Tuesday, October 18, 2005

TV Eye

Let us now praise PBS--which is not a phrase I utter very often, by the way:

1. Has anyone else noticed how remarkably good Austin City Limits has been this year? The first show I caught this season was a full hour of Elvis Costello--easily one of the best televised concerts I think I've seen. Then came an excellent (also hourlong) Pixies reunion; a great, slightly scary Polyphonic Spree set; the Joss Stone performance that first brought her to my attention; a Wilco/Bright Eyes double bill (the latter featuring a guest spot by Jim James and M. Ward); even a perfectly fine if innocuous set by Jack Johnston, whom I find way more fun to look at than to listen to. And I have yet to see Katlheen Edwards, Gillian Welch, the Jayhawks, the Original Five Blind Boys of [one of those two states that has Original Blind Boys], Roseanne Cash, Modest Mouse, John Prine, Etta James, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Guided By Voices, Ryan Adams, Neko Case, and surely some other names I'm forgetting to drop. At first I thought this was some phenomenally great programming (in seasons past I'd typically find only 3 or 4 artists interesting at most, and most shows balanced one name act with one not-so-hot local up-and-comer), but when the Flaming Lips showed up twice in one season, I realized that this was actually some sort of 30th anniversary greatest-hits season consisting of highlights from the last several years all rolled into one, and the copyright dates on the episodes confirmed that hunch. The show seems to have veered pretty damned far from its original emphasis on Texas-based music with a countryish vibe--a description that doesn't quite seem to cover Franz Ferdinand, for instance--but I'm hardly complaining.

Speaking of the Flaming Lips, I gotta say I've never been a huge fan, but they were excellent, trotting out all the stuffed animal-people, crazy effects, and other oddnesses of their recent stage shows for their half-hour set. Then they reappeared later in the "season" (actually a few years earlier or later) as Beck's backing band. Beck, by the way, is another one of those people that all my friends love that I've never quite been that excited about, and his (hour-long) colaboration with them was another major highlight. Somehow the combo of two acts I'm not crazy about led to something greater than the sum of their parts.

2. I thought I'd missed the recent Independent Lens documentary on Parliament-Funkadelic, but my pal Richard brought a rebroadcast to my attention and I caught it after all. Great archival footage, some nice interviews with band members and later musicians influenced by George Clinton & co. (from De La Soul, Digital Undergound, etc.). I could've done without the annoying intro by Edie Falco, but I don't hold it against anyone. (Note to PBS: I know, I know, we all miss Alistaire Cooke, but it's truly not necessary to employ TV personalities to introduce your programs, particularly since they all do it in the identical, tooth-numbingly bland way.) Hearing all the accounts of how, er, altered the band was when they performed in their heavy acid days, I started thinking of them as a kind of musical parallel to the Cockettes, a comparison that never occured to me earlier but one that now makes a lot of sense.

Even if you didn't see the show, the accompanying website is plenty swell on its own. (And, hey, I scored 9 out of 10 on the P-Funk trivia quiz, thereby earning myself a "Doctor of Funkology" degree. Move over, Edie Falco! Doctor Ron is on the case.)


Celia said...

Did you really love that Elvis Costello concert? His incredibly loud guitar drove me bats. But I've been off him for a while now.

Steve Nieve, however, rocked my pants.

Ron said...

Hey, celia--
Thanks for dropping by! I'll return the favor with a plug for your own blog.

The incredibly loud guitar of Mister Costello (that's a Fassbinder film, isn't it?) was actually a selling point for me. Sometimes, but not always, I like a bit of ear-warping distortion. Dylan's punked-out version of "Ballad of a Thin Man" on NO DIRECTION HOME is one of my favorite tracks on that album, to cite an only vaguely related example. (It's not really the guitar there so much as the vocals and organ that are distorted, and it's way more extreme than the Costello concert, but still.)

And yeah, I was off Elvis myself for many years, but sometimes I crawl back on, and that show was an "on" moment for me. My days of purchasing each of his new albums as soon as it came out ended sometime around grad school, but I still think he's pretty incredible, all around.