Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bar Spotlight - Black Sheep Pub

North Slope was always an area I was a little gray on when it came to my knowledge of places. I had been to Freddy's in Prospect Heights, which was close, and Union Hall, where I live on the weekends, but living in Sunset Park I figured South Slope would really do it for me. My co-worker and I were looking for place to have a couple of drinks that could suit both routes, he was in Crown Heights and I was in Sunset Park. I was looking for a new place that wasn't 4th Ave Pub or Pacific Standard, something more quaint. In comes Black Sheep Pub, and I've been back a few times since and it's really a nifty little bar.

There are a few great things about it. First off, is the doors to the outside, and you can shift your table out there to get a great sidewalk view. You can also put your feet up on the fence and just sit there and drink all day and stare at the peculiar one-story house across the street. If you had a cowboy hat that would be great, and a harmonica would complete the look.

They have great specials here depending on the day, like half priced wine, as well as an 8 dollar pitcher for happy hour (currently Amber Bock is their cheap choice). Quiz nights are on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month.
It's not a large place; a few tables and the bar on your right, and a large projection screen playing any number of sports or random movies on cable and foosball table on the left. The bathroom is one of the smallest I've ever been in. It's for Alice in Wonderland, when she's miniature.

The food isn't bad, they have a small menu from sandwiches to a salad to fish and chips (11 dollars was a bit much for a skimpy amount). The cook miraculously appears from somewhere and yells out your name, and be sure to throw a barb or two, because he's a good guy.

Another great thing is the board games, they have ornate copies of some classics like Jenga and Yahtzee (after a few drinks it's just not happening, that game right there).

I think my favorite though, is the free jukebox, everyday, before 8pm. Their jukebox is up there with the best, they have a few albums but they have a whole lot of mixes that really runs the gamut (I played a Clinic song and the bartender was really happy, a Liverpool transplant he was). The music isn't very loud so it's really enjoyable to play some really good tunes (great sets of 80s and 90s indie) while still having a somewhat self-absorbed conversation about your ex-girlfriend.

In other words, it's a perfect Sunday afternoon drink spot, one where you can sit and listen to crabby cynical women shooting you the evil eye just for looking their way, or listen to some ascot-ed idiot talk about the movie business second hand.

For more information and updates on their specials, see their official site:
Black Sheep Pub Brooklyn

Monday, July 14, 2008

Red State Update...not as good as Gashouse Gorillas (shameless plug)

From the press release regarding their upcoming comedy album:

"The uncouth Tennessee two have created quite a niche acting as comedic political pundits during the current presidential campaign season. Jackie and Dunlap’s first big shot at mainstream celebrity happened last July when CNN chose their video to feature during the YouTube Democratic debate. Since then, Red State Update comedy shorts created for You Tube and MySpace have attracted thousands of subscribers. Total online views between YouTube and MySpace is over 10 million—and several of their videos have been featured on YouTube’s main comedy page, including one of their most current sketches entitled, “Hillary Wins, McCain Clinches, Huck Out.”

Red State Update's political satire comes from the minds of two comedians,
Jonathan Shockley and Travis Harmon. They've gained a fanbase and YouTube homepage fame over the past year as the 2008 presidential campaign has heated up. Basically, their videos are comprised of the two of them, one an old-fogey, bearded fellow Jackie Broyles, and the other, a younger but no less brash and slightly more comprehensive redneck Dunlap with a sly knowledge of pop culture.

I've seen a couple of their updates, and I have to say it's not horrible. There's a genuine charm and a sort of swagger that they carry with just enough wit to get them by with the casual viewer.
I don't know if their aim is to make it look as natural or unscripted as possible considering their Budweiser-fueled format, but I think it's what deters them from getting my full attention. The speed at which they run through the subject is not as effective I feel as it could be; if they slowed down and especially focused on creating more contrast between the clearer Dunlap and the fast talking Jackie. The show is at its best when they raise tempers with each other; it escalates and builds towards a slight sense of outrage and provides some of their better quips. While I feel Jackie's character plays it more straight, Dunlap is given some real opportunity to ham it up; his earnest delivery makes for some funny dumbfounded facial expressions.

The show isn't exactly "sensitive", which is refreshing but also lacks the timing and depth of something like the Colbert Report. Granted, it's from a decidedly different "red state" culture, but I wonder if it really is funnier than say, Jeff Foxworthy, or Larry the Cable Guy, both of whom I don't particularly like. It's certainly not as funny as Ron White, who is the only talent among the whole Blue Collar Comedy Tour.

It's frustrating, because there is a certain amount of Southern-tinged wisdom that they bring to the table, a sly and plain logic, but then again, their focus and ideas feel rehashed instead of something subversive (such as their clip on gay marriage, see below) which would really make a bit like this interesting.

Red State Update's first comedy album, "How Freedom Sounds", will be coming out on July 22nd on Dualtone Records.

Visit their official website for more information.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bar Spotlight - Kettle Of Fish (59 Christopher St.)

Kettle of Fish. I figure I'd start this little series of bar reviews and yes, it'll be similar to my Yelp reviews but maybe not. Anywho, Rob and Warren and the crew here are just real naturals when it comes to bartending. They are quick, friendly when it warrants friendliness, and just a great group of guys. They enjoy rattling each other, you can totally see that they are having as much fun being the gatekeepers of those bottles of Magners as you are being the patron.

The bar is sectioned off into two parts basically: you pass Duplex and you walk down the steps into the bar section which stretches out on your right, and on the left you have your jukebox with classic rock and soul standards, the bathrooms, and the coat rack. As you round the corner there's some seating, an arcade game, and a pinball machine.

The second room is really where you can settle into an all nighter, although this is hardly the bar to stay all night, the ebbs and flows of people don't warrant that necessarily. There's a section with 3 couches facing each other around a non-working fireplace, great for a large group, and I've had many a nights sitting and chatting up a storm about this or that. The lone tv looms above a octagonal table, and then as you work toward the dart boards (where they have actual games) there's a few tables with chairs.

The crowds here can get fairly packed on weekends, no doubt, mostly at the bar but sometimes around the corner too. There's a few regulars who are always lined up, usually much older, but a lot of the usual people that come here seem to be mid to late twenties, and early thirties. It's not really stiff enough to be for the more corporate types and yet it's not divey or unclean for the real rowdy types. That's why it's usually a great mix of people, a bit preppy but it's always a healthy volume of conversation. The modest prices aren't a turn off either, last I checked it was hovering around 4.25 for a bottle of Bud Light.

It's one of those well lit bars, which is what I really enjoy about it. There are a handful of bars that enjoy being well lit and know that it does create a warm atmosphere because of it, it's very inviting. Wisconsin memorabilia lounges around and it really achieves a real down-to-earth quality. It's one of the few bars as well where I've seen a really nice older lady at the door checking IDs and controlling the door. And as I stated, the staff here really know each other quite well, and that energy is totally on display and isn't necessarily unique but combined with the other charms of the place, it makes it possibly my favorite bar to go to in the West Village. You can't really find a better bar like this in the area: it's cozy and the beer flows freely and served by a great group of people.

For more, go to:
Kettle of Fish website
(212) 414-2278

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Gashouse Gorillas - Pumping Up For The Apocalypse

Hopefully the first of many, I just wanted to let you know about a certain sketch comedy group of whom I've known and been friends with for quite some time, The Gashouse Gorillas, not to be confused with some jazz group of the same name. Spawned from fertile minds while at SUNY Purchase some years ago, here is one of my favorite sketches from their earlier days, Pumping Up For The Apocalypse. They've gotten funnier as the paychecks from their day jobs started coming in, and word is that a couple of the Gorillas have been seen in and around the likes of the UCB theater in Chelsea. I smell comedic babies being birthed with that kind of firepower. Get pumped!

For more, go to Gashouse Comedy on YouTube:

Poster Critique - Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

I was looking at Superior Pics, who in turn got this from MTV's Movie Blog. First thing that caught my eye was how sly they were with the Juno-esque font for the title, I'm not sure it fits but the kind of artfully handwritten style does remind me of older indie flicks like how Singles did their subtitles the way this poster displays the actors names. They should have put the title in the same font as the actor bills, in fact, now that it reminds me of Singles, another live music scene-loving film with meet cute romances, I'd want to see that just because of those similarities. Other than that, the poster overall is similar to the Kissing Jessica Stein theatrical poster as well.

The city skyline at the bottom is nice, denoting a possible long, arduous, and cool journey through the city.

My favorite parts are the color of Kat's shirt (well, and the fact that she's hot) and the warmth of the tone on their outline, and above all, the fact that they are in focus versus everything else out of focus. With the romance angle, I like how at a live concert where everything is hectic and the music is killing eardrums and just all sorts of stuff is going on, there's always the one girl (or guy) that catches your eye. It's one of those instances where you purposely drown out everything else in the mise en scene and focus on that person, because well, there are lots of attractive women at shows. Lots.

The other great part is their expressions: they are leaning into each other with really disarming smiles, as if they are laughing about something that, combined with everyone else out of focus, only they are privy to. It's a great "moment" caught. Throw in the mohawked dude in the foreground and you have a little variety. Good thing they aren't hipsters. Or emo.

Click on the photo for a slightly larger image.

You can find out more about the book here:
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist website
and the film page on IMDB:
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist on IMDB

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

This is a Mad Man's World

Cable TV has really made huge strides over the past 15 years to take advantage of markets outside of strictly TV and really push well produced series that both enthrall and explore boundaries that network TV still has fights over. Premium channels like HBO and Showtime (see Brotherhood Season 1 overview) and places like FX and USA have been enveloping their brand with particular shows. AMC, which produced the heavily hyped Mad Men, ventured into similarly cool territory a couple years ago with Hustle.

The Golden-Globe winning Mad Men is gearing up for it's second season, and now EMI/Manhattan Records has released the first volume (assuming there's more than one to come) of music used in Season 1. It's an interesting collection of standards from the turn of the decade in 1960 and before, and fits quite well with the image of the urban, slick ad executive with the sharp suit and quick wit. With numbers from Bobby Vinton and Robert Maxwell, and the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, it seems like a great buy for not only fans of the show but anyone willing to kick back their feet and get a little bit lounge-y. These shows just know their music a bit better than whatever is on network television, and I can put a safe bet that Mad Men: Music From The Series Vol. 1 is no exception.

From the press release:

According to Matthew Weiner, “Music on Mad Men is never an accident. The philosophy of the sound was pointed: do as much to enhance the feeling of the period while offering an artistic commentary to the themes of each show.” Alexandra Patsavas, Grammy nominated music supervisor and founder and owner of Chop Shop Music Supervision, serves as music supervisor for the soundtrack, which joins her impressive credits, including Grey’s Anatomy, The OC, Rescue Me, Gossip Girl, Without A Trace, among others. There is no question that music helped define that decade and music plays an important role in the series.

Mad Men: Music from the Series, Vol 1, includes musical standards such as “On The Street Where You Live” by Vic Damone, “Fly Me To The Moon” by Julie London, Volare” by The McGuire Sisters, and Manhattan” by Ella Fitzgerald, among many other known and loved favorites; the show’s theme song, “A Beautiful Mine” by Aceyalone & RJD2, as well as original music by the show’s composer, David Carbonara.

Track List:

On the Street Where You Live - Vic Damone
Volare - The McGuire Sisters
Lipstick - David Carbonara
P. S. I Love You - Bobby Vinton
Botch-a-Me - Rosemary Clooney
Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) - Julie London
Caravan - Gordon Jenkins

Manhattan - Ella Fitzgerald
I Can Dream, Can’t I? - The Andrews Sisters
Shangri-La - Robert Maxwell

Babylon - David Carbonara
Mad Men Suite - David Carbonara
A Beautiful Mine - Aceyalone & RJD2

Monday, July 7, 2008

Recent Netflixing: Brotherhood - Season 1

Like most people who have good computer monitors with which to really take advantage of visual media, I enjoy Netflix "Watch Instantly" as a means of getting into something quick with just a click of a button. Granted, Time Warner Cable decides on occasion to slow our internet in Sunset Park to frustrating speeds where the ability to playback is hampered, but I finally was able to get through Brotherhood: Season 1 after a couple months of watching episode by episode.

Titled by particular passages from the Bible, Brotherhood is a very, very serious show. There is scarcely any humor to be found; I found myself after each episode locked into a poker-face mode. Even when characters do laugh, it is usually pensive, nervous, or faked. The severity though is well-deserved and warranted, because even though the plots and subplots of this Showtime serial have been covered before in a multitude of films, the tight production and scrappy, methodical aura it brings to the table in the first season won me over by the end.

A lot of people have described it as an Irish-American version of the Sopranos, but I think it's very different after you get past the surface plot of a family that is involved with a gangster outfit. Brotherhood has its own suburban vibe, set in Providence in a fictional district called the Hill. Michael Caffee (played with a creepy, blazing staunchness by Jason Issacs) is the violent, imposing brother who comes back to the Hill after years of absence. Tommy Caffee (the strong chin of Jason Clarke) is the family man and a district representative struggling to make ends meet but otherwise content with his situation. The Caffees are upheld to a high but vulnerable standard by the family matriarch who lives down the road from Tommy and who houses Michael upon his return, Rose Caffee. Without getting into too much detail about the great supporting cast, just know that everyone knows everyone in this town. Whether you're a politician, a cop, or a gangster, you go to the same functions, you attend the same weddings, your kids go to the same school, and you shake hands with everyone and put on a nice face. It is the way life is here. There is an intimacy to the network of characters that makes the Hill very real and very detailed. It could be affairs with old high school flames, which both Michael and Tommy's wife, Eileen, get into with respective partners. It could be the strained but genuine friendship between a cop, Giggs, and Marty, a union man knee deep in criminal activity.

The production is not flashy at all, and at some point one would think that it could be considered fairly bland or low budget compared to more stylish shows on cable. Yet, the muted tones and tight compositions by directors like Nick Gomez actually give the atmosphere a claustrophobic feel and the performances benefit from this. The violence is abrupt and unglamorous, the language terse and without meandering philosophy. There is a pervasive amount of anguish exuded by every character, and it starts to break the viewer down by the end of the season in a good way, because the plot starts to pick up when new lawmen are introduced. You realize what drives Tommy to do good by his ambition and principles, and why Michael's disruptive, and by turns naive and manipulative behavior cause such a central rift that is the heart of the show. Their mother Rose, a perpetual victim and yet, seemingly ignorant to her own son's bad deeds shrouded in her need to be a supportive mother. Eileen, drug abuser and adulterer, struggling with the life of a housewife. Pete, a sober man struggling under the psychological bullying that Michael unleashes. Giggs, a hard drinking, always-stuck-between-a-rock-and-another-rock detective who is always forced to do the wrong thing. These characters are distinctly Irish-American because of the history, the feelings of moral guilt, and an incredible sense of community with a blinded, self-destructive nature. They have permeated the town hall, the police force, and organized crime to be pillars of the neighborhood, but at the same time, there is an incredible psychological struggle and an actual political battle for the Hill. When the immigrants become the status quo, what do they struggle against but themselves?

I don't think Season 1 is perfect. There are some subplots that do not go anywhere throughout the season, or become repetitive, such as Eileen's drug use, Pete's alcoholism, and Mary Rose's (Tommy's eldest daughter) coming of age. It weighs the plot down considerably in the middle of the season. However, they all pay off at least somewhat by the last two episodes or so, and hopefully are addressed as well in Season 2 (which has not yet been released on DVD).

What is really unique about the show is the political machinations that Tommy has to juggle. Yes there have been movies about politics before, but using politics as a weapon on such a local scale with such detail and quickness makes the show very tangible. You see a microcosm of negotiations, string pulling, questionable ethics, betrayals, and under-the-surface conflicts of interest that you can't even imagine what it must be like at a larger level. Tommy tries very hard not to get sucked into power the wrong way and to stick to his principles, but his steadfast nature hurts him just as much, if not more so, than his compromises. In the end he must turn to his brother, and what you have is a very mature depiction of what it means to above all, put family first, because with a world full of uncertainty, it is the only thing you can count on.

Here is a great video summary of the show on Youtube:

The Coast @ Union Hall 7.6.2008

I was having a few pints with my friend Chris over at Pacific Standard, and we decided to fill up the growler with some ale and head over to Union Hall to see what was doing at the bocce courts. Turns out, Toronto's The Coast showed up a little late and was able to inadvertently headline the Sunday night show. Chris and I were probably only two of maybe 12 people there, but for what we saw, we went ahead and bought their record, Expatriate. Now while the record is catchy and easy to listen to, with swooping, simple guitar riffs and a decent amount of reverb and some keys to fill out some tracks, I wouldn't say it's incredibly original or varied. Chris said it was like "the Gin Blossoms with integrity". I wouldn't downgrade them that much, if you like a more introspective Phoenix then you should definitely check them out, it's great summer music, really unpretentious, and I met Ian and Ben and they were cool. And it certainly makes for a solid live show, one that made it all the more enjoyable as Union Hall's basement doesn't exactly scream roomy.

The Coast are currently on a U.S./Europe tour, their dates can be found on their MySpace page. They are playing at Rehab tomorrow night (7/8) in the East Village.

Check them out here:
and on MySpace: