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??