Sunday, April 26, 2015

Recollections of Rundgren , Pittsburgh (4-25-15)

Last night, five of us went to see Todd Rundgren at Stage AE.  It was a rare indoor seated show.  They actually brought out the "plastique" folding chairs and bound them together with these irrevocable twisty ties.  In a venue that normally reaches capacity near 1800, somehow this show managed to "sellout" around the 500 range.  And there were still loads of empty seats in the upper deck.  Mr. Rundgren was shooting for an air of intimacy.  He wanted to connect with the fans. 

As I reflect on everything the following morning, I began to wonder... exactly what did I witness?  The bizarre truth --- I honestly have no idea.  This human deejay machine was front and center. Imagine Mitt Romney storming the stage dressed as Flavor Flav?  Yeahhh boyyy!   That's how things kinda got pumped up.  "Everybody in the house!  We got any Roethlisbergers up in da hizzy?  Can I get a McKees Rocks?  Can I get a whoop whoop?  Let's do the Crafton humpty-hump!  Pittsbuuuurghhhh."

Okay, if that wasn't peculiar enough, these two afro-headed, solid-golded dancers grooved onto the stage.  Except they weren't black.  One was white, the other quasi-Filipino.  They both had the general background disco moves down pat.  But they lacked the spot-on choreography.  Throughout the evening they followed the same routine, but one of them would occasionally throw in an errant Pulp Fiction sideways peace-sign dance insignia while the other would do a Chubby Checker twist.

And then out came Rundgren.

You might remember Todd as kind of an "off-broadway", semi-obscure singer song writer of the early 70's.  Most people remember him for "Hello It's Me" or know him as the Green Bay Packers "I Don't Wanna Work, I just Want To Bang On These Drums All Day" Lambeau Leap touchdown song.  No music in the background here.  This clip serves as a bad microcosm for went wrong last night.

Without even the slightest hint of sarcasm, let's just say that Todd has taken things in a new direction.  The timing for my blog is a bit ironic because I recently did some light reading on the subject of transhumanism.  Without getting too involved, transhumanism is the sci-fi inspired field of study which suggests that mankind is gradually evolving toward a complete integration with artificial super-intelligence.  It's the notion that we will eventually transcend beyond the "human form" and strive toward this intellectual superiority, a "singularity" if you will.  It's really not that crazy IF you take a long-term event horizon.  It's the same suggestion I give to people who cannot fathom the prospect a dominipede (multiple, simultaneous artificially generated stampedes).  There's a discernible inevitability in play you morons.  Maybe not the doomsday scenario of the entire NFL 1 o'clock slate.  But it shouldn't be that difficult to comprehend.

And coming off the heels of the Presidential Correspondents Dinner, there's even a 2016 presidential candidate named Zoltan Istvan.  He's a Columbia grad and leader of the Transhumanist Party.  For those of you who follow politics, he poses a serious threat to the electoral chances of, well... Ralph Nader's half-brother Ralph-Malph Nader (the transcendental basket weaving, Happy Days quantum equivalent candidate... and that's assuming Fonzie's floral cousin Spike doesn't throw his leather chapeau in the ring).  Enough.

Call me crazy, but I think Todd Rundgren is desperately trying to evolve into some kind of higher-techno life form.  But he's not winning.  Perhaps somewhere in the realm of Charlie Sheen's breakdown a few years back.

This tour was all his new material.  If anything, the "sound" is certainly unique.  It's a musical extravaganza grounded in a journey through the eyes of beleaguered electronica house music.  With hints of gospel and televangelism.  Some of the crowd appeared to be gearing up for their church indoctrination session about 12 hours too early.  There was this one old lady down front who appeared to be speaking in tongues.  Try extrapolating based on this audacious hag...

Most of the crowd was in the 50-70 range.  It made Gigi and I feel young again.  I mean, at least we tried... but the music was just sooo bad.

Okay.  So Todd Rundgren is on stage.  With the exception of one tune, he refrained from picking up a guitar or any musical instrument.  It's just him sidling around, shuffling off to Beaver and crooning along.  And his voice doesn't exactly qualify as Clay Aiken.  In fact, it kind of left us "achin."  More of a mesmerizing, mind-numbingly arthritic pain in the exhaustive arse.  It was just him shimmying to both sides of the stage like Ozzy Osbourne searching for a lost golden retriever.  He would "saunter" all over the place in this extra large t-shirt with just the slightest hint of a Milwaukee's Best Light beer belly.  We call it the MBLBB.

Rundgren seemed to be searching for something.  Like a disoriented amateur bowler seeking some kind of holy grail.  Like an omniscient Arby's commercial overseer beckoning for the meats.  The whole concert was like a juiced up revival on low-grade Viagra.  The entire production would just have been better suited for an evangelist's carnival tent.  It's difficult to put it in words.  You really had to see it, to believe it. 

Suddenly, we were taken on a journey back in time, to mother fuckin' ancient Egypt.  As an atheist Jew, I have a difficult time grasping the objectives of the Muslim brotherhood.  I'm more of Steve Martin-inspired wild'n'crazy guy. 

Sorry but this clip was the best available.  What a travesty.  I despise the legions of trolling trademark attorneys whose sole purpose is to scour the internet.  Their overriding agenda --- to deprive future generations of absolutely anything which espouses even the slightest hint of creativity and merit.  This video has been blocked by Sony Corporation.  I hope you Sony executives get hacked to death by Isis and then sodomized by homophobic Saudi royalty.

I kept thinking the background Rundgren dancers were going to break into electric boogaloo-Banglerama Walk Like An Egyptian mode.

But they never did.

In dire need of a sabbatical, we ventured into the empty VIP upstairs bar.  An old baldo was asleep in the corner.  We sat around and joked about how certain people in the crowd were literally in tears.  Not tears of musical joy.  More likely delusional streams of dismay and chagrin.  An apt location for the confluence of three rivers. 

I actually started to sympathize for the Rundgren brand.  That's brand.  Not band.  There was no band.  Exactly what had led him into this altered dimension?  I speculated.  Maybe he was just fulfilling the terms of a multi-decade contract.  You know --- I'm the head honcho of Deftone Records and you must put out a new LP every 10 years or we'll haul your ass into Santa Monica magistrate court.  So faced with that possibility, Rundgren took it to the East Coast.  He holed up in a Myrtle Beach Econo-Lodge for a long weekend with his Casio keyboard and churned out some viciously agonizing material.  I'm not being sarcastic here.  I think something like this may have transpired during the summer doldrums of 2014.

So that's my final take.  Like Hesh on the Sopranos used to say, "There's good and there's not good.   This is not good."  Again, it becomes necessary to click on the youtube icon in the lower right hand corner.

If you don't value my opinion, then take it from Hesh... you do not wish to partake in that which constitutes the mummified hip-hop Rundgren. 

Let's put it in terms a douchebag foodie could understand.  This concert was like eating a rotten spring roll filled with rancid cabbage (pronounce the word cabbage like Republican casino magnate Sheldon Adelson would say the word garbage... with a pompous Frenchie-Jew twang "ghar bahge").  And then, we shall snap repeated i-phone pics of the vomitous upheaval.

I wonder who the fuck sponsored this tour?  Geritol?  Depends Undergarments?  Donald Trump and his line of hipster dufus toupees?  Jockeys on acid drinking mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby?   Seriously, what the fuck was this? 

So we dropped our friend off and called it a night.  I had some bad dreams last night.  Visions of a perpetual, robotic fisting.  An arsenal of gay pride.  Deep in the butthole.  Thumping over and over.  On and On.  Pulsating onward and upward.  Taking me higher and higher... but ultimately lower and lower into a strobe-like sewer of despair.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Return of The Stones (Heinz Field, 6-20-15)

A concert review is traditionally written after the show ends and the band has left town.  Some fan scribbles down a generally uninspired account of their evening.  They played all my favorites.  The crowd loved every minute.  We shared a nachos grande.  Some moron spilled a beer on Colton.  On the way home, we got pulled over by Ross Township police for an expired inspection sticker.  The breathalyzer registered a .09.  Game over.  Other than the encounter with law enforcement, these recollections seem a tad mundane.  Why won't anyone challenge the predictability of the age-old concert review?  Well, I'm gonna try and give it a shot.  So here it comes.  A very rare, proactive approach.  Because not only is it rock'n'roll, but I also happen to like it. 

In what might have been one of the worst kept secrets in the history of rock'n'roll, the Rolling Stones announced a 2015 summer tour.  Even with the curiously timed re-release of the 1981 classic album Sticky Fingers.  Even with all those electronic billboard advertisements illuminating the heartland.

Even with a salivating red tongue logo painted on the Heinz Field 50 yard line... nobody had the slightest clue the Stones were hitting the road.  Who woulda thunk it?  Kind of like Hillary announcing her 2016 presidential run.  Who would have ever dreamed?

Still, the band had a trick up Mick Jagger's sleeveless wifebeater.  And it would come in the form of destinations for this 15 city trek.  Chicago or New York City?  No shirt.  Philly or Boston?  No shoes.  Houston or Phoenix?  Nooo dice (tumbling dice that is).  Instead, in a move that would make Spicoli proud, they opted for secondary markets like Buffalo, Raleigh and Kansas City.  And sure enough, we've got a Pittsburgh show scheduled for June 20 at Heinz Field.  It's refreshing to see all the big cities escape the itinerary.  Now that's at least worthy of a minimal exclamation.  Damn.

The venues will consist of NFL and NCAA stadiums, a couple ballparks and even the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  How's that sound for a freedom lovin', monoxide laden 4th of July?  I know.  I know.  You already purchased a dozen bottle rockets and froze a gluttonous tub of macaroni salad for the annual Dormont family picnic.  Color me envious.  That's not one, but two of the seven deadly sins.

Yeah, I've seen a few rock concerts in my day.  You could say that.  But do not fret.  I will not regale you with epic tales of Foghat headlining the Ribfest or Steppenwolf jamming at the Regatta.  But I have seen some big ones.  Among them, the last 2 Pittsburgh Rolling Stones appearances:  the 1994 show at Three Rivers and the 2005 concert with Pearl Jam at PNC Park.

And while many things grow better with time, I'm not so sure the Stones are one of them.  They are not a vintage cabernet.  Though don't get me wrong.  I'm glad they're returning.  It's just more about the law of diminishing marginal returns.

Now if you want to see the Stones, this is probably your last chance.  I hate to sound cynical, but these chaps are all in their early 70's.  It's just hard to envision the whole gang coming back to Pittsburgh in another decade.  I think a Golden Girls reunion is more likely.  And three of those gals are deceased.  That being said, it's hard to do the patented half-Jagger, half-rooster strut when you're confined to a motorized scooter.  Perhaps if our lead singer wielded a cane or functional staff like Gandolph or some heroic biblical character.  Noah comes to mind as he had a strong track record for live performances.  His organizational talent (guiding animals in groups of twosies twosies) and leadership skills (I'm assuming he was the captain of that wooden ark... not the one near Frostburg, Maryland on I-68) were unparalleled. 

It's been rumored the band might play the Sticky Fingers album in its entirety.  But I seriously doubt it.  I just don't think the live dynamic would translate.  These stadium shows are a massive production.  You gotta keep the crowd enthralled.  Trust me on this one.  It just wouldn't bode well from a predictability standpoint. 

The coolest aspect of a rock concert of this nature is not knowing which songs the band will play.  Fortunately, Nerdlinger's here to explain how that info gets plastered all over the internet the millisecond the first show concludes.  Lame.  So I decided to create a fantasy set list.  One that borders somewhere in the realm of barely plausible and extremely doubtful.  I was even kind enough to include mini-gaps which offer the band some time to regroup and take a breather if necessary.  How cool is that?  That's how much I care.  Truth be told, I've always wanted to craft a set list for one of the mega-rock bands (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, etc.).  So let's take a stab at it.

1.  Start Me Up.  Traditional octane-fueled opener.
2.  Let's Spend The Night Together.  Self explanatory segue way. 

3. Undercover of the Night.  My favorite Stones song of the 1980's.  Underplayed and relatively forgotten.  Great tune for explosions, pyrotechnics, machine gun fire, strobe lights, really anything.
4.  She's So Cold.  This song came out just as Reagan took office.  You gotta throw in an original that signaled the end of the 70's.  Disco balls and football stadiums are underrated.  Here here!
5.  Bitch.  Time to pay homage to the Sticky Fingers reissue. 
6.  Can't You Hear Knockin'.  Another follow-up from the same album.  I'll take a lengthy version of this song over an exhaustive Midnight Rambler harmonica solo any day of the week.
7.  Tumblin' Dice or Miss You.  Classic staple groove songs with near gospel-like overtones.  Take your pick.

8.  Emotional Rescue.  Such a peculiar song.  So glad they resurrected it from the cusp of the 8-track grave.  They trotted it out in 2013.  Let's hope they don't ditch it. 
9.  Monkey Man.  Any song that evokes memories of the movie Good Fellas is good enough for me.
10.  Street Fighting Man.  Killer rock tune from the late 60's.  Not everyone was listening to the Beach Boys back then. 
11.  The Last Time.  Could serve as an omen.  No matter how hard I try, I just can't envision another Rolling Stones show in the Burgh ten years from now.

12.  Thru n'Thru.  Time to slow things down for a bit.  Maybe purchase an $8.50 tepid draft beer or go use the restroom.  Tremendous Keith Richards twang from the early 90's.  Very memorable background music from The Sopranos (Season 2 closer after they "dispose" of their friend Vincent Pastore).
13.  Wild Horses.  Another ballad from the Sticky fingers album.  Maybe bring out a hometown guest vocalist to trade verses.  Christinia Aguillera?  Bill Peduto?  Mark Cuban?  Roethlisberger?  The possibilities are endless.
14.  Waitin' on a Friend or Under My Thumb or Let it Bleed.  Bring back some swaying rhythm and galvanize a little momentum.  Take your pick.  Any of the three would suffice.  How about we make it an audible and let the crowd decide?
15.  Paint It Black.  Ideally, this song would feature special guest vocalist Blackie Lawless from the band WASP.  If you've never heard the screeching heavy metal rendition, you're really missing something.  Although I'm not exactly sure what that is.

16.  Gimme Shelter.  My all-time favorite Stones tune.  Seems appropriate if you watch the news these days.  War, children.  Rape, murder.  It's just a shot away.  You cannot have a Stones mega-production without this song in the line-up.
17.  Sympathy For The Devil.  Excellent audience participation song.  Mick Jagger is the perfect candidate to introduce himself and then reintroduce himself.  Just in case you didn't know, he's pleased to meet you.
18.  Satisfaction.  You better play this one.  If for no other reason but to satisfy the mongrel hoard.  But you wanna know who really needs a Snickers?  It's the rockin' poser fans who paid $1,750 to sit in the first couple rows.  I've always enjoyed watching these people.  They're the ones who proudly pay $50 bucks for an 80 cent t-shirt.  They're just so fun to watch.  You might think I'm deranged, but give it a try.  Hang out and observe the t-shirt concession stand.  There's weak amusement to be had.  And best of all, it's free.  It literally screams satisfaction.
19.  Jumpin' Jack Flash.  Might as well make everyone stand up and dance.  Mick and company shouldn't be the only ones on their feet all night long.
20.  Loving Cup.  Just because I like it and few would expect to hear it.
21.  Love Train.  The Stones sometimes throw in a Motown cover (no relation to the hippie clothing worn by wealthy WVU kids from New Jersey).  I'm quite fond of the song "Going to a Go Go," but allow me to make a blunt admission.  I love naked women (make that woman, only Gigi).  Yet I'm not a big proponent of strip clubs. However, this O'Jay (not Simpson) classic is perfectly suited for monster crowds.  There's a fantastic rendition of the band playing it in Paris circa 2003.  Google it. 
22.  Not Fade Away.  With the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead, here's your ideal set closer.  Straight outta Love Train.  As the song winds itself down, you ramp up the crowd with the Jumbotron.  "You know our love will not fade away."  If anyone from the band were to read this, you really need to trust me.  This is how you close a stadium show.  It would be unforgettable.


23.  You Can't Always Get What You Want.  In the words of the immortal Ozzy Osbourne, "Let me see those cigarette lighters." This is how you return to the stage.  The song visually demands a light up.  One of the most heartfelt, prophetic ballads in the history of rock music.

photo by Gigi Roman
Detroit, MI, Super Bowl XL halftime show, 2-5-06

24.  Brown Sugar.  Wouldn't it seem appropriate to finish the concert with the song that opens Sticky Fingers?

So there's your 2015 fantasy Rolling Stones set list.  Hope it lived up to your expectations.  Word to the wise.  Don't get carried away.  I seriously doubt it will resemble the real one.  Maybe bits and pieces.  There's only one way to know for sure.  Hit the show and find out for yourself. 

Now you're probably thinking --- ohh... the tickets, the parking, the concessions.  Everything is so expensive.  We just can't afford it!  Well, here's a thought.  Park up on Federal Street for free.  Grab a case of Arhn City and head on down.  If you can't find a cheap ticket, just sit by the river with a loaf of stale bread and illegally feed the fowl while listening to one of the most notorious rock bands of our generation.  Sounds like a good plan B.  But then again, I'm easy to please and eager to help.

As far as I know, there is no opening act.  I imagine something will surface.  Oddly enough, there's a nationally known band playing 30 minutes away at The Meadows in Washington, PA.  Huey Lewis and The News are at the casino that night.  Why should you find this even remotely interesting?  Well, Huey Lewis was one of my first ever unchaperoned rock concerts.  In 1988, they played the Wheeling Civic Center.  I even had the unmitigated audacity to take a black sharpie and write "Huey Lewis Sucks, Metallica Rules" on the back of my t-shirt.  Ahh, the impetuousness of youth.  Ironically, these days I find Metallica exceptionally annoying.  I'd much rather listen to Huey Lewis and watch the evening news.  However, I can assure you, my rebellious nature has not simmered with the passage of time.

With that in mind, let's end this proactive concert review with some helpful public safety information.  Heinz Field holds over 65,000 fans.  But there's one little snippet of guidance the NFL is unwilling to provide.  In my humble opinion, they have a moral obligation to explicitly warn fans that legitimate emergency evacuation orders would never come from their personal cell phones.  If an evacuation is deemed absolutely necessary, protocol dictates using the public address system in tandem with the video monitors.

Think of it as the modern, technological equivalent of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater... but nobody's allowed to talk about it.  Rest assured, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell isn't going to address the issue.  The reason for this is essentially grounded in plausible deniability, foreseeable litigation and the lose-lose proposition.  Roger and NFL ownership just don't have the courage.  So maybe Mick Jagger could help us out.  Rock stars have a penchant for moving society forward.  Seems to me like an excellent opportunity to "discuss the undiscussable" and expand societal horizons.  Mick, if you're listening... let's give it a shot.  After all, it's just a shot away.
Artificially Generated Stampede Awareness Foundation