Back in the day when music videos were still THE popular form of artists getting their music out there I would spend hours in front of the television watching elaborate dances to all the big pop songs. It never occurred to me that someone was coming up with all the moves the dancers were performing. It certainly never crossed my mind that one person was responsible for most of them. Vincent Paterson is a name I wasn’t familiar with,and I doubt you were either. But one look at his resume and you know that his work is some of the most iconic dance of the past thirty years. In the new documentary The Man Behind The Throne, directed by first-timer Kersti Grunditz, we finally get to hear from the man himself.
The doc follows Paterson as he’s setting out to create a new Cirque De Soleil show called Viva Elvis! He’s shown working with dancers less than half his age, and not only can he keep up with them-he dances circles around them (not literally). We follow the arc of preparing the show all the way to the premiere in Las Vegas, with plenty of nostalgic looks at his past. Paterson is an engaging and charismatic guy, but the documentary really shines when we see some of his own footage of rehearsals with Michael Jackson and Madonna. This guy wasn’t only a dancer, he took the careers of a couple of the biggest stars in the world and shot them straight out of the stratosphere.
As a dancer he was featured in the videos for “Thriller” and “Beat It” (he’s the white guy in the knife fight). After assisting with the choreography on those, MJ asked him to direct the video for “Smooth Criminal” and the rest is history. Paterson has an amazing knowledge of motion and rhythm, and he’s able to translate his thoughts into performance at the drop of a hat. It’s no wonder Cirque wanted his help. He’s clearly the best in the business, but he doesn’t seem to care about that so much.
Humble might not be the right word, but I’m sure it applies to him. He’s made a point out of not becoming a celebrity himself, stating that after seeing how some of his clients had to live, he’d never want that. He says “I never feel like a creative genius. I always feel like I’m just an honest mule who wears his heart on his hoof.” Many times throughout the film Paterson mentions that he’s contemplating retirement after the Viva Elvis! show, but it’s clear from his passion for dance that this mule still has some miles left on those hooves.
It’s shocking to see a guy whose work has had such a ridiculous effect on pop culture go unrecognized for so long. Grunditz has made a film that shines a light on one of pop music’s best kept secrets, and it’s about time Paterson got some credit from people not in the dance world. A lot of artists go unappreciated in their own time, so I hope that people will check out this documentary and realize that there’s always someone behind the star, pushing them even further than they could ever go on their own.
The Man Behind The Throne will premiere at CIMM Fest in Chicago on May 4th at Society For The Arts at 3pm. You can get tickets here.
I love orchestral strings. Violin and cello are my two favorites, but I can get down with some viola and harp as well. It’s amazing how few people are known for their work on these instruments compared to the ones you find in traditional rock and pop music like guitar, piano, or drums. Hannah Thiem (she cuts the last name for stage use), is an accomplished player and producer who is about to debut her first solo EP called Brym later this spring. She weaves several interesting elements throughout this four and a half minute instrumental, with clever use of production to make it more than a run-of-the-mill violin solo.
There’s a blend of different cultures in the song that really adds to the depth of the music. It’s based on a Norwegian folk song, but includes sounds you may recognize from celtic and middle eastern artists. When the electronic element kicks in, it really pulses and drives the tension. At any second I’m expecting to hear Jack Bauer scream and shots begin to fire. The final minute of the song covers the aftermath, and it’s a quiet reflection on what just occurred. It’s a remarkable little piece that I think any music fan can enjoy.
I’ve heard a good number of Roo & The Howl songs over the past year or so, but none have been quite as compelling as “Give Me Time.” From the Goldfrapp-ish opening to the random fits of guitar in the opening verse, the song is never what you expect it to be. What could have been a fun, poppy jaunt turns into a loud, brash ballad with Bekah Wagner’s voice whispering above the banging piano.
Wagner hails from the Rocky Mountains, but her voice reminds me of another songstress from my region here in the midwest, Milwaukee’s Heidi Spencer. Both singers have a way of eluding to how big their voices can go without actually going there. It’s a device most never bother to learn. There’s a depth of intimacy that can be reached when the listener knows you’re holding something back, and Wagner uses it effectively here.
Roo & The Howl is dropping a full-length record, Me/We, on May 20th. If you like what you hear above, you can purchase the song on Bandcamp. While there you can also pre-order the album either in the digital format, or on vinyl.
When I saw the name Tangerine pop up in my mailbox last week, for some reason I kept thinking of Tangerine Dream. Not entirely sure why, but it was a couple days before I had a chance to listen to it. I was pretty disappointed at first-still thinking it was the German electronic group that scored Ridley Scott’s Legend. But after a couple minutes I started to enjoy this new Tangerine band’s sound.
It’s got that same New Wave-y charm that endeared me to La Roux a few years ago. It could almost be categorized as Stars covering A Flock Of Seagulls. The song is bouncy fun from beginning to end, with Marika Justad’s vocals gliding effortlessly over a funky bass line. The guitar solo toward the end, so out of place in most pop songs, is a brief reminder that Tangerine isn’t trying to jump into a crowded field of radio-friendly also-rans. Rather they’re trying to build a real fan base by writing catchy songs that require real skill to pull off.
They’ll have a full-length out later this year, so if you like “Nothing Better,” be sure to keep an eye out.
Last year the CIMMFest team was cool enough to let me check out a couple events and sent me some screeners so I could review other movies that I couldn’t see when they showed in theaters. It was a lot of fun, and they’re so passionate about bringing the worlds of cinema and music together it’s hard not to get excited along with them. This year’s lineup is the best yet, so I’ve put together a little “recommended list” for you to ponder before you finalize plans.
Looking through the films that they’ll be exhibiting this year, it’s easy to say “Just hit everything you can.” You should totally do that if you have the time. Otherwise, here are the ones I would schedule part of your day around.
Theory Of Obscurity: A Film About The Residents-Showing at The Hideout on 5/3 at 2:30pm
Looking For Johnny-Showing at Logan Theatre on 5/3 at 7:15pm
The Man Behind The Throne-Showing at Society For Arts on 5/4 at 3pm
Winding Stream-Showing at Logan Theatre on 5/3 at 5:10pm
20,000 Days On Earth-Showing at Logan Theatre on 5/3 at 9:30pm
Bayou Maharajah-Showing at Society For Arts on 5/2 at 7pm
Be Here To Love Me-Showing at Logan Theatre on 5/3 at 12:30pm
I Dream Of Wires-Showing at Society For Arts on 5/2 at 9:15pm
Take Me To The River-Showing at Logan Theatre on 5/4 at 4:15pm
Pleased To Meet Me-Showing at Logan Theatre on 5/2 at 9:25
Palestine Stereo-Showing at Logan Theatre on 5/4 at 7pm
There are also a ton of great-looking shorts playing throughout the fest. For more info on those, and to buy tickets to the above movies, check out CIMMFest.org.
If you think the cinema entries are something to get excited about, wait until you hear all the amazing music that’s gonna be swinging through Chicago durning the fest!
Yo La Tengo at Concord Music Hall 5/1
Closed Sessions Showcase featuring Blu & Exile, Alex Wiley, SHOWYOUSUCK at Double Door 5/2
Escort at Concord Music Hall 5/2
Tim Kinsella plays the songs of Marvin Tate with Leroy Bach, Willis Earl Beal, the YEAH babies at The Hideout 5/2
Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin live scoring Suspiria at Metro 5/3
Bloodshot Records Showcase with Murder By Death and Andre Williams at Logan Square Auditorium 5/3
These New Puritans at Empty Bottle 5/3
I heard a rumor that The Residents will play a set after the documentary shows at The Hideout 5/3, but that could be completely fabricated.
Booker T at City Winery 5/4
Ingenuity Of Hip-Hop: Psalm One, Serengeti, A Cross, Ancient Jewelz at Subterannean 5/4
Ema, Trust, Mozart’s Sister, Downtown Boys at Empty Bottle 5/4
For ticket info, again you can check out CIMMFest.org and buy single show tickets or get festival passes.
[ed. note: I'm re-posting this from my movie review site as it pertains as much to music as it does to movies]
Last night I walked into the tiny Facets Cinemateque theater to see Mistaken For Strangers. I thought it was just going to be a run-of-the-mill doc following the band around with a bunch of concert footage and some silly behind the scenes antics. Instead I saw a real movie about a man (director Tom Berninger) searching for his place in life and coming to terms with his older brother’s success. There are enough great shots of the band and big laughs to please fans of The National and otherwise, but I think all film lovers will be surprised with how well it works as an interesting narrative feature and documentary.
The story kicks off with Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National, asking his brother Tom to join them on a tour of Europe as a roadie. Tom thinks this is great-he doesn’t get to see his brother that often and he wants to document the tour for a movie. Throughout the movie he’s constantly being told to put the camera down and help with other things. He’s a lifelong screw-up, and it’s interesting to watch him take this great opportunity and continuously make poor decisions about pretty much everything.
He does set each member of the band down for a little Q&A, but these generally end up being silly because Tom has a real Chris Farley complex when he’s asking questions. He stumbles his way through questions about how famous they are, what it’s like playing in front of five thousand people, and the creative process of making a record. Then there are times when he asks things thing, “Who can play guitar faster, you or your brother?,” or “Has my brother ever lost his temper with you?” Errol Morris he is not, but these short sessions usually reveal more about Tom than they do about the band.
Over the course of a few tour stops the film changes from a movie about The National to a film about brothers. The band is made up of two sets of brothers and Matt, so it’s cool that the familial dynamic is something they explored with this movie. Tom and Matt love each other, and get along for the most part. You can see Matt struggle to not yell at Tom when he screws up, and the couple times Matt does lose his temper a bit it seems more out of disappointment than anger.
It’s hard to explain the film, really, because it’s so short it feels like describing any scene is giving too much away. At a brisk 75 minutes, I definitely wanted it to be longer, but Tom Berninger does a great job of carving out a story that comes to a satisfying conclusion. He does get some amazing footage of the band, including a performance of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” that completely changed the way I feel about the song. He also gets Matt doing his usual stage move, and I’ve seen this myself, where he leaves the stage and walks as far back into the audience as he can. Of course, at the filmed show he got all the way out to the lobby of the venue, so that’s new.
If you have a sibling, I think the movie can be a bit more dramatic than if you’re an only child. We always want what’s best for our brothers and sisters, and you can see Tom and Matt are always rooting for each other. I don’t know if Tom has plans to keep making documentaries or do features, but he’s definitely got the passion for it. He’s just one of those lovable goofballs you always want around, so I hope he finds something a little better than the other movies he’s directed (there are a couple of hilarious scenes depicting his prior work).
The movie is only in a very limited number of theaters, so I’m glad I live somewhere that I could see it on the big screen. If you aren’t so lucky you can download Mistaken For Strangers on iTunes or check your video-on-demand listings.
If the question you’re looking to answer is “Who is the greatest songwriter?” The obvious answer is Bob Dylan. With his profound knowledge if literature, absurd mastery of the language, and his acerbic wit it’s hard to think anyone could do it any better. And you wouldn’t be wrong. If I’m alone in a room and want to listen to something, Dylan is a fine choice. But his songs aren’t exactly great for groups. No, for that another name comes to mind-Tom Petty.
Over the past 4 decades I can’t think of anyone who’s served as the soundtrack for American good times like Petty and his band The Heartbreakers. They just find the perfect groove that forces your mouth to sing along with every tune. It’s probably the reason I’ve seen at least 3 bands cover “American Girl” in the past year, and most likely the reason I loved all 3 of them.
The Best Fest (sponsored by Jameson) is putting on a show (a series of shows, actually) dedicated to Petty and his amazing craft. Petty Fest hit LA last week, and will be here in Chicago on April 23rd with musicians like Jakob Dylan, Allison Mosshart, John Stirrat and Pat Sansone (both of Wilco), Cory Chisel, Brendan Benson and a whole slew of others that want to get together and celebrate Tom Petty’s greatness. In the past they’ve also put other Petty Fests as well as a Dylan Fest and a Stones Fest, and they look like a blast from the pics and videos I’ve seen.
Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you-that’s Albert Hammond, jr and Nick Valensi of The Strokes jamming with Captain Jack Sparrow himself, mister Johnny Depp.
If you live in or around Chicago and you haven’t bought tickets to this, you need to quit being silly and snatch em up. Click HERE and then get yours before they’re gone!
Now here are my ten favorite Petty songs (both with the band and solo).
10. You Wreck Me
9. All Or Nothin’ (I couldn’t find a video for this one by Petty, so here’s the Denver School Of Rock kids doing it instead)
8. Here Comes My Girl
7. Runnin’ Down A Dream
6. The Waiting
4. Even The Losers
2. American Girl
1. You Got Lucky
Honorable Mention: Southern Accents