Category Archives: Florida Times-Union

Live review: Nine Inch Nails reclaim their empire of dirt in Jacksonville

Florida Times-UnionHow much can you blame a band for its weaker, subordinate offspring? How much can you hold into account the inventor of a cliche if it was novel when he thought of it? Is it fair to blame Pearl Jam for Creed? And is it fair to blame Nine Inch Nails for the tiring parade of industrial-rock welterweights who ungraciously jammed the airwaves during the post-Downward Spiral mid-’90s? (Don’t make me come over there, Gravity Kills).

Trent Reznor certainly deserves his slice of the pie for conceiving some of industrial metal’s most inspired moments — all of Spiral, most of Pretty Hate Machine and its follow-up EP, Broken. But after Spiral in 1994, things got itchy. Following a trademark Reznorian layoff of slightly more than a presidential term, he returned with 1999’s sprawling two-discer The Fragile, an unspectacular work that occasionally slipped into unintentional comedy and left many wondering if Nine Inch Nails had peaked and would be ladling up Sin to the state fair circuit before long.

Happily, last spring’s With Teeth laid to rest those worries, and Nine Inch Nails’ 21-song tour de force Friday at the Arena finished shoveling dirt on them.

Proving that he’s lost none of his punishing power, Reznor reclaimed that industrial title while proving that, at 40, he’s still got what’s probably a medically worrisome capacity for apocalyptic but often danceable rage, delivered with the cobweb-free precision of a guy who’s newly clean and sober and knows he’s getting his belt back. Might have been the strobes, but I think I even caught a little smirk there during March of the Pigs.

Much of Reznor’s enduring appeal lies in his ability to use synapse-reprogramming industrial songs and their darkly erotic sonic underbellies to disguise insanely catchy pop hooks (Closer and Head Like A Hole chief among them). The overwrought Fragile got away from that, but With Teeth brings it back. the anti-Bush screed The Hand That Feeds bounced along on a bassline that was almost merry, and new single Only is the closest thing he’s birthed to Pretty Hate since the late-80s, a piece of bent metal with a slithery synth riff and hook you can bob to (though it also works in that album’s most aged trait, predictable lyrical mumbo-jumbo about being “less concerned about fitting into the world — your world that is.”)

But the hooks and the noise were both at full throttle all night, punctuated by a crack band as adept at handling Reznor’s often-convoluted song structures as they were rocking grotesque guitar-god poses. Nine Inch Nails paused occasionally to let mists of piano-driven melody drift into the maelstrom, particularly during a de facto intermission of the more meandering Eraser, Right Where It Belongs and Beside You In Time. But for most of the night, they left the nuance and color to the CD and used the live setting to generally throttle the soundboard.

Predictably, Pretty Hate went largely unheralded, save for Head Like A Hole, the obligatory set closer; Terrible Lie, whose blippy late ’80s effects were retrofitted for extra bang, and a small tease of The Only Time dribbled into Closer to keep the overplayed latter something approaching fresh. This was a show designed for maximum output– You Know What You Are roared, March of the Pigs blazed and the blackly sexy Reptile created a mass of sound that threatened to break out of the arena and take over entire sections of town.

Moreover, Alex Carapetis, who stepped in when original drummer Jerome Dillon was forced out off the tour for heart troubles, was a gallant knight. It’s not like Carapetis was filling in for BTO or something – Reznor had him juking and time-shifting as much as he had him thrashing to the noise, and the new guy stepped up like a pro.

One exception to the noise was Hurt, which Reznor, taking a welcome cue from Johnny Cash, performed alone at his keyboard, welcoming the crowd participation and letting their contributions wash over him — “If I could start again a million miles away, I would keep myself,” he and everyone in the house sang. If the rest of the night was a industrial catharsis for them; one got the sense,that hearing their responses was an equally potent catharsis for him.

Stoner-rockers Queens of the Stone Age made some fans of their own in an inspired, workmanlike opening set that gained steam with every passing minute. Frontman and potential Craig Kilborn stunt double Josh Homme drove his four-piece through new-era psychedelia that touched on thunderous ’70s rock, trippy-but-efficient jammy detours and some hooks of his own (Little Sister, No One Knows).

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‘Electro Lounge’ and ‘This Is Jazz’: Radio dreams in Jacksonville

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Florida Times-Union Two things about Bob Bednar and David Luckin: They are music-loving humans, and they program their own radio shows in Jacksonville. It’s a testament to the general state of the airwaves that these things add up to an eyebrow-raising quirk of nature.

Poll music fans on their complaints about radio, and their responses tend to take on a dispiriting sameness: zero merging of musical styles, little variation of the playlists and a seemingly irrational dependence on the same four Aerosmith or Mariah Carey or bled-dry 1980s hits. A payola in- vestigation rocked the commercial FM industry this summer. Seven million people have invested in satellite radio over the past four years. According to Arbitron, commercial radio’s audience has decreased 13 per- cent during the past decade. And above all, there’s an overriding sense that the music is being programmed exclusively via mathematics.

Not so with the non-profit WJCT FM 89.9’s signature music shows, Luckin’s Electro Lounge (which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 10 p.m. Saturdays) and Bednar’s This Is Jazz (8 p.m. Saturdays — both shows are available for streaming at wjct.org). Both are crafted by hand and steeped heavily in that fading human element.

“As we get into a marketplace that’s increasingly more competitive, with things like satellite radio and podcasting, what’s gonna keep people coming back?” said Tom Patton, WJCT’s station manager. “When you need to distinguish yourself, the only way to do that is local content.” And people respond. Patton says that over those time periods, an average of 13,000 listeners are tuned in.

And on WJCT, Bednar and Luckin are the music content. “We share a lot,” said Luckin, “Or we play Stump the Band. He usually wins.”

Ostensibly, this is not a Stump the Band that most people could hang with — each guy is fairly intimidating in his knowledge. The studio Bednar broadcasts from is efficient-looking and well-kept; a long row of jazz titles is lined along the large windowsill like it’s marching toward the microphone. Luckin’s is more crowded, stuffed with stacks of everything, including the two or three bags he uses to tote music around. “I’m still reorganizing,” he’ll say, sounding not much like it’s a project with an appreciable end to to it.

The two engage in friendly skirmishes like brothers on Christmas morning, but are also quick to praise one another. “It’s a risky show, but it’s working,” said Bednar of Luckin’s Electro Lounge. “The show exists because of him,” he added, pointing across the boards.

Three minutes later, Luckin touts his compatriot right back: “If you’re a 16-year-old and you like jazz, you know where to go. And if you’re a 60-year-old and want to know some of the new music, you know where to go. You know Bob’ll never let you down, and you know I’ll play something interesting.”

Bob Bednar’s ‘This Is Jazz’
As the host defines it, Bednar’s This Is Jazz, now in its 13th year, is the sound of surprise, a deft mix of classic and new, where Miles plays comfortably into Jason Moran, a true labor of love and the product of a lifetime spent close to the music.

When Bednar was a kid in the Northeast, he’d visit the Paramount to see the Woody Herman Orchestra, and for his 13th birthday, his cousin took him to Eddie Condon’s in Greenwich Village. “You talk about your heart jumping out of your shirt,” he said of that first trip. “This smoky jazz club, the music going on, the cigarette girl coming along in net stockings and high heels. Could life be any better?”

Bednar himself was a vibraphone player and drummer in the mid-’50s, when he lived in the Philadelphia area, played with guys such as Stephane Grappelli, Zoot Sims, Bucky Pizzarelli and Lou Tabackin.

“I love it from a standpoint of a historian, love it as a player,” he said.

When Bednar started 13 years ago, WJCT was primarily music — classical and jazz, even. In the mid ’90s, new management began the shift into its current NPR format, but they kept Bednar around. “I don’t cost a lot of money,” he said, probably half-kidding. (For his part, Patton demurs that it’s “financially viable” to do these shows).

“When I took the job, I said, OK, what are the parameters? And they said, ‘You do the show.'” And since then, he’s never been told how to structure it. Asked how the programming comes together, he smiles and taps his head.

But Bednar will occasionally bend rules. “I’ll take a song like Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are, and I’ll do an entire show on 15 interpretations of it. Now who the hell does that? It’s like, ‘You wanna get fired?'”

The man has 1,500 CDs, 135 of which are by Chet Baker. Mention Miles Davis, and a 15-minute monologue on the jazz pioneer’s history comes tumbling out, a thoughtful torrent of names and phrases such as “in-credible stuff.”

Judging by the people who’ve personally offered thanks, Bednar’s audience spans students at UNF to 80-somethings in St. Augustine.

But you get the sense that this is what he’d be doing at home anyway.

“Jazz is continually evolving and changing, like all great art,” he said, “And you make a discovery like Jason Moran or Greg Osby and be able to get full pleasure as you did 40 years ago by something that Bud Powell or Sonny Rollins did …”

Bednar sits back and clasps his hands. “I don’t get very excited by this stuff,” he deadpans, smirking to whoever’s in the room and mostly himself.

David Luckin’s ‘Electro Lounge’
Luckin defines his show like this: “A while ago, I sent the show to an NPR station in Pennsylvania,” he said. “And someone e-mailed back and said, ‘I don’t know if this show knows what it wants to be.’ And guess what — that’s it! They got it, and they didn’t even know it! It’s a little bit of everything!”

The Electro Lounge, which re-launched last December from its previous incarnation as NightFlight, is loosely grounded in downtempo or chillout music. Playlists are heavy on bands such as Thievery Corporation and De-Phazz, but, especially of late, has detoured into Stevie Wonder, Michael Franti, Gang Starr and local singer-songwriter Rebec- ca Zapen. Seventy-five percent to 80 percent of the show is new music.

“I’m always looking for excuses to make a left turn,” Luckin said, adding with a laugh, “Maybe we could call it force-feeding.”

But, he added, his audience is open to such sleight of hand.

“It’s easy to play something you think everyone will like. But people are broader than they think they are,” he said. “And the odd stuff gets the biggest response — Gershwin sung by Natalie Merchant, or a trippy track that begins and ends with an opera perform- ance.”

Luckin talks fast, his brain always on, rifling through CDs when a track occurs to him and constantly putting discs in whatever player is nearest. “You gotta hear this voice,” he’ll say, or this marimba, or this old soul band.

“I’m stealing this from Bob, but it’s the element of surprise,” he said. “What I try to do is mix up Pink Floyd and Patsy Cline. Music without walls.”

Luckin stays up late each night sniffing around the Web, hitting the downtempo discussion boards, spinning the CDs he gets from all over the globe and discovering.

The result is a loyal fanbase that, judging by his e-mails, spans the country — one Philadelphia columnist wrote a piece after the Super Bowl bemoaning his city’s lack of a similar show. “This is what DJs used to do before songs came with little colored dots instructing machines to play them,” Luckin said.

The catch with Luckin’s show, as Bednar has noted, is that it’s a thematic roll of the dice.

“I hope I’m appealing to these people. And you wonder, ‘Should I play that 1932 Louis Armstrong I’m Confessin’? Will they get it?'” he said. “But you should play it, because they should hear it. And you play the Black Eyed Peas or Spearhead for the same reason.”

Luckin sits back, crosses his arms. “I just love music.” And doing what music guys do.


Late afternoon with the mighty Max Weinberg

94826_300Florida Times-Union – Sitting in with the UNF Jazz Ensemble 1 this weekend, it’s drumming legend and, as Bruce Springsteen would say, the star of late night telly-vision: the mighty Max Weinberg.

Weinberg, a 30-year resident of E Street and emperor of the most excellent Max Weinberg 7 on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, stands among the most visible and rock-solid drummers in the business — and, it should be noted, has proven himself an incredibly game comedic straight man as well (let’s just say one-liners like “I’ve found that reindeer will lick just about anything you put in front of them” weren’t something that popped up a whole lot on Born in the U.S.A.).

But he’s also an in-demand guest speaker who logs regular appearances at colleges around the country with his one-man multimedia show, An Evening With Max Weinberg. And the chance to cameo this weekend with UNF’s acclaimed jazz ensemble provided an opportunity too good to miss, he said.

“I’m thrilled to be playing with the great stage band at UNF,” Weinberg said from New York last week. “They’re wonderful musicians down there.”

Weinberg does these kinds of jazz and jump-blues-leaning shows somewhat regularly and said that such gigs, as well as his work on Conan, help him pad out his musical resume even more. “I think at 54 I’m playing with more versatility and finesse and polish than I ever have,” he said. “We’ve done a cross-section of music on the show — not just rock ‘n’ roll.”

Indeed, he’s keen on trumpeting that cross-section — jump-blues, big-band jazz and swing — to schools as well as the folks in TV land.

“One of the main requirements for being a drummer is to be able to convincingly play any kind of music, or you end up not working,” he said, laughing. “Certainly with Springsteen it’s all rock, but on TV I wanted to play all types of music. The jump-blues is something I started back in the ’90s, and that led me into the big-band era update that we do now, music downsized for a seven-piece band instead of 17 or 18.”

But, he added, some of his newest interests are a couple of decades ahead, closer to the era spotlighted by bandmate Steven Van Zandt on his Underground Garage radioshow. “Lately on the show we’ve been redefining ’70s music, and I find that some of that earlier punk — Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Clash — was more melodic than the punk played in the last 10 years,” he said. “Like ‘Sheena Is a Punk Rocker’ — that’s a good melody that can be adapted to sax or trumpet, so that’s what I listen for. The drums are basically high-energy rock ‘n’ roll.

“Though,” he adds, “it seems to funny to play a Clash song wearing a suit and tie.”

For Saturday’s concert, which is free, Weinberg will sit in with Jazz Ensemble 1 for a number of handpicked tunes, including “one of (his) favorites: our version of Come Fly With Me inspired by the Count Basie recording,” he said.

He’s also lined up numbers by Buddy Rich and Henry Mancini, songs he does regularly with a seven-piece that he can now flesh out for a crowd more than double that. (Weinberg added that during his set he’ll play alongside UNF’s drummer. “I don’t like to leave anybody out,” he said.)

After the show, which benefits the ensemble, Weinberg will take questions from the audience “across all topics,” and stick around for autographs.

This fall’s found him busy in Bruce-land as well: Weinberg contributed interviews and insight to a 30th anniversary edition of Born to Run coming out on Tuesday, Nov. 15, which includes a DVD of a previously unreleaed full 1975 concert. “Thirty years ago,” Weinberg said, “Yeah, that really brings back a lot of memories. And that concert is really something outrageous.”


Three thoughtful parenting tips from Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper is helping me raise my son. Yeah. I said it, stupid What To Expect series.

Florida Times-Union — As part of a job that many people rightly put quote fingers around while describing, I interviewed Alice Cooper by phone last week at my home about his upcoming show at the Florida Theatre — which will be very splattery and squishy and thick with the usual dark menagerie of snakes, beheadings, go-go dancers and what I’d guess to be many tongues of fire, nature’s lethal minion.

But since I have a Little Man whose attention needs must be sated while Daddy does what he guiltily passes off as work, I had to first fire up the usual distraction: Wah Emmo (pronounced “watch Elmo” by those of us with a full set of teeth). It’s a rock-solid safe bet for securing 15 minutes of Jeff Time, unless it’s the one with Mr. Noodle’s crazy binoculars, which Little Man is scared of. It’s OK, I reassure him. I’ve been sort of scared of Alice for years.

So when Alice calls — promptly, God love him — I answer, and for that first brief moment it occurs to me that I’ve got Mr. Welcome To My Nightmare on the phone, and over my shoulder, Elmo chirping out a song entitled Waddle Waddle Hop Hop.

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Such a thing tends to throw one’s spine out of whack, but when I reported this to Alice, who is an unfailingly engaging and articulate guy, he merely comes back with, “I love the fact that you’re a daddy!” And we launch forthwith into a 20-minute chat about parenting.

It’s all about attention, Alice says. He and his wife of 29 years — whom he met when he hired her to perform on the Nightmare tour as (and I am not making any of these up) the giant spider, the giant snake, the dancing tooth, the mannequin that comes to life and the tap-dancing skeleton — “always spent all our time with our kids. They never felt insecure.”

Their three children grew up backstage, regarding the secrets behind Daddy’s fake guillotines, lighting and magic tricks “with big smiles” and routinely saying things like “Where’s Uncle Axl? Where’s Uncle [Keith] Moony?”

“They’d always travel with us on the road, and anybody backstage would pick them up and carry them around. They were like everybody’s kids,” he said.

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Despite some of those uncles’ reputations, though, his kids turned out to be “the most balanced you’ve ever seen.” Regular churchgoers all, he said they’ve never done drugs, never stolen anything, never gotten into any trouble with Johnny Law, and he says it all in such a proud, paternal tone. “When you hear of Ozzy’s kids in trouble all the time, well, I mean, look at what the example is,” he said.

Now before I forget: Alice’s show is supporting his new Dirty Diamonds, and it’s a return to form, which means the props-heavy and mercilessly over-the-top spectacle for which he’s famous. Thirty songs, he says, and 28 of them are full-metal rockers. And it co-stars his daughter as, among other things, Paris Hilton, who in the end is viciously mauled by her chihuahua. “The first five or 10 rows get totally covered in blood,” he said. Sweet.

But what I take away from this brief and bizarre convergence of the Cooper family, their Uncle Slash, my Little Man and the little red Muppet that by then was frenetically counting ice-skating dogs, is this: When it comes to all this, Alice Cooper makes way more basic, focus-on-the family sense than all those parenting books we bought, all those articles that randomly change tack every few months (sun is bad! no, sun is good!) and all those scary-in-their-own-right ostensible-morality nuts like John Rosemond or James Dobson. See? And you thought Alice couldn’t shock anymore.


Martin Scorsese, Bob Dylan and “No Direction Home”: How does it feel?

Florida Times-Union — The first thing music fans will notice in watching Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home is that Dylan is talking.

On camera. In person.

Chatty, conversational, mischievous. Funny, even.

For longtime Dylanphiles, this is sort of like J.D. Salinger doing a signing at Barnes & Noble.

Only Dylan knows what’s compelled him to embark on this recent surge of self-revelation, which includes last fall’s best-selling memoir Chronicles: Volume I, and a coffee-table book of bric-a-brac that’s been released to accompany the film, but one thing’s for sure: It’s not to definitively clear the cobwebs out of the dusty and more impenetrable corners of the Bard’s psyche.

If anything, the black-clad Dylan who stars here does more of his pathologically addictive dance, dropping hints about truths, then stepping back to distance himself from anything too revealing. Of his early development, Dylan rasps, “Well, it didn’t happen in any of the ways I read about.” A great answer, if you’re John Roberts.

Peppered with many rare and previously unearthed live performances, home demos and session work (though none presented in complete form, unless you buy the DVD, where you’ll find some in the bonus materials), No Direction Home sticks to the period between Dylan’s 1961 arrival in Greenwich Village through his uncomfortable deification by the folk-rock establishment and ending with the 1966 motorcycle accident that kept him off the road and holed up in upstate New York for eight years. It’s bookended by his legend-building performance in Manchester, England — what was long mislabeled in bootlegs as the “Royal Albert Hall” concert — the second-most-famous of his chaotic “electric” performances and the gig where bitter, confused fans stung the singer with cries of “traitor!” and “Judas!”

On those bootlegs, such vitriolic bullets sounded as though they were spat on stage; in the film, they’re almost played as punchlines to a media/fan/counterculture machine that had gotten totally out of hand. “To be on the side of people struggling against something doesn’t mean you’re political,” he says, introducing With God on Our Side, and the movie, like Dylan or anyone, leaves the issue dangling of what a “protest song” is and whether he ever wrote one anyway.

Manchester is the main course of Scorsese’s film, the apex in which the evolution of Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minn., (where Dylan plays down his youth by claiming “it was too cold to be bad”) into some folk-rock Jesus reaches its most absurd, and, according to Scorsese’s storytelling, damning point. The 1966 Dylan bristles at angry, take-take-take fans. He dryly jousts with combative and comically square reporters, many of whom speak in 1950s-propaganda-movie voices and can be easily imagined wearing short-sleeved buttoned-up shirts — the most fantastic example of which is a Swedish guy who admits to having “never heard him sing.”

And he reflexively builds up an ironic-but-uncomfortable line of defense at a nutty state that his then-drummer, Mickey Jones, ably sums up: “Here was someone who everybody loved, and they didn’t like what he was doing. And they were showing it.” (“How can they buy tickets up so fast?” Dylan wonders, not entirely jokingly.) Modern-day Dylan regards it all in hindsight with a detached demurring, but what else would you expect?

What begins as a biographical walk through New York’s folk/beat/hippie scene in Part 1 turns into something more tragic, and Scorsese and Dylan both making the point that when Dylan was christened as a savior, he grew instantly weary of the ludicrousness of it and fled pretty literally into the hills.

There are other telling quotable nuggets scattered throughout — such as Dylan’s claims that “very few of my [ideal performances] could be found on any of my records” and that he still considers his mates in the Band “gallant knights” for their loyalty on those electric shows.

But if there’s any truth, any moral to be found here, it’s how impossibly huge Dylan got, despite what appear to be herculean efforts to the contrary, and how it visibly turned his original resolve into a pathological need for change (and may help explain what he’s doing on Victoria’s Secret commercials now). Moreover, No Direction Home shows us the beginning chapters of what’s turned into drooling celebrity culture being written, intercut with clips of Dylan and Johnny Cash harmonizing on I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, and the jarring shift between purity and noise is telling and scary to watch.

But as with all Dylan lore, that truth is shifting, amorphous, written in comically overlapping fashion by the thousands upon thousands of folks who have either been part of the story, or claimed to. The best evidence of this is the 1965 Newport Folk Festival segment, wherein Pete Seeger, and a half-dozen folks who aren’t Pete Seeger, recount the story in which Seeger was rumored to threaten to hack Bob’s electric cords to pieces with an axe. (For his part, Dylan doesn’t even seem to have figured it out entirely.)

The various tales are stacked up like planes landing at an airport, never making any sense, really. But they’re note-perfect indicators of how history and hand-me-downs have clouded the Dylan myth, fueled not least of all by the man himself, who’s never done a thing to quash it. In a couple of glinting expressions glimpsed by the camera, Dylan seems to enjoy offering no closure. This many years into a career of incalculable influence, there’s probably no definitive Dylan tale to tell, and the words of Bob himself don’t get us any nearer to a gospel truth. But Scorsese and No Direction Home have come about as close as anyone ever has.


Little Steven Van Zandt: Just a prisoner of rock n’ roll

Florida Times-Union — He’s not the only one, nor the oldest, nor the richest. But Little Steven Van Zandt might be the most charismatic, dedicated and visible crusader around these days scrapping to preserve the dirty purity of what they used to call rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s a thread that runs through the activities in what appears to be a fairly insane (and probably paisley-colored) day planner. Van Zandt, 54, splits his time these days as lead guitarist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, shooting the sixth (and reportedly final) season of The Sopranos and hosting a radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage, which airs locally from 10 p.m. to midnight Sundays on WFYV (104.5 FM).

The show, like all his projects, is powered by one core rule, Van Zandt said.

“The old and the new can live side by side, and in fact strengthen each other,” he said by phone last week. “The old stuff gives the new stuff depth. The new stuff gives the old stuff relevance. My philosophy is: Cool is timeless. And that’s how people respond. We get e-mails from 12-year-olds and 62-year- olds.”

That workmanlike investment in the sprawling history of rock is driving Van Zandt to spend most of August on a last-ditch crusade to save CBGB, the grimy, venerated New York club that became the nucleus of punk in the ’70s by first spotlighting acts such as Television, the Ramones and Blondie. The club’s 12-year lease is up on Wednesday, Aug. 31. And its owner, Hilly Kristal, and its landlord, the Bowery Residents’ Committee, a non-profit organization that benefits the homeless, have been embroiled in a tangled and long-running legal logjam over disputed rent payments for months.

“We’re making progress,” Van Zandt. “The clock is ticking, though.”

The club scored a legal victory late last week when a Manhattan civil court judge ruled that CBGB didn’t have to pay long-disputed back rent to the BRC — and that it couldn’t be evicted on that basis.

But its future is still cloudy. When CBGB’s lease expires in two weeks, its rent will be doubled to more than $40,000 a month. Yet Van Zandt remains optimistic that the club will still be standing when the legal smoke clears.

Van Zandt took the role as mediator for the club — the only one he’s heard of that regularly pops up in travel books — out of something close to duty. “I couldn’t say no, you know what I mean?” he said.

“Part of our fight in this revolution to support this rebirth of rock ‘n’ roll, this huge contemporary garage-rock scene, is creating a new infrastructure, because most of the old infrastructure is gone. To lose yet one more club . . .” he trails off. “This is the last club left! Leave us at least one!” he added, laughing.

If the club infrastructure is crumbling now, the radio infrastructure has been exploded for years. Which is why the Underground Garage is such a critically acclaimed novelty — here’s a show that spins Ramones, Carl Perkins and Amboy Dukes nuggets next to stuff by the White Stripes, the Caesars and the Kaiser Chiefs. It’s not a cliche to say that it’s the kind of thing that just ain’t done anymore.

“We’re the only format in the world that plays new rock ‘n’ roll,” Van Zandt said. “You can hear hard rock, you can hear hip-hop, you can hear pop, but you can’t hear new rock ‘n’ roll anywhere.”

The show’s a certified winner — three years in, it airs on Sirius satellite radio and 130 FM stations in 190 markets nationwide. David Moore, program director for WFYV (104.5 FM), said the show is No. 1 in the male 25-to-54 demographic for its time slot, and No. 2 among non-talk stations — all for a Sunday night slot that’s “not a day or time usually associated with high levels of rock radio listening.”

But for all its critical noise, Van Zandt seems surprised, even perplexed, that it hasn’t been ripped off more.

“We have seen some influence in odd ways,” he allowed. “Steve Jones [of the Sex Pistols] as a DJ in L.A. This Jack format, oddly enough, is kind of a result of our success — even though they’re not including new music, unfortunately. But I must be honest, I am a little disappointed we have not been able to convince people to play more new music. I don’t really think audiences are gonna run for the hills if you play something new once in a while.”

To that end, Van Zandt is working on a TV version of the Underground Garage, one of seven music-oriented pilots he has in various stages of development and more avenues by which he can get new music in front of a nuttily crowded marketplace.

“I wanna make that relationship between playing new bands on the radio and seeing new bands on TV, it makes a big difference,” he said. “We’ve now played over 100 new bands in the past three years, and we wanna put the faces to the sounds.” He said he hopes to have something on by the first of the year.

He also remains fully active on E Street as well, and has contributed to a release commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Springsteen classic Born to Run. He predicts there’ll be another record and tour with the band. “There is a very cool thing that’s gonna come out about that,” he said.

And after a 21-month hiatus, Van Zandt will reprise his role of mobster Silvio Dante when the sixth season of the Sopranos starts on HBO in March. The cable channel last week announced an extra eight “bonus episodes” in addition to the previously announced 12-show run.

But for the next two weeks anyway, Van Zandt’s energies are centered on the club. “We’re staying very optimistic about this,” he said. “It’s quite a fight, though.”


Movie Review: “The Island” — What kind of paradise harvests your organs?

Florida Times-Union — The Island is this summer’s second Ewan McGregor movie about clones, but there’s one big departure from Star Wars: In this one, he gets to emote!

Then again, since The Island is directed by Michael Bay, the auteur behind dialogue-driven indie flicks such as The Rock, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, most of that emoting is of the yelling-while-plummeting-off-a-skyscraper variety, with a little bit of the screaming-while-being-chased-by-helicopters variety and a small dash of the hollering-during-a-shootout-in-a-train-station variety.

A logic-free shoot-’em-up masquerading as a Matrix knockoff, The Island takes a slick idea and quickly scuttles it under action cliches — it’s the kind of movie that says: Why have a guy just fall, when you can him fall into a very large wine rack? As with anything Bay, it has plot holes the size of hot-air balloons, but the good sense to, if one of those holes becomes too obvious, blow up some cars.

Set in the near future, The Island kicks off with a neat hook: A legion of developmentally stunted white-clad drones work methodically in a self-contained colony that, they’re told, has been sealed off from an outside world that’s been “contaminated.” Their moods are monitored, their gruel-heavy diet is controlled and they toil in the hopes of being sent to “the island,” a futuristic Margaritaville you can only get to by winning a lottery.

But if you’ve ever read more than three pages of sci-fi, you know that winning a lottery is never, ever a good thing. Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor) is suspicious of the whole place, especially when his crush, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), becomes a lucky powerball winner.

And though Lincoln’s every step is tracked, he gets “proximity warnings” every time he spends more than 14 seconds with Jordan and his urine is always scanned for quality, he manages to sneak around long enough to uncover the truth about the place: Evil Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean, overdoing it) is growing extra humans that he harvests for parts for his rich clients. “You guys are just replacement engines on their Bentleys,” the “insurance policies” are told.

Bay sets it up nicely, and for a minute, he even lets you hope that The Island might be gearing up to make a statement on stem-cell research, or maybe the ethical limits of science or the fundamental nature of humanity. And then he punts the action outside to L.A. and stages a brain-rattlingly loud car chase.

From then on, there’s nothing you won’t see coming a mile down the turnpike. Action set pieces whiz by in flurries of jump-cut confusion (in many of the schizophrenic fistfights, Bay has to put glasses on one of his competitors so audiences have a fighting chance at knowing who’s punching what). Clone Lincoln seeks out his “sponsor,” Real Tom Lincoln, who, surprisingly, owns a very fast car. Steve Buscemi plays Steve Buscemi. Djimon Hounsou adds class as an assassin hired by Merrick to track down the “product,” but there’s never much drama about which side he’ll end up on.

And, sure, this isn’t the sort of thing that demands a lot of logic, but come on: There’s only one Tom Lincoln in 2019 L.A.? How does Clone Lincoln know how to handle a flying motorcycle, or, for that matter, a car, or, for that matter, his shoelaces? Who’s handling security in this bunker so badly that Lincoln gets to go play with a butterfly when he feels like it? And what of the clones? There’s a fascinating story to tell about the events right before the closing credits, but Bay pathologically steers clear of philosophizing, probably because that would require talking scenes.

Oh well. Johansson looks great at all times, although McGregor, as he did in Star Wars, totally mutes his natural roguishness for some reason (until the clones hook up with ultra-rich Real Tom, who’s a kick).

But you can’t help but get the feeling that 10 years ago, in the pre-Independence Day age, this would have been the summer blockbuster. This summer, scuttled at the end of July and without half the buzz of the Sith or the Batman, The Island is destined to be quickly wiped from your memory.


Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: Sometimes you feel like a nut

Florida Times-UnionNot that there was ever much doubt, but Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s take on the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is completely nuts.

It’s too nuts sometimes, and not quite nuts enough in others. But fans looking for Burton’s new-era-Seuss madness and Depp’s nuttiness will go home quite happy, their eyes taffy-pulled as much as Mike Teavee’s body.

Charlie — not a remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 Gene Wilder classic, Depp has stressed, but a more faithful take on the Roald Dahl book — still stands as one of children’s literature’s weirdest brain-scrambles. With its demented protagonist, roster of unpleasant kids and rather detached take on child welfare, it’s sort of a version of Seven with way, way more marshmallows.

But it’s exactly that monstrous dark side that makes it the perfect playground for Burton, who rises and sleeps with this sort of glistening madness, and Depp, who, since his pitch-perfect, Oscar-nominated turn in Pirates of the Caribbean, knows he can make big studios pay for as much bizarro behavior as he wants.

What he gets away with is an uneven but pathologically watchable man-child who ends up proving more psychologically bruised than the wild-eyed nutcase dialed up by Wilder (and often not far from Depp and Burton’s tremblingly innocent Edward Scissorhands).

The Michael Jackson parallels pretty much jump off the screen: Depp’s Wonka lives in his own sealed universe, talks like a 14-year-old, has Mary Tyler Moore’s hair, wears Victorian clothing, gives in to fits of inappropriate giggles and is seemingly completely unprepared for life with other humans. Part of Wonka’s twisted outlook is explained in flashbacks involving Wonka’s father, played by horror vet Christopher Lee, and though I’m not the movie expert here, I can definitively say that Lee has come up with American cinema’s best-ever pronunciation of the word “caramels.”

Depp’s a hoot to watch, even if something about his mood swings — sometimes mysteriously dark, sometimes garishly innocent — never quite gels.

At least until a ragged new ending, the story remains the same: Penniless Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, Depp’s sad-eyed co-star in Finding Neverland) scores one of the prized Golden Tickets that grants him and his kindly grandfather (David Kelly) a one-day tour of the candy recluse’s castle (“Everything in here is eat-able!” cries Depp. “I’m even eat-able!”).

The other winners are the unforgivably gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz, who does not appear without chocolate on his mug), bratty Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), ultra-competitive Violet Beauregard (Annasophia Robb) and Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry), who’s been upgraded from a couch potato to a connoisseur of violent video games. As the tour goes on, each repugnant little mutt ends up suffering a comically gruesome fate, which is followed, without fail, by a dance number.

Needless to say, the film doesn’t really rev up until the gang gets to Wonka’s factory. And if the ’71 film had a dark undercurrent, this one parades its weirdness, and it becomes a careening boat-ride of fantastical contraptions, bizarre back rooms and production numbers by the Oompa Loompas, who have been shrunk to 2 feet tall, are all played by actor Deep Roy and walk off with every scene and dance number they’re in (especially the funk one).

Still, for all their arty giddiness, the scenes in the factory, and the final act, struggle to find their mood, and Burton, as he does, hints at more darkness than he ends up being comfortable providing. Where Wilder had a terminal glint of mischief in his eye, Burton lets Depp hint at nefarious, possibly pre-conceived intentions that are never quite explained. (Burton pulls his punches, too — in the Oompa Loompas’ first production number, they assure the gaping throng that “Augustus Gloop will not be harmed”). And there’s the matter of the show-closing semi-sweet Lesson, which is as clamped on as Lessons get.

But, like Charlie Bucket says, candy isn’t supposed to have a point, and this movie isn’t either. And when Burton and Depp are left to frolic in their own gooey playground, they serve up a nutty, creamy, fizzy factory that’s too weird to have possibly come from anyone else.


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