Singing the blues for the music scene

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Musician Matt Phillips hold up a picture of his “wrap sheet” after a gig. Tom Maxwell

For young and ambitious musicians, there is strength in numbers

The Past: Winner of Golden Globe Award For Best Foreign Language Film

ThePast

ANOTHER OSCAR HOPEFUL: THE PAST

Following a four year separation, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to Paris from Tehran, upon his estranged French wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo)’s request, in order to finalize their divorce procedure so she can marry her new boyfriend Samir (Tahar Rahim). During his tense brief stay, Ahmad discovers the conflicting nature of Marie’s relationship with her teenage daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet). Ahmad’s efforts to improve this relationship soon unveil a secret from their past.

NOW PLAYING NEW YORK AND LOS ANGELES COMING SOON TO A  CITY NEAR YOU.

IN NEW YORK NOW PLAYING AT THE FILM FORUM AND THE LINCOLN PLAZA CINEMAS.

For Your Consideration: Documentary Oscar Hopeful

December 20 26

This year, 147 nonfiction films officially qualified for the Best Documentary Oscar. After a preliminary round of voting, members of the Academy’s Documentary Branch whittled that list down to just 15. For one week only, Film Society presents all 15 of the shortlisted titles for your consideration. The five nominees will be announced on January 16.

20 Feet From Stardom

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Showtimes

Tue, Dec 24

9:00pm
Howard Gilman Theater

20 Feet From Stardom
Morgan Neville, 2013
USA | 91 minutes

Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names. In his compelling new film 20 Feet From Stardom, award-winning director Morgan Neville shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. Triumphant and heartbreaking in equal measure, the film is both a tribute to the unsung voices who brought shape and style to popular music and a reflection on the conflicts, sacrifices and rewards of a career spent harmonizing with others.

These gifted artists span a range of styles, genres and eras of popular music, but each has a uniquely fascinating and personal story to share of life spent in the shadows of superstardom. Along with rare archival footage and a peerless soundtrack, Twenty Feet From Stardom boasts intimate interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Sting to name just a few. However, these world-famous figures take a backseat to the diverse array of backup singers whose lives and stories take center stage in the film.

Venue: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center

Slayer and Gojira at Madison Square Garden Theater

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[I]t was good to witness such a deserving act[Gojira] delivering a fine performance to a huge and enthusiastic crowd.

“Slayer” and Gojira. Not Slayer and Gojira. “Slayer” and Gojira.

Thus have many observers dubbed the bill for this tour, thanks to the absence of Dave Lombardo and Jeff Hanneman. Paul Bostaph is back on the drum throne, where he spent most of the ’90s. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt retains the live guitar spot he’s held for the past two years and looks poised to keep it.

These folks consider this version of Slayer illegitimate — a shameless exploitation of a legacy, especially in the immediate wake of Hanneman’s death. The financial nature of the band’s dispute with Lombardo deepens the impression, as does their decision to populate their set entirely with material from their classic first five albums. (You can see the setlist here; it nods to Holt with an Exodus cover.) Despite Bostaph’s presence, the set included only Lombardo-era material — an irony and arguably a mercy.

Perhaps the current version of Slayer really is fake or exploitative in some way. Lombardo would likely say so, though the limited information available to fans makes it hard to say which party is in the right. And ultimately, I’m not sure that I care. At the least, I have a hard time holding Tom Araya and Kerry King’s choice to carry the torch against them. Slayer has been a professional venture as much as an artistic one for well over a decade; their newer albums exist mostly to justify their tour schedule. Three of the band’s four current members are 49, while Araya is 52. They have all been living as pro musicians for thirty years, and they now operate in a market that is more hostile than it has been since the dawn of mass-market music. These guys have no alternative résumés behind them to fall back on; their pensions will come out of their own wallets. Bostaph and Holt are basically working stiffs. Araya and King are reputedly quite wealthy, but they also have children to consider.

Put aside the unknowable nature of the Lombardo split for a moment and suppose that Araya and King’s decision to continue as Slayer is purely financial. Do you blame them? If you were in their position, would you set aside the creative business that you’d built up for your entire adult life in favor of the nebulous cause of artistic integrity? Or would you do as they’ve done, and keep reigning?

Perhaps many of you would have King and Araya fold the band, and I can sympathize with that perspective too. Monetary disputes among aging musicians are ugly, and metal fans (myself included) dislike both the idea of art-as-commerce and reminders of the practical pressures their heroes face.

But the attendees of this packed NYC show (myself included again) were clearly glad that Slayer still exists in some form. This band continues to inspire the kind of borderline-pathological enthusiasm that is normally reserved for acts like Phish and Jimmy Buffett. Metal’s unspoken law against sporting the logo of the band you’re seeing has no force at Slayer shows. We saw Slayer shirts without number; Slayer hats; Slayer hoodies; Slayer jackets; Slayer tattoos; even multiple pairs of sexy Slayer/American flag leggings. (The trendy Slayer Christmas sweater was notably absent). I planned to keep track of how many times I heard people spontaneously scream “SLAYER!” between bands, but I lost count before I got past the beer line.

We missed virtually all of 4Arm, whom I was unfamiliar with before the show. The song and a half I did catch sounded quite a bit like mid-period Slayer. Do unoriginal bands feel uncomfortable when they open for the groups whose style they bite? Is there awkwardness backstage? This is one of metal’s many mysteries to me.

Fortunately, I did see all of Gojira, who held their own against some extremely stiff competition. Their reverby, chugged-out grooves have always struck me as crafted with big venues in mind, and they projected an epic sense of scope in the MSG Theater’s cavernous, 7,000-cap confines. I’m often disappointed or baffled by which modern metal bands get popular and which fail to find traction; it was good to witness such a deserving act delivering a fine performance to a huge and enthusiastic crowd.

But this was a Slayer show, and even the best opener ever at a Slayer show will always be a temporal obstacle between you and Slayer. And unsurprisingly, Slayer were exactly what I expected. They were not “Slayer.” they were SLAYER.

They didn’t entirely look like Slayer. Kerry King is slowly transforming into a bearded pierogi covered in tribal tats. Tom Araya looks and talks more like The Dude with each passing year, especially when he chides bouncers and audience members for boorish behavior. Gary Holt has a totally un-metal way of standing with his knees pointed inwards, like he really needs to pee and is trying to hold it in until the end of the set. He nailed all of his parts into the ground, but Hanneman’s presence was missed nonetheless.

But they sounded right, and nothing else mattered. Slayer have inevitably lost a step with age, but their fury remains potent. I’ve only seen them once before, when I was in high school and the original unit had gotten back together relatively recently. Roughly a decade and many, many metal gigs later, I received the exact same berserker charge from this set.

It’s amazing the way that great songs, played nearly perfectly, can strip away cynicism. When the band segued from “Raining Blood” into “Black Magic” just before the brief encore break, I was more interested in punching the entire universe in the face than in dissecting King and Araya’s motives. When they deployed a huge banner of Hanneman’s familiar ersatz-Heineken logo just afterwards, I got a little verklempt. Neither typical metal shows nor half-assed nostalgia acts can elicit such emotion.

And that’s good enough for me. Slayer in 2013 are not who or what they used to be. Their live show is aging, but mostly superficially. They’re either cynically exploiting their fans or just giving those fans what they want. It’s tough to tell the difference, but the audience at this gig wasn’t trying to — they were more interested in enjoying Slayer’s twilight years while they last.

Photos by Caroline Harrison, Dough Moore

The New Madison Square Garden – Picture Gallery

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Note: We hope that the billions of dollars that this new venue will bring to the pockets of a few will also be used to feed the thousands of New Yorkers living in poverty, homeless families with children living on the streets of this city that I don’t know anymore.  As New Yorkers finalize their guest lists and menus for their Thanksgiving gatherings this year, be sure to reserve a seat for Uncle Sam. He should also be giving thanks at each and every American dinner table for the billions of dollars that will fill his pockets from taxes on Thanksgiving dinners.  ~AA

Madison Square Garden

A renovated Madison Square Garden, top-to-bottom nearly $1 billion transformation funded by The Madison Square Garden Company, that will provide a significantly enhanced experience for customers, athletes, entertainers, fans, suite holders and marketing partners, from the first row to the last.

The most prominent new additions are the two “Chase Bridges,” sky bridges that hang from the Garden’s ceiling (there’s also a food and beverage station near those seats). In the third phase of renovations, the Garden ceiling was fully restored, a new Garden Vision center-hung multimedia display was installed, and a new suites area with “center stage” views for concerts was added.

Inside Madison Square Garden

Some of the many major upgrades will include: the brand new Chase Square 7th Avenue entrance, significantly wider concourses, new first-class food and entertainment amenities, improved sightlines, more comfortable seating, a dynamic new scoreboard, state-of-the-art lighting, sound and LED video systems in HD, fiber optic cabling throughout the building, new suites, clubs and hospitality areas, new one-of-a-kind Chase Bridges, and views of the city from several areas of the building.

Although many areas of the venue are being upgraded and maintained, other renovations will highlight the unique history of MSG and the dynamic details of the venue that patrons, performers and athletes have long-cherished including the intimacy of the Arena bowl, the restoration of The Garden’s world famous ceiling, and the building’s more than 130 year storied history will celebrated with two unique exhibits – “Garden 366,” a visual retrospective bringing to life one moment in Garden history for every day of the year, and the top 20 “Defining Moments” in Garden history will be commemorated with special exhibits that feature photos, memorabilia and additional artifacts.

The architect on the MSG Transformation is Brisbin Brook Beynon; Construction Manager is Turner and Project Manager is JLL