Another Vision Adventure

February is almost over and, hopefully we’re through with weekly snowstorms. I’m ready to turn the page on the calendar to March knowing it’s going to be a very busy but very fun month. I’m seeing four concerts and one musical. With that already on my schedule, I figured ‘Why not throw in a surgical procedure as well?’

Last year I had lens replacement surgery. It’s the same procedure they perform for people who have cataracts, only I didn’t have cataracts, the lenses just weren’t working well enough with my contacts, so my surgeon, Dr. Joseph Iurno, replaced the lenses and corrected my vision enough surgically that I no longer need contacts, only glasses to read close up and do computer work. The surgeries were a great success and I still find it amazing that I’m not nearsighted anymore. It took a long time to overcome my instinct to always bring a book closer to my eyes to read.

Now that my vision is better than it’s ever been in my entire life, I looked at options to correct something I’ve dealt with since birth. My right eye has always been ‘lazy’, turning inward, making vision out of that eye very poor until the surgeries this past summer. So, I am now having a procedure to center my right eye so it looks straight ahead. I’ve always been left eye dominant, because, up until last summer, my left eye was my ‘good eye’ that I could always see out of. Now with the corrective surgery, my right eye actually sees better than my left, but it’s difficult for me to focus and ‘look’ out of my right eye, partly because for thirty-six years, I’ve been doing the opposite and also because the eye turns inward.

So, like I said, March is busy. I’ve now got doctor’s appointments sprinkled around these shows:

March 11 – They Might Be Giants @ The National

March 12 – Martina McBride and Trace Adkins @ The Coliseum

March 18 – The Musical ‘Wicked’ @ The Landmark [a gift for mom’s birthday]

March 20 – Taylor Swift @ John Paul Jones Arena

March 21 – Ben Folds @ The National

When scheduling the surgery, I told myself it had to be ‘after the weekend of March 20/21 because, if there’s a risk of going blind during this surgery, however miniscule, I’m taking that risk after I see Taylor Swift in concert. Thankfully, I was able to schedule the surgery for the end of the month, so no conflicts of any kind and, hopefully very little time away from work.

I’ll keep you posted here, and I will be writing reviews for all five events I’m seeing in March. I’m really looking forward to all of them, but there’s one that I’m really really looking forward to. Yeah, that’s pretty obvious, huh?

So long February, welcome March. It’s gonna be so much fun!

Thanks for reading,

Barry

02.25.10

Review: Willie Nelson and Family at The National 02.16.10

The word ‘Legend’ is one that gets thrown around a lot, and usually it’s attributed to someone undeserving of the moniker. There are, however, a few legends among us. Willie Nelson is one, and I was lucky enough to be in the crowd at a sold out National Theatre to see him deliver the trademark country/blues/jazz amalgamation he’s known for. Having never seen him in concert before, my friend Eddie and I did not know what to expect, except that hearing ‘On The Road Again’ was a given; everything else was up in the air and would be a happy surprise for the both of us.

After an opening set by his son Lucas and his band ‘Promise of the Real’, Willie stepped onstage and kicked things off with ‘Whiskey River.’ Willie has always had a way of singing in his own way, forsaking the given time signature, instead offering an almost jazz vocal and guitar style. He’ll seem to rush through a line of a verse or slow down and deliver a halting chorus, demanding his band follow, keep up and predict where the changes are.

Seeing this live could be disappointing for some because nothing Willie plays live sounds anything like his recorded versions. I knew this much going in, and I was looking forward to the different interpretations of material I had heard before. Some patrons though audibly voiced their displeasure when the performed version of ‘Crazy’ [which Willie wrote and Patsy Cline made a worldwide smash] was so different that a group sing along with the audience was out of the question. I just sat back and marveled, watching a master at work.

Watching and listening, it struck me that Willie Nelson is very similar to the jazz great Django Reinhardt. [Think about that for a second!] That realization made my jaw drop and made me appreciate even more how original and different Willie is and has always been.

He played for about eighty minutes, non-stop, playfully waving to the crowd, periodically removing his cowboy hat in order to wear his signature red bandanna. With so many songs in his catalog, it would take weeks to play them all, but he played some all time faves, some newer material, and even some covers in honor of those now gone [Waylon, Hank Williams, Sr.] and one who carries on in Willie’s tradition of doing things his own way [Toby Keith].

There is now far more gray than red in the hair of ‘The Red-Headed Stranger’ but that’s fitting. He may not be red-headed anymore, but he’s also no longer a ‘stranger’ to anyone. Call him a legend, call him an outlaw. After seeing one show, you’ll be hard pressed not to call Willie Nelson ‘family.’

No matter the ticket price, that’s priceless.

Set List [Approximate, based on past show set lists online at the site setlists.fm and my memory]:

Whiskey River

Still Is Still Moving to Me

Beer for My Horses

Funny How Time Slips Away

Crazy

Night Life

Down Yonder

Me and Paul

Good Hearted Woman

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Hey Good Lookin’

Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground

On the Road Again

Always On My Mind

I Ain’t Superman

Bloody Mary Morning

I Saw the Light

Gotta Get Drunk

–Barry

02.18.10

Martina McBride and Trace Adkins at The Patriot Center, 01.31.10 – A Story in Two Parts [Originally posted on FB 02.03.10]

Martina McBride and Trace Adkins at The Patriot Center, 01.31.10 – A Story in Two Parts

I’ll warn you first, if you solely want to read all about the concert I attended with my friend Eddie, skip ahead to part two. Part one is all about what happened before the lights went down and the show began. It’s a good true tale. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read it, just if you wanna read about the show first, read part two, then come back and read part one…or read them in order, it’s up to you.

PART ONE: ‘Damn…it’s STILL snowing!!’

I have known Eddie Pickering for over 20 years now. I knew him when he was just a ‘long haired kid in a Led Zep shirt’ in Algebra class, and I was there as his tastes slowly moved toward country music, circa 1990-91. I’ve seen numerous shows with him: Metallica in 1992 [in other words, when they were cool], KISS, Dwight Yoakam, and just last year, we saw Paul McCartney and U2. Eddie has a very short list of artists he has to see whenever they are remotely nearby. All the other artists are nice, but I think I know who his ‘Big Three’ are, in no particular order: Hank Jr., George Jones…and Martina McBride [last name included for the uninitiated].

On one of our road trips this summer, just as I was starting to revel in the music of Taylor Swift, Eddie played Martina’s latest CD, ‘Shine.’ I was receptive to it and we listened to Martina CDs for the rest of the trip. Tour dates for 2010 were announced for both Martina and Taylor around the same time. I thought I would have to bribe someone to drive me to see Taylor, but Eddie was eager to attend. And, I found myself wanting to see Martina in concert, more so to watch Eddie watch Martina in concert…at least that’s how I saw it at the beginning.

Saturday, January 30 – It snowed. It snowed a lot. We talked on the phone several times Saturday and, after attempting [and failing] to get his car out of his driveway, Eddie was almost resigned to the fact that we were gonna miss the show. I checked the venue website and kept tabs on Martina’s Twitter account but, so far, no word on a cancellation or postponement. We talked late Saturday night and Eddie said he wanted to delay his ‘final decision’ until noon Sunday. I understood and agreed. Then, in a very nice gesture, Eddie said, ‘I want to assure you that if this were a Taylor show we were trying to get to, we’d find a way!’ I said, ‘Well, if it was a Taylor show this weekend, I would have left town after work on Friday to get to Fairfax before the snow. Thankfully, it’s not, but I know you wanna see this show so…since you’re driving, it’s your call. I don’t mind if I have to eat the ticket.’ I went to bed doubting we would be able to go, and all the same relieved that Taylor’s concert dates are in March and June, not January and February.

Sunday morning, I woke up much earlier than planned because I couldn’t sleep. I really wanted to believe that we would be going to the show. Looking out at my street, I doubted it would happen. I called Eddie around 10:30. His wife Tucker answered. ‘Hey Tucker, how’s Eddie this morning?’ I asked.

‘He’s gone!’ she said laughing. ‘He got in the van and he’s gone!’

‘Well, that bodes well then, if he can get out of his neighborhood. Have him call me when he gets back. [He’d gone to get milk, bread and cigs.] I thanked Tucker again for letting us use the family van, when we realized the Camry wasn’t gonna be able to cut it in the weather.

Eddie and I talked around 11:30. He said simply, ‘Let’s do this!!’ We both came up with the idea to have me pack an overnite bag and crash at Eddie’s house in Midlothian after the show. We did this knowing that my hill was gonna be a problem once the sun went back down, and wanted to avoid getting stuck in the dark.

I later realized that getting stuck in daylight sucks almost as much as getting stuck in the dark.

Eddie arrived at my house around 1:30 and I had my overnight bag, ready to roll. We managed to get out to the van, which he had parked two houses further up my hill so he wouldn’t get stuck. As we pile into the van, my brother Brian and his girlfriend Mary pull up to our house in her car. Also, keep in mind that all day, my neighbors Ray and Tammy, and their friends have been driving up and down this hill on golf carts and ATVs. Surely a Chrysler van, complete with Sirius radio, DVD player, seating for eight, auto doors and auto start…surely this piece of American craftsmanship can muster enough force, strength and traction to get up my hill, right?

I wasn’t concerned at first when we had the engine gunned, but seemed to go nowhere. It’s just temporary, soon the wheels will find a grip and we’ll be on our way. Eddie punched it again and the motor roared, but we went nowhere. My brother saw what was happening, surveyed the situation and asked Eddie, ‘Do you care about your floor mats?’ Eddie said no and Brian placed a mat under the right front tire. We hit the gas again…and we went nowhere. Tammy, who was clearing off my back steps, said the only way this was gonna work was if Eddie backed up to the very bottom of the hill and found a flat surface, hit the gas lightly, kept it in low gear and didn’t stop, hopeful to gain enough traction to get up the hill and onto the main, cleared road.

So, taking her advice, maybe even against his own better judgment, Eddie backed up the van, past my house, past Tammy’s house, to the very bottom of the hill, with nowhere to go but up.

I knew we were in trouble when we could maneuver left and right, but we were getting nowhere when we tried to go up the hill. I didn’t tell anyone, but the lyric ‘Took a whole lotta tryin’/Just to get up that hill’ from The Jeffersons Theme Song kept repeating in my head. At this rate, it seemed like we weren’t going anywhere. Valliant effort, but score this one for Mother Nature.

My neighbor Ray owns a landscaping business. I still don’t know exactly how many vehicles he has at his house, but he has a lot. One of those vehicles is a Ford Dually [pronounced ‘dooley’]. I don’t even know what that means exactly. All I know is it’s a big truck. Ray offered to tow the van up the hill using his truck, but only after an impassioned plea from his seven year old son Maverick. Maverick ran inside the house when it was evident we weren’t gonna be able to make it up the hill without some help, and yelled, ‘Dad, you have to come tow the van!’ to which Ray, who had been laughing at the poor idiots inside the stalled van while watching from his living room window, said ‘No!’

Maverick continued, ‘But Dad, its Barry! He really really needs to get to a concert!’ With Maverick’s adorable lisp, the words came out sounding like, ‘But Dad, its Bawwy. He reawwy reawwy needs to get to a concewt!’ Ray came outside and immediately started apologizing for laughing at us. ‘Man, I didn’t know it was you Barry. I am so sorry man. I mean it. I didn’t know…’ I assured him I didn’t mind, and I understood him laughing. I’d be laughing too if I weren’t sitting in the passenger seat.

Ray looked around the van and the only area where a tow-strap could be connected was to a bracket on the motor mount. I told Eddie, ‘This is your call. It’s Tucker’s van, and if anything happens to it, you’re dead, so you decide if you wanna do this, or call a tow truck.

Eddie decided to call his wife. She picks up, and he leads not with ‘Hello’ but ‘Do we have towing on our insurance?’ Not how I would’ve opened the conversation. Tucker decided to call Danny, a guy Eddie has known since high school. I knew him in high school too, but Eddie and Danny have kept in touch the past 18 years, whereas, I only see Danny when we meet at Eddie’s for birthday parties etc. Danny is a professional truck driver who tows and carries cars for a living. Eddie had talked to Danny on Saturday, seeking his assessment of the road conditions in preparation for our trip.

‘Don’t go ANYWHERE until Monday Eddie. The roads are horrible!’ Danny said.

Maybe we should’ve listened to him in the first place.

Tucker had called Danny simply to get his advice on whom to call in my part of town for a tow. Tucker did not expect Danny to drop what he was doing, get in his truck and drive from Powhattan to my house. Tucker called Eddie back and said that’s what Danny was gonna do. He was gonna come tow us up the hill. Eddie asked me what my address was. ‘5104,’ I said. Ray quickly looked at Eddie and said straight-faced, ‘You’re at 5102!’ which got a laugh from everybody, even Eddie I think.

So, we had about an hour wait until Danny would arrive. Ray offered to take me up the hill on his golf cart to my front steps. As I got into the cart, Ray apologized again and I told him it was fine. He seemed genuinely upset that he had been laughing at my expense. The cart made it up the hill with no issue, and all the while Maverick was sitting on the bar in front of the driver with his arms looped around it for a grip so he wouldn’t fall off. As we made our way up the hill, I asked, ‘Hey Ray, ya wanna take me up to Fairfax in this thing?’

I arrived at the front steps just as Ray’s wife Tammy was clearing the front steps with a snow blower. The thing worked like a champ and made a nice pathway. It became apparent however, as she got to the steps leading to the sidewalk, that the snow blower was going to blow snow all over me, Brian and Mary. We were sitting ducks and Tammy knew it. I think she went over the same area twice just so she could douse us again with snow. I hadn’t fallen down yet all day, and now I had snow in my hair, on my glasses, all over my coat…it looked like I tried to make a snow angel!

Brian, Mary and I made it inside, while Eddie stayed down at the bottom of the hill with his van. He seemed more comfortable there, waiting for Danny. Brian, Mary and I watched the end of the Virginia Tech/Miami basketball game waiting for something to happen at the bottom of the hill. A little after 3:00, Danny arrived in his pickup truck. I was still inside the house, so I heard all of this second-hand. Apparently, once Danny saw the slope of the hill and the icy conditions, he decided even his truck wasn’t gonna do the trick. After some discussion, it was decided that Danny would use his tow-chains and straps and secure the vehicle, and Ray’s dually would do the towing. I happened to look outside as the dually was pulling Eddie’s van as if it were a caboose or a matchbox car…no problem whatsoever. When I saw that, I reached for my coat and gloves, ‘I guess we are going somewhere tonight.’

Danny said he was on call 24 hours, and if we happened to get stuck once we got into Eddie’s neighborhood, he told us to call him, no matter how late it might be. With many thanks to Ray, Tammy, Maverick, Danny and all the neighbors who helped, offered opinions, or simply stood outside to watch, we were on our way to Fairfax…though not before Tammy yelled out to me, ‘Hey Barry! Tell Eddie he owes me a bottle of Captain Morgan!’

‘When do you want it?’ I asked.

Maverick answered for her, ‘She wants it NOW! She always wants it now!!’ I laughed hard at that, said a last round of thank-yous and got in the van. I was already tired, and the road trip hadn’t even begun yet.

The roads were excellent for every moment of our trip up, apart from my hill. We were a little behind schedule but managed to arrive in town around 5:30, stopped at a Fuddruckers for dinner and around 6:30, made our way to the venue. I had been up a long time already, had given up more than once to the fact that we were not gonna make this show. I have to say, for the first time in a long while, the simple act of finding a parking space and negotiating the iced-over parking lot to get inside…that was a very rewarding feeling; and we still had a SHOW to see!!

As Eddie and I walked into the venue, the attendant saw we had floor seats and said, ‘You guys can head over there to the right to Guest Services, and they’ll let you take the elevator down to the floor.’ I wasn’t planning on taking the elevator, but once it became an option, I was all for it. So, we walked to Guest Services, and the individual there told us to double-back halfway to the elevator. We made it there around 7:00. We saw a small queue of fans waiting and talking with staff. It was here we learned that there was indeed an opener before Trace went onstage, so since he wouldn’t be starting at 7:30, I was relieved and whatever stress I had about getting to my seat before the house lights went out was gone. I didn’t care if I missed all of opener Sarah Buxton’s set.

In front of us waiting for the elevator was a veteran in a wheelchair; happily grasping a backstage ‘Meet & Greet’ pass he received from Trace earlier in the day when Trace visited Walter Reed Medical Center. Two women waiting with us were trying to hide their envy, but I just said, ‘That’s very cool! Enjoy it, that sounds awesome!’ not at all wanting to belittle his moment.

We took the elevator down, and we were dropped directly backstage, amid amps, road cases, guitars and road crew members. I’ve done this at least a dozen times before, so I was very calm and collected, acting as if I was just walking to my cubicle in my office, but I admit, it’s still a bit of a rush to be backstage, even if you don’t see any celebs. I’m someone who loves to see a show from the front row, but would enjoy it maybe even more from the road crew’s point of view under the stage. I’m fascinated to see how a show gets put together.

We made it to our seats, on the floor on stage right, and, as I looked and saw the stage and view from our vantage point, I said out loud, ‘Damn good seats!’ I decided at the last second before leaving the van to put on my coat, so I was wearing a t-shirt, a dress shirt and a heavy coat. As soon as I found my seat, the coat and dress shirt came off. Mom would have been proud that I at least wore a coat inside the building.

Part Two: The Actual SHOW Review

Sarah Buxton took the stage with her guitarist and a percussionist for a quick acoustic set. She’s a new artist with her debut CD arriving February 23. Her single ‘Outside My Window’ has been on country radio and video channels since August, so I at least knew one song. I looked over at Eddie two songs in and said, ‘This is what Taylor Swift hath wrought…record execs are now looking for the female singer who can play guitar and they’re trying to catch lightening in a bottle again, leading to a slew of blonde-haired Taylor-esque wannabes.’ Sarah’s attractive and she can sing okay, but the songs sounded far too similar to be interesting.

As soon as Sarah ended her set, a video screen dropped down above center stage and the volume suddenly got pushed up to eleven. The pre-show video to introduce Trace Adkins was a five minute comedy piece about the perils encountered by the performer while trying to ‘make it to the show.’ After the day Eddie and I had experienced, parts of it rang too true.

The first thing that struck me as Trace appeared center stage in silhouette was how tall he was. He’s listed as the co-headliner on this tour with Martina so his set was close to an hour, and it was packed full of his biggest hits. In a show full of lights, screens, video montages, the only thing Trace had to do to make the girls scream was sing a note or two in the low growl he’s famous for, all the rest is just window dressing. His voice was impeccable and helped mask what at times was an uneven sound mix during his set.

Yes the ladies love Trace, but he managed to keep the guys interested too by showing scenes from his videos while he sang. If you’re unaware, his videos tend to be a bit racy, very suggestive, and always humorous.

Trace didn’t really talk to the crowd much until about five songs into the set, introducing ‘All I Ask For Anymore’ by saying it was up for a Grammy, ‘but the Grammys are tonight so I don’t guess I’m gonna go.’

Highlights for me were ‘You’re Gonna Miss This’, for it’s sweet sentiment and great lyric, and ‘Honky Tonk Badonk-a-Donk’, for it’s sweet sentiment and…nah! Truthfully, his entire set was great, and, even with all the lights and effects, he is one of those artists that can grab your attention with just a guitar and a microphone. I look forward to seeing him again when the tour comes to Richmond in March. Plus, it made me smile to see Trace give his hat to a young fan at the end of his set. In case you were wondering, he looks entirely different with the hat off!

And now…onto the reason why we were all there in the first place: Martina.

The pre-show music before Martina went on was a dance remix medley of some of her songs. It was a strange intro, and I kept waiting for the Cher song ‘Believe’ to start, because the remix used the same rhythm and drum track. I soon realized why this was the intro, because the remix track would morph into the introduction to her song ‘Ride’. It made for a nice transition, albeit one that was unexpected.

Martina elevated on a lift to center stage, and looked stunning. [Fashion report: She wore a sequined blouse, very tight leather pants and very high heels. Pics will be added to the review soon!] I had heard a lot from Eddie about how great a live vocalist Martina is, so I was expecting a lot. Thankfully she did not disappoint. Once she got to the crescendo in ‘Ride’, hit the note and held it, I knew it was gonna be all I had hoped.

Martina’s stage includes ten high-definition video screens of varying size, used to create a backdrop of live shots or video montages. It was proof that, even though this is a ‘country’ show, the production takes all of its cues from rock tours: Lots of effects, screens, confetti, [hmmm…I wonder where they got that idea from?] and one show-stopping prop.

The moment I had waited for, one I had known about since the tour began in November but kept quiet about and never spilled to Eddie, was when Martina took a seat on a huge blue half-moon as it elevated over the stage, past the stage and then over the crowd before resting behind the soundboard in the middle of the arena. It was a spectacle that any KISS fan would be proud of and hard pressed to top. She sang ‘Concrete Angel’ as she ‘flew’ above the crowd, the landing of the showpiece timed perfectly with the conclusion of the song.

From the mini-stage behind the soundboard, she waved to the fans way in the back and up top and sang ‘Anyway’ and ‘Love Is The Only House/Blessed’. Then, she quickly darted behind the soundboard and under the floor for a quick costume change while the band played an extended intro to ‘This One’s For The Girls.’ I fully expected her to run from one end of the arena to the other – under the floor and stage and then ‘magically’ reappear onstage to sing ‘This One’s For The Girls’ but, she surprised me again. Martina appeared, this time in front of the soundboard, at floor level! Not too far away from me and Eddie at all! She then walked the length of the floor from the soundboard to the stage steps, shaking hands, waving and taking gifts fans had made for her, all the while singing one of her signature tunes. It was a moment that drove home the special connection that country fans and artists have with one another and how much each needs the other, even if it appears a bit dangerous to get out and ‘press the flesh’ of the fans. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Like I said, the show was full of spectacle, but before I wrap this up, I must mention what was the absolute highlight of the night for me: Before the moon prop made its appearance, Martina and her band did a pair of acoustic songs. One was the Kris Kristofferson classic ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ and that was followed by my favorite song from her latest album, a sad love song called ‘I’m Trying.’ Even with the spectacle, it really was all about her voice, pure and simple. The props were nice but, had the show been simply her band playing acoustic behind her for 90 minutes while she belted out songs, it would have impressed just as much.

The only head-scratching puzzling moment of the night came when the encores were over and I realized that she wasn’t going to play ‘I Just Call You Mine’, perhaps her biggest crossover hit. I don’t know why it was dropped, and I hope it’s back in the show when she comes to Richmond. Even so, the show was amazing and well worth the Herculean effort Eddie had to make to get us there.

Lastly, thanks again to Ray, Tammy, Danny, Maverick, Brian and Mary, Tucker for letting us use her van, my mom for understanding why we had to go, even though she thought we were crazy…and most importantly thanks to Eddie for everything.

This one was memorable for many things…and we have many more shows to see this year!

Set lists from Wikipedia, with some edits made by me to reflect the actual set list:

Trace Adkins

1. “I Got My Game On”

2. “Swing”

3. “Songs About Me

4. “I Wanna Feel Something”

5. “All I Ask For Anymore”

6. “Marry for Money”

7. “Chrome”

8. “Rough & Ready”

9. “You’re Gonna Miss This”

10. “Hot Mama”

11. “Ladies Love Country Boys”

12. “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”

Encore

13. “Muddy Water”

14. “Keep On”

Martina McBride

“Ride”

“When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues”

“Happy Girl”

“Walk Away”

“Wild Angels”

“My Baby Loves Me”

“Wrong Baby Wrong Baby Wrong”

“Whatever You Say”

“Lean On Me”

“Help Me Make It Through the Night”

“I’m Trying”

“Concrete Angel”

“Anyway”

“Love’s The Only House”/”Blessed”

“This One’s For The Girls”

“You’re Not Leaving Me”

“A Broken Wing”

“Independence Day”

Encore

“Livin’ On A Prayer”

– Barry

02.03.10

My thoughts on The Grammys [Originally posted on FB 02.02.10]

I was at a Martina McBride show in Fairfax on Sunday night [I’ll post a story about that show later] so I missed The Grammys when they aired live, but I did TiVo them. It was the first time I actually planned to watch the telecast since The Police reunited and kicked off the show in 2007. So here, a few days later, are my thoughts on The Grammys:

First, understand that I am not objective. I’m very biased when it comes to certain artists.

As I stated on Facebook Monday afternoon moments after seeing the opening ‘surprise duet’ featuring Elton John and Lady GaGa, I really think these two should do a tour together. I can totally see GaGa singing inspired versions of “The Bitch Is Back” and “Dirty Girl” and Elton could sing “Boys Boys Boys” and get away with it. It was a great performance, an inspired pairing and…without a doubt THE moment of the evening. Not that the rest of the show was bad, it just didn’t top Elton and GaGa.

Beyonce never disappoints, and her performance of “If I Were A Boy” was stellar. I need not say anymore about her, just watch the performance if you haven’t seen it yet. That says it all.

Pink. My God…how does she do that?? And, where’d the water come from?

The duet between Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli was another ‘only at The Grammys’ moment that worked like a charm. Impressive interpretation of one of my all time faves, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’

One pairing that didn’t really work for me was when Taylor Swift shared the stage with Stevie Nicks. Now, if you’re reading this, you know that I’m a Taylor Swift fan. I think she’s great. Stevie Nicks I’ve never cared for, though I don’t think she’s a bad singer, she’s just not my cup of tea. The two of them singing ‘Rhiannon’ [and the saving grace for me was that they didn’t sing ‘Dreams’] just never seemed to click. Taylor looked visibly nervous and it seemed forced. It wasn’t until she sang a bit of her nominated song, “You Belong With Me” that she seemed at ease and able to enjoy the moment.

I must admit I did not know that the Green Day opus ‘American Idiot’ has already been turned into a stage show and is about to hit Broadway this spring. When the cast of the production joined the band for a version of ’21 Guns’ my initial reaction was to cringe and fast-forward past it. I didn’t though, and I was very pleasantly surprised. The cast has vocal chops, and Green Day showed they can ‘play well with others’ making it a very cool and memorable performance.

All I can say is, I have never ‘gotten’ or understood what The Black Eyed Peas are all about. Fergie’s nice to look at, but that’s about it.

The big problem I had with this year’s telecast was that so many awards, practically ALL of the genre-specific awards were announced before the show went live. I found out [via Twitter] that Lady Antebellum won their category and Taylor won two awards…all before 7:00pm. That’s okay; the Grammys have announced winners off the air for decades. In years past however, when going to commercial, they would have a voice over saying something like, ‘The following winners were announced tonight prior to airtime…’ and give you a list, usually with a photo of said winner taking their Grammy. This year, nothing. I didn’t even know Lady GaGa took home two awards until I saw it Monday night on Entertainment Tonight! No mention of the other non-aired categories, which means classical music was nowhere to be heard or mentioned on the entire three and a half hour show. If The Grammys are an awards show, then tell us who won…ALL the categories. If they wanna focus on performance, then divide it into two nights, one night of speeches and awards, and one night of performances. I also think they need to devote a completely separate night to the ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award recipients. I mean, Leonard Cohen gets a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, and he gets a sixty second mention by Seal, whose primary job is to introduce Pink. Come on. I know you’re pressed for time, so make it another show, but the Lifetime Achievement and Trustees recipients deserve their moment.

RE: Censorship. I understand the need to censor bad language on live TV, but CBS must be very skittish since the FCC fined them for that infamous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ because, cutting an entire audio feed so much so that you think you’re surround sound system is failing is bad television. They could have just had Drake, Eminem and Lil Wayne come out on stage, say their names and wave instead of the ‘silent’ song they tried to rap. At least those in attendance at the Staples Center heard the song, viewers didn’t.

I think the voters got most of the awards ‘right’. Beyonce won for song of the year and, even though I was hoping Taylor would win, ‘Single Ladies’ really was everywhere. I was thrilled to see Taylor take home Album of the Year, mainly because, for me, her album has been THE album I’ve been playing pretty much non-stop since May. She can sometimes ramble on in excitement when giving acceptance speeches [face it, she’s had a lot of practice lately], but both of her speeches were brief, sweet and very sincere.

I’m glad GaGa won two awards, even though they weren’t televised. We lost out on seeing her give an acceptance speech, but she did give one hell of an ‘If Looks Could Kill’ Stare as they announced the nominees for Album of the Year. I fully expect GaGa to be back next year, maybe taking home a Grammy for ‘Bad Romance’. She’s got a year to think up a costume idea.

Just some thoughts…

–Barry

AVATAR – A Review [Originally posted on FB 01.24.10]

So often a film is overrun by its own hype and publicity, so much so that, no matter what the final product may be onscreen, the overwhelming memory of the experience is the hype and hyperbole that accompanied the project, rather than the actual story/film itself. I’ve wanted to see ‘AVATAR’ since it opened and, I have believed since I saw the first [of many] trailers that it was either going to redefine film and be a tremendous success, or it was going to fall so flat that it’s failure would equal that of ‘Heaven’s Gate’. [Those of you under 35, Google that and you’ll get my point.]

Well, the box office has shown that it will be a success, but…is it any good?

First things first, I saw this in Digital 3D and, I have to admit, my depth perception is so poor that most of the effects were lost on me, but that really didn’t matter. This was one of those very few film experiences where you truly are transported to a new world, visually stunning and almost excruciating in its detail. At the outset, I heard many people complain about the almost three hour length of the film, but once the characters landed on the futuristic planet Pandora, my outside world disappeared and the time flew by as if it were a three minute coaster ride.

I also admit that I see the film thru a very specific narrow prism. Once the main character, Jake Sully [portrayed by Sam Worthington], who is a paraplegic, awakens as his blue AVATAR, with limbs in tact, and realizes he is able to walk and even run in this new world, Pandora…once I saw that I was sold. I’ve had dreams similar to that moment so, if there’s an alternate universe where I can go with a body ‘in tact’, paint me blue and sign me up.

Now on to the story, which has gotten very mixed reviews among critics and friends I have talked to. I have to say, as a whole, the story works very well. It may be a bit heavy handed and even one-sided, but for the purposes of this film, I think it’s supposed to be one sided, showing and telling the events from the perspective of the natives of Pandora. Are the military portrayed as the ‘men in black hats’? Yes they are, almost to the point of comical caricature. That may be the only fault I have with the film [along with the excessive and unnecessary use of slow motion]. I would have liked to have seen a more ‘humanistic’ portrayal of the Colonel [played to the hilt by Stephen Lang].

Even with the somewhat unbalanced story-telling, the film is a sight to behold, and the plot works. It’s an excellent David v. Goliath or ‘Rocky’ underdog tale and it works because the inhabitants of Pandora have you believing in them and rooting for them. ‘Star Wars’ had the Force. AVATAR has ‘Eywah’, Pandora’s embodiment of faith and spirit. Politics of the plot aside, for me the tagline from this story is a line that’s almost thrown away in a voice over by the main character: ‘All energy is borrowed and someday you have to give it back.’

AVATAR may indeed be the ‘game changer’ that industry people tout it to be. If that’s the case and every action film we see for the next ten years is predominantly CGI based, I hope the future writers of those tales don’t forget that ‘the play [or story] is the thing.’ This movie [I won’t use the word epic] was a joy to watch on many levels, but it worked and moved me because the story of two beings in love was able to be heard above the din of the guns and arrows, and able to shine above the dizzying colors of the Technicolor world they inhabited.

‘Sooner or later, you always have to wake up.’

–Barry

01.24.10

‘This Is It’ — A Movie Review [Originally posted on FB 11.17.09]

When I heard that Michael Jackson’s estate and AEG Live were going to release a film chronicling the rehearsals for what was supposed to be the ‘This Is It’ tour, I initially felt as if they were ‘stealing the pennies from a dead man’s eyes’, looking to make a very fast buck in an attempt to recoup money.

Happily, I could not have been more wrong.

I admit, when this tour was announced in April, with fifty planned shows at London’s O2 Arena, I thought ‘No way he’ll be able to do that, he’s a shadow of his former self.’

Again, I could not have been more wrong.

This film shows Jackson running through production numbers and trying out effects in what was to be the running order set list for the fully produced show. Some elements are more produced than others, including a wonderful sequence during ‘Smooth Criminal’ that inserts MJ into gangster films with Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth and Edward G. Robinson. Yes, I was skeptical when it began, but by the end of that sequence it became apparent that, had he lived, Michael would have delivered an amazing show that would have silenced most of his critics.

And that’s what the overwhelming feeling is while watching: ‘What might have been…?’ As a performer, when at his best, there was no equal. And seeing just the rehearsals for this tour, I walked out feeling cheated because the tour never came to be. I also asked myself repeatedly as I watched, ‘If he was THIS together onstage, what was going on in his personal life that led to his death?’ because, there’s no hint of confusion or weakness. He is always soft spoken when speaking with the director and crew, never cross and able to get his point across without questioning or berating anyone.

Jackson’s music is pure nostalgia for me. I was a fan during the Thriller era and stopped paying attention to his music after I was disappointed with the ‘Bad’ album in 1987. I remember around that time that he gave an interview to a magazine and said that he wanted his music ‘to be listened to and loved two hundred years from now, like Mozart.’ When I read that, I laughed. Seeing this film as a wonderful eulogy, and seeing how kids who weren’t even alive when Jackson put out his best material enjoy his classics, I think now that he may have been right, and some of his music may indeed prove timeless.

Lastly I must mention Kenny Ortega, tour director and the force behind getting this film released. He did a wonderful job editing this movie so it never gets bogged down in ‘tech speak’ but instead quickly moves from one great song to another. Even if you’re not a fan of Michael Jackson, if you’re a performer, or enjoy seeing art take shape before your eyes, go see this film. It is worth the time and the price of a ticket to celebrate what he was as a performer, and more importantly, what could have been had he not left so soon.

“Hold for applause…hold for applause…and fade out.’

— Barry

KISS and their ARMY roll thru Hampton like a tank! Review 10.16.09 [Originally posted on FB 10.19.09]

I’ve been fortunate enough to see over 20 shows in 2009, all of them special for their own reasons. I think it’s fitting that the last show of my 2009 Concert Year was KISS. I haven’t seen them in concert since July 2000 on what was then called ‘The Farewell Tour.’ Original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were gone by 2001, so I figured the days of me seeing KISS in concert were over [I skipped their tour stop in Va. Beach in 2004 because I really wasn’t interested].

Then something happened.

Seeing all of these great shows this year made me realize, no matter how great a concert is, be it Springsteen, Morrissey or even Sir Paul McCartney, there really is nothing like a KISShow. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have loved every show I have seen this year, and I have had many unforgettable moments. It all made me realize that, as much of a KISS purist as I thought I was, I wanted to see them onstage again, maybe for nostalgia’s sake, maybe just to say ‘Thank You’ and ‘Goodbye.’ So, after thinking about it for days, I bit the bullet and bought floor seats to see them at the always raucous Hampton Coliseum on Friday.

I hadn’t really gotten excited about seeing them yet. In fact when the alarm clock sounded Friday morning, as I woke up and started my day I actually said out loud, ‘Oh right. I’m seeing KISS tonight!’

I saw this show with my friend Eddie. He’s seen McCartney, Springsteen and U2 with me this year, so, knowing we’ve both seen some ‘mega-shows’ and knowing the current lineup that makes up KISS, I really did not know what to expect. I think I was actually nervous, hopeful I’d see a good show and it wouldn’t sour the memories I have of shows past, or be a poor impersonation of what’s come before. That’s what I was thinking about, and we hadn’t even found a place to park outside the venue yet!

SPOILER ALERT!! If you are planning to see KISS on this tour, STOP READING if you don’t want to know some specifics.

Okay. You’ve been warned.

We got inside and quickly found our seats on the floor. I had forgotten that the Hampton Coliseum, unlike it’s counterparts in Richmond and Norfolk, has access directly to the floor, so I didn’t have to navigate any stairs. That was a big plus.

The first thing I noticed was there were SO many little kids made up in face paint. I mean, I remember seeing kids at the Reunion and Farewell tour shows, but this time around, it seemed like KISS was a family ticket. When that happened in 1979 it was seen as being the tell-tale sign of KISS being uncool. Thirty years later though, I think it was very cool to see so many young faces, all of them much younger than almost every song they would hear. I saw that as affirmation that KISS is more than a band, bigger than Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, and probably something that will still be going on long after Stanley and Simmons finally decide to put away their platform boots.

The show started, as almost all of them have since 1975, with the declaration that we ‘wanted the best’ and we ‘got the best.’ While that may not exactly be true, I was ready to believe. The opening riff of ‘Deuce’ roared, a blast of pyro erupted, and the madness began.

A lot has changed in the nine years since I last saw KISS, namely of course the absence of Ace and Peter. It’s funny. Back in 1982, they released one of their better albums, ‘Creatures of the Night’. The album tanked on the charts and critics dismissed KISS as passé in the wake of new wave and ‘NWOBHM’ [New Wave of British Heavy Metal]. Paul Stanley said fans and critics alike were ‘listening with their eyes’ and the makeup at that point seemed very dated, so it came off. As I watched Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer onstage, I realized that I could be guilty of the same thing. I miss Ace and Peter, but they aren’t coming back. This lineup is musically the most talented and ferocious, maybe ever. Tommy is no Ace Frehley, but he does a fine job of playing the riffs and tries very hard to bring his own style to some of the solos, though he plays them note for note like Ace did a long time ago. So, after once swearing them off as a live act when Peter was dismissed, I now was fully ready to accept Eric and Tommy and this new phase of KISSTORY.

Now, some show specifics:

Paul’s voice: Luckily this show came after two off days, so Paul’s voice was in fine form for most of the show. First moment of ‘Uh oh, he shouldn’t have tried that’ was the scream in the new song ‘Modern Day Delilah’, which he only attempted half-heartedly.

That whole ‘Alive 35’ thing: The premise of the tour at the outset was to play the classic album ‘KISS ALIVE!’ from start to finish. Well, from the first show on the tour that idea went out the window with certain songs from the album being omitted from the live set. Now this marked my 16th KISShow and, going in, I had two songs I wanted to hear live for the first time [not counting unplugged versions played on the 1994 KISSKON tour]. Those songs were ‘Got To Choose’ and ‘C’mon and Love Me’, both featured on ‘KISS ALIVE!’ so I figured I had a good shot at hearing them. ‘Got To Choose’ is song three on side one of the ALIVE! record so, after ‘Deuce’ and ‘Strutter’ and some stage banter, I was all geared up to hear that song. Well, they ‘skipped’ ahead to side FOUR of the album, thereby throwing this whole ‘ALIVE’ recreated premise out the window. They did play both songs, but I had to laugh at not getting what I expected. It wouldn’t be the last time that evening.

Gene: Greasepaint really is an amazing thing. When Simmons is onstage wielding his Axe Bass, spitting fire and blood, even taking flight to the rafters, he truly is ‘The Demon’ and you forget this is the same guy who is at times a bumbling idiot on a reality television show. I didn’t think I would be able to take him seriously again onstage. I’m very glad I was wrong.

Eric Singer: For me, Eric was the star of the show. His drumming just brings an amazing power and attitude to the band’s live set. He is one of the best drummers around and proves it every time he gets behind the kit. He may be wearing Peter’s makeup, but I don’t think he’s in Peter’s shadow anymore.

Tommy Thayer: He is a very talented guitarist. There was only one moment where I felt uncomfortable and that was during his feature solo spot, complete with the Ace trademark rocket-launcher prop. I just thought to myself, ‘Couldn’t he get his own trick?’ but I know that fans expect certain things from a KISShow, so, I know why he does the effect, I just wish he didn’t. Otherwise, he nailed all the solos on all the songs. I miss Ace, but I don’t miss Ace’s sometimes sloppy playing. The only reference I can make for non-KISS fans as a comparison is one involving the television show ‘Friends’. There’s an episode where Ross is making a list of ‘Pros and Cons’ of two women, Rachel and Emily. The only ‘Con’ in Emily’s column is ‘She’s not Rachel.’ That’s how I feel about Tommy. He’s great at what he does and he is the guitarist in KISS now. It’s just, he’s not Ace.

The set: It leaned very heavy on stuff from 1974-75 so I got to hear some great songs not played in a long time like ‘She’ and ‘Parasite’. This however marked the first KISShow I can remember where ‘Calling Dr. Love’ wasn’t played [They would play it the next night in South Carolina in place of ‘C’mon and Love Me’ so, I think I won!]. Also, no ‘God of Thunder’ was a surprise, though not missed honestly. The biggest surprise of the night though came during the encores when ‘Lick It Up’ morphed into The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, complete with a Keith Moon-esque solo from Singer. It marked the first time in ages that a KISShow threw me a curveball like that. I stood there, mouthing ‘Oh my God!!” as I began to recognize the Townshend riff. I hope that moment stays in the set for the remainder of the tour.

All in all, I was blown away at how great the show was. I knew it wasn’t going to be as euphoric as The Reunion Tour or as life-altering as one night on the Farewell Tour was for me but KISS still use more pyro and confetti than any other band out there and they still deliver what the fans want: Two hours of fist raising, sing along arena rock and roll. Given the current economic climate, there’s nothing wrong with that.

This lineup of KISS could go on for a long time. I’ll be there when they come back around.

That’s a promise.

Thanks to Eddie for attending this show with me, it’s one I will always remember. And to Anthony and Leigh Anne from Ohio: It was a pleasure meeting you and seeing what turned out to be a great show with you.

Set list:

1. Deuce

2. Strutter

3. Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll

4. Hotter Than Hell

5. Got To Choose

6. Modern Day Delilah

7. C’mon and Love Me

8. She [with Tommy Solo]

9. Parasite

10. 100,000 Years [with Eric Drum Solo]

11. I Love It Loud [Gene Bass Solo]

12. Black Diamond

13. Rock And Roll All Nite

Encores:

14. Shout It Out Loud

15. Lick It Up

16. Cold Gin

17. Love Gun

18. Detroit Rock City