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January 29, 2007 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-01-29

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, January 29, 2007 - 5A

Rufus who? Others
shine at A2 folk fest

DailyArts Writer
Nudity, profanity, an accordi-
on player named Tinkerbelle - in
between the
many singer- Ann Arbor
songwriters Folk Festival
were pleasantly
unforeseenioddi- Saturday night
ties in last week-
end's Ann Arbor At Hill Auditorium
Folk Festival.
Regardless of whether or not The
Slambovian Circus of Dreams satis-
fied your folk appetite, you have to
give The Ark props for filling Hill
Auditorium with both dreadlocks
and people who remember the ABC
"Hootenanny" series.
Both nights were arranged so that
lesser-known groups began the night
with short sets; this with the inten-
tion that the night would progress
with longer sets and more entertain-
ing music. Unfortunately, for Friday
night, the very opposite was true.
Millish, a local group that mingles
bluegrass fiddle with traditional Irish
pipes and whistles, started the night.
While this group may be young, they
technically and creatively advanced
musicians at the festival. Millish was
one of the few acts that provided the
'festivalgoers with something novel
gifted musicians with an innova-
tive sound. Sadly, they were given the
shortest set of the night.
A few guitars later, the Kiyoshi

Nagata Ensemble took the audience
by surprise with their Japanese taiko
drumming and flawlessly choreo-
graphed performance. Kiyoshi's sim-
plicity and precision was riveting,
especially during Aki Takahashi's
spotlight on vocals and the three-
stringed shamisen.
In regard to Rufus Wainwright,
Friday's headliner: blatant mistakes
were made, wrong notes were played
and he read off a sheet of lyrics. His
voice was nice - but that was all.
Saturday was a similar story. A
strong start gradually turned to dis-
appointment when Paul Thorne tried
to get the audience to sing along with,
"Well it's a great day for me to whup
somebody's ass ... you might get cold-
cocked if you cross my path." Luckily
the festival regained its dignity with
bluegrass virtuosos Mountain Heart
and the legendary John Prine.
But yet again, the highlight of the
night was the first performer, Daisy
May. Accompanied by fellow Earth-
works musician Seth Bernard, May
graced the audience with a voice that
rivals Patsy Cline in strength and
beauty. She will play again at.The Ark
on April 6.
It's understandable that the diver-
sity of a folk festival won't please
everyone. Both nights involved a few
musicians who adhered to conven-
tion. Granted, complying with the
masses is what the music industry is
about, but it would have been nice to
see the most talented musicians have
more than a 15-minute set.

all pop
DailyArts Writer
Girl: A simple, monosyllabic, four-letter
word that has long served as a lyrical corner-
stone of popular song-
writing. Thousands of
songs have explored the
infinite complexity of The Shins
the boy-girl relationship, Wincing the
using the g-word as a Night Away
euphemism for the heart- S
breaking femme fatale Sub Pop
("Girl" by the Beatles) or
as a means of naming the ideal woman ("Life's
a Gas" by T. Rex). James Mercer of The Shins
has an endearing way of singing the word -
often varying his delivery to include trills and
his own idiosyncratic falsetto.
The most disarming part of Mercer's sung
"girl" is the lyrical complexity that often sur-
rounds it. His use of the word grounds his
abstract character portraits and surreal con-
fessionals in reality.
Upon first listen, it's easy to mistake the
opening lyric for a signature piece of Mercer's
diction, but listen closely and you'll observe a
slightly altered version of the "reliable" Shins
sound: "Go, without / till the need seeps in /
You're low anymore / Collect your novel petals
for the stem / and glow, glow / melt and flow

Look at those cute indie rockers. They're so cute. And indie.

/ Eviscerate your fragile frame / and spill it
out in the ragged floor / a thousand different
versions of yourself" These are the words of a
man growing restless in his artistic skin, seek-
ing to "eviscerate his frame" and shed his past
Though the lyrics may seem outwardly
brave, they are by no means a credo for the
album's tone, and Wincing the Night Away is
transparently hesitant to abandon the pop for-
mulas that have endeared The Shins to so many
people - and understandably so. James Mercer
is one of the most talented tunesmiths in mod-
ern pop music, and rejecting the cozy confines
of his irresistible melodies would be a chal-
lenge for any band. So The Shins are caught in
a musical purgatory in which they timidly dip
their toes into experimentation while clinging
dearly to familiar conventions.
Wincing's most obvious successes are found
in the songs that slightly update the tone of
their earlier work. "Phantom Limb" is power
pop in all its bombastic glory, with guitars
and drums that reverberate endlessly around
ascending vocal refrains (think Big Star meets
The Jesus and Mary Chain). Poignant songs
like "Sleeping Lessons" and "A Comet Appears"
benefit from tasteful and precise instrumental

But the album's key moment is the frolick-
ing sing-along "Australia." Exuding joy and
melodic inventiveness, the band sounds loose
and unwieldy, comfortable and carefree, con-
trasting starkly with Wincing's more over-
It's clear that certain tracks were experi-
ments of sorts; but many of them fail to trans-
late into fully realized compositions. "Black
Wave" is abrooding foray into prog-rock, while
"Split Needles" is a perplexing attempt at post-
punk. "Sea Legs" isthe most confounding of all
these experiments in its excessive length and
overblown string and vocal arrangement. Lyri-
cally, Mercer is still incredibly sharp, and the
songs brim with surreal juxtapositions, "You'd
be damned to be one of us, girl / faced with a
dodo's conundrum / Ah, I felt like I could just
fly /but nothing happens every time I try."
Wincing exposes The Shins for who they
really are: a great melodic pop band. When
they abandon melodic structures they often
fail to produce worthwhile results. The Byrds,
Love and The Zombies were all great melody-
based pop bands who found ways to innovate
without losing their harmonic foundation, and
The Shins should do the same. Mercer should
be proud to sing about his "girl" - there's no
need for him to run from what he does best.

oFIL on RE he1rsS e
' No one here but us shadows

Savage bite, superficial wound

DailyFilm Editor
Steven Soderbergh is the sort of director
who doesn't just make a film - he crafts a
project. If his results are
hit-or-miss, at least he's
consistently interesting.
"The Good German," The Good
his latestaboroflove, is German
a full-blown homage to At the
the beautiful black and Showcase
white of '40s postwar Warner Bros.
-ooir cinema, though it
doesn't so much emulate its predecessors as
borrow directly from them. A chiaroscuro
'ewer sequence directly recalls Carol Reed's
"The Third Man," and the "Casablanca"-
5ipped ending clubs you over the head. Amus-
Ing as a collage may be for the observant
novielover, this plundering of classic cinema
,makes the film feel uneven and gimmicky.
The place is Berlin, the year is 1944, and
-eorge Clooney is Jake Geismer, a U.S. war
rcorrespondent back in town to take care of
dome unfinished business. The plot devolves
into a confusing mix of betrayals and mis-

taken identities, connecting Jake's German
ex-flame (Cate Blanchett), her smarmy boy-
friend (a typecast Tobey Maguire) and many
possible political patsies.
Though the film is based on the well-liked'
novel by Joseph Kanon, the story is beside the
point. This is about style and, to Soderbergh's
credit, there's plenty of it. Clooney has never
looked jauntier,and Blanchett,draped against
a doorjamb with the weary eyes of a modern
Marlene Dietrich, exudes enough heat from
her printed housedress to hook you from her
first frame. Filtered through shadows and
cigarette smoke, Soderbergh presents high-
contrast black and white of which those '40s
filmmakers could have only dreamed.
It's too bad he forgets substance. "The
Good German" could easily have leaped the
stilted bounds of its overly convoluted plot if
the two leads had the chemistry their empha-
sized relationship implies. But sparks never
fly; the involved parties just seem like game
participants in a novel little experiment.
Soderbergh's creative nostalgia ends up a
worthwhile exercise in old-school film tech-
nique, but his respectful nod to the past never
culls together an identity of its own.

In "Notes on a Scandal," the regally
smarmy new feature from director Richard
Eyre ("Stage Beauty"), a solitary scene distin-
guishes itself by sitting
the characters down to **
speak frankly to each
other for the first time. Notes on a
After trying to fight her Scandal
way through. a crowd At the State
of mutinous. London Theater,
reporters ablaze with Quality 16 and
the news of her affair Showcase
with her 15-year-old Fox Searchlight
student, Sheba (Cate
Blachett) is forced into the basement apart-
ment of Barbara (Judi Dench), a maverick
wit and fellow teacher whom Sheba has just
learned engineered the public outcry over
her affair. They sit at a table, quietly aghast,
and viciously cut into each other.
And it's about time. Penned with the
blood-on-the-walls savagery of playwright
Patrick Marber ("Closer") from the Zoe Hell-
er novel, "Notes on a Scandal" moves along at
such a breakneck pace and is charged with

such malicious insincerity between the char-
acters that the final confrontation is extraor-
dinarily cathartic.
The rest of the film is little more than the
requisite faux prestige piece that sneaks its
way into the awards season every year. Not
a half hour into the movie, when we learn of
Sheba's affair and of Barbara's intent to use
it to make Sheba fall in love with her (yes,
really), the anxious rush of the screenplay
has already begun to lose its way. As the
characters work diligently to ensure their
eternal misery, even Barbra's venomous run-
ning commentary on Shelia's life (spoken by
Dench in a deadpan voice-over) becomes just
another part of the grind.
It's uncharacteristic of talent like Dench
and Blanchett to put so much into so little,
especially in a film featuring the year's most
elegantly packaged homophobia and a cam-
era that treads a little too comfortably down
its 15-year-old paramour's waistline. The
screenplay is a live wire, but this parade
of pointless transgressions is no less inane
for it. If this is your idea of entertainment,
indulge. But for my student discount, "Stomp
the Yard" is playing down the street, and I
hear the popcorn refills are a total steal.

Noir, statuatory - Cate Blanchett does it all.

The Yaffe Center 2006-2007 Speaker Series
Persuasive Communication:
Yaff e Center What's Breaking Through Today?
for Persuasive Communication


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