Friday, June 27, 2008

Thievery Corporation at Central Park Summerstage, 06/26/08

I got a brief taste of Thievery Corporation years ago at Austin City Limits. More familiar to their chill and groove sounds, I was surprised by how the live performance translated into such a high energy, exciting show. Their set was only 40 minutes so I was left salivating for more.

Fast forward a few years and I finally got a chance to see them again at Summerstage in Central Park. It was another outdoor venue and billed as a full band show which also featured Seu Jorge. My expectations were sky-high.

Despite forecasts of rain and dark skies all afternoon, the weather ended up being perfect: no rain and not too hot. Between this and the Yankee game that also miraculously went rain-free, I must’ve built up some serious weather karma. Getting absolutely drenched on the way to Murakami might’ve done it.

I wasn’t aware that there were three opening acts to Thievery Corporation and I feel as though I spent most of the night watching stage hands set up and take down equipment. Boo.

But I was pleasantly surprised at the first act, Federico Aubele, a latin guitar player and singer with hints of electronica. His music drew heavily from his homeland, Argentina, and I enjoyed his performance much more than the other two acts. Best song IMO was Esta Noche. He’s definitely worth checking out.

And of course there’s Thievery Corporation. Their setup was exactly how I remember, two percussionists, the same tall, lanky bassist, a sitar/guitar player, a horn section, and as the centerpiece a spacious DJ setup.

They pulled out all the stops, utilizing 7 different lead vocalists/rappers, which doesn’t even count their special guest, Seu Jorge. The belly dancer was the best addition to the show. Of the few that I’ve seen, she was by far the best. Her moves had the entire audience hypnotized. It didn’t hurt that she was gorgeous and voluptuous. I can’t fail to mention that she had absolutely ripped abs. Seriously, I was kind of jealous.

By the time Thievery Corporation came on, I was hoping the sound guys would’ve been able to work out their issues. Heavy feedback from the mics was a problem throughout the night and had an obvious effect on all of the singers’ concentration. There also seemed to be issues with singers hearing themselves. The first two vocalists were severely off key and visibly struggling with the speakers around them. I doubt it was the fault of the singers because their subsequent performances were flawless. Needless to say I was pretty disappointed with the crew.

The other major disappointment was the shortness of the concert. Central Park has a strict 10pm curfew so Thievery Corporation were only on for about 90 minutes and unable to come back on for an encore. I came into the show expecting something closer to 2 hours. Each singer was only able to do 2 or 3 songs, and “special guest” Seu Jorge only really did one song! He did back up vocals on a second, but come on! The round-robin aspect of so many singers seems pretty rare in a live show; I just wish there was more time for each one.

Of all the vocalists, without question the most impressive was Sleepy Wonder, the reggae rapper. His explosive, rapid-fire, staccato deliveries were some of the most unique I’d ever heard in rap.

It’s strange how Thievery Corporation consists of two the DJs, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, but the shows focus so much more on the vocalists and instrumentalists. Usually a DJ set is comprised solely of a couple of DJs at turntables. Which is why I sometimes struggle to describe the “band”. I resist calling it electronic because their sounds are so much more organic, and not relying on synthesized elements. They infuse sounds from so many other countries and cultures but I can’t call it world music. Like the term “alternative”, I feel that the genre “electronica” is used for such a wide range that it pretty much fails to adequately describe most musicians that are lumped into the category.

All I can say is that I’ve been listening to their albums for almost 10 years now... (Yes, pre-Garden State era. God, it’s amazing how much I loathe that soundtrack now. Funny thing is I was listening to just about every band on that album beforehand. I guess I really am a music snob.) ...Anyway, I’ve always loved the music that Thievery produce and how they continually explore new avenues. I’ll also say that they’re one of the few acts that I wouldn’t hesitate to see again and again whenever they come around. Their shows are an amazing spectacle and I’m glad they’ve pulled out all the stops the two times I’ve seen them.

Now if only they’d play longer sets.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Olafur Eliasson : “Take Your Time” exhibit and Paul Chan : “The 7 Lights” exhibit

It’s a funny coincidence that the past two art shows I saw featured light installations. Olafur Eliasson’s Take Your Time at the MoMA and Paul Chan’s The 7 Lights at the New Museum on Bowery were each interesting experiences but I wasn’t blown away by either one.

Chan’s light projections onto walls, ceilings and floors utilized silhouettes of people and objects which created surreal moments that ranged from humorous to horrific. Objects alternately floated upward from the ground or fell from the sky. Not having been in New York at the time, I sheepishly admit to needing a friend to point out the allusion to 9/11 of the figures plummeting to the ground. Chan was obviously infusing references to the Gulf War and political events with outlines of oil tankers, guns and gas station pumps.

What intrigued me the most was Chan’s altering of perception. Perspective was intentionally skewed by having objects move in different directions. He was obscuring our ability to tell which way was up or down. The light projectors were positioned in places that allowed for passer-bys to incorporate their own shadows moving across the images, creating yet another possible orientation.

The 1st Light piece was a strong example of his focus on light and dark. As a designer, negative space is something that is considered as strong and integral element as positive space. (Geeky Designer Fun Fact: ever notice the white arrow created in the nook of the E and x in the FedEx logo?) With this piece, one could stare that this light projection on the dark floor and see it as a hole or window down into a lit area below. Or it could be perceived as an illuminated surface sitting above the black floor.

I’m assuming that is the correct interpretation of the strikethrough in the title. The exhibit is about light but is also equally about the absence on light. Like when we focus our eyes on something distant and then focus on something near, we have the ability to shift how our eyes and brains see things.

This was my first venture into the New Museum, which has been getting mixed reviews. I will say that I try to take any art seriously and examine it for its merits. But in this case, my friend and I had to agree that much of what was featured in the rest of the museum just seemed like the result of an angst-ridden, shallow junior high art class.

As for Eliasson’s exhibit at the MoMA, the light installations weren’t the sole component of his work, but seem to me the most successful and striking portions.

The introduction to the exhibit was pretty effective: viewers ride the escalator upwards, see a yellow light seeping out from above, and upon entering get immersed in a yellow hued room. All other color is obliterated by the yellow lights. Clothes, skin tones, everything becomes monochromatic. The effort was somewhat stunted by the propagation of Photoshop and digital cameras that can achieve this visual effect on the fly. Sadly, instead of it being a mind-blowing experience, it’s more of a “wow, that’s pretty cool” moment.

What was successful, in my opinion, was how Eliasson was able to use these environments to incorporate the viewers into the art. People weren’t standing in a big yellow room amazed at the walls, they were reacting to themselves and each other bathed in the light. Again and again, through the use of mirrors, light rooms or even just a blowing fan whimsically swinging around just above people’s heads, Eliasson created art that could only really exists through the interaction of the viewer.

In the giant prism room, viewers could watch their shadows playfully shift along the wall. I stood completely still and observed my form fade in and out of multi-colored light, multiply and slide across the room. The photographs fail to do the room justice. My pictures make it look like a cheap computer effect but the personal experience is much more impressive.

My favorite moment was trying to photograph a little girl in the 360 degree color spectrum room. As you could imagine with any small child, it was tough to get a good shot of her since she was romping around the entire room. I was also trying to be discreet and not look like some creepy pedophile. I tried my best...

I was alternately impressed and annoyed with the use of both the MoMA and P.S.1 spaces for the exhibit. Trekking out to Queens was a bit tedious but I was also glad to finally see such a great space. I loved how they’re using an old school building as a first-class museum. Good work, people!

More photos are up on my Flickr page.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sigur Rós at the Grand Ballroom, 06/16/08

Last night, after years of enduring envy-causing accounts of friends attending amazing Sigur Rós concerts, I was able to catch the Icelandic band at the Grand Ballroom in Manhattan. While I usually try to not have too much of a buildup in my expectations, I just couldn’t help expecting a mind-blowing experience. To their credit, Sigur Rós lived up to my prediction.

The band revels in intense and epic music which can be too much for anyone not completely on board with their sound. Still, I imagine it’d be hard not to get swept up in the beauty of their sound. I can only use Arcade Fire as a comparable live act. Neither band waste a single second of the show to fill the entire venue with energy and sonic power. Arcade Fire’s approach seems to be a bit more frantic, something I would compare to being in an unrelenting earthquake, whereas Sigur Rós is like being hit with a constant cascade of tidal waves.

The night started with Helgi Hrafn Jónsson performing solo. It turns out he’s the trombone accompanist for Sigur Rós but he was impressive enough for me to buy his EP. He hails from Iceland like the main act, but actually sings in English.

Sigur Rós opened with my favorite tune, Svefn-g-englar. Thus, within the first 5 minutes of the show I actually felt like crying. I almost wished they had saved the song for later, worried that the rest of the night would be a letdown for me. The band sounded a bit rusty on the opener, possibly needing a warm up, but they only got better as the concert went on.

Jón þor Birgisson’s vocals are simply incredible. Listening to the albums, I’m constantly amazed at the levels he can take his voice to, which is just as stunning in person. I also loved that the band brought along a string quartet and a brass section. Every show should use live musicians over synthesized orchestration in my opinion. It adds an integral dimension to the music. Especially for Sigur Rós; I couldn’t imagine their sound being as impactful without that fuller sound.

Birgisson used his trademark bow on his guitar but it was nice to see the band shuffle in different instruments throughout the night. My favorites were the tiny toy piano which created a distinctive chinking sound and the xylophones. It’s the accoutrements in music that totally do it for me. I think I love Radiohead’s No Surprises mainly for the xylophone in the background.

The highlight of the show was definitely Hafssól. Georg Holm started everything off using a drum stick on his bass guitar to create a hypnotic and driving rhythm, which led to a 12-minute buildup into an orgy of sound and light.

The band ended their set with a tune I didn’t recognize but it was requested that everyone stand up and clap along. I can only describe it as a song that could’ve felt right at home in a European pub where all the regulars sing and dance while getting sloshed. It was a nice indicator that the band aren’t too pompous or pretentious about their art.

For the encore, the band played another epic, Popplagið. Again, it was an instance of a song with a gradual build up to a big payoff, but it was another of several moments in the night that I felt like my heart was swelling up from the beauty and intensity of their music. Birgisson’s vocals were on full display and were truly awe-inspiring.

I also have to note that the light effects for the concert were the best I’d ever experienced. They were simple and fit the mood of the music perfectly. The lights were subtle in the quiet moments and blinding during the explosively loud ones.

Sigur Rós plays another show tonight at the MoMA, which I would be 100% for attending if it weren’t already sold out.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008


In another installment of beautiful living spaces that make me retch with jealousy is this loft. Not sure exactly if I’d feel “homey” in this space, but the designer in me is geeking out. Nice touches were the hammock, towel rack right under the sink to hide the plumbing and the rock garden floor of the shower. Damn, people!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Today my coworker, K., who I’ve quickly become friends with and care for, got canned. No two weeks notice, no severance. Not even ‘til the end of the week! It’s freaking Tuesday!

While I could tally a lengthy laundry list of ghetto, somewhat illegal, and downright idiotic things that have occurred at this company, I have to say that I am genuinely stunned. To just drop a dedicated employee like a rock with no notice is so low.

I’m sorry, K.! If there’s any justice in this world, you’ll someday be uber-successful and prosperous, and you’ll look back on this shitty day and laugh.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Takashi Murakami : “©Murakami” exhibit

It was interesting to catch the Takashi Murakami exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art after seeing Cai's show at the Guggenheim. The two are contemporary, well regarded Asian artists with wildly different views.

They were almost representatives of how different the two New York boroughs operate. Manhattan has always been about the crème de la crème and its museums are no exception. Renown without equal, they consistently feature the most famous, most revered artists of any time period. The art is always brilliant and significant, but also tends to be a bit safe and respectable. Brooklyn has always had a more off-kilter approach to everything. Not emulating or competing with Manhattan, I feel allows it to do more daring things. Case in point, the Brooklyn Museum offers shows that can be more controversial and surprising. As any form of gambling, sometimes that pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.

So where does the ©Murakami show wind up in that spectrum? Acknowledged as the “Japanese Warhol”, Murakami mines from popular culture, specifically Japan. But he also blurs the line between an artist and a salesperson. Having his own product line, and collaborating with Louis Vuitton to have an operational store as the centerpiece of the exhibit is definitely a topic of debate. I had my doubts but was open to see what he had to say.

There’s no denying the influence of consumerism into every facet of our lives, and Murakami is tapping into that. But I struggled to see the basis and result of his exploration. Paintings with the LV logo seamlessly incorporated into the work seems to be more of an endorsement of product placement and the infiltration of corporations into the arts.

I guess I’m biased by my own views, but I was wanting to see a stronger commentary behind it all, of which I didn’t get. Perhaps it could be argued that Murakami is trying to project an objective view and allow us to judge for ourselves.

But it still seems like BS to me. It comes back to the Louis Vuitton store. Murakami is obviously an intelligent person, so one could say this is a very self-aware gesture. But it also stinks of a feint, saying “Oh yes, we know it’s ironic, that’s the point... So you still want to buy one of our branded thousand dollar purses?” I smell the stench of corporate sales in the guise of fine art. I just don’t buy the gimmick. Just because something’s in a museum doesn’t mean it’s art.

It didn’t help his case that while I was viewing the exhibit, several dolled-up Japanese glamour girls pranced into the museum and bee-lined to the store without giving a single glance at the work on the walls. I wish I had may camera to capture the one who was hefting a shopping bag that was large enough to fit a full-grown human.

Another aspect of the exhibit that didn’t exactly work for me were the sculpted anime figures. Again, I found a lack of story behind the work. Why was he showing us these pieces? Manga and anime have an unfortunate history of exploiting women (or pre-teen girls) which is ripe for us to dissect and discuss. But it seemed like Murakami was just feeding into the objectification of females, like the Miss Ko2 figurines that literally transform into an object. Miss Ko2’s vagina being front and center as the nose of the jet cannot be a happy coincidence. “Hello, clitoris! Yes, I see you!”

Lest I be interpreted as a condemner of anime/manga, I would point to examples such as Ghost in the Shell or Neon Genesis Evangelion which manage to use the medium of anime to explore compelling and complex ideas without resorting to nude schoolgirls (okay, almost). Evangelion in particular delves into heavy Biblical iconography to craft concepts that, even years after the series ended, are still debated and dissected. I could spend hours trying to extrapolate the deep, nuanced meanings within the series, but fail to achieve the same result in this exhibit.

I don’t want to totally dismiss Murakami because I think there are some great, great ideas floating around in his work. I loved the combined use of the smiling flowers and the skulls as arbiters of life and death.

The So Many Flowers room was an impressive experience. The smiley face flower wallpaper (and subsequent jelly eyeball pattern) made me feel like I was trapped in some warped nursery room. I’m surprised the wallpaper wasn’t for sale, although I could imagine any parent worrying about their child developing schizophrenia by spending too much time immersed in that imagery.

And I don’t want to dog his explicitness of sexual content. There is a wealth of great art that centers around sex and the human form. Phallic and vaginal symbolism don’t offend me. But streaming jets of semen and lactation just fail resonate in the same way.

I think his most successful and intriguing piece of the show was in the entrance of the museum. The Tongari-kun figure pulls symbolism from traditional Buddhist sources but modernizes the subject with the pop culture style of current Japan. Traditional Japanese figures were substituted with bouncy, smiley cartoons. The iconic language of Pokémon and anime took new meaning when put into this context, which I thought was genius. I saw it as his most realized attempt to meld hi/low, traditional/modern Japanese art.

That’s what I wanted to see in Murakami. And less corporate sponsorship. Seriously, $4.95 for a bottlecap-sized button??