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The Wood Brothers first came my attention after seeing Medeski, Martin & Wood (MMW) perform at El Rey theater in Los Angeles upon another musician’s invite who was sitting in for a jam session with the improvisational, free-jazz group. That musician is Tony Beliveau of Crash Kings, who plays a clavinet coupled with a whammy bar, making his unique style perfect for an appearance with MMW. Knowing nothing as I entered the venue proved an asset for a free-dive into their high-level avant-jazz jam session. Though I remember feeling as if it was completely over my head, I followed up on that curious evening and discovered that Chris Wood is now a member of the The Wood Brothers alongside his brother, Oliver Wood, and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix.
When you see Chris (upright bass) and Oliver (lead vocals, acoustic and electric guitar) perform together, the question immediately arises as to why the brothers, who formed their band in 2004, didn’t do that their entire lives. When asked about potential “brother baggage,” Chris is quick to counter the stereotype, saying they “get along pretty damn good.” Though he enjoys the challenge of MMW, he admittedly missed his love for words, having grown up with a published poet for a mother. That thirst is quenched with The Wood Brothers, where his jazz chops now beautifully coincide with extremely moving lyrics co-written with Oliver. What was born of a side project, has now become a main staple in their lives after Billy Martin expressed his desire to slow down from touring with MMW.
To see The Wood Brothers perform live at one of Los Angeles’ most celebrated venues, is a true privilege. It would be a disservice to call them a jam band, given that much of their musical riffs, though both challenging and engaging, do not stray far from their rich melody. I have an innate aversion to indulgent performances, as they often take away from the artist’s connection to the audience, as if the musicians are playing in their own garage — for themselves. The Wood Brothers are far from that. They’re playing for each and every person in front of them, and one song is better than the next. It’s hard to top their recordings, but their live show does just that. Their new record, ‘Live At The Barn,’ is available now. It was recorded at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, New York.
Lorde can do no wrong. I love her voice, her face, her performance style, and most of all — her songs. Her new album is admittedly about her ex-boyfriend, and it has incredibly relatable, cutting lyrics, such as, “I know about what you did and I wanna scream the truth/She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar.” 20-year-old Grant Singer directed the video for “Green Light.”
I want to like Lea Michele’s original music, especially given her uniquely incredible voice. But I just don’t think she stands alone as a solo artist. Sure she can hold down Broadway, which is an incredible accomplishment, but theater stars don’t always make it as soloists. Her new song is part of a new direction, gearing less toward pop and more toward showcasing her voice with power-ballads like her idol, Barbra Streisand. It feels indulgent. Perhaps it’s just not a good song.
Jennifer Hudson’s new song is an example of power vocals combined with a catchy tune. Her new single, “Remember Me,” is part of her fourth LP and it has the power of LA Reid’s support via Epic Records.
Meghan Trainor is back with her usual energy in the video for “I’m a Lady. The song will be featured on the soundtrack of the upcoming 3D animated feature Smurfs: The Lost Village. It’s slightly forced, and though the video somewhat makes up for it, the melody just isn’t strong enough. It’s as if Columbia Pictures asked for something much similar to her previous hits, and she changed the chords around for a poor man’s replica (or a sub-part Ariana Grande tune). Trainer is obviously talented, but she’s a bit of a hit-writing machine. And though you can say the same for Sia, the difference is that when Sia sings her songs, she ADDS soul to it, making you realize what the original song should actually sound like. For those that don’t know, Trainor began her career as a songwriter, and it shows. That’s not a bad thing, but I’d like to see her take her pop-chops down a notch and amp up the authenticity with a pulled back performance that showcases her skill set.
Katy Perry might be the shrewdest pop star out there. She knows her brand, she sticks to it, and she doesn’t take any sh*t from anyone. That being said, I’m sick of this Candyland crap. You’d think she’d do something new for “Chained to the Rhythm,” but this feels like much of what I’ve already seen. It’s obviously very expensive, and thought-out, but that’s not enough for me. A for effort, b for execution.
RUN THE JEWELS
I’m late on posting this one, but who can resist a band with such a big presence in such a small room? Listen to Run the Jewels perform on NPR’s Tiny Desk Series.
Before we discuss who is to blame for the infamous envelope gaffe for the Best Picture announcement at the 89th Annual Academy Awards, let’s get our facts straight. I’m a lawyer, and I love facts. First and foremost, who’s responsible for any and all of those envelopes and can just anyone put their hands on them? The answer is no. Two people are responsible, and it’s PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan. Cullinan and Ruiz each have a briefcase with envelopes of each winner, and they stand on either side of the stage so there’s an envelope ready, no matter what side the talent enters. This means that each category has a duplicate envelope. Once an envelope is distributed, that duplicate should be discarded, so this very situation does not happen. If it is not discarded, the stack becomes disrupted. Because Emma Stone’s award was given immediately before the Best Picture announcement, it stands to reason that an envelope was not discarded, and Cullinan reached for the top of the stack without looking. And why did I single out Cullinan and not Ruiz? Because according to TMZ, the 30-year-veteran of PwC was responsible for handing Warren the card. TMZ also said that Cullinan spent most of the night tweeting, and he even tweeted a picture of Emma Stone while he should have been preparing for the next category.
We sincerely apologize to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.
Now that we know the culprit, let’s analyze how it was handled. For starters, this is Warren Beatty’s third time presenting in this category. Jack Nicholson holds the record of eight, and Audrey Hepburn is second with four. Why do I mention this? Because the more seasoned you are at an activity, the less likely your brain is to shut down during a crisis. It’s not Beatty’s fault, but he knew something was wrong and panicked. Though he turned to Faye Dunaway for help, it was not clear that he was in fact asking for help, and Dunaway rattled off the winner without looking. TMZ also reveals that Dunaway and Beatty battled over who would announce the winner, and perhaps she rushed for fear that Beatty would steal the moment. I feel bad for Beatty, but I also feel he should be seasoned enough to handle a situation like this.
Next up? Reports suggest that there was immense backstage chaos when the mistake was revealed, and La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz said that he knew something was awry when someone ran up to him to ask for his envelope. After opening it, the mistake was confirmed and everyone seemed unable to function in the pressure-filled debacle. La La Land producer Fred Berger was the first to speak, saying, “We lost by the way but you know.” Berger was clearly disappointed, but his comment did nothing to move the moment forward, which needed to happen because Moonlight was the rightful winner, and as each second lapsed, they lost the opportunity to celebrate their win.
La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz came to the rescue, and immediately announced the mistake. He then graciously said he would be “really proud to give it to [his friends] from Moonlight.” As the crowd stood in disbelief and Kimmel, Beatty, and that frantic guy with a headset did relatively nothing, Horowitz quickly insisted it was not a joke, took the card from Warren Beatty’s hands and showed it to the audience as proof. Of the pivotal moment that proved his status as both a gentleman and a fixer, Horowitz said:
Listen, I’m a producer. I gather things together and I change directions and I march things forward. I had just finished saying how much love there was in the community and I want to do diverse and bold work, and so to be able to actually put that into action and make that physical by bringing those guys up onstage and giving them the award that they won…I don’t want to say it was an honor, because it was really confusing, [but it felt right].
There are a few lessons to be learned here. First, don’t get greedy. Just because you’ve been doing something for decades doesn’t mean you can tweet during the most important moment of your job. Second, this is Hollywood, not brain surgery, and there are very few professions that involve such insane indulgence. Oral surgeons don’t get awards for treating periodontal disease and though the Oscars are fun to watch, these Viola-Davis-style acceptance speeches are too grandiose to tolerate. The point? Let’s all take a step back and get some perspective. No one died. Third, to contradict point number two, I feel bad for the producers of La La Land, because they walked away with nothing. Sure the movie garnered Oscars, but not one for their specific role, which is a bummer. The fact that Horowitz could look out for his friends while processing his disappointment should be appreciated. Fourth, when something goes wrong, get your bearings, then speak up. And fifth, Jack Nicholson has to come back.
The 2017 Oscars are in full force, which means the fashion extravaganza has begun. Though I’ve been mostly disappointed with the less-than-innovative designs, there are a few winners, and it’s surprisingly the most simplistic silhouettes. In fact, sometimes beauty is at it’s height when most toned-down, which means Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson win the award. Get your fix of fashion photos below, and hover over the images to see each name.
I should start this piece by confessing that I’ve never really been a Colbert fan. His Comedy Central shtick never appealed much to me, and he looks a little like a boring tax professior. But looks can be deceiving, as can ratings, and Colbert has proved his prowess as the dark horse. According to Variety, Colbert is beating Fallon for the first time, and they attribute it to the political climate. Personally, I attribute it to authenticity.
There was a time when the rumor mill said that James Corden would replace Colbert, especially after his Carpool Karaoke bit became a viral sensation. Corden denied it, and Colbert expressed his sadness that the rumor existed at all, saying, “The implication of that question is that the show isn’t good enough in its present position. So of course that makes you feel bad. But it doesn’t jibe with what I know about our show, so you recover.”
While there’s certainly no doubt that Jimmy Fallon and James Corden are extremely diverse talents that can offer things Colbert cannot, those talents aren’t everything, and show ponies have a shelf life. Fallon’s bits are great, but they can grow tired, and in a heavy political climate, people want authentic interviews and a solid take — MIXED with humor. Fallon is more of a “fan-girl” in interviews, often falling over with inauthentic guffaws over unfunny comments. As for Colbert, his on-point pivots based on the response he receives to his questions, proves he’s ACTUALLY LISTENING. In fact, if you don’t believe me, watch his very impressive interview with Kendrick Lamar before leaving Comedy Central. He wants an answer to the question he’s asking, and he’s not just going to slap his desk over a bad joke so the audience thinks it’s funny. Good job, Colbert.
I wanted to like ‘La La Land,’ and I’m the perfect audience. For starters, I love musicals. I also love the idea of resurrecting a dead medium, and given the rise of television musicals, it’s the perfect time for it. And though I’ve kept largely quiet about my take on the film, the Oscar hype has awakened the beast.
‘La La Land’ attempts to remind us of old Hollywood, as a Jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress. It’s a nice try, but ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ it is not. First, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling cannot sing. When I say they can’t sing, I’m being kind. They literally cannot sing. I understand the idea of finding stars who can sing rather than singers who can be stars, but this idea only works if you can actually SING. It’s insulting to take two A-listers and put them in a medium that doesn’t suit their talents just to draw an audience. As a result of this sad fact, the vocals are mixed so low I can barely hear them in the songs. It’s a MUSICAL, which means I expect bright, rich vocals. In fact, the opening scene was also mixed horribly, and I can only assume it was a sad attempt to keep the vocals consistent with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s sub-par performance.On the Fresh Air radio show, the host called this opening scene “beautiful mayhem.” I’d call it a mess. The original song is not memorable, the choreography is EASY, and (as previously mentioned) the sound is lacking. And just as I tried to acclimate to this struggling sound, then came John Legend, whose mere presence reminded me what singers actually sound like, and my disbelief was no longer suspended.
If you thought my take on Emma and Ryan’s singing was harsh, I’m going to to be even harsher about their dance number. I appreciate a one-take shot of their tap dancing as opposed to the chopped-up mess we saw from Richard Gere in Chicago, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are not good tap dancers. As a former tap dancer, I can tell you first hand that their moves were EXTREMELY easy, and I’ve seen 75-year-olds achieve more impressive results on ‘Dancing With the Stars.’
I love the IDEA of this movie, and I appreciate the effort, but it is not good enough to justify the hype. As previously mentioned, I also resent that idea that Hollywood values a box-office-draw over casting a true triple threat. I understand that not everyone is a star, and those triple threats are not easy to find, BUT DO THE WORK. They’re out there.
Writers are often told to write what we know, which can get tricky. For starters, shouldn’t we be able to do research, step outside ourselves, and come up with original, out-of-the-box ideas? Do we all have to be married to write about marriage, and do we all have to be anxious to write about anxiety? Though I often take issue with that advice, the most recent episode of ‘This Is Us’ proved the power of that point.
In a series of flashbacks, Randall suffered crippling panic attacks, which involved shaking, crying, and a complete mental breakdown. When he called Kevin to explain that he’d miss his opening night, Kevin ran to his side, in a move that proved his own evolution given that he previously mistreated his brother when he was young.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety since exiting the womb, I’m well aware of what it looks like, and this is perhaps the most cliche, on-the-nose example I can think of. Also, the flashbacks of Randall as a much younger child reflect his cool, calm, and collected nature, with ZERO indications of this condition. Sure you can have multiple qualities at once, but there will always be shades lurking beneath the surface, and no such shades existed in any of the other flashbacks. I think this was a missed opportunity for Sterling K. Brown to exhibit his more nuanced acting prowess.
After an embarrassing interview on ‘The Today Show’ with Matt Lauer in which Lauer bluntly told her she “made no sense,” MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” has decided to ban Kellyanne Conway from appearing on their show, saying that the White House Counselor to President Trump is “out of the loop,” and clearly “in none of the key meetings.” They furthered that “she goes out and books herself often [on television shows] and “she doesn’t know, she doesn’t have the information.” Co-host Mika Brzezinski agreed with Joe Scarborough’s account, saying, she does “not believe in fake news.”
In case you missed it, Lauer asked Conway about Michael Flynn resigning as Trump’s national security adviser when information arose about Flynn’s contact with Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak before Trump took office, thereby making him at risk for blackmail. Just two days after Flynn took office, The Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn was under investigation by U.S. counterintelligence agents for these communications. These calls occurred the same day President Barack Obama announced retaliatory sanctions for Russia’s alleged cyber-attacks against the Democratic Party. At the time, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the calls with Kislyak had nothing to do with the retaliatory measures, but U.S. intelligence officials countered that claim and indicated that such discussions did in fact take place. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates allegedly warned the Trump White House that Flynn had not been truthful and was therefore vulnerable to blackmail by Russian intelligence, but we know how that story ended.
Trump allegedly knew Flynn discussed the sanctions, but Mike Pence did not, and the Vice President went on television to deny any such conversation took place. When Kellyanne Conway insisted that Michael Flynn enjoyed the “full confidence of the President” the day before Flynn resigned, she stepped into a flaming pile of dung. Either she was out of the loop or she is not concerned about the ramifications of being a completely untrustworthy representation of the White House. It’s clear that Trump wanted to keep Flynn on staff and chose to request his resignation when the fallout became far too difficult to manage. Conway likely thought that he’d stay on staff, thus confirming her lack of access to the White House. Watch both videos below, and notice Conway’s clear exhaustion. Something tells me she’ll be removed from her post soon.
To quote a personal friend about this year’s Grammys, “There’s so much amazing music out there. The Grammys are idiotic in general. Imagine how terrible the Oscars would be if it was always the two highest grossing films battling for best film.” It’s no secret that this party is run by old, white men, and the performances and awards reflect that lack of imagination. After all, if you’re going to a music show, you better burn the house down, and that’s not what happened. Read below for my individual critiques.
As the only artist nominated for Album of the Year who actually wrote his entire album ALONE, Sturgill Simpson deserves special recognition. The country music outlaw also gets special cred for breaking into a category dominated by the typical pop-music stars, including Beyonce, Drake, Justin Bieber, and Adele. He has never compromised his integrity for fame, and he therefore deserved that Best Country Album win for ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.’ Too bad they didn’t televise his award.
For a pop star that does not dance, Katy Perry’s capability will always be behind her cohorts,which makes her performance at the Grammys surprisingly good. This is the best she’s looked and she seemed extremely comfortable on stage. As for her new song, “Chained to the Rhythm,” it’s repetitive, unoriginal, and moderately grating, and the message is a tad ridiculous. We need to stand for something, remove our rose-colored glasses, but ALSO party? I’m confused. Watch below.
I get that she’s pregnant, but Beyonce’s seated deity-style performance felt more like a painting than an actual song. Did she take that “Queen Bey” thing literally? This is a MUSIC show, and every move she’s made since announcing her pregnancy feels indulgent (see pregnancy pics), especially given the current state of affairs. Watch below.
After an off-key start that is being attributed to the same technical difficulties that marred other performers that night, Adele proved her prowess by stopping the tune and asking for a do-over. She solidified her authenticity, stayed true to her claim that she would never again relive last year’s debacle, and showed Mariah a thing or two about how to climb out of a sticky on-stage mess. Plus, she swore, which is always fun. Having said all that, I HATED the arrangement of George Michael’s “Fastlove.” It’s so boring I almost fell asleep. Watch below.
I’m going to come down hard on Gaga for her handling of the technical problems during her performance with Metallica. When the lead singer’s mic went out, she should have immediately walked over to him with her own mic. She spent three verses on her side of the stage, until James Hetfield finally walked over to share her mic. At that point, she still hogged it, and she did not even tilt it in his direction. To quote my friend, “If you’re not giving light, you’re taking it.” As for the Grammys, there’s no excuse that mic went out. I understand a technical difficulty here and there, but there were FAR TOO MANY. Furthermore, I resent Gaga’s presence at all. Metallica does’t need an assist from a pop-star, and adding glitter to a rock G-D to keep people entertained is an insulting use of their stage time. I love Gaga, but I don’t need a side of shiny with my grits.