Sunday, March 30, 2008

Wrestlemania XXIV


Wrestlemania has come again, the WWE's equivalent to the Super Bowl or the World Series. This year's focus was on guest stars, John Legend sang "America the Beautiful" while Kim Kardashian was guest host. Snoop Dogg presided over the Bunnymania match while boxer Floyd "Money" Mayweather faced off with the Big Show. With this many guest stars and a great setting at the outdoor Citrus Bowl in Florida the WWE had an opportunity to deliver a great show.

Following John Legend's performance, JBL met Finlay in a Belfast Brawl match with Hornswoggle. Essentially a Hardcore match, it was physical and highlighted by Finley diving out of the ring and getting smashed in the head with a trash can lid while in mid air. JBL won in the end leaving Finley and Hornswoggle disappointed.

The Money in the Bank Ladder match followed. Like most Ladder matches, there were a lot of big falls and pain to go around. John Morrison stood out for his acrobatics, particularly performing a moonsault while holding a ladder. Shelton Benjamin took the most punishment, he had a ladder collapse underneath him and then later took a head first dive from the top of the ladder to another ladder suspended a few feet above the floor. That will teach Jeff Hardy to get suspended! Speaking of Hardys, Matt Hardy returned in time to give MVP a Twist of Fate off the ladder. CM Punk beat out Chris Jericho for the Money in the Bank prize.

The Smackdown vs Raw match of Batista against Umaga was up next. Another physical match, it looked like Batista was having back problems but he pulled off a victory.

The retirement match of Ric Flair versus Shawn Michaels brought Wrestlemania to an emotional crescendo half way through. The stakes were that if Flair lost he would have to retire. Flair couldn't have gone out on a higher note, Michaels was the perfect foil and played his part to the hilt. When Michaels crashed and burned on a moonsault, landing on a stiff announce table that didn't collapse immediately on impact, Flair picked up the slack by moving Michaels limp body around while protecting him at the same time. A tearful goodbye to a living legend.

The Bunnymania match presided by Snoop Dogg provided the comic relief needed. The lights suddenly went out in the middle of the match but otherwise it was event free.

The Triple Threat match of Randy Orton, John Cena and Triple HHH was up next. Following the hype going in, this match did not disappoint with its rapid moves and well timed shifts in momentum. John Cena had the entrance of the night having a college band performing his intro music. Orton stole the pin from Triple HHH on John Cena to retain the title.

Floyd Mayweather went into the match against Big Show and naturally did not live up to the hype. It was clear from the outset that had this been a real battle the Big Show would have crushed Mayweather. To my surprise, Mayweather actually knows how to sell pain and went with a heel ending to the match by use of a steel chair and brass knuckles.

The show closer was Undertaker versus Edge for the World Championship. The match was a little weak but Taker was visibly hurting in his back which added a lot of drama. Towards the end it picked up a bit and led to a satisfying ending with Undertaker as new World Champion.

All in all, it was a solid Wrestemania. Ric Flair's retirement was unquestionably the Wrestemania moment this year, while the much publicized Mayweather fight was good enough for what it was. No guest appearance by the Rock though. Wrestelemania XXIV was OK, if you smell what the Rock is cooking. Had he been there.

Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'

Wacko Jacko has beaten it but his music still thrills

In the world of Pop Culture, Michael Jackson holds a singular place. Following the Beatles, many acts have followed inducing short lived periods of hysteria filled popularity (Bay City Rollers and Duran Duran come to mind) but only Michael Jackson came that close to world domination. Thriller became the best selling album of all time during its inital run on the charts 25 years ago and the public became enamored with Jackson and his quicksilver dance moves, red leather jacket and sparkly glove.

For me, I sat out the Thriller phenomenon mainly because I was more into Rock than dance pop. As a kid, I idolized Jackson when he was part of the Jackson 5 but somewhere along the way I stopped caring. This ended up being an unintentionally wise move as the mega success of Thriller seemed to send Jackson around the bend, he just plain lost his mind. Some of the traits that were initially endearing like the focus on children, the arrested development of puberty, the plastic surgery-became creepy over time. After anointing himself the King of Pop, the downhill slide worsened until eventually he would be dogged by repeated charges of pedophilia.

So now at the 25th anniversary of his career zenith, Jackson is in an even more singular spot. The public still loves Michael Jackson's music and is showing signs of renewed interest beyond the normal fans, but in the minds of most people (including me) he's Wacko Jacko-an insane superstar who abuses small boys when he's not endangering them or rearranging his face like one giant Mr. Potato Head.

Where most artists would be able to take able to this interest and translate it into a comeback, Jackson can't because no one wants to see him. Meanwhile, the public is bringing back his music without him. Recent examples include:


  • David Cook / Chris Cornell remaking "Billie Jean" as an atmospheric ballad

  • Fall Out Boy with John Meyer remaking "Beat It" as alternative rock

  • Life water has a commercial of lizards and Naomi Campbell dancing to "Thriller"

  • Rihanna's "Don't Stop The Music" samples "Wanna Be Startin Somethin"

  • Chris Brown performs Michael Jackson's dance moves on a regular basis

The public has found a way to separate the man from his music, while for most artists this would be a crime in Jackson's case it's actually nice. It gives people license to enjoy his hit songs again without the guilt of some really nasty stuff. Michael Jackson's back...you just can't see him. Some people are better heard and not seen. Thanks for the memories Michael Jackson, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Midnight Madness 3/29

When I wake up, you better be ready to walk me! Blast! Damn you all! Victory is Mine!!

Dixie is sniffing my face which means she wants a walk. But before we take a walk, it's time for a little Midnight Madness!

I watched the movie Hot Fuzz on DVD this week, a silly parody of action movies starring Simon Pegg. It was a slight film and had a little bit of a "college movie" feel, but it did an excellent job of paying homage to a much loved but little respected genre.

Also in that film as the main villian was Timothy Dalton. It's the second Dalton film I've seen in a week (I watched The Rocketeer on Easter) and really enjoy his oily old school sense of evil. Almost like a silent movie bad guy, Dalton revels in his cartoonish performance. It's weird, all of the magnetism and charisma he lacked as 007 shows when he plays non heroic characters. Too bad he couldn't do this in his James Bond era.

The Ebert-less Ebert and Roeper show is starting to pick up steam, pairing Roeper with Michael Phillips (at least on the episodes I've seen lately) instead of a rotation resulting in some of the best differences of opinion since the Siskel and Ebert hey day. Granted, Roeper and Phillips are more smirky and bait each other more than the intellectual bloodbaths Siskel and Ebert would get into in their PBS era. Still, Roeper and Phillips are the best movie critic team in a long time.

Dixie is starting to bark at nothing for attention. Her walk is coming soon. She'll bark at a leaf blowing in the wind 15 miles away if you don't give her attention.

In American Idol, Chakeize found returning to his R&B lover man routine an Idol ending mistake as he was voted off the show. The coming week is Country week with mentor Dolly Parton, which means Kristi Lee Cook is going to be on a roll now. Can the other non Country performers adapt? It will be interesting to see.

On another Fox show, Don't Forget The Lyrics, childhood hero Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon played for charity and gave a very entertaining show. It was capped by a great performance of REO's classic "Roll With The Changes".

At one of my favorite sites Melodicrock, there is an in depth interview with Herbie Herbert who managed Journey from the beginning thru the 80's. He also managed such bands as Roxette, Eric Martin Band and Mr. Big. He speaks his mind about all sorts of subjects regarding his career (a Herbert interview is not for someone who has an idealized vision of Steve Perry as a person) and is a facinating read. The interview is at http://www.melodicrock.com/interviews/herbieherbert.html

Speaking of Journey, the word is out that they will be touring with Heart and Cheap Trick. Wow, it's 1978 again!

Def Leppard's new song "Nine Lives" is now online and is a welcome return to the Adrenalize sound with a little Tim McGraw to modernize and countrify it.

Today I had a nice time taking a day trip with my wife, we saw nice scenery and ate a good meal. My wonderful wife always has good ideas!

Well, Dixie is starting to get hyper and jump around the room which means its time to take a walk. Give the Dixie her due I like to say. C'mon dog, let's take a walk.


Def Leppard featuring Tim McGraw "Nine Lives"

Why Don't You Understand That You're The Voice?

I am Celine Dion! I am the Voice, not you, but I!!!

David Archuleta's recent performance of "You're The Voice" on American Idol got me thinking about the sometimes facinating life of pop songs. It's interesting to me how some songs get covered by multiple artists thinking they have a hit on their hands only to have it rejected by the public. Sometimes its a mystery why these songs don't become hits (or become hits years later for Celine Dion), sometime's not. Here's a couple that I can think of that fall under this category, let's start the obvious one-"You're The Voice"

Song: "You're The Voice"

In A Nutshell: The wrong kind of cheese

Archuleta's fave was a monster hit in the 80's for John Farnham, a singer I was a fan of due to his work with the Little River Band in the early 80's. Farnham had a powerful voice tailor made for belting out corny anthems like this one. Despite the momentum built up from having an international #1 hit, America has always been resistent to Farnham and this song. Producer David Foster did a version of the song for his River of Love solo album to nil effect. Heart covered the song in the early 90's and despite the significant changes (no more bagpipe solo and slap happy electronic drums) and a single release it was still ignored.

The bottom line is that America and Europe have some differences in the type of cornball cheese its willing to accept. We like a dose of sentimentality with our world saving cheese ("That's What Friends Are For", "We Are The World") and regard bagpipes as strictly Scottish keeping this song regulated to unknown status here. I thought Archuleta's performance of the song was mediocre but definitely in line with his socially conscious approach to pop music.

John Farnham "You're The Voice"

Song: "The Power Of Love"

In A Nutshell: The power of chest thumping Celine

Another song with a windy border crossing history, "The Power of Love" was written and performed by American Jennifer Rush. Songs with a heavy Opera influence that is not "Bohemian Rhapsody" don't fare well on the pop charts and this song initially was not an exception. A huge hit in the UK, Rush's epic ballad was ignored here. Austrailian Adult Contemporary gods Air Supply covered the song (which was the first time I heard it) and couldn't get away with it either. The late Laura Branigan got a little attention for her version, making the Top 20 in the late 80's. But it is Canadian Celine Dion that made the definitive version of the song finally pushing it to the top of the pop charts. As much as I don't enjoy Celine Dion's shrieky overemoting, if you can make "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" a hit you can pretty much sell anything. It took a Canadian to make a hit song out of a European ballad by an American. That's some power!

Jennifer Rush "The Power of Love"

Song: "Rock Myself To Sleep"

In A Nutshell: ...and sleep they did.

Written by Kimberly Rew and Vince De La Cruz of Katrina and the Waves, the first time I heard this was on Starship's Knee Deep In The Hoopla album. Sung by Grace Slick, this hard rock anthem about self love was not released as a single but stood out because on the record it was the first song on after the hits ("We Built This City", "Sara", "Tomorrow Doesn't Matter Tonight"). I don't believe Slick even liked the song. But apparently Myles Goodwyn did, because the song re-appeared as the lead single to April Wine's Walking Through Fire album. Despite an unintentionally hilarious video, the song didn't receive any, um, action. Eventually Katrina and the Waves recorded their own version to no avail, the song remains unknown (except for people like me who bought these records out of fits of temporary insanity).

April Wine "Rock Myself To Sleep"

Song: "You've Got The Touch"

In A Nutshell: Marky Mark's musical legacy?

"Touch" was written and recorded by AOR artist Stan Bush for the soundtrack to the Transformers movie (not the recent movie, the animated movie in the early 90's aka the last movie Orson Welles was ever in). The song caught wind (intentional pun) with AOR fans like me who couldn't get enough of the 80's style "go for it" attitude though it wasn't a hit beyond that. In the mid '90's, the song got a surprising revival when Mark Wahlberg delivered a version of the song in the film Boogie Nights meant to underscore the deluded self ambition of his character. This is arguably the most memorable musical moment for Marky Mark, just edging out his equally self deluded "Good Vibrations" (Yeah! C'mon, C'mon! Feel It! Feel It!).

Stan Bush "You've Got The Touch"

Dirk Diggler "You've Got The Touch"

Well, that's all the songs I can think of to feature for now. I could do a post tracking all the times Celine Dion has made big hits out of other people's little hits ("I Drove All Night" comes to mind) but why begrudge her the success she's had? Because I can't stand her singing? That is a pretty good reason, but still I won't bother. Despite her Pygmalian upbringing and sheltered sense of royalty she doesn't seem to be an evil person so I won't bash her too much more. She understands that I am so poor that I may not have touched a pair of jeans before. Let me touch those things for once!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shock and Awww...

Kristi Lee Cook raises the flag on Idol.

After spending the entire season in the Bottom 2, it seemed like just a matter of time until Kristi Lee Cook would be eliminated. Coasting on her all American blond looks while delivering one stupifying performance after another, I thought her luck tonight might finally fold. But then Kristi pulled out the most canny song selection in American Idol history, performing Lee Greenwood's patriotic "God Bless The USA" with flags waving on the video screens and everything. Lee Cook gave it a good performance, for her the best she's ever done. Now there's no way she's going home this week, only if she wrecked the song to the point of mockery would that happen. No, to vote off a cute blond girl singing for her country during wartime would just be un-American. I don't see anything wrong with patriotic displays when a person really feels the need to show their love for our country, but this...this was cunning. Impressive. Most Impressive.

Meanwhile on Idol, the other Cook reworked the Gloved One's "Billie Jean" into a stunning Nick Cave type of rock ballad. David Cook continues to show real artistry and is quickly becoming the one to beat. Shyesha Mercado continued her roll with a well arranged rendition of "If I Was Your Woman". Michael Johns made a significant impact with "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions", but I didn't get it. I just thought he was doing Queen: the musical and was not impressed.

Everyone else was either OK or less including former front runner David Archuleta who oddly chose John Farnham's "You're The Voice". "You're The Voice" was one of those songs that was a monster hit in every industrialized country but here and as a general rule it takes Celine Dion to make one of those songs sell (see "The Power Of Love" and "If You Asked Me To" for reference). Chakezie went back to his R&B loverman persona, Brooke White started off strong at the piano but then faded halfway through, Ramiele Mulabuy alternated between smooth and screechy. Jason Castro shows taste in his song selection with Sting's "Fragile" but was so forgettable that this is actually the last sentence written for this post.

Poor Carly Smithson seems the most likely to go now, at one point she seemed like she could take it all. But she's losing steam and fading fast without a niche market to carry her (The bar drinking Tats audience just isn't big enough). While Simon slammed Smithson for being tense, I liked the edgy desperation and thought it added to her performance of "Total Eclipse Of The Heart". It wasn't a great performance, but I thought it was pretty good. Tomorrow night's the results, other than the Cooks there is potential for anyone to be eliminated. Wow, if that's not a safe comment I don't know what is.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mr. Mike's Highschool Record Collection: Kansas - Power

Dorothy I don't think we're in-I'm gonna stop, that line's been overdone for decades. How about "I am Iron Man!". Yeah, that's a little better.

In 1986 Kansas found themselves in a curious position. After becoming a headlining act in the mid to late 70's on the strength of songs like "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Point Of Know Return", half the band became born again Christians which seemed to cause the group to splinter. After years of writing spiritually questioning slightly progressive AOR songs (not to mention the athiestic "Dust In The Wind") the change in focus resulted in some members, lead vocalist Steve Walsh in particular, leaving. The band carried on with new Christian members including singer John Elefante to carry on into the 80's with less success.

By the mid 80's, Kansas was no more which left the door open for Steve Walsh to return. Choosing a mix of older members (drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Richard Williams) and new members (bassist Billy Greer and ex-Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse) revitalized the band. Though departing band leader Kerry Livgren wrote the bulk of the previous material, Walsh teamed up with Morse to write most of Power. Kansas retained some of their proggish tendencies (but not the violin player!) but were mainly driven by Morse's scorching guitar runs and Walsh's rock star yelping. I don't think I've really played this album in years, so this is gonna be fun.

1. Silhouettes In Disguise - The album gets off to a fast start with some potent hard rock. Steve Morse earns his keep right off by tearing up the fret board. A great opener for the album and a fine representative of the new approach: use fancy lyrics to throw people off the fact that they aren't as intellectual as Livgren's while barreling ahead with a more straightforward sound. Listen to the guitar solo at the end of the track, you will be sold (or as Kathi Lee Cook said to Simon Cowell last week "You know I can blow you out of your socks." Simon gleamed like the cheeky bastard he is. You cheeky bastard!)

2. Power - This was the second single from the album, it landed with a thud on the charts and sank like a stone. I had a friend who liked this song just because they chanted "Power!" over and over. Still, it was a great tune and like the song says, it takes Power to back up the things you say.

3. All I Wanted - The lead single was this straightforward ballad, a Top 20 single no less! Not terribly distinguishable from say a Toto ballad or a Chicago ballad, it was still a fine tune and still sticks with me 20 years later. Love those synth flourishes!

4. Secret Service - Things get a little more proggy with this cut, never was a big fan of this song. "Secret Service"? Naming a song after a government agency isn't all that great an idea (why not the Smithsonian for example? Smithsonian Service...Smithsonian Service...lame!)

5. We're Not Alone Anymore - Kansas removes the breakables from the studio again to lay down another fierce cut (Tyra says be fierce). Cool rapid fire drums and an almost Satriani-ish guitar sound pumps up this breakout rocker.
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6. Musicatto - Walsh proves he was paying attention in the 70's as Kansas plays a superb instrumental to showcase their virtuosity.

7. Taking In The View - The second side of the album lays the faux self introspection on a little thicker, as this folksy ditty about finding your special place (no, not THAT-man you're nasty!) gets all "Dust In The Wind" on us. Not bad for what it is though.

8. Three Pretenders - The big empty lyrics continue with this fine rock cut, very 80's AOR except you never figure out who the Three Pretenders are. Chrissie Hynde? Naw, that's just one.

9. Tomb 19 - "Take The Treasures of Tomb 19 / Let The Curse Remind You". Writing songs about tombs and pyramids...somebody's reachin'. Another fine song if you don't think too hard.

10. Can't Cry Anymore - A nice big ballad to close out the record, a slow stepping piece of big drama. The third single from Power, the video featured Richard Beltzer (Law and Order SUV) and a great vocal from Walsh. Or is that Law & Order SVU? I always get it confused, it's the show with ICE-T on it too. Maybe ICE T should remake this song, "I just can't cry anymore / so I busted a cap in your ass."

Kansas continued (Carried on their Wayward Way?) afterwards but I stopped following after this record (my point of know return?). Power was as close as Kansas ever got to a comeback, though it will mainly be remembered as their best contribution to Adult Contemporary ("All I Wanted"). One of the first tapes I bought after starting college, this album will always remind me of that feeling of independence. 'Cause it takes Power!

We All Need New Frontiiieeerrrrrsss

Tickle me Elmo!

Continuing my Top 100 CD list is one of my favorite bands, which makes sense since we're getting close to the top of the list-

Number 37: Journey Frontiers (1983)

It's hard to think of something new about Journey at this point since I've covered them a lot recently with their new lead singer and all. So, what can I say about Frontiers? How about it was the last truly great Journey album following their landmark Escape record. They were one of the most popular bands in America at this point and they rolled into their follow up with a similar approach to the previous record except with more synthesizers.

Side one of the tape was one of the best album sides I've ever heard: "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)", "Send Her My Love", "Chain Reaction", "After The Fall" and "Faithfully". These songs are iconic in the Journey canon, so I won't bother to say much except "After The Fall" was the first appearance of Randy Jackson on bass (he did his thing, he worked it out). "Separate Ways" always sounded like aliens landing from outer space on the synth intro to me. "Chain Reaction" was my favorite on the album, a hard driving rocker with some slammin' synths.

Side two was a little spottier because two songs, "Only The Young" and "Ask The Lonely" were pulled off at the last second. The B side of the tape starts of strong with the guitar heavy "Edge Of The Blade" and then goes to the quiet, yearning ballad "Troubled Child". The awkward garage rock of 'Back Talk" followed and then the futuristic "Frontiers" came next. The album closed with the anthemic "Rubicon".

So many great memories to this album, not the least of which was buying the cassette and record over and over because they would get worn out or damaged. I used to have a copy of a radio broadcast from this tour when they played in Philadelphia that was phenominal. It's a classic record and my 37th favorite of all time.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Progger's Deliight

No, it's not an Elf searching for the One Ring...it's Steve Howe! Maestro tours with Yes and Asia this summer to make sure everyone feels the heat of the moment in the roundabout. Late 70's blue Swedish jumpsuit not included.

I said a British/Rock Stars/Who Play Really Long Songs/That Don't Stop-oops, wrong genre. That was the beat to the first rap song I ever heard, "Rapper's Delight", what I mean to write about is that this is shaping up to be a Progressive Rock Summer. Progressive Rock, or Prog, is one of my favorite sub genres of Rock. It's a form that was popular mostly in the early 70's, where mainly British musicians were inspired by The Beatle's Sgt Pepper album to throw as much Classical music into their rock as they could. Lyrics usually were hippy-dippy about abstract, futuristic themes while the songs would be up to 30 minutes long with huge solos of every instrument imaginable. What makes this the Summer of Prog? I'm so glad you didn't ask, but I'm going to tell you anyway:


Yes
Dormant for about five years, the definitive Prog rock band returns for their 40th anniversary. One of my favorite bands of all time, 4/5ths of what's called the "Classic Yes" lineup hits the road. Jon Anderson (vocals), Steve Howe (guitars), Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums) are joined by keyboardist Rick Wakeman's son, Oliver Wakeman. So bust out your Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons gear, 'cause Yes is coming back to fill your head with magic forests, hobbits and 12 sided dice one 20 minute organ solo at a time. Get Close to the Edge for this one! (I've seen Yes about 8 times and have not heard "Close to the Edge" live yet. If I go, maybe this will be the year.)
Asia
Really excited about seeing this band, Steve Howe does double duty this summer joining the original lineup of John Wetton (bass), Geoff Downes (keyboards) and Carl Palmer (drums) for a new album and tour. The new album, Phoenix, has an early buzz of being frozen in time sounding like it was made twenty years ago. In other words, it could be one of the greatest albums ever made!

Dream Theater




The long running American Prog Metal band continues their unique path by touring behind the new two disc compilation Their Greatest Hit (...and 21 other pretty cool songs). As with all things DT, the timing gets a little off as they just released a second video for an album that came out last year-a song that's not included in their compilation. Why spend money to promote the previous album? I have no clue, but as with many things DT related I don't question it I just enjoy it.

The video, "Forsaken" was for one of the best songs from the Systematic Chaos album of 2007. A Metal ballad with Exorcist style piano (Mike Oldfield would be proud), the video is reminiscent of the old Heavy Metal mag and movie. Fully animated and not covering for horrendous self abuse like the Britney Spears video, the song seems to involve flying vampires, bright explosions of magical powers and drug metaphors. All it needs is a Barbarella type woman brandishing a broadsword and riding a dragon to be complete.

Dream Theater "Forsaken"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Ultimate Actor of All Time...

Ode to a living legend

For me is the one, the only-William Shatner. Sure, there were times in my life where I thought my favorite actor was an Action star or someone else who could...well...act, but time has shown me that one actor always comes back to my viewing screen. As a kid, I was a huge fan of Star Trek and naturally Captain James Tiberius Kirk was an essential part of that. In the early 80s he was supercop TJ Hooker, the car hood ridin', hair piece flyin' ex Detective who was busted down to Street cop 'cause he was too freakin' real.

Of course, the Star Trek movies came out and regardless of whether he was in a good or bad movie, the Shat always gave 100%. Later, I came to appreciate his unique singing abilities after hearing his (inter)stellar version of "Mr Tambourine Man" while shopping at Tower Records . And just when it seemed his career would fade, Shat made a monster comeback. Following years of ridicule of His. Hammy. Acting. Style. it seemed he would become a has been. But The Shat got in on the joke with a series of cameos (3rd Rock From The Sun) and Priceline commercials.

So what is it about Shatner that makes him so great? It's the total self absorbsion, the hyper dramatic syntax and the raw bravery of someone really liking everything about himself. I just don't believe self acceptance is a problem for Shatner. And in doing so, he achieves both astonishing high points and really memorable low points in his facinating career.

There is no better illustration that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Shatner seemed tired of seeing Leonard "the logical one" Nimoy get the glory of directing Star Trek movies so He wanted his shot. Shatner co wrote, co produced and directed the follow up to the extremely successful Star Trek IV. So what did we get? Shoddy direction, flimsy special effects and plot holes larger than V'Ger. But what else did we get? A story that revolved entirely around Kirk, as he went free hand mountain climbing (Why? Because it's there.), alien horse back riding (Spock? Be one with the horse, Spock) and best of all questioning God to his face (cause the universe isn't big enough for the both of them). Pure hubris with a multi million dollar budget. It was both horrible and great at the same time.

And that's why William Shatner is the greatest actor of all time. He has something to teach all of us (or maybe just me). The Corbomite Manuever. And the feeling you can really go where no one has gone before out of sheer conviction.

(a side note, I'm not being entirely sarcastic Shatner really can act and has the Emmys to prove it. Also he had a small character role in a TV movie where he played Melissa Gilbert's Dad, it's my favorite Shatner performance.)

William Shatner montage

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Where Are They Now? I Don't Know, But They Were Once Steel Breeze!

I pity the fool who challenges me in Donkey Kong.

It's been a busy week, so i'm going to throw up (not literally) a quick post in it's easiest form-A Flashback!

One of the first songs I really liked a lot was this AOR classic from 1982. Steel Breeze's first single "You Don't Want Me Anymore" was a Top 20 single, powered by a way cool synthesizer line, extended guitar solos and muscle T shirts. It was as state of the art as a cassette walkman or ColecoVision, the cutting edge of mainstream Arena rock. They followed up with a second Top 40 hit, "Dreaming Is Easy" which was also very pleasant. Then, nothing. Steel Breeze just up and disappeared.

I guess they released more records but were universally ignored. I went looking for their Legendary (in my mind) appearance on Solid Gold but no luck, that's how forgotten they've become. Times became hard for the Steel Breezers and they haven't even been able to build any nostalgia mojo for a comeback. At their website, it looks like the band has changed so much that it's fronted by a Gwen Stefani impersonator (I'm not making this up! Their website is http://www.steelbreeze.info/).

Like one of my favorite movie quotes, "The brightest flame burns half as long" (Blade Runner) and Steel Breeze fizzled out within a year of their hit. But their one shining moment stands the test of time-here it comes now, hide your Vans!

Steel Breeze "You Don't Want Me Anymore"

Awwww...Idol


I didn't get a chance to recap the Idol show last night. It was a little bizarre, particularly Kristy Lee Cook's odd version of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" arranged like a European National Anthem. Front runners Brooke White and David Cook got a little self indulgent while David Archuleta played it safe but was strong enough to make a comeback. Carly Smithson gave a gave the best performance of the night in my opinion and was rewarded with a visit to the bottom three. Surprisingly Michael Johns avoided the bottom three despite his cliffnotes version of "A Day In The Life". Syeshia Mercado connected with "Yesterday" and delivered one of her best performances. Jason Castro and Ramiele Mulauby kind of snoozed thru their songs.

But my fave Amanda Overmeyer bit the dust tonight, taking away one of the most entertaining elements to the show (for me). Was it the "first to go on, first to leave" curse? Or was it the fact she could only do one style of song? At any rate, Overmeyer got the heave ho while Kristy Lee Cook continues to prove it's not musical talent that keeps you on the show. Bummer.

Amanda Overmeyer - "Back in the USSR"

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Midnight Madness 3/16 edition

I hope the Sabretooth Tiger wins

Hey, it's 316 which is my favorite number! What's happened in the past week? Lots!

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was on this week. I wasn't as excited about this years inductees though of course they are mostly respectable. Johnny John Cougar Mellencamp Emerson Lake and Palmer or whatever his name ended up being was a solid pick, he's been remarkably consistent for over 20 years now. The only questionable one to me was Madonna because 1) she is not Rock and 2) she was more about the power of self marketing than anything else. Growing up in the 80's, I naturally have memories of Mads and have liked a song or two (and have hated a song or two too) so I don't question her cultural impact. But no one is going to convince me that "Dress You Up" or "Causing a Commotion" is rock. But the Hall of Fame deal is encouraging me to check out Leonard Cohen. I like when people cover his songs (I really like "Everybody Knows") so maybe the original is good too.

To follow up on something my wife posted once, you know what really Grinds My Gears? That movie 10,000 Years BC , I've hated every second of bombardment from their advertisements. It looks like a bunch of models running from a green screen where they had no idea what would be inserted through CGI later. I keep looking in the advertisements for a prehistoric Bowflex and hair stylist to justify the cave people's six pack abs and perfectly coiffed dreadlocks but no luck. The first wave of media hype is over, though we still have to make it through the advertising rounds for when it goes to DVD. You know what was a good caveman movie? Quest for Fire. Rae freakin Dawn Chong. Now that was a movie worth going to the stone age for.

R.E.M. seems to have entered a time machine because their new song sounds like it came from the Life's Rich Pageant album circa 1985. I'm not complaining, I like the song. Finally, they seem to have healded the criticism "I liked you more when you were jangly and the lyrics made no sense."

Some new Journey songs have surfaced on You Tube all of which sound promising. The quality isn't that great and in one of the videos it was obvious the person was trying to hide their recording device because the visual consists of watching a guy in the audience staring at the lights ahead of him. The early word is that their new disc will be available only Wal-Mart (like the Eagles) in June.

In American Idol, David Hernandez was eliminated just in time because I was running out of bad stripper jokes. This coming week will be a second round of Lennon/McCartney songs which can be murder on the people who didn't get the songs the first time around (study up David Archuleta!). My wife noted during the elimination round that there were fewer votes than before (29 Million) which could indicate people getting bored already. At least my fave, Amanda Overmeyer, is still there to rock the house!

To close, much has been made about "ringers" in this year's Idol so I thought I would post some of them. Here's Carly Smithson and Kristi Lee Cook in their previous incarnations as...themselves.



Carly Hennessy "I Blew Your Mind or something like that"



Kristy Lee Cook "Devoted"

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Artist Spotlight: The Black Crowes

In the early 90's, amid Gangsta Rap, New Country and Guns N' Roses came a band with a sound so retro that it couldn't help but stand out. My first exposure to The Black Crowes was I think while watching the Arsenio Hall Show (Woof! Woof!) and they blew me away by playing no frills classic rock. But they were new! But they were classic! But they were new! Pumped up by the strut of their cover of the Otis Redding chestnut "Hard To Handle", I ran out and bought their disc.

They became a favorite of mine and I've followed their career since then. Chris Robinson's soulful vocals, Rich Robinson's chunky guitar and Steve Gorman's steady backbeat breathed new life into a dying music form. A rotation of other players have accented the band's sound throughout their career, most notably by guitarist Marc Ford. They've recently released a new CD, Warpaint, so I thought it would be a good time to assess the career of the Brothers Robinson. From their early glory to things that make you go hmmm..., The Black Crowes!

1990: Shake Your Money Maker

You are the Money Maker, they bring the money to you-sorry, that's Rilo Kiley. After some run ins with their label and Rick Rubin (who reportedly wanted to name the band into something that would have the initials KKK), the Crowes recorded their debut with their influences on their sleeve. British Invasion Blues Rock mixed with a touch of Southern Rock and a lot of vigor. Following their revival of Redding's "Hard To Handle", their first album read like a sampler of 60's gold. They had bits of The Stones ("Could I've Been So Blind"), Rod Stewart before he completely sold out ("She Talks To Angels"), Joe Cocker ("Seeing Things") and a little more Rod Stewart from the Faces era ("Jealous Again"). They were a lean, mean rock band with a chip on their shoulder and gained press with the Robinson brothers infighting. Labelled gimmicky by many at the time of this release, I enjoyed the traditionalist approach.

1992: The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

My favorite of all the Crowes discs, this is the album where the rubber met the road. All of the aforementioned influences coalesce into a more individualistic sound. Adding gospel styled background singers and ace lead guitarist Marc Ford punched up their dynamic sound which was starting to become more rhythmic following their tour. Recorded quickly, this is the definitive Black Crowes album for me-the songs are well written and rock with real force.

"Remedy" was the lead single. With it's barnstorming guitar riff, chanting chorus and the first exposure to Ford's gnarled guitarwork, "Remedy" was a powerhouse. The opening track "Sting Me" is a tearaway rocker that the band specializes in. The thunderous "Sometimes Salvation" and the near Zep "No Speak No Slave" are highlights as well. They struck a balance where their songs had wonderful rough edges but still had enough song structure to make it all work.

1994: Amorica

Recently hailed by many critics as the Black Crowes best album, it's easy to see why. All of the influences distill into a distinct, unmistakeable sound that belongs to the Crowes. No one could point at a single song and spot the immediate influence as touring broadened the band's jamming ability. Though they had made an artistic breakthrough, this album started the group's slow commercial slide into obscurity.

Despite the great singing, sharp guitar work and empathetic groovin by the rhythm section anchored by Gorman, what it came down to is the sound began to overtake the songs. As a result, it's not memorable for any individual songs than as a whole. "Wiser Time" does make an impact as a whiskey soaked casual ride through mellowness while "P.25 London" thrills with it's rockin' attitude. But with less focus on actual song writing, The Black Crowes went from "it" band to yesterday's news in a flash.

1996: Three Snakes and One Charm
Following the commercially ignored Amorica, The Crowes simultaneously reigned in and expanded their sound. The songwriting was a little more focused and the perfomance a little less jammy. Yet in spite of some strong material, much of Three Snakes doesn't always stick. The first single "Blackberry" (not an ode to the phone) is the most memorable with it's chug-a-lug groove and catchy hook. But after that, I'm pressed to remember anything from this album. That's a shame, as The Black Crowes added Psychedelia to their repitiore giving Three Snakes a flavor that's different from any other part of their output.

1999: By Your Side

This was the first Black Crowes disc to really excite me in some time as it seemed they were getting lost in a cloud of Grateful Dead smoke. For By Your Side, The Crowes made a decision to refocus their songwriting and performance to a tighter sound as on their first album. The result: some blazing rock and roll. The downside? The album is self conscious and not all of the songs can past muster.

What can pass is a hoot and a holler, the "Sting Me"ish "Go Faster" was fun as was the hard charging first single "Kickin' My Heart Around". The ballads like "Only A Fool" and the title track also came across well. My personal favorite "Go Tell The Congregation" kicks ass while the closer "Virtue and Vice" builds up the drama wonderfully. As fun as By Your Side is, there's no getting around the feeling that the band was fighting their own instincts at the time making this one of their most uncomfortable albums. And playing it straight did nothing for them in terms of sales as they were playing to just a loyal following by now.

2001: Lions

Following a tour with Jimmy Page, the Crowes hit the studio with Producer Don Was. The news was exciting as Was had elicited strong performances from Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones in the past. So it should have been the album of their career, right? Wrong, Lions was unrelentingly lazy and bored with itself from the get go. Maybe it was due to Chris Robinson's domestic contentment at that time, maybe they were tired from the road, but whatever happened sucked the life out of the band. Only "Lickin" and "Soul Singing" manages to get much action going. My least favorite from their entire catalog.

2008: Warpaint

The Black Crowes split up following Lions. It wasn't until about 2006 that the Crowes started to show signs of life until a full blown reunion took place. Warpaint is the first new album following their regrouping. The album re-establishes the band as a force to be reckoned with even as it doesn't rock all that hard. Warpaint takes it's nod from Amorica in it's structure of songs that exist more for the riffs and grooves than the melody. The addition of guitarist Luther Dickinson gives the band their best 2nd guitarist since the Marc Ford era.

Still, cuts like the ballad "Oh Josephine"and the backyard blues stomper "God's Got It" stand out. While this won't make them any new friends, Warpaint reflects a renewed sense of purpose and an added swamp rock flavor similar to Creedence Clearwater Revival or The Band. There is a lived in feel to the music this time which makes them sound more natural. It does lack a full tilt rocker, but other than that Warpaint is one of the best albums in this band's career.

Following the Crowes effectively calling out Maxim magazine for reviewing their record without hearing it (and rightfully so), I'm going to add that I own and have listened to all of the Black Crowes albums. Now to close, below is the new single from Warpaint called "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution". It's good stuff, definitely not to hard to handle.

The Black Crowes - "Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution (live)"

Friday, March 14, 2008

Touch Too Much?

Sometimes listening to new music at my age can be a Catch 22 in that I like the music that reminds me of what I've heard before yet when new bands come out, all I hear are the bands they're aping. So it goes with Airbourne, an Australian Hard Rock quartet whose CD my wife and I came across at Best Buy. The CD cover, with the outsized logo and imagery of a band running from a darkened prison conjured memories of 80's metal album covers past. Despite the instant impulse to buy the thing, we waited because we had no idea what it sounded like.

So while surfing the web tonight I decided to check out Airbourne. It turns out they sound dead on like another Australian band, AC/DC. It's not even a slight influence, I heard two songs and both sounded like Angus Young sat down and handed them music. Now they'res a saying Joe Perry had, "If you're gonna steal, steal from the best" and that definitely comes into play here. Airbourne walks a fine line with me, it's great to see a new young band rise up to play new songs in the classic hard rock genre. At the same time, I wonder what they sound like if they bothered to develop their own style. Shoot To Thrill indeed. In the end youthful enthusiasm edges out jaded cynicism by a hair. This will be the first song in my retitling of the Song of the Moment, I'm now going with New Songs That Rule. It's all a little too much for me to figure out right now, so here's a double shot of Airbourne. Apply directly to the forehead


Airbourne - "Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast"
Airbourne - "Diamond In The Rough"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Zebra - Zebra

The Breck hair of Mullets - Zebra!

I've been wanting to post about this record for a while now, in Hard Rock there aren't one hit wonders as often as there are one album wonders. In 1983, a power trio came from out of nowhere that blended the best elements of Led Zeppelin and early Rush. This band never heard a 70's rock sound they didn't like. I know, you're thinking Triumph. But no, I'm talking Zebra!

I heard Zebra came from the East Coast, led by singer / guitarist Randy Jackson (not the American Idol dude dawg). Jackson had a voice that could jump from a strident, confident tone to a Robert Plantish wail. His guitar playing was blazing yet tasteful. The other two guys were rock solid players and the band had a tight chemestry. How could they not, on the album cover they look like three heads linked together by the same hair.

Track by track, here's the Zebra classic:

1. Tell Me What You Want

My favorite track and second single from the album. A dramatic hard rock guitar riff drives this song with a great wailing chorus. The lead guitar parts head for the stratosphere with a sound similar to twin guitars. The song is so catchy it's stuck in my brain for the past 25 years. As you'll notice during this post, I never really understood Zebra's songs past the title of the chorus in most cases. I suppose he's talking to his girlfriend in this song, either way if someone screams like this you probably should tell him what you want.

2. One More Chance

A dynamic song that flashes between pastoral verse sections and a bracing chorus with excellent background vocals. Sort of like Rush's "Closer To The Heart" but with more singers and harder guitars. I like that relaxed vibe to instant urgency. Two songs into the album, Zebra can do no wrong.

3. Slow Down

A looser almost 50's rock groove complete with boogie piano. A freewheeling ride that provides a break from the regimented song structure of the previous cuts. Back in the day I couldn't get into this type of song but appreciate it more now.

4. As I Said Before

Classic late 70's styled Hard Rock with a heavy Zep influence. The descending groove and a chorus slightly reminiscent of "Good Times Bad Times". Has one of those choruses where it goes in circles "As I Said Before / and don't make me think about it / or I'll say it Again." Makes you want to buy a Camaro so you can drive out to the woods and get sloppy drunk.

5. Who's Behind The Door

The first single and best known song from Zebra. Acoustic guitars and a swooshing sound dominate this number. Synths and acoustic guitars, so early MTV. It brings out a feeling of looking into the night sky to ponder teenage life's mysteries. I never did figure out who's behind the door. (unless they're referring to the Green Door, but that's a different story).

6. When You Get There

Another killer 70's rock strutter, alternates between a choppy verse and a smooth chorus. At the time it seemed like they had riffs to spare. Again, I never analyzed the lyrics so I don't know what happens when you get there. Wherever "there" is. I grow tired of asking this, so it will be the last time: Where is the location of the Rebel base?"

7. Take Your Fingers From My Hair

A second acoustic song, sometimes Zebra can get pretty British rock sounding like here. The acoustic guitars lead to a charged electric guitar dominated second half. Lyrically one of those "you wronged me woman" kind of songs, but back then the only thing I got out of it was he didn't want his hair messed with. It was like, "Damn, I spent five hours and two bottles of conditioner to get my nice shiny 70's rock hair. I don't care that it's 1983. Take your fingers out of it!"

8. Don't Walk Away

Sort of a Boston kind of rocker, it's OK but I've never got that into this song.

9. The La La Song

Another one of my favorites on the album, if I was in a hurry I usually fast forwarded my tape from the end of "Who's Behind The Door" to here. Very Yes like to me, maybe because they often had these phonetic sort of lyrics. I also liked the end of the chorus where the voices echo "Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow" because in the 70's there used to be this commercial for some job training agency where the guy thinks to himself "I'll look for a job tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow."

After this album it looked like Zebra had a bright future ahead, but they had blown out all of their good material right here. The follow up was the disappointing No Tellin' Lies album which didn't have any truly memorable songs. They never could recover their lost momentum and became a forgotten band. That's too bad, because for one album they were golden.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

American Idol - The Top 12


All right, new logo, new stage, lots to get excited about! Except maybe the performances.

Syeshia Mercado - "Got To Get You Into My Life"

A little by way of the Earth Wind and Fire version, very empty version of the song. And for some reason Syeshia sports an 80's look a week late. Not feelin' this one. Jumping ahead a little, but I think it's between her and Kathi Lee Cook in a race to the bottom this time.

Chakeize - "She's A Woman"

After weeks of selling us the old school R&B lover man bit, Chakeize suddenly switches up and performs the song with a bluegrass beginning and a rock ending. Meanwhile, he works the stage like a madman and pushes his voice to the limits of its range. Shocking but great, Chakeize finally makes a case for himself as a distinct talent. If this doesn't get him out of the bottom two, nothing will. His end zone dance at the end with Ryan Seacrest was infectious and entertaining.

Ramiele Mulaby - "In My Life"

Poor Ramiele, she started off strong but after her mediocre 70's week she's lost confidence and direction. She's stuck in ballad land with a particularly muzaky version of the Beatles classic. Worse, on elimination nights she's becoming the equivalent of "the crying girl" without Sanjaya. She dedicated the song to her eliminated friends, but if she continues on this track this will be her own epitaph (American Idol wise, that is).

Jason Castro - "If I Fell"

An OK followup to his Jeff Buckley triumph last week, Beatle's week finds Castro returning to his guitar strumming ways. I thought it was a little boring but appreciated some of the quirkiness to the vocal. For some odd reason the tone of voice reminded me of David Cassidy in parts. Maintains his sensitive modern folky image but does little else.

Carly Smithson - "Come Together"

The Heart influence shows with a very Wilson sisters take on this rocked out tune. I liked the verse sections a little more than the chorus where the theatricality was a little overdone (the "...over me" part where she seemed to sway a little). Still, a strong enough performance to barely win me over.

David Cook - "Eleanor Rigby"

Lightning strikes twice as Cook rearranges yet another song to his emo-rock ways. Finally leaving the guitar behind, Cook actually becomes a bolder front man with his Vampire jacket and Freddie Mercury style mic stand holding. Like "Hello", Cook adds a menacing tone to a song that previously didn't have any. Needs to be careful of doing too many emo ballads now or he'll paint himself into a corner. He's getting stronger by the week.

Brooke White - "Let It Be"

Carly Simon's clone, um, I mean Brooke White goes to the stage to perform "Let It Be". It was OK, Brooke White always has a pleasant way about her and she is able on the piano. The judges rave about it, I didn't get into it to that extent. Her self congratulatory post song interview was a little off putting but not horribly so.

David Hernandez - "I Saw Her Standing There"

Dull...painfully dull...and Hernandez has a one-size-fits-all performance style now that's distracting. It's not a distinct performance style like Overmeyer's blues rock, Michael John's Vedderisms or White's Carly Simon fetish. He's gonna plant his feet and swivel his pelvis, he's gonna turn his head sideways and close his eyes on high notes, he's gonna end with the big note. It's almost like he's had a job where he goes out in front of people and does a certain routine every time before. If we peel away the layers, we'll see...aw, short of metaphors tonight.

Amanda Overmeyer - "You Can't Do That"

Heeding the judge's previous advise, Overmeyer goes full throttle into a Janis Joplin styled rendition. She gives a pretty good performance but not quite as good as last week. I liked how she dug into the second verse a little more, too bad she couldn't sustain it. Simon rightfully criticizes that half the lyrics were unintelligibly sung. This was so Joplinesque I thought she might fall drunk off the stage. If she gets ahold of something like "Ball and Chain" it could be awesome.
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Michael Johns - "Across The Universe"

A so-so acoustic version of one of the Beatles most recently revived songs. I guess Johns doesn't keep track of who he's mimicking, Eddie Vedder had a fine version of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" a few years back. That was acoustic too, so maybe Johns was paying attention. Still, this guy is coasting on good will more than anything at this point.

Kathi Lee Cook - "Eight Days A Weak-Week! Did I say weak?"

Paula Abdul started the night off with a bunch of double talk about if you play it safe or make changes you can do well or something like that. Anyway, Lee Cook takes the judges advice and bizarrely rearranged the early Beatles hit into a manic country song. It reeks of a Miss America performance where a thin blond girl misapplies her talent with ridiculous results. Nothing works and she's competing with Hernandez for most annoying mannerisms (wobble the head, sing from an upward stance and widen her eyes to punctuate the end of a sentence). I think her looks saved her last week, yet she's making it hard for herself by giving pathetic performances.

David Archuleta - "We Can Work It Out"

Anyone waiting for a poor showing from the lip licking wonder got their wish this week. Botched lyrics, awkward stage presence and seeming visibly lost ruined any chance at pulling off Beatle's week. Archuleta even admits he doesn't know the Beatles because of their age but as my wife points out knows another 60's artist, Stevie Wonder. It's Wonder's take that Archuleta uses but no arrangement can disguise his discomfort. Archuleta seemed more lost than a Patriots fan in New York (reaching for a metaphor here). He's safe due to the momentum built up from the first few weeks.
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Despite all the hype about the "most talented final 12 ever" this is shaping up to be a dull season so far. David Cook gets the most build up in momentum while Chakeize delivered the performance of the night. Lee Cook should be the one to go this week but as previous shows have shown the obvious pick isn't always the right one.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The First Supergroup of the '80's

My all time favorite artist is Roger Dean for his fanciful artwork such as the album cover above. I mean, what kind of genius says "I'm going to paint a female robot with a mushroom head and have her crouch like a cat batting a ball. And everything will be purple!" Pure genius.

This is the true story...of four Prog rock all stars picked to form a band...work together and have their music taped...to find out what happens when people stop being polite...and start getting real...The Real World Asia!

Asia was labelled the first supergroup of the 80's because the members of the group had come from successful 70's band. Bassist/vocalist/main songwriter John Wetton (Roxy Music, King Crimson), Guitarist Steve Howe (Yes), Keyboardist Geoff Downes (Buggles, Yes) and Drummer Carl Palmer (ELP) formed an AOR band that debuted on the fledgling Geffen label in 1982. Their self titled debut album was a smash hit thanks to the "Heat of the Moment". Their mix of poppy songs with mini prog rock excursions made them extremely successful. They had exceeded even their own expectations of how big they could be and found themselves in the same ranks as Journey or Loverboy.

It was at this point my Mom joined the Columbia House records and tape club and got Asia's first tape. I played that thing to death. The songs were catchy and the musicians could play extremely well, plus Steve Howe's guitars facinated me because he went into weird little patterns that were unique compared to other guitarists.

Although they were a new band, the giant sized Prog rock egos gained from a decade of playing ten minute solos surfaced. The band tried to prepare themselves against...themselves...by signing a contract when the band formed to stay together for two years. But that couldn't stop them. For the second album Alpha, Wetton froze Howe out of the songwriting process and with it much of the guitars. Without the excessive instrumental breaks and Howe's guitars buried deep into the mix, Asia sounded less distinct. Although Alpha was a second platinum album, it sold less than their debut and forced the band to cancel their tour (which sucked because I was hoping to see them on their Asian Invasion tour).

But there was still hope because the band had signed up for a huge MTV concert to be played in Japan but aired internationally called Asia in Asia. It was near my birthday so I felt like I had received a great gift! And then the roof fell in-on Asia, that is.

It seems Howe and Wetton had enough of each other as Wetton was suddenly ejected from the band. Carl Palmer called in old friend Greg Lake (ELP) to cover the Asia in Asia concert. Though Lake's voice is deeper than John Wetton they were able to pull off the show (which I recorded to cassette off the radio, back before the internet when you had to do things like that to save certain broadcasts). In 1984, MTV reported this version of Asia was going to hit the studio.

So I was a little shocked when in 1985 Asia resurfaced sans Steve Howe but with John Wetton. In Howe's place was Mandy Meyer from the Metal band Krokus. I found out later in a Steve Howe interview that the Greg Lake version didn't work because John Wetton had written all the songs. Wetton was asked back, hat in hand, and shortly after tensions rose and Howe quit. Meanwhile, Palmer was asked back into ELP but declined and was replaced by Cozy Powell in that band.

When I bought Asia's third album Astra (originally titled Arcadia until the Duran Duran off shoot claimed it as a band name) the one stand out cut was "Go". The rest of the album was a bit silly with Nuclear War gloom and doom as a theme (in College I had a roommate who also was an Asia fan. We would frequently reference the ridiculous ending to "Countdown to Zero" with it's speech at the end, "No / Don't do it / Don't press the button / Don't start the Countdown to Zero" spoken in an ominous voice). "Go" was the last great blast of Asia, though my friends kept thinking it was Barry Manilow singing.

Astra was a flop, in fact Billboard magazine named it one of the Top 10 flops of the year (upo there with Billy Squier's Enough is Enough album). Since Astra, everyone but Geoff Downes quit. Downes claimed the band name under the last man standing rule and continued with a rotation of other players. Sometimes, Wetton, Palmer and Howe would occassionally return but never Wetton and Howe together. Over time, the band started to receive new attention as a nostalgiac piece of dork rock particularly in the movie The 40 Year Old Virgin (with that classic bit "I mean, seriously, Asia? You framed an Asia poster? How hard did the people at the frame store laugh when you brought this in?").

A few years back, either they had mellowed with age or just needed money, but the Original Asia band re-formed and has resumed touring. I will finally get to see them live this year which is a dream come true for me. As an added bonus, in April the band will be releasing their first new album with the original line up called Phoenix! I've replaced Van Halen news on the sidebar with Asia to get ready (and Van Halen's tour is cancelled/rescheduled/cancelled/rescheduled anyway). Until then, I will have to satisfy my Asia craving with some classic stuff. Here's the new Flashback "Go"!

Asia - "Go"

Saturday, March 08, 2008

An Unexpected Song of the Moment

Big Pimpin' with Anthony Edwards. He's got his mind on his money and money on his mind!

I was all set to blog on Alicia Key's new Prince styled single "Like You'll Never See Me Again" depressing video and all (it's about a fatal motorcycle accident. It manages to be more depressing than a full season of ER. I mean more relentless in it's sadness than that ER episode where Anthony Edwards dies. When Dr. Carter read Dr. Greene's last note and pinned it on the bulletin board, it was a real bummer. Remember Top Gun when Edwards died in a plane ejection accident? That was sad. Meg Ryan played his wife just before she became a big star so her entire role consisted of laughing and crying. What is it with Anthony Edwards and death anyway? They should have got Tom Cruise to reprise the Maverick role in ER just to shock people like when George Clooney suddenly showed up on the episode Juliana Margulies left the show. Am I going on about this too long? Yup, I am. Just like ER the show, it's still on. I stopped watching it like 5 years ago and while channel surfing came across a new episode. I was floored.) when I came across the new Snoop Dog video this morning. (I just remembered, you know what Anthony Edward's movie was cool? Gotcha! I used to like that movie a lot.)

I've never been into Snoop Dog (or is that Dogg? Not sure on that one)and usually don't care for rap beyond the occassional song. But I love me some 80's retro and Snoop Dog(g)'s new song is packed with it. The song itself is stuffed with talk box effects and an electronic hand clap beat like classic Zapp and Snoop talk/sings more than rap (except for a rap solo about 2/3rds of the way through. Sort of like a guitar solo but with rapping) while the video manages to reference Soul Train, Parliament Funkadelic's Mothership Connection album cover and Prince's "1999" and "When Doves Cry". The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!


Snoop Dog(g) - "Sensual Seduction"

Thursday, March 06, 2008

There Will Be Blood, Oh Yes, There Will Be. There Will Be...

His milkshake brings all the boys to the oil yard

Today for our wedding anniversary my wife and I went to a romantic movie. Just kidding! We went to see There Will Be Blood, the spellbinding tragic saga of a fictional oil man from the late 1800s-early 1900s. I went in expecting a dark intense drama and instead saw one of the best movies released in years. Blood is the type of movie that hasn't been seen since the early 80's-an epic film that exists more to tell a good story than anything else. Anchored by a masterful performance by Daniel Day Lewis as frontier prospector turned savvy oil man Dan Plainview, the film tells his story from his humble one man Silver mining operation to his expansion to oil tycoon.

The story follows Plainview as his growing Silver mining strikes Oil. They skip forward to Plainview becoming a self made oil tycoon with his son in tow as his protege'. A tip leads to mining in a small California town where Plainview finds himself in a struggle for power against a local minister looking to parlay Plainview's money into financing his career ambitions.

There Will Be Blood has many parts that seem familiar: Power struggles between the wealthy and the Church, a ruthless rich man who has estranged himself from people and covering a character's life over the course of decades. But I can honestly say, after a lifetime of seeing movies, I've never seen a movie quite like this. Blood shows a full portrait of Dan Plainview, his selfish greedy drive and insecurity balanced against his love for his son. Meanwhile, the ambitious minister played by Paul Dano gives a fantastic performance as the seemingly devout holy man whose theatrical intensity masks his true intentions.

Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed one of my all time favorite films Boogie Nights, gives a clinic on expert direction 101. Not a single shot is wasted, every moment evokes both a sense of place and visual clues to the emotion of the story. The dirty claustophobia of the mines, the hellish hazards of oil derricks, the rugged open countryside of late 19th century California all come to life. Anderson shoots Blood as if you are there, not documentary style but with clever use of point-of-view shots to have the audience observe behavior rather than be told or explained on what it is. Oil and blood occasionally splatter right on the camera as if it was in our face. A great score adds tension throughout the movie as even what should be happy times for the characters have horror movie music.

Ultimately this is a tale of greed on every level-leveraging superior financial power, control of the community and emotional manipulation. Greed has it's cost and through this detailed character study you see its effects. And yet it's not preachy. Instead, its one of the most realistic depictions of a fictional human being I've ever seen. This is not a feel good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one of the best movies to come out in this decade.

Idol Eliminations

The final 12 is in place for AI and for the most part the ejections were expected except for Asia'h Epperson and for me Danny Noriega, just because I thought his personality would carry him further despite bad performances. Maybe America is ready to vote based on talent this year. Then again, Kathy Lee Cook gets to continue probably based more on her appearance than her singing so maybe not. Luke Maynard and Kady Malloy knew they were going down and seemed unsurprised. The bad press from digging skeletons from other contestants closets hasn't led to an ejection yet.

If the pattern for the program continues I guess next week will be 90's week, here's to hoping no one does "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" just because I'm tired of that tune. To close, loved Asia'h kicking it up a notch for her farewell performance, it's a shame she didn't do that last night because she probably would have stayed.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Replicant that refuses to be Retired


It was 1982, the definitive year for Mr Mike in entertainment. It was the year I felt the wrath of Khan, saw some fast times at Ridgemont High, watched Lee Majors leap from a tall building or crash a brand new car and heard Toto meet Rosanna "all the way". Yes, a magical year and in the midst of this was a new Harrison Ford movie, Blade Runner.

Blade Runner looked like a sure thing, it had who I considered to be the greatest actor of all time Harrison Ford in a Science Fiction movie. He was Han Solo, he was Indiana Jones-the man could do no wrong (except Force Ten from Navarone-that's 2 hours of my life I want back). Director Ridley Scott was coming off the space horror flick Alien. It looked so good.

So my Dad and I went to see Blade Runner and was amazed by the visuals. The special effects and look of the movie were amazing. But after going in with the expectation of wall to wall action like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, it seemed slow and ponderous. My Dad liked the noirish approach but not much else. Still, the movie stuck with me and I bought the book to get more of the Blade Runner experience.

The idea of a Blade Runner assigned to killing Replicant androids while questioning his own humanity in the process appealed to me. The movie frequently appeared at the local dollar movie theater growing up which gave me more of a chance to drink in the detailed art direction like the smoky rooms of the night club and the rain soaked neon lit streets. On home video, Blade Runner was given a bloodier edit to boost it's visibility.

Ridley Scott in the 80's is one of my favorite directors. He was often put down as a "visual stylist" and in the 90's matured into a better, but blander, Oscar winning director. To me, even his bad movies in the 80's were incredible film going experiences-Alien, Legend and Black Rain were spectacular.

In the 90's a director's cut of Blade Runner surfaced so I ran off to San Francisco to check it out. The Director's cut amazed me, all of the story and subtlety of character came through. Without the leaden voice over and fake happy ending the movie came to life. It was a dark ride through the deadened soul of a man trying to find his humanity while killing beings that may be more human than the people who created them. Also added to the Director's cut is the possiblity that Ford may be a robot as well.

Once the DVD age came about, Blade Runner was short changed again with a single disc and no special features. Recently, Blade Runner has been remastered into a definitive Director's cut overseen by Ridley Scott himself. The movie has slowly revealed itself over time through various edits that have led to different meanings of the same piece. It's like one of those books where you make choices in the middle and each choice leads to a different storyline and ending.
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The picture is restored to a level of beauty I've only seen in the movie theater. The sound is remixed to perfection, Vangelis synth score is as moody as ever. Mistakes like the blatant use of a stunt woman in the death of the Zhora character were fixed with the original actress. All versions of the movie are included, the theatrical release, european version, original director's cut and new cut are here as well as lengthy documentary features. Blade Runner stands as one of my all time favorite movies, beauty and sadness in a future where man has ran down the earth.

American Idol - Songs of the 80's the girls

The girls are up this time around for 80's night, here we go:

Asia'h Epperson - "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"

A by the numbers remake of Whitney Houston's hit right down to the electronic drums. Asia'h does a fair job of it and some personality comes through but as Simon commented, it's second rate Whitney. She's very likeable and has a good voice with a willingness to switch up some of the vocal runs. But I liked her better the first week when she funked up "Piece Of My Heart" where she can work the groove more.

Kady Malloy - "Who Wants To Live Forever"

Opera girl took some feedback to heart from last week and picks some Queen for 80's week. Brownie points for unearthing one of my favorite Queen songs! With 90 seconds, the arrangement got a little chopped up and awkward but Malloy does a good job of crooning in the verses and belting in the chorus. I don't think it will be enough though and Malloy will probably go home on Thursday.

Amanda Overmeyer - "I Hate Myself For Loving You"

Finally, my fave has picked a song that fits her! For the first time, she makes the band work for her instead of vice versa . She looked a little unconfident and uncomfortable but it did not affect her vocal. Overmeyer belted it out like the hard drinkin' biker blues mama she is, a huge improvement from the past two weeks. And I thought for sure she would ballad out this week with Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart". Song of the night for me.

Carly Smithson - "I Drove All Night"

More the Celine Dion version than the Cyndi Lauper version from the 80's, Smithson gives a very impressive vocal particularly midway through the song. Like Asia'h, falls just short of the original but is strong enough to make an impression. The first 30 seconds of the song was so boring I didn't know what song it was. And my main association with this song is the car commercial so I started feeling a craving to by a Pontiac or something. Still, in the end the vocal was impressive.

Kristi Lee Cook - "Faithfully"

A slight country influence creeps into Journey's classic power ballad. It's hard to be objective comparing her to my all time favorite singer Steve Perry, but in my opinion she didn't change the arrangement enough. Cook got lyrics wrong ("Wheels go round and round, on my mind" Ouch!) and was screechy on the high notes. Pretty mediocre, if it wasn't for the bad press hitting Maluby and Overmeyer then Cook would probably go. My wife wonders if it's too late to get the horse back.

Ramiele Maluby - "Against All Odds"

Apparently inspired by her recent troubles, something about this song usually makes it un-remakeable. It's not that Phil Collins is a powerful singer, but the song is often one that avoids translation to other singers in past Idol seasons. I like that Maluby gets that sad ballads are supposed to be dramatic, I enjoyed this one and felt it was the first good Idol version of this song. My only concern is that ballads may be all she can do after last week's disco inferno where her voice was fine but her lone dance move was bobbing her head.

Brooke White - "Love Is A Battlefield"

Really? Brooke White does Pat Benatar? Well, to be accurate she turned it into an acoustic song but does an effective job of it. I think Pat Benatar actually plays this acoustically sometimes also. I always feel and understand the verses with Brooke which is nice, somewhere Jewel is taking notes on how to make a comeback.

Syesha Mercado - "Saving All My Love For You"

The Whitney Houston songbook takes it's third hit this week and like everyone else does a straight ahead remake. Unlike Epperson or Chakeize, Mercado actually has a voice big enough to do this and delivers a very good performance. Even when she lost a little steam in the bridge, Mercado recovered to nail the ending. Her best performance to date for me.

To wrap up, Amanda Overmeyer finally figured out how to pick a song and Syesha Mercado successfully nails a Whitney Houston song. Paula Abdul continues to unravel to the point she's insulting the audience and chewing up camera time. Kady Malloy looks like a lock to go, the second to leave is up for grabs.