Don’t overlook the second season debut of this dramedy that up to now has fallen through the cracks of more publicized cable fare like The Sopranos and Big Love. When we last left troubled shrink Hank Azaria, his marriage to Paget Brewster was on the rocks, he’d just discovered his best friend (Oliver Platt) sleeping with his mother (Blythe Danner), his schizophrenic brother (Andy Comeau) had driven off in his car, his bright teenage son (Anton Yelchin) was becoming increasingly troubled and his mother-in-law (Swoosie Kurtz) was dying of cancer in his living room.
This year’s cast additions include Sharon Stone as an alcoholic lawyer, redeeming herself from the Basic Instinct 2 bomb with a hilariously over-the-top sexy performance as the always-marvelous Platt’s latest client/love interest, with Anjelica Huston on deck as Huff’s new therapist. The outrageous situations are always tempered by completely believable acting, focusing on issues like dying with dignity, balancing work and pleasure, how to keep passion alive in a relationship, the demands of family and even how we treat people vs. how we treat our pets, that you don’t see anyplace else. There are all sorts of cross-references and allusions that make it a dense tableaux, but above all, there is a belief in the healing power of humor and faith that makes Huff TiVo-worthy.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones (Interscope)
Call me a philistine or a hopeless industry hack, but I kind of appreciate when a band is forced to find artistic solutions to its commercial situation. Like Woody Allen said in Annie Hall, love is like a shark – it dies when it’s not moving forward voraciously, and this post-post-punk downtown Noo Yawk trio takes the challenge and delivers in a way its peers The Strokes failed to do on their Xeroxed soph effort.
The opening song, “Gold Lion,” shows the way, a glistening piece of pop-funk that recalls the glory days of Athens, GA’s Pylon and the B-52s, with lead singer Karen O all sensuous ooze and animal lust over guitarist Nick Zinner’s sculpted metallic soundscapes and drummer Brian Chase’s tribal stomp. There are also stylistic forays into other genres, like the “campfire song” allusion to the folk standard “Mockingbird” interpolated into “Dudley” and the left-field moves into country rockabilly (“Mysteries”) and acoustic blues (“The Sweets”).
“You’re something like a phenomena,” chants Ms. O in the song of the same name, then “Well sometimes/I think that/I’m bigger than the sound” in “Cheated Hearts,” taking the piss out of their Next Big Thing status, but when she closes with “Hope I do/Turn into you” in the closer, it doubles as both a love song and an embrace of her fans. If rock indeed peaked in the 20th century, Karen O and the YYYs prove there’s still some life yet in the primordial beast.
Simon Reynolds, Rip it Up and Start Again (Postpunk 1978-1984) (Penguin)
A lively history of what the London-born rockcrit feels is one of the most creative and revolutionary eras in popular music, right after the implosion of the Sex Pistols, starting with the formation of John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. and taking us through a variety of scenes, including Akron/Cleveland (Pere Ubu, Devo), Manchester Factory (Joy Division, the Fall), New York No Wave (Lydia Lunch, the Contortions, DNA), Athens, GA (R.E.M., B-52s, Pylon), the early rise of visual pop on MTV (Duran Duran, Culture Club, Human League) up to the final shudders of Trevor Horn’s art/political collective ZTT (Art of Noise, Frankie Goes to Hollywood).
While Reynolds’ encyclopedic view understandably leans more to bands from his native U.K., the author’s take on their U.S. counterparts, which were, for the most part, nowhere near as commercially successful, is well-researched and authoritatively delivered. What remains is a time that seems long ago and far away, when art and commerce set out on a collision course we’re still feeling the effects of today.
New York Dolls @Spaceland, L.A.
Maybe they should be called the “New Dolls” because all that’s left from the original line-up is David Johansen and Syl Sylvain, but you won’t hear me complaining. You gotta understand, the Dolls were the first group I could consider my own, and it’s still a treat to hear songs like “Looking for a Kiss,” “Pills,” “Jet Boy,” “Personality Crisis” and “Human Being,” even if guitarist Steve Conte doesn’t flub nearly as many notes as his late predecessor, the immortal Johnny Thunders, and former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sam Yaffa actually plays his instrument, something the late Arthur “Killer” Kane only did sporadically.
It’s hard to know if the club date ostensibly promoting the July release of their first new album in more than 30 years for Roadrunner, is a triumph or a bittersweet reminder of the band’s still-cult status, but the rabid fans don’t seem to mind, and the new songs — “Beauty School” and “Plenty of Music” are soaked in the band’s girl group/primitive R&B roots — seem to fit seamlessly into the old ones.
At one point, with dropper in hand, Johansen explains he’s taking St. John’s Wort because “I’m so depressed,” but he belies that with a nod and a wink as he sashays around the stage, holding out the mic so the crowd can fill in the words. With the trans-gender outrage long gone, it’s time to concentrate on what the New York Dolls have always been – a kickass garage band with a sense of humor and history, nothing less than the Lower East Side’s version of the Rolling Stones by way of the outer boroughs. Long may they rawk.
New York Mets
It may well be a sport of the last century — after all, it’s not nearly as effective on TV or as a video game as football or basketball — but I still get a thrill every time “hope springs eternal” on opening day. This year’s start of the season has been marred by the ongoing steroid scandal and the specter of a juiced-up Barry Bonds challenging Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron for the all-time home run record, but there are still enough subplots for several Dostoevsky novels. That, and the fact there’s a game almost everyday for six months makes baseball truly a marathon rather than a sprint, even if my Mets traditionally end up falling hopelessly out of contention by mid-July.
This year, things are already off to an ominous start with ace Pedro Martinez’s toe injury and our $43 million reliever Billy Wagner already blowing a save on the second day of the season, but things have got to be better with such young talent as David Wright, Jose Reyes and newcomer Brian Bannister, let alone imports Carlos Delgado, the wonderfully named Xavier Nady and last year’s bust, $120 million man Carlos Beltran. Native New Yorkers GM Omar Minaya and manager Willie Randolph bring some hometown enthusiasm to the mix, but it still all comes down to an aging pitching staff and the always-looming specter of the crosstown Yankees.
After several Mets seasons that began with great expectations only to crash and burn on top of the worst years in memory for my Jets, Knicks and Islanders, I’m a little gunshy, tempering my optimism with a healthy dose of caution. As a longtime Met fan conditioned to the unexpected — both good and bad — that’s about as positive as I can get.
The Real Housewives of Orange County(Bravo)
I’m not a big fan of reality TV, but this series, set behind the gates of several upscale OC communities, is a guilty pleasure that quickly turns into an insatiable addiction. In this case, truth is stranger than fiction, as five “typical” families are profiled, warts and all. In fact, some of the portrayals are so heinous as to have elicited severe protests leveled at the participants by their fellow Orange County denizens, but the emphasis on material goods, gaudy displays of wealth and eternal youth rings pretty true.
It’s all pretty damning until you realize these are all fellow human beings just looking to get by, support their families and find some fulfillment, even if it is in keeping up with the next-door neighbors. We watch one clan, headed by ex-L.A. Angel pitcher Matt Keough, as they arrange for their oldest son to follow in his dad’s footsteps as a baseball player at junior college. Meanwhile, a pair of single moms try to maintain their upscale lifestyle in the insurance game, as the downwardly mobile one copes with a troubled son in juvenile detention hall.
There’s the frustrated young Peruvian fiancée of a divorced husband who wants to work, only to be thwarted by her would-be mate’s desire that she stay home and take care of the household. It’s hard not to feel superior to the quest for botox, the perfect SUV or the ultimate manse, but there’s also an existential longing that ties us all together as fellow travelers hoping to make the most of the time we fret and strut. Reality TV is ultimate proof of Shakespeare’s adage that all the world’s a stage… and we’re just players in it.
Howard Stern on Sirius Satellite Radio
I’m finally listening to Howard where he’s best — in the car — where you can fully concentrate on the evolving and often convoluted path the show often takes, and I finally realize that the restrictions put on him by the FCC were completely derailing his momentum and ability to follow a thought to its often hilariously logical conclusion. It’s time we took the sting out of words and taboos, and stop insisting we’re trying to protect “the kids.”
The segment featuring a woman who gives advice on anal sex alone was enough to convince me that full disclosure is the only way to defeat small-mindedness, prejudice and repression, and while it’s not for anyone, $13 a month seems a small price to pay for freedom of speech… and hearing. And if even Howard admits he’s temporarily traded the bully pulpit of terrestrial radio for the cult minions, it’s at least a loyal audience that knows what it wants, even if he is preaching to the converted. With his move to satellite, Stern’s so-called revolution is already busting through more barriers than Lenny Bruce ever did, and if he’s not as angry anymore, at least he’ll never be complacent. He sure sounds liberated… and by extension, he’s freed us from his sins, as well as ours.
This past week was the best yet, featuring existential issues of life and death, heaven and hell, the hilarious preoccupation with dinosaurs and Tony’s wacky argument with the Christian fundamentalist. Still, the highlight was the breakdown of Tony Sirico’s magnificent Paulie Walnuts as Hamlet, a gray-winged angel of death who discovers his aunt is really his mother and his mother his aunt, which prompts him to toss the latter’s $2,000 plasma screen TV out the window, vowing never to return.
After hearing a mother beg Tony S. for mercy on her son, Paulie weeps for the mom he now realizes he never had, then proceeds, in the very next scene, to beat the same kid to a pulp, a remarkable display of twisted maternal love turned to viciously jealous hate. This show remains the standard for series television as it hurtles to its conclusion like a Jacobean tragedy.
Under the Influence of Giants
This suburban L.A. band features ex-members of Hometown Hero (lead singer Aaron Bruno) and Audiovent (drummer Jamin Wilcox, son of Utopia drummer Willie), but their falsetto harmonies and blue-eyed soul melodies betray their roots in Prince, Michael Jackson and Hall and Oates as much as they do the Beatles and Bee Gees, not to mention the smooth, decidedly unhip pop-jazz of Bob James.
Their debut Island Def Jam album doesn’t come out until later this summer, but check out “Mama’s Room” and the lovely acoustic ballad “Lay Me Down” from their MySpace page for a preview of their eclectic, decidedly un-trendy sound that defies current fashion and more than lives up to its name.
Gripe of the Week
Not exactly a complaint; more like an observation, or a Larry David-style ethical conundrum. Last week, I was in the elevator at my doctor’s office with a couple other people, closest to the door and about to push the button for my floor, when I saw someone with a walker about 20 yards away slowly making their way towards us.
My dilemma: should I hold the door for what appeared to be, given the progress already made, another 30-45 painful seconds, and risk the ire of my fellow passengers, who seemed oblivious to the situation, or simply let the individual in question wait for the next elevator to arrive? Before I could even decide, the doors closed, leading me to a momentary musing about whether I’d done the right thing… and whether I would’ve waited if I was alone.