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The Rolling Stones (#110 of 14)

Single Review: Gwen Stefani, "Spark the Fire"

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Single Review: Gwen Stefani, “Spark the Fire”
Single Review: Gwen Stefani, “Spark the Fire”

After “Baby Don’t Lie,” the first single from Gwen Stefani’s long-awaited third solo album, flamed out, the No Doubt frontwoman is falling back on old tricks, teaming up with longtime collaborator Pharrell Williams for the follow-up, “Spark the Fire.” Not to put too fine a point on it, she half-raps, “OMG, OMG, I’m back again…Finally remembering what is me/That is what happens when I get with P[harrell],” and sings about “losing focus” during the bridge. Williams has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance the last couple of years, racking up accolades for Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and his own ubiquitous, Oscar-nominated “Happy.” And he was, of course, responsible for Stefani’s biggest single, 2004’s “Hollaback Girl,” among others. Unfortunately, “Spark the Fire,” which includes a nod to the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud,” seems more like an attempt to repeat those past hits than update the singer’s sound for “2015.” The track eschews Williams’s recent neo-disco shtick for the paint-can bongo beats, triangle, schoolyard chants that marked much of his earlier work. Still, “Spark the Fire,” not to be confused with No Doubt’s “Start the Fire,” has a better shot at reigniting Stefani’s solo career than its rather bland predecessor did. Now let’s just hope the music video is a step up too.

True/False Film Festival 2013: Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Times of Tim Hetherington and Twenty Feet from Stardom

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True/False Film Festival 2013: <em>Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Times of Tim Hetherington</em> and <em>Twenty Feet from Stardom</em>
True/False Film Festival 2013: <em>Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Times of Tim Hetherington</em> and <em>Twenty Feet from Stardom</em>

True/False’s 10th year was undoubtedly its best run yet, and as the last song played at its closing concert, by Buskers Last Stand, there was a feeling of elation from a weekend having exceeded expectations. There were the name-dropping perks of up-and-coming Chicago duo MNDR DJing the annual @ction Party; Ushio, the star of Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and the Boxer, demonstrating one of his punch paintings on a billboard-sized canvas; Q&As with big-names such as Daniel Dreifuss, the producer of Oscar-nominated No. But there were the unexpected and discreet perks, too, like seeing the twin brothers that comprise the band Flux Bikes use their bikes as instruments to make complex beat symphonies; finding an enormous fort filled with balloons hiding in a back room at a festival party on Saturday; being entertained by volunteers cracking jokes over megaphones while waiting in a theater line. It’s the quirky, charming touches that distinguish True/False from most film festivals, transforming the experience into more than just a series of events; they turn it into a pop-up community that’s utterly engulfing for a handful of days each year.

75% Delightful The Who Live in Texas ‘75

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75% Delightful: The Who Live in Texas ‘75
75% Delightful: The Who Live in Texas ‘75

On November 20, 1975, the Who began its U.S. tour at the Summit in Houston. Pete Townshend, at long last, was sober; Keith Moon, flamboyantly, was not. The Who by Numbers had dropped stateside the previous month and was charting well. On The Who Live in Texas, remastered by Jon Astley and released on DVD for the first time this Tuesday, the band exudes a sense of momentum and a certain enthusiasm for the moment: The Tommy medley at the concert’s midsection is a high point, but it’s the newer material that steals the show. While the footage is somewhat cobbled-together, sallowly lit and peppered with annoying slow-motion effects, the performance itself is surprisingly tight. Yes, Townshend windmills on the guitar, and Roger Daltrey hurls his microphone around a lot, but otherwise the four chaps deliver their vaunted noisiness with mature precision. There’s an aura of no-bullshit professionalism to mid-era Who: No Pink Floyd lightshows here, and no “autodestructive art” either. The message: Townshend no longer needs to smash his guitars. He’s more concerned with psychic autodestruction, and how to avoid it.

New York Film Festival 2012: Amour and Not Fade Away

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New York Film Festival 2012: <em>Amour</em> and <em>Not Fade Away</em>
New York Film Festival 2012: <em>Amour</em> and <em>Not Fade Away</em>

The key scene in Amour comes during the film’s second hour, in a scene in which Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) tries to desperately to shield his concerned daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), from seeing her mother (Emmanuelle Riva) in her dying state. In response to her increasingly frenzied demand that she see her, Georges says, “None of all that deserves to be shown.” He eventually relents and apologizes for the concealment, but in that one line of dialogue, one can grasp the unmistakable touch of the film’s director, Michael Haneke: Georges may be afraid to confront the horrors of his wife’s slow death, but Haneke will surely force all of us in the audience to confront it, in all its agonizing ugliness.

If you’re looking for empathetic humanism in the contemplation of aging and dying, á la Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow or Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story, you won’t find it in Haneke’s carefully composed frames, ruthlessly prolonged takes, and generally detached stance. Amour plays like a dissection more than anything else, and however one reacts to it depends almost entirely on the emotional resources the individual viewer brings to it. Haneke, as usual, isn’t interested in holding your hand in that way.

Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones: Live at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981

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Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones: <em>Live at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981</em>
Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones: <em>Live at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981</em>

Was the Rolling Stones’ arrival at the Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago on November 22, 1981 an impromptu, unchoreographed exercise in pure fandom? Or was it a canny bit of promotion, a reminder that the Stones remained, at heart, an authentic blues act, most at home in a club full of black musicians? The latter may be the cynical view, but the band’s manager claims he approached the Checkerboard higher-ups a week in advance, proposing a surprise concert and proffering $500 as proof-of-earnest. Don’t believe Eagle Rock Entertainment, then, when they suggest that the Stones’ appearance on this night was in any way serendipitous. Jonathan Lethem once called Mick Jagger an “irritating capitalist,” and herein lies the difficulty in being a Stones fan: how to reconcile the hard-bitten groove of the band’s rhythm section with the stage-managing machinations of the frontman? There are two basic solutions: one, don’t fret—just listen, and two, make sure Muddy Waters is on stage.

Happy Birthday Sonic the Hedgehog

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Happy Birthday Sonic the Hedgehog
Happy Birthday Sonic the Hedgehog

Though Sonic the Hedgehog celebrated his 20th birthday yesterday, the spiky-haired Sega mascot’s appeal has always come down to his enduring teenage spirit: He tears through every environment (be it side-scrolling 2D levels or his very iffy forays into 3D games) at a breakneck pace, he aloofly throws innumerable hand gestures at the player to put the accent on each victory, and he’ll start impatiently tapping his feet and checking his nonexistent watch if you ignore him for longer than five seconds. Sonic had always served as the edgy antithesis to a certain squeaky-clean Italian plumber, the unruffled cool to offset the loveable buffoon, the Rolling Stones to Nintendo’s genial and affable Beatles. And while bridges have since been built between the two, a collaborative effort between Sonic and Mario would have been unthinkable at the peak of the early-’90s console wars. To declare your childhood allegiance to Sonic over Mario spoke volumes, and hinted that your next 10 years might be spent listening to Beck and watching Tarantino films.

Edge of Corny: 10 Awesomely Unironic Sax Solos

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Edge of Corny: 10 Awesomely Unironic Sax Solos
Edge of Corny: 10 Awesomely Unironic Sax Solos

Relative to the other woodwinds, the saxophone is pretty damn cool. I know this because I played clarinet in middle school, and clarinets don’t get to do anything that looks even a little bit like rocking out. But outside the band-hall context, saxophones are rarely something to get excited about, unless you have an irrational fondness for yacht rock and smooth jazz. Sax solos are sleazy and insinuating; we associate them with Kenny G and Bill Clinton for a reason. But I guess no one told Lady Gaga that, because, whoa-oh, here she comes with a new song called “The Edge of Glory,” which prominently features a sax solo from E Street band member Clarence Clemons. While the song mostly has me lowering my expectations (again) for Born This Way, Clemons’s solo is admittedly a high point, and one of the more original ideas that Gaga has had of late. So I salute Mama Monster with this list of 10 pop-rock songs with completely awesome sax solos.

Bob Ray’s Hell on Wheels and Total Badass

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Bob Ray’s <em>Hell on Wheels</em> and <em>Total Badass</em>
Bob Ray’s <em>Hell on Wheels</em> and <em>Total Badass</em>

Every year gives us documentaries that society deems we should see, and many of them are good, or, at the least, polished. Perhaps too good and too polished. Man on Wire was visually beautiful crackerjack entertainment that played as a complete gloss on an egomaniac. Young@Heart was undeniably poignant, but it also has a sentimental pity-the-elderly undercurrent that struck me as somewhat condescending. Werner Herzog’s docs are typically glorious but are as much about him as anything else. Errol Morris and Michael Moore make unmissable documentaries, important, theoretically rabble-rousing documentaries (they’d be rabble-rousing if anyone, sadly, seemed to give a damn), but their talents and their showmanship sometimes inspire distrust. These important directors are nearly too sure of themselves considering the troublesome waters with which they choose to swim. The point is that a direct artlessness—while less of a conventionally cinematic accomplishment (and considerably less pleasant to watch)—might be valuable in opening up the sorts of conversations that most documentaries clearly strive to open.

The Conversations: Rock Concert Films

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The Conversations: Rock Concert Films
The Conversations: Rock Concert Films

Jason Bellamy: For one of my younger brothers, 2010 was the summer of music. Approaching his junior year at the University of Oregon, he spent the past few months attending about every concert that came his way in the Pacific Northwest. The criteria seemed to be this: If the concert was within driving distance and featured loud (preferably metal) bands that hadn’t had a big hit since before he was born, he was going. And so he rocked to Iron Maiden, Cinderella, the Scorpions, Billy Idol, and more. He rocked at large arenas and relatively intimate county fairs, sneaking up to the front of the stage when he could to snap pictures that he would eventually file along with similar snapshots of bands like AC/DC and KISS.

My brother loves music—if he’s partial to rock and metal, he’s rather indiscriminate within that genre (if you couldn’t tell). But I think the biggest reason my brother attends concerts is because he loves the energy of the live events, where he doesn’t just hear the music but feels it, too. Even when you’re pressed shoulder to shoulder with other attendees, and even when the musicians are so far away that you need to rely on the video screens to see the musicians’ expressions, there’s something very intimate and magically visceral about concerts. You can know every note and lyric of a band’s work from listening to their albums, but somehow seeing them live makes us feel as if we know them better, or know them for the first time.

Maybe that phenomenon is what inspires filmmakers to make concert documentaries in the first place: the challenge of simulating the feeling of being there. There are numerous films about musical artists—from A Hard Day’s Night (1964) to Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970) to Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (2005) to This Is It (2009)—some of which go backstage, some of which play historian, some of which are hardly about music at all, and so there’s no way we could have an all-encompassing discussion about that larger cinematic genre and its many sub-genres. Still, it’s a genre worth tackling, and so in this discussion we’re going to focus on five films—Woodstock (1970), Gimme Shelter (1970), Stop Making Sense (1984), Rattle and Hum (1988) and Instrument (2001)—that despite their incredible diversity have one thing in common: their chief aim seems to be to replicate the sensation of being there. And in the case of the first film, Woodstock, the music might be the least interesting part of that experience, am I right?