This space NOT intentionally left blank

I just turned 33; it was no big deal. But mileposts are mileposts, and this one is as good as any to use as instigation to refresh my commitment to this blog. So I'm going to do my best, marshal my thoughts, and try to produce something worthwhile here again.
If you happen to follow me on Twitter--and also follow Wyndham Manning--you were treated to a far-too-long-for-the-medium conversation on Madison's bedeviled Overture Center for the Arts, the general arts scene in Madison, and how city government plays a role in fostering the growth of that scene. We ended the conversation with a friendly gauntlet-slap to produce a blog post on the subject in the near future. You'll find mine here; I have yet to determine where Wyndham does his blogging, but I'll be sure to give you a link once I do.
I'm sorry to say my time as a Top Chef recapper has probably come to a close. Not to say that I won't post thoughts on the empire as they come to me, but full recaps are a thing of the past, I suspect. It's just not an expenditure of time I can still support. But I'll see you all again soon, with something scintillating and fresh.
Or, just something. One or the other.

What's opera, doc?

Get ready for something unprecedented at Irony or Mayo: Friday night live-blogging! That's right. I'm going to take a little time out of my busy schedule propping up the cultural and gastronomical significance of the McRib to cover something a little less intellectual.

I'm going to the opera.

I know, I know--you're thinking, Why is he wasting his time on something so trivial and insubstantial, when he could be telling us how much he loves pretzel M&Ms or something? Well, the short answer is: the Overture Center asked nicely, and offered wedding cake.

In all seriousness, I was invited to attend the Madison Opera's performance of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro for Blogger Night, and I couldn't resist. I like Mozart. I saw Amadeus. And while I've never attended an actual opera, I've seen the "Ride of the Valkyries" Bugs Bunny cartoon about a billion times. I even own a CD of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, which is pretty operatic.

Still, this will be a new experience. Taking in opera, a foreign mode of stage entertainment for me, and responding critically on the fly. I'm looking forward to it, but be prepared for a Homer Simpson-esque analysis: "That thing is really, really.. really.... good."

The live-blogging shall commence below, shortly before curtains-up. I'll be back to continue during each of the show's two intermissions, and then again after the close of the performance. If you're at Overture for the event, stop by the blogger station and say hi.

In the meantime, enjoy some of the aforementioned Bugs Bunny operatic shenanigans.

The namesake of this post, "What's Opera, Doc?".

"Long-Haired Hare"

"Rabbit of Seville"


7:10 PM

Having just completed the tour of the backstage area, I have to say it's a little surreal being in the guts of a theater again. The last time was a year ago July--for my wedding.

So, hey, Marriage of Figaro, at least on a titular level, is mighty appropriate.

We saw Figaro and his gang getting all made up (hello, kabuki faces!), and were warned that there could be boobage! Sadly, that was a false start. Madison Opera Communications Guru Brian Hinrichs gave us the rundown on the structure of this opera, at least--arias for emotional outbursts interspersed with sung dialogue (recitativo in the Italian) to move the plot along. So, kind of like porn!

I hope no one's lurking in the shrubbery, for this corset must come off!

We'll be clattering away here, like nerdy zoo exhibits, until the show starts. I'm trying to convince a dubious Laurie of Your Ill-fitting Overcoat that Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter" is appropriate blogging music.

There's something strangely old-school about sitting at a desk with three other people, everyone typing, making faces ranging from studious (everyone else) to dorkily emotive (me). It's the Electronic Theatre Bureau! I gotta make t-shirts.


7:40 PM

Ah. Alcohol.

Unfortunately, no sippy cup. This is a dry performance.

Can I mention how absurd I feel, checking Wikipedia on the synopsis of Figaro. I'm terribly delinquent in my haute culture. I will say that I'm really looking foward to the harpsichord. Tiny little thing, it looks like a bar game version of a full piano.

We're getting a cool dissertation on ornamentation and ad libbing from A. Scott Parry (PARRY, Lindsay. Parry.), the stage director of the show. He's a cool guy, and much younger than I'd expect for the director of an opera. Pretty sweet gig.

Bell's about to ring, better go get cultured!


9:45 PM


"Thus the suspicious are condemned." A great line, and one that sums up the closing action of the first half of the opera.

Act One covers the interpersonal relationships well--Figaro and Susanna, servants set to wed; Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina, schemers set to ruin the nuptials; and a Count and Countess set at odds by varying degrees of infidelity.

But Act Two really cranks up the Benny Hill music. There's ducking, lying, hiding, jumping out of windows--you could almost see Scooby and the gang running from the villain of the week.

In my minimal ability to critique opera, I'll say that Susanna (Anya Matanovic) and the Countess Rosina (Melody Moore) are stealing the show for me. Their voices carry better than all the male performers, and their stage presence is both endearing and evocative. (There are many a moment of shoulder-to-shoulder girl power in Act Two, and these two ladies carry it off like Thelma and Louise.)

I will give a special shout-out to Emily Lorini, doing the yeo(wo)man's work of playing a pubescent young page boy, Cherubino. It takes a moment for unsophisticated me to figure out that it's a woman playing a man, in the old Globe Theatre tradition, but her lanky, awkward strides across the stage set her gender firmly in the adolescent male category. Lorini and Moore play well off of each other as well, with the former's affections for the latter forging an irrefusable tie between the two.

I'd say more, but what the hell do I know? Plus, they're gonging for us and everyone's fingers are FREAK. ING. OUT.


11:20 PM


The latter half provided the majority of the recognizable tunes, culminating with "Sul l'aria," the duet between "those two Italian ladies," Susanna and the Countess, that Andy plays over the loudspeaker in The Shawshank Redemption. I'm guessing that, from what I can tell, most comic operas end about as tritely as Figaro does, so I'm okay with the "everybody run and play!" exeunt.

I'll close with this thought. The Madison Opera is not an expensive night out. As my wife pointed out to me, tickets started at less than $20, and maxed out for this show at around $115 for the best of the best seats. I'm wearing jeans, for crying out loud; you don't need a monocle or tails for this.

So that's it, more or less. There's cake and champagne that isn't going to consume itself, and we're on the invite list.

Oh, and never, at any time, does anyone in this opera stand up and belt out, "FIIIGARO. Figarofigarofigaro!!" That's The Barber of Seville and a whole 'nother Blogger Night at the Opera.


12:20 AM

Back home. Making a frozen pizza. I can't take this much culture. (We had to spring our dogs, anyway, so skipped the afterparty.)

Can I say, though, that my caption for the above photo--meant as a riff on the porn joke--actually proved to be pretty accurate given what's happening in that scene? I'm, like, an opera savant or something. (The picture is credited to the Madison Opera, by the way.)

And lastly, sincere thanks to Brian Hinrichs, Manager of Communications and Community Outreach, for the invite and the hospitality. He's doing a great job bringing a younger demographic into what can be a tough sell sometimes. We got a lot of response from folks in the lobby, and Brian himself got specific praise from outgoing Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton before the show. He deserves it; thanks, Brian!

Blues and barbecue on the seventh day

My wife and I take weekend trips to the Fox Valley area on a frequent basis; we both grew up there and still have family and friends in the area. If we make our way back at a leisurely pace, listening to WMMM 105.5 FM as we approach Madison, we encounter the eTown radio program--by far, the most stultifying, sleep-inducing radio program not airing on public radio.

eTown emanates from Boulder, Colorado; my admittedly anecdotal understanding of spelling tells me that Boulder doesn't start with "e," so I don't know what town is "eTown." I'm not sure that I've ever heard anything interesting on eTown, except for one show wherein I first heard Flobots. But we're talking years here.

I really thought, last weekend, that eTown aired earlier than 9 PM, and that Triple M had scuttled the snoozer of a show in favor of DJ-less standard programming. I was ecstatic. There was some actual good music (I think I heard Beatles and maybe Ray Lamontagne), and no droning chatter about folksy acts touring through Colorado.

Contrast this with the weekends that we spend in Madison. By the time Sunday rolls around, I've watched a lot of football, and probably done a good bit of housework and errand-running. What I want is meat. Caloriffic meat with plenty of caramelized proteiny goodness. And barbecue is the preferred method of delivery for said meatcandy.

Sadly, there's a trend in Madison barbecue--at least the barbecue that's in my usual orbit--that stymies my dreams of Sunday smokiness.

There are six barbecue joints in Madison (seven if you count Famous Dave's, and my most recent experiences insist that I not), and three are closed on Sundays. The Haze, Brickhouse, Porky Pine Pete's, Papa Bear's (website currently non-functional), Smoky Jon's, and Fat Jacks. Haze, Pete's, and Papa Bear's are all closed on the day God rested. I'll grant that barbecue is the food item perhaps most directly attributable to the spark of the divine in all of us, but that doesn't mean 'cue-doers need to take the seventh day off, too.

My Sundays need a jumpstart. Mediocre music and limited barbecue--this is not a good way to close out the weekend. To address this woeful situation, I have a two-part proposal.

1) More barbecue, obviously. The Haze is the most urban, and incidentally also the most financially secure (considering the association with Shinji Muramoto's restaurant empire). Porky Pine Pete's and Papa Bear's are slightly more removed from the main drag, but only just. And since Papa Bear's is just down the road from my 'hood, I'm constantly faced with driving past a dark storefront on Sundays; it's pretty depressing. Just four hours of business. 4-8 PM, something like that. I'd be happy!

2) More blues. Y'see, Triple M has a secondary HD Radio channel called The Delta, and it's an all-blues channel. I can't think of a better soundtrack to Sunday afternoon and evening than a few hours of non-stop blues. It'd be a good promo for their HD product, which--I can't help but suspect--is probably still pretty unknown. HD Radio is a bit of a boondoggle, but if people knew they could get 24-hour blues with 105.5-2, they might be more inclined to give it a shot.

Tell me a hot summer evening, or a brisk fall night, or even a snow-clogged January Sunday, wouldn't be infinitely better with a double shot of more blues and more barbecue. Triple M? Pit masters of Madison? Let's remember Sunday, and keep it smoky.

An open letter of partial retraction and semi-apology to Vince O'Hern

Wherein the author maintains the Intergrity of his overall Objection

Dear Mr. O'Hern,

In reaction to recent comments made by you in the pages of Isthmus, I may have taken you to task too harshly. Please allow me to explain the offense I took to your statement, and clarify my remarks slightly.

My parents raised me in a dogma-free household. I appreciate that greatly, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. But if there was one spiritual concept instilled by my parents, and perhaps most explicitly by my mother, it is that music is the universal form of prayer.

Music uplifts, and can cause any one of us, regardless of creed, age, or ethnicity to rejoice in our own way. And it doesn't really matter what kind of music it is, so long as it speaks to that need for joy and expression within the listener.

So you must understand that when you made the following remarks, they flew in the face of how I was raised.

One of the traits that distinguish humans from other primates is our ability to create and enjoy classical music. (Rock 'n' roll, not so much.)

A friend posited (on Twitter) as to whether this was moronically offensive, or merely offensively moronic. I chose to co-opt this turn of phrase, without modification. As a writer for your publication, perhaps I would have been better off finding a different way of expressing my displeasure.

For throwing the term "moronic" your way, I apologize. For taking offense at your statement, I do not.

If you meant it as a joke, I'm sorry to say I didn't find it funny at all. If you meant it as the slight I interpreted it to be...well, I'd be very disappointed. I can only assume you meant for the statement to generate a response, or you wouldn't have gone out of your way to include it as a conspicuous aside.

I disagree with your characterization of classical music as apparently the only form of musical expression that elevates us. I meant to disagree with sarcasm, and slipped into verbal aggression.

My bad.

Stomp stomp-stomp clap

It's a rhythm that will get me fired up damn near any time. You probably know it. It's very rural, very working class. Were I a music historian, I'd probably know it as some form of time-keeping artifact of a cruder era. Maybe something with workers in the fields, or even slave labor.

All I know is that when I hear a good, bluesy, no-farther-north-than-Appalachia song with that backbone, I crank it up.

Thanks to a little discussion on Twitter, I've come up with three--perhaps my top three--stompy clappy tunes.

3) Marc Broussard's "Home"

It's a thumper of a song, surging and propelling the listener forward like the junky old bus featured in the video above. It's a song about the power of song, and the breakdown at about 2:20 had better get you tapping your foot at the very least, or you'd better call a nurse.

Plus, the kid's only 28 and he's got that voice. Check in at 3:10 or so if you don't know what I'm talking about.

2) Feist, "When I Was a Young Girl"

I've posted a live version of this song because that's how I encountered it at its most powerful. Feist's visit to the Orpheum Theater in Madison was a nice show, a little artsy for the crowd (who, I think, mostly just wanted to hear "1234")--but it was this song that nailed it for me. Her guitar is so raw and scratchy, and the Youtube clips just don't capture it. It's guitar that scorches through your shirt and into your ribcage. That's saying something for a song that dates back to Depression Era America.

You can hear the studio version here, but live is where it's at.

1) John Butler Trio, "Gov Did Nothing"

The link above is from one of the JBT shows I saw in Madison, but in this case, the studio version is the most stompy-clappiest. It's a Katrina song, and rather seething with bitterness over the federal response to the hurricane. The album cut features a full NOLA-style band, and as with the other two songs mentioned herein, there are great moments of drop-out and come-back. I recommend just getting your hands on this song because it's great.

My favorite aspects of these songs, indeed, are those moments when everything stops and then it gets all emo and the music comes back with a vengeance. I imagine that's cheap pop by music critic standards, but I just don't care. It's the weekend, dammit. Have a listen, and get up off your ass for 15 minutes or so to just rock out.

LOST - the iPod playlist

T-minus ONE MOTHERF**KING WEEK and I cannot WAIT. Shit.

Anyway, I made a LOST playlist for my iPod (a matte black 80GB named Ichabod in case you're wondering) last year, and it seemed timely to share it now. The songs go roughly in chronological order with the events of the series, and I've included salient lyrics for the songs that didn't appear on the show.
  1. Gnarls Barkley, "St. Elsewhere"
    "Anywhere you sit you can see the sun/ Unfortunately on this island I'm the only one"
    "Way over yonder there's a new frontier/ Would it be so hard for you to come and visit me here?"
  2. Pearl Jam, "Tremor Christ"
    "winded is the sailor/ drifting by the storm/ wounded is the organ he left all/ bloodied on the shore/ gorgeous was his savior, sees her/ drowning in his wake/ daily taste the salt of her tears, but/ a chance blamed fate"
  3. Joe Purdy, "wash away (Reprise)"
  4. Bobby Darin, "Beyond the Sea"
  5. The Police, "Invisible Sun""There has to be an invisible sun/ That gives us hope when the whole day’s done"
    "And they’re only going to change this place by/ Killing everybody in the human race"
  6. Modest Mouse, "Missed the Boat"
    "Looking towards the future/ We were begging for the past/ Well we knew we had the good things/ But those never seemed to last"
  7. Bob Marley and the Wailers, "Redemption Song"
  8. Cass Elliot, "Make Your Own Kind of Music"
  9. Three Dog Night, "Shambala"
  10. Alice in Chains, "Man in the Box"
    "I'm the man in the box/ Buried in my shit/ Won't you come and save me?"
  11. Bad Religion, "Come Join Us"
    "Don't you see the trouble that most people are in/ And that they just want you for their own advantage/ But I swear to you we're different from all of them/ Come and join us"
  12. Jem, "They"
    "Who are they?/ Where are they?/ How can they possibly know all this?"
  13. John Butler Trio, "Company Sin"
    "Ben got a job at the mine along the way/ He said everything was fine until that fateful day"
    "It's not his land, they're not his songs/ He can't work out why he don't belong"
  14. Bad Religion, "Them and Us"
    "But he didn't know who they were/ and he didn't know who we were/ and there wasn't any reason or motive, or value, to his story/ just allegory, imitation glory/ and a desperate feeble search for a friend"
  15. The Beach Boys, "Good Vibrations"
  16. A Perfect Circle, "3 Libras"
    "Difficult not to feel a little bit/ Disappointed and passed over/ When I look right through/ See you naked but oblivious/ And you don't see me"
  17. Disturbed, "Land of Confusion"
    "Now did you read the news today/ They say the danger's gone away/ But I can see the fires still alight/ They're burning into the night"
  18. Gnarls Barkley, "The Boogie Monster"
    "I've got a monster in my closet/ Someone's underneath my bed/ The wind's knocking at my window/ I'd kill it but it's already dead"
  19. Buddy Holly, "Everyday"
  20. Trust Company, "Downfall"
    "Stay in place, you'll be the first to see/ me heal these wounds"
  21. CKY, "Familiar Realm"
    "Fortune isn't fame; you've entered a familiar realm/ If they've told you who to be, you've entered a familiar realm"
  22. Patsy Cline, "Walkin' After Midnight"
  23. Beck, "Missing"
    "I dragged all that I owned/ Down a dirt road to find you/ My shoes worn out and used/ They can't take me much farther"
You wouldn't expect there to be anything other than 23 songs, would you? And like a true mix tape dork, I have character associations with all the non-diegetic songs. Now that I'm done cycling through, I'm going to listen straight up. The whole thing just makes me SQUEEEEE!

Discovery Channel nails it again

A great ad, amplified by a perfect song choice and a graphic design that is pure brilliance on an HD set.

It's too bad that "Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)" by The Hombres isn't nearly as captivating in its original recording form as it is when run through the digitizer for Discovery. Kind of a tiny, tinny little song in comparison to the Big Sound version in the ad. Oh well. I guess I shouldn't buy every song that appears on a cool commercial.

An evening with the fuzz in Milwaukee

I was fortunate enough to receive two tickets for the Police concert in Milwaukee last Friday. It was at the Marcus Amphitheater, which is a great venue for rock concerts.

If you had asked me prior to the show, I probably wouldn't have listed The Police in the top 20 of my favorite artists/bands. I own the singles album, and just got a copy of Zenyattà Mondatta to familiarize myself with more of their catalog in advance.

But those songs that I do know (and it's a decent number on top of the Singles disc), I like. I know the words to all the big hits. And I was reasonably excited to see them live, what with it being the final show and all. Plus, Elvis Costello was opening, and he's pretty cool too (although I own even less of his music).

This show kicked ass.

For a bunch of senior citizens, Elvis, Gordon, and the rest can all rock pretty hard. Elvis in particular didn't leave a single high note in the studio. He wore that black suit out in the heat, and went red in the face and up on tiptoes to belt every last verse out.

As for The Police, they haven't really lost a significant beat. Sting's voice, while not as reedy and penetrating, is still strong. Andy Summers has total old man hands, but his guitar work was excellent. And Stewart just pounded it out, silver hair all floppin' around.

I particularly liked that, even though an encore featuring "Roxanne" followed it, their last song of the set was the it's-only-fitting "Can't Stand Losing You."

The stage was cool, the set list was solid, and a good time was had by all. Thanks, mom!

Why my iPod hates me

I really have no idea, actually. But it has to. It's the only explanation for why it continues to stifle my ability to keep my podcast subscriptions updated, my playlists fully stocked and my music collection safely stored. I'm being toyed with by a small piece of technology, and I just won't have it! This digital aggression will not stand, man!

I don't even use my iPod that much, compared to other users. It's actually more like crack for some people (and the term "user" becomes increasingly apropos), but I haven't gone that far under yet. I just want to listen to the Tony Kornheiser Show at work after Stephanie Miller. Is that so wrong?

And the goddamn thing just locked up on me as I was typing this entry!! FUCK!!

...I gotta go.


Howdy, Danger

The blueprints of a perfectly goofy musical collaboration

Maybe you watch Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, and maybe you don't. Perhaps you caught the surreal stage performance of the animated band, Gorillaz, at the Grammy Awards this last February. You might even be one of those, ahem, rebels that have a copy of "The Grey Album." If you're in the third category, don't tell me. I don't want that kind of heat.

Regardless of whether or not you fit in any of the categories above, you've probably heard some of the artistic stylings of one Brian Joseph Burton, aka Danger Mouse. And even if you have no idea what Aqua Teen Hunger Force is, or what in the name of Pete Best would inspire someone to mash The Beatles and Jay-Z, you would still probably dig something that Danger Mouse has done.

As a DJ, Danger Mouse has a distinct meridian line in his career. Up to this line, Danger Mouse was a well-respected rising star in the world of spin. Past this line, the name "Danger Mouse" is almost always followed by the phrase, "best-known for his controversial and brilliant 'Grey Album.'" "The Grey Album" took lyrics from rapper Jay-Z's "Black Album" and laid them over instruments and beats hewn from the very living rock of The Beatles' "White Album." It's good. Really good. Way better than at least one of its component parts (okay,
just one of them). But "Grey Albums" do not a career make, and Danger has done much more to earn his stripes.

Stepping through doors opened by his underground smash hit, Danger produced "Demon Days," the sophmore album from the world's number one simulated band, Gorillaz. Where "The Grey Album" earned him cease-and-desist orders from EMI, "Demon Days" earned Danger a Grammy nomination. Poetically, Gorillaz are signed under the EMI label.

Danger piled synchronicity upon synchronicity with his next major project: the ode to Cartoon Network known as "The Mouse and the Mask." Danger spun the beats for hip-hopper MF DOOM, who spit the lyrics from behind his trademark gladiator mask. Doom was not new to the music scene, but in addition to his previous albums, he had done some guest work on "Demon Days." Inspiration for the tracks on "The Mouse and the Mask" was provided by the Adult Swim line-up on Cartoon Network. I couldn't possibly explain it to you with any more clarity. You just have to listen. Doom is infectious.

So we have a legally-dubious mash-up album, a production credit for a band of cartoon characters, and a collaboration with a rapper in a mask inspired by slightly raunchy animation. What else woul be left to do except release a 70's soul-inflected record with a B-grade rapper who sings a large percentage of the tracks in a gospelly falsetto?

"St. Elsewhere," released under the name Gnarls Barkley, is just such a creation. The lead-off single, "Crazy," was the first song to go number 1 in the UK based solely on Internet sales and downloads. It is downright omnipresent, and has gone a long way towards redeeming Britain for having inflicted the Axel F Crazy Frog "song" upon the world.

Danger Mouse's resume reads like it was randomly generated out of the encyclopedia of hip hop and rap. His work is consciously eclectic, and massively listenable. MF DOOM shouts out to Danger in "A.T.H.F.," saying "Howdy, Danger--much obliged for the beat god." Listening to the full complexity of Danger Mouse's work, you truly cannot help but agree.