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Why this Brandon Ambrosino kid is terrifying for the future of media

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Full disclosure: I’m a gay-identifying, 31-year-old queer male liberal with five editorial internships in my past attempting to build a career in journalism. It’s not the easiest. Especially with these kinds of developments.

Okay, got that out of the way. Because this is really disturbing stuff that I need to address. I just want to spit out a compact and cohesive argument for why we need to keep our wits about us in the future regarding where and how we get our online content.

I’m scared and always have been. I’ve clearly chosen the wrong path, I often tell myself, and no matter how hard I work or try to improve my “game,” I’m screwed unless I do something rash and, quite frankly, corrupt. Either I go to the dark side (PR and marketing) or figure out a way to sell myself and morph into a professional Twitterer, Instagrammer, Viner or whatever-er. Then fucks like Brandon Ambrosino (pictured above) get a coveted “fellowship” with Ezra Klein’s oh-so-hyped Vox.com, and it really feels like all hope is lost. For a few different reasons.

1. Brandon Ambrosino is one of those walking contradictions. We sometimes have known them as either gay Republicans or Republicans of color, or perhaps extremely religious gay folks. (Yes, of course, there are all kinds of queer people with faith who choose to reject the dogma.) But when you’re cooking up a career based entirely on being a quirky and nontraditional gay person who will happily whip up an essay to defend Duck Dynasty coot Phil Robertson or Jerry Falwell upon assignment, you know all kinds of hard-working and brilliant liberal queers are coming straight for you, fella. Ambrosino’s had work published with great and important sources: Time, New Republic and The Atlantic. But is it expressly because he’s a gay person who (honestly?) believes that being gay is a choice, that we need a new name for homophobia (because lots of the homophobes we scrutinize have good intentions) and that trans issues are completely separate from our own? I think yes.

2. Click-baiting is dangerous territory. You’d have to be really dense to not observe it unfolding before your eyes: viral videos, lists of lists, titles of posts that end with “You’ll never believe what happened next.” You can see it, sometimes, as bright as the sun on Philly Mag’s blogs (certain sections more than others); titles that raise your eyebrows, you click on it, and realized you’ve been had. The post’s maybe 200 words and has a thicker comment section than the post’s body. We’re all figuring out the future of media and the internet, but hopefully, there’s still room for thoughtful and ambitious content that doesn’t reach for the low-hanging fruit. Even if advertisers are eager to see your click stats, it must not feel that good to know that they were predominantly unearned and that your reputation as a content-provider suffers when you work over Facebook and Twitter with a scandalous headline and only publish writers with a hefty social media footprint. There’s no question that Ambro’s writing baits clicks. Google his name, and you’ll find pages of links analyzing him and his ways. C’mon, do you think this title isn’t a big fat worm on a hook, for scandal’s sake?: “What the Gay Rights Movement Should Learn from Martin Luther King, Jr.

3. His fans—Glenn Beck and the late Andrew Breitbart’s blog—speak for themselves. These people love a gay who’s willing to speak up on their behalf and make conservatives not look like hateful assholes—just misunderstood. The gay “agenda,” for the most part, has always had a fairly simple request: Let us be ourselves and acknowledge that the world isn’t 100-percent populated with Kinsey 6s. But the splinter agendas that include marriage equality, equal protection under the law and same-sex adoption advocates really don’t appreciate pipsqueaks like Ambro. The gay man in the gay community that shouts “We’re happy as second class citizens!” is sure to get all kinds of looks. And the internet is handing them out to him in droves. There are all kinds of think pieces popping up about the danger of hiring B.A., the weakness in Ezra Klein’s defense of his choice, and, generally, what a catastrophe this whole thing is.

Well, I’d just like to add to that. This kid’s a controversy creator who may, in fact, have a nice hand with the written word, but, I believe, has no backbone or moral compass.



30-Second Review: Butterfinger’s new Peanut Butter Cups

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We had to review it, people. I mean, somebody did, right? It’s not exactly “On the Menu,” so we used our “On the Guest List” format. Guess we were anticipating a trip. It wasn’t one.

Overall vibe: Healthy competition in the stoners’ favorite candy game, fine. But seriously: Did anyone need a variation on the Reese’s Cup?

Most memorable moment: Mmm … not sure there is one. By the way, they’re not nearly as crunchy as the wrapper would have you believe.

Scene stealer: In an attempt to distance itself from its proven-delicious, damn-near-identical twin, Butterfinger’s two cups are square instead of the tried and true round shape of its competitor. Buy it if you must, but trust, your sweets-loving self has been on this road before. And it was tastier.



About last night: NBC’s live “The Sound of Music” staging, starring Carrie Underwood

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Well, I did it. I watched, eagerly, a live musical on NBC last night. Supposedly—and it’s really hard to believe—they put on a live, three-hour staging of The Sound of Music, and they made Carrie Underwood Maria Rainer and Stephen Moyer (Vampire Bill) Captain Von Trapp.

At first, I was intrigued, because—the hell is this? A prime-time live television broadcast of a musical? They’re grabbing, and they’re desperate; slowly but surely, the realization started to set in that Walmart had paid for all of this mania. If I had to guess, that was a $1- to $3 million affair. You pay everyone, you dress everyone, you build the sets, and you keep the commercials light and Walmarty on a Thursday night from 8 to 11 p.m., and I’m sure everyone makes out just fine. It just seems so weird. And then it pretty much got weird.

The first few scenes sure were churchy. I did remember a nun storyline, but boy, did we go to the chapel and say many prayers and look at many crosses. Nuns galore. That first spell before the first commercial had, like, 20 nuns singing in operatic harmony. Wait, were they all white except for Audra McDonald? I think they may’ve been. And McDonald proceeded to sing and act circles around the Chiclet-toothed American Idol winner from Oklahoma. Damn, she was blowing all kinds of people out of the water—with supreme control, expressive eyes, mesmerizing control and boundless appropriate energy. It was in those first few scenes that I thought to myself about Miss Carrie, ‘She is trying so hard not to sound like she’s from Oklahoma right now.’ It mostly worked for her; she didn’t sound like a redneck, and she didn’t sing her parts of songs with twang or a hick inflection. But the fact that this is the praise I’m willing to sing for Underwood in this performance is telling.

The production value was strong in some aspects and weak in others. I’ve got to just say, right up front, that that was one hell of a Nazi stage where the Von Trapp Singers made their cleverly stealth escape. It’s not so much that it was troubling to see so much red and swastikas on my television because it’s painful to confront what those symbols and colors represent. It was because it was done so high-budget, that there was about 10 to 15 minutes of it in my face in technicolor, in high-definition and in the same field of vision as a menorah holding warm candles. The Nazi and WWII themes felt especially potent, but only because they felt nominally and indelicately pawed. Then, during the commercial, we were blitzed with a suite of tributes to giant, white families in the Midwest as we followed the Brooks family, who roll 14 deep. Commercials felt short, maybe about half the duration of a typical roll through a sitcom or a regular prime-time movie. It felt dirty.

What you realize watching The Sound of Music on stage or on film is that they sing the same songs over and over again. They are: “Do-Re-Me,” “16 Going On 17,” “The Sound of Music” and the yodel song. There are a handful of one-offs that come mostly when the adults sing to each other, but it sure does get a little repetitive when it’s not Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Underwood is obviously no Andrews, but Moyer doesn’t make a terrible captain. His face looked caked and contorted with makeup for the first hour before he lightened up and started singing, but his voice is solid, and he added an emotional depth to the cast that it desperately needed. Laura Benanti came out of nowhere with a belt-capable, giant set of vocal chords, but her smizing and overdramatic facial contortions made her a little laughable (in a good way?). What really hit me over the head was one moment in which Liesl, the eldest Von Trapp sibling, was sitting on a fancy salon couch, singing “16 Going On 17,” just before the Nazis showed up to fuck up everyone’s lives. Underwood and the delightfully capable Ariane Rinehart duet the classic tale of becoming a woman and becoming an adult, and there was absolutely no contest for who was more compelling. Even the Barnard junior making her television debut was capable of showing more emotion in her face—we call that acting, right?—than Underwood.

In NBC’s defense, the whole thing felt painfully and perhaps painstakingly rehearsed, directed, produced and edited. Not wholly unenjoyable, though. I’m pretty sure I caught a few small missteps in angles and transitions, but no one dropped a note, flubbed a line or tripped on a step (to everyone’s chagrin). That was part of the excitement of watching live. Shout out to Moyer—I got a little misty-eyed when his kids were singing for that evil bitch, Herr Schrader, and his heart melted before our very eyes, and he had to start singing himself, even though he hadn’t in years, probably even since his wife died. Then there was a big family hug, and Underwood knew she might’ve scored herself a little job security. But someone ought to have been blunt with her: That second wig looked cheap and like maybe she found it on Chestnut Street.



Wildwood Boardwalk bans baggy pants … no, seriously

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Yesterday, the puritans over in Wildwood passed a law that finally settles the age-old question, “What’s appropriate attire for the Wildwood Boardwalk?”

Those who strut the boards shoeless, shirtless or with pants below three inches from their hip will now be subject to a possible fine, maybe even 40 hours of community service. For those who don’t know, men and women are already prohibited from wearing bathing suits on the boardwalk unless covered by other clothing.

Ya know, because heaven forbid the impressionable eyeballs of our youth be subjected to the same thinly veiled adult genitalia on the boardwalk that they are just a few feet from over on the beach.

While it’s unclear how the exact amounts will be determined, the proposed fines would range anywhere between $25 to $100 for the first offense and $200 for subsequent offenses. I’m just guessing it’ll be something along the lines of $15 per bare foot, $50 per exposed ass cheek. Any number of exposed nipples clearly warrants community service.

Extra small cropped tops and coochie cutters with “DTF?” printed across them? Well, that’s still totally cool.

Way to class things up, Wildwood!



Tricky couldn’t get his Visa game straight, so tomorrow night’s show has been rescheduled

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What’s goin’ on over there, Tricky? You saw this tour coming, and you couldn’t get your Visa act together, hunh? Well, we were pretty excited for your show this week, and we put it in the paper’s Philly Now calendar:

“Tricky put out two records in the ‘90s that were mind-blowing: 1995’s Maxinquaye and 1996’s Pre-Millenium Tension. Of course, he’d been an integral part of the groundbreaking Massive Attack until then, but these two LPs felt like achievements—complete, brilliant artistic statements. The 45-year-old Bristol, U.K., native’s a pretty odd duck, so it feels only appropriate that he made his big-screen debut in 1997’s The Fifth Element. But some of the weirdest dudes on earth have proven to be some of our most inspiring and game-changing musicians.

And with this brand new and fresh False Idols, Tricky says he found himself again. Luckily for us, it’s an incredibly strong LP, harkening back to those debut solo LPs, and reflects the Tricky Kid we’ve always known and loved. Sure, there’ve been some discs in his deep catalogue that weren’t homeruns, but the man’s a legit legend in the trip-hop world. His grimy, gravelly rumbles over blissed-out beats are one of a kind, and he has a real ear for tapping angelic young female vocalists to flesh out his visions—or night terrors, same diff. The fact that Philly’s one of his 10-date domestic tour destinations is truly celebration-worthy. Trip-hop fans rejoice, and get your asses to Union Transfer for a really memorable occasion.

8:30pm. $20. With Royal Canoe. Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. 215.232.2100. utphilly.com

The show’s been moved back to October 1st. This came over from his publicist (and the man himself):

“Due to unforeseen US Visa issues preventing from him entering the country, Tricky is postponing his upcoming US tour dates in support of his new album False Idols. The rescheduled dates will take place in October, when Tricky is in the US to play Treasure Island Music Festival and Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit.

All tickets for the postponed June dates will be honored for re-scheduled dates in the same city (even if venue has changed). In the case that the re-scheduled date is not an option, refunds will be available at point of original ticket purchase.”

Addressing the issue, Tricky himself stated:

“I’m really sorry to have to tell you that I have to postpone the forthcoming US dates. It is a situation that is compeletely beyond my control due to a US Visa issue. All I can do is go through the proper channels and secure the right visa. I hope you’ll bear with me, and I’ll make sure that the rescheduled shows are worth the wait. All tickets will be honored for the re-scheduled dates.”

Alright, then.



Local Love: Meek Mill And Johnny Popcorn

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From our calendar this week:

Tonight
MEEK MILL

Meek Mill’s path to success hasn’t been a smooth and straight ride. A handful of years back, the rapper got signed by T.I., but before anything could come out, he got arrested and sent to the slammer for eight months. Then last November, on the night of his album listening party, the super-successful Dreams & Nightmares, he was detained by police but released. It still made headlines and put the brakes on a big tour, guaranteeing local dates from the Maybach Music Group emcee for a bit. If that wasn’t enough, last month, his name came up in the shooting incident outside of French Montana’s hotel on Columbus Avenue. Meek was on the bus, but it turns out it was more of a fan-on-fan incident. The brother either can’t catch a break or isn’t trying very hard.

But hey, dude’s been winning: Puma signed him on as a brand ambassador, his big non-mixtape album debut put him high on Billboard charts, and he sold nearly 300,000 copies in the first two weeks. When he got signed by Rick Ross alongside Wale, he was ushered into a boys’ club of which he’s certainly taken advantage, collaborating with artists that orbit in Ross’ universe, like 2 Chainz, Drake, John Legend and Mary J. Blige. No one can deny the success of anthems like “Amen,” “House Party” (with Young Chris) and “Young & Gettin’ It.” And tonight, the Tower Theater’s sure to be packed with proud fans who love what Meek brings to the Philly hip-hop game: commercial and critical success that puts him in the family of the Roots, Beanie Sigel and Freeway.

8pm. $30-$45. With Ace Hood. Tower Theater, 69th and Ludlow streets, Upper Darby. 610.352.2887. thetowerphilly.com

imageWednesday, April 10th

JOHNNY POPCORN

Hezekiah Davis is a self-proclaimed “sarcastic asshole,” and he got it from his funk-punk parents, who raised him in West Chester and Delaware. The comrade-in-arms of other Philly nu-soul giants like Bilal, Kindred the Family Soul and Musiq Soulchild, as Hezekiah, he’s more of an emcee, but on this new project, one he’s been working on for a couple years, he sings. And you know what? Dude’s got pipes. They’re not Bilal-level pipes, no, but the transition from rapper to funk and soul-spiked hip-hop band leader has not been unfriendly to the West Philadelphian.

Davis’ collaboration with Tone Whitfield, a bass specialist and producer with a healthy pedigree of his own, and soulstress Marjani Clark for last year’s The Crow yielded a new and fresh voice in Philadelphia music. The first single, “Hello to the Bad Guy,” is a snare-propelled and grimy guitar-driven track that hoists Hez’s plaintive, questioning tone above the fray. Meanwhile, the puppet-heavy video behind “Next Episode,” a pretty piano-backed insult track about an ex who he’s “through” with, is sultry, groovy and down-to-earth. “At least we tried, ya know?” he asks. His emulation of Gil Scott-Heron and Grace Jones is not lost in these songs. He brings that classic Philly-flavored soul to this new project. And he and his supporting crew play the middle opening set for Smokey Robotic tonight, channeling the likes of Erykah Badu and Mos Def.

8pm. $8-$12. With Smokey Robotic + Kokayi. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. johnnybrendas.com



Iceage Doesn’t Like Answering Uninteresting Questions

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Photo c/o Bonjour Girl.

Alright, we’re going to get first-personal here. I just got off the phone with Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, one of the four dudes in a Danish punk band called Iceage. They rip. There’s no question about it. Their debut in 2011, New Brigade, was a slap in the face. No one had heard of them in the States (they’d been gestating in Denmark since at least ‘09), and everyone went nuts. It made its way to a bunch of Best Of The Year lists, and our friend Brian McManus wrote this great story about them after a Barbary set way back when. It was in anticipation of an impending Kung Fu Necktie date, and today, our conversation was in anticipation of their April 19th gig at the Church. I definitely was curious about how challenging an ‘interview’ with a 21/22-year-old punk whose first language isn’t English would be, but as it turns out, the problem wasn’t a language barrier or a punk mindset. It was that I didn’t ask “interesting enough” questions. He hung up on me after five minutes.

I did, indeed, anticipate this intellectual challenge. As a writer, we like to be prepared for an interview. Some writers might have over a dozen perfectly typed-out questions, maybe they’re even strategically ordered. I don’t like to do that. I think it takes away from the naturalness of a conversation if you’re just running through prepared questions and spending a lot of mental energy figuring out what questions were already answered in the previous questions, or which ones you should jump to next or scratch all together. That being said, I put together about 10 bulleted topics/ideas that I thought appropriate to ask about. Mostly because of this publicist’s threat:

“Also, we really appreciate when people do a bit of research before interviews. Iceage isn’t so into answering the same questions they’ve been asked over & over again (as with any artist) — i.e. how did you start the band? what are your inspirations? how do you like touring the states? We realize some of those are more ice breaking questions, but they’ll definitely give a better interview for those who delve a bit deeper.”

Then I was given these six links: a Pitchfork feature, a New York Times review, a Rolling Stone feature, a Fader feature, a SPIN review and an MTV piece. Read em’ all. Read the full Pitchfork reviews of New Brigade and You’re Nothing. As I did this I listened to their, on average, 20+-minute albums on repeat. I watched their videos. I thought I was ready. I was supposed to talk to another member, Johan Surrballe Wieth, but he was asleep. Elias got on the phone from New Mexico and gave me five minutes of his time before I failed to pass the “interesting” test.

Most of the features linked above talk about their press prickliness. I tried to prepare myself. And after I got hung up on, I had to push the negativity out of my heart and refute the inclination to say to myself, Am I not capable of conducting a compelling interview with a buzzed-about band of young Danes who thrash like Wire, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Nirvana and Metallica combined? Nah, fuck that. Looks like this youngblood Copenhagen intellect thinks he’s above fielding writers’ questions that aren’t challenging or entertaining.

Real quick, let’s run through the questions I did get to ask and the nearly unintelligible answers he gave.

Me: So everyone tends talks about these records with certain terms – the first record we all talked about how young you are, with the second it’s about how mature the sound’s become in two years. So what’ll we be talking about with the third record?
Elias: We’ve already started recording new material and it’s more of a departure than the change you saw between New Brigade and You’re Nothing. It’s definitely violent.

Punk music and your records aren’t typically the kind of music one wants to listen to all day. You definitely have to be in a mood, be it angry or frustrated, to connect with the sound. Do you guys have to get yourself in a mood to perform or write or record?
You definitely have to get yourself in a mindset. [hard-to-understand mumblings]

As a listener, it’s hard to pull out specific lyrics if it’s not a chant, a refrain or a chorus and you just tend to hone in on the drum part or the guitars. Is that bothersome to you?
If you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, I don’t care. You can read it if you like.

You’ve said your lyrics on the newer one have been informed by certain books (from the Pitchfork review: “Rønnenfelt has said You’re Nothing was inspired in part by his readings of Bataille, Genet, and the like.”). Does Denmark have more readers than in the U.S. and do you think the references are lost on Americans?
Maybe not your friends.

Much has been said about your shows being bloody and violent. What can we expect at your show at the Church? Lots of moshing and fist-pumping?
If you’re not going to ask interesting questions I’m going to hang up.

Alright, can you tell me about your new project Vår? The video for “In Your Arms” is awesome.
CLICK.

If you want to go their show at the Church and catch a bloody lip, here’s a link to the tickets. I’m going to put my Spotify back on DJ Koze and go to my happy place now.



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