanut-shaped thing but quickly turn yourself into a worm with a disproportionately large head and backside. You crawl around a floating, rectangular patch of land, the danger of falling off ever-looming, while you eat and poop everything you can in an effort to make your worm-like body more stretchy, and by extension longer. There’s something called a space squirrel involved. If you zoom out far enough, you get to see a space-eye view of the planet you’re on, complete with a little character of some sort sitting on the top. And, in an oddly phallic twist for an E-rated game, you (as BOY) report your length to something called GIRL whenever you feel it necessary, contributing along with the rest of the NOBY NOBY BOY community to her own eternal stretch through the solar system.

Right.

If you’re still interested, then, there’s one other thing that will determine the extent of your affinity (or lack thereof) for NOBY NOBY BOY: your willingness to self-motivate. Yes, there are trophies, but all except for one of them are hidden, and almost all of them are the sorts of things that will happen naturally through the course of exploring the game (though at least one of them is so obscure that it seems to work as a tipoff that GameFAQs was consulted for the sake of its capture). There is no death state, no love of BOY’s life to rescue, no world to save; there simply exists the directive to “explore! Have fun!”, with the cooperative objective of growing GIRL into new planets to explore.

For the most part, what this means is that there is no “game” to NOBY NOBY BOY; there is only “play”.

This sort of mechanic is becoming something of a habit for the PlayStation 3, particularly in the PlayStation Network’s library of downloadable titles. In the week before NOBY NOBY BOY was released, we saw Flower, the hype for which is actually stealing the thunder from this week’s release of Killzone 2; though we know who’s going to win in sales between those two, I don’t see Killzone getting a gushing writeup on Entertainment Weekly’s blog any time soon. Preceding Flower was flOw, another non-game with a dubious set of “goals”, and even the early PSN title Pain is little more than a sandbox in which to play. The trophies are here to satiate those who would try to wring a “game” out of these titles (and some of them present themselves as more linear and game-like than others), but the game is not the point. Simply being a part of these games’ respective worlds is the point. Even Home, the PS3’s answer to Second Life, falls into this category, giving PS3 users something else to do even as they’re not strictly gaming.

What Sony seems to have hit on here is a way to appeal to mature gamers, likely the ones who’ve been with the Sony brand since the original PlayStation, by providing a counter-argument to the idea that what mature gamers want is bigger, bloodier, and more photorealistic. By providing these open worlds, “games” with an innocence and a distinct lack of competitive appeal alongside things like Metal Gear Solid 4 and the aforementioned Killzone 2, they’re acknowledging that “mature” is a multifaceted concept; that sometimes, all we need is a little bit of peace, a little bit of joy, and maybe a little bit of community.

This last brings us back to what is perhaps the most innovative, and potentially most interesting, feature of NOBY NOBY BOY—space exploration. The length of GIRL, at any given time, is the cumulative length that’s been reported to GIRL by every single player playing NOBY NOBY BOY on the PlayStation Network. This past Monday, four days after the game’s release, GIRL reached the moon thanks to those efforts, and now we have a new playground to play in. Somehow, knowing that those of us who bought the game early were a part of such a monumental task is enough motivation for some of us to start working on the next goal—namely, Mars, which could potentially be a long way off (scroll down to q3c’s comment in the preceding link).

This is not a cooperative goal like those of recent first-person shooters or even the hero-sidekick mechanics of something like Super Mario Galaxy; the quality of the game for everyone who plays it is entirely dependent on the willingness of its entire population of players to play it enough to expand its solar system. If the game’s fanbase quickly diminishes, we may never know the extent to which its programmers planned for GIRL to stretch, and there’s something exciting about having to depend on the rest of a world of players to find out. We may not even ever know what Mars looks like, which would be a right shame given the mass improvement that even the moon presents over the earth in terms of gameplay—the bigger surface on which to stretch and the multitude of new creatures to look at contribute to the sense of just how absolutely vital this aspect of the game is to maintaining player interest.

As such, I implore you: Buy NOBY NOBY BOY. Not because I think you’ll enjoy it—really, there’s no way of telling you whether this game will be your cup of tea or not, other than perhaps your sense of the two factors I presented at the top of this little writeup. No, I want you to buy NOBY NOBY BOY because the more of you who play, the quicker we get to Mars, which I’d like to see before my kids graduate college.

Also, it’s $5, which seems a small price to pay to help promote the sort of imagination present in an experience like NOBY NOBY BOY.

by Bill Gibron

26 Feb 2009

Drugs. The Golden Triangle. The villainous and violent Triads. The undercover cop losing his identity in a sea of competing personalities and passions. The boss who sees himself slipping, both power-wise and personally. These are just some of the earmarks of a Hong Kong action film, the kind that have swept through Chinese cinema over the last three decades and redefined the industry and the genre. While names like Chan, Chow, and Li push the limits of martial artistry, directors like Tung-Shing “Derek” Yee have tried to advance the type beyond the standard stuntwork and moralizing. Protégé is a perfect example of this ideal. Instead of a slam bang rollercoaster ride of thrills and fire-fighting chills, we get a contemplative and dark tale of loyalty, compassion, and most importantly, people.

It’s been over seven years since Nick went deep into the heart of the local Hong Kong heroin trade, and he’s become Triad mastermind Quin’s right-hand man. While our hero currently takes care of transportation issues, the dying mobster is looking for someone to take his place - and Nick seems to be the perfect candidate. As he walks the novice through the various stages of drug smuggling - the cooking kitchen, the importing and warehousing, the control of contacts and persons outside the scope of expectation, Nick begins dealing with a pair of important issues of his own. First, his supervisors want him to go all the way, to get lost in the role of crime lord until they can take down the suppliers and the sources. But even more concerning is a junkie named Jane. Stalked by her pimp/user husband and unable to care for her waifish daughter, Nick feels somehow responsible, and wants to help. All Jane wants, on the other hand, is another hit.

Protégé (new to DVD from Dragon Dynasty) is so unusual, so unique in the current realm of Hong Kong crime films, that it’s a little off-putting at first. When we see star Daniel Wu mastermind an opening act drug deal involving multiple cars and police tails, we except some sort of high speed antics. But as he will do throughout the entire near two hour running time here, co-writer/director Derek Yee defies convention, and then continues to push beyond the norm. This is a film about character, about getting under the skin of a diabetic, dying mobster, an undercover cop under the ever-present lure of crime’s seductive beauty, or an addict who will lie and manipulate - pathetic underfed child in hand - to get what she wants. In essence, Yee sets up a unique and quite dynamic lover’s triangle. It’s a complicated competition between duty, honor, adoration, money, greed, influence, and the sense of superhumanness that comes with being caught between both sides of the law.

Nick is indeed untouchable. He’s done this long enough to earn Quin’s trust, and when a rat is suspected, our hero has every move and excuse down cold. The moments when leader confronts lackey are electric, Andy Lau’s take on the role so dimensional and dynamic that we are surprised by the sudden outburst of rage. For most of the time, Quin is a merely a man, a human being facing a rush of mortality coming far too quickly for his unfinished life. He thinks he can beat the kidney disease that is slowly killing him, but as with almost everyone involved in this story, there’s a fatalism and a finality to his aura that can’t be denied. Even Nick wears such an “end of his rope” demeanor. Life undercover is destroying him as well, leading the former lawman down a path he doesn’t know if he can handle.

All throughout Protégé, Yee substitutes finesse for flash. There is only one major action scene, and it involves a police raid on a drug lab and the resulting escape. Yee gets his actors out on a series of rotting building balconies, and the suspense over who will survive is palpable. But this is a director who understands how to milk tension out of the simplest gestures. When Jane’s horrific husband shows up, looking like a reject from a Japanese punk band, his sinister stare is enough to raise the hairs on the nape of your neck. And when we learn just how far he will go for a fix, such evil becomes even more unnerving. Protégé is not a pretty film, but it’s not because of blood or body parts. The violence here is not visceral as much as it is dark and depressing.

As part of their standard DVD package, Genius Products and the Weinstein Company offer up a treasure trove of content. Bey Logan is once again on hand to walk us through the production and the film’s place in post-modern Hong Kong moviemaking. As usual, his commentary track is insightful, witty, and well worth a listen. We are then given a chance to hear from actors Daniel Wu, Zhang Jing Chu, and producer Peter Chan. Each have something to bring to the Protégé discussion, providing anecdotal spin on the material and a clear view of how such a novel approach bends the traditions within the genre. Toss in a trailer, a terrific transfer of the film itself, and the aforementioned material, and you can clearly see what drove director Yee to take on this intriguing tale.

Fans of the format, of regular roundhouse kicks and high flying kung fu fighting, will definitely feel flummoxed by this movie’s somber and thought-provoking tone. We truly get lost in the relationship between Nick and Quin, understand the competing claims haunting our hero’s conscience. We recognize why he is both attracted to and repulsed by Jane, and sympathize with the concept of wanting to help but knowing that it probably won’t. In fact, Protégé is so much about the human experience vs. the drug trade that it ends up feeling claustrophobic and insular. Yet thanks to Yee’s amazing skill behind the lens, and his accomplished cast, we experience all the horror, all the heartbreak. And when was that last time you could say that about an Asian action film?

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