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House Of Tudor 

Nightmare Alley, Fantastic Plastic Machine, Nerves, Love as Laughter, and Beth Custer

Wednesday, Oct 6 1999
Born in 1909, William Lindsay Gresham moved to New York as a child and developed an unshakable preoccupation with the sideshows on Coney Island. The obsession led him to linger on the fringes of carnival life through much of his existence, writing several treatises on carnies, a study of Houdini, and a novel called Nightmare Alley that became a 1947 film noir curiosity starring Tyrone Powers. The cheerless story, originally intended for director Orson Welles, was turned over to Edmund Goulding, who benefited from Gresham's real-life experience and attention to minute detail, as well as Lee Garmes' shadowy, impressionistic cinematography, and Tyrone Powers' acclaim as the sapient lead in Goulding's The Razor's Edge. Despite a somewhat sympathetic, padded ending, the film closely follows Gresham's misanthropic tale of a two-bit carnival mentalist, turned rich man's spiritualist, whose ill fate is laid out in a gruesome, though unseen, opening scene involving a chicken-eating geek and hard-boiled discussion of carny code. Gresham's nihilistic vision of the world was accompanied by acute alcoholism and abusive rages that eventually ended with suicide in a Skid Row hotel room some time after his wife fled to England to eventually marry the evangelical C.S. Lewis. Of all Gresham's grisly works only Nightmare Alley remains in print. The film is unavailable on video and rarely allowed in theaters. In fact, this may be your last opportunity to see it before the executors of the Gresham estate pull it for good. Nightmare Alley screens at the Roxie Friday through Wednesday, Oct. 8-13. Call 863-1087 for tickets and show times.

Now that Fantastic Plastic Machine's "Bachelor Pad" has been heard by millions in The Spy Who Shagged Me, Tomoyuki Tanaka -- the club-pop steward behind FPM -- will not be a privileged secret shared among the sonic jet-set for much longer. The song is scheduled for release on the second installment of the soundtrack this fall, but for more discerning passengers there is Luxury, a twinkling trip around the world wrapped in self-cooling mylar. Luxury finds Tanaka fulfilling a wish-list of artists and styles -- King of Luxembourg's Simon Fisher Turner singing bossa nova for Jacqueline Kennedy, singer/comedienne Lorraine Bowden singing Eurythmics' "There Must Be an Angel," and so on -- but his approach to samples is much more reckless than in the past, essentially chosen at random and spliced dada-style. The result is much more free-and-loose, more a devil-may-care excursion than a sci-fi Club Med package. Fantastic Plastic Machine appears at the Manhattan Lounge on Friday, Oct. 8, with Mr. Scruff and "Bardot a Go Go" DJs opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 543-0191.

Hailing from the Windy City, the Nerves share a pleasing '60s garage aesthetic, an organ, and a producer with the Makers. But while the Makers come off as a little bit scary, the Nerves come off as a little bit snotty. Not a bad thing. The Stones were snots when they were young and pretty, as were the Yardbirds and the Animals, bands that the Nerves also cite as inspiration, but the Stooges meant it. Bassist Seth Skundrick might hurl surreal epithets at audience members but we're not really scared, only pleased to be there, listening to a lineup as great as the Nerves, American Heartbreak, Lost Goat, and Black Halos at the Cocodrie on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $6; call 986-6678.

Destination 2000 is exactly the sort of thing that makes a person get her Camaro off blocks and start smoking Marlboro Reds again, even though her closet is filled with purple boas and silver fun fur. Is it surprising that it comes from Love as Laughter, the progeny of Seattle's Sam Jayne who, under the same name, gave us the self-indulgent indie-rock bedroom fuzz of The Greks Bring Gifts? Yes, but we are grateful, almost beyond words. It takes a lot for an intelligent, introspective songwriter to realize the dark corners of his basement are something less than exhilarating. Jayne has more than made up for it. Destination exceeds even last year's hopeful #1 USA. It is what I had always wished of indie rock -- articulate, textural, but with a balls-out, unabashed lust for the things that make life fun: booze, babes, speeding. Remember how rock music is supposed to make you feel when Love as Laughter supports Modest Mouse at Bottom of the Hill on Monday, Oct. 11, with Duster opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 621-4455. Also, with Modest Mouse at Great American Music Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $10.50; call 885-0750.

With the opening carousel romp of "Carnyville" and the suggestive melodrama of "Phagocyte" Beth Custer manages in 70 seconds what many artists fail to do in a lifetime -- leave an impression and a craving. It shouldn't be all that surprising. If not the work of a lifetime, In the Broken Fields Where I Lie is certainly the accumulation and distillation of years of work by one of the country's unique clarinet players. Here we find Custer performing silent film soundtracks with Club Foot Orchestra, live installments of Vinculum Chamber Concerts (which incorporated experimental instruments and sound art pieces during her residency at Marin Headlands for the Arts), classic Ellington tunes with the Clarinet Thing, and dramatic scores for Hamlet and the Joe Goode Performance Group, as well as delicate vocal numbers that bring to mind an ethereal Patsy Cline. The CD release party promises to be nothing short of cinematic as Custer invokes passion, foolishness, terror, joy, and a slew of guest players at Bruno's on Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 550-7455.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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