There is an air of finality to these first two episodes, a realization, as Tony admits, that guys like him are “80% likely to end up in prison, 20% on a slab.”


Premium Cable Wonderers Are Wondering,
Will Tony Sleep With the Fishes or Start a
New Life in Albuquerque?
1. The Sopranos (HBO): The first of the final nine episodes gets underway with police banging on the door of the Sopranos manse as Edie Falco’s Carmela awakes with a start: “Is this it?” Yeah, this is it, alright, as James Galdofini’s Tony is arrested on a weapons charge from dropping his gun in the snow after fleeing from Johnny Sac’s house three years earlier. The noose is drawn tighter and the end becomes more inevitable as the mob boss contemplates his own mortality, admitting mournfully to Lorraine Bracco’s Dr. Melfi: “I know too much about the subconscious now.” The last season of the groundbreaking series starts deliberately, as Tony and Carmela visit his sister, Aida Turturro’s Janice, and husband Steven Schirripa’s Bobby at the upstate lakeside retreat to celebrate Tony’s 47th birthday at the house he never stops reminding the two he got for them. They all get drunk, the girls croon out-of-tune karaoke, then they take part in a game of Monopoly that suddenly erupts into a violent sumu-like brawl after Bobby attacks Tony over a sly dig at Janice faster than you can say Joe Pesci. A bruised and battered Soprano, looking a lot older than his 47 years, sulks the next day before quickly turning the tables, enlisting Bobby to prove loyalty by “busting his cherry,” performing his first-ever hit. A sullen Bobby returns to his family after the killing and embraces his daughter to the tune of “This Magic Moment” as Janice beams and the episode fades to black. Once again, the connection between family and family business is brought home with twisted irony, as only The Sopranos can. Great use of soundtrack music, too, especially the James Gang’s “Funk #49” on the car radio heightening the tension between Tony and Carmela on the ride up. The second installment begins with a hilarious scene from Cleaver, the mob slasher movie produced by Michael Imperioli’s Chris, which is finally complete, though the title is tentative because apparently they’re being sued by the estate of Eldridge Cleaver. At the screening, everyone believes the brawny boss being played by Daniel Baldwin is based on Tony, which gets Carmen upset because he’s shown having an affair with the title character’s girlfriend, making the movie, as she ominously explains to Tony, "a revenge saga," referring explicitly to the still-missing Adrianna. While Vince Curatola’s Johnny Sack is dying in a prison cancer ward, where he’s being comforted by Sydney Pollack’s orderly, a one-time oncologist serving time for murdering his wife, his N.Y. gang is killing one another off in an attempt to succeed Frank Vincent’s burnt-out Phil Leotardo, returned from a quadruple bypass surgery after seven months of intensive therapy and in no mood to defend his rule. There is an air of finality to these first two episodes, a realization, as Tony admits, that guys like him are “80% likely to end up in prison, 20% on a slab.” The humor is still mordant and left field. In the first, Gandolfini does a spot-on W.C. Fields impression at the Monopoly table and Tony Sirico’s Paulie inexplicably quotes Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” when he hears of the death of a mob boss. The second episode’s highlight occurs when Chris bullies Cleaver’s screenwriter into telling Tony the story was his idea, forcing the harried scribe to insist he based the character on “Broderick Crawford in Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday.” After Tony watches a video of the old movie, he confesses to Melfi that Chris' painting him as a violent, vengeful brute has hurt to the core. The mood grows increasingly dark and foreboding with the creeping realization that no one will get out of here alive, even if they do survive. As each of the main characters comes to terms with their individual destiny, they begin to comprehend their loved ones can offer little consolation. In the end, they learn the hard way that even family doesn’t matter…especially when you’re dead.

2. Neil Young, Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise): Musician Dan Navarro recently wrote that seeing Young in concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall just 10 days after this January 19, 1971, show, waiting on line all night to purchase a $6 ticket, changed his life. Recorded in Toronto between 1970’s After the Gold Rush and 1972’s commercial breakthrough Harvest, this CD/DVD set should have been Young’s next album at the time, according to his late producer David Briggs on the sticker attached to the release. It’s simply solo Neil, alternating between acoustic guitar and piano, before an adoring Canuck audience that erupts when, during “Journey Through the Past,” he warbles, “Now I’m going back to Canada.” Young announces he hasn’t been in his native country for five years, and he’s already a star thanks to CSNY, but this set finds him on the cusp of his own solo success, introducing new songs from Harvest that resonate like instant classics. He prefaces “Old Man” by talking of its real-life inspiration, the caretaker on the ranch he’s just purchased, then plays “A Man Needs a Maid” and “Heart of Gold” as a single suite, commenting it’s for a movie. Already familiar material like “Helpless,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” “Ohio,” “Down by the River” and “I Am a Child” are interspersed with soon-to-be Harvest classics like “There’s a World” and “The Needle and the Damage Done.” The effect is remarkable, an artist coming into his own, discovering his power, poised between cult appeal and crossover fame. The accompanying DVD captures Young shrouded in shadows, framed by his long, flyaway black hair, the missing sections replaced by an image of a reel-to-reel and an acoustic guitar in front of two mikes, underlining the mystery in monochromatic simplicity. If you agree that, along with Dylan, Neil Young is our finest rock singer/ songwriter, Live at Massey Hall 1971 records him at his most intimate, yet accessible, peak, which makes this latest edition from his impressive archives arguably one of the greatest live rock albums of all time.

3. Alanis Morissette, “My Humps”: I mean, who knew Alanis Morissette even had a sense of humor, except for that appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm, that is, but this slowed-down, tongue-in-chic video of the Black-Eyed Peas’ suddenly ubiquitous hit (also featured as a running joke in Blades of Glory) is a viral phenomenon which has done more for her career than even that acoustic version of Jagged Little Pill she put out in Starbucks a year or so ago. Just to hear her utter the phrase, “that junk in your trunk,” is enough to ponder the absurdity of the lyrics in the same manner as Steve Allen once did in reciting “Be Bop a Lula” on his old TV show. Morissette’s “My Humps” is just the latest example of using the Internet in guerilla fashion to circumvent the gatekeepers and kick-start even the most moribund career by tweaking your persona for public consumption. The video on YouTube has already been viewed by more than 2 million people here…and it was made for less than $2k!

4. Ozomatli, Don’t Mess With the Dragon (Concord): This 10-piece, multi-culti collective deserves to be considered alongside the likes of Los Lobos as one of this city’s true Latino-rock music treasures, a melting pot that reflects the city’s own polyglot populace. On their new album, and second for label Concord, they’ve taken advantage of that rare stability to both branch out and pay tribute to their roots. The opening, “Can’t Stop,” is a perfect example of the band’s non-stop, post-punk intensity, all forward motion and sinewy, interlocking movements. “City of Angels” is their answer to “I Love L.A.” for those on the East Side, which is also the location for the loving “After Party," recalling such barrio greats at Thee Midnighters and War, while the title track acknowledges influences from yet another direction, the Far and Middle East. Even with the reaching out, Ozo maintains a political edge, whether it’s the post-Katrina New Orleans homage of “Magnolia Soul” or the proud acknowledgement of last year’s immigration protests, “La Temperatura,” each taking the musical style of its pointed subject. And if there’s any doubt that punk was an influence, the group’s “When I Close My Eyes” is a tribute to the herky-jerky hybrid new wave/ska of fellow Angelenos Oingo Boingo and Fishbone. Conceived as an art project spawned at a local gallery, and executed with an eye towards the communal aspects of the Internet, Dragon tracks the progress of a band that may be offering an olive branch to the mainstream, but heroically refuses to give in to convention.

5. TV on the Radio, Live at Amoeba Music (Interscope): Walk into Amoeba Records any afternoon, and you immediately forget that the music industry is supposed to be on life support. The vibe is much as it was at Tower Records, say, 15-20 years ago. People interested in music being sold stuff by retailers who live, eat and breathe it in a bustling environment that is filled with opportunities for discovery. Sure, the entire enterprise is fueled on the ability to sell used product at cheaper prices than the “clean” versions, but don’t tell me they don’t move their share of new stuff, too, including a wide variety of boxed sets, rare DVDs and popcult items that you can’t find at your local big box retailer. The Hollywood branch of Amoeba, right down the block from HITS on Sunset, also hosts a steady slate of in-store performances, including marvelous sets by The Raconteurs, Neko Case and The Shins that I was lucky enough to catch first-hand over the past year. This four-track sampler, recorded last Sept. 22, freeze-frames TVOTR's emergence as a rock force to be reckoned with, perfomring songs from the much-kudoed Return to Cookie Mountain. The jagged rhythms and controlled chaos brand this as something Christgau used to call avant-punk, with lead vocalist Kyp Malone’s falsetto recalling Pere Ubu’s David Thomas, set against Tunde Adebimpe’s more strident vocals on the post-9/11 angst of “Blues From Down Here” and  “Wolf Like Me.” On “Province” and “Wash the Day,” Dave Sitek’s synth samples include art-rock Tull-like flutes, the neuroses and anxiety suddenly giving way to hope and a glimmer of possible transcendence. Like Amoeba itself, TVOTR caters to those cultists who take their rock seriously, currently an endangered minority to be sure, but always capable of blossoming into the next mainstream. Just call them TV on the Radiohead because this band is headed for arena status…even if it never ends up getting reflected on the sales charts.

6. Brandi Carlile live at the Troubadour, L.A.: Funny thing is, you’d think Brandi Carlile was just another of those Pacific Northwest folkies, a singer/songwriter in the sweet-voiced Michele Branch vein, or maybe even a roots Americana performer like Lucinda Williams, judging from the fact T Bone Burnett produced her new album, The Story. But you’d be wrong. Instead, the multi-octave vocalist uses her range to achieve an emotional effect, kinda like her fellow Seattle rocker, the late Kurt Cobain, on songs like “Turpentine,” using those raw nerve endings (“These days we go to waste like wine/That’s turned to turpentine”) to express the pain of a ruptured relationship. Backed by a crack four-piece band which includes twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth on guitars and bass, Carlile keeps her emotions very much in control (“I’m not that kind of girl,” she admonishes the crowd after they cheer her revelation she’s not wearing anything under her suit jacket), but finally lets loose with a spirited version of The Beatles’ “I've Just Seen a Face,” as part of a medley including “Closer,” from her self-titled debut. A ballsy cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” (“I killed a man in Reno/Just to watch him die”) gets the crowd pumped for a tender version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” by way of Jeff Buckley, in which she calls up James Taylor back-up vocalist, Arnold McCuller, who brings the house down with a searing, sweet-tempered gospel duet. The audience is rapturous throughout, and Carlile seems genuinely moved by the love. She sings the title track of the new album— “So many stories of where I’ve been/And how I got to where I am/But these stories don’t mean anything/When you’ve got no one to tell them to”—and from the sound of her fans’ adulation, that's not going to be a problem any time soon.

7. That 1 Guy, The Moon is DisgustingBerkeley one-man-band muso Mike Silverman started out as a classically trained upright jazz bassist, but frustrated by the instrument’s limits, built a contraption called the Magic Pipe, a Rube Goldberg-meets-Dr. Seuss invention made of miked steel tubing shaped like a harp, with a single plugged-in string bow attached from top to bottom, kind of a modern-day gutbucket. His music is similarly a blend of primitive delta blues in the style of Captain Beefheart or Tom Waits (for whom he played bass on two tracks on the recent Orphans album) and space-age soundscapes like the 14-minute-plus “Rainbow,” an aural version of the final starchild scene in Kubrick’s 2001, which takes us from the dawn of man to dusk. On his second album, Silverman continues to show the range of his remarkable self-made instrument, which also includes an electric cowboy boot played like a talking drum and a wired handsaw, one more remnant of his roots, folkloric approach. His wacky sense of slapstick (which could also describe his physical way of playing the Magic Pipe with hands and feet flying) comes across on his trilogy, “Bananas,” “Oranges” and “Guava,” where he makes the connection between fruit and sex in all their succulent glory. There is a sensuality implicit and explicit in songs like the ticklish “Mustache” and the hip-hop scratching of “Butt Machine” which prove That 1 Guy is about the hips as much as the head, while the frequent references to the moon indicate someone in touch simultaneously with his inner myth and outer rear end.

8. The New York Mets: Being the long-suffering diehard I am, the just-completed spring training was excruciating, as the Mets stumbled through their worst preseason ever, winning only 10 and losing 21. I was filled with trepidation not so much about the team’s much-maligned pitching staff as much as their bats, which had been moribund since last fall, when all of a sudden they stopped hitting midway through the Cardinals series. Turns out I had nothing to worry about, for as soon as the bell want off and the real season got underway, the Mets flew out of the gate like thoroughbreds. Opening in St. Louis, where the team seemed to rub dirt in the Mets’ faces by holding a championship flag-raising ceremony opening night and a ring presentation before the second game, but the New Yorkers came out with guns (and balls) blazing, winning all three contests by a combined score of 20-2, assuaging at least a little of the pain from losing last year’s NLCS in seven. Over-40 pitchers Tom Glavine and El Duque, along with relative twentysomething newcomer John Maine, were all at the top of their games, while the bullpen has, so far, been lights out. The impressive everyday line-up offers one potent weapon after another, from power speedster Jose Reyes at the top, to Los Dos Carlos, Beltran and Delgado, in the middle, leading to All-American boy-next-door heartthrob David Wright, followed by two wily veterans with chips on their shoulders and something to prove in Moises Alou and Shawn Green. It’s only three games, with 159 more to go, but the Amazins have already made a statement against the defending World Series victors, no matter how unworthy, reminiscent of 1986, their last championship season, when they also disposed of their longtime nemesis the Cards in an early four-game sweep. Now, it’s on to Atlanta and then home for a series with Philadelphia, as the New Yorkers face what promise to be the two main competitors in their division this year. Bring ‘em on.

9. Bill Mumy: Depending on your generation, you remember Bill Mumy as the spooky tyke with big eyes and freckles who telepathically exiled those who displeased him to the cornfield in the classic Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life,” as Will Robinson in the long-running TV series, Lost In Space, or as the mysterious, but noble Lennier in Babylon 5. Still others know him as a member of the satirical rock band Barnes & Barnes, whose “Fish Heads” was a novelty staple on Dr. Demento’s syndicated radio show, or simply as himself, a singer-songwriter with six solo albums including his latest, With Big Ideas, produced by longtime session drummer extraordinaire Russ Kunkel. Throw in an Emmy nomination for Music Direction and Composition on the live-action Disney series Adventures in Wonderland and a Cable Ace nod for Best Children’s Series as co-creator, producer and writer of the Nickelodeon sci-fi series Space Cases, and you have someone who deserves to be dubbed the anti-Bonaduce for his ability to not just survive but thrive after being a child star. He also remains friends with his Lost in Space co-star and onetime girlfriend Angela Cartwright, who helped art-direct the package for his latest CD. A nice guy, Mumy is surprisingly down-to-earth for someone who’s spent much of his career in outer space. Just don’t anger him or he will send you to the cornfield.

10. Gripe of the Week: I’ve complained about this before, but the trend towards emails, IMs and text messaging over actually talking to a human being on the other end seems to be getting worse. Most of us who are lucky enough to be in the music business chose to do this because of our passion, our desire to prosletyze about stuff we loved to others who might share our enthusiasm. Remember when the label publicist would call to pitch you on something? Yeah, neither do I, because it hasn’t happened for at least the last three or four years. That seems a sad development. One can’t capture what moves us about music without somehow communicating that to another person, and somehow an attached MP3 along with a JPEG doesn’t quite match actually exchanging opinions in real time. The increasing reliance on computers and handheld gadgets at the expense of actual human interaction diminishes all of us, and reduces everything to its requisite 0's and 1’s. If machines are gradually taking over our lives, isn’t it time we held out a little bit for ourselves? If the music industry, not to mention other businesses, continues to eliminate the human factor, the very raison d’etre for creating and consuming music in the first place—its ability to touch our hearts and souls—has been irrevocably lost.

Friday, April 6th
John Legend w/Corinne Bailey RAE @ Gibson Amphitheatre.

Saturday, April 7th
Virgin College Mega Tour featuring Talib Kweli w/Sugarcult and William Tell @ House of Blues Las Vegas.

Nuggets @ Clippers on Channel 5: After an impressive win over their co-tenants Wednesday night, the Clippers face the suddenly red-hot Nuggets. This will be another big test for the Clippers, who may need to win all their remaining homes games to secure a playoff spot. L.A. has won seven of their last eight and will look to keep up that torrid pace as the regular season comes to a climax.


Starring: Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell, Rose Mcgowan, Rosario Dawson and more
Those two titans of terror—Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez—have teamed up for this throwback to the good ol' days when you could see two sleazy exploitation films for the price of one ticket. Rodriquez directs Planet Terror, an over-the-top tale of a small town trying to survive an outbreak of zombies, while Tarantino's Death Proof stars Russell as a serial-killing maniac who stalks beautiful women. Also features fake trailers for phoney movies by the directors.
Thoughts: Two words: “Hell, yeah”!!!

Also Opening this week:
Black Book:
Director Paul Verhoven (RoboCop, Showgirls) returns to his native Holland for the first time in two decades for a WWII thriller starring Carice van Houten as a Jewish singer who joins the Dutch resistance and poses as a Nazi sympathizer. The movie's getting wildly mixed reviews, but most critics are praising van Houten's performance, so it's a coin flip

Musiq Soulchild, LuvanMusiq:
Another classic from the gifted neo-soul artist. It’s been a while since I listened to Musiq, but hearing his new CD made me realize why I’ve long considered him to be one of the best neo-soul singers around. Unlike most of the records coming out these days, with one or two good songs and the rest filler, this a real album—every song is great. If you are a fan of the genre or of Musiq and have yet to listen to this new album, I suggest you pick it up—and if you aren’t completely satisfied, I’ll reimburse you out of my own pocket.

Dynamic duos (12/3a)
She'd make one helluva CEO. (12/3a)
Ch-chingle bells (12/3a)
Adele is money. (12/3a)
Reshuffling the deck (12/3a)

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