Thursday, December 15, 2011

Married With Child


Most of the new tv season shows haven't meant much for yours truly, they all seem to clog into a haze of hype and half baked ideas. One show has stood above the rest and to my surprise it's Up All Night. Seeing the average life expectancy of recent Christina Applegate projects I thought this would be the latest in a line of nice tries. And then the guy was that dude who is married to Amy Poehler. But I was bored one day and thought I'd give it a try.

Despite having a tough sell on it's premise (Applegate is a tv producer of a daytime wanna be Oprah talk show starring self absorbed ex teen r&b singer host played by Maya Rudolph while ex-lawyer Mr Amy Poehler is now a stay at home dad) the characters are likeable and the stories are simple enough to get across to an audience. Up All Night is a nice show with warmth and humor. The best new show I've seen this season.

Famous Amos


It's been a looong time where I have gotten totally hooked on an artist, but a few months ago it happened. I decided to check out some Amos Lee, I had heard one song on a sampler a few years back ("Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight") and liked it. Then this year Itunes gave away free tracks off the Mission Bell album every few weeks so before I knew it I had amassed a decent selection of Lee. I gave these songs more play and thought he was really good. Got that awesome raspy yet smooth soul voice while laying out tasteful folk pop. Mission Bell became a regular in my car cd player rotation and I thought it was hella dope.

Amos Lee has a cool tone to his music, it has a feeling of weariness mixed with a searching sentimentality. Here's a few of my favorite tracks of his I've been listening to:






Freakin Sweet Art



As Joe Pesci would say "Ok OK Ok" I have a lot of catching up to do. So let's cut the crap and get down to it with an old fashioned multi post fest. I have had a lot of posts on me mind but haven't bothered to type them out, so here goes.

Matthew Sweet released an album called Modern Art that I downloaded about a month ago. And it is a really good album. Probably the most addictive one of original material for me since Blue Sky On Mars. Sweet pretty much said his approach to the music was a little more organic and it shows with delightfully quirky touches and loose ends surrounding his sturdy power pop stylings. As a result Modern Art has a broad palate containing Sweet's fave influences that includes White Album era Beatles ("Ivory Tower"), Brian Wilson precious melodies ("Modern Art")and Neil Young ragged chug a lug rock ("Ladyfingers").

Unlike the prior solo release Sunshine Lies there are some stand out cuts. The ghost story "She Walks The Night" has a bangin hook while the midtempo "Baltimore" finds Sweet in his forlorn zone. My favorite track is the music geek out "Late Night With the Power Pop".

This is Matthew Sweet's best work in a long time, so I give it a

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Dream Carries On


Oops,haven't posted in a while. Happy Turkey Day everyone! Today's review is an album I've been listening to for a while, Dream Theater's A Dramatic Turn Of Events.

I purposely sat on this one a bit because the last few albums from them I liked a lot more when I initially got them and then less over time. In particular the last disc Black Clouds And Silver Linings fell off quickly and I eventually only found half the album enjoyable. So I waited until the newness wore off on this disc this time out.

The album's title refers to obvious events in the DT camp, founding member Mike Portnoy exited the band after he failed to convince the others to take an extended break. The Portnoy / Dream Theater saga hit soap opera proportions as fans sided with one person or the other. Once the dust settled, Dream Theater went on a search for a new drummer before selecting Mike Mangini.

And the change has done the band good from my point of view. Dream Theater sounds like a band out to prove it's still vital on ADTOE, unleashing barrage after barrage of their trademark riffage and noodling. Portnoy's absence brings a welcome change in their dropping that nu metal growling / melody style in favor of a more classic approach (which I'm really really happy about. Systematic Chaos gave me a literal headache at times). New guy Mangini has a drum style notably less heavy but no less dexterous than Portnoy, allowing a lot more space for bassist John Myung to groove.

There are some songs on ADTOE that I flat out love, and funnily enough my favorite is the slightly nu metal flavored "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" with it's "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" keyboards, churning guitar riff and stellar chorus. The band locks in to prog nirvana on "Bridges In The Sky" as they pile on the solos until things get almost jazzy. The rest of the disc is filled with high points in almost every song and even surprises by showing a bit of restraint on the closing track "Beneath The Surface".

Despite doing just about everything right, I don't care for the album as a whole. Part of the problem is I didn't like most of the ballads, the power ballad "This Is The Life" felt lie it should have had a better melody. The whole track builds up to this flick your bic moment and then the chorus hits and it's kinda a let down. And while I like vocalist James LaBrie generally I found the Phantom Of The Opera tone to "Far From Heaven" a bit much to take. Speaking of choruses, many of them seem to follow a similar pattern on ADTOE so it takes a while to differentiate the songs from each other.

After having A Dramatic Turn Of Events for a month I find I'm still going back to it repeatedly so while it's not perfect I like it a lot. Dream Theater proves they are still plenty awesome.

Rating:


Monday, November 07, 2011

More Quick Movie Reviews


And the latest serving from my movie watching habits are:

Tron: Legacy - A movie as cynical and pre-programmed as the subject (an electronic world existing inside a computer network). It lacks the innocent adventurism of the original, though does improve on cgi special effects (naturally) and pacing. A perfectly functional, rational sequel to the computerized original. But not any more than that.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World - I wasn't planning on watching this but I had some time to kill. Big ups for the director, I haven't read the comic/graphic novel/whatever this was based on but the flying words and whiz bang scene transitions really captures that comic book feeling. As for the story, I was surprised it worked pretty well as a starry eyed video game enhanced exagerration of your usual teen angst/romance. Normally don't care for this type of genre, what I think of as the fantasy pile-it-on genre where anything goes and every five seconds something new and random gets thrown on screen (thinking Adventures Of Buckaroo Bonzai as an example). But I mildly liked this flick. Never want to see it again, but liked it for what it was.

Tangled - Disney used to make animated movies like this all the time but in the modern age it's all computerized. A retelling of Rapunzel, Tangled isn't spectacular but is instead a solid earnest entry in the Disney fairy tale catalog. The story is told with zip and unlike many other similar films shies away from modern pop culture references for laughs. The characters / voice actors are nicely drawn (probably helps I'm a fan of the tv show Chuck since Zachery Levi is the main guy in this film) and the film is effective at hitting all it's targets (mushiness, sadness, gleefulness, romanticness, dramaness, any other kind of ness). The songs in this film aren't memorable but not offensively bad either.

Of these three I probably liked Tangled the most followed by Tron then Scott Pilgrim. Too lazy to rate these, so I'll leave it at that.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sing For The Day - Tom Petty "Refugee"

Happy Halloween! To celebrate the day, is there anything scarier than Tom Petty? Just joking, though when I was in High School I would have been scared because I did not like Tom Petty's music. Didn't get it one bit. Petty's music wasn't commercial enough or polished enough or excessive enough to get me going. He was one of those artists Rolling Stone magazine would insist you had to like if you had any "taste".

Fast forward to the late 90s, after having a copy of his first Greatest Hits album I became a fan. I like his music a lot now. After watching a Classic Albums program about the making of the Damn The Torpedoes album including an extensive breakdown (baby baby Breakdooowwwn)on the making of "Refugee" it's been on my mind. What a great song.

One last note, until Melissa Etheridge covered "Refugee" I didn't know Petty was saying the word "Have" in the chorus. I thought it went "You don't, hey hey, like a refugee". The word "Have" came across like a Buddy Holly vocal hiccup thing. Though I admit the song makes more sense with the word "have" in it.

"Refugee" was from 1980.



And since it was so educational the Melissa Etheridge version too

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quick Movie Reviews


Here's a few brief dvd reviews:

Just Go With It - has beautiful scenery

Black Swan - kind of a surprise with all the critical hype it was sort of David Cronenberg style horror not what I expected, but good.

Pirahna - as bad as you'd expect and then some. Hey, that's what happened to Elizabeth Shue!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sing For The Day - Foo Fighters "I Should Have Known"

While on the treadmill tonight I was walking off the pound this song came up on my Foo Fighters playlist. It's funny, even though the quality of the treadmill speakers wasn't as good as what's in my car the bass line popped more there which reminded me of ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Noveselic playing on that song.

Despite the obvious meaning to "I Should Have Known" due to it's dark mood and mournful/rueful lyrics Foo leader Dave Grohl insists it's not about Kurt Cobain. But with Noveselic and Nevermind producer Butch Vig involved it's hard not to take it that way. Even as a general song without the Nirvana ambiance it is an emotional stand out moment on the Foo Fighter's recent Wasting Light album.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lindsey Buckingham - Seeds We Sow live and on CD


When I first started buying records and tapes, listening to music intently beyond just what was on the radio, one of the first bands that I got a lot of was Fleetwood Mac. My best friend's parents had bootlegged HBO off a satellite dish and I asked them to make a recording of the Mirage tour concert for me. They did and I became a Fleetwood Mac super fan.

That taped concert made a huge impression on me on what I thought rock music was. Lindsey Buckingham in particular had an impact because he was the lead guitarist and singer (and later I'd find out producer, songwriter, artist, and so on). The way he played guitar (no pick), the herky jerky body language (like the air humping thing he does when he solos on "I'm So Afraid")...I just thought that was what all rock stars did. I didn't realize it was something unique to him.

Now decades later I've learned that Lindsey Buckingham is a unique talent and I've been a fan of both his solo work and Fleetwood Mac. This was my first time seeing Buckingham live on his own. I got held up at work and was late for the show, so the set list from what I saw was:

Go Insane / Trouble / Never Going Back Again / Big Love / Under The Skin / All My Sorrows / In Our Own Time / Illumination / Second Hand News / Tusk / Stars Are Crazy / End Of Time / That's The Way Love Goes / I'm So Afraid / Go Your Own Way
encore: Turn It On / Treason / Seeds We Sow

Napa's Uptown theater was pretty much a sold out crowd and they were pumped for a rock show. So pumped there was dancing in the aisle and random shouts of "Yeah!" during the acoustic first half. Buckingham wisely front loaded his hits at the start. Performing alone with his guitar and Art Garfunkel haircut, Buckingham was able to reveal added levels of desperation and wistfulness to his familiar tunes like "Trouble" and "Go Insane".

After "Big Love" a three man band joined Buckingham on the stage to allow for more of a band performance. With a lot of momentum built up the set list alternated between his pure solo stuff and remaining Mac hits to make sure no one got bored. Not that boredom is an option at Uptown, the small converted movie theater makes for a more intimate setting where people can yell things at the performer and actually get a response (like when some guy yelled "How many guitars you got?" between songs and Buckingham replied "Too many").

"All My Sorrows" was a major treat for me, Out Of The Cradle is one of my all time favorite albums by anybody anywere. It was nice to drink in the languid tone and pretty melody during live performance. His new disc Seeds We Sow was strongly represented with six songs performed live and in a switch from the norm, the audience seemed to enjoy new material. "In Our Own Time" in particular thrived with Buckingham stooping down for his jagged little guitar fills. Also away from the norm, the crowd seemed to appreciate the artist's abilities beyond being a human jukebox, revelling in Buckingham's intricate guitar work (so intricate he has to shake his hand loose before many songs. Repetetive motion injury?) and howling vocals.

That appreciation is probably why the place went ape shit when Buckingham went full throttle into a classic rock smash like "Second Hand News". It was one of those perfect concert moments where the audience and performer feed off each other as Buckingham's insistent "Do it! Do it! Do it!" in between "bom bom bom bom"s increased in intensity. Buckingham reached out to his fans now, pointing at some dancers and shaking hands with the front row. The extended solo at the end of "I'm So Afraid" gave us the guitar God moment, ending with women literally grabbing at his legs. And how could "Go Your Own Way" not go over well?

After firing off all his major hits I wondered if there would be an encore and if there was would it include "Holiday Road". The answer turned out to be yes and no. Got another treat in form of the Out Of The Cradle track "Turn It On" before discovering a new appreciation for "Treason" off the Gift Of Screws album. Buckingham ended the evening solo acoustic on "Seeds We Sow".

Concert Rating:


Lindsey Buckingham's new disc Seeds We Sow arrived with some minor buzz around it a few months ago. Most of that buzz was about it being self released and sounding under produced. When I first played the album, I thought it was under produced too initally but have found Seeds We Sow to be a -wait for it - slow grower. Where Lindsey Buckingham's work can often be described as lush or layered, Seeds We Sow has an approach closer to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk where the music was stripped down to guitar, bass, voice and drums.

After playing this in my car a few weeks, the each of the songs started to resonate more. On initial listen I enjoyed the 80s pop flavored "Illumination" and the speedy "One Toke Over The Line" influenced "One Take". The electric version of the title track (an Amazon bonus cut) also sounded great. It was the slower numbers that took time to appreciate. "End Of Time" has become one of my favorite Lindsey Buckingham songs, beautiful chorus matched with just enough lush accompanyment to make it shine. And the jerky rhythms to "In Our Own Time" cannot be done by anyone other than Buckingham. The spare sound becomes refreshing over time and actually becomes one of the album's strengths.

If I reviewed Seeds We Sow a few weeks ago I would have given it a seven. But now, I'll bump it up to

Album rating:

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Midnight Madness - Steve Jobs Edition


Steve Jobs passed away this week, as he's been eulogized since then there is no doubt he has done so much to lead Apple through great advancements in technology and marketing. So I'll take up this tiny bit of cyberspace to give my respects to the man.

Love Me Do - Paul McCartney is married again?

Not much of a gift - Is it me or does the premise of A Gifted Man rub the wrong way? A surgeon is haunted by the ghost of his dead ex wife to run her inner city clinic. Sounds more like a breakdown than an uplifting show. Someone needs closure, seriously.

Love To Love You Baby - but Donna Summer is eligible for Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? Why? Oh yeah, because the selection process for the Hall Of Fame sucks. I think we need to steer into the skid here and vote only for non rock artists, next year I think I'll campaign for Seals & Crofts to be entered. Is there a write in vote? Summer Breeze 2012 people!

Mr Burns lives! - and his name is Rupert Murdoch. At least that's who I'm blaming for putting the squeeze on The Simpsons talent forcing pay cuts to continue the show. I normally don't feel sorry for multi millionaires making less millions, but it's not like The Simpsons isn't a money maker just Fox wants more money for itself. At least that's what my uninformed half assed opinion is.

Manic Nirvana - Nirvana Nevermind's anniversary was celebrated all over the web and I didn't. I'll have to get around to some Nirvana in the near future to fix that. Once I get off my Foo Fighter's binge, a band I actually like more than Nirvana. I know, blasphemy right?

Great Scott - American Idol winner Scotty McCreery's debut is selling well. Could AI have it's first success story in ages? Will this be the ulitmate feather in the cap of the new judging panel? I'm asking a lot of questions today aren't I?

Are you ready for some hatred? - Seeing how the political atmosphere is with the President being compared to Hitler and the GOP feeding on their own over religion, I think this upcoming Presidential race will be the ugliest one in my lifetime. People are gonna hate hate hate.

TV Quick Hits - The new tv season is here and I'll give my snap review of what I've seen so far.

Wolverine anime - Is all kinds of awesome. Finally get to see Wolfie do some real damage to opponents and the storyline reminds me of that first Wolverine comic mini series. Real good stuff.

Iron Man anime - Shell head is pretty good, unlike Wolverine the storytelling is less focused.

2 Broke Girls - Kat Dennings is funny as hell.

Whitney - OK, the show stars Whitney Cummings but she plays straight man to her boyfriend character. Don't get that.

How I Met Your Mother - still love the show, blew me away with the appearance of Victoria. This season is hinting at some serious changes for the McClaren's bunch.

Community - is as off the wall as ever and love it. "You're acting like a spoiled kid and not in a hot way". Classic.

The Big Bang Theory - the characters are great but nothing truly memorable yet this season.

Family Guy - getting some edge back, though Peter telling Cleveland they were never friends was cold.

The Office - I like Andy, still miss Michael Scott. Even as they make Andy more Scott like with the tattoo thing.

And that's where we're at, Chuck hasn't appeared yet so waiting on the final season of that. The last episode with Morgan getting the intersect turned me off but I've been watching past seasons on DVD and getting psyched again.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

A Foreigner's Journey Into The Night


Last nite got to see the all killer no filler triple bill of Night Ranger, Foreigner and Journey at the Sleep Train Pavilion. It had been raining hard and often over the past few days, but last night there was no rain. The show had a start time of 7pm, the pavilion was still sparsely populated when Night Ranger promptly took the stage.

Night Ranger set list:
Lay It On Me / Sing Me Away / High Enough / When You Close Your Eyes / Don't Tell Me You Love Me / Sister Christian / (You Can Still) Rock In America

Night Ranger opened with a heavy rock track from their recent Somewhere In Californa disc "Lay It On Me" which was a brilliant choice considering the crowd's hit heavy mood. Throw the new song on at the start before the audience has time to realize they don't recognize it! As bassist/vocalist Jack Blades, guitarist Brad Gillis and more recent addition guitarist Joel Hoekstra scampered, spun and tandem posed for the fans it became clear Night Ranger still worked a high energy attack. At least for guys their age.

Jack Blades made clear the Bay Area roots of the band while mentioning the last time they played this venue was in 1987 when they headlined with opening act Tesla (funny enough that was the last time I saw Night Ranger). This led to an enjoyable run through their early pop rocker "Sing Me Away". Then Blades said he was on the phone with Tommy Shaw the other day and Shaw insisted Night Ranger play Damn Yankee's power ballad smash "High Enough". Although I liked Gillis' guitar solo (it was great and nothing like Ted Nugent's original) the fact is that the song needs a high pitched singer like Shaw to pull it off. And it seemed kinda lame to include "High Enough" when Night Ranger had all those hits from the 7 Wishes record that wasn't played at all (including the Top 10 "Sentimental Street"). But they played it. Oh well...

Blades reminisced more about when Night Ranger played Day On The Green supporting Journey in '83 before bouncing into "When You Close Your Eyes".

It was time to rock again as Night Ranger barn stormed through their classic "Don't Tell Me You Love Me". Guitarist Joel Hoekstra started to wow me at this point with his blazing playing and easy camaraderie with Gillis. Blades told everyone they would be singing along a lot this evening and worked a little bit of The Eagles' "Hotel California" in the middle of "Don't tell Me You Love Me". Drummer Kelly Keagy got to walk out from behind his kit for a little - singing lead on that other power ballad classic "Sister Christian". That definitely got the sing along crowd, um, motorin, so the band broke out the red, white and blue guitars for "(You Can Still) Rock In America". Couldn't have been happier hearing Night Ranger dish out their best jams in rapid succession.

True to their rep, Night Ranger delivered a great set. Yet their opening act status meant no encore. Bummer.

After the normal stage reset for the next band on the bill, Foreigner jumped on stage. A lot of the audience had arrived by now and were ready to rock.

Foreigner set list:
Double Vision / Head Games / Cold As Ice / Waiting For A Girl Like You / Dirty White Boy / Feels Like The First Time / Urgent / I Want To Know What Love Is / Hot Blooded
encore: Juke Box Hero

I had read online that band leader and only remaining original member Mick Jones had not been touring due to his health. This meant a serious shortage of star power for Foreigner as both Night Ranger and Journey boasts three originals (defining original as being from the 80s lineups of these bands not necessarily founding members) to Foreigner's none. Zero. Zilch. Not even an original bass player (though ex-Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson is always great). The responsibility for driving this whole thing rested squarely on vocalist Kelly Hansen's shoulders.

Now lucky for me I saw Foreigner last year, so this time around I was prepared for Hansen's Steven Tyler stage presence and adapted to it easier. And I have to say Hansen pulled it off, leading the band with energy and powerful vocals. Even when Hansen's mic cut out during "Dirty White Boy" he handled it like a pro, going to the side of the stage to trade out mics and then picking up where he left off in the verse. Equally impressive, on one of the fast songs (don't remember which) Hansen sang a verse section while running a lap around the inner seating section without getting winded.

Foreigner also had the best staged show out of the three. Their usage of the background video screen was impressive with flashing lights and dynamic use of colors (except of "Juke Box Hero" where they decided to employ computer graphics from 1993 to show people with stars in their eyes). The dizzying box images on "Head Games" or the flames for "Hot Blooded" really got me. And for "I Want To Know What Love Is" the group brought out a local choir to handle the background vocals.

It was because of these factors that Foreigner got over the most with the audience. By the end of the set it was nearly a packed house (save the row in front of us, more on that in a minute) who were all kinds of Foreigner crazy. For me, the lack of original members of any kind was noticeable (I've seen Foreigner in '85, '99 and 2010) so while the performance was good it was hard to shake that tribute band feeling (maybe if they played something off Can't Slow Down it might have felt less that way). But I didn't feel like anyone else noticed, or maybe just didn't care. Thought it was funny some in the audience were bemoaning the lack of Steve Perry with Journey but nobody missed Lou Gramm. Why no love for Lou?

Another stage redress and Journey were on their way!

Journey set list:
Separate Ways / Ask The Lonely / Send Her My Love / City Of Hope - Only The Young / Faithfully / Guitar Solo / Stone In Love / Escape / Lights / Wheel In The Sky / Keyboard Solo / Open Arms / La Do Da / Be Good To Yourself / Lovin' Touchin Squeezin
encore: Any Way You Want It / Don't Stop Believin'

"Separate Ways" always makes a good set opener as Journey split the cool night air with that familiar synth intro. Guitarist Neal Schon literally kicked things off with a kick to the sky. Singer Arnel Pineda hit the stage and was still in good voice (although some of his high notes were boosted with an echo effect). They kept things rolling with an excellent take on "Ask The Lonely" as bassist Ross Valory mugged for the camera.

A nice set list surprise with the quiet ballad "Send Her My Love", it's been so long since I've heard it live I didn't recognize it at first. Pineda dug into the haunted sentiments and displayed an open sensitivity not seen since the Perry days. It was the musical high point of the evening for me.

Keyboardist Jon Cain addressed the crowd and did the usual "Are you ready to rock?!" stage patter garnering a strong audience response until he asked if we were ready to hear some new music. Think I heard some crickets chirping after Cain asked that question. "City Of Hope" was introduced as being about Manila in the Philippines, it's a pretty good song. Too bad the audience wouldn't even do the "tolerate the one new song" courtesy most bands get, they were stone dead silent throughout save for a guy two seats down from me booing. It was like watching a band perform in a vacuum. Journey must be getting this reaction a lot because "City Of Hope" cuts into "Only The Young" without a break in between.

Pineda got the lead vocal nod on "Faithfully" which was nice, I was expecting the mic to pass to drummer Deen Castronovo (who sounds more like Steve Perry than anybody) at this point. In fact Castronovo got no lead vocals this show, the first time I can remember that happening since...Arrival tour? It was good to see the vocals center on one guy again.

Neal Schon's guitar solo I can't recall exactly where it was in the set so I'm guessing it was here. It was as spectacular as always. "Stone In Love" amped up the fans, Castronovo's ability to beat the hell out of his drums really came across here. Also Arnel Pineda's familiarity with the material from touring is paying off as he came across earnestly during the all important "I've got dreams I'm livin' for" segment of "Escape".

"Lights" got the audience swooning in a waving sea of cell phones and bic lighters (I guess the stoners were good for something after all) before they crushed "Wheel In The Sky". Schon freshened up that charged guitar riff he kicks into towards the end and Cain showed off some likeably sloppy harmonica adding a bluesy charm.

Jon Cain then handed in a marvelous piano solo, probably the most extravagantly classical keys solo I've heard since Rick Wakeman. Predictably this led into "Open Arms".

Journey then blew my mind by pulling out one of my all time favorite songs of theirs that I've never heard from them live, "La Do Freakin Da". Well, really "La Do Da". This is late 70s rock at it's face melting best. Then it was back to the "dirty dozen" with "Be Good To Yourself" which was memorable because someone distracted Arnel Pineda to the point he missed the start of the second verse. I think he was laughing at someone in the front rows. Though it was technically a goof, the humor added to the positive messaging of the song.

"Lovin Touchin Squeezin" closed out the main set, a song I recently found out was inspired by a Sam Cooke song (thank you wikipedia). Just a bit of trivia I never knew. Na na na na boo boo, stick your head in doo doo.

I make it a point to leave before the final encore to beat the traffic. There was some opening guitar parts that sounded like the start to "Lay It Down" before they snapped into "Any Way You Want It". I heard that and "Don't Stop Believin" on the way to the parking lot. From the crowd noise those two went over big and sounded great.

Night Ranger rating:


Foreigner rating:


Journey rating:

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

You Really Can Still Rock In America


To a smaller audience, but yes you can. A few weeks ago I got the most recent album from Night Ranger, a Bay Area band I've been a fan of since their debut Dawn Patrol way back in 1982-83. After a three album hot streak of killer rock and flick your bic power ballads the band seemed to lose direction - going all synthesizer, then firing the keyboard player, then turning into a power trio before doing the whole reunion thing in the 90s. Despite their best efforts, Night Ranger was not able to recapture that spark they had early on - they rocked yet lacked that hyper adrenaline manic edge of their early days. I thought maybe that edge could only be captured in the studio by the late producer Pat Glasser since he handled the first three albums. When last we saw our "Sister Christian" heroes, they were searching for a new sound that would fit in with the 21st Century. The guitars were lower (think the term is "downtuned"?) and an emphasis on alt rock style melodies dominated Hole In The Sun. Sun turned off the fan base and the quick dismissal of long time axe slinger Jeff Watson didn't help.

So here we are in 2011 and Night Ranger is making a 180 from Hole In The Sun. They're going back to the 80's - the early 80's, to recapture their original sound. And unlike so many bands who have done this same maneuver only to prove you can't go home again, Night Ranger pulls it off on their new disc Somewhere In California. Those high flying choruses, barrelling grooves and twin guitar attack have sting again. Rockers like "Growin Up In California", "Bye Bye Baby" and "Rock And Roll Tonite" are dazzling spectacles of AOR perfection. When the band hits that guitar solo build up part of "Lay It On Me" I'm in rock heaven. And the power ballad quota is met with the decent "Time Of Our Lives". Somewhere In California front loads the best songs in the first half, the second half is good but not as memorable (save "Tonite" and a rampaging cover of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" as a bonus track). This disc shows off a revitalized band who I hope to see live tomorrow (weather permitting).

rating:


Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sing For The Day - AC/DC "Big Jack"

At times I hear a song or think about a song...anyway, a song comes to mind and stays in my head for whatever reason. So when this happens I'm gonna start just writing about that song and in honor of the almighty Styx I'll call this Sing For The Day.

The other day I ran into this guy who is a huge Ac/DC fan. While talking we found we both agreed that one of the best songs off the last album (Black Ice) was "Big Jack". The guy plays guitar and told me a bunch of musical stuff about 5 chords and pletcorums and pull offs that I barely understood, but I still enjoyed the conversation. Later the same day I met another guy wearing an AC/DC shirt, it was just an AC/DC kinda day.

So what does "Big Jack" mean? Is it related to their earlier song "The Jack" which was about some sexual disease? Not a lot of interpretations on the internet, KGB Agent website says it's about a tough guy who plays pool. Okay, I've read the lyrics now. The great thing about AC/DC is it seems to me 99.99999% of their lyrics are cheap sex metaphors and it's no different here. I think the song is about the big O if you know what I mean. I can see why the KGB guy thought it is about pool since there's a brief part about racking balls and stuff. But the chorus talks about how "it's only natural" and that "he's the only one with a full sack". Ac/Dc, always so raunchy it's funny. If these guys didn't make it as musicians they'd probably be the only fifty somethings in Australia still writing dirty limericks on Men's room walls.

But hey, with Ac/DC it's always really about the monster groove. So enough words, here comes "Big Jack".

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Midnight Madness - New TV Season Edition


It's that special time of year when new tv series make their over publicized debuts and returning favorites make another run for ratings gold. Actors and actresses pushing their mugs onto the screen screaming "watch me!". Like how many times do I have to see Maria Bello's pretty face all bruised up as she rattles off tough cop nonsense? She's a good actress but this ad campaign doesn't ring true for me, seems forced. Her show could be great for all I know yet I don't have an interest in her program now.

Haven't posted in a little while so there's a bit of old news that doesn't really need addressing...but I'm goin' for it anyway!

Slippin The Secret Salahi - Wow, it's a real worlds collide moment when the guitar player of my favorite band gets involved in a real Real Housewives Of... moment by stealing a former RHWO D.C. cast member for himself. One of the crazy ones no less. On the upside, it's the most press Journey's gotten in a year or two. Downside? At best Schon comes off as an insensitive horndog. And then there were rumors Salahi was riding Steven Tyler's elevator too.

New Adventures In Hi Fi -is when R.E.M. should have stopped in my opinion, even though I enjoyed Accelerate and Collapse Into Now. I was offended that they kept going after Bill Berry split because they made a big deal beforehand about how if one of the four left the band would end and then it didn't. Not so offended I wouldn't listen to them, just thought R.E.M. was one of those "men of their word" kind of bands. Anyway, they've called it a day now. When they return hope Bill Berry is back. Didn't Berry go into farming or something?

X Factor - is booorrriiing

New Girl Now - watched the Zooey Deschanel tv show, she was as offbeat as ever too bad they made the supporting cast like male versions of her. Show has potential if it makes the guys more normal to make it less of a tightly focused personality fest (one guy is macho aggressive, another douchey and a third hyper sensitive). Oh wow, 2nd episode in and the aggro guy has been replaced with a more grounded character (was that Damon Wayans?). New Girl don't waste no time!

Rock Em Sock Em Robots
- is what I think when I see commercials for Real Steel.
50/50 shot - my wife told me what she thinks this movie is about, still I gotta say this is the suckiest ad campaign for a film I've seen in awhile. All I get out of the tv adverts is a bunch of testimonials about how funny this film supposdedly is while all the scenes shown have a drab dour tone. The 3rd rock / Inception kid shaves his head and I don't get what's funny about that. Either this movie is so incredible that an advertisement can't convey what it's really about or it's about nothing of merit. A real 50/50.

Harvester Of Sorrow - the first sounds of the Metallica and Lou Reed team up have hit the net. And in honor of Spinal Tap all I can say is "Shit Sandwich".

Dreamin' - lovin the new Dream Theater video. truly awesome stuff.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wake Up Sunshine



Last night at what the tour shirt calls "Napa Valley" I saw the long running horn rock band Chicago. As I've written before, I was a big fan of Chicago in the 80s. Those Peter Cetera / David Foster ballads were works of art to me. During that decade I saw Chicago a total of 5 times (well, one was in 1990 so technically 4 times) and they often delivered a polished set of slow songs and mildly energetic rock. Not having seen them in twenty years I went into the show with modest expectations. These guys have been on the road just about every year for almost as long as I've been alive, figured they must be tired by now. I had a slight fear they might do what I saw on the Chicago 19 tour and lazily phone in their performance (they covered some horn parts with synthesizer that night!). But it was a show at a local intimate venue called the Uptown so it sounded like it might be an enjoyable night.

We had great seats in the third row. One thing about the Uptown, when it gets crowded it gets warm in there and I was pretty exhausted from the week to start with so I got a bit drowsy. Opening act Dave Sheil hit it off with the audience delivering a warm set of friendly James Taylor styled soft rock. I personally can't give an objective opinion of Sheil's talents since I cannot stand James Taylor's music. But I will say what he does, he seems to do well and won the crowd over with his earnest personality.

About a half hour later Chicago took the stage with a noticeable change in positioning the players from any other time I had seen the Chi-town pop rockers. Their normal set up throughout the 80s was bassist/vocalist center stage, horn section kinda off to the side, drums rear center flanked by keyboards on both sides. Here the horn section stood front and center at the opening and the bassist/vocalist was moved to the right. The audience was more excited than I had seen for any other Chicago concert I'd been to. I didn't pay close attention to the set list so the order of these songs were probably a little different than what I'm writing past the first few tunes. So what I remember went:

Ballet For A Girl From Buchanon (includes Make Me Smile and Colour My World) / Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? / Dialogue Pts 1 & 2 / Alive Again / Call On Me / Old Days / Along Comes A Woman / Wake Up Sunshine / If You Leave Me Now / I've Been Searchin So Long / Christmas Tree Song / Baby What A Big Surprise / Hard Habit To Break / You're The Inspiration / Beginning / I'm A Man / drum solo / Street Player / Just You N Me / Saturday In The Park / Hard To Say I'm Sorry - Get Away / last part of Feelin Stronger Every Day

encore: Free / 25 or 6 to 4

I've only heard the full "Ballet" live once, on the Chicago 17 tour, and I loved it. So I really liked that they played it with all the different sections. The switch to moving the horn section to the front instantly paid off as woodwind / sax man Walt Parazaider worked the crowd more than any of the band's front men ever had. Tag teaming with trumpeter Lee Loughnane (who took a surprisingly good lead vocal turn on "Colour My World") the horn section stepped ahead of the singers in firing up the audience with dynamic stage presence and constant directions to clap your hands.



I figured there would be more emphasis on 70s material than when I had seen them last, Chicago did not disappoint following up with "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?". Keyboardist / vocalist Robert Lamm has an unbelieveably healthy head of hair for his age, I was like "Damn!". His voice has held up surprisingly well too.

"Dialogue Pts 1 & 2" was next, there was one semester of college where I played this song a lot (around the time of the first Iraq War) so I dug it. Because he was included in the group photographs I thought trombonist James Pankow would be there but instead it was a guy I think he was named Antonio Velasco. Or maybe it was Alberto. Anyway, in addition to doing a fine job there was a noticeable change in the horn section dynamic. Velasco liked to clown around which fit in with Parazaider and Loughnane's get down and have fun approach.



Finally got to hear some late 70s Chicago live with "Alive Again", bassist/vocalist Jason Scheff finally getting a lead turn. During this and "Dialogue" his voice didn't come through that well and I thought maybe he had lost it (Scheff would sound better later in the show). Not that it mattered too much 'cause now the man has groupies, women bouncing and grinding begging for his attention. I had no idea Scheff had gained such a following. And I was surprised Scheff could see them, with a switch to a wireless headset his physical approach to singing seemed different. His eyes shut tight, Scheff would concentrate on his vocal while rocking back and forth like a man on a roller coaster.

Other songs I had not heard live before were the mid 70s hits "Call On Me" and "Old Days". Always liked "Call On Me" and the bongo attack gave more attention to the "pixie" like percussionist Drew Hester. Watching this guy in action was sort of like watching a mix of Glee and Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream. To say he was fired up is an understatement. The newest member Lou Pardini got the lead vox nod and I gotta say he is a real good singer. Nails that rough soul voice perfectly. "Old Days" gave guitarist Keith Howland a shot at lead singing (like Journey, Chicago has become a big pass the mic kinda band).

After stating to the audience that you would hear a lot of music, the 80s made their first appearance with "Along Comes A Woman". It was hard not to miss Peter Cetera as this is such a Cetera kind of jam and I was surprised that the set list had only one post Cetera song (and that was a Christmas song). In fact, every original song from the Jason Scheff era was ignored including Top 10 hits "Will You Still Love Me", "I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love", "You're Not Alone", "What Kind Of Man Would I Be" and the #1 hit of 1989 "Look Away".

The band went deep for an album cut, the pleasant "Wake Up Sunshine". It's funny, with all these hits it's this song that is stuck in my head afterwards.



Robert Lamm gave an explanatory monologue for the next part, seems you can go to Chicago's web site and bid in an auction to sing with Chicago. A lady who I had heard won with a $1500 bid walked up to sing "If You Leave Me Now". No need to criticize the lady, she was just "living her dream" and for laying out that kind of cash why not?

The band went into "(I've Been) Searchin So Long" and Jason Scheff hit his vocal stride here. He dug in deep to hit the gospelish ending with some authority, inspiring the groupies to grind and bounce away. Lamm plugged the band's upcoming Christmas CD (I think their second one) as Howland took lead vocal again on a rockabily tinged "Rockin Round The Christmas Tree".

It was a Cetera era big ballad trifecta starting with "Baby What A Big Surprise" next. Watching trumpeter Lee Loughnane blare his instrument around Scheff while he sang was pretty funny. Scheff and Pardini made a good combo on the power ballad classic "Hard Habit To Break" and guiarist Howland got to shine on an extended solo at the end of "You're The Inspiration".

Robert Lamm seemed to spend a lot of time in the background so it was noticeable when he took center stage for his warm fuzzy classic "Beginnings". Then the band got into serious jam mode as they motored through their cover of "I'm A Man" culminating in an awesome drum / percussion solo with Tris Imboden and Hester. The audience started to go nuts at this point...until Chicago pulled out their forgotten disco miss "Street Player". As a fan I got a kick out of hearing live the song that was said to cause the band such embarassment back in da day. But it stopped the audience dead in their tracks.

The sunny 70's continued with "Just You N Me" and "Saturday In The Park". In a long standing set list tradition (at least what I recall in the 80s) "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" closed the main concert part out with a lead in to the ramped up "Get Away". "Get Away" shifted into the last part of "Feelin Stronger Every Day" with Howland again getting lead singer nod on that part. The audience was psyched now leading to a brief break before encore time.



One of my favorite Chicago songs is "Free" so it was a pleasure to see the encore lead off with this jam, even if it was played a little slower. Then it was time to close the show down with "25 or 6 to 4" burning away.



The other five times I saw Chicago the closest they had to this type of intensity was on the Chicago 17 tour just as "Hard Habit To Break" was climbing the charts. But I had never seen them like this, the old guys threw down. As Parazaider did his one handed sax solo while high fiving the front row it was clear that Chicago tours like a never ending retirement party. If it wasn't for the absence of Cetera, it was the best Chicago concert I had ever seen. One last note, thank you for the pictures to my wonderful wife.

Rating:

Monday, September 05, 2011

Star Warts



The latest news is that George Lucas is doing a remix job on the original Star Wars trilogy...again...including adding a "Noooo!" when Vader tosses the Emperor off the platform during Return Of The Jedi. As outrageous as this is in the face of, I guess good taste, Lucas is determined to redo these movies over and over again so we may as well accept it. That's part of the healing process right? Denial then acceptance? With this in mind, I would like to add my own wish list of original trilogy revisions. Not because the changes I propose would improve the films, but to make them worse. If you can't beat 'em, then join 'em!

1. Replace Sir Alec Guinness with Dos Equis Man
2. Make Han Solo the son of Chewbacca, making it a father and son team. And make Greedo his half brother. Because everyone in Star Wars has to be related to each other.
3. Whenever the Emperor or Obi Wan Kenobi calls Vader by name, replace "Vader" with "Annie". For example, "Only a master of e-vil Annie!"
4. Give C-3P0 a sex scene so people can stop questioning what his sexuality is.
5. Change the cantina band song to 2Pac's "California Love"
6. Add five extra minutes to the launching into hyperspace effect sorta like the 2001 A Space Odyssey scene
7. This isn't a suggestion but just wondering, why does it take so many people to run a moisture farm? Aren't you just driving up to a machine and taking a tub of water out of it? Do you really need Luke and extra hands to drive a car sorry land speeder and lift tubs? Don't those machines make the already dry air dryer?
8. Have the snow creature that captures Luke on Hoth voiced by Gilbert Godfried. (in Godfried voice) "Oh my God you were just hanging off the ceiling-ouch you cut off my arm that's so painful"
9. Completely replace the astroid chase between tie fighters and the millenium falcon with all new digital effects and add an mascot astroid alien somewhere.
10. Have Leia kiss first
11. Amidala's force ghost should appear somewhere, maybe she talks Vader into saving Luke at the end of Jedi.
12. Change R2-D2's speech to english so C-3PO just repeats whatever R2 says like he's translating.
13. Replace Yoda with Qui Gon Gin and shoot all new footage. Let's see Mark Hamill run through the trees of Dagobah with Liam Neeson on his back.
14. Give Vader's mechanized voice auto tune
15. Add scenes of Boba Fett without his helmet talking to the decapitated skull of his dead father in his Hawaiian accent. "This one's for you pop!"
16. Have the millenium falcon blow up with the Death Star 2.0 at the end of Jedi so it makes sense when Han Solo says "I don't think I'll see her again".
17. Bring back the original Jabba The Hutt, that guy that looks like a left over from Conan The Barbarian.
18. After the end credits of Jedi, have one armed / one eyed Samuel Jackson show up to say "Luke, I'm forming a team..."

In the end, we're going to have almost as many different versions of Star Wars as we do Blade Runner. With that in mind, I say "Stay thirsty, my friend".

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nothing Gets Between Us And Our Calvin Kleins


My wife was shocked when she heard this Old Navy commercial appear where Salt N Pepa's old school rap hit "Let's Talk About Sex" has been converted to hocking pants.



I was surprised too, how could they, the almighty powers that be, use a controversial song from the 90s in this way? Then it made more sense when I heard another commercial on tv use some version of Duran Duran's "Girls On Film" to sell something too. A song that instantly recalls the classic "night club" version of the video (and I think most people in my age group knows what I'm talking about. "The Chauffeur" too, all arty and black and white.) So that's where we're at in advertising land, they're going to use songs with slightly taboo memories to get our attention now. 'Cause sex and mild controversy sells, as you can tell I still remember the 'ol Brooke Shields jeans campaign. I have to admit it works, I'm writing about it aren't I? And I don't have kids or shop for clothes.

For me it's just another sign of getting older. People my age, most of whom are probably parents, will snap their necks to look at the screen when one of these clips hit the tv. And their kids will sing along to the hook, completely unaware of the original connotation of what they're singing. It's funny how time erases controversy in music, like when I was growing up I never heard Ozzy Osbourne on the radio (he's Satanic and eats animals!) but now can see him on tv whenever and hear "Crazy Train" while shopping for groceries. It's probably how the generation before me felt when they started hearing "Louie Louie" at Johnny Rocket restaurants. They're playing what!! As Johnny Carson used to say, weird wild stuff.

So what's next? George Michael's "I Want Your Subway Sandwich"? Madonna's "Like A Volvo touched for the very first time"? C'mon corporate america, hit this old man with your best shot.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Steve Miller - You Got Me Dizzy

Just a song that keeps repeating in my mind this week. From Steve Miller's 2010 album Bingo.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together



I pity the fool that doesn't like The A-Team! It's a formulaic action movie based on a formulaic action tv show. The movie acts like an oversized version of the original source material, loud lunkheaded fun with even more explosions. It's well done stuff, nicely cast and delivered with a ton of zip. Although not the headline star, The Hangover's Bradley Cooper gets plenty of "face" time. And don't ask me how he did it, but Liam Neeson has neatly slid into all those middle aged badass roles left vacant by Mel Gibson's career implosion. Most impressively, former teen actor Brian Bloom nearly walks off with the whole picture as the ruthless bad guy. Bottom line, as far as a cash in on an old 80s tv show goes The A Team ain't bad.

Rating:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!



While in Las Vegas we caught Cirque du Soleil (a name I will forever get confused with Punky Brewster) Ka at the MGM Grand. It's the first Cirque du Soleil thing I've seen. Going in, I wasn't even 100% sure what it was about. I thought it was about the elements fire, water, air and so on. My wife said she thought it was a love story. We both expected a lot of stunts. For the most part, Ka was a blank slate in terms of expectations.

So when you walk in the auditorium there are some striking things about the set design right off. The main stage is a pit that spews flame balls upward at random, the front lip of the stage is wide enough to stand on. The main stage is flanked on both sides by something like Star Wars Ewok Village. The ushers are dressed like a cult and will repeatedly address you as "friend". We had 2nd row seats which were pretty awesome, close enough to touch the actors if we wanted to.

I don't want to give away too much of what Ka is because I felt part of what made it exciting was I didn't know jack about it. So a broad explanation I could give is it's like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon meets Disney meets Avatar. Or a live action Hiyao Miyazaki movie. The story is about royal twins who are separated by an attack on their clan and forced to flee. They are split up and adventures ensue and so on. At least that's what I got out of it since none of the characters (save the narrator) speaks english.

The stunt work in this show is amazing, the timing of their movements were impressive. Hanging from tall heights, martial arts fights with weapons and enough wire work to fill a second Matrix trilogy left me in awe. I had to go to the bathroom half way through but didn't because I was concerned my movement might throw off the performers. Acting was first rate, the fact that these performers can flip and dive and kung fu then hold a convincing facial expression for their character was fantastic.

Again, don't want to give away too much. When George Lucas made Star Wars, he said something like he wanted it to be similar to a foreign movie that starts in the middle and makes you decypher what is happening. Ka is like that. A visual feast for the eyes that retains the thrills of circus acrobatics and adds an emotional layer of epic storytelling.

Rating:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Happens In Vegas Stays On Blogger



Just came back from my first trip to Las Vegas. What an incredible trip it was! Three days of fun shared with my wonderful wife. And how else should I commemorate the trip than create a playlist of memories, another Playlist of Pooh!

Gram Parsons - Ooh Las Vegas

To get psyched up for the trip I thought I should listen to Ac/Dc's "Sin City" or ZZ Top's "Viva Las Vegas" but I never did, instead I played this song on my Ipod repeatedly in the week leading up to the trip.

Journey - Raised On Radio

We listened to the radio on the way to the airport, I had no idea that Steven Seaweed and his Hot Lunch program was still on the air. In high school I loved listening to that show on the now defunct KRQR radio station. The weed man wanted folks to call in requests with "radio" as the theme, I would have called this in if I had time to hear it before arriving at the airport.

The Beatles - Ticket To Ride

It was a long wait for our flight at the airport, it was delayed by about two hours. I have an extreme fear of heights and flying, so even though I watched plane after plane take off the runway without incident I was still going nuts. I tried to think of how many of my favorite entertainers have spent decades flying all over the world without problem. Or the other times I had been on planes and safely gotten from one place to another. Unfortunately, all these rationalizations didn't help much so my wife bought me a magazine about The Beatles to distract me.

Asia - The Smile Has Left Your Eyes


Our trip to Vegas was off to a bad start, the flight was delayed and then it took another 30 minutes for our shuttle to leave the airport because they were waiting for other passengers. Except they didn't tell us that, they sat us in the shuttle and left us there to the point we considered just walking to the hotel. Our hotel was The Luxor, a pyramid shaped place that reminded me of the Asia Alpha album cover.

Ohio Players - Love Rollercoaster

Once we dropped off our stuff in the room we decided to walk around. The New York New York section nearby so we went on the roller coaster. It was a great coaster with huge drops and loops throughout. Easily the best roller coaster we had been on in ages. My only problem was I rode the coaster wrong. How do you ride a roller coaster wrong? On this one you have to keep your head flat against the headrest or else it bounces between two neck bars like a ping pong ball. I didn't know that going in, the sides of my lower jaw are still sore. But what a great ride!

Sammy Hagar - I Love This Bar


We had a drink at a bar, I think it was called Diablo. There are tons of restaurant / bars on the Strip including Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo and another owned by Toby Keith. I was sort of interested in going to Cabo Wabo since Sammy Hagar is as close to a prophet / philosopher that I can think of in the world. But when I heard their music system pumping new wave music I thought "ehhh". In Sammy Hagar land there should only be Saint Sammy's jams on the speakers!

Quarterflash - Take Me To Heart

The next morning this song was running through my head for no apparent reason. Just seemed to fit the mood of relaxing opulence at The Luxor.

Bruce Springsteen - Atlantic City


Vegas is all about tourism, for many living there it is working in the service industry but for others it's sales and promotion. There is this place under construction called The Grandview which will eventually be 20 towers tall but only has six built right now. The Grandview has hired an army of blazer wearing folk to offer package deals of show tickets and gambling money in exchange for going through what I assume is a lengthy presentation to get you to buy into a timeshare at the new establishment. While the sales people are perfectly pleasant, they're planted like ant farms all over Mandalay Bay, The Luxor and The Excaliber making their repeated "Do you have any plans for a show this evening" or "How long are you in town" queries irritating beyond belief. I actually preferred the porn peddlers waving their leaflets in my face up and down the strip to The Grandview reps. At least those guys and gals understand my shaking my head and hands at them means "no" and don't try to overcome my objections. It doesn't quite fit, yet "Atlantic City" came to mind when dealing with these people. I don't blame the salespeople themselves they're just people trying to earn a buck just like me, but damn...

Bella Notte

We had a nice romantic gondola ride through an indoor area that is designed to be like Venice, Italy. The...I guess maybe they're called Gondalier? Anyway, the guy that moves the boat with a pole was friendly and an excellent singer. One of the songs he sang he prefaced as being from The Lady And The Tramp which was this tune.

Ray Lamontage - You Are The Best Thing

While spending time with my wife looking thru the mall stores, this song came on which fit the mood perfectly.

Kool & The Gang - Too Hot

Did I mention it is hot in Vegas? The temp was over 100 degrees every day until when we left, when it was a cool 97. Even at night you feel like you walked into a broiler. After walking much of the day we were exhausted and took a hasty cab ride back to our room for some rest. Then we met with some of my wife's relatives for a very pleasant dinner.

Queen - Body Language

Won't go into too much detail, I'll just say seeing provocative dancing to this song was the first time I enjoyed hearing this forgotten track. Thought "Body Language" overdid the dance angle of the band following "Another One Bites The Dust" in terms of Queen's music, but in this context it was the perfect tune.

She And Him - You Really Got A Hold On Me


In a rare quiet moment in this very exciting city, I sat down with my Ipod and listened to some She & Him while reading the hotel magazines. This song really popped when I heard it.

Duffy - Mercy

If there is a song The Luxor likes, it's definitely "Mercy". Heard this play throughout the hotel multiple times every day. It's amazing how these hotel / casinos are designed, they're like mini cities within themselves with tons of food, shopping and entertainment at your disposal (at a high price of course). Oh, if you're ever in The Luxor I recommend having the fried rice at Rice & Co. upstairs, it is insanely good!

The Heights - How do You Talk to An Angel?

It's my wife's birthday! We had a delicious breakfast at the Mandalay Bay, it was a fancy place with a great view of other buildings and palm trees. I had a Norway Benedict while she had smoked salmon with bagels. It felt like the setting for a scene in a tv show with rich people, like 90210. A wonderful time with my wonderful, beautiful wife.

Styx - Mr Roboto

After breakfast I took her to The Fremont Street Experience. The magazine in the hotel room promised shopping and art and a good time. What actually was there was old Las Vegas, the original Strip. The Fremont Street Experience was fascinating, a sort of land-that-time-forgot. A place that emphasizes the "loosest slots in town" and offer prime rib dinners for $4.95 on posters. The older casino / hotels retain much of the 70s style sense of glitz with tons of light bulbs flashing on signs everywhere. Signs you could easily imagine having held the names of legends like Sammy Davis Jr or Dean Martin at one point in time. There weren't many people there when we went, adding to a ghost town effect. When I told my wife the magazine said Fremont Street was 80s themed this year, she jokingly said that was the reason I took her there. The topic came up when "Mr Roboto" blasted on the Fremont St audio system while we looked at a kiosk selling 80s t-shirts saying something like "Vegas says Relax" (for those too young to remember, the 80s had a lot of "Frankie Says Relax" t-shirts. Right up there with oversized "Choose Life" shirts).

John Waite - Going to The Top


My wife has always wanted to go to France, so I took her to the Eiffel Tower in the Paris section of Las Vegas Blvd. The view was really awesome, I just wished my fear of heights could have subsided so we could have enjoyed it more.

Elvis Presley - Viva Las Vegas

In the early afternoon we made our way back to the Bellagio / Ceasar's Palace part of the Strip. It was there on a private balcony we witnessed the famous water fountain show at The Bellagio. Done to the tune of "Viva Las Vegas", it was truly a spectacular show. So glad we got to see this.

The Simpsons - Monorail

We rode the monorail back towards our hotel afterwards. I love monorails!

Black Crowes - Share The Ride

That evening we saw Cirque Du Soleil Ka which I will write a separate review on. Once that ended we tried to catch a cab back to the hotel, but the cab stand line was too long so we footed it. Before Vegas, I had taken maybe two taxi cab rides in my life. In Las Vegas it was a daily necessity. It is so hot outside you have to find other ways to get around. Most of the taxi drivers were friendly and amiable, others not so much.

Nearer My God to Thee

The next morning we went to see the Titanic exhibit at the Luxor. On the one hand, it may not have been a good idea to delve into one of the greatest disasters in modern travel on the same day as catching a flight. On the other hand, it was a well done exhibit. It is solemn, informative and involving. To see the personal effects of the travellers and remaining pieces of the ship is so sad. The recreation of the grand staircase is impressive. But what really stuck with me is the facsimile of the side deck at night, it makes you feel like you're really on a ship. A feeling of calm and beauty, unaware of the disaster looming before them. Violin music played in the background, which I believe included this song that may have been performed while the boat sank. After Titanic we walked over to the Shark Reef to see an impressive display of animals and sea creatures.

Gym Class Heroes - Cupid's Chokehold / Breakfast In America

To cope with the flying I had to drink a lot before the flight. While downing a beer this song played in the background at the bar, my wife hadn't heard it before so it caught her by surprise. I had to break the news that yes, even Supertramp is not immune to sampling. Can't say I dislike this tho, it's Supertramp with a modern beat.

Led Zeppelin - Fool In The Rain

We sat in rush hour traffic through San Francisco to get home. The radio played three Led Zep songs in a row, after "Fool In The Rain" we talked about our trip matching the cadence of the verses.

Smokey Robinson - Being With You


Thank you for the trip honey, I loved being there with you :)

Weezer - Memories

While driving to get some food today, the radio was all advertisements so I threw in the Weezer cd I had in the car. This song was perfect for the moment. All the memories make me want to go back there...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Midnight Madness - Dokken Edition








I've spent the week trying to put together a review of the Dokken show I saw at the County Fair last Saturday. I wrote it out, posted it for a second, and then thought maybe I was being a little too harsh on Don Dokken so I took it down. Don Dokken's voice isn't quite what it used to be. The best I can say about the show is that I can check Dokken off the wish list of concerts I hadn't seen before. And my wife takes nice pictures, which I'm including in this post.

Heaven isn't too far away...- Sad to read Jani Lane was found dead at age 47. While I'm not a huge Warrant fan I liked their music generally. R.I.P. Jani Lane.

Footloose - is every movie I saw in the 80s going to be replaced with a new one? Since when did film memories become like Windows upgrades?

Destination Unknown? - It's a time for the most over advertised movie on tv this week, Final Destination 5. I've never watched any of these Final Destination movies, does anyone ever survive these movies? I take it that death is never represented other than maybe by Candyman, are these characters always killed by an unseen force? Guess I'm saying I don't understand the point of these movies.

A little bird told me - I am totally hooked on Angry Birds on my phone. Damn those pigs!

Some Kind Of Monster - lots of speculation going 'round that Metallica and Megadeth will form a new group together. You can't ever say never, yet I can't see this happening.

Weatherman says it's going to be hot tonight - Heather Locklear, yes Stacy Sheridan herself, is engaged to "All I Need" Jack Wagner. Locklear seems to be getting a lot of good press lately thanks to the engagement and the promising modeling career of her daughter. After a lot of news stories in recent years portrayed Locklear as falling apart at the seams, nice to see her rebound.

Did I Do That? - I am diggin' Jaleel White's appearance in the new Cee Lo Green video. Didn't realize how much I missed Urkel.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Those Memories Come Crashing Through...



In 1982 I went to my first concert of a real band, Air Supply. Yes, those wonderfully sappy purveyors of Carpenters style balladry that came to define adolescent images of romantic love in the early 80s. For a two year period they were unstoppable, casually lobbing one carefully crafted soft rock ditty after another onto the radio. Then the 80s really took hold and Air Supply had run out of oxygen, unable to compete with the macho power ballads flooding the airwaves. By 1986 Air Supply couldn't even muster a minor Top 40 hit.

Last night I wondered how Air Supply would fare 29 years after I had first seen them. Could Russell Hitchcock still belt out those soaring sustained high notes? Would they sound tired of playing the same 'ol songs for nearly three decades? Does their appearance at the Solano county fair signal the end is near for the Australian group?

It was a strong turn out for them in terms of crowd, the largely Filipino audience eagerly awaited the beginning of the show. Then the group hit the stage to deliver their message of love. And after a quick smooch between principal songwriter / guitarist / singer Graham Russell and vocalist Russell Hitchcock the band went off to the races with this set list (at least what I remember of it):

Even The Nights Are Better / Just As I Am / Here I Am / an upbeat song / Chances / The Power Of Love / A Little More Time / I think an upbeat song here / The One That You Love / Lost In Love / I think a song I didn't know / Every Woman In The World / Making Love Out Of Nothing At All

encore: an upbeat song something about a Big Idea / All Out Of Love

Air Supply kicked off with a rocked up take on their final Top 10 single "Even The Nights Are Better". Hitchcock seemed in clear voice, retaining a surprising amount of power considering how long they've been around. Right from the start Hitchcock's stage mannerisms started with pointing at the crowd and blowing kisses at them, he had not lost a beat since the last time I saw them. The band was energetic and filled with talented musicians, yet they had trouble throughout the night trying to pull off some hairpin turns in their arrangements.

Giving "Nights" a heavier rock edge made more sense as they led into "Just As I Am" from 1985 - a time period where Air Supply tried to rock harder (I use that phrase modestly, Air Supply never rocks hard). One of my favorite Air Supply songs, even though my most lasting memory of it was attending a youth group meeting senior year of high school and sitting in a circle on the library floor while "Just As I Am" blasted on the tape deck as our touchy-feely theme song.

The hits kept comin' with "Here I Am", more memories of borrowing my best friend's Mom's two Air Supply records back in the day. "Here I Am" also featured a big Air Supply tradition: milking the big note. When I saw them way back when they would stop playing before the big vocal note and not continue until Hitchcock felt he had enough audience applause to do it. Well, they still do that on almost every ballad. In fact, the pause was so long on this song that when the singer paused on "It's just no good without..." the audience began yelling "You! You! Yooouu!" before they resumed. Air Supply likes them some applause.

Graham Russell addressed the crowd, asking them if they were ready for a night of love. The word "love" is invoked with near religious reverence in the Air Supply lexicon. He then made one of several comments thru the evening of how beautiful a place the audience lives in. Next up was some upbeat song, you know the Supply gotta have those so it's not just one long ballad fest. At this point I was really impressed with the professionalism of Air Supply, these guys commit to putting on an entertaining show. Graham Russell does his waddling boogie dance, Hitchcock works the crowd, they give their supporting band numerous shout outs and let them strut their stuff. I was impressed by their guitarist with the Mike Reno headband, he wasn't a bad axe man. Nailed those soaring solos.

The highlight for my night was "Chances", a song I heard the first time when I saw them in '82 (it latter was released on the first Greatest Hits Lp). Such a great song. They followed up with "The Power Of Love" which is probably best known in the U.S. as a Celine Dion song although it was a remake of a Jennifer Rush song. Supply had covered this in '85 so they had a credible reason to perform it and it was rendered nicely. Their version is the one I like the most anyway.

I hit the head at this point and came back in time to see Graham Russell stand up straight like a soldier to a military style marching beat. My wife filled me in that Russell had performed a moving song about a soldier's wedding he had performed at. The soldier was later killed in action and the widow said their last words to each other was "A little more time".

Pretty sure another upbeat song happened next. Then Air Supply made a move that caused the crowd to go nuts. Hitchcock and Russell walked through the seated lawn area while performing an acoustic take on "The One That You Love". Cameras and throngs of people surrounded them as they slowly made their way around. Women were crying and shouting "I Love You!" right to their faces. Yeah, that sealed the deal. Air Supply owned this audience.

It was time to score some insurance runs, so Air Supply followed up with "Lost In Love". While I find it personally humorous, the concept that someone is "lost" in "love" like a person would be lost in a haze trying to find a way out, it is undeniably a monster in the soft rock catalog. And so many great 80s movie soundtrack memories to boot.

I don't remember if there was a song between "Lost In Love" and "Every Woman In The World", I was just going with the flow of the concert now and not keeping track of the setlist closely. It might have been band introduction, where we were told the names of Mike Reno headband wearing guitarist, Jersey Shore drummmer and keyboardist Amir. "Every Woman In The World" is another treasured Air Supply song that went smoothly. I really like the Love Boat / Fantasy Island view of romantic love this song has.

To close the set, Russell Hitchcock started a capella with "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" before launching into the full band version. This was the only song where Hitchcock's vocal skill couldn't overcome age as he had to take a lot of breaths to get through the long windy Jim Steinman penned verses. To be fair, Jim Steinman songs are built tough, tough enough to make Meat Loaf faint. For a reason I couldn't quite figure out, they did the 2nd verse twice. Didn't seem like an accident, maybe to stretch out the song? The band wound up the show and trotted off stage.

Shortly after, the group returned for the encore. An upbeat number ensued, something about a "Big Idea". Followed by band introduction #2 of each member 'cause Air Supply likes to get their props. Apparently Graham Russell really liked his 2nd introduction because he then gave Russell Hitchcock a kiss on the cheek. Then Graham Russell said this would be the last song of the evening, that they could not leave without playing this song.

"All Out Of Love" rolled out, the bands biggest and baddest hit. Yet another wave of gooey soft rock swooniness took over the audience (during this show I saw enough swaying arms in the air to fill a season of American Idol) and all was right with the world until...UNTIL...BLAM! A big ass drum solo by the Jersey Shore looking drummer two thirds of the way thru. The band left the stage while the drummer who I will now refer to as The Situation blasted through a thundering solo which was fine for what it was, by why in the middle of "All Out Of Love"? It was your standard epic rock concert drum solo that crushed all the sentiment out of the song, it was like watching someone paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa (OK, that metaphor was overboard but you know what I mean). The Situation then went to the front of the stage to throw his sticks out to the audience, like we're going to impress other people with a stick from the drummer of Air Supply (sorry, if you're not the original drummer Ralph Cooper I don't care). Like I'm supposed to say "Yay, you destroyed 'All Out Of Love' good job!"

As easy as it is to ridicule Air Supply (and it is easy...) I am at heart a fan of their music. And as a fan I have to say Air Supply delivers a good show, committed to creating an energetic environment to which people can feel their brand of ...er, love. I guess you can say (please, don't say it) they made love...out of nothing...at all...

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