Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau/CAP UCLA

They don’t look like they should be on the same stage together. Chris Thile, a mandolin player of almost supernatural gifts, now firmly ensconced in “A Prairie Home Companion,” boyish and tousled, in jeans and a striped sweater; Brad Mehldau, an equally talented jazz pianist, his cropped hair grey, dressed in black jeans, jacket t-shirt and boots. As they start playing, you could believe they’re from different worlds—Thile all smiles and ease, rocking on the balls of his feet, unfazed by a problem with his in-ear monitors (his eyes light up when, a few songs later, he tries them again, and they work); Mehldau serious and composed. What they share an endless curiosity and collaborative nature; they travel in wide orbits.

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Photo by Kathleen Schenck/CAP UCLA

While Friday night’s performance at The Theatre at Ace Hotel kicked off this year’s CAP UCLA season, its spiritual home was a few miles northwest at  Largo.  Both Mehldau and Thile are veterans of both Largos—the original club on Fairfax Avenue and the sit-down Largo at the Coronet on La Cienega, where the kind of expansive cross-genre music they play is not just accepted but encouraged.

“That Old Shade Tree,” which opened their show and their Nonesuch album, touches on jazz, folk, soul, and rock, but arrives at something that sounds like nothing but itself. Thile starts out strumming damped strings, his angelic falsetto dropping into his tenor with the speed and force of a felled tree,  Mehldau’s piano laying down down an inquisitive line which turns full-throated and assured, a flower opening up at the first sign of sun. As a statement of intent and introduction, it’s damn near perfect.

That level in invention and surprise was sustained throughout the 90-minute performance. It’s music made with a light touch but serious ambition.  They even manage a Largo trifecta with a wonderfully refracted version of Fiona Apple’s “Fast As You Can.” “I Cover The Waterfront” was brooding and noirish, their playing as enveloping and cool as a slow-moving fog. Joni Mitchell’s “Marcie” retains the song’s lovely rock-skipping melody, but strips away the original recording’s mannered production. Thile’s tender vocal emphasizes the song’s melancholy: the letter undelivered, her unexplained exit, the rumors take on darker, more complex shadings. And his “Noise Machine” is a stunner. A lullaby to an colicky child, the singer tired but loving, both amazed and frightened, the refrain “your mother is a hero,” comforting them both.  But he just seems too nice a guy to pull off “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” one of Dylan’s nastiest kiss-offs. He knows it, too, and makes a joke of the final “you just wasted my precious time.” Musically, it’s another story, as their arrangement touches on Irving Berlin, bluegrass, Monk, and Tatum. It’s a joyous expression of freedom, the the instruments taking down the road with a light step and full of optimism.

 

 

 

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Donald Trump, Patsy

Here’s a headline from Breitbart. It looks like they’re going to explain away Il Douché’s deal-making apostasy in the much the same way they did Reagan’s: Those wily Democrats fooled him!

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They’ll tell you that Reagan was a great president, a master tactician and communicator, in full control of his faculties…except when the Democrats tricked him into that amnesty deal…and made him raise taxes….and, oh yeah, forced him to make a deal with Iran to fund the contras which he totally didn’t want to do but had to…because the Democrats passed a law making funding the Contras illegal.
The difference is that in Reagan’s case, they had the grace and good manners to wait a few years before revising history; today, they’re doing it on the fly, adapting their  excuses as the President treats policy decisions like Faye Dunaway in Chinatown: “They’re the Dreamers/They’re Illegal….”They’re the Dreamers/They’re Illegal….”

Not Just Another Night with Ian Hunter

Everyone has that old friend: someone who used to be a big part of your life, helping you get through the tough times and celebrate the good times, but over the years you’ve lost touch. Lately, probably through social media, you’ve reconnected. Facebook postings, emails, the occasional phone call, maybe a visit once or twice a year. It will never be what it once was, but you’re glad they’re part of your life.

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Ian Hunter, flashing a smile at the Teragram Ballroom, 12September17

Ian Hunter is like that old friend. The two Mott the Hoople shows I saw growing up (at the Felt Forum and during their Uris Theater run) were stunning and inclusive. Where Bowie and bands such as the Stones seemed otherworldly, Hunter embraced his fans. He was a little older, but willing to show you the ropes—like your father’s cool friend, or that hip professor. He understood what it meant to be a fan in the way many of his contemporaries didn’t.

And it was great to see him last night at the Teragram Ballroom (the best-sounding room in Los Angeles, thanks to another old pal, Robin Danar). Some of the old stories are brought out for another run—sure, you know how they go, and if some of the details have faded away, that’s fine. There’s also some catching up to do, new stories to be told. If they’re not as memorable or dramatic as the old ones, that’s fine. You’re just happy to see him looking and sounding so good at 78.

It took a few songs for Hunter and the Rant Band to find their feet. The first two or three were plagued by equipment problems, which seemed to throw everyone off their game. By the time they leaned into “When I’m President,” Hunter and the Rant Band were back in business. The years have scuffed up his voice a bit, which shortens the distance he needs to travel in order to sound Dylan-ish (“Just Another Night” and “All American Alien Boy” could be outtakes from Planet Waves and Street Legal, respectively.)

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Ian Hunter (right) and, beneath the hat, Johnny Depp—auditioning, apparently, for the lead in “The Jack White Story.”

He’s also self-aware enough to joke about the problems of being a legacy act. “You do a new song, and the punters all wonder, ‘what’s he on about now’,” he joked after playing “Dandy,” his tribute to Bowie (from last year’s Fingers Crossed),  “if you play the old ones, and the record company complains ‘he’s playing the same old shit’.” After pausing for the knowing laugh, he broke into a big grin, and added “well, here’s some of the same old shit,” before launching into a rollicking  “The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nuthin’ But The Truth.” Compared to the old Mott favorites, that’s a relative newcomer. And the new material is good. A song like “Ghosts” is exactly what you want to hear from an septeganian rocker: an elegiac dream, which could also describe re-listening the music you grew up with. “The turntable spinning ’round/Put the needle down,” he pleads.

This is as good a place as any to bring up just how fine the Rant Band sounds. Jim Mastro and Mark Bosch continue Hunter’s streak of playing with great guitarists (Johnny Depp, who joined the band for a few songs, perhaps not. He does try and look the part, in all black and a lit cigarette dangling from his lip.) Steve Holley, formerly of Wings, is behind the drum kit.

So, who cares if Hunter flubbed the lyrics to the first verse of “All The Way From Memphis”? He shrugged it off,  knowing “you climb up the mountains and fall down the holes.” This might not have been an evening that goes down in the book, but it warmed the soul.  At the end of the encore (his cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” then “All The Young Dudes” sliding into “Goodnight, Irene”), he saluted the crowd, bidding the audience  goodnight and, ever the trouper, reminding them to come again.

I’ll be there. That’s what friends do.


Not Just Another Night with Ian Hunter

Everyone has that old friend: someone who used to be a big part of your life, helping you get through the tough times and celebrate the good times, but over the years you’ve lost touch. Lately, probably through social media, you’ve reconnected. Facebook postings, emails, the occasional phone call, maybe a visit once or twice a year. It will never be what it once was, but you’re glad they’re part of your life.

fullsizeoutput_583

Ian Hunter, flashing a smile at the Teragram Ballroom, 12September17

Ian Hunter is like that old friend. The two Mott the Hoople shows I saw growing up (at the Felt Forum and during their Uris Theater run) were stunning and inclusive. Where Bowie and bands such as the Stones seemed otherworldly, Hunter embraced his fans. He was a little older, but willing to show you the ropes—like your father’s cool friend, or that hip professor. He understood what it meant to be a fan in the way many of his contemporaries didn’t.

And it was great to see him last night at the Teragram Ballroom (the best-sounding room in Los Angeles, thanks to another old pal, Robin Danar). Some of the old stories are brought out for another run—sure, you know how they go, and if some of the details have faded away, that’s fine. There’s also some catching up to do, new stories to be told. If they’re not as memorable or dramatic as the old ones, that’s fine. You’re just happy to see him looking and sounding so good at 78.

It took a few songs for Hunter and the Rant Band to find their feet. The first two or three were plagued by equipment problems, which seemed to throw everyone off their game. By the time they leaned into “When I’m President,” Hunter and the Rant Band were back in business. The years have scuffed up his voice a bit, which shortens the distance he needs to travel in order to sound Dylan-ish (“Just Another Night” and “All American Alien Boy” could be outtakes from Planet Waves and Street Legal, respectively.)

fullsizeoutput_582

Ian Hunter (right) and, beneath the hat, Johnny Depp—auditioning, apparently, for the lead in “The Jack White Story.”

He’s also self-aware enough to joke about the problems of being a legacy act. “You do a new song, and the punters all wonder, ‘what’s he on about now’,” he joked after playing “Dandy,” his tribute to Bowie (from last year’s Fingers Crossed),  “if you play the old ones, and the record company complains ‘he’s playing the same old shit’.” After pausing for the knowing laugh, he broke into a big grin, and added “well, here’s some of the same old shit,” before launching into a rollicking  “The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nuthin’ But The Truth.” Compared to the old Mott favorites, that’s a relative newcomer. And the new material is good. A song like “Ghosts” is exactly what you want to hear from an septeganian rocker: an elegiac dream, which could also describe re-listening the music you grew up with. “The turntable spinning ’round/Put the needle down,” he pleads.

This is as good a place as any to bring up just how fine the Rant Band sounds. Jim Mastro and Mark Bosch continue Hunter’s streak of playing with great guitarists (Johnny Depp, who joined the band for a few songs, perhaps not. He does try and look the part, in all black and a lit cigarette dangling from his lip.) Steve Holley, formerly of Wings, is behind the drum kit.

So, who cares if Hunter flubbed the lyrics to the first verse of “All The Way From Memphis”? He shrugged it off,  knowing “you climb up the mountains and fall down the holes.” This might not have been an evening that goes down in the book, but it warmed the soul.  At the end of the encore (his cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” then “All The Young Dudes” sliding into “Goodnight, Irene”), he saluted the crowd, bidding the audience  goodnight and, ever the trouper, reminding them to come again.

I’ll be there. That’s what friends do.


Preaching to the KORUS

You didn’t think a natural disaster would stop the man-made disaster currently ensconced in the Oval Office, did you?

Because, even though Il Douché is currently focussed on Hurricane Harvey: visiting Houston, telling residents there was “a lot of water, a lot of water,” marveling at the “happiness” all around him, and telling the crowd to “have a good time,” there were other things on his mind. Namely, South Korea.

According to the Washington Post, the President is considering withdrawing from a free trade deal with South Korea, known as KORUS. Senior advisors, including H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn are trying to talk him out of leaving.

Eye of the Koreacane

And it’s not just because of the hit the American consumer to take if we withdraw. Cellphones, electronic devices such as TVs and computers, and automobiles will become more expensive, but more importantly, it could isolate South Korea at a time when the North is growing more belligerent.

There has to be some reason why would anyone want to roil the waters of an already unstable area:

Trump has expressed widespread frustration that he has not been able to follow through on campaign promises to rip up trade deals that he argues have disadvantaged U.S. workers. He came close several months ago to starting a withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement, but he stopped short after intense lobbying by advisers and the business community.

He needs to appease his base. Harvey has forced him to confront reality —even touting the necessity of the federal government—and that is driving the Breitbart wing crazy. Or, to be precise, crazier. Sebastian Gorka, who appearently can’t not sound like a bad James Bond villian, warned that “it is clear to me that forces that do not support the MAGA promise are – for now – ascendant within the White House.”  McMaster and Cohn are scorned as “globalists” by the alt-right, so their opposition to withdrawing only makes Breitbart, InfoWars, and Sean Hannity: Presidential Proctologist!  cheer it on harder.  Steve Bannon may be out of the West Wing, but his influence lingers, like a cheap cologne.

 

 


Obscene Paragraphs—Begging the Pardon Edition

This gem leapt out at me while reading the NYTimes’ report on Il Douché’s press conference today with the Finnish President. He was asked about his pardon of the risible Joe Arpaio:

“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly,” Mr. Trump said during a joint news conference with President Sauli Niinisto of Finland in the East Room of the White House. The president and Mr. Arpaio share a hard line on illegal immigration and unapologetic support of the police, and the former sheriff was an ardent backer of Mr. Trump’s campaign last year.

On the other hand, he apparently believes that shackling a pregnant woman is just peachy. That’s the kind of tough policing tinhorn dictators admire.


Tr**p & His Generals

After last night’s edition of “Triumph of the Shill” (why, yes, I do like this gag…that’s why I keep using it), we got to see the non-shouty Tr**p speak to the American Legion this morning,. He pretty much stuck the script, even asking (I imagine) General Kelly if he could call up a Medal Of Honor winner to say a few words. While the man was quickly turned into a prop; once they had saluted and shook hands, Il Douché turned his back on him, leaving to poor man to stand beside him like he was Steve Mnuchin. Still, it’s probably as close to “Presidential” as we can expect while he’s in office.

Which means that, this week, on Monday and Wednesday at least, you had a man at least met the minimum requirements of the office. You still get the feeling he has the understanding and mental acuity of President Wilson after his stroke, (or an especially smart, if excitable, poodle), but at least he didn’t embarrass himself.

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And what did Monday and Wednesday have in common: both speeches were made in front of an audience in uniform—troops at Ft Myers on Monday, the American Legion today. Tuesday, he was back in front of his base, engaging his basest instincts.

It’s not that he’s that much better; the rhetoric was pedestrian and he delivered both speeches in that sing-songy rollercoaster voice he falls into whenever he reads off a teleprompter. The phrases come in fits and starts, his voice raising and falling, emphasizing words in a random manner, leading you to believe he’s not really connecting with them. But at least he’s not accusing the press of treason, or threatening to pardon Joe Arpaio. He’s still a sulky teen, but the discipline that was beat into him at Military School kicks in. There’s no way he’s going to embarrass himself in front of officers.

Which makes me wonder: is it possible for “his Generals”—Kelly, McMaster, Mattis—to get dispensation to wear their uniforms even though they’re retired? It would be a bit jarring to a country used to civilian rule to see so many uniforms on government officials, but he already acts as if he’s a tin horn dictator, so why not look the part. It might be the only way to keep Tr**p in check.

 


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