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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2011 at 3:27 PM

Last week, I had a little fun with Rick Santorum's appearance in a GOP presidential debate in Ames, Iowa. Santorum whined about how he hadn't been asked enough questions in the debate, faulting the "national media" for overlooking him. Given that Santorum had, until announcing his run, been enjoying a cushy contract at Fox News itself, I thought that was a little rich. 

But there's been some sympathetic cooing about Santorum's treatment. And his complaints have been noted repeatedly at Early Returns, which has touted the Santorum franchise on a daily basis.

OK, I get it: Santorum may have been overwhelmingly rejected by Pennsylvania's voters back in 2006. He may be a knuckle-dragging dweeb. But he's our knuckle-dragging dweeb. He's got to be at least as credible a candiate as pizza baron Herman Cain, right? 

But let's back up a second here and ask: By what standard is Santorum -- or any candidate -- entitled to coverage? He can't claim a mandate from the people. Polls frequently show him trailing the field. A recent Rasmussen poll, for example, showed him drawing just 1 percent. Given that the poll has a 3 percent margin of error, you have to say that statistically speaking, there's a chance that Rick Santorum may not actually exist. That would explain why so few questions get tossed his way. 

And if we're gonna start feeling sorry for overlooked candidates, who deserves our sympathy more? The guy who feels like he doesn't get asked enough questions in debates? Or the guy who hasn't been invited to the debates at all

Gary Johnson, a former governor who skews toward the liberatarian end of the GOP spectrum, didn't even get a podium at Ames -- not the first time he's been ignored. Salon's Glenn Greenwald decries his omission, along with the continual slighting of similarly liberatarian Ron Paul:

Coverage of these presidential campaigns has even more pernicious effects than mere distraction. They are also vital in bolstering orthodoxies and narrowing the range of permitted views. Few episodes demonstrate how that works better than the current disappearing of Ron Paul, all but an "unperson" in Orwellian terms. He just finished a very close second to Michele Bachmann in the Ames poll, yet while she went on all five Sunday TV shows and dominated headlines, he was barely mentioned. He has raised more money than any GOP candidate other than Romney, and routinely polls in the top 3 or 4 of GOP candidates in national polls, yet ... the media have decided to steadfastly pretend he does not exis ...

That the similarly anti-war, pro-civil-liberties, anti-drug-war Gary Johnson is not even allowed in media debates -- despite being a twice-elected popular governor -- highlights the same dynamic.

So save your sympathy for someone who deserves it. Like the former New Mexico governor who wants to legalize pot and prostitution while slashing corporate taxes.

Greenwald's argument, essentially, is that Johnson and Paul are ignored because their views are too unorthodox. They just don't fit the narrative of what today's GOP is supposed to be about. But the problem with Santorum, by contrast, may be one of style. And it may be that he isn't unorthodox enough.

I mean, look at him up there, talking about how sometimes compromise is necessary. "You can't stand and say, 'You give me everything I want or I'll vote no.'" he told the audience in Ames. "You need people who are good at leadership, not showmanship."

Which tells you right there why he isn't getting traction. In today's GOP, being a showman is what leadership is all about. 

Unlike Michelle Bachmann, Santorum isn't hot, and unlike Rick Perry, he doesn't pack heat. He's boring, with a presentation that is pure high-school debate squad. But GOP candidates aren't being rewarded for winning debate points. They're being rewarded for promising to shove their rivals' heads in the toilets and give them swirlies. 

Santorum just doesn't get that. He still thinks ideas matter, the nerd.

How, for example, did Santorum respond when Perry came damn near to leveling the charge of treason against Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke? By saying this:

Well his comments about Ben Bernanke, they were completely out of bounds. I don’t agree with Ben Bernanke’s policies ... We don’t impeach people, we don’t charge people with treason because we disagree with them on public policy. You might say that they’re wrong, you might say lots of things about how misguided they are, but you don’t up the ante to that type of rhetoric. It’s out of place, and hopefully Gov. Perry will step back and recognize that we’re not in Texas anymore.

But Rick, we are in Texas. That's just the thing. 

Democrats know this all too well. I mean, some of Santorum's fellow Fox News personalities -- like Ann Coulter -- have been accusing us of treasonous activity for years. The fact that Santorum sounds so surprised by this rheotric all the sudden suggests that he's either disingenuous or an idiot. 

Back in Santorum's political heyday, of course, this kind of rhetoric was confined to Rush Limbaugh and the right wing cheering section. The candidates themselves were happy to benefit from that talk, but they didn't need to use it themselves.

But now the cheerleaders have become the candidates -- literally so in Perry's case. Or more accurately, the Republican party apparatus has diminished in importance, while the influence of Fox and Limbaugh has increased. As a result, GOP presidential candidates dare not depart from the talking points they have crafted. And those talking points were crafted not to drive policy but to drive ratings. 

So all the sudden Santorum finds himself being drowned out in the clamor, just as we lefities have for years. Like us, he finds himelf beset by a tide of Fox-fueled, soundbite-driven know-nothingism. And that doesn't just threaten a particular policy. It's a threat to the very idea of policy-making itself, as we've seen most recently in the debt ceiling debacle.

In fact, Santorum's only hope may be that if that sort of shenanigan continues, the Tea Party brand will become so tainted that Fox, and the GOP, will need something new to sell.

The market in GOP frontrunners is already plenty volatile, of course. For awhile Palin was the frontrunner. Then it was Donald Trump. Mitt Romney seemed the default choice until Iowa's recent straw caucus. Bachmann now seems on top, though Perry may topple her. After that, who knows? Paul Ryan? Allen West? 

It's possible that none of the frontrunners' ratings will hold up into 2012. In that case, the GOP might well come back to a reality-based candidate like Romney. Santorum might get some juice as the thinking man's neanderthal, allowing him a shot at the VP post.

But for now, there's no point in complaining, Rick. You just don't fit into the line-up with the rest of Fox's fall schedule.


Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2011 at 11:10 AM

Plenty of publications run a "Best place to work" contest. But now companies have another title to vie for: the most sustainable place to work.

The Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge will run through September until October 2012 for businesses in Southwestern Pennsylvania. This year's competition is a pilot program of Sustainable Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative, but program manager Matthew Mehalik, of Sustainable Pittsburgh, hopes it will expand to other businesses and sectors in the future.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 5:51 PM

All day Saturday the 16th at First Niagara Pavilion you could see a growing swarm of people; shirtless guys and bikini-clad girls traversed the grounds of the hilly terrain, treating Identity Festival like the rave that it wanted to be. While there was no poi in sight, there were plenty of hula hoops, glow sticks, and t-shirts that read "Dub to fuckstep" and "Sex, Drugs & Dubstep," a new generation's screen-printed rock 'n' roll insouciance.

The crowd seemed to be pretty thin until the sun went down, and even into the evening when Kaskade took the main stage, the sea of people was smaller than what the headliner is most likely used to.

The musical highlight of the fest was Berlin-based techno duo Modeselektor, comprised of Sebastian Szary and Gernot Bronsert. They were slotted early, at a time in the day when only the die-hards and people who have actually heard of them were present in the amphitheater. The pit area in front of the stage was loosely filled with dancers and the guys of Modeselektor entertained them with the showmanship of rock star-cum-comedians. Standing behind a table and turning knobs didn't stifle their charisma in the slightest. They made techno music come to life by playing with urgency and whimsy and boatloads of cartoonish inflection. At one point Szary stepped out from behind the livePA setup and began lip-synching to Bjork's "Dull Flame of Desire." He passed the mic to Bronsert for Antony Hagerty's part and performed a strip tease in his half-zipped jumpsuit. Bottles were popped, the crowd was drenched in champagne and when Modeselektor's set ended, it felt all too short.

Other musical highlights came from electronic music vets Crystal Method and DJ Shadow. Both acts performed at the Rockstar/Dim Mak stage and were major draws for those attendees who were born before 1990. Crystal Method pummeled the high-energy crowd with hard hitting rock-electro, mixing their sounds of yore with recognizable samples that made for a set that bridged the age gap in their audience. DJ Shadow's set was hip hop-stained drum and bass. He played classics like "Entroducing" and moved into quilts of popular rap with Lil' Wayne samples woven into the rhythm of techstep.

In terms of musical selection, Identity did well to represent major players in dubstep, with the likes of Skrillex and Rusko; house, with Kaskade and Steve Lawler; and the seminal producers who have been around for over a decade, with Crystal Method and DJ Shadow. However, the bill lacked depth with their inability to include more of the creative unknowns like Modeselektor. We'll ignore the paltry attendance -- Pittsburgh is not considered to be a major market by Live Nation -- but if they want the interest and attendance to grow and the crowd to be the kind of people who come back for more, they'll have to include more boundary-pushing musicians.

click to enlarge Festival-goers in timely, topical attire - PHOTO BY JAMES GYRE
Festival-goers in timely, topical attire

The festival itself was fun, there's no denying that, but for a festival to keeping on going year after year, it needs to offer attendees something new. Festivals are not simply for dramatically staged, watered-down club music; they should be spaces for musical discovery, and Identity mostly just offered more of the same.

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Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 3:25 PM

Pittsburgh's Heinz Endowments is curtailing support of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, one of the key academic centers studying gas-drilling in the Marcellus Shale. 

Heinz's support of Fractracker, an on-line resource for following the expansion and potential environmental impact of gas drilling, will continue. But most likely with someone else.


Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 1:24 PM

In today's print edition, you'll find an abridged version of my interview with Andy Bean of The Two Man Gentlemen Band. Since the Internet is endless, I'm giving you a look at the longer version, here! They play Wed., Aug. 24 at Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville; show starts at 9 p.m. and costs $8 in advance, $10 at the door.

Let's start with the obvious question: Why only two of you?

You know, we started off – we were trying to put more of a rock band together, this was around 2002, we were just kids, and we couldn't really find a drummer. So we decided to start just playing, the two of us, and we always loved old-fashioned swing music, and old-time country and rockabilly, so we said if we're gonna be doing the two-man thing, that sounds better than us trying to be a two-man rock band.

We went out kind of on a lark and started playing in Central Park, and people started throwing money at us! So we kept going out there, then we decided to take it on the road, and it all happened kind of naturally. And then when we went to choose a band name, we were so proud of our duo-ness that we chose "The Two Man Gentlemen Band." So, we had no choice but to stay a duo forever.

Then it's ironic if anything changes.

Yes -- we've done some shows where we had guests or a drummer or something, and it just blows people's minds. They can't wrap their heads around a three-person Two Man Gentlemen Band.

And I guess that also means you have to remain gentlemen.

Well, technically we just have to remain a gentleman band. Off-stage, separately, we can behave however we like.

So you were already kind of interested in old-timey music, but it sounds like to an extent, your circumstances led you to the kind of music you play.

Yeah. It was a few years ago, and I feel like starting out, at that point, we could have gone in any direction. But we have catholic musical tastes -- "catholic" meaning "universal" in this case, not church music -- but once we started doing this, I'm glad we did, because it turned out to be our true musical love, for both of us. I don't think I would ever want to be in any other kind of band, besides an old-fashioned swing band. And we've both gotten deeper -- five, six, seven years ago, we both listened to more widely varied music. Now, me, certainly, I just listen to the old stuff, sort of obsessively.

One of the things that seems to come up often in reviews of your shows is the idea that people, especially critics, are wary of your band -- they think it might be a novelty act, might be hokey, might not be good. Then their minds are often changed after they see you. Do you worry about people's preconceptions about your type of music?

It's funny, because, since it's the kind of music we love -- and we're still listening to it on CDs, and in MP3 form -- it seems modern to us. So we forget that it's not normal for musicians to be incredibly well versed in 1920s and '30s styles. So I forget that most people look at us and think that we're old-fashioned and throwback. Because from our perspective, we're taking something older as a basis, and writing new stuff around it. For us it's no different from a folk singer basing their music on The Beatles or Bob Dylan. That stuff's 40 years old; our stuff is just 80 years old. For us – it's weird, once you're in the scene that we're in, there are people who are far more orthodox, especially in traditional jazz bands, about recreating this old thing, and they wear strict period clothing all that. Us, we're just going off this thing that we love, that happens to be 80 years old, and we're writing stuff in that style just because that's what we know how to play. Our suits are not strictly vintage, and certainly our lyrics and such are not strictly vintage either.

So you occupy that space in between a couple of different communities or scenes.

Yeah. Which is why we don't fit flawlessly into any one. Which is an advantage and a disadvantage. But we just gotta do what we do. It's always funny to me when – I get surprised that it's not normal for people to see this 90-year-old style of music.

Do you get a satisfaction from seeing people who think they're going to hate your music, then change their minds and think it's awesome?

Yeah. Our fan base is not any particular type of person. We get a lot of people who, maybe their unifying factor is that they were surprised that they like us. And then we get the vintage enthusiasts too. One of the things that makes me happiest is when people hear our original songs and that makes them go back and look at old Louis Armstrong or Jelly Roll Morton music or something like that. That's very fulfilling.

You have a couple songs about U.S. presidents. Is that an ongoing project, or did that just happen?

It was a thing that just happened. Early in our songwriting career, we leaned toward historical numbers, and we've definitely gotten that out of our system. Because we've concluded that nobody, especially us, wants to hear any songs that are vaguely educational. But, you know, a song about William Howard Taft, or Franklin Pierce – one, those are easy rhymes, and two, you know – "Taft" rhymes with "fat," and he was a big fat guy, and "Pierce" rhymes with "beers," and he was a notorious drunk. So, those songs sort of wrote themselves, we like to say. It's certainly not a project – I don't think anybody wants to hear a song about Grover Cleveland or something like that. Even though, it's funny, people have requested that we write a full album of them. But no. Sorry. That's not our mission. We'd much prefer to write songs about, you know, "I like to party with girls," or something.

I know you've been in Pittsburgh a couple times recently; you tour pretty hard. How many shows do you play a year?

I think for the past three or four years, we've been doing about 175 days a year, which is almost half the year, that's a good clip. Luckily for us, in towns like Pittsburgh and elsewhere, we get a nice reliable, enthusiastic turnout, so I don't think we need to be playing 175 shows a year for the next few years. Something like 75 to 100, that seems more humane. But Pittsburgh is one of our favorite places.

Right, you played Club Café earlier this year?

Yeah, and the past couple of years we've hit Howlers a lot. We're really excited to play the Thunderbird, we heard it's a nice room. It's funny because we were based in New York for a long time, and for years, our Pittsburgh show was either the first show of a tour or the last show. So people either got us rusty and after an eight-hour drive, on the first show of a tour, or completely burnt out from the road on the last show. But this time, we're doing a couple of shows on the way out, so we'll be neither exhausted nor rusty. Make that the headline: "Didn't like The Two Man Gentlemen Band last time you saw them? Give 'em another shot!"

You guys played some dates on the Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson tour?

In 2009, yeah. It was magical. It's still not entirely clear to me how we got 'em, but we got 'em! I read recently that even if it's just for a night or a few nights, Bob Dylan doesn't allow anybody on the bill that he doesn't personally approve of. So I guess in some amount, Bob Dylan has personally approved of us.

How did the rest of the crowd like you?

It was great – the people who go see Bob Dylan shows now, I think, are appreciators of American music. Especially now that he's got that radio show where he plays a lot of Western swing and all. So people who like him now in his later years I think are appreciative. They were very receptive. And Willie Nelson was on the bill, and when we played our song "Me, I Get High on Reefer," people just went bananas.

Obviously, given the nature of the songs, and the instrumentation, everything about your band translates well in a live environment. How do you approach recording?

It's actually a struggle for us to find out exactly how to do it. I think our last record, ¡Dos Amigos, Una Fiesta!, was the best job we've done thus far. We had songs ready, they were prepared, we showed up and just set up some microphones and the record was done in two days. And also, getting even more primitive, we have a 7-inch vinyl record coming in September; for that one, we got a 1940s RCA microphone and we gathered around that, right to a tape machine and that was it. And I think that captured what we're going for pretty well. We seem to be moving toward more primitive, how they used to record back then. The short answer is, I like how records sounded back then, and it's not gimmicky or kitschy to try to make a record that sounds like records you like.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2011 at 11:19 AM

OK, it wasn't planned this way, but it worked out perfectly: On this drizzly, gray, relatively cool day, I've got a fall-weather MP3 for you. It comes from Balloon Ride Fantasy, a duo whose debut album, Monocle City, I reviewed a couple months back. They were kind enough to supply the title track from the album -- download it below and mope about the rain! "Monocle City"

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Posted By on Mon, Aug 15, 2011 at 4:02 PM

2011 has been a tough year for jazz lovers. First, jazz-and-NPR station WDUQ was sold off by Duquesne University. Then the new owners, led by fellow public-radio broadcaster WYEP, decided to drop jazz from most of the line-up, replacing  it with additional NPR and other news programming. Finally, days before the new format launched, insult was added to injury. Charlie Humphrey, a lead proponent for the NPR-heavy format, authored a Post-Gazette op-ed arguing that jazz fans were just a niche audience:

According to January 2010 Arbitron ratings ... WDUQ was ranked No. 5 among all local radio stations in the market during morning drive time, when NPR's Morning Edition is aired. During morning drive time, 90.5 is right up there with behemoths like WDVE and KDKA.

Now, what is WDUQ's ranking at 10 a.m., when jazz is in full swing? No. 15. You can practically hear radio receivers being turned off around Western Pennsylvania when jazz follows news and information.

So here's one for you, jazz fans:

WDUQ's Arbitron ratings for July, the first month with the new format, suggest that even more radio receievers are being turned off now.

Since June, WDUQ's "weekly cume" -- the number of listeners tuning in during the course of a week -- dropped from 146,200 people to 122,900. That's a decline of roughly 15.9 percent, the steepest of any local station pulling more than 100,000 listeners. As a result, WDUQ's overall ranking dropped from 15th to 18th in the local market. 

And removing jazz from the line-up has, it seems, played a part in that decline.

In June ,when WDUQ was mostly airing jazz between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., Arbitron numbers show the station had a "weekly cume" of 62,400 listeners aged 12 and over. In July, with no jazz on during that time, the cume has dropped to 45,800. WDUQ ranked 22nd in that time slot -- seven spots below the Jazz Era ranking Humphrey's op-ed bemoaned.

So is it time to start dusting off the Art Blakey albums? Not necessarily. 

"An audience number drop was fully anticipated," says Lee Ferraro, general station manager of WYEP. 

For starters, this is just one month of results, and when a format change takes place, the old audience is going to leave faster than the new audience catches on. Plus I'm reliably informed -- by City Paper's publisher, whose family owns two area radio stations -- that summer numbers can be especially unreliable. Holidays and vacations can alter listening habits.

What's more, Arbitron ratings are based on "portable people meters" (PPMs). These are devices that are worn by survey participants, and that record all the radio signals within earshot. So if you're in a dentist's waiting room with a lite FM station piped in, for example, you are counted as a "listener" to that station ... even if you'd rather have a root canal than hear it at all. And generally speaking, talk radio of any stripe gets less background use than, say, inoffensive jazz. Some of WDUQ's decline, in other words, may reflect a change not in our own listening choices, but in the choices made for us. 

In a similar vein: People also generally don't listen to talk radio on at work. (Too distracting, too likely to aggravate a cubicle-mate who disagrees with the politics.)

Ferraro notes that the station has barely marketed itself yet, for the simple reason that it hasn't had time. The new WDUQ went on the air less than 6 months after its sale was announced. (Due to lags in the FCC approval process, the new station still doesn't have new call letters, which would complicate a marketing campaign.) By contrast, Ferraro says, a public radio station in Houston "took 14 months to do what we had to do in 5.5 months."

And while Ferraro didn't say whether a marketing campaign was in the offing, he added that  the new format's program schedule "is generating a LOT of buzz and 'word of mouth.'"

It's gonna take a lot of mouths to live up to Ferraro's hopes. Just weeks ago, station executives were predicting that the new format would "shatter" WDUQ's old ratings. "We think the potential is there, if not to double the listenership, then to go over 200,000 to 225,000 listeners per week,"  Ferraro told the Tribune-Review. He did add, though, "It's not going to happen overnight. We hope to be there by fall."

Of course, a case can be made that ratings are a terrible means of judging the success of a non-commercial station:

Public radio should serve a broad swath of the public. But it can be a fine line between that and the market-driven logic that produces so much of the dreck on the rest of the radio dial. 

For his part, Ferraro agrees that, "Public radio isn’t as much a ratings game as commercial since we don’t compete for advertisers." In any case, he says, the station's success will depend on "having an impact, engaging people [and] prompting dialgoue on issues among people, especially community leaders."

That said, he remains confident about the prospect for future audience growth. The station recently hired a program director, Tammy Terwelp,from Chicago's WBEZ, one of the strongest public-radio stations in the country.

"We do think the number of listeners will grow," Ferraro says. "[B]ut more importantly, we think the amount of listening to the station will nearly double within a couple years."

Of course, those two goals aren't the same: Mathetmatically speaking, you can double the amount of listening by keeping the same audience twice as long. Would the local market be better served by replacing die-hard jazz fans with die-hard NPR fans? Being a news snob myself, I think so. But I'm already on record as wondering whether the problem with journalism in this town is a lack of demand, rather than a lack of supply.

And in any case, if the numbers don't bounce back, I wouldn't fault jazz fans for feeling a bit of schadenfreude. Or for submitting a gloating op-ed piece to a newspaper someday.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2011 at 8:32 AM

If, at around 10:25 p.m. last night, you heard something that sounded like 10,000 monkeys shitting themselves, it wasn't your imagination. That was the sound of irony dying. It happened just seconds after Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum professed to be concerned with the fate of gays. As long as they live in Iran.

Santorum declared his allegience with Iran's LGBT community during a Republican presidential debate in Iowa, which aired on FOX News. Santorum, our former Senator (R-Frothy Mix) was attacking libertarian candidate Ron Paul, who'd been espousing a live-and-let-live approach to Iran. Santorum leapt to the attack, asserting that Paul, like Obama, believed in a foreign policy in which "[w]e have to go around and apologize" to other countries. Santorum denounced the human-rights record of the Iranian regime, which he said "tramples the rights of women, tramples the rights of gays." (See it for yourself here, at the 45-second mark.)

I mean, what's up, Iran? If anybody's gonna trample the rights of women and gays, it's going to be the GOP. (Indeed, Santorum also said he opposed abortion even in cases of rape, since letting a woman choose to terminate the pregnancy would just traumatize her all over again.)

But I kid Rick. He was actually one of the more mature candidates on the stage last night -- which tells you just how completely off the spectrum the Republican Party has gotten. At another point last night,  Santorum took issue with current Republican It Girl Michelle Bachman, who refused to support a debt-ceiling hike, and has staked out a radical Tea Party agenda. "You can't stand and say, 'You give me everything I want or I'll vote no,'" Santorum said. "You need leaders, you need people who are good at leadership, not showmanship."

He even cited his own ... bipartisanship. I mean, there was Rick Santorum, one of the ideological warhorses of the far right, portraying himself as a paragon of compromise and bipartisanship. Of course, the kinder-gentler routine only gets you so far: Santorum immediately asserted he wouldn't compromise one iota on a tax increase.

FOX's online broadcast included a handful of homunculi discussing the merits of the candidates, and the general consensus of the panel was that Santorum acquitted himself well. But he was clearly frustrated with how little airtime he was getting: During closing remarks, Santorum said, "As you've seen here tonight, national media may not pay a lot of attention to us, but we pay a lot of attention to the people of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina."

Oddly, he pronounced "South Carolina" with an odd southern twang. (I'm not the only one who heard it.) So apparently, he's not just become a bipartisan friend to the LGBT community ... now he's a southerner to boot. 

But Rick? The "national media" carrying this debate and allegedly ignoring you? It's your former employer, FOX News. Seems a little odd to be bitching about a lack of national media  exposure when up until a few months ago, you were been suckling from the wrinkled dugs of Rupert Murdoch.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 11:40 AM

click to enlarge Nightly Standard - PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN TAYLOR
Photo courtesy of Brian Taylor
Nightly Standard

click to enlarge Nightly Standard - PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN TAYLOR
Photo courtesy of Brian Taylor
Nightly Standard

Yesterday I prattled on a bit about situations in which Club Café is a less-than-perfect venue. Today, let's look at the flip side of that argument. There are times, reader, when Club Café is perfect for the show that's taking place there. Like last night, for instance.

Last night's show was opened up by Nightly Standard, a local loungey jazz-soul outfit that rose from the ashes of The Metropolitans, a band that played around town a good bit a few years back. They were a good fit for the show, and played all originals, which is pretty unique for a band that plays jazz.

Unfortunately, they were drummerless for this show -- apparently just a temporary setback -- but they kept it together well. Some of the arrangements seemed like they would be heavily dependent on the drums to pin down the backbone of the song, but they went fine without. Highlight: The immensely talented bass player. Something to work on: I know it seems like a dumb thing to pick on, but the band's look didn't really gel -- and when you're dealing with a lounge-type act, I think that's something that's important. It's one of the cues we pick up on. The lead singer looked great, and had a great stage presence; the rest of the band was dressed in different degrees of business-casual -- not totally well-dressed and snazzy, but also not deliberately underdressed. Just sayin'.

click to enlarge Lucy Woodward - PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN TAYLOR
Photo courtesy of Brian Taylor
Lucy Woodward

The same could not be said for Lucy Woodward and her backup duo, which consisted of Michael League and Bill Laurance: They looked and sounded impeccable. While it's a small combo, the band rolled deep with instrumentation: Two stand-up basses (was one really just a backup?!), a guitar, a baritone guitar, a keyboard and an accordion. League and Laurance opened the set with an instrumental number to warm up the stage and, honestly, they could've played an entire set on their own and I wouldn't have minded.

But the main attraction was, of course, the New York-raised and L.A.-based Woodward, an energetic mix of sultry chanteuse and fun, friendly, impish girl. She belted out a set of her originals ("Babies," about, er, wanting to have babies, basically; "Ragdoll," about, er, wanting to have rough sex, basically) and covers of standards (a smoking, minimalist rendition of Nina Simone's "Be My Husband," for example).

Woodward entertained with between-songs banter, introduced her band members five or six times each, and was generally a total charmer; she took a few funny jabs at her one-time label, Atlantic, which dropped her when its president was fired.

It's hard, I think, to work in a musical idiom that's regarded as old news, and still make it feel fresh. You often end up either missing the mark, or coming off as a novelty act. To hit the mark is rare and beautiful, and often just as exciting to watch as something completely musically novel. Lucy and her band hit the mark hard.

(Big ups to photographriend Brian for the photos.)

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Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 10:13 AM

Hometown boy makes good, I guess. Pennsylvania's junior Senator, Tea Party favorite Pat Toomey, is going to be on the "super committee" that's supposed to hatch bipartisan solutions to the federal deficit by year's end.

What's this mean? Well, let's see. For starters, when Toomey announced this news online, his release included the somewhat cryptic injunction "let my people go" in its headline. Sounds ominous. So does the fact that Toomey voted against the debt-ceiling hike that created this committee in the first place.

No wonder lefties suspect "there's basically zero chance that [Toomey or the other Republican representatives on the panel] will support a marginally acceptable deficit reduction package." Acceptable, that is, to the majority of us who believe that some sort of tax increase on the wealthy -- or on anyone, anywhere -- has to be part of a defifict reduction plan.

Of course, Toomey insists common ground is possible. Coverage in the local dailies quoted him making vague sounds about bipartisanship. ("If this committee's going to be successful, it absolutely has to have bipartisan support," Toomey told reporters.)

But so far, the GOP definition of bipartisanship seems to mean that Republicans say "cut!" and Democrats respond, "how low?" There's little reason to think that will change when the "super committee" begins its deliberations.

After all, Toomey has signed a pledge, sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform, that swears off any tax increase whatsoever. And the last time there was a bipartisan effort to cobble together a debt solution -- the Senate's "Gang of Six" -- ATR urged Republican participants to abandon the effort, for fear that it might lead to a tax hike. The fact that ATR head Grover Norquist is so enthusiastic about Toomey's participation in this panel tells you what the hard right's expectations are." (And of course, Toomey voted against the debt ceiling hike that Congress eventually did pass.)

But perhaps the best way to get a sense of Toomey's priorities is to read his own words about fiscal policy in his book The Road to Prosperity. This 2009 tome, essentially a campaign document to prepare for his Senate run last year, makes clear that tax hikes aren't an option. Toomey is so in favor of tax cuts, in fact, that he's actually willing to make deficits worse in order to get them.

In his chapter on federal spending, Toomey urges Congress to reinstate a variant of the Budget Enforcement Act -- a 1990s fiscal measure that impose "pay as you go" rules on spending. Under those rules, Toomey writes, "any tax cuts or new mandatory spending increases [would have] to be offset with other tax hikes or spending cuts in order to reamin 'deficit neutral'." 

The pay-as-you-go approach was abandoned during the administration of -- wait for it -- George W. Bush. Toomey credits it as "a reasonably successful measure" that "did help to restraing spending somewhat."

But the measure, he complains had a flaw: It required paying for tax cuts and spending increases alike. While he says "[s]trict caps on discretionary spending would be welcome," he opposes "restoring the restriction on cutting taxes. While offsetting lost revenue from a tax cut with spending cuts would be ideal, the restoration of the old rule would most likely prevent the tax cuts from being implemented at all. The last thing Congress needs is further obstacles to lower taxes."

In other words, let's not have deficit fears trump a tax-cut agenda. Those fears should only be used to curtail spending. 

Toomey's justification for this is that tax cuts essentially pay for themselves: When "properly designed," the cuts "accelerate economic growth," and thus revenues. But this is the logic that gave us the Bush tax cuts -- remember Dick Cheney insisting "deficits don't matter"? And those cuts account for a sizable chunk of the government's deficit problem in the first place.

Unlike some other Republicans, Toomey at least sounds willing to consider closing some tax loopholes. By the standard of today's GOP, that would actually may make him more moderate than some other Tea Party faves

But fundamentally, Toomey's inclusion on the panel is just one more reason to think Democrats are being set up for another mugging. Brace yourself for more heartache, Congressman Doyle!

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