Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ask any mermaid you happen to see...

...who's the best bloggerChicken Of The Sea!

There's a regular feature in the sports section on called "Whiner Of The Week", and you can just about bet the farm that this week's honoree will be Texas Rangers outfielder/head case Milton Bradley.  Seems that during one of the Rangers' games here at Kauffman Stadium this week, young Milt was busy in the clubhouse watching the local broadcast of the game he was playing in (rather than actually paying attention to the game itself, apparently), and he took offense at some remarks that Royals TV announcer Ryan Lefebvre made regarding Bradley's highly-publicized on-field fracases (fraci?), in which Lefebvre drew the comparison between Bradley and his teammate Josh Hamilton, who overcame a big-time drug problem and is currently having a career year, so why can't Bradley get his shit together?  A fair question, indeed, but that didn't stop cousin Miltie from going after (literally) Mr. Lefebvre after that game in hopes of physically attacking him.

First off, Ryan Lefebvre is hardly a malicious dudehe's about two steps away from milquetoast as a play-by-play man, in my book, and second off, Bradley's uncouth pattern of behavior pretty much speaks for itself.  Uhhh, Milt baby, might I suggest you stop acting like a horse's ass all the time?  Then maybe those mean old announcer dudes will stop picking on your whiny ass.  Talk to the hand, buddy...

TIM RUSSERT, 1950-2008
A bit of a shocker this weekend with the unexpected passing of "Meet The Press" moderator Tim Russert, who died of a heart attack yesterday.  Although I do remember Russert making regular appearances on dickhead Don Imus' show before the big ho scandal, I have to plead a little ignorance here and say I don't really know all that much about the man since I'm rarely up at that hour on Sundays to watch MTP.  He's obviously well-respected amongst his peerseven Faux News Channel has been praising his body of work todaytherefore, he must have been a very important figure.

CHARLIE JONES, 1930-2008
For the second straight weekend, we've lost one of the voices from the soundtrack of my youth.  First it was Jim McKay, and now it's former ABC/NBC play-by-play man Charlie Jones, who died of a heart attack yesterday at age 77.  I practically grew up hearing Charlie's voice, as he seemingly was the announcer just about every time the Chiefs were on TV (especially when they played at Denver or San Diego).  CJ was paired with Chiefs legend Len Dawson in the late '70s on NBC's NFL broadcasts, and they worked quite well together.  He also broadcast the first Super Bowl, as well as several Olympics and served as play-by-play man for both the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies at times.  A native of Fort Smith, Arkansas, Jones had an easy-going, almost folksy on-air demeanor, and he always seemed like a very pleasant man who enjoyed his work.  Rest in peace, Charlie, you will be missed...

Just ask the folks in Iowaand we thought 1993 was bad around these parts.  The entire city of Cedar Rapids, IA is flooded out and Des Moines is about to follow suit.  Sadly, there's no relief in sight as more rain is in the forecast and the rivers are a-risin'.  Downstream in St. Louis, the Mississippi is approaching 1993 levels to the point where they had to close The President casino under the Gateway Arch because the access road leading to it is now impassable.  I'm just curious who Rev. Pat Robertson is going to claim has been "asking for it" in this particular case, like he did after Hurricane Katrina.  After all, there's all them sinners in a Bible-belt state like Iowa, ain't there?  Seriously, I hope all of our good neighbors to the north are able to rebound from this catastrophe ASAP.

Whilst I'm on weather, screw all these high-tech TV meteorologist wankersit was pre-ordained that it would rain here in Kansas City on Thursday nightthe band Chicago was in town!  Folks, you can set your calendar by thisit nearly always rains here when Robert Lamm and the boys are here in town and playing a concert outdoors, as they were Thursday night with the Doobie Bros. at Starlight Theater.  Perhaps Chicago should rename themselves The Rainmakers, but darn it, we already have a very successful band in this town by that name...

"Me And Bobby McGee"JANIS JOPLIN (1971)  "I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana..."  Okay, I first heard this song when I was in 1st grade.  It confused me then, and continued to do so well into adulthood.  I thought when Janis said "harpoon", she was referring to a stabbing weapon, not a musical instrument! Harpoon/harmonica=two different things!  Oy...

Bless their hearts for trying, but is there not anything more pathetic than PBS pledge drives?  Last night, our local PBS affiliate was airing some concert video featuring '60s/'70s groups/singers performing in the modern day, and it was just plain sad.  Examples include the drummer/lead singer from Rare Earth (doing "Get Ready") and singer Sonny Geraci of Climax (doing "Precious And Few") to an audience of mostly empty seats in whatever venue they taped this "event" in, and it was just pathetic.  I'd gladly pledge a few semolians to PBS if they'd cease airing these travesties...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Concert Trek - Episode 15

71) Elton John (Tuesday, September 26, 1995—Sandstone Amphitheater) Ticket price: $25.00
 Following his early ‘80s comeback, Elton slipped back a bit and released a series of fair-to-mediocre albums in the latter half of the decade—Ice On Fire, Leather Jackets, Reg Strikes Back and Sleeping With The Past, namely—but rebounded nicely once again with a very good album, The One in 1992.  He continued that roll with Made In England in ’95, which I thought was also quite good, in spite of its rather contrived gambit of having all single-word song titles (“Lies”, “House”, “Blessed”, etc.), except for the title track.  Thus, my third go-round with Captain Fantastic in concert was largely another pretty good one as he had some good new material to play in addition to his classics.

Devoid of an opening act, that “cat named Hercules” and crew got right down to business, kicking off the evening with “I’m Still Standing”.  Dressed in a black-and-white diamond-patterned suit that would be considered tacky on most men, EJ almost made the thing look fashionable.  The sound was outstanding, (which is no mean feat for this crappy venue which I’ve long despised), though it could’ve been just a tad louder, and the band was very tight.  The reason why they were tight is doubtless because they were indeed an actual band again instead of the touring circus Elton had been employing in recent years, complete with horn sections, chirpy female back-up singers and a phalanx of musicians surrounding him at center stage as he played some cheesy electronic keyboard.  Now things were more digestible with EJ back in his regular upright position behind his grand piano at stage right and just his regular band playing behind him, which included longtime stalwart Davey Johnstone on guitar and a familiar face we hadn’t seen for a while, multi-faceted percussionist Ray Cooper.

Surprisingly, Elton didn’t lean on the new CD all that much, but I wouldn’t have cared if he did, since it had some good stuff on it, and he did perform two of my faves—the title track and “Pain”.  As per his usual, Elton also mined through his massive catalogue and dusted off a couple of forgotten gems to play, namely “Dixie Lily” from Caribou and “Come Down In Time” from Tumblewood Connection, and freshened them up a bit.  Other standout numbers included “Simple Life” from The One, which they played a little faster and punchier than the CD version, and “Rocket Man”, on which the band played an extended bluesy jam.  Elton saved the biggies for the end of the show, like “Pinball Wizard” and “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”, the latter of which segued into a drum solo by Cooper.  “The Bitch Is Back” was the first encore, followed by “Your Song” (perhaps not the greatest transition in music history), and then to our surprise (and delight), “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, which worked surprisingly well at the end of the show instead of in the song’s traditional lead-off spot.  The band left the stage and Elton returned for a final encore, soloing on “The Last Song”, which was a nice touch.

The only truly glaring omissions in this show were “Crocodile Rock” and “Daniel”—both from Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player, which was snubbed altogether, but all of Elton’s other early albums were represented at least once on the set list.  Elton couldn’t quite hit the high notes anymore, and this show lacked a bit of the energy from that killer 1982 Starlight Theater show we saw him play, but we cut him a little slack since he was 48 years old by that time, and hell, he did 26 songs and played damn near three hours!  All in all, a very classy and entertaining concert.

SET LIST:  I'm Still Standing/I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues/I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That/Sacrifice/Dixie Lily/Honky Cat/Come Down In Time/House/Simple Life/The One/piano solo/Take Me To The Pilot/Made In England/Someone Saved My Life Tonight/Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me/Bennie And The Jets/Levon/Rocket Man/Can You Feel The Love Tonight?/Believe/Pain/Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting/drum solo (Ray Cooper)/Pinball Wizard  ENCORES:  The Bitch Is Back/Your Song/Funeral For A Friend-Love Lies Bleeding/The Last Song

72) John Hiatt/Jeff Black (Thursday, March 21, 1996—Guitars & Cadillacs, Olathe, KS) Ticket price: $14.00

Guitars & Cadillacs (or whatever it’s called now) in suburban Olathe wasn’t/isn’t anything special—just your basic nightclub-in-a-strip-mall—but it was clean and serviceable for small shows like this one, my first full-length John Hiatt concert.  The show was originally scheduled for January 25th, and my friend Tom and I drove the 20-some-odd miles out to Olathe only to learn that the show was postponed because Hiatt had the flu.  We arrived this time too late to get a decent seat, and wound up sitting along the wall near an auxiliary bar at a rather severe angle to the stage, but at least we were close.  Singer Jeff Black opened the proceedings, performing solo on acoustic guitar and harmonica.  Underwhelming, at best, Black had little-to-no stage presence whatsoever, and reminded me of one of those street singers playing for tips.

Mercifully, Black only played 30 minutes and Hiatt hit the stage a mere 20 minutes later with his band, this time dubbed the “Nashville Queens”.  Opening with the eerie “Wrote It Down And Burned It” from his new Walk On CD was a bit of a curious choice, but the show kicked into gear on the next number, his classic “Slow Turning”.  The Slow Turning album got quite a few spins this time too, including the humorous “Tennessee Plates” as well as “Icy Blue Heart” and “Drive South”.  Hiatt was both in great voice and spirits, and the band was tight, leaning on the new CD quite a bit, as expected, including my favorite tracks from it, the hilarious “Ethylene” and the sardonic “Shredding The Document”, as well as the Springsteen-esque “As Good As She Could Be“.  Surprisingly, Hiatt didn’t do one of his signature tunes, “Memphis In The Meantime”, but still, this was a mighty fine hour-and-45-minute show, especially for a club gig.  Just as I had suspected, Hiatt was an excellent headliner, and it was also nice to know that he kept the working man in mind by getting us out of there at a decent hour (on a weeknight) like 11:45.  Nice going, John!

SET LIST:  Wrote It Down And Burned It/Slow Turning/Real Fine Love/Ethylene/You Must Go/Tennessee Plates/Buffalo River Home/Dust Down A Country Road/Riding With The King/As Good As She Could Be/Icy Blue Heart/Native Son/Shredding The Document/ Perfectly Good Guitar  ENCORES:  Cry Love/Have A Little Faith In Me/Thing Called Love/Drive South

73) The Moody Blues (Saturday, June 26, 1996—Sandstone Amphitheater) Ticket price: $20.50

My older sister Renee was a big Moody Blues fan when I was growing up, but she had never seen them in concert before, so I was one-up on her, having seen them eight years earlier at Sandstone.  This time, the Moodies were touring with a full symphony orchestra to augment their music, with the orchestra doubling as the opening act.  The symphony warmed up with a few selections just after 8:00, then drummer Graeme Edge appeared at the side of the stage to recite “Late Lament”, but it was a little hard to visualize the “gathering gloom” while the sun was still out!  Anyway, Edge was then joined by the rest of the band and they opened with “The Voice” from 1981’s Long Distance Voyager.  The orchestra was great for some of their old classics like “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights In White Satin”, but it was just window dressing for the bulk of their ‘80s hits.  In fact, I could’ve done without the ‘80s stuff altogether, and would love to have seen them focus solely on their “magnificent seven” albums from 1968 thru ’72 instead.  The pace of the show was a bit sluggish too, plus they had a 20-minute intermission that was totally unnecessary since the show only lasted an hour and 50 minutes.  The show wrapped up nicely with “Question”, followed by the perennial encore “Ride My See-Saw”.

This concert was decent enough, but I thought they were better when I saw them in 1988 with Cheap Trick.  As we drove home, my sister lamented (late lamented?) not having seen these guys when they were in their prime in the early ‘70s, thanks in large part to our old man, who wouldn’t allow her to attend concerts when she was in her teens.  She and I don’t talk much anymore, and I’m pretty sure she resents the fact that I was somehow allowed to go to concerts when I was 15, too…

SET LIST:  Late Lament/The Voice/Gemini Dream/Tuesday Afternoon/Watching And Waiting/Lean On Me (Tonight)/Never Comes The Day/Say It With Love/Steppin' In A Slide Zone/I Know You’re Out There Somewhere/The Story In Your Eyes—Intermission—Your Wildest Dreams/Isn't Life Strange/The Other Side Of Life/I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock 'N' Roll Band)/Nights In White Satin/Legend Of A Mind  ENCORES:  Question/Ride My See-Saw

74) Kiss/Alice In Chains (Wednesday, July 3, 1996—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $34.50

Prior to this night, I had seen Kiss in concert seven times, but this time a dream (if you can call it that) came true as I finally got to see the original Kiss lineup in make-up play at the big house in K.C., Kemper Arena.  I did see the original lineup once at Municipal Auditorium following the Kemper roof collapse in ’79 on the Dynasty tour, but I missed their prior two appearances at Kemper in ’77 at the height of their popularity because my old man wouldn’t let me go, thus I always felt like something was missing.  So at the beginning of my 21st year as a Kiss fan, that wrong was finally righted, and my eighth time around with the band also broke the previous record they held along with Van Halen and Z.Z. Top for the most times I’ve seen one group in concert.  This show also marked the end of an era, as it was the last time I ever got up early on a Saturday morning to wait in line for concert tickets the day they went on sale.  As inconvenient as that was sometimes, I actually kinda miss this bygone tradition in our current TicketBastard cyber-ticketing world…

Alice In Chains opened the show, and they were light years better than the first time I saw them when they opened for VH in ’91.  They were loud, tight, and even singer Layne Staley was actually into it this time.  AIC is one of the few ‘90s bands that I actually got into, and they did a nice job playing all the songs that I liked, including “Rooster” and “Would?”, plus their new one, “Again".  About the only FUBAR during their set was right before their encore when the drummer grabbed a mic and started mockingly singing “Beth, I hear you calling…” which didn’t sit well with the fans.  Little did anyone know at the time that this was the last gig Alice In Chains would ever do with Staley, who died pathetically in 2002 of a heroin overdose.

Between sets, I wandered around the arena a bit and took it all in.  The crowd ranged from kids to people in their ‘50s, many wearing Kiss make-up (with varying degrees of accuracy).  As showtime neared, the anticipation grew more intense, and it reminded me so much of the energy those Van Halen crowds generated when David Lee Roth was with them.  The lights finally went down and we heard that familiar refrain, “You wanted the best, you got the best…”  The curtain dropped and the band was already standing on the stage and opened with “Deuce”.  I was thrown by this just a little, because I was under the assumption that the stage would be an exact replica of the 1977 Love Gun/Alive II set, on which they made their entrance via cherry pickers that lowered them to the stage.  Turns out only their costumes were a replica of ‘77, and they looked great, while the stage was very sleek and open, with a much more versatile Kiss logo than those used in past tours.

This was only the third gig of the much-anticipated Kiss Reunion Tour, and we weren’t quite sure what to expect going in, but it turned out to be a dandy show.  Everyone in the band looked healthy, although they looked like they’d lost a step or two with age in those platforms.  The sound was surprisingly clear (and plenty loud), and the video screen behind the stage was similar to the one employed by the Stones in ’94, offering outstanding visuals.  The old stand-by special effects were all there too, like Ace Frehley’s smoking guitar and bottle rocket launcher, as well as Gene Simmons “flying” to the lighting rig, etc.  And of course, lots and lots of pyro!

I was especially impressed with Peter Criss, who had totally changed his drumming style from the last time I saw him.  The Cat Man was born-again hard, appearing to have bulked-up his upper body a bit, and the results showed.  While his drumming wasn’t nearly as animated as it used to be, Peter played quite solidly and concentrated more on being a timekeeper, and he was able to slow the tempo of the old songs back to the original Alive! days after years of Kiss drummers Eric Carr and Eric Singer playing them so much faster to keep up with the likes of Iron Maiden and Scorpions.  Criss also threw in a nice extended solo in the middle of the show.  Meanwhile, Paul Stanley was certainly in much better voice than the last time we saw him at that 1992 St. Joseph debacle when he had the flu, and was still the most mobile member of the group, using the entire stage as his playground.  My man Ace was cooking on his solos throughout the show, especially on “Love Gun” and “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll”.  And of course, Gene was Gene, making the best of his deadly halitosis by breathing fire and puking blood.

The set list featured many of the old favorites from the first six Kiss studio albums, and there were a few surprises like “Watchin’ You” from Hotter Than Hell and “Rock Bottom” from Dressed To Kill.  “Do You Love Me?” from Destroyer was a high point—this was the first time I’d ever heard it played live—and the band added the original coda that was (for whatever reason) omitted from the original studio recording.  I thought we might also hear “Hotter Than Hell” itself, and maybe “Parasite” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and a few more from Rock And Roll Over as well, but no such luck.  And what—nothing from Music From The Elder?  WTF?!?  Okay, I’m kidding there—it was a great set list (20 songs in all) and an impressive two-hour show, ending with “Rock And Roll All Nite”, followed by “Detroit Rock City”, “Beth” and “Black Diamond” for the encore.  I was elated, having finally gotten to see Kiss at Kemper, and all was right with the world—for one night, anyway…

SET LIST:  Deuce/King Of The Nighttime World/Do You Love Me/Calling Dr. Love/Cold Gin/Love Gun/Shout It Out Loud/Watchin' You/Firehouse/Strutter/Shock Me (Ace Frehley guitar solo)/Rock Bottom/God Of Thunder (Peter Criss drum solo) New York Groove/Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll/100,000 Years/Rock And Roll All Nite  ENCORE:  Detroit Rock City/Beth/Black Diamond

75) Kiss/The Hunger* (Tuesday, September 10, 1996—Kansas Coliseum, Wichita) Ticket price: $37.00 (*=Did not see this act perform)

During the many sojourns my friend Tom and I made to watch our beloved Kansas City Comets indoor soccer team play the Wichita Wings at the Kansas Coliseum, I always remarked that I’d love to see a concert sometime in that little arena on the prairie, given how loud it got in there during soccer games.  Well, the Kiss Reunion Tour provided me with a golden opportunity to do so, and since that Kemper gig was so good in July, I couldn’t resist a little road trip to Wichita and I made a bee-line down I-35 after I got off work at 5:00 that day.

Kansas Coliseum (AKA Britt Brown Arena) is a boxy little 10,000-seat building out in the middle of nowhere north of Wichita featuring a single-level seating bowl and a low, flat roof that makes for a very loud venue.  The sightlines are awesome from just about any seat in the hall, and the seats themselves are nice and wide too.  I arrived between sets just after 8:00, so I can’t even begin to tell you a thing about The Hunger.  I was taken aback a little by the number of empty seats in the place, given that this was a rare big-time concert for Wichita, and there was a section just to the left of my seat that was nearly completely empty.  Oh well, on with the show…

Kiss came on at 8:30 and started off kinda flat this time.  This was their third show in three nights on the tour, and they all looked a little tired.  It took them a few songs to get the adrenaline flowing, and for a brief time, I even thought Paul Stanley might be illin’ again, but he finally kicked it into gear.  Irregardless, you have to admire their stamina in playing that many gigs in a row, doing such a high-energy act like this at their age.  The set list was pretty much the same as the one at Kemper, although they dropped “Rock Bottom” in favor of “I Stole Your Love” from Love Gun and changed the sequence a little, including “Black Diamond” and “Rock And Roll All Nite” swapping places in the batting order at the end.

Since there were so many empty seats in the place, it enabled me to roam around a bit and check out the show from different angles, which was fun.  It seemed like they added a bit more pyro to this show, but much to my dismay, the sound was really disappointing and not nearly as loud as I was expecting in this little band-box arena.  There was one rather humorous moment, when Ace had a little trouble getting his flaming guitar to “fly” following his extended solo, as he tried in vain several times to find the hook to lift it skyward by the neck.  All in all, not a bad concert, though—not quite as good as Kemper in July, but still well-worth the three-hour road trip.

SET LIST:  Deuce/King Of The Nighttime World/Do You Love Me/Calling Dr. Love/Cold Gin/Watchin' You/Firehouse/I Stole Your Love/Shock Me (Ace Frehley guitar solo)/Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll/Shout It Out Loud/Strutter/God Of Thunder (Peter Criss drum solo)/New York Groove/ Love Gun/100,000 Years/Black Diamond  ENCORE:  Detroit Rock City/Beth/Rock And Roll All Nite

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"You say it's your birthday..."

Honest, it really is!  I’m officially halfway to 88 today, as I now travel down Route 44 on the highway of life.  I have mixed feelings about it all, as birthdays to me have become pretty much a non-event anymore, especially when they land on weekdays when I have to work.  Then again, any day above ground is a good one, I suppose…

A belated congrats to Cincinnati Reds slugger Ken Griffey, Jr. for joining the 600 Home Run Club this week.  I know this sounds redundant in light of what all the talking heads on ESPN, et al, have said about him, but it’s kinda nice to not have to mention Griffey’s name and steroids in the same sentence.  Dirty shame that injuries bogged Jr.’s career down over the last few years too, or he might be chasing 800 homers right about now.  Even so, he has once of the sweetest, most fluid swings you’ll ever see, too.  If he remains healthy, he might be able to at least catch Willie Mays for fourth place all-time at 661 in about three years.

Lots of hubbub during the NBA playoffs about allegations by scalawag former NBA ref Tim Donaghy that refs were told by the higher-ups during the 2002 playoff series between the L.A. Lakers and Sacramento Kings to not give technical fouls to the star players and to basically tilt the series in L.A.’s favor to garner better TV ratings.  Not sure whether to believe this schmuck or not, given the timing of his accusations—right smack-dab in the middle of this year’s NBA Finals—but this does bring up an interesting question:  How come the officials aren’t held more accountable when they screw up?  Why are they shielded from the media after a game (not just by the NBA, but by all the major sports leagues) when there’s a controversial ruling?  Seems to me that if a star quarterback gets grilled for throwing three interceptions in a game, why can’t the refs have their feet held to the fire too?

Anyone out there besides me growing tired of irritating "comedienne" Kathy Griffin, yet?  They’ve been hyping yet another new celebrity name-dropping show for her, and her 15 minutes shoulda been up a long time ago.  This unfunny woman is the second-coming of Joan Rivers (minus the ugly-ass daughter), and she's the female equivalent of Gilbert Gottfried on my irritation scale.  What a waste of pretty red hair…

"It Don’t Come Easy"—RINGO STARR (1971)  "This love of mine is growing all the time, and you know it just ain’t easy…"  To my 7-year-old ears, I thought Sir Ringo was singing "this rump of mine is growing all the time"!  Can’t knock this song, though—it’s a quintessential three-minute pop single, and one of my all-time favorites.  Not much was expected out of Mr. Starkey after The Beatles broke up, but ironically, he was churning out the hits right and left early on while the other three scuffled a bit before hitting their strides in their solo careers.

I get a chuckle out of my interactive menu on Compost Cablevision in their listings for the "Beverly Hillbillies" on TV Land that are marked "Repeat".  Uhhh, like there are still some first-run episodes lurking around out there?

Anyone ever notice this little oddity on the "Muppet Show"?  All the characters that were shown playing the guitar or banjo were left-handed.  A tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi and Paul McCartney, perhaps?  Oh wait, I knowthey're all left-leaning bleedin' heart liberals, right, Ms. Malkin?