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Cohen/Borat’s satirical “In My Country There Is Problem (Throw the Jew Down the Well),” where he leads a group of giddy Texas rednecks in the refrain, says more about anti-Semitism than any number of somber pronouncements from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
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1. Sufjan Stevens at the Wiltern LG Theatre, L.A.:
If there’s a modern-day equivalent to Brian Wilson, it’s this unassuming Detroit native, who may not succeed in his stated mission to make an album for each of the 50 states, but whose Illinois alone (as well as its Avalanche outtakes) could well provide the basis for a Broadway musical. Following on the heels of fellow Motor City groundbreakers Eminem, Jack White and the red-hot Tigers, Stevens’ local appearance was an unabashed triumph, wowing a crowd that included Danny DeVito, Kirsten Dunst and Toni Collette as well as a gaggle of shiny, happy, white people who embraced the singer/songwriter from the opening note. Combining a childlike innocence that had him and his 14-piece band performing in masks and attached wings (“I’m the Majestic Songbird and this is my Magical Butterfly Brigade,” he said as way of introduction) with a harmonic sophistication that recalls, in equal parts, Americana chamber pop composers Charles Ives, Van Dyke Parks, John Adams and Steve Reich as well as the plaintive, banjo-plucking Stephen Foster-like folk narratives of Simon & Garfunkel and Neil Young, Stevens is the real deal, an honest-to-goodness musical prodigy who seems quite content on his tiny, Wyoming-based Asthmatic Kitty label. The massed melodies, slathered with a six-piece string section and four-piece horn ensemble, soar above the clouds, with images of flight like Superman (“The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”), insects (“The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us”) and birds (the nine-minute epic “Majesty Snowbird”). The formal control is softened by Stevens’ Midwestern, aw-shucks humility, the wistfulness often masking the quiet horror of songs about serial killers (“John Wayne Gacy Jr.”), regret (“Chicago”) and terminal illness (“Casimir Pulaski Day”) in uplifting chords and heavenly falsetto. The result is a Christian spirituality that is grounded in earthly tradition, the sky above rooted in the mud below, an avalanche of pure sound bringing them together. Sufjan Stevens is about to take off… Fasten your seat belts. —Roy Trakin

2. Roger Waters at the Hollywood Bowl:
While reviewing ex-bandmate David Gilmour’s show at the Gibson Amphitheatre several months back, I mentioned that he answered the musical question, “Which one’s Pink?” but this spectacular presentation, one of three in the sold-out 18,000-seat venue as part of a 12-city U.S. tour, certainly revealed the identity of Floyd. If Gilmour is the group’s musical genius, the legendary band’s McCartney, then Waters is its Lennon, the lyricist and conceptualist, the guy who gets the big picture, as he places the context of the band’s music in a postwar England still suffering from post-blitzkrieg anomie. And while Gilmour concentrated on the songs and the sound live, with a complete performance of his new album, On an Island, Waters seemingly one-upped his ex-mate with a start-to-finish rendition of Dark Side of the Moon and but one new song, the virulently anti-Bush/anti-Iraqi war screed, “Leaving Beirut,” illustrated by an onscreen comic book detailing the true-life tale of a Lebanese couple that took Waters in while he was a hitchhiking teenager. Both Waters and Gilmour dedicated versions of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to onetime member Syd Barrett, and each played “Wish You Were Here” with an unspoken nod to their late colleague. A master at staging, Waters also brought along his famed flying pig for the first set finale, Animals’ “Sheep,” as well as the iconic pyramid with the rainbow prism held aloft by a backstage crane for Dark Side of the Moon, which peaked at the mind-expanding “Us and Them," before climaxing with Carol Kenyon’s spot-on soul diva wail in “The Great Gig in the Sky.” The surround sound was impeccable, almost as if you were listening on headphones. Like a divorced couple squabbling over custody, Roger boasted original drummer Nick Mason and David enlisted Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright, though Waters employed a young Gilmour look-alike/play-alike in Dave Kilminster for most of the vocals and guitar parts, along with U.K. session vet Andy Fairweather Low. I’m not complaining about Waters’ lack of new material—he couldn’t very well charge upwards of $200 a ticket otherwise—and his stunning high-def screen was a stoned delight (as were many in the audience), but a reunited Pink Floyd is one of the few acts left that could actually sell out stadiums, and it seems a shame the duo couldn’t ride the momentum of their much-acclaimed Live 8 appearance last summer to launch a full-fledged reunion. When Roger intones: “The lunatic’s inside my head” in “Brain Damage” with that far-out look in his eyes, you begin to realize why he needs no other company. —Roy Trakin

3. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife (Capitol): Like Sufjan Stevens, the Decemberists’ singer/songwriter Colin Meloy is a man out of time, whose lyrical language is as stylized and archaic as David Milch’s writing in Deadwood. His influences range from a centuries-old Japanese children’s fable for the three-part title track to a 19th century sailor’s journals in the prog-rock triptych “The Island” to a Cold Mountain-style Civil War romance “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then),” a duet featuring Meloy as a soldier off to the front and Laura Veirs as the “sweetheart left behind.” The style veers from R.E.M./John Barleycorn Must Die-style pastoral folk narratives of the tragic “O Valencia!” to the Yes-meets-Nice art-rock epic “The Island,” with its tales of watery demise, capped by the haunting refrain, “You’ll not feel the drowning.” “The Perfect Crime #2” starts off like “Life During Wartime,” with a meticulously described tale of a caper caught en media res: “Five and twenty burglars by the reservoir/A teenage lookout on the signal tower/The mogul’s daughter in hog-tie.” “When the War Came” is a thudding rocker that uses guitars, drums and pyrotechnics to mimic the primeval battlefield “with all the poise of a cannonball.” “Shankill Butchers” is a gently plucked Sweeney Todd saga of murder and debauchery, while “Summersong” is an ode to sensuality and “My girl, linen and curls/Lips parting like a flag all unfurled.” The album’s centerpiece, about a bird who turns into a bride forced to fly away when hubbie discovers her feathers, links the ancient and the modern in images of flight that take us to the higher plane that is the province of great pop-rock. In the hands of new renaissance artists like Sufjan Stevens and Colin Meloy, the past is the future. —RT

4. Sacha Baron Cohen:
The marketing campaign for his new Borat movie, which opens Nov. 3, is one of the most conceptually inspired I’ve seen this side of Pee-wee Herman in terms of his remaining in character and reaping the rewards of his own reductio ad absurdum. His YouTube’d appearance in front of the Kazakhstan embassy in Washington, DC, followed by his attempt to deliver the message to the White House, made for brilliant guerilla theatre. He has created a whole surreal worldview that holds a funhouse mirror up to our own bigotry, racism, sexism and prejudices, making it all seem as nonsensical as it is. His satirical “In My Country There Is Problem (Throw the Jew Down the Well),” where he leads a group of giddy Texas rednecks in the refrain (as they mimic horns by holding fingers up to their head), says more about anti-Semitism than any number of somber pronouncements from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Borat apparently mixes a fictional narrative with Cohen’s patented brand of confrontational real-life comedy, making it the one movie this fall I can’t wait to see. —RT

5. Mets vs. Dodgers at Dodger Stadium:
By the time I got into the stadium (see Gripe of the Week below), the Mets were already up 4-0, but I wasn’t feeling that confident with the shaky Steve Trachsel on the mound, and sure enough, as soon as I got settled in my Upper Deck seats and recovered from vertigo, the Dodgers score five runs in a row, the last on a Jeff Kent home run that had the partisan crowd roaring and me sinking back into my seat contemplating a Game Four. Of course, one incredibly overrated Dodger Dog later, the Mets were back ahead, thanks to a couple of ex-Dodgers in Shawn Green, who blasted an inning-opening double that helped tie the score, and Guillermo Mota, who spun two scoreless innings of relief to preserve the lead. Unlike a regular-season game, up in the nosebleed section, there were only two other visible Mets fans and, observing home field decorum (and common sense, considering the tenor of the crowd), I mostly kept the excitement to myself, triumphantly (but covertly) pointing a finger at my fellow Amazin’ rooters when something good happened for the visitors. Even with a 9-5 advantage, I forced my family to stay until the last out was recorded, and only then did I relish the moment as the Mets formed a rugby scrum, vibrating around the Dodger infield like they were plugged into a wall socket. Despite the 3-0 final, the series was a lot closer than that, hinging on a few bad breaks for the Blue Crew (the first-game single-off-the-wall-into-a-double-play could well have been the turning point) and some lucky ones for us (the lefty specialist cutting his hand in a bar at 2:30 in the morning comes to mind). Bring on the Cards. —RT

6. Mat Kearney, Nothing Left to Lose (Aware/Columbia), live at the Roxy, L.A.: “Where we gonna go from here?” asked the Eugene, OR-raised, Nashville-based singer/songwriter before a packed, adoring room, and it seemed the logical answer should have been “all the way to the top.” Of all Columbia’s potential next John Mayers, from U.K. one-man band David Ford to erstwhile shaggy-haired heartthrob Pete Yorn, his Aware labelmate Kearney seems to be the designated heir at the moment, an earnest alum of an indie Christian label who adds a dollop of spoken word hip-hop rhythms (inspired by his college literature studies of Southern writers like Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner) to a post-Garden State, Coldplay-meets-Springsteen storytelling vibe that oozes with sincerity and lyrical detail. With his songs featured on such TV shows as Grey’s Anatomy (where “All I Need” was Chyroned on the final credits of the hit series’ recent third-season premiere, along with a visual of the album cover), Friday Night Lights and Kyle XY, Kearney is bypassing radio to get his music out there. He has a way of joining the macro to the micro, finding the political in the personal (“Girl America”) as well as the universal in the specific (“All I Need” is about a couple visiting him from New Orleans who watch Hurricane Katrina destroy their home on TV) or just “speaking his peace to the past,” in the undeniable “Undeniable,” where he effortlessly tailors a freestyle rap about being in L.A. in the here and now. By the time he introduces the closing “Won’t Back Down,” which he explains was inspired by a story about Johnny Cash walking into a cave in despair to kill himself, only to emerge into the light with renewed conviction, the audience is singing along word for word, his themes of rebirth, renewal and spiritual awakening tied to his own artistic risks. In another era, I might well have claimed I’d seen the future of rock & roll. If he keeps up like this, Kearney may just give it one. —RT

7. 30 Rock (NBC, Wednesdays, 8 p.m.): You wonder what NBC is thinking premiering this Lorne Michaels-produced, Tina Fey-created series about the backstage workings of a live weekly comedy show at the same time as the much-ballyhooed, and very similar, Studio 60. Even marvelously acerbic co-star Alec Baldwin asks Fey on the promo spots, “Isn’t this the one with Amanda Peet?” Unlike Aaron Sorkin’s over-intellectualized, in-your-face literacy, the 30-minute Rock is more in the traditional post-Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm/Arrested Development mold of characters playing thinly disguised versions of themselves, though there’s a tongue-in-cheek affinity for classic single-working-female-in-the-city sitcoms of the past such as Marlo ThomasThat Girl, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda. The first episode was kinda broad, but Fey makes a marvelously deadpan farceur, as does Baldwin’s GE/NBC exec put in charge of programming, applying the “three-heat” principle he learned as inventor of a new microwave oven. Jane Krakowski plays a slapstick version of her sex-crazed flirt on Ally McBeal, while SNL veteran Tracy Morgan remains an acquired taste capable of moments of inspired insanity. There’s also the requisite bedraggled writing staff and beleaguered impressionist in each. The ironic thing is, the shows-within-the-show in both Studio 60 and 30 Rock are way better than this year’s SNL. The overall bar here isn’t set as high as its high-profile competitor, but it’s probably truer to its subject—after all, it is only comedy, not the White House…though these days it’s hard to tell the difference. —RT

8. Album Covers Battle: Along with last week’s demise of Tower Records and discussions about the future of physical product in a digital world comes this online animated salute to yet another endangered species—album covers. It’s rather telling that, in the introduction to this clever piece, the reference is to “anyone who spends time organizing their album art on iTunes,” which is really the only place these images will probably be seen in the not-too-distant future. Actually, this clip is recommended to anyone who remembers the days of cruising the aisles of vinyl at their local record emporium, back when you were bombarded with the array of classic album covers contained here at College Humor.com, all rearranged to look like an episode of Celebrity Deathmatch. —RT

9. The Exies, “Once in a Lifetime” (Eleven Seven/ADA): The first single from the L.A.-based post-grunge/pre-emo group’s upcoming album for Allen Kovac’s label is a slowed-down cover of the Talking Heads’ classic that emphasizes David Byrne’s lyrics, a wry take on materialism and the nuclear family. Lead vocalist Scott Stevens’ somber reading highlights the existential angst and identity crisis long buried underneath the catchy Afrobeat and famed fundamentalist preacher video. The major question, “How did I get here?” at the heart of the song now makes explicit the philosophical and metaphysical connotations that were embedded in the original. To hear it and other new material, go to http://www.myspace.com/theexies  —RT

10. Gripe of the Week: If you live in L.A., it seems rather churlish to complain about the traffic. After all, there’s a price to pay for all that sunshine and 75-degree days, and that’s sitting on the 101-405 interchange with your Sirius Satellite Radio clicking off and on. So it took awhile to build up a real head of steam last Saturday, which was the Perfect Storm in terms of events around the metropolitan area, as it took me almost three hours to go from my Woodland Hills home to a seat high above the field in Dodger Stadium for last week’s deciding game in the NLDS between the home team and my Mets. The real problem took place inside the stadium parking lot, where gridlock ensued and no one seemed to be in charge for a crowd that turned out to be several hundred more than the 56,000 capacity the city allows. We finally found an attendant, who told us, after we sat in our car for the first three innings, listening to Vin Scully in stereo from everyone else’s radios, we should park anywhere. We quickly pulled into a reserved area, made our own space and headed for the seats, where I nervously watched over the centerfield fence as cars were being towed from the lot. Luckily, our car was there at the end, though it took another 45 minutes to finally make our way out of there. I promise to no longer ridicule Dodger fans for arriving in the third inning and leaving by the seventh. —RT

CALENDAR
Fri, Oct. 13th
5:00pm
A’s vs. Tigers on Fox: The A’s, in desperation mode, are hoping the erratic Rich Harden can pitch a gem and that Kenny Rogers gives up some runs after pitching a gem of his own against the Yanks in the ALDS.

6:00pm
Hurt @ The Buddah Bar, Fort Myers, FL

Plain White T's @ The Tabernacle, Atlanta

6:30pm
Hollywood Horror Nights @ Universal Studios Hollywood: For the first time ever, Universal Studios is creaking open its doors after dark. In honor of Halloween, the park becomes what’s being billed as a "living horror film." Thrill yourself silly in the haunted mazes, nightmarish rides and freaky attractions, including the Carnival of Carnage and a Fear Factor: Dead Celebrity Edition. Then bang heads to live music and a dance party with The Mutaytor. But watch your back—be on the lookout for The Director (this is Hollywood, after all), a sociopath on the hunt for a muse to star in his next film. He might just pick you.

8:00pm
The Beastly Bombing or a Terrible Tale of Terrorists Tamed by the Tangles of True Love @ the Steve Allen Theater (4773 Hollywood Blvd.): Author/director Julien Nitzberg and musical composer Roger Neill's critically acclaimed musical is about two Timothy McVeigh-inspired white supremacists who arrive in New York to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, where they meet two bumbling Al Qaeda operatives with the exact same plan. There's also a war-hungry president in this satire of a post-9/11 world gone mad.  See www.thebeastlybombing.com for more info and tickets (also on Saturday).

7:00pm
Lostprophets & Eighteen Visions @ Crocodile Rock Cafe, Allentown, PA

8:00pm
Citizen Cope w/Alice Smith @ House of Blues, West Hollywood

Sat, Oct. 14th
All day
2006 Lost Energy Drink International Surfing Association (ISA) World Surfing Games (WSG) in Huntington Beach, CA: Considered the Olympics of surfing, the competition gets underway with Opening Ceremonies including the Parade of Nations and the traditional mixing of the Sands of the World. The Games feature some of the best surfers from all over the world vying for team and individual gold, silver, bronze and copper medals. There are 35 countries, including contingents from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Tahiti, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The Games are hosted by Surfing America, the national governing body for the sport of surfing in the U.S.

10:00am
Arizona State Fair @ Arizona State Fairgrounds: Picture the flashing lights, taste the cotton candy and listen for the clink of coins skidding across plates on the midway. Childhood is not complete without the experience of visiting a state fair. Arizona's happens in the fall. Whether you favor livestock auctions over midway games, or live music over handmade quilts and home baked pies, some aspect of the fair speaks to everyone.

12:00-3:00pm
Chocolate Bar at Cafe Fleuri in Boston: Can you say “sugar rush”? Alejandro Luna, the Langham Hotel's new pastry chef, has taken the historically mind-blowing, all-you-can-eat chocolate paradise and infused it with a new blast of elegance and innovation.

4:45pm
Flordia at Auburn on ESPN: Although Florida is the better team, expect this to be a tightly contested game because Auburn was just embarrassed at home by Arkansas and will want to make a better showing against the #2 team in the country on national TV..

5:00pm
Michigan vs. Penn St on ABC: Although Penn St isn’t that good this year, they will be at home in Happy Valley in front a lot of crazy fans, and this is an intense rivalry game.

7:00pm-11:00pm
Alien Extreme @ Vertuccio’s Farm in Mesa: There's a reason why this adventure is not marketed to young children. The corn maze is alien-free, but the rest of this Area-51-type attraction is likely to be too intense for them. That's why children under age 10 must be accompanied by an adult. The 10-acre Chicken Little corn maze is family-friendly, but little ones should still have an adult nearby to ward off lost-in-the-maze panic.

Sun, Oct. 15th
5:15pm
Raiders vs. Broncos on NBC: This game has all the makings of a blowout; can a team score negative points?

7:00pm
Sparta @ The Opera House, Toronto

8:00pm
Xzibit w/San Quinn @ House of Blues, West Hollywood
 
The Killers @ The Fillmore Auditorium, Denver

JE-C’S NEW-MOVIE RUNDOWN
Infamous
Starring:
Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Daniels
Synopsis:
This Truman Capote biopic, not to be confused with Capote, stars unknown Toby Jones as the renowned writer, who became uncomfortably close to the murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock while researching his "non-fiction novel," In Cold Blood.
Thoughts:
Although I can’t imagine that this will be as good as Capote, I still have reason to see it because it’s directed by Doug McGrath, who is a family friend. Plus, it has a great cast.

Man of the Year
Starring:
Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, David Alpay, Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Linney
Synopsis:
Many talk show hosts harbor lofty ambitions, but few would go to the extremes of Tom Dobbs. After entering the race for President as a joke, Dobbs is in for quite a surprise when he proves to be more popular than anyone could have imagined.
Thoughts:
It’s Robin Williams in a comedy, thank God. I do like him in the creepy drama roles, but he’s so much better when he’s going for laughs.

Also opening this week:
The Grudge 2

HOT NEW MUSIC TO CHECK OUT:
The Lupe Fiasco CD is a must have especially if you are a hip-hop fan. A nearly flawless debut for the Chicago-based rapper. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I popped the disc in the car, I found myself hypnotized.

JE-C’S TOP MOVIES OF THE YEAR SO FAR
V for Vendetta:
This is my favorite movie of the year so far, for many reasons. It's more than just a comic book adapted for the big screen; it’s a movie that makes a big political statement that we can all relate to these days. Definitely a movie that was slept on, and I advise everyone to check it out if you haven't yet.
World Trade Center: Another important movie that I urge people to see. I was in tears, and although a lot of it is hard to watch, it’s quite an astonishing story.
The Illusionist: Giamatti and Norton are truly awesome.
X-Men III: The Last Stand: If this is the last one, it certainly satisfied my appetite. It had it all, including some incredible action sequences.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Simply awesome! Johnny Depp is brilliant, Bill Nighy is creepy, Keira Knightley is sexy and it has great special effects and nonstop action.
Mission Impossible III: OK, people are getting sick and tired of Tom Cruise, but if you can just get past him, this movie is actually really good. A lot of people are missing out because they’re so turned off by the star’s off-screen antics.
An Inconvenient Truth: The most important movie of the year. A must-see.
Nacho Libre: The funniest movie of the year. Jack Black rocks.
The Devil Wears Prada: Makes my list because Meryl Streep is truly brilliant, and if you haven’t seen it, or are on the edge about seeing it, go for her performance, if for nothing else.




THE GRAMMY NOMS: A PRELIMINARY CHEW
"Uh-huh" vs. "huh?" (11/20a)
AND THE NOMINEES ARE...
The list. (11/20a)
A TOP 20 OF TITANIC PROPORTIONS
Best enjoyed with a good belt. (11/20a)
SONY'S BIG WEEK
And that was before the Grammy deluge. (11/20a)
DABABY IN GERSON'S CRIB
Talk about pub crawling. (11/20a)
THE GRAMMY NOMINATIONS
They're here. What do they mean?
U.K. SPECIAL
Forget Brexit--it's our yearly survey of doings in Blighty. And if you still can't forget Brexit, try drinking.
WHAT'S GOING ON BENEATH OUR WINDOWS?
The latest in Hollyweird.
WEED!
That's what Hollywood smells like. Seriously. 24/7.
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