Reviews

Damon and Naomi

Bernardo Rondeau
Damon and Naomi

Damon and Naomi

City: Los Angeles
Venue: Spaceland
Date: 2002-07-21
The room is almost vacant. A cluster of figures, some partnered, most lone, stand darkly before the soft glow, projected from a pensile rig, lighting a seated pair slowly making music. A pale man, eyes shut, hair shorn and sandy, strums a lulling chord and quietly solemnizes, "It's the end of an era / what's gone is fading fast." Beside him sits an equally fair woman whose piled layers of black hair perfectly frame her androgynous features. She is bent over softly coaxing tones from a harmonium. He is Damon Krukowski, one-half of the sing-and-strum duo named after himself and his partner Naomi Yang. Better known to some as the rhythm section of underground legends Galaxie 500 (whose singer, Dean Wareham now leads Luna), the duo have been crafting their own frail psych-folk for over a decade now. Only two songs into the set and Krukowski is already elegizing. He completes the couplet, "And what you see in the mirror / it won't last," and launches into a radiant, wordless chorus of falsetto cries. The song is "Turn of the Century", a tender lullaby culled from the duo's 1998 album Playback Singers (Sub Pop). On a layover to their hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts after a Japanese tour, the two booked tonight's show for the stop-off. Krukowski, though not noticeably jet-lagged after the twelve-hour journey and sixteen-hour time difference, explains between songs that the band went to Japan on frequent-flyer miles and therefore had little say in their route. The audience emphatically chuckles. Such droll digressions pepper the duo's brief set of hushed, somber songs with charm and humor, enhancing the intimacy of their performance. Before the raga-tinged drone of "Eye of the Storm", Krukowski tells of playing, under subtle coercion, in a traditional Japanese garden during a tempest and, afterwards, of being taken aside by the plot's proprietor to be questioned, in broken English, about the Boston Celtics. The bulk of the set is nearly identical to the track listing of the group's latest LP, Song to the Siren (Sub Pop), recorded live in San Sebastian, Spain with guitarist Michio Kurihara of Japanese acid-acoustic commune Ghost. Though, without Kurihara's crystalline hues the material sounds rather bare and muted tonight. "The New World", written with Ghost leader Masaki Batoh and originally on the eponymous album the Cambridge duo recorded with the Japanese stalwarts in 2000, lost its dense atmospherics. Yet it remains a remarkable composition: a lysergic roundel reminiscent of the Incredible String Band's bleaker moments with a long, churning coda. "I Dreamed of the Caucusus", from the same album, fairs better in being stripped due to its simple structure. Nearly pop, the song finds Krukowski delivering a rousing, redundant refrain, "I climbed down / just like water falling down / to the ground" with charismatic abandon. Yang, switching throughout between the gentle toil of her organ and plucking low melodies on an electric bass, harmonizes with Krukowski on the Tim Buckley song the pair's live album is named after. Eschewing the singer's renown wavering intonations and dramatic presentation -- poorly simulated on the version by This Mortal Coil on 1984's It'll End In Tears (4AD) -- in favor of a more sober lollop, Damon and Naomi beautifully transpose Buckley's yearning allegory into a tender reverie. The set also features other versions of material from defiantly obscure sources. First, a translation of Kazuki Tomokawa's " Watashi Wa Hanna", itself an adaptation of a poem by the 1960's serial-killer turned Symbolist poet Chuya Nakahara. Preceded by an account of revelry over whiskey and water with the renowned folk-singer, who apparently moonlights as a bookie for horse races, the song itself, re-titled "Flowers", is a rather maudlin exercise in emotiveness. The group close with a song from the Jacks, Japanese psychedelists whose sole album, Vacant World, (Toshiba/EMI Japan) from 1968 is regarded by many as a masterpiece and who are, according to Krukowski, as canonized in their home country as the Velvet Undergound are in the US. "Love", sung by Yang in its original Japanese, floats and dissolves like a nursery rhyme. The group returns for an encore of "The Navigator", apparently the first song ever written by the duo though not released until 1998, and "Tour of the World" from their second album, 1995's The Wondrous World of… (Sub Pop). Both are sung by Yang whose peculiar voice is both divinely ethereal and tenaciously tonal. Sharing the same spectral climate as "New York City" -- also from the 1995 album and played earlier in the set -- "Tour of the World" is a lovely conclusion. A languid hymn, it enumerates historic sites around the globe -- ex. "the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum" -- though affirmed, "I never go very far." And one can only agree. Throughout an hour of sounds and words tracing congruent sentiments of passing and longing, Damon and Naomi remained fixed observers filling each paling moment with an elegiac half-light, drawing closely what is gone and fading fast.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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