MY GUEST SPOT ON THE LATE NIGHT WITH JOHNNY P SHOW

I did my first TV appearance not to long ago on the Late Night with Johnny P show on CTV. It was not only a learning experience, but also a lot of fun. And like most activities that give you an adrenaline rush, I want to do it again. Please sir, I want some more…

Besides my interview with Johnny, this episode features actor John Bianco (The Sopranos, Taxi Brooklyn), The Crew from The Wiseguyz Radio Show and Comedian Pete Michaels. Watch the whole show below, or skip to my segment. It’s at the 27:30 mark. Enjoy!

OUTLANDER CAPTIVATES FANS WITH GENRE BENDING STORYLINES

Outlander_Gallery1_wmPart science fiction puzzler, part romantic drama, and part historical epic, the new Starz original series has garnered quite a following in its short run. Following the lead of such period dramas as “Game of Thrones” and “Downton Abbey,” “Outlander” sets its story not in the modern world but in the past, and is based on a series of books by American author Diana Gabaldon.

The show follows protagonist Claire Beauchamp Randall (played by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe) as she is transported from World War II era Scotland, to two hundred years into the past. In 1743 Scotland she finds herself dropped into a civil war between the Redcoats and the Highlander rebels. “The Outlander” has become infamous as being a genre-bender. It does not fit neatly under any one label, although there is a strong romantic element; the first Outlander novel brought its author a Romance Writers of America’s RITA award for Best Romance back in 1991. Claire finds herself torn between her 20th century husband Frank and a new love in 18th century Scotland: Jamie Fraser. Jamie is played by native Scotsman Sam Heughan, and the two leads have been praised for their “potent chemistry,” says the aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.

Part of the reason for the show’s wild success is its exquisite attention to detail in sets and costuming. “Every time I walk onto set, there’s at least a split second where I feel like this is not a set, this is actually real; it’s so rich,” says supporting cast member Lotte Verbeek.

“Outlander” is shot on location in Scotland, and executive producer Ronald D. Moore has said the landscape and the scenery–Scotland itself–is a character in the show.

Outlander_Gallery4_wmThere seems a real determination among cast and crew, some of whom are longtime fans of Gabaldon’s work, to maintain the integrity of the original books. So what does the author think of the new adaptation? Her reception has been positive, and she has even been on set to watch the process. There are small differences between the books and the show, which she considers necessary given the challenging medium of serial television. She finds new material presented in the show to be true to the heart of the book; small plot elements that could have occurred off the page in the original work. “Everyone who has read the book will feel totally at home and excited to see their favorite scenes, but there’s also new material to get excited about as well,” she said in an interview with Word & Film.

Fans seem to agree. “Outlander” premiered on the Starz network on August 9, 2014, and audience reception was so favorable that Starz ordered production for a second season after airing only one episode. The show found a ready made fanbase among the female readership of the original Outlander books, although Moore’s track record on shows like “Battlestar Galactica” should bring in male fans, as well. Is “Outlander” destined for greatness? Only time will tell. “Outlander” airs Saturday nights on Starz.

Suzy Kerr is a blogger living in Missouri. She writes regularly for realitytea.com and talkthrones.com. All photos courtesy of Starz

‘ZEPPARELLA’ BRING IT ON HOME

As the four ladies that make up the Led Zeppelin tribute band, Zepparella made their way to the stage at the St. Vitus bar in Brooklyn, the vibe in the room seemed to change. Not only was there a certain sense of excitement, but also an expectation of what was to come.

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The fact is, there are plenty of bands that cover the music of Led Zeppelin, but when a band bills itself as a tribute band, the stakes are higher. The band has to be tight and the songs must be true to the studio versions. Band members don’t have to resemble the original artists, but they better sound like them.

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And that’s exactly what Zepparella is all about. Not only did they turn in some note-for-note renditions of some classic songs like Communication Breakdown, The Lemon Song and What Is and What Should Never Be, but they also delivered a bone chilling version of Dazed and Confused that featured Gretchen Menn slashing a violin bow across the strings of her guitar (check out her killer instrumental album, Hale Souls)

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Another standout moment was during the drum solo in the song, Moby Dick. Drummer, Clementine nailed all the fills, played with her bare hands and even pulled off that little hollow pitch bend on the snare (I always wondered how John Bonham did that). Listen to some of Clementine’s solo work here.

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There was also a cool guitar duel between Menn and the bass player, Angeline Saris midway through the song, Trampled Under Foot. They traded licks back and forth, and both guitarists showcased some impressive two-handed tapping during their solos.

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As for the vocals, it’s not easy to mimic a young Robert Plant. Not even the Man himself can hit those high notes anymore. But despite the fact that he’s not an easy singer to copy, lead vocalist, Noelle Doughty was able to bring it on home. She may not sound exactly like Plant, but she’s a passionate singer that belts out the lyrics with fiery resonance.

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The only low point of the night was with their opening number, The Rover. Although they played it well, and the song is an interesting selection, it’s not a crowd pleaser. Zepparella could have kickstarted the party early with any number of fan favorites: Good Times Bad Times, Rock and Roll or Black Dog just to name a few.

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Some might call this nitpicking and they would be correct, especially since Zepparella were able to engage the audience and keep them entertained for the entire show. So if you like Led Zeppelin, then go see Zepparella. They’re not a gimmick, they’re the real deal, i.e. four talented musicians. In short, they rock!

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To watch video, buy merch, or to catch Zepparella on tour, click here. All photos by Michelle Jesipaz.

ALL HAIL KING BUZZO

Buzz101Buzz Osborne (the Melvins) could have held a clinic the other night at The Wick in Brooklyn on how to keep an audience engaged as a solo acoustic act. His in-your-face and fierce guitar playing only intensified his stage presence.

Osborne pumped and strummed his guitar like James Hetfield of Metallica, only instead of playing a Gibson Explorer plugged into a wall of Marshall stacks, all Osborne had was his acoustic guitar, a small combo amp and head full of curly blond hair. But that didn’t stop him from pulling off intricate riffs across the fretboard.

Instead of opening his set with a track from his debut solo album (This Machine Kills Artists) he went right for the jugular with Boris. The song is off the Melvins’ 1991 album, Bullhead. And as he made his way through the intro he visited each side of the stage, stepping right up to the edge, and getting so close that fans could have easily reached out and touched him.

Buzz102The Wick is a great space for live performances, but it’s not very comfortable. Either their air conditioner was broken or they didn’t have one. Whatever the reason, it was hot as balls. And by his third song, Osborne was drenched with sweat. In between songs he had to stop and wipe down not only his face, but also his guitar.

By his fourth song, King Buzzo played some tracks off his new album. The first one was titled, Dark Brown Teeth. It’s an upbeat and colorful song that builds and then lays back on the verses. It sounded just as good live as it did on the album. Some of the highlights were Rough Democracy, The Vulgar Joke, We Are Doomed and an Alice Cooper cover titled, Ballad of Dwight Fry.

Too bad more solo performers don’t put on a show like Osborne because if they did, there would be a lot fewer people staring at their smart phones in the audience. For more information on Osborne or the Melvins click here.

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*All photos by Michelle Jesipaz. 

ANGEL OF MERCY

Black Label Society are wrapping up their European tour in Moscow, Russia tonight. Then after a short break, they’ll be unleashing the doom through the States. For dates, click here. Until then, check out a new video of their song, Angel of Mercy. Director Justin Reich captures the mood of this track with some vivid shot selections and cinematography.

PATTI SMITH AND JAMES FRANCO TRADE WHITMAN VERSES

Patti Smith reads excerpts from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Photo Michelle Jesipaz

Patti Smith reads excerpts from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Photo Michelle Jesipaz

The first thing I saw while entering Ft. Tilden for the Rockaway! arts festival this past Sunday was a mobile stage being set-up and wired. This was where Patti Smith and James Franco were going to read excerpts from Walt Whitman’s poetry. Smith was also scheduled to play some music, but that wasn’t going to happen for a couple of hours, so I figured I would check out what the festival had to offer.

In front of a small theater was a pair of musicians. There was a woman playing guitar and a dude on keyboard. They were idly noodling and trying to figure out something to play. They challenged one of their peers to freestyle a song, but he shyly rejected, “I can’t think of any words”.

Eventually a man in a Superman shirt came out and broke into a Christian rock song. It wasn’t so much rock as it was Christian. The lyrics went “God savvvve the peoooopppple!” I was perplexed, wasn’t this a Patti Smith-MoMa festival? It turned out the song was from a musical called, Godspell which the troupe was rehearsing for an upcoming performance.

James Franco joined Smith in a celebration of Whitman's poetry. Photo Michelle Jesipaz

Actor James Franco joined Smith in a celebration of Whitman’s poetry. Photo Michelle Jesipaz

I walked through a path and into an open yard. There was a long line, to what I soon figured was the warehouse where Smith’s, Resilience of The Dreamer was being displayed.

The festival features work from some renowned artists like Janet Cardiff and Adrian Villar Rojas. I asked some of the spectators about their expectations and opinions of the festival and particularly, Smith’s Resilience of The Dreamer. Why are you here? What’d you hear about the piece? Are you a Patti Smith fan? One young lady entertained me with a bottomless pool of vagueness. Why do you like Patti Smith? Because she’s an iconoclast. Why’s she an iconoclast? Because she’s amazing. Why’s she amazing? Because of her music, her poetry…and so on. If I pushed any harder it would’ve made me sound like a prick.

Resilience of The Dreamer exhibit is housed in the T9 building. It’s a decrepit, spooky, yet aesthetically intriguing building that used to be a locomotive repair shop for the military. And set right in the middle of this decaying structure was a pristine white bed. The bed was outlined with four ten-foot golden posts, and from those posts hung cascading, transparent  drapes. It was the type of bed Cleopatra would sleep in.

Smith is Renaissance woman: musician, photographer, writer, and artist. Photo Michelle Jesipaz

Smith is a bona fide Renaissance woman: musician, photographer, writer, and artist. Photo Michelle Jesipaz

There was a woman tussling the drapes, billowing and adjusting them. I thought this was just an employee of the festival, so I didn’t pay much attention until I got closer. But lo and behold, it was Patti Smith, getting knee-deep in the pristine.

She wasn’t speaking to anybody at the time, just circling the bed and adjusting its drapes. While she continued her adjustments I moved around the room and noted a gutted and abandoned piano, some rusting metal, and a forgotten bicycle.

Then later, I overheard Smith addressing the crowd near the warehouse entrance. She was speaking about stones and the common thread of rebuilding in people’s lives. Behind her was a room with a pile of smooth, white stones. She encouraged us to take a stone as a symbol of the recovery from Hurricane Sandy and the rebuilding of any damaged aspects of our own lives.

Dan Guarino is the president of the Rockaway Artist Alliance and a reporter for The Wave newspaper. Photo Michelle Jesipaz.

Dan Guarino is the president of the Rockaway Artist Alliance and a reporter for The Wave newspaper. Photo Michelle Jesipaz.

Back at the stage, I waited for James Franco and Patti Smith along with a pretty decent crowd of people. Franco stepped on the stage wearing a Deth Killers of Bushwick jacket. He wore sunglasses and it wasn’t until he came on stage that I realized how many young women were in the audience. And it wasn’t until I heard all the adoring screams that I realized how much women loved him.

Franco recited lines from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. One of his excerpts described all manner of body parts. It was mostly anatomical and not too sensual, though all-in-all a beautiful poem. Franco and Smith took turns with the poetry, and after they completed their Whitman recitations, it was time for some music.

Smith was accompanied by guitarist Lenny Kaye and her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith on keyboard. Smith first warbled through Wing. The small accompaniment of musicians lent well to the wind-down feeling at the time. They day was over, growing darker, chillier. A dozen or so people stood up when they started to perform but the entire crowd booed and jovially heckled them to sit down.

A throng of fans patiently wait for the show to begin. Photo Michelle Jesipaz

A throng of fans patiently wait for the show to begin. Photo Michelle Jesipaz

Everyone was in the mood to just sit and take it easy. She followed her opening number with Redondo Beach. She dedicated this song and spoke lightly about the Rockaway Pipeline that was being built directly under Ft. Tilden.

After Redondo, Smith treated the audience with a Neil Young cover, It’s A Dream. Hearing her sing the lyrics to a song about the fleetingness of life, its joys and pains, was a timely track for an area that has experienced so much devastation. A place that is blissfully and artistically on track for a better future.

Jason King is a writer and skateboarder from Brooklyn. This is his first post for MentalSwag.com. You can check out his blog, “A Wanker’s Journey Towards Being Wank-Free” by clicking here.

ROCK, ROCK, ROCKSTOCK!

The 8th annual Rockstock and Barrels Festival 2014 went off with a bang yesterday. There were blue skies and plenty of sunshine. The only missing element were waves. But what are you going to do? The East Coast isn’t known for pumping surf in the summer. Yet despite the flat conditions, that didn’t stop people from coming. It was a bona fide event, with 17 bands spread across two stages, a skating contest, surfing contest, big name sponsors like Red Bull and a unique collection of vendors.

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The Rockstock and Barrels festival was founded by Jimmy Dowd of St. James Clothing, Walker Hornung of Invisible Sun Booking Agency and Into the Whip Records and Steve Stathis of Boarders Surf Shop. Local musician/surfer Matthew Kiss and his band kicked off the festival on the main stage.

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The festival featured over 30 booths from a wide variety of vendors and sponsors, like Matador Surfboards, Rockaway Pop Up Shop, Skudin Surf School, St. James Clothing, artist Kelly Meagher, Rockaway Militia, and Draugsvold Jewelry just to name a few.

Redbull

Red Bull showed up with the ultimate beach party mobile. Not only can this badass all-terrain vehicle blaze a path across practically any beach on the planet, it comes equipped with an extended roof, four booming speakers and a slamming sound system.

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The crowd grew by the hour. Here’s a shot of the main stage, the famed surfing jetty in the background, and the intruding pipeline that some mistook for the controversial Rockaway Pipeline. But the pipeline in the photo isn’t being used to transport radioactive natural gas, it’s actually being used for the sand replenishment project that’s currently underway along the peninsula.

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Some call me a shameless self-promoter. I have no idea why. Here’s a shot of my booth where I not only sold my novel, Waiting For The Bomb, but also some of my wife’s photography. If you didn’t get a chance to grab a copy of my book, you can get one here.

Locals1The guys from Locals surf school not only know how to surf (and teach), but they also know how to throw a party. Their summer kick off party at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club a couple of weeks ago was of epic proportions. Here’s a shot of co-owner Michael Kololyan giving an Indo Board demo.

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One band that really caught my eye (or rather, ear) was The King’s Heartbeat. The band features Rockstock co-founder Walker Hornung, and it’s just one of Hornung’s many musical projects, including Q-South, Soca, and The Brotherhood of The Grape.

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There was a lot of interesting art for sale along vendor’s row, but one standout was a dual exhibit by Tracey Greene and Katherine McNamme. Greene showcased here work on canvas while, McNamme had a school of copper and fiberglass fish floating from the support beams of their tent.

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* All photos by Michelle Jesipaz.

THE POWER OF VENUS

Still1Maintaining an audience’s full attention is difficult. In an era where it’s almost a given that people will use their cell phones in the theatre, and television plots are expected to have up to six storylines running simultaneously, singular-focused entertainment is practically nonexistent.

Roman Polanski’s “Venus in Fur,” a French film adaptation of the twentieth century Tony Award-winning Broadway play by David Ives, based on a nineteenth century novella, by Leopold von Sacher-MasochVenus in Fur, defies this concept, bringing a two-character story to life using almost magical cinematography, ever-changing costumes, and, of course, tremendously talented actors with a range wide enough to feel like you’ve watched far more than two characters on screen during the movie’s rapid duration.

The film opens with writer-director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) complaining via iPhone that he cannot find any actresses to play the female lead, Vanda, in his newest production.

In a whirlwind, Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) bursts into the theatre, hours late for her supposedly scheduled audition. Through a literal bag of tricks, which includes not sides but the entire script, a crumpled resume, and an entire costume wardrobe purchased from a thrift store, Vanda persuades Thomas into letting her audition for the role. To Thomas’ bewilderment, she adjusts the theatre lighting, gets into hair, makeup, and costume in a matter of seconds, and is ready to perform.

Vanda’s first reading enchants Thomas, and his iPhone slowly makes its way off-screen as he pleads with her to read more and more of Vanda’s part. Perhaps at last he has found his leading lady!

Still 4Between character breaks from the auditions, discussions over sex and dominance, and the ever so slight distraction of phone messages to significant others, Polanski builds an incredibly tense and intriguing environment through both characters.

As the reading continues, Vanda’s acting and personality entrance Thomas. The staging becomes more realistic, as if the play is being fully performed. Venus in Fur, a story about power, domination, and attraction becomes genuine in both the reading and the time and space of the actors, bringing to life a true battle for power, and we can maybe guess which sex ultimately wins.

Melissa Kravitz is a writer based in NYC. Follow her on Twitter (or not) @melissabethk     *All photos courtesy of The Independent Film Channel.