Friday, December 01, 2006

Dane Cook; My Morning Jacket

It's amazing to me when stand-up comics get really famous how much of their material starts to suffer. When good comics are still in the wind, not incredibly well-known, the material is often delivered in a manner that has to be good, or else maybe that guy doesn't eat this week or he gets evicted. When you look at the career of Dane Cook, a guy who shot into comic royalty fairly fast, you can see the awful effects of a man who once played to intimate audiences now taking his act into arenas, and not being nearly as funny.

I probably laughed most of the time in Cook's November 12 appearance at Madison Square Garden, but probably a lot less than if he just pasted his five-minute clips I've seen over the years into an hour or so. Cook, now linked in tabloids and starting an acting career, is much more than a stand-up comic, and this has been the impression I've gotten from all the comics I've seen in big venues (Robin Williams, Chris Rock, and Tim Allen), but with Cook you've got the young, good-looking dude all the girls want to screw and it's even worse. For the duration of Cook's hour or so on his circular black stage, with a drawing of his calling-card hand gesture, there was not one moment where some girl somewhere wasn't screaming. The atmosphere of stand-up is immediately ruined by this rock-star environment. This isn't The Beatles, this is where you sit down and you have to follow a plot and then get the punchline or tangential punchlines.

So yeah, that's not Cook's fault, but what is his fault is now playing to a larger audience but sort of abandoning that whacked-out storytelling that is his signature: what fans came to see. While he certainly still has his mock-anger still in place over really small things (the funniest bit of the night involved taking the Christian Children's Fund guy to task for being too nice, and then launching into a profanity-filled tirade as the guy who should replace him), his act died when he started talking about sex. Usually a strong suit, Cook has evoked incredible laughter from me in his sex rants of the past (for instance, talking about a girl's "situation" when she takes off her clothes, and then examining his own "crime scene"), but on this night the discussion emphasized the dangers of unprotected sex and the half-assed things a guy will do to still have sex. While this could be kind of funny, I don't typically think people like to think of the dangers during a stand-up routine, they want to hear the fun stuff. At least I did.

Overall, Dane Cook still made me laugh quite a few times, but the atmosphere was all wrong and the spirit of that old material was mostly gone. He can usually go on really creative, over-the-top descriptions, and I missed that. I hope he hasn't gotten too big to realize that.

When Doc and his wife came out, we saw Patton Oswalt at Caroline's. And here's a case in point of a venue mattering. Though Caroline's is a little bigger than your typical stand-up setting, it keeps the comic in a sort of "humbling" arena, where he can see your face and he has to talk to you. With a stadium or arena, the comic can sort of zone out and not talk to anyone in particular.

And case in point of an artist not too big yet, playing like they have to play the best set they have ever played or else they don't eat tonight, is Louisville's My Morning Jacket. I saw them at a packed Roseland Ballroom on W 52nd St last night, and I saw them as close as you could get--up against the railing just before the stage, and right in front of the attention-demanding lead singer, Jimmy James. A mess of shaggy hair and beard, James would look like Ryan Gosling if he shaved, cut his hair, and slimmed just a touch. As he wails on lead guitar and shows surprising vocal range, he seems to occupy the entire stage. Though this might be a source of criticism for some, in which one member of a five-man band (bassist Two-Tone Tommy, drummer Patrick Hallahan, guitarist Carl Broemel, and Bo Koster on keyboards seem more than happy to play almost anonymously) takes up nearly all the attention, it seems to suit them well.

Before the show, I had heard snippets of the band, I'd actually heard the song they kicked off the concert with, but I went on the basis of hearing very good things about them. They enjoy their seventies progressive sound, but you can't classify them as a Pink Floyd or Rush wannabe. James can sound like Joe Walsh (best known for classic rock's "Life's Been Good") or Neil Young, which might lead one to immediately believe they sound like Dinosaur, Jr., but that's not right. They have a little bit of Southern flavor here and there. I tried to think of a number of bands they might sound like, to give one who has never heard them an idea, but I found it futile.

All I know is, they like to jam, they're progressive--they are exactly the type of band Bonnaroo books (2003-2006, and going strong), but they're not folky or experimental. It's mostly just fuckin' rock and roll, man. Some slow stuff aside that I will never be able to remember, My Morning Jacket is definitely one of the coolest bands I've ever seen live.


At 12/02/2006 08:44:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I watched the Dane Cook special on HBO, and it did make for a strange viewing seeing him on that big stage with all of the people around him. Like you said, it's not a freaking rock show. It really took away from the intimate setting that stand-up comedy, especially Dane's, works better in.

As for My Morning Jacket, good stuff. This is, like you said, just a great jam band. I look forward to seeing them live at some point; they were recently at the Ryman, but I couldn't go.


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