Saturday, October 15, 2011

Moving Pictures

It's an oft-repeated, and not incorrect, refrain among older music fans these days that MTV doesn't play videos anymore.

Those of us who were young music fans in the '80s spent countless hours watching artists mouth the words to their biggest hits in rock videos. Then MTV hit on the idea of original programming: Game shows, talk shows and eventually reality shows like "The Real World" and "Road Rules" gradually took over the airwaves on MTV and its sister station VH1. Starting in the 2000s, you had to tune in overnight or during odd hours to catch a video.

For artists, it was no longer imperative to make videos. Much like radio airplay, unless you're an established and popular artist, your videos would never get played. Then something funny happened: high-speed Internet access made it possible to watch videos on demand whenever you wanted and on a phone, laptop or tablet. Thanks to YouTube, you can watch just about any video ever made as well as live clips of your favorite band on their current tour.

Enter indie rock acts like Stephen Malkmus, Ted Leo and the New Pornographers, who are revered among their small niche of hipster fans but relatively unknown to the pop world at large. Radio airplay even on so-called alternative stations is scarce, so these acts are getting more creative to get the word out about new releases: Using social media platforms to build up buzz, but also teaming up with folks from the alternative comedy world to make videos. The latest example is Malkmus' new video "Senator," directed by Scott Jacobson of The Daily Show and starring Jack Black as a coke-snorting, cattle prod-wielding senator and Gary Cole as his hype man:



Malkmus and his band the Jicks are featured briefly, but the attention is on the antics of Black and his cohorts. The clip mainly goes for laughs but features a fairly shocking last scene.

Malkmus' Matador Records labelmate Ted Leo and the Pharmacists had a similarly funny effort produced for Leo's "Bottled In Cork," directed by WFMU's Tom Sharpling and featuring comic Paul F. Tompkins as a Broadway producer who talks Leo into writing a Broadway musical. A clear parody of Green Day's "American Idiot" show, the video also features John Hodgman as a theater critic:



Sharpling has become a go-to director for funny indie rock videos. He also directed this clip of The New Pornographers' "Moves" that starred The Daily Show's Hodgman and Wyatt Cenac, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader of SNL, Horatio Sanz and Donald Glover, among others:



And he directed Titus Andronicus' "No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future":



Sharpling's latest videos include a clip for The Ettes' "Excuse," starring Patton Oswalt, and The Stepkids' "Legend in My Own Mind" with Cenac.

As much as I've always enjoyed straightahead performance videos, these funny mini-movies are a lot of fun. And they bring back fond memories of DaveTV:

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