Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rush, SRV, Elton and Arrowhead

I couldn't come up with any clever title for this post, so I just gave you today's line-up instead...

Well, more like and hour and 45 minutes, but I thoroughly enjoyed viewing Beyond The Lighted Stage, the new DVD Rock doc. on Rush this week.  This is an absolute must for any Rush fan, and it features some fascinating pre-historic band footage from before drummer Neil Peart’s arrival and excellent interviews with all three members of the group, plus high praise from the likes of Gene Simmons of Kiss, Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Les Claypool of Primus, among others.  The documentary was quite educational for me, especially in regards to Peart, who’s a very private and somewhat mysterious individual who always appears to not be having a very good time on stage—remaining stone-faced and all—when in fact the opposite is true.  NP actually does laugh and smile in the video, and was surprisingly open about the dark period he suffered through in the late ‘90s when he lost his daughter and wife within months of each other.  I was also a bit surprised to learn that original drummer John Rutsey was asked to leave the group instead of on his own volition, which I always thought was the case.  He was a diabetic and band management had grave concerns about him being able to handle the rigors of the road, so he reluctantly bowed out before the second album Fly By Night, making Rutsey the Pete Best of Rush, so to speak.  Rutsey wasn’t a bad drummer at all, but Peart is so much more dynamic and he brought more to the table with his lyrical ability and it’s hard to imagine Rush going very far on Geddy Lee’s songwriting sensibilities alone.  Rutsey died in 2008, btw.

Lee came across as affable, good-natured and down-to-earth in the interviews, and Alex Lifeson is rather soft-spoken, but very articulate as well.  These dudes are all first-class musicians, but hardly your typical Rock star-types.  All three of them seem like guys you could kick back and have a few beers and just shoot the shit with about most anything, not just music.  I enjoyed the discussion in the middle about the ‘80s when Lee’s synthesizers were integrated more and more Rush records.  Lifeson was a bit miffed that a lot of his guitar work was being supplanted by the synths, but oddly enough, this was my personal favorite Rush era (Moving Pictures through Hold Your Fire), and although I prefer guitar as well, Rush proved that synthesizers and electronic keyboards had a place on a hard Rock album—when used in moderation, that is.

There was one point on BTLS where the producers came close to shattering "the illusion of integrity", when one-dimensional actor Jack Black interprets Peart’s lyrics by doing a lame Geddy Lee impersonation, which I could've done without.  I’ve never tried to do Geddy myself—Rush is just about the only band that I list among my favorites which I don’t recall ever trying to sing along with much at home or in the car—my voice just can’t keep up with Mr. Lee’s high range vocals.  However, Mr. Peart has some cool bits (like in “Tom Sawyer”, for instance) that are perfect for drumming along to with your fingers on counter tops, desks and dashboards.  Anyway, the rest of Beyond The Lighted Stage is top-notch, and it's a perfect middle-finger pointed at all those Rolling Stone and Creem, et al, critics who mercilessly dissed Rush for so long, and it’s a long-overdue tribute to this world class band’s longevity and consistency.  To wit:  Good job, you hosers!

Well, yesterday, anyway, that we lost Stevie Ray Vaughan in that helicopter crash in Wisconsin.  Doesn’t seem like he’s been gone that long, but I think that’s because his music is still so prevalent on the radio.  Talk about being cut down in one’s prime, I think Stevie Ray was still ascending at the time of his death and had yet to peak.  His albums kept getting better and better each time out, and Vaughan had earned high praise for 1989’s In Step, and he had seemingly conquered his alcoholism—which was seriously endangering his health—when tragedy struck.  I truly believe S.R.V. still had plenty of gas left in his tank too, and we’re all the poorer for not being able to enjoy whatever else he had up his musical sleeve.  Rest in peace, Stevie Ray—we miss you…

Another musical anniversary—a much happier one—kinda flew under the radar this week.  It was 40 years ago Wednesday night that one Elton Hercules John made his American concert debut at the legendary Troubador in Los Angeleez on August 25, 1970.  EJ just blew the critics away that night—even the hippies at Rolling Stone put down their bongs long enough to sit up and take notice—thus lighting the fuse that launched Elton’s meteoric recording career.  From about 1971 through 1975, it was like the man could do no wrong, and everything Captain Fantastic touched turned to gold and/or platinum during that time, culminating in his legendary Dodger Stadium gig (see left), which was a slightly bigger venue than the 300-seat Trubadour.  The ‘70s would’ve been a lot more boring without the boy, too…

EXTREME MAKEOVER, NFL STYLELast time I set foot in Arrowhead Stadium was about five years ago for a Kansas City Wiz(ards) soccer match, and I almost didn’t recognize the place during the open house the K.C. Chefs held Wednesday night to show off the “New Arrowhead—New Body, Same Soul”, as they’re hyping it.  Fans were given access to pretty much the entire stadium while the team staged an informal practice on the field, and I was quite impressed with what I saw.  The main seating bowl remains virtually unchanged, with the only noticeable difference being that the green padding around the wall ringing the field has been replaced by more Chief-like shades of orange, red and yellow, just like the stadium seats.  New state-of-the-art video board technology was already in place before the 2009 season, and there’s plenty of eye candy for short-attention span fans, almost to the point of overkill.  The other noticeable change is the mammoth sky-suite structure hovering over the south side of Arrowhead, which is so tall you can almost see down inside Kauffman Stadium from it.  As I made the long climb through the upper deck to reach the sky-suites, E.Z.O’s “Million Miles Away” started playing on my iPod, which is about how far away I was from the playing field...

The best new feature of all is the Chiefs Hall of Honor on the lower level, which more than exceeded my expectations.  The Chiefs really went all-out to honor their past—the distant past, in particular—and I could’ve spent all night down there checking out all the exhibits and displays on hand, not to mention watching the various video presentations playing overhead.  In a clever touch, they put up bronze busts of every man in the Chiefs Hall of Fame, with all of the offensive players at one end of the hall, the defensive honorees facing them from the other end, and the players were lined up by position more or less just like they would be on the field.  I was initially very peeved to hear that the team removed the Ring of Honor players’ names from the fa├žade of the stadium in favor of the ribbon video boards, but this more than makes up for that transgression.

In addition to individual player recognition, the Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl IV is on display, right next to a wonderful exhibit on the American Football League, which late Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt co-founded.  Another neat kiosk features these rotating triangles (kinda like on the old “$10,000 Pyramid” game show) you can spin around to view the results of every game the Chiefs have ever played in chronological order, with each triangle displaying the helmet logos of the two teams on one side, the box score on second side, and a reproduction of a newspaper headline from the game on the third side.  Apart from the area being a bit congested with people, the Chiefs H of H was well thought-out and I was very pleased with it—too bad it’s only accessible on game days!

The team also honored Mr. Hunt recently with this brand new statue of his likeness in the north courtyard of the stadium.  It’s a damn shame he didn’t live long enough to see the finished product at Arrowhead—I think he’d be tickled with the results.  In another nifty touch, in the same courtyard, on the walkway leading into the stadium they stenciled in the x’s and o’s diagram of Hank Stram’s favorite running play, “65 Toss Power Trap”, which was a key play in Super Bowl IV against the Vikings.  One would think a statue of Hank himself might be appropriate for the courtyard someday soon.

One aspect of the remodel I could’ve done without was the new glassed-in Club Level where the corporate snobs all congregate.  I found it to be nothing but a monument to opulence and excess instead of football.  I did make it a point to take a piss in the hoity-toity men’s room while I was there—probably the only chance I’ll ever get to do so.  Was a bit disappointed to not find gold-plated urinals in there, tho!  The concession prices were obscene throughout the stadium, but that was no big shock, but at least now there’s plenty of room for the long lines of people on the newly-widened concourses.  One thing I found mildly surprising was the number of people tailgating in the parking lot the other night—just for a free open house!  Tailgating is fun, yes, but it’s like some folks only live to sit behind their vehicles and get ripped while grilling bovine flesh.  A lot of these so-called “Chiefs fans” don’t even give a rip about the games themselves—all they want to do is tailgate.  Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

Anyway, I hereby declared the remodeling of the residence at 1 Arrowhead Drive to be a smashing success, and the ‘Head should continue to serve us well for decades to come.  A few years ago, talk swirled around K.C. of the Royals moving downtown and—even worse—the Chiefs moving out to Wyandotte County by the Kansas Speedway, but as Lindy the flamer in Car Wash said, “That will NOT DO, honey!”  Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums were too damn nice to just throw away like used condoms, and I am soooooo glad Kansas City didn’t impulsively go off and build new stadiums for the Chiefs and Royals when we had two perfectly good ones already in place that just needed to be re-tooled and brought into the 21st Century.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—we don’t need no STINKING NEW STADIUMS

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