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BEING THERE: GBV @ Underground Arts

Sunday, December 8th, 2019

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

In a New York Times piece about birding published a few years back, author Brian Kimberling observed insightfully that making a list of bird species identified on any particular day, as birdwatchers do, is “a form of prayer, a thanksgiving for being alive at a certain time and place.” And posting that list online, he went on, “is a 21st-century form of a votive offering.”

Concert setlists are arguably no different. Created by a band to serve the practical purpose of coordinating each member’s participation in the show that night, the paper on which they’re written is transformed into a sort of rare and righteous sacrament the minute an incredible show ends, when fans rush to rescue the often filthy, trampled documents, and customarily and courteously allow the less fortunate souls among their ranks to photograph as secondhand souvenirs. Meanwhile, websites like setlist.fm serve as interactive catalog archives for these lists, a growing collection of holy digital votives for the live music zealot.

Not many bands honor this live music tradition quite like Guided By Voices do.

Setlists the size of newspaper pages are taped to the Underground Arts stage, featuring the hand-scrawled indices of some 60 song titles through which Robert Pollard and his indie-rock accomplices would make their way on Friday night, without much pause. Shortly after the show began, Pollard boasted about his own prolific oeuvre of over 100 releases since his career began in the early ‘80s, over three-and-a-half decades ago. “That’s more than Neil Young did,” he noted.

More is more, with these guys. All of that material allows for shows traditionally featuring dozens of songs sung by Pollard, guitarless and free to engage with a stage lip crowded with frenetic fanatics reaching for the man. At age 60, now, a full head of thick white hair distinguishes his elder-statesman-of-canonical-college-rock look, like a later-career Spencer Tracy — but punk-er. He shares his liquor and his beer, provokes and plays to the congregation’s demands, and drinks his drink. He tells stories, like the one about a guy who once asked him how he remembers all the words to all that music. “Not only that,” Pollard responded rhetorically, “but how do you remember all the words when you’re drunk — and with an appropriate degree of theatricality?”

The fever pitch crescendoed from high to higher throughout, and the chants of “GEE BEE VEE” demanding the band’s initial emergence at 9:30 resumed for their encore, too, some three hours later. Pollard and co. swept the front row for handshakes, as I perched on the tips of my toes, flattening myself against a structural column on the side of the stage to avoid getting flattened on the floor by the forward fifth of a sold-out crowd straining for a high-five, a spare guitar pick, or a precious copy of that monster setlist/prayer document: we were all alive at a certain place and time, and we rocked hard the entire night. And shit yeah, it’s cool! Or something like that. – JOSH PELTA-HELLER

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BEING THERE: Lightning Bolt @ Union Transfer

Friday, December 6th, 2019

LIGHTNING_BOLT

Photo by DYLAN JARED LONG

Lightning Bolt’s band name may be a visual representation of their sound. Other band names that could have been a good fit for the noise rock duo are – hold on, let me scroll through my list here – Total Lunatics™ or perhaps Fuck Rocket™. Unassociated recording engineer Steve Albini called one of their live performances the “best alarm clock [he’s] ever had” when they played on the doorstep of his neighbor John Peel’s house. Yes, the John Peel.

Lightning Bolt formed in college at Rhode Island School of Design in ’94. Drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale heard rumors of a sick bassist on campus, so he reached out to Brian Gibson, and CRASH! BANG! BOOM! Lightning Bolt were formed. During their earliest couple of years, they played with guitarist Hisham Bharoocha, who went his own way to form Black Dice.

Lightning Bolt are known for adrenaline-pumped performances at blaring volumes, often playing guerilla-style on the floor at the center of the room, surrounded by the crowd. Gibson’s bass is highly distorted through a colorful signal chain of pedals, while Chippendale’s vocals are muffled in sheer volume, with his microphone stitched into his makeshift luchador mask. Last night, they took to the stage at Union Transfer for a change, switching it up from their usual Philly venue, the First Unitarian Church.

The first thing I noticed when the Brians entered the stage was that Chippendale’s mask was worn to shreds; months of heavy touring had rendered the mask a tattered, fleshy patchwork. Who knew Leatherface slammed the drums? My ears are still ringing and my brain and body have not fully recovered from being rattled around the pit. But no complaints here; the volume was just what a Lightning Bolt show ought to be – loud enough to drown out the sound produced when an elbow strikes a jaw, and there was plenty of that going around. One guy next to me had been clocked and I could tell because he appeared to be setting his jaw back into place before allowing himself to be swallowed back into the maelstrom.

Lightning Bolt played the usual classics like “Dracula Mountain” and the traditional set closer “Dead Cowboy” while mixing in newer material from the album they dropped in October, Sonic Citadel. It’s difficult to review a show like this because it was one long peak. Every song was an absolute banger. Chippendale addressed one particularly ecstatic fan in the front row, asking what his name is, and then telling him that he’d won the golden ticket. “I’ve got your ticket, Jared!” he yelled menacingly, and vowed to track Jared down after the show to take him backstage and throw him into his candy river. I hope Jared’s okay. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

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REVIEW: Beck Hyperspace

Friday, December 6th, 2019

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“Everything I do, you know I don’t do right” Beck sings on ‘Uneventful Days’ from the just-out Hyperspace, and boy is that an apt description of his musical output in the past few years.  Hyperspace, like 2017’s highly forgettable Colors, is disgustingly safe and has little to distinguish it from any other collection of samey wanna-be top 40 pop radio hits other than brand name recognition. It really makes you wonder when the last time a Beck album warranted excitement. Odelay or Mellow Gold are modern classics but they came out almost a quarter century ago. Sure, he made some great music at the beginning of the 21st Century — 2005’s Guero and 2006’s The Information come to mind — but somewhere after that he transitioned from the exciting Beck we know and love to the plateaued Beck we have today. Beck’s greatest strength, his dilettantism, is also his greatest weakness — he’s a jack of all genres and master of none.

On Hyperspace, he dabbles in vaporwave, an already-dying  micro-genre known for its dreamlike atmospheres and synthetic textures. And for the most part, this experiment pans out pretty well. The instrumental tracks by Pharrell Williams, who co-produced Hyperspace, aren’t anything special or new, but they work well for what they are trying to accomplish. The problem pretty much boils down to Beck himself. He sounds sounds bored and a little out of his element.  The title track starts out pleasantly hypnotizing and spacey, but Beck’s hamfisted rapping makes the song almost unlistenable. He sounds like he’s laying on a couch in the studio groggily spitting out anything that vaguely rhymes with ‘hyperspace.’ “Die Waiting” has a Maroon 5-ish commercial sheen that sounds oily and sanitized. This clinical tone is continued without reprieve throughout the record on songs such as ‘Star’ and ‘Chemical’. The first time I heard the single “Saw Lightning,’ I thought it was the most obnoxious thing I’d ever heard, a mess of hip hop drums, twangy guitars and little electronic bleeps and bloops that tries in vain to recreate that Odelay magic. And it didn’t get any better on the second listen or the third. Although ‘Dark Places’ features a hideous synth tone that sounds almost off-key, it’s the only point of interest the track holds, the song itself being devoid of any quality. But all is more or less forgiven when the song ‘Stratosphere’ comes on, the prettiest track here that serves as a reminder of what Beck can do when at the top of his game. – CHARLIE COLAN

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WORTH REPEATING: Smells Like Treason

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

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ROLLING STONE: America once used the words “treason” and “traitors” only in cases of actual betrayal of our nation’s most vital secrets or interests. They were profound words, deep with meaning, grim in import, carrying with them the knowledge that the penalty for treason was death. Be honest: The words “traitor” and “treason” don’t have the sting they once had; they’ve been devalued from mis- and over-use by this president. For Donald Trump, any opposition, either personal, ideological, or political is treason. Anyone who stands in his path betrays the Great Leader. Anyone who fails to take the knee is a traitor. Like hearing an insult too many times drains it of its potency, Trump has diluted the power of that approbation. He has labeled loyal, dedicated Americans who served this country in the military and law enforcement as traitors, so much so that we could almost give in to the temptation to excuse it as “Trump being Trump” and let it slide like any of the other insults he vomits forth on the daily. Which is a shame, because America is in the midst of a treason boom right now, and more than a few people in Trump’s immediate orbit — and Trump himself — richly and actually deserve the title of traitor, and the treason inherent in their acts and words is apparent. MORE

WASHINGTON POST: Of all the changes that have occurred in our politics since the rise of Donald Trump, the most gut-wrenching for me personally is to see the Republican Party transformed into the Kremlin’s “useful idiots.” As a young refugee from the Soviet Union growing up in Southern California in the 1980s, I was attracted to the GOP because it was the party of moral clarity — the party willing to stand up to the “evil empire.” How far we have come — in the wrong direction.Today, we have a Republican president who, while reluctantly acceding to sanctions against Russia, incessantly praises its dictator, Vladimir Putin (“a terrific person”); tries to bring Putin back to the Group of Seven; conceals the details of their meetings; undermines Ukraine, a victim of Russian aggression, by harping on its corruption while ignoring Russia’s own kleptocracy; allows the Russians to take possession of U.S. bases in Syria; and propagates Russian propaganda blaming Ukraine for 2016 election interference. Trump is joined in spreading Russian disinformation by his secretary of state and other supporters, such as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), even though the U.S. intelligence community has exposed claims of Ukrainian election interference as a “fictional narrative.” MORE

DAILY BEAST: What makes Kennedy’s comments especially egregious is that, according to a recent New York Times report, “American intelligence officials informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election, according to three American officials.” In fairness to Kennedy, in using Putin’s talking points he’s also advancing Trump’s. Other Republicans, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Rep. Devin Nunes have done the same.  Of course, when you factor in other parts of the story, such as Russia’s attempt to use the Republican-adjacent National Rifle Association (NRA) as a “foreign asset,” it becomes harder to dismiss so casually. Kennedy’s hardly the only one. My friend and former boss, Tucker Carlson, said on his show Monday night that, “We should probably take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine. That’s my view.” MORE

WASHINGTON POST: The would-be autocrat surrounds himself with toadies who spend more time scheming against one another — sometimes to comic effect — than trying to offer their boss sound guidance or thoughtful policy solutions. In his presence, and perhaps especially when the cameras are on, they praise him relentlessly: his brains, his leadership, his “perfect genes.”  Sometimes they appear afraid to stop clapping, echoing stories of forced standing ovations for Joseph Stalin recounted in video footage and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago.” […] Meanwhile, federal law enforcement is publicly directed to pursue the would-be autocrat’s political enemies, as well as the family members of those enemies, such as former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s father-in-law. Purges of law enforcement or other members of the “deep state” are also demanded, and sometimes acted upon. Such actions, when taken by thugs abroad, were once denounced by Republicans. State-run media, or something closely approximating it, feeds the public a steady diet of pro-leader propaganda and shields viewers from news that might embarrass the head of state. Independent sources of information or accountability, or those who deviate from the party line, are branded “enemies of the people.” MORE

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BEING THERE: Phish @ The Met

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

Phish Perform Live Exclusive Concert For SiriusXM And Pandora Listeners At The Met In Philadelphia

Photo by Kevin Mazur for Getty/SiriusXM

Beyond the givens when seeing Phish— long improvisational grooves, setlist gags, middle-aged fans huffing Hippy Crack after the show, and the day-after ache in my legs from three hours of channeling my dance moves from the spirit of Vincent Vega— no one knows what to expect from a Phish show, and anyone tells you otherwise is a liar. There was a little bit of online controversy surrounding their show at The Met last night. Because the concert was a SiriusXM promotional event, no tickets were put on sale for the general public. Instead, tickets were only available via internet radio sweepstakes, which is a little odd for a band so interested in fan-service.

Be that as it may, for a band that has consistently sold out four-night New Years Eve runs at Madison Square Garden over the past decade, the 3,500 capacity is tiny. Phish has not played venues that small since the Japan tour in the summer of 2000, where the band’s trademark raging, shredding grime was often transfigured into a soupy, spacey jam segment. Those shows are some of my personal favorites, especially because the band’s ambient psychedelia, driven by intense feedback and delay-loop heavy improvisation, was completely brought on by the intimate size of these venues.

Last night, the boys did not disappoint. I thought they were unbelievably tight right out of the gate and judging by the ecstatic response of the 3,500 sardines in attendance last night, I am not alone. The crowd roared as the lights dimmed and Phish walked on stage, but something was different this time: everyone, including the band, seemed to recognize their close proximity to one another. As if a testament to the audience/band bond, the crowd quickly quieted as guitarist Trey Anastasio’s wheezing harmonica kicked off an acapella version of “Hello My Baby,” its first live appearance in ten years. The crowd exploded when the band started into “Tweezer,” a funky setlist staple elongated with extensive jams. The funk train didn’t let up in the transition to a solid version of “Blaze On,” with a thick groove laid down by Mike Gordon while Trey, half-smiling and half-mouthing the sounds of his guitar, took us to a soaring peak.

Then came the warmly welcomed “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” a song they have not performed in five years. A brief reprise of “Tweezer” built up to a gnarly, hypnotic moment where keyboardist Page McConnell’s droning synth merged with Trey’s distorted feedback screams, and Gordon hopped on to drop bombs in tandem with drummer John Fishman’s percussive trance. A solid, emotionally apt version of “Drift While You’re Sleeping” closed out the first set, but I was still caught up in that brief moment of incredible drone noise that was like a revised, heavier version of the late nineties ambient drone.

Set two was strong beginning to end, starting off with a version of “Chalk Dust Torture” that brought on numerous, abnormally funky peaks.Throughout the whole show, Mike’s basslines never let up the stank, more than evident in his solo intro to “Weekapaug Groove.” “Twist” took us deep into psychedelic territory while a wonderful cover of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” was the perfect sing-along track. A completely unhinged cover of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey may very well may have been the highlight of the show. And I was thrilled that “Waste” kicked off the encore, followed by the ultimate closer, “Tweezer Reprise.” – PEYTON MITZEL

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BOOK REVIEW: And Shit Yeah It’s Cool!

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

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Houlon2BY JON HOULON Indie rock.  I never understood that.  Independent of what?  Commerce?  I doubt it.  Your Drag City is the Capitol of a state called Filthy Lucre. Songs?  Yea, could be. I heard Tom Russell – one of the finest #OKboomer songwriters still plying his trade – say that the trouble with indie kids is that they don’t write songs but, rather, “soundscapes.” Ever try playing a Pavement ditty around a campfire?  It falls flat.  And, lord knows, don’t sing DCB over roasted marshmallows unless you want your pals propelled into a fiery furnace.

My best guess is that indie rock’s claim to fame is that it’s independent of the “roll.”  Turgid rock, all intellect, no swing.  And that doesn’t mean swing like R&B.  Another kind of swing that involves stance. I’d say Pollard’s the only genuine rock’n’roller to emerge from the 90s scene.  Other plausible candidates:  Cole Alexander from the Black Lips and Anton Newcombe from the Brian Jonestown Massacre.  They’ve got the roll.  Cole adopted the Iggy stance:  cock out, spit in the air, catch and swallow.  Anton his namesake’s:  side-stage facing the band, the audience an afterthought, likewise his bandmates.

Uncle Bob derived his roll from Daltrey: lips pursed, leg kicked out, mic twirled, knees bent in some sort of self-inflicted aerial nostalgia. But here’s the thing:  Pollard also took in Townsend (hold your tongue back and say “Pete Townsend”; you’ll arrive at “bee thousand”).  Lizards and ghouls respectively, Cole and Anton can’t hold Bob’s jock as a songwriter.  And I do mean jock.  The Coney Island Baby said “I wanna play football for the coach.”  Bob really did.  Quite well, actually, although brother Jimmy was the Man.  It’s odd, tho.  Athletics – with its exclusivity and ethos of victory — should be anathema to rock’n’roll, but, somehow, Bob is the deception that proves the fool.

Pollard is consubstantial and that’s why he is a party of one as far as bonafide indie rock ’n’ rollers go. Daltry/Townsend in one.  Et unam sanctum catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam. James Greer took at a crack at unpacking this consubstantiality in Guided by Voices:  A Brief History, Twenty One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll.  The problem with Jim is that he actually played in GBV – not quite a hagiographer but too close to the flame.  Still, he pulls some decent quotes from Bob’s associates:  “I just can’t understand how a guy who can make you laugh until it fucking hurts, who talks about nothing but sports and shit when we’re home, just like us, can write songs so beautiful they make you cry.”

Well, crony, it’s called genius.  “Singular genius” as Greer puts it.  Coked out of his mind (atypically, according to the man himself) and behaving badly, Bob’s parents are summoned to his house by wife Kim.  Asked what his problem is:  “I’ll tell you what the fucking problem is.  It’s that I’m a fucking genius and nobody gives me any credit for it.”

Yep.  Never did the hoovering, Uncle B., but I can relate.

SKID ROW

Matt Cutter’s got his fair share of interesting anecdotes but, boy, does he bury the lede.  Or turd as the case may be.

Witness this:  “R.E.M.’s Peter Buck was on hand for the Jabberjaw gig, and came out to the van after the show.   Bob recalls Buck walking up with his wife just as Demos was changing his pants with the van door wide open.  Greg struggled to complete the operation swiftly and hopped out.  ‘Hey,’ Buck said to Bob, ‘that was a great show, man!’  But a stench wafted from the van, and Buck looked over to see Greg’s underwear, lying there like a dead animal.  Bob says they had ‘a thick fucking stripe … visible to them!’  Buck and his wife recoiled visibly.”

This is IT!  Cutter’s editor dropped the ball here.  I mean, do you want to play football for the coach or not???  Get in the game, Matt!

Of course, Buck recoiled … as he did from all that is rock’n’roll when he joined forces with Mike Stipe.  No brown stripe.  Stipe.  Stipulated.  The opposite of roll.  Get it?

I doubt you doo, but Greg Demos with his striped white pants and striped brown underwear gets as close to explaining Pollard’s genius as anything else in Cutter’s claim.  The unlikeliest candidate of all: an attorney.  Lawyers should simply not play music.  Woody hated ‘em.  Their stipulations overcome the soul.  Stay away, counselor.  But Demos, like Bob, is the rejection that pools the poo.

Footnote to Howl:  Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! The world is holy!  The soul is holy!  The skin is holy!  The nose is holy!  The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!

BEAUTIFUL VISION

You won’t find it in Greer or Cutter and, lord knows, you won’t find it here.

Buck told Greer that “if it was me, I probably would have kept Guided By Voices.”  Yea, but you’re not Uncle Bob, Pete.

The difference is vision (genius, whatever you want to call “it”).  And when Bob rolls into town on Friday, he’ll have it in spades.  No matter who’s up there with him:  Bobby Bare’s kid, Gillard, whoever.  It’s all about Bob and it always was.

PREVIOUSLY: The Complete 2013 Magnet Interview W/ Robert Pollard

GUIDED BY VOICES @ UNDERGROUND ARTS FRIDAY DECEMBER 6TH

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Win Tix To See She & Him @ The Met Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

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Zooey Deschanel — with her big baby blue doe-in-the-headlights, her kicky Bridgette Bardot ‘do, and her unsinkable cheerfulness — is like the impossibly cute, eternally quirky, thrift store retro-cool girlfriend every soon-to-be art school drop-out wanted to blow off the prom with. She’s one of those people that walk between the raindrops tittering over the same private joke she’s been cracking herself up with for years but tells to no one. M. Ward, with his George Shearing tea shades, his Cheshire grin of a voice, and his impeccable curation of shimmering mid-20th Century ephemera, is that art school drop out. He is also the Him to Deschanel’s She, as in She & Him, their beloved side hustle from otherwise thriving and respectable careers as an actress and indie-rocker, respectively. Since their inception in 2008, She & Him have issued three volumes of breezy folk-pop, a collection of standards and two albums of midcentury modern Christmas music. It is the latter they will be drawing from when they deck the halls with boughs of Buddy Holly at The Met on Wednesday December 4th. Just admit it, you wanna go. Well, you’re in luck, because we have a pair of tickets to give away to some lucky Phawker reader. To qualify to win, you must be signed up to our mailing list (see right, below the masthead). Trust us, this is something you want to do. In addition to breaking news alerts and Phawker updates, you also get advanced warning about groovy concert ticket giveaways and other free swag opportunities like this one! Send us an email at Phawker66@gmail.com telling us you are signed up to our mailing list along with the answer to the following She & Him-adjacent trivia question: What is the name of the David Bowie cover M. Ward recorded and released back at the turn of the century? Put the words SHE + HIM in the subject line, please include your full name as it appears on your photo ID and a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!

SHE & HIM CHRISTMAS PARTY @ THE MET PHILLY WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 4TH

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CINEMA: Murder On The Bourgeois Express

Friday, November 29th, 2019

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KNIVES OUT (directed by Rian Johnson, 130 minutes, USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR The whodunnit murder mystery is a genre that’s kind of faded into obscurity over the years. It’s probably because audiences are a lot savvier when it comes this genre’s patented plot twist denouement reveal, making this one of the more difficult genres to pull off effectively in the age of social media. Be that as it may, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is a brilliant love letter to the drawing room sleuthing of the likes of Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen, and easily one of the best films of the year.

The mystery at the heart of Knives Out is the “suicide” of wealthy murder-mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) on the night of his 85thbirthday party. Legendary private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives on the scene shortly after Harlan’s funeral, to begin investigating the death by questioning Harlan’s eccentric overachieving family. After it becomes apparent the stellar rogue’s gallery ensemble of Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson and Toni Collette all had a motive, it’s up to the Southern gentleman PI to get to the bottom of what exactly transpired that night.

Assisted by Harlan’s immigrant caregiver Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), Johnson uses the mystery to explore class, racism and the 1% as the plot continues to thicken. Rian Johnson has crafted an edge of your seat mystery that is bitingly relevant as it is clever, and feels like a pointed response to the alt-right trolling Johnson was subjected to in the wake of The Last Jedi. Armed with a stellar cast and an irreverent, meticulously-paced script, Johnson has crafted a new genre classic that will hopefully give us more adventures of Benoit Blanc in the near future.

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HOT FREAK: Q&A W/ Philly’s Own Alex G

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

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Photo by DYLAN LONG

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA Alex G, aka Alex Giannascoli, is like the red-eyed unshaven love child of Olivia Tremor Control and the Beta Band drunk on early Iron and Wine, Portland-era Elliott Smith and Guided By Voices circa Vampire On Titus: pretty/sad zig-zag bedsit folk-pop chopped and screwed until blissed out and chimerical. Born and raised on the mean streets of Havertown, an inner ring suburb of Philadelphia, and bottle-fed on the mid-90s’ indie-rock of his big sister’s record collection, he started making his own music on Garageband at the tender age of 15 and pumping it into the digital ether via Bandcamp where he garnered a cult-like following. After studying English for two years at Temple University, he quit school to pursue music full time, releasing five LPs of embryonic Alex G music on sundry micro indies before signing to the UK’s Domino Recordings 2014. His star continued to rise over the course of three fuzzy-wuzzy albums of high-end lo-fi, including the brand-new House Of Sugar, which dropped in September. In advance of his now-sold out show at Union Transfer on Saturday November 30th, we got Alex on the horn.

DISCUSSED: The autumnal glories of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon; Temple University; GarageBand; his sister’s record collection and using her paintings as album cover art; collaborating with Frank Ocean; his days as a disciple of Elliott Smith; loving the short stories of Argentinian poet Silvino Ocampo; the SugarHouse Casino of the mind; working with long-time producer Jake Portrait; the miniaturized lo-fi glories of Guided By Voices; knowing Unknown Mortal Orchestra; the importance of Dusk At Cubist Castle; hearing the White Album for the first time, like, two weeks ago and how it blew his motherfucking mind.

PHAWKER: Hello, this is Jonathan Valania from Phawker, we have an interview scheduled. You clearly know this sandy-alex-g-house-of-sugar-1568040141-640x640because you called me.

ALEX G: [laughs]

PHAWKER: So let’s get this party started. Not that much is known about you or available to know about you on the Internet, so forgive me if I ask some questions that you answered a billion times. First, you’re from Philadelphia, correct?

ALEX G: I’m from Havertown.

PHAWKER: And then you went to Temple for two years?

ALEX G: Yes.

PHAWKER: And when did you start making music, not releasing it, but when did you start making music?

ALEX G: Well I think it happened around the same time, in my early teen years, just like fourteen or fifteen. My family got a Mac computer that had GarageBand on it, with the built in recording programs. And so I would just mess around on that when I had free time, and make little beats or songs or whatever and then I’d burn ‘em on CD’s and hand them out to people and I just like if you could consider that releasing music, you know what I mean? And then when I figured out I could put stuff online I started putting stuff online. As soon as I had the chance to put stuff out there I was just doing it. Well, as I was learning how to do it.

PHAWKER: Yeah. So that would account for the fact– I was reading an AllMusic guide that you had like, twelve self-released albums before you signed to Domino? They’re probably combining a bunch of releases there, but is that roughly true? Is it there much music that you put out before you even were on a proper record?

ALEX G: I mean, I made a ton of music but I definitely wouldn’t brag about it because most of that stuff is pretty bad, you know? I shouldn’t say bad because some people like it, but a lot of that stuff is from when I was a kid, still learning how to, you know, write songs and make recordings and stuff. It was a whole learning process, and I’m still learning now, even, but a lot of that stuff is from early days.

PHAWKER: “Embryonic” may be the word for that early stuff.

ALEX G: Yeah.

PHAWKER: And you said you started out at fourteen or fifteen, and I’m guessing you’re in your early twenties now? Can I ask how old you are now?

ALEX G: Yeah, I’m 26.Alex_G_Beach_Music

PHAWKER: Duly noted. And can you explain to me the Sandy in parentheses thing? Why and what, and why Sandy?

ALEX G: So I used to just be Alex G., that’s what everyone called me and so I released music as Alex G., ‘cause it was my name. And there was some confusion with other people named Alex G. who are releasing music. And off the record I can’t really like, explicitly say or else I’ll get sued or something, but… [laughs] If you can leave that out, I’ll just explain it to you, why I’m being so vague. And so I had to like, change the name in some way and I really wanted to keep Alex. G. in there, so I just… one of the first songs I put online was called Sandy, and a lot of the URLs to like, BandCamp or the FaceBook page on music, that the URL had Sandy in the link, and I could put Sandy in parentheses and it would just be like a little tag. And I was hoping that people would interpret it as a silent indicator that it’s this Alex G. from Philadelphia, not the other Alex G. out there who… you know what I mean?

PHAWKER: Sure, sure. Okay, that explains it. So I’m curious, how do you write, how do you make music? My understanding is you still use GarageBand, but do you write songs, say, on a guitar, on an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, and then record ‘em, fuck with ‘em, produce them, arrange them? Or do you start on GarageBand and make everything from scratch?

ALEX G: I usually start with the guitar or a keyboard and come up with like the template, you know, like the structure and the chords. And then I record that and all the complementary instruments and stuff come after on GarageBand like during the recording process I’m writing the other parts, you know? But the core structure I write separately, just sitting down with an instrument.

PHAWKER: And you played guitar on two Frank Ocean albums, is that correct?

ALEX G: On Endless and Blond, yeah.

PHAWKER: That’s… okay, that’s kinda blowing my mind a little bit. How did that come about?

ALEX G: Yeah, I mean it’s actually not a very exciting story. When he was making those albums a few years ago and me and my band were on tour in the UK, while he was working in the UK in London, and I just got an email randomly from him, being like “Hey, you wanna play– come by the studio and play guitar?” And I was like, Sure. And I didn’t know him, but it was nice. It was a really laid back experience, you know.

PHAWKER: And you play on a number of songs on both of those albums or just a song each or?

ALEX G: Like, a handful of them, like a couple on Blond and a couple on Endless.

PHAWKER: Crazy, man. So it kinda reminds me a little bit of like Kanye getting Bon Iver to work with him on his album, has that comparison ever occurred to you?

ALEX G: You know, I’m not that familiar with how, like, what they did together, but I mean… What makes it similar, was that just kinda out of the blue, too? I’m actually not familiar….Alex_G_Rocket

PHAWKER: It is totally out of the blue. It’s just a strange pairing on paper: somebody from the top of the hip hop game calls up the weird-beard indie rock psychedelic guy to play on his next album. You just wouldn’t think it’d be a pairing, but it is, or that it would work but it does. But it’s very cool that he could hear your music and say, like, “I can connect with this somehow” or “I want some of what he’s got in my music on this project” or whatever.

ALEX G: Yeah, it’s flattering.

PHAWKER: Yeah. Oughta be. So, tell me, what is your personal relationship with the music of Elliottt Smith?

ALEX G: I just used to listen to him a lot when I was younger. I don’t listen to him as much anymore, probably because I listened to it so much growing up, but I liked it a lot. How he recorded himself too, I think, like I get a lot of comparisons with him and I think it’s because I had learned that he recorded his own music and that inspired me to try and make music like that and record it myself. I would listen to things he did on his songs, you know, I’d hear him singing two vocals at a time, or playing two guitar parts identical on top of each other, and I’d try and mimic that. So I think, I’d like to think I’ve started to stray away from that, from being so close to his sound, but he definitely kindled my interest in making guitar music.
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INCOMING: Vengeance Will Be Thine

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

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RELATED:  The 90s were a helluva drug. You really had to be there, kid, but suffice it to say it was 10 years of unprecedented peace and prosperity, a pot in every chicken, 2.5 SUVs in every garage, a Clinton was president and Donald Trump ran beauty contests instead of the free world. In the 90s, the Internet went public and we all become tech stock billionaires overnight — all of us — selling dog bones over the World Wide Web, which was what we called the Interwebs back then, as was the style of the day. Good. Times.

Music was pretty great, too. Kurt Cobain singlehandedly killed the wicked witches of hair metal dead by crossing the streams of the Beatles and Black Sabbath and overnight grunge became a flannel-clad way of life. Axl Rose was out, Daniel Johnston was in. Suddenly the Lollapalooza Nation was ascendant and everything was called alt-something except the right. (This was before the Mt. Vengeance
re-brand, when Nazis were still called Nazis) Every scraggly-haired fraggle-rock weirdo in a thrift store sweater got a major label contract: Mudhoney, Teenage Fan Club, Helmet, The Meat Puppets, The Vaselines, Dinosaur Jr., even the frickin’ Melvins. Public Enemy brang the noise and the Beastie Boys passed the mic. My Bloody Valentine made The Greatest Album Ever Made and then went dark for the rest of the decade but never stopped ringing in everyone’s ears.

Pavement recorded slanted enchantments in the Stockton garage of a drunk hippie. Guided By Voices built drunken lo-fi masterpieces in the basements of the Midwest. The Pixies tromped le monde, The Breeders were the bong in this reggae song, REM lost their religion, and Sonic Youth were stylish elders from Planet Noise teaching skate punks how to Philip K. Dick and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Great new songs were being played on commercial radio for the first time in anyone’s memory. Why, even “The Sweater Song” could be a hit in this brave new radio world. U2 was still relevant. Courtney Love was still a hot mess. The Red Hot Chili Peppers took the sweatsocks off their junk and made their one good album. Johnny Cash started making great albums again with Rick Rubin. And everyone loved Stereolab. All of us.

And then Fred Durst and 9/11 ruined everything.

None of this is news to Mt. Vengeance. Back then, the three dads in Mt. Vengeance were still lads in short pants cranking out some of most righteous ripped-knee’d peddle-hopping indie-rawk the City of Brotherly Love has ever known. Rich Fravel was singer/guitarist/songwriter in Latimer, Brian Campbell was bassist for Electric Love Muffin and Nicky Santore was tub-thumper for Valsalva. At the Khyber — which, you probably don’t even know, was the CBGBs of Philly in the 90s, aka a toilet with a great beer selection — they were royalty. Fast forward 20-plus years, past wives, kids, real estate licenses, and they still have the will and the wherewithal to rawk. Righteously so. The shorthand review of Covered In Dust, their debut LP is: everything you ever needed to know about the 90s but were too not-born-yet to ask. The long answer is everything you just read. – JONATHAN VALANIA

STINKING LIZAVETA + MT VENGEANCE + HEATMAP @ JB’S SAT. NOV. 30TH

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CINEMA: The Kid And The Wail

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

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MARRIAGE STORY (directed by Noah Baumbach, 136 minutes, USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Marriage Story, written and directed by Noah Baumbach, begins at the tail end of Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole’s (Scarlett Johansson) union with the pair unsuccessfully attempting divorce mediation. Nicole who once had a successful film career in LA, moved to New York where she fell in love with Charlie. Soon married, the pair worked together in the New York theater scene with Charlie writing/directing and Nicole as his wife, muse and lead, not to mention the mother of their son. A profile in Brooklyn bohemian paradise, or so it would seem. But when Nicole is offered a television pilot in Hollywood, she moves out to La La Land with their son to get some space and soon after decides to file for divorce.

The rest of the film chronicles the dissolution of the marriage of two people who love each other and want to do the right thing, but are slowly drifting apart. Nicole complicates things when she seeks the counseling of a savvy LA divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) who is more interested in what she can get her client rather than what Nicole wants. In much the same way that Squid And The Whale was a semi-autobiographical take on his parent’s divorce, Marriage Story was seemingly birthed from his Baumbach’s own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. The film does not take the easy way out, it does not choose sides nor does it villainize neither Nicole or Charlie. As a result, it’s even more gut-wrenching to watch the slow-motion collapse of their marriage over the course of two hours.

It’s an understatement that Driver and Johansson turn in career best performances here. Driver’s Charlie feels more well-rounded and larger than life as we witness him hitting rock bottom, whereas Johansson turns in a more understated but equally impressive performance that flourishes in small caring moments. It’s those little things that she does in the midst of their increasingly bitter divorce, like tying Charlie’s shoelace or giving him a much-needed haircut, that punctuates the story of two people who still deeply love and care for one another, but just can’t be together anymore.

With each new film, Baumbach seems to inch farther away from indie darling and closer to a household name, and this latest Netflix produced film his most mainstream offering yet. Marriage Story drops Baumbach’s trademark comedic quirkiness and embraces a much more melancholic tone in this raw and intimate character study of two individuals. There’s the distinct ring of truth to the film that feels uncomfortably voyeuristic at times as we witness their descent into bitterness and acrimony, but that discomfort is the price of admission. It’s not an easy watch but breakups like this are never easy on anyone involved, including the audience watching in the theater.

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CINEMA: Q&A W/ Knives Out Director Rian Johnson

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

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Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR Easily one of the most surreal moments I had this year was getting to chat with director Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi, Looper, Breaking Bad) the morning after seeing his latest film, Knives Out, at the Philadelphia Film Festival. Knives Out is a hilariously brilliant whodunit in the spirit of Agatha Christie, that has Johnson tackling the story of an eccentric family under investigation, after the “suicide” of their extremely wealthy, murder mystery-writing patriarch. Johnson immediately made an impression with both filmgoers and critics with his first feature Brick and has since directed both films (Looper) and television (Breaking Bad) that is as thought provoking as it is entertaining, which is no easy task.

Most recently Johnson made the light-speed jump to a galaxy far, far away with the highly divisive The Last Jedi, which led to Rian getting a Star Wars trilogy of his own once the Skywalker saga is laid to rest next month. Johnson was thoughtful, funny and clever as I had expected, and he gave me a brief look into the creative process of Knives Out, while sharing some of his thoughts on his time in the Star Wars universe and his reaction to the most recent Rise Of Skywalker trailer.

PHAWKER: First off congratulations. The film was brilliant, and I hate to sound cliché, but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

RIAN JOHNSON: I love the cliché and I will take it.Rian_Johnson

PHAWKER: So how did you go about channeling your inner Agatha Christie and layering on all these twists and turns, creating this narrative engine that’s very Hitchcock-ian and honed to perfection.

RIAN JOHNSON: Well, you hit it on the head. The whole idea behind it is, you know, it all came from my love of whodunits and wanting to get everything I love about good whodunit in there. But, I also kind of agree with Hitchcock. The whodunit has a big fatal flaw, which is it’s a bunch of clues gathering for one big surprise at the end. So, my intent with this was to put the engine of a Hitchcock thriller in the middle of the whodunit and try and create something that would be more of an empathy driven suspense ride for the audience, but that still has all the pleasures of a whodunit. I still wanted to have the questioning of the family. I still wanted to have a big detective’s denouement at the end. That’s one of my favorite types of scenes in all of fiction. I wanted to do a good one of those. I’m just trying to get everything in there that you love.

PHAWKER: So, the genre you’re dissecting here, it’s definitely shaped by the rogue’s gallery of its ensemble. After you had the script, how much work was put in sort of crafting the characters after the actors who would be inhabiting the roles? Because I know you cast Craig first, but like let’s say when you cast Jamie Lee Curtis, how much did you say, “okay, this would be a good character quirk for her”?

RIAN JOHNSON: A little bit. I mean, there are nuances that they find on the day and there are little things you find with them. But mostly, I mean, they’re fantastic actors, so they’re going to play the character that’s on the page. It wasn’t like, okay, how do I shape this part so its perfect for Jamie. Jamie came in and as an actor and kind of inhabited the role. So, you do at the same time find, with Daniel especially, he and I we’re just emailing references back and forth, figuring out what the accent was going to be and all of the nuances of the character. That’s all stuff that he brought to the table and found and he’s very much creating that person that’s on the screen.

PHAWKER: I really love those little character flourishes, especially with Craig’s accent and Michael Shannon’s limp.

RIAN JOHNSON: [laughs] Yeah, it’s funny. There was a little subplot that we cut out where we explained what’s up with his leg and it just ended, ended up on the cutting room floor, sadly. We’ll put it in the extras. But it works, right. It’s like a Richard III type thing. He’s like got this flaw.

PHAWKER: It ramps up the tension too in that one scene with his cane, tapping it on the floor.

RIAN JOHNSON: Yeah, man. Michael is like, in terms of casting, Michael’s a good example. He’s one of my favorite actors working today, just extraordinary and I feel like I usually see him playing very, strong kind of powerful parts. To me it seemed really interesting, the idea of giving him someone a little weaker to play someone with less of a backbone, kind of the younger brother in the family who sort of is not fully formed — I guess that seemed really interesting.

PHAWKER: You love the desperation in his character. You’re empathetic towards him because of that defect, star_wars_the_last_jedi_ver56_xlgbecause you feel bad for him because everybody else is so successful and yet he’s got the limp and it just kind of makes you…

RIAN JOHNSON: Well, and that’s something with whodunits and Agatha Christie books in general, it’s very interesting. In Christie’s books, the typical setup is, there’s a powerful person who is obviously going to be the one that gets murdered and in the first part of her books, your sympathy isn’t very rarely or almost never with that person. Your sympathy is actually with all of these people who are going to be the suspects who all have the motivation to kill that person, because you’re going to identify with each of those motivations. You know, it’s kind of seeing glimpses of like the darker part of yourself in each of these people. Like I can see why they would want to kill that son of a bitch, which is very interesting. So yeah, all of these people you have to end up finding some way, you know, to sympathize with them.

PHAWKER: You’re definitely a fan of the genre. What are some of the checkboxes for you as a fan that you look for coming into a whodunit and what are some of your favorites?

RIAN JOHNSON: Well, I mean, going back to Christy, I mean, I’m a big fan of all of her books. In terms of the movies that they made of her books, the original Death On The Nile and Evil Under the Sun, which had Peter Ustinov playing Poirot. Those hit a real sweet spot for me. Those had kind of an all-star cast. They had a slightly cheeky, self-aware tone that never tips into parody. It’s always still playing it straight. So, for me that was kind of like the target we were sort of aiming for with this, is what those movies felt to me.

The checkboxes are a big fun cast of characters. I love the element of questioning. I love like investigating the past through different perspectives, and that kind of fun. And then I love the big, putting it together scene at the end. Like I said, I’m a sucker for the detective, getting everyone in the room and kind of laying the whole thing out. It feels so satisfying to me. So for me those were kind of like the big things I wanted to hit.

PHAWKER: Speaking of characters, the house itself felt like a character, it was layered with all these, references to Harlan’s books. How much work went into it? Especially the big chair centerpiece with the knives, that even hits at the theme of the film visually. Like how much work went into kind of crafting this world?

RIAN JOHNSON: Quite a bit. I mean, we have, we have an amazing production designer, David Crank who, he’s collaborated with Jack Fisk on [Paul Thomas Anderson’s] movies and Terrence Malick’s movies, he’s an incredible artist. He and his team were tasked with like filling up this house with all that stuff. I gave them the reference of one of my favorite movies, Sleuth from the 1970s, which, is also about a murder mystery writer who has a mansion filled with all his obsessions and yeah, they went to town.

I had written in the script actually, that kind of religious icon made out of knives and Crank’s team found this industrial barbecue grate and like hung all the knives on that. That’s what that thing is actually, you know. When I framed that up, I was like, Oh, that’s pretty cool. It looks like Game of Thrones. I didn’t expect that, but it’s kinda cool.

PHAWKER: It’s like it visually very striking, when I saw the trailer, it just sticks with you.

RIAN JOHNSON: It totally does.

PHAWKER: Yeah and how it’s used in the film, when you have that, what feels like a throwaway line about knives in the beginning and how it then it plays pays off at the end. You’re just like, wow, it comes full circle.

RIAN JOHNSON: It’s a donut. [laughs]looper_xlg

PHAWKER: [laughs] I just loved Craig’s donut monologue in the film, it was so unexpected and hilarious at the same time.

RIAN JOHNSON: We were like part way through filming and somebody referred to it as a knife, donut. I’m like what? And they’re like, yeah, obviously it’s a donut and I was like, oh shit, it is a doughnut. You’re right. I didn’t even think of that.

PHAWKER: [laughs] Now that you mention it. Donuts surprisingly play a big part in Knives Out.

RIAN JOHNSON: Donuts are delicious.

PHAWKER: They are.

PHAWKER: The character of Jacob in your film, who is sort of this alt-right internet troll, it’s hard not to see some of the parallels between him and the kind of folks that were going in on The Last Jedi. Was this your take on the fans thinking The Last Jedi was this sort of anti-Trump statement and that had a problem with its themes of empowerment?

RIAN JOHNSON: No not really. The thing is, sadly, trolldom is not specific to the Star Wars universe. It’s just more someone who is on the internet and is seen in every facet of life online. It’s a segment that is that, hate based trolling. Anyone on the Internet, no matter what waters they are swimming in is going to experience that on some level. So, no, it wasn’t really about specifically tagging that. For me, it was much more about if we’re going to set this movie in 2019 and really, genuinely try and plug into what the culture is today, that’s sadly a big part of the culture and it’s also something that was funny to take the piss out of it.

PHAWKER: yeah, between your film and Jojo Rabbit there are a lot of great films this year that are roasting Nazis and the alt-right.

RIAN JOHNSON: Yeah. We can’t make enough of them, I love that movie, Jojo Rabbit was really good.

PHAWKER: It was definitely one of my favorites this year.

RIAN JOHNSON: Yeah, so good.

PHAWKER: It’s great that directors like you and Taika make these big movies and then they go and make these smaller more personal films. After turning in something like a Star Wars or a Marvel film you then have this creative freedom to do things, I guess a normal filmmaker wouldn’t do because you take some big chances with this amazing cast. Both this and Jojo feel like very sincere passion projects and not your manufactured, sort of like made on demand Hollywood film.

RIAN JOHNSON: That’s good, we’ll see if people come out for it.

PHAWKER: So I’m a Star Wars nerd and I have to ask you a Star Wars question. So the new trailer just came out….

RIAN JOHNSON: Oh my god, so good!

PHAWKER: I have to ask you, you kind of eviscerated the mystery box the Abrams kind of handed off to you. You got rid of Kylo Ren’s mask and showed Adam Driver’s face so he could turn in that amazing performance, you killed off Snoke, and you solved Rey’s parentage and made everyone feel like they could be a Jedi. That was super empowering. What are your feelings on him coming back and kind of walking that back a little bit?

RIAN JOHNSON: How is he walking it back?

PHAWKER: Kylo’s got his helmet back, they replaced Snoke with the Emperor and word is they are once again questioning Rey’s lineage.

RIAN JOHNSON: If I had made IV, I would have given him another helmet. (Laughs) That makes sense story-wise. I don’t see it that way at all. I think the whole notion of that seems a little silly to me is framing it that way. Not to [offend you]……

PHAWKER: No, no, no, we’re both nerds here, let’s discuss.knives_out_ver13

RIAN JOHNSON: It’s not — people use the word ‘retconning’ or walking something back or whatever. It’s storytelling. Stories move forward. In that way you could argue did Empire retcon A New Hope? Did Return Of The Jedi retcon Empire? If you want to frame it that way, in reality it’s just good storytelling, pushing it forward, that means looping it back. It means doing whatever you have to do to get these people where they are eventually going to end up.

No, I don’t see it that way at all actually. Look I am just loving being a Star Wars fan again.

PHAWKER: Yeah, you’re getting to see it from the outside again.

RIAN JOHNSON: It’s so much fun watching that trailer and just not knowing what’s going to happen and feeling like I get to just show up and watch a Star Wars movie at Christmas. I can’t wait.

PHAWKER: Speaking of that trailer, you’re on the inside, do you know what JJ Abrams fascination is with making weird ass light sabers? Like with Kylo Ren’s and now that weird double bladed one in the trailer.

RIAN JOHNSON: [laughs] Well, I mean there has always been that kind of fun, like with Darth Maul’s double light saber. There is something enjoyable in kind of finding a slightly new.

PHAWKER: A donut of lightsabers in the next one?

RIAN JOHNSON: I’ll take it. [makes light saber donut whooshing sound] You know [Star Wars Rebels director] Dave Filoni did that, and he’s like the spirit of Star Wars. That guy’s amazing, look at the stuff he designed for Rebels that stuff is amazing. I don’t know you got to have fun with it.

KNIVES OUT DIRECTED BY RIAN JOHNSON OPENS THANKSGIVING

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INCOMING: Take The Last Train To Clarkville

Sunday, November 24th, 2019

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Todd Kimmell, Philadelphia’s perennially apoplectic gentleman of the arts, in association with CLARKVILLE, the much beloved taproom and restaurant across from Clark Park, offer up four days of the most unusual holiday shopping you’ll find anywhere. Local artists and photographers of note, and avid (or possibly rabid) collectors have been invited to glean their flat files and present long buried treasures for the public to peruse and purchase at their leisure. Saturday, November 30 and Sunday, December 1, then again two weeks later. Saturday, December 14 and Sunday, December 15. 11 to 5 each day, and different artists presenting each day. Clarkville jazzes it all up further with food and drink specials throughout. Bring friends!

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