Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

I don’t know why I was so insistent on the fact that there was a colon in the title of this film. It makes way more sense without it. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a very true declarative sentence. Why muck it up with punctuation, my own brain?

What a fascinating little documentary. On the one hand, O’Brien is a complete toolbag. On the other hand, he let himself be portrayed as the toolbag he is, which means he can’t actually be that much of a toolbag. I’ve recently re-re-revived my long-standing fascination with him–and finally started to delve into episodes of The Simpsons, but that is another tale for another time, someday, maybe–and seeing what he was like outside of the NBC/TBS product that he’s become really informed and complicated my opinion of him. The underlying feeling I have for him is respect, of course, because he took his “unemployment” and turned it into something for other people to enjoy: a live show. And even though he’s a performer, he wasn’t necessarily much of a stage guy prior to hitting the road like this. He took a big risk, and it paid off for him in strides. That deserves respect. But let’s break down my complicated emotions, because this is my blog and I can do that.

It goes without saying that this man is a genius. He’s so fucking smart and quick and self-deprecating, it truly is astonishing that he wasn’t deemed worthy enough to host The Tonight Show for more than a paltry few months. He’s got this weird confidence, weird not in the sense that he doesn’t deserve it but weird that a guy who looks and moves and thinks and speaks like him is typically not dancing around onstage in a skintight Elvis costume or playing his guitar like a real axe. Guys like him don’t become guys like him, ordinarily. They stay pasty and greasy and work behind the scenes. Conan is an anomaly. He’s made himself into a symbol for the comedically talented but mostly ignored; his swoosh of hair and slick suits and beard prove that any Harvard nerd can find himself successful and appealing.

He’s also an attention whore. He’s constantly interrupting his writers, his fellow performers, Andy Richter (maybe even more of a genius than Conan, but I don’t want to get into it here), badgering them for ideas, placing him at the butt of his jokes and then kicking that butt really hard, questioning them for answers they don’t have, demanding that he not be demanded too much of. And yet he’s a nice guy, too. He trusts his fellow performers. He likes the people he works with, even though his joke-mocking of Jack MacBrayer backstage at the New York show was borderline not funny. He rarely apologizes, except to himself or to Sona, his beloved assistant. Their relationship seems like it should be complicated, because she’s a beautiful twentysomething and he is a world-famous fortysomething TV host, but maybe it’s not complicated, and I’ve seen too many movies. He truly listens to what she has to say, and values her opinion, and asks for her advice, even though he’s had more experience than her at everything, and he always will.

I wonder how Sona got to that level of comfort and trust with someone like Conan. In fact, I wonder how Conan has true friends at all anymore. Occasionally the rigors of the road would get to him and he’d open up without cracking a joke, and he’d explain how lonely he was or how difficult it was or how hard it is for people to understand what he was experiencing. And even though he’s that famous and that arrogant and that privileged and truly talented, I found myself wanting to give him a bit of sympathy. He went on to describe how draining meet-and-greets are, how it just ends up being this factory where you sign autographs and waste time having pointless conversations. Why people want to meet their favorite celebrities for several seconds is beyond me, but it’s what keeps a lot of these people on top and earning money. Those disillusioned fans who think Conan or whoever else will remember them after they’ve stepped out of the huge queue.

All of this ran through my head on Saturday, when I went to a concert at Golden Gate Park to see Mayer Hawthorne (and The Walkmen!) and got the opportunity to meet him afterward. I wasn’t expecting it; a friend of a friend had a backstage pass, and somehow I was given a wristband, no questions asked. I love Mayer Hawthorne’s music, and find him incredibly adorable, but I never thought I’d meet him, nor did I feel particularly compelled to do so. And yet there I was, in line, waiting to meet him. My two friends and I exchanged brief pleasantries with him; my friend mentioned something about how he should have more panties thrown at him, and I said simply, “Go Tigers!” And then it was over, and there was no point to it. I even showed some of my other friends the picture that was taken of the four of us, but it really doesn’t matter. He won’t remember us, I’ll only remember that day because of the concert and the fact that he pointed at me during a song, and I felt like I was the only girl in the crowd (gross but true!). Plenty of others stood in line before us, and plenty more followed. Most all of them took the moment seriously, and I suspect those same folks will treasure that artificial moment for the rest of their lives.

Conan, Mayer, all of these guys. How do that do it? I suppose they just have to ride the wave, knowing how much they’re valued by the masses without getting too overwhelmed by it. And I suppose they try to attract only cool fans, only people they’d want to hang out with and perform for. But that’s easier said than done.

If I ever meet Conan O’Brien, I think I’m just going to ask him if he needs help with anything. He may not remember me, but he’ll certainly remember being happy about the encounter. I hope.

Mayer Hawthorne and the County, 10.14.11

I love this man. And his band.

That’s right, folks. Mayer Hawthorne has rendered me boring and redundant as a writer. Well, almost. I just warn you that this post might be super-gushy, so tread lightly, and please forgive me.

I saw this dude last year, at the same venue (Bimbo’s 365 Club), with the same friends, and I had a great time. And this time around was even better. I think my only complaint is that his 75-ish minute set was too short. I mean, yeah, it was too short and I’m a fan so I want it to go on forever, but that’s actually not a very long set. Two hours is the respectable set length, I think. But whining aside, Mayer Hawthorne really knows how to put on a show. He just sort of happened upon this whole fame thing, but instead of being bumbling and awkward, he’s got this natural charm and confidence about him that makes for a lively, adorable stage show. I do wish he’d interact with the audience more (READ: I definitely shouted out “GO TIGERS!!!” twice, expecting the Michigan native to give me some sort of reciprocation, but I got nothing. Weak.), because I think he could benefit from a little, as the comedians say, crowd work. He really is magnetic though, with his unabashed suburban skinny white boy good looks and his simple, clean, beautiful voice.

The new album, How Do You Do is a delight. You should buy it. But it’s even more worthwhile performed live. He and the County dropped several new tracks including “The Walk,” “A Long Time,” “Dreaming,” and my fave, “No Strings,” like they had been playing them for years. But to my surprise, they also went with several crowd-pleasers from A Strange Arrangement, despite the fact that this show was an album-release party for the sophomore record. “The Ills,” “Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” and my all-time fave, “Maybe So, Maybe No” got just as much love from the crowd as you’d expect. It was a constant state of soul music euphoria. To top it off, he also performed his rendition of “Love in Motion,” which he normally performs with Sebastian, as well as “I’ve Got A Crush on You” and Average White Band’s “Work To Do.” Solid night.

I may have said this before–and I’m too lazy to look and see if that’s true–but with all of the meaningless pop floating around, and all of the heavy-duty lyrics out there too, it’s so refreshing to have an artist like Mayer Hawthorne on the scene. His songs put a smile on your face so effortlessly because they’re good. Sure, he’s got the wordplay going (“You’re shaped like an hourglass / but I think your time’s up”) and the incredible Motown influence, but his music doesn’t stay on the surface or hit too deep. It’s at a balanced, manageable level. It can appeal to most people without being generic, because it’s so likable. And how can you not like this guy? He was wearing a red suit, for Christ’s sake.

What a ham!

Donald Glover/Childish Gambino, 4.28.11

I bought a ticket to this show as an early birthday present to myself. Damn, I’m nice.

2011 has been the year of Me Having A Massive Crush on Donald Glover, and this show did not disappoint. DG/CG (read like CBGB) is basically the perfect man in my eyes. He’s smart, funny, and talented, but all of those basic positive adjectives to the nth degree. Exhibit A: He was hired straight out of college (NYU) to write for 30 Rock. Exhibit B: He left that show after three years of writing Tracy Morgan’s one-liners to pursue a standup comedy career. Exhibit C: He was cast on Community as Troy. Exhibit D: He decided to start experimenting with rap, thanks to a serendipitously awesome rap name generated here. Exhibit E: He’s 27 years old right now.

I mean, just look at him. He’s one of those super-young, super-hot, super-talented people that come around every so often and (sorta) make the rest of us feel shitty for not having accomplished much yet. But the “sorta” is because this guy deserved 200% of the success and praise he’s getting. He’s a rockstar in the best sense of the word, and last night’s show at the Fillmore showcased all of his talents—and all of his potential, too.

He started off the night with a hilarious non-sensical slideshow, wherein he underscored the theme of the evening: It was his show, and he could say (or sing, or rap) whatever the FUCK he wanted. And that’s what happened. He came out for about 45 minutes and did standup, but it never really felt like standup because he got involved with the crowd and conversed with front-row creepers, like this one girl who managed to draw something he had talked about not five minutes earlier. His standup is so real and honest and fun, because he’s being exactly himself—a fun-loving, semi-hard-partying, intelligent 27-year old with a curious, observant head on his shoulders. He talks about his celebrity friends, like Danny Pudi and Reggie Bush, not because he’s name-dropping, but because it just makes sense! That’s who he hangs out with, that’s who he’s come to spend his time with, and that’s our familiarity with him. He’s got such a sweet innocence about him, in the sense that he’s not jaded by showbusiness or celebrity. It’s (prepare for my favorite word here) refreshing.

But we all know that Donald Glover is a funny guy. It’s how he made his name. The second half of the show, therefore, was probably intended for him but was even more impressive than the first. His alter-ego, Childish Gambino, allows him to explode on stage, taking over the space with a different kind of energy, a rapper’s swagger that isn’t necessarily gangster but isn’t a put-on, either. He can get away with it, sure, but he’s really saying something up there with his rhymes. Obviously he’s got a long way to go before he “perfects” his rap, for lack of a better term—most of the rhymes are couplets, for example—but his range of beats and lyrics is incredible. He’s also got a really nice singing voice and an envious falsetto range (i.e., he can do his own R&B bits). Here’s a brilliant sample of his poetry on “Freaks and Geeks” off his EP (which you can download here:

I have worked all winter, I will not fail summer
In the back of her bush like Gavin Rosedale’s drummer
Yeah, my stinger’s in her flower, I hope she let me pollinate
Workin’ hard as shit, yeah this beat is made from concentrate

Nigga, can’t you tell that my sample of Adele
Was so hot I got these hood niggas blowin’ up my cell?
Swag out the ass, I’m the man, fuck Chico
Took the G out your waffle, all you got left is your ego

It’s just so… fresh! Not in that silly ironic way that the kids are using these days. Or maybe that is how I mean it? I don’t know. He speaks a certain relatable, witty truth in this song, and in all of his songs thus far. I’d like to say he makes “nerd rap,” but that isn’t necessarily a fair term. He does indeed call himself a black nerd, but he’s incredibly hip at the same time. Or maybe I’m the one who thinks that liking strange, specific stuff and making tight pop culture references is “hip” and not “nerdy.” To each their own. In any case, I can’t wait to see what’s next from Donald Glover. Oh, and I’m proud to be a Gambino Girl.

Buddy Holly Tribute Concert, 12.30.10

Who knew that Carmel wanted to dance so badly?

This is what I learned at the Buddy Holly Tribute Concert at the Golden Bough theater a couple of days ago. I also learned that this music never gets old and that there is, in fact, a black man in existence who cannot dance. Sorry if that sounds racist. It’s true, though.

This show was… fun. Plain and simple. Travis Poelle has his Buddy Holly impression down to an aw-shucks science, and he can really rock the yodel and the black-rimmed glasses. I was never that into the ol’ BH, but hearing Poelle’s renditions made me want to dig around on iTunes for some old hits. And Davitt Felder as both Ritchie Valens and Elvis was phenomenal. In all honesty, I’d have taken a full show of him and his wildly accurate impressions over the variety show any day (and I think this wish will come true somewhere in the 2011 season). Anyway, this guy was both hilarious and mesmerizing. His Elvis impression, especially, stole the show. I know I wasn’t around when Elvis was around, but I think I’ve seen enough footage of the guy to know how he moved and sounded and acted, and Felder WAS Elvis. Scott Free, who may as well have been Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family, was hilarious as the Big Bopper, even though I have absolutely no idea who that is. Whatever. He was great. David Schultz came out from behind his drum set and made up for his lack of stage presence with some hilarious jokes and great renditions of “Earth Angel” and “Book of Love.” Somewhere in the 1950s, the stars of the airwaves were beaming with pride.

My only problems were with Lydia Lyons and Daniel Simpson, who played all the lady parts and the black dude parts, respectively. It just seemed so… cost-effective. Lyons masked her so-so voice with a slinking swagger (and, okay, an awesome cover of “Fever”) but Simpson’s brilliant baritone was overpowered by his terrible, terrible dance moves. I’m talking Elaine Benes here. The man should not dance. It’s a shame, too, because he could hold a note for a looooooong time.

In any case, it’s a good time out. You see middle-aged white people dancing in the aisles (and in the case of music director Don Dally, shredding on the guitar) and you hear some good songs. Go see it while there’s still time!

Mayer Hawthorne, 11.11.10

If you know me, then you know I love a white boy who can sing with soul. And this dude is all over that. I attended this show—not concert—at the suggestion of my friend, a big MH fan, and one 75 minute set basically turned me into a long-term fan. Why? Because Mayer is from Michigan, baby!

I have a family connection to Michigan, which makes me a little biased, but I’ve noticed something about musicians from the mitten state. They respect and honor their state’s musical past more than any other state. Think about it. When I think of “California” music, I think of the Beach Boys. Yet basically none of the music that comes from California nowadays pays any small tribute to the surf sound. Granted, a shit-ton of music comes out of this huge state. But it’s so poppy and rappy and all over the place. There’s no singular voice. With Michigan artists, you feel the Motown oozing from every note because they were raised to respect that glorious sound. Mayer Hawthorne does exactly that. He’s got the up-beat and the doo-wop, but without trying to imitate his elders. He’s got his own modernized version of the sound, updated lyrics, slightly faster tempos for this generation’s style of dancing. It all works. And it’s not fancy. He’s a dude in a suit, and he just wants you to have a good time. Can’t complain about that. If you haven’t heard “Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin'” then you’re missing out. YouTube it.

The opener, Gordon Voidwell, was equally good at getting the audience to dance. He had the synth-falsetto thing going for him, and who knew that three people could make so much NOISE on stage? Damn. Anyway, I decided that this guy/his band are way better live than on records, because I guess techno/synth music is more meant to be partied to rather than sat-around-and-listened-to.

In any case, Bimbo’s was a great time on Thursday night. Intimate but not too intimate, classy but not too classy, appropriately priced, and a great distance from my apartment. Too bad I didn’t head down to Eve after the show to hear MH transform into DJ Haircut and blow everyone away with his spinning skills. Next time.

Dave Matthews Band, 8.28.10

At this point in my DMB-concert-watching career, I consider myself a veteran. This was my 6th show, so I don’t think it’s inappropriate to go out on that limb. But, friends, my fellow concert-goer hit the quarter-century mark with this same show. I’m not talking birthdays here; he’s only 23. Nope. This was his 25th show. To Sean, I say, at least you’re aware that you need help.

On with the show. Honestly, I’ve seen better. The show opened bold with “The Last Stop,” but got a bit dull several times over. The setlist as a whole was too slow and too “esoteric,” a word Sean used that I’d like to steal because I think it’s accurate. DMB concerts are fun for the fans because we like to see which transitions he uses for which songs, which songs will appear, how many words we can scream. For me, at least, this concert allowed me few opportunities for all of that ridiculous nonsense. Too many slow songs + too many new songs + a much needed tune-up at the beginning of the second song = mediocre. Maybe it’s because my last show was Outside Lands, which was phenomenal. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t really SEE Dave and the crew. Maybe it’s because I didn’t listen to any Dave intentionally, starting a month out or so. I don’t know. But I just didn’t feel it during this concert.

I was, however, glad to hear “Cornbread” and “Two Step,” two of my absolute favorite live songs. And the performance of Two Step may have been the best one I’ve ever heard. But DMB needs to take a rest, not to improve their skills or anything, they’re still so tight and in sync, but to concentrate on what the fans want. We want what we’ve heard a thousand times. Or at least I do. Next summer will be empty without these men filling a lazy evening, but at least 2012 will be twice as epic.

Oh, and Leroi? Still missed.