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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

A disparate group of five very unlikely heroes — consisting of an outlaw with delusions of grandeur, a biologically-modified woman who was designed and trained to be a living weapon, a vengeance-obsessed berserker, and a bounty hunter team of a sentient tree creature and an anthropomorphized raccoon — find themselves thrown together in a deep space penal facility, from which they escape and set off in pursuit of a mysterious and incredibly valuable orb that fell into the hands of a cosmically-empowered fanatic. Said fanatic is a minion of an even more cosmically-powerful entity who wants the orb for purposes most sinister, so our hopelessly over-matched band of ragtag protagonists have a hell of a lot stacked against them, with the fate of a heavily-populated planet hanging in the balance.

With a plot that is very much the stuff of Saturday matinee space opera, this latest entry in the ever-growing tapestry of Marvel Studios' cinematic universe, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY surprised the living hell out of me by being a briskly-paced outer space actioner loaded with humor and heart to spare. Like many when this project was announced in the wake of box office juggernauts like the IRON MAN trilogy and MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS, I thought bringing the distinctly C-list Guardians to the screen was a harbinger that Marvel Studios, flush with the greenbacks brought in by hit after hit after hit, must have been out of its collective mind, with this project possibly being green-lit by corporate money men who were high on fjords of high-grade cocaine. I mean, really. A big-budget movie showcasing Star-Lord — a rather nondescript and bland space hero from Marvel Comics' sometimes dodgy mid-1970's output — Drax the Destroyer (a character who really only ever served a purpose in the "cosmic" story arc that introduced him some forty years ago, yet he kept popping up over the years to ever-diminishing returns), Gamora (also introduced during a 1970's "cosmic" saga and likewise perpetually brought back to little real purpose), Groot (a reboot of one of the monster/space alien characters common to Marvel before the superhero renaissance kicked off by the success of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 back in 1961) and Rocket Raccoon (more or less self-explanatory) — seemed like box office suicide. But, as has been proven with the inter-connected Marvel narratives that have dominated the screen over the past decade, the studio knew what it was doing when it rolled the dice, and that gamble has paid off, resulting in what I am shocked to say is my favorite Marvel movie (along with the two Captain America films).

The film is certainly fun enough as a simple "gathering of the team" narrative and there's not a slow or dull moment in it, but it's especially enjoyable for us long-time Marvel fans because it glosses over the earthbound, NYC-centric setting and instead drops us into the deep end of the Marvel Universe pool that is the cosmic side of things. Anyone who grew up with stories concentrating on the A-list Marvel superheroes kicking ass all over their four-color Earth (but mostly in Marvel's signature take on New York City) can tell you what an intriguing change of pace and flavor occurred when Marvel increased its scope to depict other dimensions and intergalactic conflicts that sometimes rendered even the most impressive and powerful heroes relatively small in comparison. In the hands of creators like Jim Starlin, the "universe" part of "Marvel Universe" became explicit as opposed to implicit and with an increased scale the floodgates of imagination where opened yet further. In the case of the cinematic iteration, there have been hints at what lies beyond the confines of the Earth, and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY positively teems with far-flung technology and numerous alien sentients, all of which feels like what I get when I read such stories in the comics, and I found it delightful.

The film, while serving as another link in the mounting epic confrontation with arc-villain Thanos that will reportedly be the focus of the third Avengers movie, stands on its own as a franchise launching point — GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 has already been announced — would be quite satisfying if it ended up being a stand-alone entry. I'll let you discover its many pleasures for yourself but here are some of the elements that stood out for me:
  • None of the five protagonists is particularly heroic when we first meet them and most are flat-out amoral, but they grow into straight-up and believable heroes over the course of the story.
  • There's not a dull moment in the film's 121-minute running time.
  • Getting me to give even half a damn about Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, was something of a minor miracle, but the film certainly did it and Chris Pratt is quite engaging in the role. Displaying a distinctly post-Han Solo quality, Quill really grows on the viewer and his Earth-style humanity grounds the film.
  • The reimagined take on Drax the Destroyer really worked for me, much better than the character ever did in the comics, and pro wrestler Dave Bautista brings considerable rage along with his muscular, powerful physicality. Seemingly allergic to shirts, Drax is the kind of heavy-hitter whose every blow is so percussive that you'll swear you'd just been on the receiving end of his fury.
Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), making friends wherever he goes.
  • Everybody loves anthropomorphic animals and the genetically-engineered Rocket — the "Raccoon" part of his name is never used here — is sure to be the favorite of many. Voiced by Bradley Cooper, Rocket could easily have been a nauseating attempt at cute and funny along the lines of the loathsome Jar-Jar Binks, but thanks to wholly-convincing CGI and un-forced voice acting, Rocket brings attitude and formidable tech-savvy to the crew. And when paired with the lovable Groot, Rocket pretty much steals the movie.
  • Speaking of Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the tree-man with the three-word vocabulary manages to speak volumes with Rocket serving as the linguistic bridge between Groot and the other characters (and, by association, the audience). The Rocket/Groot dynamic is (perhaps intentionally) reminiscent of the Han Solo/Chewbacca relationship, and it is quite affecting.
  • Never in my wildest dreams didI expect to see Gamora "the deadliest woman in the galaxy,'" make the translation to live-action, but it has indeed happened and I am quite happy with the results. Her supporting role in Jim Starlin's classic run on WARLOCK made her a favorite during my formative years as a comics fan, and Zoe Saldana makes the character her own, imbuing her with attitude and an impressive physicality. I look forward to seeing the character explored further in upcoming films, especially her history as the adopted daughter of arch-fiend Thanos. (Minor quibble: I really wish they'd kept the signature markings around Gamora's eyes, as seen in her original comics iteration. They gave her a certain exotic reptilian quality.)
Zoe Saldana as Gamora.
  • Another favorite character I never expected to see make it to the big screen is Ronan the Accuser, one of the most powerful representatives of the Kree Empire and an antagonist who over the years has morphed from outright villainous fanatic to an intriguing and noble presence. As played by Lee Pace, Ronan wields considerable gravitas and, unlike some of the other "big bads" in Marvel movies that I can name — I'm looking right at you, Malekith! — he does the polar opposite of disappoint. Introduced here as a minion of Thanos but swiftly becoming much more, Ronan is the first of the big screen iterations of a marvel villain who truly exudes the level of raw, imposing power that makes Marvel's cosmic threats so appealing and memorable.
Already powerful as hell, Ronan's Infinity Stone upgrade could spell the end for planet Xandar...

  • We get to see planet Xandar and the Nova Corps, with Glenn Close (!!!) as Nova Prime.
  • An Infinity Stone figures into the plot and during the recounted history of the Stones, we get to see a Celestial. I repeat: WE GET TO SEE A FUCKING CELESTIAL. (Note: If you're a longtime comics reader, you know what Infinity Stones and Celestials are and you get why both are a very big deal within the Marvel Universe. Both require too much explanation to go into here, so I recommend consulting the internet for further information. Let it suffice to say that seeing a Celestial made those of us who knew what it was let out a collective "OH, SHIT!!!" in the theater.)
  • As we discover via a running character thread, Peter Quill's late mother had pretty good musical tastes.
So, yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and I strongly expect you to dig it as well. It's suitable for kids, though there is minor profanity, and the 3D does not really add anything to the enjoyment of the film, so bear that in mind when weighing whether or not you're willing to shell out the extra cash for that technical gewgaw.

One of the aspects of the Marvel films that has come to be greatly anticipated by both dyed-in-the-wool comics fans and civilian moviegoers alike is the "Easter egg" found during the end credits of Marvel flicks since the first Iron Man installment, so the curiosity over what we'd get with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was palpable as those in attendance at the packed Marvel screening at the Ziegfeld sat in the darkness as the credits slowly rolled. However, as this was a preview print, there was no Easter egg at the end and the entire audience let out a disappointed "Awww..." when we got bubkes. That said, as the audience filed out, I spoke with two high-ranking Marvel execs whom I've known since my days as a Bullpenner, and both of them stated that there will be a "stinger" at the end when the film is released wide to theaters this weekend.

I have a fully loaded weekend coming up, so I won't be able to see the film again as soon as I would like to, but you can bet your sweet ass that I'll be there for the first matinee next Monday! GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a solid winner from start to finish and it gives me hope that someday I'll see the likes of Captain Mar-Vell and Adam Warlock on the big screen. (The Invaders would also be nice as a WWII period piece. Do you hear me, Marvel Studios???)

It's not every day when you see a team of mismatched Marvel space heroes strut to the musical accompaniment of the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" and it doesn't make you want to put your own fist through your skull. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

"HEY, BUB!"


Ran into these guys on the corner of 55th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan while meeting a friend. I approached them to ask why they were all wearing and Arthur Adams Wolverine shirt and they told me they were part of a corporate scavenger hunt. We chatted about comics and when they heard about my being a veteran of both Marvel Comics and DC/Vertigo, as well as my history as a reviewer, and pop culture commentator/consultant, they asked if I would be considered a celebrity. I said I didn't think so but I am an internet presence whose credentials are easily verifiable, so they added me to their list of things they needed to check off on their scavenger hunt, documenting the encounter with a cell phone photograph with me.

Just goes to show you never can predict what will happen on the sidewalks of NYC!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

MY PEOPLE, MAKING ME PROUD ONCE AGAIN

Sun Luck Chinese takeout: the scene of many an embarrassing display of coonism in my area of Brooklyn's Park Slope.

I just got back from picking up some Chinese food from my favorite grungy takeout joint and once again I'm disgusted by the behavior of some of my neighborhood's ghetto-acting blacks. 

I've been a regular customer at the takeout place for fourteen years and the staff loves me because I'm one of the few neighborhood highly rhythmic individuals who is invariably polite and friendly plus I clearly appreciate the Chinese and their culture, which results in my orders being portioned more generously than average and sometimes I'm given the old menu prices. Unfortuantely I'm something of an anomaly, as the majority of the black and Hispanic patrons come in and treat the staff in an incredibly discourteous manner as though it were the expected etiquette, always try to get the sweet (and much put-upon) cashier lady to lower the prices, and take over the limited seating in droves while acting like uncouth trash and letting their undisciplined children run loudly around the place without any attempt at controlling them.
The interior of Sun Luck. The two tables seen here are the only areas on which to dine, which only makes sense as the place is meant to be predominately a takeout joint. Those tables serve as perches for some of the rudest, most hostile and uncouth people in the neighborhood, all of them invariably invariably black or Hispanic. Once I receive my order, I'm out of there like a shot.

While I awaited tonight's order and attempted to read a book, my concentration was thrown off by a respectable-looking black couple who were in their late twenties, but displayed the table manners of Visigoths. The woman belched and farted several times and made zero attempt at apologizing or even hiding her gaseous expulsions, and her boyfriend devoured his order of ribs apparently with no concept of how to use a napkin. His fingers and hands were dripping with sauce to a degree that made him look like he was the Incredible Melting Man, and his mouth and cheeks looked like he'd been going down on a heavily-menstruating she-Orc. Compounding this charming display was the sound of his open-mouthed chewing and loud smacking of his food. 

The couple finished before my order was ready and when they exited they simply left the mound of bones and other detritus from their sloppily-consumed meal on the booth's table, garnished with the splattered evidence of barbecue and soy sauce. On the way out of the joint the customer cannot help but notice and walk past the large trash receptacle right next to the door, but these charmers didn't even attempt to clean up after themselves like considerate grownups, instead leaving the cleanup to the visibly disgusted staff. This kind of thing is oar for the course for this takeout joint and I can only think of perhaps five times over the past fourteen years when I've gone in there and no poor behavior was being displayed by my brown brethren. Yet somehow the staff of the place maintains its cool and NEVER rises to the bait that many of their patrons throw at them. Strong people...

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: R.I.P. TOMMY RAMONE (1949-2014), DEAD AT 65

With the demise to Tommy (front and center), the true fathers of punk are reunited forever.

I awoke this morning after the first uninterrupted night of sleep I've had in a month, feeling like a million bucks, only to turn on the CBS Morning News and have the first thing I see be coverage of the death of Thomas Erdelyi, best known to the world at large as Tommy Ramone, the original drummer to the seminal American punk band, the one and only Ramones. Dead after battling cancer, Tommy was the last surviving original member of the band, playing on their first three albums, an aural triptych that laid the foundation for '70's-era punk (and beyond) and influenced nearly four decades of badass rockers.

The original lineup of the Ramones, in their prime and kicking ass.

While not exactly a surprise, this news comes as a personal blow to myself — and no doubt to many within my age range — as the Ramones were one of the formative building blocks upon which my musical tastes were built. I first discovered them in 1979, when I was given a copy of the band's END OF THE CENTURY album, which was won by a friend in a radio contest, and I enjoyed it so much that I checked out the albums that came before. Tommy was gone from the lineup by the time of END OF THE CENTURY and when I listened to the first three albums, I was blown away by his no-frills but utterly riveting beating of the skins. In my opinion, the original lineup of the Ramones was a case of rock 'n' roll lightning in a bottle, band that was absolutely the right thing at the right time and a powerful antidote to the disco that was a plague upon this land. And though the Ramones never enjoyed the popular and financial success that they so richly deserved, their influence as pioneers is beyond dispute. Their sound was singular, marked with a distinctly NYC sensibility and understanding of the world's gray (and sometimes darker) areas, while also observing the world's lunacy with a sense of humor that was equal parts mordant and cheerfully sophomoric. A celebration of suburban freakdom and misfit pride/solidarity, the Ramones spoke to me and many other adolescent square pegs in terms that we understood deep within our hearts, minds, and other-than-perfect flesh, and for that I will forever be in their debt.

With the death of Tommy, the original Ramones lineup is finally reunited in whatever passes for a seedy venue somewhere in the Elysian Fields, there to crank out loud, fast, buzz saw rakka-frakka, with the enticing come-on of "Hey-Ho! Let's go!" ensuring that the legion of shades (who are no doubt a tad sick of all that treacly lyre music) can eternal rock out with their cocks out. Truly, it is the end of an era. 

Gabba-Gabba Hey!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

THE BIRTHDAY THAT TOTALLY SUCKED (WELL, MOSTLY)


For those of you who may be wondering where the hell I've been for the past couple of weeks or so, let me tell you about... THE BIRTHDAY THAT TOTALLY SUCKED!!!

As some of you in the world beyond the internet already know, this season I've been suffering with an agonizing all-over skin irritation that has had me itching like crazy, plus my feet were painfully swollen and I constantly felt chilled to the bone, no matter how hot it was, and I found myself wearing a long-sleeved thermal shirt that was more suited to winter wear. Long story short, I was a mess and my legs got so itchy that I repeatedly scratched myself raw despite the effectiveness of certain over-the-counter drugs and early in the week of my birthday it became apparent that the irritated areas on my legs simply were not healing properly, so I scheduled the soonest appointment with my doctor that I could get, which was that Thursday afternoon, the day before my birthday. The doctor took one look at the weeping state of my legs and told me to head straight to the ER, which I did, and there I stayed for two solid days of multiple blood tests, antibiotic IV drips every six hours, rounds of meds, applications of caustic healing lotions, and even a biopsy that led to me getting my first-ever stitches. Fun it was not but I did what had to be done and I'm a lot better for it, though all the testing and biopsy results did not yield any explanation as to what triggered the itchy reaction. And me being cold was a case of anemia, brought on by the infection that followed all that scratching.

It was a crap-assed way to spend one's birthday but several of you texted me well-wishes or called, so I thank all of you, plus all of you who left messages for me on Facebook. Oh, and this is a shot of my legs just as I received a room and bed, perhaps less than an hour after having spent twelve hours in the ER among people who were waaaaaaaay worse off than me. (The crying and screaming was quite disturbing.)




Swollen, infected, and turning into Ben Grimm. Fun it was not.

Like I said, I had to apply strong prescription Ammonium Lactate cream and vaseline-like Clobetasol Propionate ointment to the most devastated areas, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't burn like a motherfucker. However the pain was worth the caustic agony, because in the space of less than 24 hours the weeping had ceased and the dead skin began sloughing off in corn flake-sized strips. And though I began to feel great rather swiftly, my doctor felt it was best to have me stick around for a while so I could be monitored and have my needs adjusted as needed. Thus it was that I turned 49 while laying on my ass in a bed at Park Slope's Methodist Hospital, reading a book on the history of horror movies. Oh, and it's a teaching hospital, so I had what seemed like an endless succession of interns and residents drawing blood fro me, so much so that my veins were too tapped-out to rise when IV's needed to be attached or more blood work was required. I had a couple of newbie interns practically destroy my hands and arms with their failed attempts at sticking me, but then I found myself in the care of a pretty and funny West Indian nurse who was nicknamed "The Vampire," because, as she herself put it, "If there's a vein, I will find it!" She was amazing.

So I missed celebrating my birthday in anything even resembling a fun way, but at least I was healing and the antibiotics were kicking hostile microbe ass. After two days I was released (though they tried to convince me to stay for one more day, purportedly because intravenous antibiotics were "more effective," though I suspect it was really more so they could have a cooperative guinea pig for the trainees) and I chronicled the healing of my legs.


June 29th.

 July 1st.

July 7th.

As it stands right now, my legs are mostly back to normal, the systemic infection is done, and my feet are no longer swollen, so there you go.

And the one thing about my birthday that absolutely did not suck was an unexpected and much-needed gift from a dear old friend. She's a tech geek and she was appalled by the state of my old, falling apart, on-its-last-legs laptop, so she bought me a brand-new 13" MacBook Air with an external drive/disc burner. To describe my reaction as stunned would be a gross understatement, and her act of birthday sweetness went well above and beyond the call of duty. I won't forget it. And here's the aforementioned new unit. I named it "the Bride," after the mighty Paige Pumphrey-drawn sticker of a rockabilly Bride of Frankenstein that so perfectly compliments the Cramps logo sticker.

 "The Bride," as seen from the screen and keyboard side...


And the front. I could not be happier!

A DAY OF GOOD OMENS

It's a day of good omens! 

GOOD OMEN #1: While leaving my building to get groceries — one of my freelance checks finally arrived — I ran into a cute brunette who was entering my building to visit a friend (who happened to be one of my favorite neighbors). As I let her into the lobby I noted she had a tattoo of a turtle on her arm, so of course my mind immediately went to "Gee, wouldn't it be cool if that were Gamera?" Then I took a good look at her ink and was delighted to see that not only was it of Gamera, it also featured Gamera's bizarre opponent, Barugon (not to be confused with Baragon from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD). I stopped her and asked if I could photograph her awesome display of representing in the name of us rubber suit junkies, and was only too happy to oblige. We chatted for a bit and she said "I'm thinking of getting another one, this time of Godzilla, well, 'cause!" I noted that if I got an old school kaiju tat, I would likely opt for the Gamera foe Viras, out of my love for malevolent tattooed wiggles. And I ran into her again on the street as I was bringing home my groceries, so I asked if I could get a better shot. The lighting was perfect!


As seen in the lobby...

And on the street.

Like I've said on a number of occasions, ladies who dig giant monsters and know the stuff inside and out are rare, and those who go the extra distance and apply ink to themselves to show that appreciation are living treasures.

GOOD OMEN #2: 


I ran into this guy at the local Key Food and gave him a shoutout for rocking a t-shirt of Sleipnir (look it up). He was surprised and delighted that some random black dude knew exactly what it was, and we chatted about our fascination with Norse mythology and Snorri Sturloson as we packed our purchases at the self-checkout. He told me that his wife bought him the shirt so he could wear it and get photographed when they visited Tokyo's rainbow bridge. Talk about a cross-cultural collision!

Sometimes it pays to get out of bed after a couple of weeks of misery!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

JUMPIN' JESUS IN A BASKET OF CHICKEN...

While this blog frequently deals with prurient matters, I seldom resort to blatant pandering. In this case, I simply must make an exception. Oh, and watch this in full-screen mode. (cue "Hallelujah Chorus")

You are most welcome.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

GIVING IN TO ANCIENT NOISE: HARDCORE DEVO LIVE-6/19/2014 at the Best Buy Theater, NYC





Dear Vaulties-

As anyone who reads this blog already knows, I am a lifelong fan of the band Devo and have seen them perform numerous times over the past thirty-two years. In fact, their 1982 OH, NO! IT'S DEVO! tour was my very first concert. (I was seventeen.) With that kind of long attendance record, one might think it would be a tough call to state conclusively which of their shows I found to be the most enjoyable of the lot, but what follows will likely stand as my end-all/be-all pronouncement on the subject.

Considering the recent deaths of Alan Myers and Bob Casale (aka Bob 2), two of the band's core members during the height of the group's popularity (drummer and guitarist/keyboardist, respectively),   as well as the simple fact that the three remaining core members, Gerry Casale (group founder and bassist/vocalist), Mark Mothersbaugh (lead vocalist/guitarist/keyboards), and Bob Mothersbaugh (aka Bob 1; guitarist/occasional vocals) are all in their sixties, one wonders just how long the band will continue to exist as a live performing entity. Bearing that in mind, if the current tour turns out to be Devo's final live hurrah, let it be said that the boys will have placed the most impressive possible coda on their innovative and influential four-decade run.

One of the problems with writing about one's favorite band is that whatever one puts to the page can come off as puff pieces devoid of objectivity and rife with Tiger Beat-level idol worship of the most adolescent variety, and in my personal case I find it nigh impossible to discuss Devo without making crystal clear the reasons why I maintain such ardor for their work. When I discovered Devo I was thirteen years old, not doing very well at weathering the emotional/psychological fallout from my parents' vitriolic (and long overdue) divorce, and drowning in the stygian depths of adolescence in a community where I was marked as an enemy outsider from the time I arrived there at age seven. Sure, I had a handful of friends, but where I grew up I was visibly quite different from my peers by simple virtue of being black, and that offense was compounded by having inherited the smarts of my parents. Westport was a town that had use for its niggers, as domestics and other figures to be superior to, but it sure as hell didn't like its niggers smart, so it was not an easy time. And when it came to music, one of the major influences that teenagers bond over, I tried to fit in by absorbing several of the what I call "legacy bands" — meaning bands one receives via their music being passed down by parents or elder siblings — favored by most of the kids my age. That worked to a small degree but I noticed early on that most of Westport's kids were stuck in a musical rut of stale '60's groups and '70's cock rock, and I began to bore of such fare.

Then came Devo's now-legendary appearance on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, a classic TV moment that united the nation with a slack-jawed kick in the brain and the sound of millions of viewers simultaneously exclaiming, "What the fuck did I just see?" I can't speak for everyone else but I was intrigued. Just who were these strange flesh-automatons who moved with jittery gestures while somehow managing to re-craft an aging chestnut like the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't get No) Satisfaction"into an escalating litany of edgy, nervous frustration? How dare they insinuate themselves into an aural arena dominated by Kiss and/or the plague that was disco? But the most important question was "Where the hell can I hear more of this stuff???" Devo sounded like nothing I'd encountered before and, simply put, they opened up my mind to the myriad possibilities of music, and that opening of the doorway led to musical exploration that continues to this day. Thanks to them I spent the next several years absorbing their music and the cynical philosophy it imparted, with much of it becoming sort of the cool soundtrack to my admittedly dorky existence. Whenever I hear any of the Devo tunes from their first five albums, I am immediately transported back to the few truly happy moments of what was perhaps the most miserable time of my life, and for that I will always be grateful. In no uncertain terms, Devo saved my sanity.

Which brings me to last Thursday night.















(Special thanks to Ken Pierce of the excellent Piercing Metal.com website for the very kind use of photos he took at the show, including this one. The others will also be noted.)

I and my frequent co-pilot at Devo shows, the lovely Xtina, made our way to the Best Buy Theater in Times Square, an area we both avoid like the plague due to it being claustrophobically overcrowded with tourists year-round, and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the venue. It featured the standard dance floor setup that allows for the fans to get close to the stage and dance like maniacs close to their band of choice, and it also had a good number of seats for those who chose to watch the godless rakka-frakka like civilized concert-goers. I was especially grateful for the seating because my feet were killing me, so I sat down at a concert for the first time in over twenty-three years. But before I sat down I did a round of the floor and the merch area — picking up a can of Stella Artois for ten bucks (!!!) in the process —and as usual there were a good number of fans sporting oddball costumes, masks, Devo-related tattoos, and of course the signature Energy Domes that are the band's most visually-recognizable piece of imagery. An iconic image that's as emblematic of Devo as the huge lips logo is to the Rolling Stones, the Energy Dome instantly conjures up memories of 1980's pop culture and invariably elicits shouts of "Whip it good!" from passersby when it's seen worn on the street.

On the floor with a random fan.

With fellow Devo hardcore Tom Keirstead — who until that moment I only knew as a Facebook presence, and fellow SUNY Purchase inmate, Tanya (whom I had not seen in a shamefully long time).

Upon reluctantly abandoning Xtina to the floor and taking my seat, I settled in and tried not to feel old due to skipping being caught up in the crush of the pit. During the time before the show started, I had plenty of time to observe the fans around me and note that many of them were a good deal older than my soon-to-be-49 self, and I mentally commended them for having had the balls to get into Devo at a time when they could have been among the beautiful people infesting disco-era venues like NYC's legendary Studio 54. I was also quite pleased to see a good number of people in their mid-thirties to mid-firties with their young kids in tow. It gave me hope to see the new generation being exposed to something other than the corporate swill and auto-tuned music-by-committee that passes for pop in the twenty-tens.

When the lights dimmed, the show began with no opening act as the members of Devo sat onstage discussing current events of 1974, the year in which their musical endeavors launched in earnest. 

Meanwhile, in 1974... (photo by Xtina)

In short order, things kicked off with bespectacled front man Mark Mothersbaugh's starkly robotic "Mechanical Man," followed by a set comprised mostly of the band's very early and obscure material — obscure to non-hardcore fans, anyway — with only three songs from Devo's first two albums and, refreshingly, no material whatsoever from the hit-making days of "Whipit." Don't get me wrong. I love Devo's later, more dance-oriented work, but I strongly prefer their more aggressively weird and experimental output, and that is what I got that night in spades. Those expecting "Whipit," "That's Good," "Beautiful World," "Gates of Steel," and other popular favorites were denied those tunes that had been played and heard ad infinitum over the past thirty-plus years, and as a result they were treated to a Devo freed from playing nothing but the expected "best of" roster and re-energized by returning to their mutated roots. Marked by a bass-heavy mix, the boys rocked ass like I had not heard them do in a long time, and they were quite obviously having a great time doing it.

Set list for the show's first half. (photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

Set list for the show's second half. (photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

The band was in fine form as they blazed their way through tune after tune, and the audience was with them all the way, as was evidenced by the legion of fans moving along with the music's driving and occasionally nervous, herky-jerky rhythms. Criminally underrated guitar god Bob Mothersbaugh — aka Bob 1 — has amazed me since Day One, especially when his chops are experienced live, and on this night he was a man on fire. Anyone in attendance who previously maintained the utterly mistaken perception that Devo's sound was strictly dorky "robot music" had that assessment blown out of the water by Bob's sheer badassery on his musical weapon of choice.

Bob 1: guitar god. (photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

I'll spare you the song-by-song rundown because the whole show put its mutated foot straight up the ass of cookie cuter musical complacency, but the tongue-twisting "Fraulein," "Soo Bawlz" (spelled incorrectly on the set list, by the way), "Stop Look and Listen," "Social Fools," and especially "Fountain of Filth" — a personal favorite — were especially notable for their seismic level of rockingness. The umpteenth performances of "Satisfaction," "Uncontrollable Urge," and "Gut Feeling" (refreshingly minus the connective tissue of "Slap Your Mammy," for once) all resonated, especially "Gut Feeling," which seems to me to be becoming a favorite non-hit selection among casual Devo-listeners thanks to its lengthy, wistful, almost hypnotic guitar into that Bob 1 completely owns like a boss. And I was amused to note that Gerry self-centered the word "cunt" during his rendition of "I Been Refused," perhaps out of consideration for the kiddies that were present. (Personally, I would have left it in, just to give them wee ones something to be shocked by and talk about in the schoolyard the next day.)

Bob 1 lays into "Gut Feeling" and its signature riff. (photo by Xtina)


And what would a Devo show be without an appearance by the band's mascot, Booji Boy (pronounced "Boogie Boy"), the embodiment of the infantile spirit of de-evolution?

Booji Boy takes the stage. (exceptional photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

His high-pitched warblings confused the living shit out of a number of the children in the audience and I also hope they found Booji Boy to be more than a little bit disturbing. (A first concert coupled with some nightmare-fuel sounds like a win to me.)

(photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

(photo by Xtina)

Note the young fan with his fists raised in unbridled enthusiasm. The kid was maybe eight or nine and he grooved like a maniac throughout the show.

(photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

(photo by Xtina)

(photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

(photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

(photo by Xtina)


(photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

(photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

And though note was made of the recent death of former member Bob Casale, the proceedings were in no way funereal and instead served as a celebration the like of which I can only hope will occur when I am inevitably found tits-up somewhere (hopeful not with a freeze-dried iguana lodged up my ass). Booji Boy's encore of "U Got Me Bugged" added an appropriately weird coda, only to be followed by Gerry's sprightly rendition of the second album classic "Clockout" as the show's closer, ending things on the highest of high notes.

(photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

(photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )

(photo courtesy of Piercing Metal.com )


Throughout the show, I reflected on my love of this band and just how much their music means to me, and by the time "Gut Feeling" rolled around I have to admit that I had tears streaming down my face. If I never see another Devo show, I will carry that feeling of pure happiness with me as a cherished memory.

When the lights came up and Devo left the stage, I waved down Xtina, who excitedly ran over to me and blurted out, "Did you see it? There was a fucking cat fight up front!" I totally did not see anything of the sort from my vantage point, but here's Xtina's firsthand account of what went down:

"It happened early on in the show. I believe I was enjoying 'She Didn't Know I was A Midget" when it occurred. Suddenly there was a lot of movement and I thought folks were beginning to mosh. Instead it was just a bunch of people trying to squeeze past the already existing crowd to get closer to the stage. At that point, a woman who was already at the front started choking a woman behind her. When people began to notice that a woman actually had another woman's hand around her throat, a couple of guys in the audience tried to break it up. A few minutes later, three tough-looking women deliberately pushed their way through, grabbed the woman who was doing the choking, and slapped her across the face. This erupted into another brawl, the kind you see on a baseball mound, only with women. At that point I backed up because it looked intense, There were punches and slaps back and forth and the surrounding men broke it up again. At that point, one of the guys yelled at the top of his lungs, 'This is a fucking Devo show!' at them. It all settled down after that."

Xtina recounts the floor's cat fight to Tanya.

Anyway, after careful consideration of the nearly twenty live Devo shows I've seen over the past thirty-two years, and I've had a week to seriously weigh my thoughts on the matter, I have to say that this Hardcore Devo event is my hands down favorite. It was Devo firing on all cylinders, with their original mission intent restored, and I'm elated that many newcomers got to see them at their unadulterated best. I'll always see Devo whenever they hit town but I pray that this tour receives enough popular acclaim to spur them to maintain their pre-MTV vibe for a while. And a CD and/or DVD release of the show would be much appreciated. Maybe even a new album rife with specific flavor of de-evolved tunage...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

MORE AUTOGRAPHED PICS

I finally got around to scanning several autographed photos that I'd been meaning to post for ages, so here they are:

While not an autographed item, this roster of programming from a drive-in in 1975 shows a healthy mix of Hollywood hits, low-budget schlock, and exploitation sleazery. CAGED VIRGINS was a dubbed French import that played under numerous titles and with various edits but it is infamous for its most uncut version, which features nubile naked women being whipped and molested in a moodily-lit dungeon, complete with a bat hanging from the Euro-bush of one of said lovelies.


Next is a publicity shot of the original Slymenstra Hymen from the intentionally-ludicrous metal band Gwar. They came to visit Marvel during my days in the Bullpen and they were all nice enough to sign stuff for the staff's many metalheads. Sweet folks.


During my days at the barbecue joint, I used to arrive at work on Saturdays a little early so I could get a head start on the cooking and have things ready to roll by the time GHOUL A GO-GO came on. GHOUL A GO-GO is a public access throwback kid's show that harks back to the bygone and totally fun days of regional horror hosts and the wacky shenanigans they got up to while showcasing vintage horror movies. GHOUL A-GO-GO is only a half hour per show so there's no time for features, but each installment is crammed with short films, live music by wacko bands, a weekly dance party for kids in the studio (with some of the kids occasionally being hauled away to fates too terrible to fathom), and the antics of the show's hosts, stylish revenant Vlad Tepes and hulking, groovy hunchback Creighton. I watched the show regularly for years and came to love it, so imagine my shock when I attended my friend Heather's birthday party a few years back and saw Creighton (out of makeup and costume) stroll in and join us at the party's dinner table. In real ife his name is Kevin and he's a total sweetheart who shares numerous interests in common with Yer Bunche, so it was an instant connection. We've been friends ever since and I go to see the GHOUL A GO-GO live shows whenever possible, which is where I obtained this promo item.


Th Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of my all-time favorite movie monsters and is perhaps the iconic cinematic monster of 1950's American cinema, so how could I not want an autographed shot of Ricou Browning, the man inside the suit? I have two of them, thanks to one of them being obtained as a surprise gift.



This next one is of Akira Takarada, the star of the original GODZILLA (1954) and a good number of other vintage Toho giant monster and sci-fi classics.


Here's an "only in New York" story for you: About a year and a half ago a new neighbor moved in across the hall from me and while we chatted and got to know each other, he mentioned that his dad was an actor. When I asked if I'd heard of his dad, my new neighbor, Preston by name, told me that his dad was none other than Ed Neal, the creepy hitchhiker in the  horror masterpiece THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974), which happens to be my favorite horror film. This past Christmas, Preston came back from spending the holidays with his family and he brought this great cast photo signed by his dad. Preston moved out around a month ago and I was sad to see him go. A great neighbor and a solid dude all around.


If I'd had this next one during the 1970's, it would have been worth a solid gold brick at my elementary school. Yes, I met Henry Winkler, one of the indelible gods of '70's TV thanks to his portrayal of the Fonz on HAPPY DAYS. In person he's a really down-to-earth guy and if you ever meet him, please show him some love.


And how could I not want a shot of the Fonz jumping the shark, the infamous act from which the now-ubiquitpus term was cribbed?


And while my collection of autographed photos contains a number of serious scores, few are as sacred to me as this last one:

 Yes, that's Bin Furuya, aka Ultraman, my favorite superhero from childhood and the character who served as my gateway into my lifelong obsession with Japanese giant monster and sci-fi culture. In short, this is right up there with my shots of Patrick Macnee and Sonny Ciba as my collection's holiest of holy grails.