Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Back-Row Boycott

This post...is about Counting Crows.
[There. That should take care of two of my readers for this entry...one regular, and one semi-regular...as they go scurrying back to their Google Reader for something more entertaining to peruse.]

It's kind of an ongoing joke between me and a couple buddies whenever the Crows come up in conversation. Because...and I know this is impossible to wrap your brain around...some people...don't..like...Counting Crows. (I know!!)

However. I saw them in Milwaukee on Saturday night for the dozenth time, and if I didn't give them a little blog pub here, I'd feel like I wasn't doing my job.

I was a bit torn for this concert, because it was a co-headliner tour with Maroon 5, and...I'm rather apathetic toward Maroon 5. The opener was up-and-comer Sara Bareilles, whom I'd heard on the radio once or twice, and read a few good reviews about.

When I searched for tickets a couple months ago, I found that the closest seats were going for one hundred...and twenty-one...dollars. I didn't know if Maroon 5 pushed the price up that much, or where the hell they came up with a number like that. And on top of that, all the stupid Ticketmaster fees...the convenience charge, the buildings and facilities fee, the order processing fee...jacked the total cost of the ticket up to $146 before they were finished screwing you.

Under certain circumstances I'd pay that. But those circumstances would have to include at least a three-hour show by the Crows, a set list hand-picked by yours truly, and maybe a chance to get up on stage and pound out a few chords of Sullivan Street on the piano with Duritz (provided I learned how to play a few chords on the piano first). Also...Maroon 5 being on tour somewhere else.

None of those things were going to happen, so I held off on a ticket purchase, and a week or so before the show, I went back online and purchased a lawn seat (a $21 ticket that still cost nearly $39) as a form of protest of their outrageous ticket prices. An all-out boycott would have been the way to go, but...it was the Crows. In Wisconsin. I had to go. Had to.

The Marcus Amphitheater in Milwaukee holds somewhere north of 20,000 people, and I didn't think it would be shoulder-to-shoulder for a show like this, and I was right. I'd guess there were about 14,000 people there at the crowd's peak. I had plenty of room to sprawl out on a blanket on the grass, use my camera bag for a pillow, and watch about a gazillion dragonflies zipping through the air as I waited for Sara Bareilles to impress me.

And impress me she did.

She only played maybe seven songs...four of her own, with the Crows' Omaha, a Maroon 5 song, and the Beatles' Oh, Darlin' (partially dueted with Duritz) mixed in.

She's got a lot of soul. Kind of a mix between Norah Jones and Alana Davis, maybe? I'm trying to think of who else she reminds me of. Anyway...I'll be in her audience again in the future.

Maroon 5 came out to the theme song from LaVerne & Shirley, which I totally didn't get until a little later in the show (keep reading). And while nothing they did on stage was going to immediately turn me into a fan, I was at least hoping they'd be mildly entertaining. I guess you have to like the music...because I wasn't entertained. At all. While they weren't "bad" by the correct definition of the word, they were very boring. Their lead singer had very little stage presence...although he had plenty of female fans in the audience, what with the tattoed arm, the plain white T, the scruffy beard.

A couple girls near me on the lawn were arguing over who got to be Adam Levine's girlfriend, and they finally settled on sharing him, each girl having him to herself every other day.

One of their friends chimed in with, "I'd rather be Adam Duritz's girlfriend than Adam Levine's girlfriend any day." To which one of the original girls replied, "Eww, with the corn rows??"

(corn rows, dreadlocks. to-may-to, to-mah-to, right? eeesh.)

I can't help but think every time I hear a Maroon 5 song that the lead singer swallowed a tiny voice synthesizer, and if he just drank a glass of water really quickly, or got a hefty pat on the back, he'd go back to sounding like...I dunno...Harry Connick Jr. Or something.

At the end of the last song, he gave his guitar a few swings and launched it high into the air and let it come crashing down in the middle of the stage. Which I thought was oh, so rock-starish. But then, as we watched on the monitors, he stepped off the stage and went a row or two into the crowd and handed the guitar to a girl who had been holding a sign during the show that said, "Can I Have A Guitar Pick Please?"

Fine...he got some points for that one.

(For the record: This is the point in the show where I snuck into the bleachers to get a bit closer. And by "snuck" I mean "surveyed which half acre of empty bleachers I wanted to claim as my own." Sooo much seating available. And more opening up by the minute as hundreds of people headed for the exits during the Crows first couple songs.)

Before the Crows came out, the theme from Happy Days blared over the loudspeakers, and then...and only then...did the light bulb go on for the LaVerne & Shirley reference. (get it? two TV shows set in Milwaukee......yeah. personally I liked it better the last time I saw them when Lean On Me played from start to finish over the speakers, and the crowd sang along.)

So Duritz walks out, and says, "OK, that was the end of anything happy for the evening. And now...we will begin to mope. But very melodically."

And they went right into Recovering The Satellites, which I haven't heard live in a long, long time. Love the first line: "Gonna get back to basics...guess I'll start it up again."

Second song: Mrs. Potter's Lullaby, which they didn't play when I saw them in Kenosha. That's one of my three or seven or twelve or nineteen favorite Crows songs. Pure poetry.

Each headliner only played for an hour and fifteen minutes, so the set lists weren't too extensive, but the Crows squeezed in 13 songs, or twelve and a half, I guess...because halfway through Sundays, which wasn't sounding too good, Duritz stopped the song and informed the crowd that they were all apparently playing in a different key. And he asked, "Did it really sound that bad out there?" (Yes. It did.) He turned to the drummer and said, "It's not your fault. You were playing drums in the right key."

For those of you geeky enough to want the set list, I'm geeky enough to give it to you: Recovering The Satellites; Mrs. Potter's Lullaby; Richard Manuel Is Dead; Hard Candy; Speedway; Round Here; Sundays; You Can't Count On Me; A Long December (sandwiched in between the beginning and ending of a Sara Bareilles song I don't know the title of); Hanginaround; (encore) Come Around; Walkaways. (You may notice no Mr. Jones!! I believe that's the first concert I've seen where they didn't play Mr. Jones. Shocking.)

When they came back on for the encore, Duritz said, "We've been gone for a few years between albums. I had some shit to work out. Saturday Nights is about me failing to do that. And Sunday Mornings is about me trying to do that."

And then he said that Come Around was a song that let them know, and let us know, that even if they're gone for a while, they'll always come back around...and that they'd see us again in a few years.

I sure hope it's a lot sooner than that.
No matter how many fees I have to absorb.

"Sometimes the world seems like a big hole.
You spend all your life shouting down it
and all you hear are echoes of some idiot
yelling nonsense down a hole."
—Adam Duritz

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Delicious Sunday Drive

I’ve officially become a Sunday driver.

No, I don’t mean that I’ve taken to driving 37 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone, or 42 in a 65. When I become that kind of Sunday driver, I certainly won’t admit it to the entire internets.

I took my mom out to eat last Sunday for her birthday, and while the final decision was ultimately hers to make, one of the places I suggested was the Grey Rock Mansion Restaurant at the Heidel House Resort along Green Lake, where my parents have raved about the brunch served there on Sundays.

You’d think with gas prices still well north of $3.50 a gallon, we would have found a restaurant halfway between us, and met there. Or perhaps just shared a conversation over speakerphone during meal time, making appropriate “yum!” sound effects while eating grilled cheese sandwiches, and called it dinner “together,” leaving our vehicles parked for the day.

But it didn’t take my mom long to agree to a drive to Green Lake, and Sunday morning we were on our way...an hour and a half, to have breakfast.

And ohhhh, I’ll do it again sometime, even if gas prices hit eight bucks a gallon.

The drive along Highway 23 is filled with pleasant rural scenery: golden fields dotted with round hay bales; an old, rusted, empty corn crib standing guard near the highway; a salvage yard filled with more combines than you can count without veering off into the ditch.

We had our destination firmly in mind, but the sights along the way made for an enjoyable Sunday drive.

I’d never been to Grey Rock before. As we walked in, there was a lounge to our left with a baby grand piano against one wall. The framed certificates awarded by Wine Spectator magazine were evidence of an extensive wine list.

For our brunch, we were led down to the lower level and seated in a glass-walled dining section that held maybe ten tables, and provided a spectacular view of Green Lake and all its water sports enthusiasts already out enjoying the sunny day and the temperatures quickly approaching 90 degrees.

The entrées were as unique as the atmosphere, with everything from Cajun sausage scrambled eggs to alfredo turkey lasagna to amaretto-flamed pancakes to waffles and beef tips and chef-carved pork loin and pit ham. (I could continue, but I’m starting to drool.)

Topped off by a swig of champagne and an assortment of juices, it was one of the most unique dining experiences I’ve had since I’ve been old enough to eat solid food. A thoroughly enjoyable, leisurely brunch.

The dessert table is where I found heaven on earth, however, and that isn’t usually the part of any meal that gets my biggest focus.

One of the specialty desserts the day we were there was bread pudding with a vanilla glaze, which was delicious. But I also took a sliver of cheesecake. And I’m glad I don’t write a food review column for some swanky magazine because the only words I can find to describe what I ate are: Best. Cheesecake. Ever.

If it hadn’t been at the very end of the meal, I might have had two or three slivers. But all I could comfortably hold were about five or six bites. I don’t think I’ll ever find a better cheesecake.

A catamaran for hour-long tours of Green Lake (which we didn't take...this time).

After our brunch, we strolled around the Heidel House grounds, finding all sorts of nooks and crannies to explore...a pumphouse ice cream parlor here, a bungalow for rent there, benches in the shade and benches in the sun, and docks to enjoy a view of the lake.

A pretty fantastic place to walk off a pretty fantastic meal.

And then we drove home...at or slightly above the posted speed limits.

“Too many people just eat
to consume calories.
Try dining for a change.”
—John Walters

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Walk With Me...Down The Trail, My Friend

If somebody would have told me at the end of spring as the weather was turning warmer that in the coming months I'd see the Dalai Lama, Poison, a Skid Row-less Sebastian Bach, and...Ted Nugent...all by the end of the summer, I would have turned and offered to buy them another shot of whatever it was they were downing.

It's been a strange summer. (That's not a complaint.) And last week, I met a couple buddies up at the Brown County Fair to see Ted Nugent for ten..lousy..dollars.

I can live without Cat Scratch Fever. Wango Tango doesn't impress me. And I can barely think of too many of Nugent's other songs to list here.

Except one.

Fred Bear. A nearly eight-minute celebration of the great outdoors and the thrill of the hunt.

Thing is...I'm not a hunter. Nor a fisherman. But that is one fantastic song. I expected to have to wait through the entire concert to hear Fred Bear, but I was up to the task. I was going to hear it live.

I've seen Nugent in TV interviews and features, and while he may be a bit off kilter, he's a very intelligent human being, and I have no qualms with his...or anybody else's..."Kill It and Grill It" motto. I've been fortunate to enjoy meals of venison more than a handful of times, and...how should I put this?...them's good eatin'!

For those of you who don't know Nugent's background, he's a huge proponent of the NRA, fills his freezers many times over with the wild game he hunts, and in his 60 years on the planet...many of those living the rock-star lifestyle...he's never fallen prey to drugs or alcohol.

Earlier this summer, he performed his 6,000th career concert.

He and his bandmates came onstage with little fanfare...just a drummer, a bassist, and (pardon me) one crazy fucker named Uncle Teddy on lead guitar and vocals.

He revved up the pro-hunting crowd by screaming power words like, "Celebrate!!" and "Freeeedom!!" and referenced The Hunt over and over (and over), bonding with all of his "blood brothers" (if I had a nickel...) in the crowd of maybe 4,500, offering to share backstraps with everyone. (anyone? anyone? Buuueller?........the backstrap is the loin of a deer, the best cut of meat.)

He paid tribute to all the members of the Armed Forces, thanking them for going around the world and killing assholes, saying, "That's exactly what this world needs, is more dead assholes!" (insert wild cheers from the audience here.)

It doesn't take a front-row seat to see that the Nuge clearly loves himself. A lot. But he put a lot of that cocky energy to good use, and for two hours, put on a surprisingly entertaining show. I didn't get bored waiting for the song I went to hear.

He mentioned Fred Bear in between the second or third song, so I knew he knew it was on everybody's minds. And then brought it up again another time or two throughout the show. And yes...it was his last song.

I don't want to tear it down too much, because it was pretty well done, and it was a rush to be in the crowd for it. But parts of it were almost too spoken-wordy for me. I wish he would have belted it out a little more like on the disc.

There. I'll stop complaining. I saw two hours of live music for ten dollars, led by one Motor City Madman.

And I'd go again...for another ten. But probably not twenty-five.

I'm a few days away from another live show, more situated in my wheelhouse......the Crowwwws. (with Maroon 5. I just might ignore them...but it adds to my eclectic summer.)

"I hump the wild to take it all in,
there is no bag limit on happiness."
—Ted Nugent

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I've been messing around with Twitter for the past month or so, trying to figure out what all the fuss is about...or if there should be any fuss at all.

I'm not certain why I should be so concerned about a microblogging utility if I can't steer myself to this screen to, um...macroblog, on more than a weekly basis these days. But, you know...everybody's doing it, so why can't I, right?

If you look over in my sidebar, you'll (hopefully) find my recent Twitter activity, which gets automatically updated every time I...uh...tweet. Or at least, it should.

It seems to work pretty well with Firefox, but isn't as consistent in IE, sometimes posting one tweet, sometimes the usual five...sometimes none. Overall, Twitter has had some technical issues that have made people say some very unpleasant things in the forums.

Truth be told, I have nothing earth-shattering to tweet about. Recent topics have included my best impression of a Naked Gun quote via txt msg (while at a baseball game); my love of Gummi Bears and what that might reveal about my level of maturity; the fact that I woke up with a freakin' Brady Bunch song in my head one morning (and what that might reveal about my level of sanity, and taste in music); and more than one note about how much I love Mondays. (please step out of the way to avoid dripping sarcasm.)

Trust me...if you're not following me on Twitter, you're not missing a whole hell of a lot. But it is kinda true what they say, that it can become a little addictive.

Something happened yesterday that made Twitter totally worthwhile. And the fact that I'm only following, and being followed by, a handful of people made it that much funnier.

I got a text message notification on my phone yesterday afternoon, and opened it to find someone in a bit of a tizzy that Gmail wasn't working...and she turned to Twitter to vent her frustrations, beginning her tweet with, "GAH!"

About 15 minutes later, my phone vibrated again, and I opened it to read a tweet from someone different, but saying almost exactly the same thing. Also having a fit that Gmail was down, this text message began with..."Gaaaah" and ended with a perfectly dramatic, "I can't breathe."

Perhaps my recounting of this story doesn't do it a bit of justice, but it was one of the biggest laughs I've had in quite a while. Not the fact that they were freaking out about not having Gmail...(been there, done that)...but that two of the six people I'm following on Twitter chose to tweet about it, and they chose, "GAH!" and "Gaaaah" as their expressions of choice.

Yeah, I think I'll keep Twitter around for a while.


What are you doing?

"I will follow you, will you follow me,
All the days and nights that we know will be,
I will stay with you, will you stay with me,
Just one single tear in each passing year."
Follow You Follow Me, Genesis

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Please Pass The Hairspray.

Wanna know how I know that I was in the middle of an '80s flashback last weekend?

I saw three bands on Saturday night, and all of them had at least one guitar with nothing but acute angles.

Yep, revoke my music-listening privileges, come and haul away my hundreds of CDs and pull the plug on my DellPod, because I paid money to see Sebastian Bach, Tesla, and...(still having a hard time admitting to this one)...Poison.

A buddy of mine asked me earlier this summer if I'd be interested in going to that show, and while I snickered every time I heard or said the word...Poison...I kept coming back to Tesla, thinking it might be a plus to add to my ever-growing concerts list a chance to hear "Little Suzi" and "Signs" live.

That, and the fact that it was outdoors, on a hill, in summer, with good friends, a few beverages...

So I agreed to go.

For those of you with musical taste, who don't clog your brains with such information, Sebastian Bach is the former lead singer of the heavy metal band, Skid Row. They had several recognizable hits in the late '80s, and I had the cassette single (remember cassingles?) of their song, "I Remember You."

I really figured he'd be old and worn out, and just mail in a few songs and get off stage.

Not so. Apparently hair rock knows no age limits, because although the sun was still a couple hours away from setting when he came on for his set, Bach and his band put forth a decent effort, and they genuinely worked to get the growing crowd fired up.

I think they might have piped in a few of his high-pitched screams, though, because a few times the mic was nowhere near his mouth and his note was held for several extra seconds. (What a talent!)

He slipped up before he went off stage, too, as he screamed into his mic...

"Get ready for Tesla!! And get ready for Dokken!! And..."

...wait, Dokken?

Must've been a different tour.

Tesla came out next and delivered what I thought they'd deliver...good music, not a lot of flare, but a couple songs worthy of the trip.

They played “Little Suzi” and “Signs” back to back, and if I would've had a prior engagement that night, I could have left and felt I'd gotten my money's worth.

The lead singer referenced the band's heyday when he looked out into the crowd and said that it brought back memories of Alpine Valley. Well...Alpine's hill holds about 40,000 people, and this crowd, although it was sold out, was only about 9,000. But...good effort. Seriously. The crowd on that hill was pretty energized for all the hair metal and glam rock that took place that night.

And then there was the "lead" act. No matter how many times I talk about this concert, I'll never be able to say with a straight face that I saw Poison. Or now that I've seen them, that I actually liked the show! But it's true.

I knew it'd be a fun people-watching crowd, as I'm sure there are a bunch of girls in and around good ol' Greenville, Wisconsin, who think they stand a chance to be on the latest season of A Shot At The Flava of The Rock of Love, or whatever lead singer Bret Michaels' stupid reality show is called.

Truth be told, Poison put on a great show. There, I said it.

Michaels didn't do anything flashy, but he had all the groupies in the front few rows going ga-ga over him. His voice was pretty hoarse between songs, so his mic wasn’t turned up as loud as it should have been during the music.

And this isn't something you want to freely admit, but if you're of a certain age and have spent any amount of time listening to the radio...you know more Poison songs than you think you know.

Drummer Rikki Rockett (I know, I know) is still a pretty good showman on the drum set. They had his drum platform on a scissors lift that raised up and moved forward while he was doing a solo during the show.

And say what you want about guitarist C.C. DeVille (one guitar magazine editor called him the worst guitar soloist of all time)...that skinny little blonde mophead can work a crowd.

Poison did a cover of The Romantics', "What I Like About You," which...I'm sorry, made me laugh. And C.C. DeVille had a five- or ten-minute guitar feature where he was on stage alone and tried to do his best Eddie Van Halen impersonation. And ended his segment with..."Amazing Grace." (I'm sure you saw that one coming, right?)

The pyrotechnics display was probably the best I’ve seen in person, too. The fact that they even brought a pyrotechnics show to Greenville was impressive enough by itself.

So from the time we entered the park to the time we left was about five hours. I saw three bands I never thought I'd add to my long list of concerts, did plenty of people-watching and heard a handful of pretty good songs. All for thirty bucks.

Gotta love summer, don'tcha?

I'm almost tempted to see if Mötley Crüe is going to tour anytime soon.

"Let a man avoid evil deeds
as a man who loves life
avoids poison."