Thursday, October 30, 2014

Meet George Jetson


When I look at all the toys adorn adult life today, and compare them with the fictional toys in Star Trek, it’s pretty amazing how far technology has progressed.  And then, I get a little jealous about what my kids may someday experience.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Head of the Charles Regatta


In Boston a month ago, I saw signs hanging from the street lamps about the Head of the Charles (river... it separates Boston from Cambridge, as far as I can tell).  Talking with a coworker from Boston, he said “you ought to watchj the Head of the Charles.”  Conveniently coinciding with the Clemson and Boston College football game, my daughter and I went to... the Head of the Charles.  It was, after all, a beautiful fall morning.

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The Boston subway seemed to pretty packed with people headed to the Harvard Station, but... it wasn’t as big a crowd as I expected.

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So, what do you do when you watch a regatta?  You watch boats paddle by. (Go duck go!)

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I suppose I expected something where the boats would be 5 or more abreast, sprinting for a finish line.  That wasn’t the case, as they went by one by one, apparently timed.

It’s kind of like...

Soooo, what else is there to do?  Well, walk along the river and check out the vendor tents.

I suppose a regatta in the shadow of Harvard rightfully would have their event attire made with the Brooks Brothers label.  No need to apologize.  People are buying.

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Need a bite? How about Ruth’s Chris steak house... from a tent.  Prices were reasonable, actually.  It’s just a sight that I never expected.

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Don’t bother taking the subway.  We have vehicles you should buy.

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If you’ve got extra cash, you should probably buy a Gibson guitar for playtime, or, get some for the kids.

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This one made sense, at least.  A (paddle) boat for boating people.

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All of which is to say that I guess the average income of your standard regatta observer is a very high multiple of minimum wage.

Hey, more food!

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Somebody in New England obviously made it to a fairground south of the Mason Dixon line to see what a food stand should look like, but then had to make it all politically correct with not as unhealthy options.  Sweet potato fries?  Chowda, in a bread bowl?  Despite the soft serve ice cream, chicken fingers and hot dogs...  Bubba isn’t going to be overwhelmed.  Where’s the corn dogs, the candy floss, the FUNNEL CAKES???  At least there were no veggie burgers or celery sticks...

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Ok, back to the regatta.  “There’s a bridge.  Let’s go stand on it.”

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Hmm.  There are more people at the tents than there are on the banks.

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But that’s because many are on the bridges.  Here, you get a much better view of watching people paddle by one boat at a time.

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It’s kind of like watching people jog... which I’m not accustomed to doing.  There’s no sense of drama, the taste of victory, the agony of defeat... it’s just a lot of people on very slender boats getting some good exercise...

... and trying to figure out where they’re rowing.

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It’s not as dull as that, if you know what’s going on.  There were a few people next to us who would be competing the following day, discussing the best tactics of approaching the bridge for... current? not hitting it?  losing less speed in a slight turn?  Whatever.  The answer was to go to a website and watch the locals tell you where to paddle on a video.  YouTube.  The keeper of all things instructional.

Here’s a shot of the return lane for the boats, which is exactly what we chose to do.

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I guess you just need to be raised on the sport...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Justin Hayward – Live at Buckhead Theater


A nice surprise came in my (almost) junk email, a discounted offer from GoldStar for tickets for the Justin Hayward concert just four days away.  I knew he was coming, but with PBS hawking his tickets for significantly elevated “donation” prices, it didn’t quite fit my budget.  But it had been tempting even still.  Now, that was resolved.

Hayward is the lead singer and songwriter for the majority of The Moody Blues’ best songs.  I’ve seen them several times, but this was a great opportunity to see him without the (not so weighty) weight of a full Moody Blues presentation.

The Buckhead Theater is one of the nicest venues in Atlanta, extensively remodeled from its Roxy days, suitable for rock shows or sit down shows alike.  Just add chairs for the latter, which they did, as this was that kind of show. 

Kudos on the chairs.

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I hadn’t seen this arrangement before, but a metal bar has welded slots through which the seat legs fit, enabling patrons skinny or wide ample room for hips and elbows.  Dragon*Con hotels, take note!  But I digress.

I was curious to see whether there was some “gotta have” merchandise upon arrival.  There wasn’t, regrettably, a CD of an album that was never released, outtakes from recording sessions, a recent live recording available only at the concert, etc.  The autographed poster intrigued, but it’s just not the same if you’re not there to witness the signing.  It’s nice to see the return of vinyl LPs even at shows now, even if I no longer collect them.

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The venue was fairly full, one in which there was no youth movement.  Couples and singles of a certain age who remember the Moodies’ glory filled the seats, whether dressed casually or in suits (I’m guessing the PBS buyers, who did, in fact, get better seats.  But, there are no bad seats here).

I’ve only seen a few artists come out and introduce their opening acts, which seems to be a classy thing to do.  Hayward did so here, for the guitarist who accompanies him, Mike Dawes.

Completely instrumental, Dawes wowed the crowd, playing only four songs, but his humor, distinctive guitar style and excellent playing brought the crowd to their feet. 

After 20 minute or so break for Dawes to sell his wares, Hayward, Dawes, and keyboardist Julie Ragins took the stage.  The Buckhead Theater is a little large to be called an “intimate” venue, but Hayward treated the opportunity as if it was a small club.  Which is to say, he had time to tell stories, to introduce the songs, and to engage the audience.  And this was exactly the thing for which I had hoped.

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It’s a test, I suppose, to try your songs that have been played and heard one way for decades, and then re-present them more straightforwardly – no drums, no major audio system, no driving bass...   Without all the adornments, the songs have to stand on their own.  Happily, all the elder Moody Blues songs did just that.  They were crisp, suitably accompanied, and well sung (whatever his age).

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Still, what I wish I heard was a little less keyboard/synthesizer, perhaps a piano instead, and a more fully acoustic approach.  I guess almost five decades of playing certain songs with keyboards/synthesizers is a hard thing to shake.  Still, as this was, at times, plugged in, I also wish Dawes’ exceptional electric guitar leads had the volume notched a bit higher, as they were often lost behind Hayward’s strumming and Ragin’s keyboards.  Even better, changing the songs a wee bit to allow a little more instrumental time would have worked as well.  The songs, despite the lack of a big band, were a little too familiar (notwithstanding some excellent flourishes for “Nights in White Satin.”

As this was, again in theory, an “intimate” concert, I didn’t expect a flashy thumping rock ‘n roll show.  That isn’t to say that “Gypsy,” for example, might not have been appreciated for a little energy boost, but I have to appreciate what he did choose to play.  Aside from the expected fan favorites, this includes “I Dreamed Last Night” from his Blue Jays album (a favorite album despite the layers of sonic syrup) and “Forever Autumn,” a song that he didn’t write but which was powerfully delivered.  This song had been recorded for an audio recording of “War of the Worlds” back in the 1970’s, and though that story is depressing in its way, this song has an emotional impact that goes far beyond people getting zapped by Martians.

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The other gripe, the biggest even, is that “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” may have been his band’s bigger hits... but they’re just pop songs, the kind that have their moment and pass on by.  With such a great catalog of more interesting songs (“The Actor,” anyone), these two songs seemed wasted on the not yet elderly group assembled to listen.  My opinion...

So, I’ll remember the show fondly.  But I will also remember his occasional tie-ins to the “baronial hall” and “minstrel gallery” of the not almost but actual pop star home he had in West London which he sold in the mid-90’s.  (He downsized significantly and now lives in a one bedroom flat in France, just around the corner from “where I keep my guitars and keyboards.”  Maybe that explains why he seems to tour year round.)

In any case, it was a great concert by one of rock music’s (less appreciated) greats.

More (cropped and grainy) photos HERE.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Setlist:

Tuesday Afternoon
It’s Up to You
Lovely to See You
In Your Blue Eyes
The Western Sky
You Can Never Go Home
Watching and Waiting
I Dreamed Last Night
One Day, Someday
The Eastern Sun
What You Resist Persists
Your Wildest Dreams
Forever Autumn
Question
Nights in White Satin

Encore:
I Know You’re Out There Somewhere

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Clemson vs. Boston College


With a daughter in the Boston area, Clemson’s bi-annual football schedule makes this a “natural” road game to see... even if I rarely go to home games.

Boston is an interesting city.   It’s main differences from Atlanta are its history (it didn’t begin with a spike in the ground to mark a railroad crossing...), it’s awesome transit system, its numerous colleges and universities, and its multicultural mix.  It also gets bonus points for being a city where being downtown at night isn’t a scary proposition.

It takes about a 45 minute transit ride to get to Boston College from Cambridge, and would be much faster if not for stops at Boston University every few hundred yards.  But that’s a distraction, this is game day, and... hey, where are all the people walking around with their team gear?

Well, we see a couple of people in Boston College shirts – an inconspicuous yellow with the school name written on them.  Elsewhere, there’s a lot orange.  Clemson travels well.  And orange is very conspicuous.

We arrive at BC, and Boston’s multiculturalism is a not-so-distant memory.  Welcome to a Catholic university.  The campus is divided by Commonwealth Ave. roughly splitting it, so we only toured about half.  But it’s a very pretty, neatly arranged campus.

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And they don’t hide their faith.

“Right and justice are the pillars of Thy throne”

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“You have come to know the Truth and the Truth will set you free”

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“Fear of the Lord is true wisdom and true learning”

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... and it’s mostly used for offices.  I wonder when some non-religious student will file a lawsuit for offending religious sensibilities.

A fairly centrally located statue of St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)... who also happened to found the school in 1863.

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The central quad of the campus is located atop a hill, and a walkway winds down to the area where the stadium is located.

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The stadium is curiously arranged.  To access the upper deck, you enter the lower deck, walk up, go through a doorway to a rear walkway, then go out through a different doorway to find the seats.  It’s not exactly designed for emergency egress.

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So, here we are for their Homecoming weekend, kickoff is minutes away, and the seats are not so full.  By the end of the first quarter, their fans would finally show up.  It’s a 3:30 kickoff... they’re just getting out of bed?  But there’s orange scattered everywhere.

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As such things go, either team deserved to win the game, or lose it.  Regardless, their fans were exceedingly polite.  Clemson’s were as well, seemingly muted without the queues that would normally be provided by the Tiger Band, who were absent.

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Despite periods of offensive futility and/or incompetence, Clemson prevailed 17-13.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Fury (2014) – Movie Review


I did something I hadn’t done in years:  see a movie while traveling on business.  Fury, the Brad Pitt film about an American Sherman tank crew in WWII, fit the notion perfectly – a violent war movie that my wife wolittle_green_army_menuldn’t be upset at missing.  As a bonus, the particular theater had reclining seats with footrests.  Nice.

At some point in my early years, I enjoyed playing with army soldiers which I’d set up all over the floor and nearby furniture, then topple pretending they were being shot by each other, toy airplanes or tanks. It must have been great fun, because I had a giant bin of soldiers and did this again and again.

downloadBut... the tanks were where the action was at.  Buying a bag of army men included a variety of artillery, and I had to make sure the bag had a tank in it.  I had a bunch.

Then along came comic books.  In addition to all the superhero comics was G.I. Combat.

This was a strange comic that featured the crew of a “haunted” tank, but central was Jeb, the commander, who had somewhat advantageous warnings from Jeb Stuart, the ghost of the Civil War general, about what was to come, as well as a tidy moralistic discussion at the end.  You never knew what kind of story might be next.

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Some years later, Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising” and Larry Bond’s “Red Phoenix” novels appear, with an updated view (at the time...) of tank sophistication.  Good reading.

In any case, tanks were cool.  And now there’s a movie about a tank in an age where special effects can handle the “like being there” surreal-ity.

Brad Pitts plays Don “Wardaddy” Collier, the commander.  He and his crew are veterans and fortunate and/or deserving survivors of many battles.  He’s a hardened, demanding soldier who is confident, pragmatic and desensitized to what war requires.  Then along comes Norman, and with a name like that, would you expect anything other than a squeaky clean and naive crew replacement? 

“Wait til you see what a man can do to another man.”

What follows is predictable, both in action sequences and in the plot line that almost avoids symbolism but can’t help itself... from the start.  Ultimately, Norman reminds Collier of the humanity he’s seemingly lost, and any half-witted literature major can make up what the ending means, and they would probably all be right.

“Ideals are peaceful.  History is violent.”

Some have hinted that this is the “best” WWII movie ever.  It’s not.  Or it’s the most graphic.  Perhaps.  Saving Private Ryan is a formidable foe in both regards.  But what is apparent is that without today’s tech wizardry, operating a tank and firing accurately in a crisis requires teamwork, bravery, luck, and a lot of fear.  Still, I’d rather be in one than outside of one.  And... as the opening script foreshadows, even better if it’s a German Tiger.

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3 of 5 STARS


   (but I enjoyed it more)

 

 

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

The War on Drugs – Live at The Tabernacle


Minutes after realizing that the Courtney Barnett concert left the evening unfulfilled, we hopped into a car and went to The Tabernacle, where The War on Drugs were playing.

Better lights.  Better sound.  Better band.  And a fuller dose of music.

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Having left the Barnett show with half a set, we settled into this one about halfway in as well.  Not optimal, but not much different from wandering around a music festival with multiple stages.  

TWOD has a big band for a sound that doesn’t sound particularly busy.  Part of that might be the pedestrian but appropriate drums, or fairly simple chord changes from the keyboards.  But this relative sparsity allowed plenty of room to distinguish the fairly indulgent baritone sax soloing or supplementing the songs.

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While otherwise the band was fairly static, lead vocalist and guitarist Adam Granduciel owned the stage.  The songs weren’t long or short, but allowed plenty of time for his guitar to wail.   Also, Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” was a great surprise in the encore offerings.

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The venue seemed pretty close to full, and other than the buzzing of those attendees intent on talking rather than listening, most likely enjoyed a fairly rare appearance of a band likely to make it big.  Well, bigger, at least.   I only wish I had heard all of either TWOD or Barnett.  All of either would have been better than some of both, but it all worked out pretty well.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Setlist:

Burning
Arms Like Boulders
Comin’ Through
Under the Pressure
In Reverse
An Ocean in Between the Waves
Suffering
Buenos Aires Beach
Red Eyes
Eyes to the Wind

Encore:

Baby Missiles
Tangled Up in Blue
Lost in the Dream

Courtney Barnett – Live at The Loft


Courtney Barnett, headlining at The Loft, a very agreeable smallish venue in the Center Stage complex.  This relatively unknown Australian artist was announced to be playing locally, and those in the know quickly grabbed tickets.  She’s an indie rock rising star, based on the very strong 2014 release of “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas.”  It’s good.  Tickets were cheap (<$20).

The party grew in size, and the evening grew to include dinner at Tap, a fine gastro-pub nearby.  That went well enough that we enjoyed the evening until 9:00 p.m., giving a solid hour to dispatch the opening act.  It was a bit of a walk, so we arrived a little alter than we intended...

...and she’s singing already!  Well, okay, then.

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Two songs later, she’s saying how tired they are from the thousands of miles of air travel, and they have two songs left.

What?

And two songs later... she’s done, after which the band quickly begins packing their gear, and Barnett (we’re not on a first name basis) refers us to “the sh*t” they have for sale in the wings.  Okay, she’s a good singer/songwriter, but she’s not necessarily that personable.

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So, it’s 9:40ish, and the night is over.

Yay, concert night.  For what it’s worth, “Anonymous Club” sounded great.

Let’s review the billing:  “COURTNEY BARNETT w/ San Fernin w/ Mikhael Paskelev.  As would later be revealed, San Fernin actually played after Barnett, about which we were misled by one of the staffers that the two warm up groups had already played.   And, despite the deceptive announcement, they were co-headlining the tour.  Well, that word that Barnett said.  Could have at least played an encore.  So, she gets half as many stars as she probably would rate who heard, oh, all 8 or 9 songs she might have played.

2 of 5 STARS