Tuesday, January 24, 2006

TegWar does Concert Reviews?

Nellie McKay performed a thoroughly entertaining show at the Birchmere Sunday evening. I was considering sharing my impressions of the night before I read the Post's write-up. That piece convinced me. While not an unfavorable review, it was written without any attention paid to the overall context. Yes, she was not on the top of her game- which was part of the fun. But she's not on tour. This performance was one of a very few she planned between her album release and her Broadway debut (then the album wasn't released). But we'll return to her in time. Let's start at the beginning.

The opening act: the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, a group who identify themselves as the world's only indie-vaudeville conceptual art-rock pop band. Let's slim that description down: they write/ perform songs inspired by slideshows (as the frontman- Jason Trachtenburg- assured the audience, the technology to broadcast song-slideshows over the radio is out there, but the industry usually lags behind technology by a few years).

A three person ensemble- Dad (piano, guitar, lead vocals), Mom (projector and I'm not quite sure what else), and Daughter (11 or so years old on the drums, and a good job at that)- the face and personality of the band is the Dad. Along with his vocals, he also performs a distinctive funnyman/ nervousman routine. I'm pretty sure the routine is not so much an act as it is a trait.

The Trachtenburgs put on an awkward to watch, 'what the hell', performance which was, somehow, thoroughly enjoyable and all to brief. A slow motion train-wreck masquerading as performance art, you can't help but find them somehow both compelling and horrifying. They truly are a 'you have to see them to understand them' band, so let's consider a few comments from the audience:

He's too weird! He barely functions on stage, I don't see how he can function day to day.

When I get home, I'm calling child protective services.

He's like Woody Allen- only he does music instead of movies.

Where is he a faculty member?

As for the main act, Nellie was even more fun, happy, and insightful than I had expected. Her humor is offbeat ("Think of something sad... like Saturday Night Live") and her observations acute (on the left's support of pornography as freedom of expression she opined "I thought I was just horny, but it turns out I'm supporting democracy"). She messed up a few songs but owned up to her gaffes, humbly declaring "The pianist is killing this band," after one missed sequence and joking "I feel like Loretta Lynn before her breakdown" (as she stared out into the audience, unable to remember the next lyric) after another. Nellie also slipped up while enjoying herself and her music too much- she warned the audience to avoid thinking when performing, especially smug thoughts.

The music was similarly performed rather than played. Her "duet" with Bob Dylan (which featured Nellie Dylan-mumbling verses) and habit of nervously hand tapping the beat before she started a song capture her ability to be simultaneously audacious and vulnerable. She was clearly comfortable with her label dropping her, though disappointed with how it happened ("I can't sell albums, but apparently have a lot of street cred"). Nellie was more effective when talking about the personal- she recently adopted an aging dog (who she personified sweetly)- than the procedural- such as her discussion of animal rights efforts directed at KFC and Columbia University.

All in all, she was herself behind the mike, which is the very best thing a concert goer can desire.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Choking on the Collar

My morning Metro ride featured the normal (such as it were) cast of characters and a decidedly abnormal contingent of Catholic priests. I counted not fewer than 10 Collars standing around me as I rode from stop to stop. In fairness, their presence doesn't seem so odd when we consider that today is the big Right to Life march on the Mall. Whether the priests count as weird or not (the grumbling among those remaining on the train as the priests exited would certainly qualify the Collars as rude if nothing else), I found their presence highly disturbing.

Specifically, the Collar itself disturbed me. A large contingent of priests and other concerned citizens are in town today to recognize the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision and to seek redress. Great, that's their right as citizens. And in exercising their rights as citizens, they should come as citizens. Not as priests (and you can swap priest for firefighter, doctor, infantrymen, etc). Wearing the Collar- a nearly universally recognized symbol of the priesthood- is an attempt to leverage the moral authority of their job into success in the political arena. Or, to consider the matter differently- do they feel their argument appears less persuasive without the Collar? The answer feels fairly clear to me. The Collar as a media tool, just one more weapon in the PR war. That behavior, that decision politicizes the Collar, politicizes the priesthood, and- for me- further degrades my respect for the institution.

When the Church politicizes itself, I have a hard time believing religion should continue to exist as a political non-interference zone. The body public and politic is not merely a blank slate upon which groups argue for their goals. The polity has rights and interests of its own. When pressure groups seek to alter the rules, the polity must jealously guard its identity, regardless of what that pressure group is wearing. I would hope such a 'serious' group would hold their position in high esteem and not trade on it like a cheap publicity stunt. But this isn't new, I'm just slow on the pickup.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Uh-Oh. I May Have Done a Bad Thing

This evening at Happy Hour, my blog was mentioned- partially by me, partially by a friend who I mentioned it to last week. And now they'll be stopping by and wanting to read the latest.

This is a problem. Currently, the 'latest' is nearly a month stale. And I can't claim to have anything I am itching to say. But the public wants a show, so it is a show we will give them.

First, it should be said, the archives are superior to my more recent work. For what that's worth.

I do wish I had something fresh and ready. I've dabbled with a post on lobbying, campaign money, and corruption for a few days now. But I can't get it right. I want to work through the implicit taint that campaign cash carries (why else would you return it?), but the coherent argument escapes me. Maybe that means I'm wrong. Or maybe, much like you can't be a little bit pregnant, you can't be a little bit tainted- which is explicitly what I don't want to argue at this point. (I'm leaning toward the idea of a co-carcinogen- not cancer causing on its own, but in the company of bona fide carcinogens its bad news- but I haven't been able to boil the idea down concisely)

Similarly, I have been playing with a review of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's recently released Off Center. I bought the book, read it, reviewed their article in the Times Magazine (scroll to, 'the center does not hold'), and their 'book club' discussion at TalkingPointsMemo Cafe. I was excited about the book, until I read it. Reading it only disappointed me. In some respects my feelings are similar to those held by Brad Delong- "every night I think I should say something intelligent about it. But so far no luck." Why no luck? Because the book- while clearly articulated, focused, and wise- is somehow a jumble. They use long term, historical language to describe events over the past 5 to 7 years. They insist that their analysis is not personality driven- but focus on the roles Delay, Norquist, and Rove. Not their institutional roles so much as the acts and effectiveness of the men themselves. They brush over too much and make too much of too many events. After much struggle, I realize I agree with the book, but not its placement. It may well be prescient, but presently Off Center feels slightly off base. Off Center is an excellent warning of what is coming if we're not careful. By all means, read it- but with an eye toward the future rather than the present.

As you can see, I've got some interesting things brewing, but nothing to really say at the moment. By all means, enjoy the archives. By the time you're finished there will be something fresh if not fun for your eyes.