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BOLLYWOOD BOUND

When I asked sitar scion Anoushka Shankar some months ago who I should be listening to, the first name out of her mouth was Kaushiki Chakrabarty. At 34, Chakrabarty is the preeminent Indian classical vocalist of her generation. Whether singing heavy ragas or lighter devotional thumris, she’s lyrical yet authoritative, a stunning improviser with amazing breath control. Unlike most of her peers, including Shankar, Chakrabarty sang only classical music until a few years ago, when she began appearing on Bollywood soundtracks and the country’s fascinating classical-pop crossover show, Coke Studio @ MTV. She also hosts her own weekly talk show. Shri Subhajyoti Guha (tabla) and Shri Kedar Naphade (harmonium) accompany her tonight, as she sings the rejoicing and romantic raga Bihag.

Fri., Nov. 14, 7 p.m., 2014

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In Horror Comedy Jersey Shore Massacre, Stereotypes Die Blandly

The exceedingly gruesome Jersey Shore Massacre is likely to amuse but then repulse those who once relished the whiny twang of the young Italian housemates on MTV’s hit show Jersey Shore.

Bypassing the beach altogether, writer-director Paul Tarnopol sends six bodacious Jersey girls on vacation to a remote (but swanky) house near the fabled Pine Barrens.

There’s a deformed killer in them thar woods, but since he doesn’t truly wreak havoc until the film’s final third, viewers have a full hour to decide who’s more dim-witted — the six women, or the muscled hunks they bring home from a bar. Tarnopol opens nearly every scene with a shot of a bikini-clad woman adjusting her cleavage, but in the contest for who’s dumber, the over-tanned guys win hands down.

The send-up is sometimes funny but mostly boring (like the show itself). When the killer finally arrives, rusty tools in hand, the director makes an awkward shift into Friday the 13th mode.

Even Jersey Shore haters aren’t likely to grin when the killer takes a hatchet to one woman’s breasts or uses an electric sander to de-tattoo one of the hunks. Watching the hopelessly vapid get taken out, one by one, has never been more depressing.

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First-Person Doc No Cameras Allowed Rewards With Its Unintentional Revelations

As with many first-person documentaries (those in which the filmmaker is the subject,) the most telling aspects of James Marcus Haney’s No Cameras Allowed are its unintentional revelations.

In 2010, Haney was a USC film student in the final stretch before graduation, when his crush on a gorgeous woman helped fuel his goal of crashing Dante’s hottest circle of hell, Coachella. (She was attending the festival.)

Accompanied by a friend and a “wacky dude” they met on Craigslist, and armed with cameras and bogus wristbands as press-credential camouflage, Haney reached his goal of sneaking into the event and meeting the woman. But he also filmed footage that would launch his career as a documentarian (for HBO) and freelance photographer.

Haney is of a generation almost genetically shaped by technology, social media, celebrity culture, and the narcissism and entitlement they engender. As he falls up in life, No Cameras Allowed — filled with performance footage and stills of Jay Z, Mumford & Sons, Skrillex, and more — is shaped along the outlines of a romantic comedy, including the brutal comeuppance of the asshole hotshot that helps him realize that family and friends are what matter in life.

It’s safety-net rebellion of the sort that MTV has packaged for decades now, so it’s no shock that the network is distributing the film. Still, Haney’s talent and charisma make him worth watching.

He often speaks directly into the camera with forced aw-shucks charm, plus he has a great eye, and the footage of him being trampled during the running of the bulls in Spain (his HBO gig) is nail-biting stuff.

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Aziz Ansari: Dudes, the Number of Dick Pics You Send is Startling

“Imagine if marriage didn’t exist, and you’re a guy and you ask someone to get married,” proposes comedian Aziz Ansari in his new Netflix stand-up special, Buried Alive, which premieres November 1. “Hey, so we’ve been hanging out all the time, spending a lot of time together. I want to keep doing that … until you’re dead. … I want to keep hanging out with you until one of us dies. … Put this ring on your finger so people know we have an arrangement,” he menaces in his best Bluebeard impression.

Buried Alive is the Parks and Recreation scene-stealer’s third special, and it channels Ansari’s anxieties of being a single, childless 30-year-old watching everyone around him get hitched and pop out newborns. His hilarious introspection on the pressures of maturity coincide with a huge leap in the comedian’s stand-up skills, which have evolved away from his youthful reliance on funny faces and beta-male swagger toward a newfound wistfulness. Now, Ansari’s just a regular schmo facing the universal problems of finding love, being inundated by unwanted photos of friends’ babies, and hate-watching MTV’s 16 and Pregnant.

Ansari shares what he learned about dating and growing up during the Buried Alive taping and tour, including the absurd frequency of dick pics, the depressing banality of most proposals, and the revelation that he’s nowhere near as alone as he’d once thought.

Buried Alive is about struggling not to be buried alive by the pressures of adulthood. How did the seeds of the special come about?

As I got older and more friends started getting married and having children, I thought, Wow, I’m so not ready for that stuff. Those seem like scary commitments, such huge, strange ideas, and it seems weird to me that so many people are able to do it without any hesitation. Once I started working on the material, I realized there’s plenty of people who felt the same [way].

I mean this in the best possible way, but a lot of your subject matter – dating after 30, the peer pressure to marry and have children, the nastiness of dudes today – are topics traditionally associated with female stand-ups. You also explore certain aspects of dating, like dick pics and Grindr, from a female perspective. Is that inclusively gendered POV something you actively try to cultivate?

No, but I see what you mean. That definitely is something you hear from females, not just comics but in life. I definitely empathize with women, because I see dumb dudes around me all the time and I think, “Wow, it must really suck to have to find a decent dude.” But I would say the fear [of romantic hardship] is something men deal with as well. The one thing I’ve learned from doing this show is that I’m not alone. There’s plenty of people that are very scared of this stuff, dudes who feel daunted as much as I do.

In one of the more romantic segments, you ask a married couple how they got engaged. What did you learn from that?

I did that on every city on the tour, and there were so many great ones. But there were definitely ones that were better than others. While I was filming the special, I was like, “Man, I hope whoever it is that ends up being [on the special] has a good [proposal story]. And the people ended up being so great. It was definitely one of my favorites, if not the favorite, of all the proposal stories.

There was also one guy who said he got a bunch of puppies to wear different shirts that had a different letter on it to spell “Will you marry me?” I asked, “Whoa, how did you get the puppies to line up?” He was like, “Oh, I couldn’t. It was a disaster.” [Laughs]

When I first started asking people about that, I thought, like, OK, at least 60 percent, 65 percent would [do] a grand gesture. Skywriting, or, “She came home and [there was] toothpaste on the floor [to propose],” whatever dumb thing.

What I realized is, 80 percent of them were, “Oh, we were at the house, we just came back from dinner, I just asked.” It wasn’t that spectacular. What’s funny is you’re asking this grand thing of someone. And you’re in this very mundane setting. There’s all this pressure. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a very interesting position for two people to be in.

Asking so many people about their marriage proposals, did it make you lean either way, toward the spectacular or the intimate?

It comes out a little bit in the special, but I’m definitely a romantic at heart. I think whatever I do, it will be a gesture that’s special and unique.

Another big chunk of Buried Alive is about the strangeness of dick pics. Why did you choose to make it such a sizable segment in the special?

I was just talking about how dumb guys are nowadays, and the idea that people are sending dick pics – it’s so crazy to me. When I started asking audiences, “Clap if you’re a single woman and a guy sent you a dick pic,” I was very surprised.

What percentage would you think would get a dick pic? I would guess 40 percent. But it seemed like every city I went to, it was at least 80 percent. And that was startling, that such a high percentage of them had something that absurd happen to them. It seems like such a dumb thing. I say this in the special, but I just don’t understand the logic behind it. A dick is a very dumb-looking, boring thing.

You tend to focus more on seduction techniques, like dick pics, rather than sex. Is that a conscious decision?

You’re giving dick pics a lot of weight by calling them a “seduction technique.” [Laughs] I’m more interested in the whole idea of how you meet someone and [how] that becomes a relationship. Courtship and frustration. I don’t feel like I have anything that interesting to say about sex. Or this ends up being really blue material.

Your material feels really autobiographical. How different is your stage persona from your actual self?

There’s no deliberate thought put into, like, what do I want to make my stage persona? That’s never been a thought in my head. But no matter what I do onstage, it’s gonna be different than how I am in real life. No one in real life is trying to make you laugh really hard every 30 seconds. That sounds like a very strange way to be a person. People who meet me go, “Damn, you’re really quiet.” “Yeah, because I’m not trying to get an applause break from you.” If you meet super-energetic comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle, they’re very quiet, thoughtful.

Why did you choose to adopt suits as part of your stage look?

When I started doing theater tours, it just felt like, I should wear a suit. These were really nice, beautiful venues and I wanted it to be a big show. It would seem weird to come out in just a button-down shirt and pants. I like wearing suits, too, so it seemed a no-brainer to go for that look. Whenever I do a tour, I think about what would be a good “tour suit.” Then I design what I think would look good for the tour. That becomes what I wear on the tour every day.

Have you had any friends who are parents approach you to gush or lecture you about the joys of parenthood?

No, not really. I have friends who have kids and they’re super-happy. Since I’ve written this special, my views on this stuff has changed: I’m not quite as certain I definitely won’t have kids. I do see how much fun people are having with their kids and how it does seem to be a very life-changing experience. So it’s definitely something I’m open to.

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Blink-182

For about six years beginning in the late ’90s, Blink-182 were the snottiest, most puerile trio to emerge from the wake of Nirvana’s and, by proxy, Green Day’s punk kerplunk, whining about “All the Small Things” and asking “What’s My Age Again?” on MTV. They seemed unstoppable—at least until Good Charlotte came along and ruined everything for everyone. They’ve since broken up and reunited, and tonight, they’re giving back, playing a 9/11 charity show. I guess this is growing up.

Wed., Sept. 11, 8 p.m., 2013

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I WANT MY KENNEDY

When Lisa Kennedy Montgomery was 18 years old, her parents gave her an ultimatum: Either stay home and pay rent or they would pay her to move out. So Montgomery did the respectable thing and left her home in Oregon, moved to Los Angeles, interned at KROQ (L.A.’s famed alt-rock radio station), became known strictly as Kennedy, and, a year later, landed a spot as a VJ on MTV. For five rambunctious years in the ’90s, Kennedy was a Gen-X darling, hosting Alternative Nation and providing the music network with countless ballsy and salacious on-air moments (like when she gave the mic a blow job while standing next to then-mayor Rudy Giuliani). However, most of the wildest antics occurred off the air, and they’re humorously detailed in her memoir, The Kennedy Chronicles. Today, she dishes with Rob Tannenbaum (I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution).

Wed., Aug. 14, 12:30 p.m., 2013

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DEM BOW DOWN

A true moombahton success story, L.A.’s Dillon Francis parlayed a couple big tunes—jittery, squelchy, Dutch-house-meets-reggaeton tracks “Masta Blasta” and “Que Que”—into EDM semi-stardom. Two years after releasing his breakthrough EP, Westside!, the DJ has moved in the direction of big-hook festival house and hard-hitting dubstep, often smashing them together, as on recent tracks like “Messages” and “I.D.G.A.F.O.S.” Tonight, he plays an MTV showcase, one that might boost his career even more.

Mon., July 15, 8 p.m., 2013

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Anthrax

A quarter century ago, New York’s claim to thrash royalty, Anthrax, released their heaviest, most frenzied record, Among the Living. Tonight, they’ll be playing the entirety of that masterpiece, which contains anthems like “I Am the Law” and “Caught in a Mosh,” in the city where it all began. Joining them for this installment of the Metal Alliance Tour are Bay Area thrashers Exodus, who joined Anthrax in 1989 on MTV’s Headbangers Ball Tour, as well as some of today’s best underground metal bands—High on Fire, Municipal Waste, Shadows Fall and Holy Grail.

Sat., April 20, 5 p.m.; Sun., April 21, 5 p.m., 2013

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VIDEO KILLED 
THE RADIO STAR

True story: Back in the day, we’d sit glued to the television set watching MTV’s year-end countdown of the top music videos and diligently write down each one in a notebook for posterity. Oh, how much has changed since then. “Spectacle: The Music Video” is the first museum exhibition to celebrate the art and history of the music video from the past 35 years. The exhibition includes 300 innovative videos, artifacts, and interactive installations showing the changing landscape of the music video, from A-ha’s “Take On Me” (1985), which incorporated pencil-sketch animation with live-action footage (this was groundbreaking, people!), to videos by current artists such as Radiohead, Björk, and Kanye West. It just might make you want your MTV all over again.

Wed., April 3, 10 a.m., 2013

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Pazz & Jop: A Trip Through Fiona’s Wheelhouse

“You’re imaginary!”

Fiona Apple stood onstage last spring at Stubb’s in Austin, during her Wednesday-night South by Southwest set, and assessed the crowd between songs. She looked more muscular, her hair darker and wilder than the last time I’d seen her, when I was 19, and she was only a couple years older. Then, she was promoting 1999’s When the Pawn, the follow-up to her 1996 debut, Tidal, both of which placed the singer in the headlines and margins of the pop-culture conversation. The fans back then were not so imaginary: The high school friend I attended the concert with threw her bra onstage.

Last spring, Apple was back in our arms again, with her first album in seven years. All of her albums have been personal, confessional readings of a sort, and her fans devoted listeners. Over the past 15 years, many of us, myself included, have matured from pained, shy teenagers to more confident thirtysomethings along with her. That can’t be said of many pop stars, who often outgrow their fan bases, or vice versa, as trends come and go.

Her critics have never been imaginary, either. Back in September, Apple was arrested and jailed in the Texas border town of Sierra Blanca for hash possession. Many media outlets rolled out the tired “Fiona Apple is crazy” argument that began around the time of her 1997 MTV Music Awards “This world is bullshit” acceptance speech. Apple addressed fans at shows after her release, and the press chose to print several of her more obtuse quotes on the situation out of context to further the crazy conversation. A bizarre, misogynistic follow-up letter from the Hudspeth County sheriff’s Public Affairs Office asserted that “two weeks ago, nobody in the country cared about what you had to say—now that you’ve been arrested, it appears your entire career has been jump-started.”

By her own admission, though, “crazy” has been a refrain on Apple’s previous three albums, the last being 2005’s Extraordinary Machine. Last year’s The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is mostly free of the accusation, despite the slightly wild-eyed title. It’s almost exclusively her and a piano, accompanied by percussionist Charley Drayton, who used things like Velcro, gravel, and “thighs” as instruments. Also, the imagery is more vivid and aware; she shows us werewolves, volcanoes, and knives, all things potentially deadly, as well as analogies for desire, which might be the crux of the album.

Unlike the younger pop stars of 2012, like Grimes or Rihanna, who are playing with a more progressive, future-tense version of feminism, power, and ownership, Apple is still working in the present. She is not selling a rebellious image or mentality, or mining the Tumblr crowd for page views, just sharing an emotional weight. With little pre-promotion, just a devoted fan base hungry for new material, she released one of the most well-received albums of the year.

Apple once again wrestles with the idea of mind as machine, but The Idler Wheel‘s rambly title is just the skeleton. Here, Apple’s voice is the main instrument that gives it pulse and breath, often growing from cadenced whisper to heaving scream within a few lines. Right from opener “Every Single Night,” we understand this is a machine of her design, and the domestic dream state of the song is spelled out via poetic physical imagery: “The rib is a shell/And the heart is a yolk/And I just made a meal for us both to choke on.” Throughout the album, I am reminded of a line from a Nikki Giovanni poem: “It seems no matter how/I try I become more difficult to hold/I am not an easy woman to want.”

Over the years, Apple has learned how to deal with the media, and she is good at doing a bit of improv. That comes across in The Idler Wheel‘s confidence. “I just want to feel everything,” she sings on “Every Single Night,” elongating six words to 12. She’s cataloging her mental state, putting it all out there to set the scene. Shouldn’t we, as artists, but moreover sentient beings, want to feel everything? Like Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in Letters to a Young Poet: “Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you?”

There are now four albums documenting the work of these conditions. The Idler Wheel is Apple versus her mind, doing a dance. Sometimes she steps on her own toes. We may be imaginary. She’s only human.