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Win Tix To See Rufus Wainright @ The Keswick

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

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Rufus is for lovers: Boys who like boys, girls who like girls, boys who like girls and girls who like boys. Young, old, everyone in between. These are his people. Basically anyone who’s ever had their heart break apart in their hands and learned the hard way that you can jigsaw it back together, with patience and the glue of time, but it will never be the same again. It’s like bypass surgery or Cupid’s arrow — it may not kill you, it might even make you stronger, but it still hurts when you lay the wrong way. By rights, given the enormity of his talent and charm, he should have become the Elton John Of Now by this point in his career. His swooning woman of a voice has come a long way, baby, and has never sounded better. And his vibrato remains a staggering work of heartbreaking genius. You could say the music biz failed him, or the business model that made Elton into ‘Sir Elton’ shit the bed by the time Rufus finally got up to bat. All true, of course, but more relevant is that Rufus simply doesn’t write music with that kind of vast scope of appeal. He’s a chic boutique in a department store world fast going out of business. This he already knows. As the saying goes, the point of the journey isn’t the destination, it’s the getting there. Or to paraphrase Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross: Always be arriving. Which is another way of saying that all of this — the industry misery, the Judy Garland drag racing, the commercial crapouts, the rococo arrangements, the fainting couch histrionics, the meth and the madness — happened for a reason: To establish the line of demarcation between what is true and what is permitted. Leonard Cohen knew that when he wrote “Hallelujah” — and Rufus acknowledged as much with his gorgeous encore version of said song. Which is why we think that out of all the reasons to love or hate Rufus Wainright, the best one is this: Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, he has tried, in his own way, to be free. Amen. We have two pairs of tickets to give away for Rufus Wainright at the the Keswick Theater in Glenside on Friday. The 15th and 16th readers to email us at PHAWKER66@GMAIL.COM with the correct answer to the following question wins: Who wrote “Rufus Is A Tit Man?” Put the words MEN READING FASHION MAGAZINES in the subject line. Please include your full name and a mobile phone number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!

RUFUS WAINRIGHT PERFORMS @ THE KESWICK THEATER ON FRIDAY DECEMBER 8TH

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Q&A With J.D. McPherson, Retro-Rock Badass

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

Photo by SAMANTHA FRANKLIN

BY JONATHAN VALANIA I have seen the future of the past, and his name is J.D. McPherson, a thirtysomething cuffed-denim Okie with lacquered hair, iron lungs and, goodness gracious, great balls of fire. Back in 2012, McPherson and his gifted retro-rock posse released Signs & Signifiers, a bracing collection of tailfin rockabilly, rawboned R&B and sultry moonstruck balladeering. It was hands-down the feel-good record of the year. He plays Underground Arts Wednesday December 5th in support of JD McPherson_SocksSocks, his new Christmas album, which is why we’re re-running this fun and informative Q&A we did with Mr. McPherson back in 2012. We talked about the usual rockabilly guy stuff:  pomade, semiotics, Larry Clark’s Tulsa, early 60s ska, Greg Ginn, Esquerita vs. Little Richard, the sexiest Buzzcocks album, the majesty of Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand, how a white man from 2012 can sing like a black man from 1957 and what is the greatest baby-making music ever made.

PHAWKER: Riddle me this, Batman, you sing like a black man from 1957 who’s got a maraca man named Jerome Green and a sister named The Duchess and yet you’re white, you’re alive right now, and you have a name that sounds like a chain of Irish pubs where the bartender’s dress like leprechauns and dispense green beer to steroidal date rapists and the girls who love them. Please explain.

JD MCPHERSON: I just I have a loud voice and I have Scotch-Irish ancestors and I’ve listened to so much black music that I suppose it’s rubbed off on me a little bit and my dad is a singer and he has soul. Maybe that’s where I get it.

PHAWKER: You have great hair. What’s your secret? Are you a Dapper Dan man? What’s your pomade of choice?

JD MCPHERSON: You know what? Lately I used to have really, really coiffured hair but lately I haven’t really been doing a lot. I’ll just throw some junk in it but [when we play] I’m a heavy sweater so it just kind of goes down bad. The guy with the good hair in the band is Jimmy Sutton. That guy’s got great hair. My hair’s just kind of falls down, but thank you. You know as a young greaser I would get the real hard stuff. The Murray’s Superior, the Black and White, the New Nile, and these days I’ll just use some tonic. I’ve sort of fallen out a little bit of the trying to make it stick like glue.

PHAWKER: Most guys making the kind of music that you make try to pretend they have no more education than the average grease monkey hotrod mechanic yet your album is called Sounds and Signifiers which makes me think that maybe you went to Brown and studied semiotics. Please clarify.

JD MCPHERSON: Well I touched a little bit on the world of semiotics as it’s applicable to fine arts. I’ve got a MFA in what they call ‘open media’ which is a real loosey-goosey self-designed contemporary art program which was a mixture of video manipulation, sculpture, painting, performing arts, card magic and jazz guitar. I had a great professor, Glen Herbert Davis, whose like he’s like the Greg Ginn of photography and artists. And he’s a really really cool guy. He was a Minneapolis punk rocker skater that became an art professor and he gave us a crash course in semiotics because you have to in today’s art world. You know these days you have to talk about Roland Barthes and heavily coded messages. But yeah man it was almost a tongue in cheek thing because we’ve made a really straightforward album or tried to. So I wanted to hint at some over-extending complexities there and I look at the album cover and I crack myself up because that’s biggest joke I’ve ever pulled.

PHAWKER: And where did you get your MFA from?

JD MCPHERSON: University of Tulsa. It’s a private university right in the middle of midtown Tulsa and when I went there it was a very exciting program. It was actually really great. I’m 100% happy that I went through with it.

PHAWKER: You live in Broken Arrow Oklahoma, why?

JD MCPHERSON: Well I loved Tulsa and Broken Arrow is right next to Tulsa and my wife’s family lives here and we have kids. So you know you need a support group when you have kids. Especially when you have a family and you’re on the road a lot. So Broken Arrow is not bad. We actually have some of the best al Pastor tacos I’ve ever had anywhere here. And I’ve had them all over the world. You’re not really going get al pastor tacos in Dublin. Tulsa is a wonderful thing. I have absolutely no intention of leaving the Tulsa metro area. It’s a fabulous city.

PHAWKER: Whenever I hear of Tulsa I just think of that Larry Clark book.

JD MCPHERSON: Right. You know my Tulsa is not the same Tulsa as Larry Clark’s Tulsa but that’s certainly part of it. But man, that’s a crazy intense book.

PHAWKER: Ok very good. Judging from your albums you have an impeccable record collection. I wanted ask you a couple of record collection related questions. What is your go to make out record?

JD MCPHERSON: Oh man, we were having a conversation the other day about baby-making music. And we have all agreed that “I Only Have Eyes For You” is probably the most awesome. One record that I think is a very sexy record (which is a really slutty thing to say) is The Buzzcocks’ Another Music in a Different Kitchen. That record’s awesome.

PHAWKER: What do you put on when you really want to rip it up? What’s a Saturday night record for you?

JD MCPHERSON: Clifton Chenier. He’s a cajun singer and accordion player but he has a total New Orleans R&B band with him and it is killer. That stuff is awesome. Little Richard is always great, you know it’s an obvious choice but it’s because it’s true. It’s the most rocking stuff ever.

PHAWKER: So who do you like better? Little Richard or Esquerita?

JD MCPHERSON: I prefer Little Richard. I mean I understand that Little Richard lifted you know 95% of Esquerita’s schtick but Little Richard’s band is better and the records are better. The songs are better. It’s perfect.

PHAWKER: Agreed. What is your go to Sunday morning coming down record?

JD MCPHERSON: Man I want everyone to give this record a chance. I love it so much. That is the Rounder release of Alison Krauss’s and Robert Plant’s Raising Sand.

PHAWKER: Oh yeah!

JD MCPHERSON: That is like the most atmospheric moving album. It really really got a nice flow. Like there’s a couple of up tempo things but for the most part it’s just this huge, expansive, atmospheric record. It’s amazing.

PHAWKER: Agreed, agreed. That song “Killing the Blues”? Slays me every time.

JD MCPHERSON: Dude that’s one of my Favorite Five Songs Ever.

PHAWKER: I’m hi-fiving you right now through the phone.

JD MCPHERSON: Right on, man.

PHAWKER: Ok. Last record then is what is your go-to, never-lets-you-down surefire ray-of sunshine-on-an-otherwise-cloudy-day record you put on when you got the blues and you need some cheering up?

JD MCPHERSON: Well I have to say that’s probably it’ll probably be something Jamaican. I would say “We Two Happy People” by Stranger & Patsy.

PHAWKER: OK, you’ve stumped me on that. I will look this up.

JD MCPHERSON: Stranger & Patsy were a Jamaican duo. They did their own things separately but this is the song they made together. It’s a ska tune from the early 60s. It is the happiest song ever made. It’s awesome.

PHAWKER: Cool, man. Thanks for your time. Keep on rocking in the free world!

JD MCPHERSON + EDDIE ANGEL’S GUITAR PARTY @ UNDERGROUND ARTS 12/5

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A WHITER SHADE OF TRASH: A Q&A With Ricky And Julian From Netflix’s Trailer Park Boys

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

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Jamie_Knerr_SunglassesBY JAMIE KNERR Trailer Park Boys, now deep into its second decade as a beloved breakout comedy series, is showing no signs of slowing down. The Boys and crew wrapped Season 12 (now streaming on Netflix) in the spring and are currently taking to the road for a run of Christmas-themed live theatrical performances that brings them to the Tower Theater on Thursday (Dec. 6th). Set in beautiful Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Nova Scotia (that’s sarcasm, it’s really a total dump) the mockumentary-style Trailer Park Boys follows the misadventures of its three antiheroes: Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles (Robb Wells, John Paul Tremblay and Mike Smith, respectively). The exploits of the hapless, perpetually stoned and drunk trio routinely place them on the wrong side of the law or in some other ridiculous entanglement, through no fault of their own, of course. They just can’t seem to catch a break.

Ricky, Julian and Bubbles face relentless daily hassles with neighbors, criminal rivals, park management and the cops; for them life in Sunnyvale is a never-ending series of worst-laid plans and dubious shenanigans. TPBNo matter how hard the Boys try to go legit they inevitably wind up right back where they started: knee-deep in petty crime, car chases, drug deals, and larceny. Their frequent trips to jail (“Con College,” as it’s called on the show) provide some of the most hilarious moments, as time and again their newest hair-brained intrigue ends in riotous disaster and/ or incarceration.

Replete with creatively-worded expletives and “Rickyisms” (aka Ricky’s own unique brand of malapropisms) the dialog is quick and disarmingly natural; many of the funniest lines are ad libbed during shooting. Sunnyvale boasts a broad array of quirky and colorful neighbors, in what would have to be called the most dysfunctional enclave in all of Canada. The camera crew becomes an unwilling part of the cast (they’ve been assaulted numerous times by characters on the show) as they frantically race to document the Boys’ latest get-rich-quick schemes and failed attempts to leave the life of crime behind. In advance of TPB’s performance at the Tower Theater on Thursday, Phawker caught up with Ricky and Julian recently to discuss Sunnyvale, their whirlwind stage tour, and all things Trailer Park Boys.

JULIAN: Hello?

PHAWKER: Hey it’s Jamie, you all there?

JULIAN: It’s just Ricky and Julian, Bubbles couldn’t make it today. Can you hear us?

PHAWKER: Yeah I gotcha. How’s things going boys?TPB

RICKY: Good! It’s going really well. The crowds have been great. People are saying it’s our best show yet.

PHAWKER: I saw you went to Europe recently…

RICKY: It was a lot of fun! It’s nice to go to all the different countries and meet all the fans, we were pretty shocked actually, it’s just as crazy as America. We had no idea we had that many fans.

PHAWKER: You guys have been traveling a lot lately…

RICKY: Yeah, spending a lot of time out of Sunnyvale.

PHAWKER: Do you miss home when you go away?

RICKY: Oh definitely.

PHAWKER: So it seems like every time you boys try to go legit you wind up back in jail. Is it just bad luck or what?

RICKY: Well Julian’s really bad at planning stuff, so…

JULIAN: Well Ricky doesn’t really think about anything when we’re going out to do a job.

PHAWKER: It’s a good thing you guys have Bubbles to keep you out of trouble.

RICKY: Yeah, if it weren’t for Bubbles we’d probably be in jail a LOT more.

PHAWKER: You seem to miss jail when you’re away for a while though.

RICKY: Sometimes, I mean it’s not as fun as it used to be. There’s more rules now but it’s still a pretty good time.TPB

PHAWKER: Ricky, how many times you figure you’ve been shot over the years?

RICKY: Uh, probably five or six I guess…I’ve been pretty lucky, nothing’s been fatal yet.

PHAWKER: What do you boys think of Philadelphia?

RICKY: We’ve been there a couple times, it’s always a really crazy crowd!

JULIAN: Looking forward to getting a cheesesteak and you know, I’m like a really big Rocky fan…
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BEING THERE: Khruangbin @ Union Transfer

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

Khruangbin_by_MATT_SHAVER

Photo by MATT SHAVER

Khruangbin, an acclaimed coven of Houston psychedelic soul gurus, have been amassing an impressive following since their Thai-flavored 2015 debut LP, The Universe Smiles Upon You. “Khruangbin” is Thai for “aeroplane,” literally translating to “flying engine.” They are currently on tour in support of their latest album, Con Todo El Mundo (2018), which draws upon Spanish and Middle-Eastern influences. They have been consistently jamming sold-out shows and last night’s concert at Union Transfer was no exception.

The group — which features Laura Lee on bass, Mark Speer on guitar, and Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums — played an introductory jam and then Speer gave his salutations to the Philly audience. The set was packed with pretty much everything a Khruangbin fan would want to hear, like “White Gloves” and “Two Fish and an Elephant,” but also had some tasty surprises: an instrumental medley of classics like “The Next Episode” (Dr. Dré), “Electric Relaxation” (A Tribe Called Quest), “The Sweetest Taboo” (Sade), “It Was A Good Day” (Ice Cube), and “Summer Madness” (Kool & The Gang); and that’s just to keep the list brief. They also kicked off the holiday season in style with a soothing cover of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here,” red and green stage lights beaming through the fog.

Their performance was a consistent display of flawless musical prowess, and the music cast a spell that forced the crowd to dance. I was particularly flabbergasted by how well-crafted their sound is, how balanced the mix is. Speer’s tone is bright, sparkly, and soaked in reverb; he keeps his Crybaby Wah all the way up, which sucks out most of his low-end. It keeps his twangy licks from intruding down into Lee’s territory of rich, full bass grooves that rival those of Tina Weymouth. The two are perfect compliments of each other, both in the mix and in their low-key theatrics. They even play matching Fender Silverface amplifiers for the fashion statement of it (bonus: aside from looking the part, the amps sound marvelous too).

DJ’s drumming is minimalistic, yet sautéed with soulful variations and fills. His facial expression last night was usually that of boredom as his arms moved as if they were separate sentient entities. However, the music wouldn’t have been right without him, and he certainly fits the band. He and Speer have been playing together since 2004, when they met in a church gospel band. DJ’s talents didn’t stop at drumming last night, as he played a solo piece on an upright piano to begin the encore set. DJ was then joined by Lee and Speer as he returned to his kit, marking the loudest part of the show: the crowd’s cheer. There was no hiding it, Union Transfer’s crowd was rendered shamelessly infatuated with Khruangbin last night. — KYLE WEINSTEIN

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EMISUNSHINE: Amazing Grace

Friday, November 30th, 2018

She is 11.

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BEING THERE: Speedy Ortiz @ First Unitarian

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

Speedy-Ortiz_by_Josh_Pelta_Heller

Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

Headlining an indie rock triple-threat bill supported by Maryn Jones’ Yowler and Palberta, Speedy Ortiz laid waste to the First Unitarian Church’s basement last night. Leading the charge was vocalist Sadie Dupuis, stage-stomping in her tennis sneaks, thrashing her trademark pale salmon-colored electric flat top with customized headstock featuring her solo pseudonym Sad13. Three full-lengths deep, Speedy can take their pick of plenty of fan faves to fill a nearly two-hour set of straight-up indie rock and roll, with enough guitars and guile to make their forebears proud. There’s echoes of Jenny Lewis’ lyrical smartassery and tones of Bettie Serveert, but Dupuis earns the right to make the tradition hers. She’s not shy about striking a well-deserved rockstar pose, either, even as bassist Darl Fern threatens to steal the scene with kinetic bounces from stage left, while anchoring the crew’s fuzzy, infectious noise-pop hooks with a muscular bassline.– JOSH PELTA-HELLER

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O BROTHER, WHO ART THOU: Q&A With Actor/Writer/Director Tim Blake Nelson, Star Of The Coen Brothers’ The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

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EDITOR’S NOTE: On the occasion of the release of The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, starring Tim Blake Nelson as…wait for it…Buster Scruggs, we are reprising this 2013 interview with Mr. Nelson. Enjoy.

BY JONATHAN VALANIA If you don’t know who that is, the short answer is: the guy in O Brother Where Art Thou? who isn’t George Clooney or John Turturro. Any friend of the Coen brothers is a friend of mine, brother. Truth be told, he’s a whole lot more than that, as you’ll soon find out. I recently had cause to speak with Mr. Nelson for a Steve Earle MAGNET MAGAZINE cover story. Mr. Nelson is a big fan. He hired Mr. Earle to play mean-ass redneck drug-dealer who shoots Ed Norton in the guts with a crossbow in Leaves Of Grass, which was written, directed and co-stars Mr. Nelson. Recently, Mr. Earle asked Mr. Nelson to direct a video (SEE BELOW) for “Invisible”, the first single from Mr. Earle’s new album, The Low Highway, which he filmed on the roof of his apartment building on Upper East Side, which is where I met Mr. Nelson. There was plenty discussed that doesn’t have much to do with Mr. Earle — how me met the Coen Brothers, making O Brother, working with Clooney on Syriana, working with Spielberg on Minority Report and Lincoln, studying classics at Brown, growing up Jewish offspring of Holocaust refugees in Tulsa and why his friend Katherine Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty got bamboozled by craven politicos and cowardly liberals. All that and more.

PHAWKER: So you are born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and your father is a geologist and your mother was an activist?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Yeah and still is.

PHAWKER: Does your father teach at the university there or something like that?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: No, he was a wildcatter. Petroleum geology.

PHAWKER: Got it, finding new oil deposits to drill. Tell me a little about your mother’s activism.

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Everything from Planned Parenthood to the head of the Tulsa Housing Authority.

PHAWKER: I also read that your maternal grandparents fled the Nazis during the Holocaust.

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Yeah.

PHAWKER: And then they came to America…

TIM BLAKE NELSON: My mother too, actually, when she was three. They got out of Germany and went to England in 1938 and then they crossed the Atlantic in ’41 and came to the U.S.

PHAWKER: How did your parents end up in Tulsa?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: That’s where my mother grew up and she grew up there because there was an organization at the turn of the century that dispersed Jews around the country who were immigrating so that they would be less vulnerable to roundups. The family that sponsored my mother and her parents in coming to America happened to be sent out to Oklahoma to be part of a Jewish community in Tulsa. That’s where they had to go because of the sponsorship. Then my mother went to Bryn Mawr college in the ’50s and met my father who was then at the Wharton School of Business, the University of Pennsylvania.

PHAWKER: I’m calling you from Philadelphia.

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Oh. My oldest brother who is five years older than I was born in Philadelphia, but then quickly they moved to Oklahoma.

PHAWKER: Just to clarify, they dispersed Jews around the country in the event of a roundup. Is this a…

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Well, yeah, this was after the pogroms  in Russia so this organization in New York City understood that a lot of Jews immigrating into the United States would probably congregate in cities and they felt if there was ever an impulse by this country to round Jews up and put them in camps or terrorize them or try to run them out of the country. It would be easy if they were all congregated in ghettos and cities like they were in Europe, or in shtetls, little villages filled with Jews. They figured if unaffiliated Jews were immigrating into the country, instead of living in New York or Philadelphia to go out into the rest of America, even if it meant going to Tulsa or Cincinnati or Cleveland, Atlanta, Indianapolis. Jewish communities everywhere would be better than just Jewish communities in select, specific places. They wanted to spread the Jews out into America so they would be less vulnerable to being rounded up or deported or terrorized.

PHAWKER: The South does not have a reputation of being very tolerant of Jews, did you encounter much anti-Semitism?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: No, I didn’t, if anything I felt exotic. I frankly encountered more anti-Semitism in the northeast than I did in Oklahoma but not much either place. Anti-Semitism is not part of my life.

PHAWKER: Glad to hear it. Then you went to Brown where they don’t let less than brilliant people in and you studied classics?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Yes.

PHAWKER: Because?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: I am insatiable about education and I consider myself a lifelong student which is something I have in common with Steve [Earle]. Although my education had been more formal than his, I consider us both students for life and of life. I wanted to get the most broad foundation for a lifelong education that I could find and that was studying Latin and the classics. Meaning Roman and Greek history and philosophy and ancient civilizations.

PHAWKER: I also read in a number of places that the Coen brothers bragged that you were the only cast member of Oh Brother Where Art Thou? who had actually read The Odyssey.

TIM BLAKE NELSON: I never believed that, I think those guys — in fact we remained very close friends — often liked the sound of a remark rather than the truth of it which is why they make such great fictions.

PHAWKER: How did you meet up with the Coen brothers?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: A conspiracy of lucky forces, my wife and I had, for a few years, and continue to do so, have been volunteering at an organization in the city called The 52nd Street Project which helps disadvantaged kids in Hell’s Kitchen. Fran[ces] McDormand, Joel’s wife, is also involed with that organization, so we started to get to know them that way.  And then I also directed a movie called Eye Of God, that Joel and Ethan watched as a favor to me and they liked it and helped with the editing and we started to get to know one another. Both that and the 52nd St. project, led to me starting to see them socially, and then when he was writing O Brother and he just decided to give me one of the three leads, completely out of the blue, that’s how it happened, I didn’t even have to audition which is extraordinary because I could not have been more obscure of an actor at that time.

PHAWKER: Well, it’s a great role, it’s a great film, what is the first memory you flash on from that whole project?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: John Turturro making me laugh hysterically on a daily basis. I had a great friendship with George Clooney; both of those guys were every bit as welcoming to me as Joel and Ethan were. Quite frankly, nobody had any reason to be so unbelievably welcoming and everybody was, John Goodman as well and Holly Hunter. I guess, what I think of, when I think about that movie, I think of lifelong friendships.

PHAWKER: When you read the script, did the parallels to the Odyssey seem apparent to you?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: It was immediate, I had heard they were doing this movie and I was shooting O, at the time, directing, and Joel sent me the script without offering me the role, he said, rather cryptically, ‘I need your advice’ so I actually read it believing he wanted to talk to me about the adaptation from Homer and to learn whether I thought they had taken too many liberties, or I thought they had gotten it right, and so I was anticipating a scholarly phone call with Joel during which I would reveal to him that I was more of a Latinist than somebody who had read Greek so I was perhaps less familiar with Homer then he was probably hoping and then he suddenly said, ‘I want you to play Delmar O’Donnell,’ and I was astonished. In fact, what he said specifically was ‘You are probably going to tell me to go fuck myself but we want you to play Delmar O’Donnell’ because he knew I was going to be editing my own film that summer and in typical Coen brothers humility and he didn’t understand that any actor would drop anything including his own film just to carry water on their set, much less play a lead role. They brought my edit down to Mississippi so then I was editing my own movie and acting for them at the same time.

PHAWKER: Wow. You seem to have a knack, a natural, for playing, shall we say, south of the Mason Dixon line characters, you grew up in Tulsa obviously, but you don’t seem to have any accent, was there a conscious effort to overcome that or you never had one in the first place?

TIM BLAKE NELSON: When I left Oklahoma at 18 I probably did have one, that accompanied me all the way through Brown but when I got to Julliard its days were numbered.

PHAWKER: I didn’t even see you went to Julliard. Wow.

TIM BLAKE NELSON: Yeah so I went to Julliard for four years, from 22 to 26, from ’86 to ’90.
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BRITISH STEEL: Q&A W/ Comedian Gina Yashere

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

Gina Yashere comedian

 

Antonia_Brown_HeadshotBY ANTONIA BROWN Gina Yashere is a UK-based comedian of Nigerian descent who took the roundabout route to becoming a stand up comedian by earning a college degree in electrical engineering. After college Gina worked at Otis Elevator Company building and repairing lifts, and occasionally rescuing riders trapped in stalled elevators between floors. But all along, she dreamed of a funnier future, moonlighting as a stand-up comedian at clubs around London. In 1996, she was a finalist in the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year, a long-running annual national competition for British comedy and variety acts, which she parlayed into a variety of roles on British television. Fast forward a decade or so and she’s killing on stage at The Apollo and then becomes the first British person to appear on the Def Comedy Jam. After successful stand up sets on Conan and Leno, Yashere starred in a recurring sketch comedy series on The Tonight Show called “Madame Yashere: The Surly Psychic,” giving attitude and fake psychic readings to unsuspecting people on the street. Last year she became the latest British correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Following stand up specials on Showtime and Stars, Yashere’s act can be seen on the second season of The Stand Ups, now streaming on Netflix. In advance of her upcoming two-night run at Punch Line Philly this weekend (Nov. 30th-Dec.1), we got Yashere on the horn to talk about elevators and the Daily Show, the politics of identity and the secret of making people laugh.

PHAWKER: .Before your life as a comedian you worked as an elevator engineer for Otis 0915_GinaYashereSITEElevator Company. What exactly does an elevator engineer do and how did you wind up in that line of work?

GINA YASHERE: I studied electrical engineering in college. An elevator engineer is actually many different jobs, but I started off building them. I would go onto construction sites where a building was going up and we would assemble the elevator as the building went up. Then I went on to repairing them so I’d be on call and if an elevator would break down I would turn up and repair it and if people got stuck on them I would rescue them, ya know?

PHAWKER: You’ve spoken in your stand up on how your Nigerian mother saw you becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Of course your mom supports your decision to pursue comedy now but what words or advice would give for people whose career aspirations differ from what society or their parents expect them to do?

GINA YASHERE: My thing is always follow your own instincts, don’t live your life for anybody else if it’s something that you really want to do and you got the passion and you’re willing to work hard at it and suffer through the failures and not worry about what other people think then go for it. Better to try and fail than never to have tried it and always wondered what would’ve happened.

PHAWKER: What in your estimation in the difference between British and American audiences in terms of what they find funny and how do you have to recalibrate your act for each audience?

GINA YASHERE: My act is just me being myself, and I’ve never changed that and I’ve never tried to change my personality or my character or whatever to fit into what I think an audience wants. Coming to America, look in England we got all your TV shows, we got all of your movies, we know more about Americans know about anybody else because 75% of you never leave America you know what I mean? So you know coming to America I already knew a lot about the culture and a lot about the language and a lot about certain things so it wasn’t that much of a massive jump to alter my comedy. My material is about being GinaYashere1an outsider in America because I’m just talking about my experiences in life.

PHAWKER: How did you land a job as a correspondent on The Daily Show? Have you always felt there was a place for comedians to speak on the political and social issues of society?

GINA YASHERE: I’ve never considered myself a political or social issues type of comedian. I just talk about my experiences and just by virtue of who I am — a black female immigrant in America — I’m political just by virtue of who I am. I don’t wake up in the morning and go “Right, I’m going to write 26 jokes about Trump” or whatever I just don’t, my comedy just comes from my life. As for how I got the job on the Daily Show, it was a text from Trevor. It was that simple. I never auditioned. I knew Trevor from bumping into him all over the world doing shows. I knew him before he got the Daily show, I knew him before he was the famous Trevor Noah. I’d see him at shows all over the world. I’ve worked with him in Australia, bumped into him at a show in Miami, I bumped into him in the UK so he knew my work. When he got the show and saa they were looking for new correspondents he just texted me and was said “Hey, Do you want to come and help me out on the show?” and I said “Of course” and that’s basically how that went.

PHAWKER: Last question, it’s kind of philosophical, but what do you think is the secret to comedy? And what would you say is the secret of making people laugh?

GINA YASHERE: There is no secret! It’s a combination of a million things and if you got them all and they all come together right then that’s it. I mean for me the most important thing to me is likeability, you know if people do not like you or do not trust you, it doesn’t matter you could have the best jokes in the world they’re not going to laugh because they don’t trust you they won’t have any kind of connection with you. So for me as a comedian the most important thing for me when I go on stage is to immediately endear myself, let them know I’m funny, let them know I’m just another regular person and we all got similar observation and then I could go into whatever I want to do and then once I got them listening and trusting me as a comedian then I can pretty much do anything and tell them anything.

GINA YASHERE APPEARS @ PUNCH LINE PHILLY NOV. 30TH-DEC. 1ST

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WORTH REPEATING: Three Steps From God

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

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THE RINGER: The best television episode of the 1990s starred a short, blond man and his band. On November 18, 1993, at Sony Music Studios in New York City, Nirvana took on MTV Unplugged. That night, the biggest group of the decade staged one of the most hypnotically intimate rock concerts ever captured on film.

Wearing a fuzzy cardigan, ratty button-down, Frightwig T-shirt, jeans, and Converse sneakers, Kurt Cobain—with help from drummer Dave Grohl, bassist Krist Novoselic, guitarist Pat Smear, and cellist Lori Goldston—orchestrated a performance that was heartfelt, funny, uncomfortable, and mesmerizing. Nirvana’s appearance on the acoustic series proved something that close observers already knew: The loudest band on earth had a stunning amount of depth.

Cobain subtly subverted the format, which usually featured acts playing stripped-down versions of their hits, by filling the set list with cover songs. He also invited two of his musical heroes, Cris and Curt Kirkwood of the little-known Meat Puppets. The lead singer even helped design the set, asking for it to be decorated with stargazer lilies and black candles.

The room’s haunting vibe later led the event to be described as sorrowful, but despite Cobain’s well-documented struggles at the time, the evening was far from dour. As the show progressed, those in attendance began to realize that what they were watching would become legendary. “You knew for sure that history was being made,” said former MTV executive Amy Finnerty, who worked closely with Nirvana. “No doubt about it. You’re lucky if you get to be at something like that once in your lifetime.” MORE

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RIP: Ricky Jay, Master Magician, Scholar, Raconteur, Author, Prose Stylist & Debunker Of Fraud Masquerading As The Supernatural, Dead @ 70

Monday, November 26th, 2018

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NEW YORK TIMES: As a teenager, Mr. Jay ran away to work in Lake George, the upstate New York resort area. He was later booked at the Electric Circus, the East Village hippie-era temple, doing his act between Ike and Tina Turner’s music and Timothy Leary’s lectures on LSD. Eventually he enrolled in five different colleges but by his account never advanced past freshman status at any of them. “Early on, I knew I didn’t want to do the kind of magic other people were doing,” he said in the New Yorker profile. “So I started buying old books” to research the history of the form. He built his fame with what The New Yorker called an “out-of-left-field brand of gonzo-hip comedy magic, a combination of chops and artistic irreverence.” MORE

THE NEW YORKER: The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:

Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.

“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.

He turned over the three of clubs.

Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.”

After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.”

Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.”

Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right—what was the card?”

“Two of spades.”

Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.

The deuce of spades.

A small riot ensued.

Deborah Baron, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, where Jay lives, once invited him to a New Year’s Eve dinner party at her home. About a dozen other people attended. Well past midnight, everyone gathered around a coffee table as Jay, at Baron’s request, did closeup card magic. When he had performed several dazzling illusions and seemed ready to retire, a guest named Mort said, “Come on, Ricky. Why don’t you do something truly amazing?”
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Baron recalls that at that moment “the look in Ricky’s eyes was, like, ‘Mort—you have just fucked with the wrong person.’ ”

Jay told Mort to name a card, any card. Mort said, “The three of hearts.” After shuffling, Jay gripped the deck in the palm of his right hand and sprung it, cascading all fifty-two cards so that they travelled the length of the table and pelted an open wine bottle.

“O.K., Mort, what was your card again?”

“The three of hearts.”

“Look inside the bottle.”

Mort discovered, curled inside the neck, the three of hearts. The party broke up immediately. MORE

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BEING THERE: Thom Yorke @ Franklin Music Hall

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

I think most music appreciators have a handful of bands or artists that totally reprogrammed their perception of music. I remember the first time I had listened to Radiohead. In fifth grade, my mom had begun noticing that I was kind of a weird kid, so she gave me two CDs she thought I might like: Kid A and OK Computer, which were given to her by one of her best friends, a photographer and painter named Yelena Yemchuck, who dated Billy Corgan around the turn of the millennium. I stuck the CDs in my disk drive, one after the other, and dragged the albums into iTunes. Which album I listened to first, I can’t say by memory, but I was enamored by both from the get-go. I indulged myself with OK Computer’s 5th-dimensional-rock and satiated myself with Kid A’s technomorphous dreamscapes. “Idioteque” and “Morning Bell” taught a 10-year-old how to dissociate from reality. I shared my discovery with my friends; a couple were mind-blown, but most of them didn’t understand. Today, Radiohead holds the longest-standing consistency of my fondness for a band. Last night, at Franklin Music Hall, I saw their lead singer and main songwriter, Thom Yorke for the first time. He’s currently on tour in support of the soundtrack he wrote for the new remake of Suspiria.

I must admit that, for the first couple songs, I was beginning to think the entire show was going to be a snooze-fest. There’s only so much bleep-bloop yuppie minimalism I can handle, and I was grateful to Tarik Barri’s brilliant visual projections for holding my attention. Barri stood behind two computer monitors stage stage left, where he manipulated the projections in real-time. They were some of the most beautiful and artfully crafted I had ever seen, and turned what would have solely been a musical experience into a multisensory art installation. At stage-right stood Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s longtime producer, on bass and electronics. Thom, on vocals, of course, dabbled in some sound manipulation, sat down a few times at the piano, and sometimes picked up a Jazzmaster running through an AC30 – a classic combination – for some super-delayed riffs that melded into cascading ribbons of singing strings long after he had put the guitar down. “Impossible Knots” was the third song, which marked an acceleration point in the show for me, the beginning of the rising action. It was followed by “Black Swan,” perhaps the most Radiohead-like song from Thom Yorke’s solo project. They played “Amok,” a song by Thom Yorke’s other project, Atoms for Peace, and one of the best songs of the night. The set closed and climaxed with a with a 12-minute “Traffic” followed by a 7-minute “Twist.” The first encore featured the first American performance of “The Axe,” followed by “Atoms for Peace,” which flowed into “Default,” basically the same song, except it’s off of Atoms for Peace’s Amok (2013). The crowd, though thoroughly satisfied, would not accept just one encore, and so we all waited until Thom came back out alone to sit at the piano. He played a live debut of “Unmade,” from the Suspiria soundtrack.

A friend of mine skipped out on the show because he heard that 50-year-old Thom can’t sing anymore. What a load of horse. His angelic voice is just as flawless as it had always been. Thom’s trademark voodoo-possession seizure-dancing was a tad subdued, against my fore-hopes. The sound at the Franklin Music Hall is now far superior to what it was when it used to be the Electric Factory, and the inside of the venue is practically unrecognizable, which is a good thing. The tracks were very widely panned, as if the music was to be listened to through bookshelf speakers, which was problematic for audience members who couldn’t make it to the center. Luckily, I was close enough. All in all, I felt a little underwhelmed, but that’s a me problem; Thom and his crew did an objectively stellar job at bringing their music to the stage. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

 

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CINEMA: Creedence

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

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CREED 2 (Directed by Steven Caple Jr., 130 minutes, USA, 2018)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Creed 2 picks up a few years after the first film where Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) wins both his Mustang and the world championship title from Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler. With Johnson now the world champion, from the shadows emerges Ivan Drago and his son Viktor to challenge him, not just the title, but for a chance at redemption. After the events of Rocky IV, we find Ivan was left disgraced not only in front of Russia, but his family as well. Ivan’s wife left him to care for his young son, who he has been raising and training for just this moment. Against Rocky’s best advice young Creed (of course) lets his anger get the best of him and he takes the bait in a chance to avenge his father’s death. But the match doesn’t quite play out as expected.

While the first film felt very much like its own creature, Creed 2 feels more like hybrid of the new and the old. When Adonis discovers he doesn’t quite have what it takes to take on Viktor, its Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) to the rescue, who takes the boxer to Mexico for a super intense training montage à la Rocky IV, to give him the edge he needs. Michael B. Jordan pulls more into the lead this time around, turning in a performance that pushes the young actor to his limits. While he gets a pass for most of the film, it’s his intense moments with Stallone where the seams begin to show in his performance. Stallone here is once again a gift on screen as he comes face to face with Dolph Lundgren in what is easily one of my favorite moments of the film as these acting legends come face to face as these iconic characters.

But the heart and soul of this film is without a doubt Tessa Thompson who steals the film this time around as Bianca, aka The Girlfriend of Adonis, who’s tasked with keeping him in line after he parts ways with Rocky and moves to LA. Bianca’s story here is the most tragic of all as the handicapped singer with all her potential slowly slipping through her fingers, as her hearing continues to deteriorate. She’s forced to watch her own dream crumble as she is faced with managing her man-child of a husband as his dream as his dream devolves into a nightmare. Refusing to recede into the background like Adrian or Mary Ann, she is the true hero of this film.

Creed 2 film doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of the original but is still a quasi-satisfying chapter in the Rocky franchise. Director Steven Caple Jr., who is relatively new to the game, isn’t Ryan Coogler and it shows, especially when it comes to keeping his antagonist interesting; which is a hallmark of these great films. It’s almost like he forgot about Viktor Drago about three quarters of the way through the film. Creed 2 is also filled with grim foreshadowing about the end of Stallone’s iconic character.  The real question here after the credits roll is when Stallone finally hangs those battered Chuck Taylors up will Jordan be ready to fill those shoes?

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DARK SHADOWS: Q&A W/ Comedian Joe DeRosa

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

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Attachment-1-15BY TONY CARO Philly homeboy Joe DeRosa’s dark brand of comedy isn’t for the faint hearted — it’s for the people who realize that laughter is the only rational response to an absurd universe where everything born will one day die. Born and raised in Collegeville, DeRosa got his start on the Philly stand-up circuit. In the mid-aughts he moved to New York where he eventually hooked up with Bill Burr for a show called Uninformed on Sirius Satellite Radio show, which he parlayed into regular appearances on The Opie & Anthony Show. He’s released six stand-up comedy albums, and has appeared on Louie, Inside Amy Schumer, Crashing, and Better Call Saul. His most recent comedy special, You Let Me Down, premiered on Netflix in 2017. When he’s not making comedy, he’s making music and podcasting. Most notable amongst various projects and collaborations is two EPs on Bandcamp of completely serious/totally not funny electro-pop under the Demon Riot. In advance of his two-night run at Punch Line Philly on Friday and Saturday, we got him on the horn. DISCUSSED: Depression, auctions, Cypress Hill, why he loves Philly, demon riots, how funny Bob Saget is, elephants on acid, and how you get away with playing the sleazy drug-dealing vet Dr. Caldera on Better Call Saul without ever have seen, to this day, Breaking Bad.714Nljhp+mL._SL1500_

PHAWKER: You grew up in Collegeville, and began performing regularly at the Laff House but left town for New York in the early aughts. Curious what if anything you miss about Philly?

JOE DEROSA: I miss all of it. I really love Philadelphia as a city. I love the people. It’s got a very blue-collar sensibility there, and at the same time it’s a very progressive place, and I just love it. It was a great place to start doing comedy. It’s a great place to go back to do comedy, and if it was located a little closer to my work obligations, I would live there.

PHAWKER: Your first stand up album, released in 2001, was called The Depression Auction. That’s an odd title for a comedy album, can you explain that for the benefit readers that may not have heard it, present company included.

JOE DEROSA: It’s named after a bit on the album. If you know anything about my comedy, it’s all very dark, and a lot of it is based in the sort of darker aspects of life, so I like to joke about depression. I like to joke about loneliness. I like to joke about the pitfalls in life. I don’t think it’s a ton of fun to joke about the upswings, because they’re upswings, and happy isn’t really that funny, so the album is based on a bit about being depressed, and saying that you wish you could auction off your depression to people. My friend, Anne Harris, at Comedy Central said I should call the album, The Depression Auction.

PHAWKER: You play the shady, drug-dealing veterinarian, Dr. Caldera, on Better Call Saul. How did you wind up landing that role? Did you know the people making that show prior to landing the role, or was it just something you auditioned for and wound up landing? It seems like a fun show to work on. Do you have any amusing anecdotes about working on the show that you can share?

JOE DEROSA: I auditioned for the show, and people knew the show was being made. It was public knowledge at that point, but nobody knew what the show was going to be about. Everything was really under wraps at that point.

PHAWKER: But you had seen Breaking Bad?Depression_Auction

JOE DEROSA: I had never watched Breaking Bad.

PHAWKER: Still to this day?

JOE DEROSA: Yes, yeah, no, I hear it’s great, but I had never seen it. Not because I didn’t want to see it. It was just one of those shows that by the time I was able to sit down and potentially start watching it, I was so far behind that it was too overwhelming, so I hadn’t watched, and when I got this part, I was thrilled, because I knew that it would be an awesome show and a quality show, but I also knew that it took place prior to the events of Breaking Bad, so then knew that I really didn’t need to go back and watch it. I was like, my character wouldn’t know about any of this stuff anyway, and I always think it’s a better approach to something I’m involved in to not be…The less I know a lot of the time the better, because the more you know the more you can get excited, and then the more you start to pressure on yourself in all these things, and I always find it’s better to know a little bit less. In the interest of not psyching myself out, I didn’t go back and watch Breaking Bad.

PHAWKER: So the Demon Riot EPs are, like, really good — and I know you have spoofed sex rap under the name Deep — but this doesn’t sound like jokey comedy record unless there is something subtle I am missing.

JOE DEROSA: No, no, the Demon Riot stuff is not meant to be funny. I was a musician before I did anything else, so that was kind of the course I was on initially, and then when I got into comedy, I tried a little bit of comedy music with Deep, but I still kept writing music and creating and stuff, and just decided I wanted to put some of the stuff out there that worked well and came together pretty well, and I did, and that was it.

PHAWKER: Was the last album or song you heard that really blew you away?

JOE DEROSA: That’s a good question. Let’s see here…the new Cypress Hill album, Elephants on Acid, which is really good.DOWN_ATCcover

PHAWKER: On a related note, what was the last joke you heard that made you laugh out loud?

JOE DEROSA: I saw Bog Saget preform the other night, and it was really funny.

PHAWKER: Really?

JOE DEROSA: Yeah, I loved it. It was great

PHAWKER: I remember him from Full House, right? That was him?

JOE DEROSA: Yeah, he’s really funny standup.

JOE DEROSA PERFORM AT PUNCH LINE PHILLY NOV. 23RD AND 24TH

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