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Monday, January 7th, 2008

Way Down In The Hole

Well, this beats the hell out of trying to get excited about another eye-gougingly bad season of 24.

After hearing the “best show on television” praise bandied about for years, my curiosity finally overcame my laziness and I picked up season one of The Wire back at the end of last April. A couple days later, I picked up seasons two and three. Then I downloaded four (which I picked up on DVD over the holidays and devoured again in under a week). And since then I’ve been one of those people randomly initiating conversations with, “do you watch The Wire? It’s the best show on TV”.

When asked what it’s about, the short answer is that it’s a cop show – which is true – but it’s so much more than that. Each season has been a thirteen-hour epic, moving at a steady, stately pace to a finale that’s anything but final. The first season was the most formulaic, pitting a group of cast-offs from the Baltimore Police Department against the powerful drug dealers that ruled west Baltimore but from there, it grew to encompass what you can only describe as “the system”. City Hall, the school system, the penal system, the judicial system and the unions, in addition to the police, the dealers and the citizenry. And what I find the most compelling, besides the terrific writing and acting of pretty much everyone involved, is how everything is rendered in greys, no blacks or whites (except racially – then it’s almost all black and white). Whichever side of the law they’re on, everyone is as flawed as they are honourable (in their own way). There’s no supercops or evil geniuses – just people. That’s the real strength of the show, it’s humanity. You care about the characters and are never emotionally manipulated into doing so. Their world just sucks you in.

It’s long been known that season five would be the final one, assuming that the series made it that far – for all the critical acclaim it’s gotten, it’s never been a ratings hit nor even an award-winner. Season four, which focused on the schools, wrapped up looking like they were going to hit the ground running with five – a major break in the case against the ruthless young turk running the West Baltimore corners, the reconstitution of the major crimes unit, a new mayor in office promising a new day had come. And yet, as the final season begins set a year after the last (and kicking off with what is possibly the funniest police interrogation scene ever shot), we find that new day is as grey and overcast as the last. No headway has been made against the dealer, the city is broke and police morale is at rock bottom. Welcome back to Baltimore. I’ll be so very sad when it’s over but for now, the next nine weeks will be awesome.

The media has also been celebrating the return of the show, running features left right and centre with The San Francisco Chronicle and Time previewing the final season while The Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail talk to series creator David Simon and PBS transcribes an interview with him. New York Magazine has made the season premiere an event, offering a review of the premiere, a pretty off-base interpretation of the current promo graphic (the one I’ve used with this post) and interviews with cast members Jamie Hector (“Marlo Stanfield”), Michael K Williams (“Omar Little”) and Andre Royo (“Bubbles”). LAist also has an interview with Royo. Remote Access has similarly gone Wire-happy. Check out conversations with Clarke Peters (“Lester Freamon”), Wendell Pierce (“Bunk Moreland”) – probably my two favourite characters, incidentally – Andre Royo, Dominic West (“Jimmy McNulty”), Jermaine Crawford (“Dukie”) and producers David Simon and Nina Kostroff Noble.

Every season of The Wire has featured the same theme song – Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole” – but performed by different artists. Season one’s was performed by The Blind Boys Of Alabama, two featured Waits’ original, three by The Neville Brothers, four by a Baltimore Boys Choir and this season’s by Steve Earle, who also has a recurring role on the show as recovering heroin addict Waylon. Here’s a live performance of the song by Waits, backed up by The Kronos Quartet.

MP3: Tom Waits with The Kronos Quartet – “Way Down In The Hole”

Daytrotter kicks of their new season – well, the new year anyway – with a session featuring Mobius Band. I had intended to catch them when they were in town last November but… didn’t. And so I haven’t properly written up their record Heaven though I’ve meant to – it’s good. And maybe I will yet. But in the meantime, check out the session and a couple tracks from the record (and new video) and judge for yourself.

MP3: Mobius Band – “Friends Like These”
MP3: Mobius Band – “Hallie”
Video: Mobius Band – “Friends Like These”

Fresh off his last North American tour which brought him through town not even a month ago, Jose Gonzalez is coming back again, this time for a show at the Phoenix on March 15. Full dates for his hopefully carbon-neutral tour can be found at Pitchfork.

Scotland’s Sons & Daughters will have a new record – This Gift – in stores on January 29 and North American touring will follow. You can check them out at Lee’s Palace on March 26 and see videos for the first two singles from the record below.

Video: Sons & Daughters – “Gilt Complex”
Video: Sons & Daughters – “Darling”

Pitchfork reports on a new EP from Under Byen, Siamesisk, which was recorded with the aid of a symphony and will be released on March 27 in North America. A taste:

MP3: Under Byen – “Plantage”

Chart talks to Sharin Foo of The Raveonettes about their new record Lust Lust Lust, out February 19. They’re at the Opera House on March 21.

The Playlist has a status update (or lack of update) on the new Spiritualized record as well as some film score work for Mr Spaceman.

Billboard has info on the new record from Death Cab For Cutie, targeted for a late May release.

By : Frank Yang at 8:30 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Jack says:

    Frank, although I have yet to watch The Wire, this excellent New Yorker article made me want to check it out:

    http://www.newyorker.com/re