Sunday, May 31, 2009

Get A Taste

I loved my Star Trek Bridge set with the transporter and the dolls with the chokeable parts.

Like a lot of kids, growing up with Star Trek and Star Wars and Super Hero dolls, pretending they were doing super action whatever was a key part of childhood. These days kids don't just play with these dolls, they grow up and make animated shorts with them. The TV show Robot Chicken is based entirely on this idea and after seeing a memorable episode this weekend I decided to post a little about two of my favorites.

The first one is from a series the G4 channel did when they were airing Star Trek reruns. They used the old dolls from the 70's to have Spock act with a hip hop personality bringing the party to the rest of the Star Trek crew. The one where they do a take off on MTV Cribs was the funniest to me


The second one came from Robot Chicken, where Strawberry Shortcake and her crew get lethal after someone stole her friend's "black cherry". A made up character named Bitch Pudding gets the best parts, particularly at the end where she says "Blam! You all get a taste of the Bitch Pudding" and flips everyone off. It's one of the funniest things I've seen in a while though the video doesn't show the full context.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Better Music Through Science

Some serious dudes! Boston weren't glum on record, delivering 8 track car cruising jams to the World.

...was the marketing tag line that today's featured band hated. Now that we're into my Top Four favorite albums of all time, we're hitting discs by my favorite bands of all time. This entry is the mega successful debut record of Boston, released in 1976 and was the best selling debut album of all time until Whitney Houston came along. I heard about Boston through a book of Rock Bands I had in the early 80's and loved the mystique of this forgotten group (at the time it was 1983 and their last album released was 1978). My neighbor had a way cool poster of Boston that I hadn't seen before or since.

This led to me buying their second album Don't Look Back on a trip to vacation in Lake Tahoe. I thought this tape was the greatest thing since sliced bread, playing it endlessly. Don't Look Back was so great, I bought the debut record. The cool sci fi look of the album covers with the flying guitar spaceships were awesome! For years I liked Don't Look Back more than the first, but as time has passed I find I play and listen to the first more now. Listen to the record!

Number 4: Boston - Boston (1976)

1. More Than A Feeling

The first single that paved the way for their whole career, "More Than A Feeling" instantly set the Beantown band up as one of the premier Arena rock bands of the day. With a marching hand clap beat that would be copied by other bands for decades ("Smells Like Teen Spirit" anyone?), the power of those high flown vocals and twin guitar work could not be matched. And because I used to drink a six pack of soda a day, I thought the lyric in the verse was "When I'm tired I take a Coke." Epic wasn't just this group's record label, it was a way of life. One of my favorite songs in high school to chill out to in my beanbag chair in my room. After hearing Brad Delp instantly arrive as an amazing singer, it is truly sad that one of the great voices of Arena rock chose to take his own life.

2. Peace Of Mind

Bandleader / Guitarist / Bassist / Keyboardist / Songwriter / Producer Tom Scholz said he had a thing for classical music. That influence shows in the dynamic rise and fall of The Eagles-on-speed number "Peace Of Mind". An odd juxtaposition of laid back lyrics about chucking climbing the corporate latter against thunderous, tightly wound arrangements makes the song stand out even more. The words about "I understand about indecision and I don't mind if I get behind" pretty much summed up how I felt about having a career when I was a teenager. Brad Delp's mulittracked vocals are glorious and impressive considering the number of overdubs Scholz requires for his music. And the twin guitar solos leading to the give and take between Scholz and Barry Goudreau was magic. Take a look ahead!

3. Foreplay / Long Time

I know I said this before, when this was just a song title to me before owning the record I expected this to be a nasty song about Sex. Instead, "Foreplay" is a prog rock dream with winding boogie grooves and splashy organ playing leading up to the thumping mid-tempo beat of "Long Time". A great song about feeling good and struttin' your bell bottom cool, I'm just taking my time I'm movin' on, you'll forget about me after I've been gone. I'll take what I find I don't want no more, it's just outside of your back door. That was the magic of Boston, feel good songs about relaxing with the most pumped up guitars imaginable. Below is a clip of the band playing in 1979, listening to it reminds me of what a great lead player Barry Goudreau was. Although other good guitar players would join later, for Boston there is no better lead player than Goudreau.

4. Rock And Roll Band

One of the ironies of Boston is that they were perceived as a band more than a studio creation. This was a group that would literally spend years in the studio, album releases would be spread six to eight years apart in most cases. So this song was important in building the myth making that this was a band that came up from the streets and not the studio and what a beautiful myth it is. Hard charging whooshing guitars and kick ass drum breaks fuel the fire as Delp's stratospheric singing carries on about playing in Hyannis and gettin' a record company contract. And as a teen I didn't know any of this backstory stuff so I took it at face value and thought it was freakin' sweet.

5. Smokin'

In the 80's high school students were forced to watch anti drug movies that were made in the 70's (and considering how education is funded, kids today may still be watching these movies). One of those movies, in between interviews of brain damaged kids, highlighted this song as a chief culprit in getting kids to do drugs. The camera slowly zoomed in on the spinning record as it played this song. A heavy trip to lay on my peeps. Still, I can say from experience that Boston is not a gateway drug (experience meaning I've never done drugs) and the lyrics were clever enough to make it about a hot playing band instead of, well, the drug use it alludes to. Boston always had a hippie heart which I think is great.

6. Hitch A Ride

That hippie heart means you gotta thumb your way around. The mix of acoustic and electric guitars are well placed, particularly at the end where the two guitarists again trade solos backed by another hand clap beat. A good place to mention that Barry Goudreau has been attributed to helping build the classic Boston sound by other former members of the group, which explains why he keeps coming up with new groups that sound like Boston minus the 6 to 8 years of overdub production. Scholz used to say on many guitar parts you're actually listening to hundreds of overdubs to get that thickened tone. Can you imagine playing the same guitar parts over and over for half a decade? As impressive as it is crazy.

7. Something About You

Used to be my favorite on this album, loved listening to this on my walkman during the hour long school bus ride each day. I liked the dynamics of it, how the guitars and overlapping vocals would stack on top of each other. I got to got to have you! Followed by whooshing guitars. Three minute magic if there was one.

8. Let Me Take You Home Tonight

The official Producer of this album was John Boylan (Little River Band), though there is no doubt that Scholz set up the bulk of this project. "Let Me Take You Home Tonight" was reportedly the one song Boylan produced with the band sans Scholz who was finishing up the rest of the album at home. This song sounded like it had a touch of steel guitar twanginess as the tune starts off slow and builds to a racing finish. What guy didn't want to say this to a girl when they're a teenager?

Boston would have more success, combined with Don't Look Back and Third Stage form a nice trilogy of fired up peace and love. Looking at it in the present, the debut album had the best material and a certain innocence that would be lost amid a constant flurry of law suits in the decades that followed. Happy, pot smoking free lovin hippies with giant sized afros (well, just one of them had the 'fro) who could blast through arrangements tighter than a squirrel's ass. That was the pure awesomeness of Boston in a nutshell. No synthesizers were used in the typing of this post.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Missed It By That Much

Steve Carrell gets the call to head back to The Office

Last Summer I had high hopes for the Steve Carrell version of the classic TV series Get Smart. I went through a phase as a kid where I watched that show daily, enjoying Don Adams bumbling and snappy catch phrases. "Missed It By That Much", "Would You Believe...", "Sorry about that Chief", Adams had excellent comic timing in delivering his lines stiffly against his physical antics. Carrell was someone I thought could carry that torch as the new Maxwell Smart. Too bad they didn't give him anything to work with.

Get Smart the movie is a doltish exercise in Hollywood filmmaking. The plot is pure assembly line junk with the type of generic jokes and big action you've seen before. And because this is a relaunch / reboot style make over, Smart isn't quite as blind or hamhanded as he was on television. He's semi-competent which reduces the fun. At least Bernie Koppel gets a surprise cameo that's provides a brief jolt of energy.
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The supporting cast is fine, Anne Hathaway, The Rock and The Great Khali (an ex-wrestler and current wrestler who share no screen time. Missed opportunity!) all do fine in their roles. Except Hathaway's expert agent has no chemistry with Carrell, making me miss Barbara Feldon's silky purr. The whole movie serves as a reminder to the fact that the TV show was decent comedy by being the opposite. Seeing it on DVD, it suffers in direct comparison to the 60's spy farce by my viewing it in basically the same medium.

Would you believe Get Smart is one of the greatest movies made in the 21st Century? Ok...would you believe it is one of the Top 500 best movies made in the last three years? How about the best movie ever made called Get Smart? Dixie Dog smells a stinker, Get Smart gets a rating of:

and a 1/2

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

...I've Got Soul But I'm Not A Soldier...

What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas. Las Vegas band The Killers make some noise on their third outing.

When The Killers hit the scene a few years back with the Hot Fuss album, I dug their new wave sounds and catchy songs. Too much too soon seemed to go to their head as lead singer Brandon Flowers began to talk as if they were the greatest band ever and the first single to their second album was the Springsteenish "When We Were Young". The songs from their second album Sam's Town seemed decent yet nothing caught my ear like the first disc. So when The Killers released their third disc Day and Age last year, I was interested but wary even though I liked the single "Human". Good word of mouth spread about the CD so a few weeks back I got it.

While "When We Were Young" felt overblown to me, Day and Age marked a return to a more modest New Wave influenced sound. "Human" could have percolated off a Men Without Hats album in '83 with the overlapping wave of synths it has. "Spaceman" takes off like a John Hughes fueled jet and doesn't touch down for a few minutes. Along with the renewed focus on A Flock Of Seagulls sonics is a touch of Bowie, horns and slight funk rhythms blast in and out particularly on the swanky "Joyride". "Neon Tiger" has a nice ring to it with it's upbeat pop feel.

The Killers seem inspired and have a strong set of songs, not a clunker in the bunch. Even the Island rhythms of "I Can't Stay" come off well. I don't like it as much as Hot Fuss, but Day and Age is good enough to make me re-evaluate if skipping Sam's Town was such a great idea. On it's own, Day and Age is heady fun. I'm going to try rating things on a scale of Dixie Dogg barks from 1 to 10, 1 being the lowest. Dixie gives Day and Age an 8 barks.

Monday, May 25, 2009

C'mon Get Happy


1977 summed up in one photograph by Dynamite magazine, the preferred reading for grade school kids in the know!

Last weekend we went shopping which included a trip to the record store to shop for $3.00 CDs, one of my favorite things to do. While in there looking for rarities I came across something I haven't seen anywhere in my searches: Shaun Cassidy's Greatest Hits. I only wanted one song off it, a lost treasure from my childhood. "Da Doo Ron Ron". This dopey remake was recorded when Cassidy was starring on one of my favorite programs, The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries. Parker Stevenson. Shaun Cassidy. Pamela Sue Martin. A power trio for the ages! Solvin' mysteries and rockin' out at the end of the program to this song.

I took a look back and made a Top 10 list of my favorite songs of my younger days and found out two things. The first I knew, I was a huge Michael Jackson fan. A kid who could sing and dance like that...it's sad what he would become later, but back then he was hands down the most talented kid in the world. The second I just figured out, I liked anyone related to Shirley Jones. That's one magic woman there. Which leads into kicking off my list.

10. The Partridge Family "I Think I Love You"

Rule #1 of childhood - I wanted that bus! That awesome psychedelic multicolored school bus that was modified into the touring vehicle. I had two Partridge Family records, including one that looked like the bus. And the opening with that great song and the birds hatching from the eggs? Classic. And after seeing pictures from back then, I may have worn that Partridge Family outfit at one point. Velvety vest and puffy white shirt. I don't even think it was influenced by the tv show, it was just the style at the time. Seinfeld would have been proud. By the way, I recommend viewing the clip of the song if only to see the Partridge Family play a Power Of Women rally where they win over the hippies and haters with their song of love.

9. Olivia Newton-John "Have You Never Been Mellow"

There was something soothing about the 70's sounds of the Australian blonde. I used to play this song on the record a lot. I honestly don't even know how I got the record. Was it one of my parents records? Anyway, this song always takes me back to playing with toys in my room. Hot Wheels rule! Oh, and I was too young to really appreciate that she was, in the lingo of the day, a super fine fox.

8. Glen Campbell "Rhinestone Cowboy"

Years before Robert Redford was The Electric Cowboy, Glen Campbell saddled up for a glittery ride as the Rhinestone Cowboy. Maybe I did like these songs and that's how I got them, the hook has stuck in my head for most of my life. "Like a Rhine-Stone Cow-Boy" and the strings go Duhhh-Duh. This is a song I got into from watching tv, taken from an age when kids still wanted to be cowboys. Hard to believe now, there was a time where a guy could dress in a white cowboy get up and ride a horse without coming off cheesy. The 70's was such a simpler time.

7. Shaun Cassidy "Da Doo Ron Ron"

Cassidy's remake of a 60's pop hit boosted his role as a teen idol over Parker Stevenson. The music isn't too different from other teen idol jams of the day, Leif Garrett and his ilk. Musically, it was interesting how the doo wop leanings of the original were transformed into a sort of 70's surf rock. Nice memories of watching tv and reading Dynamite magazine to catch up with the important happenings of life.

6. Michael Jackson "Rockin Robin"

The same song Megan Joy butchered on American Idol this year (caw,caw), Jackson's Got To Be There record had a lot of covers. I also remember "Ain't No Sunshine" from this record too (what, did American Idol use this whole record as a template this season? Kris Allen played "Sunshine" twice). My personal idol in childhood, MJ could do no wrong.

5. Captain and Tennille "Love Will Keep Us Together"

The dynamic duo of 70's pop, the Captain and his Tennille was all over tv back in the day. I wasn't a fan of the Captain, he always looked creepy with his sailor outfits on dry land. Tennille I was OK with, even when she would show up trying to act on Fantasy Island. This song and I think they did "Muskrat Love" were staples on tv and radio. That jaunty piano bit always grabs me. Interesting how boy / girl combos were the thing back then. There were The Carpenters, Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie...you don't see that kind of thing anymore. A reminder of a more innocent time.

4. Meco "Star Wars Theme"

John Williams is without a shout of a doubt the greatest classical composer of my lifetime in my opinion. The themes for movies that man comes up with have embedded themselves into the national consciousness in a way that no other piece of classical music has since the days of Mozart. Even in the 90's, the best part of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was that kick ass song Williams wrote. Anyway, in the 70's the only way to improve on greatness was to add a disco beat and laser gun sounds. Fortunately Meco was around to figure that out and give us a tape of this stuff. I played this tape constantly as a kid because I was totally obsessed with Star Wars. If it wasn't for Meco, I probably would have picked "A Fifth Of Beethoven" from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

3. Elton John "Benny and the Jets"

One of the first pieces of music I can remember liking was "Benny and the Jets". I would literally think of jet fighters flying when I heard this song, because when you're a kid pretending your hand is a jet plane is really cool. And he always had the flashiest outfits, didn't he dress like Donald Duck once?

2. John Travolta "Grease Lightning"

I was a huge fan of Grease in 1978 and that went with emulating the stand out moment of Danny Zuko, "Grease Lightning". I liked the fast beat and fired up singing particularly the "Go Go" parts. This car is automatic, it's systematic, it's hyydro-matic. It's Grease Lighning! It's also funny, when I saw Grease on video a decade later I realized this (and a lot of other Grease songs) were pretty nasty. "You know that ain't no shit and we'll be gettin' lots of tit, Grease Lightning!" Actual lyrics from the song, no lie. By the way, after seeing that VH1 rehab show it's hard to see Jeff Conway do all that running, dancing and singing and believe it's the same person.

1. The Jackson 5 "ABC"

The only thing better than Michael Jackson by himself was when he was performing with his brothers. Those choreographed spins in multicolored outfits were mesmerizing. And whoever wrote this song "A-B-C, easy as 1-2-3" is a freakin' genius. Talk about aiming for your target audience. One of my strongest childhood memories is taking a Jackson 5 record to school in a brown paper bag for show and tell. And I used to live for that Scooby Doo episode where the Jacksons and Osmonds team up to solve the mystery.

And that's my top 10. If I had more room I would include the Bee Gee's "Tragedy", Foreigner's "Hot Blooded", The Osmonds "One Bad Apple" and KISS's "Rock And Roll All Nite". And the scariest rock star of them all, Donny Most Ralph Malph as the KISS like superstar in that episode of CHiPs. You don't remember that one you say? Well, here's a clip of the episode right now!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ear Candy Or Eye Candy?

Take her seriously, I mean look! She's in black and white and everything. Nothing says serious like black and white photography.

I was cruising the new videos this weekend when I saw a new clip by Mandy Moore, the 90's teen pop singer turned successful actress turned aspiring indie vocalist. She's spent the last five years or so working to put the "Britney Spears lite" image behind her by rubbing shoulders and performing in the Alternative Adult Contemporary area. Having seen her push for legitimacy as an "artiste" (plus some goodwill built on seeing a rerun of her amusing turn on Scrubs recently) I gave her song "I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week" a shot and it turned out to be a catchy slice of 70's AM radio pop. A stripped down arrangement of a snazzy electric piano hook and hand clap beat plus one of my favorite song gimmicks (using the days of the week in a song. Don't ask me why, I just like it) got in my head and stayed there. Against my better judgement, I'm going to say I like a Mandy Moore song. I like when people revive that early 70's AM sound.

So why do I feel guilty saying that? Is it because it has a girly vocal? Is it because she's a pretty face? Is it because musically she's best known for the Britney wanna be hit Candy? Is it because I'm admitting to liking a song that is sung by someone who shows up on the cover of Marie Claire magazine? It could be all of the above. When it's all said and done, it's the music that matters. And I like this tune. Makes me think of sunny days in the park playing Frisbee wearing bell bottom jeans.

I don't think this song will be a big hit or a game changer in her career though. The market she's playing towards is a small one and the song isn't strong enough to cross over to her old stomping grounds of the pure pop field. The music video is linked here, or you can listen to just the song only with a picture of Moore scrolling endlessly.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Logan's Run

Put another shrimp on my adamantium barbies spears!

Back in my comic reading days, Wolverine was considered the coolest of the cool. He was the opposite of what was a super hero was supposed to be: short, feral and out for blood. Superman he was not. His main power were retractable metal claws that protruded from the top of his hands. These were weapons primed to kill, not subdue. Add a general cigar chomping rebel-without-a-cause attitude and you had one of the greatest comic book heroes of all time.

When the character made the jump to cartoons the guy was expectedly neutered. Wolverine cared more about others and used his claws on inanimate objects only. After the movies started rolling, Wolfie was given a little more latitude - he could use his claws on people just no kill shots for the most part. It's understandable why Wolverine can't hack and slash people like he does in the comics, it would mean at least an R rating resulting in less box office or accusations of drawing kids with unnecessary violence. For the character, it results in a retaining just enough of what's considered cool about the character while making him someone who talks a slightly better game than he delivers.

So going in to X-Men Origins: Wolverine I wasn't expecting a lot. In addition to the mainstreaming of the snarling wonder, a friend at work said it was all action no story and my wife said Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 38% rating. And the advertisements kept stressing a battle with a helicopter. But I'm a fan, so I was going to check it out anyway.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It wasn't fantastic or brilliant, just a well executed comic book story. The story and emotions of the characters is what drives the film. You see Wolverine as a boy discovering his powers for the first time and then going on the run with his mutant brother, Sabretooth. Born in the 19th Century, the brothers make a pledge to stick together and fight in every major war in Western culture up to about Vietnam or so. They are recruited by Stryker (I didn't catch his rank) to join a government mutant squad to carry out missions. The squad includes fan favorite mutants like Deadpool and Blob. Eventually Stryker leads the team to kill indiscriminately which offends Logan (Wolverine) and turns on Sabretooth (Victor). Logan quits to live the quiet life as a lumberjack in Canada. Until a turn of events causes Logan to seek revenge against Victor. See, already there's more story than X3. All of this happens early on in the movie so I'll try to leave out the rest of what happens storyline-wise.

Hugh Jackman owns the celluloid version of Wolverine and now in his fourth film he settles in comfortably. As the title character now, Jackman easily carries the weight of the movie. The different feelings of moral outrage, white hot anger, and the inner fight for civility comes through. Intellect versus instinct, a classic comic book theme (like the Hulk movie I recently saw) is the name of the game. Jackman is surrounded by strong supporting performances. There isn't a weak performance in the bunch and Liev Shreiber makes for a good foil as Wolverine's brother Sabretooth / Victor. He plays Sabretooth with slightly sophisticated menace.

Director Gavin Hood has an eye for comic book action, the fight sequences capture the power moves, acrobatic choreography and heavy duty impact of the form. Some of the special effects came off fake looking and probably won't age well. I don't know if Hood is a fan, but he directs with a sure handed understanding of what folks want to see. Comic fans want to see the badass, while female fans just want to see the ass (Jackman's that is). Hood makes sure you get both, the latter as much as possible (Jackman has almost as many shirtless scenes as William Shatner in Star Trek). The action is motivated by the story which was also nice, it wasn't plotless random explosions or anything like that. Bits of humor are thrown in to keep it from being a pure revenge story. Disappointingly, not much is done that's special with the dialogue scenes, it's done competently which is why there is a negative about the movie.

My only negative point is that X-Men Origins: Wolverine never surpasses its mandate. I felt like I learned more about the Wolverine character (I stopped reading comics by the time his origin was revealed) and was slightly moved by his saga. But it never goes past that, the film doesn't have a mythic feeling of earth shattering events for Wolverine. Maybe it's because seeing Wolverine battle a helicopter from a motorcycle is just plain silly (Even the physics was mind boggling. Wolverine claws armored vehicles speeding in an opposite direction from his motorcycle and somehow doesn't get yanked off his bike by the drag?) . Maybe it's because the basis of his story isn't very original, where the walking killing machine doesn't want to live that life until circumstances force them to (isn't that every Steven Seagal movie?). Like The Incredible Hulk movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine plays it a little too safe, self conscious of what people want to see.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine gives exactly what people think other people would want from a Wolverine movie. That's not bad. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, I give XMO: Wolverine a 6. Something you can sink your claws into though you don't get a lot of meat. It is fun and much better than I was led to expect. A well executed movie with a slightly generic story at it's heart. And yes I did Mark Out when he says his classic tag line, "I'm the best there is at what I do." Ever since I read Wolverine issue #1, I've always liked when his character grumbles that out.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I Can't Believe I Missed This Band!

I was watching VH1 Classic when a late 80's headbanging rock song came on that I had never heard before. My wife knew it and sang along with it a little. I was really impressed with the overblown video and the excellent singer they had so I'm posting it so I remember to play it more and learn about this group. Warlock. What a great band name. Still can't believe I missed out on a group with a video like this.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mad World

The Mighty ReArranger

The other night I wrote most of a post about American Idol that had analysis and what not, but I wasn't happy with that so I scrapped it. In modern history, whenever we as a Country vote on anything the results become divisive and hotly contested. So with that being said, my wife showed me a series of You Tube clips about people's shocked reaction to Kris Allen being announced the American Idol which were funny and/or disturbing. On the clip below, this lady is so stunned when the winner is announced that she looks like she just saw the video from those The Ring movies. You know the one where you see the confusing video tape and a few days later you die. She looks like that.

On a final note, I think those guys in Queen should totally offer Adam Lambert a job. Now that they've split with Paul Rodgers the position is open and any guy who can nearly upstage KISS on their own pyrotechnic stage is definitely up to the task.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

7 - 6 - 5

No more runaround, Van Halen hits the Top 5 of my list

Racing to the end of my 100 Favorite CD countdown, after this set I start going track by track on these incredible albums. Before we get there, we have to get through numbers 7, 6 and 5.

7. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Gold & Platinum (1979)


Although we had the Skynyrd's Innards single CD hits set, it was the double album Gold & Platinum that really gave me something to dig in to. There are songs that are a given on a Skynyrd set, "Freebird", "Sweet Home Alabama", "Gimmie Three Steps" and "That Smell" all make appear here. And though it lacks some killer tunes like "Call Me The Breeze", Gold & Platinum uses it's length to show more variety from their catalog. The rambunctious "I Know A Little", the attitude driven "Down South Jukin", the stately "Simple Man" and the fiery "Comin' Home" show the breadth and range of this fantastic band. Eventually I had to have more Skynyrd and would get the box set, before that this set was the best rounded collection of their music I had heard.

6. Tom Petty - Greatest Hits (1993)


I didn't get into Tom Petty's music until I was in my 20s, when I copied his Greatest Hits off a friend onto a cassette tape (remember those?). The simplicity and directness of approach balanced with economical musicianship and brilliant songwriting finally clicked with me after ignoring his stuff for over a decade. Starting with the man on the street feel to "Breakdown" and working to the big hits era of "Don't Do Me Like That" or "Even The Losers" and eventually landing in his solo record Jeff Lynne produced phase of "Free Fallin". Years after it's release, the song "Listen To Her Heart" became a personal favorite of mine. Maybe it's that part about not winning her over with your money and your cocaine. Through it all, sharply drawn observations matched with indelible melodies made the 90's more bearable for someone like me who wanted rock that didn't have rap in it. It was like water to a man in the desert.

5. Van Halen - For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)


I'm not superstitious for the most part, but one superstition I do have is this album. It is my lucky album. It's a great motivator, listening to this album gets me fired up to tackle the bigger challenges in life. Musically, it's the, ahem, best of both worlds as it features Sammy Hagar on vocals yet has a Classic VH sound to the music (could be because Ted Templeman produced for the first time since the DLR era). That could be because cuts like "Top Of The World" and "Runaround" owe a debt to DLR era winners "Dance The Night Away" and "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love". The lack of a power ballad is a huge plus, VH does not do power ballads well, the closest they get is the piano driven "Right Now". And "Poundcake" was all over the radio with its burgeoning groove. Air guitar fanatics had something to jam to on high flying "The Dream Is Over". The short and sweet acoustic guitar solo "316" was stretched out live to contain all his great solos. While some of the songs on this disc were just passable (Let's not call 1-900 SPANKED), it's my favorite in style and for personal reasons. My lucky tape / CD!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Death Has A Lot Of Friends

Put your hands in the air! Wave them like you just don't care...

I received a surprise in my e-mail in box last weekend when the Coldplay newsletter announced that they had made a live album as a free download at Coldplay.com. Since I love free stuff, I raced over to the website to download my copy of the erstwhile rock balladeers. The recording seems to come from their current tour supporting Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends. Or as I like to think of it, the Viva La Vida Legal Defense Fund Tour for the millions of people in the world convinced Chris Martin stole their song. Even though I haven't had an interest in hearing Coldplay live, I could not pass up a freebie.

I didn't have an interest in the Coldplay concert experience because they struck me as a band that would sound flat in live performance. A band that polished in the studio with so many slow songs seemed like a dull proposition. So I was happy to find out that I was wrong in assuming that, because their new live album Left Right Left Right Left makes Coldplay sound like a fairly exciting place to be.

It may be the production or the mix, this live album feels like an actual concert. Sometimes live albums are overdubbed in the studio or mix the audience real low to get out of the way of their instruments. Here, the sound of the crowd is loudly featured, screaming and whistling and singing along as only an arena of fans can. The band sticks closely to the music arrangements from their albums with the exception of crowd participation, such as having the audience sing several verses of "Fix You". Live, the band's rhythm section is more noticeable as I caught on to bass parts and rhythms that seemed buried on record. The band's more muscular presence made songs like "Glass of Water" come across well, I could hear the surging glistening sonics wash over the arena.

Big hits like "Clocks" or "Viva La Vida" sound pretty decent when given the supersize treatment with "big moment" theatrics. Left Right Left Right Left does precisely what a live album should do - give the listener the feeling of being at an entertaining show. Sure, there were a handful of audio glitches in my MP3s but hey, it's free so why quibble. I still probably won't see them live though if I did I guess it wouldn't be too bad a thing. And if I did go, I understand you get a physical copy of this album too. I wonder if it's all yellow?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: GTR (1986)

One of the worst, if not the worst, single of the 80's. The Hunter!
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GTR - the abbreviation for Guitar, was a mini super group from the mid 80's centered around two guitarists. Giants in the Prog rock field, Steve Howe (Yes, Asia) and Steve Hackett (Genesis) were brought together by manager Brian Lane following Howe's departure from Asia. Being a big fan of Steve Howe aka Maestro, and hearing the killer lead single "When The Heart Rules The Mind", I was sold on this band and snapped up their tape in the Summer of '86. After the disappointment of Asia's 1985 effort Astra, I was ready for some proggy arena rock. And the two Steves did not let me down. Between Howe's angular patterns and Hackett's wild yet complex fretwork GTR was a dream of an album. Surprisingly produced by Howe's Asia cohort keyboardist Geoff Downes, GTR features no keyboards but instead has guitars made to sound like synths.

1. When The Heart Rules The Mind

Is there such a thing as a perfect song? After hearing this, maybe there is. The two Steve's get their shots in both on electric and acoustic. From the imperial sounding opening to the Asia styled chorus to the acoustic breakdown and the sad wah wah guitar at the end GTR served up magic. Max Bacon's relentlessly happy sounding voice adds an extra special layer of cheese, the guy sounds insanely cheerful regardless of the lyrics. "Mother, protect me, protect me from myself" never sounded so positive. A Top 20 hit single, "When The Heart Rules The Mind" was the band's lone hit and a testament to refined 80's rock. And hey, check out bassist Spalding's neck snap action at the 4:40 mark. Whiplash!

2. The Hunter

Is there such a thing as a horrible song? After hearing this, maybe there is. Penned by producer Geoff Downes, I spent part of the closing months of my high school life ridiculing this song. I couldn't believe so much talent could produce total crap. Well, not total crap. The acoustic guitar work of Howe and Hackett is really nice with all the intricacies and detail that a fan would expect. Just the melody and lyrics were incredibly dumb. "He's a tiger, he's a swan, he's the one I'm counting on"? "He's a fighter, he's a friend. always winning in the end"? Add Bacon's chirpy delivery and you've got a real fey version of "We Are The Champions" on your hands. It's like being trapped in a campfire sing along on a religious retreat you didn't want to go on.

3. Here I Wait

One of my many favorites off this album, I thought the main guitar part was badass with what I suspect to be one of those sharp, choppy Howe riffs accented by Hackett's sinister sounding fills. Drummer Jonathan Mover does a nice job of keeping the beat lively particularly with the stop and go sections before the chorus. My college roommate was annoyed with Mover's playing in the GTR documentary he had because Mover looked at where his cymbals were before hitting them. You should hit them without looking is what he said. I figured as long as he hit what he was aiming for it was all good. Also, unrelated I thought the synth guitars had a slightly Asian feel to them here, but that could just be me.

4. Sketches In The Sun

Steve Howe's acoustic solo I was very familiar with before I had this album because it was the same solo he played on MTV's Asia in Asia concert. It's classic Steve Howe meaning it's awesome how it alternates between a specific pattern of notes followed by pleasant Renaissance Faire style strumming.

5. Jeckyll And Hyde

Not to be confused with Men At Work's minor hit "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive", GTR had some skyscraper high guitar structures on this song. In a sign of pure corporate rock worship, I read a review at the time that said they could imagine a boardroom of music execs getting excited about this song and I took it as a compliment. The dueling guitars of Howe and Hackett are fantastic as they build on each other's riffs and fills like madmen. Ha Ha Ha, madmen I tell you! It's about here that the album's theme starts to take shape, though I don't know if it's intentional. The first two songs are about seeing your passion and being great. Then you wait, go to a Renn Faire and then have a decision to make - are you the refined Dr. Jeckyll or the crazy Mr. Hyde? Back in the day, this is were side one ended.

6. You Can Still Get Through

Bassist Phil Spalding earns his keep with a thumping, insistent bass line. You know the kind of music in the 80's movies you heard when jet fighters are about to take off and they show the radar guy and the air traffic controller and the flag guy on the ground as the jet taxis to the runway? Sounds dead on like that. Thematically, once you've decided if you're Jeckyll or Hyde you have to know that you can still get through to...something, it never really says. Just know that you can. Get through, that is.

7. Reach Out (Never Say No)

Decades before Jim Carrey became a Yes Man, Steve Howe was a Yes man reaching out for new adventures in sonic thunder. Howe does double duty here, playing both guitar and bass because he's just wicked awesome like that. This was the B side to the "When The Heart..." 45 single so I played this one a lot before I had the full album.

8. Toe The Line

Someone should have kept GTR away from ballads, but I guess that should have been Downes job and since he wrote the other slow song his position was compromised from the start. Again, really nice acoustic guitar work back some crappy words. Unlike the self adulating "The Hunter", "Toe The Line" is total self pity. It would seem once you've reached out and not said no you have to be ready for life to smack you down. And even with depressing lyrics like "What a waste of time, trying to change the world, so toe the line," vocalist Max Bacon sounds as gleeful as a five year old with a banana split. Conform...conform! Toe that line because it feels soooo good.

9. Hackett To Bits

Because I knew Howe's solo backwards and forwards before this album, I played Steve Hackett's solo a lot more often off this tape. That plus Hackett's proggy nature didn't get in the way of some totally gnarly carnage as he gets all Joe Satriani with his full band guitar solo. It is an awesome awesome solo, Hackett kicks ass!

10. Imagining

Always felt like this song was a bit of a cheat because it closely copied the main riff to Paul McCartney's "Live And Let Die". Still, it's great to hear the two Steve's get down on a four on the floor rocker.

GTR went on tour which I skipped because to be honest I just couldn't get excited about having the Max Bacon experience live. Bacon has a great voice, it's just he sounds so innately cheerful that it's insane. When I read a review of the concert in the local paper, it commented that Bacon sang Yes' "Roundabout" like he had no clue of what was going on or what the song was about. I felt vindicated at the time, though I guess I did miss out on a once in a lifetime deal. It's not like GTR is going to reform any time soon.

GTR did try to continue after the tour minus Steve Hackett who left. Guitarist Robert Berry came in but a second album didn't get off the ground so the group split. Berry would later resurface with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer in the band 3. Howe would return with former Yes buddies Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford to make ABWH. Jeez, do these prog rockers belong to some kind of exclusive club or something? They always end up in each others bands sooner or later.

To wrap up the full GTR experience, the documentary that my college roomie had is actually on line in part one, part two and part three. Just want to be sure you get the electronic press kit experience. And to close, hear Max Bacon innocently wail his way through "Roundabout".

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hulkamania!

Where I come from there is an old saying: "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets!!!"

I just got around to watching last Summer's smash film, The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton. Hulk got a redo after Ang Lee's family counselor version of Hulk a few years back. The arty film focused on childhood trauma more than big green rage, neutering the Hulkster (I did like the overt comic book visual style of that one). Though the movie seemed successful at the box office, it left many fans wanting more. Or to be more accurate, fans wanted to see Hulk the way they remembered him: big, dumb and angry.

So when Marvel commissioned a second Hulk movie, they clearly set out to erase the memory of Ang Lee's version. This Incredible Hulk takes a direct route to the fanboys hearts, combining the favorite parts of the comic and television series. Bill Bixby's face even appears near the beginning of the film to help build a link to the character's pop culture history (Lou Ferrigno also makes a cameo and is still built like a Mack truck).

Without the repressed memories and boring hoo ha of the Ang Lee version, The Incredible Hulk is free to be fun again. To make sure they have the necessary gravitas, the deck is stacked with weighty actors. Edward Norton, who excels at playing tormented loners, makes for a good Bruce Banner. William Hurt is as good as ever showing the different shades of patriotism, selfishness and emotional neglect towards his daughter as General Ross. Tim Roth's knack for slick duplicity comes in handy as well. The only performance that was questionable was Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, unless she's shouting something like "Look Out!" she whispers everything. A touch wispy in her performance.

The story about Banner having a gamma radiation accident by experimenting on himself and General Ross' determination to create an army of Hulks is classic Hulk lore. A little too classic actually, the whole movie felt like it's main drive was to deliver exactly what was expected: a little "man on the run", a little "evil government", a little "Jeckyl & Hyde", a bit of "Beauty and the Beast" and a build up to a big fight against the Abomination (in this case Tim Roth as a man determined to beat the Hulk through Gen Ross' various experiments to create a super soldier).

CGI Hulk is nicely rendered but it's still a CGI Hulk. Most full on CGI characters fall flat when next to live action for me, it was a flaw with the prior Hulk as well. The excitement of the movie's willingness to revel in Hulk's destructive abilities helped make the fake look more forgiveable, still I wasn't completely sold on the realness of the character.

The Incredible Hulk does a fair job of creating an amalgam of the comic book character's best known pieces, but that's all it does. It is exciting and fun with a bit of humor (the days between Hulk-outs are recorded on screen like a workplace accident board) though it never exceeds it's basic structure. Like Bruce Banner himself, the movie is split in two trying to control it's wilder instincts. Hulk smash! Hulk no like control! Puny man think Hulk is just OK!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Boob Tube In Review

A Flash of laughter strikes The Big Bang Theory

Now that we're at the point that many TV series are having their finales to prepare for the big Summer rerun frenzy, it seemed right to look back at the season that was 2008-2009. After blogging about what I was looking forward to at the start of the season, I wanted to take a long hard look at how the shows I thought I would like panned out plus other shows I caught along the way. I just need closure, you see.

Chuck (NBC)

My favorite TV show on the air today got off to a so-so start before picking up steam. No show is funnier to me with Chuck's effervescent mix of pop culture humor, likeable characters and spy fantasy action. And what's wrong with having a government intelligence computer for a brain? The second half of the season started a new direction for the show by pushing Chuck to learn that his father and chief Intersect programmer Orion is one and the same. The season ending episode was all things great about Chuck as he got an upgraded Intersect locked in his head that allows him to do Matrix type stuff. "Guys, I know Kung Fu."

Flight Of The Conchords (HBO)

Like Chuck, Conchords got off to an OK start before finding that sweet spot of absurd naivetee' and kitchy musical numbers. Their Bonnie Tyler style power ballad escapade was a real winner. While it wasn't as good as the first season, Conchords sense of humor remained intact and brought some chuckles to me. The charity concert for epileptic dogs was classic. Who knew New Zealand and Australia were such enemies?

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

One of the reasons Chuck does poorly in the ratings is this show, a brainiac mecca sitcom loaded with sincere geekatude. The presence of hyper intelllectual anal retentive Sheldon upped the yuk factor and the series seemed to delve headlong into the real lives of young nerds. Whether it was Sheldon practicing his Admiral Ackbar imitation ("It's A Trap!"), forming a Wii Bowling league or ecstatic trips to the comic book store, Big Bang had its subjects down cold. And in one of the best guest appearances I've seen this year, geek nation pinup girl Summer Glau's showing spurred the awesomely cheesy pickup line "Is it hot in here, or is it just Summer?" When a show has you freeze framing the end title card of each episode, you know it's on to something.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox)

Speaking of Summer Glau, her show Terminator had a rough second season. Terminator's attempts at X File style mystery and conspiracy fell flat and over arty episodes detracted from the power of the original story. It just seemed to drag forever until the season ender, where the show decided to start kicking ass and taking names. If the rumors are true, it was too little too late as the show is said to be headed for the chopping block. I guess Terminators aren't indestructable after all. You just have to stop looking at them to make them go away.

WWE Raw (USA)

The grapplers got a little more attention this season by pumping up the storyline of Randy Orton and his big boot. Stories and match quality remained rock steady though not much in the way of mind blowing events took place.

Hells Kitchen (Fox)

Gordon Ramsey's latest victims were the usual run of the mill slobs masquerading as "chefs" with the exception of the two finalists. Loudmouths and lazy quitters filled 9/10ths of the show until it came down to the final two, the quiet methodical Paula vs the young hot shot Danny. In last night's finale, Danny took the prize. It's rare to see people who could actually cook on this show so it was great to see two chefs go head to head that could actually make food.

Celebrity Apprentice (NBC)

I haven't watched this show in the past and caught the last half of the season along with my wife. The business world is a brutal place even when playing for charity, these celebs back stabbed and cut each other off at the knees all in the name of donations. It was fun to watch these former famous people struggle to nail assigned projects and snipe each other in and out of the boardroom. Trump knows how to play people, letting them stew as much as possible to goose ratings. Case in point: Senior citizen commedianne Joan Rivers upset win over poker player Annie Duke. Duke played the game better but Rivers was the one people liked. This program delivered one of those stuck-in-my-head moments as River's disgust for Duke led to her withering spite when saying "You're a Poker player...a POKER player!"

American Idol (Fox)

The season isn't over yet, though this round of Idols have been the most entertaining bunch in years. Adam Lambert aka Glambert has drawn a ton of attention for his artful hair metal wailing and ambiguous sexuality. Lambert is unlike any prior Idol contestant, he runs the show; the show doesn't run him. Bands like U2 and Led Zep clear music for his explicit usage. If he doesn't win next week it will be the upset of the Century. And of course my favorite of this season, Allison Iraheta, delivered a blues rock edge to the masses with her raspy voice. And Glambert's duet with Iraheta on Foghat's "Slow Ride" was one of the greatest moments of this TV season. Too bad new judge Kara DioGuardi became more tiresome as the season wore on, I liked her at the outset until they got to the live shows where she just repeated whatever Randy said minus the "Dawg".

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Cartoon Network)

The animated adventures of Anakin and Obi Wan turned out pretty good. Some episodes were better than others. On the good ones, the animated show would pick up the zip and zeal of the original Star Wars movies. In brief flashes, I could go home again.

Moral Orel (Cartoon Network)

A series of short episodes that I think lasted for one season because the creator of the program passed away, Moral Orel places a pious kid in a world of selfishness and hidden lies. This show is not afraid to rub the viewer's face in what conservative religion would consider depravity yet is careful to protect Orel's sheltered soul.

Family Guy (Fox)

Like usual, Family Guy new episodes were harder to come by than a winning lottery ticket. When new eps were on, it was pretty good though there was a noticeable attempt to raise the squirm factor this season. There was one episode where the story revolved around OJ Simpson that was particularly uncomfortable to watch. Though seeing Stewie go on steroids or kidnap the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast for his personal pleasure was awesome.

The Simpsons (Fox)

As consistent as a Swiss watch (I think I got that metaphor right), The Simpsons continued to both poke fun and lionize the American way of life.

Burn Notice (USA)

I checked out USA's original series about a spy who has had his spyness stripped from him by the agency he works for. So he hangs around Florida working odd jobs for his selective skills. The key to this show is the knowing voice over from the series stars as he assesses and rhapsodizes about his misfortune and strategies for winning spy games. A decent show.

Best Week Ever (VH1)

Now hosted by that gap toothed comedian that's not David Letterman, what was one of my favorite shows has become achingly unfunny. Focusing on a select staff of comics, the show still has a good eye for memorable video footage from other programs yet the commentary and yuks are really lacking.

Robot Chicken (Cartoon Network)

It's always reruns that are on which sucks and is too bad, this homage to playing dollies in stop motion photography is a blast when they find a joke that sticks.

When I look at a list of programs I meant to watch (The Office, 30 Rock, The Mentalist, etc) I don't understand why I didn't check them out more thoroughly. Oh well, there's always next Fall.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Big Time

Sarah Jessica Parker's fan club...(Borat voice)NOT!

Mr. Big was a band that too me was a little less than the sum of its parts. I'm a fan of Eric Martin's scrappy voice, Billy Sheenan's nimble bass and Paul Gilbert's wicked guitar so I feel like there's an abundance of talent in the group. It's just the songs they came up with weren't strong enough for me most of the time, though I liked the hits "Addicted To That Rush", "Just Take My Heart" and of course "To Be With You". After what was described as an ugly break up a few years ago, the fantastic four has regrouped and recorded a new song for a greatest hits set. "Next Time Around" is a good dose of classic Arena Rock by a couple of guys who know how to work the territory. Maybe I'll give that Lean Into It album another try.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Day On The Green #3 - September 10, 1983

Spirits In The Material World

Writing the last post made me think back to one of my favorite concert memories, Day On The Green #3 at the Oakland Coliseum in 1983. My friend (also named Mike) was a big Police fan at that time and let me copy all of his tapes. So when they came around to play live I was a fan too and ready to go. My aunt liked The Police and agreed to take me and my friends. So my friend Mike and my cousin Michelle got tickets and came along for the ride. The Police were headlining a Day On The Green, an all day music show that Bill Graham productions used to put on in the 70's and 80's.

I should mention my aunt likes rock music and was very cool about taking me to see shows, particularly when I first started going to concerts. She picked us up early in the morning so we could make the drive to Oakland to see the show. In the parking lot, there was Police music and T Shirts everywhere. It was a really hot summer and we expected it to be a hot one that night.

We followed the long line into the coliseum and the Thompson Twins were already playing. As we walked along the infield (I was a big baseball fan at the time so I was pumped to be on the playing field of a professional baseball team) we got our closest view of the stage. The Thompson Twins were wrapping up their set playing what was my favorite song of theirs at the time, "Lies". That moment of seeing Alannah Currie, Joe Leeway and Tom Bailey jamming away close up was burned into my brain. My aunt safely whisked us up to the top rows in the nose bleed seats. We sat down and waited for the next band to start.

That next band was the cool "It" band of the moment, Oingo Boingo. I can't say I was a fan going in because I was annoyed as hell at them for the song "Nothing Bad Ever Happens To Me" because I thought it was over repetitive. But they didn't play that song. I actually had a good time and think they played New Wave hits like "Only A Lad", "Goodbye Goodbye" and "Dead Man's Party". At least, that's what I think they played because it's been a long time. The infield turned into a dance party as I saw a dust cloud rise up above a throng of people. People couldn't get enough of Oingo Boingo's polyrhythmic grooves. The early version of the mosh pit continued throughout the rest of the day.

After Danny Elfman's group left the stage they were replaced by the British ska band Madness. They were riding high on the Top 10 smash "Our House" and I had copied that record from my friend Mike also. I remember them being an exciting live band and really getting into "One Step Beyond". The dust cloud dancers had a blast, they had great stage presence that I could see even from where I was sitting.

After Madness' set I was getting stiff in my seat and stretched my head backwards only to be accidentally kicked in the head because of good 'ol cramped stadium seating. The guy apologized because it was an accident. I wish I could say I was tough and didn't show pain but I cried like a baby. Wah.

The Fixx came on in support of their awesome album Reach The Beach, pumping out their stylish pop with clean efficiency. I only had Reach The Beach so I didn't know they had more hits, leaving me floored as "Red Skies" and "Stand Or Fall" came on in addition to "Sign Of Fire" and my fave "Saved By Zero" (now used to sell cars no less!). The romping dust cloud dancers began throwing what looked like either cups or bottles around making them look like a popcorn cooker. The mix of jumping limbs, lobbed garbage flying and dust was a unique sight that I haven't seen happen since. When The Fixx ended their set with the encore "One Thing Leads To Another" the dancers hit fever pitch.

After a pause it seemed like The Fixx got the signal to keep playing, so they played "One Thing Leads To Another" again. The fans loved it. Then, they played it a third time. As much as I liked the song, I didn't want to hear it again and complained once I heard that "pfft pfft" sound at the start of it. The Sun was finally starting to go down and The Fixx was able to leave. We ate coliseum food while waiting for the main event.

As soon as it was dark enough, The Police kicked off their show to the speedy xylophone sounds of "Synchronicity I". The three band members stood in a light like the primary colors from the album cover. The Police were tight and fired up, even playful as Andy Summers ran up behind Sting and stuck his leg between Sting's as if to kick him in the balls. It looked like Sting used his thighs to lock up Summer's leg for a bit which was pretty funny.

The first part of the show focused on side one from Synchronicity as I remember seeing an upright bass for Sting on "O My God" and groovin' to Stuart Copeland's "Miss Gradenko". As the Sun finally faded away completely the giant video screen became more visible. I was thrown off by the mismatch of motion and sound, we were seated so far away that the sound got to us after the picture. So when Copeland's stick was in the air would be when I would hear the drum hit and people would stop on screen before the music stopped. Still, I was grateful to have a close up view of the performers so I can't complain too much.

In the second half they poured on the hits. I recall almost dancing in my chair to "Spirits In The Material World". "Every Breath You Take", "King Of Pain", "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic", "Don't Stand So Close To Me", "Roxanne"...the parade of smash hits went on. Funnily enough, the song that stood out the most to me was "Murder By Numbers" as it sounded real good as the night cooled off. The Police played a great concert and was the best live band I had seen up to that point (and I had seen Air Supply!).

We left the coliseum and since we were still in 1983 there was no organization to leaving. It took over an hour to leave the parking lot before we could finally go home. It was a day to remember, The Police would break up a few years later and not reform until 2007 making it an even more special. I kept a one page ad of the concert from the San Francisco Chronicle "Pink Section" on my wall as a reminder. New Wave day was a treat for those of us who couldn't make it to the US Festival, a fantastic grouping of acts that would come to define early 80's pop.
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Though this is from an Atlanta performance, here's "Synchronicity I" live from that great year.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

10 - 9 - 8

The Police Sting

Time to jump into the Top 10 of my favorite albums of all time. Todo tiempo. Wrote a song about it, want to hear it? Here it goes...

10. Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska (1982)


The Boss went demo style on his '82 release, recording this album on his own with an acoustic guitar and some harmonica. Written at the height of his artistic power, Nebraska tells in detail the stories of hard luck losers who find themselves on the wrong side of morality through a combination of disposition, economics and fate. One of my favorite Boss tunes, "Highway Patrolman", is downright moving with its tale of law versus family. The soft beauty of "Mansion On The Hill" and the desperate march of "Atlantic City" add to the pile of brilliant songwriting. Ending with the rough yet optimistic "Reason To Believe", Springsteen plants a punctuation mark on an amazing album.

9. Metallica - Master Of Puppets (1986)


Tragically the final album with bassist Cliff Burton, Metallica's songcraft and sonic fury hit it's peak on the piledriving Master Of Puppets. The thunderous title track alone has become a live classic sung by Arenas around the world. "Disposable Heroes" has motivated me through my work day many times. "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is a song I wasn't big on at first but in recent years has become a favorite, I love when they hit that bridge. "Battery" has long been high on my list of faves, a bone crushing rocker that I recently found out was named after Battery Street in San Francisco. And I will always remember this album for containing my wife's #1 Metallica song, "The Thing That Should Not Be". Pure Metal Madness.

8. The Police - Synchronicity (1983)


It was the hot, hot summer of '83 when my neighbor went on a major Police binge and bought all of their tapes (which meant I got to copy all of his tapes). Synchronicity was and is a flawless album where even the slight moments have magic. The second half reads like a greatest hits collection in itself: "Synchronicity II", "Every Breath You Take", "King Of Pain" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger". The first half had the killer "Synchronicity I", the percussion driven "Walking In Your Footsteps" and Andy Summer's demented "Mother". I spent a lot of sweaty summer nights rockin to this album and seeing them live that year was a definite highlight.

That's the first three of my Top 10, as I get closer to the end I'll go track by track on the albums to milk it for all its worth. :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Sweet Life

Matthew Sweet keeps on truckin thru the 21st Century

It was clear Matthew Sweet had time on his mind following the Pet Soundsy In Reverse from 1999. All was quiet on the Sweet front in 2000 thru 2002, it wouldn't be until 2003 that he would resurface in an unexpected way. Sweet teamed up with fellow one hit wonders Shawn Mullen and Pete Droge to form the Crosby Stills and Nash lite group The Thorns. The trio had tight harmonies that recalled the best of CSN&Y while backing a strong lead single, I Can't Remember. I ran out and got the CD, only to confirm it was a lot like CSN&Y-just the later years. Like their forefathers, The Thorns suffered from weak material past the first single. The poppy "Long Hot Summer Night" and the one attempt at a rocker "Thorns" were OK and that was it. Everything else was a snoozy stroll through rehashed folk rock.

That same year, Sweet reassembled most of his Girfriend lineup of musicians to record a Japan only album Kimi Ga Suki (2003). The power popmeister dedicated himself to a quick cutting approach by recording the album in a week. Kimi Ga Suki is Sweet's liveliest album since 100% Fun, the tunes are fast and direct with the peppy harmonies and gnarled guitarwork that's expected. Songs like the fired up "The Ocean In-Between" or the laid back 70's AM radio pop "I Don't Want To Know" hit like thunder. Even in it's weaker moments (a week is not a lot of time for Sweet to write and develop songs) the album gets by on energy and snazzy musicianship.

2004 saw Sweet resume his solo career in earnest. With Living Things it seemed like Sweet had spent a little too much time in the Sun. Most of the songs have to do with nature, being stuck "In My Tree" in "Sunlight" while dealing with "Cats and Dogs". Musically, Sweet takes a few chances with steel drums and layered bass lines yet the songs themselves seem alien in subject matter. None of the songs really stick and it all goes by like background music.

Not that it would stop Sweet from continuing. Next, Sweet would pair up with Ming Tea partner Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) to record an album of 60's songs called Under The Covers, Vol 1 (2006). Sweet and Hoffs show outstanding taste in their song selection and inspired performance. There are classics from The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Who and Neil Young rendered with a feel that's both professional and genuinely excited. Tunes like "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" sit comfortably aside lesser known 60's singles like "I See The Rain" by Marmalade. One of my favorite albums from 2006, it has warm memories of nice summer days and cruising around Napa with my wife.

I noticed Sweet seemed to get a little beefy and shaggy around now, looking like one of those guys who play World of Warcraft in their basement for a week straight in rumpled clothes and trucker hats. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Maybe he spent all that time in the studio resulting in releasing his most recent record Sunshine Lies (2008). On Lies, Sweet develops a careful balance between his gritty guitars of the early years and the polished Brian Wilsonisms of the later years. The title track is a blissful surge of 60's peace and love energy while the appropriately titled Byrdgirl soars. A steady album with some high points, Sunshine Lies is a pleasant tour of Sweet's best moves.
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Matthew Sweet continues to fly under the radar dropping albums on a regular basis. Sweet's talent for 60's / 70's influenced power pop has developed over time, consistently delivering warm bittersweet harmony based tunes. And thanks to Guitar Hero he is not entirely forgotten. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Amok Time

A new Kirk and crew fight the future in Star Trek.

Tonight I got to catch the brand new movie Star Trek, JJ Abrams reboot of the long running sci fi series. Having been a Star Trek fan since childhood and being particularly partial to the classic show with Kirk, Spock and McCoy I was looking forward to this movie. For much of my life, Star Trek was among the premier franchises in science fiction. A brilliant blend of intellectual navel gazing, operatic morality plays and Flash Gordon space adventure, Star Trek became a dominant force in pop culture for decades. But a good idea can only go so far and after generation on top of generation of Star Trek shows and films they eventually hit a place where there was nothing left to do. Star Trek had become mundane and so the franchise took a nap.

For years I've heard and read talk about a Star Trek reboot following Kirk and Spock from their Academy days. It sounded like a real cheesy idea. So I was surprised when that is more or less what plays out in this movie and it comes off pretty good.

This is a serious reboot of Star Trek, so much so that it doesn't accomplish much to heavily compare it to the original series. There are a lot of nods to the classic tv show yet Abrams smartly uses these moments to go in a different direction. Which is really the point of the whole movie, a movie where a Romulan from presumably The Next Generation era comes back in time with an inexplicably large starship with the destruction of the Federation in mind. Nero, played with appropriate cool menace by Eric Bana, has a weapon that can destroy planets. It's up to a class of cadet graduates on the brand new USS Enterprise to stop him.

The plot sounds like classic Star Trek, there's time travel, a bad guy and an ultimate weapon. It's been done before and on that front the movie offers nothing new. What Star Trek does offer is an entirely different tact.

In the tv series led by show creator Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek used sci fi to weigh the days issues of confusing wars and the human condition. His vision of Trek was one where mankind had matured to the point that all races got along and consistently acted with a firm set of high minded moral values. It was only due to pressure from NBC that Star Trek had a lot of action and eventually cheeseball silliness.

And it's the latter version of Trek which survives, a version that will certainly make the corporate suits proud. Although dedicated to the memory of Gene and Majel Roddenberry, Star Trek takes much of what the existing franchise had and flushes it away. There is very little pondering or taking the high road going on in this version. Star Trek is at heart a pure popcorn movie. Very little deep thought happens and there are some plot holes as big as the black holes shown on screen. What it does have is an adrenalized focus on endless action and grandstand acting. In other words it's like a lot of other movies made these days.

Yet it's that lack of depth that re-energizes Star Trek. With no struggles of conscience to deal with, Trek becomes an ass kicking machine. Hand to hand, phaser to phaser and ship to ship battles are depicted at regular intervals. The cast valiantly tries to approximate the performances of the original cast with a variety of results. Karl Urban's Dr. McCoy is dead on in demeanor to DeForest Kelley. The other characters bear only some resemblance to their famed counterparts (Uhura was never depicted as strong as she is here), still it's enough that you can feel like it's a continuation of the original series. Except for Simon Pegg as Mr. Scott, very little similarity there. Add on an emotional Spock and a frat boy Kirk and you've got room for a series to continue to bloom.

As a simple minded flashy movie Star Trek succeeds, it can even be considered really good. A third of the way in the movie goes out it's way to emphasize that this Star Trek is an alternate reality and not part of the other shows canon. The special effects by ILM are first rate. And what should be a handicap turns out to be a plus for Star Trek. By ignoring much of the shows and movies that came before, Star Trek recaptures a sense of fresh energy and fun. There are missteps (a young Kirk joyriding an antique car while blasting the Beastie Boys took me right out of the movie) yet most are forgivable. But by not just ignoring the platitude based format of previous works but thumbing it's nose at Roddenberry's ideals, Star Trek becomes a slightly hollow experience.

Though there is too much going on in the movie to feel that way while watching. Star Trek is a thrill a minute Summer Blockbuster and taken on those terms it's quite good. Like Mr Spock in the throes of Pon Farr (spelling? I doubt my spell check covers Vulcan), Star Trek's reason is overcome by emotion. My wife asked me for a number grade between 1 and 10 so I'll tell you what I told her. Star Trek is an 8. Oh yeah, Leonard Nimoy's cameo as Spock was good and plays an important part of the story. Live long and prosper folks!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Eyes Without A Face

Who Are You? Who Who? Who Who? No, this is not CSI.

A few weeks ago I watched this old Japanese movie called The Face Of Another. It was made in the 60's in black and white with an intriguing plot about a scientist who has become facially disfigured in a lab accident. The disfigurement causes the scientist to be bitter, paranoid and alienated from all around him including his wife. Then a doctor offers a new experiment in the form of a lifelike facial mask that can be worn for a few hours at a time and give the appearance of being "normal". The story overview reminded me a lot of Sam Raimi's Darkman so I gave the movie a shot.

The Face Of Another turned out to be a truly haunting movie, an extended trip through the dark side of the meaning of identity. The scientist is miserable and harsh towards his wife, accusing her of wanting to be away from him and needling her with references to his plight. Meanwhile the wife displays understanding while stating the films central message: that everyone wears a mask of some type, whether it's facial bandages or women's makeup, just some masks are more visible than others.

Unknown to his wife, the scientist takes up a doctor's offer for a lifelike mask. The doctor wants to see how the mask affects the scientist, with a mask the scientist becomes a person with no past. Will the scientist return to his old life, start a new life, what morality will the new man have? The scientist starts a new life whose sole purpose is to have emotional vengeance on his old life, he wants to have an affair with his own wife.

At the same time there is a story of a young woman who is physically beautiful except for burn marks on her right cheek and ear. She hides the burns with her hair leaving others to believe she is a stuck up pretty girl until they see her burn marks. The shame she feels causes her to be reclusive from almost all but her brother as society judges her for being both beautiful and unattractive at the same time.

The twisted soul of this movie is brought to life with compassion and power by the filmmakers. Black and white helps heighten the stark mood. How much of identity is dictated by how you are viewed versus who you really are? The Face Of Another explores this question with disturbing directness. Because the ugliest thing can be cold indifference or spiteful hatred. If you're a fan of films that are provocative without being prurient, this is a good flick.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Freakin' Sweet

The man, the myth, the legend...Matthew Sweet livens up the power pop pack in the Grunge era.

I'm a big 'ol fan of power pop maven Matthew Sweet ever since his breakthru CD Girlfriend (1991). Even though he can get a little repetitive, when he matches the right bright pop hook with the right chiming guitars and bittersweet sad sack lyrics it's aural awesomeness. With a long career spanning two decades in the can, I'm going to break his retrospective into two sections: the 90's and the 00's.

The first time I (and maybe a lot of his current fans) heard of him was with the release of the song and album Girlfriend. An album reportedly borne from his divorce, it had an emotional immediacy packed in craggy guitar licks and pristine harmonies. The title song was an alternative radio hit, a punchy slice of catchy garage rock that would make the next generation flail their plastic guitars in a Guitar Hero frenzy. The Byrdsy follow up single I've Been Waiting was another winner. For me, the mix of upbeat pop rock ("I Wanted To Tell You"), sad guy balladry ("You Don't Love Me") and pop culture fixations ("Winona", "Evangeline") was spellbinding. And did I mention the heavy use of anime in his videos? How could a geek refuse?

The attention Sweet got from Girlfriend gave him the juice to bring in Fleetwood Mac producer Richard Dashut for the follow up Altered Beast (1993). I think I read an interview once where Sweet said he was hiding on this album, it certainly feels that way. His voice seems low in the mix amid Dashut's smooth production. The hits were just OK with me, though I did like the video for Ugly Truth Rock with it's Vanishing Point influenced fast car driving. What stuck with me was an almost self loathing attitude on the best songs like "Someone To Pull The Trigger" or "Dinosaur Act". And Mac fan that I am, I played "Reaching Out" a lot because of the Mick Fleetwood guest appearance. "Devil With The Green Eyes" and "Fallen" were the two other songs that made my CD player regularly back then. Altered Beast kept my interest although I didn't like it nearly as much as Girlfriend.

Sweet rebounded by snagging hard rockin' producer Brendan O' Brien who quickly injected a more muscular sonic sheen. 100% Fun (1995) was exactly that, Sweet's songwriting had sharpened to give potency to the new uncluttered approach. The singles Sick of Myself and "We're The Same" even made alterna rock radio play just as the early 90's breakthru artists were starting to fade away. Always the video genius, there's a bit of 70's glamourpuss fantasy in the clip for We're The Same. The softer moments came across really well with one of my favorite Sweet songs, "Not When I Need It", with it's yearning melody and lush background vocals. The man looked unstoppable as this album was played regularly in my car.

Around 1996-1997 Sweet became affiliated with Mike Myers and Susannah Hoffs to form Ming Tea, a band that would play background and interlude music for the Austin Powers movies. The fun infectious nature of the 60's throwbacks like BBC added a bit of flavor to the franchise. This should have set up for another round of glorious power pop, yet Sweet decided to challenge himself with a stripped down approach to Blue Sky On Mars (1997). Mars had a self contained mood with Sweet playing a lot of instruments and spare arrangements. Although the Cars-sy single Where You Get Love and the rushing opening number Come To California played well, much of the album felt underdone for my taste. I can't say it was bad, just dull. So dull it put me off Sweet's music for about five years or so.

Which is why it was just a few months ago I picked up his 1999 release, In Reverse. It got good reviews but I still ignored it thinking he had lost his mojo. Hearing it now, In Reverse is actually pretty good. The lushest of his albums, In Reverse finds Sweet on a serious Brian Wilson binge with some Byrds and Eric Carmen mixed in. "If Time Permits" is like the Fleet Foxes a decade ahead while "Hide" recalls ELO. It also contains some of Sweet's most pleasantly self aware writing, making the clever "Untitled" or the critic kiss off "Write Your Own Song" late inning finds.

It was the end of Century, Sweet would take a break at the first part of the new millennium before returning to his prolific self again. Fortunately I wasn't listening to his music at this point anyway until he would become a Thorn in my side.