Saturday, October 18, 2014

'American Horror Story: Freak Show': S04E02: 'Massacres & Matinees'

'Three titties... proper girl parts and a ding-a-ling... I'm a 
full-blown hermaphrodite. Put THAT on your banner...'

Put that on your banner indeed.

Angela Bassett was underused last year in a potentially great role as voodoo queen Marie Laveaux (her namesake's shop is in New Orleans, I highly recommend it), but I don't think there will be any such issue this year.

Desiree Dupree the Triple-Titty Hermaphrodite and her main squeeze, Vic Mackey the Stupendous Strongman/Child Abuser/Murderer, are poised to take over the whole camp, or so it would appear. Ol' Dell Toledo was far too smart to let Jimmy set him up, and in turn, he set up the one member of the camp who couldn't say what he knew if he wanted to.

Meep's impending doom was the most frightening part of the show so far. I was looking forward to an interrogation scene with the cops, with him trying to convey his innocence in variations of meep

Gloriously Oblivious Gloria Mott would be a great source of humor if the whole situation weren't so tragic and pathetic — although big ups to the props department on the crystal cognac baby bottle. It says it all about young Dandy Mott without saying a word.

Though how young is he? In 1952, there's no real reason for him to need to be 21 to be a spoiled rich brat taking nipple-sips of VSOP. Let's say 18. And now, thanks to his ability to withstand juggling-pin jabs, he's under Twisty's tutelage.

I knew Twisty's backstory was going to be good. After "Massacres & Matinees," now I'm really interested. Not to mention my interest in how — and what — he eats.

Hey, there's Patti LaBelle! I have a bad feeling she's not long for the Mott home. It would be nice to see her do a duet with Elsa before she's inevitably, shall we say, Dandy-fied?

Speaking of song and dance, bonus big ups to Ryan Murphy and Sarah Paulson for reminding me not just how good a song "Criminal" was, but also how bangin' Fiona Apple was in that video.

I'm hoping there's an episode dedicated to the full sequence of acts in the freakshow — what the full nightly show is like, front-to-back. In real life, these shows had to be good, feature some showmanship and some real talents, and it would be good to see the full production. Or perhaps show one family's entire evening wandering the grounds, seeing the sights and taking in the show at some point. It could be used as an opportunity to have them interact with the main characters, whose reactions to the family's questions and to one another in the family's presence would throw some of the intra-camp tensions into subtle relief.

In the meantime, it looks like Strongman Mackey is gonna force the freaks to put on a Halloween show and summon the spirit of The Weird Kid From 'American Beauty' Who Just Wanted to Show Her Your Nazi Plate, Sir. AHS usually does their Halloween two-parters pretty well, so the next few weeks should be a good time.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

'American Horror Story: Freak Show,' S04E01: 'Monsters Among Us'

Good Gawd, Ryan Murphy...


First things first — Ryan Murphy oversold the scariness of Twisty the Clown in the pre-premiere promos for the new season of American Horror Story. Is he scary? Oh yeah. Super-scary and super-creepy. But Murphy said he was honestly worried that someone would have a heart attack when he was first introduced. 

Not so much.

I suppose if you have terminal coulrophobia, it could be bad. But Twisty the Clown is not the worst real-life monster to ever slash the screen. That said, I am a bit concerned about what's under those lovely chompers. And I'm sure his backstory will be just... special.

But other than the music mix being way too loud (I needed closed captions when we were in that '50s diner with rockabilly blaring on the jukebox) and the constant bugs-and-peepers soundtrack (I get it, it's South Florida, it's all crickets and frogs and shit, but c'mon, maybe a little silence once in a while?), I don't have too many complaints. 

Things are setting up nicely for a season in which I'm hopeful there will be no supernatural elements. There's the obvious 'us-versus-them' trope happening between the freaks and the town, and I wonder if the show will parallel that with the early seeds of the civil rights movement, since we're situated in the Deep South once again this year. Angela Bassett's introduction next week as the only black member of the troupe could be an inroad toward that end. 

And it goes without saying that I'm anxiously anticipating Strongman Vic Mackey forming his own Freak Show Strike Team, unless he's not down with Jimmy Darling's plan.... which is.... um.... killing anyone who won't let him live out his dream of shocking desperate housewives in the open? 

Jimmy was shaping up as a great character until THE BIG SPEECH at the end. Too much too soon, with clunky dialogue to boot. Hopefully they dial back Overarching Message Deliveryman Jimmy and focus on Specialty Gigolo Jimmy.

Kathy Bates and her beard and her Baltimore hick accent are all great. Those of you who think it's a Pittsburgh accent are on the right trail.... the Appalachian trail, to be specific. Having grown up here, the Yinzer dialect isn't quite as Ed-Sullivanish as Ethel Darling's talk of the Tattler sisters being given a new "haeoom" at the freak show.

I like the idea of the carnival simultaneously repulsing some Jupiter residents, like the farmer's wife and the police detective, while drawing in others like the candy-striper, who escapes her boring life and discovers the joys of opium and blowing people with hirsutism.

More to come....

Saturday, October 11, 2014

'The Strain': Season 1 Review

'You wanted to find me, woodcarver..... here I am.......'

My feeling about the first full season of "The Strain" is, well… not to put too fine a point on it, but I felt strained myself most of the way. 

Let's hit some of the major problems: 

1) This is a vampire apocalypse show that never showed a vampire apocalypse. Our intrepid group of hunters went into the sewer and saw a room full of five-hundred to a thousand of them. Once the sun went down, wouldn't they all be roaming the streets? And then the next night, wouldn't there be at least TWICE that many? The show didn't show that. If it really is coming back for 2015, they need to bump the budget and show how New York City could really be overtaken by strigoi. I mean, once the first police officer survives an encounter with one, it's Army Ranger time in real life, right? 

2) There are things that work in a graphic novel, hardboiled dialogue in particular, that just don't work when you try to have real actors do it. But it's not restricted to dialogue. Certain devices that are acceptable in the comic and graphic novel worlds come off as lazy in real life. Setrakian's early-season entrance as a potential action-hero is a perfect example — what, was he just hiding in the basement, somehow unbeknownst to the little girl vampire, waiting for a chance to properly introduce himself to Eph and Nora?  

3) The Big Badass doesn't even scare my two-year-old son. Seriously. He sat there and watched The Master choke out Eph and barely batted an eye. That's not a good endorsement — of my parenting OR the special effects (in fairness, he wandered into the room unannounced). Here's hoping his suntan makes him good and burnt-up — and a little more fierce-looking — next season. 

4) Guillermo del Toro either wrote the World's Most Stereotypical Urban Latino Male, or he didn't challenge Chuck Hogan when Hogan wrote it. Either way, it's a bad look. I want to like Gus, but I find myself hating the things the script makes him say. I do like the path he's taking the show down, however. A little less conversation, a LOT more action. People decried his "I'm listening" response as more stereotypical gangsterism, but I'd argue it's true to his character: he was going to rob Creem for money and weapons, presumably to kill his way out of town. It's clear that Quinlan and the SWAT team aren't going to just let him go, so why not keep doing the killing he was already gonna be doing and get paid in the meantime? And anyway, as soon as the sun comes up, he can still skip town if he wants. 

5) FIND A 45-YEAR-OLD ARMENIAN TO PLAY MIDDLE-AGED SETRAKIAN. Enough with this community-theater old-man makeup bullshit. I imagine the flashbacks are mostly over, except for probably a few detailing the start of Eph's alcoholism. Boo. 

6) The entire first season turned out to be merely the setting of the table, all told. I'm familiar enough with the basic trilogy storyline to know they weren't going to get The Master, or stop the vampocalypse, but I'm struggling to think of one single storyline that's truly resolved, outside of the woeful tales of Jim the Coward and the Chain-Smoking Madre. 

7) Every character, at some point, makes a decision that is irredeemably dumb, with maybe the exception of Fet.  

8) Eph: "So, if sunlight doesn't kill him, then what does?" — well, you could have PUT A SILVER BULLET IN HIS HEAD AS SOON AS YOU SAW HIM. I'll grant you that breaking out the windows was a good idea, because [at least we thought at the time] there was no place for him to escape but [certain death] outside. Then again… 

9) The entire "big confrontation" choreography was horrible, and poorly plotted. For all of his hunting advice, Setrakian got in one good slice on the arm and then pretty much froze up. Lots of wide-eyed staring and not a lot of lifelong-grudge-indulging or wife-revenging (same with Eph: why, when their immortal enemy tumbled into the sunlight, did they not both rush up and hack him to pieces? At least cut his feet off, I mean damn!) 

10) The Worm Problem: Kelly ground a Cuisinart blade into her boyfriend's face and a worm squirted onto her eye… Fet blows up a sewer tunnel full of strigoi and then they walk right through a room where every surface should be covered by worms desperately seeking a new host… Dutch headshots a vampire two feet away from Eph and Zack and no one gets any worms on them… Eph does the same thing 30 seconds later, and then that vampire jerks her worm-juicing head wound forward within six inches of Zack… and no one gets infected. But that's not a scripting problem, that's just basic ignorance of physics. WIth all of the scientific gobbledygook the first half of the season threw at us, there was never any discussion of how long these worms can survive outside of a host. Eph had some in an blood-free glass cube and they looked to be surviving just fine. Setrakian kept a jar of them alive for more than half a century on, presumably, a couple drops of blood every once in a while. If being infected turns you into an immortal strigoi, it stands to reason that, absent death by UV exposure, these worms can survive indefinitely and crawl around looking for a new host. I would've loved to see a scene in the sewer-storming episode where a worm crawls out of a decapitated strigoi, up through a sewer grate and into someone's shoe. 

11) Too much is telegraphed. Did we really need a thirty-second "scene" of Eph handing the pawn-shop keys to Zack? OOOOH, I WONDER IF HE'S GOING TO LEAVE THE SHOP? The dialogue telegraphs a lot as well. These are all pretty good actors. They can convey the conflicts and emotions of their characters without speechifying all the time. Nora's scream when she had to chop her mother's head off was horrifying; Eph's whispered, teary-eyed "No," when Strigoi Kelly came to the back porch was heartbreaking. I didn't need all of their handwringing asides and private conversations to build up to those moments. 

12) The Wig. No need to beat a dead horse. Let's just pause to recognize that at times, it looked like Fizzgig from "The Dark Crystal," and it's a gots-to-go situation. And that Strigoi Fizzgig would be awesome. He's already got the full-tilt jaw! 

And yet despite all this, I'm still totally on board for season two. The enticing promise of a true fully-budgeted NYC vampocalypse, with Quinlan and Gus wreaking havoc, Fet blowing shit up and Nora taking over as the new Chain-Smoking Latina is too tempting. Now that the vast majority of main characters has been introduced, the new chapter should be able to delve right into the shiznit. I'm interested to see how Alonzo Creem fits into the story, because they didn't just cast Marlo Stanfield for a one-and-done season. If he joins up with Gus's daywalker Strike Team, that's great, but I also wouldn't say no to him firing a stinger out from between those chromed-out grills. Given that he still tried to shoot Gus even with a shipping crate full of strigoi coming at him, he seems the type, as Quinlan might say, to maybe want a little revenge.

Overall, I think this show would have benefited from more of the quiet moments that FX's "The Bridge" has worked into its run so far: showing rather than telling and building out the world of the show rather than having characters lay their motivations bare in boring ways. I both liked and disliked the "Kelly Transformation" episode. I liked its focus on Kelly's gradual, pretty frightening change without a lot of expository dialogue. What I really would have liked, though, was to see it happen in real time along with the show's other ongoing events, rather then a flashback. The show wanted to tease out the mystery of did-she-escape-or-is-she-turned, but we all knew she was gonna be turned. 

In the season-ending voiceover — boo — Setrakian revealed that the entire first season happened over the course of one week. Earlier in the season, he also revealed that once turned, strigoi would be "fully formed" in one month. That would be the perfect time to drop in for the start of the second season. Check in with everyone, show how they're handling the new-and-improved bloodsuckers... show me an extra-crispy Master that'll force me to stop the DVR the next time my son wanders downstairs... show me more Eichorst, who so far, BY far, is the best villain on this show... show me Corey Stoll's bald dome... for that matter, show me Zack's, too, let's get rid of that stupid 1979 haircut.

I just can't quit you, "The Strain." You have too much potential.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tonight's Setlist: 9/27/14 Garlicfest XI, North Park, Pgh., Pa. (Private Event)

"Garlicfest XI: The Best Head Around."

This year's Garlicfest was a blast. True, there was no camping with the usual amount of late-night madness. But we brought the spirit of the Crawford County original to Pittsburgh, plus my honey and dick-pepper corn muffins with smoked garlic and leek icing took third place overall!

Our lead guitarist was stuck working mandatory overtime, so we improvised an early set with a little help from some special guests! Click here to stream/download the set courtesy of

Early set*:
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Dylan)
New Mexican Shuffle**
One Clove (to the tune of "One Love")
Junco Partner (J. Waynes)
Dock of the Bay (O. Redding)***
Lil' Red Rooster (C. Burnett)
I Know You Rider (Trad., Dead arr.)
The Man in Me (Dylan)
Feelin' Blue (CCR)
Cold Rain and Snow (Trad., Dead arr.)

Late set:
Meet Me in the Morning (Dylan)
I Like It**
Good Morning Lil' Schoolgirl (J. Lee Williamson) >
The Garlic Song (R. Gorton) >
Jam >
Stone Soup** >
Midnight Moonlight (P. Rowan)
Back on the Train (Phish)

*Entire first set feat. Tim Bruno, rhythm guitar
***feat. Kyle Lawson, vocals

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tonight's Setlist: 9/26/14, PGH Abides, Bayardstown Social Club, Pgh., Pa.

"How many of you know the origin 
of the phrase 'Stranger in the Alps'?"

It was a night of ladies with missing toes and Viking helmets, men in bathrobes and hunting eyewear, ziplining blowup dolls with paintbrushes and one guy who was actually wearing the rug that really tied the room together. If you don't understand any of that, you need to go watch "The Big Lebowski" ASA-MF-P.

Thanks to Pandemic and Weather Permitting for having us back, and big thanks to special guest drummer Bobby D^ for sitting in. Click here to stream/download the set courtesy of

Early set:
The Man in Me (Dylan)
New Mexican Shuffle*
Gentleman of Leisure (J. Winchester)
Mother's Meth Head Blues*
China Cat Sunflower (Dead) >
Feelin' Blue (CCR)
Lookin' Out My Backdoor (CCR)
Good Mornin' Lil Schoolgirl (J. Lee Williamson) >
Jam > Schoolgirl Reprise

Late set:
Back on the Train (Phish)
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Dylan)
Friend of the Devil (Dead) >
Run Through the Jungle (CCR) >
Friend of the Devil
Nine-Toed Blues*#
Junco Partner (J. Waynes)
Slow Train (T. Bruno) >
Stone Soup* >
Cold Rain and Snow (Trad., Dead arr.)

#First time played; written especially for PGH Abides 2014
^Both sets with Bob DiCola, drums

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tonight's Setlist: 9/20/14 Nied's Hotel, Pgh., Pa.

'We're gonna cover a song by my guilty-pleasure 
band... and Trish's earnest-pleasure band...'

Tonight felt like a good night. I'm listening to the first-set tape right now, but the second set always tells the tale. Nied's Hotel amphitheater is pretty great. We barely needed monitors because of the brick walls on either side of the stage, and started to hit a real nice groove midway through the early set, probably due to the addition of a few new numbers: an old bluegrass tune, "Midnight Moonlight," and a big bouncy Phish song, "Back on the Train."

Click here to download/stream the set, courtesy of

Early set:
Cumberland Blues (Dead)
Quite a Night (in Spain)*
I Like It*
New Mexican Shuffle*
Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Morning (D. Van Ronk)
Midnight Moonlight (P. Rowan)
Mother's Meth Head Blues*
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Dylan) >
Slow Train (T. Bruno) >
Gentleman of Leisure (J. Winchester)
Back on the Train (Phish)

Late set:
Evil Mind* >
That's It*
Friend of the Devil (Dead) >
Run through the Jungle (CCR)
Friend of the Devil
Equinox > 
Jam >
Stone Soup* >
Spoonful (W. Dixon) >
Jam >
Smokestack Lightning (C. Burnett) >
Viola Lee Blues (Dead) >
China Cat Sunflower (Dead) >
Viola Lee Blues

E: Mama Tried (M Haggard)#
Move It On Over (H. Williams)#

#with Slim Forsythe

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tonight's (Acoustic!) Setlist: 9/5/15 Park House, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Poppin' peanuts and pickin' at the Park House...

It was our second acoustic show in a row tonight, although this one wasn't really planned as a Charlie Hustle show. I played a quick solo set, The Grifters did their thang, and then we formed like Voltron for the late set, which is what will be posted to stream/download.

On a reminiscent sidenote, my uncle used to bring me to the Park House — one of those great old-school all-wood joints where you get free peanuts and you can toss the empties right on the floor — before Pirate games when I was a kid. So it was pretty cool to play there two decades later.

Click here to stream/download, courtesy of

Late set:
Come On Into My Kitchen (R. Johnson)
I Like It*
Mother's Meth Head Blues*
Love Please Come Home (B. Monroe)
Quite a Night*
Black Peter (Dead)
Berta Berta (Trad., Varine arr.)
Back On The Train (Phish)
Ophelia (The Band)
I Know You Rider (Dead)