Saturday, August 09, 2008

The dogged days of August

It's been a little quiet on the blog front of late, I'm afraid. The main culprit: A move from Boston to Los Angeles next week and hectic deadlines at work. But here's a roundup of what I've been reading, watching, and listening to over the past month.

WATCHING: Last night's opening ceremonies at the Olympics qualify as the 8th wonder of the world. I've never seen anything like it. Thousands of performers in seemingly computer-synchronized choreography of algorithmic complexity. If this was China's attempt to intimidate visiting athletes -- a sort of rugby Haka writ large -- it more than succeeded. If you missed it, YouTube it.

TV-wise, it's Psych and reality shows such as So, You Think You Can Dance? which, in many ways, is far superior to "American Idol" because the judges are more articulate -- when Mary Murphy isn't screaming like Robert Plant on helium, that is. And seasoned British host Cat Deeley is the best emcee on television. Movie-wise, I was apparently one of the 10 people in North America that saw The X-Files: I Want My Money Back. Fact: More people have seen "Space Chimps" than the second -- and, I reckon, last -- Mulder and Scully film. It's one of the most dismal big-screen experiences ever. Unforgivably dull and not in the least cinematic, the film barely included anything supernatural, and the performances weren't super natural, either. The Dark Knight, however, exceeded all my expectations.

READING: Haven't had as much reading time as I'd have liked and my bookshelf is now fully packed, but I am half way through David Wroblewski's The Story of David Sawtelle, perhaps the most acclaimed debut novel of 2008. It's Dickensian in length and its gold-bar size doesn't exactly qualify it as beach reading. But its "Hamlet" inspired tale of a mute boy and his canine companion is perfect for the dog days of August. But it's utterly compelling and beautifully written.

Next up for me is a galley copy of When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson, one of my very favorite authors.

LISTENING TO: Lots of Radiohead at the moment as Kim and I will be seeing them Wednesday night, which will be a great send off before we jet to Los Angeles the following day.

Last week we saw The Police again and it was a fine farewell gig, albeit a little too short and, unforgivably, no "Synchronicity II" this time around! I had hoped that the trio would record new material because Sting's solo songs are smothered in smooth sounds. (How's that for alliteration, eh?) I'd love for him to pare down his material for a leaner discipline on his next album. And, no, I don't mean making another record of lute music.

We just saw Coldplay for the fifth time and, if Chris Martin's falsetto seemed as fragile as his artistic temperament, he more than made up for it with boundless enthusiasm. The outstanding light show by designer Paul Normandale, increasingly the go-to-guy for cutting-edge stage presentations, centered around massive Christmas-tree light bulbs that were suspended above the crowd and projected images or refracted them like gigantic marbles. The band included some other nice touches: Dashing down the side aisle to the nosebleed section to play a couple of acoustic tracks. As populist touches go, it was most welcome for those of us in the cheap seats.

Earlier in July, I enjoyed club dates by Joseph Arthur, one of my very favorite songwriters, and Shearwater, my favorite discovery of 2008.

Album-wise, I've been loving "Absent Lovers," a 1980s live album by King Crimson. The setlist corrals the band's finest songs, I think, and the lineup of Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford, and Tony Levin is perhaps only surpassed by the current touring lineup which sees Pat Mastelotto and Porcupine Tree drum god Gavin Harrison taking over the backstage stools for a double-drum formation.

Also on frequent rotation: The Best of The Beta Band. (It's not pronounced Beta as in VHS, but "bee-tah." Must be a Scottish thing.) Until now, I only owned their final album, the tremendous "Heroes to Zeros," but this compilation reveals how good their earlier material was, too. Their unusual amalgamation of sounds and psychedelia is reminiscent in feel of Love. I have to thank my friend Simon for that one, as well as supplying me with albums by The Cure, Ulrich Schnauss, Field Music, and The Editors. What a heaven-send during all the packing. Speaking of which, I really must return to taping up some more boxes...

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