Sunday, September 28, 2008

Midnight Madness - Family Guy edition

It's been a crazy week not just in media but for the country. $700 Billion dollar bailouts, Failed banks, Presidential debates with circular language, dizzying number talk and endless references to meeting General Petraeus (my ignorance is revealed in that I had no idea who this guy was before the debate, but I do like that there's a bit of a Star Wars quality to the name). It helps to have a laugh in times like these so I'm happy to say tonight is the season premiere of Family Guy. Freakin' Sweet!

Paul Newman - The screen legend of great movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke and The Sting passed away this week. Newman was the rare type of movie star that had talent, intelligence, charisma and a sense of modesty.

One More Try - George Michael was arrested for drugs yet again. C'mon George, get that monkey off your back!

Yours is No Disgrace - Jon Anderson has revealed that he was on the outside of the decision to replace him. This makes Anderson join the long list of lead singers ousted due to illness and means Yes must be pretty hard up for some cash these days. Sad to see one of my favorite bands sink this low. Yes has often been about exaggerated prestige, but at this rate it won't be long before Yes has to play "Roundabout" at county fairs; right between the puppet show and the mime troupe. hear Tales From Topographic Oceans with free kettle corn on admission.

So much for the little training cruise - Star Trek actor George Takei married his boyfriend.

Done With Mirrors - Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler is suing to stop impersonators of him online. I hope he's successful, anything that reduces internet identity fakery is a good thing.

Mainstream Rock Chart: Thought I would check out what's on Billboard this week. After watching these videos, I thought it was interesting that there is a return to sleaze and hot girls in a big way with mainstream rock. More of a party atmosphere instead of the sad tales of woe style held over from the 90's. Let's see what the kids are listening to these days:

5. Staind - Believe : Speaking of sad tales of woe, Staind excelled at that when I first heard them. I casually liked Staind in 1999 when they ushered in the alt rock power ballad era with "It's Been Awhile". I haven't listened to them since that Break the Cycle disc, the sound here is a little more upbeat than before yet still manages to be mopey. The video here is all about going against the grain, being that rock n roll rebel in a slightly spiritual way. It's alright, I don't love it or hate it.

4. Hinder - Use Me : If Steven Tyler is suing impersonators, he may want to check out the :20 second mark of this vid. Hinder is a band where I don't always feel the song but appreciate the approach. A young band that plays music the way they envisioned 80's hard rock was (girls, big guitar solos, sleazy themes, girls, Cribs style houses, fancy cars and girls) I saw them open for Aerosmith a while back and thought their songs needed work. "Use Me" doesn't really change my mind I think the song is decent but not mind blowing. Nice video though.

3. AC/DC - "Rock N Roll Train" : They still do one thing only. And they still do it better than anyone else. And both numbers 4 and 1 owe a debt to this band, it's like they knew the original was coming and wanted to jump on the bandwagon.

2. Metallica - "The Day That Never Comes" : I think I've covered this song twice before, I can't think of much else to add.

1. Theory of a Deadman - Bad Girlfriend : This song continued the Hinder theme as the vid was all about a band rocking out while strippers entertained a bunch of guys. I like the song, hadn't heard it before tonight, nice slide guitar part and rushed vocals placing the group somewhere between alt hard rock and bar band. And now I know what TOaD is, I've seen the name around but never heard an actual song. Not bad. Well played, Deadman, well played.

Song of the Moment- The news has been depressing lately on almost all issues affecting the country and some other issues have come up which has brought this song to mind. It doesn't fully fit the situation, but the chorus about going to hell in a bucket but at least I'm enjoying the ride works for me.

Grateful Dead "Hell in a Bucket"

Journey to the Shoreline Amphitheatre? Crappy. Journey at the Shoreline Amphitheatre? Priceless.

Neal Schon takes his You Tube favorite selection a bit literally. We are so lucky he didn't get Rickrolled .

Last night I went to Mountain View, CA to see the Arena Rock triple header of Cheap Trick, Heart and Journey. It's the first time we've been to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in a while and encountered the worst ever traffic to that venue in all the times we've been there. It took us 90 minutes to travel to Mountain View. After getting to the city, it took another hour to get to a place we could park. It looked like a sell out show with standing room only on the lawn. Because of the massive delay, we didn't get to see Cheap Trick. We did get to hear half of the set.

Cheap Trick's set that we heard while walking through the dusty back lot parking area: The Flame / Surrender / Goodbye Now / Dream Police (encore).

What we heard sounded great, Robin Zander's vocals held up well and the band had the same manic energy and freewheeling fun spirit as on record. I caught a glimpse of the video screen when we entered the facility during "Dream Police". After getting settled in, we found we had the best seats I've ever sat in (it was about 11th row) which was great. So we waited for Heart to start their set.
Heart's set: Wild Child / Magic Man / Never / Straight On / These Dreams / Alone / Love Reign O'er Me / Barracuda / Going to California (encore) / Silver Wheels (encore) / Crazy on You (encore).

Keyboardist Debbie Shair started things off with a pleasant, slightly Yessy synth intro before the band joined her on stage. Once in position, Heart surprised (and they would a few more times) with a roaring version of "Wild Child" from the Brigade album. From there the band slid into "Magic Man" where lead guitarist Craig Bartock showed he had both the reserved demeanor and pinched note playing style of classic Heart sidemen Howard Leese and Roger Fisher. It seems many of the band's 80's songs have been recast to be more acoustic and organic starting with "Never". After the big synth heavy intro supported by the excellent drumming of Ben Smith, Nancy Wilson played both acoustic guitar and towards the end harmonica to soften the steely sound. The pumping "Straight On" proved how tight this band was as they got mildly funky. Nancy Wilson dedicated "These Dreams" to the memory of Bill Graham as that song was remade to feature Wilson's mandolin and Ric Markmann's stick bass. Then it was just the Wilson sisters and keyboardist Shair for "Alone".
On recent tv programs it sounded like Ann Wilson's voice was getting a touch weaker, yet live that was entirely not the case. Wilson belted everything with the same power heard on early recordings of the band and on "Alone" she gave a bravura performance. Ann Wilson showed power and emotion to a series of applause's while Shair's keyboards and the harmony vocals supported the vocal moment of the night.

In a night of surprises, Heart tackled the Who classic "Love Reign O'er Me" much to the delight of Nancy Wilson who skipped and leaped like when Snoopy was happy in the Peanuts comic (Arnel Pineda would also do this dance later). Ann Wilson belted out the famous "Looovveeee...reign on me!" just as well as Eddie Vedder or Roger Daltry. Then they jumped straight into "Barracuda" as Rock Star inspired light effects flew all over the stage.
With the 80's over, Nancy Wilson displays more of a youthful kid like style with her spins and jumps than when I saw them in '85. The band was clearly having fun as Nancy Wilson gave a Captain's salute to Bartock during his guitar fill on "Barracuda". After leaving and returning for an encore, Heart surprised again with a brilliant cover of my wife's favorite Led Zep song "Going to California." Nancy Wilson took center stage for a great acoustic guitar solo to lead into the final song.

"Crazy on You" was delivered with full force even with an extended bridge section that slows down to allow Ann Wilson to wail a bit more. After a big finish, Heart left to allow the stage to be reset.

Journey set list: Never Walk Away / Only The Young / Star Spangled Banner / Stone In Love / Ask The Lonely / Keep On Runnin' / After All These Years / When You Love A Woman / Change For The Better / Separate Ways / Faith In The Heartland / Jon Cain solo / Open Arms / Don't Stop Believin' / Faithfully / Wheel In The Sky / Escape / Any Way You Want It / Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin' (encore).

With the Revelation CD there was a DVD included that had Pineda's first American date as lead singer. I thought the DVD prepped me for what to expect. It really didn't.

From the get go, Journey came across as a full band again. The group interplay was visible and all members seemed to like the new guy. And in terms of energy, Pineda may be the strongest yet as he ran, jumped from a standing position, flew off the drum riser, spun all over and flipped his mic around like a baton. Even towards the end of the show, Pineda was pulling off Diamond Dave worthy leaps. And he did it with a big grin as he fist bumped and high fived anyone in range (my wife and I even got high fives).

The combination of a revitalized band playing in their home (the Bay Area) and performing in one of the heaviest populated Filipino communities in the country (again the Bay Area) meant this show was beyond sold out. I've never seen the Shoreline this full for any event. Not for Van Halen, not for Fleetwood Mac...nobody.
Entering the stage to the strains of AC/DC's "Back in Black", the group kicked into "Never Walk Away" from the new album. Immediately Pineda established his presence despite his small stature (there seemed to be a monitor speaker placed dead center at the lip of the stage to allow him to stand and be more visible) and the group segued into a sparkling Only The Young". Neal Schon then reserved some space for himself with his guitar solo "The Star Spangled Banner". Very different from Hendrix's famed version, Schon's smooth blazing style was extremely patriotic as bassist Ross Valory held his hand over his heart and video screens showed stars and stripes.
One of my personal faves "Ask The Lonely" came next as Pineda showed no signs of pacing himself, leaning back with his eyes closed to unleash one bracing high note after another. This made me both disappointed and relieved when he got a break as drummer Deen Castronovo took over lead vocals for the charged "Keep on Runnin". I still have a problem with two singers working the same territory (Steve Perry style wails) but since it was a fast song I didn't mind as much. Except in singing lead at a fast pace Castronovo didn't have too many drum fills to add.

Regretfully, nature called so I heard but couldn't see "After All These Years" and "When You Love A Woman". I came back midway thru the song I liked the most from the new album, "Change For The Better". Again Pineda was gettin' big air on his jumps, whether it was straight up to punctuate a cymbal crash or flying off the drum riser like Michael Jordan going for a slam dunk. The athleticism was really impressive.
The crowd was behind the band as they launched into "Separate Ways". "Faith In The Heartland" came across well and seeing Pineda sing standing between Schon and Valory recalled the Journey of old. Seeing the audience took a seat during "Heartland", Pineda encouraged everyone to stand up for "our song", "Lights". A sea of lit cell phones swayed like a colony of fireflies in the night as Pineda sang about the "city by the Bay". Jon Cain then laid out an impressive piano solo leading into "Open Arms". Standing next to Cain, Pineda showed he had the sensitivity needed to make the song work.

In case anyone had it in their mind to slow down, Journey continued to dip into the Escape songbook for "Don't Stop Believin". Their best known anthem roused the fans to renewed frenzy as the song ended with the video image of the name "Journey" written in Sopranos style red gun font. In a recent Rolling Stone magazine article that was downplayed by the band, Pineda said the hectic touring schedule was causing him a lot of difficulty with his personal life. Fittingly, "Don't Stop Believin" was followed by the life-on-the-road power ballad "Faithfully". Pineda seemed to get a little choked up during the first part of the song, particularly the line about "love and a music man ain't always what it's supposed to be". But he remained focused to the end of the song.
The big finish was next as "Wheel in the Sky", "Escape" and "Any Way You Want It" were scorching hot. "Escape" was the point when Pineda made it to our side of the stage where Bunny and I were able to high five and see the man up close. And it was then that I was able to put my finger, so to speak, on what makes Pineda work as a frontman for the band (in addition to his voice). He comes across as a friendly, open, energetic and talented guy, someone who can work the crowd in a way that the other band members can't. The others can wow with their playing skills but Journey's music needs a relatible person at the forefront. Pineda fits that very well. That and Cain / Schon get a lead singer who isn't going to enforce his personal vision on them for better or worse. So he sings and performs like a man possessed and gets along with the rest of the group. Outwardly, the band appears unified for the first time in a long while.
We left as the encore "Lovin, Touchin, Squeezin" played.

Some final notes to wrap up - the venue was extremely difficult to access, really disappointed with Shoreline's crowd control. The sound where we stood was missing bass except for the kick drum which hit you with force on your body. This made the singers sound higher, Nancy Wilson in especially sounded a bit chirpy as a result. The crowd itself was generally good natured and drunk. At the vendor stand, the T Shirt seller was a jerk. But the performers and seating were fantastic. It was hell to get there, but great seats and two and a half awe inspiring performances made it worthwhile.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Night Videos - Great Moments in History 8/23/86

Journey is known for a lot of things, but did tight porn star jeans have to be one of them? Did they have a bet with ex member Gregg Rolie to see who could lose circulation in their leg the fastest?? Does Neal Schon bear a slight resemblance to Ron Jeremy here??? Yes, I think he does.

There are certain moments in my teenage life that will live with me forever (or according to this blog a lot of moments) but one of the best times I've had was August 23, 1986. That was the day I saw the an spectacular event. It was the first time I saw Journey play live.

The mid-80's were a rough time to be a Journey fanatic. The band was inactive, Steve Smith formed a jazz combo, Steve Perry had solo success proving he didn't need a band to be popular and music was changing from the everyman Arena Rock to the poodle haired pretty boy Pop Metal scene. When Journey regrouped to record a new album, bassist Ross Valory and drummer Smith were quickly shown the door. Rumors flew about keyboardist Jon Cain and guitarist Neal Schon writing separately from Perry. It seemed doubtful the album would ever be finished.

Then, a ray of hope - the first single "Be Good To Yourself" rocked! Then, hope sank a bit as the record came out - Raised on Radio was more R & B than Rock. It's a great album, just wasn't the album I was hoping for after the group spent three years away. Still, when the tickets for the Mountain Aire festival went on sale you couldn't stop me. Calaveras County? Where is that? Didn't matter, I was going to Journey's first live performance in three freakin' years. And so were my friends Chris, Derek and Chris' friend Scott. We all graduated high school in '86 and on that hot summer day we hopped into my parents station wagon and I drove to Calaveras County.

The trip was long, we got a little lost somewhere, and Scott ridiculed Derek with insults most of the way almost resulting in a fight in the back seat. It was like Jerry Springer on wheels. Anyway, I pulled over and Chris got the two to get along and started rapping with Derek You Be Illin' by Run D.M.C. over and over like a new catchphrase. It took about four-five hours I think, it was a long ass trip.

We made our way to the open field where the concert was held and sat down at about the middle of it. Whitesnake's "Slow an Easy" blared on the sound system confirming we were in the right place. It was blazing hot and we were drinking a lot of water when the first act in the Mountain Aire festival came on. Device!

What's a Device you ask? It's the band songwriter Holly Knight formed, since her songs worked so well for Heart and Scandal maybe it would work for her group too. It was a great theory that failed in practice, none of the early concert goers were in the mood for Hanging on a Heart Attack . The parachute panted lead singer would later score a hit with a restructured Animotion a few years later.

After that pain had ended, Canadian rockers Honeymoon Suite hit the stage. They worked the stage like pros and gained some attention for minor radio hits like "What Does it Take", "Feel it Again" and "Bad Attitude". But it was the smash New Girl Now that drew the first big pop from the crowd.

What momentum HMS built up was quickly diffused when ex-Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor went on. Taylor did his best to rock out and show off his impressive chops but all shred and boring songs makes Andy a dull boy. I did like his 45 Take it Easy which was the only listenable part of the whole venture. The only "Reflex" I felt was a gag reflex. Or maybe it was the draining heat bearing down.

Like Star Trek movies it seemed we were destined for every other artist to suck until The Outfield broke the streak. Their stadium rock by way of The Police posturing was a big hit as they reeled off song after song from their well received Play Deep album. They even played a new song, "Since You've Been Gone" before it had been released on a record. Their live image wasn't entirely serious as guitarist John Spinks repeatedly wagged his butt at the audience. Everything was cool until Your Love, a three minute gem that progressed into a ten minute sing along. It was the. longest. sing. along. ever. The audience as a whole had to sing "Your Love", then the audience had to sing in thirds (right, middle and left) and then the thirds had to sing against each other. At least it didn't go to the "only the women" or "only the men" crap but as it was I wanted to go to the stage and make them stop. I lost some respect for those British boys out there in the dry winds of Calaveras. Even if what they were really doing was killing time for the sun to go down.

Because there's nothing like watching a band in the second runner up position of a festival show try to make the sun go down. When I went to see The Police in '83 the band before them, The Fixx, played their big hit "One Thing Leads To Another" three times in a row for that very reason. It's like would it kill you to learn just one more song?

At last, night fell and Journey took the stage for the first time since Frontiers. The opening salvo of "Only The Young", "Wheel in the Sky" and "Line of Fire" blew everyone away. Steve Perry's voice was in fine form. Neal Schon tore up his guitar solos as Jon Cain keytared his way across the stage. American Idol judge Randy Jackson gave a big thumping bass line for Rick Springfield drummer Mike Baird to slam down with his heavy beat. And then things got a little mellow. Six songs from Raised on Radio were played, including the atrocious "Positive Touch". Things picked up as two of my personal faves "Ask The Lonely" and "Suzanne" were performed. Then mellow again with quiet instrumental interludes in place of rock solos and selections from Steve Perry's solo album confirmed this was a poppier band. All doubts were stripped away as they launched into The Four Tops "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" during the encore.

Even with the new direction, the greatness of Journey could not be stopped. I used to wonder how fans would be lucky enough to be at a concert that was taped for a video. That problem was solved as Journey filmed their first video for the ROR album, "Girl Can't Help It" (when initially released the band said no videos would be made for ROR). The third single from the album, "Girl Can't Help It" provided a permanent visual record of a great moment in my personal history (though it can't top marrying my wonderful wife). About a year later I was watching a TV special on Journey and also from that night was a recording of "Be Good To Yourself" which was played at the end of the regular part of the set that night. Now I had two permanent records.

By the time we drove back home, we had been up a full 24 hours. We all grew up a little that day. Some of us went to college, others never saw each other again. But we all share the knowledge of what happened on that fateful August day. Journey's comeback concert ruled. Totally fuck*n ruled. August 23rd, 1986.

Journey "Girl Can't Help It"

Journey "Be Good To Yourself"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mr Mike's Highschool Record Collection: Heart - Bad Animals (1987)

Almost Famous - Nancy Wilson inspires Vixen and a flood of young girls to sport the "rocker girl" look in the 80's.
In the summer of 1987, I lived with my aunt in an amazing glass house overlooking the California coast outside of San Francisco. I spent that summer working for the company my aunt worked at and played certain tapes a lot - John Waite Rover's Return, Fleetwood Mac Tango In The Night, Expose Exposure, Def Leppard Hysteria and this gem, Heart's Bad Animals. Those albums often recall that summer living in that amazing house, the kind of house you usually see in those Lethal Weapon movies, working during the day and looking for stuff to do at night. Bad Animals accompanied me on many drives around the Pacific Coast Highway and visits to home.

For Heart, it was the big follow up album to their smash self titled 1984 release. The band was a hard rockin' unit in the 70's but by the early 80's they seemed tired and uninspired. They switched labels, switched clothes, got Ron Nevison to produce and an army of outside songwriters to drive them to a clutch of Top 10 hits and a big arena tour. Ann and Nancy Wilson were back on top of the rock heap along with guitarist Howard Leese, bassist Mark Andes and drummer Denny Carmassi. And like most successful ventures in the 80's, the next step was to do the same but bigger and louder.

1. Who Will You Run To

Did you know that Diane Warren once wrote a song that wasn't a ballad? Until I read the CD jacket, I didn't know that. I knew Heart didn't write it, but Diane Warren - I wouldn't have guessed. But I still get a good feeling from this Top 1o hit, the second single from the record. From the first snare hit, the song moves at a comfortable pace as Ann Wilson conveys the ups and downs of the relationship with a melody that does the same. I like how the glossy synth riff highlights the end of every other phrase. AOR Nirvana.

2. Alone

One of the greatest power ballads ever, the Wilsons took the Tom Kelly / Billy Steinberg ("Like a Virgin", "I Touch Myself") tune and transported it to another level. Ann Wilson's pensive verses lead to a spellbinding belting chorus displaying the power and authority in her voice. Meanwhile, Nancy Wilson sexes up the video with her trademark "rocker" moves. Love it when that piano blows up at the start of the clip. The lead single and #1 smash proved Heart's comeback wasn't a fluke and inspired a whole generation of would be singers on American Idol.

3. There's The Girl

Nancy Wilson surprised on the prior album when her lead vocal on "These Dreams" helped take the Taupin tune to #1. So she got two lead vocals this time out, the first being the this polished pop rock ditty that was the third single from the disc. Nancy Wilson doesn't have as strong a voice as her sister, but it does have a more fragile character which can be a positive except the Teflon coated production nearly swallows her up here. But Wilson toughs it out and comes through enough to sell the song. Songwriter Holly Knight ("Never", "The Warrior") teams up with Nancy Wilson relay the rush of bad girl crush with Reagan era precision.

4. I Want You So Bad

Back to the Kelly/Steinberg songbook! This swirling, slow stepping ballad was the fourth single from Bad Animals. Ann Wilson's voice has this processed production sound that hasn't aged well but the ache in her voice hits home. This song sounds great while watching the Ocean waves hit the beach at night.

5. Wait For An Answer

This was on rock radio quite a bit back then when I returned to school in Sacramento. Again, Ann Wilson commands the stage as she scales a mountain of cascading synthesizers and echoey drums as her heroic shouting waits. For an answer. I think she's waiting for a dude to call her. Dude! Call her! It was 1987, it only costed a quarter at that time.

6. Bad Animals

The song and album title I believe was based on a nickname the band gave themselves for the reaction they got in hotels. That summer, my aunt's roommate had her daughter and friends spend a few weeks at the glass house. They were L.A. rocker girls with the mile high hairsprayed coif, my friend Ron used to refer to their heads as "plane snaggers". The first song on the album to be written by the band, a slow moving rock jam with one of those circular synth parts running all over it.

7. You Ain't So Tough

Steve Kipner strikes! Kipner has this way of writing soft yet bouncy sad lyric but upbeat melody kind of songs (like "Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back" on the Two of a Kind soundtrack.). Adapted to Heart, the song is a determined little pop rocker with the most exciting guitar solo on the record (a little shred here and there) and one of those "I'm an army of people" group vocals on the chorus. How could I not like this jam?

8. Strangers of the Heart

Nancy Wilson's second lead vocal comes on this sequel to "These Dreams". It's a little less fake mystical than "Dreams" but amps up the soap opera cliche's to give a touch of dark romanticism. Not quite as good as the first (most sequels are that way), a bit of "high school talent night" feeling creeps into the song as it makes a run for the big finish. Nonetheless, it's a very pleasant song.

9. Easy Target

The last two songs were reserved for more of a "classic" Heart sound, meaning they wrote the pair and get a little more organic. As much as they could without it sounding like a different record. The rocking "Target" has some 70's rawk kick to it though in no way threatens their Little Queen era.

10. RSVP

A nice acoustic ballad to close the record out. It's a good tune, even if I hate RSVPing. Can't I just show up if I feel like it?

If the songs were meant to show where the band's heads were at, Heart came across mostly like love lorn victims that go off on people every now and then. Producer Ron Nevison had a knack for placing Ann Wilson's dramatic vocals into situations where she sounds backed into a corner. Intentional or not, combined with her video image of looking cross all the time it made Nancy Wilson's on screen bopping and grinding necessary to add some fluff (visually, not her musicianship). The dichotomy of the Wilson sister's images apparently created some tension and when combined with the "sell out" philosophy of their Capitol era, they tend to dismiss this fantastic period where they were slick AOR giants. That's too bad, because as much as I like 70's Heart I'm a bigger fan of their shoulder padded teased hair commercial peak.

One more 80's moment to go, the Seattle based band spent the decade prepping Generation X for their biggest addiction - coffee.

Heart - Coffee Achievers

Monday, September 22, 2008

Focus On: Turnin' Tricks for Kenny Loggins

You oughta be in pictures: Cheap Trick makes some noise for Hollywood
I was racking my brain trying to think of a different way to say something about Cheap Trick since I'm planning on seeing the famed power poppers this weekend. They've had a unique career arc where very little ever went as planned (with the exception of 1988's Lap of Luxury record, that went exactly as planned) and had a mix of highs and lows. After a couple of throwaway ideas, I decided it would be fun to cover their career from strictly a movie soundtrack perspective.

That's where Kenny Loggins comes in. Until the 90's Kenny Loggins was the undisputed king of the movie soundtrack. He could rock, but in a streamlined and inoffensive way. He could do wimpy ballads or bellow his way through a rocked out love song. All with a finely trimmed beard and a smile. Kenny was made for the big money movie soundtracks and often appeared on the most successful of them (Top Gun, Footloose). Make no mistake, Kenny Loggins is Nobody's Fool (Caddyshack 2 soundtrack).

Movie soundtracks grew and changed in the 80's as they became pop music samplers that were sometimes bigger than the films that spawned them. Like the Now That's What I Call Music series of today, when done right you got a cross section of current artists, classic tunes and cheap videos with film scenes inserted in. For current artists, it just meant they had to be willing to play the game: It wasn't about creating music, it was about filling an order on spec. And, not puttin' them down, that was something Cheap Trick did not have a problem with. The band's sound of classic Beatles choruses, driving Arena Rock guitars and odd sense of humor made them critics darlings and big rock stars in the 70's. But by the 80's their creative well suddenly dried up and they became more hit and miss (though I became a fan at this time and bought each album as it came out from One on One up to Busted, I even owned The Doctor once. Think I needed a doctor after hearing that one).

So I'm going to cover their soundtrack songs which sort of provided markers for different trends in the movies and the tunes that went with them. The focus will be on songs written for or promoted as new for a specific movie, meaning I won't be counting the millions of times "I Want You To Want Me" or "Surrender" have been used (except for one small exception towards the end).
Rock & Roll Fantasy

In the late 70's Rock and Roll was still considered outsider music even though it was getting more mainstream. As relatively clean cut Arena Rock bands dominated the airwaves the music was still associated with sex, drugs and/or Satan. So when Cheap Trick made the hard edged Everything Works If You Let It for the film Roadie (1980) it wasn't much of a stretch. A song I like a lot, "Everything" rocks in classic Trick manner with a raucous groove colliding with Magical Mystery Tour melodicism. Of all their soundtrack songs, this was the most natural and hardest rocking cut.

Animation Domination

For about a year cartoons were the answer to cinematic rock. Able to become more fanciful and dark with animation than live action, filmmakers focused on making movies like The Wall (1980) or American Pop (1981) allowing the music to help take viewers on a wild ride. Starting with the Sci Fi classic Heavy Metal (1981) the Trick gave two songs including their most pure backing tune I Must Be Dreaming which is mostly instrumental. The guitars are recognizably by Rick Nielsen and vocalist Robin Zander makes an appearance but most of it is this steamrolling groove dotted by keyboards like some high tech thing must be happening on screen. Three songs were written for Rock & Rule (1983) two of which hit hard but in a similar way. Born to Raise Hell and "I'm the Man" both brought fury and power to decent songs. The third one was the late night bar ballad Ohm Sweet Ohm which is excellent. But America's flirtation with pen drawn rockers ended fast as any sense of artistic highbrow was replaced by...

Cheap Trick Gone Wild

Teen sex comedies became the "in" thing as Porky's (1982) drew a ton of teens who wanted to see what they couldn't show you on tv. Rock and Roll and teens go hand in hand so movie music was adapted as light, feel good anthems of mischief to a series of low budget flicks. At the same time, Cheap Trick's commercial and artistic fortunes were sliding fast so they probably needed the cash. I haven't heard the title song for Spring Break (1983) but I have fond memories of Up the Creek (1984) because it's one of my favorite Cheap Trick songs. I just read Rick Nielsen considered this song one of the worst he's written, but I still love it and even had bought the soundtrack back then just for Up the Creek!

Kenny Loggins Padowan Learner

By '86 the band had sunk pretty low and it seemed like the record company began to dictate their actions as a result. In addition to using outside songwriters for more commercial material they adapted to the current film scene again. They followed the Sith Loggins to Top Gun (1986) and Caddyshack 2 (1988) , recording a tune I consider one of their worst: Mighty Wings. The song was your run of the mill fast rock beat encased in steely synthesizer carbonite as Robin Zander howled about sky or wings or some kinda crap. It wouldn't have been as bad if it had been billed to just Zander since he's the only recognizable part of the group in the whole mess. But it wasn't and so the best selling soundtrack Cheap Trick appeared on did zilch for their career. I'm overstating the case but it's tragic man! They also recorded mediocre songs for Say Anything (1988) and Another Way (1988). At least on their regular albums the marketing strategy paid off as The Flame burned its way to #1.

Mike Reno got a cool headband and all I got was this duet...

In 1989 Robin Zander finally got some soundtrack glory for himself. Teaming up with the Loverboy vocalist's partner from Footloose's Almost Paradise, Zander and Heart's Ann Wilson recorded Surrender to Me which actually was a sizable hit. A pleasant ballad with those awesome 80's glowing keyboards, it had a life separate from the Mel Gibson movie that spawned it. Rock ballads were just as important to movies as they were to Hair bands and everyone loves a soft rock duet. Hey, maybe they'll play this song this weekend! That would be killer.


As the makers of South Park noted, in modern film making you need to have a Montage. Why have writing and acting when you could play a rock song to boost energy and cut a bunch of images together? For training sequences it was a fast upbeat rock song and for love scenes a power ballad, as long as you got the feeling that the characters are working or lovin' it did the job. So nearly all soundtrack songs started to sound like it went to a montage even if it didn't. Taken at face value, these songs weren't bad and could be pretty listenable when you're in the mood. And I Will Survive from Gladiator (1992) sounds Rocky X ready with it's generic Go Get 'Em attitude (it's not the disco song). Meanwhile, a Diane Warren penned power ballad Wherever Would I Be was snapped up from their Busted album for the Look Who's Talking Too movie. Because John Travolta and Kirstie Alley need a song to love to. Makes you want to climb a snow covered mountain and yell, doesn't it?

Woke Up With A Monster

By 1992 Grunge and Alternative had taken over MTV leaving older bands scrambling for relevance. Already dealt a blow by the failure of the Busted album, Cheap Trick employed a movie move many of their peers had used - the gratuitously over produced cover song. The subject: Encino Man (1992). The song: Wild Thing. A clunky, frantic arrangement where the band tries to downplay and distort the famous song hook. Embarrassingly bad, even if it does keep the awesome drummer Bun E Carlos busy. Fortunately for Cheap Trick, alternative nation embraced their 70's stuff keeping their name around. That goodwill saved the band from joining the long list of has beens at that time.

Big Stardom

What goes around comes around, Cheap Trick's biggest break in the 90's came by way of a TV theme song. Going into the second season, That 70's Show brought in the Tricksters to cover Big Star's In The Street which was being used as the program's theme song. So Cheap Trick made it over into a song that, ironically, sounded as natural as their classic material. Their version of In The Street wasn't a monster smash but it got Trick their most press in years. Tagging the end with "Surrender" was a nice touch as well. The 70's revival fad was short lived but at least it lasted long enough for Cheap Trick. A great song well covered.

And we've come full circle. Cheap Trick played the soundtrack game well and occasionally fit in what made them distinct. While they could never keep up with Sith Loggins (I'm poking fun, I don't mind Kenny Loggins generally) Cheap Trick was able to adapt to the latest trends in music and film with some success. And movies utilized bands like Cheap Trick, at first to acquire Rock & Roll's rebel spirit and rambunctious life but eventually to sell product in an assembly line fashion. It's a trend that's lasted up to the present, as a slew of teenage singer/dancers sing "rock" songs in teen musicals. The larger debt may be to David Cassady or Shaun Cassady but the evolution of rock soundtracks is in there somewhere. Really! Da Do Ron Ron.
A bonus for me, while searching out these videos I came across a song I haven't heard in decades because it's from the out of print Standing on the Edge (1985) album. The sound and video quality isn't great but I'm really pumped that I get to hear "Little Sister" again.

Cheap Trick "Little Sister"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Midnight Madness - Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles Edition

Kind of reminds me of that Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact.

The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has returned for a second season. I'm two episodes in and finding it just as big a kick as last year. It's well written and acted Sci Fi fun, a nice escape from reality. When combined with Terminator 3 and Terminator 4 it looks like the rampaging machine future gets more crowded by the second.

The Edge of the Blade - In an interview with Rolling Stone, new singer Arnel Pineda reveals he's homesick and a little worn out from Journey's punishing touring schedule. Maybe he'll be able to overcome these issues but ultimately it's up to him what makes the guy happy. If he leaves it will be a bummer, the band's recent disc Revelation is creeping up on Gold. The interview is here, Pineda says he has no intention of leaving yet. On the plus side, I've treated Rolling Stone reporting with a little skepticism ever since the hatchet job they did on Eddie Vedder in the mid-90's. There's always a chance the reporter got the whole thing wrong.

Blink 182 drummer - Travis Barker and DJ AM are in critical condition following a plane crash that killed four people. A sad, tragic event for all of the victims involved. Update: Barker and DJ AM are expected to recover, which is very good news.

Damage, Inc. - Metallica has scored their fifth #1 album with Death Magnetic proving there's still life in the career of the long running Metal band. The huge buzz has paid off for this excellent disc.

The End of the Line- Some fans are up in arms when a better sound mix for Death Magnetic showed up as part of the Guitar Hero game. What's funny for me is that I thought the monolithic mix was intentional because it reminded me of ...And Justice For All which had a dry, boxey recording itself. Oh well, if a new mix doesn't come out I'm not worried, I like it as is so if I hear a better version then bonus!

Motown Producer - Norman Whitfield who had co-written "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" and produced the Temptations passed away. Another sad loss for music.

Idol Talk - Last season's Idol winner David Cook is set to politely rock out on November 18th when his disc drops. Meanwhile, David Archuleta and Kristie Lee Cook both have put fresh material in the marketplace. "And I am telling you" that Oscar winning singer Jennifer Hudson is engaged to an ex reality show contestant.

Super Sonic - I finally got to eat at a Sonic fast food restaurant this weekend, it was pretty good! The chocolate shake and tater tots were awesome. The burger was good, but it did fall short of In N Out burger standards. Overall, I do recommend it though. Mmmm...Sonic.

Hello There Ladies and Gentlemen: Next Sunday I'll get to see Journey with Heart and Cheap Trick. It will be my first chance to see the Tricksters and Journey with sad Arnie. Heart I saw once in 1985 and it was great so I'm looking forward to this show. I'll post a bit about these bands this week to get psyched up. As Joe on Family Guy would say, "Let's do this!!!"

Free Stuff - Two web sites have provided a bit of entertainment for me this week. The first is Fancast which allows free streaming Tv programs and movies. I've managed to catch up on my Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles through this site. Also, free streaming music that will create a playlist based on your favorite artists is at Pandora Radio . The website is definitely worthwhile for any music lover.

Mini DVD Reviews:

  • Stranger Than Fiction - This movie came out in 2006, an ingenious fantasy about a blocked writer who happens to control the life of an IRS auditor with her writings. He hears her voice in his head as she narrates / dictates the events of his life. Will Farrell surprises as he dials down his childlike mania to give a mature performance. Good stuff.

  • 10 Items of Less - Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega go faux indie on this flick where Freeman plays a movie star much like himself observing and meddling with the life of a grocery store clerk. The cute theme wears a bit thin yet the stars keep it watchable. Wouldn't go out of my way for this one

  • The Condemned - My favorite wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin gets sent to an island with a bunch of killers to fight for his life as its broadcast on the internet. Austin has good presence and is as convincing on film as in the ring. Too bad the rest of the film is crap. And that's the bottom line, 'cause I said so!

New Song that Rules - The recent issue of Paste magazine included a song from the group The Bridges which is produced by Matthew Sweet and has been compared to Fleetwood Mac. That's right up my alley, the song Pieces is definitely worth an easy listening listen. But that's not all! AC freakin' DC. That says it all.

AC / DC "Rock and Roll Train"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mr. Mike's High School Record Collection: Kool & the Gang - Emergency (1984)

No, it's not the cast of X-Men 4 it's Kool & the Gang!

C'mon! Raise your hands in the air and wave them like you just don't care!! The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!!! Every once in a while I like to hear something funky or from R&B and one of my favorite bands of this style is Kool & the Gang. They just had that right mix of melody and bumpin' jams for me. Even rhythmless people like me need to move to the music on occassion.

In the 70's, horn bands were "tight", meaning they were really popular (I'm trying to remember my 70's slang here). Bands like Kool & the Gang or The Commodores laid out wicked funk grooves punctuated by swinging horns. However all things must end, with the 80's synthesizers and drum machines replaced analog dance beats as horns were limited to the occassional sax solo. With all this technology ten or eleven member bands busting out "Jungle Boogie" or "Hollywood Swinging" just weren't needed. The kids wanted to dance to Michael Jackson and there was just one of him moonwalking around.

That's the predicament Kool and his Gang were in. So with their audience dwindling, Kool did what had to be done: change with the times. In 1979 the group added lead singer J.T.-James Taylor, whose smooth voice took them into a pop and ballad direction. A slew of hit songs followed and with Wacko Jacko's successful Thriller their new style was validated. To capitalize, Kool & Gang released what would be an 80's high school dance classic - Emergency.

1. Emergency

Yes, the memories. Memories of me awkwardly dancing because I never did figure out how to do that right, the red Police light swimming across the gym floor and a DJ shouting things like what started this post. There were certain songs you could depend on to hear at a dance- A Ha's "Take on Me", Mary Jane Girls "In My House", Klymaxx's "Meeting in the Ladies Room" and this chestnut. I've never seen the video until now and all I can say is...uh, now I've seen it. Everything in it is second hand MJ, the clothes sparkle excessively and heavy dance choreography. But the choreography in "Emergency" is really, really bad. Not Michael Jackson "Bad" either. Just awful. That bow down move on the line "Thank you girl" is silly but that's what happens when your horn section is forced to dance for their money instead. At least musically, I can say this mildly funky jam is...

2. Fresh

We as a people were stuck in a moment between "Rad", "Gnarly" and "Fly", searching for some new way to explain the coolness of whatever. In this intense vacuum of needing a catch word, "Fresh" was born. Everything was Fresh, LL Cool J was fresh, wearing a bandana on your leg was fresh, Miami Vice was fresh, Pillbury Doughboy muffins were fresh, just saying the word fresh was fresh. And Kool or his Gang, somebody, had their ear to the ground. It was a catch word waiting for a song. They would give us that song. Right up to today, this chorus sticks in my head "She's Fresh (Fresh!) / Exciting / So exciting to me (she's so Fresh, she's so Fresh)." Sleek R&B served up with relaxed confidence.

3. Misled

The song that convinced me to buy the record, Kool covered the bases by tossing in this fine slice of Pop Rock. Sure, there's shades of The Gloved One in the song and video that looks like a poor man's "Thriller". But that didn't change the fact that this is a catchy tune, when the guitar starts up and that circular chorus begins it pure awesomeness. And the enunciation on the beat "Miss - Led" is great in itself. Check out the smoke coming out of people's mouths in the video, that is one cold night out there!

4. Cherish

Where the title track dominated the dance floor, "Cherish" got the kids slow dancing under the disco ball with one of the most fantastically sappy songs of all time. Not just the 80's, but any decade. Seagulls, the waves of the beach and J.T. getting vaguely spiritual about his romantic love (Though I often thought the line about the girl "receiving her calling" in the night was an odd reason to Cherish the love, it's like, what if you die instead dude? It's only Cherished if you're around, is that it? Could you imagine this conversation? "Oh girl, if anything happened to you while we're sleeping, like if you should somehow die, that would be pretty rough on me."). Anyone who thought they couldn't top the beautiful mush fest that was Joanna was totally proven wrong. A guilty pleasure, this song has more sugar than a C&H factory yet I can't resist it.

5. Surrender

You mean there's more to this record? Side one of the record stopped after "Cherish" so I didn't hear these songs that followed that often. Why flip over the record if you're done? A bit of a rewrite of their smash Ladies Night, this is OK filler.

6. Bad Woman

See what happens when you don't Cherish the love? J.T. laments his relationship gone wrong to a quiet storm groove. Stop it Bad Woman, stop doing...whatever makes you...bad? The song doesn't really tell you what she did wrong, maybe she confused Kool & the Gang with a different group and asked them to play You Dropped The Bomb On Me by mistake? That probably didn't happen, I just like that song and wanted to include it here.

7. You Are The One

All right! An upbeat piece of slightly urban pop, a soundtrack song in search of a movie. You know the type of song that usually plays when small town people hit the flashy big city? Ooh it's the Capitol Records building! Aah it's the Empire State building! It's that song. I bet this was a favorite on Andrew McCarthy's mix tapes.

Kool and the Gang had one more Victory (1986) left before their career hit the skids. "Selling Out" are dirty words with creative ventures yet like many 70's bands trying to add years to their lifespan (the aforementioned Commodores, Chicago, Heart...the list goes on) the ends justify the means. Kool's sell out led to a hot streak of pop and dance hits that still have people like me Celebrating. Or at least giving pleasant memories of teenage kicks. Yaa-hoo!

And now, just because I like it, "Jungle Boogie"! Get down, get down. Get down, get down.

Kool & the Gang "Jungle Boogie"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Friday Night Videos - California Drivers Rant

Hey, let me over jerk! Is Tron the blueprint for driving the Golden state?
Growing up in California, I've been aware for a long time of the reputation we have as automobile drivers. That we speed mercilessly, that we run stop signs and stop lights, that we drive aggressively without reason. The land of road rage as we take grudges against strangers for several miles even if it led you away from your original destination (in high school, if someone cut off one of my friends we deliberately blocked that person from making their offramp. We called this "TRONing" after the light cycles in the movie). In my own personal experience, I've found this stereotype to be very true to life and cannot claim that I'm above it myself - though by California standards I'm a pretty conservative driver. What I've found interesting though is I often thought the need for speed was one of the key factors to California recklessness. It just made sense that the faster you're travelling, the less control you have of your automobile.

Yet, with the gas crunch of the past year a weird phenomenon has happened. California drivers appear to be driving slower but still managing to be just as foolhardy (wow, I can't remember the last time I used THAT word) as ever. It seems that even at slower speeds the timing, the desire to cut people off or not let other people into the lane and then flip each other off remains. In the past few weeks alone I've seen people cut across two lanes to get off the freeway, coast through stop signs, get on an offramp and then drive off it, endless tailgating, the list goes on...all at a speed of 70mph or less (usually in these parts if you're not going 80 you get a lot of middle fingers).

When I was driving through Santa Rosa a few weeks ago, the traffic was congested (as it often is there because there is construction work being done throughout the city) and we were all travelling about 35mph. The traffic stopped, not even suddenly, but the car on my left seemed to have a temporary gap to move faster and reacted slowly. The result was a car skidding and swerving from side to side desperately trying to avoid a rear end collision. There was no accident, but when I saw the bumper sticker to the car it said it all "I brake for - all sh*t, no brakes!" It's like a conscious choice, she could drive better or buy a bumper sticker. She obviously has made her choice.

Last year we took a trip to Washington for a relatives wedding and the driving there is surreal. The roads weren't all trashed and jacked up, very little speeding went on and I was not tailgated and think was cut off just once. This included rush hour traffic when we first hit Seattle. I had to restrain my driving style because it made me feel guilty to unleash my Californianess on them, I felt like a wolf among sheep. But it proved something to me, that there is another way to drive and that getting in a car doesn't have to be a fight for survival. While I'm sure making a change like this starts with me, it would be nice if I could convince the other 37 million people here to change too. And now that the sanctimonious meter is dipping into the red, let's rock!

I know that Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" would be the perfect choice, but as the great philosopher once said "What is understood does not need to be discussed" so I'll go to my next choice. The Eagles "Life in the Fast Lane" perfectly captures for me the jaded, thrill seeking yet self destructive attitude with a laid back veneer that I think goes into California driving. My second choice is Bruce Springsteen's "Wreck on the Highway", a moving song about fear of loss.

Why do I feel like Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes? Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick...

The Eagles "Life in the Fast Lane"

Bruce Springsteen "Wreck on the Highway"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Songs for Minor Medical Treatments

Meet my highly trained medical staff

Welcome to Whose Line is it Anyway?, where everything is made up and the points don't matter. Today we're doing Songs for Minor Medical Treatments, these are songs in a pretend CD set like you buy off Tv like the old KTEL records. By the way, I just want to say Wayne Brady is awesome and I don't care how much he gets put down! Defensive? Who's defensive? On with the story.

Today I had a minor medical treatment, I won't go into the gory details but when I have a significant life event I like to apply media to it (because, well, that's what I do). So I'll tell the story of today. I would like to dedicate this post to my wife whose love and support has been fantastic. My parents were also there for the day which was great, I was happy they were there. Dixie was taken care of by my Mother in law, so thank you to her too (my Mother in law, not Dixie). Also, a big "thank you" to all you people in cyberspace who have shown concern and support as well. Lastly, I would like to thank the Academy...I didn't have a speech prepared, I would like to thank my agent for believing in me, the studio executives who fought to get this film made, the director for having a strong vision and damn I'm rambling again.

Anyway, the day started with looking at my wife's reply to the Richard Wright post that included a link to Cluster One that was a tribute. Once we were ready, we headed out to the hospital as the Journey Revelations CD played. As we approached the parking lot, the song What it Takes to Win came on. Though it was one of my least favorite tracks on the new disc, it fit the moment perfectly as I entered the hospital. Now its a favorite, funny how life can tie into a song in an unexpected way.

Like most HMOs, the process is very bureaucratic and I Feel Like a Number as I turn in my membership card at one desk after another. One cool thing about today was that the desk clerks were really nice today, usually I get the more jaded ones. After waiting in the lobby for a little bit, I was brought to the back to change into a gown and lay in a bed. There seemed to be a long gap of nothing happening so I thought of a song that had meaning for my wife and I, Tom Sawyer. Last night, my wife didn't quite buy my interpretation that the song is about having a rebellious spirit in the modern age. I wonder if I was right, I never bothered to look it up. The song brought me some comfort as I laid there watching people go by, sometimes staring at my bed or chart, but nothing happening and not saying much.

Eventually I was given an IV and sedative as my wife was brought in. The sedative made me a bit loopy and I kept humming I Wanna Be Sedated. My face became itchy and I couldn't scratch it with both arms tied to wires and stuff so my wife was nice enough to oblige. It probably was boring but everything seemed slowed down and delayed anyway. I heard the start to a great joke in the next bed over about God calling Satan on a cell phone and some guy with a mustache making escalators in Hell but then a medical technician talked to me and I missed the punchline! We stayed there for a couple of hours and as any Tom Petty fan knows, The Waiting is the hardest part.

I was carted to the treatment room, again I don't want to get into organs and needles and what not but the song that came to mind was I'm Looking Through You. The staff was friendly and professional, really couldn't ask for better. I was given more sedation and I felt Comfortably Numb. In fact, I felt so numb I fell asleep. When I woke up, The Doctor said "You're done." Surprised, I said "You mean I'm done done?". The Doc confirmed it and I was wheeled off to recovery.

It took a little while for me to be awake for more than a few minutes at a time. Once I was awake, my family was around and we waited as my recovery was wrapped up. We had to wait for my IV medicine to finish and could not wait to Drain You. In the meantime, we had a good laugh talking about the idiot on Monday Night Football who threw away a touchdown because he wanted to do his stupid TD dance. Although HMOs can be bureaucratic and confusing, I haven't been let down by them on important health issues yet and am happy to have a Doctor! Doctor!. I was finally ready to go home, from start to finish it was about a 7 hour process but it was worth it.

My wife took me home and has taken good care of me. At this point the treatment looks successful so hopefully I won't have much more to do, medical wise. It's great to be Home Sweet Home where I can finish recovering. To wrap this up, here's a skit from Whose Line called...Songs for a doctor. Because laughter is the best medicine. And Bunnies.

Whose Line is it Anyway? "Songs for Doctors"

Monday, September 15, 2008


Founding Pink Floyd member Rick Wright passed away due to cancer today.

When I got home from work today, my wife was really sad. She was sad because Richard Wright, the longtime keyboardist of the band Pink Floyd, had passed away at age 65. My wife is a huge fan of the Floyd and I came to know a lot of their music through her. Of the band members, Wright was my personal favorite because he seemed like the most normal guy there. He came across as low key class act amid the vitriolic exchanges between David Gilmour and Roger Waters. His understated, atmospheric keyboard style has been influential among rock keyboardists while his songwriting has played a part in classic songs like "Us and Them" or "The Great Gig in the Sky".

So in tribute to Rick Wright I included my favorite bit of his playing, the opening minutes to "Shine On You Crazy Diamond". The heavenly sounding synthesizers topped by another muted, sad almost trumpet like synth is a beautiful piece of music. And it all sets up a nice bed for the piercing guitar work from David Gilmour. A fantastic composition. He may not get the recognition he deserves, but Richard Wright was an important element in the sweeping classic Pink Floyd sound and will be missed.

Pink Floyd "The opening part to Shine On You Crazy Diamond"

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Midnight Madness - Sledgehammer Edition

While looking this old tv show up, it turns out that Sledgehammer co-star Anne Marie Martin (right) married and divorced author Michael Crichton to the tune of 30 million plus. That's a big chunk o' change!

Couldn't help but notice Sledgehammer actor David Rasche got a featured role in the new movie Burn After Reading, bringing back fond memories of the short lived tv show. The Clint Eastwood / Dirty Harry take off was a fun dose of exaggerated action movie and detective show cliche's. Trust me, I know what I'm doing.

More Drama? - Yes has announced they've gone the You Tube route to find a singer to fill in for the ailing Jon Anderson. It seems to be done with Anderson's consent and he's been replaced once before (by the immensely talented Trevor Horn), though with mixed results. But it really seems pointless for Yes to do this, since they have not been an active band for a few years and the reason for a 40th anniversary tour is to celebrate the existing group members being together. And while the new singer can copy Anderson's voice well, you just can't duplicate his space hippie Jesus juice persona that is key to a lot of Yes music. Singers in other bands can be replaced successfully if they're better known for a vocal style rather than a distinct personality. Anderson's random lyrics, trippy talk about other dimensions of existence and the ethereal nature of the songs need his mojo to function. Looks like this is a done deal, so I guess all I can say is good luck Yes.

Barracuda: The musical - A week after debunking the RNC for using "Barracuda", Heart hits the press again to announce intentions of recording a concept album. I hope they use this opportunity to expand on the story from the "What About Love" video. We can get to the bottom of why Nancy Wilson had to be poured out of a bronze mold and how come there's not fifty of her if you can do that? And why is Ann Wilson wearing a mask with a lit blowtorch when you're waiting for bronze to cool? And why are the rockers in Victorian garb while sweaty models work in dirty rags? I sense class warfare and alchemy at work. The answers to these questions that have plagued my mind can finally be brought to light!

Riddle me this, Batman - Johnny Depp is either confirmed or not confirmed but definitely heavily rumored to be the Riddler in the next Batman flick. You can always expect the unexpected with Depp so if its true it should be interesting.

WoOoOoOoOoOo! - Retired Wrestler Ric Flair got a black eye from a fight with his daughter and another person. The daughter was arrested for assaulting an officer arriving on the scene (she got tazed). Apparently, Flair's daughter didn't understand that the whole "To be the man, you've got to beat the man" wasn't meant for outside the ring. I find it interesting that this isn't considered elder abuse, Flair is 59 years old.

It's not women's figure skating - Movie critic Roger Ebert was intentionally hit in the leg by another movie critic during a film screening. Ebert had wanted the other critic to stop blocking his view of the screen by leaning out of the seat. Somewhere, Tonya Harding is saying "Good, Good! Let the hate flow through you."

Is there a guitar legend he won't work with? - reports the band Chickenfoot is recording. Made up of Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony (Van Halen) and Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) the group is said to have a Led Zep feel. Following the demise of Planet Us, this news has potential.

Speaking of guitar legends... - also reports that Ywgnie Malmsteen has a new album coming out as well.

?Se Habla Espanol? - I find some humor in the song below called "One Semester of Spanish Love Song". A brief note, you may have to turn up the volume on the You Tube bar at the bottom of the menu because it starts off at zero volume for my computer. It may do the same on yours.

"One Semester of Spanish Love Song"

After Burn

Brad Pitt in the middle of negotiations during Burn After Reading

The Coen brothers strike again with their ironic wit and humanistic characters intact for the new film Burn After Reading. A darkly comedic parable about greed and fear, Burn traces five oddball characters as they become entangled with each other in pursuit of owning money, sex and relationships. The movie sets up the story of an ex-government analyst (John Malkovich)writing his uncensored memoirs until a disc of it falls into the hands of two fitness club employees (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt). The two fit clubbers try to extort money from the analyst in return for the disc. In the meantime, a philandering treasury department agent (George Clooney) sleeps with many women including the ex-analyst's wife (Tilda Swinton). And from there, things become wildly unpredictable and interesting.

Burn is a character driven film with some truly memorable performances. Most of the actors do variations on role types they've done before - Malkovich is hyper intelligent and condescending, McDormand is midwest purity (like in the Coen's Fargo) and Clooney is a wide eyed simpleton masked by an ingratiating demeanor (like in the Coen's O Brother Where Art Thou). Swinton I'm not familiar with, but she delivers a first rate ice queen. The twist for these actors is portraying these people as venal and a bit sad but still retaining relatibility and likability. Burn After Reading hinges on the success of these performances because it's a character driven movie, directed by the Coens these actors shine.

But in terms of acting, the movie belongs to Brad Pitt. Which surprised me because I haven't always found Pitt convincing in previous movies. In Burn, Pitt plays the role of an empty headed teenage jock trapped in the body of a thirty year old perfectly. His snappy delivery and comedic timing is on target and commands attention whenever he's on screen.

With the actors in place, the Coens allow for time to let the audience to get to know the characters. Most of the humor is based on knowing these people so it takes a moment for things to really get rolling. But once it does, the Coens mix farce with harsh reality to create a world that is by turns funny and intense. There are moments that are as shockingly chilling as they are humorous at the same time.

Burn After Reading is a good film that's amusingly funny yet has some depth to the storytelling. It won't stand with other Coen brothers films as modern classics (Fargo, The Big Lebowski or No Country for Old Men) but is fascinating and entertaining.

Burn After Reading trailer

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Death Becomes Them

Hit the Lights: Metallica's speed metal thunder is resurrected from the dead. No life 'til goatee?

I mentioned a few posts back that I've been waiting for Metallica to get back to the business of rocking. In the 80's, Metallica was a band that intentionally or not stood for something: Heavy Metal rebellion. They weren't on MTV, they weren't on the radio and were considered among the hardest of the hardcore in Metal (The friend who introduced me to Metallica's music would constantly debate with himself who was heavier, Metallica or Slayer. I don't know if he ever found an answer.). No nonsense, no bullsh*t, just straight up rock played faster and heavier than you could handle with total commitment. Their career picked up momentum through a combination of live performance, word of mouth and tape trading. The devil horn throwing headbanging masses championed the band as the source of pure music in an era of spandex and hair spray.

At the start of the 90's, the band slowed down their sound and hit paydirt with an artistic and commercial triumph in the Black album. Then they took a break for the first half of the decade. When Metallica returned, there was a noticeable change in their approach (more than just cutting their hair). In my view, their music from the late 90's seemed to be more about prestige, trendiness and above all gettin' P-A-I-D. Rebellion was no longer needed, they had become the standard bearer of all things Hard Rock in the 90's. A brand name, like Sears or Kleenex. That's not to say I didn't enjoy Load (1996), Reload (1997) or Re-Reload or whatever they put out at that time. It just wasn't as good to me, their albums were solid but not mind blowing like before (though Garage Inc. came close).

But for the new millennium, they shifted approach again starting with St. Anger (2003). Despite the total lack of guitar solos and a tin can drum sound (I actually enjoyed the drum sound though), I liked that Metallica were getting back to what made them unique. So why this three paragraph wind up? Because Metallica, the version of Metallica I'm a big fan of, has finally come back. At least musically.

Produced by Rick Rubin, Death Magnetic essentially picks up where ...And Justice For All (1988) left off. Death is filled with slash and burn guitars, complex arrangements, dog bark vocals and speed of light beats. It's all played with fire and uncompromising fury, something I didn't think the band was capable of anymore. New bassist Robert Trujillo fits in perfectly with a rumbling, agile style that is distinct from the prior bassists. James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett attack their established roles with renewed interest.

The opening track "That Was Your Life" sets the tone starting with an ominous sparse guitar leading into a slow buildup of the full band before a classic style rampaging riff starts. It's followed by shifting drum beats between mid tempo and fast while Hetfield yells out end-of-the-world lyrics without any sense of commercial melody. Then Hammett unleashes a squalling guitar solo and before you know it, you're back home.

Other highlights include the strutting march of "Broken, Beat & Scarred" and the cut throat thrash of "My Apocalypse". The lead single "The Day That Never Comes" utilizes their established slow/quiet to fast/loud song structure (like "Fade to Black" or "One") to great effect (it has grown on me). And the instrumental "Suicide & Redemption" proves the band has lost none of their chops. Even the sequel "Unforgiven III" shines and the string backed piano start surprisingly fits in well with the album.

The morbid Death theme lends the disc a jumping off point for what to me is their most satisfying record in nearly two decades. I was skeptical that Metallica would not fully return to their roots given their impulse to be arty for art's sake, but they have really impressed me. Out of the whole piece, the only thing that took me out of the album for a moment was "The End of the Line" with the main guitar part aping Pearl Jam's "Even Flow" (it kept bugging me as familiar and my wife walked in and nailed what it was). Otherwise, Death Magnetic is from start to finish a great album. Each time I hear it, I like it more than the last time (an hour ago I thought it was good but another spin is revealing even more to enjoy) and finally they sound like dangerous badass SOBs again. Welcome home (sanitarium), Metallica.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Midnight Madness - Peanut Butter Jelly Time edition

It's break time...Peanut Butter Jelly time with a baseball bat!
I'm taking a break from the Blog for a little bit, got a lot of stuff to take care of so I'll be away for probably the rest of the week at least. If anyone happens to be reading, I thank you for stopping by and hope to resume soon! And now...I'll go out in a fit of Madness!
Save us Y2J! - Chris Jericho becomes a World Champion again at Unforgiven. And as an awesome heel. Yeah!
Heaven isn't too far away... - Jani Lane is out of Warrant again. I didn't even know he was back in Warrant. "Sometime She Cries" will never sound the same!
Who you gonna call? - The word is there's work being done to make Ghostbusters 3. The 80's sequel revival is just going nuts now isn't it? I'm voting for a sequel to Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo then. I just feel there's more story to tell.
Don LaFontaine - The voice to many movie trailers has passed on.
Web Slingin twofer - Spider Man 4 and 5 are planned to be filmed back to back with Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. Because back to back sequels worked so well for the Back to the Future sereis. And the Matrix series. Oh well, can always hope for a Lord of the Rings hot streak.
The Heart of the Matter - The Wilson sisters express outrage that the Heart song "Barracuda" was used by the Republican Party.
Mysterious Ways - U2 has pushed their album back to 2009 due to a creative roll.
Stand Up to Cancer - Just wanted to include a link to their site, the telecast Stand Up to Cancer was on last week and is asking for donations for a worthy cause.
You want a Piece of Me? - After spending all week advertising anarchy, the MTV Video Music Awards went off without too many hitches and a boring host. A rehabbed Britney Spears won awards and seemed both awake and aware. The VMAs have become the equivalent of Car Racing (people watch to see the horrible accidents) so there wasn't much of interest here. Nice production values on the music segments though.
Go Phish - The famous jam band of the 90's reunited for a wedding gig.
Mini CD Reviews:
  • Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs: I really wanted to like this album and have found a few good tracks ("Cath" and "Long Division") but the wanna be Mitchell Froom production is annoying. Hopefully this will grow on me over time.
  • Matthew Sweet - Sunshine Lies: A solid album with some highlights from the Sweetster. "Daisychain" rocks with power pop force while the sublime title track features background vocals from Susanna Hoffs.
  • Duffy - Rockferry: I wasn't planning on getting this but I have a relative who likes the Duff so I checked it out. Very old school, a pleasant throw back to 60's with a soulful performance by the young singer. But still nothing outstanding and I'm just now getting over the huge marketing push she got a few months back.