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Michael Nesmith

Live in Seattle March 30, 2013

I hadn't really any idea that March 30, 2013 would signify anything other than the day I would see Michael Nesmith. I'd read that he was touring the nation, performing his solo material for the first time in something like 20 years, and I figured that it might be fun to see. But it would turn out March 30 would also be the day I would move into a new apartment. It was a sizable apartment--well, for me anyway. About 900 square feet with vaulted ceilings. It looked so clean you could perform surgery in there, and the walls were so shiny white that it was blinding. (But this was Mukilteo, Washington, where it is overcast 10 out of 12 months out of the year, so it's nice being blinded for a change.)

This was why I showed up to this event exhausted from having spent the last few days going up and down three flights of stairs about three dozen times, hauling all sorts of heavy junk up there. My calves were throbbing, badly! This also marked the first time since 2006 I would be living alone. So here, I guess, was Michael Nesmith ushering forth a bittersweet, new era of my life.

This was also why I had done something uncharacteristic and showed up to The Neptune only 10 or 20 minutes before the show began. Usually I'm so early that it's obnoxious. But I was clearly among the stragglers this time. If the early bird catches the worm, the worm was my favorite place to park, which was on the street one block away from the venue. Not unexpectedly, all the spaces there were taken--including, even, the illegal spots. Spots that were less than 30 feet from the stop sign. (Yeah, that's right. I paid attention to something in drivers' ed.) Thus, I had to park two blocks away from the front door. ...I know, frightful. (Was that a detail not worth reporting? Well, probably. Except I was so out of it then that I didn't take acute enough of a mental note exactly which side of this intersection I was parked. And when the show got out, I was panicked mildly for a few minutes, thinking that my car had been stolen.)

Here's another thing. I did not know Michael Nesmith's solo material whatsoever when I attended the concert. I was a Monkees fan, of course, but I hadn't heard a lick of his solo stuff. Usually when I buy tickets to see artists I'm unfamiliar with (that it seems like I should be familiar with) I buy up some of their albums beforehand or--at the very least--watch some of their music videos on YouTube. With Michael Nesmith, I did none of that. He would mention an album like Tantamount to Treason, and it might as well have been entirely made-up to me.

I did become familiar with these albums after going to this concert, which I felt compelled to do, considering he was the man who ushered in this new era of my life. His albums are quite nice, and they contain quite a few excellent tunes. I've especially become attached to one called “Rio,” which is the ultimate song for the lackadaisical daydreamer (of which I am one!). But he hadn't written too many other songs that hits me squarely in the chest. (Well, to the extent that “Rio” even hits me in the chest.) His songs are lovely, though, something I was quite eager to notice--as physically tired as I was--at this concert.

Nesmith's voice had noticeably deteriorated over the years and so has his hair. But none of that stopped him from shifting into a lovely falsetto during his performance of "Joanne." On the whole, there were two songs I'd recognized at the show. One was the opener, the only Monkees song performed that evening, "Papa Gene's Blues," and a second that I wasn't even aware that he wrote, "Different Drum," made popular by Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Poneys. So I guess it was neat he performed that song. Other than that, I recognized absolutely nothing. These were my fresh introductions to Nesmith's solo catalog.

The Neptune usually has an open floor next to the main stage and seating in the balcony. But for quieter, intimate shows like this, they put chairs on the floor. Had I shown up earlier (and given my aversion to standing for long periods of time) I might have gone for a seat close up. But as it was, I arrived late and resigned myself to sitting in the balcony, as usual. I noticed up there that there were plenty of seats left. This wouldn't surprise much for two reasons: I'm probably not alone in not knowing his solo career that well. But also, the ticket were very expensive for something at The Neptune, which is at the heart of the U-District, where thousands of poor college kids dwell. (They were more than $50 a piece, including fees.) The people I saw around me were quite old and placid. A woman nearby me in the balcony, I noticed, was actually knitting something.

I did enjoy the concert, even though I was dazed from exhaustion. I had a good time and would do it again. The relatively steep admission price was undoubtedly to pay for the rather extensive backing band, including a couple of keyboardists, a drummer, guitar players, back-up singers. I forgot to count, but I think there were about seven people on stage. I remember the drummer looking confusingly similar to Mickey Dolenz. I also remember the main keyboardist coming off quite obnoxious--dancing with his shoulders as he played the keyboard, throwing in a whole lot of complicated fills where they might not have been needed, and--not to put anything too mildly in this review--grinning like a doofus the whole time. Or maybe I was just jealous of that guy because he is talented and actually appears to enjoy his work. (If I smiled goofily like that at my work, performing long-drawn-out stress analysis on various airplane parts, it wouldn't be too long before I'd be committed.) I don't know why, but these guys sort of seemed to strike me like a corny wedding band.

While I'm sure Nesmith didn't make a phenomenal load of cash for this tour, he clearly had his fans, and he really seemed to enjoy himself up there, being totally in his element. I remember he started playing a song I'd describe as quasi-disco, "Cruisin'." As soon as that started, a girl who was sitting in the first few rows rushed over to the side and started to dance. Dorky, yes. But that wasn't the only dorky thing I saw that night.

The one song that struck me the most that evening, as I'd already mentioned, was "Rio." I remember distinctly thinking it had a very corny presentation, like most his other songs did. But that tropical vibe was nice. I was looking for the steel drums at first but realized that the person producing that sound was almost certainly the dancey-shoulder keyboard guy. I bought the album almost immediately when I got home.

Despite my tiredness and that miniature panic attack I experienced briefly when I thought I misplaced my car and despite the fact his material was almost entirely foreign to me, I was really glad I decided to go to this. I'm exceedingly late writing this review, so it's been a few months since I attended this. But I still find that I look back upon it fondly.

The Residents

Live in Seattle February 23, 2013

"Whoah, the eyeball guys." That is what I said to myself when I saw that The Residents were doing a show in town. Some shows I want to see more than others, and to be honest, this wasn't one of the bands I really wanted to see. You see, they by design make music that is unlistenable. That is treachery to the ears. Sometimes, that is awesome. Other times, that is awful. At any rate, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have anything else going on for February 23, so I decided to buy myself a ticket. I figured everyone ought to commit themselves to an evening of total weirdness at least one night out of the year.

I bought the ticket for a Thursday evening, but they ended up having to postpone--at the last minute--to Saturday thanks to a snowstorm in Rapid City, South Dakota (a town that I believe they referred to on their Blog as "Frozen Butt Fuck City"). That worked for me, since I didn't have to go into work sleep-deprived Friday morning (I pretty much wake up at the same time every morning no matter when I fall asleep).

The Residents are another example of a band I went into not knowing their material well at all. I do enjoy Third Reich and Roll, but they didn't play anything from that. I also don't think I heard anything from Eskimo, either, which might be their most famous album (perhaps because it was the one that introduced their eyeball costumes). I was a little disappointed they didn't bring those costumes with them for the show, but it was explained that they have a difficult time seeing through those (they reportedly only had a small window within the pupil with which to look through). The eyeball did make an appearance by the end of the show, however. But I'll wait until the end of this review before I give out more details.

What I got throughout this show was, of course, a massive set-list of songs (typically of origin indeterminate) and lots and lots of stories. The lead singer and, as far as I could tell, the only member of the group who was actually in charge of anything was named Randy. He wore a wrinkly old-man mask, a worn-out and saggy Santa suit, and told dirty jokes. His voice was gravelly, and he talked like a used car salesman who'd bottomed out in life. He tended to not speak more than five words in a row without taking a breath. He was joined by two others on stage. Their faces were also covered in masks, but these ones were skintight, gas-mask looking things. One of them (whose name I think was "Bob") had a guitar, and the other one had a keyboard. The keyboardist also operated beats through a laptop. This amounted to a grand-total of three people on stage, making this a remarkably low-budget show. Good thing of course the ticket prices were low to match. (I think it amounted to $30 or something.)

The creepiest thing about the set was a large, blow-up holiday lawn decoration of a smiling snowman and a rosy cheeked Santa Claus who were holding up candy canes that were taller than they were. Roped between the candy canes was a green banner that read in barely legible handwriting font "The Residents." ...What made these creepy, of course, was apart from the banner, they would have been perfectly harmless in other contexts (that is, outside somebody's home in December). However, being seen here in the context of unseemly, filthy weirdness, I can only look at its overly cute exterior and feel deep in my gut that there's something wickedly sinister about it.

At some point during the show, someone sitting in the back of the floor took to yelling responses to Randy's stories. Typically, they weren't more complicated than simply repeating the last word he spoke, but occasionally this guy did something amusing. For instance, when Randy was speaking of the untimely death of his musical associate Snakefinger and talked about how devastated that made him feel, the screaming man said "Aw, I'm sorry, man." (Perhaps not funny to many other people, but his timing was perfect.) However, that guy got annoying fast. At one point while Randy was in the middle of another story, the man screamed out "Preach it, brother!" to which Randy turned to him with a perturbed frown and said "Eat shit, fucker." Another time Randy was telling us a story about his lackadaisical efforts of trying to break into the porn industry, and he'd altered a bit of his rant, saying that people who succeed in the porn industry do so "so they can stop being assholes like this guy yelling all the time."

By the way this wasn't a kid-friendly show. Not that I care that kids might hear naughty language, but the real reason I would stress this wasn't kid-friendly was because I don't think it would be a good idea to subject kids to such nightmarish torture. Think of this concert as Eraserhead on Ice except without the ice. (Other than dry ice, maybe. Or a smoke machine.) For us adults, we're fully aware that the world is a disgusting place, and subjecting ourselves to psychological torment every once in awhile makes the world seem cheery in comparison. For kids who watch this show, they'll probably go to sleep that night thinking the world will come to an end before they wake up.

This leaves me to state that using the term "enjoyment" to describe my emotions during this concert might not be entirely accurate. I was captivated by some of it, weirded-out by others. Sometimes during concerts I forget who I am. That didn't quite happen here. I was thinking about where my car was parked outside, wondering when I was going to go back out there to look for it, what I might be doing when I get home. It is, after all, a little difficult to look past those ugly, atonal songs they kept on playing. I did however, by the second half of the concert, remember to consider the idea that I was dousing myself into something special, an experience that which there probably won't be any parallels for the rest of my life. That was when I made the conscious decision to draw myself into this thing as much as possible.

Have I mentioned how weird their songs are? If I'm not listening to Randy groaning to long, dissonant synthesizer chords, I'm hearing him warble to a disconnected groove. He would dance to these grooves, too, during the interludes, taking catlike strides and rhythmically waving his arms. One time, he appeared to get into a fight with a stool, which had a seat cushion on it shaped like a pair of pink lips. At first it seemed like he was peeved at it for neglecting him; however, his fight with it escalated into serious domestic abuse, flinging it places.

I was feeling somewhat lazy. This was a general seating arrangement but I watched from the balcony. The venue? I've been frequenting it much. (Its name was The Neptune.) I've started keeping in the trunk of my car a bag of quarters because I know I am going to park in metered spots along the street outside the U of W dormitories. It's a comfortable routine for me. I thought about showing up right when the concert started, but I must not have been doing anything special that day because I showed up an hour early. As long as I was sitting on the balcony I thought I would go for the first row, but I didn't arrive quite as early as that.

I'd brought up Snakefinger before. Throughout this show Randy had underneath his opened Santa suit a T-shirt with many layers on it that he could peel away. Each layer had an image imprinted that was typically relevant to the song he was about to sing and/or to the story he was telling in between songs. One of these images was of Snakefinger--whose name had illicited plenty of cheers from this crowed. Me, I didn't do my homework, and I'd never actually heard of him until this concert. Anyway, Snakefinger was an instrumental figure in The Residents' history--playing lead guitar on a lot of their albums--and he'd also released a number of solo albums. Some songs on Snakefinger albums were written by Residents members. One of them was "Picnic in the Jungle," which was the second song performed that evening. The other song was "The Man in the Dark Sedan," which was my favorite performance of the show. My theory why Randy didn't keep that one for The Residents was because it was far too catchy! But it was nice to hear a song that had actual hooks in it for a change. However granted the song was slowed down considerably, compared to the studio version, and Randy sung it like a total creep-ball. Which only meant it lived up to the spirit of the rest of the concert. But hey, this concert introduced me to this excellent song and another excellent artist that I can delve into someday. (At the time of writing this, Snakefinger's music is unavailable to buy except for an mp3 of "The Man With the Dark Sedan," which I have placed on my iPod and listened to about a half-dozen times.)

Anyway I brought up earlier that The Residents' iconic big eyeball would make an appearance at the end. That was when the cutesy Santa and snowman were deflated. And then Randy did a lot of running and jumping around the stage in a sort of wiggly armed pagan dance. The music playing at that time I seem to remember being something like a psychotic version of "Also Sprach Zarathustra." (Well YouTube video evidence I'm viewing after-the-fact seems to suggest all I was hearing was a bunch of ugly, fuzzy guitar notes that had no particular build-up.) As Randy was doing this, I saw a new giant inflatable starting to take shape. It turned out to be a Christmas tree. And on top of the Christmas tree, there was a big eyeball. On top of that big eyeball, there was a top hat. And of course, there was much applause from the crowd.

It's hard to really recommend a Residents concert to anyone, as they belong in a very select niche. If you want to see this, you already know who you are. Or, I guess, if you don't know who you are yet, think about how appealing it might be to immerse yourself to a real-life David Lynch movie. ...As for me, I was curious enough about The Residents to peak inside their world. And I ended up getting what I signed up for: A total freak-out. I know this is going to be far from my favorite concert experience of 2013, but it was no doubt an unforgettable one.

Ed Asner as FDR

Live in Edmonds, Wash. February 9, 2013

Things have been coming in pairs. In November I saw two of my dad's favorite rock stars from his youth (Neil Young and Alice Cooper); in December, I saw two eclectic artsy rock stars (John Cale and Frank Zappa--via his son Dweezil); and in January/February I saw two TV stars that I used to watch on Nick at Nite when I was a kid (Bob Newhart and Ed Asner).

Before this show, as I was standing in the crowded lobby at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, I saw a familiar face. And this was a familiar face I had also seen recently at the Bob Newhart event. ...Why, it was the Feng Shui guy again! Blonde goatee with a strip of black down the center and everything. Given that I was seeing this guy again I was starting to get suspicious that he was some kind of figment. But I asked the guy standing next to me (my father) if he saw him to, and he did. Thus, I was relieved. ...But wait. Could I have also been imagining my father my whole life? Hmmm... I knew the Feng Shui guy's better half must not have been too far away. And surely enough, as I was in my seat waiting for the show to begin, I saw them up there in the front row. I'd wondered if they would try to get Ed Asner's autograph, or whether they would try to get FDR's? I mean, Asner never breaks character, even backstage, I don't know if you can ever really know what you're going to get...

By the way, this is't going to be a terribly long review. This event was a scripted play. Moreover, this was a play that I wasn't familiar with previously, and I really don't have a whole lot to say about it. What I can gather about this experience is that the playwright (Dore Schary) lionized FDR, and Ed Asner does as well. The script made FDR seem something like an action hero, albeit crippled with polio (but any self-respecting action heroes is going to have at least one dehabilitating weakness).

This play originated in the '50s, and I guess back then people weren't widely discussing the internment camps that FDR sent Japanese people to. There wasn't even the vaguest hint of that in the play.

I was also aware that Asner has been making the rounds over the last 10 years or so on the news circuits spreading around 9/11 conspiracy theories. (As the scrappy theory goes, 9/11 was carried out by Bush and his cronies, and the collapse of the towers was a controlled demolition. Never mind, of course, buildings like that are designed to collapse that way. ...I mean, what were they expecting? Skyscraper dominoes?) Because of that, it had also crossed my mind that Asner might be taking this opportunity to allude to a similar conspiracy theory that FDR was involved in. That is, FDR had advanced knowledge of Pearl Harbor. (This conspiracy theory states that FDR didn't do anything to stop the attacks, because he wanted to drag the USA into WWII. The evidence was that there were photos taken outside the White House the night before Pearl Harbor showing that his lights had been on all night. ...And I guess that could only mean one thing: He was in the middle of some kind of ethical dilemma.)

But there was none of this sort of tomfoolery at this performance. This was play was as straitlaced as it could possibly get.

...OK, now it's time for me to 'fess something. Politically, I am liberal, and (despite the whole internment camp thing), I am also an FDR fan. This play might have come from the '50s, but from my point of view, this seemed even more relevant to today's politics than it probably was to '50s politics. That is, as I was watching, I'd come to realize that FDR is exactly what we need today. After all, he was the man who pulled the USA out of the Great Depression, made the USA out to be the heroes of WWII (a war we didn't start but we finished), and more than that, ushered in such a boom in prosperity that rendered the USA the economic powerhouse of the world. FDR was not only a man who knew a good idea when he heard one, but he was also able to energize his followers to help push his ideas. (One of his famous quotes, upon his inauguration, to one of his followers, "I agree with you, I want to do it. Now make me do it.")

The play was very fast paced, considering that it spanned Roosevelt's entire political career. It was 30 years--or thereabouts--from his failed US Senate run to his near-death bout of polio and to his fourth and final presidential election. Much of the dialog from the play (most of which occurred through a conversation with an invisible/unheard secretary) was quite funny, and it drew from actual quotes spoken by FDR. The experience of watching this play was so thoroughly engaging that I completely lost myself. For me, that's a difficult feat to accomplish. But I guess that is why people consider Ed Asner a great actor!

As you might be able to surmise, Asner looked and sounded nothing like FDR. Being 83, he was also two decades older than FDR was when he died. But of course that didn't matter. Asner embodied FDR captivatingly enough that it was really only in the back of my mind that I knew, awesomely so, that I was watching the same guy who was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Asner was clad in a cardigan, and he struggled to move along the stage on crutches. And he moved about on them so convincingly that I was starting to wonder if Asner himself actually needed them. It wasn't until he took his final bows at the end of the show that I'd completely realized then and there that this entire time he was... ACTING!

I did notice one mix-up--a technical glitch. The red phone rang on the president's desk and Asner picked up the receiver briskly. He gave a commanding bark into the phone "Hello!" But the phone gave a ring once more. Not even flinching, Asner barked into the phone even more loudly "Hellooo-OOOOO!" It was in a reprimanding way. It was as though he were telling the phone that if it rang once more while the receiver was off the hook, it would be curtains. Thank goodness the phone didn't ring a third time.

And with that, I haven't much left interesting to say about this. (That is, if any of this was interesting!) I'll close this by saying that it is very well worth driving a few miles to see this this play. And if you've a penchant for history and Asner happens to be doing a show nearby, give it a whirl. As I'm writing this, he's been extremely active with this tour--it has been going on for decades, and I assume it's going to continue as such. I don't think it's going to stop until that day comes I suppose Asner is dreading... when he finally wears out.

Bob Newhart

Live in Snoqualmie, Wash. January 24, 2013

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the beginning of a new year, and my new life as an aerospace engineer was far too uneventful to write about. However, when I discovered that legendary comedian Bob Newhart was going to give a show in town, life perked up a bit. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of shows on Nick at Nite, and one of my favorites was The Bob Newhart Show (i.e., the one in which he is a psychiatrist). Strangely, I only saw a few episodes of the other popular show he did after that, Newhart, in which he was an innkeeper in Vermont. ...And, I almost don't even want to start watching that show because the surprise twist in the last episode has been spoiled for me already! (You need that element of surprise if you're ever going to find that ending funny. That is completely gone for me now.) At any rate, let it be said: It was a really great thing that this guy came to town to give a show. Only for me.

When I buy tickets to concerts, I almost always want to sit as close to the stage as I possibly can. For comedy acts, however, I... er... would rather sit a comfortable distance from the stage. Comedians are sometimes prone to talking to their audience, and I wanted to sit just far away back to not be noticed.

But then I ended up with seats in the front row and near the center. So, I was self-conscious most of the time. "Is he going to say something about my jeans?" I remember thinking, "Or my posture?" I thought I'd better laugh with everyone else. I didn't want to be noticed not laughing.

Making these matters even weirder was that there was this Big Band act that started the show. You know, one of those orchestras with predominantly brass instruments which plays old-timey standards. There was also this gray-haired woman with a boisterous set of pipes who was belting out old timey things with them. She asked for people to sing along with her, but these were songs I knew more for the melodies and not for the words. I mean, not like I ever really sing along with things. ...I felt a bit strange about the whole thing, like I was caught in some kind of time warp, way before the invention of The Macarena, which as you all know changed all of our way of thinking.

I don't think I particularly enjoyed this part of the show until I noticed an extremely frail saxophone player. If he started touring around the country playing saxophone in his twenties, he must've been going at it for close to 60 years. Or in other words, he started back when this stuff wasn't so old timey. His withered mouth was disappeared beneath a stark-white mustache and he was dressed like everyone else in the band: in a tuxedo, cummerbund, and bow-tie. It looked like something out of a David Lynch movie. He labored terrifically with every movement; however, he never missed a cue. And, believe me, I was watching him carefully. There was little else for me to watch. To my delight he got to solo for about 30 seconds or so. The sound of his saxophone wasn't nearly as juicy as I imagine it would have been in his prime, but I liked it. ...Not that I liked that dumb, cheesy song he was playing with! I could hear the dusty cobwebs sprawling over all that stuff. (And yes, I believe in this case, it is the songs' fault I didn't enjoy them! I mean, if all this band was interested in doing was performing boring renditions of songs that we're all sick of, why are we doing even bothering with them?) But I might have been in the minority here. There were tons of old people in the crowd. And my guess is they probably liked it. (And to some extent I don't have much right saying these things, as I do tend to listen to a lot of stuff from the '60s. But, you see, that's when music started getting good!)

So anyway, that silly stuff was over, and the stuff that was supposed to be silly was soon to show himself. ...And there he was! When I saw the guy walk on stage, I thought to myself boringly "Whoah, there is that guy I saw on the TV! ...Except he's all droopy now." And he told some jokes--all dry and self-depreciating, of course. He talked about his time in the army during the Korean War, talking about how arduous it was, being an office clerk at a stateside army base. He postulated whether someone could get a Purple Heart for a paper cut.

He talked about something local to us--Mt. Rainier--about how the military was launching missiles at it in order to induce avalanches (I suppose as a means to make sure the buildup of snow doesn't become too unmanageable). The only problem? They missed the mountain. He thought maybe they should try for a larger target, like the ocean, before moving onto a less large target, like one of the largest mountains in the country. He also told about how Britain wanted to test bird-strike on trains, so they borrowed a cannon from NASA that is designed to shoot chickens. When they tested the gun, however, it utterly obliterated the train. Britain called NASA and asked them what went wrong. NASA told them to thaw the chickens. (I work at Boeing which owns a chicken cannon, and this tale--along with a few others--are oft repeated. One of the chicken cannon stories Newhart didn't tell was of a crew leaving a chicken in the cannon during a lunch break. And unbeknownst to them, a cat had crawled inside. When they returned from lunch: Goodbye, kitty!)

Despite my uncomfortably close proximity to the stage and my worry that he would start talking to me, it turns out that you have to be really distracting for him to take notice of you. For instance one woman a few rows back to me was wearing a pin with red, flashing lights on it. Newhart asked what it was, and she responded that it was an anniversary present from her husband. And then he said--in much funnier wording--that her husband must be terribly cheap, if all he got her was a pin with flashing lights on it. Newhart said he felt sorry for her that her husband would skimp out so badly, so he pulled out a wad of $20 bills from his pocket. He peeled one off, and handed it to someone in the front row (not me) to pass back to her. This got big laughs. And then he asked her which anniversary this was. I suppose under all the commotion of having just received $20 from a major TV star, she didn't quite hear the question. Her response was "today." A response which she of course repeated to the audience, much to their merriment. He then commented this was the saddest wedding day he'd ever heard of.

He did his famous one-man driving instructor sketch. I was sitting next to a young couple who were apparently huge fans of this sketch, based on the elated squeal I heard in my right ear as he started it. I was of course familiar enough with it to know that it is from one of the comedy albums he'd released in the '60s. ...Anyway, in that sketch he plays a driving instructor who has a conversation with a student in the driver's seat. This student is invisible, so you can only tell what the student is doing based on Newhart's reactions. He introduced this student as a female driver. When he did that, the audience as a whole made a noise that was somewhere between a groan and a gasp. He looked at the crowd and said "Was that wrong? I should really be more sensitive. Let's make that a Chinese driver." He then proceeded to perform his sketch speaking Chinese (or, more probably, a Chinese-ish form of gibberish). He then turned to the crowd again with a stone-cold expression and said "Now I could keep doing this, or the driver can be a woman." ...I think people in the crowd knew that sketch by heart well enough to whisper along to it, but I'd only heard it once or twice about eight years ago, so it came off genuinely fresh and funny to me. His timing, of course, was on the mark.

He said at another point during the show that he thinks the whole politically correct movement is stupid. And you could tell he meant it.

The show got a little gooey toward the end when he showed us old photos of his wife and kids. He said his wife thought he looked like a handsome movie star, and they had four kids. Small clips of their kids popped up on the screen and he introduced them by name. When he got to the fourth one he said "I don't remember that one." But later on, he did remember that his youngest daughter had a baby recently and she lives in the Puget Sound region. (My dad postulated that the reason he came and did a show here was to get a tax write-off to visit his grandchild.) Yes, yes, it was all very sweet.

He also played a few clips of his shows. One was from and old variety show hosted by Dean Martin. It was the sketch in which Newhart returns a toupee to a dealer. Martin played dealer. Martin reportedly didn't read the scripts before the show went live on air, and the sketch was so ridiculous that Martin couldn't stop laughing. The laughing got so bad that when it was Martin's turn to say--in regards to exchanging the toupee--"Is there anything you'd like?" Newhart broke character and responded "I'd like a straight man who didn't laugh."

He played a number of clips of his two TV shows, one of which was an outtake in Newhart where there was a banging noise on the set, and Newhart turned suddenly into Jerry Lewis. And there was another clip of The Bob Newhart Show when he and his TV wife (Suzanne Pleshette) were being stuck up by a robber, and and they were leaning up against a wall in their apartment with their arms spread open. Their TV neighbor (Bill Daily) entered the apartment unannounced (as he always does), looked at this situation shocked, ran over to the wall--ignoring the robber with the gun--and also leaned against the wall with his arms spread open. He thought he was helping them keep the wall from falling down.

There were so many other funny things he said during the show; however, my time with this review is finished! Naturally, I had a great time at this show and would recommend it highly to anybody else who is lucky enough to live in a town where Bob Newhart visits. (That is apparently a town where he has relatives!)

I also have to mention, to anyone who read my Bangles review and remember me inappropriately dwelling on two people I'd dubbed "The Feng Shui Couple." I saw them at this event. They were sitting in the front row also. (Are they tracking me?) I noticed they had some old LPs of Bob Newhart comedy albums with them (as I had also noticed seeing them bring an LP of The Bangles' Different Light to that concert). They tried to get Newhart's autograph after the show, but he told them "I don't do autographs."

Zappa Plays Zappa

Live in Seattle. December 23, 2012

It was the end of a storied year and also the beginning of my week-long Christmas Break. To help celebrate this momentous occasion, there was Dweezil Zappa who came to town, just for me. (I get so little vacation at my workplace that those rare breaks I get must always be marked with a celebration headed by the offspring of a major rock star.) Dweezil Zappa has generated a pretty respectable career in his own right, releasing quite a few critically acclaimed albums. However, that success could by no means surpass the great waves he'd been making in the concert circuit with his Zappa Plays Zappa act. This act, he tours the world faithfully--and scientifically--re-creating songs from his dad's illustrious career. (And, as it's been pointed out by a number of music writers more clever than me, Dweezil plays his dad's music more closely to the studio cuts than his dad probably could. And he's also reportedly, even, a better guitar player.)

And now for the startling admission: I came to this concert not knowing Frank Zappa's albums nearly as much as I thought I did. I mean, I wrote (poor) reviews of his first 10 albums or so about seven years ago. But merely 10 albums was just scratching the surface with that guy. Among those albums, the only ones I'd continued listening to was Freak Out!, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, and Hot Rats. Dweezil played two songs from Freak Out! and one song from Hot Rats. (And that song wasn't "PEACHES" much to the dismay of a number of people in the crowd who called out "PEACHES!" intermittently during the show.)

This show was at the Neptune Theater, which is quickly becoming my most frequented concert venue. I stood outside the venue a few minutes before the doors opened (which it did a few minutes late). And, of course, this being Seattle in winter, it was raining. I stood next to a couple of teenage boys who wore knit caps and smoked cigarettes. One of them asked me if I was ready to hear some Zappa music, to which I replied "yeah." He then asked me which is my favorite Zappa album, to which I replied Hot Rats. He nodded his head and growled back a "yeah!" as he took another puff from his cigarette. But I must've answered incorrectly, because he immediately started talking to the person in front of him--someone in his 50s--who had far more interesting stories to tell. (Of course someone attending a Zappa Plays Zappa in his 50s is likely to have seen the real Zappa at some point. And he did see the real Zappa, he said.)

This venue is a reclaimed movie theater with the main floor gutted out to make room for a bar and a standing-only floor, but the balcony still has its theater seats. My knees tend to complain a lot when I stand for too long and I am also lazy, so I opted for the balcony. (This venue is so small that the back-row balcony seats at The Neptune are better than $200 arena seats for Bon Jovi.) It wasn't too quickly before the show began that I wished I did opt to stand on the floor. The festive atmosphere these guys created on stage was so infectious that I wanted to be apart of it. ...I almost didn't think it would be like this, because my impression of Frank Zappa is sometimes that his weirdness is alienating. On the contrary, the stage was warm, Dweezil himself was mild-mannered and friendly with a jokey disposition. He wore red pants but that didn't distract me from observing his guitar-work, which he did with as much precision and passion as a surgeon who can tell great jokes. Dweezil didn't sing any of the songs. These responsibilities were left mainly to a female keyboardist/saxophonist with a shrill voice and a trumpeter/skinny guy who could bellow. The musicians on stage (who packed the lively stage) looked as though they were having a blast playing all of these weird-ass songs.

This isn't the greatest YouTube clip of a Zappa Plays Zappa performance, but it is the one I attended and therefore it is much more special. Here, you can see the keyboardist/saxophonist doing what Dweezil describes as a "Molly Ringwald dance" for a few seconds before delving into a rousing rendition of "Teenage Prostitute," one of the weirder of the weird-ass songs.

As I mentioned already, I didn't know Zappa's material terribly well when I attended this, and as such I don't really have a whole lot to talk about. My two favorite moments are easily the two that were from Freak Out!--"Hungry Freaks Daddy," which was the second song of the setlist after opening with a cerebral rendition of "Treacherous Cretins" from Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar, and a terrifically rousing "Who Are the Brain Police?," occurring toward the end of the set-list, which was when I had really wanted to get in the middle of the action!

A few songs that stick out in my mind is "Moggio," which Dweezil had said his father named after his sister Diva's imaginary friend. I also liked hearing "Baby Snakes," which sounded like weird musical theater. Listening to the studio version of "Baby Snakes" after seeing it performed live is still exciting in that bizarre way. And I do believe the first time I'd heard the song was at this concert.

Really, that was the most lasting thing I can say this concert did for me. It made me want to develop a far deeper appreciation for Frank Zappa's music than I had before. Sure, I had been listening off-and-on to three of Zappa's albums for the last 10 years, but now I've been given good reason to finally finish them off! (Well, it has to be said that my Zappa development had been stunted because his works had been taken off the market for about five years. But they're back now, and I am free to buy 'em up.)

No doubt, I don't think this was my most exciting concert of 2012. However, it was still a good one, and--as always--I had a blast. I certainly wish I could do it again!

John Cale w/ Cass McCombs

Live in Seattle. December 6, 2012

John Cale was the viola player for The Velvet Underground, but he came neither with a viola nor did he perform anything by The Velvet Underground. That's OK, though, because he's also renown for his extensive solo career, one which had gained him a small but dedicated following. The best thing about seeing Cale at this particular time was that the most recent album he was promoting Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood is (IMO) among the best albums he'd ever released. The album is filled with songs that are catchy, and Cale's wobbly, old-man vocals issue some terrifically imaginative lyrics. (But what am I here to do, review an album or talk about a concert?)

I will admit something, though. This particular concert I wasn't that excited to go to. For starters, I hadn't heard a lick of his solo career when I bought the ticket. I had only known Cale through his reputation. The reason I went was because simply I knew stuff would be up my alley. I also knew that he doesn't tour the U.S. terribly often, so I thought I'd better go while I could. And I did!

I of course knew I made the right decision after buying a ticket. Because I'd immediately started gathering most of the guy's discography and listening to it. And, wow! I'd been missing out on some good stuff over the years! (As always, it's great to discover that I haven't listened to everything yet. Everyday, it seems, I find something new that's worth unearthing.)

This was my third time going to the famous Showbox at the Market, and I'd finally learned well enough to not to show up to the event two hours early. Because when I get over my obsessive compulsive need to show up to events early, I realize I don't have to spend so much time in creepy downtown Seattle in the black of night. ...I now know exactly how to get to the Showbox, and I know the best place to park. I think I even ended up in the same parking spot as I did last time I was there. (To defeat one obsessive compulsive trait, I guess I replace it with another.)

Cale came with an opening act, and I didn't like them too much. This could have been explained by crankiness on my part, but as I stood there watching them I could not get into what they were doing at all. I've had better luck with opening acts in the past. These guys were named Cass McCombs and sang tunes that came off stale and couldn't get out of a sunken and sallow mood. Though I can't really blame them for that last thing simply because I guess that is who they are. Regarding the first thing, I'd wager a guess that they just weren't on top of their game at that particular moment. Listening to some of their studio songs, I recognize that they've released a few decent songs in their day. ...With that said, there was one song I remember standing out at the concert that was quite unlike the others--a keyed-up hoedown. I have no idea what the name of that song was, unfortunately, and played through three of their albums and couldn't find anything else like it. So, let it be known: If they fill an album with wacky stuff like that, they'd have a hit on their hands. With me.

The weirdest thing about that group was one member with a neck-beard and a messy mop of a head of hair who stood in the background. He didn't fit in with the rest of the group whatsoever. Maybe, I thought, that was some odd slop the band let sleep on their couch. (As I imagine probably inaccurately that most bands share one house together.) Whereas the rest of the group donned button shirts and corduroy pants, this guy wore a T-shirt and sweat pants. Throughout much of the show, I didn't really get why he was there. For most songs, the main thing he might contribute was a sound effects or perhaps a couple of notes from a harmonica. However, for that crazed hoe-down song, he pulled out a fiddle and absolutely went to town on it!

So, when those guys left the stage, I remained standing motionless on the floor. This was a standing-only area and I was up front--the second row of heads. My knees were very tired already. I was also standing on a bit of an uneven surface, which would make my toes fall asleep depending on how I stood on it. I was constantly having to adjust the positioning of my feet. ...Of course all of this discomfort was a small sacrifice for the spirit of rock 'n' roll. That is JOHN CALE, who was the sole possessor of the spirit for me that evening.

He was 70 years old with white, scraggly hair, a face that had gotten all wrinkly, and a soul patch that somehow manages to look cool on him. (I might be crazy for thinking this, but all I can ever picture Cale doing with his free time is standing still in a white room.) He wasn't terribly talkative to the crowd; the most significant thing I remember happening was someone from back screaming "Hi John!" to which he replied rather mirthfully "Hi!" Other than that, he was mostly seen standing at his keyboards and pounding away with his catchy songs. That is, apart from those songs which required a little bit of guitar shredding, which he was also very comfortable doing. His support band was excellent--a guitarist who could chug away like nobody's business (Dustin Boyer) a bassist who could thump away like nobody's other business (Joey Maramba) and a drummer who made it his business to make loud banging sounds in rhythmically appealing patterns (Alex Thomas). In other words, these guys excelled at their given tasks. The bassist was particularly charismatic, grinning infectiously through all his performances... and I think I'm pretty sure I saw him mouth Pow! once or twice (but that might have just been an augmentation of an imaginative memory). Of course my gaze for most of the show was centered upon John Cale who--by my figuring--knew how to entertain us the most by generally sticking to his most poppy and/or most danceable songs. His discography is quite extensive. He stuck to the good stuff.

The most tranquil song that evening was "You Know Me More Than I Know," which is a strange though intoxicating ballad. I remember it haunting my brain the days immediately following the show. He also performed "Captain Hook," which starts off with a lengthy instrumental portion featuring a blistering guitar solo. This was probably the artsiest thing of the evening, which is saying something for that guy. (Here's a YouTube posting of it from a show he did about a week later... It is shown almost exactly as I remember the experience...)

We were also treated to the pleasantly upbeat "Guts," which is a fine song. But I was chuffed to bits to hear his two encore selections, "Gun" and "Pablo Picasso." (The latter of which marked the second occasion I'd heard the song performed live... Neither of which were from the person who actually wrote it.) Though with everything said, my favorite selection that evening was "Helen of Troy," which is such a bizarre and quite possibly his most distinguished song. Give it a listen right now if you've never heard it and behold one of the catchiest bass-lines in history (which, at the concert, was blaring out at me at 10,000 decibels and delivered from the bassist who I am still imagining mouthing Pow! all the time). Hearing that song live will be one of those things I'll remember on my deathbed. ...That's how awesome it was. I've usually been quite reserved going to shows like this, but I distinctly remember swaying to that one, in a rhythmic fashion, and my insecure subconscious wasn't screaming at me so loudly to stop.

Though as I said earlier, his Nookie Wood material held up just as well at the concert as his '70s material. ...Some people might have issue with me saying that; however, that album--more than anything else--is fun. And then let's amplify that degree of funness for the excellent live setting which I was witness to. All those songs were creepy, catchy, and infectiously danceable. "Nookie Wood!" 'Scotland Yard!" "I Wanna Talk 2 U!" ...a drearier but still interesting "Face to the Sky!" (While I think the original studio cut works fine with the autotuner that he's obviously using in the album, I was glad that he didn't use one at the show.)

One song I was looking forward to in particular was from the '80s and called "Satellite Walk" (which I recall him introducing as 'a bit of an oldie,' a description that he didn't give any of his '70s songs)! Somehow I didn't think he would play it... but was thrilled to be proven wrong about that. It's got to be one of the wonkiest dance songs ever to come out of the '80s and it features some infectiously crazy, nonsensical lyrics that he chants. ("Who's that sailing on that black lagoon? / Who's erasing the face of the man in the Moon? / Well I hope he don't come around here too soon / I took my tomahawk for a satellite walk / I took my tomahawk for a satellite walk"). If I am the only person in the world who loves those lyrics, then I must only care for the opinions of myself.

A few songs he performed I wasn't familiar with at all before the show, and all of them made me realize I was only scratching the surface immersing myself in his discography. And maybe I can't get too far into it, because I'm not even sure how I can get hold of the studio versions of some of these songs. "Hedda Gabbler" was the song he opened with, which is a rare, non-album single he'd released in 1977. The third was yet another song I was completely unfamiliar with: a jumpy and excited tune called "Model Beirut Recital." The fourth was a more recent rare single, a hypnotic song called "Bluetooth Swings." ...The nice thing, of course, was all three of these songs were fantastic and made me want to explore his discography a little deeper. (Or maybe he should at some point release these rare songs in anthology/rarity form.)

Another song I hadn't heard before was "Praetorian Underground" from his 1984 album Caribbean Sunset. According to legend, that's supposed to be Cale's worst album. But judging by that song, I'm guessing the album is actually pretty awesome. (The album was never released on CD nor on mp3 form. ...Why?! Come on, man, I am a member of the public interested in this stuff with disposable income!)

So anyway, considering I almost didn't want to go to this concert, I am glad that the rock 'n' roll gods managed to me otherwise! This was indeed an event for the ages.

The Del McCoury Band w/ Dala

Live in Edmonds, Wash. October 27, 2012

It was a storied day sometime in the Summer of 2012 when the Edmonds Community Center for the Arts announced their line-up. Unfortunately there were no “big names” (or at least “big names” as I define them in my little world) on the roster this season—unlike the past two years I've been going to this venue when I saw the likes of Al Stewart, Randy Newman, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin. I was with my dad when I received that e-mail, and I read aloud the names of the artists who would be performing. One of them, named “The Del McCoury Band,” performed bluegrass. We'd never heard of them before, but my dad said he liked bluegrass, so we got tickets. This venue lets you choose your own seats, and... yes... due to my craving for consistency, I'd even managed to score the exact seats I'd gotten previously for the Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin concert last May. It was directly behind the sound booth.

It turns out that my earlier impression of Del McCoury as being “non-famous” was completely inaccurate, as I'd found out since then that he was kind of a superstar in the bluegrass arena. The venue wasn't quite sold out, but it was nonetheless mostly full. Full enough that there were enough people there familiar with him to yell out song requests at them left and right. I was so unfamiliar with these guys—and with bluegrass in general—that the only way I could tell if a song they played was “recognizable” was judging by how loud and enthusiastic the applause and cheering was when it was starting up.

But... eh... just this once, I figured I could go to a concert and recognize nothing. A number of concerts of famous names I'd been to, I felt the need to do research (usually in the means of writing reviews of their albums), but why should I even—in the back of my mind—have ever considered that a requirement? All I came there to see there was a whole lotta finger-pickin', bass thumpin', and fiddle fiddlin'. I also came to see a quintet of musicians who were dressed in their Sunday best—suits and ties and everything—and speak to their audience in folksy, Nashville accents. And of course they would play their hearts out. The only one of them who didn't wear a tie was the fiddle player, because—I assume—you can't operate a fiddle properly with one of those things on.

Now, the audience was clearly not dressed like the people were on stage. The prevalent theme was blue jeans, cowboy boots and wiry facial hair. In other words, these seemed to be people from beyond the slough. (The suburban Seattle types and the beyond-the-slough types don't often meet one another due to there being few roads that reach across the slough.) The guy I was sitting next to was certainly no city slicker. After every song, he'd slap his knee a few times and exclaim in a high-pitched voice yip!, yahoo!, or an honest-to-goodness yeehaw! He also watched them with a pair of binoculars for much of the show, which confused be because we were about 40 feet from the stage. Close enough that we could make out their faces perfectly.

They were a great band, of course, as anyone would expect them to be! A lot of their songs sounded “country-western” to me. And despite my historical abhorrence for these brands of tunes, I still enjoyed the concert. After all, watching these seasoned pros going at it with their instruments (and in particular the banjo), was massively entertaining. Banjos are great things to listen to at home wearing headphones; however the effect is amplified even greater when you're witnessing it in person. (The reason is, of course, the finger pickin'.)

Weirdly, the opening act—a female Canadian folk-duo named Dala—quite more up my alley than the main attraction. I mean, they performed a cover of The Beach Boys' “God Only Knows,” one of my favorite songs ever. The Del McCoury Band might have gotten more whistles from the crowd, but I still didn't recognize any of those songs! Now, Dala also performed many of their originals, which I hadn't heard until that evening. However, they had made strong enough impressions on me that I can still remember a few of them.

They were touring to support their latest album Best Day, which they'd identified as their White Album. (Not specifically because it has any relation to the Beatles album, but because the actual color of it is white.) Although it does have a pretty blatant relation to The Beatles with a light 'n' catchy piano-pop song called “Lennon and McCartney,” which they performed that evening. It's an enjoyable tune that I was inspired enough about it to listen to it a number of times once I'd gotten home. (Beatles references should make it obvious that these guys were more up my alley than the headliners. Moreover, given the general demographic of the audience at this show, I might have been the third biggest Beatles fan in that entire room.) One of them—Sheila—prefaced that song with a funny story about going to her first high school dance dressed as Paul McCartney, and nobody wanted to dance with her.

So anyway, that was the concert. I certainly enjoyed the Del McCoury Band, but I do hope that I'll get to see Dala sometime again in the future. (Considering that they're roughly my age, I guess they have a far better chance of making it with me to... er... my 40s, unlike most of these other bands I see.)

All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.