Wiki Wars and the Democratization of Knowledge

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I am an avid fan of a band from New Orleans called Mutemath. Over the years, I have been the textbook definition of a “groupie.” Perhaps because I entered their fandom near the genesis of their formation, I also developed somewhat of a casual friendship with members of the band. This coveted position, at times, gave me an insider’s view the happenings within the group and allowed me to bear witness to much of their history as it unfolded. Therefore, I tend to feel like a certified subject matter expert when it comes to all things Mutemath.

As a person with vast firsthand knowledge of a specific subject in the information age, of course I’ve felt an obligation to share it with the world. That’s how I became a spontaneous contributor on Wikipedia.

I couldn’t help it. I would read through articles and see information I knew for a fact was false and would lend a hand in editing content for accuracy, sometimes spending hours scouring the internet for citations and sources to confirm what I knew to be true. However, no matter the references provided, and the formatting rules followed, there would always be dissenters.

I would make a change to an article and inevitably, someone would come behind me and revert it or edit it. Thus, an edit war would initiate until we came to some consensus or one of us gave up. For me, this was my first experience with what has become known as the democratization of knowledge ushered in by the creation and proliferation of the internet.

There are places on the internet, such as Wikipedia, which present an opportunity to preserve information in a way that was previously impossible but come with the caveat of leveling the playing field for every fringe opinion and conspiracy theory to creep it’s way in and blur fact and fiction.

It was only a matter of time before someone in the public view tapped into the over abundance of web-based echo chambers and used it to further discredit the truth and erode public trust in unbiased, well -sourced and researched journalism and institutional knowledge. As Larry Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia put it: “with the chorus (or cacophony) of voices out there, there is so much dissent, about everything, that there is a lot less of what ‘we all know.’”

We are near a breaking point, at which common sense and reason will need to be championed and a chorus of voices will have to stand up and say we refuse to accept anything less than the truth. There are institutions and organizations that are now solely dedicated to fact-checking the barrage of information surfacing on the internet every day. It is our responsibly, as free-thinking and independent people, in a country that still upholds protections for speech and conviction, to find a place to meet in the middle. If my Wiki foes and I can agree on a truce near the front lines of the truth, then there is hope for the rest of us.

Technology may be making us more lonely

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Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, is an expert in how technology impacts people and society. In 2012, she gave a TED Talk entitled “Connected, but alone” that expressed her concerns about the isolation caused by smart devices and social networks and the resulting disruption to our ability to have meaningful conversations and connections with each other.

Her concerns, grounded in observations she made in her work and in the world around her, seem genuine. But in the years since, technology and the way we interact with it has continued to evolve so quickly that some of her arguments seem dated and out of touch.

Turkle provides an anecdote from a middle-aged businessman lamenting about not feeling connected to his co-workers because they are too involved with their email. I’m sure there are workplaces in which this is the case more than others, but what I’ve found in my professional career is largely the opposite. My co-workers and I have daily conversations about our personal lives and have genuine bonds that enable us to more closely collaborate in our work. It may just be the culture of my current place of employment, but I just don’t feel the kind of isolation that Turkle describes.

Later in her talk, Turkle muses that we trade conversation for brief connections, and those brief, hollow interactions lead to more isolation. In that loneliness, we tend to lean on our smart devices to provide more and more connection to fill the void. We are incapable of solitude and self-reflection and thus, further driving a wedge between us and those we want to form meaningful relationships with.

What Turkle had yet to understand in 2012, was that while she was right about how technology and online communities would impact how we connect with each other, that it has become more of an echo chamber than a place to hide.

In the last couple of years, social media has become a place to voice your opinions and feelings to the world, for better or for worse. It has made it possible for groups with fringe beliefs to find each other, for lies to become truth, and for people to hear and see only what re-affirms their own beliefs.

As much as there is to be concerned about how we interact with each other online and in the real world, there are also incredible opportunities. Technology has given us a place to share art and opinion with each other. Chances to spark conversations that spill over into the real world and drive substantial change.

I find that I take what I see and learn from my interactions online and use them to find ways to have conversations with the people around me. It comes down to purposefully taking a step back and remembering that these devices are tools to help us live better lives and not to be substitutions for each other.

If you are connected but alone, it’s only because you chose to be.

Tattoos: art form worthy of copyright?

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Former boxer Mike Tyson is infamous for many things, but the large tribal tattoo affixed to the left side of his face is arguably the oddest. The tattoo, which Tyson got in 2003, was also the subject of a legal battle over who can retain the intellectual property rights of something permanently attached to someone else’s body.

In 2011, S. Victor Whitmill, the artist who designed Tyson’s tattoo, sued Warner Bros. for their use of his design in the film ‘The Hangover: Part II”. In the film, one of the characters gets a tattoo on the left side of his face that is very similar to Whitmill’s design. Whitmill originally asked for an injunction to stop the release of the film, but the matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

The question at the heart of the matter was if it is possible to copyright an image on skin.

Whitmill says that he had an agreement with Tyson to retain copyright ownership of the artwork that comprises the pattern tattooed on his face.  In fact, the artist had previously received a registered copyright for 3D artwork.

The definition of copyright under the law applies to tangible works, and there is a reasonable argument to be made that a body part could be considered tangible. IP Watchdog cites cases of the US Copyright Office coming down on the side of tattoo artists and their rights to their original creations.

Should he have received an enormous settlement or licensing fee? That should be up to the artist’s discretion. If another party wants to use something of his creation, he should have control over how and where it is used and how much he is willing to give it away for.

The real question at hand is more of a protection of speech. An artist’s chosen form of expression should not be infringed on, no matter how low brow it may seem. It takes significant skill and talent to do something as delicate and permanent as giving someone a tattoo. These artists deserve to retain ownership of the works they create.

In the case of Warner Bros. and Whitmill, it seems fair that the artist should ask that the studio request his permission to license the iconic image that he created, regardless of his preferred medium.

Hiring an attractive nanny might be playing with fire

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From Gavin Rosdale to Jude Law, flip through a checkout tabloid and there is no shortage of tales of a wife’s worst nightmare: a husband found cheating with the nanny.

Many would say that, in the search for good help, they would avoid hiring anyone that their spouse might find attractive. Not that they don’t trust their partner, but why take a chance? Even former One Tree Hill star Jana Kramer has spoken out recently on the topic, considering her husband’s past infidelity.

“Not that I don’t trust my husband,” Kramer said. “I just think it’s not smart.”

The agencies that help match caretakers with families say they field these requests often.

“We get those requests all the time, ‘I don’t want someone pretty,’” said Katie Provinziano, of a Beverly Hills, Calif. agency.

Is this just paranoia or is there some evidence to suggest that having an attractive employee around the house could lead to trouble?

In a 1995 study published in the American Sociological Review, the authors noted “the risk of [marriage] dissolution is highest where either wives or husbands encounter an abundance of spousal alternatives.” The same conclusions were found in a 2004 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, noting that the opportunity to cheat leads to a higher likelihood of infidelity.

At the end of the day, we must own up to our own weaknesses and take responsibility for our actions. If someone wants to cheat on their partner, they may find other means. But, if there’s an opportunity to avoid creating an unnecessary complication in your home, it might be worth considering.

Interview: MUTEMATH’s Paul Meany on the meaning of “Play Dead”

Photo by James Coeras

Photo by James Coreas

2017 is not the year that Paul Meany expected. The front man of New Orleans quartet MUTEMATH was completing work on their fifth studio album “Play Dead” when bass player Roy Mitchell-Cardenas announced his plans to stop touring with the group in March. Jonathan Allen was brought in as a perm touring bassist and the band began to plan the album release and accompanying tour when another unexpected departure would threaten to derail everything.

Four weeks before they were set to embark on a 38 city fall tour, Meany was shocked by a phone call from drummer and founding member Darren King to reveal that he had also decided to leave MUTEMATH. Struggling with the decision to either cancel the album release and tour or take on the near impossible task of finding a replacement for King, Meany called upon an old friend. Fellow New Orleans native David “Hutch” Hutchinson agreed to join the “Play Dead Live” tour and learn King’s parts with just three weeks to rehearse. The resulting show is a frantic sensory overload utilizing slickly produced video projections to transform the stage and the band in to moving pieces of art.

Meany called me while in route to Salt Lake City to discuss the tour and its unique video concept, how he feels about his daughter’s musical aspirations, the challenging themes of the new album and how they relate to the future of MUTEMATH.

Patrick Donalson: What city are you in today?

Paul Meany: We’re in Boise, Idaho.

PD: Boise, Idaho? Is this a day off or are y’all doing a show today?

PM: Yeah, it’s crazy. You would think we’re doing a show on Friday. It’s not, it’s a day off. We just played Seattle yesterday and we are on our way to Salt Lake City, so we have a day off. This is the middle point.

PD: You guys are getting near the end of the tour, how has it been so far?

PM: It’s been great, man. My heart’s starting to get a little heavy now that I know we are nearing the end. There’s only seven shows left. It’s been really special, certainly considering the situation and the stakes that were involved going in to this. Being on the road again with Hutch has been an incredible experience. I’m so glad we got to share this time, it’s been fun. We are hitting a real stride now, in the show. When we first got the show going, we were trying to get all the glitches worked out and everything was very fresh and new, especially for Hutch and Jonathan. In recent weeks it’s really felt like we’ve broke through to that place you want to be as a performer, where you can just kind of be at that subconscious auto-pilot level and the music is just kind of playing you as opposed to you trying to play the music. That’s when it’s really fun. We’ve been able to feel that rush for the past few weeks. It’s been really fun. It’s made the shows really exciting.

PD: Any stand out moments so far?

PM: Yeah. I felt, when we got to Florida, that’s when things started to happen. Once we reached the West Coast, it kind of went to this fresh place as well. I guess that was the middle point of the tour. We just finished the West Coast run but we started in San Diego and went all the way up to Seattle and it just felt like each one of those shows the bonds were just getting stronger on stage. So, it’s been really nice. The chemistry is thicker.

PD: I was at your show in Houston and I was really impressed with the overall visual element of the production this time around. Can you tell me about the origin of where this projector concept came from?

PM: Absolutely. One of the bands we were playing in when we were starting MUTEMATH was Macrosick. It was around ’03, with Adam LaClave. That was more his project that he was doing with Jonathan.  Darren and I were helping out and they were helping us out with MUTEMATH. The Macrosick concept was that for every show: everyone dressed in white and then we had this projected show. There was actually a projectionist on stage, part of the show. It was a really fun thing to do. But that concept just kind of went away. Macrosick eventually became a different band. As we were looking for a visual concept for this particular album, that one just kind of came back to mind. We were like what if we renovated that idea and just see what we could do with it now. We wanted to do something that we hadn’t done before. The idea of everyone on stage, dressing up in sort of a uniform and all serving this art installment that we were wanting to put together got really fun sounding. So, that’s what we did. But, originally it was Adam LaClave’s brainchild. He came up with that idea for Macrosick, so we borrowed it from him for this one.

PD: I hope you thank him for letting you borrow it!

PM: Of course! He actually came out and performed with us in LA. It was a really fun moment to have him come out and we did a little bit of a Club of the Sons song, and then we did a Beck cover, and then we did “Spotlight”. It was fun. It was a special night.

PD: Another big part of the show is when [your daughter] Amelia comes out and joins you on stage. How does she feel about what you do and getting to be on an album and on stage?

PM: She loves it. I am not twisting her arm to be a part of this. She’s a performer at heart, we started realizing that probably around three. It was on the Vitals Tour when we started. She was hanging out backstage and before we would go on, it became sort of a tradition that she would perform for all of us backstage to pump us all up. Kind of give us our locker room speech. She would make up a song and kind of improv. She wanted to play a show for us and it was really exciting. She was doing a really good job. She would come on the side of the stage while we were performing and she would just be dancing. I remember when we got on the tour with Twentyone Pilots, there were some shows where she was on the side of the stage dancing and I noticed there were a lot of people in the front row looking that way like, “What is going on?” So, I decided to invite her up and she came out on the stage and lit it up. Ever since then, it was no looking back. It was always like, “How can I get my own band daddy? When do I get to replace you?”.  It’s been that kind of dynamic. Once we wrote a song dedicated to her, it became a no brainer that she was going to come out and at least perform that one with us. It has been a really fun part of this tour.

PD: How much negotiation with her mom did you have to do to make that happen?

PM: Yeah, mom has to deal with the after effects of that as far as keeping her attitude in check, that she’s not entitled to it. She’s got to do her school work still, do her responsible things, then she gets to go and perform.

PD: Would you encourage her if she wanted to go in to this business when she gets older?

PM: Absolutely. As long I felt like it was definitely a passion of hers. I don’t want to be that particular parent that’s pushing her to take up the family business. I think as long as I have been observing her, she definitely has a genuine interest in it, so I’ll do whatever I can to help nurture that.

PD: You brought up the Twentyone Pilots tour and I know that you guys collaborated with them last year as well. Do you have any more plans for collaborations in the future?

PM: There are no plans currently, but we had an amazing time working with those guys. I hope our paths will cross again soon.

PD: Other than Twentyone Pilots, is there anyone else that you would like to work with if you could have a dream collaboration?

PM: You know, I think of this scene in a sitcom. I think it was ‘King of Queens’ or something. You get your free pass person that you get to have an affair with. The wife’s free pass was Brad Pitt. And who does the guy get? The guy is like, “I’ll just take that cute secretary that works with you.” You kind of create a realistic dream, one that might be achievable. So, when you start talking about collaborations, there’s the dream level of probably what will never happen and then something that might happen. But, I am going to go ahead and dream big for a second. It would be a dream come true for me to get to collaborate with someone like Steve Winwood or Phil Collins, or some of the guys that I really looked up to as I was becoming an aspiring musician [such as] Sting. I have huge respect for they way they write songs and just them as performers, how they put together shows and arrange things. They are definitely some of my heroes.

PD: Your new album is “Play Dead”. It seems to be a good mashup of your previous albums. I noticed on past albums that you found a way to make the tracks play seamless. On this one, they are a little more broken up. I was curious if that was intentional or happened by circumstance? Was there a thought process to that?

PM: It was intentional. We didn’t think it sounded as good with them being seamlessly connected. A lot of the songs are a bit more indulgent, they kind of reach over the five-minute mark at times. This is probably one of our shortest albums as far as track numbers go. We usually do albums that are around 50 minutes. This one is pretty close to that but, because there were fewer track numbers, it felt like those breaths were nice to have. Sometimes we really get in to the whole transition building, which we have on other albums where songs connect, but it just didn’t feel right on this one.

PD: Listening to it on vinyl, the breaks almost seem like it was made to be heard on vinyl.

PM: That’s the other thing too. It really gets messed up on vinyl whenever we’ve done the transitions in the past. You usually have to break it up anyway.

PD: Given recent events with the band, the themes of the record seem especially significant. Can you tell me a little bit about the writing process? What drew you to this life and death theme, not necessarily knowing what was going to happen?

PM: I think the writing process for this record and “Vitals” were very connected. It was all out of us becoming fathers and what we were observing at that time. It all started about five or six years ago, when we were coming out of “Odd Soul”. We just went into writing non-stop and those life and death themes were the only thing that seemed to interest us. I remember right when my daughter was born, the thought that crossed my mind first was “OK, now I am going to die. Now it’s time for me to go.” Which was a strange thing and I kind of shook that thought out of my head because I was like “Oh my God. I am looking at my daughter for the first time, this is amazing.” What I realized was that I was confronting this changing of the guard aspect of life. When your replacement is here, and when you’ve worked so hard to get to a certain place and now it’s time for you to bow out. That’s what my daughter represented in a way. I began to observe that more, not just in the parent aspect of it, but in the changing of the times and what that all means: coming of age, the things you have to let go of along the way, and the things you cling on to and hope to find new meaning in around the corner. Those things that keep you living, keep you full of hope. That substance has really been the fuel for “Vitals” and “Play Dead”. “Vitals” looked at it more from a relationship aspect and the efforts of making things last, making it to the end with someone. I think “Play Dead” is more about confronting things that are out of your control and how you don’t get to choose how things are going to end for you. How life decides to twist fate, but finding this determination to choose how you process it and how you react to it and still finding happiness along the way. That was a really challenging notion. I think, especially this year and what it’s become, it’s been an unexpected illustration of what we’ve been writing about for the past five years. This is not an ending I would have ever scripted for this band or a transition that I would have ever imagined would have happened for MUTEMATH. But it is one that we decided to do our best to confront and make the most of, and still scrounge for elements of life in the whole thing. Believing that, what may seem like chaos, that strange twist of fate, is for a reason. In some hopeful way that we’ll figure it out as the days go forward and just try to appreciate each day as we are doing it.

PD: Wow. You’ve got me speechless.

PM: It’s been a profound time. You know what? I am proud of the music that we’ve made along the way. If it all ends now and MUTEMATH has only become a five-album band, and this is what it was meant to be, and we all go on to do other things after this, I am super proud of what we’ve uncovered and documented along the way and I’m thankful for it. Thankful for all the years that Darren, Roy, and Greg put in to make a body of work. Todd as well, and now Jonathan and Hutch who are helping to bring it to life. It’s been an amazing journey.

PD: It sounds like you’ve come to terms with it a little bit, no matter what it is. That at least it’s been good while you had it. What’s next on the horizon for you guys after the tour wraps up?

PM: There aren’t really definitive plans. I feel like what’s going to happen now is that we are going to go in to a hibernating, creative time. More than ever, I really don’t know what the future holds. I think everything has been rattled so much. In all of that uncertainty, I am more compelled than ever to pull out the keyboards and get in headphones and make some music. Just see what’s there. I think we will be spending some time doing that going in to the new year. Hopefully let whatever is next reveal itself. We’ll stay in touch and we’ll proudly embark on the next step of the journey.

Review: 45th American Music Awards

It took a gravity-defying routine on the side of a high rise to save the American Music Awards from crashing and burning under the weight of it’s irrelevance on Sunday night. Pop star Pink’s high wire acrobatics while dangling from the J. W. Marriott hotel in downtown Los Angeles were the highlight of a production that attempted to focus on flashy performances rather than substance. That’s assuming the substance of these programs ever existed in the first place.

The 45th edition of the annual awards show treated viewers to an onslaught of 17 headliner performances over its three-hour run time. Yet, out of 28 awards categories, only a handful were shown during the broadcast. This is a trend shared by many modern televised awards programs, especially the music focused shows, as producers try to battle wavering viewership.

The American Music Awards were created by Dick Clark in 1979 to fill the void left by the Grammys departure from ABC. Unlike the Grammys, in which nominees and winners are selected by members of the Recording Academy, nominees are selected on factors such as album sales, radio airplay, streaming, social activity and touring tracked by Billboard and Nielsen. The winners are then selected through a fan vote.

The AMAs are one of the few shows to maintain steady ratings year over year, this year drawing in 9.05 million viewers, a slight uptick from the gala’s all-time low of 8.1 million in 2016. In the last year, the Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, and even the MTV Video Music Awards have all hit record lows.

These programs that have traditionally been appointment viewing were ratings strongholds for broadcasters in the past. However, they seem to be suffering from the same widespread audience atrophy as the rest of the television landscape. Home DVRs and other “time shifted” viewing has been causing this erosion of live programming for years, but the more recent proliferation of on-demand content has hastened deterioration of audience numbers in most key demographics.

The transformation from a ceremony dedicated to handing out trophies, to one that attempts to celebrate the spirit of the awards through music performances has been one of necessity. Producers are attempting to draw more viewers in with the promise of can’t miss moments, leveraging social media to create a live space for the audience to have conversations about how much they love (or hate) the show. Unfortunately, these efforts don’t seem to be making much of an impact. Hate-watching isn’t enough get people to tune in. Is there anything these shows can do to regain some relevance?

In the early nineties, suffering from a similar ratings drought, the Emmys took the chance to step back and review how nominees and winners were selected to make the awards more reflective of a broad audience. Previously, the Television Academy had refused to send out home screeners of nominees, instead forcing voters to attend group screenings during the day. The result was that the eligible voters tended to be older and whiter. By changing the rules on home screening, the nominees and winners started to become more diverse and viewership steadily began to recover.

The Oscars have recently been forced in to a similar period of self-examination. Facing years of criticism for tending to recognize largely white, male-driven films, the Motion Picture Academy has been working for years to change its membership and voting rules. The program’s poor ratings are reflective of an audience that are weary of what the institution represents and its ability to change.

We are living in a nation undergoing a sea change. Recent events that challenge cultural stigmas around race and gender are forcing us to have real conversations about issues that have plagued us for generations. As a member of a marginalized group, I personally see that the things that seem to push us apart are an opportunity to rally together, reject norms, and transform our nation for the better. Awards shows have an opportunity to use this season of low ratings as an excuse to decide how they can re-invent themselves in to something more diverse, culturally aware, and broadly relevant than their depressingly stagnant predecessors.

Watching Sunday’s broadcast of the AMAs, I felt a little reassured. The show, hosted by Tracie Ellis-Ross, featured performances headlined by predominately women. Throughout the night, presenters and winners made statements embracing messages of diversity and hope. The list of winners, as voted by the public, was an accurate reflection of the charts in a wide range of genres apart from a lifetime achievement award presented to Diana Ross. The biggest moment of the night was Pink’s performance of “Beautiful Trauma” while dangling hundreds of feet in the air, dancing on the windows of hotel rooms filled with onlookers.

It was encouraging to see the program take note and show respect for our current cultural shift while still delivering a few stunning moments of great television. If more awards shows embrace this moment in the same manner, they might just be saved from plummeting towards their demise.

Review: On tour, MUTEMATH doing more than just playing dead

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MUTEMATH
with Colony House and ROMES
House of Blues, Houston
Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017

It has been a rough few months for the men of MUTEMATH. The New Orleans quartet saw the departure of their long-time bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas in March and quickly tapped semi-regular collaborator Jonathan Allen to fill in as they hit the road for the summer festival circuit. A second departure on the heels of an album release was close to devastating.

Co-founder and drummer Darren King called lead singer Paul Meany just weeks before the start of the already-booked “Play Dead Live” tour to let him know he felt it was time to leave the group. With the tour schedule set and their fifth studio album “Play Dead” ready for release in September, Meany had to decide between cancelling everything or coming up with another way to do a MUTEMATH show without a key member.

Unwilling to let the band suffer a premature death, Meany reached out to the only person he thought could possibly come close to filling King’s shoes: a paramedic named David “Hutch” Hutchinson. The former drummer for Meany’s previous band Earthsuit, Hutchinson had the nearly impossible task of learning more than a decade worth of material in three weeks.

The resulting “Play Dead Live” tour arrived at the House of Blues in Houston on Saturday evening to a nearly sold-out crowd of dedicated fans ready to be consumed by MUTEMATH’s legendary showmanship. The band was joined on the road by Canadian new comers ROMES and Tennessee natives Colony House. ROMES played an energetic 20-minute set featuring songs from their debut self-titled album that was just released in the U.S. on Friday. The 80’s inspired pop-rock had the crowd bouncing and dancing — regardless of familiarity with the songs — setting the right tone for the evening. Colony House lit up the stage next with more vintage rock in an emotionally charged 45-minute set that highlighted the best of their catalogue. The group encouraged the audience to embrace each other shoulder to shoulder and sway through moving numbers “Moving Forward” and “Waiting For My Time To Come”.

As stage hands cleared the way for MUTEMATH’s set, a large white backdrop was revealed with rows of stage lighting flanking each side of the stage. The lights went down and the band emerged with bodies and instruments also clad in all white, creating an enormous blank canvas. The band was soon doused in striking video projections of tanks and soldiers as they kicked off their set with single “War”. Meany’s defiant voice singing “Got a target on my back and always ready to attack” gave the message that this was a band fighting for it’s life. The irony of the band finding itself on the brink of disaster as they promote an album filled to the brim with existential themes is not lost on the remaining members.

Reflective of the band’s diverse, genre-bending catalog, MUTEMATH’s set swung between these harder progressive rock ballads and bouncier funk, pop, and even EDM numbers such as “Changes” and “Stroll On”. Front man Meany found any excuse to show off his free form gyrating dance moves, floating around the stage like an inflatable wavy-armed tube man you see in front of car dealerships.

Hutchinson’s drumming was loose and somewhat improvisational as the foursome debuted new renditions of older songs “Blood Pressure” and “Noticed”. The paramedic did his best to breath new life in to these fan favorite songs while paying homage to Darren King’s work.

The true highlight of the evening was mid-way through “Pixie Oaks” when Meany’s young daughter Amelia skipped out from backstage, pink noise-cancelling headphones on her head, to dance with her dad through the bridge breakdown. Meany singing “My Amelia” as he danced a synchronized side step move with her as the crowd cheered them on.

The visual surprises continued during “Spotlight” when Meany swung an Edison bulb around and around on a long cord while standing atop his Rhodes piano, sending a beam of light swirling above his head before releasing it and leaping off the piano like a base jumper. After a brief interlude to a recording of “Burden”, Meany opened the second act of the show with “Stall Out” from their debut self-titled album. “We are still far from over,” sang Meany as he serenaded the audience, sending a message to fans that, despite recent hardships, this may be the start of a grand new chapter for the band. The projection effects found their best use during “Stratosphere” when, once again standing atop his stage piano, Meany seemed to float among a spinning, racing starfield.

The remainder of the second act built to a super-charged finale of songs sandwiched between the dramatic and brooding prog-rock ballad “Quarantine” which was broken in to two sections. Part two culminated in Meany jumping aboard an air mattress adorned with flashing LEDs that allowed him to safely surf atop the crowd on the general admission floor of the venue.

The thrilled fans chanted and screamed for more and were treated to a 3-song encore. As Meany introduced “Placed On Hold’, he put a Houston Texans cap on and explained that a local fan had given him the hat on their last tour stop in the city a couple of years back, his dedication of the set to the people of the city fighting to come back from the recent devastation of Hurricane Harvey. The band refusing to end the night on a solemn note, closed out their set with their most well-known single “Typical”, Meany diving across the barricades at the front of the stage to hug fans as he belted out “Can I break the spell of the typical?”

MUTEMATH is still on a mission to prove they are anything but typical. If the goal of something playing dead is to ultimately survive, venturing so close to the end could even be their route to a resurrection.

Setlist:

War

Changes

Stroll On

Blood Pressure

Light Up

Used To

Noticed featuring portions of Monument & Odd Soul

Vitals

Pixie Oaks

Break The Fever

Spotlight

Burden – Intermission

Stall Out

Stratosphere

Azteca

Tell Your Heart Heads Up

Quarantine pt. 1

Achilles Heel

Reset

Hit Parade

Quarantine pt. 2

Encore:

Placed On Hold

Clipping

Typical

Review: ‘Orient Express’ delivers little intrigue

There is a lot to process in “Murder on the Orient Express”, but it’s not what you would expect. Let’s gloss over the fact that this is a remake and accept it at face value for a moment. That is, that one of the most intriguing elements is Kenneth Branagh’s elaborate mustache.

The silver, double-tiered whiskers paired with his piercing blue eyes make for a striking caricature of Hercule Poirot, the neurotic but ingenious detective that is unwillingly thrust in to solving a case whilst trapped on a snow bound train.

Branagh’s Poirot is a man obsessed with the equilibrium of the universe. In fact, his sole motivation in solving crime is to balance the scales of justice when they have tilted towards evil. There is no better example of this than a delightful early scene in which Poirot steps his right foot in a pile of manure. “It’s the imbalance…” he laments before planting his left foot in it as well.

I was expecting a more serious tone from Branagh’s contemporary adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery. However, it is clear from the opening minutes of the film that we are embracing more camp than drama. Branagh, acting as director and lead is working from a screenplay by Michael Green (“Alien: Covenant”, “Blade Runner 2049”).

Green and Branagh take some artistic license with the source material and add some additional scenes and dialogue that attempt to expand Poirot’s backstory before he even makes it to the train station. We get a taste of his unrivaled deductive skills with the case of a stolen religious relic at the Wailing Wall before he receives a telegram beckoning him to return home.

Aboard the Orient Express bound for Europe, we meet the passengers of the unusually overbooked train portrayed by an all-star cast: Michelle Pfeiffer as a man-eating widow, Penelope Cruz as a religious zealot, Willem Dafoe as a racist German scientist, Daisy Ridley as a sweet mannered governess, Leslie Odom Jr. as a quiet doctor, and Dame Judy Dench as a grouchy Russian princess.

Johnny Depp uses his flair for interesting accents and odd demeanor to great effect as sleazy salesman Ratchett, who finds himself the recipient of death threats early in the journey. One of the best scenes in the film comes when Depp’s character approaches Poirot for his help in uncovering the source of the threats to which the detective declines with the explanation that he doesn’t like Ratchett’s face. The tension between the two makes the moment deliciously awkward.

The threats turn out to be more than idle and Ratchett does end up murdered as the train becomes trapped by an avalanche. Our trusty mustached sleuth is then forced to solve the crime before the train reaches its destination and the murderer escapes.

The nature of the circumstances would seem to suggest a more suspenseful and claustrophobic environment than how Branagh approaches the situation. The expansive and impressive landscapes combined with shots that float through cabin walls and above or below the passenger’s heads don’t help. The talented cast does their best with the material provided but many of the characters come off as one dimensional compared to Branagh’s well developed portrayal.

As Poirot interviews the passengers and starts to draw conclusions about the suspects and their motives, a major plot point is revealed way ahead of the climax that gives away too much, too soon. By the time the great detective presents his solution to the mystery, the suspense is almost completely gone.

If you are walking in to this film having not read the novel or seen any of the prior adaptations, you’ll have a great time. It’s a light, modern take on one of the greatest mysteries ever written. It’s beautifully shot and well directed regardless of the changes to the plot.

However, if you are a Christie devotee or a fan of the 1974 version starring Albert Finney and Lauren Bacall, you will want to avoid getting derailed. That is, unless you’re just here for the ‘stache.

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Runtime: 114 minutes

The Thirty-something College Student

After years of killing myself on overnight shifts, multiple jobs, little sleep, and lots of overtime, I finally found myself in a position to get back to school and on with my life. I got my finances in order, resolved my holds with the University of North Texas in Denton, obtained new copies of my transcripts and applied to the newly independent University of North Texas at Dallas. Still working full-time, it was vital that I chose a school that was going to be flexible and as cheap as possible without sacrificing quality. Selecting UNTD was a no brainier: it was affordable, closer to home and offered a communications degree.

I was accepted and enrolled in my first semester of classes in the Fall of 2016, working towards a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Technology. Luckily, I was able to transfer a large number of previous credit hours from UNT and Houston Community College. Instead of having to start over from the beginning, I was starting back as a senior. It was still going to be a lot of work and take longer than usual to complete. Working full-time, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. meant I would have to take as many evening or online classes as possible. Juggling my job and my personal life meant that I also couldn’t manage more than two classes a semester.

I started out with one class in the Fall of 2016, just to get my feet wet. It had been almost a decade since I had sat in a classroom, heard a lecture, taken exams, and written academic papers. Surprisingly, I wasn’t as rusty as I expected to be and sailed through the first semester without too much strife. The second semester however, proved a challenge as I started to take two classes at once. I was starting to worry I had once again taken on more than I could handle. The amount of work in these classes was challenging to balance, but I found ways to get around the hurdles and end strong. 1 school year down, but how many more to go?

Review: Arcade Fire prove they have the fearless showmanship that fills stadiums

Arcade Fire
with Wolf Parade
American Airlines Center, Dallas
Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017

Most of my friends and family have no idea who Arcade Fire is.

Aside from the fact that the Montreal based group has a Grammy for Album of the Year, the band is not what most would consider a mainstream act. Imagine my surprise when it was announced that that the group would be taking their new record ‘Everything Now’ on the road as an arena tour to be performed in-the-round. The ambitious spectacle of the Infinite Content Tour arrived at Dallas’ American Airlines Center on Thursday night, carried by Win Butler and his band out on a mission to prove that they are the best rock band in the world.

The night started with a lively set from fellow Canadians Wolf Parade. The quartet performed their slinky indie pop-punk set as Arcade Fire fans slowly filled the first two levels of the arena. The third level of the AAC was curtained off and unsold.

Following Wolf Parade’s eight song setlist, a faceless cosmic cowboy greeted attendees on a giant four-sided video screen that floated above the square stage in the center of the arena, flagged on two sides by enormous disco balls that intermittently sent shimmering beams of light dancing across the audience. Playing off the album’s somewhat sarcastic take on the themes of commercial excess and societal apathy, this whimsical mascot introduced fake commercials for fidget spinners and love potions that had the look of something recorded on VHS.

“How will you remember the concert if you haven’t bought a souvenir?” the cowboy asks, teasing you to visit the merch tables. “Your memory ain’t what it used to be!”.

At 9 p.m., the arena went dark as an announcer introduced Arcade Fire as the “heavy-weight champions of the world”. The band paraded out of the corner of the arena like a boxer and his entourage, complete with championship belts, as they made their way to the center stage that now resembled a boxing ring with ropes on all four sides.

Firing off their set with the album’s title track “Everything Now”, the arena exploded in to a giant dance party as fans swayed to the song’s bubbly disco beat. The band powered through the first part of their set with anxious fervor and little dialogue between songs, hitting fan favorites “Rebellion (Lies)” and “No Cars Go” mixed with newer tracks. When he did speak, Butler thanked the few fans that stayed for a very late 2004 Trees show in Dallas that had been delayed due to car trouble. He also dedicated “The Suburbs” to the people of Houston, his hometown, and other areas hit by recent hurricanes.

The slickly produced show included suspended towers of strobe lights, mirror balls, and video segments that transported the audience beyond the arena and in to Arcade Fire’s 80’s inspired alternate reality ruled by the fictional EN corporation. There were softer moments as well, including during “Neon Bible” when the entire stadium was lit by the flashlight on the audience’s smartphones and encore number “We Don’t Deserve Love” in which Butler sang in the middle of the audience on the arena floor.

The large number of band members on stage were well suited to the in-the-round format, with drummer Jeremy Gara on a rotating platform with the rest of the band roaming the stage and taking time to give attention to every corner of the room. Co-vocalist Régine Chassange even set down her keytar during “Reflektor” to wander around the general admission floor and dance with fans. The whole thing felt like what Dallas’ own Polyphonic Spree might do with a bigger budget.

The band closed out the night with a reprise of “Everything Now”, the audience joining the chorus which swelled to fill the stadium with voices. They were then joined on stage by tour mates Wolf Parade for “Wake Up”, singing the last lines of the chorus acapella as they marched back through the sea of people and out of the corner from which they entered. They may never be mainstream, but Arcade Fire proved they have the fearless showmanship that fills stadiums with their presence and sends the audience home wishing they could permanently live in that space cowboy’s universe.

Setlist:

Everything Now (Continued)

Everything Now

Signs of Life

Rebellion (Lies)

Here Comes the Night Time

No Cars Go

Electric Blue

Put Your Money on Me

Neon Bible

My Body Is a Cage

Intervention

The Suburbs

The Suburbs (Continued)

Ready to Start

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Reflektor

Afterlife

Creature Comfort

Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)

 

Encore:

We Don’t Deserve Love

Everything Now (Continued) – Reprise

Wake Up