03.02.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW
1. ALBUM Dark Was The Night Various Artists
With songs from the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Conor Oberst, Antony, Sharon Jones, Andrew Bird, The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, Bon Iver, Feist, Kronos Quartet and My Morning Jacket, can you afford not to own this two disc set that helps raise funds for awareness of HIV and AIDS? The Books’ cover of Nick Drake’s “Cello Song” is a real stunner. “So Far Around the Bend,” sung by the Nationals features a fantastic arrangement by Nico Muhly. I don’t know when this column became an Antony love-fest, but his cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Was Young When I Left Home” is sweet and melodious, his vocals again demonstrating an incredible ability at interpretation. And then there’s Sufjan, who has created a 10-minute epic that runs through every genre including an incredible classical bit that makes you wonder what else he’s hiding up those magic music-making sleeves of his.
2. STAGE Uncle Vanya at CSC
With Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard headlining, I was a little nervous about how well they would tackle Chekov as opposed to just getting ticket sales up. But I was pleasantly surprised to find an excellent production presented to me, bringing out both the deep sadness of these twisted characters as well as modern touches of humor that kept the show very much alive. Denis O’Hare plays the off-kilter title role with great aplomb, finding a balance between sympathy and brushes of insanity. And Sarsgaard gave an impressive performance as the doctor teetering on a different edge, his talent especially evident in the extended drunken scene at the end of the first act. All in all, an excellent night at the theater if you can get over the set, which offers blocked views from all three sides of the tiny theater depending on where the action is occurring. It was apparently in the effort of creating tiny moments for specific sections of the audience (a very cool idea) that left me feeling like I missed parts of the show.
3. FOOD Freemans
Nestled in a hard to find alley on the Lower East Side, this restaurant is serving simple, no fuss, but absolutely delicious flavors. Outfitted in taxidermy animals, the restaurant feels warm and cozy by way of the hunting lodge. I would fully recommend starting with the incredible hot artichoke dip with crisp bread and take the entrée as appetizer route with the three cheese macaroni. I then moved on to a simple seared filet mignon with a dollop of scrumptious horseradish cream on top, matched with roasted onion and mashed potatoes. If you want something a little more flavorful, go with the slow cooked heritage pork with braised cabbage and smoked garlic jus. The meat was so tender and well cooked it fell straight off the bone. To accompany your meal grab a fantastic cocktail from the expert mixologist at the bar (they even serve the elusive French 75) and I can guarantee you a wonderful NYC meal at a very respectable price.
4. SHORT FILM Glory at Sea
A community is devastated by a storm, leaving the surviving inhabitants without their true loves. Rather than rebuilding the community, they choose to band together and build a boat, believing that a mysterious stranger can take them away to a new place, away from the pain. Filled with watery images, bodies lifelessly floating in the deep, zany side characters, beds in trees, piles of mementos and things that once held meaning to their now deceased owners, this odd approach to understanding tragedy is also extremely effective. The camera finds beauty in the everyday, using natural landscape to fill the frame with lasting images. A propulsive score of trumpets and strings adds to the rich texture of the film. And best of all, you can watch for free, just click the link above.
5. ALBUM A Hundred Million Suns Snow Patrol
Powerpop has never sounded so good. There’s no doubt that the band has turned to a bit more of a cheerful sound, using those driving drum beats to back hook filled melodies. The first single from the album, “Take Back the City,” is one of my absolute favorites. Blast this thing while walking down the streets of NYC and you will feel completely indestructible. Also worth a listen is “The Golden Floor,” with its dreamy vocals and rhythm that gets into your blood and doesn’t let go. But just so you don’t think they’ve gone totally soft, take a listen to the sullen sounding “Set Down Your Glass,” a guitar ballad with remarkably insightful lyrics on the development of relationships over time.
6. FOOD Halfsteak at Craftsteak
Chef Tom Colicchio has turned the bar area of his famous Craftsteak into a new outfit, Halfsteak, in which every dish on the menu is under $15. From the appetizer menu (priced at just $6) I would highly recommend the very flavorful fried oysters with smoked coleslaw served on the shell as well as the fried mac & cheese with tomato marmalade, an odd flavor combination that actually works. It’s hard not to order the $14 half steak with fries and it most certainly wont disappoint. The chicken and lobster pot pie is also loaded with juicy flavors and a wonderful flaky pastry crust. And to top off the meal, there’s an ice cream sandwich of the day, which on my trip was a surprisingly tasty homemade oatmeal cookie with fantastic cinnamon ice cream.
7. SONG/VIDEO “Straight Lines” by Dawn Landes
I find myself constantly drawn back to this song for its simple sing-able melody and nostalgic lyrics. I also have a sweet spot for strumming guitars mixed with a toy piano and some excellent male backup vocals contrasting with Landes’ very female and sweet vocal line. The video is a perfect match, capturing a sun soaked playful vibe and is quite possibly the only time I’ve really liked the use of rack focus with that colorful spinning mobile. It’s a nice nod to filmmaking with very little cash at your disposal. Definitely an artist to watch as her star is bound to rise.
8. MOVIE The Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Parts of this movie had been shoved down my throat for four years of film school (seriously, how many times can you show the Odessa Steps sequence?) And yet, watching it again, outside of the classroom, I was extremely impressed with all of the things I was supposed to be impressed with back then. Sergei Eisenstein, the theorizer of montage editing, was in great form throughout this silent film documenting a 1905 mutiny against the Tsarist regime. The edits are precise and visceral, the framing gorgeous, such faces and expressions that you simply cannot recreate. You can truly see the birth of so much of the editing style that dominates modern moviemaking. Also worth viewing to hear an original Shostakovich score that beautifully accompanies the drama.
9. SONG “Wanderlust” by Delays
This song from the English indie outfit always pops up on my iPod and makes me so happy. That island sound from a steel drum riff throughout drops me right into the song and mixes so fantastically with the band’s vibe playing over it. Greg Gilbert’s odd falsetto, one of those voices that I had to get used to before embracing it entirely, is perfectly suited to the ethereal nature of this track. But at the end of the day, it’s all in the lyrics. From the opening line asking “Can you hear that knocking in your soul?” and the final assertion that “All that matters is the music.” I couldn’t agree more…
10. MOVIE Call Me Madam (1953)
This Irving Berlin musical is absolutely ridiculous from plot to much of the music, but it does feature the incomparable and loud Ethel Merman. She takes on the improbable role of a wealthy socialite who gets appointed as ambassador to a fictional European duchy. The usual musical high jinks arise with parallel love stories about Merman and the Foreign Minister and the princess with madam ambassador’s assistant, played by one of my favorites, the incredible Donald O’Connor. Forget the story, you will after you’ve watched it anyway, but do rent the DVD if for nothing else than to watch O’Connor dance gorgeously with the elegant Vera-Ellen and to hear Berlin’s score (when it’s good, it’s really good), including “The Best Thing For You Would Be Me” all in stunningly remastered sound and Technicolor.