Monday, August 21, 2017

The War On Drugs’ “Pain” Video Captures Philadelphia In A Unique Way


On Monday, Philadelphia band The War On Drugs released a captivating video for “Pain,” a single from their forthcoming album A Deeper Understanding. The video mixes shots of Philadelphia with clips of the band playing on a barge sailing along the Schuylkill River. Shot entirely in black and white, the film looks as if it belongs in U2’s epic concert film Rattle and Hum.

While the pensive mood of Adam Granduciel’s lyrics are a stark contrast to the groove that soothes, the video captures a uniquely Philadelphia vibe that is similar to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s 1991 video for “Summertime.” Both videos used the Schuylkill River as the centerpiece of short films that primarily shunned the obvious shots and captured more localized parts of the city. Instead of sticking to the Art Museum and City Hall, “Pain” opens with children riding bicycles underneath an overpass. As it proceeds, the video flashes to different parts of the city and its people in a way that helps relay the emotion of the song.

A Deeper Understanding will be released on August 25. The War On Drugs will begin their tour in support of the album at the newly-revamped Dell Music Center in Philadelphia on September 21. 


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Game Night: A First Reaction To “Beyond The Wall”


This post contains spoilers of the Game of Thrones Episode “Beyond The Wall” and prior episodes of the series.

Game of Thrones has traditionally saved its most stunning scenes for the penultimate episode of a season. Ned Stark lost his head, the Battle of Blackwater, the Red Wedding, the battle for the Wall, Daenerys harnessing the power of her dragons, and the Battle of the Bastards all took place in the second-to last show of the every season. For the first time in seven years, Game of Thrones has produced a more balanced season and “Beyond The Wall” was just one in a series of action-packed episodes of this installment of the series.

The three plots of the episode featured mixed results. Daenerys continued her bizarre questioning of Tyrion’s loyalty and the Stark sisters clashed again. Both of these plots are frustrating and neither is having an enjoyable direction. Even though Tyrion was named as Daenerys’ most important adviser, her logic for questioning his judgment makes little sense and is only way to create unnecessary friction in the Targaryen camp. Similarly, the drama at Winterfell is needless. The Starks have finally reunited, yet Sansa and Arya are interrogating each other and Bran is flashing occasional omnipotence that has not proven to be terribly helpful.

One week after the ill-conceived, but enticing, plot of kidnapping a member of the army of the dead was hatched, “Beyond The Wall” did not disappoint. Flaming swords, a frozen lake, and an encircled band of warriors all made for a unique circumstance. The sequence was well-filmed and another testament to the production crew of Game of Thrones.

The clash beyond the Wall featured three outcomes: one was predictable and the other two were more unforeseen. Daenerys swooping in with her dragons to save the day was really the only logical outcome to the group’s predicament.

As unlikely as it was that Jon Snow would die again, his rescuer was not as anticipated as Daenerys’ dragons. Benjen Stark had previously rescued his other nephew, Bran, in Season Six. His first appearance this season was brief, but amazing. Benjen hacking through the Army Dead with his flaming flails was an unexpected and refreshing twist to the episode.

The biggest (and least predictable) outcome was Daenerys losing one of her three dragons and what became of one of her scaled children. After centuries of a dormant war between the living and the dead, the dead were better prepared for Daenerys’ dragons than anyone in Westeros or Essos. The dragon received an epic death as it crashed through the ice, but its resurrection was more shocking and creates more exciting possibilities. Will the dragon breathe ice or fire? Will it clash with its brothers in the sky? Will it fly over the Wall?


All of these future stories are intriguing and create a new dynamic as the dead look to defeat the living. The other emerging plots of the season seem to be more directionless and excessive. An inquest of Tyrion’s loyalties and Stark family drama are derailing the known qualities of previously well-established characters. The most important stories of this season have been handled well, but Game of Thrones is creating extraneous drama that is threatening to undermine the final seasons of the series. 

Is There A Streaming Content Bubble?


On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal published an article that heralded Apple’s intent to spend $1 billion to create original content for streaming in 2018. With an indelible level of brand excellence in so many different fields, it feels like Apple will not fail to create buzzworthy programs. Apple and its competitors may be running into a different challenge. The market for good streaming content and in-home entertainment has never been stronger, but with a rapidly growing number of options is there a bubble hovering over the expansion of streaming content?

Netflix began streaming content in 2007. In 2013 the watershed series House of Cards was released and the possibilities for in-home entertainment changed overnight. Streaming companies could now release an entire season of television at once and feed our binge-watching habits. It may now seem like a moment from the Stone Ages of Streaming, but Kevin Spacey's appearance on The Colbert Report in 2013 included a discussion of the merits of bingeing television. Bingeing is such a natural part of our viewing options now, but four years ago House of Cards changed how audiences watch programs. 

Kevin Spacey on The Colbert Report, 8/4/13

After initially relegating their streaming options to Netflix or cord-cutting services, major networks like NBC, ABC, Fox, and CBS have already used various applications to explore ways to broadcast their own content. Amazon Prime has also created shows like The Main In The High Castle and Alpha House. Streaming company Hulu has not only begun developing original shows, but is also launching its own live streaming service (Hulu Plus). Earlier this week it was announced that Disney would withdraw their property from Netflix by 2019 to create two channels. One channel will be dedicated to Disney and Pixar and the second would feature content from ESPN.

Over the last two years Netflix has already invested $11 billion towards original content in anticipation of this streaming spree. Instead of being left without enticing content in the streaming wars, the service has decided to focus on developing programming in order to keep their massive subscriber base.  Despite being over $20 billion in debt, Netflix has allotted $7 billion for 2018 and plans to become their own content provider.

With this type of large-scale investment and emphasis on original content, the saturation of entertainment seems like an inevitability. The options with just Netflix alone are already overwhelming. In May of 2017 the company released a plethora of high-profile shows: Sense8, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Keepers, and House of Cards along with comedy specials from Tracy Morgan, Sarah Silverman, and Hasan Minhaj. In June, the network followed with another slate of shows that included Orange Is The New Black and the fantastic new show G.L.O.W. With all of this content available at the same time it can be challenging to stay current with television. Unlike a typical network schedule, entire seasons are now available at once. While they can be watched at a leisurely pace, the social media-driven urgency of Must See TV is no longer a single night, but a rush to keep up with the Joneses and binge the most popular shows as quickly as possible.

Major corporations like Disney are not the only companies to enter the market. Unlike any other aspect of modern entertainment, the Internet provides the opportunity for entrepreneurship. The market allows for investment from big names in entertainment like Kevin Hart. The superstar comedian launched the Laugh Out Loud app in August. The app includes scripted and unscripted comedy and the entire Def Jam series. Smaller apps like VRV can deliver shows with a devoted following like My Brother, My Brother and Me to a targeted audience and grow their brand with similar product. These apps also have the potential to focus on diverse multicultural audiences that have been shunned by network television and grow quality content.

This mass of quality entertainment is already running up against a wall. There are only so many hours in a day and the vast amount of entertainment is already at an all-time high level. With network television in decline, the average audience for a show will continue to dwindle because customers are leaving traditional television for streaming. This will continue as the number of options grows. Another factor that will enter the equation is that most people will only subscribe to a limited number of apps. The combined cost of signing up for different apps to watch Disney, Netflix, ESPN, Laugh Out Loud, and Amazon Prime in addition to other regular options such as network television and premium channels like HBO or Showtime is likely to have a negative effect on the marketplace.

There is only so much time and money that an audience can invest in watching television. Will the billions of dollars being spent receive a good enough return to continue this wealth of entertainment and is this rush of quality entertainment really a bubble about that is about to burst?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Song Exploder Dissects Music's Modern Masters


There are many layers to a hit song that may not stand out as fans hear music from even the most well-known artists. A listener may catch on to the drums, a vocal, or a guitar riff, but it is rare to dissect the separate components of every hit that comes out. Music fans usually just appreciate a song in its complete form. The fascinating podcast Song Exploder excels at taking apart a track and digging into the creative process of a wide variety of musicians.

The podcast is created and hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway, although the musicians are typically the only voices heard in each episode. As Hirway interviews each artist, the podcast includes isolated parts from a select recording and the musicians explain the origin of each part. Most episodes are between 15 to 20 minutes in length and provide an interesting takeaway about a song. While certain technical aspects are explored, at no point does the podcast overwhelm with studio minutia.

At times the musicians’ explanations can be exorbitant (the seven-year process to create Solange’s “Cranes In The Sky”) or focus on the happy accident (the Lumineers’ microphone clipping during “Ophelia”). Song Exploder will also delve into what did not make it on to the song. The Lumineers had recorded “Ophelia” with the help of the E-Street Band’s horn section. Their efforts were ultimately withheld from the final take because of how the horns changed the tone of the music. You can hear some of the horn section’s contribution on the episode and listen to how their addition altered the band’s traditional sound. Hearing the different cuts of the same song encapsulates why Song Exploder can be interesting for music fans. It highlights the experimentation that can occur in the studio and allows for insight into the creative process.

To date, Song Exploder has already focused on high-profile artists like U2, Michael Kiwanuka, Solange, and Gorrillaz. While most of the song choices are hits like Phoenix’s “Ti Amo,” the podcast also looks at less obvious choices as well. The Black Key’s Patrick Carney was not interviewed for any songs from his Grammy-winning band, but about his instrumental theme for the Netflix series Bojack Horseman.

The most recent episode featured St. Vincent, who discussed her new single “New York.” St. Vincent not only broke down the evolution of the track, but commented on how her affinity for swearing found its way into the song. In a way that is typical of Song Exploder, she also credited the contributions of other artists, such as Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff. Guests like St. Vincent help make the podcast unique. Even though it is more customary to watch a documentary that analyzes the recording of a classic rock album like Pink Floyd or The Beatles, Song Exploder profiles work from both established and rising musicians. This allows for the feeling that you are listening to the construction of a classic from a well-chosen roster of contemporary masters.  


Prior episodes of Song Exploder can be found at: 
http://songexploder.net/

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Game Night: A First Reaction To “Eastwatch”

This post contains spoilers for the Game of Thrones episode “Eastwatch”

The plot twists of the Game of Thrones episode “Eastwatch” may best be defined by the question, “Wait, what?” A pregnancy, dissension in the North, a clandestine scheme to sneak into King’s Landing, and an ultra-unlikely mission to kidnap a wight were just a few of the many surprises of the season’s fifth episode.

A week after ending an episode by teasing the possible death of Jaime Lannister, “Eastwatch” did not waste any time in bringing back one of the show’s principal characters. While he and Bronn survived the battle, they may have wished they had sunk to the bottom of the lake. The episode made one thing clear: Daenerys Targaryen does not plan to conquer Westeros through benevolence. She attempted to make the survivors of the Lannister army an offer that they couldn’t refuse: bend the knee and pledge allegiance or die. Her execution of Randyll and Dickon Tarly provided an interesting conundrum for Tyrion and Varys that may play out in future episodes. Despite the danger that they represent, Daenerys’ overwhelming love of her dragons is blinding her judgment in ways that channel her father. Ultimately, her advisers are coming to terms with the fact that they may be trying to install a crazy cat lady on the Iron Throne.

Following the opening scenes, “Eastwatch” devolved into a bit of a soap opera that muddied the progression of the season. Cersei’s pregnancy was certainly a shocking addition to Game of Thrones. The fact that her brother Jaime will be announced as the father of the child not only makes the prospective gender reveal party awkward, but indicates her intention to double-down on her depravity. This change to the show is certainly unexpected and will be interesting to monitor.

Another intra-family drama to follow is the tension amongst the Stark children that has been put into motion by Littlefinger. After six seasons of following a disbanded family that was strewn throughout Westeros, watching the lack of unity between Arya, Jon, Sansa, and Bran has been uncomfortable. The repeated inclusion of Game of Thrones’ creepiest character, Littlefinger, has become frustrating to watch. No one trusts him, yet he is still in Winterfell. Why he remains in the Starks’ home makes little sense and is part of the deviation from the previous bond between the Stark children. Is Sansa becoming Cersei or is Littlefinger’s scheme a diversion from the show’s creators?

The most surprising story came from the scheme to kidnap a member of the army of the dead to bring Cersei into the fold. By sneaking into King’s Landing, Tyrion’s meeting with Jaime was an interesting scene between the two brothers, but the evolution of the scene was unexplained. How did Tyrion sneak into the Red Keep and how did he contact Bronn?

For a show involving dragons and zombies, the banding together of Jon Snow’s crew, Wildlings, and the Brotherhood Without Banners is one of the least plausible ideas that the series has ever devised. The idea of the Dirty Dozen trekking north to confront a massive army of the dead to bring back proof of life is flat-out nonsensical. All will likely be forgiven in the next episode, because this adventure has the potential to deliver some excitement.

One small nugget in the episode came from the most unexpected source: Gilly. After learning to read she dropped the news of Rhaegar Targaryen’s annulment from his wife to Sam Tarly. While Sam did not comprehend the impact of the news, the scene sets up for future truth bombs regarding Jon Snow’s origin. A cool part of "Eastwatch" came through Gendry's use of a warhammer. That instrument was also the weapon of choice for his father, Robert Baratheon, and was a brilliant choice. 

This season has been filled with fan-pleasing moments at every turn, but this episode was by far the most confounding. For a show known for bewildering revelations, “Eastwatch” included some of the least credible plots yet. There was a lot to digest in the episode. How Game of Thrones is steered from this point will be crucial to the credibility of the writers’ room.


Two Philadelphia Bands With Big Albums Out In August

Philadelphia is home to an eclectic group of rock musicians ranging from the hazy brilliance of Kurt Vile to the adrenalized guitars of Timothy Showalter’s Strand of Oaks. August will witness two important albums from artists in completely different stages – The War on Drugs and Mondo Cozmo. After signing a major label deal in advance of their newest record, Adam Grandiuciel’s band is cementing their status as one of rock’s preeminent groups. Mondo Cozmo is at the crossroads of a unique adventure. The group’s Josh Ostrander is a journeyman musician who is seizing the opportunity created by a life-altering hit and riding a wave of next-level success.

The War on Drugs - One of the biggest bands to come out of Philadelphia in recent years, The War on Drugs are releasing their fourth studio album, A Deeper Understanding, on August 25. In 2014 The War on Drugs released Lost In The Dream, a masterpiece anchored by great songs like “Red Eyes,” “Burning,” and “Under the Pressure.” The album redefined their career path and led to a deal with Atlantic Records.

The War on Drugs have already put out four strong songs ahead of the new record that may be teasing another contemporary classic. The 11-minute track “Thinking of a Place” is a reflective piece with Pink Floydian components. “Strangest Thing” is the epitome of a slow-burner anthem and should be a highlight of their upcoming tour. The fast tempo of “Holding On” almost belies the emotion of some of Granduciel’s deepest lyrics. Some indication of just how much The War On Drugs’ profile has been elevated may come the touching video for “Holding On.” The idea of the video was conceived by actress Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones, Breaking Bad), who is dating frontman Adam Granduciel, and stars Frankie Faison (The Wire, Luke Cage).

The War on Drugs will kick off their world tour at the revamped Dell Music Center on September 21 as a part of ex-Philadelphia Eagle Connor Barwin's Make The World Better Foundation

Mondo Cozmo - After experiencing a long journey with two different bands, Mondo Cozmo frontman Josh Ostrander may finally be on the cusp of something big under his new moniker, Mondo Cozmo. After fifteen years with the bands Laguardia and Eastern Conference Champions, Ostrander found transformative success as a solo artist in Los Angeles in late 2016. While in L.A., his single "Shine" caught fire and landed on top of the Billboard Adult Alternative Single Charts in January 2017. The song that was knocked from the number one spot? The Kings of Leon's "Waste A Moment," which is tied for the second-most weeks atop the Adult Alternative chart.   

His debut album as Mondo Cozmo, Plastic Soul, was released on August 4. While “Shine” is a gospel-style track sung with a Dylan gravel, much of the album is closer to U2’s Achtung Baby. The main constant of Plastic Soul is a collection of songs with a tremendous amount of energy. That vitality may be reflective the excitement of a musician who is grasping the moment. Ostrander’s disjointed path to the top of the charts is best channeled through the impassioned song “Thunder,” where he sings “Come on love, turn me around/it’s been a long [f-ing] year that I can’t wait to leave behind.”

Mondo Cozmo is currently in the midst of an international tour that will stop by the Union Transfer on September 13. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Game Night: A First Reaction To “The Spoils of War”


This post contains spoilers about the Game of Thrones episode “The Spoils of War”

After six seasons of following major characters who have existed in distant storylines, one of the pleasures of this current installment of Game of Thrones has been watching these actors finally converge. The episode “Spoils of War” contained a series of high-level interactions and one cliffhanger that continued one of the show’s most enjoyable seasons.

The fourth episode spent significant time with the Stark clan’s reunion. Sansa and Arya had not seen each other since the first season, yet both have grown in ways that neither could easily describe to one another. While Sansa’s evolution into Lady Stark could be predicted, Arya’s change has been the most unexpected and difficult to explain. Her swordplay skills have gone beyond a childhood hobby. Watching Arya prove her mettle as a trained soldier was important for her character because she was able to show off her abilities to her sister. Despite arduous journeys, both sisters are currently in roles that they were destined to attain. This episode was one of the most satisfying for both characters.

A part of Season Seven that is gradually becoming annoying is Bran Stark’s transition into becoming the Three-Eyed Raven. Bran’s journey has always been at a slower pace than the rest of the Starks, but unlike Sansa and Arya his newfound career is less defined. Although he will most likely play a sizable role throughout the next two seasons, Bran is currently behaving like a moody teenager in the gifted program. Bran’s scenes have become some of the most laborious on the show and he is in desperate need of a breakout moment.

One of the biggest interactions of the season has been Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen’s time together on Dragonstone. “Spoils of War” briefly seemed as if it would take the monarchs’ time together to a new level, but ultimately took a more reserved path. Daenerys has begun to know Jon as more than just a pesky usurper and her understanding of the threat beyond the Wall is now much clearer. This episode also showed that she trusts Jon and respects his abilities as a solider. It was also the most significant step forward in their alliance together.

The best part of the episode, and perhaps the most exciting part of this season, was Daenerys’ ambush of Jamie Lannister’s column as it returned from Highgarden. While the battle was significantly briefer, certain sequences were reminiscent of the Battle of the Bastards. Watching Daenerys unleash her dragons on the Lannisters was a thrilling moment as she delivered a devastating blow to Cersei. The most impressive scenes of the battle came from the incredible skills of the actors portraying Dothraki riders and the close camera work that followed them, Jamie, and Bronn. This show continues to produce these scenes in a way that reinvents what we expect from a television series.

The stunning final scene is a cliffhanger of the Jon Snow variety. It appears to be too obvious that Jamie was killed while trying to commit an act that was both brave and foolhardy. How could a one-armed man who is weighed down by armor possibly survive drowning? Game of Thrones has already saved Jon and the Hound after their characters appeared to be gone. This prediction has one week to fail, but it seems to be more likely that Jamie is next on the list of characters to make a narrow escape. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Delco Baseball League: A Tradition Since 1908

Summers in the Philadelphia area feature a wealth of rituals that are known throughout the region. The shore, fudgy wudgy, and spending the Fourth of July on the Parkway are just some of the annual rites of the Delaware Valley. Few pastimes in Philadelphia have entertained more summers than baseball. With the exception of the Phillies, no formal baseball organization has been a fixture for more generations than the Delco Baseball League.

The semi-pro Delco league was established in 1908, just seven years after the formation of Major League Baseball’s American League, and has remained a staple of the Philadelphia area. The league has crowned champions in every year  except 1918, 1928, and 1933. Notable players include  Hall of Famers Frank “Home Run Baker” and Charles “Chief” Bender. In 1917 Babe Ruth threatened to jump to the Delco league as leverage in a dispute with the Boston Red Sox. Even though he contemplated signing a lucrative contract to pitch for the Chester Shipyards, Ruth remained in Boston and became one of the most important icons in American sports.

The league currently has teams in Narberth, Wayne, Aston Valley, Concord, Springfield, Marple Newtown, Middletown, Upper Darby, and Chester. Narberth and Aston Valley will begin a five-game championship series on August 5.  

Even for an association that has been swinging sticks since the Theodore Roosevelt administration, the league is still capable of producing drama. I first became aware of the Delco League in 2016 when I was asked to help with the championship series. The series between Narberth and Wayne not only featured some good baseball, but it was also capped by a memorable clinching game. A close fifth game was decided in the top of the final inning. With Narberth up 4-3 in the seventh inning and waning daylight threatening to postpone the outcome of the game, Wayne’s Brian Giacobetti lined into a double-play and gave Narberth its first-ever league title.  

The teams, players, and scope of the league have changed over time, but the game remains the same. The Delco League may not garner the attention that the Phillies or events like the Manayunk Arts Festival do, but it is just as much a part of summer as they are. It is a great experience for fans and families looking to enjoy a good ballgame and a unique tradition.

The 2017 Delco Baseball League Finals Schedule:

Game One: Sunday 8/6 @ Narberth 2:00 PM

Game Two: Monday 8/7 @Narberth 5:45 PM

Game Three: Wednesday 8/9 @ Aston Valley 5:45 PM

Game Four: Thursday 8/10 @ Aston Valley 5:45 PM

Game Five: Saturday 8/12 @ Narberth 3:00 PM

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Best of Everything: A Breakdown of My Eight Concert Journey with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers


You know that you have seen a band too many times when you accidentally hand the security guard a ticket for that group’s last show at the venue from 28 days earlier. (That is also when you know that you have to clean out your wallet.) Since 2008, I have seen Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers seven times and their quasi-appearance as Mudcrutch once. Despite hearing the same band play some of the same songs in similar places, it has allowed for an unexpectedly diverse and interesting experience:

Tom Petty and the Hearbreakers, SPAC 6/23/13
The Venues – Tom Petty usually plays at the Wells Fargo Center when he comes to Philadelphia. so naturally I have watched the Heartbreakers there more times (five) than any other place. The different venues have stood out as the most treasured shows. Newark’s Prudential Center was a fun Friday road trip, but the best facility was the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a gorgeous amphitheater in upstate New York.

Seeing Petty, Mike Campbell, and Benmont Tench with Mudcrutch in 2016 at the relatively intimate Fillmore in Philadelphia was the most amazing experience to date. Despite a 40-year run as the Heartbreakers, those three musicians played new material as part of a reunion with some of their former bandmates. It was a Tom Petty show where no Heartbreakers songs were played, but it was also the most fun because it was a completely new listening experience from a group of virtuoso players.

The Openers - I have always appreciated when a band enlists a good opener because it makes the concert experience more complete. My first-ever opening band was The Pretenders and other greats have included the Arctic Monkeys, Sharon Jones, and Trombone Shorty.

Over just six separate Tom Petty tours Steve Winwood (twice), Buddy Guy, The Wallflowers, The Shelters, Peter Wolf (twice), and Joe Walsh have all opened for the Heartbreakers or Mudcrutch. Of those great artists, Joe Walsh and Buddy Guy were by far the two best performers. My memory of Buddy Guy will always be him playing guitar as he walked around the entire floor of the Wells Fargo Center. Joe Walsh’s set contained his best solo material and was so mind-blowing that I felt emotionally drained after the show.

Steve Winwood was also amazing. One of rock’s great journeymen, he joined the Heartbreakers for the Spencer Davis Group’s rollicking “Gimme Some Lovin’” during two separate stops in Philadelphia. In 2014, the crowd was also fortunate enough to watch the Heartbreakers and Winwood play Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home.”  

The Songs - Over eight concerts I have seen the band play 154 total songs. The Heartbreakers played 50 different songs during seven shows and Mudcrutch played 20 songs at the Fillmore. Discounting Mudcrutch, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Learning to Fly,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Refugee,” “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” and “American Girl” have made an appearance at every show. Hearing so many of the same songs has its pluses and minuses. There are some that I will never tire of hearing (“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”) and those that I would be fine never listening to again (“Free Fallin’”), but ultimately it is hard to argue with the rush of 20,000 people singing along to every word of a hit.

Sometimes a live performance creates an appreciation for a track. Prior to the 2017 tour, Long After Dark’s “You Got Lucky” was a tune from the Greatest Hits album that I could skip over. Hearing the Heartbreakers’ synthiest track in concert surprisingly gave the song a completely new sound to me and allowed it to work its way into my recent listening rotation.

The rarities are the most fun. I know not everyone at the show came to hear “Girl on LSD” or “Sweet William,” but the times that I have been able to listen to songs like that have added a great highlight to each concert.  

What’s Left - The fan in me will likely feel somewhat incomplete. I have struck out seven times in the off-chance that the Heartbreakers will play my favorite song, “Swingin’.” While I never expect to hear it, the slight hope that it has been added to the set is always in the back of my mind and at the forefront of my bucket list when I go to a concert. 

Is seeing one band this many times overindulgent and excessive? Probably. Will I still go to a Heartbreakers concert every time I can? Without question. They are my favorite band and seeing them live this often has been a unique experience. Big arenas do not always provide an audience with the chance to enjoy some of the nuances that a great band is capable of. Seeing the Heartbreakers multiple times has allowed me to develop a greater understanding of a special group of musicians and I have savored each chance to go to a show. I can’t wait for the next tour. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Game Night: A First Reaction To “The Queen’s Justice”

This post contains spoilers for the Game of Throne’s episode “The Queen’s Justice”

Game of Thrones enacts revenge as well as any show on television, but the series is outdoing itself in Season Seven. The year began with Arya’s vengeance against House Frey and the second episode ended with Euron’s surprise victory over Yara Greyjoy. In “The Queen’s Justice,” Game of Thrones enacted some of its most poetic justice, even if it came at the expense of some important characters.

The one constant Lenna Headey has delivered throughout seven seasons of Game of Thrones is her ability to make Cersei’s Lannister an enjoyable villain. The coldest dispenser of power south of the Wall, Cersei unwittingly delivered payback to the murderers of two of her children. By killing her enemies with poisons like those that were used to kill her own children, the show carried out Cersei’s justice brilliantly. The double murder of the remaining Sand Snake and Lady Tyrell was some of the most well-done writing that the show has ever delivered. While the death of the acerbic Queen of Thrones is a loss to Game of Thrones, her character’s end was done in a manner that was befitting to Diana Rigg and Cersei.

Cersei went beyond sheer revenge in “The Queen’s” Justice.” Despite long odds, she thwarted Tyrion Lannister’s attack on her family’s castle and demolished two of the houses that were in open rebellion against her. This is also a major victory for Game of Thrones. The show managed to swiftly sidetrack the assumed easy victory over Cersei at King’s Landing and create a more interesting route for Daenerys Targaryen.

Jon Snow and Daenerys are now reluctant allies who need each other despite having separate goals. One episode after Jon would not judge the children of wayward Northern lords due to the crimes of their fathers, Daenerys was asking the same of him in light of her own father’s madness. Their dispositions are also different, creating a more interesting dynamic between the two monarchs. The austere introduction for Daenerys was merely countered with “This is Jon Snow. He’s king in the North.” By Jon not quickly bending his knee and pledging allegiance, the show provides room for a more uneasy alliance throughout the rest of this season.

“The Queen’s Justice” was the most fluid and best-written episode yet in Season Seven. The brilliant plot twists and the sweet revenge from Cersei are strong moments that allowed the Lannisters to get their groove back. Most of the truly shocking moments of Game of Thrones have typically happened in the last two episodes of each season. By not relegating big scenes to the last few episodes, Season Seven has been the least predictable and one of the most enjoyable in the series. 

What True Detective Has To Get Right In Season Three


There are few television series in recent memory that have represented both success and flop more than HBO’s True Detective. Launched as a crime drama anthology in 2014, the first run of the series was an excellent thriller that was powered by strong acting from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The anthology’s 2015 follow-up failed despite a cast that included capable actors like Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Vince Vaughn. After a two-year lay-off the next edition of True Detective is in the works, but the series must learn from the mistakes of the second season to reclaim its status as one of television’s best dramas.

The best detective stories are often like the best westerns. Less is more. More often than not, the dedicated straight shooter is all an audience needs. McConaughey brought that aspect of noir into the 21st Century with his heavy performance as Rust Cohle. He was also joined by Woody Harrelson, who gave a brilliant turn as cop Marty Hart. Writer Nic Pizzolatto’s use of the Deep South as the backdrop for their investigation was also a stellar choice that helped create dark and powerful suspense. This blend allowed for some intense drama that was primarily comprised of psychological intrigue that made True Detective one of the truly great crime dramas to ever appear on television.

Every aspect of True Detective that was a success in season one went the other way in season two. The writing lacked a cohesive storyline and ultimately ended as a disappointment. Even though Farrell turned in a solid performance, neither he, McAdams, Vaughn, or co-star Taylor Kitsch really took over the season as well as McConaughey or complemented it as well as Harrelson. Even the show’s most dramatic moment, the urban shootout, was not as well-done as Cohle and Hart’s drug raid sequence. Both scenes were likely meant to be the high watermark of each season, but the drama of the second season’s shootout was based more in the violence of the moment than a uniquely-filmed emotional ride. Without succinct writing or a clear statement moment, it is hard to define the second season as anything but a step back.

McConaughey and Harrelson in True Detective
The first season of True Detective had several scenes that made the next episode a must-watch event. At no point did the second season of the show have an episode that contained a string of moments that demanded further attention. Another element that was missing from the second season was the lack of chemistry. While neither Hart nor Cohle’s characters had much love for each other throughout most of the series, the on-screen duo of McConaughey and Harrelson was tremendous. This quality was noticeably absent from the second iteration of the series. While a large cast of good actors was present in the second season, at no point did it feel like the actors were given the opportunity to develop a meaningful on-screen presence together.

The confusing nature of the second season’s plot also violated the most important factor in a detective drama’s success: strong writing. Certain genres may be able to escape subpar writing, but good scripts must be in place to deliver a successful detective series.

The third season of True Detective may already be off to a more positive start than its predecessor. On July 26, 2017 HBO announced that Mahershala Ali was the first actor cast for the upcoming True Detective. This casting choice is a perfect way to set the tone for the next version of the series.  Not only was Ali in two films that were nominated for Best Picture for the 2017 Academy Awards (Hidden Figures and eventual winner Moonlight), but he also received the Best Actor nod for his performance in Moonlight as well. He has already acted for HBO (Treme) and proved that he can deliver a complex performance (House of Cards) that a show like True Detective demands.

If HBO and Pizzolatto can return to a more simplified approach, True Detective can regain its potential as a semi-recurring anthology. The network must not emphasize a large cast and should partner Ali with a strong actor who he can develop good chemistry with instead of an ensemble approach. A compelling story with minimal change in the screen time for characters is the best formula for this genre. True Detective should not be like Game of Thrones and follow a host of characters with vaguely connected stories. Whether their mysteries are complex or simple, detective shows are at their best when fewer characters are in play and there is a stripped-down approach to writing.

The creative process for this upcoming season is crucial for the longevity of True Detective. A successful third season will probably result in an extended resurrection of the anthology. If the third season more closely resembles the second run than the first, True Detective will likely be dismissed from HBO’s future and the legacy of the series will be one very successful season that could not recapture its own magic.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Are The Killers Back?


From the minute “Mr. Brightside” was released as a single, The Killers were an “it” band. The Las Vegas group debuted with a roar in 2003 and achieved some serious arena rock glory. While The Killers never really went away, their run of hits waned after their two initial records. Their subsequent albums lacked the same burst of energy that made The Killers so great. Just one track into their new LP, Wonderful Wonderful, it appears that The Killers may have recaptured the magic that made them one of the world’s preeminent bands.

When The Killers first arrived, their music was something that a wide range of people could dance to. Big choruses and catchy riffs made “When You Were Young,” “Mr. Brightside,” and “Somebody Told Me” instant hits. Their first records Hot Fuss (2004) and Sam’s Town (2006) were popular for proms, FM radio, and Rock Band. The band racked up awards and platinum records and received a major nod from Robbie Williams at Live 8. The Killers seemed like a group that could do no wrong.

In their follow-up albums Day & Age (2008) and Battle Born (2012), the rockers crafted two solid records. Both LPs seemed to be more focused around ballads and lead singer Brandon Flowers. While the idea of changing your sound is never a bad concept for a band, the FM hits were not quite there anymore. It was hard to enjoy The Killers without the same bouncy guitar-synth blend that backed the emboldened vocals of front man Brandon Flowers. 

The first glimpse of their new record Wonderful Wonderful indicates that The Killers may have recaptured the excitement that made them one of the most celebrated bands in the world. The single “The Man” instantly grabs the listener’s attention with a burst of noise that is highlighted by some pretty funky guitar. With lyrics like “I know the score like the back of my hand/Them other boys, I don’t give a damn/They kiss the ring, I carry the crown,” the song gives the band a swagger that exceeds their most recent work. If enough of Wonderful Wonderful mirrors “The Man,” The Killers will be able to reclaim their “it” factor and sit alongside contemporary pop’s hitmakers again. 

The initial credits of Wonderful Wonderful indicate that The Killers have made some smart choices for their guests. By recruiting Brian Eno and Mark Knopfler, The Killers brought some heavyweight influences that also make sense as a complement to their sound. The album is set to be released on September 20. Along with The Killers, other rock bands like Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age are also releasing albums as a part of a top-heavy third-quarter in 2017

The video for The Killers' "The Man" - 


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Game Night: A First Reaction To Game of Throne's “Stormborn”

This post contains spoilers for the Game of Thrones episode “Stormborn.”

“Stormborn,” the second episode of Season Seven of Game of Thrones looked like it was on track to accelerate many of the ongoing storylines from the season’s first episode. And then Game of Thrones did what Game of Thrones does: derail predictable stories in swift and dramatic fashion.

After a powerful scene when Daenerys Targaryen confronts the Spider’s past, key characters came closer to uniting some long-awaited stories. Jon Snow is headed South to meet up with Daenerys in order to obtain quantities of  Dragonglass to fight the Night King. Of all the various factors involved in the quest for the Iron Throne and the battle north of the Wall, this potential union is likely the first big step toward the alliance that could define Game of Thrones.

One of the more positive scenes featured Arya Stark. In the first episode of the season she indicated her intent to the kill Cersei Lannister. After finding out that Jon is in control of Winterfell, Arya decided to head north and it now appears that we are finally getting closer to the largest Stark family reunion since season one. Another interesting moment was Jaime Lannister’s offer of a prominent position in the Lannister army to Randyll Tarly. If Tarly accepts Jaime’s offer, that will set him against his son Sam as they work for opposing factions.

All other scenes in the episode feel secondary to the essential destruction of House Martell’s power and Yara Grejoy’s fleet at the hands of Euron Greyjoy. Aspects of the battle felt too chaotic and at times as if they were pulled from deleted Pirates of the Caribbean video extras, but the end result was stunning. Without Yara Greyjoy, Daenerys Targaryen’s plan to conquer Westeros is now altered. The naval battle also left the future of Theon Greyjoy in doubt since he abandoned his sister after she was captured by Euron.

Euron Greyjoy has always been a little goofy, but this was too much. The legacy of “Stormborn” will be its closing scene and it is a shame that Game of Thrones did not execute this battle sequence as well as it has in the past. Episodes like “Battle of the Bastards” and “Hardhome” are examples of high quality production. This battle scene felt campy as a laughing Euron lands onto Yara’s ship aboard an ornate ladder. The sudden nature of the battle felt rushed and underdeveloped. As a result, “Stormborn” lacked the dramatic edge it could have enjoyed had these scenes been filmed differently.  

Season Two Of Stranger Things Looks Like A Thriller

Netflix released the trailer for Season Two of Stranger Things at the San Diego Comic-Con on July 22. The first glimpse of the returning retro-horror series was exciting and erased prior doubts that Netflix could manage to recreate the show’s outstanding first season with a similar level of success.

Season One of Stranger Things was such binge-watching perfection that I was leery about the prospects of a second season. The initial series was one of the great shows of 2016, but I was concerned that Stranger Things would not be able to replicate its adrenaline-rousing success. The opportunity for the perfect one-off horror series was there for Netflix, but this seemed like an instance where more did not necessarily mean better.

After viewing the new trailer, I have been converted from a skeptic to a believer because Season Two of Stranger Things looks as if it may be something extra special.  

The trailer is a masterpiece in itself. It returns the audience to Hawkins, Indiana and follows the children as they play in a video game arcade before the excitement goes into hyperdrive. After music slowly creeps into the video, Vincent Price’s famous spoken word monologue from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” enters the trailer and a remix of the famous song comes into play as the action reaches a crescendo. Whatever Netflix paid to the Jackson estate to use “Thriller” was worth every penny. 

One of the strongest attributes of the first run of Stranger Things was the detail throughout every aspect of the set. The production crew did a wonderful job of making the audience feel like they were in the '80s without going overboard. The well-placed minutia of Stranger Things appears to be intact. A Reagan-Bush ’84 sign is planted on a lawn, the kids are playing in a video game arcade, and the wonderful fashion and decor of the decade remains in place.

The added setting of Halloween may be the genius stroke of this edition of Stranger Things. Because the series returns on October 27, it may help immerse the audience into the show even more as trick-or-treaters knock on their own doors. The most entertaining addition to Stranger Things may be that the kids are wearing Ghostbusters costumes. Can you have a more perfect wardrobe choice for a retro horror series than the main characters wearing Ghostbusters gear as they chase a spooky paranormal phenomenon?

The trailer does more than just drop the audience into another decade. The look of fear on Winona Ryder’s face and the terror in the eyes of the children as they tangle with their new challenge promotes the same feelings of anxiety. The goosebumps and excitement of Stranger Things are back.  


Check out the Stranger Things trailer: 


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dunkirk Is A Film Without Peer

The template for war films has been well-established for decades. The audience either follows a likeable group of Average Joe soldiers as they go about their business or admires generals as they plot out genius strategies.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is not a conventional war film. The movie uses sparse dialogue and stunning visuals to convey the feelings of the people involved in the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940. There is no saving Private Ryan. No guns of Navarone. No Patton. It is a simplified version of The Longest Day that is brought to life with incredible technology and a directing style that is closely aligned with a psychological thriller.

There is no traditional narrative in place for Dunkirk. The film is centered around different groups of people that were involved with separate phases of the evacuation on land, air, and sea. The movie also condenses the timeline of Dunkirk by blending their actions together in a way that promotes a sense of urgency.

The primary focus of the film is on a small group of soldiers who undergo various trials as they try different measures of desperation to get from France to England under the duress of German troops, U-boats, and aircraft. Dunkirk also follows pilots of the Royal Air Force with limited fuel as they tangle with the Luftwaffe. The third group of the movie is a small boat crewed by English civilians as they try to help their fellow countrymen return home.

None of the characters are ever fleshed out with a backstory or secondary plot. Every actor on screen is either just trying to get home or demonstrating courage trying to help others across the English Channel. It is not an over-the-top action film either. At no point does the movie feel like Nolan is showing off what he can do with blood tubes or pyrotechnics. Most of the drama is psychological and emotional and there is little small talk between the characters.

Before its release, Nolan’s prolific use of IMAX cameras was a widely-discussed aspect of the film. Dunkirk is an undeniable visual masterpiece.

Jack Lowden as RAF pilot Collins 
The aerial photography of Dunkirk is a singular achievement. While it does not occur at the Mach speeds of a previous triumph in movie dogfighting, Top Gun, Christopher Nolan does succeed at putting the audience in the cockpit with fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force. There are several moments where the omniscience of the IMAX cameras capture breathtaking shots around the Spitfire aircraft as pilots fly above the English Channel or spar with German aircraft.

Nolan’s approach to these moments is the essence of Dunkirk. There are scenes when claustrophobia and terror consume the story. These feelings are also promoted by subtle and obvious reminders that time is the most crucial obstacle to survival. Any reaction to the moment is a byproduct of Nolan’s skill at pushing the visual and emotional envelope.

Dunkirk may not be for a wide audience, but that does not mean that the film is not accessible to everyone. It is the type of movie that requires suspension of traditional expectations. Audience members that require quippy scripts and an orderly structure for movies may not enjoy Dunkirk, but a change in approach to viewing the film may be a healthy break from the usual blockbuster.

There is no overall plot to be hashed out, although you do not have to invent a complex script when trying to bring an event like Dunkirk to the screen. You can appreciate the film by knowing that much of what happened is a depiction of the real struggles of 400,000 men and a nation desperate to survive. What Christopher Nolan and the cast do best is put the audience on the beaches, in the air, and on the sea with men who are just trying to get home. 

Dunkirk trailer: