Sunday, October 24, 2010

Straight From The Heart

After spending the last few years on the road delivering sharp performances all over the place, the Wilson sisters have returned with their first new disc since 2004's Jupiter's Darling. But where that album held some vestiges of the group's more commercial past, Red Velvet Car finds the sisters returning to the sound of their earliest work. Like Led Zeppelin III, Heart pummels their acoustic guitars into rocking form while occasionally flipping on the electrics to burn the place down. The buzzsaw riffage of "WTF" is offset by some sturdy strumming on tunes like "There You Go" or "Wheels". The dramatic "Safronia's Mark" is pretty good too. Where Red Velvet Car stalls is in finding memorable hooks to go with their fervent guitarwork. The song writing is solid and likeable, definitely within Heart's comfort zone, but nothing with the Wow factor.

Heart is one of those bands that have definitely earned a victory lap and after all these years it is nice to hear them make a disc that reflects their original concept clearly. Red Velvet Car is a nice reminder of how great they are and in terms of performance they are as sharp as ever, if only the songs had been beefed up a little more they probably could have turned out a classic. So good stuff yet still a missed opportunity.

Friday, October 22, 2010

String Theory

Sting returns with an album filled with symphonic renditions of his reggae/jazz-rock classics...oh, wrong Sting pictured here.

Okay, I haven't posted in a month's time so I got a backlog of stuff to write about. Here's to hoping I can keep it up this time. Some of the music I've listened to feature two aging British rockers taking their music uptown to the symphony.

I'll start with the erstwhile Peter Gabriel's album Scratch My Back. This disc started as a project where Gabriel would cover another artist's song and then that artist would cover one of his songs. As time went on, the covers became a bit one sided with Gabriel doing most of the covering so it looks like he just decided to release his set as a full album. Lots of tasteful folk get the Gabriel treatment like Radiohead, Arcade Fire, David Bowie, Lou Reed and others. Usage of a symphony harkens back to Gabriel's prog rock roots and is a marked departure from his standard polyrhythmic antics. The orchestral arrangements take a straight nod from Suftjan Stevens with strings that stir and go twinkle-twinkle at the end. It's all done with forethought and artistry, too bad the end result is a snooze. After the opening version of Bowie's "Heroes" I find it hard to pay attention to this, it's like sitting through a science class - you know the information is useful and helpful but it still puts your ass to sleep.

Sting and his strings fare better on his album Symphonicities. Ever notice if you add an "r" into the third letter of Sting you get String? The Stingster covers his own material, giving fresh reworkings to both hits ("Roxanne") and album cuts ("We Work The Black Seam"). Unlike Gabriel, Sting doesn't straight jacket his songs with stuffiness instead opting for what must be the Disney music orchestra. The orchestra swings and grooves in a way that will give figure skaters background tracks to at least ten different routines. Best moments include a version of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" that would sound appropriate in The Little Mermaid, a slowed down "Roxanne" and a fired up "She's Too Good For Me". Favorite cut was "We Work The Black Seam" which originated from Sting's first solo album, "Seam" is given new life and relevance in it's muted meditation on world peace. As long as you don't think too hard (like asking what's the point of this project?) Symphonicities is a pleasant effort with some high points.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Like You, Man

I've taken a long break from blogging here, so here's my first shot at getting back on the horse. Been watching a fair amount of television and without realizing it became a fan of a specific actor: Jason Segel. I just think this guy is funny, often playing this sort of sincere buffoon character in a variety of shows and movies. Even looking at photos of the guy to put on this post has me chuckling and all he's doing is standing around (not the pic I eventually picked though). The first time I saw a performance by him where I paid specific attention to his acting was in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Marshall funnily enough is his name on How I Met Your Mother but i'm getting ahead of myself). He played his character with the right amount of pathos and humor to keep the film rolling. Next I saw him in I Love You, Man where he was a bit more antagonistic but in a nice way (and also revelled in another recurring theme for this actor, a bit of Rush worship like his character in Freaks and Geeks but again I'm getting ahead of myself).

Anyway, one tv show I've been checking out is reruns of the much acclaimed tv series Freaks and Geeks. It was one of those high school shows from ten years ago that was set around 1980 or so. It was also one of those shows that would gain an American Graffiti / Fast Times At Ridgemont High aura of being a hot bed for young actors that would break big later. F&G included Linda Cardenelli (ER), Seth Rogen (tons of movies), James Franco (Spider Man) and yup, Jason Segel. Having watched about ten episodes I could see why critics still cry at the mention of this one season wonder. It's deftly written with healthy doses of realistic characters, teen drama and nostalgia.

At the same time, How I Met Your Mother has hit syndication giving me an opportunity to catch up on this great show. As scatalogical as it is focused, the five characters clown around and bounce off each other the way a group of friends would. Reruns have let me see the character's rich history of inside jokes and epic events like the Pineapple, the time Aunt Lily kicked Asian Elvis in the nards and a couple's first "I Love You" stemming from a bag of Funions. A fun lightweight show.

I'd say I can't wait to see what Segel does next, but it looks like his next major project is a Muppets movie. Can't say I'm really into Muppet movies (though the first one was OK) but if anyone is gonna make me like it it's probably this guy. Count me in as a fan, bro.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Grace Is Gone...


So I jumped on the bandwagon of looking forward to a new release from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. They rode in on a heavy buzz with support from Rolling Stone magazine and a nice push for their video "Tiny Lights". I liked the new song and went online to check out this group. And I liked what I heard, 70's boogie rock with a singer that could wail strongly while playing organ like an Allman sister. Then, I saw on tv a recent concert performing many songs from the new album. The band's shaggy 70s rock aesthetic came over nicely and they weren't bad tunes.

So I bought the album and found it to be competent and dull. What's sad is it's not necessarily the songwriting, about half the songs I would say are good which isn't really the ratio of good:bad songs you want but I've sat through worse. No, what sucked was the production. All of the rambunctous energy and ragged fun had been taken out, replaced with clean smooth sonics. It was like Grace Potter had become one of those prehistoric insects trapped in amber. You could look at her and imagine what she was like back when she was alive. Not that I wish she was dead or anything of that ilk, just talking talent wise here.
So out of this overproduced disc there are a few winners: the song "Paris (Ooh La La)" sounds ready for a reality tv montage with it's saucy delivery and surging guitars. And there is some quiet ballad song that I can't remember the name of. That's about all I got.

So I jump off yet another bandwagon promising glory while giving me a drink coaster. Better luck next time kid.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Asia in Napa, or is it Napa in Asia...

Tonight I saw one of the greatest things ever, the original lineup of Asia powering through a killer set playing with a fired up fervor rarely seen on the oldies circuit. The first supergroup of the 80s flew into wine country and turned in a magical performance. And we had third row seats!

The set list:

I Believe / Only Time Will Tell / Holy War / Never Again / Through My Veins / Don't Cry / Steve Howe solo / The Smile Has Left Your Eyes / Open Your Eyes


Go / Time Again / An Extraordinary Life / End Of The World / The Heat Goes On / Carl Palmer Solo / Sole Survivor


Days Like These / Heat Of The Moment

I've been to a lot of concerts and it's rare that there is one that I felt was perfect, but Asia got pretty close to perfection on a warm Sunday evening. In the remodeled Uptown Theater in Napa, I sat mere feet away from the four British gentlemen whose music I worshipped through my formative years.

The band came blasting out with a set list that mixed classic Asia with a fair amount of tracks from their past two reunion albums Phoenix and Omega. It's rare to see an "oldies" band play more than two modern songs in a show, let alone six cuts. This is the type of set list you would hear bands in their prime play, inspired by recent material and trying to push their record sales via live performance. Thunderous tracks like "I Believe" and "An Extraordinary Life" flew high on the backs of these talented guys. And who would doubt the total awesomeness of "Only Time Will Tell" or "Heat Of The Moment".

There were some amazing surprises in store as well, with two post Steve Howe tracks "Go" and "Days Like These" getting play. "Go" is one of my fave Asia songs and I was ecstatic to hear it live. "Days Like These" was also great, it had been so long since I'd heard it I didn't recognize the song until the chorus. Two Alpha songs got fine treatments with just keyboardist Geoff Downes and vocalist John Wetton on "Don't Cry" and "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes". The latter cut blew my mind when the ending switched from Wetton / Downes to a full band reprise. I'd dreamt of hearing a full band version of "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" and now there it was.

Steve Howe's acoustic guitar solo (that included his classic "Mood For A Day") was mesmerizing. Howe was the most fired up I'd ever seen him, pulling out all the spastic awkward stage moves he's known for. Carl Palmer remains a beast on the skins even post heart surgery. His epic drum solo had me flashing back to Asia in Asia. Keyboardist Geoff Downes got short shrift from the soundman, his twinkling synths were buried under a wall of sound. Meanwhile, John Wetton sang excellently and impressed me with his nimble bass work.

Anyone who doubts Asia's ability should check out "Time Again", the old guys nailed the fancy instrumental interplay with gusto.

In terms of record sales Asia's time is gone, but in terms of inspired arena rock their time is now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Go Rangers

Haven't written anything in awhile, so to put something up I decided to post a show from my childhood. I saw this program twice in the 70s and thought it was the greatest thing ever, so bummed when it inexplicably stopped airing. The Go Rangers were the predecessors to what would become Power Rangers (ugh) twenty years later, five people in baggy costumes who could grab a specialized weapon when they held their hands to their face mask. And then kung fu, jump around and explode! Despite seeing the show only twice, due to my proximity to San Francisco's Japan Town (plus having Japanese relatives) I had a plastic doll of damn near all them. Something we've lost in the modern age of DVRs, VCRs and You Tube is the thrill of turning an aerial antenna, putting tin foil on the extension rods and waiting for your program to appear. Then again, with the modern age we've also lost the disappointment of your favorite show disappearing. Catch 22!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Other Guys Won't Be Around

Bad Vibrations - Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell make a less than funky bunch in The Other Guys.


Wow, The Other Guys, it looked so promising from the advertisements. Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg in a buddy cop movie sending up buddy cop movies. The commercials made me laugh with Farrell playing against type as a fuss budget to Mark Wahlberg's tough Boston dude gimmick. Plus, it was going to have The Rock and Samuel Jackson as hot shot cops who rule the streets while "the other guys" do the paperwork. As they say on Flight Of The Conchords, all systems were go everything was perfect...

Except Rock and Jackson die off quickly (and humorously) towards the start of the flick. And with them goes much of the energy this movie had, even an Ice T voice over narration can't keep things up for long. Farrell and Wahlberg go through the standard buddy cop motions we've seen before in tons of films before but their attempts at irony/satire fall flat. Leaving a generic police thriller flooded with bad jokes spiked with a couple of chuckles in their wake. Meaning we're watching a bad action movie that isn't even trying to be good.

Not to completely deride The Other Guys, in a supporting role Michael Keaton kicks ass as the stereotypical aggravated police chief with an obsession for an old hip hop group while moonlighting as a floor manager with Bed Bath and Beyond. And Farrell dodges some of his usual gross out humor to milk laughs out of intellectual prissiness instead (such as bragging about having 6 Cds of the Little River Band in his car). Which means he's not as funny as he can be, yet I respect him more as an artiste'. Though it's no accident that the few laugh out loud funny bits involve Farrell's character unleashing his trademark bull in a china shop approach to comedy. Such as delving into his past as a college pimp named Gator. And bad cop / bad cop? That's classic.

Surprisingly dull past the first ten minutes, The Other Guys does little more than prove why the people who stand in the background of action films are back there - it would be boring as hell to follow them around.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's The End Of The World As We Know It...And I Feel Fine

Why do you let me stay here? Zooey Deschanel and that 3rd Rock kid see if it takes two to make a thing go right in (500) Days Of Summer.

Doom and gloom. Death and despair. We're all familiar with these feelings and a lot of the recent movies I've watched know it too. Except instead of drowning in sorrow, these movies have put a fanciful smirk on the whole deal. Tragedy as comedy. If that's not living in the 21st Century, I don't know what is.

Zombieland (2009)

Aka the best acting performance Woody Harrelson has put in since I don't remember when. The latest spin on the zombie genre focuses on a small group of survivors who were outcasts/loners in regular society that become the unwitting hope of humanity. The lead actor kid from Adventureland makes like a modern day Matthew Broderick with his intellectual ramblings and rules for staying alive in zombieland. With sadistic Harrelson and a pair of young grifters at his side he looks for a reason to live while fighting for his life in a post zombie planet. The film has a fun zippy energy and canny production value that gets the most out of utilizing its small cast with the exception of a few big set pieces. Definitely worth watching if you even half way like the genre.

(500) Days Of Summer (2009)

The kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun has grown up to be a squinty eyed serious guy. He hooks up with indie hot girl Zooey Deschanel and ends up in a 500 day relationship told in non linear order. Done with narration that presents the story as half fairy tale half anthopological study, (500) Days Of Summer effectively takes the viewer (me) through the heady rush of infatuation to the crushing heartbreak of rejection. Deschanel plays a bit against type, being the pragmatist to 3rd Rock guy's lovey dreamer. Well acted and brilliantly constructed, this anti-rom com gives believable characters and manages to turn what could have been droll and over thought to near poetry. And a superb soundtrack filled with indie/alt classics. Yeah, I liked this one.

2012 (2009)

From the guys that brought you every end of the world epic since Independence Day comes a real END OF THE WORLD yawn I mean yarn called 2012. John Cusack inexplicably continues his streak of bad career choices by starring in this disaster flick about the literal end of life on the planet. Buildings fall, landmarks crumble, seas of people disappear into a CGI haze of fire or whatnot. The one thing cool about this movie that it gets right is that its a dog eat dog world, if the big day comes lots of people are gonna get screwed out of their life by the rich and powerful. The story and characters are just the run of the mill types popular in this dreary tradition - plucky protagonists and smarmy antagonists escaping close calls with lucky breaks. Borring.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009)

All CGI animated films are old hat now, which takes some of the thunder away from Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. It's not bad, it's actually pretty entertaining with its tale of a misfit inventor who creates a food replicator that accidentally ends up in the sky and rains food on his island. Meatballs is, ahem, well done and never lags pace wise. Not something I regret seeing at all, just not entirely memorable. Except for Mr T's voice acting, T is always awesome. I pity the fool who doesn't like Mr. T!

And that's all I got for now. See you at the red box!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Hold On!

As long as I've bought records I've noticed a certain trend in pop/rock songwriting - Everyone has to Hold On! This song title and some various variations on it seems to appear in the songbook of every writer at some point. Why? Is everyone really that desperate? Or in a rush? Let's see who passes and who fails. It's a universal sentiment, to hold on, so hold on, hold on tight, while I periodically post songs that tell you to Hold On in some fashion. Might as well kick it off with the most obvious entry, the three ladies who grew up on harmony vocals amid family disharmony - Wilson Phillps. Won't you hold on? For one more day??

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: The Power Station - 33 1/3

Duran Duran played at a faux sophisticated James Bond edge in their new romantic era peak, so when it came time for the inevitable solo projects a natural combo was to see two of the Taylors (bassist John and guitarist Andy) team up with the 007 of rock - Robert Palmer (I'm assuming Roger Moore is not a great rock singer). Roping in producer Bernard Edwards assured deep grooves and a killer backbeat delivered by his longtime drummer Tony Thompson (Freak Out!). Originally intended as a one-off project with a rotation of singers, the project took on a life of its own when Palmer was made front man and they scores two Top 10 hits as a result. Taking their name from the New York recording studio they were in, The Power Station electrified Duran starved record audiences in 1985. And led a certain British blue eyed soul crooner down a path that was - wait for it - simply irresistible.

I was watching Saturday Night Live when they announced that The Power Station would be on. Had no idea who The Power Station was, recognized 3 of the 4 in the still image they showed on tv though. So on they came, playing "Some Like It Hot" and at some point in the song the two Taylors groove out and sandwich Palmer at his mic stand and I thought "They look a little...friendly..." Over time (and an inescapable presence on Top 4o radio) "Some Like It Hot" grew on me. That splashy Latin influenced percussion, Andy Taylor's spiky guitar solo and Robert Palmer's bald faced sex metaphors ("You want to multiply, are you gonna do it???") became da shizzle fo real. Little did I know this would be my first exposure to what I consider the single greatest drum performance ever - Tony Thompson kicks so much ass on this album it's ridiculous.

First song you're gettin' it on, next you're dealing with a dangerous woman. It really is James Bond! I didn't dig this tune until I saw it performed on Live Aid. As quickly as I had been surprised by the formation of Power Station I was equally shocked when I tuned in to find out Robert Palmer had been replaced by Michael Des Barres. At the time I rejected the Des Barres version for being a hollow replacement. Watching now, I can see Des Barres was a decent fit. A bit more Jagger swagger than the suave Palmer but good enough (Palmer had left the band to record his breakthru solo album Riptide). How sad that both these singers are no longer with us. Oops, just looked up on wikipedia that Des Barres isn't dead. Sorry bro.

Robert Palmer liked to button up in his fancy suit and groove to some soul. Anchored by a classic 80s funk soul groove (having Bernard Edwards produce helps) Palmer gives this track bite. Edwards was an awesome musician, having produced and performed with Chic, Diana Ross and a host of other greats. Tragedy seems to follow this band around with the exception of the two Taylors, Edwards died suddenly just before a Power Station reunion got off the ground in the mid 90s.

4. Communication

The plan was for Palmer to sing just this song, what would be the third (and least successful) single from the record (thank you wikipedia!). Personally, I loved this jam and thought it was the best combo of the group's funk/soul/rock/pop elements. The way the rhythm section of Thompson and John "pretty boy" Taylor lock in is impressive. To think, without "Communication" there never would have been an "Addicted To Love", "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On" or "Simply Irresistible". We would have been robbed!

And now for the tune that really got me hooked on The Power Station. I've heard their cover of the T Rex classic described as "clunky" and "needless" but truth be told, I like PS' version better. It rocks harder with all band members firing off. Andy Taylor dominates with his buzz saw guitar lick, while John Taylor holds down the fort. Meanwhile, Bernard Edwards inserts some supreme bass popping for extra flava. Naturally Robert Palmer blazed through his bitten vocal, yet all these peeps take a back seat to Tony Thompson. If this album has my favorite drum performance of all time, this song is the pinnacle of killer drumming. Thompson hammers down the beat and displays a rare sense of power throughout. Tony Thompson is like a drum God hurling his stick at the unrepetant drum skins of awesomeness. Tony Thompson is like a nuclear explosion captured in a titanium bottle and shipped to the South Pole where his awesomeness can be let out and heard from a safe distance. Tony Thompson does't do push ups, he pushes the world down. Oh wait, that last one was Chuck Norris. He was so good he almost replaced John Bonham for a Led Zeppelin reunion (and did appear with Zep at their horrid Live Aid set). When I heard he had passed away in 2003 and if I remember right wasn't even playing drums (for some reason I think he was working with tires or insurance, probably wrong), I was truly saddened.

Interestingly, "Get It On" is the most identifiable song from the Des Barres era. The DB version of the group performed this one at Live Aid and also on Miami Vice. It's hard for me to believe this version was originally intended to back ex Playmate Bebe Buell aka the mother of Liv Tyler. Turns out John "bangs in the face" Taylor was dating Ms Buell at the time. Which is not to say that John Taylor was banging Bebe Buell in the face. I have no knowledge of that. I was referring to his hair!

A side note, Bebe Buell is one of those names that repeatedly pop up in rock history. She has been with several rock stars in addition to Taylor and Tyler, a list that includes Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren.

And now the moment you've been waiting for, the Michael Des Barres version of "Get It On" from their appearance on Miami Vice!

Maybe the only real weak link on the record, "Go To Zero" kinda goes there. It starts off OK with "Hey hey something something something Go To Zer-o" and then I forget the rest. Usually fast forwarded this one. Hmmm. What to muse on with this space? That I saw Andy Taylor perform live in '86 and he sucked? That John Taylor's "Do What I Do What I Do" is catchy in an annoying way? That I hated how Robert Palmer's "You Are In My System" was on the radio every half hour for a brief period of time? How about this: I really liked the album cover art of the "electric girl", even copied it for a high school art project at the time. I know, I'm a dork ;)

Thanks again wikipedia, I didn't know this was an Isley Brothers song. It's funny, Robert Palmer's voice sounds so different on this track I often wondered if one of the other band members sang it. And it brings about another question that has bugged me for decades - why wasn't this song performed at Live Aid? Doesn't it sound like a theme song for the event?

A nice ballad ending to an energetic album. Haunting and probably the track that is most remiscent of Duran Duran itself. It seemed the end of the Power Station after this song because the other releases were so low profile that I didn't know they existed until recently. The Des Barres version of the band recorded a song for Schwartzenegger's film Commando which I had no clue of despite seeing that move like twenty times. And the reunion album Living In Fear from 1996? Didn't know it existed until I saw it in a $2.00 used CD bin. I thought it was some compilation disc so I skipped it.

And that was all she wrote for The Power Station. Too bad they couldn't hold it together in the 80s when it counted but these guys had day jobs so it wasn't meant to be. The project seemed to make the biggest difference to Andy Taylor, after the freedom of this band and his solo hit "Take It Easy" he left Duran Duran for like 20 years. No more rhythm parts, time for a solo!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

KISS On My List Pt. 2

Been hooked on watching endless reruns of Gene Simmons Family Jewels. Simmons persona of retiring old fogey, shrewd business man and egomaniacal rock star makes for plenty of reality tv "moments". Flanked by his ex-Playmate girlfriend Shannon Tweed, their sarcastic son Nick and grounded daughter Sophie the clan finds lots of trouble to get in and out of with the most silly of consequences. It's happy time tv, a family sit com under the guise of a reality tv show peeling back the layers of rock stardom. Is it real? I don't think so, not fully anyway. Family Jewels shows a specific side of the family's life that displays a mutual love and sense of adventure they share. Things like actual conflict or real problems (like the legal wrangling taking place right now between Simmons and an ESPN makeup girl over alleged sexual harassment) have no place here. And story lines involving stalled cars (both Gene Simmons and the Tweed sisters have had this happen to them this year) or wacky romantic rendezvous has me convinced their episodes are being written by the creators of Growing Pains. But I love Growing Pains so I'm cool with that. Life is a party in this tv show and that's the appeal for me. So rock on Gene!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kiss Is On My List Pt 1.

Not out of touch but a little out of time for The Bird And The Bee.


Remakes of Hall & Oates you say? Blasphemy! Still, I was intrigued by the prospect of new age jazzers The Bird And The Bee tackling these revered classics on Interpreting The Masters Vol 1. Electro poppin where H&O bounced, B&B grooves with clever intricacy and buzzy sheen. Natch, singer Inara George's breathy vocals can't match Daryl Hall's blue eyed soul so she doesn't try to. This is Hall & Oates done Cost Plus style and the results wind up fittingly half and half. Like a new coat of paint hastily plastered on an aging fresco, there are moments of revised beauty and spots of threadbare wear for 'ol warhorses like "Sara Smile" or "Private Eyes". As honorably faithful it is to not change the gender on the girl-I-love-you lyrics relayed by Girl George, it starts to distract after awhile. Nothing wrong with girl to girl love songs, it just has to hit me more universally for me to dig it. Thankfully, B&B knock H&O's two deadliest grooves "Maneater" and "I Can't Go For That" out of the park. End result? Pretty good, could have been better. Or should I say "So close, yet so far away"?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Holy Effin Crap!

The ad for the upcoming movie The Expendables reads like a teenage Mr Mike's dream of hyperviolent action. I used to fantasize about a meeting between Stallone, Schwartzenegger, Willis (along with Norris and Gibson, who aren't in this) and how bad ass that would be. Expecting bad reviews and a kick ass time when this one finally gets on DVD!

Monday, July 12, 2010

No Life 'Til Leather

I was a late bloomer when it comes to interest in the music of Judas Priest. In their hey day, my knowledge of them began and ended with "You've Got Another Thing Comin". Wait, the other thing I knew was that the album Turbo had synth bass which critics slammed but I had one friend who got into Priest just for that record. Felt bad for them when they were unfairly tried in court for the suicide of two kids in the late 80s and was as surprised as anyone else when lead singer Rob Halford came out of the closet.

I didn't dislike Judas Priest, I just didn't care. A few years back that began to change, my wife had some Priest Cds and they sounded good to me. A song here or there would catch my ear. Then VH1 made them the Rock Honors or something and featured their music for an hour or two. Godsmack was one of the bands playing tribute to Priest and they came storming out with-

Hell Bent For Leather from the album Hell Bent For Leather (1978)

Godsmack's performance sold me on this song, the pithy verse delivery that led to the near operatic chorus killed.

Eventually I got The Essential Judas Priest which included this track, giving me free reign to play that bad boy to death :)

The song is also noted for being Rob Halford's entrance song where he rides his motorcycle onto the stage.

The song has been covered by other bands as well, including Annihilator and Warrant.

Such an awesome song, that's why it makes my favorite tune list of all time!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Waiting For Macca

Last night I made my way out to AT&T Park in San Francisco to see one of the two remaining Beatles in action, Sir Paul McCartney. The last time McCartney had played the Bay Area was in 1966, before I was even born! It was a cold evening in San Fran, overcast and chilly. Something that helped screen from the cold was the fact that the Park was overcrowded, walking on the concourse was like being shoved onto a conveyer belt of human beings carted from one place to another. Despite the 7:30 start time on the ticket, there was a longggg wait for the show to start. An endless scroll of McCartney memories went up and the huge rectangular video screens flanking the stage as a remix of Macca/Beatles hits jammed on and on. By 8:30 I would have been happy if Beatlemania hit the stage, I started to think that 7:30 was the time McCartney boarded the plane in England instead of a show time. Had enough time to grab a grossly overpriced Giants Dog (AT&T Park is where the San Francisco Giants play) and a Diet Coke. Once McCartney started playing around 8:40, I felt more like it was about time than excited. Macca's set list went like this:

Venus and Mars - Rock Show / Jet / All My Loving / Letting Go / Got To Get You Into My Life / Highway / Let Me Roll It / The Long And Winding Road / Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five / Let 'Em In / My Love / I'm Looking Through You / Two Of Us / Blackbird / Here Today / Dance Tonight / Mrs Vandebuilt / San Francisco Bay Blues / Eleanor Rigby / Something / Sing The Changes / Band On The Run / Ob La Di Ob La Da / Back In The USSR / I've Got A Feeling / Paperback Writer / A Day In The Life - Give Peace A Chance / Let It Be / Live And Let Die / Hey Jude

Encore 1: Day Tripper / Lady Madonna / Get Back

Encore 2: Yesterday / Helter Skelter / Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band / The End

Opening with "Venus and Mars - Rock Show" would probably kill the start of most band's shows but with Sir Paul in the house people became unglued. "Jet" got the crowd more fired up as Mac proved his band was tight and capable of playing the big show. Macca was surrounded by a guitarist, a multi instrumentalist, a keyboardist and a large dramatic drummer. And then we did the time warp again as he launched into the first Beatles song of the night "All My Loving" complete with The Beatles: Rock Band graphics running in the background.

"Letting Go" slowed things down and let people sit before getting back up for a sharp take on "Got To Get You Into My Life". The bouncy ditty was one of the early highlights for me and showed how much of a workout the lone keyboardist was gonna have as he replicated the horn section parts on a synth. A surprise coda to "Life" was a brief instrumental run through Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" with some nice soloing by Sir Paul himself. He then told a nice story of meeting Hendrix and attending a show where Jimi asked Clapton to tune the guitar for him. Then it was back to obscureville for a song called "Letting Go". Dressed in a simple black suit, you could still see some hint of that cherubic youthfulness on Macca's aged mug.

"Let Me Roll It" was one I was looking forward to personally because it had that slow moving 70s rawk vibe I like. Mac then moved to a grand piano on the right of the stage to kick off the first of three (count 'em, three!) songs from The Beatles Let It Be album, "The Long And Winding Road". It was here I noticed how McCartney's voice was still in good shape for a man his age, still able to croon with some power and range. Also, it underlined how cold it was as you could see the steam from his breath as he sang. There was a misty condensation in the wet air, which happens in San Fran right next to the water.

The every-other-song-is-one-you-don't-know-unless-you're-a-true-fan pacing served up "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" next and continued Sir Paul's sit at the piano. Then another of my faves "Let 'Em In" (or as Keane likes to call it "Somewhere Only We Know") happily drifted through. The piano visit gave the crowd more time to rest in their seats as the lovely ballad "My Love" played. Since my wife didn't go to this show, I thought of her during this song.

Then it was flashback Beatles time again as the jaunty "I'm Looking Through You" came up complete with 60's organ sounds. At this point the mother of two young kids in front of me was getting hammered and dancing up a drunken swaying storm, which the boy started recording on his phone to probably plant on You Tube tonight (I saw the kid give the sign to his Dad that Mom had drunk seven beers midway through the concert). We then went to Let It Be track numero dos, "Two Of Us". And I went to the can.

The acoustics of AT&T Park carries sound well, though despite some clarity there was a bit of distortion and echo throughout the concert. So even in the can the acoustic "Blackbird" sounded very nice. I grabbed a small bag of popcorn on the way back to my seat. Maintaining the one for you-one for me pattern Mac strummed out "Here Today" .

Another highlight for me was hearing "Dance Tonight" from Mac's last studio effort Memory Almost Full, I like that song. And then "Mrs Vandebuilt". In a real nice touch, Mac and crew played "San Francisco Bay Blues" giving a nod to his location. At some point, not sure if it was here, Macca pointed to a crowd member with a sign saying "I was there at the Cow Palace in 1964 remember?" and jokingly reacted like he did remember that person.

An excellent take on "Eleanor Rigby", an all time classic song if there was one, took place. Macca busted out a ukelale and told a story about how he told George Harrison he had learned one of George's song on the ukelale. He then proceeded to kick off "Something" solo on the uke. It was sort of silly but had the intimacy of revealing an inside joke until it got to the guitar solo. The full band immediately kicked in with Mac's lead guitarist perfectly replicating Harrison's creamy tone as images of George faded in and out of the video screens, it was the emotional peak of the evening.

To pull it back there was one last pay-the-piper sort of tune with "Sing The Changes" before flying into hitsville with "Band On The Run". Macca took off his jacket and moved to a small piano in the front of the stage for a big audience sing along on "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da". Finally free of the one you know and one you don't section of the set list, the crowd got its groove on for a romping "Back In The USSR". Which I felt should have shifted to "Spies Like Us" at the end, but that's just me. A nice tale of Mac meeting the Russian government after a show and finding out Russians learned their English from Beatles records ensued. Apparently one Russian officer said this and shook Macs hand saying "Hello Goodbye".

The Beatles songs steadily racheted up the audience excitement level even with a false start on "I've Got A Feeling" and the nicely blended harmonies of "Paperback Writer". The ushers began to allow people to crowd the aisleways and it started to get packed with people in our area. I went to the can during "A Day In The Life". Which is quite a trippy song to take a whizz to. Got back in time for the John Lennon "Give Peace A Chance" crowd sing along.

The hymn like "Let It Be" unified the audience in time for the theatrical high light of the night, the James Bond theme "Live And Let Die". Out of nowhere, flashpots, pillars of flame and 4th of July fireworks broke out on and behind the stage. The near sold out crowd roared after the song, because it just kicked ass. With momentum at its peak, Mac moved to the center of the stage only to find his little piano was out of tune. So he moved to the big piano for "Hey Jude". The audience sang along to the "Na na na na" ending which closed the main part of the set.

A gaggle of tweens made its way next to our seating and with them high pitched screaming so loud it cut through my ear plugs and turned to white noise. So I was annoyed during the first encore of "Day Tripper", "Lady Madonna" and "Get Back" as the little girls danced, posed for pictures and excitedly rambled to each other throughout. I tried to remind myself this was probably what Beatlemania was like in its hey day. And was surprised that modern day tweens would love this music this much. Guess I'm just an old guy with no patience for youngun's.

For a second encore, McCartney played "Yesterday" acoustically which was great. I saw seagulls flying around the lip of the stadium in time with the song. We moved seats away from the screaming tweens to enjoy the last two songs, a hard rocking "Helter Skelter" and a triumphant "Sgt Peppers / The End".

All in all Paul McCartney put on a very good show. He himself had a good amount of energy and musical ability left, plus an easygoing demeanor in addressing the crowd. And now I can say I've seen royalty! Sir means royalty? No?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Last Action Heroes Volume 1

The recent Mel Gibson fiasco has me reflecting on my action heroes of the 80s. In High School I watched big dumb action flicks on a weekly basis at the local dollar theater and I loved them. The predictable plots! Unrealistic action sequences! Beautiful girls! And awesome smokey Ridley Scott rip off lighting! And of course, the cool as ice action hero with the kick ass fight moves, killer clothes and gettin the ladies! With Gibson spending the latter half of his career insulting every man, woman and child who isn't him, I've decided to reflect on those guys that lit up the silver screen with karate kicks and bad catch phrases. Because as Gibson (and Tom Cruise) has proven, your handlers can keep you under control for only so long before you decide to show America your nutty side.

Starring: Mel Gibson

Lame nickname I gave him: Mad Mel

Saw him first: Watching Mad Max at my best friend's house off his pirated HBO while waiting for his Dad to drive us to middle school in the morning. I'd never seen a movie that violent before. One guy throws a chain with a hook onto a moving car and it is later revealed his hand came off and is hanging off the car. Max's wife and child get run over. Max gets hit in the leg and has his arm run over before blowing away the cyclist with a sawed off shotgun. And the final blow up with giving the last gang member a choice of sawing off his leg or dying of a gas explosion. Gibson had a slightly crazed coolness about him that made it all work.

The High Point: A tie! The Mad Max sequel The Road Warrior was practically hell on wheels. Gibson's performance of a grizzled hollow man with a buried moral code is cruical to the story arc. And then there's Lethal Weapon 2, where Martin Riggs changes from suicidally crazy to wacky crazy. Like Bugs Bunny with a pistol and a mullet.

Guilty Pleasure: I admit it, I like the lame brained rom com actioner Bird On A Wire with Goldie Hawn. Yes, everyone sleeps walks through it the jokes aren't that funny and the action is standard, maybe I like it because of its mediocrity.

When I stopped caring: Believe it or not, it was Braveheart. Braveheart was a good movie too. His often repeated speech on the horse before the final battle was killer. I think he just became too respectable for me - he achieved credibility which in turn makes him less credible in bad action films (and you know that wouldn't last). Sometimes when an actor takes him or herself too seriously I lose interest. And I know it wasn't intentional, still I felt bad for Ted Danson when A Man Without A Face came out because people said the scarred side of Gibson's mug looked like May Day Malone.

What's happened since then: The success of Braveheart became Gibson's Thriller, he became so big he just lost his mind after that. For better or worse, Passion Of The Christ made him the symbol of religious zealotry. There isn't enough space on this blog to list all the people Mad Mel has put down and insulted since then, so let's just say he added the phrase "sugar tits" to the national vocabulary and leave it at that. Though I do wonder if after hearing about Gibson's latest racist outburst, if former co-star Danny Glover grumbled "I'm too old for this shit"?

One last shot: The character continuity thing that still kills me about the Martin Riggs character is this - in the first movie they say Riggs knows so much martial arts that he should be registered as a lethal weapon. He has a big fight at the end of the movie where he pulls out all these martial arts moves against Gary Busey. So why in Lethal Weapon 4 does Riggs repeatedly get his ass handed to him by martial artists in hand to hand combat? And uses zero martial arts moves? Did Jet Li scare the kung fu out of him? I can see if the character said he was rusty, but to completely forget expert level training when it's needed most is a huge continuity gap for me.

Next time...the Governator!

Friday, July 09, 2010


Even a caveman can do it

Just a quick post because I haven't put up anything in a while. A nice little Flashback to a time...well, a time that still exists - Supertramp without Roger Hodgson. Or Hogson. Or some other derivative. Anywho, minus the high voiced guy. "Cannonball" was their first single minus high voiced guy and in terms of repeat spins on the 'ol turntable is my most played Supertramp song evah. I loved that 45, with the people walking around sleeve and what not. "Cannonball" was a band song and I love band songs, every member gets their two cents in on this peace even the xylophone dude. And you ever notice how the xylo at the end kinda sounds like the James Bond theme?

Without Hogton the group was no longer Super leaving them...well, I think you know where I'm going with this. This one takes me back to sitting on the bean bag chair of my teenage room, looking at my wall of glorious REO Speedwagon posters while figuring out how to play Marvel SuperHeroes Role Playing Game and ignoring my homework due the next day.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Mr. Mojo Rising

Heartbreaker, dream maker, love taker don't you mess around no no no!


and a half

Tom Petty, rock and roll purist that he is, has gone back to his roots for the new album titled Mojo. Which is saying a lot considering his music was rootsy to start with. On Mojo, Petty and the Heartbreakers turn back the clock to the late 60s when rock was bluesier. Hard edged guitar riffs, organ bits skidding around and some psychedelic jamming takes over in a big way. This is probably the best "band" effort since 1999's Echo.

Speaking of the band, the stand out performance has to be lead guitarist Mike Campbell's. Long regarded one of the finest and most tasteful guitarist in rock, Campbell has made a name for himself based on economical solos and meaty grooves. On Mojo, Campbell cuts loose with extended solos that sizzle and bite with ferocious power. If you ever listened to his playing before and wondered what the big deal was, here's the disc to listen to.

Petty responds with some fine songwriting, the silly offhand "Candy" is my personal favorite. The heavy rockin "I Should Have Known It" has a strong impact as does the classic Petty sounding "Running Man's Bible". In another shot of welcome humor, the band does lite reggae to Petty's current ode to Mary Jane "Don't Pull Me Over". There isn't a bum track on the lengthy 15 cut disc.

Mojo is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in a natural and fully inspired moment. An amazing album.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Oooh Ooooh...Growin Up...

Sandler and crew take a busman's holiday in Grown Ups.


Went to see the new Adam Sandler comedy Grown Ups which if I wanted to trash I guess I could have called Groan Ups or Thrown Ups except it wasn't that bad. Sandler made his name on playing young adults with a juvenile heart (and mental capacity) which won him a bit of success, yet it was playing up his soft mushy side that really got him over with The Wedding Singer. Over the years he's tried to be more dramatic (like every successful comic) developing a mildly disturbed moon face to anger persona. With Grown Ups, Sandler pools his talents with a slew of other ex-SNLers (Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Maya Rudolph, that Colin guy that used to do Weekend Update, Tim Meadows) and worthy stand alone talents (Salma Hayek, Kevin James, Steve Bucemi) to make a slightly bland family comedy.

As far as family comedies go, Grown Ups is pretty good. Sure, the film drowns in sappy sentimentality a third of the time and there are plenty of predictable jokes like the gassy Granny or the hot girls that came from an ugly Dad. At the same time there is a feeling of genuine comraderie (which probably is helped by the SNL alum status) and all performers comic timing is on point. Schneider even gets to play against type, channeling his obnoxiousness into a touchy feely character. And there are bits of laugh out loud humor amid the overbearing heart warming nature of the flick.

Midway through the story loses some cohesiveness trying to balance the multitude of characters and subplots. In some ways Grown Ups is reminscent of those Burt Reynolds movies he used to make back when he was a big star, when he'd get a bunch of his buddies together under the loose idea of "Lets make a movie together" and just have a thinly sketched beginning and end while throwing random pieces in the middle. Still, Grown Ups manages to pull things together at the end to have a satisfying finish.

Grown Ups is probably the most family friendly movie Sandler has made yet. Of course with this theme the normally off the wall or raunchy vistas these guys usually call home seem neglected. Which is why the most enjoyable parts are when the five guys (Sandler, Spade, Rock, Schneider and James) are alone together, they're allowed to unleash some of their harsher sided humor with it still considered to be "just joshin". Like when all four of the guys riff on Schneider for referring to corn as maize throughout the film is funny.

The sheer amount of talent involved manages to elevate Grown Ups to a cut above the standard family movie fare. Just a little bit. Timeliness helps too, the 4th of July time period of the movie fits perfectly with, well, today. Grown Ups won't rock your world, but it will make you comfortable and give some good laughs along the way. Or maybe it will rock your world if you dig the soundtrack, I haven't heard that much J.Geils Band in a movie since Fright Night!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Dance Baby Dance

Remember this creepy thing? I was not a fan of the Dancing Baby fad, I thought it looked a bit zombieish. But it was state of the art CGI for the time. Maybe if I was an Ally McBeal fan I would have liked it more. Did not get this thing at all.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Catching Up With...

What do we do now Dr Zaius?

Some random things came up today so here I am to pontificate on them. I said pontificate, not...forget it. No Cleveland Steamer.

McDonald's Billboards Are Dumb As Hell - First I saw some McDonalds billboard that said something like "This cup of coffee is not Joe, he's Joseph" and then today I saw another one that said "These hotcakes are selling like" with a picture of a hotcake. It's like they hired a third grade class to run their freakin ad campaign. What's the next dumbass slogan going to be? "Childhood obesity live the fantasy?" "Are you stuffin' that egg mcmuffin?" "The French don't want you to have these fries, but we do?" Can I be an ad exec now? Am I hired?

Annoying Bullllllhorn - And the overexposed movie commercial of the week is: Inception. Some crap about Lou Diamond Phillips - no wait, it's Leo DiCaprio - living in dreams and stuff blowing up while upside down and who cares. Watch it's going to be the next Matrix and I'll end up eating my words. All I know is when this commercial hits the tv gets busy and a loud bullhorn blows. Blows like this movie.

A Swaggering Angle Lock - So I was watching Friday Night Smackdown for the first time in months. Jack Swagger is wrasslin Big Show and he's got Show on the ground. Next thing I know Swagger picks up Big Show's foot and applies the Angle Lock (a move where you grab the guy's foot, hold the ankle against your chest and twist the foot). Wow, they gave one of Kurt Angle's signature moves to the new guy. I'm sure Kurt Angle didn't invent the move or anything, he's just the guy I associate the move with the most. Consider me blown away.

Theresa Started It - As much as Danielle on the Real Housewives of New Jersey is a psycho, it was bankrupt diva Theresa that provoked an altercation on a recent episode. After months of no face to face contact between the two, Theresa confronts Danielle at a fashion show to say "hi". It was like when a guy throws some punches and as he gets pulled off the other dude he says "What? I just wanted to talk to him!" There's also a supposed sex tape out there of Danielle in all her plastic surgery altered self and all I can say to that thought is...ewwww No. Hell No! Gotta give props for these gutter trash, you gotta fight for those ratings points!

Not Very R.A.D. - Remember when Motley Crue's Vince Neil crashed a car and killed his friend resulting in a slew of hypocritical rock against drugs adverts? Well, Vince doesn't and so he was arrested for drunk driving again. Right after proclaiming his long term sobriety.

Electric Goof - 80s mall queens Tiffany and Debbie Gibson are gonna battle in a tv movie. Gibson will have to watch out for Tiffany's trademark Egyptian darting hand move best seen in the "I Saw Him Standing There" video. Look out Gibson, she'll take your eye out!

I'm Too Old For This Sh*t - Mad Mel Gibson makes a PR mess again this time throwing around racial insults. Hard to believe once he was so cool, now he's a prime douche.

That's all I got, until the next time.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Short Attention Span Theater

That's gnarly!

When music videos gained popularity in the early 80s, there was a lot of talk about how this was a new art form and would be like "mini-movies". After a few years that trend died and music clips were reduced to various performance miming bits. Now, in 2010, there are two music videos that are essentially "mini-movies" the first one directed by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk Til Dawn) no less. As Mel Allen used to say, "How about that?"

The first video I got as a free download from ITunes this week by a guy named Bob Schneider. I got the name confused with Fred Schneider of The B 52's and thought "Cool, I loved that song about the monster in the pants and it does a dirty dance" so I clicked on it. Turned out to be a pleasant sort of polished indie singer songwriter deal. The video is like the ultimate 3 minute rom com, just missing the oh-no-they-might-break-up second act. What makes this better than say The Proposal or She's All That is if you don't like the flick, it's only three minutes of your time. That's modern efficiency!

The embed code isn't working so you can click here to see it.

The second video is by Free Energy whose album overall I was disappointed with but I liked this tune "Bang Pop". This video is in the ever popular setting of high school (see She and Him "In The Sun") and has the early 80s teen sexploitation flick look down. You can't watch this video and not think of Porkys or Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Awesome! Totally awesome.

The embedding is disabled so to see it you can click here. Sort of like that old Porky's tv ads, "We can't show you what happens on tv so you'll have to see the movie". Or something like that.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alien Invasion!

At least someone is having a good time at Adventureland.

Three movies with nothing in common except I saw them. Three movies about outsiders that turn into insiders. Three movies to rule them all!

District 9 (2009) - Nifty sci fi about an alien ship that drops an new race of creatures into South Africa. Despite their advanced technology, the aliens themselves become lazy 3rd worlders and find themselves slummed into a shanty town. The metaphor for racial segregation is obvious but well played, with the local government dictating the terms of the alien's freedom and rights to their own advantage. The bureaucrat in charge of moving the aliens from one district to another becomes infected with a metamorphic substance that causes him to slowly transform to an alien. He then becomes both an outcast and sought after property as the transformation gives the guy the ability to use the alien's weapons (they only work for the aliens). You could write this off as The Fly meets Alien Nation but it's better than that, District 9 manages to make you feel sympathy for a digitally created race of enslaved beings. Oh wait, Avatar did that too but afterwards.

Adventureland (2009) - It's the late 80s and you're working in a theme park - I've so been there. A college kid's Dad has his career bottom out, forcing the kid to work in a theme park that summer to make some cash. The kid in question is a geeky poetry reading sensitive type who feels like an outsider in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He meets a girl who's a little more troubled and got those artsy sensibilities too (they both like Lou Reed). The kid finds that the theme park is like high school part 2 except he becomes the popular one, making time with both art school girlfriend and the local hottie. Adventureland has some nice qualities like a killer soundtrack (The Replacements! Husker Du!) and a semi realistic tone. Too bad lead actress Kristen or Kirsten or whatever her name is, you know that girl from Twilight, rings false in every scene she is. She seems to think acting is all in how you flip your hair around. And the story itself has been done so many times there's nothing really new here.

Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010) - is a new DVD docu...wait, rockumentary about the awesome Canadian power trio. This is like most rockumentaries in that if you like the artist in question, you'll like the movie. If you don't or are indifferent, you'll probably be bored to tears. Rush aka the biggest cult band in the world is a group that if you've heard them, you've made your mind up about them. Worshipped by many but considered uncool by the rock and roll elite for decades, Rush is a band that stands alone no matter how you catagorize them. For fans it will either go over stuff you already know or in my case shed some light on the group's early past (in high school I had all their tapes but really just played Hemispheres thru Grace Under Pressure). This is not Anvil, Rush is not a bunch of charismatic odd balls with a deep story to tell (though what drummer Neil Peart has been through could qualify for a dramatic movie within itself if given the space). I like Rush so I like this rockumentary, but not for the uninitiated.

Three movies to rule them all! Well, not really. Rush and District 9 are good, skip Adventureland.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The No Spin Zone

The Spinners bring the Philly sound to Nor Cal after taking fashion tips from Big Bird.

On Friday night I went to the local fair to see The Spinners in concert. It wasn't really a show I was looking forward to, the main reason for going was to see some relatives who had an interest in it. Not that I mind The Spinners music, just I'm skeptical of groups where most of the key members are missing or dead. Do I want to see a cover band run around with the original name? Sometimes these types of bands can be deadly, running through tired routines with the enthusiasm of a chain gang. And others can actually be kinda fun. The Spinners, believe it or not, was the latter.

Sure it helps that The Spinners had a number of hits, although going in I only knew maybe one or two by name. But even with that this show could have been horrible. When the band opened with "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" as one of the two surviving original members barely croaked out the lead vocal, I thought I was in for an hour of serious pain.

Yet this guy and his other original member dude (both are in their 70s) were smart and hired a crack backing band. The rhythm section wasn't just professional, they were smokin'. R&B isn't often a musician's showcase, yet the supple bass rhythms and sharp drums gave The Spinners some muscle. And the three younger replacement Spinners seemed to truly enjoy live performance, energetically tackling their vocals and dance moves. the original member was right to call the trio "stimulus packages" as they provided most of the firepower on the front line.

And in a move that I can only describe as pure Barry Manilow, The Spinners have retained the type of canned stage patter and gaudy costuming that surely existed in the 70s (canary yellow suits!). There was a knowing silliness to it all as if to say "We know this is a joke with no credibility so get over it and enjoy the ride." They say the key to moving pictures is the "suspension of disbelief". Same goes for The Spinners of 2010. Once you accept this is not a true creative force but a mock up no different than say Mamma Mia or Lynyrd Skynyrd, there is some enjoyment to be had. Even with the lazy choreography (didn't R&B vocal groups have to train to spin at the same time once?).
The band had enough hits in their catalog to stay away from the dreaded "cover other bands music to fill space" gimmick which was nice. Except for the vocalist solo spots, where the younger singers shined as the band turned from generic background music to "Let's Get It On" or "Get Up Offa That Thing" on a dime. Comfortable readings of past hits like "Games People Play" or "I'll Be Around" went smoothly without any incidents.

By the time the group pounded through their smash "Rubberband Man" complete with a psychedelic strobe light dance featuring giant rubber bands, there was no denying that this version of The Spinners could do well on the fair circuit. Is it better than the real thing? Hell no. But for cheap live entertainment, you could do a lot worse. And if you squint your eyes real hard, maybe you could find yourself back in 1973 for a second.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Racers Edge, Part Tres


A few weeks ago I traced the career of the Stone Temple Pilots up to their new release, creatively titled Stone Temple Pilots. Of all their releases, I've looked forward to this one the most. The band seemed to have a fire and was ready to bring some much needed RAWK to the marketplace. And any time you can catch Scott Weiland on an upswing is a good thing for music.

Nine years away from their previous release, the sluggish Shangri La Di Da, STP returns with a strong showing. A big plus, in those nine years the other 3/4ths of the band didn't do squat. Well, that's not entirely true but it may as well have been. In any case, the DeLeos seem ready and armed with great riffs for Weiland to build on. Weiland himself is in fine form, at least as good as on his previous solo album. He seems awake and alert, delving into his glam rock influences to pull out his unique brand of rock mysticism.

And like all Stone Temple Pilot releases, they wear their influences out in the open. Nirvana, The Beatles, Mott The Hoople, David Bowie and Aerosmith all get copied yet STP has enough guts to make them their own. The grunge influence isn't quite as heavy allowing more room for poppier melodies on some cuts like "Cinnamon". STP has put together a uniformly solid disc, there aren't any highlights yet the album as a whole makes a good impression.

Will STP continue past this year? Who knows and who cares. They're here now and have delivered their best disc since 1996's Tiny Music.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Maiden Voyage

Thank you to my wife for the tickets and the name of this blog post. Sunday night was a night of firsts for me, it was the first time I had gotten to see Iron Maiden. But more importantly, it was the first time I got to see Dream Theater.

I've been a DT fan for awhile now and although I had an opportunity to see them once opening for Yes I couldn't get to the Sleep Train Pavilion in time to catch 'em. We arrived about an hour before the show and promptly got into line to enter the Pavilion. And waited. And waited. Nice mix of ages in this line. And waited even longer, I don't think they opened the gates until about a half hour before showtime. Not that this stopped anybody from getting the party started. Shortly after we sat down in our seats, these two guys sat their drunk friend down a few rows ahead of us. About 15 minutes later, one of the friends escorted the drunk dude back up the stairs because the guy was so wasted he pissed all over himself. In a sort of surprise move, the music before the concert included a Dream Theater song "The Best Of Times". Then the famous slashing strings from the movie Psycho hit the PA to let the crowd know things were about to kick off.

In a real rarity, Dream Theater started their show five minutes before the official start time of 7:30. I've never seen that in all the years I've been to concerts, no one ever starts early. DT came out with guns blazing on the opener "As I Am", immediately proving lead singer James LaBrie was in excellent voice. A sea of devil horn throwing arms thrust towards the stage to the beat. "A Rite Of Passage" has a sluggish groove but came alive with drummer Mike Portnoy doing his drum parts while standing each chance he got. The longest cut of the evening was the epic sitar effect laced "Home", a ten minute run through DT's proggy side. My wife had gotten me a beer during "Passage" so I had a nice buzz going when we hit the highlight of my evening, "Constant Motion". DT blasted thru "Constant Motion" hitting the groove changes with hairpin precision. Guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess took their fleet fingered solos to the next level. Meanwhile, we noticed this one dude to our right headbanging with equal fury and accuracy. This guy was definitely a fan, he changed head banging speeds in perfect time with the music.

The groups Rock Band representative track "Panic Attack" came up next, giving bassist James Myung room to groove. Then it was time for the big finish, DT didn't miss a beat on their lone hit "Pull Me Under". Keyboardist Jordan Rudess whips out the keytar and it is smokin'. And then as efficiently as they had started Dream Theater finished and left the stage. A great performance that seemed to be held to a very regimented time table.

After a set redress the stage became cloaked under a black fabric screen. The sound of an Iron Maiden song raged over the PA as the audience anxiously awaited the arrival of their Metal heroes. Then the cloak was removed and revealed a stage set that looked like a sci fi movie. The stage was framed by sci fi looking storage containers that doubled as a second tier above the floor. Iron Maiden's drummer sat centered on the second tier as band members ran in and out of a fabric door to the rear left of the stage.

Now for a disclaimer / admission. I like Iron Maiden. They are one of those bands that are beyond questioning in terms of motivation to rock. I don't know a lot of their music. I know three albums from them, The Number Of The Beast, Piece Of Mind and Somewhere Back In Time - The Best Of Iron Maiden. I thought playing the Best Of Cd the week before would help me prep for the concert. Of the 15 songs on that album, Iron Maiden only played three of them in my presence (I had left before "Hallowed Be Thy Name" was played). So I hardly knew any of the songs played at the concert. It doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the show, but that my Iron Maiden experience was more a series of impressions than anything else. From what I remember, it went something like this:

  • All right, it's Iron Maiden!

  • Bruce Dickinson runs around a lot. And jumps a lot. He's more active than David Lee Roth!

  • Wow, that blond hair guitarist got those poser moves down. Playing while standing on one leg? Cool!

  • Hey, I didn't realize they had three guitarists before.

  • "Wrathchild"! I know this one. Interesting how Dickinson does this snake like move with his upper torso and arms while singing.

  • The other blond guitarist is playing, funny how the one guy looks hair metal while this dude looks Bachman Turner Overdrive. And the non blond guitarist moves with courtly gestures like an English gentleman.

  • Their new album The Final Frontier isn't out yet so the sci fi staging doesn't make total sense, but it sure looks awesome!

  • Why is it I can hear Bruce Dickinson loud and clear when he does stage patter but he gets buried in the mix during song performance? WTF?

  • Gotta take a monster whizz.

  • Is Dickinson skipping to the drum kit during guitar solos? Is that allowed? I've never seen skipping by a member of a hard rock / metal band.

  • We're getting to the slow songs, kinda cool and medieval sounding.

  • Dickinson pays tribute to Ronnie James Dio, huge crowd pop and "Dio" chant follows. Nice lead in to the song called "Blood Brothers".

  • I like it when the bass player aims the neck of his guitar out at the audience and pretends to strafe them with a gun.

  • The audience is getting drunker if that's possible. I've had people fall out of the aisle into me twice now. That first dude had serious b.o., he hit me for a second and his stench lingered the whole song!

  • Speaking of smells, there has been a lot of medicinal herbs stinking up the place.

  • All right, back to the fast songs!

  • The Bunny looks cute head banging.

  • Should I put up some devil horns at the end of song? Should I? Yes! Feels so good :)

  • Dickinson's shirt says Psycho Ward. I kinda miss the Medieval warrior look I used to see him wear in Circus magazine all those years ago.

  • The guy in front of me keeps getting blocking my view at random by making out with his chick. Damn he's got a big head. Now they're leaving to presumably do it in the bathroom.

  • Awesome, the blond guitarist with the poser moves has added two new moves: slinging his guitar up and down his shoulder like a military rifle mixed in with some around the worlds.

  • It's the song "Iron Maiden". I've heard this one before! A giant alien looking Eddie is onstage and the band members are doing battle with him. Cool!

  • The Pavilion looks totally sold out. The main part of the set is over, time to go. Don't want to get caught in a drunken traffic jam.

  • I can hear "The Number Of The Beast" play as we walk to the car in the distant parking lot.

  • Time for some Dennys!

Considering I didn't know most of the songs, I had a great time at the Iron Maiden part of the show. The size and spectacle was impressive, as was the tight performance of their music. Maiden is one of those groups where if you like one song, you're gonna like them all. Sound mix could have been better but it wasn't horrible. I left thinking I was going to miss "Run To The Hills" but it turns out they didn't play that one. All in all, a fun concert.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

For Mr A...

My parent's neighbor passed away a few days ago. I'll refer to him in this post as Mr. A. Mr. A was a very nice man, a big guy who was gregarious and fun. I got to know him a little bit over the years, growing up I saw him when I would visit his son Mike to play sports or trade cassette tapes. I'd see him here or there around town in my adult life too, even as he aged he didn't lose that positive attitude. He was a great guy.

Mr A. had a love of sports and he really loved the local teams from San Francisco. Of my assorted memories of Mr. A., my strongest memory is a collection of moments where I didn't even see him. When baseball or football season came around, every warm Sunday you could hear Mr A. listening to a sports game on the radio as he relaxed on his back porch. I could hear him talking and the radio playing over the fence from my own back yard. There was something very pure about his passion for sports and listening to him luxuriate to a game had an infectious sort of contentment to it.

The best media tribute I can think of for the man is the moment that every 49ers fan in the 80s cherished. "The Catch". Goodbye Mr. A., you will be missed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How I Met Your Mother Is Legend - Wait For It - Ary

While I was laid off work I got into watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother. It was just something to watch at first, I'd seen episodes before and generally liked them. Watching the episodes on a daily basis changed my perception of the show, it went from being pretty good to...wait for it...legendary! HIMYM is a really good sitcom, one of the few good ones left (this and Big Bang Theory pretty much does it for me now on that front). The writing is brisk and knowing, picking up with near Seinfeld like precision on the little personal jags and habits of people and blowing them up to epic proportions. Great bits like the slap bet, the glass breaking with the mutual realization of an annoying habit, Canada trashing, Robin Sparkles...the list goes on. Best of all, a fine ensemble that includes totally awesome Neil Patrick Harris as the jaded womanizer Barney, the red headed girl from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and that guy that stars in a bunch of movies now like I Love You Man. So funny and so consistent, HIMYM has grown over the years and has become a fave of mine. Oh yeah, up top bro!
And now, the playbook by Barney Stinson where he reveals some of his best scams. My personal numero uno? The Lorenzo Von Matterhorn. Spells like it sounds, with two "t"s.