HITS Daily Double
Friday Night Lights is less about Xs and Os than it is the interrelationships in the small Texas town it depicts, without flinching from such hot-button topics as racism, adolescent sexuality, steroid use, infidelity, how a marriage works, alcoholism, prescription drugs, public education, being handicapped and, oh yeah, football.


…and With the Price of Gas These Days,
That Is a Major Commitment
1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (Merge)
: Welcome to the church of Arcade Fire and brimstone, where salvation goes hand in hand with doom, as lead singer/songwriter Win Butler sings in “Black Mirror,” “I know the time is coming/All the words will lose their meaning,” a Bowiesque cry from the middle of a hollow, booming mix. If Funeral, this Montreal-based co-ed collective’s much-acclaimed 2004 feature debut, was about the death of friends and relatives, Neon Bible is about facing down the Grim Reaper yourself. “But they don’t know where and they don’t know when/It’s coming,” he warns in the Talking Heads-meets-Spector wall of sound of “Keep the Car Running,” a chase buttressed with a maelstrom of mandolins, blaring horns and even an old-fashioned, whirring hurdy gurdy. The ghostly “Intervention” starts off like The Band’s “Chest Fever” with a pipe organ flourish and the lines, “I can taste the fear/Take me out of here…” Call it a pocket symphony to a God who may not even be listening, a massive cacophony, with a soaring choir that touches on the grandeur of the spirit, a seemingly blasphemous screed that’s actually a thinly veiled plea for solace in humanity and community, a futuristic shock that envisions “an ocean of violence/a world of empty streets,” where choice is not an option but must remain a possibility. String arrangements create an eerie, chilling undertow with an Eno-esque wash of sound that is equal parts Suicide (the band) and DeBussy (the composer). The post-9/11 imagery of “(Antichrist Television Blues)” evokes Dylan and Springsteen trading verses of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (“Don’t wanna work in a building downtown/No, I don’t wanna see it when the planes hit the ground”) with a rockabilly beat in a tale of a struggling father caught between the spirit and the flesh as he prays to God, or maybe even a craven Idol, to make his 13-year-old girl “who don’t act her age” a pop star, the theme referencing Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac in “Highway 61 Revisited.” In “Windowsill,” Butler tries to keep vapid pop culture from his door, bemoaning, “MTV what have you done to me?... I can't breathe, I can't see,” along with a blast at current events: “I don’t wanna fight in the holy war… I don’t wanna live in America no more.” “No Cars Go” is “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as performed by Gary Numan, an ode to the apocalypse in which women and children go first, a feverish state that exists “between the click of the light and the start of the dream…” For the Wagnerian, funereal finale, “My Body is a Cage,” Butler tries to join the eternal dualism. “Set my spirit free/Set my body free,” he chants, chasing away the demons and offering a sliver of hope in a world that promises nothing, but still offers consolation in this beautiful noise.

2. Friday Night Lights (NBC): This isn’t just the best new show on TV, it’s the best series, period. Peter Berg’s adaptation of his movie and the best-selling book is less about Xs and Os than it is the interrelationships in the small Texas town it depicts, without flinching from such hot-button topics as racism, adolescent sexuality, steroid use, infidelity, how a marriage works, alcoholism, prescription drugs, public education, being handicapped and, oh yeah, football. It doesn’t hurt that the cast is filled with the kind of attractive individuals you wouldn’t expect to find in a town like this, but the pairing of Kyle Chandler’s morally correct Coach Taylor and his always-supportive wife, fetching Connie Britton, offers the model of a modern marriage, both sides listening to the other while trying to get their own points across. The young cast is similarly remarkable, including Taylor Kitsch’s brooding, sad-eyed, alcoholic fullback Tim Riggins, Scott Porter’s heroic, paralyzed QB Jason Street, Gaius Charles’ proud, trash-talking running back Smash and Zach Gilford’s earnest, aw-shucks back-up signal-caller, who steps in for Street and leads the Dillon Panthers to the state semi-finals. The girls are all spot-on, too, from Minka Kelly’s lead cheerleader with her fears hidden behind a veneer of privilege to Adrianne Palicki’s tough blue-collar blonde with a heart of gold and Aimee Teagarden’s perky, smart coach’s daughter Julie, on the cusp of dealing with her own budding sexuality at 15. The great part of the show is the characters are neither black nor white, but all have their reasons, even Brad Leland’s arrogant team booster Buddy Garrity, who hasn’t been humbled even after being forced to camp out on the coach’s couch when his wife kicks him out of the house for cheating on her. With its handheld camera and intimate close-ups, Friday Night Lights feels like a reality show, the exchanges invariably causing me to well up at least three or four times an episode. Please TiVo this show, whose ratings have yet to catch up to its critical praise. It would be a crime if NBC pulled the plug before it reached paydirt.

3. Yippee: Veteran director Paul Mazursky’s documentary of his 2005 pilgrimage to the Ukrainian village of Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashana with 25,000 other Chasidim is a combination of Woodstock and Everything Is Illuminated, an attempt to reconcile his own secular Judaism with true believers from around the world. Mazursky, whose films include Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Blume in Love, Harry & Tonto, An Unmarried Woman and Down and Out In Beverly Hills, subtitles his odyssey “a Journey to Jewish Joy,” a tribute to the annual lakeside celebration by the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman, the grandson of Chasidic founder Ba’al ShemTov, who offered to take on all their burdens and sins before God in an ecstatic ceremony. Our genial host, whose idea of Judaism is a recurrent Catskills joke about two Jewish garment workers discussing a fire in a warehouse (“Shhhh… It takes place tomorrow”), cuts to the humanity at the core of religious belief, whether it’s kibitzing in Yiddish or unabashedly flirting with a young woman selling tomatoes at the market. The film leads up to the frenzied davening that takes place around the lake, the joyous celebration resembling nothing so much as Chasidic breakdancing, the split-screen an obvious homage to the images of those who worshiped at the altar of Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Ten Years After at Max Yasgur’s farm. Admitting, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, he made fun of the Yeshiva students with their payeses, strange hats and old-fashioned frocks, Mazursky finally admits that he now understands them—and his own heritage—a lot more clearly. “I didn’t want to wake up every day kvetching,” he says. “I wanted to say, ‘Yippee,’ I’m glad to be alive.” This loving tribute to the land of his forefathers is an expression of that spirit. The DVD is available from Brandeis University’s National Center for Jewish Film at www.jewishfilm.org. or [email protected].

4. Spring Training: It’s a timeless ritual that, at least back East and in the Midwest, signifies the oncoming of good weather, longer days and the crack of a baseball against a wooden bat. There are no three lovelier words in the English language than “pitchers and catchers,” and now that the regulars have joined up in Florida and Arizona, the month-long exhibition season will delineate the phenoms from the busts and give a chance for fans of every team to dream that their charges can make it all the way to October. And why not? There have been seven different World Series champs in the last seven years: the Yankees (2000), Arizona (2001), the Angels (2002), the Florida Marlins (2003), the Bosox (2004), the White Sox (2005) and last year, improbably, the St. Louis Cardinals. Will this be the year my Mets return to the top of the heap, as they prepare to inhabit their new stadium in 2009? After failing to make the World Series by a single pitch (belted by the Cards’ unlikely hero Yadier Molina in the ninth for a 3-1 victory), the Mets have probably their best-ever starting lineup with the additon of Moises Alou in the off-season and the continued progress of young studs Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran, but their starting rotation is a mess after graybeards Tom Glavine and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, until Pedro Martinez’s expected mid-season return. There are also three Jews with a shot to make the roster, including, of course, Shawn Green, Scott Schoeneweis and utility man David Newhan, son of legendary L.A. Times baseball writer Ross Newhan and an evangelical Jew who turned to Jesus during a minor league batting slump, if that counts. Will this be the year the hated Bronx Bombers finally return to the throne they’ve seemingly ceded over the last six years, or will the Cubs, now newly fortified with Alfonso Soriano and feisty manager Lou Piniella, finally break the Curse of the Billy Goat and Steve Bartman? That, my friends, is why they play the 162-game marathon, the War and Peace of sports seasons. Play ball.

5. The Gospel According to Leonard Cohen, UCLA Live, at Royce Hall: This all-star tribute to the Canadian rock bard was organized by his longtime backup singer Perla Batalla to mark the release of her own album, Bird on the Wire: The Songs of Leonard Cohen (Mechuda Music), as well as her appearance with Julie Christensen in the acclaimed Cohen documentary, I’m Your Man. Cohen’s rep drew an adoring crowd of aging hippies, including George Costanza himself, Jason Alexander, and an impressive backing band that included renowned guitarist Bill Frisell, pedal steel stalwart Greg Leisz, bassists Don Was and Mike Elizondo Jr., percussionist Debra Dobkin and pianist Karen Hammack, all under the direction of Steve Weisberg. While Cohen is mostly known as a wordsmith, the tribute began with Batalla’s soulful interpretation of perhaps his best-known song, “Suzanne,” its seductive melody belying the sadness at its core. Soul legend Howard Tate took “The Land of Plenty” into the fertile delta of New Orleans, while Jackson Browne’s “Waiting for the Miracle” and Michael McDonald’s “Coming Back to You” seemed a little too tasteful by half. With the emphasis on tunefulness, it wasn’t until Jill Sobule’s playful Brecht-Weill take on “First We Take Manhattan,” that Cohen’s mordant humor came through, while Martha Gonzales of East L.A. world music band Quetzal brought the house down by banging out a corrido on top of a miked platform for “Sisters of Mercy,” bringing the first part of the show to a rousing conclusion and underlining Batalla’s attempt to bring a multicultural flavor to the show’s interpretations of Cohen’s songs. In fact, the highlight of the show was her Spanish-language duet with Madrid-based rock star Javier Colis on “Ballad of the Absent Mare, making his U.S. debut and following with a hoarse, tongue-in-cheek reading of “El Canicero,” his translation of Cohen’s “The Butcher.” It was one of the only performances, along with Dave Alvin’s rabble-rousing polemical take on “Democracy,” that expertly captured the writer’s dark wit. For the final “Hallelujah,” McDonald was joined by the fully uniformed choir from John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica, Batalla’s own alma mater, for a rousing denouement that brought the evening all the way back home. Although he wasn’t there to witness it, somewhere, the frequently morose maestro had to be beaming.

6. SherryBaby: Reminiscent of the groundbreaking Straight Time, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s tour de force performance as the drug addict who tries to reconnect to her daughter and stay clean after getting out of prison earned her a Golden Globe nomination, and that alone makes writer/director Laurie Collyer’s unflinching film worth seeing. Gyllenhaal is the type of woman used to employing her sexuality to get what she wants as she offers an employment officer a blow job to get a job working with children. There is plenty of nudity for all you Mr. Skin fans, but underneath it all, Gyllenhaal wrenches emotion from her portrayal, especially in the scenes with her daughter, a very effective Ryan Simpkins. Danny Trejo is particularly good as a fellow 12-stepper who takes her under his wing, while Brad William Henke is sympathetic as her brother, caught between sibling loyalty and his wife, played by Bridget Barkan, who has been taking care of the baby while Sherry was in jail, and isn't about to give her up. There are several scenes in group therapy that veer very close to proselytizing, but for the most part this is a very clear-eyed, unsentimental view of life at the bottom rung. Gyllenhaal completely immerses herself in the character, who is far from sympathetic, leaving any and all superstar pretensions at the door. Harsh and unrelenting, it still manages to find the common humanity underneath the pain.

7. The Exies, A Modern Way of Living With the Truth (Eleven Seven Music)/Live at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, L.A.: Used to be an act was given three albums to find its audience, but these days, it’s too often one (or maybe two) and done. The L.A.-based Exies are the perfect example of a band forced from a major label roster, in this case, Virgin, where they had a pair of Active Rock hits in “Ugly” and “My Goddess,” and forced to fend on their own. Rejuvenated by a move to manager Allen Kovac’s in-house incubator, singer/songwriter Scott Stevens, bassist Freddy Herrera, guitarist Chris Skane and new addition Hoss on drums have poured all those frustrations and hopes into these new songs, and the air of desperation comes through loud and clear in their post-grunge, pre-emo metal, veering between the teeth-rattling guitar interplay and bludgeoning rhythm section of songs like the first single “Different Than You” and the anti-materialist “Lay Your Money Down” to more melodic tracks such as the optimistic “These Are the Days” and a surprising cover of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” which basically defines the new album’s thematic inspiration. Live on a Tuesday night at the Whisky following a lineup of at least five other bands, the group is grateful to those who remain, throwing their hearts into an hour-long set that shakes the walls and buzzes the eardrums. The show reaches an emotional climax with the 1-2-3 punch of “Lifetime” into “Days” into the title track from the new album, its intensity reminiscent of The Ramones meeting Nirvana, with a dose of heavy metal thunder. If there’s any room left for rock & roll in this crazy fercockta world, these guys are ready to kick down the door and make their presence known. With a performance style that makes every moment count in an Exies-tential kind of way, maybe the third time really is the charm.

8. Mika, “Grace Kelly”: Sure, he’s a little light in the loafers, but the video for Mika’s current single is a real hoot, complete with samples of Grace herself and an immortal nod to Queen’s frontman, “I try to be like Grace Kelly/But all her looks were too sad/So I try a little Freddie/I’ve gone identity mad.” There is something irresistible about the colorful clip, which is edited just enough not to be boring, but not so much that it gives you a headache, and a potent falsetto-driven hook that reaches out, grabs you and doesn’t let up until it’s over. And you gotta love a song that ends with a simple, “Ka-ching.” See if you don’t agree by going here and accessing the clip in the Vibe-Raters section.

9. Kaiser Chiefs, “Ruby”: I loved this U.K. band’s debut, and while I’m not quite sold on this first single from the follow-up, the video is pretty innovative, with an entire miniature city going up around the group as it jams in the middle of a desert. Guitars jut in and out of skyscrapers as the guys lift their sneakers to let cars go by on the freeways and duck the helicopters whirling around their heads. Has the Internet launched a brave new world of video innovation? It sure would appear so, based on this puppy.

10. Gripe of the Week: Hey, I don’t ask for much from you guys. Maybe an e-mail or even a phone call now and then about something I write that hits home. Or one of my recommendations that you’ve followed up and appreciate. I understand it’s not as if I’m writing something to shock and/or offend you, and practically demands a response. In fact, silence is OK by me, or even criticism, if you disagree. But last week, after working so hard to give you all something to fill your empty existence every Weakend, I received at least seven separate e-mails, as well as a couple of long distance calls from people I haven’t heard from in months, to tell me I'd written that the Oscars were taking place last Monday, rather than on Sunday. That’s seven e-mails and several phone calls. I don’t get that much response to one of my “gaping maw” restaurant reviews. People, I know when the Oscars are. I mean, I’m trying to give you the big picture and you’re holding me to accuracy? You’re telling me you look to Trakin Care of Business to find out when the Academy Awards are taking place? As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said (and I know because I looked it up on Google), foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. But feel free to correct me if I’m wrong… —Roy Trakin ([email protected])

Friday, March 2nd
Rascal Flatts @ The Rose Garden in Portland

Snow Patrol w/ OK GO and Silversun Pickups @ Gibson Amphitheatre

DJ Quik w/ Second II Novw @ House of Blues Anaheim

Saturday, March 3rd
Pacers @ Clippers on Channel 5

Gomez w/ Ben Kweller @ House of Blues Cleveland
The Roots @ House of Blues Myrtle Beach.

Sunday, March 4th
The Take Action! Tour f/ The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus w/ Emery, Scary Kids Scaring Kids, A Static Lullaby and Kaddisfly @ Roseland Theatre, Portland


Robert Downey, Anthony Edwards, Jake Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Bijou Phillips, Mark Ruffalo
Based on the real-life terror that gripped San Francisco in the '70s, several police detectives and newspaper journalists try to uncover the identity of the mysterious Zodiac Killer. Although he sends taunting notes and clues through the mail, he always seems just one step ahead of those looking to stop his killing spree.
Thoughts: This could be the first really good movie of the year—at least that’s what I’m hoping for.

Black Snake Moan
: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, John Cothran, S. Epatha Merkerson, David Banner
: A has-been blues musician is placed in charge of the rehabilitation of a hopeless nymphomaniac.
Thoughts: This movie looks awfully weird to me. I think it could go either way and be really good or really off the wall.

Also opening this week:
Wild Hogs