The convergence of stunning harmonies and the gleaming chorus hooks the Thorns have concocted for themselves makes for some goose-bump moments, and these were as plentiful and dramatic in Thursday night’s acoustic setup as they are on the group’s gorgeous, Brendan O’Brien-produced album.


Actually, Every Weakend Planner’s
a Virtual Water Cooler
1. The Thorns at Chateau Marmont:
The setting—a top-floor suite at the Hotel California with a balcony overlooking the glittering L.A. skyline—was pitch-perfect for the mainland debut of this terrific new trio (they did their first set at a Triple A confab on the Big Island two weeks ago). When they work together, veteran solo artists Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge build their material from scratch around three-part harmonies, and the stunning blend they quite naturally achieve (“by just pure, dumb luck,” Droge says) is the Thorns' chief virtue, along with a high-quality batch of collaboratively written songs. The convergence of those harmonies and the gleaming chorus hooks they’ve concocted for themselves makes for some goose-bump moments, and these were as plentiful and dramatic in Thursday night’s acoustic setup as they are on the group’s gorgeous, Brendan O’Brien-produced Aware/Columbia album, due out May 20. (Quite frankly, I was unable to hold myself back from singing along from my perch on the side wall; I apologize to Frank Riley and to anyone else in the vicinity for my audible lack of self-control.) The elevated musicianship and quiet confidence these guys exuded as they sat in a row making that marvelous sound—in front of an industry crowd that was as far from blase as industry crowds get—completes the picture of a group that has arrived at what would appear to be the perfect moment. Props to Columbia’s Angelica Cob for putting together a totally satisfying coming-out party for an important new band.

2. Channel Switching on Grammy Night: It’s always fun to watch awards shows when you know many of the people acknowledged in acceptance speeches. Especially when you can watch the festivities at home, switching channels back and forth, from the Grammys to I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Gwen Stefani mentioned my first and last boss from my lengthy tenure at A&M (Mark Williams and Jim Guerinot) to “our” accountant (Larry Einbund) during No Doubt’s Grammy speech, while Dave Grohl’s shout-outs comprise nearly 10% of my “buddy list” (although no mention of Erika!). Coldplay’s performance was a revelation, solidifying their status as the most truly important PoMo band of their generation. This week, MTV upped the video for “Clocks” to the “Big Ten,” and post-Grammy sales of A Rush of Blood to the Head will be explosive. Coldplay have absolutely earned their status as one of PoMo radio’s core artists. Besides Coldplay’s symphonic rendition of “Politik,” the other Grammy highlight was, of course, the Clash tribute. Two of my all-time favorite artists (Springsteen and Costello—sorry, Dave) trading leads on “London Calling”—it was bliss! And what a great way for Avril to hear her very first Clash song! All kidding aside, I give massive props to artists like Avril, Norah, Michelle Branch and others, whose talent and personal style will undoubtedly inspire legions of girls to play music. I think we’re all in agreeance. —IBA

3. My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable: Anyone who hasn’t heard of this site needs to go immediately and worship. In addition to the namesake comic strip, Get Your War On is the most acute observation of the absurdity of current international affairs as one is likely to find, all presented with biting sarcasm and a wicked sense of humor. Clip art never had it so good. —JO

4. Dixie Chicks, Home (Open Wide/Monument/Columbia): In the O Brother-ization of American music lovers, suddenly only country at its most arcane is legit—and for that reason, God love the Dixie Chicks, who strip it down and tie it to the organic essence of acoustic music, yet still bring a ferocity to what they're doing that'll make you quake. Built on
musicianship, genius songs (some ironic, like "White Trash Wedding," some old faves, like Stevie Nicks' "Landslide," some eerily topical, like "Wand'ring Soldier" and "Long Time Gone"), honest-to-gawd-harmonies and that straight razor of emotion that is Natalie Maines' voice, Home isn't suffering the burn-off of country's other divas because it starts with the music, clamps down hard on the music and then lays back in the arms of the music. That the girls have a feisty demeanor, a sense of humor, fashion-forward sense and the will to stand their ground only adds zest to the already unbeatable package. And on Grammy night, when they won three, they showed people that country music can be country and rock just hard as anything Aerosmith, Nickelback or Insane Clown Posse can muster. —HG

5. Player Piano? While the rest of the A&R world is scrambling to find the next Norah Jones, they should heed the advice of our fearless leader, Lenny Beer, who said earlier this week, “A&R departments are signing radio soundalikes when they should be looking for acts they think are great and letting their marketing and promotion departments try to solve the problem of how to expose them to the public.” One such act might be the long-buzzing Gabriel Mann. I saw his trio—with Mann on piano and lead vocals—at the Mint Wednesday night and was blown away with how good this artist has become. It’s nice see a band developed patiently, steadily and with the care an act of this quality deserves. Mann and band do their first New York showcase Monday night (March 3) at the Mercury Lounge, with dedicated label showcases throughout next week. —MM

6. Salon.com: The opinions expressed on this longstanding online magazine are provocative. And even if you don't agree with what you're reading, you're gonna think—and thinking is what it's all about. Former New Yorker editrix Tina Brown does a column, as do conservative wench Arianna Huffington and deposed Nation editor Andrew Sullivan. Among the other voices you'll be enjoying: Greil Marcus, Amy Reiter, Anne Lamott, Mark Fiore, Garrison Keillor and aggressive feminist/culturist Camille Paglia, along with Stephanie Zacharek, one of my very favorite people covering pop entertainment. And if you've not heard, the site is in demi-danger. It's got a prominent “subscribe now” banner up…and maybe you should do just that, because if we don't use it, we'll lose it. Check it out and see for yourself. Enjoy the stimulation, then do the right thing. Where else can you get your buttons pushed on News & Politics, Tech and Business, Arts & Entertainment, Books, Life, Sex and Comics? Exactly. —HG

7. Fabrice Morvan, Love Revolution (Elixir): The surviving member of Milli Vanilli proves he can not only sing but write as well, with a solo debut of impressively performed pop-rock and irresistible island rhythms. The album evokes the spirit of Stevie Wonder, Terence Trent Darby when he was good, Michael Jackson when he was still human and even Bob Marley, for whom Fabrice is now a “dread” ringer. The title track is the tour de force, a generous call for compassion and hope all the more remarkable for the fact Fabrice betrays no bitterness toward a music industry that treated him so shabbily. Between the funk-driven “Foul Play,” the reggae lilt of “Tables Turn” and “It’s Your Life,” the closing, touching tribute to his onetime partner, the late Rob Pilatus, Fabrice shows he’s willing to forgive, though he’ll never forget, on a remarkable rebirth that deserves to be heard and embraced. For more information, contact Kim Marlowe at [email protected] or fabricemorvan.com. —RT

8. Lunchbox restaurant: With a menu broken into small things, main courses and amazing desserts, this gleaming, stainless steel and chrome bit of culinary wonder just opened—and they're offering up cheese puffs that are sinfully butter-rich with just the tiniest bit of sharp cheese bite, a taco plate that's subtle and pungent, a steak flavored with lavender and an amazing Cote du Rhone that was priced at cost while the liquor license drama is being figured out. Impossibly cordial, this is a place to while away the hours, languishing over delicious bits and better conversation. And their brunch on Sunday offers unusual pairings that elevate the traditional comfort breakfast staples to a whole other contextual delight… Provocative without defying the notion of classic foods, Lunchbox—with its catering and gift aspects as well—makes the familiar strange in ways that'll make you smile. (357 West St., between Clarkson and Leroy, Manhattan; 646-230-9466) —HG

9. Jonny Polonsky Comes Alive: Simon Glickman raved about the young pop-rocker, who recently relocated from Chicago to L.A., in this space last week. You can check him out for yourself next Thursday night, March 6, when he opens for Jesse Malin at the Troubadour. And if you want to get hold of his latest batch of recordings, contact Jonny directly. —BS

10. Promo Weasel Site of the Week: This is the first in a frighteningly endless series, and we think the URL says it all: http://flashyourrack.com/flash.cgi?user=instate69

Six Feet Under
With all due respect to The Sopranos, the Fishers are our favorite dysfunctional cable TV family, if only because a Valley funeral parlor is even a more foreign milieu than the mob, as the series returns for its third season this Sunday at 9. When we last left them, Nate (Peter Krause) was going under the knife for his Arterio-Venous Malformation and had boarded a bus being driven by his late father (Richard Jenkins) in a dream sequence that left his survival in question before the episode’s patented whiteout ending. Matriarch Ruth (Frances Conroy) had just quit her job at the flower shop and broken up with her boss Nikolai, while the relationship of younger brother David (Michael C. Hall) with his cop boyfriend Keith (Matthew St. Patrick) was crumbling, thanks to the latter’s problems stemming from a shooting on the job. Sex-addicted Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) was finally facing her demons, which could mean the end of her wedding plans with Nate, who still has his baby daughter by his ex-girlfriend earth mother Lisa (Lili Taylor) to worry about. The funeral home was also subject to an inspection, which leads the brothers to finally make mortician Federico (Freddy Rodriguez) an equal partner, while kid sister Claire (Lauren Ambrose) had a surprisingly positive interview for art school. A show that dares to tackle themes you won’t see anywhere else on TV, Alan Ball’s meditation on the thin line that separates life and death, love and sex, happiness and sorrow, hope and despair, will hopefully more than tide us over until the return of that other family business. Roy Trakin

I've taken a week off from my ranting and ravings about reality TV to honor and pay tribute to my first love, Fred Rogers, whose program I watched religiously as a child. Following the crazy antics of The Electric Company and the masterful puppetry of Sesame Street every morning was the sweet, soft-spoken Mr. Rogers. He would enter his house (and mine), sing the famous "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and change into his trademark cardigan and sneakers (I would do the costume change with him). He would then take me on a trolley ride to the land of make-believe and, in his gentle but direct way, teach me the importance of both sharing and self-esteem. He never spoke down to me, he simply spoke to me, thereby gaining my trust and making me want to be a better person. I know it’s kinda corny, but it’s true.

One of my most painful childhood memories is crying my eyes out when my mom had to tell me the truth about my boyfriend Fred. I’d been incessantly begging and pleading to go to his house for a visit, prompting her to finally explain to me that Fred was actually in a TV studio, and that was not really his house. He didn’t live on my street or even in my neighborhood, she said. So there wasn't going to be a short walk to his house for cookies and milk—ever. I was stunned. Was this another lie, like Santa Claus? Was it all make-believe? I didn't know what to believe. In hindsight, I don't think that startling revelation really changed my love for his show; I somehow just got over it and managed to tune back in.

He was my friend. Goodbye, Fred. You meant a lot to me. Nicole Tocantins

Supergrass, Life on Other Planets (Island):
“I’m just living a story/Like I heard it on a 45,” sings Gaz Coombes on “Can’t Get Up,” a testament to this foursome’s encyclopedic grasp of pop. The psychedelic rockers are solidly in the tradition of Brit eccentrics like All the Young Dudes-era Mott (“Za”), Ziggy Stardust Bowie (“Never Done Nothing Like That Before”) and Muswell Hillbillies Kinks (“Evening of the Day”). The ’70s T. Rex/ELO/Roxy Music glam alternates with the Squeeze-meets-Beatles art-rock hooks of “Grace,” and its sing-along chorus, “Save your money for the children.” On their fourth album, the group, which has attracted the attention of both Steven Spielberg, who wanted them for a Monkees-style sitcom, and Rolling Stone, which gave the album a lead review, may finally be ready to grab its own slice of American pie. —RT

A Band of Bees, Sunshine Hit Me (Astralwerks): Paul Butler and Aaron Fletcher, who live and work on the Isle of Wight, off the southern tip of England, picked up a Mercury Prize nomination for this bushy-tailed delight of a debut album. The grooves, derived mainly from Kingston and Memphis, shamble along amiably from track to track, allowing the Bees plenty of room to stir in sounds from their arsenal of keys, horns, guitars and nonstandard noisemakers, thus creating a comfort zone for their blue-eyed, blue-collar soul singing. There’s an ease in the way these rustic blokes transition from the narcoticized jazziness of “Sunshine” to a bouncy cover of Brazilian cult band Os Mutantes’ “A Minha Menina” that seems quite out of the question for a big-city band. In the U.K., the album has been compared to the Beta Band for its loose-limbed artiness, but it has as much in common with Keith Richards’ winkingly casual solo work and the droopy-lidded vibes of early Traffic. Mellow, man. Bud Scoppa

Evanescence, Fallen (Wind-up): This Little Rock-based band’s “Bring Me to Life” graces the Daredevil soundtrack, which has helped them become the first female-fronted band in some time to break the gender barrier at PoMo and Rock radio. Wondering why? Check out Amy Lee’s passionate, tuneful vocals and those gigantic choruses, chockablock with co-founder Ben Moody’s distorto guitars, industrial grooves and gorgeous, semi-classical touches. It’s a sonically complex sound that nonetheless provides instant pleasure, as evidenced not only by “Life” but also by stunning sing-alongs like opener “Going Under,” “Everybody’s Fool,” “Haunted,” “Taking Over Me” and “My Last Breath.” This one feels huge. Simon Glickman 

Cradle 2 the Grave
(Warner Bros.)
Third in the series of action films directed by Andrzek Bartkowiak starring rapper DMX (after Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds), with kung-fu star Jet Li. The film is loosely based on Fritz Lang’s expressionist thriller, M, about an international criminal who kidnaps the daughter of a gang leader (DMX) and demands extremely rare “black diamonds” for her safety, causing the criminal to align with a Taiwanese Intelligence Agent (Li) to get the jewels. The duo then discover the gems are being used by the bad guys to build a dangerous new weapon that threatens the world.
Stars: DMX, Jet Li and straight from the couch of the Best Damn Sports Show, Tom Arnold (?!).
Director: Bartkowiak, with a screenplay by Reginald Rock Bythewood (Get on the Bus, Biker Boyz)
Thumbs Up: Action spectacular with a hard-core rap soundtrack, sure to appeal to the male demo.
Thumbs Down: Where’s Steve Seagal when you need him?
Soundtrack: Bloodline/Def Jam/IDJ album includes DMX’s “X Gon’ Give It 2 Ya” and tracks by 50 Cent, The Clipse, Baby, Fat Joe, Eminem, Foxy Brown.
Website: www.Cradle2theGrave.com has a trailer, photo gallery, cast/crew information, downloads, soundtrack information and an interactive game.

Poolhall Junkies (Gold Circle/Samuel Goldwyn)
A compulsive gambler who at one point “coulda been a contendah,” but has managed to overcome his obsession, is drawn back into the world of pool when he is forced to save his brother.
Stars: Director Mars Callahan, Alison Eastwood, Chazz Palminteri, Rick Schroder, Rod Steiger (his last film), Anson Mount, Michael Rosenbaum.
Director: Callahan (Double Down) tries to pay homage to On the Waterfront, Body & Soul, The Hustler, etc.
Thumbs Up: There hasn’t been a compelling poolroom drama since The Color of Money.
Thumbs Down:
It’s using reviews from Harry Knowles of the Ain’t It Cool News website and Larry King in the print advertising. Nuf said.
Soundtrack: None.
Wesbsite: www.poolhalljunkies.com is co-sponsored by Olhausen Billiard Manufacturers aND Billboard Boys gear, white the site is navigated like a pool table, with the plot synopsis, desktop downloads, cast information, reviews and premiere dates, a photo gallery, press and promo.

Spider (Sony Pictures Classics)
Premise: A psychological thriller about a man trying to piece his life back together after being released from a mental institution, as he discovers the truth about his mysterious past and the death of his mother, who called him the film’s title as a nickname.
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, Miranda Richardson, John Neville, Philip Craig.
Director: David Cronenberg back to his creepy psychological roots, as in Dead Zone, Dead Ringers, Scanners, The Fly, based on the novel by Patrick McGrath, who wrote the screenplay.
Thumbs Up: Coming attractions look suitably disturbing and weird.
Thumbs Down:
No, it’s not the sequel to Spider-Man or Along Comes a Spider.
Soundtrack: None.
Website: www.Spiderthemovie.com is artful, stark and offers you exclisve merchandise for answering a very easy trivia question about Cronenberg, along with plot synopsis, biographies, credits, gallery, e-cards, a trailer, screensavers and production notes. —RT

I’m having one of those weeks where nothing seems to click, which I’m sure will be evident in the crap I’m about to write. The rainy weather is making me tired, and how can a gal be creative when all she wants to do is take a nap? It’s definitely a good week to snuggle under a blanket (preferably with someone) and watch old movies like Casablanca and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Last week, I alluded to my biggest pet peeve being unreturned phone calls. There’s nothing more irritating than someone saying he’ll call and not doing so, especially if it’s a person you’re interested in. I had a boyfriend who did this all the time, and it absolutely drove me nuts. What’s so hard about picking up the phone and dialing it? Is it that they’re not really into you and are too chicken to tell you, or they kind of like you and want to keep you hanging around until something better comes along? I guess this is one of the unfortunate consequences of dating unreliable losers. My cocktail of the week is dedicated to all of those big fat liars who don’t call when they say they will.

Liar’s Martini
1 oz. gin—the cheap shit (we’ll lie and tell them it’s Bombay Sapphire)
oz. dry vermouth
oz. orange curacao
oz. sweet vermouth
Chill and strain into a martini glass

This might be the truth serum we’ve been looking for. With the help of some friends and some strangers, I’ve compiled a list of the most common excuses ever blurted out as to why a guy failed to find the phone. Some of these guys are pretty creative.

Top 10 Excuses Why He Didn’t Call:
“I lost my cell phone and your number was in it.” Or the popular, “My cell phone hasn’t been working.”
“I realized that I’m just looking for a casual sex relationship, and I didn’t think that was what you were looking for. Is it?”
“My sister (friend/etc.) just got dumped, and I’ve been consoling her.”
“Things have been crazy at work, and I’ve been putting in a lot of overtime, but I planned to call this weekend.”
“I’ve been dealing with issues.”
“I called you back and left a message. Why haven’t you called me?”
“My wife came home early.”
“I haven’t been feeling like myself lately and didn’t want to bring you down.”
“I saw the movie Swingers, and they said to wait 6 days to call. On day four, I met someone new.”
 “Do I know you?”

De’s L.A. bar pick of the week: It’s official. I’ve found it—my favorite new hangout. I’ve been living in Santa Monica for about a month and, until Monday night, hadn’t found my favorite watering hole. Now, everyone should sleep soundly tonight, knowing that I’ve found the place where everybody knows your name, or at least they will know my name after one of my memorable bar strip teases—kidding. Renee’s Courtyard Caf on Wilshire and 6th in Santa Monica is the best-kept secret on the West Side. The open-air brick patio area, with tables tucked away in the nooks and crannies, gives this joint ambiance that others can only strive for. Renee’s is the antithesis of the pretentious Hollywood-type bar and right up my alley (literally). It’s almost too close for comfort. Plus, the bartenders are hot, the people are pretty and the drinks are strong—great combination!

De’s diss of the week: Last weekend was my first “official” weekend out at the beach, and it didn’t take me long to find someone to piss me off. After having a great time at Willie Nelson Friday night, I decided to partake in a little more drinking in Venice. When I first entered The Brig on Abbott Kinney Blvd., I was pleasantly surprised. The place was packed, and I was drunk, so it all seemed to be good, until a big asshole of a bouncer came barreling through the crowd, almost knocking me over and spilling my cosmopolitan on my brand new white shirt—not good. He had that whole “I’m big, I’m bad and I’m the door guy, so get out of my way” thing happening. The only positive thing was that the place was filled with guys—good for the ladies, but it sucked for the guys. If you decide to go to this place make sure you’re wearing black (and padding).

I’m feeling neglected. I haven’t been receiving all of those little notes and praises you guys usually send me. My theory is that I’m so incredibly funny it takes you days to regain your composure after reading one of my columns and, when you finally do, you are so swamped by all of the work you missed that you don’t have time to write. Until next week—hugs & kisses. Denise Bayles

Contributors: Denise Bayles, Lenny Beer, Darren Cava, Karen Glauber, Holly Gleason, Simon Glickman, Todd Hensley, Mike Morrison, Jon O’Hara, Nicole Tocantins and Roy Trakin

Edited by Bud Scoppa

Team Lipman doubles up. (11/26a)
Season's bleatings (11/23a)
Deck the Grammys with boughs of Holly. (11/24a)
Rolling out our U.K. Special print issue (11/24a)
Olivia, the Biebs, H.E.R., Doja Cat, Billie and Jon Batiste lead the way. (11/24a)
Stuffing (in face).

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