Saturday, March 22, 2008

Every Sha-La-La-La, Every Wo-O-Wo-O

I heard it said somewhere that for anything in life to be successful, there must be the right balance of light and dark, soft and hard, quiet and loud, etc., and so it goes with my music collection.  For every Motorhead, Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath and Kiss on the dark/hard/loud side of my music spectrum, there are equal parts ABBA, Partridge Family, Bread and The Carpenters on my light/soft/quiet side, and the latter duo is the subject of this blog entry.

If you're a child of the '70s like yours truly, there was no escaping Richard and Karen Carpenter on Top 40 radio.  It seemed at times that their music was played more often than the commercials on the AM dial, and while their stuff was pure '70s pop fluff, to be sure, much of their music has stood the test of time and has aged quite well.  Several so-called "hip" '90s artists like The Cranberries and Sheryl Crow participated in the tribute album If I Were A Carpenter, so they must have done something right.  I sure's hell don't see anyone lining up to do an Air Supply or Starland Vocal Band tribute album anytime soon...

Richard Carpenter was/is a very accomplished musician and songwriter, but of course the focal point of this duo was his little sister Karen, who was blessed with quite possibly the most distinctive voice in music history.  About the only person I can think of who's even come close to rivaling her voice is Gloria Estefan, and even she is a stretch.  It's also easy to forget that Karen was a multi-taskershe also played the drums, both on their early records and on stage at times.  Although she eventually stepped aside in favor of veteran session man Hal Blaine (in the studio) and former Mouseketeer Cubby O'Brien (on tour), it wasn't before some early '70s magazine (I forget which) named Karen best drummer of the year over Led Zeppelin's John BonhamWTF?!?  This naturally begs the question, did Bonzo at least out-rank Karen on the best singer list?  Eerily enough, Bonzo and Karen did share one thing in common as their lives were both self-inflictedly cut way too short at age 32.  Bonham died pathetically choking on his own puke while drinking himself to death, and of course Karen became synonymous with the medical condition Anorexia Nervosa.  Extremely tragic losses in both cases, both of which could've been avoided, and they could easily both still be with us today...

What I don't get is why The Carpenters don't rate more airplay on Oldies radio stations these days, like Tony Orlando and Dawn (now Twilight) receive.  True, some of their stuff was pure schlock like "Sing" and "Sweet, Sweet Smile", and I still haven't forgiven them for the travesty that was "Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)", but it's no sin to like Carpenters music, folks!  Their music stands up just as well today as it did in the '70s.  Give them another shot, if you've been resisting...

My All-Time Carpenters Top 10:
10) "(They Long To Be) Close To You" (1970)  The one that started it all.  I remember not liking this one much when I was a kid, but it's grown on me over the years.  Maybe it's the "waaaaah"s at the end that got to me...
9) "For All We Know" (1971)  From the film Lovers and Other Strangers.  Don't even waste your time with the flickit sucked, big-time.  Nice song, though.
8) "Please Mr. Postman" (1975)  My all-time favorite version of this songI like it even better than the Marvelettes' and The Beatles' versions.
7) "We've Only Just Begun" (1970)  This song was all over AM radio when I first started listening to AM radio at the age of six.  At age 43, I'd give most anything to be able to revert back to that carefree time in my life...
6) "Hurting Each Other" (1972)  Song originally recorded by Jimmy Clanton in the mid-'60s.  This version blows the doors off Clanton's.
5) "Yesterday Once More" (1973)  While the full album-side version of this song went a bit overboard, the 3:30 version of it was brilliant.  Shoo-be-doo lang-lang, indeed!
4) "Rainy Days And Mondays" (1970)  See also #7.  Oddly enough, neither rainy days nor Mondays get me downnot very often, anyway...
3) "Superstar" (1971)  Co-written by Leon Russell, the way Karen sang this one made you think it was a true story for her.
2) "Merry Christmas, Darling" (1971)  My #2 Christmas song of all-time, right behind Weird Al Yankovic's "Christmas At Ground Zero"okay, I'm just as warped as Al is, so sue me!  This one got a lot harder to listen to after Karen died, tho...
1) "Only Yesterday" (1975)  Easily The Carpenters' most underrated song, and an all-time favorite AM radio hit of mine.  Every time I hear this one, it takes me back to the summer of '75 in a heartbeat, as does The Eagles' "One Of These Nights" and John Denver's "Thank God I'm A Country Boy".  Damn, I miss being a kid...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"They're Still Standing"--Vol. 1

"You’re Getting Even, While We’ve Got Aud"
It’s hosted more NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games (83) and Final Fours (9) than any other venue.  I saw my first NBA game and first Kiss concert there.  It’s been around since the Great Depression, and unlike other arenas of its era, it still has many many years of life left in it.  I am referring to Kansas City’s venerable Municipal Auditorium, one of the coolest old buildings you’ll ever set foot in for a concert or sporting event.

Located at 13th & Wyandotte in downtown K.C., The Aud was built in 1936 as part of President Roosevelt’s WPA—Works Progress Act...AKA, “We Piddle Around”.  It replaced the 35-year-old Convention Hall directly across the street that was built in an astonishing three months to replace the original Convention Hall on the same site that burned down just months before K.C. was to host the 1900 Republican National Convention.  Ironically, K.C. was supposed to host the 1976 Republican Convention at Municipal’s current next door neighbor Bartle Hall, but Bartle wasn’t finished in time, so the GOP event was moved to Kemper Arena in the stockyards.  Confused yet?

Similar in concept to New York’s Madison Square Garden, Municipal Auditorium is in fact four separate venues—the 9,500-seat main arena (sometimes called Municipal Arena or just plain City Arena), the 2,400-seat Music Hall, which is home to various high-brow musical and ballet events, the 600-seat Little Theater, which houses minor plays and musicals, and the Exposition Hall that runs beneath the entire complex.  Its distinctive art-deco design is prevalent both on the outside and the inside, and the building features a grand foyer that takes one back to the days of Dillinger and the Three Stooges.  It also features outstanding acoustics for concerts, and some of the finest sightlines for basketball of any venue in the world.

My first encounter with Municipal Auditorium was a Kansas City-Omaha Kings game with the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas night, 1972, during which I got to see Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar play in person.  The Aud was the temporary home of the Kings from 1972-74 after the Cincinnati Royals moved here (and to their home away from home, Omaha’s Civic Auditorium).  The Kings moved to Kemper in ’74, but The Aud (or “The Muni” as some people call it) had one more stint as an NBA facility in 1979-80 after Kemper Arena’s roof collapsed.  One of Municipal’s backboards also collapsed under the weight of the Philadelphia 76ers’ Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins when one of his slam dunks shattered it in November, 1979, sending late Kings forward Bill Robinzine (#52 in white in this video) scurrying for cover.  The Aud was also home of those dreaded Kansas City Sizzlers of the minor-league Continental Basketball Association for one season in 1985-86 after the Kings left town for Californy.

I attended one other Kings game there in 1973, and didn’t return until September 30, 1979 for the Kiss/Judas Priest concert, the first of many concerts I attended at the Auditorium, including three more Kiss shows and two Pat Benatar concerts, plus the closed-circuit TV broadcast of The Who‘s “farewell” concert from Toronto on December 17, 1982.  Municipal Auditorium also spent one year in the twilight zone, so to speak, in 1991-92 as the indoor soccer home of the NPSL’s Kansas City Attack in their inaugural season after moving here from Atlanta and refusing to play at Kemper Arena (which the MISL’s defunct Kansas City Comets vacated the previous season).  While Municipal’s sightlines are killer for basketball and concerts, it was just plain weird for indoor soccer, with its glassed-in hockey-like playing surface.  The Attack moved to Kemper for good in 1992-93.

When my alma mater, the University of Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos, made the jump from NAIA to NCAA Division I play in basketball in 1987, they moved from tiny Swinney Gym on campus (where I wrecked my right knee playing volleyball in 1985) to Municipal Auditorium, thus making The Aud the “Kanagaroo Court”.  I attended several Roos games during the ’90s, but kinda lost touch with them until one night in 2005 when I attended their season finale against Valparaiso, which turned out to be an exciting game that the good guys won.  I sat in the same seat I had for that first Kiss concert in ’79 (Row S, right next to the spotlight turret against the wall in the NE corner), and as exciting as the game was, I was even more floored by how beautiful Municipal Auditorium looked that night.  The city put a lot of money and effort into refurbishing the place, and it practically looked like a brand new arena.  Even cooler, the old time-of-day clock on the east wall was restored and fully-functional again, and parts of the original basketball floor were preserved as well.

The above-mentioned remodeling/ retrofitting has brought Municipal Auditorium back up to speed and made it worthy of hosting major basketball tournaments again, including the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Tournament, and NCAA Women's Tournament regionals as well as the annual NAIA Basketball tourney and various local high school tournaments.  What’s really ironic is how history is repeating itself here as it did in places like Denver, Baltimore and Atlanta, where an older arena is still in use while the venue that was built to replace it bit the dust.  Denver Auditorium, Baltimore Civic Arena and Alexander Memorial Coliseum—all still in use—were replaced by McNichols Arena, the Capital Centre and The Omni, respectively, yet those latter three are all demolished now, and I think the same fate awaits Kemper Arena in the next five-to-ten years.  In fact, there was even talk at one time about 15 years ago of "building down" into Municipal Auditorium's Exhibition Hall and lowering the current floor to add a whole new lower level and enlarge the main arena to about 17,000 seats in an effort to replace Kemper, but the plan was deemed unfeasible.  Meantime, if properly-maintained, Municipal Auditorium will easily live to be a hundred.  I plan to see a game there in 2036...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Concert Trek - Episode 9

After a brief pause, it's time to resume my chronicle of the concerts I've attended throughout the years...
41) and 42) Z.Z. Top/Jimmy Barnes (Sunday/Monday, February 16-17, 1986—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $16.00

By the time Z.Z. Top’s Afterburner came out in the fall of 1985, they were at the height of their career in terms of popularity, with their videos in heavy rotation on MTV and they were hot enough to score a two-night stand here at Kemper Arena, and my friend Tom and I had great seats on the lower level for the first night.

While Afterburner was the weaker cousin of its predecessor Eliminator, it still packed enough of a wallop to make for a great concert anyway.  Z.Z. opened the show with "Got Me Under Pressure", then followed with the single "Sleeping Bag", which was augmented by green lazers in time to the song.  The stage backdrop was a mock-up of the dashboard of the mighty ’32 Ford Eliminator car from their famous 1983-84 videos.  About midway through the set during the song "Legs", Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill (playing their infamous fur-lined guitars like in the pic) and drummer Frank Beard were accompanied by about half a dozen leggy showgirls prowling the stage, and near the end of the song, the band used some old "smoke and mirrors" tactics that made them suddenly "vanish" into thin air.  Then some taped synthesizer music played overhead while the stage set morphed into the dashboard of the Space Shuttle Afterburner, and the band re-emerged and launched (launched—get it?!?) into "Sharp Dressed Man".

Other highlights included the new songs "Velcro Fly" and "Can’t Stop Rockin’", but I was a tad disappointed they didn’t also do the very-underrated "Delirious" from Afterburner.  Z.Z. also did their usual encore triumvirate of "Tube Snake Boogie", "La Grange" and "Tush", the latter of which ended with some more sleight of hand by the band as a fake piece of scaffolding from the lighting rig fell to the stage at the climax of the song, followed by a man-sized dummy dressed as one of the spotlight guys.  Tom and I didn’t fall for it, but I’m sure a few drunks in the crowd wound up with skidmarks in their drawers upon witnessing this!

Singer Jimmy Barnes opened the show and wasn’t too bad, as I recall, although I remember precious little about his set.  This was even before he had his hit duet with INXS "Good Times", so we didn’t know much about him.  I do remember he seemed to hold the crowd’s attention throughout his 30 minutes.

Long about 6:00 the next night, I heard on the radio that there were still some decent tickets available for the second show, and since I enjoyed the show so much the first night, I got a wild hair to go see Z.Z. Top again.  I called Tom up and said, "Whaddya reckon?" and he thought I was nuts at first, but he thought about it a while and said, "Whatthefuck," and we headed back to the stockyards for another lovely evening with that Little Ol’ Band From Texas.  We passed on Jimmy Barnes this time and arrived just as he had left the stage, and our seats were nosebleeders upstairs, but weren’t all that bad, and it was fun to view the show from a different angle.  This was the first and only time I ever attended back-to-back shows by the same band on consecutive nights, as well as the first time I’d ever caught two shows on any band’s tour—a feat I would later repeat with Z.Z. Top a few years later, as well as a couple times with Kiss.

SET LIST:  Got Me Under Pressure/Sleeping Bag/Waitin' For The Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago/Gimme All Your Lovin'/Ten Foot Pole/Manic Mechanic/Heard It On The X/Rough Boy/Cheap Sunglasses/Arrested For Driving While Blind/Legs/Sharp Dressed Man/Can't Stop Rockin'/Stages/Party On The Patio  ENCORES:  Velcro Fly/Tube Snake Boogie/La Grange/Tush

43) The Cult/Divinyls (Tuesday, April 15, 1986—Uptown Theater) Ticket price: $13.50

A little background first:  My friend Tom latched on to this Australian band Divinyls when they first became known here in the States in the summer of ’83 on MTV with their outstanding album Desperate.  Unbeknownst to Tom and me beforehand, they were scheduled to play at Six Flags over St. Louis on the very day we visited there during our July road trip, which was right smack dab in the middle of the Great Heat Wave of ’83.  We arrived when the park opened and it was hotter than hell that day, and of course the concert wasn’t slated until near dark around 9PM, but there was no way in hell we could’ve lasted the whole day in the blazing sun, as we were already frying like bacon by late afternoon, so we reluctantly headed back to our hotel and its wonderful shaded swimming pool.

I’ve always felt badly about missing that show too, because I know how badly Tom wanted to see it at the time, so when Divinyls came to town in support of their second U.S. album What A Life, we made sure to go see them, even though they were opening for The Cult.  Lead singer Christina Amphlett—who I like to think of as a cross between a white Tina Turner and AC/DC’s Angus Young—prowled around the stage doing her best schoolgirl-gone-mad shtick, complete with her sailor uniform and thigh-high black stockings, while her partner-in-crime Mark McEntee held court on guitar.  Surprisingly, Divinyls played almost an hour, which is longer than most opening acts, and they leaned on their new record quite a bit, including the singles "Pleasure And Pain" and "Sleeping Beauty".  What A Life wasn’t a bad record, but not nearly as good as Desperate, which featured great songs like "Boys In Town", "Siren Song", "Elsie" and a killer cover version of the Easybeats’ "I’ll Make You Happy", which was the show’s encore.  Wish we could’ve seen more of them, but what we got was a pretty good set.

I’d love to review The Cult’s set, but since we came to see Divinyls specifically and either I or Tom had an early college class the next day, we didn’t stick around for them.  Knowing now what I didn’t know about The Cult then, I kinda wish we had…

44) Van Halen/Bachman-Turner Overdrive (Saturday, May 31, 1986—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $15.00

Round Five for me with Van Halen brought with it a couple of changes.  The most obvious one was Sammy Hagar being VH’s new lead singer, and the other being this was one of the few concerts I attended back in the day without Tom, who I think was unable to get the night off and had to work at his new job.  Subbing for Tom was our mutual friend Jim—a mondo Van Halen fan in his own right—and his wife Cheryl.  Come to think of it, Jim tagged along with us the previous two times we saw VH at Kemper.

Bachman-Turner Overweight—sorry—Overdrive opened the show, and while they played a decent set of hits, plus a couple songs off their new "reunion" album, it was pretty obvious this band was way past its prime.  Randy Bachman was no longer in the picture either, and his presence was sorely missed.  Meantime, during BTO’s set, we were rather entertained by these dumb kids in the row in front of us who smuggled their own booze in.  They were really whooping it up as BTO played, and obviously knew nothing about the fine art of pacing themselves with the alky-hol.  I gave Jim a nudge and pointed to them and said, "Rookies!" and sure enough, not even a third of the way through Van Halen’s set, at least two of these dummies were hunched over with their heads between their legs puking on their shoes!  We laughed at them.  Hard.

As for Van Hagar, it was quite a different world without Diamond Dave.  Not a bad one, necessarily, just different.  The focus was more on the music now and less on showmanship, and with Sammy Hagar also being a guitarist, this added a fresh new element to the band, which was showcased right away as they opened with Sammy trading solos with Eddie on Hagar’s "There’s Only One Way To Rock".  Having the second guitar also came in handy to free Eddie up to play the keyboards on songs like "Why Can’t This Be Love?" and "Love Walks In".  The set list naturally leaned heavily on the new stuff from 5150, with a couple Hagar songs thrown in.  They only played three or four David Lee Roth songs, and one of those was "You Really Got Me", which DLR didn’t write anyway.

There were a few "Dave Who?" banners scattered about the arena, and the crowd seemed to embrace Hagar as the new voice of Van Halen, but for some reason, this show left me rather flat.  It just felt like the band was going through the motions that night, and the fire just wasn’t there like it had been the previous four times I’d seen them.  When I later saw the New Haven show they filmed about a month earlier on their Live Without A Net concert video, which was a much more energetic performance, my reaction was, "Where the fuck was all this at Kemper?"  I don’t know if we just caught VH on a bad night or what, and I don’t mean to blame Hagar because the entire band was off that night, but this show should’ve been a whole lot better.

45) Paul Revere & The Raiders (Saturday, July 5, 1986—Liberty Memorial Mall) Ticket price: ???

My first memories of being alive are of listening to Paul Revere & The Raiders records when I was all of three.  I got to see the real McCoy when I was seven at Starlight Theater in 1971, and the ersatz version of the group over the 4th of July weekend in ’86 at the Kansas City Spirit Festival.  Liberty Memorial Mall is not a shopping mecca, but rather the land adjacent to K.C.’s war monument that bears more than a slight resemblance to an erect penis, and for many years, the city held these multi-day festivals that featured nationally-known acts on its grounds.  Said grounds were pretty soggy that day, as it had rained almost the entire weekend, but since it didn’t cost squat to get in, I decided to take in da Raidas.

With their late ‘60s heyday having long since passed, PR&TR were strictly a nostalgia act by 1986, with Revere himself being the only original member still active.  There had been a couple minor Raider reunions during the early ‘80s for one-off events and such, but lead singer Mark Lindsay had no desire to be a lounge act, so Revere put together a group of new Raiders, many of whom still work with him today in Branson (where careers go to die).  I didn’t really have high expectations for this show, and it's a good thing I didn't, because I was fairly underwhelmed by it.

Revere didn't play music so much on this night, but rather more or less emceed the proceedings from behind his modified keyboard outfitted with the grill of a '66 Mustang on the front (complete with flashing headlights).  "If you don't like the '60s," he declared, "then get the hell out!"  While his new band of Raiders wasn't bad musically, I was pretty unimpressed with Lindsay's replacement, a singer whose name escapes me, but it's just as well because he was more of a poser than a singer anyway.  Revere's on-stage antics were rather humorous at times, but what really cheesed me off was how they'd whip through the Raider repertoire as if they were double-parked out back, and spent more time playing other '60s oldies instead.  I'm talking a minute-and-a-half of "Kicks" and a minute's worth of "Hungry", etc.  Not to be overly-picky here, but when I go to a Raiders show, I wanna hear Raiders songs, not "Heard It Through The Grapevine" and "Mony, Mony"!  I think it's great that Revere tries to keep the band's name alive, but this show failed miserably to do the original band justice.

Just as an aside, several years later at another Spirit Festival, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle of The Who played at Liberty Memorial, and Tom and I headed down to catch the show.  Along the way, we stopped off at the office at which Tom was working at the time, which just happened to be in the BMA Tower, which just happened to overlook the festival site from a distance.  We figured we had plenty of time since Daltrey wasn't due on until 8-ish or 9-ish, so imagine my horror when I leaned against the window and heard the faint sound of someone singing "it's only teenage wasteland..."  "Oh fuck!" was our reaction, as we realized the show had already begun.  Evidently the schedule was changed without our knowledge, so we hustled out of the building to hoof it over to the festival, but we got about halfway there and said the hell with it, since the show was almost over by then.  We just stood and listened to Entwistle singing "My Wife" off in the distance then retreated.  I found out later that my sister was at the show and she said it was great.  D'oh!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy Green Day!

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with the NCAA Tournament brackets, and I think they did a pretty fair job of selecting the right teams to play in it.  Still, that didn’t stop Billy Packer and Dick Vitale from crusading for the ACC, claiming they got shafted because only four teams from their conference made the big dance.  Well, I thoroughly agree with the rank and file of sports talk pundits regarding the bubble teams that are crying in their beer (Arizona St., Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Syracuse, et al) because they weren’t selected—try winning more games!  If you schedule better non-conference opponents and win more games, you’ll make the tournament.  Until then, good luck in the NIT.  Meantime, can we please take Vitale and Packer (along with Digger Phelps and Bob Knight) and cast these babbling idiots adrift in a slow boat to China?

There is one little problem with this year’s brackets, however.  The NCAA either needs a new United States road atlas or a refresher course on geography.  How is it you have West Regional games being played in Tampa and East Regional games being played in Denver?!?  These regionals are geographical in name only, so why don’t they just do like World Cup Soccer and refer to them as Group A, Group B, Group C, etc.?  Or do like the NHL used to do with their divisions (Norris, Adams, Patrick, Smythe) and name each regional after someone—John Wooden Regional, James Naismith Regional, etc.

Oh, by the way, after careful deliberation I completed my brackets today, and I have three of the four #1 seeds making the Final Four—Kansas, North Carolina, and Memphis—but UCLA is going to be tripped up by my dark horse, Xavier.  Watch out for those mighty Muscatels—er, uh—Musketeers!  And even though I'm a Missouri fan, I have Kansas winning the whole shootin' match on the 20th anniversary of the last time they did it.  Remember folks, you heard it here first!

Speaking of the Big Dance, according to the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, "An Oregon clinic is suggesting that men who need an excuse to stay home and watch the NCAA Tournament get a vasectomy."  Unfortunately, that excuse can only be used once.  Actually, if you're thinking about getting fixed anyway, it's not a bad idea.  I had a vasexomy (as A. Bunker called them) myself about nine years ago, and thanks to my medical benefits, it didn't cost me a dime.  It didn't hurt all that much—it just felt like someone had jabbed a baseball bat in my crotch a few times.  It wasn't so bad once I got home and was able to ice it down with a bag of frozen peas, but the worst part for me was the drive home from the doctor's office.  At the time, I drove a Honda Prelude, which has all the ground clearance of a cockroach, and that car rode rougher than a stagecoach across the Rockies, thus every bump was an adventure in pain!

Here’s what your President reminds me of as he constantly tries to re-assure America about our plummeting economy.

Here’s a still from a deleted scene from the new film Horton Hears A Who.  BTW, did they really need to screw with this classic cartoon?  Why do we need a full-length feature film to tell the same story it took 30 minutes to tell on TV?

I came across this in the Sunday paper.  It’s called "Super Slave Dome" by William Willmott, and it's on display at a local Black Cultural Heritage center.  According to the K.C. Star:  "It seems to suggest that one of America's favorite pasttimes is a vehicle for enslavement, as well as escape, and a key locus for racially charged influences.  A football field encompassed by what looks like people seated in bleachers is at the center of the picture.  Upon closer inspection, the bleachers reveal themselves to be a restructuring of the hatchways between decks into which men, women and children were packed aboard slave ships in the early 19th century."  WTF?!?  How do these arty types read such crap into stuff like this?  All I see here is the seating diagram of the Louisiana Superdome—it really takes a lot of talent to pirate that!  Folks who go out of their way to find racism in everything aren't high my list of people I respect either...

This week's episode: "Shit Or Get Off The Pot"You may have already heard this story on the TV news recently, but here it is again.  I couldn't even dream of making this kind of shit up!  The late Jim Morrison was right for one of the rare times in his screwed-up life when he said, "People are strange..."