The Riff - April 2008

The Missing Pink Floyd Pig Has Landed!

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 6:21 PM EDT

mojo-photo-e07b-pig.jpgBreaking news here on Riff and Friends, following up on a story we first reported here on Sunday night. The gigantic helium-filled inflatable pig thing that said "OBAMA" on its belly, released accidentally by Roger Waters during his performance at Coachella Sunday night, has been found! This reporter witnessed the pig rising near-vertically into the sky on Sunday night, and apparently winds didn't pick up too much in the interim, since the shredded pig parts were discovered Monday morning in La Quinta, the gated-community-and-retiree-filled suburb just south and west of the venue. We were actually staying in La Quinta so, jeez, how awesome would it have been to have the Pig land in our pool? Dammit, so close! Apparently the homeowners in whose driveways the tangled remains appeared didn't know what it was at first, but after seeing saturation news coverage of the clearly earth-shattering event, they figured it out. That's our nation's media, doing a fine job with the stories that matter, and now we can get back to talking about Reverend Wright, the second most important thing happening in the world.

Both families will split the cash portion of the reward, $10,000, and each will get four tickets to the festival for life, although Susan Stoltz, one of the lucky pig-finders, says they "kept souvenirs." It's all so exciting. Next year, everybody better be ready when Bono releases a giant inflatable balloon showing a complicated graph explaining debt relief.

Riff photo by Miles Anzaldo.

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Frank Black Takes on The Golem

| Tue Apr. 29, 2008 9:55 PM EDT

golem-160x248.jpgThe San Francisco International Film Festival this weekend presented a screening of The Golem with live original music by Frank Black, and it reminded me of two things: Frank Black is a dynamic, talented rock musician, and The Golem is a wickedly odd piece of cinema.

The Golem is a 1920 German silent film based on a legend about a clay figure brought to life by Jews living in the late 16th Century Prague ghetto. Yup, CLAY. Similar to Frankenstein, the figure is larger and more powerful than the average human. But instead of a square, flat head, the Golem sports a Dutch boy helmet/haircut (mud-cut?!). He initially protects, and then turns on, everyone in the ghetto and then dies. I had watched scenes of The Golem years ago in a film class, but had forgotten how strange this film really is. The film seems to celebrate the triumph of Jews over adversity, but also caricatures them all as worrisome old men with long, shaggy beards and silly, elf-like hats. The most fascinating part of the film is Hans Poelzig's set design. His stylized ghetto feels like a dark, dingy version of Dr. Seuss drawings.

Frank Black, whose shrill, nasal vocals never completely wow-ed me when he was fronting the Pixies in the 90s, led the pit band like a true storyteller. Songs ebbed and flowed with the movie's weird plot, and lyrics seemed to convey key elements of sadness, fear, joy, and love in the story. Black has said that he wrote all the music in a day, and is considering releasing his Golem music as a Black Francis (his pseudonym) record. Black's music helped ground the film and made it more enjoyable, although not enough to keep one of my friends from leaving early and others in our group from dozing off.

Considering that Black's music was written for a movie about a monster, it felt incredibly safe and tasteful. A more relentless, risky, and scary approach would have really made the night—and the Golem—sing.

Music: Coachella Wrapup - Sunday

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 5:05 AM EDT

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Greetings from the desert and day three of the Coachella Festival. In tonight's edition: Canadians! Germans! More Canadians! And oh yeah: Flying inflatable pigs that apparently endorse Obama! While I'm doing my best to be the intrepid reporter on the scene, my coverage is devolving day-by-day: crappy photos on day one, late-night spelling errors on day two, and today, I forgot my note-taking pen, so all this is coming out of my sun-baked memory. Perhaps I imagined the whole thing?

Music: Coachella Wrapup - Saturday

| Sun Apr. 27, 2008 7:35 AM EDT

mojo-photo-d08-fashion.jpgGreetings from the desert, where Day Two of the Coachella Festival has just come to a close. I know I started yesterday's wrapup with the caveat of "sorry the photographs are terrible"; well, it's now 2:45am, and after spending an hour sitting in parking lot traffic (after walking for 45 minutes) your intrepid reporter is feeling a little scatterbrained. So add that to the list of caveats. For those who just want to get to the meat of the matter: Kraftwerk fantastic, Portishead flawless, Prince amazing. For the details, hit the good old "continues" button.

Music: Coachella Wrapup - Friday

| Sat Apr. 26, 2008 3:59 AM EDT

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Greetings from a rental house in La Quinta, California, where we've just returned after enjoying day one of the 2008 Coachella Festival in Indio. Unfortunately this year's Riff coverage will be a bit of step down from last year's, since we're not only absent intrepid photographer Kristi who got so many great shots last year, but we also couldn't get a photo pass ("why didn't you ask earlier," they said). So unfortunately, we're stuck with what I could capture myself, with my trusty Canon Powershot. Yeah, I know. Hopefully the word pictures painted within will be vivid enough to make up for it.

Geek: The Blog Room at Web 2.0 Expo

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 9:55 PM EDT

I wandered into the Blogtropol.us blogger lounge at Web 2.0 Expo today and immediately realized that this was not the media war room I'd been searching for. The bloggers had beer, for one thing. And couches. And a Wii and chair massages to go with the electrolounge music and the tasty, tasty snacks. Where were the customary lukewarm Dr. Pepper's? My hoary headed colleagues complaining about the WiFi?

A 23-year-old put a shiny blue star sticker on my press pass and confirmed that indeed, I was looking for the much less entertaining room down the hall, where actual writing might be happening. "That's cool though, you'll be back," he nodded. "We have way more fun over here."

Welcome to the future of new media, people.

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American Independent Party and Independent: Wait, There's A Difference?

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 6:33 PM EDT

ist2_4768669_checking.jpgThe American Independent Party isn't doing a very good job broadcasting their party's platform message. If they were, perhaps Gavin Newsom's aspiring actress-first-lady-of-San-Francisco girlfriend Jennifer Siebel wouldn't have registered for it by accident. Just to be clear, the American Independent Party is anti-immigration, anti-abortion, pro-"traditional marriage and family values," and all for keeping "God" in the pledge of allegiance. Which I guess also means they're pro-pledge of allegiance.

San Franciscans shouldn't get their hemp underwear in a bunch too quickly. The mayor's office assures that it's an innocent gaffe and Gav's girlfriend is actually an Independent voter. Independents, typically, have no fidelity to political parties and vote based on candidates and issues. In other words, they do whatever the hell they want. I can see where the confusion lies: There's no "Independent" box to check on California's voter registration ballot; merely "Decline To State." And without predetermined categories, how are Independents ever supposed to know to which group they belong?

—Joyce Tang

The Dust Off: Pointer Sisters

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 6:09 PM EDT

PointerSisters-200.jpgWelcome to The Dust Off, where MoJo Riffers dig deep into the crates and revisit a song, video, or film that has stood the test of time.

This week I'm shaking dust off of "12," or Pinball Number Count," that funky Sesame Street song with the amazing pinball machine animation. Recently a friend back East emailed me this clip of the full segment, and I was blown away to finally learn that The Pointer Sisters are the ones singing. It's a 1972 funk-jazz track with Hammond-sounding keyboards, hand percussion, and soprano sax, guitar, and steel drum solos.

If you're like me, when you think The Pointer Sisters, you think 80s songs like "Jump (For My Love)," and "I'm So Excited," and you almost lose control because you like it. I already thought the Oakland-based group was awesome, but I had no idea they had helped me learn how to count to 12 when I was a kid. Consider them officially dusted off:

Bacteria Artist Off the Hook?

| Thu Apr. 24, 2008 1:57 PM EDT

Last week's Yale abortion senior art project stunt highlights the public outcry art can inspire. While Aliza Shvarts was ridiculed for being everything from "hopelessly bourgie" to "weird and gross," the jeers lobbed upon her in the blogosphere were nothing compared to the nightmarish federal investigation endured by SUNY-Buffalo art professor Steve Kurtz. In 2004 Kurtz was accused of bioterrorism while preparing for an educational art exhibit about genetically modified foods, an incident that showcases the absurd turns art can take in life.

The FBI and Bush administration may be ending their four-year mission to bring charges against Kurtz, who came under scrutiny after authorities discovered bacteria cultures in his house after his wife's unfortunate (and, as it turns out, unrelated) death. On Monday, a U.S. district judge dismissed the charges of mail and wire fraud, the only indictment the Feds could make stick. There's no word yet if the prosecution will appeal. But Kurtz's named "coconspirator," Dr. Robert Ferrell—who sent Kurtz the bacteria and who had also been charged with mail and wire fraud—didn't come away unscathed. He pleaded guilty last October to lesser charges after a series of health problems ensued from the stress of the investigation.

Read more about the case and the documentary it inspired here.

—Joyce Tang

Riff Q&A: Yoav

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 7:30 PM EDT

mojo-photo-yoav.jpgOne of the more intriguing artists on this weekend's Coachella festival lineup, Yoav is Israeli-born, South Africa-raised, and now London-based. His complicated background might remind you of the Argentinian-Swedish José González, and they also share a focus on the acoustic guitar (as well as diverse musical influences). But while González turns bleak tracks like Massive Attack's "Teardrop" into plaintive ballads, Yoav incorporates effects and treatments into his guitar work to create original music that somehow straddles the line between folk and minimal electronica, with an accessible pop straightforwardness. His debut album, Charmed & Strange, features sounds that you wouldn't expect to hear come out of a guitar: staccato blips, hip-hop thuds, and, on a haunting cover of The Pixies' "Where is My Mind," eerie whines and soft echoing tones. The Riff caught up with Yoav between gigs and tossed a couple quick questions his way.