Year In Review - 2008
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Year In Review 2008
But Not Forgotten
Mark “Deep Throat” Felt, Tim Russert, William F. Buckley Jr.,
Paul Newman, George Carlin, Harold Pinter, Bettie Page, Bernie
Mac, Arthur C. Clarke, Bo Diddley, Sydney Pollack, Isaac Hayes,
Charlton Heston, Don LaFontaine, Heath Ledger, Jesse Helms,
Michael Crichton, Stan Winston, Jerry Wexler, Richard Widmark,
Paul Scofield, Gary Gygax, Neil Aspinall, Yuri Glazkov, Robert
Rauschenberg, Evelyn Keyes, Anthony Minghella, Tom Lantos,
Yves Saint Laurent, David Foster Wallace, Richard Wright,
Edmund Hillary, Bobby Fischer, Estelle Getty, Roy Scheider,
Tony Snow, Studs Terkel, Nina Foch, Ollie Johnston, Eartha
Kitt, Robert Mulligan, Norman Smith, Brad Renfro, Odetta,
Political figures Patrick Hillery, Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salim
Al-Sabah, Nikola Kljusev, George Habash, Suharto, Badri Patarkatsishvili,
Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, Nouhak Phoumsavanh, Kurt Furgler, Levy
Mwanawasa, Fred Sinowatz, Hua Guofeng, Lansana Conté, Tassos
Papadopoulos, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, Jörg Haider.
Filmmakers Jules Dassin, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Kon Ichikawa,
Mel Ferrer, Dino Risi, Jean Delannoy, Youssef Chahine.
Actors Van Johnson, Anita Page, Suzanne Pleshette, Guillaume
Depardieu, Don S. Davis, Maila Nurmi, Cyd Charisse, Majel
Musicians Davey Graham, Johnny Griffin, Henri Salvador, Yegor
Letov, Jeff Healey, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Ivan Rebroff, Leyla
Gencer, Ronnie Drew, Mitch Mitchell, Freddie Hubbard.
Writers Hugo Claus, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Tony Hillerman,
Paavo Haavikko, Aimé Césaire, Mahmoud Darwish, Randy Pausch,
Arts Figures Boris Efimov, Cornell Capa, Natalia Bessmertnova,
Dith Pran, Olga Lepeshinskaya.
Scientists John Archibald Wheeler, Joseph Weizenbaum, Thomas
Huckle Weller, Albert Hofmann, Edward Norton Lorenz, Willis
Lamb, Leonid Hurwicz, Michael E. DeBakey, Henri Cartan, George
Emil Palade, Jacques Piccard, Claude Piron, Masanobu Fukuoka,
Daniel Carleton Gajdusek.
Sports Figures Jean-Marie Balestre, Sven Davidson, Mate Parlov,
François Sterchele, Alexey Prokurorov, Phil Hill.
Religious leaders Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Gordon B. Hinckley,
Avery Dulles, Alexy II.
Last French veteran of World War I Lazare Ponticelli.
Local Notables Joe Jennings, Parker Buckley, Paul Straussman.
Treadwell, John Edwards, Tony Blair, Elizabeth Dole, Kismet
Gallery, Wolf Road Borders, Ballinger’s, laissez-faire capitalism,
Bloomberg’s term limits, Capital District Federation of Ideas,
Times Union weekday feature section, Alan Colmes
and We Miss You Already
Schenectady Police Chief Gregory Kaczmarek, former New York
State Assemblyman Chris Ortloff, O.J.
and Waiting to Be Indicted
and Back in a Really Lame Way
. . . Supposedly
parking tickets for Albany cops and friends
Convention Center, Brian Scavo, Albany Police Chief James
Tuffey, Jerry Jennings, Axl Rose, the Gang of Three
and Back Again
Lights, Tom Cruise, Britney Spears, Hillary Clinton
since George H. W. Bush and Back Again
and Back and Gone Again
and Not Back Yet
Street liquor licenses
and We’re Thirsty
Going . . .
for Too Long
Going Away Fast Enough
Nov. 4, 2008, late in the evening, crowds waited with hushed
anticipation for election results from the West Coast to be
reported. With Ohio and Florida in the win columns, the wait
was just a formality—but the media weren’t going to call it
early this time. And then California was called for Obama
and years of tension and hoping came to an end: Barack Obama
was now the president-elect, and eight years of inept Republican
rule was all but over. Obama’s impending inauguration seems
to be the nation’s one ray of optimism in increasingly bleak
called Howard Dean crazy for his 50-state initiative, but
look what Obama strategist David Axelrod and his team did
with it. They put states into play that no Republican has
had to defend for decades. No one would have imagined that
results for a state like Georgia would still be undetermined
weeks after. So now the Dems have solid wins in Ohio and Florida
and the Republicans are a regional party.
donations from individuals over the Internet made the Obama
campaign a steamrolling cash cow that eventually bought up
a whole half-hour of prime-time TV time across multiple major
networks. The McCain camp complained that Obama broke his
word to accept public financing. But all in all it seemed
that his financing was pretty public . . . at least in one
on Top—of the Cabinet
first, she and her supporters exuded an air of inevitability.
Then she faltered in Iowa, but cried—and rebounded—in New
Hampshire, and the historic race was on between a black man
and a white woman for the Democratic presidential nomination.
During a crucial stretch mid-campaign, Hillary Clinton faltered
again, and Barack Obama’s momentum became too much. After
several gaffes and missteps, Clinton refused to quit (to the
chagrin of some and the delight of others), campaigning hard
to pick up a few wins in industrial states like Pennsylvania,
but it was too little too late, and so. . . . we’d now like
to welcome Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
OK, He Forgot About Inhaling, Too
remember landing under sniper fire,” Clinton said of a trip
she made during her husband’s presidency, apparently trying
to underscore her foreign experience. Video footage of course
showed otherwise, and Hillary made light of her gaffe and
tried to make it go away—only to have her husband inexplicably
bring it up again.
reason to be glad that we didn’t elect Hillary Clinton: A
two-term Clinton presidency would have meant that the country
would have been governed for 36 consecutive years by Bushes
Her Glasses Became Famous
burst on the scene at the Republican National Convention,
immediately injecting life (however temporary) into McCain’s
sluggish campaign with her feisty VP acceptance speech. Sarah
Palin then became one of the year’s improbable political stories,
a nearly-unheard-of Alaskan governor who overnight became
the most loved, hated, talked about, parodied, admired and
reviled figures in the campaign. She often stumbled and appeared
unqualified in interviews, and she turned off many with her
antics as appointed attack dog, but hey, c’mon—she was entertaining.
And until she came along, no one ever used that word
on the McCain campaign.
claimed that thanks to interest in the 2008 election, turnout
would reach unprecedented levels nationwide. However, as it
turns out—whether because of depressed Republican turnout
or whatever other reason—turnout did not reach predicted levels.
About 130 million Americans voted in the 2008 election as
compared to the 122 million in 2004.
Bush spent most of the year clamoring to stay out of the public
eye so as not to hurt Republican candidates with his historically
low approval ratings. However, after the election, the world
was treated to one last embarassing image of Bush, as journalist
Muntadhar al-Zeidi threw his shoes at the president during
a press conference in Iraq. Bush ducked in time to avoid a
bump on his head, but he could not avoid one more national
was it? Did we miss it? October came and went without a terrorist
attack, a video of Osama Bin Laden making threats, a new war
started in the Middle East, revelations of sex crimes, or
the employment of illegal aliens designed to disrupt the elections.
We thought Bush was going to blow up the White House in a
crazy plot to stay in power for another term!
2008, being a Republican meant avoiding being seen with an
even more miserable Republican. That’s why the GOPers at the
national convention in St. Paul this summer were only feigning
their boo-hoos when the man who killed their brand, George
W. Bush, was unable to attend. Ironically, and hilariously,
they all pretended it was because he was going to be too busy
doing something about the hurricane looming off the Gulf Coast.
Ha ha ha. Good one. Nobody wants to be associated with such
a miserable loser—or in the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger,
who also skipped the convention, with a whole stadium of losers.
He has his reputation to consider.
St. Paul this summer, cops from all across Minnesota got a
chance to wear their fancy new riot gear and practice hitting
people over the head with sticks, and anti-war protesters
from all over the country got to find out what it feels like
to get shoved to the concrete, tear gassed, and pepper-sprayed
in the face, 1968 style. Both sides lived out their fantasies
and fears of the fascist police state—it was a win-win for
Obama supporters, it was an ideal end to their four-day celebration
at the democratic National Convention. There wasn’t a cloud
in the sky on the warm August evening in Denver when Barack
Obama walked out onto stage to accept the Democratic Party
nomination for president. Invesco Field was alive with 80,000
cheering campaign volunteers and supporters, happy to be sharing
the historic day with each other, and with the man they worked
so hard to see succeed.
Quality of Mercy, Snowbilly Edition
Palin is the gift that keeps on giving. (Thank you, Bill Kristol!)
After pardoning a turkey for Thanksgiving, she, with blissful
ignorance of the comedy of the scene, did a TV interview in
front of a blood-drenched farmer slaughtering less-fortunate
turkeys. You go, girl!
in the Closet
learned not a Goddamned thing from Bill Clinton’s experiences,
philanderer John Edwards found himself hiding from the National
Enquirer in a hotel toilet. A sad end to a great populist
force in national politics. (We hope his wife kicked him in
the balls, too.)
there ever been as pathetic a collection of losers as the
posse of clowns who vied for the Republican nomination for
president this year? There was charmless Rudy Giuliani, who
couldn’t be bothered to campaign anywhere, and was incapable
of uttering a sentence not punctuated with “9/11 9/11 9/11!”
There was Mike Huckabee, cheerfully endorsing creationism
and brushing off questions about his dog-killing son. There
was Fred “Dipshit McGoo” Thompson (thanks Wonkette), seemingly
nodding off in the middle of his own campaign events. There
was Mitt Romney, who couldn’t make up his mind about what
he believed in, had his own questionable dog-mistreating history,
and couldn’t even hold off “Cletus” Huckabee in the Southern
primaries. No wonder John McCain got the nomination with no
money and no real strategy.
Incredible Shrinking President
the economy really went over the cliff and he had to do, um,
something, this year saw the president of the United States—George
W. Bush, remember?—shrivel into a dangerous irrelevancy. Dude
was less popular than Richard Nixon at the time of Watergate,
for Pete’s sake.
Just Whistlin’ “Dixie”
they better keep whistling “Dixie” because the Republican
party can pretty much only count on the deep South to back
them at the polls. Or, as blogger Atrios (Duncan Black) so
aptly put it after Obama won that state, “Indiana, bitches!”
Media’s Bias Leans Toward Sanity
pissed that they were stuck with a bunch of losers this year,
had to take all that anger out on someone. So, chirping away
from that old songbook of Richard Nixon’s, they gleefully
leveled their floundering rage at the evil mainstream media.
How dare they expose the GOP as a party of thugs, cronies,
and crooks finally choking on their own excesses? The Republican
attack machine’s vitriol went something like this: The sin-drenched
elitist perverts in the media hate Jesus and babies! USA!
Down Illegal Institutions”
Congressman Ron Paul sure knows how to work his crazy-as-hell
boosters into a lather. All his filthy talk about fiat currency
and the Federal Reserve, usury banking and tariffs, is the
libertarian porn that fills the minds of his geek legions
and malcontents with visions of hot, sweaty revolution. And
chew on this for a minute: Antiwar Paul raised more money
in his bid for the Republican nomination from military personnel
than any of his opponents—even ole McCain. Oh, and he had
Panda, Poor Lonely Panda
Nader hit a new low this election season. Desperate to get
the media to pay attention to his presidential bid, in a string
of tantrums, the once-respected political activist chose to
reduce himself to a caricature. He attacked Obama for “talking
white,” promised to give out the recipe of his grandmother’s
hummus to anyone who would show up to his campaign events,
and recorded the strangest political ad we’ve ever seen. In
it, the lonely old pol opines to a pet parakeet that the media
is more interested in zoo animals than in him, and that maybe
the only way he could get attention for his presidential bid
would be to dress in a panda suit and go down to the zoo.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, that great disappointment from Connecticut,
sealed his fate as a Democratic Party exile and laughing stock
by giving Sen. John McCain an oratorical deep throat on stage
at the GOP’s national convention. Smart move.
Steamin’ Cup of Joe
aside “Joe Sixpack,” and pass your baton to the new grand
marshal of the name/occupation-stereotype parade. Samuel Joseph
Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, was just another (oops)
unlicensed plumber in Toledo, Ohio, until the McCain-Palin
campaign launched him to 15 minutes of limelit fame. And if
you haven’t had quite enough of his vaguely informed punditry,
we suggest you snap up his new book, Joe the Plumber: Fighting
for the American Dream.
People Like Him
it wasn’t already exhilarating enough that Emmy Award-winning
comedian, best-selling author, political satirist, and former
Saturday Night Live performer Al Franken was running
for U.S. Senate, the Minnesota race has become an edge-of-your-seat
thrill ride of beaurocraziness. On election night, Franken
was trailing his opponent, incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman, by
215 votes. By Minnesota state law, the miniscule margin mandated
an automatic recount. As of press time, Stuart Smalley, er,
Franken, is in the lead.
their candidates may have lost the election, 2008 was a bumper
year for creationists. During the first GOP presidential debate,
three—count them, three—candidates literally raised their
hands to declare that they did not subscribe to the theory
of evolution. While their most enduring and spirited representative,
Mike Huckabee, assured the American people, “I’m not planning
on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book.
I’m asking for the opportunity to be president of the United
States,” political-economic commentator/presidential speechwriter/actor/comedian/
gameshow host/eyedrop spokesman Ben Stein released his anti-evolution
documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The New
York Times may have declared the film “an unprincipled
propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike,”
but it grossed nearly $3 million in its first weekend.
is as Racism Does
an effort, it seemed, to counteract Barack Obama’s strategic
avoidance of race during his campaign, as well as talk of
the “postracial” America that an Obama presidency would ring
in, the final weeks of John McCain’s presidential run proved
that good-old-fashioned bigotry and fear-mongering are alive
and well in the land of Uncle Sam. Quick with the epithets,
and with turbaned Curious George dolls in hand, the crazies
made a proper revision to Samuel Johnson’s classic assertion
that hatred (not patriotism) is the last refuge of scoundrels.
I Am Your President
far as the media was concerned, the historic results of the
2008 election were not nearly dramatic enough on their own.
Competition for viewers launched a network special-effects
war of Spielburgian proportions. MSNBC debuted a virtual-reality
results rotunda, with green-screen bar graphs rising from
the marble floor, and CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin actually
beamed in from Chicago via hologram. We preferred the old-school
pageantry of NBC’s giant ice map outlined on the skating rink
at Rockefeller Center, but what we really missed was Tim Russert
and his dry-erase board.
Wife’s Worst Enemy
face it, with a list of gaffes long enough to throw a tickertape
parade (Bosnia anyone?), we’re pretty convinced that “the
great campaigner” Bill Clinton simply did not want to shoulder
the burden of designing the White House Christmas tree.
one for the conspiracy books: The wildly popular attorney
general makes his reputation waging war with Wall Street crooks,
racking up powerful, rich enemies. Then, as governor, frustrated
by the corruption that dominates the Capitol, he continues
throwing elbows, attacking duplicitous colleagues, making
more enemies than friends, until he finally sets his sights
on the biggest crook of them all, an enemy too big even for
him: the international banking industry. Former Gov. Eliot
Spitzer may have gotten caught in his party socks, but it
was because the Feds were watching. Why they were watching
is the question.
and the Married Governor
yeah . . . it is pretty fishy that the great white hope of
the Democratic party got taken down in a sex scandal thanks
to government wiretaps. We can agree with that, but . . .
um . . . he was visiting ridiculously expensive (plus trashy)
prostitutes! Mr. Day One Everything Changes was busy being
so judgmental about everyone else in the world, he didn’t
bother to keep in check his personal vice that might eventually
have brought him down without wiretaps. Lets face it: Spitzer
is a schmuck. The fact that he decided to reenter the public
eye by becoming a columnist tells us very clearly this dude
is in it for himself.
of the Paterson
one-time happy-go-lucky lieutenant governor who got to lobby
for important issues is now all burdened with carrying the
state through a scary-as-fuck recession. Paterson seemed like
a chill guy in his second-in-command role, but thanks to a
horny Eliot Spitzer, Paterson has had to make some unpopular
calls lately and has the media all up on him all like, “Hey,
who is going to replace Hillary?” And he is all like, “WTF,
that was supposed to be my job. Not this stodgy governor gig.
Leave me alone!” What a drag. Oh, and then Paterson totally
has to deal with that Saturday Night Live skit that
totally killed his new-governor buzz. Shame on you, Eliot,
we liked Paterson better when he could play friendly slacker
uncle. The overbearing dad routine is just not his thing.
Paterson, Prophet of Doom
before the local, state or national political establishment
recognized the crisis, Gov. David Paterson had the bad taste
to point out that the economy was going off a cliff—and that
we’d damn well better do something about it. But governor,
is taxing Coca-Cola really the answer? We think that
Bloomberg guy and his pals could pay a little more
in income taxes, sir.
Alan Chartock who once said that Kirsten Gillibrand was a
long shot against John Sweeney, whom he considered to be the
“brightest light in the Republican Party.” Now Gillibrand
is a second term congresswoman coming off a win over an extremely
well-funded Republican, having won the race with more votes
than almost any other incumbent in the state. We wonder how
Chartock feels now while he interviews Gillibrand about speculation
that she might be named Hillary Clinton’s Senate replacement.
And where is that John Sweeney guy?
it seemed Albany County District Attorney David Soares would
face no obstacle to his reelection in 2008. Former District
Attorney Paul Clyne bowed out of the race with little time
for a major party to put up a legitimate challenger. And then
Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners released an audit into
the district attorney’s petty cash fund that found discrepancies.
Quickly the Republicans put up Roger Cusick on the Integrity
line, and soon more audits were released by Conners. It made
for fun news, but not many people seemed to care, as Soares
beat Cusick by a landslide.
Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, once the most powerful politician
this side of the Tappan Zee, exited the Senate so quickly
that all he left behind was a little puff a smoke and a bunch
of confused colleagues. Many people suspected that his hasty
exit had to do with a lingering federal investigation, and
some suspected he didn’t want to be at the helm of a sinking
Republican ship. One thing everyone agreed on: His hasty flee
from public life sure was suspicious.
Win or Epic Fail?
state Democrats finally did it. They eked out a slim, two-seat
majority in the Senate chamber. It was the first time in three
decades that they would fill more chairs then Republicans,
and what should have been a hopeful triumph for the party
has turned into a clusterfuck of inept leadership, strained
loyalties, backstabbing, and profiteering. They might have
won the numbers in November, but there is no guarantee that
when the Senate gavels in for the 2009 session that the Democrats
will be the ones in charge.
Democrats, under the supposed leadership of Malcolm Smith,
snared the majority in the state Senate this year, but like
the old man at sea, the real challenge has been getting the
catch back to shore. Originally four, now three, New York
City senators have banded together in the historic moment
as a caucus of opportunists to shake down their colleagues
for choice committee appointments, extra lu-lus, and unilateral
power over the legislative agenda. So far, the gang’s arm-twisting
tactics have failed; all they have accomplished is placing
the Democratic caucus into a turmoil that could cost them
the leadership. If Smith is able to keep his leadership role,
regardless of the Gang of Three, we expect to see some heads
like Paul Tonko, our new Congressman. His golden tan and crown
of silvery hair makes us think of Roman nobility. We like
his style. We like how he waited until the very last minute
to announce his run, and then how he played his campaign—based
on the name recognition that comes with decades in politics—as
an inevitability. We like that he read the Obama policy playbook
and followed it to a T, and we like how he probably will be
boringly predictable in how he votes and in what initiatives
he supports. And we like that he has a reputation as hard-working
and accessible. Don’t disappoint us.
be honest, in reality it is not that surprising that in Albany,
the police union had a system in effect to give away free
parking to officers and their friends. Yes, Brendon Lyons’
story that broke the news was important and he deserves mad
props, but let’s face it, this is Albany, and if something
involving the city government isn’t corrupt, secretive, putting
the city further into debt, and run by the mayor, it is the
exception to the rule (please see the Albany Landfill, water
board, and Common Council for further reference).
Blame Jerry! (Or do)
year, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings’ refrain became so predictable
it made us shiver: “It’s not my fault!” For all the major
problems the city is facing, from crime, financial woes, abandoned
buildings, gun violence, the ever expanding landfill, Jennings
knows just who to blame—anyone but himself. According to Jennings,
crime is a federal issue, and so is waste disposal. Despite
the fact the city has done away with beat cops who made neighborhoods
safer and takes in trash that it is not required to take in.
Oh, and the city’s financial crisis? That is the state’s fault
because it doesn’t give Albany enough handouts. We suppose
he does not take into account the fact that he has been responsible
for the city for more than a decade.
Honorable Scofflaw Glen Casey
Councilman Glen Casey (Ward 11), the councilman notorious
for reading magazines during council meetings, managed to
earn new embarrassing notoriety this year when his car was
booted for being parked in a loading zone. Casey paid $280
in fines in outstanding tickets. Casey had been a proponent
of putting out warrants for the arrest for scofflaws who have
not paid city parking tickets for more than two years.
was a frightening time for a number of Albany’s neighborhoods.
From the shooting death of 10-year-old Kathina Thomas in West
Hill to the murder of University at Albany student Richard
Bailey in the Pine Hills neighborhood, the entire city was
forced to face violence head-on in their communities. In the
fall, Albany saw a wave of hold-ups and muggings across the
of the Year
Senate Seat] is a fucking valuable thing, you don’t just give
it away for nothing,” Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is reported
to have said, in reference to his alleged negotiations for
a payoff to appoint someone to the seat soon to be vacated
by Barack Obama.
Camelot, That’s How Conditions Are
becomes president. Obama dubs Sen. Hillary Clinton Secretary
of State. New York needs a new senator. Who you gonna call?
The Kennedys! Gov. David Paterson confirmed Caroline Kennedy’s
interest in the position earlier this month, adding that,
“She realizes it’s not a campaign.” The non-campaign has found
Kennedy on a whirlwind tour of the state, and reaching out
to Democratic power players from Sen. Charles Schumer to Al
you haven’t noticed, we’re fucked.
When You Thought the Economy Was Safe!
Madoff, the former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market and
founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, was
arrested this December for defrauding investors out of $50
billion dollars in a Ponzi scheme. A number of high-profile
investors, including Stephen Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg,
were bilked by Madoff.
cable news network MSNBC as a great liberal behemoth is overstating
the case, to say the least. (Joe Scarborough, anyone? Chris
Matthews, who practically foams at the mouth whenever the
subject is the Clintons?) But there’s no doubt that the angry,
acerbic Keith Olbermann and fresh-faced Rachel Maddow struck
a blow for balance in a news environment ruled by the fedora-wearing
right-wing jerk Matt Drudge and Fox News thugs like Sean Hannity
and Bill O’Reilly.
has been a bad year for the old-timey media outlets. The
Christian Science Monitor dropped its daily dead-tree
version and will publish an online-only version, and The
New York Times mortgaged the land its New York City building
is sitting on. We could go on, but you get the idea.
the Hudson Valley, Ulster Publishing just shut down a couple
of newsweeklies, the Dutchess Beat and the Ulster County
Post Pioneer. The Journal Register Co., which publishes
the Saratogian and The Record of Troy, shut
down over a dozen weekly papers a week before Christmas, in
Connecticut. A little bird told us that things at the Albany
Times Union are crazy, with reporters covering all
sorts of things they weren’t hired for; a bigger bird, TU
editor Rex Smith, buried this bombshell near the end of his
Dec. 27 column: “Many of you who are busy will also appreciate
a slightly condensed paper on Monday, Tuesday and
Wednesday. . . . So we will drop the feature section
from those early weekday papers and focus coverage on
news, business and sports.” [Emphasis most assuredly added.]
And in the biggest move of all, WNYT NewsChannel 13 trimmed
their staff and did not renew the contract of the most popular,
respected and acclaimed news anchor in the market, Lydia Kulbida.
Hard times, indeed.
Music Business Is Still Dying
week we read grim stories about how EMI were on the brink,
or the scandal of the alleged financial excesses of execs
at Warner Music Group, or how Axl Rose or Coldplay or Katy
Perry (?!?) would save the music business. Meh. When you have
to go to Best Buy to get Bruce Springsteen’s latest compilation,
it’s all over except licensing the product—er, songs—for TV
. . And So Is Network Television
NBC, do you know what isn’t a sign of confidence? Handing
over five hours of prime-time, weeknight real estate to Jay
Leno. With viewership declining almost as fast as the quality
of the programming, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox did nothing to suggest
that they knew how to keep the traditional network TV business
from dying. The last one out the door—Ryan Seacrest?—can turn
out the lights.
Big Ugly Mess
took a year and a $6 million parting gift (in the form of
state money) from Joe Bruno, to settle the battle of Troy’s
City Hall. The sad-sack building is now set to be razed, and
the property sold. What will be done with the space, however,
is still up in the air. And where the city offices will go
after paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to rent a temporary
home has yet to be decided. Luckily for the Troy taxpayers,
they have a city government that makes these kinds of decisions
efficiently, and with their best interests in mind.
if Iraqi-born, Chicago-based artist Wafaa Bilal didn’t get
the message after Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute unceremoniously
kicked him and his exhibit out, then perhaps he got the message
after the city of Troy shut down the nonprofit arts center
that took him in. Bilal’s first-person satire of our war-mad
society drew criticism from the young Republican brigades
at RPI and from the old Republicans led by Bob Mirch, both
of whom told him simply: We don’t like your kind . . . of
artwork. Good thing no one had any tar and feathers lying
dear Steve Jobs, what do we geeks love more than the Internet,
robots, and space? Nothing. So when the news broke that they
had invented a Wi-Fi signal that could penetrate the stratosphere,
well you can imagine our snorts and shrieks of ecstasy. Why,
you ask, would there be interest in shooting a Wi-Fi signal
out into the vast unknown? Simple: It’s frigging awesome.
That, and it helps NASA remote control their space robots.
Not Just for Annoying Bullshit Any Longer
to know what your friends are doing right now? Neither do
we. That’s why we’d written off Twitter almost immediately
after hearing about it. But, as usual, our lack of enthusiasm
for the latest social-networking craze was the unfortunate
side effect of us being old. This year we were won over by
a slew of adventurous media outlets that found truly interesting
uses for this ridiculously simple little Web app, from the
local paper breaking news on its Twitter feed or publishing
tweet follow-ups on developing stories to The New York
Times tweeting links to its latest stories. So we are
sorry, Twitter, for doubting you, and we resolve here and
now to embrace the power of the tweet.
I Shouldda Cleaned My Room
“Safe Haven” law allowed parents to drop off unwanted children
at hospitals around the state; the law was designed so that
unwanted newborns would not be killed or tossed in dumpsters.
State legislators scrambled later in the year to amend the
law because of parents who were dropping off their unruly
Legalize or Not to Legalize?
fight for marriage equality has strapped itself in for a wild
civil-rights roller-coaster ride this year. The California
Supreme Court overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The New York State Supreme Court decided that the state would
recognize same-sex marriages legally entered into outside
New York (say, in California). California voters passed Proposition
8, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. California
Attorney General Jerry Brown called for the amendment’s appeal.
Check your Magic 8 Ball for future status changes.
China With Death
content to kill our pets with tainted food and poison our
children with lead-painted toys, China sent us, um, human
foods laced with toxic substances. Another reason to buy local.
saw the end of the reign of Fidel Castro as Cuba’s head of
state. The 81-year-old who was rumored to be suffering a number
of ailments gave control of the country to his brother, Raúl
and Scotch-sodden letch Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator,
had a stroke this year. Get well soon, asshole.
Twinkle: Little Stars Shine in Troy
is one thing to be said for living in close proximity to the
alleged cult NXIVM: cults attract celebrities and celebrities
are awesome. Especially when they come to Troy. And yeah,
we consider Nicki Clyne of Battlestar Galactica and
Alison Mack and Kristin Kreuk of Smallville celebrities—TV
actors are still famous, you know. More famous than you, certainly
more famous than us, and even more famous than their precious
leader Vanguard, aka “the smartest man alive,” Keith Raniere.
We don’t think much of Raniere’s self-help program, but that’s
not the point: We do think a lot of seeing these cute TV starlets
bopping around our favorite haunts. It makes us feel Big City.
So now let’s just hope that this NXIVM thing gets huge enough
to draw some real celebrities, like Scientology-caliber celebrities,
to our humble little region.
ba ba ba ba BATMAN!
Nolan’s The Dark Knight drove people to the movie theater
in hordes. Interest in the flick likely was heightened by
the death of Heath Ledger, who played the Joker. But the rave
reviews could not have hurt ticket sales, either. The success
of the film that came near to topping Titanic’s record
for highest box office ever has spurred talk of high-budget
action films and comedies being in the lead for Oscar nominations
this year. Rumors about a possible sequel are already heating
up the Interwebs.
video-game industry was declared “recession proof” this year
thanks to monumental profits made by popular titles such as
Grand Theft Auto 4, Gears of War 2 and Fallout 3. Those games,
both violent and epic, have become the new standard for the
Downey Jr. mounted a career comeback thanks to his role as
Marvel Comics’ Iron Man. The film, which was the first
box-office hit of the summer, featured Downey’s witty quips
and self-conscious mumbling. The summer got better for Downey
thanks to his turn as Kirk Lazarus—a blackface-wearing Australian
actor—in Tropic Thunder. Oscar buzz around Downey’s
performances has not dissipated.
art by and for the common man was not enough to sustain Troy’s
popular art gallery Kismet. The arts community will miss the
gallery that allowed anyone to feature their master works.
to Be (Wearing) Square (Frames)
let’s all (grudgingly) give Tina Fey some credit. Did she
single-handedly return Saturday Night Live to momentary
relevance? You betcha! Sure, her Sarah Palin parody
was a giveaway—a veritable Jesus-send from the tongue-speaking,
mega-church-fronting, African witch doctor of satire—but,
man, she knocked that one out of the park, across the Bering
Straight, over Vladimir Putin’s rearing head, and onto a fully
visible Russian landmass. More important, the fact that the
live comedy show was, again, a requisite campaign stop meant
that certain stiff, elderly presidential candidates had to
come crawling out from behind their virulent crowds and talking
points to show exactly how stiff and elderly they actually
were. The best part, though, is that Fey’s wish was granted:
Come 2009, she will not have to flee the planet to avoid continually
portraying that Alaskan nobody.
na na na na na na na: Bat Death!
first, the idea of white-nose syndrome seemed like a funny
riff on the coke-addled renaissance of ’80s-style indulgence
and egomania that has come to characterize our present decade.
But, if you consider the 90-percent mortality rate of area
bats from an unknown cause in the context of present extinction
rates in the biosphere at large, and in light of the equally
mysterious colony collapse disorder of the Western honeybee,
then the idea starts to sound more like T. Rex than, er, T.
Not on the Loose
for a moment, give OJ the benefit of the doubt. There are
plenty of other malevolent prowlers who might want to murder
Simpson’s ex-wife and her lover. His confessional book If
I Did It is really more speculative fiction than memoir,
right? Besides, the glove did not fit, so the jury had to
acquit. See, here in America, we have a legal system that
protects citizens against the threat of double jeopardy. The
trouble for OJ (at least one of them) is that the law of karma
falls a bit above Johnnie Cochran’s pay grade. When one subsequently
commits robbery with a deadly weapon, burglary with a firearm,
assault with a deadly weapon, first-degree kidnapping with
use of a deadly weapon, coercion with said weapon, and conspiracy
to commit all of the above, well, nine years in a federal
penitentiary starts to sound a bit like justice.
Money, Live Better, (or Die Trying)
fact that we refer to the first day of the holiday shopping
season as “Black Friday” should be enough for us to stop equating
rabid consumerism with a holly-jolly economy. The term earned
itself lethal connotations this year when a Wal-Mart janitor
was trampled to death by a Wii-hungry mob. The only way this
story could have been more disturbing is if it had been an
elderly greeter and Tickle-Me Elmo was the object of the consumer
Phelps’ 83 gold medals, the torch’s trip up Mount Everest,
delightful air quality, a lack of public protest, and that
crazy aerial running thing are the moments we’ll all be forced
to recall with fondness, 50 years from now, when we’re all
living in the Western province of the Greater People’s Republic
of China. So, for now, let’s recall the repeated attempts
at extinguishing the torch, pro-Tibetan protests, draconian
surveillance, state-controlled media, a devastating Sichuan
earthquake, and that perfectly awkward moment at the opening
ceremonies when Bush and Putin discussed the finer points
of the war in Georgia.
York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress apparently thought
his successful career and $35 million contract needed a shot
in the leg, because, well, he shot himself in the leg. Burress,
who reportedly arrived at Manhattan’s exclusive LQ nightclub
sporting loads of bling, wads of cash and a pair of sweatpants,
accidentally shot himself in the thigh when the unlicensed
gun slipped out of his elastic waistband. Burress pleaded
not guilty to the ensuing weapons charges. Good luck with
Achey Breaky Heart
celebrate her sweet sixteen, Miley Ray Cyrus, better known
as Hannah Montana, reportedly has begun legal discussions
to file a petition of emancipation from mom and dear ol’ Billy
Ray. The “divorce,” which apparently stems from family arguments
about Miley’s current beau, would allow the 16-year-old pop
star full control over her career, finances and decision making.
And really, what teenage near-billionaire wouldn’t think flying
solo was a brilliant plan?
Resurrection of Britney Spears
only took a court-ordered stint in rehab, and Brit-Brit being
forced to turn over legal management of her life to her father,
to return her to million-selling pop-tart status.
Times, Great Arts Centers
ugly out there, but we can celebrate three excellent additions
to three great institutions: the Stone Hill Center at the
Clark Art Institute; EMPAC at RPI; and the Massry Center for
the Arts at the College of Saint Rose. And let’s not forget
that another building opened on the MASS MoCA campus for the
spectacular Sol LeWitt show.
Schenectady Arts District Thing? It’s Working
Proctors is humming, with events on the mainstage and in the
GE Theatre, and families are lined up at the Bow Tie Cinemas
Movieland for weekend matinees, and the restaurants on State
and Jay streets are busy, the folks behind the downtown Schenectady
revitalization movement can be proud.
Years? Take Off!
Albany Airport Gallery celebrated 10 years of bringing together
the best art and artists of the region. They make it possible
for travelers to experience more of what makes the Capital
Region special than just what they can see out a taxicab window.
Knew Everyone Loved Opera?
Oprah. Opera. Judging from the number of venues that
now screen opera from the Met, Salzburg and La Scala—Time
& Space Limited, GE Theatre at Proctors, Colonial Theatre
in Pittsfield, Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany—everybody
loves the damn opera.
years, Jerry Jennings was going to bring an IMAX theater to
downtown Albany. Never happened. Regal Cinemas, however, took
a cue from Larry the Cable Guy and “got ’er done”: There’s
an IMAX cinema at Crossgates Mall. Now if there were only
better films playing there than The Day the Earth Stood
Still and Madagascar 2.
. . And So Is Digital Cinema
also opened the 13-screen, all-digital multiplex at Colonie
Center this year. The verdict? It’s a great place to see a
movie. Excellent theaters with great sightlines, rockin’ (literally)
chairs and tasteful décor. Now if moviegoers didn’t have to
brave the food court to exit the multiplex, it would be perfect.
- Best of 2008
War and Peace
new translation of this world classic by Richard Pevear and
Larissa Volokhonsky is absolutely terrific, capturing Tolstoy’s
range of styles that most translators “smooth over.” And you
just can’t beat this story. It’s one of the best ever written.
The Bible: A Biography
a timely biography that’s not only lively and filled with
fascinating detail, but also manages to bring sanity back
into discussions about what the Bible says and what it means.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
food, not too much, mostly plants.” Pollan has never been
so succinct or more passionate. This book is a great guide
to everyone who wants to eat safely and intelligently.
outrageous, funny, dramatic, serious, fantastic novel—a nest
of stories that put Scheherazade to shame—about Lebanon and
one feisty Druze family who live there.
looks again at the events she told in her novel Gilead, but
this time with sober attention to the dangerous black sheep
of that story, the prodigal son, Jack Boughton.
1. Synecdoche, New York
Charlie Kaufman’s dystopia of the mind, Oz (New York City)
isn’t that wonderful and Kansas (Schenectady) is backward,
unpleasant and weird. And Dorothy? We (the audience)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
let director David Fincher’s seemingly impassive gaze fool
you—this is a deeply moving (and disturbing and literal) epic
about a life lived in reverse.
true. Robots really are more awesome than people. And Pixar
is, again, measurably more awesome than DreamWorks.
Gordon Green is a mystery. I loathed his last look at small-town
life, All the Real Girls, and loved this one. I also
dug his crossover hit, the Apatow-produced stoner comedy Pineapple
Express (see below). Must be me.
Man on Wire
haunting documentary about a French wire-walker who briefly
made the towers of the World Trade Center his own. Inspiring,
funny and yet deeply melancholy. (Guess why.)
Oz movie. Baz Luhrmann’s best is a sprawling, hugely entertaining
national creation myth, akin to Zhang Yimou’s Hero—or
Gone With the Wind, with the racial politics reversed.
Ben Stiller accomplishes here, insulting Hollywood actioners
and method acting, is a thing of beauty. Tom Cruise
(!) delivers the line of the year: “I want you to take a step
back, and literally fuck your own face!”
Burn After Reading
is nuts in the Coens’ bloody farce, but best of all is ex-spy
Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich). Dressed in a grubby bathrobe,
swilling Scotch and waving a hatchet at the idiots of the
world, he’s a hero for our time.
The Dark Knight
Ledger’s Joker proves that anarchy is more fun than order,
despite the efforts of filmmaker Christopher Nolan to suggest
some inherent moral nature in humanity.
comedy the way it’s supposed to be—jagged and nonsensical—with
a hilarious performance by James Franco.
The Love Guru
blame for this offensive dreck about a trollish American-born
guru belongs to Mike Myers.
Danny Boyle brought home a thoroughly synthetic feel-good
flick from India. I hope his “co-director in India” gets a
piece of the Oscar, too.
The Life Before Her
bloody, mean-spirited anti-abortion fantasy from the director
of House of Sand and Fog.
fact: Honey drips faster (at any temperature) than the action
in John Sayles’ drama.
Shine a Light
Scorsese tries to get something fresh from the Rolling Stones.
Hear that laughter? It’s Mick and Keith on their way to the
1. Slumdog Millionaire
improbable fairy tale set against the backdrop of Mumbai’s
teeming masses, and bisecting the huge disparities in wealth
and opportunities for the same, this is the movie I’ve been
waiting for all year, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
The Dark Knight
just a comic-book story unleashed upon the big screen, and
not just because Heath Ledger scares the bejesus out of any
sane viewer, but because this is epic storytelling that reveals
painful truths about our society. But seriously, Ledger is
of the year’s little movies that won over many critics. A
real story, featuring characters who look like we do in the
morning, and like we would if we were trying to get by on
part-time wages from the dollar store. Deeply felt, at times
terrifying, always on target.
Van Sant gives us an engaging biopic about the slain San Francisco
city supervisor, Harvey Milk, that captures the flavor of
the times and of a movement as much as it tells us about the
man himself. Sean Penn, in the lead role, is outstanding and
refreshingly vibrant, and Josh Brolin, as Milk’s murderer,
reveals nuances that only deepen the already rich texture
of this movie.
just another icky May-December romance, Elegy teams
Ben Kingsley as an all-too-aware author engaged in a love
affair with years-younger Penelope Cruz. Surprisingly warm
and funny, and supremely poignant—just like life’s supposed
so maybe having four boys has something to do with the fact
that I see an awful lot of movies about superheroes, but this
one—even with its pat antiwar message—shimmered with verve,
style and all out good humor. Of course, the fact that Robert
Downey Jr. plays the lead, and completely steals everything
in the picture, helps.
quite John Ford or Sergio Leone, but an admirable, respectful
homage to the great westerns, with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen
redefining what’s right and good on the frontier.
of the first half of Wall-E pays homage to the classic
silents of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, with a robotic
waste remover the sole “survivor” on an Earth left uninhabitable
by overconsumption. Even when it becomes more of a traditional
Pixar offering, it stays the course of intelligence and witty
storytelling, not to mention fantastic effects.
The Bank Job
I thought this was some sort of cinematic teen gangbanger
movie, until I caught it on cable while on a business trip,
and boy, was I surprised. A tight plot about a cast of small-time
hoods aiming for the big heist, with strong support from Jason
Statham and Saffron Burroughs, calls to mind Steve McQueen’s
how-cool-is-that flicks like Bullitt.
admit it, and I didn’t think it possible, but my sides hurt
from laughing so much. Not a four-star movie, but then again,
Tropic Thunder scores big for sheer irreverence when
it comes to Hollywood’s sacred cows, and for that, it makes
Sex and the City
to destroy a franchise, let alone fans’ fervent dreams.
Gone With the Windbag.
no they did not! Dare to touch the 1939 classic, and undermine
Clare Boothe Luce’s biting intellect, that is.
for the end, when Robert Downey Jr. walks in off the Iron
Man set, it’s hard to get worked up about a big green
rubbery smashing machine.
the hardest movie I’ve had to suffer through this year. Kate
Hudson and Matthew McConaughey are like the Kathy Griffin
of the big screen. With sincere apologies to Kathy Griffin.
Synecdoche, New York
ambitious and darkly beautiful existentialist mope. Visionary
writer-director Charlie Kaufman lures his excellent ensemble
cast into the labyrinthine expanses of his twisted mind. Difficult,
but wonderfully rewarding. Yes, it’ll make you think, which
isn’t what everyone is looking for in a moviegoing experience.
So if that’s not your bag . . .
commentary couched in a robot love story. The most clever
and irresistible animated feature in eons. More to the point:
It’s an excellent film by any standard.
The Dark Knight
of outsize performances, dazzling cinematography, action sequences
that are almost impossible to follow, and about six consecutive
endings, 2008’s biggest blockbuster is a loud, paranoid, nihilistic
mess—and an absolute blast. My only complaint is that Heath
Ledger’s lock on the supporting actor Oscar means Robert Downey’s
great performance in Tropic Thunder will go unrecognized.
you had told me a year ago that I’d be digging a hit-man movie
starring Colin Farrell, I would have told you to fook off.
But what a lot of fun this was! Farrell is great, as are Brendon
Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes and their co-stars: the medieval
city of Bruges, Belgium, and the “F” word, which makes up
a solid quarter of the overall dialogue.
love letter to the escapist power of cinema. And bizarrely
The Dark Knight injected its smash-bang action with
a heavy dose of existential gloom, the year’s other big superhero
film had all the ingredients for the ultimate summertime crowd-pleaser:
a protagonist driven to right his own wrongs; a villain who
was almost likeable; a smartly underplayed love story; a keep-it-simple-stupid
approach to the action bits; and another great, grinning performance
from Robert Downey Jr.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
on dick jokes (though heavier on dick scenes) than
the typical Judd Apatow production, this breakup comedy favors
the emotional over the scatological, and smartly avoids pandering.
Burn After Reading
their big Oscar win for No Country for Old Men—which
is a much funnier film than anyone seems to think it is—the
Coen brothers return with another ode to the randomness of
human existence, this time with the laughs front and center.
Everyone in the A-list cast is trying to out-goofball each
other, as it should be.
supposed plot twists in this bleak thriller may as well have
train whistles attached, but that doesn’t stop the film from
being an honest-to-god nail-biter.
of bleak films with obvious twists, this one is a downer from
top to bottom, with little to offer the viewer in its final
moments but confirmation. But if you’re looking for the year’s
best- performed film, look here: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell,
and (who knew?) Amy Sedaris are at the head of a cast that
simply devour this heartbreaking script.
didn’t expect much from the latest addition to the “Put Will
Ferrell in a funny sports costume” line, but this film wasn’t
just unfunny—it was a supremely crappy film. As Ron Burgundy
might say, “Go fuck yourself, Semi-Pro.”
The Life Before Her Eyes
let some better films slide, despite their obvious twists.
I would like to do the same for this one but then there’s
all the OH FUCK IT’S AN ANTI-ABORTION FILM. This picture’s
only redeeming qualities were its relatively brief running
time, and the fact that Uma Thurman is really easy to look
years removed from the last film in the series, this is hard
to read as anything more than a parody. Stallone, all ’roided-up
and unintelligible, directs the film as if it were a Playstation
game. You want to root for old man Rambo as he mows down scores
of Burmese soldiers—he seems justly motivated—but as the killing
escalates, the whole thing becomes laughably grotesque. The
same could be said for the dialogue, though that’s not exactly
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
blissfully ridiculous film, acted with an implied dollar sign
at the end of each line. Shia LeBeouf continues to be the
most inexplicable young star in Hollywood, and my dad would
have done a better job as Indy. Even Connery turned this POS
a fundamentally terrible film: Sam Rockwell and Angelica Huston
are both fine, and there’s a serviceable narrative through-line.
But considering it’s a film about a bunch of sex-addicted
miscreants, it’s boring as fuck. And that’s just disappointing.
- Best of 2008
B. A. Nilsson
list is alphabetical, not hierarchical, and divided into higher-
and lower-end eateries. Not surprisingly, it shows that my
favorite fancy dining during the past 12 months took place
in and near Saratoga Springs, while the more memorable of
the casual meals were Albany-based.
Inn at Erlowest
Lake Shore Drive, Lake George
Dale Miller crafted a transcendent tasting menu that paired
flavors in surprising and satisfying ways. But soon you won’t
have to drive quite so far to taste his cuisine: Look for
him in April at an eponymous restaurant at the Omni Plaza
on Albany’s South Pearl Street.
Broadway, Saratoga Springs
Study of Duck included confit on a buckwheat blini, house-smoked
breast meat with glazed pear slices and pâté topped with a
fried quail’s egg. This is chef John LaPosta effortlessly
showing what he can do and making you feel very welcome in
Broadway, Saratoga Springs
London opened his restaurant next to his father’s pastry shop,
so all food groups are sensuously covered. Small tapas plates
mix with full-sized entrées; antipasto and salads are among
the lighter fare, and pasta dishes and wood-fired-oven-baked
pizza give an Italian edge.
My Way Café
9 and 67E, Malta
John Bove describes his shrine to Sinatra as having a 1940s
roadhouse atmosphere, but it’s a roadhouse with consistently
fine grub. We enjoyed everything from the clay pot of fresh-baked
bread to the steamed mussels to an amazingly good, prosciutto-rich
Whip Bar and Grill
Mountain Inn, 18 Main St., Stowe, Vt.
1833-vintage Green Mountain Inn is the historic heart of Stowe,
hearkening to a time when smuggling, not skiing, was a principal
occupation. Although the Whip, the Inn’s restaurant, doesn’t
style itself as a fine-dining destination, its comfort food
(try the turkey dinner) is fine-dining good.
Capital Thai Restaurant
Central Ave., Albany
wonderful khao soi (chicken and two types of noodle in a coconut-
and curry-scented broth) sold me on this restaurant, which
sits unpretentiously in a strip mall but offers a wide range
of Thai dishes along with an array of sushi offerings. Nothing
fancy to look at, but consistently good food to enjoy.
Capital Q Smokehouse
Ontario St., Albany
Sean Custer says he loves cooking French food, and did for
many years, “but barbecue is more fun.” This little Ontario
Street eatery offers ribs and brisket and pulled pork, of
course, with tons of tasty side dishes—and now hot dogs have
been added to the menu. (The restaurant reopens, after vacation,
on Jan. 12.)
Philip St., Albany
Pollo con mole shows off a true mole, the famous
seed-and-pepper sauce touched with Oaxacan chocolate. I also
enjoyed the platter of chorizo, chicken and beef as
well as quesadillas made with the addition of Oaxacan cheese
and sprigs of epazote. Gringo fare also is available.
Central Ave., Albany
Ocean Palace’s owner Peter Chan moved his seafood-intensive
operation here and enhances a traditional Chinese restaurant
with such offerings as cherry bass with black beans, salted
flounder with hot pepper, and a wonderful watercress and pork
soup. General Tso’s chicken? That’s here, too.
Garlic Lover’s Corner
North Greenbush Road, North Greenbush
Bill Assad worked at Delmar’s Hidden Café, and brings the
same menu approach to this tucked-away place. Baba ganouj
and falafel are outstanding; alongside some traditional pasta
fare are delights like Moroccan vegetable stew and a lamb
and apricot stew that’s like the best osso buco you ever tasted.
- Best of 2008
Season at the Saratoga Music Festival
Photo: Martin Benjamin
Saratoga Music Festival
Performing Arts Center, Aug. 17
by Bob Dylan and a rollicking Levon Helm Band were just the
capper to this daylong Sunday-afternoon music festival, which
was well-run and stocked with an improbable amount of talent,
from Gillian Welch and Steve Earle to Conor Oberst.
Linda, April 30
man who appeared at the Linda was the Nick Lowe of any fan’s
dreams: dapper and dignified, charming and witty, musically
on-point and plucking tracks from a career’s worth of classics.
Egg, Oct. 9
Bird’s albums have their charms, but they’ve got nothing on
his live show. At the Egg, the Chicagoan’s one-man band created
a whirlwind of sound by virtue of some manic looping, virtuoso
violin playing, and custom speakers that looked like giant
Savings Bank Music Hall, Oct. 30
Out” and “Fools in Love” are songs I could listen to endlessly
and never tire of them; a chipper Jackson played those hits
and more (along with some well-crafted new tunes) from behind
the piano at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. What a treat.
King Khan and the Shrines
Horse, Aug. 30
seeing King Khan and the Shrines at the Iron Horse in Northampton,
Mass., I was convinced of two things: All garage-soul bands
should have a full horn section, and all garage-soul bands
should have a singer who darts around on-stage—and off-stage—wearing
nothing but a cape and a Speedo.
Hitchcock at the Linda
Linda, July 10
of the most creative minds in music, with a unique oeuvre
of songs about spiders, stalkers, and more existential terrors,
graced the stage of the Linda with wit, good humor and songwriting
skill that extended far beyond just the macabre.
The Figgs, the Charlie Watts Riots, Ashley Pond
Figgs’ annual holiday show once again lit up our sun-deprived
capital region with loads of holiday cheer, thanks to several
hours of unrestrained rock and roll, Kinks covers, and drummer
Pete Hayes’ green and red elf costume.
Egg, Jan. 31
venue may have been too serious for Case to fully let her
hair down, figuratively speaking. Still, she managed to be
charming as hell (memorable line, commenting on her blousy
tunic: “I’m not pregnant, I just like this shirt”). And her
voice was amazing. She also brought her dog onstage, who lay
so still throughout the set that he almost looked dead.
Sunburned Hand of the Man, Century Plants
Arts Center, April 12
to the Saratoga Arts Council for putting on some freaky psych-folk
shows and other experimental sounds this year at the former
library turned art gallery. As far as freaky psych-folk goes,
the Massachusetts collective Sunburned Hand of the Man didn’t
disappoint, with a mysterious theatrical subplot and ritualistic
stage props adding to the set’s building drama.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
MoCA, April 4
may have indulged his inner guitar-wonk a bit too much at
times, at least for those who prefer his shorter pop gems
to anything involving more than 30 seconds of guitar noodling.
But Malkmus was in high spirits, joking with the crowd; the
venue sounded great; former Sleater Kinney member Janet Weiss
was a monster on the drums; and there were a few pure pop
tunes to go around.
Critic: Josh Potter
Cecil Taylor/ Pauline Oliveros
two may simply be more fully evolved than any of us simians.
Witnessing them perform for the first time together in a state-of-the-art
space, no doubt, helped us all stand a little more upright.
Artists Guild, June 26
sounds like a half-baked barstool daydream: Thurston Moore
and Bill Nace feeding back their six-strings in a tiny gallery
in front of a floor-seated crowd. Well, it happened.
The Bad Plus
Linda, March 13
from jazz ballads suited for amphitheaters to arena rock built
for dinner clubs, the trio alternately seduced and bludgeoned
its small, grateful audience.
Linda , April 18
Hall, Oct. 8
these guys managed to remain onstage clouded by their smoke
machine, bouncing manically in their sleek neon shades, remains
a mystery. It’s equally mysterious how they sounded so good
all the while.
on a stage, in the sun, at the end of a blocked-off street,
presiding over a gleefully intoxicated crowd, Aficionado even
remembered to bring along their custom streamer-loaded leaf
Critic: David Greenberer
4th Street , Jan. 19
took me until this year to see them, and now I need to catch
up on the good times.
Theatre, Northampton, Mass., March 16
Linda, April 30
evolved from pop trickster to middle-aged gentleman, Lowe
is at the top of his game.
Egg, Jun. 14
one man with an acoustic guitar, but this is far too edgy,
personal and poetic to be called “folk.” And “blues” has become
a watered-down term. He’s simply Greg Brown, and that’s more
Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks
Linda, June 22
Droll never fails to please with entertaining songs and barbed
Linda , July 10
rare area appearance by Hitchcock and his highly personal
surrealism. (If only the venue had avoided the wonky sideways
Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet
Hall, Florence, Mass., Aug. 14
unlikely setting made for a you-had-to-be-there night, in
celebration of Adams’ 60th birthday. His new, post-NRBQ band
is a powerhouse (and includes Pete Donnelly from the Figgs
MoCA, Aug. 29
can’t imagine my life without the song “Whoops Wrong Daisy.”
Linda, Sept. 14
and her trio packed an incredible amount of subtly rough-hewn
powers into both the songs from her new album as well as selections
from her past catalog.
Egg , Nov. 5
with a four-piece band, plus three singers and three dancers,
celebrated his collaborations with Brian Eno, from the Talking
Heads albums he produced to this years set of co-written songs.
Artist, entertainer and smart guy: Byrne knows how to make
that combination work without tipping it over.
Critic: David King
Mindless Self Indulgence
Hall , July 1
insulting, shocking, hysterical, unruly, unabashedly self-serving:
MSI’s one-night stand at Rev Hall was all of those things,
and that was just the between song banter. Lead singer Jimmy
Urine demanded money from the crowd and they handed it to
him, he asked for clothing and they complied, he tried to
convince them he was a sell-out who they should hate and .
. . well, that didn’t quite work out. MSI’s sloppy techno-punk
flew by at hundreds of beats per minute, keeping the kiddies
dancing and thrashing. It was one entertaining roller-coaster
ride of a show.
Lights, Dec. 28
it lasted only for an hour, and not every member of the Wu
was in attendance, but it was one of the highlights of 2008
to be able to hear RZA, GZA and Ghostface Killah spit what
have become absolutely iconic rhymes. The predominantly suburban
audience was at times seemingly overwhelmed into quiet respect
(there could have been more ass shaking), but all in all the
crowd was a testament to the Wu’s status as hip-hop legends.
Rabbit Slims, May 1
Secret Machines’ new ominous sound crept out of the club and
seeped into the cracked pavement, broken down warehouses and
abandoned buildings that make up Albany’s downtown. There
was a nervous energy in the night like the last dreadful thought
you have before being anesthetized for surgery. The
Secret Machines were crisp and devastating.
Progressive Nation Tour
Ave. Armory, May. 18
I appreciate the legendary Dream Theater, their headlining
performance did not make the show for me. Instead it was younguns
Between the Buried and Me who tore through half of their magnum
opus Colors, an album that is so full of time changes
and different movements that it would give most other musicians
fits. Their performance left the crowd chanting for more.
Then Sweden’s Goth metalers Opeth dimmed the lights and snaked
their eerie brand of prog into the ears of the mesmerized
was something surreal about having Tom Morello of Rage Against
the Machine leading thousands of fist-pumping fans right in
the heart of Albany during a heated presidential election.
But there he was, twisting amazing sounds out of his Strat.
It was a short show but Morello came equipped to preach and
to party. Leading the crowd through protest songs, an improvised
party jam (“Shake My Shit”), and a Rage Against the Machine
hit or two, Morello seemed happy to have the street- spanning
audience for his new side project. And the audience walked
away all smiles, happy to have had the guitar legend rock
little old Lark Street.
Critic: Mike Hotter
Egg, Oct. 9
evening of magnificent, multilayered sound, all laid down
sans-band and on-the-fly. This show confirmed Bird’s status
as one of the most fiercely talented American musicians of
Saratoga Music Festival
Performing Arts Center, Aug. 17
Welch, David Rawlings, Steve Earle, Conor Oberst, and a bracing
outpouring from Swell Season’s Glen Hansard were all very
memorable, but this concert became one for the ages when the
aforementioned alterna-folkies all lined up to support one
of their heroes, Levon Helm, for a heartfelt version of the
Band’s “The Weight.” The subsequent set from Dylan and company
felt somewhat superfluous after this high point.
Neko Case, Eric Bachmann
Egg, Jan. 31
to Neko Case sing, especially live, is one of the pleasures
of being alive, and she and her top-notch band made her gothic
country sagas sparkle like jewels. Eric Bachmann’s songs of
despondency and rue proved a perfect fit on this midwinter’s
The Tallest Man on Earth
Parting Glass, June 7
fingerpicking phenom with a haunting voice, reminiscent of
Doc Boggs and young Dylan but still utterly unique, Kristian
Matsson and his acoustic guitar kept the audience entranced,
pondering the mystery of a possible spiritual connection between
the mountains of Sweden and Appalachia.
Linda, May 18
totemic indie band became a Cubistic thrill ride when witnessed
live and in the flesh.
Horse Feathers, Matthew Loiacono
Lena, Oct. 29
City Records mastermind Loiacono capped a stellar year with
a set that showcased his burgeoning songwriting skill, as
well as his rare knack for getting the audience involved by
making them part of the performance. Horse Feathers, an acoustic
trio out of the Pacific Northwest, wove spells of sadness,
resolution and beauty.
Park, July 21
Odetta sang “John the Revelator” and other folk/spiritual
standards, you became aware that an entire epoch was going
to fade out along with her when she passed, making us all
the more fortunate that one of her final visits was with us.
Having MotherJudge and other local luminaries open the show
was an added blessing.
Robert Randolph, Arrested Development
State Plaza, July 16
Randolph’s words, “I do believe this is a summertime street
party.” This multiculti affair brought the spirit of “Yes,
We Can” to the Capital City and made it do the electric boogaloo.
Adams at the Egg
Photo: Martin Benjamin
Egg, Sept. 25
Adams has tamped down the monsters of his id and put together
a really fine rock group in the process, giving credence to
the Hunter Thompson maxim, “When the going gets weird, the
weird turn pro.”
Jack Rose, Michael Chapman
Helderberg House, Oct. 8
much thanks to Jack Wingate, an evening of acoustic-guitar
playing par excellence.
Critic: Shawn Stone
Egg, Feb. 13
ice storm didn’t hurt attendance, and couldn’t affect this
intimate show in the Swyer Theatre with a great jazz artist
and her band.
Street Nightclub, Northampton, Mass., June 4
guitars were loud and the fun quotient was high: The Deal
sisters were back.
Theatre, Oct. 26
happy Halloween was enjoyed by young and old alike, thanks
to Coop’s family-friendly mayhem. Singing along with Alice
on “Elected” this year was especially appropriate.
Little Theater, May 31
with a full band is a can’t-miss. Also: Pop, rock and jazz
shows in the Spa Little Theater at SPAC? An excellent idea.
Zappa Plays Zappa
Egg, Aug. 5
hand it to Dweezil and Gail; the Zappa family know how to
put on a good show.
Projections: Jenny Holzer
Holzer’s light projections of poetry animated the darkened
Building 5 of MASS MoCA for much of 2008, and every time I
saw the words (by Polish Wislawa Szymborska) spooling up the
wall and along the ceiling (and sliding onto visitors), I
was blown away. Political, disturbing, and stunning, Projections
embodied the power of language better than any Advanced Literature
Theory class could.
Raw Nerve: The Political Art of Steve Brodner
exhibition came just at the right time, at the height of election
insanity when we were all jonesing for a little comic relief.
Come to think of it, maybe his work should be on permanent
rotating display as anodyne for the political hell du jour.
Julie Mehretu: City Sitings
College Museum of Art
beautifully curated show presented one of the most globally
minded artists working today. With an architect’s precision,
Mehretu’s layered images of lines, logos and swooshes try
to make sense of massive upheavals and shifting alliances.
Director’s Choice: Focus on Modernism
small but wide-ranging exhibition by the Hyde’s new director,
David F. Setford, made modernism look fresh again, with quieter
works by some big names like Picasso, Max Ernst and David
Look-Alikes: The Amazing World of Joan Steiner
York State Museum
you discover how Joan Steiner uses household objects (spools
of thread, candy, tea bags) to build obsessively detailed
scenes of everyday life (construction sites, soda shops),
the kids in your life will have to fight you for her Look-Alikes
books. No fighting necessary at the New York State Museum,
where many of her original sets were on display in 3D for
all to see.
Art in the ’Toon Age
number of museum shows have attempted to define art inspired
by cartoons, and this one made a bold attempt to link approaches
as different as Takashi Murakami’s and Gladys Nilsson’s. A
bit of the “everything and the kitchen sink,” but lots of
The Work of Ken Ragsdale
Center of the Capital District
Ragsdale’s work seems to move easily between two- and three-dimensionality,
and this exhibition showed how one of his meticulous sets
(generously on display) which he makes himself entirely out
of paper, translates to haunting and moody photographs of
American road journeys.
Into the Trees
Fields Sculpture Park at Omi
exhibition at Omi is a good exhibition, because even if it’s
just so-so, you still get to wander the acres of its rolling
hills full of world-class sculpture on permanent display.
Bonus: Into the Trees included memorable works by Katie
Holten and Alan Michelson and melded well with its surroundings.
Judy Pfaff Paperworks: Year of the Dog, Pig, Rat, Etc.
Center Art Gallery, College of Saint Rose
show presented the dynamic, organic, and cheerful works of
an internationally recognized talent. Her installation work
here was in a strangely cramped part of the new gallery space,
but here’s hoping the exuberance of this show bodes well for
doesn’t take much to get me to cross the border and head to
MASS MoCA, and shows like this are why. Thoughts are provoked
and feelings plumbed, even if you don’t always like everything.
Responding to the land, this grouping was a bit higgledy-piggledy
but nonetheless a great chance to see some fantastic art on
a crucial topic by the likes of J. Henry Fair, Alexis Rockman,
and Jennifer Steinkamp.
- Best of 2008
Critic: John Brodeur
Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War
deeply funky, fractured state-of-the-world disc on a par with
Superfly, Sign “O” the Times and What’s Going
On. No joke—it’s that good.
music for sour times. Brrr.
Midnight Organ Fight
year’s best breakup record. (Sorry, Kanye.) Scott Hutchinson’s
songs are soulful and sincere, never bending under their own
emotional weight despite the occasional wonky line. There’s
no new ground broken here, but Frightened Rabbit have made
some fresh prints in the cement.
TV on the Radio
and often angrier, than its excellent predecessor (Return
to Cookie Mountain), this is an album for the 2008 time
capsule. We might as well dance while the ship sinks.
The Hold Steady
Finn sings pretty much the same way on every song, from the
lyrical coupling to the inflection. And I don’t see anything
wrong with that, so long as the songs are this good.
you guys! It’s safe to listen to hip-hop again! After almost
10 years away, he sounds as fresh as ever on a collection
that skillfully updates old-school tones for a generation
of rap fans lobotomized by the likes of 50 Cent and Soulja
Crosby Stills and Nash comparisons that have dogged this record
seem to have helped more than they’ve hurt, but they’re still
lazy: CSN never sounded this pretty.
wayward Stroke and a few of his pals sip caipirinhas
and turn in an album that sounds completely effortless. It’s
equally as effortless to listen to—this is one charming record.
in the Dark
charmingly kitschy Devonian synth-pop, mixed with some downright
Danish duo strip away the layers of production from their
last outing, returning to what they do best: simple melodies
and harmonies, gobs of distortion, and that ice-cold exterior
we’ve come to know and love.
Critic: Josh Potter
Make a Rising
Ellipse and Head with Open Fontanel
is what those clarinet lessons you took back in fifth grade
could have been good for. Two brothers wrote the music, but
it’s their band—a veritable chamber orchestra—who make this
record masterly. If you have a hard time imagining what folk
music paired with prog rock, indie pop and ambient minimalism
might sound like, that’s a good thing. Just listen.
down the windows. I don’t care if you’re cold. Are you wearing
neon feathers in your hair? Good. Hop on the highway, press
play, and don’t slow down until it’s over.
last: an album that can finally put to rest the petty squabbling
between jam-heads and indie kids. The trio’s instrumental
prowess fires a cohesive romp through Animal Collective-style
ecstasy and Devendra Banhart-esque psychedelia.
a champion genre-smasher. This one effectively slaps a “post-”
in front of both the rock and jazz elements therein, while
incorporating circuit-bent electronics and a butt-ton of dexterity.
is the kind of descriptor that is best applied to pastoral
acoustic music with lush vocal harmonies and folklorish imagery.
Therefore, it is all that needs to be said about what Fleet
TV on the Radio
electro postpunk appeal has long been these guys’ selling
point, but this one takes the whole game to the next level.
Full of synth, horns, and falsetto, it’s definitely the most
moonwalkable album of the year.
unabashed product of the kitschier end of the Chicago krautrock
machine, the album is like the soundtrack to an 8-bit video-game
dance party—on the beach.
this one, Dr. Dog decidedly have crossed the rubicon into
greatness. Now they not only sound like bands from the ’60s
whose names begin with “B,” but they’re squeaking into that
same realm of artistry.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Tae Rides Again
a band who routinely operate beyond the standard four dimensions,
this one gets the full electronic treatment and ends up sounding
like Thelonious Monk, John Bonham, Tortoise and Panda Bear
playing tetherball in a black hole.
These United States
turns sepia-toned and bourbon-basted, Jesse Elliot’s screwball
narrative Americana is dark, manic, and good enough to situate
him in a lineage of the genre’s greats.
Critic: Erik Hage
it’s only available in Norway and on the Internet. This is
Ken Stringfellow (Posies, erstwhile R.E.M. and Big Star) fronting
a bunch of Norwegian guys and some of the most satisfying
guitar torque in ages. Far more convincing for me than all
that Hold Steady grunting.
think if John Lennon had lived, he would now be making this
kind of music, complete with the Japanese lyrics. This is
what Sufjan Stevens has been trying to get at without quite
which Mark E. Smith sings, “I’m a 50-year-old man. What you
gonna do about it?” and uncorks the garage-rock grenade “Wolf
the Obama victory, bleak, cold and inscrutable albums are
still my preferred listening until further notice.
on the Portishead comment. Bought it at the Cobleskill Wal-Mart
while shopping for groceries with the kids.
Mountain: Live at Canterbury House, 1968
me want to take up organic gardening, write love poems to
my woman and buy a llama. Perhaps best comedy album too.
Last Shadow Puppets
the romantic in me, which lives on, despite everything.
La Vida, or Death and All His Friends
far enough along in life to not have to defend my choices
. If you haven’t listened far enough into this album to get
what Eno brought to the table, don’t kneejerk.
Mary J. Blige
plain old-fashioned R&B and soul done up right. I’ll take
it straight, no clutter.
B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings
with the state of the world and Metroland having put
a LOLcat on the cover, 2008 was a year in which I occasionally
needed the kind of reassurance that only a classic could provide.
Critic: Kirsten Ferguson
than Creation’s Dark
Truckers tell a story in song better than just about anybody
these days; these songs about God-fearing, fish- catching,
drink-craving people with rural lives tending toward the epic.
The Hold Steady
in Texas, sequestered in Memphis” is the best sing-along chorus
Petty’s reunion with his pre- Heartbreakers band is all good,
from the psychedelic Civil War-era general on the cover to
the seamless bayou-bred Americana within.
catchy music from Brooklyn’s Santogold: a heady blend of sassy
dance-punk and cross-cultural stylings in the vein of M.I.A.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
reveler in the Dark Side is still inspired after all these
years, and this return to the seedy underbelly suits him well.
King Khan and the Shrines
Supreme Genius of King Khan and the ShrinesBooty-shaking
garage rock anthems from wildman King Khan and his swinging
Way I See It
smooth, Saadiq produces an album of hand-clapping, finger-snapping,
vintage soul that channels the Motown masters: a little Smokey,
a little Stevie.
his Arizona perch, Howe Gelb, with help from guests like Neko
Case and Isobel Campbell, makes a desert soundtrack for the
Miller’s stripped-down solo album further reveals what a master
the Small-Axe frontman is of effects-laden-guitar and world-weary
The Gutter Twins
Trees frontman Mark Lanegan and former-Afghan Whig Greg Dulli
make great—if doubly misanthropic—music together.
Critic: David King
Party outdid both of their previous releases with a compelling
mix of indie-noise-punk and big beat techno. The album’s First
single “Mercury” was like an acid-dropping horn section from
Radiohead’s “National Anthem” in a brawl with Afrika Bambaataa.
TV On The Radio
a what? They’re a what? They’re a dance-rock band, and their
album has been named best album of the year by like every
magazine in the land.
Cult of Luna
The Swedes in Cult of Luna have a knack for creating lumbering
art-metal with a soul; the band trade some of their warmth
for a sinister ragged edge that is simply haunting.
to listening to Ren and Stimpy’s “Happy Happy Joy Joy,” Oracular
Spectacular is a guilty pleasure like I haven’t experienced
in ages. From disco floor-stomper “Electric Feel” to Gary
Numan tribute “Kids,” every song on the album is dreamy electro-escapism.
The Secret Machines
kraut-rock with nods to old-school Goth, glam and new wave—the
Machines have replaced their open-hearted emotion with nod-and-a-wink
sass and festering cynicism. This is robotic rock & roll
for confused 20 something’s.
this ain’t—brilliant and inspired, it just might be. Progressive
death-metal with virtuoso flourishes, accentuated by some
crazy space-alien-obsessed, David Icke-reading lead singer
with a hard-on for vocoder abuse. Could you ask for anything
Death Cab for Cutie
albums don’t have to be perfect to matter. Seriously flawed
works of art can be more compelling—they just have to fit
the times, get played during the right moments, like during
that long car ride with a new love, or while aboard an Amtrak
plowing through an ice storm. Death Cab for Cutie’s cute,
romantic shtick of course lends itself to this sort of thing.
Obzen finds Meshuggah setting new standards for intelligent
metal bands worldwide. More comparable to a jagged, avant-garde
piece of sculpture than Cult of Luna’s impressionist painting,
Obzen is to a testament to creativity in a generally
recurring theme of my top albums this year is escapism, and
that point is accentuated by the inclusion of the Fleet Foxes.
In a year when I didn’t need breaks from the torrent of presidential
news coverage, I might not have been able to stomach the beautiful
pastoral styling of the Foxes. I would normally find it boring
like most modern Americana, or extremely derivative like,
say, a new Coldplay record, but there was something far too
comforting about this album to ignore it.
Mindless Self Indulgence
spazz-tastic cyber-punk romp through the mind of a horny,
sexually ambiguous, pink-mohawked pervert. If is also
MSI’s masterwork. Album-closer “Mark David Chapman” encapsulates
the bands irreverent disdain for . . . well, music in general,
with Jimmy Urine asking, “When the world’s overrun with too
many bands. Who is it time for?” Answer: “Mark Chapman!”
A Bad Mood
has been a key player on Nick Lowe’s recent albums and this,
his third album, is so timelessly perfect that it’s hard to
imagine I wasn’t playing it constantly last year as well.
Inara George with Van Dyke Parks
sweep meets poetic miniatures with stunning results. Inara
George (daughter of Lowell) sings her songs like a small colorful
boat on a gently rolling sea. Mr. Song Cycle himself brought
his magical arrangements to bear on this alluring song cycle.
Elvis Costello and the Imposters
quickly realized set looks outward (“American Gangster Time”)
and inward (“My Three Sons”) with equal passion. Jenny Lewis
sings harmony on much of it, a favor Costello returned on
her latest (and which may well have made this list, but I
haven’t had a chance to hear it yet).
a band who aptly took their name from John Cheever’s short
story “The Swimmer,” this debut is a tumult of partially glimpsed
characters and circumstances. Driven by piano, the sound lands
somewhere near Spoon, but just about any band would have sold
their soul to have created a song like “Moving.”
Anthem Volume 3
Tompkins Square label continues to document contemporary practitioners
of the acoustic guitar. The ghosts of Fahey and Basho hover
nearby, but these eleven players each have their own formidable
presence. Smartly assembled, the disc flows like one undulating
of the Past
set of covers is more than just a tip of the hat to some of
bandleader Andy Cabic’s favorites, suffused as it is with
its own resonant spunk, verve and invention. A song by Biff
Rose? Yes indeed—and Michael Hurley, too!
The Tiptons Sax Quartet
known by the more unwieldy Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone
Quartet, the Tiptons mix jazz, cabaret, klezmer and assorted
music strains from around the globe. They toured the U.S.
and Europe this year and would have made my Live Best Of list,
except that I saw them in Milwaukee.
Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby
Eric and Amy Rigby
musical pairing, while surprising, makes perfect sense, as
Rigby adds pop finesse to Goulden’s sprawling lo-fi impulses.
The result sounds like both of them, sometimes by turn, other
times simultaneously. The couple also married this year.
Canada-based VanGaalen’s third album continues his homemade
approach to recording. He layers surprising combinations of
instruments, moving easily between acoustic and electric settings.
If Neil Young had been born about 30 years later, with Jack
Nitzsche built into his own brain, he’d be Chad VanGaalen.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Down in the Light
guy’s got 10 albums out, but this is where I’ve started. I’ll
likely work my way backward (and most certainly forward),
but for the time being, I’m quite pleased to linger with this
one for some time to come.
John McCain’s campaign was running attack ads, Shakespeare
& Company’s Othello seemed particularly timely,
but the excellence of the direction, the stage pictures, and
the acting created a powerful production that will last in
memories long after the failed campaign of hate. Led by the
excellence of John Douglas Thompson in the title role and
Michael Hammond as Iago, this was Shakespeare, and Shakespeare
& Company, at they’re best.
Flea in Her Ear
A Flea in Her Ear
Othello captures Shakespeare at the height of tragedy,
A Flea in Her Ear captured Feydeau’s manic joy, diddling
in the nether regions of comedy. Quickly paced, A Flea
in Her Ear was full of laughs to please all but the humor-deprived
and the comically challenged. Led by the peerless Carson Elrod
in a perfect performance of a character who can’t speak consonants,
A Flea in Her Ear was witty, visually and aurally astounding.
Doubt: A Parable
the recent movie release, Doubt was an award-winning play,
and this production outstripped the movie. The heroes, villains,
pawns and manipulators meld, and Capital Repertory Theatre’s
audience was left with the questions Doubt raised for
the tussle home. No mere claques, the audience recognized
the excellence they had seen with their applause. For those
who love theater, Doubt was what you prayed for.
The Punishing Blow: An Illustrated Lecture Delivered by
Order of the Orange County Criminal Court
Randy Cohen (“The Ethicist” columnist for The New York
Times Magazine and three-time Emmy Award-winning writer
for Late Night With David Letterman) crafted an engaging,
challenging 63 minutes of theater. At its metaphorical heart
this was a fascinating lecture on Daniel Mendoza, an 18th-century
bare-knuckle boxer who was the Chuck Liddell of his day, which
Cohen twists around a very twisted history professor most
Falling: A Wake
artistic director Laura Margolis yet again helmed a new play
in its American premiere, creating a space where Falling:
A Wake’s epiphanies, revelations, and emotions played
out truthfully without sentimentality or pretension. Its
80 minutes of plot twists and turns, its humor, its questioning
of God, faith, and despair, and its sincere and redemptive
ending made Falling: A Wake that rare play which earned
its standing ovation not out of habit, but out of merit.
Bat Boy: The Musical
Light Opera Company
its opening seconds, Schenectady Light Opera Company’s Bat
Boy: The Musical engaged the audience with this very funny,
lively production. Led by the protean Sean Patrick Fagin (a
stalwart of several Capital Repertory Theatre productions
in the 1990s and a frequent presence in NYSTI productions)
as the eponymous character, SLOC’s production was community
theater at its too-rare finest.
See Rock City and Other Destinations
world premiere of See Rock City and Other Destinations
was the latest offering of Barrington Stage Company’s
excellent Musical Theatre Lab. Rock City’s series of
musical sketches captured the kitschy delights of road trip
warriors: the angst, pain, longings, and hopes of everyday
people. Rock City pleased because it eschewed pretension
and keept its heart in the right place.
Play by Play Opposites
presented at 440 Upstairs at Proctors
annual collection of one-act plays presented by StageWorks/Hudson
was bookended this year by two scenes of legal negotiations,
which was appropriate for this year’s theme, “opposites.”
With shorts like Old Prices, a smart 10-minute play
centering on historical acting greats, and Love in Litigation,
a silly 13-minute piece concerning lawyers Ms. Cupid and Mr.
Cupid hammering out a contract for romance, Play by Play
ran the gamut of what’s best and worst about the festival
Theatre Festival celebrated its 80th anniversary with a production
of Candida that captured Shaw’s wit and humor and weathered
the 80 years since BTF’s first production of the play. From
the cramped study of St. Dominic’s Vicarage overlooking Victoria
Park to the precisely timed reactions of the six-actor cast,
BTF’s Candida was the perfect tribute to the troupe’s
illustrative past and a benchmark of its excellence today.
Anna in the Tropics
casting and tepid performances couldn’t mask the excellence
of Nilo Cruz’s brilliant 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
The conflicts and tensions between family members, lovers,
actors and characters, modernization and tradition, the future
and the past, at a moment of great societal change in America,
mirror the greater struggles soon to burst on the nation.
Anna in the Tropics is a beautiful play, at times romantic,
poetic, earthy all at once.
Pinter is a complicated and deeply important playwright. Nearly
incapable of honesty, his characters speak in rich layers
of subtext. The players in his breakthrough drama, The
Caretaker, are entirely disconnected and painfully human.
It is a play, like much of Pinter’s work, that can easily
be done horribly wrong. But in the hands of Berkshire Theater
Festival’s creative team, helmed by director Eric Hill, the
exquisite production mined every ounce of the script’s humanity
and inhumanity, desolation and compassion.
Of Mice and Men
York State Theater Institute
curtain rose on NYSTI’s production of the depression-era classic
Of Mice and Men with poignant timing. As the economy
crashed around us and political candidates marketed their
brands of hope and change, NYSTI’s treatment of Steinbeck’s
brutal and tender tale resonated with the ache of unrealized
dreams. The cast of NYSTI stalwarts turned out some of the
company’s most indelible performances of recent years, and
the deceptively spare design lent a powerful universality
of place and time to a very distinct setting.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
workshopped and produced by Barrington Stage in 2004, The
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has
since headed to the Broadway big time and garnered two Tony
Awards. This summer, the delightful musical returned home
to Pittsfield, where the folks at Barrington Stage offered
up a treatment to rival the best of the Big Apple. Spelling
Bee is a fun, funny, honest and insightful story with
a phenomenal score. Their baby may have grown up, but Barrington
Stage surely can be proud of what it has become.
one-man play presents a huge challenge to playwright, actor,
director and designers alike: the need to captivate an audience,
and create dramatic tension through a single voice. Williamstown
Theatre Festival’s production of The Atheist, starring a wildly
energetic but tightly controlled Campbell Scott, did just
that. The story of a rookie journalist on a relentless quest
for fame and headlines, uninhibited by faith, morality, or
human connection, plumbed the complex implications of his
cold philosophy with heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, dexterity.