Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year! - the end of 2007

In a few hours, 2007 will be history and the new year will kick off. My wife and celebrated with a trip to our celebration place - Todai all you can eat Japanese food. It was particularly grubbin' tonight because they did some things special for this evening. They added a lot of food and for the first time in over a year they got fried rice done right (until tonight, they kept adding tons of lima beans. Nasty!).

To end the year will be my last list of '07, the best of the rest, Tv and Movies and any other random thing I can throw in. Neither medium made a particular impact on me this year so I combo'ed them. Here it goes...

10. Knocked Up - It seemed like a sad year for movies, though I still have to watch the Bourne Ultimatum. This tv sitcom turned movie did bring the funny and was the most enjoyable movie I saw this year.

9. American Idol - Probably the dullest season in Idol history, if it wasn't for the truly horrible Sanjaya it would have been a snoozefest.

8. Kaze No Haruka - A Japanese soap opera whose title translates to some girl's wind. Sappy and innoctuous yet completely watchable.

7. WWE Raw - Wrasslin's premier show continued to deliver what watchable moments the WWE could generate including the return of Chris Jericho.

6. Live Earth - Global charity concerts have become a dime a dozen lately, but this was the best one as far as the actual event went. Musicians from all genres performed on a stage that seemed to be designed by Target. Any sense of political message was muddled and lost but the coverage of the event was miles ahead of Live 8 - a boon for any music fan!

5. Ninja Warrior - G4 imported the best obstacle course show I've ever seen. A show that emphasizes sportsmanship and integrity when facing some of the most fanciful barriers conceivable. There's a rumor American TV is trying to make their own version of Ninja Warrior, but I seriously doubt they can copy the heart of this program.

4. Flight of the Conchords - quirky music comedy on HBO about two struggling comedy folk singers from New Zealand trying to make it in the Big Apple. They have a delusional manager, a blind innocence and exactly one fan. Great stuff.

3. Chuck - The comedy spy show is the rare show to have its cake and eat it too -humor is mixed with character development and a knowing wink at it's media savvy audience.

2. Best Week Ever - The snarkiest show on Tv, pop culture condensed into soundbytes by professional comedians. The year end show was an instant classic, seeing that NBC reporter send up his "To Catch A Predator" was spectacular.

1. Family Guy - The comeback kids turned in another season of ruthlessly harsh and scatological humor. Intentionally offensive, Family Guy was once again freakin' sweet.

That's it for '07, in fifteen minutes it will be 2008. See you next year!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Behind the times and lovin' it

At the end of my last post, I wrote that I would list my Top 5 favorite TV shows from '07. But, in a The Spy Who Loved Me move (at the end of Spy Who Loved Me the movie promised James Bond would return in For Your Eyes Only but instead Moonraker came next) I've decided to write about the song stuck in my head.

It's not the normal type of song that I listen to, it's a modern pop kinda hip hop song. It was arguably the biggest pop hit of the Summer, it's Rihanna's "Umbrella". I didn't think much of it all Summer and it went away until the year end countdown shows kicked in. Now my thoughts often end in ela ela ay ay ay.

Speaking of Bond, the video features the singer in what looks like silver body paint. A little like Goldfinger! -finger -finger -ay -ay -ay. It actually has a bit of that Bond movie sound too. Maybe the song will lead to world peace as well? Geez, I really feel like I have to justify liking a song brought to you by Covergirl. I guess I really can't other than to say I like the song. So, six months after it was a hit, my song of the moment is "Umbrella".

Rihanna - "Umbrella"

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Top 10 Cds of the Year for me

To follow up my Top 10 favorite songs of 2007 comes the favorite CDs of 2007. Before going on, I just want to mention one other song came close to making the Top 10 list and that was Rihanna's "Umbrella" ela ela hey hey. It was one of those songs that seemed stupid the first time I heard it but 20 listens later thought it was pure genius. Anywho, on with the countdown:

Number 10: Dream Theater Systematic Chaos
Dream Theater is one of my favorite bands as they are one of the few current groups that make old school prog metal. They wear their influences on their sleeve and are the better for it. On Chaos, DT tried for a dark angry album and succeeded. It's kind of overdone, there's dark and there's morosely over the top which is where Chaos ended up. Still, even with the overstated aggressiveness DT still shines with winning songs and blazing solos.

Number 9: The Donnas Bitchin'
Who'd have thought the 80's hair metal album of the year came from a band that was probably in diapers when Bret Michaels and Jani Lane were in their hey day. The Donnas ditched the punk element and revelled in hammer on guitar solos and overdubbed background vocals a mile wide. Alright Vixen! I mean, Donnas!

Number 8: John Fogerty Revival
Although I like Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Fogerty, I would never classify myself as the biggest fan of swamp rock. There's nothing wrong with it, I just usually gravitate towards cleaner sounding songs. Having said that, only a fool wouldn't recognize the greatness packed in John Fogerty's Revival. Fogerty sounds reborn returning to the classic CCR sound that law suits kept him away from for decades. And you gotta love that "Gunslinger" song.

Number 7: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings 100 Days, 100 Nights

Old fashioned soul made a comeback this year and Sharon Jones was there to capitalize. She's not a household name, but she made a record worthy of reckoning with Stax/Motown Soul that's authentic and retro without being campy or gimmicky. Impressive.

Number 6: Radiohead In Rainbows

The CD made more headlines for how it was sold than what the music actually was. Rainbows finds Radiohead making their most accessable album in years with guitars, song structure and a bit of warmth. Kid A this is not.

Number 5: Rush Snakes & Arrows
The legendary Canadian prog trio returned with one of their most focused albums both musically and lyrically. Rush takes its shots at a segregated society living below it's ideals while the band is as tight and muscular as ever.

Number 4: White Stripes Icky Thump

The Stripes made a surprising return to guitar rock and laid emphasis on 70's hard rock on their recent release. An absolutely thunderous album. Love that bull fighting song "Conquest".

Number 3: Bruce Springsteen Magic

The Boss brought in the E Street Band for a disc that's both a look back and a step ahead. Springsteen revels in comforting memories of the past while taking shots at the current state of American life.

Number 2: Spoon Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
A sleeper disc, I originally thought this was just OK until I played it a few times. The songs sneak up on you and soon I found my head bopping to "Don't You Evah" or tense over "The Ghost in You Lingers".

Number 1: Arcade Fire Neon Bible

Arcade Fire made a fan out of me with their dense, almost orchestral sound and lyrics of spiritual discontentment. A near classic album that holds together in individual songs or as a whole.

Well, that's it for the music. Next up will be by Top 5 favorite TV shows.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas and the Top 10 songs of the year

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope everyone is enjoying this holiday season and is having a great day with friends and family. Christmas is usually a busy day for me and particularly my wife, who cooks Christmas dinner every year and makes tasty food. I am really looking forward to some green beans and bacon! It's gonna be Oh E She E (that's a fancy Japanese word for tasty).

With the end of the year comes the inevitable Top whatever lists of things from the year-and I love those lists. So, to kick off my series of lists is my Top 10 songs from the year. I'm going to include links to songs not featured previously here so hopefully it will all make sense.

Number 10: Spoon "Don't Make Me A Target"

The first song on their recent album wasn't a single, but still was my favorite song on that disc. It holds to Spoon's "less is more" aesthetic and has an edgy tension reminiscent of classic Police. I also liked how it was included in NBC's Chuck as it fits in well with the spy motif. Spiky riffs and choppy beats marked with a laconic vocal makes for a great song.

Number 9: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings "100 Days, 100 Nights"

Old school R&B made a slight comeback in 2007, mostly thanks to tabloid queen Amy Winehouse. But it was Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings who delivered the goods with a great classic Soul record. The title track, "100 Days, 100 Nights" starts like Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and then shifts gears into an heavier groove midway. Sharon Jones may go by the nickname "Queen of Funk" but she can definitely give the Queen of Soul a run for her money.

Number 8: White Stripes "Icky Thump"

Just when Jack and Meg White seemed like they were going to get lost in the ether of their artistry (Get Behind Me Satan), they returned to guitar rock with a vengence. Not just any guitar rock, but 70's stadium rock a la Led Zep or Bad Company. The lead single, "Icky Thump", was Led Zep 101 with cutting guitar riffs, high pitched vocals and hammering drums. And also like Led Zep, I have no idea what the song is about.

Number 7: Arcade Fire "Keep The Car Running"

Arcade Fire won comparisons to Bruce Springsteen with their Neon Bible album and on this track deservedly so. But this isn't a regurgitation of Springsteen, the song has its own distinct style with the quavery vocals and stilted sense of melody. The song received the Boss's official stamp of approval by performing the song live with the Fire and Foo Fighters covered it as well.

Number 6: Bruce Springsteen "Radio Nowhere"

The Boss returned to clean house armed with a Tommy TuTone riff and the truth. Easily his hardest rocking song since the Human Touch album, Springsteen's lament of radio and the bygone era of personal connection it represents charges through the speakers like a bull in a china shop. Plus, Clarence Clemons gets an actual solo to boot! When I saw him perform this year, they started the show with this song. The image of Springsteen spitting the lyrics into the microphone, his head swinging like a dog knawing a bone, is burned in my brain.

Number 5: Weird Al Yankovic "White and Nerdy"

Weird Al hit the bullseye on parodying a rap song by adding lyrics about the cool of geekdom. My Space, Star Wars, Star Trek and anything else geeky gets a shot in his best parody record in ages. Both fun and funny.

Number 4: Corrine Bailey Rae "Like A Star"

Bailey Rae's second single was this luxurious, languid ballad. A wonderful song filled with aching longing, "Star" was one of the few new songs I liked during the dearth of good music in the first of the year. A real thing of beauty, this one is.

Number 3: Peter Bjorn and John "Young Folks"

Whistling folks had something to rejoice about with Peter Bjorn and John's tune about young folks. The song has been featured in commercials and shopping malls, a song that brings happiness and comfort to anyone in range. The best video of the year also helps Folks make its case for greatness. If I could whistle, I would whistle this song.

Number 2: Rilo Kiley "Silver Lining"

Jenny Lewis and Co. sold out to the mainstream, lost indie fans, garnered rave reviews and ended up with buzz that lasted for about six weeks. But during those six weeks, "Silver Lining" came out and provided the trump card to ensure people remembered Rilo Kiley put out a CD this year. "Lining" moved to a handclap beat and a George Harrison lick to go with Lewis' resigned vocals. It was the one track on the Under The Blacklight disc I put on repeat and outshone anything on the otherwise superior previous disc.

Number 1: Foo Fighters "Long Road To Ruin"

After 2002's One By One album, I was ready to write off the Foo Fighters as a band past its prime. Then the Foos returned with the one-two punch of "The Pretender" and "Long Road To Ruin". "Ruin" had a spectacular video to support a sturdy piece of almost Tom Pettyish pop rock. My favorite song of the year proves you just can't keep Dave Grohl down.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Catching Up With the 90's

During the 90's, I viewed fewer movies than the previous decade as I was usually working. Looking back, there were many movies of cultural or artistic signifigance that I skipped so I thought I would take a look at some of those movies to see what I missed. So here it is, a trifecta of films from the Clinton era.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

This Oliver Stone directed movie from a Quintan Tarantino story explores the glamorization of serial killers in the media. Stone pushes the political buttons like usual, portraying the killers as free spirits, the media as sleaze buckets and authority as corrupt in every way. Robert Downey Jr stands out as a Geraldo Rivera style reporter. But ultimately, Killers stumbles as satire because it ultimately is too far over the top in trying to get its point across. Indian Shaman, a ridiculous Tommy Lee Jones and the lack of any character to represent a moral compass leaves the film a frenzied mess by the end. I can see how the multimedia approach was influential yet this movie was skippable.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Following Fargo, the Coen brothers came up an oddball comedy of David Lynch proportions. The story of a slacker named "The Dude" and his loser bowling friends getting caught up in kidnapping, ransom and sex. A movie that finds its humor in odd moments and character interaction, Lebowski was the funniest movie I've seen in some time. And just when you think you have a fix on the plot, a surrealist dream sequence kicks in to ensure you get lost. Great stuff and John Goodman kicks ass as the comical code of honor war veteran.

Fight Club (1999)
The first rule of Fight Club is that Fight Club is overrated. Club takes its shots at society by purporting that male aggression has been neutered by a materialistic society of homogenous consumers. It's an interesting message and the story is facinating on paper, but on film it's pretentious and unrealistic. Edward Norton delivers a fine performance while director David Fincher makes everything look murky and wet like he always does. It did have some influence in that many movies seemed to pop up afterwards about characters having fragmented bits of consciousness strewn throughout a story.

Catching up with the '90's was fun but I was thinking these movies would be better than they were. Of the three, I'll probably only pick up The Big Lebowski. I'll have to see if there are any other movies I missed from the Starbucks decade, but first I think I'll catch up with summer 2007 soon.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

High School Record Collection - LRB Playing To Win

I think it's instinctual to hate the guy in the suit with the cigarette-was this a great idea for an album cover?

It's been awhile since I've done a Mr Mike's High School Record Collection, so here's another lost title in the AOR highway of life- Little River Band's Playing To Win (1984).

When John Farnham originally joined Little River Band, all signs pointed to the group continuing with their established soft country rock sound. They had always been the poor man's Eagles and had racked up hits like "Lonesome Loser" and "Reminiscing" following in Don Henley's footsteps. Even when Farnham took over from rough voiced Glenn Shorrock, hits like "The Other Guy" and "We Two" continued their well worn sound.

So it was a shock when I was watching the California Music Channel in 1984 and saw a new band with a powerful AOR anthem. The vocals were strong, the keyboards were hyperactive and the beat was bombastic. I quickly bought the record of the group LRB to find out it was none other than the Little River Band in disguise (like Transformers, only not robots).

The first word that came to mind when thinking about this album was EPIC. Playing To Win is overblown cheesy Album Oriented Rock at its best. The title track was like Foreigner in overkill mode, the scampering synthesizers, crashing cymbals and Farnham howling "This time I'm playing to wwwiinnnn!!!!!" was the stuff of greatness.

But there was more. The stop/start beat of "Reappear" hit hard. "One Shot In The Dark" was an edgy rocker. But what took the cake were the ballads. "Blind Eyes" was a ballad that took a whithering stare at people who witness crime and say nothing. I'll never forget those lyrics, "Blind Eyes are weak / Blind Eyes are cruel / Don't be a Blind Eeeyyeee". And you couldn't get more epic than "When Cathedrals Were White". I never knew what that song was going on about, but it was churchy and built to a huge vocal finish that would make Simon Cowell nod in approval.

And who wouldn't love that album cover? It looked like a Miami Vice coke dealer playing chess with people's lives. Too cool! Surprisingly (or not), there wasn't a lot of this album out there but You Tube did have LRB performing the second single "Don't Blame Me" from the Live Aid show. "Don't Blame Me" was a little more rhythmic like classic Little River Band but with a vampy synth line. I don't know if I'll ever see this album again, but if I do I won't turn a Blind Eeeyyeee!

LRB - "Don't Blame Me"

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Another Passing-Dan Fogelberg

Just found out that singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg has passed away due to prostate cancer. Fogelberg was someone who dominated MOR radioplay in the late 70s with quiet yearning on hits like "Longer" and "Same Old Lang Syne". His music was like a warm blanket in cold weather-soft and comforting. Fogelberg was a respected artist and excellent storyteller, even his more moderate hits like "Make Love Stay" showed taste and a fine sense of restraint. But my favorite song of his was an upbeat song, "The Language Of Love" from the early 80's.

Dan Fogelberg - "The Language Of Love"

Armageddon It

I've always wanted to try one of those blog entries where you write your impressions of a live event as it happens. While I won't post this until after it's finished, I'm going to try this approach with WWE Armageddon.

MVP vs Rey Mysterio for the US championship

Rey always seems a little bit of a challenge for other wrestlers to work with because of the amount of selling they have to do for his moves to work. Having said that, MVP is doing a reasonably good job. Rey dominates the first half of the match with hurricuranas and corkscrew jumps both in and out of the ring. Rey hurts his leg and that allows MVP to work a hard hittng ground game. The match ends with MVP intentionally taking a ten count outside of the ring. Rey wins the match but not the belt and delivers a 619 for revenge.

Kane and CM Punk vs Big Daddy V and Mark Henry

I missed some of this match, but predictably with this many big guys in the ring it's filled with hard hitting combat. CM Punk impresses with his agility and keeps the match moving so the fight doesn't become a big Sherman tank battle. Big Daddy V catches CM Punk in mid air for a Samoan drop and the win. Wow, Big Daddy V needs a bra! And no, I would never say that to his face.

Vicki Guerrero is in a wheel chair talking to her boyfriend Edge. The room is filled with balloons in anticipation of his victory.

Mr Kennedy vs Shawn Michaels

One of the best of the new breed of superstars, Mr Kennedy comes to the ring. Love this guy's entrance, he can definitely talk. Kennedy....Kennedy. HBK comes out now to a huge pop from the crowd.

Kennedy dominates the early going but Michaels is starting to chop away at Kennedy's chest. Ate some dinner during this match, it became a very physical match. Kennedy works Michaels' back while Michaels works Kennedy's left hand. Michaels scores Sweet Chin Music with a great sell by Kennedy. Michaels wins the match but Kennedy gains the momentum careerwise. Both men sell like crazy to get this match over.

Jeff Hardy talks about going to the next level in his career. He still isn't great on the mic.

Triple HHH vs Jeff Hardy

Boring match as Triple HHH dominates the entire match. Some great character moments particularly for HHH showing his intelligence during the match in scouting Hardy's moves. Hardy wins with a surprise pin. Hardy wins a Championship match at Royal Rumble!

Great Khali cuts a promo. He has a translator which helps. As I was commenting to my wife, Khali's nipples are as big as his translator's head. He's huge!

The Great Khali vs Finley

Fightin for the honor of Hornswoggle, it's pretty much a squash match while Bradshaw works as many Irish metaphors as he can think of. Hornswoggle and Finley sneak a couple of shots to Khali's presumably massive balls with a shalaleigh to get the win. (I bet Khali's balls are so big that hitting them was like batting a pinata). The second "against the odds" victory in a row. Boorriing. Yawn. Oh Jeez, they're Irish square dancing now.

Randy Orton vs Chris Jericho for the WWE Championship

Break the code Jerky! One of my favorite wrestlers has returned and gets a title shot. And Lillian Garcia looks great in her robe...I mean dress. This match has the potential to be great, both performers are young and uninjured.

Pretty solid match, both did a good job of working the emotion as it's clear the audience wants Jericho to win after his comeback. During the match, Orton throws Jericho into the announce table and JBL. Later, Jericho has Orton in the Walls of Jericho when JBL attacks Y2J. Orton wins by DQ and Orton delivers a RKO to add insult to injury.

This brings back some of the energy to this event overall, but it still needs more to catch up with the opening matches.

Beth Phoenix vs Mickie James for the Womens Championship

Jillian Hall interrupts to plug her "music". Her awful singing follows until Mickie James skips out. Now Phoenix comes out, easily the most muscular woman since Chyna in the WWE. The match goes back and forth, James demonstrating almost Mysterio like agility. But in the end, Phoenix powers out a victory. Pretty good match, keeping the energy of the event at a low simmer.

Edge vs Batista vs Undertaker for the World Heavyweight Championship

After the third or fourth rerunning of the clips telling the story of what's led to this match, Batista comes running out. Tazz has replaced Bradshaw at the Smackdown table to announce. Now the Rated R superstar makes his entrance with added Kurt Angle style fireworks. Undertaker makes his classic entrance.

This match brings the energy back as Undertaker and Batista duke it out with each other for the Championship and the right to bash Edge. Edge utilizes several tricks including decoy Edges to score the victory. A strong match filled with good moments as the opponents go back and forth in momentum. Clean story telling with Edge playing the fearful opportunist as Batista and Undertaker chase each other like meatheads. Edge is World Champion!

This wraps up Armageddon. Overall, I'd rate this PPV as decent with some high points. The opening match of Rey Mysterio vs MVP was the best match, both wrestlers got to show off their strengths and the match moved quickly. Shawn Michaels vs Mr Kennedy ran a close second, a surprisingly brutal match. Chris Jericho entered with the most momentum and leaves with it intact. A fun PPV though when I think of past Armaggedons like the six man Hell in a Cell, it seems a little on the low budget side.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm a Legend in my own Mind!

Rock Guitar for Dummies - I love this game!

For my birthday, my parents bought me Guitar Hero 3 for the Playstation 2 game system. Now I can see what the big deal has been about. The game takes the template from the Dance Dance Revolution games and has you use your fingers instead of your feet. With this game, now you can play "Mississippi Queen" or "Barracuda" with your guitar and rock out. Best of all, no actual musical talent is required!

I tried for a while to learn to play an actual guitar and only got as far as picking notes. I found I lacked the ability to form chords or hold down precise fingerings on the fret board. But I can press big plastic buttons real well, so with Guitar Hero 3 I can finally excel at playing. And now I know why rock stars sweat so much, it takes a lot of energy to rock out. All these years, I thought it was just the hot lights that caused the flood of perspiration.

So thank you Mom and Dad for the great gift. Although it's not on the game, I thought the most fitting song to place at the end of this post is Nickelback's "Rockstar"

Nickelback - "Rockstar"

Sunday, December 09, 2007

No Speed No!!!!

Sometimes something can look really right on paper and then turn out really wrong. Such may be the case with Speed Racer, the long gestating movie based on the famous Japanese cartoon. One of my favorite tv series growing up, I've been looking forward to this movie after seeing the accurate mock up of the Mach 5 race car and hearing the guys who made The Matrix would be adapting this film.

Well, those hopes have been crushed under the weight of a god awful trailer for Speed Racer. This movie is looking so bad that the Thunderbirds movie from a few years ago might look better in comparison. The car racing looks unbelievably phony, the actors dramatic tone doesn't match the superficiality of the visual style and there seems to be a lot of karate. Instead of adding any kitsch factor for adults who remember the series, it seems to be intended for a five year old audience.

I can't believe I'm alone in this opinion because it really looks bad. Expect the usual "it's not done yet" excuses and watch for reshoots, but unless they change a lot I'm planning on skipping Speed Racer. When a trailer's best moment is the first 3 seconds when you hear the Mach 5 engine rev, that's something so bad even Racer X can't fix it.

Speed Racer Trailer

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Van Halen's Glory Daze

The original Van Halen: more hair, more spandex and a Mike Anthony to boot!

For my birthday, my mom bought me the book Van Halen: A Visual History 1978 - 1984. The book features fantastic photographs of the band from their hey day starting from the beginning of their recording career. If you would like a nice visual accompanyment to their classic albums, this book will definitely do the trick. The pictures are large and display the youthful power of the original VH. It tells the band's story through a variety of quotes mixing photographers, journalists and other musicians, adding new insight to a well worn saga. My favorite picture is the recreation of the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima they did for the US Festival. Thanks Mom!

To experiment more with this new fangled internet technology, I've added a Van Halen news section as well as CNN and VH1 headline news. I'm trying to increase my laziness by making the sites I go to come to me!

To close this post out, I'm including my wife's favorite Van Halen song "D.O.A." (it's just the song with the VH2 logo visually) along with a recent video of "Unchained". The "Unchained" video may be the best fan audience shot video I've ever seen, this person seemed to be really close to the stage as they performed at the Staples Center this year.

Van Halen - "D.O.A."

Van Halen - "Unchained" live at the Staples Center in LA

Friday, December 07, 2007

All The Things Radiohead Can't Leave Behind

You mean this thing has a cover? Radiohead makes their new album free with all the fixins.

One of the most respected bands of the modern era has to be Radiohead. They represent an intelligent, emotional, brooding and swooning approach to rock modeled after the other most respected band in modern times, U2. The group's U2 fixation has shown in their sound and they have taken a similar career path. Radiohead came in with a wave of new rock bands and ended up releasing one of those albums that help define a decade. The response to this fame was to delve into electronica to avoid repeating themselves. As time passes, the electronica becomes part of the sonic tapestry to the overall sound to create a sort of hybrid. For U2, this hybrid was called All That You Can't Leave Behind. For Radiohead, it's called In Rainbows.

In Rainbows finds the band delivering a strong album with some of their strongest melodies and even a slight sense of warmth in their usually chilly deliveries. The songs come to life after multiple plays as tracks like the scaly "Weird Fishes / Appregi" or the slathery driftiness of "Nude" become addictive. They even pick up the pace a little and pour on the guitars on "Bodysnatchers." "All I Need" plays well as it runs on an electronically enhanced bass line.

A lot of controversy has been stirred up with the release of this album as a "pick your price" download. All I can say is-get it. This is an excellent album that creates the mood of pensive wailing they're known for with enough new ideas to keep it interesting.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


It's the end of my birthday, what a great day it's been. My mother and grandmother in law stopped by for a visit and I went to Todai with my wife and my mom. We later went shopping at that outstanding mecca of upscale media, Borders. I'm still stuffed from all you can eat Japanese food! Big "thank you" to my family for making this day great.

In other media news, Journey has announced that Arnel Pineda is now an official member of the band and have begun recording new material. Pineda is easily the strongest voice in terms of power to join the band since Steve Perry's departure and brings some much needed soulfulness to the songs. I'm looking forward to hearing brand new songs with Pineda and am happy Journey did not back down from racist pressure from some fans to not hire him. Of course, I still think Kevin Chalfant would have been great or they could have gone a different direction by trying to nab Michael Bolton but Pineda sounds great as well.

Well, my birthday is almost over. It's been fun!

Just Getting Started

Today's my birthday, I'm at one of those "life begins at..." ages. My wife has made a great breakfast and is going out of her way to make the day special. I'm going to our traditional place for birthday meals, Todai, an all you can eat Japanese restaurant where you get your birthday meal free. I look forward to having a fantastic day with my lovely wife.

I was going to review the new Radiohead, but felt a different CD would be more suitable (Radiohead tends to be a little mopey sometimes). Who better than one of my highschool faves, Loverboy?

Now to be accurate, they should be Lovermen or Lovergeezers because these guys stopped being boys a long time ago. I think one of them has white hair now while onetime teen idol Mike Reno has gotten beefier. Still, that's not slowing down the Canadian quintet who have released a new disc, Just Getting Started.

Like many veteran bands, they are at the stage where they no longer want to sound exactly like they did 20 years ago but still retain enough of their original flavor to hold on to their longtime fans. It's a difficult balancing act and most bands err on change to the point you don't recognize who's playing. Loverboy gets close to that point but wisely keeps from teetering over the edge. Fortunately, their focused performance and the fact that Reno's voice has aged better than any other arena rock singer helps amp up the power.

Just Getting Started takes the classic Loverboy sound of tight playing, party atmosphere and fired up enthusiasm and layers on a sheen of modern pop rock. Some of the grooves and particularly the choruses are reminiscent of what you would hear on a Kelly Clarkson or Rascal Flatts (in their less twangy moments) CDs. It sounds like it shouldn't work, but once Loverboy passed Get Lucky (1981) their music wasn't terribly individualistic anyway. What easily could have been stiff and forced comes across as a natural progression in their music.

In one aspect, Started is reminiscent of Get Lucky in the crisp, fresh approach to their material. The band sounds energized and excited on their first album in a decade. Half the album is rock, the other half ballads. On the rock side, the title truck burns with modern guitars and a vintage 80's Loverboy melody. "One Of Them Days" is a bluesy swaggering rocker like Aerosmith while "As Good As It Gets" stomps like Hysteria era Def Leppard.

For ballads, the band comes up with a range of midtempo tunes like "Fade To Black" and "I Would Die For You" which are pleasant and effective. But it's the towering power ballad "The One That Got Away" that kills. Done in the classic power ballad format with an almost Modern Country chorus, this is easily the best song on the album.

This late in the game, the band can't be relying on album sales to drive their career so this is music they really wanted to put out there. It could have been a sad joke, but instead Loverboy sounds as vital as ever. It makes for the perfect CD to put on Mr Mike, because like them I'm Just Getting Started.

Loverboy - "The One That Got Away"

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Soul of the '70's - Right Here, Right Now

Is it live or is it Memorex? Sharon Jones and the Dap King bring back the beat of the 60's and 70's
Many artists have played retro-cool over the years, waiting until a forgotten musical style goes out of fashion so it could be adapted to modern use. Earlier this year, Amy Winehouse played the retro-cool card to strong effect with her hit "Rehab". Her rehash of classic Soul spun with a modern 'tude won fans before she pulled a Michael Jackson and lost her mind. But beyond retro-cool lies traditionalism and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are that to a T.

The song "100 Days, 100 Nights" has been stuck in my mind for weeks now so I decided to get the album titled after the song. And what a treat it is, an old school Soul record with a heavy Stax and Motown influence. Live instruments play, the background vocals are of the call-and-response variety, horns sway and charge while Jones holds down the middle with her commanding rasp.

It's hard to pick out highlights because every song sounds like a classic hit that could easily stand beside Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin on the radio. Regardless of what 70's subgenre of Soul they're mining they deliver an honest appreciation for this style of music. What could easily be contrived comes across as effortless and exciting. 100 Days, 100 Nights is a great record worth a listen.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Number 41

Supposedly in one of the windows is a silhouette of a man. Some think the person is....Satan! Because nothing says devil worship like a mildly rocking Country band.

Continuing my favorite CD countdown is this masterpiece of So Cal rock from 1976...

Number 41 - The Eagles Hotel California (1976)

To me, there are sort of two bands that call themselves the Eagles. There were the really mellow Country rockers that released Greatest Hits 1971-1975 and then there are the sort of mellow Country rockers that released Hotel California. Both versions of the band were led by drummer/vocalist Don Henley and guitarist / vocalist Glenn Frey, so what was the difference? One guy, guitarist/vocalist Joe Walsh.

The Eagles were known for easygoing Country rock like "Take It Easy" or "Peaceful Easy Feeling". Country boy harmonies, lyrics about desperados and tequila sunrises, slowly strummed acoustic guitars and a laid back rock beat characterized their lucrative sound. But by 1976, The Eagles decided to toughen up so they added ex-James Gang member Joe Walsh to a lineup that included guitarist Don Felder and bassist Randy Meisner. The result was a rock classic.

On Hotel California, the Eagles went for a loosely themed concept album about the decline of western civilization. The songs carried a feeling of isolation and loneliness masked by a superficial jadedness. Frey's country flavored "New Kid in Town" and Henley's epic ballad "Wasted Time" brought the emotional core into focus. My favorite song on the album, "Life in the Fast Lane", spun tales of hard partying, drugs and car crashes about people who lead otherwise empty lives.

But it's the immortal title track that most people know. From the mysterious opening acoustic guitar to the dark tale of stabbing beasts and never being able to leave to the phenomenal twin guitar lines at the end the song has sunk into public consciousness.

Hotel California is the Eagles that I like, a band that can offset the Country harmonies with slamming guitar riffs like on the surging "Victim of Love". Unfortunately, the success of Hotel California eventually led to the undoing of the band as they broke up a few years later because they could not live up to Hotel afterwards (well, most say mainly Henley pressured the band to maintain the degree of quality established here). It created a standard that many modern bands still aim for in musical approach and theme.

Break the Walls Down!!!

One of my favorite wrestlers, Chris Jericho, has returned to WWE on Raw. Jericho was one of the most entertaining wrestlers of the Attitude era. Armed with the ability to be either face or heel and talk a great game either way, Jericho acted like a hair metal rock star and could talk almost as well as the Rock. Last time around, Jericho's career seemed to be sabotaged when they changed him from face to heel for his main event push. As a face (good guy), Jericho had built up a huge following that dissipated when he turned heel (bad guy). After a two year break, Jericho has returned and looks like he will get a shot at the World Title as a face. And you will never. Eevaar. Be the same Agaihn!!!

Chris Jericho returns to WWE Raw

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Another passing...Evel Knievel

In media, the first sign of aging is when movies you paid good money for to see in the theatres begin showing up on tv for free. The second sign is when people who were famous in your youth die. Sadly, the ultimate daredevil - Evel Knievel - has reportedly passed at age 69.

Evel embodied a type of reckless behavior that could only exist in the 70's. In doing this he became a rock star in popular culture, an icon of American machismo and rebel spirit. Probably more famous for the crashes he survived than the landings he sticked, Evel's no fear attitude and willingness to lay everything on the line carried weight because, well, he jumped things people shouldn't jump to earn a living.

In searching Evel Knievel online I came across some toy commercials I hadn't seen since the Carter presidency. My friend had the Evel Knievel stunt bike with the ramp bus and I've seen the actual toy in action. The rare toy that could live up to the reputation of it's character. I'd see that toy Evel Knievel fly off the toy motorbike on the landing and think "Just like the real thing!"

Evel seemed to take a low profile after a failed attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon. As a tribute, here's two videos: the toy commercial from Ideal and his most famous bike crash. Rest In Peace Evel Knievel, you were crazy to do the things you did and amazing for pulling it off.

Evel Knievel-Ideal toy commercial and Ceasar's Palace jump

Friday, November 30, 2007

Foo Fightin'

Of current bands, the Foo Fighters rank as one of my favorites because of a straight ahead approach to rock. Although there are punk and alternative influences in Dave Grohl's music, there is also a love of hammering riffs, catchy pop choruses and a sly sense of humor. After scoring a big hit this year with "The Pretender", the band's second single is the excellent "Long Road To Ruin" accompanied by one of their trademark goofy videos. They may never put an album out that's equal to Nirvana artistically, but that actually makes me like them more than the legendary grunge band. That's why ex Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and company are the song of the moment!

Foo Fighters - "Long Road To Ruin"

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Van Halen rocks the cradle in Sac Town

Everybody still wants some! A sober, older Van Halen rocks out.

Last night I finally saw something I thought I would never see - Van Halen with David Lee Roth. My wife and I went to the Arco Arena to see 3/4ths of the original band hit the stage. As with all things VH, it isn't controversy free as longtime bassist Mike Anthony was replaced by Eddie Van Halen's teenage son Wolfgang. Our seats were in the nosebleeds but because Arco is a smaller arena than, say Oakland, we still could see pretty well. The audience was mostly drunk but hey, it's Van Halen. It couldn't be any other way.

The opening act was someone who seems to be decended from Bob Marley. The Marley dude gave an energetic performance and showed a good amount of talent if reggae is your thing. Naturally, the biggest response came when he covered Bob Marley's biggest hits, "No Woman No Cry" and "I Shot The Sheriff".

Once the stage was cleared, it revealed a somewhat plain platform highlighted by an ascending "S" shaped ramp that ran from the middle of the front seating section to the rear of the stage. The lighting effects were suitably and effective, but also a bit modest. A far cry from the overblown sets of their glory years with endlessly high drum risers and a giant wall of Marshall amps. The amps were still there, but again a bit modest.

The band hit the stage in the dark in classic VH manner with a flurry of drum rolls and guitar squeals. The opening riff to "You Really Got Me" started and the lights came up to reveal David Lee Roth at the top of the "S" ramp waving a large red flag. Roth wore tight leather pants and a sort of Michael Jacksonish decorated coat. Eddie Van Halen looked homeless in worn jeans, no shirt and a grey beard. His son, Wolfgang Van Halen, had an appearance consistent with who he is: an overweight teen in long hair and a hoodie. Alex Van Halen sported his classic look, no shirt and a white bandana.

"You Really Got Me" kicked off the show to a rousing start even though the background vocals were low and atonal. After "Got Me", the background vocal mics had effects added to heighten and double the backing vocals. But the band sounded tight, with Eddie blazing away while Wolfgang revealed a Jack Bruce influenced bass style. Wolfgang was given more space than Mike Anthony ever had, his playing was aggressive and gave a muscular, thumping bottom to the material. Alex seemed to lose a half step with age, but not to the point it affected anything.

From "You Really Got Me" they went straight into "I'm The One" with their trademark high speed shuffle and Roth delivering the first of a handful of spin kicks he would deliver. In place of the Doo Wop break the band stopped for Roth to announce their return and for the members to make the first of many affectionate displays to each other (no, not that kind of affectionate display. I know what you're thinking, they just hugged a lot). Wolfgang and Eddie sat on the floor to trade licks until Wolfgang walked to the top of the ramp.

At the top of the ramp, Wolfgang held up his bass under spotlight to play the opening bass line to "Runnin' With The Devil". The band was in full attack mode and I was in a state of disbelief as to how good this was going. Roth put on a red top hat (he had a few in different colors like Stevie Nicks) and led the audience through a sing along of this classic anthem.

And that's when I realized the difference between then and now. On bootlegs, Roth was always too wasted to remember most of the words to his songs and led the band into rambling monologues that mainly consisted of random insults and slurring. While Roth did a random insult to an audience member early on, he seemed sober and in some control of himself. Eddie also seemed sober and happy. While this Van Halen may not scale the previous heights of excess, they were much more consistent.

"Devil" led to "Romeo's Delight" and the audience was in a frenzy at this point. Following some inspired harp playing by Roth, VH kicked into "Somebody Get Me A Doctor" to keep up the nonstop barrage of energetic rock. Somewhere at this point included some jamming between a scatting Roth and Eddie Van Halen along with a bit of the Who's "Magic Bus", the first of many references to their influences.

"Beautiful Girls" came next and again the audience tried to keep up with Roth's slap happy verses. The love for Van Halen II continued with the hit "Dance The Night Away" allowing Roth to cut loose with his dancing.

In another surprise, the band launched into "Atomic Punk" with the group jamming in the middle of the stage as Roth raced around the stage twirling his mic stand and then acting like he was going to throw it as a spear.

The tribal drums started up for the intro to "Everybody Wants Some!!". Eddie Van Halen started to move around the stage more, running and spinning about more like his former self. The hip surgery showed in his limited mobility but that didn't stop him from some of his trademark scissor kicks and hopping about. Roth and Eddie did some more jamming, this time on Cream's "Born Under A Bad Sign".

A little bass solo from Wolfgang started off the Fair Warning hit "So This Is Love?" and Alex showed he still has it. A faithful rendition of "Mean Streets" came next.

"(Oh) Pretty Woman" maintained the momentum but the band seemed to tire a little bit. Another difference from the good old days, these guys get a little winded now. Fortunately, Alex Van Halen bought the rest of the group time with an extended drum solo that included bits of "Outta Love Again".

Next up was my all time favorite Van Halen track, "Unchained". It was fun to see Roth try to help Wolfgang with the chorus lyrics and give the bassist the classic line "Give Me A Break, Dave". Wolfgang delivered the line with an ironic pause for laughs.

In another surprise, the band's "forgotten" hit "I'll Wait" came next. The icy synths and Eddie's smooth playing brought back memories of the mid 80's and Miami Vice. Roth worked the front of the "S" stage throughout the song.

A stellar version of "And The Cradle Will Rock" came up next before the band tore into "Hot For Teacher". The band was on fire again and went into the last surprise, Van Halen I's "Little Dreamer".

"Little Dreamer" was the highlight of the night as Roth stood at the top of the "S" in cool blue light delivering a strong vocal (his voice sounds better now than a few years ago). "Dreamer" reminded me of the first time I heard Van Halen I, on a hot summer night in my room with a tape I borrowed from a friend. Roth was then given some monologue time with his guitar as he spun stories of wild ex girlfriends, teenage drug use and Pink Floyd records.

"Ice Cream Man" blew the doors off the place. "Jamie's Cryin" kept the crowd's energy up with another sing along. The big hits kept comin' as the band ripped through "Panama".

Eddie Van Halen was given his solo space that was lengthy but inspired. He played bits of all his famous solos including "Spanish Fly", "316", "Cathedral" and "Eruption".

The band came back to life with "Little Guitars" from Diver Down as Eddie finally broke out his famous Frankenstein guitar. They closed the set with the rousing "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love".
Returning for an encore almost as soon as they left the stage, the opening strands of "1984" led into the mega hit "Jump". Predictably, the band members jumped all over the stage and Roth sported his baton twirling skills during the synthesizer solo. Confetti fell from the lighting rig and Roth carried a giant microphone baloon to the middle of the stage.

And that ended the show, the house lights popped on shortly after the band left the stage. I was reportedly smiling from ear to ear, which I believe because it was a dream come true to see them live. The car ride home I can't say the same about because I managed to dump half of a King size Diet Coke into the drivers seat of my car. But the concert itself was great. It wasn't as great as if I saw them 23 years ago but the band definitely still rocked. Thanks for the birthday gift honey!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Music Roundup-RIP Kevin DuBrow

A lot has happened in music lately, the biggest news being the death of Kevin DuBrow-

Kevin Dubrow of Quiet Riot found dead

Lead singer of Quiet Riot Kevin DuBrow was found dead in his home a few days ago. He was only 52 years old. Like many teenagers in the early 80's, I bought Quiet Riot's Metal Health album based on their big hit "Cum On Feel The Noize". Though they didn't receive full credit, that remake of a classic Slade song was the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" of that decade ushering in a wave of hair metal on MTV. Other songs like "Bang Your Head" and "Slick Black Cadillac" also stood out. Quiet Riot was sort of the doorway band to Metal for me, the first Heavy Metal band I had ever listened to. I also liked the fact that it was a multicultural band as half of the lineup was Hispanic.

Despite having a very successful album and a recognizable mascot, Quiet Riot quickly faded out. They would occassionally show up as a minor blip on the rock radar with their followup Slade remake "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" or the stomping "The Wild and the Young" but could never recapture their initial heat. Which is too bad, because they were a good band.

DuBrow had an outsized persona of a rock and roll crazy man that didn't translate well once the Hair Metal bands got pretty and sang power ballads. While I can't claim to be a die hard Quiet Riot fan, I liked the band and think it's sad that he's gone.

Rosanna Arquette seen with Paul McCartney

Normally I don't think much of McCartney's love life but being seen with Rosanna Arquette is news. She is the muse that has inspired some great songs (Toto's "Rosanna" and a lot of Peter Gabriel's songs). For some reason she's more inspiring as a musician's girlfriend than as a actress. Go figure.

Saga auditioning new singers on You Tube

The Canadian progressive rock band Saga is auditioning for new singers through their website at . You can download an instrumental track to two of their biggest hits, "On The Loose" and "Wind Him Up", and then record yourself singing to it and upload it to You Tube. Then you can e-mail them your You Tube link. Pretty cool, if I could sing I would try out myself.

Asia announces intention to record a new album

Finally, after many decades the original Asia will be recording a new album. With the current feeling of good will among the band and an emphasis on the debut album when playing live, hopefully the new disc will have more of the instrumental interplay they had at the beginning. Meanwhile, the John Payne version of Asia appears to be continuing as well which could result in one of those Survivor style battles (is Survivor Jimi Jamison or Frankie Sullivan?).

Led Zeppelin tour rumor

Could it be? This would be a blessing and a curse if it happens, it would be yet another high priced reunion tour. But it's Led Zeppelin!

Van Halen plays tonight in Sacramento

Finally gonna see them live with DLR. And unlike when I saw Rush, I plan on not drinking at all so I can remember what I'm seeing and hearing. Yes!

To close this out, I'm going to include a link to "Mama Weer All Crazee Now"

Quiet Riot - "Mama Weer All Crazee Now"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Top 10 Favorite Lesser Known Van Halen DLR songs

Theyyrre Baaack! Eddie Van Halen takes his kid on the road, probably avoiding millions in child support.

Way back when, back when I was in high school in 1984 I decided to skip seeing Van Halen live. The other kids came to school wearing the T Shirts and saying they had seen a great show, so I thought the next time they came around I would see them. Little did I know the next time they would appear with Diamond Dave would be 23 years later! Van Hagar was great, don't get me wrong, but the band was more distinct with glory hogging Roth up front. They were a freewheeling explosion of rock and roll excess.

So, like with Springsteen I'll commemorate this event by making a list of my favorite lesser known tunes from the Roth era. And aawwayy we go!

10. In A Simple Rhyme from Women and Children First

On Women Van Halen decided to lengthen the average song times of their recordings allowing the group to stretch out musically and adding a lot more David Lee Roth speeches. It is the album that comes the closest to capturing early VH live, minus the drunken rambling, odd pauses and slurring. "In A Simple Rhyme" takes advantage of the changes by alternating between hard charging verse sections and a soft, slowed down chorus. There are brief moments that are almost Beatleish slapped in between Eddie Van Halen's guitar pyrotechnics.

9. I'm The One from Van Halen

A slam-bang rocker from the first album, "I'm The One" provided the template for future high speed shuffles that would be the highlight for many albums. The song has a few unique features, such as EVH cutting loose with dive bombing guitar runs during the verses and pulling back during the solos. An a capella doo wop break in the middle of the song reflects Roth's odd ball humor. And the sound of drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Mike Anthony pounding the beat while Roth screams "I'm the one / the one you love / c'mon baby Show Your Love!" seals the deal.

8. Me Wise Magic from Best Of Vol 1.

One of the most recent tracks from DLR Van Halen came with their first Greatest Hits set in 1996. From the reunion that should have been in 1996 until Roth pissed Eddie Van Halen off backstage at the MTV awards. Although this may have been a single, it was not a big hit and I never heard it on the radio.

The song has some of Diamond Dave's most direct lyrics about being back in the fold with the Van Halen brothers and a killer high flying chorus. It went "Do ya believe / Aw don't you trust me?/ Me Wise Magic / Yeah yeah, yeah yeah!" Plus, it has some of the intricate and windy guitar patterns Eddie Van Halen got into just before Van Halen 3. For a hot second, the original Van Halen was back together and rocking! Then they split up again for another 11 years.

7. Let's Get Rockin' from Bootlegs

Before Van Halen (the first album), the band recorded a 25 song demo that features most of the first album plus many tracks that would show up on later albums. It also had a few choice cuts that didn't make any album ("Babe Don't Leave Me Alone" and "Young and Wild" come to mind). One of those tracks was "Let's Get Rockin", a classic VH anthem if there ever was one. Alex and Mike lay down a fast groove to allow Eddie and Dave to cut loose in a manner equal to "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love". It's a shame this didn't make any regular studio release because it contains everything great about this band.

My wife went through a lot of trouble to get me this CD. Thanks honey!

6. Women and Children First from Women and Children First

Admittedly, when I think of Van Halen I don't think of campfire singalongs. Which is what makes "Women and Children First" a great surprise. Eddie Van Halen strums on the acoustic guitar while Roth leads a sing along to an original song with humor. I love the part about sailing away with some one's daughter.

5. Somebody Get Me A Doctor from Van Halen II

Another song from that legendary 25 song demo showed up on Van Halen's second album. An explosive rocker with a memorably heavy guitar riff and Roth screaming like a banshee. Live the band would stretch out the midsection of the song to a slower pace while Eddie Van Halen delivered some inspired guitar noodling. A fan favorite, almost every member of the band has revived this song for live performance even on solo outings. Somebody get me a shot!

4. Cathedral from Diver Down

This song ranks with "Eruption" as one of all time favorite guitar solos. Eddie Van Halen fiddles with his guitar to get a sound similar to a woodwind instrument (I want to say clarinet but could be wrong) for a solo that is both soothing and stimulating. It makes me feel like that scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off where they stare at the paintings in the art gallery. I remember the first time I saw Van Halen live, when this solo came up I just sat down and took it all in. And no, I was not drunk! (not that time, anyway).

3. Push Comes To Shove from Fair Warning

If you blink you'll miss it, the only time in the band's career where they get a little funky. Mike Anthony anchors a pumping bass groove while Roth coolly rambles on top. In a different band's repertoire it wouldn't make an impression, but hearing these hard rock heroes try something this different got my attention. And it's not half bad funk either. It's not Ohio Players, but it doesn't suck. I consider this to be their lost porn movie jam (ironically, last year Eddie Van Halen recorded an original song for a porn movie and it wasn't remotely funky at all. I saw it on You Tube).

2. Drop Dead Legs from 1984

A prototype strutting rocker for the Sammy Hagar era that would follow, "Legs" had one of those "Holy Crap that's amazing" guitar riffs that keeps a mid tempo pace while Alex Van Halen's ringing percussion builds up the power. Diamond Dave goes way over the top with his misogyny on this track to the point of overblown humor. Future Hagar tracks like "Cabo Wabo" and "Summer Nights" owe a debt to this song.

1. Hang 'Em High from Diver Down

After I bought 1984 and loved it, my friend said that it was their pop album and I couldn't handle their earlier stuff. To prove him wrong, I bought Diver Down and was blown away by the second song "Hang 'Em High". It became my favorite Van Halen song (until I heard "Unchained") as it hit hard with a low slung groove, EVH's zippy guitar blasts and Roth's cool low toned vocal. I ended up liking Diver Down enough that I went out and bought the other records they had released up to that point.

That's my list of 10 great unsung Van Halen songs. I hope to hear these songs live but won't be surprised if I don't. It looks like the new Roth tour is going to make it to my town before a breakup so I'm more than satisfied. All right! Let's Get Rockin!

Monday, November 19, 2007

There and Back Again

Apparently photographed the one day a year it doesn't rain in Seattle.

I've just come back from a mini vacation going to Seatlle, Washington to see a relative's wedding. Other than the near constant rain, I thought Washington was a great place to be. The people were nice, the city was clean, there was a good mix of traditional and high tech stuff and the drivers followed actual traffic safety laws. The relatives we stayed with were excellent hosts. A huge contrast to the aggressive slash and burn approach to living that comes with the Bay Area. If I didn't feel like Noah with all the rain up there, it would probably be a nice place to live.

Well, it wouldn't be a Mr Mike entry without media to compare the trip to. So here it goes!

Family Guy - Wrong Sounding Muppets

I hate flying which reminded me of this joke from TV's Family Guy about taking chances.

South Park - Cartman "I did not have an anal probe!"
My cousin had a funny story involving this quote and a train. Plus, she does a great Cartman impersonation.
Rilo Kiley - "Breakin' Up"
The Fray - "How To Save A Life"

I watched Grey's Anatomy for the first time. The only patient they had died because the doctors were too busy worrying about who they would sleep with next or who were fighting over who had more alcoholic parents. Your HMO dollars at work people! Anyway, Rilo Kiley played in the background and The Fray are like the soundtrack band to this show.

Foo Fighters - "The Pretender"
Metallica - "Ain't My Bitch"

My IPOD got a good work out during this trip, I really liked waking up to the Foo Fighters. Both songs were motivational in dealing with some of the stresses of travel.

Buddhist Leader Guy (not sure of official title) - "Chanting"

The wedding ceremony was Buddhist and included some chanting. I've heard some chanting before and thought the guy was pretty good, the Simon Cowell in me was suitably impressed with his vocal tone. HUmmmm. HUmmmm.

Prince - "I Wanna Be Your Lover"

The music at the reception was fairly sedated, but towards the end after most of the guests had left this song played. It stood out after hours of hearing Adult Contemporary. Was somebody trying to say something?
University of Washington versus Cal - 37 to 23
Everyone had reason to celebrate after Washington upset Cal before the post reception party. It was great to see many relatives I hadn't talked to in years.
Depeche Mode - "Clean"
I often discuss media with my cousin and she brought up this song from the Violator album. I didn't remember it and so when I got home I played it off You Tube (I hate being stumped on music). She mentioned looking for a remixed version but I couldn't remember which one it was. Anyway, I found a cool stripped down version to put here. This one's for you Cousin!

Jackson 5 - "Never Can Say Goodbye"

The morning we left my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin brought out old home movies from the early 70's that included me falling off a chair, terrorizing my brother and doing my Michael Jackson dance in front of the record player. My Jackson 5 record stood out in the foreground, fittingly titled Never Can Say Goodbye.

Jimi Hendrix - "Angel"

This song played on the IPOD on the way home. Flying is very stressful and my wife was very supportive to me thorughout the flight, so of course I thought of her as this song played. Love you honey!

Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Coming Home"

There's probably irony in thinking about Skynyrd following a safe plane ride, but I thought of this song on the way home from the airport. Or maybe it's a residual aftereffect of wanting to yell "Freebird" at the wedding organist during the ceremony.

And that was the trip. My Aunt and Uncle were very nice to let us stay with them and we all had a great time. Dixie ate her bed while at the kennel. Do you love him, Honey?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

When Genres Collide - Sugarland and Beyonce

About a year ago when I heard Beyonce's hit "Irreplaceable" I thought it was a pleasant, catchy tune that conveyed a strong sense of purpose and personality. I found the hook "To the left, to the left" sticking in my brain for weeks. It wasn't my favorite song and didn't look for it (didn't have to, it was always on somewhere) but I did like it.

Apparently, many other people liked it too including the Country band Sugarland who took to performing the song live at their shows. This has culminated in a suprising collaboration between Sugarland and Beyonce at the American Music Awards. The show looked really boring so it sucks I missed this, but I caught it on the web and all I can say is...Wow. It's not a perfect team up as some of Beyonce's soulful vocal runs roughshod over the bluegrass beat but it still kicks ass. A fun example of When Genres Collide!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sweetness Follows

Yesterday I learned of the death of an old friend of mine from back when I worked at a local theme park. Peggy was a good friend to me as I worked summers at the park, she always looked out for others and had a great sense of humor. She could see through bull a mile away and was very kind. I worked with her for five years and was occasionally invited to her house for some gatherings. She used to refer to me as her "son".

I've only seen her once in the past few years, but I am definitely saddened to hear of her passing. She was a special person and will be missed. Her daughter informed my wife and I of her passing today, while visiting her daughter I could see a lot of Peggy in her. Peggy also had grandchildren, I'm sure she would be happy that a part of her still lives on.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Artist Spotlight: Pearl Jam

Ahhh grunge. You know we're sincere 'cause we dress poor.

It's time for another Artist Spotlight and with winter and rain here it seems fitting to cover my favorite band to come from the Seattle grunge scene. Pearl Jam rode in following Nirvana's wave of popularity that made alternative rock and specifically the downbeat, punky hard rock bands of grunge popular. From the beginning, Pearl Jam stood out as, well, being the grunge band with the most commercial sound while still retaining a strong sense of integrity. Unlike some 90's band that took a little time to grow on me, Pearl Jam I liked from the start. In someways they were the soundtrack to my 20's. Who knew this great band would start with a surfer and a demo tape?

Ten (1991)

When singer Eddie Vedder of the band Bad Radio received a demo tape from former Red Hot Chili Pepper drummer Jack Irons, rock history was made. Vedder put vocals and lyrics to the demo of ex-Mother Love Bone guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament and ex-Shadows guitarist Mike McCready. When Ten was recorded, Dave Krusen was the drummer who left after recording. Given clear, visceral production from Rick Parashar the group exhibited a muscular sound that had the anthemic rebellious qualities of The Who matched with a stripped down spikiness like The Police.

Ten is one of my favorite albums as they unwittingly made a great Arena Rock album. The thrashing "Alive" became the bands breakout song. "Even Flow" rocked harder and showed the band could pull the loud/soft dynamics was part of Nirvana's sound. " The surging "Jeremy" became an MTV standard as everyone tried to guess if the boy in the video shot himself or shot the classroom (the song was based on the true story of a boy who shot himself in front of the class that tormented him). The Stonesy ballad "Black" demonstrated Vedder's melodramatic delivery to strong effect.

Pearl Jam at this point managed to recall the greatness of other classic hard rock bands but wore enough flannel to seem current. It was a group I enjoyed listening to for their fire and honest approach to BIG RAWK glory. At the time, I was trying to wrap up college and with many of the bands I liked before breaking up was looking for something new to listen to. One album into their career, Pearl Jam had already generated a classic.

Singles soundtrack (1992)

Normally I don't count a soundtrack appearance as a perfomers discography unless they performed the whole album, but when I think of this movie I often think of Pearl Jam. Probably because most of them are in it playing Matt Dillon's band, Citizen Dick. The rocker "State Of Love And Trust" is one of my favorite PJ tunes and "Breath" was all over the radio. This appearance plus music videos and appearing on MTV Unplugged made Pearl Jam the band you couldn't escape from in 1992.
Vs. (1993)

Probably stunned by their own success, Pearl Jam was determined to break their "one trick pony" label of grungified Arena Rock. Tired of their own omnipresence, they quit making music videos particularly after being unhappy at the acclaim "Jeremy" received. At the same time, they loaded up some familiar sounding songs to avoid completely losing their audience. The result was the enervated but scattered Vs. album. Originally titled Five Against One until the media took it as a shot at their most famous critic, Kurt Cobain, Vs. finds the band upping the punkiness at times and introducing a new acoustic element. New drummer Dave Abrusezze had an even more Stuart Copeland feel to his playing but clashed with Vedder in terms of personality. The Southern rock anti-gun rant "Glorified G" is written as Vedder's response to Abrusezze buying a firearm.
Musically, it's definitely a transitional album. The first single "Go" announced a less commercial approach overall as it hit the radio with it's rapid pace and frantic guitars. "Go" and "Blood" emphasized the punky edgy side of the band. Sequels to the hits from the first album abounded as "Dissident" was "Alive pt.2", "Animal" was the new "Even Flow" and "rearviewmirror" copied "Jeremy" except for the Rush style bass pattern. And The Police influence kicks into high gear on "W.M.A."
But the acoustic side is what shines on Vs. Pearl Jam standards "Daughter" and "Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town" are the highlights here. "Daughter" is easily the best song on the album, an almost folk rock feel with lyrics that hint at the woes of child abuse.

Pearl Jam's career continued to fly high and succeeded in expanding their sound. On it's own terms, Vs. is a fun ride but not much more. Personally, I could relate to the need to make a step forward in life at that time and was dating my wife when she bought this CD. We both liked Pearl Jam and still have this CD in our collection, I often think of my wife when thinking about Vs. but that's more due to timing than anything else. There's really nothing sentimental on the album.
Vitalogy (1994)

You're not a rock star until you make an album complaining about the rock star trip and with fame phobic leader Eddie Vedder it was inevitable. Vitalogy finds the band continuing to stretch their sound sonically with consolidating the overall approach so it all fit under one roof. Wild experimentation such as the White album era Beatlesque "Tremor Christ", accordion driven "Bugs" and the sound collage "Hey Foxymophandlemamathat'sme" broke new ground. Elsewhere, they built on the approach of the first two albums with the hyper punk "Spin The Black Circle", the swaggering Stones styled "Not For You"and the dark folk of "Immortaility".

The lyrics do their best to show Vedder and the band trying to keep fame at arms length, whether it's spiteful ("Not For You"), rueful ("Corduroy") or fighting it's attraction ("Satan's Bed"). Vitology was a darker album than the previous two (and with Pearl Jam that's saying something) but the band was able to keep their roll going . "Corduroy" and "Nothingman" weren't the singles but still made a huge impact on radio. Best of all, "Better Man", a song Vedder had from his Bad Radio days, proved to be a smash and is one of the best in their catalog.

My wife and I were just married and didn't have much money, I often associate this disc with living in our first apartment. The apartment was in a noisy neighborhood next to a hospital and the complex was shaped like a pill box. Vitalogy was one of the few CDs I bought at the time, so fortunately it was really good.

Merkinball (1995)

By the next year many changes took place that helped Pearl Jam dismantle the fame that had come the first half of the decade. They got into an extended battle with Ticketmaster that resulted in very little touring in the US. At the end of Vitalogy, drummer Dave Abrusezze was fired and replaced with Jack Irons. Then they recorded an album backing their hero Neil Young called Mirrorball (1995). Two left over tracks from those sessions, "I Got Id" and "Long Road", became Pearl Jam songs released on a two song EP called Merkinball.

"I Got Id" was another big radio hit, a midtempo anthem stamped with a stark guitar lead. The second song "Long Road" has become a minor PJ classic of sorts, a soft meditative song with a healing tone. Years later, the band used "Long Road" for the 9/11 tribute for one of that evening's best performances.

For me, I had started a new job and heard "I Got Id" as I drove home almost daily. So I always think of work when I think of this song.

No Code (1996)

I have reviewed this disc before on my Favorite 100 CDs list so I'll recap. Pearl Jam was reportedly not getting along well during the making of this disc and it shows. But, that's not necessarily a bad thing. No Code shows the band dropping much of it's hard rock tendencies and loosening up. New drummer Jack Irons playing style was key to this as he replaces the Stuart Copeland influence with a bouncy garage band flavor. A former Chili Pepper, Iron's was also adept at polyrhythmic drum patterns like on the single "Who You Are". Neil Young's influence creeps in, particularly on "Smile" and the band strives to match Crazy Horse's Ragged Glory in their own terms.

Although it sold well initially, No Code was the first commercial setback for Pearl Jam. And they seemed unfazed by it. They actually seemed to prefer it.

Yield (1998)

Since they weren't going to break up, Pearl Jam continued forward but with a new attitude. Yield to me is the career album, not in greatness but instead a band deciding their in it for the long haul. As a result, much of Yield comes off as workmanlike. Where No Code showed the band's various songwriting elements pushing for more individuality, Yield yields a slightly homogenous product.

The Led Zeppelin "Going to California" influenced "Given To Fly" was the first single and most memorable piece from the album. Another strong rocker, "Do The Evolution" was very listenable and showed a rare flash of humor from an otherwise stern band. "Push Me Pull Me" was the next step in developing the groups spoken word / sound collage style. "MFC" was a nice little bit of stomping garage rock.

The rest of the album sounds great as well, but there is a sameiness to much of the disc. Like Pearl Jam, I had settled into a long haul with my work and could relate to it. Still, Yield is one of the lesser favorites this band has done and I rarely play it.

Later in the year, the band recorded their annual Christmas single that included a cover of a 60's R&B hit called "Last Kiss". The song became Pearl Jam's biggest hit single of their career much to their chagrin.

Binaural (2000)

Pearl Jam continued their commercial slide, intentional or not, with Binaural. Produced with that distinct murky touch producer Tchad Blake brings, PJ went into the new millenium with a different drummer. Jack Irons dropped out and was replaced by ex-Soundgarden stickman Matt Cameron. Cameron made his presence felt on the prior live album Live On Two Legs (1999) where he brought muscle back to the rhythm section. Expected to do the same here, Binaural was a bit of a disappointment for fans like me waiting for Pearl Jam to really rock again. As on No Code and Yield, there was an intentional shying away from playing anything remotely catchy to be sure no one outside of the immediate fan base liked it.

In contrast to their prior work, the musicianship and playing is tight and professional while the atmosphere is remote and mysterious. The songwriting was still more on the rote side with a touch of underwritten material despite inspired moments like my favorite track, the acoustic strumming "Thin Air". Vedder's ukelale backed "Soon Forget" is another memorable flash of humor. The Who styled opener "Breakerfall" was a rocker that would have made John Entwhistle proud. Taken in full, Binaural does effectively create a mood of communication breakdown.

The band witnessed a tragedy when a concert at Rockskilde resulted in the death of many fans during their set, almost resulting in the band breaking up.

For me personally, Binaural came at a time when the band I looked to for rock were mellowing out. I listened to it a bit at the time but usually forget the album when selecting music to listen to.

Riot Act (2002)

The last studio album for Columbia / Sony was the fittingly named Riot Act. Usually the last album in a contract of a formerly popular band is a last ditch attempt to sell out. "Like me or I won't have a job" is what these albums usually scream. Yet Pearl Jam persevered with their uncommercial approach. No anthems, no pop hooks, nothing to get them on the radio. What was there was the warmest effort they've done since Yield, they even brought in an organ player for some tracks.

Despite the refusal to sell out, Riot Act features tunes more accessable than the previous few discs. The lead single "I Am Mine" received radio play and was somewhat catchy in a seaside shanty kind of way. The oddly titled "Love Boat Captain" (not Captain Stubbing) was the catchiest thing they had released since "Better Man". My favorite on the disc, "Green Disease", rocked with fervor and of course a message.

In contrast to Binaural, this disc is practically glowing in delivering a real flesh and blood band. All of the songs are well written and thought out but not to the point of staleness. Riot Act isn't meant to sell millions of records but is a baby step towards re-establishing them in the public eye.

For me, Riot Act came at a time shortly after we had moved into our current address. I remember sitting on my relatively new couch listening to Riot Act play on the stereo so it is tied to these memories of getting used to a new place.

While on tour, the band starting to play the Bush /war bashing "Bushleager" at live shows generating a lot of heat for the group. Done at a time when the country was on the verge of war and President's Bush popularity riding high, Pearl Jam became the target for all liberal bashing pundits. Everyone, note to self-listen to Eddie Vedder next time.

Lost Dogs (2003)

Pearl Jam has one of the strongest cult followings in rock today and are a strong generator of bootleg recordings as a result. So much so, PJ took to recording and releasing just about all of their concerts. In the studio, rarities were all over the place so they decided to clean up with a two disc set. Lost Dogs brings in the Odds & Sods of their career, filling in the blanks with B sides and soundtrack cuts. The early Hendrix styled ballad "Yellow Ledbetter" finally gets an official release. The hit "Last Kiss" also gets the full CD treatment.

The set is uniformly good except for the deletion of lyrics from "Brother". For me, the Who cover "Leavin' Here" is a rampaging bit of good rockin fun. Because much of it was previously released or bootlegged their weren't any stand out tracks but succeeds in setting the band up for the next phase.

Pearl Jam (2006)

Effectively off of Sony and now free to make music on their own terms Pearl Jam returned to the Big Rawk. Easily their hardest rocking disc since their debut, Pearl Jam shows a band ditching their restraint and finally writing catchy songs. "Life Wasted" written following the funeral of a Ramone is one of their best ever. Thematically, Vedder has Iraq on his mind with "Marker In The Sand", "Army Reserve" and the excellent rocker "World Wide Suicide".

At this point, Pearl Jam was sort of forgotten about to me but this disc brought it all the way back. The band is alive and rockin again with an abandon not seen in years. Pearl Jam stands out as a whole more than the actual songs as I can't remember all of the tunes but recall being impressed with it as a whole. With newly restored vigor and relevance, Pearl Jam found themselves being censored on an online concert by AT&T.

For me, the album mirrored my own life in that it came at a time when new energy and a new approach was needed. One of my favorite discs of 2006, I rate this one as a welcome return to form.

In 2007, the band recorded a cover of the Who classic "Love Reign O'er Me". To hear it, just click below:

Pearl Jam - "Love Reign O'er Me"