Monday, March 29, 2010

Giants Under The Sun

Quick, get me some Arena Rock on the radio before someone drowns!

Today's KRQR moment is brought to you by the fine website Melodic Rock, an online destination that has served old AOR fans like me since the 90's. Two bands have gotten a slight promotional push through this site and have songs I like plus another song I'm into right now, so those are the three clips for today.

First up is Giant aka that band that had that one hit ("I'll See You In My Dreams") before Kurt Cobain wiped them off the map. In one of those standard band reformations that plague classic rock groups, the rhythm section has banded together minus their key player (in this case guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Dann Huff) to lay claim to an established name. Such as it is, because if you don't own say Monster Power Ballads Volume Whatever, you probably have no clue who Giant is. Or if you're at the other extreme, you may know exactly who Giant is and have to get used to Terry Brock in place of Huff which isn't a bad trade per se. Either way can be a win or lose situation, in the end what it comes down to is the music. This song "Promise Land" is totally stuck in my head, with a nice girl on a beach themed clip. The combo of the pretty girl and streamlined AOR has me flashing back to early Baywatch when they would play an anonymous song while showing women running in slo mo. When I hear Brock go on about breaking barracades or taking things day by day or what have you, I am so totally ready to rescue a bathing beauty from drowning.

The group that is on Melodic Rock's main page right now is Serpentine, a band that quite frankly I know nothing about other than what's posted on that screen. The video is interesting, keyboard heavy arena rock with a lead singer that looks like Kid Rock. "Whatever Heartache" has an incredibly Steve Perry-esque vocal on it, which I am always a sucker for. Oh, and Sarah Silverman can bite me for talkin' trash about "The Voice".

Last up is a song I'm hooked on from W.E.T.'s album that I reviewed not too long ago. "If I Fall" is pure AOR glory, even if the chorus does slightly remind me of Journey's "Signs Of Life" from Arrival.

And that's it, the motherlode of modern arena rock. Thank you, Melodic Rock, for always providing the most up to date info on the bands that are important to me. Keep the fire burnin!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Punch Drunk Boredom

Bird On A Wire: Katherine I don't think I spell her last name correctly and don't care Heigl looks for the truth in Spartica.

This past week I've been laid up with a bum knee, so I spent a lot of time watching tv. Since I was already in pain, I wanted to watch something funny to kill time. This led me on a trip through a series of titles that didn't quite do the trick, as a public service here's my reviews of these movies.

Year One (2009) - Manic Jack Black and shy Michael Cera play inept cavemen who get kicked out of their tribe and wander through the first part of the Old Testament. Black and Cera are OK, they hold up their end of the bargin by playing to their type. The story rambles on with the expected white lies, sex jokes and misunderstandings that plague any generic comedy. One lone bright spot is whoever the guy is that played Cain. Cain is portrayed here as a gleeful opportunist who is in denial about his murderous jealousy of his brother. As for the rest, sorry, Mel Brooks did this stuff better with History Of the World Part One.

Punch Drunk Love (2001) - I generally like P.T. Anderson movies, Boogie Nights is one of my all time favorites. And this was supposedly Adam Sandler's best acting performance to date. And yet...I find Punch Drunk Love to be lacking. Sandler is convincing as a lonely, emotionally unstable man trying to find human connection. But the different pieces of the puzzle - Sandler unable to speak to people yet owning his own business, Emily Watson as a level headed career woman who wants Sandler despite his numerous mental issues that include violent outbursts, the porn hotline who sends hitmen to take money from Sandler - just doesn't add up.

Bottle Rocket (1996) - The movie that put the drowsy brothers Luke and Owen Wilson on the map, directed by the equally laconic Wes Anderson, is actually pretty funny. The Wilson brothers are would be robbers who bungle their way through crime. Both Wilsons ably establish what would become their m.o., Owen as the fast talking bullshitter and Luke as the sincere guy (until those phone commercials at least). The robberies that take place are laugh out loud funny in their incompetence.

The Ugly Truth (2009) - Katherine I-hate-my-job-at-Grey's Anatomy Heigl and Gerard 300 Butler get rom com fever in Sacramento. Liked the location being in my old hometown, even if it does look like it was shot in L.A save the establishing shots. Butler tries hard to be Mel Gibson and falls a touch short as a rogueish tv personality who pontificates on male / female relationships. Heigl excels at playing the frigid tv producer who works with him. There are flashes of humor here and there as Butler and Heigl needle each other, but 99% of the movie is just recycled rom com standbys including a recreation of the When Harry Met Sally public orgasm scene. Meh.

And the lesson here is...don't get hurt. Don't fall into the trap of watching these movies (except Bottle Rocket, that was pretty good). I was tempted to put on my DVD set of Firefly but was too lazy to get up and put it on. Shame on me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Balcony Is Closed

With the cancellation of At The Movies tv series and Roger Ebert's illness that has claimed his distinctive voice, many posts have hit the internet mourning the end of an era. And this post will be no different. I once aspired to be a movie critic after watching Siskel and Ebert for years, that is until I found out you had to become an actual journalist to do it.

The show that really made me a fan of Siskel and Ebert was Sneak Previews, the PBS tv series that popularized the thumb happy duo and their heated arguements. Like watching NASCAR racing, I watched Sneak Previews because of the wrecks. Viewing Siskel and Ebert intellectually evicerate the movies and each other actually gave me hope. It showed me there was a place in the world where intellectualism could have a place that's accepted in general society.

And the viciousness they would go after each other with in the early days was as intense as a hard hitting boxing match. Unfortunately, I couldn't locate one of their battles online from the Sneak Preview days but did find some from the At The Movies era. (a note, the second clip shows the two mocking each other and Protestants-just fyi to anyone who clicks on it that may be easily offended).

The end of the At The Movies tv show finalized the protracted finale to the Siskel and Ebert legacy. These two guys had a vast influence on modern media, they made it popular to criticize not just entertainment, but anything really. They didn't invent criticism, just made it seem cool. Is it telling that the best critical thought of Western civilization for the past 30 years has been directed at films and not national or international political policy? Maybe, but either way I'll see the movies.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Basterds Of Young

Okay pop quiz: Quintan Tarantino plus people having a good time equals how many dead bodies?


Generally speaking I'm a fan of Quintan Tarantino. His filmmaking is energetic and lively, with vivid characters, fast ball dialogue and-for lack of a better word-pulpy edge. I haven't seen a Tarantino movie I didn't like. And for better or worse, Inglourious Basterds continues that streak. I liked it. Just didn't love it.

Basterds takes place during World War II in Nazi occupied France. A Jewish American military unit has been put together to terrorize the German military there. Meanwhile, a formidible German officer nicknamed the "Jew Hunter" uses intelligence and cunning to kill enemies to the Nazi state. The dude that played the German officer won an Academy Award for his performance and I can see why, he does an excellent job playing the cool power mad killer.

The rest of the movie is a sort of Tarantino by numbers- there's tense standoffs, planned shenanagans that go wrong, different teams of people at work, a place/event where everyone converges, you know, the usual QT stuff. Inglourious Basterds proves the well isn't dry, all of these elements still pop with enough energy to hold attention. The characters are decent but not up to the memorable standards of prior QT movies.

The most interesting aspect of Basterds is also the part I liked the least. Most World War II movies tend to pay reverence to the historical parts of its story. With Basterds, history goes out the window. Without giving away the astonishing ending, it plays out like one of those graphic novels that takes place in an alternate universe. That approach clearly worked for many since it was nominated for Best Picture, but it didn't work for me.

So with Inglourious Basterds I felt like I got fair Tarantino. Some inspiration, definitely a lot of style, resulting in a mildly entertaining effort.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

All The Right Moves

Jeff Scott Soto proves there's life after Journey with last year's album W.E.T.


As much as I like Ywgnie Malmsteen's guitar playing, I didn't buy his stuff back in the day. Because of that, I am mostly ignorant of the work of singer Jeff Scott Soto. Soto first hit my radar when he joined Soul Sirkus, a Journey side project that changed names when Sammy Hagar quit. Eventually, this led to Soto replacing Steve Augeri as Journey's lead singer. I saw Journey with Soto in the lead singer spot that year and felt that while he was talented, he didn't seem like a clean fit (his voice seemed to push to hard to hit high notes and his stage presence was a little FAME dancerish, though he injected some much needed soul in the vocals). Apparently, Journey eventually felt the same and dropped Soto from the lineup.

This left Jeff Scott Soto a free agent again. To his credit, Soto didn't bash Journey and moved on with his life. And in moving on Jeff Scott Soto has recorded one of the finest AOR releases I've heard this century as a member of the supergroup W.E.T.

This band, made up of European AOR acts Work Of Art, Eclipse and Soto, has made an album that recaptures the excitement of early 80s Arena Rock. They leave no AOR cliche unturned, the insistent anthem rocker ("One Love"), the weepy power ballad ("Comes Down Like Rain"), the contemplative midtempo relationship drama number ("Running From The Heartache") and the high speed attitude frenzy ("Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is").

Has it all been done before? Yes. But what counts in AOR is passion and execution, something W.E.T. has in spades. So many aging AOR bands have felt the need to mature, change with the times or just sound tired repeating the past. Soto and crew tackle this music like it's brand new, free of irony or any musical advancements past 1982. Jeff Scott Soto in particular comes across as inspired, recalling Steve Perry or David Coverdale in his best moments.

This album gives me the same chills I would get buying a new AOR album in the mid 80s, when everything is familiar yet fresh. Better yet, Jeff Scott Soto proves that even if you get fired from Journey, you should never stop believin'.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Catching Up With...Sandra Bullock

OK, as Peter Griffin or the Bunny would say "You know what really grinds my gears?" the answer would be:

To Stop Saying Sandra Bullock Was "Blind Sided" - Normally I'm all for snark and not above kickin' someone when they're down if I don't like them, but I actually don't mind Sandra Bullock as an actress and feel bad for her (I'm not even a big fan of hers, when I first saw an advertisement for The Blind Side I thought "Is she portraying Kathie Lee Gifford?"). Not just for her obvious problems in her personal life, but that the media took her Oscar victory for The Blind Side and rubbed it all in her face. News story after news story had to make a play on the movie title for their report on Bullock's breakup with her husband. This sort of thing I could possibly enjoy as a lone snotty comment from a TMZ staffer, but every news service in the country? That's jacked.

Now for things that don't grind my gears...

Alex Chilton homages - Big Star will forever be considered one of the great neglected bands of rock history. And with that Alex Chilton is a talent that myself and maybe others only find out about when you read those "Greatest of all time" lists you find around in magazines and the internet, because except for That 70s Show I can't think of any major exposure of their music. But Big Star was sublimely melodic and his passing led to a nice cover by a fan of one of my favorite songs, "Thirteen".

The Black Crowes "Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)" - On a recent long car ride this song was a highlight, I loved how it went from a Creedence Clearwater Revival style first half with dreamy guitar licks to a fierce rave up of skidding organ runs. Great stuff.

Hot Tub Time Machine commercials - Hey, is that John Cusack having a mid life crisis? Cusack was a master of the teen ruckus films in the 80s and seemed to mature to rom com king a long time ago. To see Cusack back in his old stomping grounds is, as Heidi Klum would say, "BeZahr". Who knows, maybe the guy who led One Crazy Summer and Better Off Dead can reclaim the magic. Not banking on it though. All I know is I want my two dollars...

Heidi Klum says "Bizarre"- Taken from the tv show Project: Runway, the supermodel says the word "Bizarre"...well, bizarrely. For some reason the image and sound of her enunciating strikes me weird, like she's morphing into that creature from Species or something. How Bizarre.

Zooey Deschanel Cotton Commercial - Long the avatar (Aha! Snuck that word in. Heh heh, Avatar!) for indie cool in a quirky cute package, actress/singer Zooey Deschanel has made a new song for her advertisement selling Cotton. I love it when a song is written for a commercial, I still like to think about What The Night Could Do from time to time. The full song is light airy fun, the ad itself features a trip to a used record store. Dammit, they know my demographic so well!

And now we're caught up. That's...Bizarre!

Loosey Goosey, Loosey Goosey


I've been away to handle some family matters, but like the band of today's post now I'm back. The Black Crowes hit the rock n roll mainstream in the early 90's as the second coming of The Faces / Stones / Aerosmith and then spent the rest of the decade destroying that notion with a jam band direction more akin to The Band or Grateful Dead. After breaking up, the Crowes returned a few years ago with the strong yet subdued Warpaint album.

Last year saw the release of this effort Before The Frost...Until The Freeze. Always the group with their hand up first when it comes to reliving the early 70's, it seems someone tipped them off that the Crowes had never recorded an album of new material live on a farm with an audience before. How this escaped the Crowes up to this point I have no idea (didn't Chicago and Jackson Browne pull off similar stunts?) but obviously this neglect could not continue.

The first or "main" album of what is essentially a double album (another 70s hold over concept) is Before The Frost. This album captures the band's live intensity, it's formidible ability to combine blues rock riffage and improv excitement. Winners include the CCR turned Allman Brothers rocker "Been A Long Time", the broken whiskey bottle ballad "Appaloosa" and the near acoustic Zep magic of "What Is Home". It took a few plays for the songs to stick as individual pieces, Before The Frost is well worth the effort and is a fine album for anyone who liked their Amorica disc.

The second album which came as a free download with purchase of the main cd is Until The Freeze. Here the rock element is pulled out in favor of a more Country / Bluegrass flavor. Lots of pickin and fiddlin goes on and as far as that goes, Until The Freeze isn't bad. Kind of a chill album that reminds me a bit of The Byrds Sweethearts Of The Rodeo era.

While a part of me will always long for the ass kickin rock side of The Black Crowes (I even enjoyed By Your Side, their lone return to that sound that tends to get slagged) Before The Frost...Until The Freeze provides what may be the most complete portrait of the band they've become. An Americana jam band with heavy classic rock roots. And that ain't bad.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Catching Up With...Bitch Stewie!

Bitch Stewie rules! (pictured on the right)

Now for the latest round of catch up -

Bitch Stewie - A week ago I saw a Family Guy repeat that I missed on its original airing, an episode where Stewie made a clone of himself with fewer brain cells to perform menial tasks. The resulting clone, named "Bitch Stewie", saw everything through rose colored glasses speaking in an awestruck tone constantly. Easily the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. Though the recent Family Guy episode with Stewie in drag saying to a mailman "Oh, you're emptying your sack on me!" while the mailman tosses fan mail on him from a bag is almost as good.

Death Of The 80s - So many entertainers from my formative years are dying off that I have to lump them in one place. On top of Boner and T Bone Wolk, in the past week football star / Little House On The Prairie guy Merlin Olsen, child star Corey Haim and Mission: Impossible leader/ Airplane! pilot Peter Graves have all died. Graves was the saddest loss of all to me, I liked Mission: Impossible and loved Airplane. Joey, have you ever seen a grown man naked?

Idolatry - As the ninth season of American Idol falls into an inexplicable limbo of mixed message judging and mind boggling vote results, Entertainment Weekly is there to mock it all with a weekly online critique called Idolatry. Watching Michael Slezak (who seems to be a walking encyclopedia of AI info) and crew ridicule AI has become more fun than watching the show itself. To check out some first class snark, just click on the link.

Ray Lamontagne "Trouble" - One positive thing of American Idol this season is the repeated usage of this song. In fact, it just got a contestant booted from the show this week after singing it. "Trouble" is a song I've heard here and there without knowing who made it, after hearing it twice on AI this year (first from some guy who actually knows trouble via jail time and then this week Alex Lambert) I decided to check out the original. Good tune! Thanks American Idol!!

Techno Sequels - Both Iron Man and Tron have sequels in the pipeline and trailers to entice with. The Iron Man 2 trailer reeks of sequelitis with its overkill (More digital special effects! Mickey Rourke and Scarlett Johanssen!! An army of Iron Men!!!) but I know I'm gonna wanna see this puppy anyway. As for Tron: Legacy I'll have to wait and see, it's going to take a lot of inspired storytelling to revive this hard drive once you get past the flashy fx.

W.E.T. "One Love" - While researching long forgotten AOR bands I stumbled across this track from last year. It is high quality AOR in the Journey/Foreigner vein. I've bought the whole album to review, but for now this is the song that's stuck in me head. Dorky homemade video and all.

And that's this round of catch up. Seacrest...out!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jump You Crazy Stereotype, Jump!


At the end of last year I got New Super Mario Brothers for the Wii, I thought it would be a fun game for me and my wife to play together. After all, when we were dating we would sit in my brother's bedroom and play Super Mario 3 for hours on the 'ol Super NES. The first game I bought for the Wii was Super Mario Galaxy, a game I neglected to review because I never finished the thing. Super Mario Galaxy is a fun game with nice scrolling graphics but is one of those games that gets too challenging for my enjoyment. I'm not a fan of super difficult games, I play for fun - if I wanted stress I would do something other than play a video game!

I had gotten the original Super Mario Bros game from the Wii online store which provided a bit of enjoyment for us. While looking for gift ideas for myself I noticed a new version was coming up with a fresh wrinkle: simultaneous mulitplayer action. So I asked for and got the game as a gift (thanks Mom and Dad!). After nearly completing the game I feel I can give a good review for this bad boy.

Automatically the game gets a passing grade because at its core, it's the same old Super Mario we've known before. Side scrolling running and jumping thru obstacles and over amiable enemies. Mazes filled with coins, prizes and secrets. And more theme worlds than a Star Wars universe (desert land, ice land, water land, etc). If you've played any of the prior versions you know this game, which may seem like a weakness but is actually a strength. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The multiplayer mode is a lot of fun, no more sitting on your hands waiting for your turn to do the maze you just watched other people do. It does mean you have to be more careful though, it's very easy to accidentally put your co-player in a bad spot on screen because it scrolls with whichever character has the most forward movement. Still, being able to cooperate with each other (you can carry other players by hand or with a Yoshi) is a huge plus.

On the negative side, the wii controllers used for the game are tougher to use than the old NES control pad. Holding the controller sideways, the buttons seem too far apart to use as easily as the old system. Also, Yoshi and the other little lizards you can ride are restricted to specific worlds. You can't pick him up and take him with you to the next maze. If you get to the end of a level, Yoshi waves goodbye to you cause that's all he can do. Lastly, this is the first Super Mario game I can recall having where he talks. Listening to Mario and Luigi speak in a cheesy stereotype of an Italian person won't go far towards placating those who feel offended by the plumbing duo.

Despite some drawbacks, all in all New Super Mario Bros is a fun ride that maintains its solid mechanics while adding an enjoyable multi player option. If you liked the old games, you'll like this one.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Retro Cool, 1976 Style

I've picked out two songs that I'm currently into that are new yet recall the Bicentennial age. So imagine if you will a suspenseful intro set to ChIps disco music while a car crashes in slow motion, 'cause Jon and Ponch are ready to ride to some hip tunes!

First up, power pop by a band called Free Energy performing a song called...uh, "Free Energy". Looks like the energy shortage of '76 hit song titles. Their jam has the most cowbell heard on the planet since "Don't Fear The Reaper" (from '76) and is well worth a spin on Wolfman Jack's turntable.

Second is the well known actress/indie wonder twins Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward as She and Him. Their sophomore set is being released and the lead single is AM radio ready. Lush, laid back pop. Love Deschanel's slightly deadpan vocal delivery.

All new music to take me back to a time when Pete Rose meant "Charlie Hustle" and not "Disgraced gambler whose amazing baseball career will never achieve the recognition it deserves because he's a jerk". Batter up!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Catching Up With...

To switch things up and hopefully post more often, I'm gonna go on about the six things I'm interested in at the time. And the top six right now is...

American Idol - Well, after early hype this looks like the least talented bunch of kids of any season for AI. After my fave Crystal Bowersox it gets to slim pickins in searching for decent talent. At least Simon Cowell in his final season has decided to be meaner (and more entertaining) than ever. And surprise surprise, Kara Dioguardi has actually offered some relevant criticism in her judging on occassion. After a shaky first week of live tv, Ellen is settling down to deliver some much needed humor to the precedings. It's still early, there's a chance some of the remaining contestants can catch fire and get interesting. But time is slipping away and with it, possibly the last time people will pay attention to American Idol.

Avatar - Watching the Oscars right now to see if James Cameron will be crowned King Of The World again. I saw Avatar in mini IMAX 3D (the first time I saw it in 2D) and got more of the "Pandora exerience". Which is a lot of falling ash and flying bugs in the background giving a fuller feeling of depth to the picture. The 3D made the technical achievements of Avatar all the greater, one of the first truly immersive experiences shown in a movie theater.

Classic MLB Baseball 1979 - 1983 - One of the ESPN channels has been showing classic baseball from the era I used to follow it. Seeing great players like Craig Nettles, George Brett, Dave Kingman and Frank White play brought back fond memories of watching these games in my youth. It also reminds me of the nicknames we used to make up for baseball players, like "King Kong" Kingman, Gil "Blazing Speed" Flores (because that's what it said on his baseball card, "Has blazing speed") or Tommy "The Bionic Man" Johns. Good times.

David Pack "I Just Can't Let Go" - This was a lost mid 80s Adult Contemporary song that should have been a hit and wasn't. Ambrosia lead singer David Pack went solo and released this song (which I had on 45 back in the day) roping in Michael McDonald and James Ingram to sing the chorus with him. The result was a deep, resonant chorus harmony that was pure awesomeness.

Tosh.0 - This half hour show on Comedy Central digs up the most brutal clips on the web plus riffs on anything that goes viral. Sure there's other shows that do the same, Tosh.0 has a real good eye for finding clips that generate a stronger reaction than the competition. And though the host's frat boy sense of humor is hit or miss with me (the guy spares no sacred cows, it's ruthless down and dirty harsh jokes) the matchup of edgy vid clips and edgier humor has proven irresistible to me.

Wilco Sky Blue Sky - I've been going through the back catalog of Wilco a bit and snapped up this disc from a few years back. It's like a 70s soft rock album for the indie age, soft acoustic arrangements and pillowy vocals abound. The lyrics aren't the usual boy meets girl stuff (Wilco usually isn't like that) and though I haven't heard the disc enough to know what its about, I enjoy chilling to the relaxed soft rock groove.

And that's it, the top six. Will have to see if I can keep going with this new thing. Until next time!

Happy Anniversary Bunny!

I was looking at my blog, which I haven't been updating lately and noticed mostly what I've posted recently when people die. So to get out of turning my blog into an online morgue, I'm gonna try to post more often even if its just little things.

Today (March 6th, even though the post will show up March 7th) is my wedding anniversary to my wonderful wife. Last year I included a clip of Yes "The Calling", a song I heard on the radio for the first time as we drove to our wedding. Being a Yes fan, I get psyched whenever I hear a new Yes song and listening to it on my wedding day made "The Calling" one of their most meaningful tunes to me.

While at the gym with my wife walking the treadmill, my Ipod in shuffle mode turned up "The Calling". Out of 1,000 songs my IPod could pick, it picked the song I heard for the first time on my wedding day. So here it is again, Yes. "Hear the calling of a miracle..."

Monday, March 01, 2010

RIP T Bone Wolk

Another passing of an entertainer who was a mainstay of my 80s entertainment life, bassist / producer T Bone Wolk died on Saturday from a heart attack. Wolk was a distinctive player and a key performer during Hall & Oates chart domination. His ability to keep a groove that moved while visually wobbling around made him an asset both in the H&O sound and the videos. Later, he and fellow H&O sideman G.E. Smith were the basis of the Saturday Night Live house band. Wolk wasn't a house hold name, but he definitely left his mark. Who could forget the bass line to "Maneater"?