Family man

Comedy showcase features Francis Birch

In standup comedy, a weekend booking represents validation. Francis Birch’s first was at Veronica Laffs in Strikers East, a Raymond bowling alley. The pop-up club closed mid-decade, when comic and entrepreneur Jay Grove opened a dedicated venue, Curlie’s Comedy Club in Rochester.

The laughs are returning to Strikers East — as is Birch, who’ll share the stage with headliner Graig Murphy on Feb. 13.

The upcoming show is presented by Laugh Riot Productions and will be hosted by its CEO, Michael Smith.

“It’s kind of cool to go back,” Birch said recently by phone. “To work there as a more polished comic who has a little bit of a reputation now.”

Birch began doing comedy in 2011, egged on by friends who said he was funny. However, his first attempt at an open mic night wasn’t a triumph.

“I did not know what I was getting myself into,” he said, ruefully noting that a friend taped his 11-minute, laugh-free set and posted it on YouTube. “Sometimes when I need to humble myself, I’ll watch that.”

Unbowed, Birch persisted, finding a home at a Monday night gathering called Punchlines, hosted by Grove at Penuche’s Ale House in Concord. While there, he worked the same five minutes repeatedly, “to just see if I could nail my timing” in front of a tough, sometimes unforgiving crowd.

One night, the antipathy in the room broke his rhythm — and led to a breakthrough.

“Some drunk guy was yelling at me,” Birch said. “I just had a conversation with him, and it really went well. Jay said to me, ‘Any time you can engage and shut down a heckler, and he comes up to shake your hand afterward, is a good thing.’”

Birch is married with three boys of his own, and he’s a stepfather to one more. The big family is a major source of material, but it was also parenthood that caused him to step away from comedy, from 2015 to 2018. The decision came after he’d received one too many videos of his son, now 8, “doing awesome stuff, and I wasn’t there,” he said. “I missed my other boys I was raising because I was in my 20s and being an idiot. Now I was missing this one growing up because I was doing comedy.”

Along with his children, Birch’s mother was a big part of his act. It was her death in 2018 that helped spur him back into the game.

“I had the itch,” he said. “I wanted to go out and tell some jokes, make fun of her a little bit. Because she helped me write those jokes.”

He did a midweek open mic, then a Saturday night guest slot at Curlie’s.

“Maybe if I got 10 minutes on a weekend that’ll be scratchy enough to satisfy,” he reasoned, but “that did nothing. It made it more itchy. Since then, I’ve been working full steam ahead, just growing my act and incorporating some of the things that happened since.”

Birch said he came back more confident, and more honest — “I started to speak to my stories, being them instead of reciting it.”

He also quit smoking and gave up drinking in the months after returning to standup; again, he was guided by his mom.

“She got pneumonia and her body wasn’t strong enough to fight it, because she had COPD,” Birch said. “[I realized that] if I don’t make changes in my life, that’s gonna be me. My kids are gonna have to watch me die.”

A fitness regimen “to make my body as strong as it can be to fight off any infection” soon began, an effort that grew into a coaching business.

“I help people create habits and become better versions of themselves,” Birch said. He believes telling jokes is not dissimilar. “When I do comedy, I feel like I’m helping people escape their reality and laugh a little bit.”

Asked if the health focus had an effect on his act, Birch replied with a laugh, “I got a lot of fat jokes I can’t use anymore! That’s something Jay taught me when we first started … don’t write jokes about your beard or being fat because you might not always have that beard, you might not always be fat.”

One subject remains, though: Birch’s beloved mother.

“I make fun of her like never before,” he said. “I’ve actually written more material about her, and I like to deliver it with a smile. Because I know that’s what she’s doing — she’s smiling. She’s my rock, my heart and soul, and she’s with me every performance.”

Graig Murphy, Francis Birch & Mike Smith
When: Saturday, Feb. 13, 8 p.m.
Where: Strikers East, 4 Essex Dr., Raymond
Tickets: $20 at laughriotproductions.com or call 895-9501

Featured photo: Francis Birch. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 21/02/11

Truffle man: Leading one of the Seacoast’s most enduring bands, Dave Gerard brings the same good-time vibe and constant smile to his solo music. Normally the group that began as Savoy Truffle would be marking 2021 with shows celebrating 35 years together, but these aren’t those times. At least there’s still the chance to dine out and enjoy live performers, abbreviated though it may be. Thursday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m., Telly’s Restaurant, 235 Calef Highway, Epping, 679-8225.

Wide ranging: Take in a stunning view of the Merrimack River as Brien Sweet entertains at a Queen City eatery. The curly haired singer and guitarist plays covers that range across decades, from Elvis to Coldplay and The Weeknd. Recently he did a full set of boy band songs on his Facebook Live. When warm weather allows he’ll again be seen as David Bowie in area tribute band Young Americans. Saturday, Feb. 13, 6 p.m., The Foundry Restaurant, 50 Commercial St., Manchester, 836-1925.

Off the road: BecauseProvidence-based singer-songwriter Kevin Horan began as a drummer, his original tunes are pulsing and percussive. In addition to his solo work, such as the local brewery show he’s doing at midpoint of the three-day weekend, Horan fronts Ocean State rockers the Stone Road Band, who are currently at work on a follow-up to their debut album, Alive At Dusk. Sunday, Feb. 14, 3 p.m., To Share Brewing Co., 720 Union St., Manchester, 458-2033.

Sushi country: Throughout the past challenging months, April Cushman has managed to keep her calendar full, even packing rooms with fans on occasion — using the pandemic definition, of course. The countrified singer plays a Valentine’s Day set at a Gate City Japanese restaurant. Cushman’s autobiographical single “Hometown Girl” is lately getting traction on download and streaming sites, and local radio. Sunday, Feb. 14, 6 p.m., San Francisco Kitchen, 133 Main St., Nashua, 886-8833.

At the Sofaplex 21/02/11

Locked Down (R)

Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor.

A couple stuck in lockdown in London eventually plan a half-baked diamond heist in a movie that is just so much more pie crust scraps than pie.

Paxton (Ejiofor) and Linda (Hathaway) have broken up but are still stuck living together in the same (really pretty, with multiple stories and a garden) London townhome early in the pandemic. Linda, an American, is working remotely at her job as a luxury goods executive and Paxton has been laid off, I think, from his usual job as a delivery driver. After a lot of unnecessary shagginess, we get to the action, which is that Linda has to assist with the pack-up of high-end clothes and accessories from Harrods, which is locking away all its goods during this quarantine era. One of the items she is charged with packing up is a very large diamond that has been sold to a Bad Person and is going to be sent to a vault in New York City where it is unlikely to be even looked at for decades. Coincidentally, Paxton has been tasked by his old employer to help transport these items.

According to the little sneak peek of this movie on HBO Max, the film was not only made in a house with minimal crew during Covid (actors like Ben Kingsley, Ben Stiller, Stephen Merchant, Mindy Kaling and Dulé Hill appear in Zoom or FaceTime sequences) but filmmakers were given access to the inner workings of the closed Harrods. But this gem of a setting doesn’t show up until the last 30 minutes. That’s 90 minutes of not-heisting in this heist movie.

Somewhere here is 72 minutes of a tight, light, fun movie of the “heck, let’s make something” style of Covid-era creation. But way too much time is spent underlining the unhappiness in Paxton and Linda’s relationship and the crazy-making state of being locked down (which, and this won’t be true in 10 years but it is true now, movies don’t need to explain; like, we’re here, we get it). C+ Available on HBO Max

Bliss (R)

Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek.

Wilson is either a man experiencing drug addiction and mental illness or a volunteer caught in an experiment in this odd sci-fi, I guess, movie. Wilson plays Greg, a man who has recently, in his words, messed up his marriage and is spacing out at work but still tries to convince his grown daughter, Emily (Nesta Cooper), that he is OK. But then a meeting with his boss goes fatally wrong and Greg runs to a bar, where he meets Isabel (Hayek), a woman who seems to have the power to move things with her mind. She claims that the world and most of the people in it are not real but that Greg is real and, like her, can manipulate objects after popping some yellow crystals. He stays with her in her tent under the underpass and together they grift food and get into petty trouble. When his faith in her claims about “simulations” and “crystals” starts to falter, she takes him back to the “real” world, which unlike the “simulation” (basically this world, with its pollution and income inequality and muted gray color scheme) is a brilliantly colored place of universal wealth, a healthy environment and so much happiness it’s turned people into ungrateful jerks. There, Isabel is actually a doctor who has developed the Brain Box, a device that sends people to the unhappy simulation existence so they can see how lousy things could be, to appreciate what they have. Greg is her boyfriend or husband or whatever and together they live in a beautiful house, like the one he’s been sketching during his “life” in the simulation. “Real” life is perfect and Greg never wants to leave — but he can’t shake thoughts of his children back in the simulation.

I’m not totally sure what this movie is doing, if it’s trying to say something about the state of our world, how it feels not be able to trust your own perceptions, or something about the reason people fall into addiction. Whatever it’s doing, Bliss is not doing a great job of it. It also never made me care about the central characters of Greg and Isabel. Ultimately, I didn’t really care which world was real; I was just happy when the movie was over and I could leave both of them behind. D Available on Amazon Prime

Palmer (R)

Justin Timberlake, June Squibb.

Palmer (Timberlake) is released from prison and returns to his small hometown to live with his grandmother, Vivian (Squibb), and try to start over in life. The small town-ness makes that extremely difficult — everybody knows his trajectory from promising high school quarterback to man who took part in a burglary that went bad. But his grandmother’s reputation in her church also helps to get him his job as janitor at the local elementary school.

Vivian is strict with Palmer but a giving person; when Shelly (Juno Temple), the woman renting a neighboring trailer from Vivian, takes off, Vivian watches Sam (Ryder Allen), her elementary school-aged son. Sam is sweet and happy despite his family turmoil and loves all things fancy, especially a cartoon princess show and its costumes and toys. This makes school difficult for him but he is confident in his personality and his interests, despite the bullying from kids and some adults — and he has a caring teacher in Miss Maggie (Alisha Wainwright).

When Vivian dies, Sam is basically left alone. Though Palmer initially plans to send Sam to child services, his own childhood experiences with family upheaval lead him to agree to take care of Sam while they wait for Shelly to return. Palmer, Sam and to some degree Miss Maggie, who sort of hovers on the edges (initially, it seems, to make sure Sam is all right but later because, you know, Palmer is played by Justin Timberlake), become a kind of found family, with Sam and Palmer helping each other to find some stability.

For all that this movie has some grim and violent moments, it is a kind and gentle story — but sweet fancy molasses, is it slow. You know the joke that goes “I spent a year in [some boring place] one weekend”? Palmer is the movie version of that. It goes exactly where you think it will but it takes so very long getting there. This movie sets the scene just fine but then hangs around making sure “Do you get it? Do You GET IT?” an unnecessarily long time and it does this repeatedly. You could cut a good 30 minutes out of this movie and lose nothing. B- Available on Apple TV+

Malcolm & Marie (R)

The Little Things (R)

A couple argue in Malcolm & Marie, a movie somewhat reminiscent of the talky (if mannered) indies of the 1990s.

Did you like your Clerks and your Blue in the Face-type movies? This is slicker than those but there is something in it that reminds me of them. Like those movies (with their backstories of being funded by credit cards), this one leans on dialogue in part because of behind-the-scenes constraints. According to media reports, Malcolm & Marie was made during Covid times. So while multiple characters — an actress, past girlfriends, a “white lady from the LA Times” (who becomes a stand-in for all film critics) — and a big fancy party are in the narrative mix, on screen there are only two people at one location.

Malcolm (John David Washington) is a filmmaker ecstatic after the premiere of his new movie. He is so giddy that it takes him a while after he and his girlfriend, Marie (Zendaya), return home to notice that she’s mad. We learn that while introducing the film at the event, Malcolm thanked all the people involved in the film but not Marie. And, in the hours since, the lack of a thank you has become A Whole Thing.

Thus this relatively spare setup digs into relationship stuff, relationships-in-a-Hollywood-environment stuff, ideas about the art of film, ideas about the criticism of film, stuff about who gets to make art with whose life experiences. Has that description made you say “ugh, pass” or “OK, tell me more”? I feel like if you have a low tolerance for this much self-conscious, very movie-scripty talkiness, Malcolm & Marie may not entirely win you over. But I found all of this self-aware movie-ness kind of charmingly spunky even when it’s being A Lot.

Washington joins his father (Denzel Washington) in that group of actors who I just enjoy watching, no matter how good or flawed or adequate the scene they’re in is. He’s fun here and seemingly having fun and also turning in an engaging performance that at times maybe feels a little like an audition for a better movie but it was thoroughly watchable. Zendaya is often fine but not always able to match the heft that Washington brings to a scene, a state exaggerated by the way her character is written and their age difference (Zendaya is 24 and Washington is 36). I’m not sure how much older the movie wants us to believe Malcolm is than Marie or how we’re supposed to think that plays in to their relationship. In a movie so all about who is telling whose stories and why, it’s an oversight that gets in the way.

So, yeah, there’s a lot of talking about what we’re talking about. And it’s not a relaxing good time to watch couples fight. The setup does occasionally border on stagey and the movie continues for a few minutes past the point of its natural ending. But I had enough nostalgia for this kind of chatty movie and Washington delivered enough moments of a fun performance that I had a better than average time. C+

Rated R for pervasive language and sexual content, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Written and directed by Sam Levinson (son of Barry, and this movie about a movie-maker takes on a whole new entertaining layer when you know that), Malcolm & Marie is an hour and 46 minutes long and is available on Netflix.

Featured photo: Malcolm & Marie

Chatter, by Ethan Kross

Chatter, by Ethan Kross (Crown, 229 pages)

Ethan Kross had a problem, and not one you’d expect to plague a psychology professor with a Ph.D. and a family.

He’d gotten a threatening letter, postmarked locally, from someone who had been inexplicably enraged by his appearance on the CBS Evening News to talk about a scientific study. The letter contained violent drawings and so disturbed Kloss that he reported it to the police. Nothing happened, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it. In his mind, he imagined the face of the writer — “with a little help from Dexter and the Saw movies” — and he stayed up late at night, listening for an intruder. He even considered hiring a bodyguard, an idea so silly that it caused him to speak sharply to himself, saying, “Ethan, what are you doing? This is crazy!”

With those words came a revelation: Viewing a distressing situation from another point of view, from a distance, can help people feel better. It is one of social science’s recent discoveries about how reframing can improve our outlook and mental health.

What Kross had been doing is often called rumination, the constant recycling of negative thoughts. Kross, director of the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan, has another word for it: chatter. We all have “voices in our head,” he says; “the inner voice is a basic feature of the mind.”

“The flow of words is so inextricable from our inner lives that it persists even in the face of vocal impairments. Some people who stutter, for example, report talking more fluently in their minds than they do out loud.” Deaf people talk to themselves too, using sign language in their minds, Kross says.

But it’s the negative talk that is the focus of Chatter, the kind that derailed a promising pro-baseball pitcher and a Harvard undergrad on a track to a CIA career. Theirs are among the stories that Kross tells to illustrate the way in which destructive self-talk can ruin a career or a relationship, before telling us how to turn off the poisonous fountain, or at least slow it down to a drip.

Often all it takes is a shift in the language of how we talk to ourselves; for example, thinking about ourselves and our situations in the third person has been shown to relieve painful thoughts within seconds. (For example, imagine advising a friend with the same problem.) Conversely, the most common way of dealing with distressing situations or thoughts — talking it over with friends — can backfire and turn into “co-ruminating,” which Kross describes as “tossing fresh logs onto the fire of an already flaming inner voice.”

Star Trek fans will enjoy Kross’s explanation of how to avoid this (“When supporting each other, we need to offer the comfort of Kirk and the intellect of Spock”); in this chapter, he offers useful advice for anyone struggling to help a friend or relative in distress. But mostly the book is designed to help people struggling with chatter to help themselves in practical, evidence-based ways. One way is to organize our homes and workspaces, which “stimulates a sense of order in the world — and by extension in our own minds.”

More surprising suggestions that he offers include clutching a lucky charm of some sort or embracing a superstition. (The placebo effect is real.)

Although everyone talks to themselves, there’s wide diversity in what we think is the source of the voice. Some people sincerely think the voice comes from aliens or the government; those are deemed auditory hallucinations by mental health professionals. Kross makes clear that he believes the voice is his own; when panicking over the hate mail in the middle of the night, he tells himself, “Ethan, go to bed,” and finds comfort in the direction.

Elizabeth Gilbert also heard a similar instruction that she relays in the opening to Eat, Pray, Love (“Liz, go back to bed”) but she attributed the voice to God.

God doesn’t make the index of Chatter; a failing of the book is Kross’s unwillingness to address what (or who) many people believe to be the source of the interior voice. It also seems a little thin and anecdote-heavy for the complexity of the topic.

In both the cases of Gilbert and Kross, whatever the source, the directive worked, so if God doesn’t tell you to go to bed the next time you’re up at 3 a.m. ruminating, just tell yourself. Kross promises it works. B

BOOK NOTES
Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene was ousted from her House committees for what Sen. Mitch McConnell called “loony lies and conspiracy theories.”

Meanwhile, Avi Loeb still teaches at Harvard University, which means that his theories about extraterrestrial flybys must be … true? Or at least reasonable enough to take seriously. Now we can learn more in Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 240 pages).

Loeb’s Ivy League colleagues have been dubious about his insistence that the oblong UFO that sped through our solar system in 2017, dubbed Oumuamua, was from an advanced civilization. To make his case to a more accepting public (a third of Americans tell pollsters they believe in aliens), Loeb wrote a book that, from its opening pages, looks surprisingly user-friendly. And neither Harvard nor Mitch McConnell has denounced him as loony, which seems an endorsement in itself.

For less controversial works about the universe, MIT professor Alan Lightman has a new collection of essays out this week. Probable Impossibilities, Musings on Beginning and Endings (Pantheon, 208 pages) is a physicist thinking out loud about subjects such as what came before the Big Bang and whether consciousness is greater than the neurons of an individual brain. We gave his previous collection, 2018, Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine (Pantheon, 210 pages) an A.

Michael Leinback and Jonathan Ward also had an eye on the heavens in Bringing Columbia Home (Arcade, 416 pages), an account of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and the efforts to recover the shuttle parts and human remains. With so much attention paid to the 1986 loss of the Challenger, with New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe aboard, the 2003 Columbia disaster has fallen into its shadow. This book, released in paperback last year, is a poignant memorial to that crew.

And just because we love the title, check out Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (W.W. Norton & Co., 224 pages).

Featured photo: Chatter

Album Reviews 21/02/11

Ashnikko, Demidevil (Parlophone/Warner)

Eh, this is OK for what it is, a nauseating wad of enthusiastically moronic, hip-hop-infused bubblegum roughly in the vein of Billie Eilish and whatnot, in other words blocky, straightforward YouTube-pop that gets to the (more or less) melodic point. The 24-year-old from North Carolina struck a vein of TikTok gold with the viral “Stupid” (featuring Yung Baby Tate, the daughter of former Arrested Development singer Dionne Faris), and is now poised, she hopes, to break a bit bigger in the States than she has in the U.K. Place your bets; she’s obviously got a lot of competition, meaning every Tumblr girl with good teeth and a webcam, but like I said, it’s OK, fronting boomy post-Avril Lavigne righteousness on the Kelis-guested “Deal With It” and a decently bloopy hearing-test beat on “Slumber Party” (alongside Princess Nokia). (OK, I know I’ve been remiss in covering the flood of hilariously disposable TikTok divas, and I’ll readily admit that her social media-professed fascination with intersectional feminism is probably already so, like, totally 2019, but I gotta start somewhere, right?) C

Cult of Luna, The Raging River (Red River Records)

Awesome, a new Nile album, it’s been a while! Wait, what, this isn’t Nile? Well, I never! Who — exactly who — is this then, sounding like Nile, with a side of Silkworm, I demand an answer this instant! Wait, Cult of Luna, you say? I thought they were just a permanent slow-math-metal fixture, destined to be trapped on the Epitaph Records label forever, or whatever indie it was. Nope, it’s them. Figures. I’d kept forgetting to write a little bot that would delete any promos like this from landing safely in my email lest I end up listening to it by mistake, but here it is. They sound a little different for the first eight minutes or so (roaring-drunk-pirate-bellowing vocals, slow doom-metal guitars, stormy proto-emo angst) but then come the pinched math chords, fortified with more yo-ho-ho Blackbeard roaring, and of course no guitar solos. It doesn’t seem like this’ll ever end, you know? C

Retro Playlist

It was February 2013 eight years ago. Let’s commemorate that week, shall we, by briefly looking at the dilemmas on whose horns I was … you know, dealing with or whatnot, on these pages.

Emmylou HarrisOld Yellow Moon album was on the way, which found her teaming up with Vince Gill and her old guitarist Rodney Crowell in a cohort-palooza of proper bluegrass.

That was nice and everything, but this column’s main focus that week was, as usual, two albums, one of which was High Beams, from a duo calling themselves Javelin. Released through David Byrne’s Luaka Bop record label, it was a pretty amazing achievement in Battles-like tech-indie, at least insofar as the vocals weren’t the same old tedious Beach Boys-nicking that the band’s contemporaries (Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, etc. etc.) were getting away with. I actually liked that record, and said so: “Javelin is a pair of guys who squeeze every resistor for every bit of worth on the technical end, but my God, someone took some advanced voice lessons — the vocals at startup tune ‘Light Out’ could be mistaken for Yes’ Jon Anderson’s sweet unobtrusive falsetto.”

Still a highly recommended album, as is the other album I talked up that week, Fear Inside Our Bones from Florida roots-emo/radio-rock dudes The Almost. I suppose you could have tagged them as kind of a metal band, but my first impression was a “toned-down Iggy, next-gen emo, or Collective Soul redux, depending on how you look at it.” In other words, the band was slightly difficult to pin down style-wise, but after charting in the Top 200 in 2009, they were more accessible than before. I particularly liked the tune “Ghost,” saying that it’s made of “a few no-wave sounds soldered onto ’70s Foghat-style blues — there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll hear that one in a movie theater lobby or something and won’t be able to remember who the band is for the life of me.”

I still haven’t heard it played at a movie theater or a sports bar, so there went that theory. It’s still pretty awesome, though.

PLAYLIST

A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Feb. 12 is a Friday, which means that there will be a new set of random albums available for sale in the stores and whatever, and now let’s talk about hipster rocker Ariel Pink, the one-time Lilys member who has been trolling his fans and the music media for over a decade now. His hobbies include posing as a really crazy political extremist, which had gone largely unnoticed until the other week, when I wrote a piece on Medium.com about him. To my knowledge, no journalist has ever come out and accused him of being an Andy Kaufman-style super-troll (one YouTube commenter said that’s exactly what Pink is), and there’s the outside possibility that I’m wrong (I’m not), but he pulled a too-obvious publicity stunt in the wake of the January 2021 invasion of the U.S. Capitol that instantly put him in the same league as Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat). He actually got interviewed on the Tucker Carlson Show by claiming that he was dropped by his record company “simply for attending the event,” which did cause a bit of a stir. No one actually did have any video or photographic evidence of Pink hanging out at the rally that led to the insurrection; there was just a mysterious Instagram post that “outed” him, which later resulted in a tweet from his record company claiming they’d dropped him. Long story short, fans and casual observers who’ve been well aware of Pink’s over-the-top pranking over the years did notice a particular clue that gave up the jig. I’m pretty proud of this journalistic moment, but I won’t take up this whole space by elaborating further. If you want to read about it for some ungodly reason, just google “Eric Saeger Medium” and click on the first link you see. The story will be in the list.

• Speaking of intolerable college-pop bands, look guys, it’s Philadelphia/Brooklyn-based one-hit-wonders Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s new album, New Fragility, fresh out of the oven! The band hasn’t charted since 2011, back when half the emails in my inbox were from public relations hacks trying to get me to write about the band’s Hysterical album (even after I’d already done so), but here we are again, I can hardly contain my enthusiasm! The latest single, “Where They Perform Miracles,” basically rips off Bright Eyes, which actually might be a selling point to some of you people. It’s an OK-sounding indie-folk strum-fest, naturally without a discernible hook, but plenty of strummy, alt-folkie vibe.

• Man, I don’t know how people can stand what passes for “music journalism” these days, really. It’s always the same annoying overuse of litotes (double-negatives — for example, writing “not bad” instead of “good”) just to fill space. There’s a new album from dream-pop duo Sports, called Get a Good Look Pt. 1, and this is what UnderTheRadar said about it: “’Never Know,’ the latest track from the band, wastes no time in delivering the band’s established blend of indie pop and funk, infused with touches of psychedelia.” Why would some band waste any time in the first place, right? And why didn’t the writer just say, ‘It sounds like the Bee Gees singing underwater, like everything else they do’?

• Finally, L.A. indie band Bodies of Water releases Is This What It’s Like this week. Test-drive single “Every Little Bird” starts off like a Rocky Horror bit, then becomes the boring Brooklyn-hipster gymnasium-pop nonsense I expected, yay.

Binge-watching and beer

Beer can be a critical component to pair with Netflix

The problem is that when one episode on Netflix ends, you’ve got less than five seconds to shut off the television before the next episode starts. If you haven’t made a conscious effort to have the remote in your hand the second the episode ends, you have missed your chance.

And once the next episode starts, forget about it.

That’s where I’ve found myself over the past couple weeks, cranking out episodes of the show Broadchurch on Netflix as if my life depended on it, as if I were playing a crucial role.

I couldn’t stop. The plot, the characters, those amazing British accents — the show had full control over me. (Did I watch it with subtitles because sometimes, just maybe, I have trouble understanding what exactly is being said with those heavy accents? Maybe. I don’t regret it.) The show first aired on ITV in Britain between 2013 and 2017.

I’m a sucker for murder mysteries, in show or book form, and I just feel that Netflix really takes advantage of me. Every night I’m thinking about how I can maximize my viewing time and considering just how much sleep I really need — or don’t need.

Anyway, binge-watching shows isn’t a new concept but I think it’s safe to say the practice has become more commonplace as we’ve all maintained a heightened state of isolation in our homes over the past year.

I think you need some beer to help you watch. Still, you can’t binge-watch an intense murder mystery show and drink a bunch of beers. Well, OK, you can — I’m not the boss of you — but the characters are relying on you to help them solve the case and you’re no help if your senses aren’t sharp.

I think you do need a little something to help you deal with the intensity. For me, that means a nice, rich stout or porter that I can sip slowly as I try to predict whodunnit. You might be in for a long night so you don’t want something that’s going to just knock you out. You just need something to take the edge off.

If you’re binge-watching something more lighthearted, like, say Schitt’s Creek, I think you can be a little more liberal with your drinking. But, frankly, I don’t think you binge-watch a comedy in the same way you just can’t stop watching something more serious. But that’s really your call.

Here are five beers to support you through your next binge-worthy show.

Smoke & Dagger by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, Mass.)

This is lighter than you’d expect but it is packed with layers of richly flavored roasted malts. This is perfectly balanced and welcoming.

Geppetto by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)

This milk stout brewed with coffee is a decadent brew that hits you with big notes of chocolate and a little bit of roasted coffee too, as you might expect. It’s got a little sweetness as well.

Boneshaker Brown Ale by Moat Mountain Brewing Co. (North Conway)

This is a wonderful brown ale featuring notes of chocolate, roasted nuts and caramel in a fairly light package.

Maritime Lager by Newburyport Brewing Co. (Newburyport, Mass.)

You don’t have to think about this beer; you can just drink it and enjoy the show, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Oatmeal Stout with Honey by Throwback Brewery (North Hampton)

Don’t let the honey throw you off; while this has just a touch of sweetness, this beer is really all about delicious roasted malts and big notes of chocolate.

What’s in My Fridge
Budweiser by Anheuser-Busch
Am I allowed to drink Budweiser without people throwing things at me? I’m not sure. It’s been a long time and the Budweiser drinking experience was pretty much as I’d remembered it — crisp, clean, not especially flavorful, but also not at all off-putting. It’s a beer. Relax, everybody, it’s a beer and it’s fine. Cheers.

Featured photo: Photo by Jeff Mucciarone.

Corayma Correa

Corayma Correa’s family launched the Tropical Food Truck (tropical-food-truck.business.site, find them on Facebook) last October, its primary location at 80 Elm St. in Manchester. The truck’s menu combines authentic options native to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where Correa’s mother and stepfather respectively are from. Among the most popular items are appetizers like beef and chicken empanadas; alcupurias, or fritters stuffed with beef or crabmeat and veggies; and the french fry supreme, featuring fries loaded with beef, cheese sauce, sour cream, light ketchup and bacon bits. After taking a month off in January, Correa said, the Tropical Food Truck will return to 80 Elm St. on Feb. 18, where you’ll find them most Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons and evenings. The truck is also available to hire for private events.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

I would say a nice solid spatula, just because I’m always turning things.

What would you have for your last meal?

A burger, cooked medium, with caramelized onions, barbecue sauce, an egg over easy, American cheese, lettuce and tomato.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Puerto Vallarta Mexican Grill on Second Street [in Manchester].

What celebrity would you like to see ordering from your food truck?

I’d be flattered to have Adam Sandler stop by, just because he’s from New Hampshire.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

Our chimis. It’s a Dominican dish that’s similar to a burger. We do them with your choice of beef, chicken, pork or all three, and then they are topped with cabbage and a special chimi sauce.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

Birria tacos. It’s basically a taco with slow-cooked tender meat, melted cheese … and a sauce that you use as a dipping sauce. I’ve seen it in an empanada too.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

We are huge steak lovers at home. A nice warm and juicy steak is all we need.

Pernil (pork roast)
From the kitchen of Corayma Correa of the Manchester-based Tropical Food Truck

1 (8- to 10-pound) bone-in pork shoulder
1 head of garlic, peeled
4 tablespoons sofrito
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons adobo
2 packets sazón

Rinse pork shoulder with vinegar and water, then pat dry. With a knife, make ½-inch stabs all over the pork. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and mix together. Fill each slit in the pork with about a teaspoon of the paste. Sprinkle all sides of the roast with the adobo and sazón and rub pork with the spices. Place in a roasting pan that has sides at least two inches deep, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight for the best results. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Leave the roast covered with foil and bake for four to five hours (approximately 30 to 45 minutes per pound). Pork should read 180 degrees on an internal thermometer and shred easily with a fork. Uncover roast and bake for 15 to 20 minutes to crisp up the fat, or broil at 500 degrees for 10 minutes, watching carefully not to burn. Let cool and serve. The pork can also be refrigerated and used the next day on a panini.

Featured photo: Corayma Correa and her stepfather, Victor Rodriguez. Courtesy photo

Eat organic

NOFA-NH’s annual winter conference returns (virtually)

Whether you’re looking for advice on how to grow your own organic food at home or you want to learn about the state’s many networks connecting consumers to the local food system, you’ll find those topics and more during the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire’s 19th annual winter conference. Normally a one-day event with more than 40 workshops, a keynote speaker and a Q&A session, this year’s conference will be held virtually over two days, on Saturday, Feb. 13, and Sunday, Feb. 14, featuring seven sessions on each day.

The theme of the conference is “cultivating stewardship,” with workshops that will cover topics such as soil health, herbalism and immune health, growing organic seeds and more.

“Farmers, gardeners, homesteaders and anyone who’s just interested in organic food and the sustainable food system in New Hampshire can attend,” said Nikki Kolb, operations manager for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire.

Previous conferences have split the workshops into several tracks to choose from. But this time around, Kolb said, ticket holders have access to all 14 workshops — each is an hour long, beginning at 9 a.m. and with 15-minute intervals in between.

Notable speakers will include Maria Noel Groves, clinical herbalist at Wintergreen Botanicals in Allenstown and author of the book Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies. She’ll be leading a discussion about how simple herbs grown in your garden can benefit your immune system. Keith Morris of Willow Crossing Farm in Vermont is on the schedule to talk about growing organic fruit and nut trees, while regenerative farmer and author Acadia Tucker will explore the topic of container gardening at home, both indoors and outdoors.

“The whole conference is going to be livestreamed over Zoom, and each workshop incorporates a Q&A session, so you’ll be able to interact with the speaker during that period,” Kolb said. “Everyone will be emailed a link to access them. … They’ll also be recorded, so ticket holders will be able to go back and view them afterward if they can’t attend all of them.”

The workshops will conclude with a 90-minute keynote address on Sunday at 4:15 p.m., featuring Mukhtar Idhow, executive director of the Manchester-based Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, as the speaker. The organization also operates the Fresh Start Farms program, a collective brand of local farms run by new Americans.

An ongoing Green Market Fair is also usually held during the conference, featuring dozens of local craft vendors, demonstrations and other exhibitors. That too is going virtual this year, Kolb said — exhibitors’ listings are available to view on NOFA-NH’s winter conference web page.

“MainStreet BookEnds [in Warner] … has books published by several of the authors that we have speaking at the conference, and they’ve added other books for sale that fit under the umbrella of the discussions,” Kolb said. “Twenty percent of the proceeds of all books sold will go to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire.”

19th annual NOFA-NH Winter Conference
When
: Saturday, Feb. 13, and Sunday, Feb. 14; seven one-hour sessions will be held virtually over each day via Zoom, beginning at 9 a.m.; the keynote speaking event is Sunday, from 4:15 to 5:45 p.m.
Cost: $50 for NOFA-NH members, $60 for non-members; includes access to all workshops throughout each day, as well as the virtual Green Market Fair
Visit: nofanh.org/winterconference

Featured photo: Keynote speaker Mukhtar Idhow. Courtesy photo.

Crafty sips and casual eats

Industry East Bar opens in Manchester

Jeremy Hart and Dan Haggerty have around four decades of combined bartending experience across the Granite State. Now the two have gone into business together to open their own craft cocktail bar, complete with a rustic ambience and a unique food menu to match.

Industry East Bar, which opened Feb. 2 just a stone’s throw from Elm Street in Manchester, was in its planning stages well before the start of the pandemic. Hart and Haggerty first came across the vacant storefront on Hanover Street in mid-2019. During continually delayed renovations that lasted more than a full year, repurposed butternut wood was brought in for the bar, as well as additional wood paneling for the walls to give the bar rails a distinctive look.

According to Haggerty, the bar’s name comes from its development as a destination spot for professionals of all types of service industries to enjoy a meal or a cocktail at the end of the work day — the word “east” comes from its being on the east side of downtown.

“Even before we wrote the business plan, we knew we wanted it to be a place that’s super laid back and unpretentious to anyone that comes in,” he said. “We wanted it to be nice, but not too nice where you feel like you need to wear a suit or anything. … Just a super-cool place with high-quality cocktails and wicked awesome food. That was our main goal.”

The bartending duo recruited Jeff Martin, formerly the sous chef at The Birch on Elm, to oversee the food menu. There’s no hood system in the kitchen, so they can’t serve any fried or sauteed items; instead, Martin has been working on a menu of charcuterie boards, flatbread pizzas, paninis, and shareable plates, from duck confit-stuffed popovers to braised short rib toast points.

“We’re also going to be doing things like shrimp cocktail, beef or tuna tartares, ceviche, oysters, some crudos … and gourmet hot dogs,” Haggerty said. “We’ve done a kimchi dog with gochujang sauce and our housemade pickles and sesame seeds. … Jeff is really good at making his own mignonettes, sauces and aiolis and just making everything taste great.”

Some featured desserts that Industry East has introduced right out of the gate have been a brownie sundae trifle with chocolate mousse and whipped cream, and a s’mores sundae with a graham cracker crumble, bruleed marshmallow and chocolate drizzle.

As for the cocktails, that menu combines modern takes on the classics with all kinds of experimental concoctions, all using syrups, juices and other ingredients made in house. The Gentleman’s Choice, for example, incorporates orange and carrot flavors with vodka or mezcal, while the Participation Trophy is a cocktail featuring Branca Menta and vodka, with flavors of strawberry and lemon.

“My approach is … that I never try to think of something,” Haggerty said. “You just kind of play with it and then maybe you add something in or take something out. … There are some things, though, that you just can’t mess with, so we’ll definitely always have the classics, your Old Fashioneds, your Manhattans, things like that.”

Industry East can sit about 20 people at a time with social distancing regulations in place, including nine at the bar and additional tabletop seating. By the spring and into the summer, Haggerty said, outdoor seating will also be available, both right outside the front of the bar and under the adjoining alcove next door.

Industry East Bar
Where
: 28 Hanover St., Manchester
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight (may be subject to change)
More info: Visit industryeastbar.com, find them on Facebook and Instagram, or call 456-7890

Featured photo: Industry East Bar co-owner and bartender Jeremy Hart serves a cocktail. Courtesy photos.

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