Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Decade, Part II: This Section is Non-Operational

Ahoy, and welcome back to the countdown of the decade!  Literally, of course, since I'm sure, technically speaking anyway, there are far better countdowns that have happened this decade.  That VH1 show about the 100 best hard rock bands, for instance, was super cool.  (And for all you music geeks, there is a clue in the title and the picture for this post to a couple of the albums in this part.  Not that you'll have to wait long, but I'm trying to spice it up).

Anyway, let's get on with the next 36% of the list:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This Mystic Decade

That's right, in a burst of horrifying unoriginality I have decided to do what every other journalist/magazine/online publication/blogger/asshole has already done.  Namely, attempt to organize my thoughts long enough to arbitrarily rank a bunch of albums I bought (yes, bought, you dirty music pirates) years ago.  But what can I say?  Like the music geeks above, I'm a sucker for lists.  So I've decided to select my 28 favorite records from this decade.  Why 28?  Because that's how old I am as I write this, and it worked out as the best cutoff I could manage without going completely insane.  My logic is unassailable!  There are, however, a few rules to make it less predictable and more inclusive:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Metallica at the Honda Center (née The Pond), 12/10/09

I have few concert-going regrets in my life.  To name a handful: seeing 311 instead of Nine Inch Nails back in '99 (hey, I was young); missing my only chance to see the original Black Sabbath lineup because my friend Jeff had the bad luck to get some flaming foam finger in his eye; and my friend's mom accidentally throwing away his ticket to see the Ramones on what we thought was their final tour, back before either of us were old enough to drive (I still have my unused ticket, sigh).  Though I was fortunate enough to correct the last one by catching them at Lollapalooza '97, that show was also the source of perhaps my biggest regret.  That would be basically falling asleep during Metallica's headlining set.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures at the Wiltern, 11/17/09

I'm way behind on this, but before I start writing my long and self-indulgent end of year and decade lists in the next couple of weeks, I have to say something about the band that I've been blabbing excitedly about in this space for months now.  Thoughts on this show and Them Crooked Vultures' debut album coming right up...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Crazy Like a Fox

Last week, after many good intentions and empty proclamations, it finally happened.  Yes, I went back to a movie theater and paid to see a film somewhere other than the comfort of my own home for the first time in over a year.  I have to say, I missed it more than I thought.  It was the middle of a Monday, so it wasn't like I had to deal with any protracted search for a seat, but even the thrill of deciding where best to take it all in came rushing back in a way I hadn't expected.  I frequently argue that movies are too fleeting, character and story-wise, to be worth the effort, but I had forgotten something very important: when it is worth it, it's the only way to go.

Anyway, the movie I saw, in case you hadn't figured it out by now, was Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox, and I wanted to say a few things about it.  If you haven't seen it and intend to, stop here.  Seriously, last chance to remain untainted.  I warned you...  Mr. Fox is Keyser Soze!  Ok, not really.  But he is very entertaining.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dinosaur Jr at House of Blues Sunset Strip, 11/5/09

Band reunions are a tricky business.  Oftentimes they get back together for financial reasons and noticeably lack any semblance of whatever made them great.  Those of us who missed them the first time around may enjoy it anyway, but it's just not the same.  On the other hand, sometimes it's Dinosaur Jr.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Better To Be Lucky Than Good

Take a second to look at all that money. Those are all hundred dollar bills, and that guy is only twenty-one. All he had to do was play poker for hours and hours and days and days, and outlast 6,493 other players. Oh, and get ridiculously lucky over and over again at the final table. 

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Night Marchers at Alex's Bar, 10/30/09

"Let all the blogs say that tonight was a success!" - Speedo

Done and done.

There are some things that are just true about me. I love gummi bears; I kick ass at the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game; I watch a lot of television; and I wear plaid, just to name a handful. And another one is: when Speedo talks, I listen. Who is Speedo, you ask? Well, in addition to being the guy with the guitar and the microphone in the center of that picture up there, he's also one of my musical heroes. Based in San Diego, his bands have been making me happy since 1995. Rocket From The Crypt's Scream, Dracula, Scream! was one of the first albums outside the mainstream that I ever truly cared about (though credit goes to my friend Spencer for finding it), and I still listen to it frequently to this day. He was also in Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes, though in those bands he was primarily the lead guitarist, thereby denying anyone who listened to their records or went to their shows his inimitable charm and good cheer. Everything shut down in 2005, memorably ending with Rocket From The Crypt's farewell Halloween show (which I went to, naturally).

Friday, October 30, 2009

No Bang, Some Whimper

Right around 9:02 local time Sunday night, my productivity, social life and relationship all experienced sudden spikes in their immediate and long term prospects. Yes, the Angel season came to an end with the feeble strikeout of a bench player (an overpaid one at that), a rally in the top of the eighth having been negated by two inexcusable errors in the bottom of same. As disappointing as it was, in some ways it was a relief; even though they pushed it to Game 6, the Angels never seemed right in this series, and it went beyond just getting beat by a better team. Many of the players looked nervous at bat and in the field, and manager Mike Scioscia, as much as I love the guy, consistently over-managed by putting in the wrong pitcher or hitter at strange times. The Yankees may have won anyway, but it would have been nice to see the Angels play to their capabilities. 

Oh well. Only one team's fans are truly happy by the end of the season, and while I'm not among them this year, it was a good ride. The Angels had to deal with the sudden death of young pitcher Nick Adenhart in the season's first week, and it became a rallying point rather than a crushing blow. Obviously nothing can make up for what happened to him, but carrying Adenhart's memory and jersey with them all year was a nice tribute.

The offseason will begin immediately after a World Series I can't make myself care about much, and the Angels have some important players to re-sign or let go, and repeating success at a level even close to this year isn't guaranteed. Something tells me they'll be right there again, though, and with a little more luck maybe at this time next year I'll be writing about a championship. In the meantime, I've chosen to vent some of my frustrations of the last series in song form. Specifically, to the tune of Billy Joel's "Don't Ask Me Why."

Playoff games make Scioscia feel the heat,
He goes with matchups way too much,
Removes best players for some lesser-skilled,
But they don't come through in the clutch.

Pinch-hit for Mathis,
Maicer Izturis,
Mike, tell me why!

Monday, October 26, 2009

After Months of Waiting, Something Came

Following up on a previous post, the supergroup made up of Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, and stoner rock guitar virtuoso/Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, Them Crooked Vultures, have finally announced a release date for their debut. And now they put the first whole song out there for our rabid consumption! My kneejerk review: better than sleeping with a Ninja Turtle. Check it out below, and then wait patiently for three more weeks until the record arrives on November 17.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

He Should Have Had His V8

Just because it makes me laugh:

Just When I Think I'm Out...

I just wrote about baseball on Friday, but with the playoffs going on it's taking up pretty much all of my attention, so as long as the Angels are still in it, expect to read about it here. Before I was focusing on the thrill of a big win in a playoff game, and just generally feeling very confident. Well, then the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees started, and the Angels promptly took a dump on my hopes and dreams. Playing in the cold and wet of October on the East Coast, they looked terrible in Game 1 on Friday, losing 4-1, and only marginally better the next night. But what really made Game 2 tough was the excruciating way in which they lost. After battling back from a 2-0 deficit and forcing extra innings, the Angels finally took a 3-2 lead in the 11th, needing to get only three more outs to come back here to Orange County--wait, so they don't play in LA, you say? Shut up, I respond--tied at one game apiece. Instead, the first batter in the bottom of the inning hit a homerun to tie the game, and the Yankees went on to win in thirteen innings, and I immediately went out and clubbed some baby seals to cope.

Needless to say, I was a bit disheartened heading into yesterday's Game 3, knowing that a loss would essentially end the season (it's a best-of-seven series, but almost no one comes back from 3-0), when they were so close to tying the series. And this game didn't start well either, with the Yankees getting on base, hitting solo homeruns seemingly at will, and the Angels failing to get anything going against the Yankees starter, Andy Pettitte. But then something funny started happening: the Angels started hitting. After Howie Kendrick hit a solo homerun to cut the lead to 3-1 in the 5th, diminished power threat Vladimir Guerrero came up with a runner on and two outs in the 6th, representing the tying run. And wouldn't you know it, he hit it out! Suddenly the Angels had new life, and I started believing again. The next inning Kendrick hit a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly, giving the Angels a 4-3 lead. They just might win this thing! Of course, the Yankees promptly tied it with their fourth solo shot of the day, and next thing I knew we were headed for another extra inning game.

In the bottom of the 10th, backup catcher Jeff Mathis came to the plate, and I sighed exasperatedly. He's a great defensive catcher, but can't hit worth a damn, and I figured he was an automatic out. In fact, on Saturday night I spent a fair amount of time arguing about how bad he is with someone at my friend's house where I was watching the game. She defended him vigorously, but I stuck to my guns. Could there be any doubt, then, that he would hit a double to lead off the 10th yesterday? The Angels ultimately wasted a bases loaded opportunity to win the game, and I immediately went into sulk mode, assuming the Yankees would score, go on to win, and the Angels would be swept out of the series after two consecutive heartbreakers. But somehow the Yankees came and went in the 11th, and with two out in the bottom of the inning, Kendrick (easily the Angels' most important player in this game) came up and hit a single. Mathis strolled to the plate, and I found myself in the strange position of believing in him after all the team's best hitters had been failing. Seconds later he hit almost the same exact pitch to the same exact spot out in left field, Kendrick raced around from first base to score the winning run, then leapt into the air in celebration just as Mathis was rounding second. The Angels poured out of the dugout, I jumped up and down in front of the TV, my dachshund did his dachshund sitting up trick in reaction to my jubilation, and there was much rejoicing.

And now I'm hanging on every pitch again, knowing that the Angels have a chance to win this thing. The odds are stacked greatly against them, needing to win three of the next four, but they're much better off than if they had lost yesterday. And if this season offers me no more good days, I will at least have the crazy batshit happiness of that image of Kendrick in the air with Mathis in the background. Caring so much about this may be irrational, but some things don't have to make sense.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Pains of Being Red at Heart

Oh, baseball, you cruel and wonderful sport. People who don't like the game often cite "boring" at the top of the list of offenses, and I can at least understand that reaction, but how anyone could find playoff baseball boring is beyond me. The elements of the game that can seem to take too long now have an amplified importance; every pitch, swing and catch can be game and season changing in a way the regular season just can't match. And let's be honest: regular season accolades and accomplishments are great, but eventually you want your favorite team to win a championship. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pearl Jam at Gibson Amphitheatre, 10/6/09

I already reviewed Pearl Jam in my Outside Lands post below, but I saw them again on Tuesday night, and something special happened that I just have to write about. I've mentioned before that I came of musical age in the early 90s, and not surprisingly Pearl Jam was a big deal, but at that same time I was obsessed with a video by another band, Temple of the Dog

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Outside Lands, Day 1: San Franciscoachella

Now is the time on ITIHSTDWO when we talk about Outside Lands! I know, finally. Luckily I have one of those good memories you always hear so much about, so it's still very clear in my mind. Outside Lands was exciting to me for a lot of reasons, but other than some of my favorite bands the main interest was in going to a multi-day festival that wasn't Coachella. So, basically, I was looking forward to sub-100° days; a festival where I wasn't hiding from the sun constantly. San Francisco is known for its cold winds and overcast weather, so I figured I was in good shape. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NIN Wave Goodbye at the Palladium, 9/2/09

I go to a lot of shows, as you may have gleaned from even a cursory examination of this blog. Most of them are good, very few are bad, some are great, and a handful get the chance to be historical, transcendent, mind-blowing in that way that most music fans should be lucky enough to experience. Yep, you guessed it--this was one of those type shows. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Been Around The Blok

As my radio silence unfortunately continues (hey, moving is time consuming), I wanted to point out that my review of Free Lions and Blok from a month ago ended up on Blok's MySpace blog. I'm excited that they would do that, especially since it wasn't a completely glowing review (though ultimately kind, as they say in the post). Thanks, Blok! And for the record, I've seen them again since that show and have come around even more. Just a really fun live act, and I suggest you see them when they play Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa on September 29th.

Also, Sons of Anarchy has its Season 2 premiere tonight, and I'm just counting down the hours until 10 PM. The show is about an outlaw biker gang in the fictional town of Redwood, CA, led by Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) and his stepson, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam). The first season had a vaguely Hamlet structure, with Jax as Hamlet and Clay as Claudius, but it evolved into a very gripping crime drama about the motorcycle club as a whole. Not quite up to Mad Men levels, but it's one of the best on TV right now. I may write about it from time to time, but who knows. In any case, do yourself a favor and watch.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Dead Weather at the Wiltern, 8/25/09

It seems obvious to say that you have to see a band live to fully appreciate them, especially since the live experience is where they show their true mettle; much like a Mexican restaurant with bad salsa, and band with a lackluster live show is just not worth the time. But what about a band that already has an unstoppable record and still manages to make it seem tame in person? That is a lot more rare and special. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mad Men Medley

Call me a liar and I won't disagree. I had grand plans to do in-depth write-ups of each episode of Mad Men this season, but through two episodes I just haven't had the time. I've watched both, but to do anything more than summaries would have taken too much, and I'm only going to get busier. So, as the season goes along I may actually delve into it, but for now I think I'll just try to put up a post every week where myself and the other couple people watching can talk about it. Some highlights from the first two weeks: 

Friday, August 21, 2009

TV: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Normally, something with that title would sound like the kind of overly precious, indie-pandering project that I run screaming from. This one's got a major plus on its side though, and his name is Joss Whedon. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Flaming Lips at the Greek, 8/17/09

It's pretty easy to toss around terms like "childlike wonder," but I think a lot of us don't really remember what that means. We know that it was great, and that it sounds really good when you describe your reaction to something that way, but understanding it as a concept and feeling it are not the same thing. Unless you happen to be at a Flaming Lips show, that is. 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Men World

As I mentioned about a month ago, Mad Men is the best show on television right now. I demurred when it came to explaining why, mostly because it's a show that moves at a very measured pace, without many grand moments; it expects the viewer to invest in the characters and trust that it knows what it's doing. Don't worry, it really, really does. If you haven't seen the first two seasons, I very strongly urge you to go back, rent them, and then call in sick for a few days and charge through all twenty-six episodes. The third season begins tonight at 10 on AMC, and the strength of the writing and acting will probably still be enough to grab you if you haven't watched it before, but you'll be missing out on two years of character development. I had entertained the idea of analyzing/summarizing the first two seasons leading up to this one, but I realized that was a greater task than I was up for, and with only a few people I know who read the blog and watch the show, I'll spare everyone the master's thesis in dramatic television. What I will be doing, however, is writing summaries and analysis of each episode as the season goes along. I'm not sure how in-depth I'll be able to get, and they may take a day or two, but hopefully any of you who are fans will join in the conversation as we try to figure out where things are headed for Don Draper and everyone else at Sterling Cooper.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, that is supposed to be me in that picture at the top. To Mad Men yourself, go here.

Guitar Heroes, or Why Linkin Park is Awful

As you can probably tell from the majority of the content here, I listen to music quite a bit, and I lean toward the rockin' end of the spectrum. I also really enjoy movies, despite my previous statements about their shortcomings. Taking those two facts into account (or was it three? I hate math), it should come as no surprise that this movie would be so appealing to me. It Might Get Loud, Davis Guggenheim's documentary about three guitar icons of the last forty years, came out Friday. Guggenheim, who directed An Inconvenient Truth and was a producer on Deadwood, has brought together Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather), to talk about music, their history of playing the guitar, and to play to and with each other. In addition to an apparent attempt at an apocalypse of awesome, it also looks like a good film for any guitar buff, or just people who have ever loved any of the music these guys make. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Liu Kang vs. Zangief

Some of you may know that a few months back I helped a couple friends on a spec film, which basically means the director, Troy Kooper, wanted to have something in his portfolio to show to prospective clients. The concept: a guy emerges from his home wearing a wife-beater, mouthguard and ridiculous helmet, and proceeds to pick fights with anyone he sees. His first victim is some un-witting (and dashingly handsome, I might add) fellow he comes upon in a Belmont Shore alley. This was a very professional production, with a director of photography and an expensive camera, though we did it somewhat guerilla style. It was a lot of fun to film, even though I spent most of the day waiting for my scenes to be shot, and I'm extremely pleased to see how it turned out. Eugene has said there's an even better cut of it out there, but I've yet to see it, so for now, enjoy. There are shorter versions on Troy's website, which I've added to the list over on the right side of the blog, or you can see them here. My favorite part? The whole day I was thinking to myself, "Self, don't you agree that they need some driving, ominous, Black Sabbath-y music for this?" Then Grace, who plays Girl With Cellphone, showed up wearing a Black Sabbath Vol. 4 shirt, and I knew I was onto something. So imagine my surprise when I saw the clip finally and heard Black Mountain's Sabbath-indebted "Don't Run Our Hearts Around." Perfect!

Monday, August 10, 2009

"We are hardly nerds. Would a nerd wear such an irreverent sweatshirt?"

I've never been very interested in comic books. Sure, at one point I had a bunch of random stuff as I dipped my toe in, and I got into a couple of Predator and Aliens series from Dark Horse comics, but I think that was as much about the violence and prior obsession with those films as it was about the comics themselves. Other than those and the graphic novel Maus (which I suggest you read if you haven't), I was more or less comic book illiterate. Well, then the famous graphic novel Watchmen was made into a film, and I decided I should see if it was all it was said to be. The short answer: Yes. While I hope to eventually write something more in-depth about it, I wanted to mention a couple other series that I've plunged into since. 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Free Lions at the Yost Theater, 7/31/09

I have to admit, I'm having a hard time figuring out how to talk about this show. Two of my best friends are in this band, and I used to be a "contributor," so to speak. Ok, fine, I sang backup vocals at their first show last year, but I was there as the first set list was cultivated from lead singer Shayne Fee's solo eight-track recordings into full blown songs, so I'm obviously pretty close to the whole thing. In the end, I think "brutally honest" is the way to go, since that's how I am most of the time anyway. Luckily, I really like the band, beyond just the usual loyalty to friends' projects, so I have almost entirely positive things to say. Way to go, Free Lions! 

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wonderboy and Young Nasty Man to the Rescue

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the Beastie Boys having to back out of Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival because of MCA's cancer (his surgery went well and he's currently recovering before starting his chemo treatment), and since then I've been wondering, with great anticipation, who would replace them. Well, today it was announced that Tenacious D would be headlining the final night of the festival, and while it's a bit of an unorthodox addition, I couldn't be more excited. From the time their album came out eight years ago it's been one of my favorites, both for its ridiculous humor and surprisingly strong songs. A few years back I even treated (subjected?) people at a friend's party to my karaoke (well, I sang over Jack, but whatever) version of almost the entire album. Yeah, it's safe to say I like them a lot.

Hopefully they'll have a backing band like in this video:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Oh. Em. Em. Eff. Gee!

Not to get all hysterical or anything, but I'm extremely excited by this news, to say the least. I haven't really had occasion to talk about them much yet, but Queens of the Stone Age is my favorite band, so any music news about their frontman/creative mastermind Josh Homme is going to pique my interest. If you throw in Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones (bassist for Led Zeppelin), I may get positively apoplectic. Well, let me introduce you to Them Crooked Vultures. This has been rumored for a while, but this is the first anyone's heard of an official name or website. I can't see how this would be bad, unless the three of them decided to go completely bonkers with experimentation. Mostly, though, these guys just like to rock, and I expect this supergroup of supergroups to blow me away. Somehow I think I'll be mentioning them on here again.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Wilco: Wilco (the album)

Call it Wilco week here at I Think It Has Something To Do With Oatmeal, as I'm bookending it with Jeff Tweedy and friends. Plus, I bet Christopher Lowell is a huge fan. Anyway, in my never ending quest for more content for all you lovely people, I'm going to start trying my hand at album reviews, both for new stuff and older gems I think everyone should hear. Stay tuned for the retro reviews, but this week I want to extoll the virtues of Wilco's latest effort. 

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Love What You've Done With the Place

I wanted to quote the hilarious scene in that one Chris Farley movie--Which one you ask? You know, the one where he's fat, stupid and slovenly but goodhearted, and fails at generally everything while shouting too much. Wait, that's not specific enough, you say?--where David Spade comes back to their shared motel room and knocks on the door, saying, "Housekeeping, you want me come in, jerk you off?" But this is a respectable, family-oriented blog, and I just won't have that kind of tripe trashing up the joint.

Anyway, the point is that I'm slowly figuring out how to make this thing more user-friendly, and I've added a few items on the side that should make it easier to navigate and just generally more professional-looking. The first is a list of topics that you can click on, rather than just scroll down or go to the archive. Obviously that'll become more useful as I post more content, but it's there if you want it. The second one is a list of sites and blogs that I check most days that are relevant to the things I write about on here, or just recommended reading. And third is a list of friends' websites/blogs, so check those out. Anyone who has a website or blog they'd like me to include on there, let me know.

Thanks to everyone who's been reading and/or commenting, I really appreciate it. Stick around, hopefully it'll get better.

Glasvegas at the Henry Fonda, 7/28/09

Because I care about you, faithful reader, sometimes I go to shows just because live music is great, or on the recommendation of a friend, even if I don't know the band that's playing. That's what happened Tuesday night when I saw these Glaswegian (or would it be Glasvegan?) chaps at Hollywood's favorite stop for up-and-coming acts. Admittedly, I bought the record last week so I'd at least know what to expect, but I only listened to it a couple times. In the end, I'm really glad I did, on both counts. 

My buddy Morgan and I went a little early because we haven't yet become too cool for openers, despite his telling me that the single he heard from the opening band, Ida Maria, was not that great. "We've already paid, right?" I reasoned, "Let's get our money's worth." As it turned out, the silly pop punk of "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," the song he had heard, was not entirely representative of their style, which I would say is much more straight ahead power pop. The band is very good, especially the rhythm section, and Ms. Maria is an at times goofy, at times sincere, always engaging stage presence, with a Kathleen Turner-esque speaking voice but the singing of Joplin meets Bjork. That sounds like high praise, and it is; I was really impressed by her vocals, and even though the songs weren't a whole lot more than fun, she made up for it. I'm afraid to check it out on record, but as a live act, and especially an opener, I was totally satisfied. Good job, Ida, you impressed a couple of inveterate music snobs.

After Ida Maria finished up (with the extremely fun "Oh My God") came the interminable wait between bands, usually the worst part of any show, in particular if you aren't drinking. And it went on...and on...and on...until finally, the curtains raised again to flashing blue lights and four people who looked like greasers out late on a school night came onto the stage. These young pups were the ones making us wait? And the drummer only had a three-piece kit? And was it really necessary in the hot, dark building for lead singer James Allan to be wearing sunglasses and a scarf? My pretentious radar starting going off, but then they started playing, and it didn't matter anymore.

Now, Glasvegas isn't doing anything groundbreaking, let's get that out in the open right now. They clearly love Jesus and Mary Chain and shoegaze, and I can even hear some Ramones similarities, at least in the melodies. But they do what they do pretty damn well, and a few of the songs from their self-titled debut are really good, the kind of songs that you wanna put on repeat. I won't even attempt a set list, but they played the single "Geraldine" and another album standout, "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry." Lyrically they're somewhat suspect, with lines like "Liar, liar, liar, liar, pants on fire" and "Go Square Go's" dumb but undeniably chantable "Here we, here we, here we fucking go!" That song was another highlight, as was the song I think is their best, "Flowers and Football Tops," which Allan's deep Scottish brogue imbues with plaintive emotion. The man can sing, and when he gets to the chorus plea of "Baby, why you?" the song really soars. Overall I'd give the show an 8, and the album a 6.5. Hey, everything's better live, you know?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Little King of Everything

I'd like to think that most sane people can agree that the best comic strip ever was either Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side. Really, it's pretty clear it has to be one of those two, and I suppose it just depends on what your preference is: one-panel absurdist humor (The Far Side) or multi-panel, story-based humor (Calvin and Hobbes). Both were genius, so while I side with Calvin and Hobbes I can understand why someone would pick the other. Well, in my not-so-humble opinion, there is one worthy heir to both of them still in circulation: Get Fuzzy. Drawn and written by Darby Conley, it tells the story of Rob Wilco and his two pets, Bucky Katt and Satchel Pooch, both of whom can speak. And oh, what funny things they have to say. In fact, in the universe of the strip, all animals can talk and frequently interact with the humans, usually to very funny results.

While there are many recurring characters--such as Shakespug, a pug who tries to speak only in Shakespeare allusions; Foodar, a cat who can sense even the smallest crumb of food anywhere, unless of course it's a fruit or vegetable; Mac Mac McManx, Bucky's British cousin who speaks in a nearly impenetrable mix of British slang; Fungo Squiggly, the neighboring ferret who is also Bucky's sworn enemy; and Chubby Huggs, the very large and very friendly cat who lives in the same apartment building as Bucky and Satchel, and just wants to love and hug everyone he comes into contact with--the three main characters are Bucky, Satchel and Rob.

Bucky Katt
Bucky is always scheming ways to make money off of Rob, humiliating Satchel, fantasizing about eating monkeys and just generally acting like a little tyrant. He is under the illusion that everything that Rob and Satchel do is done to serve him, and frequently threatens to maim, kill or otherwise harm them when they challenge his ridiculous assertions. Like a real cat, he hardly pays any attention to things that he deems beneath him, and usually doesn't even look directly at anyone he's speaking with unless he's threatening them. He has an unfortunate addiction to rubber bands which has led to more than one-stomach pumping. Conley was fascinated by the idea of a cat so mean that his ears were always laid back against his head in an aggressive manner, and they only ever go up when he gets frightened (which happens much more than he tries to let on).

Satchel Pooch
Satchel is a half-Shar Pei, half-Labrador Retriever mix, a sweet but somewhat dim dog who thinks of Bucky as his best friend even though Bucky is almost never anything but mean to him. Satchel often delivers punchlines in the final panel, either in the form of a surprisingly shrewd observation or a question that reveals just how lost he is. His dog buddies (referred to as his "playgroup") think he's soft for chumming around with a cat, but Satchel is so kind-hearted and oblivious that it all bounces right off him. He's also friends with Fungo, much to Bucky's chagrin, and seems to be the only person/animal the ferret will actually speak to. He often gets involved in Bucky's schemes, unwittingly setting himself up for disaster, sometimes appearing as if he thinks he has no choice but to go along with them. In the end, though, he maintains his good nature and positive outlook no matter what Bucky or anyone else throws at him.
Rob Wilco
Rob is the human foil to all the animal shenanigans that go on, though many times he finds himself right in the middle of it. Bucky may actually be meaner to Rob than he is to Satchel, but Rob hurls insults right back. He doesn't do himself any favors, though, being a huge fan of Harry Potter, Dungeons & Dragons, video games in general, and rugby. He's also a die hard Red Sox fan, which seems to be the inspiration for Bucky's support of the New York Yankees, and Rob's perceived leftist leanings also clash with his cat's conservative and sometimes dictatorial attitudes to politics. He is fond of saying, "Why do I let myself get sucked into these stupid conversations?" and when the nonsense gets to be too much he tends to get squinty and twitchy. Still, his love for his "guyzos" is clear, and he's obviously a stand-in for the author.
I love these characters too much to be able to tell if anything I just wrote sounds appealing, but if you've ever owned and loved a cat or dog you will enjoy this, I'm almost certain of it. It had to have been voted Best Comic Strip in 2002 for something, right? And it's only gotten better since then. There are several collections you can find at most bookstores, it's in the LA Times and OC Register, or you can read it online.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wilco at the Fox Theater, 6/20/09

Let's take a trip back in time, to those halcyon days of five weeks ago, when the air was crisp and our joy palpable, and a lucky few of us were witness to arguably the best American band of the decade strutting its stuff. Imagine, if you will, a renovated, palatial theater out in the hills of Pomona, still in its infancy as a legitimate "it" spot for bands to play in Southern California, opening its doors to scores of hipsters, rockers, middle-age music lovers and more. Then stay with that image, and cut and paste into it that same band, delivering a two and a half hour celebration of their entire catalogue, and you'll have an idea of what kind of performance Wilco put on at the Fox Theater back in June.

Obviously this is a wee bit late, but the show has stood out clearly in my mind ever since, as it was the best I've ever seen them and probably in the running for my top 10 concerts ever. Wilco is one of those bands that I really love and listen to all the time, but somehow I still manage to forget just how good they are--how much I love them. They have a way of reminding me though, and the Fox show was no different. I think I have to start by talking about the venue, as I found it incredibly charming and a welcome addition to the stable of local venues. When you walk in to the main concert hall there are about four levels, similar to the Wiltern, but the floor is bigger. There are two, count 'em, two outside/roof bars, and plenty of places to just hang out between bands or during a less interesting opener, and there are a lot of balcony seats for those who want a grander view.

On the negative side, being a relatively new place, the fire marshal bungled things quite a bit at this show. While I won’t hold their safety laws against them, it was handled about as bad as you could handle it. The place has aisles along both walls in the main room, and they tried to keep it so the aisle on the left was for going down to the floor, and the other was for exiting. Then there's a middle aisle that runs perpendicular to those just before the last level above the floor. I was stuck in a log jam near the end of that row trying to get down to my friends, like a tiny version of the sea of humanity at the end of every day at Coachella, and the security people weren’t really telling us anything in front. Then from behind me came another security guy who was half-heartedly attempting to get people to clear out. Then, when Wilco came on, and they started letting some of us in the front of the pack down onto the floor, that same guy basically shoved me and tried to cut me off, when I’d been there for at least ten minutes with no indication that I wouldn’t be able to get to my friends on the floor. Bad job by the Fox and the fire marshal. Luckily, I got down halfway through "Wilco (the song)" and was able to join my buddies in the excellent spot they had picked out, just right of center and only ten feet or so from the stage. And that's when the magic really started.

Wilco has seven albums worth of material to work with at this point, in addition to the work they did with Billy Bragg, and they did a nice job of taking songs from every point of their career on this night. Three of the first five songs they played were new, but after that it was a free-for-all. For me, it was the first time hearing most of the new tracks, and I was suitably impressed, but the real treat was hearing many older gems, including some I'd never seen them play before. "A Shot in the Arm" is a live standard, but one that never gets old, and "Can't Stand It" has long been one of my favorite Wilco songs that they never played for me. When they got to the epic guitar solo at the end of "Impossible Germany," lead singer Jeff Tweedy's guitar went out suddenly, so lead guitarist Nels Cline (that's him on the left) seized the reins and noodled on like the virtuoso he is for a while, one of those great little moments that the best concerts offer without even trying.

By the time they got to the end of the set they'd been playing for nearly an hour and a half, Tweedy dancing around, swinging the microphone and trying to catch it, a task he even managed to accomplish a time or two. Then, after retreating off the stage, leaving us a few moments to collect ourselves, they came back out with a couple of mellower tracks before diving into the epic "Misunderstood" (which included Tweedy repeating the line 'Nothing!' forty times at the end) and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," which raged on for a good fifteen minutes. At this point some fans began to leave, including myself, thinking they couldn't possibly be coming back. Oh, but they did, first singing "Happy Birthday" to guitarist/pianist Pat Sansone, then ripping into my favorite straightforward rocker of theirs, "Monday," and closing with "Hoodoo Voodoo," which featured dueling guitar solos between Cline and Sansone, each one hamming it up more than the other.

This time, they were really done; I suppose two and a half hours was enough for me if it was enough for them. We walked back out onto the street, the marquee flashing its old news across our faces, clutching our bits of memorabilia tight (see awesome poster I got below) as we compared notes on what we had just seen. We would remember to remember it, that's for sure.

Main set: Wilco (the song) / I Am Trying to Break Your Heart / Bull Black Nova / You Are My Face / One Wing / A Shot in the Arm / Radio Cure / Impossible Germany / Deeper Down / Pick Up the Change / Can’t Stand It / Jesus, Etc. / Hate It Here / You Never Know / Theologians / Walken / I’m the Man Who Loves You / Hummingbird

First encore: Passenger Side / California Stars / Misunderstood / Spiders (Kidsmoke)

Second encore: Crowd sings Happy Birthday to You to Pat / Kingpin / Monday / Hoodoo Voodoo

(Photos swiped from the LA Times and OC Register, and they're from the actual show)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"What's in the box?!?! C'mon, tell me, what's in the box???"

I don't go to the movies very often. Hardly at all, in fact. I find myself unwilling to pay $12 to watch characters for two hours, give or take, and then never see them again, and most films don't even have good writing in the first place. The spectacle of movie-going has lost its charm for me. Don't get me wrong, I'll watch them once they're out on DVD, and I have a long list of movies I absolutely love, but the urgency is just not there anymore. I blame serialized television, and if you've been reading this blog at all you've seen me mention of a few different dramas that I feel are superior to just about any movie I've ever seen. However, I am not completely indifferent to movies, and I saw a trailer the other day that piqued my interest. It was for a film called The Box, starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden and the great Frank Langella, and it was written and directed by Richard Kelly, the nut behind Donnie Darko and Southland Tales. The story was adapted from the short story "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson, the excellent horror/sci-fi author of the books I am Legend, Stir of Echoes and The Incredible Shrinking Man, all of which have been made into movies of varying degrees of quality. I highly recommend reading him.

Anyway, the story is about a married couple, down on their luck financially after the husband loses his job, who are visited by a mysterious stranger who gives them a box with a button in it. If they push the button, two things will happen: someone, who they do not know, somewhere in the world, will die, and they will immediately get a million dollars. Of course, these things are never as simple as that, and bad things start to happen. It's a classic morality tale, like most horror stories, and I'm very interested to see how Kelly pulls it off. I'm no huge fan of Donnie Darko, but it has a great visual style and lots of good ideas (let's all just pretend that Southland Tales never happened, ok?), so I could see this being his best work.

I can't embed the trailer, but here's the link.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What a Perfect Afternoon

I love baseball. I really, really do. I know a lot of people think I'm crazy when I say this, but it's my favorite sport, and I can say that pretty confidently. Football and basketball are great, and ostensibly more exciting, but there's something about the intricacies of baseball, the history and lore and everyman quality to it that do it for me. Maybe it's the little battles that happen between pitcher and batter; maybe it's the slow pace that can sometimes lead to a big payoff; maybe it's the chance for a different guy to be the hero every night; likely it's all those things and more (no joke, as I type this the Angels just won a game in which they scored twice in the ninth inning and once in the tenth to win it. Excuse me while I shout my fool head off). And it's definitely because you know that on any given day you could see something you'll never forget. That's what happened for fans at this afternoon's Rays-White Sox game in Chicago, as they witnessed perfection.

Ok, let's do some bad math here: let's just say that since 1900 there have been an average of 15 teams playing, and let's say they've been playing 154 games per season for the last 109 years. So that's...251,790 games that have been pitched in that time, and only sixteen of those have been perfect games--no hits, no walks, and no errors. The computer on my calculator won't even give me a recognizable number when I try to figure out the percentage; the readout said, "Just stop it." Hopefully my completely unscientific calculations help you see just how rare and special a perfect game is, because Mark Buehrle pulled it off today, and it's got me all kinds of excited. To be fair, I hate Buehrle a little bit for his involvement with the infamous game in the 2005 playoffs that the Angels went on to lose to the White Sox because of a strikeout pitch that wasn't caught cleanly--all Angels fans reading this just scrunched their faces up in anguish and screamed "Mendoza!!!" while shaking their fists at the sky--but he seems like a very regular, humble guy who just happens to be a very good pitcher, so I'm happy for him. This wasn't even his first no-hitter; that came in 2007, so he joins a relatively short list of pitchers with more than one.

The coolest thing about all this, for me anyway? I got to see the last inning on TV, as the centerfielder stole a homerun from the leadoff batter in what has to be one of the most spectacular catches ever, given the circumstances. Then Buehrle had the nerve to throw a 3-2 changeup right down the middle for a strikeout, and then the last batter grounded out to shortstop, as everyone rushed the mound and bounced around the infield, a crazy, hopping mass of ecstatic humanity. Now that's why I love baseball.


I'm about to cross over into super-dork territory here (and the audience shouts, "Too late!" in unison), but so be it. I was sitting here last night, clicking between the Angels game and an NCIS rerun on USA, and I couldn't help but think about how much I really like that show. These days it's basically a coin flip as to whether you'll catch it on USA at any given moment, but I remember when it first came on CBS almost seven years I scoffed at the commercials, thinking it looked like just another disposable police procedural. Not long after that I got sucked into the HBO drama factory and plowed through some of the best television ever produced in Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos and more, presumably making me even more snobby to case-of-the-week style drama. Then USA went and acquired NCIS and started airing it in three hour blocks right when I got home from work, and it slowly worked its way into my heart. There are some pretty clear reasons why this happened:

1. Mark Harmon
As Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Harmon is the badass that every guy wishes he could be. A former sniper when in the Marines, he's also tougher than the grey hair and usually calm demeanor would lead you to believe. As anyone who's seen The Presidio knows, Harmon even managed to pull off badass next to one of the original badasses, Sean Connery, and that's no small feat. My brother thinks that they waste Harmon's natural charm in a role that isn't exactly gregarious and can seem a bit cold, but I would say they play off of it to show you why his team respects him so much, even while he seems like such a tough leader. Also, it never gets old watching him kick ass when up against it, though usually in a realistic way that includes him getting worked over as well. Yes, I realize I've used "ass" in various permutations four times in this paragraph, but what can I say? This show brings out the G.I. Joe-loving little kid in me.

2. The rest of the cast
There's lots of fighting, gun play and gore, but the real appeal of the show lies in the interactions between the characters, and the people around Harmon all have an easy, sometimes quirky charm that makes you care about what happens to them, adding suspense to scenes that would feel like an obvious win for the good guys on any other show. There have been a couple of deaths by major characters over the course of six seasons, and these guys make you feel every one as if it were a beloved character in a series of books. Which, in a way, they are.

3. The writing
The individual cases are usually interesting, if a little far-fetched at times. What makes the writing really stand out is the effort to build the relationships between the characters, so you understand why they do what they do, and why they care about each other. It seems like such a small detail, but it's really what makes this show stand out, especially when one of the cases directly involves someone on the team. Not many case-of-the-week shows can claim they have back stories and mythology, and it makes it worth coming back to. There's also a lot of goofy humor, and it works all the more because you've seen these people in dire situations with each other.

I doubt I can really convince anyone to watch, but I'm telling you, it's really good. Everyone who knows how much I like to watch egregiously awful horror and sci-fi films may find my opinion dubious, but just go turn on USA for a bit and see what you think. At the very least, Ziva is hot, right?