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Several weeks ago, I got an email from music photographer Christina Sanchez, asking me if I was going to see The Longshot at Pappy and Harriet’s. Sanchez does not often go to Pappy’s, and because she covers bands that almost guarantee you’ll get hurt in a mosh pit, I figured The Longshot was some hard-core punk band.

Nope: She later explained that The Longshot is Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s side project—and the band is on a small, intimate tour, which included a stop at Pappy and Harriet’s. Since Green Day can fill the Rose Bowl, I had to make sure I saw The Longshot last Monday.

I was tipped off that hardcore fans had tried to camp out the night before at Pappy and Harriet’s. With that in mind, I arrived at Pappy’s at 4:30 p.m., with doors opening at 5—and there was already a long line of people waiting to get in for a 9 p.m. indoor show. You could hear Armstrong’s voice during the sound check through the 80-year-old adobe walls, and I knew I was in for a treat—but hardcore fans also mean potential mayhem. Thankfully, I was able to get a spot near the stage behind some fans. Casual polling revealed they came from Indiana, England, France, Germany and Finland. Behind them was a group of younglings dressed exactly like the Karate Kid, with matching bandannas; and some fans who took punk fashion cues from Hot Topic. I gave myself 50/50 odds that I would break a bone, or worse, a camera.

Billie Joe Armstrong walked onstage and said, “Welcome to Pioneertown! Come a little closer. … Support your local taxi drivers!” The proclamation started the first tussles and pushing and moshing. Two songs in, Big Dave, the bouncer, ejected a man-bun-wearing, middle-aged German fan for moshing aggressively.

Armstrong seemed a little rusty, sharing with the crowd on several occasions, “I am forgetting the lyrics of the song.” This mattered little to the fans and was made up for by the vocal accompaniment of the audience. Armstrong pointed to the audience and asked, “Who is going to dance on the tables?” Fans went crazy when he played The Longshot song “Turn Me Loose,” followed by a cover of Clash’s “I Fought the Law.” After the song, Armstrong said, “You know? It’s so fucking beautiful in Pioneertown, Are you guys ready to go crazy?” followed by “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones.

Toward the end, Armstrong said, “Thank you, guys. We have one more song. This is called, ‘Chasing a Ghost.’ It’s a glorious evening in California. Good night! … Oh no, I know I forgot the lyric!” The audience seamlessly filled in any lyrical gaps. Armstrong then said goodnight before returning with a three-song encore: “Ziggy Stardust,” “Kiss Me Deadly” by Generation X and “Fever Blister” by The Longshot.

It was a special night. I left as a new fan of Billie Joe Armstrong.

Published in Reviews

Coachella’s second weekend started off on Friday, April 18, on a comfortable note: The heat was not overbearing, with temperatures generally remaining in the 80s. Not even the arrival of some ominous clouds in the afternoon would put a damper on the fun.

The Gabba Gabba Heys, a Ramones tribute band, started things off in the Gobi tent at noon. As someone who was fortunate enough to catch the very last Ramones tour during a stop in Cleveland, I can say that the Gabba Gabba Heys sound exactly like the Ramones. When they opened up with “Rockaway Beach,” a portion of the crowd in front of the stage began to mosh. Ramones tunes such as “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Rock and Roll High School” and “I Wanna be Sedated” were performed with the Ramones sound intact—although visually, the Dee Dee Ramone was a little pudgier and shorter than the original, and the Joey Ramone was much better-looking.

As the members of GOAT sound-checked on the Outdoor stage, members of Flatbush Zombies, who had just performed, walked into the photo pit and chatted up attendees for a few moments. After GOAT took the stage, they proved to be just as amazing as they were at Pappy and Harriet’s earlier this month. The Coachella crowd cheered “GOAT! GOAT! GOAT!” before the band began to play. GOAT performed “Diarabi,” “Run To Your Mama” and a few other songs from their only album to date, World Music.

As for some of the Coachella art you’ve probably seen on your friends’ Facebook pages: In between performances by GOAT and the Dum Dum Girls, Anthony Green was heard on the Main stage saying, “From where I’m standing, It looks like the Robot is going to fuck the Astronaut in the ass.” From the Outdoor stage area, that assessment seemed spot-on.

When the Dum Dum Girls took the Outdoor stage, frontwoman Dee Dee Penny came out wearing a sheer outfit that revealed her breasts in their entirety, save the nipples, which were covered with black circles. They opened up with “He Gets Me High,” and followed with “I Got Nothing.” The sound of the Dum Dum Girls reminded me of the Pretenders at times, especially during “Are You Okay?” The almost-all-female band drew a crowd and put on a solid set. This is a group we’ll be hearing plenty more about in the near future.

In the mid-afternoon, dark clouds began to form over the Empire Polo Club. The wind also picked up, creating fears of a nasty storm. However, that didn’t stop attendees from having a good time.

At 4:35 p.m., the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion took the stage in the Gobi tent. The Blues Explosion never stopped in between sets, and was all over the place with material. One song that seemed to catch everyone’s attention was a cover of the Beastie Boys’ “She’s On It.” The crowd got a show one would expect from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, with loud volume, plenty of feedback and Jon Spencer working the crowd like the master of rock he is.

Around the time the sun went down, the threats of rain and high winds subsided—and delightfully cooler temps made the crowd more comfortable.

When Chromeo took the Main stage at 7:40 p.m., a sizable crowd was waiting, even though Broken Bells were performing not too far away on the Outdoor stage. Chromeo did something daring: The band played two of their biggest songs first—“Night by Night” and “Hot Mess.” The smell of marijuana filled the air; glow sticks lit up; inflatable pool toys were held in the air; people were dancing all over the place. The energy was impressive, but could they manage to hold the crowd with their other material? The answer: a resounding yes. The band ended with “Fancy Footwork.”

The Replacements are on a reunion tour—and the members appeared to have some problems early in their set on the Outdoor stage. Before they took the stage, a couch was brought out and put in front of the drum riser. When the band members came out and started “Takin’ a Ride,” Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg didn’t seem as energetic as he had during other recent performances. The whole band was decked out in plaid suits and bowties, except for Westerberg.

After the third song, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong walked onto the stage in his own plaid suit. Westerberg asked, “What are you doing here, Billie Joe?” Armstrong replied: “Dreams really do come true!” After a few songs during which Westerberg planted himself on the sofa, sang along and played guitar, it became evident that Billie Joe was onstage to stay. Westerberg announced that he was having back trouble, and that The Replacements had heard that Armstrong had always wanted to play with them—so they hired him as an “extension” for the evening. Armstrong breathed life into the set and managed to draw a large crowd to the Main stage. During “Bastards of Young,” the three-ax attack was unbelievable.

A rather amusing note: The Los Angeles Times recently suggested that if a family is going to Coachella, the parents should go see Bryan Ferry. Well, when I peeked inside the Mojave tent toward the end of Ferry’s set, the crowd was mostly middle-age-to-older. Another amusing note: One of the balloon chains broke, sending all of the balloons into the night air.

As the evening’s end approached, and Main stage headliner OutKast was preparing to take the stage, The Cult began to perform in the Mojave, and dedicated their set to a 24-year-old woman who died while attending Coachella last week. Cult frontman Ian Astbury told the audience to take care of one another and stay hydrated, just before the band opened up with “Rain.”

As for Outkast’s set: If you burn through all your hit songs at the beginning of your headlining set, you may just lose some of your audience. The same annoying hologram tent was onstage as it was during Weekend 1, and the visuals were not good unless you were really up close.

Outkast opened up with a stellar performance of “Bombs Over Baghdad,” which probably should have been saved for the closing number. On the plus side, Big Boi and Andre 3000 looked a lot more energetic than they did last week. After performing “Gasoline Dreams,” they went right into “ATLiens.” Shortly thereafter came “Rosa Parks” and “Ms. Jackson.”

Many fans, after hearing all these songs so early, decided to skip out to avoid traffic; after all, there was not much to stay for at that point. It made for an odd ending to an otherwise fantastic Day 1.

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Published in Reviews

Nepotism pays off in a big way as Leslie Mann stars in husband Judd Apatow's hilarious This Is 40 reprising her role of Debbie from Apatow's Knocked Up.

Also returning are Paul Rudd as Debbie's husband, Pete; Maude and Iris Apatow (Mann and Apatow's kids) as Pete and Debbie's daughters; and Jason Segel as, well, a strange variation on Jason Segel.

Spinning off Knocked Up to further explore the characters of Debbie and Pete sounded like a strange enterprise. (Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl are nowhere to be seen.) Fear not, for This Is 40 is as smart and funny as the film that spawned it. And who needs Heigl, anyway? (As for Rogen, I can never get enough of the guy ... was hoping for a cameo, but no dice.)

The film opens with Debbie in denial of her 40th birthday, a worn-out movie cliché, for sure. No matter, because Apatow and Mann make it all fresh, funny and, at times, wonderfully vulgar.

Debbie sneaks smokes, chastises her husband for taking Viagra and pretends she's 38 on her 40th birthday. Mann just pulled down a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. (Rudd is nominated as well.) They both deserve the noms.

And then there's the ever-reliable Rudd. His Pete secretly devours cupcakes, tries to get his wife to like the Pixies, and steals private time with his iPad through extended, unnecessary bathroom breaks. He also attempts to revive Graham Parker's fledgling music career with his small record company so he can make the mortgage payment.

Rudd and Mann play a married couple with stunning reality, efficiency and humor. They throw lethal verbal daggers at one another, and even fantasize about each other dying. Yet, there seems to be a strange sort of everlasting love at play. Rudd is essentially channeling Apatow here, surely getting plenty of hints from his director on how to deal with the wife.

Adding to the authenticity are Maude and Iris Apatow, realistically sparring with their real-life matriarch. Maude is especially good, capturing the shrieking frustration of a teen girl who is having her Wi-Fi restricted. One of the movie's running gags is her obsession with watching Lost, a joke that is funnier than it sounds. Little Iris is obviously the daughter of Mann and Apatow; she possesses killer comic timing.

As for supporting casts, you won't find one much better in 2012. Albert Brooks plays Rudd's dad, getting more laughs than he has in years. John Lithgow plays Mann's pop, a stick-in-the-mud who has a moving change of heart by film's end.

There's more! Megan Fox is actually really funny (something she proved when she hosted Saturday Night Live a couple of years back) as Debbie and Pete's employee at their clothing boutique. She's capable of playing more than Michael Bay eye candy, for sure. Chris O'Dowd, who got a lot of laughs playing Kristen Wiig's love interest in Bridesmaids, gets many again as one of Pete's record-label employees.

If that's not enough for you, there's Melissa McCarthy stealing her few scenes as a parent who gets into a feud with Debbie and Pete regarding their children. The aforementioned Segel shines as Debbie's trainer, and Charlyne Yi is her usual deadpan funny as another of Debbie's employees. The list goes on, but I'll stop now. (Actually, I will tell you that Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day makes an awesome cameo.)

Apatow seems to have carved out a nice niche for himself. He's sort of like James L. Brooks at his best, with a little bit of Adam Sandler when he was good, finished off with just a pinch of Woody Allen from back when he didn't suck.

This is one of the year's best comedies, featuring stellar, barnburning screen arguments. Mann and Rudd have fights for the cinematic ages on many occasions. They're actually quite despicable, yet lovable at the same time. It should also be noted that when Rudd and McCarthy square off, you should hold on to your butts.

Stick around for the credits for outtakes of McCarthy's principal office meltdown. It is laugh-until-you-cough-up-blood funny. If there were an award for credit outtakes, McCarthy would win it without contest. Seeing Rudd and Mann unsuccessfully trying to keep a straight face while McCarthy goes off counts as a 2012 cinematic highlight for me.

This Is 40 is a long one at an epic 133 minutes. (That's just 25 minutes shorter than Les Miserables, and 33 minutes shorter than The Hobbit!) Trust me that this is time well spent. Apatow and company know how to put a comedy together, and Mann and Rudd are beyond competent at delivering it.

This Is 40 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews