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November 25, 2009 04:13 PM

All photos by Todd Cooper. See the whole gallery here

Well, I was totally wrong about that first song.

But first, Rain Machine, who blazed through their stoner hippie rock jam (this is a direct quote from my scribbled-in-the-dark notes, but I don't know whether I just wrote it down or Kyp Malone said it; I suspect the former). They ended with a song that references castration fear and — I'm pretty sure — involves Malone repeating "FUCK ALL" at length. That takes balls, folks. Malone noted that it's hard to play a stand-up show to a sitting-down crowd, but the band was pulled it off with mellow aplomb. Malone's the guitarist and one of the singers of TV on the Radio, but Rain Machine songs take up space in an entirely different way. The structures are different, the feeling more twisty and internal. And in the Hult Center, these weird, personal-but-sprawling songs sounded fantastic.

But we were all there for the Pixies. I'm really not sure I've ever felt more like the precise target audience for a show — maybe a bit on the young side, even, though there were actual kids there. Lucky little bastards. Some of them will get to tell all their friends that their first show was the Pixies at the Hult Center. Yeah, my first show was at the Hult Center too, but it was X-Piracy, which means nothing to about 97.478 percent of you, I assume.)

The band's intro involved a shit-ton of fake smoke and a scratchy old film showing on the screen behind the stage. People oohed audibly when the images on the screen split into three, four, more individual pictures, but they stood up in unison when the band appeared. "B-SIDES!" Kim Deal yelled from her position just out of the spotlight. "MORE B-SIDES!" Eventually, "More b-sides! I'm sure you guys haven't heard of them. They're so rare we had to learn them." I'm not a collector; I didn't know them. No one seemed to care either way. The front row wiggled and swayed. The balcony stayed seated, at least for the time being. The angle's a bit extreme up there.

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And then: Doolittle.

You know all these songs. I got goosebumps as Deal's bored vocals, still the epitome of a distant, clear style that people keep trying and failing to copy, drifted above Black Francis' growl (she kept referring to him as Charles, but I feel obliged to use his Pixies name). After every song, the cheering was so loud I had to plug my ears; during every song, Joey Santiago's guitar cut through everything, piercing and precise. This wasn't like the last Pixies show in Eugene, which left me underenthused and underwhelmed. This felt a little bit more like the echo of a Moment, a flashback that let those of us who never properly appreciated the Pixies — or were just too young, too behind, too dense to get it then — have a glimpse of how it might've been when Doolittle appeared in 1989.

I don't need to tell you what they played; it's right there on the back of your CD case, or maybe your old vinyl sleeve. Certain things more obviously charmed the crowed, though: the first time Black Francis shouted "HEY!" at the beginning of track 13. The distinctive riff of "Here Comes Your Man." Me, I fall for "Hips like Cinderella" every time, and have warm fuzzies about "Wave of Mutilation," mostly thanks to the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack.

For the album's finale — "Gouge Away," if you've forgotten — the screens behind the band reflected the crowd, in blurry, ragged slow-motion. After the last note, the band left the stage, shaking hands and waving; the screens changed, showing the four of them waving, bowing, laughing. "It's meta and kind of awesome," I scribbled in the dark as the stage cleared and the frantic clapping and stomping for an encore ensued.

(I don't recommend being in the balcony when the Hult is full of stomping Pixies fans. It's like Mac Court, but scarier somehow.)

"More b-sides!" Deal yelled when they came back out. "You should probably know these b-sides, though."

Yes: The "U.K. Surf" version of "Wave of Mutilation" — the one from that cassette soundtrack I had all those years ago. I was of two minds about this: Yay, two versions of a song I love! and Hey, are you serious? Two versions of one song? No one seemed to mind. Smoke smothered the stage amusingly, if literally, for "Into the White." For the second encore, the house lights stayed up the entire time. I forgot about watching the band and watched the audience, who unselfconsciously sang every word of "Gigantic," at the end of which Deal executed a tiny curtsey. Two more songs ("You are the son of a motherfucker" is likely not a phrase that's been said from the Silva stage before), and then —

Was there ever any chance they'd end with anything but "Where Is My Mind?" When you have a song like that, with that perfect Pixies dynamic, that echoey, eerie Deal vocal, can you end on any other note? You can't. Even if half of us can't help but think of the end of Fight Club when we hear it, you still don't have any other option. You have to let that song ring and settle and sink, with all its resignation and tricky beauty.

Women in the balcony blew kisses to Kim Deal and the audience on the main floor all but rushed the stage, hands outstretched, when it was over.

Doolittle is 20 years old and crazy influential. But it's ageless. And it, like every Pixies album, is a particular example of the magic of chemistry: You can like the Breeders all you like, you can love Grand Duchy, you can even have a fondness for Cracker. It doesn't matter: The Pixies are more than the sum of their parts.

November 20, 2009 11:13 AM

Two weeks ago, EW wrote about the potential of guerrilla gardening in Eugene as a way for citizens to rise up and overthrow the urban blight left downtown by failed city redevelopment projects.

This week the San Francisco Bay Guardian writes about how guerrilla gardening has taken off in San Francisco with backing even from public works bureaucrats and the mayor.

The paper writes of the transformative power of even temporary green space:

"When people see parking spaces turned into parks, vacant lots blossoming with art and conversation nooks, or old freeway ramps turned into community gardens, their sense of what's possible in San Francisco expands."

San Francisco is converting parking spaces to miniparks, restaurant seating or bike parking. Black granite cubes removed in the 1970s out of fear the homeless might sit on them are being taken out of storage and put back in public spaces. With many vacant lots in the down economy, the city is looking at giving developers incentives if they will allow temporary parks and gardens.

But the coolest thing out of San Francisco may be this pedal powered green machine that instantly converts a parking space into a park:

November 10, 2009 11:11 AM

There have got to be Grateful Dead-loving librarians in this town. It's statistically improbable that there aren't. Right? Right. If you are one of those librarians, boy howdy, does UC Santa Cruz have a job for you:

The University Library of the University of California, Santa Cruz, seeks an enterprising, creative, and service-oriented archivist to join the staff of Special Collections & Archives (SC&A) as Archivist for the Grateful Dead Archive. This is a potential career status position. The Archivist will be part of a dynamic, collegial, and highly motivated department dedicated to building, preserving, promoting, and providing maximum access both physically and virtually to one of the Library's most exciting and unique collections, The Grateful Dead Archive (GDA).

Among the minimum qualifications: "Expert knowledge in the history and scholarship of contemporary popular music, or American vernacular culture, preferably the history and influence of the Grateful Dead."

Get on it, librarians of Eugene. Make us proud.

(Via Boing Boing, of course.)

November 9, 2009 06:22 PM

My colleague Suzi Steffen and I have long disagreed about which Scott Westerfeld series is better. Suzi votes for his Midnighters books, about a group of teens in Bixby, Okla., who are awake for midnight’s magic hour, when clocks freeze but those born at midnight can move freely (if warily; strange things lurk in the midnight hour). I’m for the series that starts with Uglies and is set in a distant (and distantly post-apocalyptic) future in which everyone has an operation, at the age of 16, that turns them gorgeous — and idiotic.

The question might be moot, now. Westerfeld’s latest, Leviathan, is the first of a series — and you’d do well to know that going in, as nothing on the cover suggests that it’s not a standalone. Leviathan takes place in a world where things went a little differently around Darwin’s time. In England, he discovered DNA and figured out how to play with the threads of life, crossbreeding creatures and developing a biology-based military. England is Darwinist, but on the continent, the Clankers have control; in Austria-Hungariy and Germany, people travel in many-legged machines and rely on engines and guns for their defenses. And, of course, their offenses, which quickly come into play when a certain duke is murdered.

Leviathan is a ripping yarn, a classic-feeling adventure story that never forgets that its characters are trucking about their days precariously close to death. In Austria, Alek, the (fictional) young son of Archduke Ferdinand, is on the run from his own countrymen after the murder of his parents; he’s tearing across the continent in a walker, putting his own hours of training (at walker-driving, swordplay and the like) into immediate and dangerous practice. In England, a young Scot by the name of Deryn Sharp is also in hiding, but right out in the open: She’s joined the military (disguised as a boy, of course; this is alternate history, but some things are just the same) and found a place on the Leviathan, a great beastie of an airship that’s part zeppelin and part whale. Bees, bats, hawks, glowworms, hydrogen sniffers and humans are just some of the creatures that are part of the Leviathan's floating ecosystem.

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Deryn is a natural in the air, but for a good reason: her father was a balloonman, and her skills are the result of years of practice (a delight after too many fantasy books in which Our Heroines are just blessed with perfection and the ability to magically and instantly do everything required of them). She’s on the adventure she’s always wished for, while on the ground, Alek is in a terrible place, hunted, grieving, a pawn in a greater battle. Westerfeld switches between their viewpoints with ease, trading out Alek’s dangerous flight from Austria, with its bullets and fear and learning on the run, for Deryn’s life on the Leviathan, where she learns “Service-speak” and spikes dialogue with her own colorful slang.

Much of the book is scene-setting for the war that’s clearly to come, but that’s not to say it’s not fascinating. Leviathan is a story of conflict and contrast — not just the obvious war that’s creeping quickly over the horizon, but between science and technology; between a scientist and a count; between the potential heir to an empire and a girl from no particular background. Westerfeld is careful to keep both the Clankers and the Darwinists sympathetic (though it does seem like the Darwinists have more fun), and the depths to which he envisions his beasties and machines is impressive. It would be easy to get lost during Deryn’s treks through the giant Levitathan, but Westerfeld’s jaunty prose — with a gorgeous assist from Keith Thompson’s illustrations — keeps even a giant sky-beast in context and scope.

Westerfeld was one of the speakers at last month’s Wordstock festival in Portland, and I, late as ever, tore into the convention center in time to see about half of his talk, which mostly involved showing illustrations from Leviathan and discussing what they depicted and how these things related to the story — all while carefully avoiding spoilers and making delicious pronouncements like, “If you’re in a young adult novel, your parents already screwed up.” It was one of a generous handful of highlights of Wordstock, which I found alternately fantastic and frustrating. Its location, in the soulless convention center, was muffling; I tried to keep myself busy with panels and readings so I wouldn’t wind up wandering around the booths too often. They’re all stacked with gorgeous books, sure, but convention center trappings are the same wherever you go, and it gets a touch depressing.

The panels, however, were anything but. Besides Westerfeld, there were a few notable moments:

• Blake Nelson — whose Girl all Portlanders who were alive in the ’80s ought to have read by now — read from his latest, Destroy All Cars. It’s the story of a deeply, amusingly idealistic teenager who rails against automobiles, do-gooders who do nothing but talk and, among other things, big box stores. Nelson was reading on the Target Children’s Stage. The audience tittered appreciatively. While discussing the wide world of young adult publishing, Nelson, seeming sweetly uncomfortable, said, “They kind of overpay you if you write for boys.” Aspiring YA novelists, take note.

• Monica Drake and Gina Ochsner. Whoever put these two wonderful Oregon writers on one panel, well, I thank you. I loved Drake’s 2007 novel Clown Girl but hadn’t read anything by Ochsner. Drake’s reading was a disconcerting and alluring tease, a snippet of story about a new mother, a bottle of pills, the phrase “alone but not alone” repeating like a tolling bell; Ochsner’s was a short story that bowled me over with its gorgeous simplicity, its details, its lovely way of speaking about love and perfection and impossibility. I can’t find the damn story anywhere, though. I need it.

• Ethan Canin. “I’ve never given a reading at which so many people were holding Sherman Alexie books,” began Canin, who spoke not long after Alexie’s (sold-out) appearance. “There must be a reason for that.” I hear from a reliable source that Canin’s self-deprecating, laidback self-presentation — Oh, I hate reading aloud, shall we just talk about stuff, all of you and I? — is the norm for his appearances, but it was my first experience with him, and he was downright charming, telling stories and dispensing nuggets of wisdom about the writing life in equal measure. And when he did, eventually, read from America America, I decided it was about time I pick up one of his books.

• I missed James Ellroy, who was booked opposite Nelson, but reportedly he told an audience member to stuff his question up his ass. I shall never skip a James Ellroy appearance again. Well, unless he’s up against another young adult novelist I adore.

• Patrick deWitt and Maria Semple. I went to this panel out of curiosity about Semple, a former TV writer who worked on Arrested Development, and while the excerpt she read (from This One Is Mine) was bitingly funny, I came out of the reading fixated on deWitt’s debut novel, Ablutions: Notes for a Novel, about a bartender in an L.A. bar that’s seen better days. His second-person prose and knowing tone was more than promising.

• There was a panel called “Willamette Week at 35.” I assumed this would, well, be a panel about the Portland alt-weekly through the years, but instead, it was a panel of former WW writers who’ve published books. I stayed for Katherine Dunn (Geek Love) and Oregonian food critic Karen Brooks, who were both fantastic, down-to-earth, no-bullshit speakers (and writers). I was less impressed with Wordstock founder Larry Colton, who claimed that a) there were no young adults at Wordstock and b) young adults aren’t reading. He pointed to (among other things) the emptiness of Wordstock’s “young adult” area as proof.

The thing is — setting aside, for now, the question of young adults and reading (I don’t have the statistics for it, but I don’t think Colton did, either *) — it wasn’t a young adult area. Sure, there were young adult authors reading on the aforementioned Target stage — but it was part of what is clearly described in the Wordstock program as the “Target Children’s Stage & Activity Area,” with giant crayons and arts and crafts. That’s great! Have a kids’ area! But a kids’ area and a young adult space are entirely different things. Nothing about that space was exceptionally teen-friendly, and beyond that, I’m not sure Wordstock is the most teen-friendly thing in the world (that said, there were definitely teens at the Blake Nelson talk, and the Laini Taylor/Sarah Rees Brennan talk, too). I’m not sure how you make it more so, but again, the convention center is a problem, and so, I think, is the passive nature of most of the events. You go and sit and get talked at. It’s great if you’re already a super book nerd, but how do you get more casual readers to go? Especially teen readers?

I don’t know, but I think this is a question, not a blanket statement like Colton made. What I do know, though, is that just an hour or two earlier that day, I heard a teenager tell her mother, “I wish we’d discovered this earlier.” Her mom asked, Earlier like yesterday? No, the girl said, “like when I was 11 or 12.”

I knew how she felt.

* For some interesting statistics on what teens do read, you could take a look at this recent Publishers Weekly piece.

November 9, 2009 05:43 PM

Eugene Police Chief Pete Kerns today officially absolved fellow officers of any wrongdoing in tasering protester Ian Van Ornum last May.

The EPD's decision to not hold themselves accountable was widely expected. At a 3 pm press conference, Kerns largely repeated police justifications for the Tasering made by former Chief Robert Lehner three days after the incident.

Police officer Judd Warden Tasered Van Ornum in the back twice while Van Ornum lay face down with one or both arms behind his back. Here's police video from the Taser gun of Van Ornum writhing in pain:

After the Tasering Warden was given the "Officer of the Year" award by the Eugene Police Department.

Kerns is now reviewing another controversial Taser use by Warden against a Chinese student wrongly thought to be trespassing in his own home last month. Kerns said Warden deserved the Officer of the Year Award and stood by his public praise of Warden as "noble and hard-working" after the Tasering of the student. He denied that his praise indicated that he had already also prejudged whether that use of the 50,000-volt weapon was justified.

November 5, 2009 04:24 PM


Oh, internet.

Look, folks, do you really think the V remake is anti-Obama propaganda? Does it not seem slightly more likely that the idea of lovely alien visitors who promise universal healthcare is just, well, the result of a heavy hand on the part of the show's creators, who are beating the audience about the head with Timely and Important Commentary on Life, the Universe and Everything?

But wait — I'm getting ahead of myself. There's one thing the new V definitely is, and that's getting off on a slightly wobbly foot. The premiere didn't waste any time: By the end of the hour, we know for sure that the aliens are reptilian under their borrowed human skin, and that they're not the nice, giving, slightly creepy but generally harmless visitors their leader, the gorgeous Anna (Firefly's Morena Baccarin), claims they are. They've got sleeper cells all over the world! They're making passports and torturing humans and violently breaking up meetings of those who disagree with them!

V really wants to be relevant. Like, really, really relevant. So relevant they went a few steps too far, at least for me. Right away, a plane falls out of the sky in New York City, its pilot limply parachuting down behind. And did I miss a caption, or did the visitors arrive on a Tuesday — a gorgeous, warm fall Tuesday? Thanks, guys. Your 9/11 references weren't obvious enough already. Like virtually everyone has pointed out, Battlestar Galactica had a lot of post-9/11 relevance. It also had a reasonable degree of elegance, and sometimes a dollop of subtlety. V is opting to take the broader route, the more familiar route, the simplified route. It's a little weird how straightforward and simple this show seems, coming from the same network that gives us the puzzle that is Lost.

But all isn't aggravating or lost. Sure, the harsh camera angles are disconcerting (though I've got a bit of a theory about the sharp, strange angles, which often result in eerie eye-lights that glimmer narrowly in characters' otherwise impenetrable eyes: Lizard Cam!), and some of the dialogue is downright leaden. Did they actually make Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost's fantastic Juliet), as suspicious FBI agent Erica, deliver a cliché-riddled few lines about how her son must be running off to hang out with the Vs because his father left? Yes. Yes, they did.

But Mitchell rises above (as does the eerily calm Baccarin, and Morris Chestnut as Ryan Nichols, a man whose past is rapidly catching up to him). Mitchell can deliver even the tiniest line with wit and humor; listen to the many layers she gives to the word "No" when her partner (Alan Tudyk) asks if he can drive. In one word, she illuminates the relationship between them, the power structure, the familiarity. Even with the clunky, exposition-heavy lines, she gives Erica a down-to-earth quality that contrasts nicely with Baccarin's alien beauty, the boyish greed of Scott Wolf's hungry reporter, Chad Decker, and the bland blandness of her son, Tyler (Logan Huffman), who meets a hot V and is totally sold on their message of love and giving and connection and, y'know, taking over the world and such. Like io9's commenter, I would like the show to hurriedly throw Tyler under a bus, but I doubt we're going to get that wish: He's got to stick around to add some extra drama to Erica's newfound role as a V resister, and to court the youth vote — er, I mean, the younger viewers.

I think there's enough here to make V worth watching, but it feels like watered-down sci-fi, layered with familiar images as if the creators hope that will make it more palatable to a non-genre viewer. The speed with which the pilot zipped through the introductory material was interesting — there's no uncertainty as to whether these aliens are in fact reptilian and murderous — and it means we can dive right into the resistance and, hopefully, some character-building. More badass space technology, less whiny teenagers, OK?

November 4, 2009 02:51 PM

The Iraq war has reached new levels of absurd corruption.

The New York Times reports that the U.S. funded Iraqi government spent $85 million on plastic-coated cardboard divining rods to Ouija bombs and guns at checkpoints:

"The Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the
devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each.
Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints,
have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of
physical inspections of vehicles."

The paper reports that top Iraqi officials claim "the operator must walk in place a few moments to 'charge' the device, since it has no battery or other power source."

Is this what we wasted so many lives and so much money for?

October 16, 2009 04:56 PM

The number of things I haven't found time to blog about in the last few months — hey, it's Best of Eugene, and a girl only has so many hours in the week! — is nearing moderately frightful but not yet epic proportions. I think it's time for a Catch-All Catch-Up Post. It's cleansing for one and all! And when it's over, I can feel free to write about Wordstock and the men's basketball team without guilt!


Three days of music and debauchery! OK, mostly music. The last night of the fest, we loved The Brunettes, with their delicate and quirky percussion — at one point in a song, there was a sort of round of percussion that involved more tiny clicking and clacking instruments than I can remember — sweet harmonies and generally grand use of the kind of expansive instrumentation that makes the stage look like a third-grade music classroom exploded in the general vicinity. The levels of sheer charm were through the roof.

We tried to watch Youth Group next, but after the Brunettes, they felt a little plain, and the delicious cocktails at Clyde Common were calling to us. Intermission, with French fries!

And then there was The Get Up Kids' show. I'm not sure there are many other people still willing to admit their love for the Get Up Kids, but I'm one of 'em, even if the band did play "Mass Pike" like it was the musical equivalent of an ex who shows up at a party and who you're supposed to be "friends" with — but you really just don't want to be in the same room with the person, out of some squirrelly blend of residual love and maybe embarrassment that you once felt like you did.

It's an emo band, OK? I can use tangled relationship metaphors. I should use tangled relationship metaphors.

After that show, we watched Frank Blank for a minute, but there'd been some confusion in the program about whether the show would be Frank Black or Grand Duchy, and the hopes were for Grand Duchy. Sorry, Frank. And sorry, Beach House, whose gorgeous compositions, while swoony — the way "Gila" goes from a moody "Oh, oh, oh" into an uplifting and unintelligible wash of vocals nearly gives me goosebumps — had a weirdly hollow feeling. Or maybe that was just us, tired and sore-footed. We'll try again next time.

MusicfestNW is awesome.


Earlier in the fall — which is, at the moment, pretending to be summer, but I'm not fooled — I read two very different books by Oregon authors, but never had the chance to review them in the paper:

Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson (Speigel & Grau, $25) is subtitled Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life In Ink. Are there actually any tall tales here? Hard to say. Johnson, as the Mercury put it, "writes like he isn't afraid of being arrested." His stories of life in a Portland tattoo shop are bawdy, speckled liberally with horrifically colorful images (and equally colorful language) and, despite his tendency to front like a certain kind of badass, keenly observed and funny as shit. Things I learned from Johnson include the meaning of the word "flash," which tattoos are best for covering other tattoos, and various bits of tattoo-world slang that's so specific, I kind of felt like Johnson was telling secrets. His anecdotes are sometimes about customers (the more batshit, the better) and sometimes about himself (ditto), but there's a gruffness to his voice that seems built of equal parts pragmatism, genuine warmth and a particular kind of storytelling that's part one-upsmanship and part enjoyment of the weird forms life takes. Johnson does tend to write about women like we're actually some strange other species, but if you just take that as part of his schtick, it gets less distracting.

The Bell at Sealey Head is by Oregonian fantasy writer extraordinaire Patricia A. McKillip, whose books I've been reading since I was pretty small. Her stories often feel familiar, like I've heard them before, dressed up in other trappings or wrapped in a careful disguise. This one takes place in a seaside town, Sealey Head, where a bell tolls with the sunset each night. To Gwyneth, a merchant's daughter, the bell is a source of endless inspiration for stories, which she shares with her siblings and with Judd Cauley, who's taken over his family's inn since his father lost his sight. Their town is small, and most everyone knows everyone else, from the horse-obsessed suitor who's after Gwyneth's hand to the old lady in Aislinn House, a decaying place on the edge of town that has a pretty interesting secret.

And then a stranger comes to town: Ridley Dow, a scholar who wants to solve the mystery of the tolling bell. Naturally, his presence stirs all kinds of things up; naturally, McKillip winds his tale in with the strands of Judd's life in the inn, Gwyneth's life as a writer and the life of a maid in Aislinn House who's more familiar with the building's secrets than most. Sealey Head is a lovely read, written with McKillip's reliably graceful, gentle and image-laden prose, but it feels a bit slight and a bit familiar. The layers of story, and Gwyneth's variations on the story of the bell, are nicely pieced together, but at the end, when story becomes more important than ever, the book seems to simply settle into a quiet finale without binding all the pieces together into a satisfying whole. It's a bit of a trifle, this one, not as touching or as deep as McKillip can be when she's at her enticing, engrossing best.

GODDAMMIT, DOLLHOUSE. Let's talk about your failings, shall we?

I keep holding onto hope, squeezing it like a little kid who's just learning to handle a kitten. "Belle Chose," last week's episode, started oddly, got fantastic and then died a quiet little death. The premise was an odd one: A serial killer who happens to be the nephew of one of the Rossom Corporation's bigwigs (played, in a nice guest spot, by Battlestar Galactica's Michael Hogan) gets hit by a car while looking for his next victim. Having a serial killer in a coma might be a good thing, but this one's current victims — whom he drugs and then plays with as if they're overgrown dolls (ooh, I see what you did there, show)— are still trapped out there somewhere. So what do the Dollhouse geniuses do? After sending Agent Helo Ballard in to do a nice bit of "Hey, I used to be in the FBI!" profile work on the Terry, the killer, they dump his entire personality into the active doll Victor (Enver Gjokaj).

Meanwhile, Echo (Eliza Dushku) is on assignment as a student who wants to sleep with her professor, and while Dushku does dumb-as-a-post pretty amusingly, her storyline is just there so that when Topher (Fran Kranz) tries to remotely wipe Terry's personality from Victor's head, things can go terribly wrong and the woman-hating serial killer personality can wind up ... in a woman's body!

This premise is not half as clever as the show seems to think it is. But up to this point, "Belle Chose" had me hooked, mostly because Gjokaj was beyond exceptional. His body language, when he's Terry, is downright creepy; when he becomes Kiki, the ditzy young woman who was in Echo's body, it's played for laughs in an uncomfortably awkward way, but Gjokaj runs with it, getting down with — well, not with his bad self, exactly, but he's certainly getting down on thedance floor.

The trouble is that once you swap personalities and bodies around, you've got Dushku carrying the serial killer story, and she just doesn't do it justice. She's not scary, and Echo is half broken anyway, her mind glitching and dancing between Terry and ... some other persona. It's sad, and it could be fascinating, but the way it plays out is weak: Once she finds the captive women, they've freed themselves from a cage (hurrah for that) but not from the building, and they kind of fight back, but they're confused (understandably) and Echo is too weak to control the people in her head.

So they all have to be saved by a SWAT team.

Setting aside my various other gripes with this episode — including the totally unbelievable violence, from a car cash in which no airbags go off to the apparently not-that-painful whacks with a croquet mallet — I have a very simple complaint about this: I'm really tired of seeing women need rescuing. I expect more from Joss Whedon. The last two weeks have involved weird semi-rescues during which Echo had to be saved from herself by either a) be talked down from her maternal-instinct craziness or b) be beaten into remembering her badass fight skills. By Ballard, the poster child for moral ambiguity, no less. I like this about Ballard's character; I like that he'ss a little off his rocker, stretched a little thin and definitely playing a more complicated game than he's used to. But I don't like this boring place that Echo keeps being led to.

I can accept that maybe there's supposed to be more to these scenarios, more to do with the way Echo's brain isn't working like a doll or like a person; I can hope that there's more bubbling under the surface with regards to humanity and choice and all the scientific and moral weirdness that the Dollhouse suggests and creates. There's so much potential there! So! Much! So much nastiness about personality and control and how people justify their actions! So much possibility in Echo's need to find herself amid all the people in her head! So much heartbreak in the way Dr. Saunders doesn't trust the world she's been built into, but doesn't want to be who she was before, either! But right now, the show is playing its stories and characters so simply, so shallowly, so ... traditionally.

(For a wicked awesome take on Dollhouse and its many problems, please click here; for the same author saying some very interesting things about the show's potential, go here.)

Dollhouse is off this week, and in a couple of weeks, we get Summer Glau as the Topher of another Dollhouse. Please, show. Please get it right.

October 3, 2009 02:57 PM

Oh, Joss Whedon.

See, last week I was going to write a post called "Dollhouse is Not Going to Hold Your Hand Anymore." It was going to be a post about how the show's season premiere, while it didn't live up to the fantastic potential of the first season's unaired 13th episode, "Epitaph One," had a lot of promise. It pretty much threw the viewers into the river and expected that we could damn well figure out how to swim —  a tactic that works for some of us, who like having to work out what's changed, what's the same and which direction we might be headed in this time. Things had clearly progressed without us, and Whedon and his team expected us to keep up.

Where we seemed to be: Echo (Eliza Dushku) is remembering things, kind of. Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) is working for the 'house — kind of. Everyone's a little suspicious and rattled, especially Dr. Saunders, the active also/once known as Whiskey (Amy Adams), whose grasp on herself and reality was gradually turning fragile.

The episode's basic plot was a mostly throwaway thing involving an arms dealer (another Battlestar Galactica alum, Jamie Bamber), but it still mattered in that it showed us that Ballard was somehow working for the Dollhouse while being a client — being paid in Echo's time, maybe? Things, this episode showed, are tangled and complicated, particularly where Dr. Saunders is concerned; she's having strange conversations with Boyd (Harry Lennix) one minute, and scaring the shit out of the creepy genius Topher (Fran Kranz) the next. She's falling apart. And then she's gone.

It was the scene with Saunders and Topher that had me; she's so cracked, so lost, so trying to form her own world out of the one he, as the Dollhouse's programmer, has given her. And she's aware but not; she knows she's not Dr. Saunders, but she doesn't know, or want to know, who she is. This one dark, incredibly strong scene managed to pack all the show's weirdness about identity and malleability and power and control and half a dozen other things into precise bits of dialogue between two characters who clearly could use some more exploring.

It was so promising. It was so complicated. And then it was over, and Saunders was driving away — Acker on the way to Happy Town, though I think she's supposed to be back later this season. The premiere dropped in one interesting scene with a well-intentioned senator, Daniel Perrin (Alexis Denisof, from Whedon's Buffy and Angel), who wants to figure out what the deal is with the Rossum corporation, the Dollhouse's parent company, so we've got a new guy outside the house to balance out Ballard's involvement within. It all worked, in a slightly uncomfortable and appealing way.

And then there was tonight's episode, "Instinct," which put us right back at monster-of-the-week-with-a-small-side-dish-of-intrigue.

Spoilers ahead; click here to continue!

Sure, we got Madeleine (the sublime Miracle Laurie, who can steal a scene right out from under Olivia Williams' nose) back in the picture, at least for a bit; we got to meet the senator's wife, whom I immediately suspected could be a doll; we got the interestingly elaborate setup for the episode, which involved not just Echo being someone's wife and mother to his child, but also Sierra being the woman's best friend; we got the new programming trick that Topher has figured out but, in typical Topher fashion, not really thought through.

But we also got a bland and cliché-littered standalone plot that basically boiled down to a weirdly and ooky commentary on the power of the maternal instinct that pretty much dissolved when the husband character explained, ever so calmly and rationally, that Echo was not in fact the baby's mother, and Echo, a ferocious and unstoppable mama lion minutes before, just turned and walked away. In the end, we got the character's best moment of the episode: All this was just so that we could understand that Echo doesn't just remember who she's been and what she's done, but she feels it.

That's great! And interesting! But there was no more original way to approach that part of Echo's existence than the potentially murderous mother storyline that felt, fairly or not, like some strange twist of a Lifetime movie of the week? First science masters the maternal instinct, then the maternal instinct kicks the ass of science, then the nice husband fellow just ... talks Echo out of her disoriented and ragingly protective state? Sure, Echo is often fragile and not entirely there, but, well, the more I think about this series of events, the less sense it makes.

So. It wasn't a truly terrible episode, but it was corny — blue light and lightning for the capital-D Dramatic confrontation! Oh, Joss, how could you! — and it was the second week in a row in which Echo's assignment involves a pretend marriage. Next week, Victor gets sent out as a serial killer. That's something different. But I can't help but think it'd be more interesting if we reversed the plots. Make Victor the dad who gets incredibly attached to the kid; send Echo or Sierra out as a serial killer (if you've got to do that at all; does this plot not just sound incredibly inane from the word go?). Dollhouse is a show with built-in moral questions, a lot of which surround sex and identity and agency, but it seems like it's backing away from a lot of those, forgetting that a lot of viewers are deeply skeptical about a Fox show's ability/willingness to engage with the messy moral issues the show has to address in order to keep it from being a shallow thing that just plays with its characters because it can — just like the Dollhouse's clients play with their dolls.

October 2, 2009 05:54 PM

UO football coach Chip Kelly announced today that he may allow a player who punched an opponent and threw an embarrassing violent fit on national TV to play for the UO after all.

Sports columnists are all abuzz about with speculation on exactly why Kelly suddenly changed his mind about kicking LeGarrette Blount off the team. But in the past, such dramatic flips in UO decisions haven't been made by the football coach, the athletic director or the UO president, they've been made by Phil Knight.

ESPN has reported how UO officials "genuflect at his Nikes" and "coddle and fawn over their rich uncle at every turn." The story noted how pressure from the UO megadonor forced the UO out of an anti-sweatshop group and forced out a track coach.

There's no direct evidence Knight made the decision. He may make decisions at the UO, but he doesn't do press conferences about them. But does anyone believe Blount could be reinstated if Knight objected?

September 28, 2009 03:23 PM

LEED certification for supposed leading work on green buildings, a focus of the city of Eugene, is facing criticism.

Las Vegas Weekly reports on LEED Gold certification by the private U.S. Green Building Council for two new Las Vegas Casinos. The paper writes:

"Giant buildings that welcome and encourage the extravagant, wasteful behavior of thousands of guests at the same time hardly seem like a recipe for saving Mother Earth."

The article also notes use of LEED certification for parking garages and for building a new school in Texas on the edge of town to replace one requiring less driving to get to. "Sure, it features a bioswale to capture storm-water runoff from the parking lot-but the old school didn't have a parking lot."

In Eugene some dubious LEED buildings include the UO's Lillis business school (which put solar sells not on the roof where the sun shines, but on the front windows where they could be seen for the PR value) and the Royal Caribbean call center which chose to locate not downtown but next to a freeway exit on the edge of Springfield where employees drive to acres of parking lots.

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The City of Eugene has claimed a leadership role on green building, but its biggest building project involves moving 250 police employees out of downtown to a building next to a freeway in north Eugene with ample parking lots.

September 28, 2009 02:44 PM

Here's a gory example of what can happen with texting while driving:

Wow. Who could be so irresponsible, so unsafe, such a danger to society?

Police, including Eugene police, have had full-sized in car computers conveniently tilted to driving officers for years. Catching cops who type while driving would be easy with GPS or other cheap technology, but then police would have to police police. Eugene police keep accidents involving officers secret.

Even more scary—given their huge, too often explosive loads and long stopping distances—are texting truckers . Texting truckers are 10 to 23 times more likely to crash studies have shown, but the powerful lobbying group is having success opposing proposed anti-texting rules that would apply to them.

September 24, 2009 03:37 PM

So I'm still recovering. STILL. Sleep schedule thrown off. Ears hearing things funny. And Friday? Friday is to blame for a lot of this.

(Thursday went like this.)

Friday was another late start; I feel like I just saw The Arctic Monkeys at the McDonald, so I skipped their Wonder Ballroom set, even though skipping all the Wonder Ballroom shows made me feel like I wasn't entirely really at MFNW; a lot of those sets were highlights of last year, particularly Les Savy Fav, a band I would really have liked to see again this year.

But at 9 pm we planted ourselves, not for the last time, at Berbati's Pan, where Say Hi were already playing when we arrived. "I don't know any of these songs!" my companion said. I recognized a few, kinda sorta — at least "Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh," for sure — but for the most part the live Say Hi experience is very different from the record; live, the band is a three-piece, playing stripped-down and adjusted versions of Eric Elbogen's one-man-band compositions. You might think more people wouldn't make for simpler versions of the songs, but in this case, they did.

Since this was a Barsuk showcase — something I didn't realize until a friend mentioned it in a text message; clearly my powers of observation were at full force — Say Hi was followed by another Seattle act, Rocky Votolato, who I describe as an "act" partly because while he was playing alone in Portland, I'm reasonably certain that last time I saw him, Votolato was playing with a full band. It was a homecoming show in Seattle in April 2007, and it was the reason I went back and gave a few more listens to Makers — which I'd liked, but not entirely fallen for; I sometimes think Votolato's singer-songwritery tunes are bare and gorgeous and catchy, and sometimes think they don't quite stretch as far or stand out as well as they could — and finally picked up a copy of Suicide Medicine. The show came at the end of tour; on "Suicide Medicine," Votolato sounded like his voice might go out at any moment. And that, according to this recording, that was only the seventh song of the night.

This show was a bit mellower, but no less charming, despite my inability to shake the feeling that, with his slicked-down, longish-in-back hair, Votolato looked like an untrustworthy drifter in a certain kind of dated road movie. But he played a good mix of songs, a cover or two, and both the songs I so wanted to hear.

And some jackass behind me talked the entire way though "Suicide Medicine." Hence, the title of this post: DUDE, SHUT UP. I know there are a lot of bands at MFNW, and that you won't care about every one. I know that I, too, talk to my friends during bands I'm not into. But when there's one dude on stage? And he's not playing very loudly? Get the hell away from the people who are clearly standing near the stage because they want to see this guy.

Thus ends your extremely cranky public service announcement for Friday.

Keep reading: Sunny Day Real Estate and The Thermals are up next!

Votolato didn't play a particularly long set, so I convinced my companion that we ought to trek up to the Crystal Ballroom to see if Sunny Day Real Estate was still playing. Which they were. The first person I noticed when I got to the main floor of the Crystal was a clean-cut teenager who looked a touch out of place; the next was a frantically flailing/dancing guy in a tie-dyed T-shirt who was clearly having the time of my life.

A confession: I've liked Sunny Day Real Estate since Diary came out in 1994 (good lord, really?), but I've not listened to them all that often. "Guitar and Video Games," from 1998's How It Feels to Be Something On (which came after the band broke up the first time) is on a mix CD I have, and I love that song, despite its not-too-distant relationship to prog rock; I love the builds and breaks and sense of muted desperation that soaks Jeremy Enigk's voice. I remember seeing the video for "Seven" on 120 Minutes way back when and, if this isn't selective memory rewriting things, being somewhat captivated. It didn't sound like anything else I was listening to, which was probably a lot of Blur and Juliana Hatfield and Weezer. It was far denser, musically; it stopped and started and had an angular quality that I hadn't yet learned to appreciate. (Jawbox and a certain admiration, if not adoration, for Fugazi came later.)

But I had to look up the name of the song, at this late date. SDRE just doesn't have quite the power over me that they once did, despite all the associated memories. That said, there was something powerful about the few songs of their set that we caught. I didn't recognize most of them — clearly it's time to revisit Diary — but I was delighted that when we stuck around for the encore, we got "In Circles." I couldn't keep the smile off my face.

My companion was far less impressed. I spent the walk to our final destination trying, tiredly, to explain why SDRE mattered; why they seemed so different when they appeare; why it is actually indie rock and/or emo, but emo in the way I think of it (which is to say a musical genre born of hardcore and punk and indie, traced back to the likes of Rites of Spring and epitomized, whether they like it or not, by bands like Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids — not just a fashion statement for glossy rock bands); why it wasn't their fault if certain other bands took that sound and made crap out of it. (Isn't that what always happens?) I didn't win him over, but I've got people working on it.

Our last stop of the night was a sort of official afterparty thing at which The Thermals were playing. This, I didn't know was happening until I picked up my MFNW passes; this kind of made my weekend.

I just had to wait until 1:30 in the morning for that to happen. The show was at BodyVox, a big, semi-industrial dance space painted all white, with largely concrete floors and with what I assume was the main dance floor carefully covered with some sort of tarp so we couldn't fuck it up. Doors for this event opened at midnight, and there was no indication as to when the band would go on. We ate sandwiches and partook of the various open-bar options that would help us stay awake: vodka and Red Bull at one bar, espresso shots at another. And we people-watched (at one point I became convinced there was some sort of Nike involvement in the event — maybe a room to which unsuspecting music fans were swept away to have their shoes stolen and replaced — because there's just no reason for that many people to be wearing ugly retro sneakers like that).

And finally, finally, the band went on. Tiredness was no longer an issue.

Once, I saw The Thermals at the WOW Hall, and while they didn't draw a large crowd, they drew a great crowd: We congregated close to the stage and bounced, giddily, with smiles on our face. This was like that — or at least it was up in the front. I didn't bother looking behind me, because the band was too good to allow for distractions. The Portland trio played everything I could possibly have wanted to hear — selections from every album, including "Test Pattern" and "No Culture Icons," two of my absolute favorites of their precision-crafted, buoyant, intense, smart, poetic rock songs — and they were, well, fantastic.

This had at least a little bit to do with the fact that I'm not sure anyone there was having more fun than the drummer.

The Thermals have had a few drummers. The current fellow is Westin Glass, who a) sounds like either a hotel chain or a really fascinating literary hero and b) looked downright giddy when he was playing, when he wasn't playing and when he took a drum-free intro as an excuse to run through the crowd, high-fiving people. It was charming. And he's a durn good drummer, too, which, y'know, helps.

So that was a highlight, if a highlight that knocked me out for much of Saturday. If you are not yet a Thermals fan, I cannot recommend them enough, live or otherwise.

Coming soon: Saturday! In which I fall in love with The Brunettes and indulge my nostalgic side with The Get Up Kids!

September 18, 2009 04:38 PM

You know what's hard to come by during Musicfest NW? Time. Time to do anything like, say, blog. There's plenty of time to stand around impatiently as the band before your favorite band seems to play forever and you're stuck sweating and trying to sip a beer slowly, but when Frightened Rabbit goes on at 12:30 in the morning (in theory) and you, as a result, sleep in so late you almost miss lunch, well, shit, my friends, you run out of time.

What isn't hard to come by in this town is a surprisingly high number of people who look vaguely familiar. I got a familiarity nod from at least two random dudes last night; I think I smiled at someone I didn't actually know at least once or twice. Everyone looks like someone else. Except this one really tall guy at the Frightened Rabbit show. He was his own man.

Thursday, in brief:

• I skipped The Helio Sequence in part because I was bitter that James Mercer was no longer the opening act; Dr. Dog was. I got enough Dr. Dog at Pickathon, thanks; that's just not my cup of tea. I do slightly regret this decision.

• Tu Fawning: Portiscarnival. (Look, "Portishead" already seems like a really random line of syllables, and thus I think Portiscarnival is perfectly reasonable as a description.) This is not in any way meant as an insult. There are catchy slivers jabbed into the Tu Fawning sound, but mostly it's too arty for that, too disconcerting and strange and occasionally really pretty. And fascinating. The festival writeup desribed Tu Fawning as "Never boring, and at moments inspired," which sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment, but I don't think it is. The band's music isn't the sort of thing you get attached to, but a thing you experience; it elicits a response more intellectual than emotional, except when it suddenly pings a heartstring or two.

• We Were Promised Jetpacks: Young, slightly burly Scotsmen with energy to spare. Like seemingly every Scottish band, they have a song about keeping warm (this one's called "Keeping Warm," and there's a Frightened Rabbit song called "Keep Yourself Warm," and I swear there's also an Idlewild song on the topic). WWPJ's fairly conventional guitar-centric indie rock felt like the kind of thing you need to know before you see them, so that you're bringing your own memories and associations to the songs, of what they call to mind when you're listening to them at home alone in the dark or barreling down the freeway on the way home from a show. But even as a first listen, they were promising. And charming, too. Darn Scots.

(I did not see Girl Talk at the Roseland because I saw Girl Talk on Wednesday at the McDonald, and I do not think I've recovered yet. But it was a delightful sweaty, sticky mess of Bananarama! Metallica! Mary J. Blige! Journey! Cyndi Lauper! Kelly Clarkson! Eight thousand other songs you barely have time to recognize! Girls with glowsticks and dudes with headbands! Don't like this tune? Wait 30 seconds; it'll change. And then change again.)

• The Twilight Sad proved that not all Scottish bands are unbelievable charming. The band plays reasonable, dense, heavily Joy Division-influenced rock, light on dynamics and high on repetition, but as a live act they lacked stage presence. They also overran their time, and when you're waiting to see a band that goes on after midnight, you sometimes run out of patience. I was getting there.

• Frightened Rabbit: This is the third time I've seen Frightened Rabbit in Portland, and it made me a touch nostalgic for those earlier, less crowded Holocene shows. The trouble with seeing a favorite band in a festival setting is that you have to share them with people who don't really care, who are just there because they read an interesting description in the program or who came with a friend (of course, you also wind up being that person at another show or several). It changes the audience dynamic in peculiar ways. This crowd seemed to like the Rabbit well enough — and they were certainly just as good as they have been, even without singer Scott Hutchison's solo acoustic version of "Poke," which hushed everyone in Holocene last November — but the show lacked the charged atmosphere their shows have had before.

But to be fair, the band's been touring on Midnight Organ Fight for ages, and Hutchison mentioned from the stage that they've finished (I believe) their follow-up. If they seemed a tiny bit less invested in the old songs, the ones they've been playing for ages and ages now — if Hutchison was rarely sticking to the recorded vocal melodies, instead dancing around them, mixing things up — it's understandable. The show was sort of a tease, I think: Two new songs and a sense of impatience. More, now, please.

Tonight: A vicious lineup pits The Jealous Sound and Sunny Day Real Estate at the Crystal Ballroom against Say Hi and Rocky Votolato at Berbati's Pan. I think Rocky's gonna win this fight, at least where I'm concerned, but so long as I make it to the "official afterparty" with The Thermals, I'll be more than happy.

PS: The Portland Mercury's End Hits blog's Twitter feed (technology, you're making me use too many words) speaks truth about Frightened Rabbit: "The only thing that could make this Frightened Rabbit show better is if people danced on the Dante's catwalks. Like an emo sinferno."