“Tell me what life is like being at home for Tracy and his family.” If most people were asked that question, referring to our current quarantined existence due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, they would give a boring answer about watching Netflix or doing jigsaw puzzles. But because the “Tracy” in question is Tracy Morgan, and there’s nothing boring about the 30 Rock star, he gave a wild answer to Today show host Hoda Kotb.
“Me and my wife been quarantined for three weeks, so she’s pregnant three times. Every week she got pregnant,” Morgan said. “We’re also roleplaying a lot now. She playing a young maiden who’s grandfather was infected with coronavirus, and I’m the scientist who discovered a cure, and she’ll do anything to save her grandfather’s life. Anything.” The Last O.G. actor then talked about getting his pets tested for the virus, including his shark and moray eel (both of which he actually owns) and a 600-pound silverback gorilla, and “I’m going to take him down to NewYork–Presbyterian, and get him tested.”
The interview eventually turned serious, or at least as “serious” as Morgan ever gets (although he’s very genuine when discussing health-care workers, after what happened to him in 2014), but that came after two minutes of pregnancy, coronavirus-themed roleplay, and gorilla talk. He also, at one point, defended President Trump, saying that “it’s difficult for him.” It did not sound like a bit. Needless to say, people were confused.
Tracy Morgan said he impregnated his wife 3 times in 3 weeks, wants to get his gorilla tested for ‘rona, has a N95 mask, and said we shouldn’t place blame on Trump for how he’s handled the pandemic. Hoda gracefully got through that interview, but I know she was like… pic.twitter.com/Bcrvrj6WTM
It’s never a dull moment when @TracyMorgan is on! Watch the full interview with the comedy star who talks about coronavirus and dealing with the unknown, “We all got to pull together as people,” he says. pic.twitter.com/nVG8DjAxg2
Lil Yachty has been a creative force during the coronavirus pandemic, both musically and in terms of social media activity. He has been paying people to do wild things on Instagram Live (like shave their eyebrows off and drink pee) and “selling” toilet paper for extreme prices, but he’s also unveiled some new music. He shared the hilarious “Oprah’s Bank Account” video a month ago, and now it appears Yachty has a new album on the way.
Yachty recently hopped on an Instagram Live interview with 99 JAMZ’s Supa Cindy, and during their chat, Yachty said he plans on releasing a new album soon, saying, “I’m about to drop this album.” He was asked about who might be featuring on the album, and he responded, “I can’t say yet. I wish I could, but I’m super excited to drop it and just like… soon. Really soon.” He wasn’t able to give a specific date, but he reiterated that the record isn’t too far away.
It seems Oprah herself would be interested in the record. At the very least, she was a fan of “Oprah’s Bank Account,” as she said of the track, “I love it. I love it. I loveeeeee it! Yes, I love it! I haven’t seen the video, but it’s nice to be in a Drake song no matter what — especially for your bank account, OK!”
Chris Hemsworth is at his best when he’s allowed to show off his goofy side (Thor: Ragnarok, Ghostbusters), but he’s a pretty good action movie star, too.
In Extraction, originally titled Dhaka, he plays the wonderfully-named Tyler Rake, a mercenary who’s sent to Bangladesh to rescue the kidnapped son of a crime lord. Also, he jumps off cliffs, hits bad guys with shovels, and, like any good action movie protagonist, he’s haunted by the memory of his (dead?) family. Extraction is directed by Sam Hargrave, the stunt coordinator for numerous Marvel Cinematic Universe, and produced by Anthony and Joe Russo, the “visionary directors,” as the trailer boasts, of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Hey, when you direct the highest-grossing movie of all-time, you can call yourself whatever you want (like “king of the world”).
Here’s the official plot synopsis:
Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) is a fearless black market mercenary who embarks on the deadliest mission of his career when he’s enlisted to rescue the kidnapped son of an international crime lord. Directed by Sam Hargrave, this action-packed, edge-of-your-seat thriller is produced by Joe and Anthony Russo, the visionary directors of Avengers: Endgame.
Extraction, which also stars David Harbour, Manoj Bajpayee, Marc Donato, Fay Masterson, Randeep Hooda, and Pankaj Tripathi, premieres on Netflix on April 24.
With no big stadium, and no crowd to cheer, the entrance gear and ring gear at WrestleMania 36 felt even more important than usual in making the show feel special. With that in mind, I decided to return to a format I haven’t done in a long time, and take a look at some of that gear, judging it by my own personal tastes (which, yes, means you might disagree).
I left out the Goldbergs and Brauns and KOs, and all those people who just wore pretty much what they always wear. I don’t blame them for not dressing up for this particular Mania, but I wanted to keep this to the looks that stood out, for better or worse. So let’s start with the worst, and work our way up to the best:
19. Mojo Rawley and Gronk, Tiger Style
Rob Gronkowski recently finished a run on The Masked Singer as “White Tiger” so he showed up at WrestleMania as the Cyan Tiger, apparently. I realize a little bit of clownishness is part of Gronk’s appeal (or at least I assume it is?) but with those big ugly sunglasses, the whole thing’s just not a good look. Not to be outdone in the tackiness department, Gronk’s best buddy Mojo Rawley turned up in a white sports coat with tiger-print lapels. Anybody looking forward to these New Hype Bros winning the Tag Team Titles when Gronk joins the roster full time?
18. Lacey Evans Wearing a Chip Bowl on her Head
I mean, what can you say? That’s not a hat that people wear. It’s certainly not the kind of cute little sailor hat that would make sense with Lacey’s already questionable outfit. When she first came out I thought she was wearing a sombrero, which raised its own set of problems, but no. It’s just a big bowl, on her head. When Lacey was a heel, it almost kind of (but not really) worked that her entire character was about good taste when the woman clearly has no taste at all. Now that she’s a face, she just looks ridiculous for no reason.
17. Drew McIntyre’s M-Jacket
Drew’s long vest has a big “M” on it now, because his last name’s McIntyre. It actually looks pretty cool, and I like how the bottom is cut. But at the end of the day, he just put a big “M” on his jacket. Actually two, because there’s also one on the back.
16. Shayna Baszler’s Red Gear
Traditionally Shayna has worn red, black, and gold. For this gear, she’s gotten rid of the black, so it’s just red and gold. That makes her actually look less defined than before, and in the simplest terms, maybe less threatening? It’s not a great choice. If she wanted to do something different, she should have added more black, or kept the black and gold and changed the red to a different bold color.
15. Rhea Ripley as Sexy Vegeta
I get it — dressing like your favorite Dragonball Z character is basically a WrestleMania tradition at this point. And it’s fun to see Rhea in colors besides black and “steel.” When she has her entrance vest on, I like this gear a lot more. It’s that top, though. The white just makes the “support” aspect of the garment a little too prominent, and it looks like something a college girl would wear to a club. Rhea’s always badass and sexy, but that top leans too far away from badass and toward sexy. Plus, you know, Vegeta wears a whole blue shirt under his.
14. Edge’s Edgy Coat
It’s not really breaking any powerful new ground, but that is a really great coat. He looks like Edge, but he doesn’t look like a throwback to nine years ago. He just looks powerful and dangerous. Like he should. It’s great having him back, and I look forward to more cool coats in the future.
13. Charlotte Flair’s Royal Aesthetic
I almost disqualified this under the “what they always wear” rule, but there are some great subtle choices going on here. The purple and gold ring gear makes Charlotte look like actual literal wrestling royalty, and the touches of that same purple on this version of her black “witch queen” robe keep the whole thing cohesive while making her look as evil as she ever has. It’s peak Charlotte, in a good way. I can already see her black-swanning around Full Sail with that belt.
12. Seth Rollins’ Christlike Vestments
Somewhere along the way, “Monday Night Messiah” stopped being a joke and became literal. Rollins is Wrestling Jesus now, and this is exactly what Jesus would wear to the ring. If Seth Rollins gets any more Christ-like, Hulk Hogan is going to start claiming he can cure coronavirus.
11. Becky Lynch’s Jacket
Becky’s gear, on the whole, is pretty much what she always wears, but that jacket looks incredible on her. If you asked me in the abstract, I wouldn’t recommend a gold jacket to somebody with bright orange hair, but she’s making it work. The asymmetry makes it an even stronger look. Now don’t ask me about the semi truck. I have no idea why that’s supposed to be cool. Did Vince get it for her because it’s the most manly vehicle he can think of and she’s The Man? But I’m not here today to rank vehicles, and once she got out of it, she looked amazing.
10. Naomi’s Glowing Colors
Not many people could pull off wearing concentric circles on their breasts, but as part of her intentionally busy “Glow” aesthetic, Naomi absolutely does. I’m not sure whether to say this is two pieces with a zipper connecting them, or a one-piece with a cut-out that goes all the way around, but either way it’s a very daring look, which also extends to the color scheme. Naomi knows exactly how good she looks, how talented she is, and what she can pull off.
9. Mandy Rose’s Daring Outfit
You might think Mandy Rose and Otis don’t have much in common, but at the very least they’re united by a sense of comfort with showing off large amounts of torso. Mandy Rose wasn’t on the card, she just ran out to help her true love beat up her fake love, and slap her former best friend in the face along the way. That means this is just the outfit she was hanging out backstage at the Performance Center in. And the thing is? I fully believe that Mandy spends her free time casually hanging around in a sparkly gold leotard with the entire front cut out and a matching bra. That’s in character.
8. American Badass Undertaker
Every once in a while, WWE does give people what they’ve been begging for. In this case, the return of Biker Taker. But what makes it work is that Taker’s not just wearing whatever biker clothes he had in his closet (and you know he has plenty). This is a thought out, perfectly-fitted look that conveys that 20-year-old character without looking twenty years old. He actually does look like a badass, and frankly that’s something Taker hasn’t fully looked like in a long time.
7. Sasha Banks’s Gold-Festooned Jacket
The Boss makes “busy” work like few others can, and this is no exception. Does she have military medals on there? Grandma’s brooch collection? Hand-me-down bling that belonged to Snoop Dogg in the ’90s? I can’t really tell, but somehow it still looks great.
6. Sonya Deville’s Collection of Straps and Belts
Sonya Deville loses a lot of cool points for willingly hanging out with Dolph Ziggler, but she holds onto some for this fantastic outfit. The tight sleeveless black bodysuit with the baggy pants is already a classic “badass lesbian” aesthetic, but the cut-outs on the sides and the plethora of straps and buckles just make it even more of both those things. I worry about what this storyline is doing to Sonya’s character, but at least she looks amazing while it’s happening.
5. Zelina Vega’s Shoulder Skulls
This is the most Zelina Vega has ever looked like Mrs. Aleister Black. Her whole ensemble is great, including the sunburst crown she entered in, but those gold skulls on her shoulders are easily the best part. They’re extremely ostentatious, especially in gold, but that suits her character. And amazingly, they don’t look cheap, even in closeup. I’m certainly not saying they’re real gold (or real skulls), but they’re well put together and don’t show their seams in that way that really costumey stuff sometimes does. Zelina, Queen of the Dead, is something I’m very much here for.
4. Aleister Black’s Stag Beetle Realness
Meanwhile, Aleister comes to the ring with huge horns on his shoulder, like some kind of gender-swapped Queen Beryl. It’s a pretty amazing garment, with the hood and descending into tatters as it reaches his waist. Like Zelina’s (and maybe because the same person made them?) it’s over-the-top and apocalyptic without looking fake or ridiculous. Yes, it looks like something a necromancer would wear. But Aleister seems to be some kind of necromancer, so that’s actually appropriate.
3. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross’s Matching Gear
Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross used to be wildly different in both their wrestling and their personal style. And what’s interesting is that they both still dress pretty much like they always have, except now they match each other. Nikki has added some neon colors to accent her black, and Alexa has upped the amount of black to tone down those same neon colors. They’ve gone from an oddly thrown together pair to a cohesive team who are also believably best friends. Their gear reflects that. I also love Nikki Cross entering in a vest, taking it off to reveal another vest, and then hulking up during the match and tearing open that vest to reveal her sports bra. There’s still a little bit of chaos monster in the popular girl’s bestie.
2. Bayley’s Mournful White
I know not everybody likes Heel Bayley, but I’m a fan. I love her sullenness and that palpable empty hole in her soul where her childlike happiness and enthusiasm for wrestling used to be. And nothing suits that more than replacing her loud, colorful gear with white. Ironically, she also wore white with gold and black accents to NXT Brooklyn for her history-making match against Sasha, but that was a whole different aesthetic. That was about ascending to new heights, this is about being empty. And that’s emphasized by the broken stars and X-ed out hugger. I don’t know how she’s made white represent the loss of innocence, but here it absolutely does.
1. Kairi Sane’s Fabulous Pirate Outfit
Alas, poor Kairi. The Pirate Princess was probably never going to get the full pirate entrance she deserved at WrestleMania 36 anyway, on account of being shuffled into a tag team to work in a usually-forgotten division, but once the show had to be moved from a stadium that literally has a huge pirate ship to the empty Performance Center, all hope was lost. Still, that didn’t stop Kairi from showing up in the best-looking pirate outfit she’s ever had. The shades of blue look great on her to begin with, and underneath the hat and cape she turns out to be wearing really cool ring gear, which is also surprisingly sexy, with built-in garters and laced-up cutouts. Her aesthetic is unmatched.
Every band that has to make a living on the road has been impacted by this epidemic. But what if you’re a jam band, where you not only rely upon touring for financial support, but also as your primary creative outlet? Not only can you not make money, but you can’t create your art in the moment, and in the company of tens of thousands of people, your very reason for being.
How do you deal with this? If you’re Phish, one of the most successful jam bands ever, you put out a new studio album.
Last Wednesday, the band hosted a listening party for its 15th studio LP, Sigma Oasis, on their SiriusXM channel. The next day, Sigma Oasis swiftly appeared on every streaming platform. The album had been announced only a few days prior, during the mid-set break for the weekly “Dinner And A Movie” stream of archival concerts that Phish started just last month. The band members revealed that Sigma Oasis had been recorded in November during rehearsals for the band’s 2019 winter tour. They were assisted by producer and engineer Vance Powell, who previously worked with guitarist Trey Anastasio on his solo Ghosts Of The Forest project. Though Powell is most famous for his work on Chris Stapleton’s 2015 smash hit, Traveller.
“When we recorded the album, we didn’t plan to release it this way,” Phish said in a statement. “But today, because of the environment we’re all in, it just feels right. We don’t know the next time that we’re all going to be able to be together. This is an opportunity to have a moment where the Phish community can share something despite being physically separated.”
By debuting Sigma Oasis in its entirety during a free satellite broadcast, Phish turned the album into a “live” communal social-media event for fans, who have similarly gathered in large numbers for the “Dinner And A Movie” broadcasts. That weekly happening already feels like an essential fan tradition that will hopefully continue beyond the epidemic. (The most recent edition, for a show from July 27, 2014, has been viewed nearly 165,000 times since last Tuesday.)
Until recently, this “couch tour” experience — in which fans gather online and collectively watch a live-streamed concert — was most associated with jam bands. But in the past month, the whole world has become a couch tour. No matter what kind of music you’re into — whether it’s Dua Lipa, Jeff Tweedy, Ben Gibbard, Neil Young or scores of other artists — there’s a good chance you have watched a live performance beamed directly into your laptop or iPad in the past few weeks. Many of us are even doing a couch tour to see our own friends and family members, queuing them up on Zoom like heads tuning into a Widespread Panic show on Nugs.net.
I’m curious to see if this sticks when the music business, and the greater world, returns to relative normalcy. I’ve written about how I wish more bands from the indie world would emulate the jam model, since it’s such a better fan experience than most bands offer, fostering a genuine sense of connection among listeners. Though I have my doubts about whether more mainstream artists will want to pursue the couch-tour life as an actual way of conducting a career. I recently spoke with the singer-songwriter Laura Marling, who is releasing an album, Song For Our Daughter, later this week, and she admitted that her weekly Instagram video appearances didn’t come naturally to her, hinting that she would stop once she could tour again.
Even now, as artists from other genres are forced to embrace the couch-tour model, I find myself still drifting toward jam-oriented corners of social media in search of community. Along with Phish’s official weekly viewing party, fans have been holding their own events with sites like watch2gether.com, in which viewers can chat with each other while watching the same video in unison. I hosted one such viewing party last week with my friend Rob Mitchum. Along with hundreds of other Deadheads, we watched an old Grateful Dead show from Halloween 1980. While many people would surely grimace at the prospect of sitting through a three-hour-plus jam-band concert from 40 years ago, I found the idea of briefly exiting 2020 for a 200-minute virtual jam cruise pretty relaxing.
Beyond all of this, however, the prospect of a new Phish LP prompts a familiar question: Should a band that is celebrated as one of the great live acts in rock history even bother with making a studio album?
It’s likely the members of Phish have pondered this very question themselves. Sigma Oasis is their first studio work in four years, coming after 2016’s Bob Ezrin-produced Big Boat, a woefully stiff-sounding misfire that has been treated mostly with scorn by fans. Two years later, Phish changed course with Kasvot Växt, sort-of concept record that’s not really a record. Phish initially teased it before its semi-annual Halloween show, in which the band has traditionally performed a classic album by another artist. For Kasvot Växt, they perpetuated an elaborate hoax about a mythic LP by an obscure (and fake) Scandinavian rock band that Phish then “covered.” While that 2018 Halloween show is the only time Kasvot Växt has been played in sequence, the songs have become staples of the band’s live sets, and (unlike Big Boat) the “album” was enthusiastically embraced by the fanbase.
For Sigma Oasis, which was recorded live and then overdubbed over the course of the intervening months — most audibly by keyboardist Page McConnell, who added layers of vintage synths and pianos to the core tracks — Phish faced the same Catch-22 they’ve long faced when setting out to make new albums. On the one hand, this is band that demands to be captured as a vibrant, live-sounding unit. Imposing too many of the conventional strictures of recorded music on Phish strangles everything that is inventive and exciting about them. (In that respect, Powell — whose work tends to have a retro, “plug-in and play” aesthetic — was an inspired choice over the more obtrusive Ezrin.) On the other hand, what is the point of a “live-sounding” studio album when there are literally hundreds of concerts recordings to hear? Even if you consider the charming Halloween performance of Kasvot Växt to be a Phish album, all of those songs have been performed better in other shows, which means any intrepid Phish fan can assemble their own, better version of the “album.”
This is the fun (and the madness) of following this band. But in the case of Sigma Oasis, which seems to have been warmly greeted by Phish followers, the members of the band somehow found a way to maneuver this seemingly no-win situation. For instance, it’s true that Sigma Oasis captures the live energy of this band more successfully than any Phish album since Billy Breathes, the 1996 effort that stands as their best studio work. The rhythm section of drummer Jon Fishman and bassist Mike Gordon sound especially powerful on this album, with Powell ably capturing the full scope and definition of their interplay and insistent force. And Phish also jams far more than usual on record, with the recent improvisational vehicle “Everything’s Right” unfolding over the course of 12 minutes to a beguiling ambient coda. Two other lengthy numbers, “Steam” and “Thread,” similarly feel like they were lifted out of a live set and inserted into the album with minimal fuss.
But Sigma Oasis ultimately is noteworthy for how it deviates from Phish’s stage work, particularly on the album’s ballads, precisely the sorts of songs that tend to not go over as well live. The album’s centerpiece is “Leaves,” a dramatic piano-driven number with a striking string arrangement that recalls Paul Buckmaster’s work on Elton John and David Bowie albums of the early ’70s. A similar sense of care and attention to detail is discernible in the band’s musicianship, whether it’s the way Anastasio’s languid guitar lines dialogue with McConnell’s grandiose piano licks, or Fishman drives the song home with a series of expertly executed drum rolls.
Live, this kind of song can seem like a momentum killer. Even on record, the relentless positivity of the lyrics can seem trite or corny, given that you can hear them with greater clarity. But at this moment, I find myself feeling more appreciation for platitudes like “everything’s right, so just hold tight” from “Everything’s Right” or “don’t give up hope, keep dreaming” from “A Life Beyond The Dream,” the album’s mushiest (and most affecting) ballad. (However, the line imploring listeners to “take off your masks / fear is an illusion” from the title track seems like an unfortunate instance of bad timing.)
Even on the ballads, what Sigma Oasis gets right is capturing the friendly, intuitive interplay of the musicians, that innate sense of ambient pleasure that derives from witnessing four lifelong friends gather in a room and sharing a moment of joy and creation together. It’s the very sound of human connection, which is something we could all use in our ears right about now, as we all remain stranded on our respective couches.
Sigma Oasis is out now via Phish Inc. Get it here.
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