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  • With the weather forecast calling for temperatures in the upper 90’s on Friday, we did our best to prepare for an all day event in the sweltering NYC summer heat.  But upon entering the venue, it was clear that the organizers of the Panorama Festival planned appropriately for our day.  With many free water kiosks, tents and air conditioned art & music areas, it was easy to cool down if you were feeling overwhelmed by the oppressive heat.

    And although it’s not so easy to get to Randall’s Island, our timing was very good, and as we walked in Here We Go Magic was just starting to play in the huge tent to the north side of the venue.  I was happy to finally here the band live. Some years ago I interviewed Luke Temple, but lost touch with the band’s more recent happenings.  They had a decent crowd for the early part of the day, and although they apologized for some technical difficulties, we were impressed with their set.

    Here We Go Magic

    As we made our way over to the main stage, we could hear Algier’s set was already in full swing.  Algier’s set was only 30 minutes, but their powerful, dark soulful sound was evident throughout.  While listening we were able to cool down over at the American Express spot.  We snapped together some complimentary sunglasses and enjoyed some refreshments for a bit before heading back to the pavilion to hear Preservation Hall Jazz Band. A rather large, enthusiastic crowd was now gathered and grooving to some of the best New Orleans style jazz you can find on the planet.  As the band closed their set, we had just enough time to grab a bite from one of the many food vendors on hand.  There was certainly something for everyone, with a slight bias toward the all American favorite, pizza.

    Preservation Hall Jazz Band

    The next band up on the main stage was Silversun Pickups.  I was very excited to see the band, but my excitement was a bit tempered after watching them on TV perform in the late spring. It seemed like maybe they were a bit off, or still getting their chops in order for the big tour on that day. With a new album out earlier in the year, this would be the first time performing much of the new material. Well, they were much more polished for their set at Panorama, and overall it was a very good performance. The new songs were great live, and the older hits had the crowd in a euphoric state as they closed out with my personal favorite, Lazy Eye.

    Silversun Pickups

    As we worked our way back to the pavilion stage, we could see that a massive crowd had gathered to see Broken Social Scene; one of two Canadian bands to play at the festival on Friday.  They were already rocking their 2nd or 3rd song by the time we got there and they were in fine form.  After hearing “Shoreline”, we quickly headed over to the parlor to check out Mike D’s debut as a DJ.

    I came to find that my expectation of an old school hip hop DJ set from the former Beastie Boy rapper extraordinaire was way off the mark. Instead, Mike D was playing newer, trap music and was struggling to put it all together.  It was a real head scratcher given that his era of hip hop was much different, and I would imagine most came with similar expectations.  Being such a huge Beastie Boys fan, it was disappointing, but there was little time for disappointment as Alabama Shakes was getting set to take the main stage.

    When you hear about artists having a certain stage presence, one may wonder exactly what that means.  Brittany Howard, lead singer, guitarist for Alabama Shakes has a massive stage presence that commands your attention. She plays guitar with a level of comfort rarely seen, while the raw power of her vocals and the band’s sound will take your breath away. In a day with so many great performances, the stage was set for Arcade Fire to make it a truly unforgettable night, and that’s exactly what they did.

    Alabama Shakes

    As Arcade Fire took to the stage playing their massive hit “Ready to Start” from the 2010 Grammy winning album, “The Suburbs,” it was clear that the crowd was energized and ready to hear the band’s first live set in the U.S this year.  As the band flawlessly and aggressively weaved through their set improvising their original wide ranging songs from indie & punk rock to electronic dance beats,  they did so with a flair and presence that hearkens back to The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy.” As if this wasn’t enough, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined Arcade Fire to form a Mardi Gras second line and marched through the crowd in tribute to the late, great David Bowie playing classics, “Rebel Rebel,” “Suffragette City” and “Heroes.”

    Arcade Fire

    It was truly an incredible day of music, and the organizers of Panorama Festival did a fine job in curating the music for Friday’s show as well as the overall production and execution of a massive event.  For all the doubters questioning the $125 ticket price, it was well worth it- Brooklyn Vegan!

    -Frank Jackson

  • Courtesy of Kino Lorber

    Courtesy of Kino Lorber

    The new documentary Lucha Mexico is an entertaining, enlightening and, ultimately, poignant look at Lucha Libre, the colorful, acrobatic form of professional wrestling that has been popular in Mexico for decades. Filmmakers Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz give us a truly inside view of the sport and its wildly popular superhero personalities, its intense physical demands and its widespread influence throughout the country. Even nonfans of spectacle wrestling can appreciate this in-depth look at the longtime phenomenon and its myriad masked players.

    From the get-go, the filmmakers take us right into the ring for up-close scenes of amusing and highly energetic matches featuring dramatic, larger-than-life (in some cases, literally) stars cheered on by thousands of adoring fans. We also see glimpses of life outside of the arena, as the luchadores train, meet fans, and talk about their lives. One of the film’s main spotlights follows the popular and likeable Shocker, who is used as a sort of guide through Lucha Libre, as we see him working out, posing for fan photos, touring the country to compete in matches big and small, and receiving brutal-looking medical treatments for a devastating knee injury (he opens a restaurant during his recovery). Former strength competitor Jon “Strongman” Andersen provides another veteran point of view, as he talks matter-of-factly about the realities of the profession. We also see him in various settings, including home with family and at the gym, where he hoists insanely heavy barbells to maintain his mountainous physique. Eventually, he too suffers an injury that forces him into temporary retirement.

    Courtesy of Kino Lorber

    Courtesy of Kino Lorber

    We’re introduced to several other leading luchadores, including those from wrestling dynasties, such as Blue Demon, Jr. (who has never been seen in public unmasked) and the tragic, charismatic El Hijo Del Perro Aguayo, founder of the Perros Del Mal, infamous for violently hardcore matches. Others, like Fabian “El Gitano,” a former Chippendales dancer, come from non-wrestling backgrounds, all of them embracing the passion and dedication necessary to make it to the “major leagues,” i.e., the CMLL (Consejo Mundial De Lucha Libre), founded in 1933 and the oldest still-operating wrestling promotion in the world, or the newer AAA. We also watch equally buff female luchadoras Faby Apache and her main rival Sexy Star, who prays before every match and claims that Lucha Libre saved her from crippling depression. Interestingly, there are Catholic shrines set up in several arenas and one match is hosted by a religious festival. Such is the place of wrestling in Mexican culture.

    Much of the action takes place at the unofficial home of Lucha Libre, Mexico City’s historically significant Arena Mexico, and the filmmakers take us to other enormous arenas that have been built specifically for the sport. Apparently, big matches no longer take place in the country’s most crime-ridden cities (including Tijuana and Matamoros), where once-thriving arenas have been closed.

    Courtesy of Kino Lorber

    Courtesy of Kino Lorber

    We learn that wrestlers choose between two character types: Tecnicos, good guys who play by the rules and are cheered by the crowds; and Rudos, dirty fighters who are happily booed. (A popular chant at matches: “Asshole! Asshole!”) There’s also the definitive luchador challenge: Mask Vs. Mask, in which the loser suffers the ultimate humiliation of forced unmasking (a fate that proved devastating for the deceptively sensitive “El Gitano”).

    All this is presented with maximum, you-are-in-the-ring action, as we feel the crowd’s excitement and the wrestlers’ sweat and strain. We want to be horrified by the “abuse” of beloved mascot Kemonito, a dwarf in a fuzzy monkey suit who is routinely tossed around like a stuffed animal, but reluctantly appreciate the fact that he’s a respected working luchador who seems happy in his profession. On the other hand, the ruthless Perros del Mal matches shown on screen are truly disturbing.

    Whatever ideas one may have had about Lucha Libre going into this film, it’s hard not to come away impressed by the drive and commitment of these masked athletes, with their broken down bodies, whether they’re performing in a huge, slick arena or delighting children in some makeshift rural set-up. Though they obviously get off on the fame (and undoubtedly the money) involved, it’s clear there’s some kind of higher calling pulling them into the ring.

    Lucha Mexico opens on Friday at Nitehawk Cinema and IFC Center.

    Marina Zogbi

  •      This Saturday Grammy award-winning Latina musician Carla Morrison played a free show at the Prospect Park Bandshell. She followed Hurray for the Riff Raff and Buscabulla as part of the Bud Light Music series, which was presented in association with the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC). The Conference puts on an annual showcase, this year’s iteration meant to showcase both emerging and established artists. Morrison’s presence definitely represented the latter. Read More

  • What year is it? Everyone is playing Pokemon and blink-182 is back. We discussed the latter in the last installment of AFP Music. Going off the first half of the band’s comeback album California, blink may be back, but they’re not the same. Although despite a slow start to a lengthy record, all hope isn’t lost. The last half a dozen or so songs prove that the band is still as good as you remember.
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