Comedian-screenwriter-director-actor-composer-etc. Mel Brooks – best known as the slightly deranged mind behind such enduring film comedies as “The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein,” as well as their transformation into hit Broadway shows – is headed to Proctors in Schenectady this fall for a live appearance in conjunction with another of his classic films, “Blazing Saddles.”
One of the problems with tribute albums is that they usually don’t come with historical perspective. Oh, sure, whoever’s doing the tribute obviously gives the artist’s compositions all the love they feel about the subject, but other than – maybe – a few words about how (insert Jazz Icon’s Name here) was the greatest thing since (insert appropriate metaphor here), you’re on your own when it comes to background. With that in mind, drummer Michael Benedict came to the Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble’s drop party at Madison Theater with the ultimate answer to this problem: Music and a movie!
If you’ve followed Benedict’s career over the last 10 years, you know McFarland’s music has been a heavy presence. That said, you may be like me and reacted to the singular compositions by saying, “WHO wrote this?” We all got the answer late last year, when Kristian St. Clair’s 2011 documentary “This Is Gary McFarland” was released to DVD. A mash-up of old TV footage, home movies, audio tracks and radio interviews with major names like Willis Conover and Hugh Downs, the 72-minute film is an outstanding portrait of an artist you’re convinced you should have heard of by the time the credits roll. Benedict brought the film to the Madison Theater’s terrific concert space and sandwiched it with five tunes from Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland, which was at #24 on the national jazz charts when the band took the stage.
While I am a vinyl addict, I don’t discriminate against inferior media. I consume it all with gusto! In this special summer edition of the Crate Digger column I’ve gathered a few non-LP goodies sure to entertain all the pale-faced basement dwellers out there who would prefer to stay inside and obtain obscure pop-cultural knowledge while the pretty people hit the beach.
In what amounts to a loving tribute to guitarist/keyboardist Bob Casale, who died of heart failure in February, 2014 before the band could reunite, this concert film shot at the Fox Theatre in Oakland last year revisits Devo’s early work dating from 1974-1977. Back then, Devo were basement rock freaks in right-wing Akron, and according to leader Mark Mothersbaugh they were more often paid to stop playing their local gigs than they were asked to play encores. Still, the story here is one of fierce self-belief and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. On songs like “Mechanical Man,” Devo’s computerized krautrock sets the table for later hits like the ubiquitous new-wave anthem “Whip It.” Others standouts like “Space Girl Blues” and “Baby Talkin’ Bitches” suggest a harder-rocking blues influence (albeit whacked-out de-evolutionary blues) that all but disappeared in the later mainstream recordings.
Filmmaker Keirda Bahruth, who also directed the Thelonious Monster rock-doc “Bob and the Monster,” intersperses talking-head interviews with band members and Akron scenesters between the 21-songs included in this 84 minute-set. The interviews paint Devo as true rock underdogs, and remind this reviewer how influential Devo’s vision was in shaping the DIY culture of the 80s that bred off-beat bands like Blotto here in Albany. There isn’t a tounge-in-cheek song like “Metal Head” without Devo’s anything-but-PC offerings like “Midget.” Believe it or not kids, there was once a time when musicians, comedians and even regular folks could make a joke or poke fun at something and not have it blow up on Twitter as an offense against humanity.
Movies about musicians frequently turn into paint-by-numbers affairs, but that is not how director Bill Pohlad constructed “Love & Mercy.” From the opening shot of one of Brian Wilson’s ears, the use of two different actors to play Mr. Wilson, and the seamless juxtaposition of two different periods in Wilson’s life the director had one goal: for the audience to better understand the genius and demons that sang inside Brian’s head.
The film primarily focuses on two periods in Wilson’s life: the creation of Pet Sounds, arguably Wilson’s artistic peak, and a slice of his middle age, some 20 years later, when he is barely functional and under the court appointed “care” of therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Paul Dano – who looks, sounds and sings like Brian – plays the Pet Sounds era to perfection, while John Cusack, who doesn’t physically resemble or sound like Brian, captures mien – especially the emotional distress, fear and loneliness as well as the child-like quality – that are the essence of Brian during middle age.
Shot at the 2013 festival and featuring performances by Wilco, Neko Case, Yo La Tengo, the Dream Syndicate, Lucius, Foxygen, Sam Amidon, Sean Rowe, the Relatives with appearances from Reggie Watts, John Hodgman, Jen Kirkman and others, “Every Other Summer” offers a peek into the festival’s utopian vibe and the positive transformative impact it has had on the small rust belt town of North Adams.
The film is now available to rent ($4.99) or buy ($12.99).
Solid Sound returns to MASS MoCA in person again this weekend, June 26-28 at MASS MoCA. Limited quantities of three-day tickets still remain. Single-day tickets for Saturday (June 27) are sold out. Limited quantities of single-day tickets for Friday (June 26) and Sunday (June 28) are still available.
“James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket” is an emotional portrait of the writer and Civil Rights activist James Baldwin, delivered mostly in his own words, combining intimate interviews, public speeches, rarely seen archival footage, and illuminating contributions from friends and colleagues such as Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka and William Styron.
James Baldwin’s only weapon was words, and he wielded them with great effectiveness in his writing, his speeches and on the air. He spoke truth to injustice, and emboldened others of his generation to find their voices, too. In person he could sear your ears off with his fiery wit and wisdom.” – Larry Murray, editor of Berkshire on Stage
Director Karen Thorsen will introduce the film, and a conversation will follow the screening. This film kicks off the Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival, a summer festival celebrating the rich traditions of African-American community, arts and culture, history and heritage found within Berkshire County and across the nation. “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket” screens in MASS MoCA’s Club B-10 in North Adams tonight (Friday, June 19) at 8pm.
The Palace Theatre in Albany is hosting the 2015 Palace Pride Film Series this week. Taking place over the course of three days leading up to Albany’s annual Pride Festival, this series of movies and events highlights various aspects of the modern day LGBT experience. Each night we will pair a feature film with a special guest speaker or performer.
All tickets are general admission and priced at $15; $10 students. A series pass for all three films is also available for $30. A portion of all tickets sales to be donated to the Pride Center of the Capital Region.
Lee Shaw is Albany’s undisputed Queen of Piano Jazz, and as she says near the start of “Lee’s 88 Keys,” the new film about her life and music, “There are 88 keys on the piano keyboard… I’m 88 years old.”
She’s performed at the Apollo Theatre in NYC and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. She’s been inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame (where she was born) and the Capital Area Music Hall of Fame (where she lives now).
Since moving to the Capital Region back in 1971, Lee Shaw has been one of the most enthusiastic and supportive members of the Nippertown jazz community, as both a musician and an educator.
Directed by Susan Robbins, the film deftly captures Shaw’s spirit. Her dedication. Her dogged determination not to let illness slow her down. Her undying passion for jazz. Her love of dogs. Her prowess as performer. Her imagination and skill as a pianist. And so much more…