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04.20.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW


This week I’ve added a special new feature: THE TEN SPOT. I will be giving friends an opportunity to influence the face of pop culture by taking the tenth spot on my top ten to add their own flavor of the week. Enjoy!

1. MUSIC The Reals
Pulling from total Americana roots, full of hard guitar strumming, mandolin plucking and hearty singing, you can simply feel this Denver based band sitting in a circle making the most authentic of music almost as if it spontaneously springs out of their fingers and vocal chords. The harmonica tinged “Pallet” starts quiet and straightforward before breaking open with a strong female voice reminiscent of true bluegrass country tunes, filled with passion and drive. “Called You Up” is a beautiful rocking ballad about the strange loneliness of having someone already in your life that you just can’t quite reach out to. But the best has got to be “Rubber,” a slowly building song that is instantly catchy by the time you reach the chorus, and thankfully is filled with pure authenticity and a hint of Counting Crows-style goodness that just makes you want to see The Reals performing live in front of you as soon as possible.

2. MOVIE Grey Gardens (2009)
I was hugely skeptical about this little film. Why take an already pretty perfect documentary about the Beales of the Hamptons, relatives of Jackie Onassis, whose money ran out and the squalor they lived in hardly could be believed? But amazingly this HBO movie really did bring more out of the story. Much like the musical of the same title, we are given glimpses into the 1930s, when Big and Little Edie were at the height of their potential and life seemed like a constant cocktail hour filled with song and dance. Jessica Lange proficiently channels the older Edie, bringing stage motherly grace to the young incarnation and disjointed loony-ness to the older, adding just a bit of extra knowledge that the Maysles documentary itself painted one horrific picture. But it is Drew Barrymore that holds the heart and soul of this film with her absolutely amazing inhabiting of Little Edie, capturing the fragility, the heartbreak, that incredibly strange accent, the dreams, the fears and the delusions that marked the downward turn of this incredible family.

3. TV DANCE NUMBER “Bag of Weed” on Family Guy
This seems terribly appropriate (or is that inappropriate?) for April 20th, the national day of pot smoking. In an episode entirely devoted to the joys of reefer and its legalization, there was nothing so shocking, wonderful or bladder busting as baby Stewie starting up an all out Music Man-esque musical number about how life is always better with a bag of weed replete with marching band, outfitted in red with five pointed pot leaves nestled in the cap. The usual fantastic wordplay is here, as “queer” is rhymed with that wonderful ‘90s film The Rocketeer. Think that doesn’t make sense? Just wait for the bongs being lined up on stage that Stewie and Brian proceed to play like a xylophone and then in a classic movie musical moment, tap dance on them. Whoever thinks the musical is dead is so clearly wrong, it’s just a bit different than when last you looked.

4. MUSIC Dear John Loney Dear
If you like a little alternative ambient rock music that never loses a grasp on melody, keeps the blood pumping and must be listened to with headphones so the soundscapes completely wash over you, then this is the band for you. It is all there from the opening chorus of “Airport Surroundings” with the endless repetition of sparkling chords (reminiscent of The Exorcist score) drum beats and smooth vocals. In the quieter moments of “I Was Going Out” and “Harsh Words,” you can definitely feel a valid comparison to the sweeping epics of Keane and more mainstream Decemberists, but Loney Dear keeps things a bit more sonically complicated especially on the latter with its militaristic drums matched with the gorgeous build up of horns. Another slow builder is “Distant” which relies mostly on other voices and a steady drum beat to create an anthemic power ballad, in which the vocals of Emil Svanängen are in especially wonderful display. Even when stealing from Albinoni’s adagio on the track “Harm,” Svanängen makes it into his own little poetic bit of sonic joy.

5. FOOD Virgil’s BBQ
This BBQ joint is truly down and dirty, from the rustic wooden tables to the towel that you use for a napkin, because yes, you will get that dirty. If you’re really looking for a heart attack, you can start with the trainwreck fries, smothered with melted cheddar, smoked bacon, scallions, jalapenos and topped off with ranch dressing. The pulled Carolina pork with mustard slaw or sliced Texas beef brisket served on a sesame seed bun and are guaranteed to fill you up. But my true delight is the butterworth style flatdogs (that’s where they slice them down the middle and cover it with a bunch of stuff so you have to eat it with a fork and knife). These particular flatdogs are slathered with barbecue sauce, fresh chopped onions, mayo, mustard and delicious sweet relish. I don’t know why you’d have room for dessert, but there is a yummy key lime pie that nicely and tartly finished off this BBQ meal.

6. TV Pitchmen
I am a huge fan of infomercials, the quick patter, the products you never knew you needed but for the fantastic price of $19.99 become irresistible, and of course, the demonstrations of everyday products proving very difficult to use thanks to incredible acting. So I knew this new Discovery Channel show that goes behind the scenes of two experts in the industry was totally for me. Following Anthony “Sully” Sullivan and Billy Mays, you learn the process of creating an infomercial from an inventor’s harebrained scheme to the determination of price points, figuring out which demonstrations show the products true ability and finally the commercial making. It’s part procedural, each episode based around just one or two products, and part reality drama with Sully and Mays rivalry heating up as well as the inventors holding out hope (and mortgaging themselves and their family in the meantime) for hitting it big with an invention. The process is to be respected even if the filmmaking isn’t. And you gotta love a show that has someone’s hand getting run over by a truck to prove that a product really can absorb the shock. Now that’s commitment.

7. SHOP Ingo Maurer LLC
Rarely does a product in a window truly stop me in my tracks. Sure I keep my eyes open, but these creations are art, plain and simple, that will make you gasp. There is a floor lamp titled lios that is nothing more than two bowed rods, a thin line connecting them and an egg shape perched atop it from which the light emanates. There are large glass creations that are filled with tiny LED lights turning the glass into a starry night sky. The Schlitz Up is an incredible slit in the ceiling from which light just fills, the shape is the most carefully crafted curved lines that are both natural and futuristic in the same breath. There’s even a table lamp that defies physics ending with a starburst in the vein of Sputnik, graceful, practical and stunning. And just so you don’t think I’m a total NYC snob, these creations are available across the globe, including one of my favorite Chicago stores, Luminaire Inc.

8. TV Sit Down, Shut Up
A new animated offering from Fox lampoons high school through the great unhappiness of stock teacher characters. They’re not reinventing the wheel here, but they are certainly good for laughs especially when taking on other cartoon shows, characters asking for flashbacks and visualizations of random mutterings a la Family Guy. But the real praise goes to good casting from the Arrested Development and SNL stable (Will Forte, Will Arnett, Jason Batemen, Cheri Oteri). Kenan Thompson brings ridiculous sassiness to the female principal Sue Sezno and my all time favorite pint-size Kristin Chenoweth plays the ridiculous god-fearing science teacher, Miracle Grohe, who proves she wasn’t descended from monkeys by lifting her shirt. And a lovely shout out for the animation style, which is actual real video backgrounds with these wacky animated characters thrown on top, a style that I adored in the children’s book series, Knuffle Bunny.

9. SONG “Stake Your Claim” by Eli “Paperboy” Reed and the Truth Loves
This retro outfit has all the heart and soul of the music it’s ripping off, that being the always in style Motown sound from the likes of Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. This track jumps right in with an excellent guitar and horn riff followed by Reed’s sweet old school voice that pops in front of this cavalcade of sound. It never gets more complicated than that, just pushing real and raw energy into verse and chorus including those classic 1950s handclaps that just make you want to find a juke joint and start shaking and shimmying to the infectious beat. As far as someone new doing something old, it doesn’t really get much better than this.

10. THE TEN SPOT: The Eagle – 554 W. 28th St.
Submitted for your pleasure from guest writer Jevin Dornic
An urban den of this nature is hardly a seasonal delicacy. This off-beat bar is most famous for its weekly Beer-Blast, and its presumably furry patrons, but I’m pretty sure even Goldilocks would say this one is “Just right.” The Roof-top deck is the perfect complement to the increasingly temperate nights, with a friendly and reasonably mixed crowd, inoffensive music selection, and a brilliant red poly-carbonate sign – boasting the bar’s secondary commodity “MEN.” If you dare venture through the preceding floors, let your eyes adjust for a moment, and soak in the thick and decadent atmosphere. The gender specific imagery plastered on the far wall of the second floor recalls a youthful and casual attitude of a dive bar, mixed with a hardcore edge that permeates beyond the chain-link streamers. Don’t let the bar-tender’s legitimately bad-ass semblance scare you off, the drink prices are worth a little roughing-up, even if you are thinking, “My…What big eyes you have.”

Bottom of the List
SHOW Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
I cannot and will not begin to explain how bad this show was because I do not want to spend any more of my life thinking about it. The two and a half hours I spent in that chair shall never be reclaimed and that is an utter shame. The only thing I can say for this cloying, insipid piece of crap is that Kristine Nielsen gives a winning performance as the ditzy theater obsessed mother. But she couldn’t save it, and it only makes you wonder, why do bad plays happen to good actors?

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