Playing the Building

Playing the BuildingPlaying the Building
Playing the BuildingPlaying the BuildingPlaying the Building
Playing the BuildingPlaying the Building
(more photos)

David Byrne’s installation transforms the Battery Maritime Building into a giant musical instrument, but the mysterious noises that emanate from all corners of the delightfully dilapidated industrial space have more in common with a late-80s Grateful Dead mid-set midi-freakout than whatever usually goes by “music.” Waiting and sweating in line for my turn at the tubed-up, souped-up organ, I decided that I’d blow all the other dilettantes away by laying down some serious maritime funk — this building needed a groove, and I was the man to do it!

But once I got my fingers on the keys, which trigger sound events through “wind, vibration, striking,” it became clear why everybody plays the building in exactly the same languidly tripped-out way: varying response times from button-push to noise don’t allow for a rhythm to emerge. Good-bye, funk! The lag undercuts any sense of control, and with the next eager punter breathing down your neck, there isn’t time to figure out how to use the instrument’s constraints to its advantage. The ferry terminal’s temporary transformation may be successful, but the title of the piece is fraudulent: in Lower Manhattan, the building plays you! Next time, can we skip “Space” and set up a giant industrial drum circle instead?

June Tunes

A few bands I’ve been enjoying lately to drown out the jackhammers going berserk outside my window. More at muxtape.

Marco Benevento

Budos Band

Jackie Greene


The Wood Brothers


The KLF feat. Tammy Wynette

The Avett Brothers

and, for Bo Diddley, The Grateful Dead

Konsum: One More Saturday Night


Fewer movies than usual because I’m working on several top secret plans for world domination, we’re still catching up with The Wire, and my obsession with Daniel Plainview shows no signs of abating. (Check out the new entries in the contest.) The notable exception was Etgar Keret’s Jellyfish, a sweet film that plays like minor-key Israeli version of Magnolia. I also tried to talk Marcy into watching Southland Tales, hoping that Richard Kelly’s sophomore disaster might improve upon second viewing. The answer was a resounding no — we didn’t make it past the 15-minute mark.

It’s been a good week for concerts, though. I never blogged about the March 19 benefit for Scotty Hard, a cause that brought all the champions of the downtown groove scene to the Highline Ballroom. My personal highlight was an outrageous and all-too-brief set by elusive dub god Bill Laswell, accompanied by Bernie Worrell. This weekend, Ratdog was back at the Beacon — unlike the Rolling Stones, they’re a band that actually belongs there. I missed Thursday’s sit-ins by Jimmy Herring, Warren Haynes, and Steve Molitz, but witnessed Friday’s ups (Tomorrow Never Knows! Hard Rain!) and downs (ridiculous sound problems during The Weight), as well as Saturday’s just-about perfect four hours of rock’n roll heaven. And now you’ll have to excuse me while I retire to my favorite secure undisclosed location.

The Wire. Season 3. ****
There Will Be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007. *****
Jellyfish/Meduzot. Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen, 2007. ***
Southland Tales. Richard Kelly, 2007. *

4/4/08 Beacon Theatre, New York NY

I: Jam > Playin’ in the Band > Tomorrow Never Knows > Tennessee Jed, Sitting in Limbo > West L.A. Fadeaway, Even So > October Queen > The Deep End > Big Railroad Blues
II: K.C. Moan, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, The Weight, Eyes of the World, The River Song > Stuff > Dear Prudence > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
E: Casey Jones

4/5/08 Beacon Theatre, New York NY
I: Jam > Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Maggie’s Farm, Row Jimmy, Dark Star > Weather Report Suite > Let It Grow
II: You Win Again, City Girls, Victim or the Crime, Lazy River Road > Jack Straw > Dark Star > Stuff, Days Between > Two Djinn > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower
E: One More Saturday Night

U2 3D

I’ll take bubbly pop over self-righteous posturing any day, so we’ll lead this post off with the Pet Shop Boys’ brilliant cover of “Where the Streets Have No Name” (with a touch of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”)

With that out of the way, my review of U2 3D is now up at UGO: “You’ll thrill to the sight of a hundred thousand stoked fans! You’ll duck from under Bono’s flying sweat! You’ll read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — in 3D!”

U2 3D. Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, 2008. ***

Phil and Friends, 11/5 and 11/6

All week, I’ve been checking back on, hoping for the promised photos from the show, reasoning that you can’t possibly post about Ryan Adams’ birthday party without at least one good shot of Ryan’s green knit pom pom hat. I’ll update if any hat photos ever surface; in the meantime, my own camera-phone shot of Phil seen through my friend Walter‘s white shock of late-era Garcia hair will have to suffice.

The shows? Phenomenal. After Halloween‘s cover extravaganza, Tuesday‘s sets mingled classic rock standards — Dixie Down, Brown Sugar, Revolution — with Grateful Dead warhorses like Deal and Shakedown, and seeing Phil drop Other One bombs from the rail was bone-shatteringly good. I was just beginning to miss the ballads when Death Don’t Have No Mercy, sung by Jackie Greene, provided a rare treat, topped off by a sweet, sweet Brokedown Palace for which I happened to be the audience member closest to Phil. A deeply satisfying concert, as good as anything I’d ever hope to see from anybody who didn’t use to be in my favorite band.

But Monday was the real reason I’ll keep on coming back as long as this music is getting played. After a first set loaded with primal late-sixties Dead grooves enhanced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin on sax, the second set was pure Deadhead heaven. It happened to be Ryan Adams‘ birthday, reason enough for Phil to splurge and extend the show until after 1am for four hours of music filled with some of the best tunes in the Dead catalog, played with vigor, love, and inventiveness.

Phil LeshAn informal poll conducted on the way out confirmed what we already knew: “That was profound” and “Wharf Rat dominated my skull.” Walter, who’d come in from Düsseldorf to see Phil for the first time since 1994, could hardly have picked a better time–if you’re going to take a transatlantic flight to a rock concert, this was the night. Two more shows this weekend top off what by all accounts has been a stellar 11-night run. Thank you, Phil.

Phil Lesh and Friends, Nokia Theater, 11/5/07
Set 1 (with Steve Berlin)
Brown-Eyed Women, The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion), Viola Lee Blues > Operator> Viola Lee Blues> Next Time You See Me> Viola Lee Blues, Chest Fever, Sugaree
Set 2 (with Ryan Adams)
Happy Birthday Ryan, Eyes of the World> Scarlet Begonias> China Cat Sunflower> Bird Song, Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad, Ripple, I Know You Rider> Uncle John’s Band> Dark Star> Franklin’s Tower> Dark Star
Encore: Wharf Rat

Phil Lesh and Friends, Nokia Theater, 11/6/07
Set 1: Bertha> Deal, Big River, Gone Wanderin’, Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Cosmic Charlie
Set 2: Brown Sugar> Shakedown Street> Revolution, Beat It On Down The Line> Cryptical Envelopment> The Other One> Death Don’t Have No Mercy> The Other One> Brokedown Palace
Encore: Not Fade Away

For your listening enjoyment, audience recordings of Monday’s skull-dominating Wharf Rat encore, Tuesday’s Revolution, and Death Don’t Have No Mercy. Torrents for the Nokia run are up at in flac format, but if you’d rather grab mp3s, you can download 10/31 (312 MB), 11/5 (247 MB), and  11/6 (229 MB) while the bandwidth lasts.

YouTube has a pro-shot clip from the 2005 Jammys, when Ryan first came out as a Deadhead, also with Wharf Rat. If you squint, you can spot me in the audience. Carefully, this clip is brutally cut at the ten minute mark — and Ryan’s not wearing any green knit hats, either.