Culture Bin


Big Head Todd and the Monsters w/ Toad the Wet Sprocket Charlottesville Pavilion
Saturday, July 8, 2006


    Music has the great gift of conjuring up memories and reminding us of times long past. Well, over the weekend, two big acts from the ‘90s who have somewhat dropped off the musical map traveled to Charlottesville (via time machine, perhaps?) to remind us of who they were, and why they mattered.
    Taking the stage first was Toad the Wet Sprocket, who broke through on the alternative rock music scene in 1991 with their reverb-drenched single “All I Want.” Led by front man Glen Phillips, the band played all the songs that made them famous, including “Walk on the Ocean,” as well some newer, equally melodic tunes that, at times, recaptured the band’s famous way with a catchy, harmony-laden hook. Although the Toadsters officially parted ways in 1998, they’ve reunited for this summer tour and, if this performance is any indication, they might just have a chance of capturing a new audience.
    Second out of the gate was Big Head Todd and the Monsters, those frat-circuit faves who rose out of Colorado in the ‘90s with their hit album
Sister Sweetly. Big Head Todd’s signature R&B sound, coupled with American rock anthems, propelled them to the top of the charts. The Charlottesville crowd definitely hung onto their favorites, including “Bittersweet,” ”It’s Alright,” “Boom Boom” and “Circle.” There was certainly no shortage of energy, and guitarist Todd Park Mohr played his guitar with infectious flair and flavor.
    It was a surprisingly memorable evening at the Pavilion, and many listeners seemed delighted to be reminded of those brighter, less complicated days in the mid-‘90s when Big Head Todd and TtWS filled the musical gap between Seattle’s grunge explosion and traditional American pop. There was definitely some nostalgia in their acts, but, like all of us, these acts just keep looking and pushing forward.
— Bjorn Turnquist  

Enchanted April
Heritage Repertory Theatre
Through July 15

    Along with my ticket to Heritage Rep’s production of the stage version of Enchanted April, I brought some baggage. I’m a fan of the original 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim—a once famous and now sadly neglected writer, and a fascinating woman whose life was as spirited as the title of her autobiography, All the Dogs of My Life. And I’m also a fan of the 1992 movie version, starring Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright, Alfred Molina, Michael Kitchen and Jim Broadbent—a virtual who’s who of inimitable British actors.
    To all this could I add yet another layer of appreciation? Would I encounter a whole new way to engage with the story of four women—two
disenchanted housewives, Lotty Wilton and Rose Arnott (Beth Gervain and Ann Talman), a young socialite, Caroline Bramble (Faith Noelle Hurley), and an elderly dowager, Mrs. Graves (Daria T. Okugawa)—in post- World War I England who muck in together to rent a villa on the Italian Riviera? The answer: Act I left me cold, and not just because it takes place in a drizzly London, while Act II warmed me back up, and not just because the lovely villa and the rest of the set designed by Tom Bloom seems drenched in sunshine.
    Veteran Heritage Rep director Douglas Sprigg lacks ideas when it comes to creating tension in Act I. Yes, Lotty and Rose’s husbands, Mellersh and Frederick (John Paul Scheidler and Robert Porter), are just the right shade of irritating, but the wives’ longing to replace a sterile world with a fertile one is more stated than deeply communicated. In fact, the only real tension is between Talman and Okugawa’s subtle
and Gervain and Hurley’s overly mannered performances.
    Act II clears the playing field. Sprigg suddenly seems right at home. With little brushstrokes he builds a rich atmosphere that pools the resources of all the actors. And with splashes of color he stretches out the elements of classic British farce— stronger than in the novel and the movie— to garner some genuine laughs.
    In the end, the charming story charmed me once again.
—Doug Nordfors 

NFL Head Coach
Electronic Arts
PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC Rated: Everyone

I now know why Bill Belicheck seems terminally grim (even when his team is winning) and Marty Schottenheimer and Tony Dungy always look like they’ve swallowed several wads of tinfoil on the sideline.
    Being an NFL head coach is the world’s most tedious job, you see, and they’re dreading the 100-plus hours of micromanagement tasks they’ll be slogging through when the final gun sounds.
    That’s the impression you get, anyway, from playing through a season in
NFL Head Coach, Electronic Arts’ debut attempt at a sports-management sim. This is a game that, for better and for worse, puts the minutiae of literally thousands of coaching and management decisions squarely into your twitching hands. Down time? The high life? Not in this league, baby—there are plays to develop and e-mails to read.
    Historically, these sorts of games have been little more than menu-based spreadsheet programs masquerading as sports games. In terms of text-based management sims, football’s fallen on especially hard times here in the States;
Front Office Football, that old series veteran, has been MIA since 2003. NFL Head Coach takes what was great about those games, adds enough extra busywork to choke even Vince Lombardi and puts a nifty graphical sheen on the whole affair. Setting practice times, massaging depth charts, hiring coaches and free agents—these are just a handful of things you’ll have to do before even calling the first snap.
    The Madden engine fuels the actual onfield parts of the game, so the plays you eventually develop and call will look as sharp as they do when you’re the one controlling them in
Madden ‘06. Unfortunately, you’re not the one controlling them here— you just pick and hope for the best, a goal the game’s AI botches a little too often. Even when you’ve slathered the positive motivation and maxed out attribute points, a well-prepped quarterback will still cough up some seriously puzzling turnovers. Then again, I imagine this is how Brian Billick feels when he’s watching Kyle Boller heft his third interception of the day, so perhaps EA’s nailed this aspect more closely than I realize.
    If you’re the sort who’d rather be the one juking the D for a 70-yard touchdown run in
Madden ‘06, run far, far away from Head Coach—you’ll likely be clawing your eyes out before preseason begins. Control freaks, on the other hand, may just have found the foundation for a Super Bowl contender. —Aaron Conklin

Culture Bin

Culture Bin

American Dumpster

Satellite Ballroom

Thursday, May 18


In the beginning, everybody is tense, or at least having problems with tense, as evidenced by the sign on the backstage door that says, “Employees only passed this point.”

          By the end of the night, however, that had all been washed away by the sharp drop-kick-of-adrenaline snare drum that starts the toy-piano frenzy of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”—but that was much, much later, and first came the doorman and a serious case of over guest-listing, but that’s to be expected, because all of Old Weird Charlottesville must be here. And I do mean old—groupies were maxing out in at least the mid-60s. It felt as if someone should be calling BINGO, what with the buffet and round tables, each with signs for the big Albemarle County reunion: Batesville class of ‘72, Free Union class of ‘67, Belmont ‘88, and Crozet ‘93. I’m talking serious old man/barely pubescent girl overload, but it’s all in good fun, and once the music starts, the only band in the world inspired by spot-welding plays something. How to describe it? Tom Waits in a group grope with The Pogues? Leonard Cohen gone spastic with the delirium tremens blues again? Whatever it is, you and all these half-drunk old Southern lawyers sure can dance to it, and longtime locals can do the Fridays After 5 shuffle to it, and lordy, lordy how the little girls in American Dumpster panties can shake their Humbert Humberts to it. So much good-natured stomping in one place! The art of falling down onstage, and the inevitable Johnny Cash cover, which, inevitably, works.

          (I have a secret fear at every concert that someone on stage is going to trip over a cord and get hurt, and I spend the whole night hoping against hope that it doesn’t happen. Maybe it’s my fear that keeps it from happening. Maybe it’s my fear that keeps us all alive and dancing.)

          It is both very easy and very hard to be a local hero. It is strange to have your local hero tell you that “You’re the shit” onstage in front of your friends and family. It is hard, and strange, but not as hard or strange on a night like this. Nights like this are big group hugs for the band and for us because everybody knows everybody, everybody is somebody, and it’s all alright because, for a rock band—any rock band—this moment right now, when they are at the height of their local fame (and as such are still recognizable to themselves, and to us) is as good as it gets, and will never come again, and someday we will all turn to each other and ask “Were you there?”

          The weird thing is, I was there at Martha Jefferson Hospital circa 1975, when bandleader Christian Breeden was born, and the first thing he says to me tonight is, “Hey man, you had that cool girlfriend in high school. Whatever happened to her?” I was with him in the bathroom between sets as he stared into the mirror, asking about my old girlfriend, but I bear no grudge, because his band is good enough—nay, great enough, or at least exactly enough of what we all need right now—for me to forgive him.

American Dumpster is the band that Charlottesville must shore against its ruin.—J. Tobias Beard


PQ: Whatever it is, you and half-drunk old Southern lawyers sure can dance to it, and longtime locals can do the Fridays After 5 shuffle to it, and lordy, lordy how the little girls in American Dumpster panties can shake their Humbert Humberts to it. So much good-natured stomping in one place!


Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

Four County Players

Through May 28



Fresh off the heels of directing the all-female The World’s Wife for Live Arts, Francine Smith’s follow-up project is Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean—which has parts for nine women, and one man. Wow. What’s next for Smith, the testosterone-laden Glengarry Glen Ross?

          Gender shmender. All that matters is that Jimmy Dean exhibits the same mix of good casting and professionalism that made The World’s Wife so satisfying. 

          Ed Graczyk’s play takes place on September 30, 1975, at a five-and-dime store in the town of McCarthy, Texas (where Giant, the last film starring James Dean, was shot). A cadre of women, former members of the “Disciples of James Dean,” gathers to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Dean’s fatal auto accident. Through flashbacks neatly woven into the action, it becomes clear how the actual presence of an untouchable heartthrob in their town was almost too much for the poor girls’ brains to handle, and why the fact that God is dead, so to speak, continues to haunt them.

          It’s difficult at first to know what to make of the grown women. Have they matured at all? Are their exhumed pasts, and seemingly trivial obsession, worth caring about? Smith wisely doesn’t force the characters on us, which is good, since the play eventually contains almost too many sensationalistic details and stabs at profundity for the audience’s poor brains to handle. By the time we learn that Mona (played with just the right degree of solemnity by Liz Porter) may have actually, um, touched the untouchable Dean, and notice that Joanne (played with consistent subtlety by Jen Downey) bears some resemblance to Mona’s teenage friend Joe (Greg Miller), the production is firmly grounded in reality, and Graczyk’s fanciful and aggressive plotting goes down as easy as an Orange Crush on a hot Texas day.—Doug Nordfors


Blake Hurt

“Not Just a Pretty Face”

McGuffey Art Center


Blake Hurt’s colorful, kinetic “ink collages” are portraits of friends, but they’re also a portrait of a brilliant mind—his own. This is a man who acknowledges it takes years to write a computer program to portray a single individual. And “pretty” is not the first word that comes to mind. Try meticulous. Magnificent. Mad. Surely, he must be out of his mind—but in a good way. (Think What the Bleep Do We Know!?)

          In any given portrait, Hurt includes a myriad of relevant images in different sizes, shapes, and colors, overlapping and intertwining inside the drawing of a human face. But in “Greek,” one of his most powerful pieces (and a quantum leap from earlier works made up of simple, repetitive symbols that look like pixels on a computer screen) he relaxes the use of his trademark grid, and begins to leave behind the confines of the technology he so reveres. Hurt arranges the elements asymmetrically within the symmetrical outline of his subject’s face. The result? A more creative, chaotic effect that illustrates the nature of a mind in motion, and suggests that the greek scholar portrayed in “Greek” is on the verge of some brilliant discovery—as are we.In addition, Hurt’s work explores the question, “What would happen if the multitude of one’s thoughts were recorded on one’s face?” Sure, all that we think is etched within the hemispheres of our brain, but the inner workings of our mind are never fully seen, only alluded to in the works we conceive and birth. And oh what things Hurt’s mind has made! These kaleidoscopic portraits vibrate off the walls, and there’s no limit to what he, or the viewer, might do next (though a little meditation would be in good order).—Karrie Bos


NBA Ballers: Phenom

Xbox, PlayStation 2


Rated: Everyone


video game

          Anyone who’s been following the NBA playoffs as they drag inexorably into midsummer can rattle them off like open 15-footers: Nash versus SamIam. Lebron James in round two. Plucky point guard Devin Harris, trying to will the Mavs past a hobbled Tim Duncan.

          You know, the storylines.

          Professional sports leagues—at least the ones like the NFL and NBA , who have honed the means of marketing themselves to fans—know that player-based storylines sell sizzle better than close matchups. Cavs versus Wizards looked like a small-market snoozer, but Bron-Bron versus Gilbert Arenas equaled six games of riveting rivalry.

Sports videogames have been slow—we’re talking Shawn Bradley slow—to pick up on this strategy. While developers have captured the feel of shooting a free throw or accurately approximating Jason Kidd’s assists-to-turnovers ratio, they’ve done comparatively little to give us a pixellated sense of what it’s like to actually be J-Kidd. Or a rookie trying to make it in—or, better yet, to—the NBA.

          Electronic Arts gave us a hint of this sports-RPG experience in last fall’s Madden 06. In NBA Ballers: Phenom, the second installment in Midway’s streetball series, the concept is front-and-center—even if it’s not yet fully developed.

          The game’s set in Los Angeles during the NBA Finals. (Sorry, guys: Detroit would have been the safer pick.) You play the story mode as a streetballer who’s looking to make his name and pick up a sponsorship contract—just like the one your former partner sold you out to get last year. (Hello, instant rivalry subplot.)

          While big chunks of the game are—what else?—one-on-one matchups in which you’re bouncing passes to yourself off your opponent’s grill or stair-stepping his shoulders to a monster dunk, there’s more here than just arcade-style hoops. You can also stroll around glitzy Los Angeles buffing your stats, RPG style, in a host of non-basketball events and tasks (rap competitions, pasting up posters) that a hopeful trying to distinguish himself from the rabble might actually do. It’s not as deep as it could be, but it’s certainly a good baseline move. Now, if the developers can make the control scheme as intuitive as EA’s NBA Street series and fix the long PS2 load times, we’re talking some big-money ball.—Aaron Conklin