Tuesday, November 30, 2010

They're marching to Bastille Day

Much in part to the fantastic documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, I've had a hankering for completing my Rush collection. What's strange is that my "collection" is really bone dry. So completion is a bit of ways away.

Back in middle school, I remember my friend Tim talking about the Chronicles compilation. He didn't describe what the band sounded like; he only spoke of it as an awesome sort of thing. I was curious. His tastes were very much in line with mine, and still are to this day.

Eventually I'd have my own taped copy of Chronicles as well as Roll the Bones, A Show of Hands, and their current record at the time, Counterparts. I would foolishly sell Roll the Bones and Counterparts in college (something I regretted until I heard they had been digitally remastered and reissued a few years ago) in order to create shelf space.

Now I'm at a point where my digital copies of Spirit of the Radio and Permanent Waves are simply not enough. I want pretty much everything from the seventies up until a certain point in their eighties catalog. Yes, that means some 20-minute epics filled with twisted time signature changes and rather odd song titles. But I say bring that all on.

There is an inherent level of geekitude that comes with wanting a band's catalog, and with Rush, it's amplified even more. Yet I'm thankfully at a point where I won't be teased for wearing a Rush T-shirt or criticized for coming into the band with Counterparts. High school's over and it's time to enjoy the present and future.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A tree and a toilet seat

For the first time since college, I'm happy to see a real Christmas tree in my home. Not in any way am I slighting people that put up a fake one, but there's something fun about getting the real thing. Even the sap.

On a fluke last week, Matt and I talked about getting a real Christmas tree from a local lot. We picked one out on Saturday with our respective girlfriends and decorated the whole thing last night (before The Walking Dead, of course). Positioned underneath my TCU toilet seat and in front of the fireplace, there's a seven-foot tree with a tree skirt like one you'd find in Whoville.

I can recall when the most amount of Christmas decorations I put up was a strand of lights that draped over my sliding glass door. Coming from a house that was filled with decorations to that was very deflating, but I didn't really see the need to go all out.

I understand there are people who think Christmas is a bunch of phony materialism, but I've always enjoyed the whole experience. It's fun to be creative and tidy things up around the house. There's an element of joy in doing something that you know will only last for a month once a year. But you make that month count and savor the whole time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Frosting on the Beater

As much as I missed being with my immediate family for Thanksgiving (I spent it with relatives instead), I'm very glad that I didn't miss the Posies show at the Granada.

Here's my review.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My first show

This week's edition features an interview with Jon and Ken from the Posies, a band I have loved since the mid-90s.

Since I have to work on Black Friday, I'm sticking around in the area and having Thanksgiving with various relatives. The upside is that I get to see the Posies tonight.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Old Fangs

Ryan, Diana, and I saw Black Mountain and the Black Angels play at the Kessler Theater. This was the first time we had been to the venue, and it certainly will not be the last. Great intimate place with spectacular sound.

Here's my review of the show.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's the transfer

As I hear a few rumblings about 3D Blu-ray coming down the pike, I'm not making any plans to replace any titles I already have if and when it comes to fruition. As for Blu-ray itself, I'm still quite happy with the format and still choose to buy copies of new movies or reissues. I have replaced a couple of DVDs with BDs, but not many.

If I've learned anything in my two years as the owner of BD player and a high definition television, it's the transfer that's most important, and not necessarily the disc itself.

I recently watched the standard Criterion DVD version of Videodrome and I found the transfer pretty stunning. The Blu-ray version is due to come out in a couple of weeks, but I'm not going to double-dip on this one. I'm perfectly satisfied with the version that I have. (Plus, all the standard DVD's supplements have been imported with no new, high-def features.)

A couple of months ago, Diana and I watched The Sure Thing, an 80s road movie that is only available on standard DVD. Frankly, the movie looked incredible in widescreen with my player upconverting to 1080p to the best of its ability. That got me thinking about how stunning, amazing, and blah blah blah I hear about Blu-ray over standard.

Maybe it's how I view movies on my television, but I prefer to not watch movies on the "vivid" setting. The first movie I ever watched on my television was The Host, which has a lot of hot yellow throughout. The result was a set of bugged-out eyes and a minor headache for the rest of the night. I've opted for slightly darker screen lightness, usually "cinema" or "standard." On those settings, everything looks fine . . . including standard DVDs.

My last example is when I recently watched Clerks on BD. Here's a film made years before high definition was even a whisper and I can't say it looks astonishingly different from its previous incarnations on DVD. I'm glad I own the BD edition because of the extra supplements, but I must say that I'm not really somebody who could review modern DVDs and go gangbusters how well the thing looks or sounds.

As I've said before, I'll say again: if you want to see a dramatic improvement in a home viewing experience, dust off an old VHS tape with a movie in pan-and-scan. Then compare the experience to watching the movie on DVD.

In all my years of watching movies, the biggest leap I've seen in quality and enjoyment of a film was when I saw Kentucky Fried Movie for the first time on DVD. Visual and audio gags that I had never caught (because the transfer was too dark or the pan-and-scan cut things) were caught. And I loved the movie even more.

I still keep that in my mind as I watch movies at home. Younger generations will probably never understand what pan-and-scan lopped off for older generations. It's just nice to see the whole movie . . . and with a great transfer to boot.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My first show

In this week's edition, I talked to the drummer from the Octopus Project about the first show he saw. Since I clearly remember when Weird Al put out Off the Deep End (because I listened to it quite a bit when I was in middle school), this was a great little reminder of how awesome Weird Al is to youngsters.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Drum Basics 1

While a number of the campers at Rock N Roll Fantasy camp got to play with some of their idols from their teen years, I had a chance to meet a guy who was quite helpful in my drumming skills early on. It wasn't like meeting Dave Grohl, Lars Ulrich, or Stewart Copeland, but I came to know who Sandy Gennaro was by Christmas 1994.

Sandy was featured on a VHS tape called Drum Basics 1, something my father got me for Christmas. I had started playing a drum set earlier that year and my dad thought the tape would be helpful. It was to a degree, but it was really designed for people that had never sat down behind a drum set before. The degree that was helpful involved playing straightforward beats as solidly as possible. That's something I still find a useful technique.

I had a chance to meet Sandy about seven years ago when he played with the Monkees at Billy Bob's. As I stood in line to get a picture with Mickey and Davy, Sandy walked by all sweaty and tired. I decided to let him pass and not geek out.

Flash forward to last summer and my editor at the Observer asks me if I'm interested in interviewing David Fishof from Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp. I saw that Sandy was a camp counselor and brought up my little story to David. He was quite impressed with the story and he brought it up when he introduced the two of us on Friday.

Luckily for me, I had the chance to have two lessons with Sandy, along with some of the other drummers in the camp. I never had a drum lesson in my life. I've always tapped along, watched other drums, and played to records (and played a lot of shows too). There's always room to improve with something you love, so I gladly took Sandy's advice on drumming. (Now to find a metronome at Guitar Center that won't remind me of the metronome we had over our home piano or the ones in the high school band hall.)

What I'm very happy about the experience of doing the camp was that my sixteen years of self-taught drumming, composition, and band relations have been incredibly valuable. And seeing how hard Sandy pounded his drum set, I'm glad to say that people always respond to when it's obvious you're playing your heart out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

They call me the breeze

You can read about my experience doing Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp here, but I wanted to add something that I briefly mentioned.

Aside from the Pull Tabs playing a bluesy rendition of "Strange Fruit," I had no real experience playing blues or southern rock. But when it comes to the blues, plenty of it is in jazz and rock music. I might have never listened to a Muddy Waters song in my teenage years, but I definitely learned a lot of his swing and bomp from Led Zeppelin.

So I essentially learned a portion of the blues by default. Like a truncated history lesson if you will.

I enjoy playing the blues, but I'm not about to rush and grab as many blues songs to hear. If ever I'm jamming with somebody who wants to play the blues, I'd be happy oblige. Matter of fact, when I first sat down in the room with my fellow Shotgun Brothers, I offered to them that I can "play anything." Since the two guitarists were more comfortable playing songs by the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, I did my best interpretation to get the songs fleshed out.

One of the finest compliments given by one of my bandmates to the rest of the band was this: though he was lost in terms of what all he was going to play in this camp, he felt way better when he started playing with us. I very much credit Teddy for suggesting to our guitarists to play what they felt most comfortable doing. In turn, we had a set that wasn't like the other bands. It felt like us even though I've been jamming out to Rush, Cheap Trick, and Def Leppard lately.

Long live the blues. There would be no metal, jazz, rock, or southern rock without it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My first show

The plug on Staff Trax was pulled last week due to low readership. I'm happy that it ran weekly as much as it had. The reach of DC9 has always been way more than Theme Park Experience's, so the chance for me and fellow writers to share what we shared was great.

Replacing the column is My First Show, a chance for me to interview bands about the first show they ever saw. No matter how embarrassing or unhip the show was, we all have a story.

In my case, the first live show I ever saw was the Indigo Girls at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I saw plenty of local shows after that, along with seeing REM and Radiohead (with my parents) and the Cranberries and Toad the Wet Sprocket (with my dad). The first national act I saw alone (I can't remember if I paid or not) was Metallica at the Summit. The first show with a national act that I paid money to see (and went alone) was Shudder To Think in 1997. (Brainiac opened and only a week or so later, their singer was killed in a car accident.)

Anyway, the first edition is here.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


Two episodes in, I'm very happy to say The Walking Dead is all that and then some. As much as I am a fan of the comic, I'm loving how it's been adapted for television. Given the show's large ratings ensuring a second season, I look forward to seeing how the show progresses. Especially knowing where the comic goes, this could be really interesting season after season.

Given the nature of the comic, I'm quite happy that the show has kept up a very similar tone. That said, I'm amazed at what is OK to do on a cable TV show these days. Not that I'm a prude; I'm just a little too aware of those TV watchdog groups whose sole function is to go after shows they think are corrupting people's minds. When you have a show where zombies are shot in the head, it's pretty much a guarantee that it's going to turn people away.

Since Mad Men is priority watching in my household, I don't blame Matt for politely passing on The Walking Dead. As a fan of good zombie flicks where the drama and tension between the characters is paramount to the zombies themselves, I find Darabont's direction welcome.

What's most interesting to me is how this seems like the antithesis of a mass-appeal show. I'm not going to try to force anybody to watch this since I understand that zombie stuff is not everybody's cup of tea. And with the things that happen in the second episode, I especially understand those who don't want to watch. It's grim, tense, and almost completely unrelenting. So, my father, the Rubicon and Mad Men fan, might not want to tune in on Sundays at 9 for now.

Even though the first season is still in its infancy, I'm happy to say that this show has been well worth my time. Way more so than Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead, and Dead Snow combined. There might be only a dozen different ways you can do a story with zombies, but The Walking Dead has a very, very fresh take on it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Naked Lunch

Last year, in the middle of the holiday shopping season, I decided to take a leap of faith I rarely take: buy a DVD of a movie I have never seen, but I'm sure its commentary track will be worth hearing.

Prior to last year, I had done such for True Romance when I saw that Tarantino had a commentary track on it. Prior to that DVD, Tarantino only showed up as a guest on commentary tracks. He had a desire (and I believe still does) to not do commentaries for the movies he's directed. Since he only wrote the script for True Romance, I'm guessing that an exception had been made. And I'm glad that it was because it's a wonderful track.

I bought David Cronenberg's The Fly on Blu-ray for less than $10 last year. I remember hearing about the film when I was in elementary school, but I never got around to watching it. I knew Cronenberg did fantastic commentaries with thoughtfulness and a calm demeanor. I think I learn a lot when I hear him speak. A recent listening to the track on Videodrome further illustrated that attitude.

I have yet to watch The Fly but I will watch it very soon and I'm glad I have it in my library. But recently added to the to-watch pile is Cronenberg's take on Naked Lunch. Yes, that supposedly "unfilmable" movie that Cronenberg did with Peter Weller in the early 1990s. And yes, another film I have never seen before.

I have few gripes about Netflix, but sometimes it's hard for them to carry a Criterion title. When I rented Videodrome, I got the bare-bones edition with a semi-decent transfer. I didn't even look to see if Naked Lunch came out on DVD before Criterion's version, but I figured it would be hard to get and it was way down my queue. Given a recent sale of all Criterion titles, I decided that the $18 plunge for Naked Lunch was worth taking. I mean, come on, I doubt I'd waste my time with this flick or be embarrassed it was in my library.

I don't own many DVDs that I've taken leaps of faith on. It's an understandable point of caution. But the times I have taken that leap, the rewards have been plenty.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Staff Trax

This week's edition spotlights Kylesa, a band I'm really now getting to know. Can't argue with two drummers . . .

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Body clock

It's understandable to have jetlag for a few days after you come back from a trip in a different time zone. Your body will take a few days to adjust -- when you normally would have lunch, you're thinking about hitting the hay for the night. But what if you are used to a certain work schedule (because you've worked it for a few years) and it takes months (even years) to adjust body's clock?

A few weeks ago, Matt took a promotion at work and started working a shift that was the exact opposite of what he worked before. Instead of waking up at 3am to be at work at 4:30, he goes in at noon and doesn't come home until 8:30pm. Sleeping in until 9 or 10 doesn't work for him. He still wakes up a few times around his previous wake-up time before deciding to get up for the day.

I remember how it took my body more than a year to get used to having two days off in a row. I had worked six or seven days straight for a couple of years before working the schedule I've worked for the past three years. The tired feeling would kick in when I wasn't wanting to feel tired.

In the industry Matt and I have worked, there are many reasons why people like the schedule. I find myself getting more out of the day by working in the mornings and taking a nap in the afternoon. The way I see it, no matter how late I get up on the weekends, my body still wants to take a nap sometime in the afternoon. Why not get more done in the mornings than sleep most of the morning away?

Monday, November 01, 2010

No candy (in review)

For the past two years, Halloween was on nights that I could go out and stay late. To avoid the surge of families coming from other neighborhoods to get a lot of loot down my street, I usually went to the movies and then went to a Halloween party. Knowing Halloween was on a Sunday this year, I knew I couldn't do that kind of thing.

Essentially, my street is barricaded by police from 7:30 until 9:30. That's how big of a bonanza Halloween is on my street. Getting in or out of our driveway is a pain, so I simply braced myself for a few hours of feeling like Robert Neville in the I Am Legend novella (and not the various movie adaptations).

I can't say I enjoyed leaving those candy seekers hanging.

Again, I'd love to pass out candy if I didn't have to shell out an entire week's worth of groceries on candy. If I answered the door once, more people would come and more people would come. Plus, since Diana had to work, Matt was visiting family for the evening, and our upstairs neighbors were occupied with the Rangers' game, I was the only one around who could do the job.

I hoped a suspicion I had would be correct: people would move past our place and go east, to where the big houses were. Not so. Between 6 and 10, I had roughly ten rings of the doorbell or knocks at the front door. There was no way I could open the door long enough to prevent Victory from getting out. And I sure as hell would not stand out there by myself with a couple bags of candy available.

Despite this, I must say there was an added amount of tension to the Walking Dead premiere. The episode was fantastic and a wonderful adaptation from the comic. Not knowing when there was going to be a jump from a door knock, doorbell ring, or zombie appearance made things pretty suspenseful.

But overall, my Halloween weekend was fantastic. I saw the original Psycho screened while the Dallas Symphony played its score. I dressed up as Stephen King for Jason's Fantasy Party. And I successfully carved a Crimson Ghost into a pumpkin on Saturday, while many other friends and co-workers carved pumpkins at our place.

I won't lie though: we might be still eating Halloween candy by New Year's Eve.