Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Andy and His Grandmother"

Writing about comedy can be a drag. To analyze a joke is to demystify it, taking away any suspension of disbelief created by the comedian. Reviewing a routine always ends up feeling awkward or curmudgeonly. But this is why Andy Kaufman is the ideal comedian to ponder and write about. He wants us to ask, "what is going on? Is this funny? Why is this funny? Is this really happening? ...Wha!?" If we don't over-think Andy Kaufman, we did it wrong.

Andy and His Grandmother, the first and only Andy Kaufman album, was condensed into LP length from 82 hours of raw micro-cassette tape by Vernon Chatham. Featuring narration from Bill Hader, the comedy is confusing from start to finish. In other words, it's pure Kaufman.

Highlights include candid conversations with his grandmother as well as his groupies. These recordings sound very real, as in, these aren't skits. But how can we tell? When we hear an escalating phone argument between a couple of Andy's lovers, is anyone acting? If they are, they're pretty great actors. But then the question remains, what's so funny about an argument? If it's real, why does that warrant a track on a comedy album?

Andy Kaufman's philosophy of comedy was meta before there was meta. He's so self-aware of his wolf-crying that he's able to pull pranks without straining his conscience. It's a shame that this will be his only album, because the 'theatre-of-the-mind' aspect of audio suits Andy's style perfectly. If Tim and Eric did a rendition The War of the Worlds, it might go something like Andy and His Grandmother. The most heavily produced track on the album, "Sleep Comedy," actually sounds like a Tim and Eric skit (recorded 30 years before Awesome Show Great Job existed), with weird looped gibberish and encounters with Federico Fellini to boot.

One of the most compelling moments comes when Andy is talking on the phone with his friend about the concept for the album. He records this phone conversation, and they actually talk about how the album will be about fucking with people's heads. Now why would he record that? It's almost like he actually forgot that his recorder was on. It fucks with my head so hard, not only because of the mobius strip of a comedy act but because of what they start talking about after. It turns into a conversation about how the prank could go so far as to faking the death of Andy Kaufman. At this point, I'm listening and actually thinking to myself, "wait... is it a prank? Is Andy going to show up in conjunction with the release of this album?" He actually got me. Andy Kaufman got me. And I loved it. I laughed at myself. Which is probably exactly what he wanted.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Dylan Missed Out: The Octopus Project

by Ellie Julier


The first time I caught wind of Austin’s most beloved indie-experimental-electronic-happiness band was three years ago when I snuck a peek at an incoming text on my boyfriend’s phone, from his best friend.

“Octopus Project outside at Waterloo. Get here now.”

A few months later I saw them for the first time, somewhere on the Eastside that’s now probably a condo, on a raised circular stage underneath a white tent, the frenetic and dreamy multimedia accompaniment projected on the ceiling. I made a new friend and our curiosity took us around and around the stage together, feeling the sounds change. I don’t think my heels had ever bounced up and down so much. I don’t think I had ever witnessed anything like it.

I took Hexadecagon home over Christmas to play on the good speakers. Wrapping presents to the rollicking gait of “Glass Jungle,” my brother ran in to stand in the doorway and bob his head, his notice of approval.

“Mm. Yeah. That’s what I call a bass roll.”

My Mom stopped in, cocked her head to the side.

“Is that a theremin?”

Two years later and that same champion of Mom waited in line with me and my friends for an hour-plus to see them play the tiny Swan Dive stage, enduring Red River trailer food, a grating opening band, and standing on bad knees only for the mighty foursome to keep blowing out the pathetic soundsystem four or five times. (No one was mad. You can’t be mad at The Octopus Project.)
Last fall, with a sore heart and nothing else to do, I joined my best girlfriend to see Passion Pit at The Backyard at Bee Cave. While hordes of bros yammered under their backwards baseball caps, The Octopus Project courageously played on, happily, brightly, authentically, perhaps doing it all for me because I didn’t feel like I could.

So when, on Saturday night at The Mohawk at the release party for their fifth album, Fever Forms, Josh Lambert thanked everyone for being there to celebrate with his best friends and bandmates, and thanked everyone again, I experienced a bit of the stupefaction you feel when your best friend thanks you for being at his wedding or something. What? Of course! Are you crazy? Thank YOU. Of course we’re here. We’re here because you’re here! Because we are here. Because you are here!

This was such a party, such a celebration of a gem of a band that has been together for over 14 years. I mean, the place was literally toilet papered. The parents of Josh and Yvonne Lambert, Toto Miranda, and Ryan Figg cheerfully sold merch out of the booth (“Go meet our parents and guess which ones belong to whom!”) People cheered for anything and everything, when Yvonne smiled her gracious smile, when she swung the Moog theremin around 45 degrees. Cheer crowd!

And rightly they should, because this is an incredible band. The gleeful frenzy of their music, most of it instrumental, matches the 100 mile per hour slideshow of color, images, and vintage video projected on octagonal scrims, which matches the full-bodied heart and focus poured into their live performance. That sounds like a lot, and it is, and it is great. Their comfort working together on stage as they switch instruments, even in the middle of songs, borders on choreographed dance. It’s enrapturing. Yvonne, the muse, her graceful, rigid focus at the helm of the theremin, glides to pick up her next instrument the moment she cuts off the wavelengths. The boys coyly wear wholesome white button downs and skinny black ties but throw their whole bodies into making “Porno Disaster” sound as deviously hot as its title.

But it’s their relentless playfulness, gratitude, and commitment to positivity and comradery that makes The Octopus Project a dear favorite. Life-sized cartoon cutouts of ghosts with mouths open in a rar flanked the stage, with the primary colored octopus mascot at the center like a one-eyed beacon to outer space. Have you ever seen people moshing because they’re excessively, overwhelmingly happy? I think they played “Truck” because they knew that this would happen. My crappy Vine video will never do it justice. And Toto has asked that next time, we all snap instead of clap together. Could we do that? Could we just do that for him? Cheer crowd.

So, I really don’t know why they thanked us. It feels really meaningful and at the same time really silly when friends thank each other, doesn’t it? I hope they know how proud Austin is to have them as our own. Josh admitted that Fever Forms is their favorite album ever. Everyone who’s heard it already says it’s their best ever. Maybe we all really love it because they really love it. Whatever, who knows, I’m going to go crank “Whitby” and dance in my underwear with my imaginary martian cartoon blob-friends, because that’s what you do when you’re in love.

Monday, July 01, 2013

You Missed Out: Jamaican Queens

I actually missed out on Jamaican Queens twice this weekend. On Friday they played at the Logan Square Auditorium with Tobacco and Cave, and yesterday they played at the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. But tonight they headlined a show at the Whistler. And I didn't miss out. But you did.

I'm not sure who to compare these guys to. My first instinct is Of Montreal, but that instinct is way off. My friend leaned over to me during their set and told me that they sounded like ELO, but he was pretty drunk. My wife said the singer gave off some Yoni vibes, but there isn't any hip-hop going on in Jamaican Queens. Animal Collective? Not as unlistenable. Maybe they have their own thing going. That would be pretty cool, right?

It's always a good sign when you look at the three guys on stage and wonder, "where are those other two players at? How do they sound this massive?" The Whistler is a small venue for a band like this, but I have a feeling they would do well with a festival crowd. So, even though I loved their energy, I think I did miss out by not seeing them with a larger audience.

The singer let us know that he had been drunk since 2pm, but I'm not sure I believed him. His voice sounded great. He hit the high highs and the low lows all night, like a Freddie Mercury singing The Knife. He also kept telling the sound guy to turn up the treble on the electronic drum pad. "That should be obnoxiously loud. It's not loud enough until it makes people walk out." Nobody walked out, but it did get pretty loud. We were all pretty into our tearing eardrums, especially during "Kids Get Away," which might be the best music video I've seen this year.

Wormfood has definitely been one of the most underrated releases of 2013 so far, but if Jamaican Queens keep playing these wild shows they'll get some momentum before the year end lists come in. They only played for about 30 minutes, and it didn't come close to feeling like enough. I guess at a free Whistler show this is acceptable, especially with those cocktails. Oh god, those cocktails. I didn't miss out.