Thursday, November 13, 2014

'American Horror Story: Freak Show': S04E06: 'Bullseye' [SPOILERS]

I feel like this was basically the look on  Ryan Murphy's face
when he wrote both Ma-Petit-Gets-Killed-
OR-DOES-SHE-hehehe scenes...

I got news for you, Ryan Murphy: deliberately staging scenes where it appears that characters get killed and then revealing (over and over again) that HEY NOW LOOK WHAT I DID THERE, THEY'RE STILL ALIVE is not clever writing. If anything, it's the opposite. It's a lazy way of manufacturing drama where, currently, there is little to none.

The second Paul volunteered to be strapped into the Wheel of Death, anyone who didn't know exactly what was about to happen hasn't been watching the same show I've been watching. Although, if scheming-ass Elsa Mars DID gut him with the intention of making it seem accidental, I gotta say: hitting his torso, the one part of his body that's essentially spinning in place? Not a great plan if you fancy yourself an expert knife-tosser, who would never throw at that spot. It's a guaranteed hit.

I was really hoping Jimmy and Desiree would get together. It doesn't appear that's the case now. Jimmy's been set up as a fairly smart kid, it's hard to believe that he believes Esmeralda's sudden change of heart.

Common sentiment on the comment boards is that Stanley's as-yet-unseen-but-apparently-gigantic penis is what's ultimately going to end up in the American Morbidity Museum, and that's hard to argue against. What kind of con man's plan includes murder? At that point, it's not a confidence scam... it's murder for profit. The whole idea behind the concept is to get away with no one the wiser, not someone the deader. And forcibly enlisting someone in your bloody confidence scam... really? If Stan is any kind of con man, he should be able to make enough small-scheme money to at least get by. I need some sort of rationale for his urgency.

I'm doing a lot of complaining, especially for an episode that so many people have praised, but this one just didn't do it for me. Even Dandy, who has a world of murderous potential for character development, is getting a little old — although, "There's nothing left but the dust, and the scorpions inside me" is a great piece of dialogue. Props.

Lots of things have been set up that could pay off, though: Desiree's abandonment of Dell and his recruitment by Stanley... Jimmy and Esmeralda's attempt to run away from the circus, which would be a coy little trope reversal... Ethel maybe following through on her threat to kill Elsa... and whatever batshit insanity Elsa undertakes when she finds out there are no plans in the works for her namesake television show.

Once again, though, the loss of Twisty is very apparent. Dandy's descent into empty, raging homicidal insanity has some appeal and as I mentioned earlier, a lot of potential. But did we really need another scene of him getting all petulant and tantrum-y, this time when the Tattler twins wouldn't "play by the rules"? Not really. 

More to come...? Possibly. Re-watching it with the wife later tonight...

Friday, November 7, 2014

'American Horror Story: Freak Show': 'Edward Mordrake, Pts. 1 & 2,' 'Pink Cupcakes' [SPOILERS] which the murdering serial-killer clown somehow
becomes a sympathetic figure — yet remains murderous
and serial-killery...

"Edward Mordrake, Pt. 1" set the stage for a few dark tales of redemption. The second half provided a very unexpected example of those tales, one that managed to turn what we all thought was this season's Big Badguy into a halfway-sympathetic figure and a ghost to boot.

Wes Bentley's bad-but-good accent — which I finally placed: Maid Marian from "Robin Hood: Men in Tights"... I figured it out between episodes and every time he spoke in "Pt. 2," I could only hear, "Oh Robin... I'm so heppay!" — and bad-but-good second face prosthetic were an effective method of exploring multiple characters' backstories, revealing their humanity, frailty and pain.

But Twisty's story was the best of all. My only issue is that, owing to his general demeanor and the dwarves' "Simpleton" nickname for him, Twisty is an intellectually-stunted man-child. The Twisty we were introduced to seemed to convey more intelligence and intent, which is a credit to John Carroll Lynch's ability to emote with only the top half of his face. But screw it, let's not quibble. 

Now it seems the true Big Badguy is dear ol' Dandy Mott, who started out pretty terrifying when he strapped on Twisty's mask (was I the only one expecting his immature side to cut through an otherwise-transformative moment and hear him go, "Oh God, that stinks!"). What wasn't so terrifying was the lazy "American Psycho" homage, which lacked only an overlong explanation of why Kay Starr's "Wheel of Fortune" is the perfect song for their day and age. (That is a fantastic song, by the way. I first heard it on the "L.A. Confidential" soundtrack. Kay Starr's whole catalog is pretty great.)

But even in his butchering of poor Andy — which will surely bring the finger-cracking wrath of Dell Toledo, Closet Strongman Who Has Yet to Perform Any Feat of Strength Onstage — Dandy was more of a morbid curiosity than a terror. He should have left the mask on when he came home to Mother. A blood-drenched Dandy with that cancerous grin would have been the perfect image to end the episode.

Back to Mordrake for a few moments. The cheesiness of the green fog aside, I have a few observations about his, and his gang's, brief run:

• Tall Skinny Black Dude is super-creepy.
• Mordrake's grainy-film-stock backstory was great.
• The rest of the gang has their gruesome injuries and retains their freak qualities — why does Twisty get his jaw back?
• Say it with me: I'm so heppay.

"Pink Cupcakes" was all about fantasy. In fact, it was SO much about fantasy that until I re-watched it, I wasn't really sure that Dandy killed Andy. I'm actually STILL not sure, because who the hell could 1) survive being stabbed in the chest and lungs several times, and in the heart at least twice, by my count... 2) then take another baker's dozen stabs in the back... 3) THEN, IF BY SOME NIGHTMARISH MEDICAL MIRACLE YOU'RE STILL ALIVE, NOT WAKE UP when the first of your arms gets sawed off? I mean, Dandy is shown coming home to Gloria at the end of the episode, so I presume the whole thing really happened. But this is Ryan Murphy, so... who knows?

Speaking of Ryan Murphy, is anyone else kind of surprised that all of the villains this season are basically closeted homosexuals? I'm taking a leap with Dandy — he may be asexual, for all I know — but Dell, Stanley... what's up with that? 

One thing I really liked is Elsa's realization that her talent — which is not all that great in the first place — is being wasted on south-Florida townies. Without the novelty and anachronism of its debut, her "Life on Mars" performance got revealed for what it was: an aging torch singer who's just kind of okay.

And I don't care what anyone says: Dandy is not as frightening as Twisty. Not now that he's essentially Patrick Bateman with a mask and a doting mother. But I don't think I'll ever get tired of Gloria Mott's grand acceptance of the perils of wealth. ("Cousins marry cousins to protect the money" ... "It becomes rite of passage to have a psychopath or two in the line... Jack the Ripper was a Windsor, for God's sake"... never change, Gloria).

I tire of Jimmy's self-loathing. Do something to avenge Meep or don't, Sonny Jim. What you probably don't need to do is finger-bang Angela Bassett right into the doc's office. That's not gonna end well. Desiree's discover of herself as 100% woman, her desire to "feel something" combined with her moving into Ethel's caravan is gonna drive her right into Jimmy's arms. 

And right into Dell's misplaced rage when he inevitably discovers that Andy is dead. I really, really hope Dandy dissolved the whole corpse, as horrible as that sounds.... I truly shudder to think what Dell might do if he finds it.

The denouement of the Mordrake episodes was surprisingly emotional. This week's episode picks up the tone the early installments established. But Twisty's absence was very noticeable, and most of the supporting cast, who have been woven rather well into all the episodes, were largely relegated to the background this week. I'm interested to see the Mott's plot to keep Dandy's habit under wraps ... I've learned not to put any stock in the teasers, so it's pretty hard for me to believe that all with all this talk of inbreeding, Gloria would want a two-headed daughter-in-law to have her grandbabies. 

Then again, the sixth episode is right about the time "Coven" started to run off the rails. Some of the hectic fantasy/reality editing and general weirdness of "Pink Cupcakes" had me feeling like this season may be starting to tilt and wobble. Time will tell.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Last Night's Setlist: 10/31/14 Club Café, Pgh., Pa.

'Can you picture that?'

Best costume idea we've ever had. Easily.

[In case you're under the age of about 28 or so, that's Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem, the house band from "The Muppet Show" back in the day.]

Our drummer and his fiancee literally put 10 hours of work into what is a Jim-Henson-Creature-Workshop-quality Animal head. We even had the Swedish Chef and Camilla the Chicken to introduce us during the second set, which is regrettably the only one we got on tape (and the quality is not fantastic). But we're starting to really crank up a new Allman Bros. cover, "Les Brers in A Minor," mixing a Coltrane tune into the jam and, in honor of the season, a "Spooky" jam!

Early set:
Sympathy for the Devil (Stones)
New Mexican Shuffle*
Mother's Meth Head Blues*
Friend of the Devil (Dead) >
Run Through the Jungle (CCR) >
Friend of the Devil
Good Mornin' Lil' Schoolgirl** (J. Lee Williamson) >
Jam** >
Spoonful** (C. Patton) >
Schoolgirl Reprise**
Quite a Night*
Rain (Lennon/McCartney) >
China Cat Sunflower (Dead) >
Feelin' Blue (CCR)

Late set:
Can You Picture That? (D. Teeth/F. Pepper)
Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya (M. Rebennack)
Slow Train (T. Bruno) >
Les Brers in A Minor (Allman/Betts) >
Equinox (Coltrane) >
'Spooky' Jam >
Les Brers Reprise
Dock of the Bay** (O. Redding) >
Werewolves of London** (W. Zevon) >
Viola Lee Blues** (N. Cannon, Dead arr.)

**with Kyle Lawson as Zoot

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tonight's Setlist: 10/25/14, KC's Birthday, All Saints Brewing Co., Greensburg, Pa.

'Friend of the devil is a friend of mine...'

In a kind of public rehearsal for our Oct. 31 show (Club Café, 56 S. 12th St., Pittsburgh, Pa., 10 p.m., $7 in advance, $10 at the door or $7 at the door with a costume, don't miss it!), we had a chance to celebrate with our friend KC at her 30th birthday/Halloween party. 

While they have some fine beers, All Saints is basically a giant concrete box with a metal roof and literally nothing to absorb the sound of the band. It sounded like an echo chamber while we were playing, and the tape has our drummer sounding John-Bonham levels of epic. We should've added "When the Levee Breaks" to the setlist.

Early set#:
Soul Serenade (C. Ousley)
Quite a Night*
Dock of the Bay (O. Redding)
Garbage Man (M. McKinley) >
Black Peter (Dead)
New Mexican Shuffle*
Good Lovin' (A. Resnick/R. Clark)
Les Brers in A Minor (Allman/Betts) >
Equinox (Coltrane) >
'Spooky' Jam > Les Brers Reprise >
Floating Bridge (J. Estes) >
Midnight Moonlight (P. Rowan)
Come On In My Kitchen (R. Johnson)
Can You Picture That? (D. Teeth/F. Pepper)
Don't Let Go (J. Stone) >
Back on the Train (Phish) >
Don't Let Go

Late set:
China Cat Sunflower (Dead) >
Feelin' Blue (CCR)
Good Morning Lil' Schoolgirl (J. Lee Williamson) >
Jam >
Smokestack Lightning (C. Burnett)
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Dylan)
Friend of the Devil (Dead) > Jam >
Sympathy for the Devil (Stones)
Werewolves of London (W. Zevon) >
Viola Lee Blues (G. Cannon)

#"Soul Serenade" through "Good Lovin" without lead guitar

Monday, October 20, 2014

Saturday's 'Setlist': 10/18/14 Super-Dave's Super-Jam


Our drummer hosted a massive jam session this weekend in his rehearsal space. It was glorious. 

One thing about jam sessions: there's always too many guitar players. So I strummed for the first 45 minutes or so, then took the opportunity to jump behind the second drum kit and proceed to go all Rhythm-Devils-crazy with Dave the remainder of the night. It was a blast. Besides, too many of the songs I wanna play on guitar have some little tricky part that no one wants to take the time to learn (for evidence, see the "There's Actually a Third Part Jam," which goes nowhere fast!).

Taki the Mad Keyboardist was our leader for the most part, subtly guiding us through changes in the shape and feel of the jams. There are plenty of influences at work, and what comes out is a heady blend of hard-driving funk, R&B and blues, with just a touch of psychedelic madness courtesy of some well-timed guitar effects, Taki's insane Moog acumen and our double-drumming pushing and pulling the jams back and forth.

What a gas. Enjoy!

Click here to stream/download, courtesy of

Setlist (bearing in mind that I'm randomly naming most of the jams):
Let Him Go (Wailers)
Sweet Jane (L. Reed)
All Along the Watchtower (Dylan) > Whipping Post (false start)
Whipping Post Shuffle Jam
Lil' Red Rooster (C. Burnett)
Soul Jam
Taki's Spacey Jam
Phishy Funk Jam
Free Your Mind Jam* >
Second Line Jam** >
Breakdown Jam >
Superstitious-ish Jam** >
Blues Jam >
Monster Moog Jam >
Get On Up Jam** > Fame tease
Kyle's Low-End Warm-Up Jam >
Stretchy Funk Jam >
Kyle's Jam I** >
Hurricane Funk Jam
There's Actually a Third Part Jam
Just Pick Four Chords Jam
Chunky Funk Jam

*Billy T., improvised vocals
**Kyle Lawson, improvised vocals

From Charlie Hustle:
Dave Varasse, drums
Patrick Varine, guitar/vocals (through 'Soul Jam'), drums (rest of set)

Other players:
Kyle Lawson, guitar/vocals/bass
Taki Batis, keys/Moog
Billy T., vocals/congas
Will the Bass Player, bass
Several Other Fine Gentleman Whose Names Escape Me at the Moment, guitar/bass

Saturday, October 18, 2014

'American Horror Story: Freak Show': S04E02: 'Massacres & Matinees' [SPOILERS]

'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' [SPOILERS]

Good gawddamn, 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....