Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reviews -- Louis C.K. and "Weird Al" Yankovic

Louis C.K - Riverside Theater
Oct 10, 7PM

During an 80-minute set Louis C.K. proved once again why he is the hottest act in comedy right now.

One of C.K’s ongoing themes in his material is the darker, more selfish side of humanity and he got right into it with a story about seeing an old lady fall down at the airport. The people around her immediately became a group participating in a game of “decency chicken,” with the unfortunate winner having to help her up. Naturally, Louis was the “loser.”

Like an amalgam of Jerry Seinfeld and George Carlin, C.K. covered a range of topics that included but were not limited to: sex, divorce (“No one ever says ‘My divorce fell apart!’”), “shitty brains,” and the wisdom of age.

On why older people are smarter: (paraphrased) “A 58 year old garbageman from Long Island knows way more than a 28-year-old with a triple PHD. The garbageman has probably seen a dead body, received a handjob that he never told anyone about … The guy with the three PHDs has been thinking about precisely three things for 15 years. He doesn’t know shit!”

On cell phone pictures at the Super Bowl: “You know, if you’d put the fucking thing down, the resolution is amazing!”

C.K. went on about male’s love of breasts and his own shlubby appearance -- “Skinny guys have it made. They’re asking “Which way to the easy pussy?” -- delivering his lines like heavyweight boxer, body blow after body blow.

In the end, he brought it back around to the darker side of humanity, delivering a couple of headshots.

One such shot pondered what would happen if murder would be legal. Naturally, there would be a lot more murders, particularly of children. C.K. punctuated that last point by using his mic stand to simulate the curbstomping of a misbehaving child.

The final piece was something Louis called “Of Course...But Maybe...” where he had a good, sane thought followed up by something completely insane: (again, paraphrased) “Of course, we should be sympathetic to kids with nut allergies. Parents should be educated on this...but maybe...if you touch a nut and die, you should probably just die. Parents could put their hands over their eyes for a year and a half on this issue, and we’d be rid of this problem.”

This went on about Make-A-Wish kids, equality of the sexes, race relations, and finally (I think) slavery. (Distilled, the last one basically said “Look at all the good shit slavery produced!).

Louis C.K. conquered the sold-out crowd, who rewarded him with a standing ovation. It wasn’t quite as strong as his previous two specials, but still miles ahead of anything else that’s out there. For one of, if not the, hardest-working men in show business you can’t possibly ask for any more.

“Weird Al” Yankovic -- Northern Lights Theater, Potowatomi Bingo & Casino
Oct 13, 8PM

It has been 13 years since I last properly saw “Weird Al” Yankovic.  And the emphasis is on seeing him.

You don’t go to hear Yankovic and his band -- excellent musicians though they may be -- you go to see the spectacle, which is on par with professional wrestling or a Las Vegas production show.

The spectacle was in full force on Saturday night.

He didn’t speak much to the crowd, but at one point Yankovic did quip “If you follow your dreams and tour for thirty years, you too can one day realize your dream of headlining the Potowatomi Bingo & Casino!”

Even though the new material fell a little flat for me on record, it came alive, well, live.

“Perform This Way,” the first single from Alpocalypse, found Al performing in a giant peacock suit flanked by a band in similarly bizarre outfits. “Craigslist,” a Doors pastiche, had Yankovic come out in leather pants and a ridiculous wig. Adding to the realism, Al stumbled around stage like Jim Morrison at his drunken, stoned worst.

In the highlight of the night, “Wanna B Ur Lovr” from Poodle Hat, Yankovic came out in a snazzy red-and-black zebra-print suit. He didn’t stay on stage for long as he made his way out into the audience to sing (and bump, and grind on) to his lady fans. It was hilariously awkward.

Not to be forgotten, the clips played between costume changes were funny as usual. The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Friends, and Jeopardy all paid respect to Weird Al’s status as a pop culture icon, while his trademark “interviews” showed off his twisted sense of humor every bit as well as his songs do. One bit -- imagining Al as the bandleader on the Titanic -- is so funny you just have to watch it.

Aside from his boundless energy and the multitude of costume changes, what also struck me was the attention to detail for some of the songs. For “CNR,” a White Stripes pastiche about Charles Nelson Reilly, Only the drummer and guitarist stayed out for the song. During “Smells Like Nirvana,” the bassist performed the entire song barefoot, much like Krist Novoselic was fond of doing in concert. Those little things add to the performance as a whole.

And really, that’s what a “Weird Al” show is -- a performance. It is less live concert and more choreographed routine. As a music fan, it’s disappointing to find out the set was almost exactly the same as his Comedy Central special. (I was hoping against hope for an encore of “Albuquerque” but no dice.) It’s disappointing to find out he does the same moves and same gags night in and night out. And as far as the lip syncing rumors are concerned, it was hard to tell from my vantage point definitively. I think he has a little help in places, but it seemed like most of the time it was him singing live. Those things -- much like learning wrestling is fake -- might take away from enjoyment of the show. But just like diehard wrestling fans, the illusion of reality is merely part of a joke we’re all in on. As a comedy fan, very few in the business can top what “Weird Al” Yankovic does.

Yankovic and band did their traditional encore of “The Saga Begins” -- complete with Darth Vader and a cadre of storm troopers -- and “Yoda.” Much like the previous 90 minutes, the crowd ate up every second of the two Star Wars classics. I’ve never been disappointed by a “Weird Al” show, and until he has to physically stop what he’s doing I don’t think I can ever be.

Monday, July 9, 2012

My (Sorta) Retro Weekend

I spent the Fourth of July at my parents' house, and while there I found that they had saved all my old video game consoles despite their seemingly never-ending effort to clean out their basement. Even though video game emulators have been around for quite some time, there is something enjoyable about the tactile experience of plugging in the actual console, turning the game on, and playing it on the original joystick. Not that I have room for it, but soon I would be playing the Atari 2600. (The Sega Genesis is either broken or needs to be cleaned.)

The Atari was missing its power source, so that would need to be remedied. Because I am impatient, I wasn't going to order one online. Because Radio Shack's universal adapters are rather expensive I wasn't going there. So I did some searching online and found that surplus stores were a good source of random AC adapters.

As luck would have it, Milwaukee has such a store, and that store is American Science & Surplus. Awesome store if you're into the whole DIY electronics thing. Initially, the only 9V adapter they had didn't have the right plug, so I thought my plan had been foiled. But one last check of the "Very Assorted Adapters" bin proved lucky, and I had what I needed, though it is technically underpowered.

After some Googling, it was apparent -- though I figured it wouldn't be simple considering the adapter that came with the console was for 1980's televisions -- that it would take some re-jiggering to get the thing hooked up.

A trip to Radio Shack -- only $1.29 or so more than ordering it -- and I had my connector. (RCA to Coax)

After hooking it up through a VCR that I kept for some reason, I turned everything on and it worked. Sort of. It would turn on, but I couldn't get a picture with any game I tried. I wasn't sure if it was the set-up or the console or the generic plug I bought for a whole $2.50.

Ever the hoarder, I just so happen to have a legit old TV in the house, so I dragged that out and tried again. Eventually, success! The adapter doesn't always sit in the input so well, so I have to make sure it's in there tight. (That's what she said! Zing!)

I took apart the console to give it a good cleaning and to reset a ribbon cable that was making the "select" and "reset" buttons inoperable. Once that was all done, most of the games worked. It took some mild elbow grease, but in the end I was able to game like it was 1982.

 Later that night, I went to see Cake at Summerfest.

I am not the biggest Cake fan in the world, but I like their music well enough. Fashion Nugget is actually a pretty decent album. Lest you think Cake couldn't possibly be a draw, the overflow crowd at the Miller Oasis stage said otherwise.

Unfortunately the thing with overflow crowds is that half the people there are there maybe to see the one big hit and spend the rest of the time talking to their friends.

I'm not smug enough to delineate between true and fairweather fans, but generally when I go to see a concert -- whether it be at an indoor venue or at an outdoor festival -- I go to hear the music, not to socialize. (Whether I've actually ever been able to socialize regardless of situation is another story entirely.)

Cake didn't seem to care about that though. They went on and did their thing like they've been doing since the mid-1990's.

AV Club Milwaukee was dead on when they said "It’s somewhat like AC/DC in that its songs tend to feel fairly interchangeable, without a ton of distinction between albums; fortunately, it’s also somewhat like AC/DC in that the one Platonic song of which all its tunes are but cast shadows is enjoyable enough that it would be silly to make a fuss about it."

Cake sounded good overall, saving their biggest hits until the end -- "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," "Never There," and set-closer "The Distance." Also of note were "Frank Sinatra" and a Cake-ified cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs."

Singer John McCrea's voice occasionally struggled to be heard above the din, but when you're practically speaking the lyrics half the time, I suppose you can't expect much more.

And that's really the story of the show: I didn't expect much. I didn't get much more than that. It felt less like a concert and more like straining to hear an album at a crowded houseparty. But hey, I got to see Cake for a discount price. Cross another one off the 90's alt-rock bucket list. Maybe I'll go see Summerland after all.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Avett Brothers Deliver Rollicking Two Hour Set

The Avett Brothers' music is hard to pigeonhole into just one genre, as they blend elements of country, bluegrass, folk, rock, and pop into a delicious musical stew. On Friday night at the brand new BMO Harris Pavilion, the band was firing on all cylinders.

Opening with the gentle-beginning "Laundry Room," the band exploded into the second half of the song with an almost punk-rock like energy and careened into the raucous bluegrass murder ballad "I Killed Sally's Lover." The Avett Brothers thrashed away on their instruments -- particularly striking was cellist Joe Kwon's furious headbanging --with an energy that propelled both band and crowd through a marathon two-hour set.

Biggest cheers of the night were for songs from The Avett Brothers' major-label breakthrough I and Love and You, but tunes from the other albums were received just as well.

Faring not as well were songs sprinkled in from the forthcoming album The Carpenter. Some people sprung for the beer or bathrooms lines, and others may or may not have left for good. Songs like the lead single "Live and Die" and "Love Like The Movies" were standard Avett Bros. fare, while "Winter In My Heart" sounded like something more suited for a generic country radio station. I'm betting those songs will grow on people when the album comes out, however.

As the set went on, it became apparent that the overflow "standing room only" area was not the place to be if you were interested in hearing the softer numbers. The tender, moving "Murder in the City" was practically ruined by the people more interested in talking to their friends instead of listening to the music.

One might think a band without a full-time drummer, and one which uses acoustic instruments (guitar, banjo, stand-up bass, and cello) would have a hard time competing with the other music going on at the festival, but they didn't. And just to prove they knew how to rock, they went electric for the fantastic "Kick Drum Heart" and at the end Scott Avett (it could have easily been Seth, though) ripped off a fierce solo that sounded suspiciously like it could have turned into "Freebird" at any second. That would have been a hell of an ending, but with plenty of gas left in the tank they played six more songs after that including the encore.

The Avett Brothers could have easily jogged to the finish line. Personally, I was tired and ready to go home, and all I had to do was stand there. Instead, they sprinted to the end with a rocking rendition of "Talk on Indolence." The entire 25-song set was delivered with a sincere graciousness and Southern bonhomie. They wanted to be here; the crowd wanted them here; and we were rewarded with the Avett Brothers playing their hearts out and leaving everything they had on the stage.

I feel like no one was left wanting more. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Set List:
Laundry Room
I Killed Sally's Lover
Will You Return?
Down With The Shine (new song)
And It Spread
Denouncing November Blue
January Wedding
Slight Figure of Speech
Winter In My Heart
Love Like the Movies
Paranoia in B-Flat Major
At the Beach
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise
Murder in the City
Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Please Pardon Yourself
The Fall
Kick Drum Heart
I and Love and You
Live And Die
Go to Sleep

The Perfect Space
Talk on Indolence

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Concert Review - The Promise Ring - Summerfest, June 28, 2012

The Promise Ring Plays to Few As If It Were Many

Whoever booked The Promise Ring to play the 10PM show at the Harley stage on Thursday night should probably be fired.  

Going up against established mega rock stars Foo Fighters or the piano-pop stylings of Ben Folds Five was never going to work out anyway for Milwaukee’s own The Promise Ring -- they were never really that big nationally. But the turnout of 200 or so (and that’s being a bit generous) was pitiful for a band that was kind of a big deal locally back in the 90’s.  

Rocking an 80’s-era Brewers cap, lead singer Davey von Bohlen was unfazed.  

The band started off with “Size of Your Life” from their last album, which I totally didn’t recognize until writing this. But then they kicked into the one-two punch of “Happiness Is All The Rage” and “Emergency! Emergency!” from their poppiest (and my personal favorite) album Very Emergency. The former features one of my favorite lines in all of indie rock -- “We could do more outdoor things if we weren’t so busy getting busy.” -- and the latter’s chorus of “It’s an SOS! Very Emergency!” is featured at Brewers games when there’s a pitching change.

 (Side note: “Happiness Is All The Rage” is the first TPR song I’d ever heard, and on some level is responsible for getting me into indie music. I like to think that the song could get other people into indie rock as well. Of course, if you don’t like it, your name is probably Ken and you suck so whatever.) 

After that, it felt as if they were playing just for me (not just because of the low turnout, assholes) because the hits just kept coming and coming: “Make Me a Mixtape,” “Skips a Beat (Over You),” “Tell Everyone We’re Dead,” and “Stop Playing Guitar” (“With so few people there, he SHOULD stop playing guitar!” said the Statler and Waldorf ripoff. Har Har.)  just to name a few. In an alternate (and probably hipster) universe, a crowd of thousands would have been shaking their asses to the anthemic and bouncy rhythms. 

At one point midway through the 75 minute set, von Bohlen cracked “I’m glad they have these Jumbotrons on for all those people stuck in the back.”

 Overall the band sounded pretty tight, as if they hadn’t missed a beat since they broke up in 2002. They maintained a good energy throughout, even with the slower, lusher tracks from their swan song Wood/Water. Davey’s voice didn’t sound bad at all, despite reports of that nature from their show at Turner Hall earlier this year. More importantly, the band seemed to be having a good time on stage. They could have mailed it in, but didn’t. 

After some deliberation on stage -- “We already played the fuckin’ encore, so we’re trying to figure out what to play next!” -- the band decided to send the small crowd off with the Milwaukee-street-referencing title of their first single, “Watertown Plank.” It was a good way to end an enjoyable set of music -- a rare nugget for those that stuck it out against the allure of much bigger (and, yeah, on some levels better) bands.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Doritos Locos taco is bullshit.

I had this at Taco Bell about a month ago -- just noticed I took a picture of it tonight -- and it kind of sucked. As a Doritos connoisseur I was excited. I used to make spoon tacos (think taco salad) with crushed up Doritos as the base, and they were delicious. This Taco Bell bastardization does not live up to the hype.

The trouble with this taco is that it is essentially just Dorito dust sprayed onto a standard Taco Bell shell. Now, don't get me wrong: Dorito dust is delicious. If they sold it apart from the chips I would certainly eat it by the handful. (My heart just told me to go fuck myself after typing that.) But what makes a Doritos brand nacho chip a Doritos brand nacho chip is the combination of the dust and the chip. This cannot be emphasized enough.

Basically the texture was all messed up, and that was off-putting. (I know, I know, Taco Bell as a whole is off-putting.) Something that should have made me something like this just left me disappointed.