RUFUS WAINWRIGHT, LIVE AT ROYCE HALL, JULY 24
"You're starting up and I'm winding down," Loudon Wainwright
III sang to his angry young son 11 year ago. Now 30, Rufus still feels
like he's starting up. Where his father is autobiographical, direct, acoustic-guitar-and-a-few-truths,
Rufus is all operatic gestures and theatrical emotion, every song a piano
tune of amorphous beauty. Previewing material from his upcoming "Want"
and digging out crowd favorites from his first two albums, he reveled
in his bratty flamboyance. His mastery of flourish and romantic non-specifics
is without question. And when you stop to notice the lyrics, well, they
can be pretty terrific, too. He could be Marc Shaiman if he wanted to.
Right now, though, he's just enjoying an undisciplined natural talent
that hard-working fools kill themselves to achieve. B+
AIMEE MANN, LIVE AT ROYCE HALL, JULY 24
When she's not careful -- or, rather, when she's overly careful -- her
precise songs and too-clever lyrics feel like they're trapped under glass,
suffocating slowly and painfully. "Lost in Space" changed all
that; she couldn't out-clever depression, not to mention a stifling sense
of failure so profound it freaked her out. Starting a new tour, Mann seemed
tentative as she tried to find her comfort level. There's no question
she has the songs -- that's never been my problem with her. Despite her
best intentions, ultimately she's trying to find the sort of writerly
perfection that leads to embalmed craft. She's trying to avoid the lows,
and so she never finds the highs. The exception: a vulnerable, moving
"Invisible Ink," where her inability to hit the notes led to
something akin to grace. Maybe even a little humanity. B+
FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE, LIVE AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES,
I was hoping for something as revelatory as their new album, and so I
was a little let down. Chris Collingwood and his band eschewed the outer
dimensions of their sound, which gave "Welcome Interstate Managers"
its panache. Live, the group focused on efficiency, guitar tricks, and
the sing-along chorus. Ignore the new album, and you'd be convinced this
is all they're good for. Nevertheless, "Stacy's Mom," which
coulda been a Cars cover, segued perfectly into an actual Cars song. And
screw power-pop. As the night went on, these East Coasters rocked louder
and harder than most of the West Coasters in the audience would have expected.
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, DIRECTED BY STEPHEN FREARS
Don't see it because of the poster. Audrey Tautou doesn't look that stunning
in the movie, and she's never in such a state of undress. More to the
point, this lowdown story of outcasts in London is highly unglamorous;
it doesn't have any of the slick crime-thriller trappings the advertisements
lead you to believe. What is does have is Chris Menges' as-always great
photography -- he makes Frears' London look even more gloomy than the
one in 28 Days Later -- and an intelligent, lived-in script from
Steve Knight. And the whiffs of Casablanca are unmistakable and
earned. But best of all is Sergi Lopez, the menacing friend in With
a Friend Like Harry, whom I didn't expect to see as good ever again.
I'm always happy when I'm wrong. B+
CLEM SNIDE "SOFT SPOT"
Songs sung to the songwriter's spawn are usually dreadful. The explanation
is obvious: Who of us can stand home movies of other people's kids? But
like all new parents, Eef Barzelay knows this and doesn't care a lick.
How does he get away with it? By turning his goo-goo-gaa-gaa into heartfelt
love songs in the grand tradition of indie rock. This means acoustic guitars,
lo-fi production, and striking vocals. And, as would be expected when
you become a dad, the tempos slow down, you get a little more folksy,
you come down with a case of the cutes. But if Yo La Tengo made the idea
of a healthy marriage feasible, this band does what it can for the concept
of child rearing. B+
SEABISCUIT, DIRECTED BY GARY ROSS
Here's the thing: I haven't seen it yet. And by that I mean, I simply
can't bring myself to sit through this. Why? Because the movie feels like
a blatant Oscar-grabbing manipulation. Because it's very proud of itself
for being a "smart" movie for grownups during the summertime.
Because it's not aware that Finding Nemo, 28 Days Later,
Swimming Pool, Dirty Pretty Things, and, hell, even Pirates
of the Caribbean have already easily made this a satisfying film season.
Because every P.R. quote out of writer-director Ross' mouth involves an
obnoxious analogy to the sport of horse racing. Because it's supposed
to symbolize our country's can-do spirit. Because that description makes
me gag. Because I still haven't recovered from Ross' last piece of crap,
Pleasantville, which was also mighty pleased with how "smart"
it was. When in doubt, take "honest" over "smart"
whenever you can. N/A