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3.23.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW

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1. MUSICAL HAIR
Rarely have I seen such energy and enthusiasm radiating from a stage of young performers to the point that chills ran up and down my back as they sang “Let the Sunshine In,” taking on what should be an extremely dated performance piece and yet still speaks to audiences in a potent and real way. What is easy to forget about this work is how amorphous it is, really just a concert of songs with a bit of a narrative as a backbone. You get incredible music that tells the story of a time, a time that I certainly wasn’t around for, but feel closer to, thanks to the ups and downs of drugs, sex, the draft, the Vietnam War, hippies, yippies and everything else that went into a generation that changed the world. All of this would be lost without the incredible performances of Gavin Creel as Claude, Bryce Ryness as Woof and Will Swenson taking on Berger with a swagger making him beloved while still completely incorrigible. But the one who stole the show was Sasha Allen of Camp fame as Dionne, opening the show with a glorious rendition of “Aquarius.” There is absolutely no reason to miss this Tribe’s performance.

2. MOVIE I Love You, Man (2009)
The concept of a bro-mance gets a facelift thanks to Paul Rudd’s supreme sense of comedy, brilliant awkward comic timing and ability to date men without turning it into a poor taste gay joke. I can’t say that I often laugh out loud during movies, but this one had my sides hurting through numerous unexpected gaffs that ranged from timely to classic to truly worthy of the R rating. But the true joy of this movie comes from the comic turns of hilarious side characters like Jaime Pressly and Jon Favreau as a constantly bickering couple that has excellent sex, Lou Ferrigno lampooning his own Hulk alter-ego, and the incredible Thomas Lennon of Reno 911 fame as a spurned potential male love interest for Rudd.

3. ACTIVITY Skeet Shooting in Ringwood, NJ
I’m as shocked as everyone else that this happened and that it made my list, but man it was fun. A short drive outside of the city to rural New Jersey (my sense of rural might be different than the rest of the world’s) brought a small mix of gays and girls to Thunder Mountain where we learned to hold up a shotgun and shoot bright orange clay pigeons as they sailed across the sky and all for a small fee ($17 plus a tip). And the greatest surprise was that apparently I have aim. Of the six in the company, I was the second highest in hits, with 15 out of 25. It was quite a miraculous transition from the faces of horror as we pulled up (locals carrying guns, anti-Obama stickers on car bumpers, oh my!) to faces of sheer delight at handling live ammo. For proof of the good times, check out these photos.

4. ALBUM Hazards of Love The Decemberists
The band is up to it’s usual tricks and adding a few excellent new ones to the list. The album plays as an epic story of one woman’s trials and tribulations with love. Unlike previous story songs in which lead singer Colin Meloy voices multiple characters, this album has actually been cast with the beautiful song stylings of Becky Stark and Shara Worden. While the sound certainly fits into the canon of this band, there’s more straightforward rock influences to be found, especially in a track like “A Bower Scene.” I especially like the baroque sounds of “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid” and the first single from the album, the rocking epic in itself, “The Rake’s Song,” with it’s amazing heart pounding percussion. What I love about this album is the smooth transition from one sound to the next. The operatic structure has forced the band to create a complete set of themes (evidenced in The Tain and to some extent with The Crane Wife) that play in and out throughout one listen as opposed to creating these individualized moments of bliss.

5. SHORT Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf or Death
I cannot even begin to express my pleasure at seeing these two familiar faces floating across my screen again. Up to the usual high jinks of solving crimes, Wallace bumbles around and Gromit is always there to pick up the pieces. This time it’s a madcap caper about baked goods as a mysterious serial killer kills off the baking competition. Nick Park is in good form, the animation is as sumptuous as ever, with all the gadgets and gizmos that make this pair’s life easier and more complicated at the same time. For anyone that has loved these characters, or any of Nick Park’s creations, this is a must see (and available for free, so there’s no reason not to watch).

6. MUSIC VIDEO “If I Know You” The Presets
While this music video isn’t the most attractive thing ever shot, there is something to be said about the joy it manages to capture. A lonely child moves through a daily routine until all of a sudden an arm jerks, then a fancy bit of footwork until he breaks out into an incredibly liberating dance along Hollywood Boulevard. As he moves about the sun soaked streets, other youths join in the dance, as if pulled and propelled toward each other until everyone gathers for a tribal dance around a fire. The choreography is straight out of Billy Elliot, the “Angry Dance” from the stage version or the dance in the streets of the slums in the movie. Such infectious youth and energy without limits or discrimination feels completely liberating in this clip. You sort of wish life were really like this or that you yourself felt comfortable enough to bust a crazy move in public, but then you’d be “one of those people.”

7. ALBUM Bare Bones Madeleine Peyroux
Peyroux, matched again with producer Larry Klein, has created a sonically similar album to her last outing, and thankfully that’s a wonderful thing. Her unique voice is in good form, channeling Billie Holiday’s distinct husky rasp. The production is filled with guitars, jazz organs and soft percussion making for an easy listen. What distinguishes this album is Peyroux has had a hand in penning much of the music that appears here, eschewing the usual batch of covers generating a far more personal feeling record. I especially like “Damn the Circumstances,” with it’s stripped down production and more classic singer/songwriter vibe. “You Can’t Do Me” brings the tempo up a bit, giving a more funk sound with influences of older Stevie Wonder. To get a sense of the album, the inspiration and the artist, take a look at the EPK for the album.

8. SONG “Strange Days” J.J. Cale
This driving bit of guitar and banjo picking just jumped out at me listening to J.J. Cale’s new album, Roll On, standing in contrast while still embracing that Tulsa Sound that Cale is famous for. The song goes straight into the rocking complex jumble of plucked instruments, and then Cale’s smooth voice layers over it, duplicated and sounding like a throwback to those that he’s inspired like Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler. I wish I had more inspired words for listening to this song (or a link so that you could listen to this song) but sometimes, you just have to hear the gloriousness.

9. BAR Bar Centrale
Nestled in the midst of the bustling Restaurant Row just above Joe Allen’s is this savior of a drinking spot. You’d never even know it’s there as the front is just another brownstone and even after opening the door, you’re not entirely sure where you are. Walking through velvet curtains, you find yourself in a flashback to the 30s, from the zebra covered bar stools to the leather banquets, the theme is even brought onto modern flat screens via fashionable black and white movies of the era. The food is nothing to scream about, but the small plates do a nice job of lightly filling the stomach for any drinking expedition. The bar is fully stocked, nothing fancy, just good liquor to be had and thus perfectly matched to the surroundings, making the whole experience the best for that much needed respite before or after a show in the too crowded midtown area. Good company is also a bonus too…

10. SONG “Wild at Heart” Gloriana
I don’t know when I became a pop/country freak, but apparently it’s happened without me knowing it. This was a free download “Single of the Week” on iTunes and I’ve become a little obsessed with the easy vocals of this co-ed group’s power popping country sound. The song is clearly targeted at the tween generation (which somehow I seem to be a kindred spirit of) replete with a midsection of pure percussion with the tight harmonies layered over it and ending with the sound of a group of kids having too much fun, hootin’ and hollerin’. I don’t expect many of my faithful readers to appreciate this one, but let’s just call it another facet of my being.

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