1.31.2007

Today, I ...

... can't stop thinking about working on our bathroom. Seriously every spare moment in my mind is filled with 'scrap the paint, scrape the paint, put on a new coat, scrape the paint, scrape the paint ...

... am tired. My mind was filled with too many thoughts to sleep well ...

... am frustrated I can never seem to come up with the words when I really need to write them ...

... feel like I'm letting my cohorts down ...

... waited for hours in a frigid apartment doorway and then watched police officers carry a dead man down a staircase ...

... had a marketfresh turkey-bacon-swiss sandwich for lunch, from Arby's. I love those sandwiches ...

... am loving the sight of everyone getting excited about the Bears and the Super Bowl ...

... am proud of my ability to build good relationships ...

... can't keep from thinking there's something better out there for me ...

... am thinking a lot about Grandpa ...

... am really hating this frigid weather ...

... finally got around to shoveling the snow that fell two days ago ...

... wish the snow would go away and spring would come tomorrow ...

... feel like I have a million things to do, but don't know when I'll ever accomplish all of them ...

... can hardly wait for baseball to start ...

... need to finish watching these movies ...

... need to get to bed early ...

... need to finish working on that bathroom ...

1.30.2007

Idiots of 2006

Got this in an email today ...

No. 7 idiot of 2006
Arkansas: Seems this guy wanted some beer pretty badly. He decided that he'd just throw a cinder block through a liquor store window, grab some booze, and run. So he lifted the cinder block and heaved it over his head at the window. The cinder block bounced back knocking him unconscious. It seems the liquor store window was made of Plexi-Glass. The whole event was caught on videotape.

No. 6 idiot of 2006
A pair of Michigan robbers entered a record shop nervously waving revolvers. The first one shouted, "Nobody move!" When his partner moved, the startled first bandit shot him.

No. 5 idiot of 2006
A guy walked into a little corner store with a shotgun and demanded all of the cash from the cash drawer. After the cashier put the cash in a bag, the robber saw a bottle of Scotch he wanted on the shelf behind the counter. He told the cashier to put it in the bag as well, but the cashier refused and said, "Because I don't believe you are over 21." The robber said he was, but the clerk still refused to give it to him because she didn't believe him. At this point, the robber took his driver's license out of his wallet and gave it to the clerk. The clerk looked it over and agreed that the man was in fact over 21 and she put the Scotch in the bag. The robber then ran from the store with his loot. The cashier promptly called the police and gave the name and address of the robber that she got from the license. They arrested the robber two hours later.

No. 4 idiot of 2006
A motorist was unknowingly caught in an automated speed trap that measured his speed using radar and photographed his car. He later received in the mail a ticket for $40 and a photo of his car. Instead of payment, he sent the police department a photograph of $40. Several days later, he received a letter from the police that contained another picture, this time of handcuffs. He immediately mailed in his $40.

No. 3 idiot of 2006
A man, wanting to rob a downtown Bank of America, walked into the branch and wrote "this iz a stikkup. Put all your muny in this bag." While standing in line, waiting to give his note to the teller, he began to worry someone had seen him write the note and might call the police before he reached the teller's window. So he left the Bank of America and crossed the street to the Wells Fargo Bank.

After waiting a few minutes in line, he handed his note to the Wells Fargo teller. She read it and, surmising from his spelling errors that he wasn't the brightest light in the harbor, told him that she could not accept his stickup note because it was written on a Bank of America deposit slip and that he would either have to fill out a Wells Fargo deposit slip or go back to Bank of America. Looking somewhat defeated, the man said, "OK" and left.

He was arrested a few minutes later, as he was waiting in line back at Bank of America.

No. 2 idiot of 2006
Early this year, some Boeing employees on the airfield decided to steal a life raft from one of the 747s. They were successful in getting it out of the plane and home. Shortly after they took it for a float on the river, they noticed a Coast Guard helicopter coming towards them. It turned out the chopper was homing in on the emergency locator beacon that activated when the raft was inflated. They are no longer employed at Boeing.

No. 1 idiot of 2006
From a medical student doing a rotation in toxicology at the poison control center: A woman called in very upset because she caught her little daughter eating ants. The student reassured her the ants are not harmful and there would be no need to bring her daughter to the hospital. She calmed down and at the end of the conversation mentioned that she gave her daughter some ant poison to eat in order to kill the ants. The student told the woman she'd better bring her daughter into the emergency room right away.

1.29.2007

The Cookie Blues

Posting this video from my friend Liz while I watch my Jayhawks put away Nebraska!!

1.28.2007

Sunday TV

Thanks to ABC showing reruns of "Housewives" and "Brothers & Sisters" tonight, I actually got to watch "You're The One That I Want" and "The Apprentice" in real time ...

... For my money, ballerina bombshell Ashley Spencer blows all the other wannabe Sandys away; I've liked her from the start and I'll take her to the end. And while I'm still not very keen on any of the Dannys, Chad's far out take on "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" pretty much sealed his status for me ...

So I voted for Ashley and Chad. That's my story and I'm sticking to it ...

As for The Apprentice, Marissa was as good as gone the third time she dialed Heidi to try once more on selling her crazy chickens-on-a-corner idea ...

Sunday reading

A sampling of the interesting stories I came across during the last week ...

a ‘Naked Brothers’ are keeping it real ... I did catch a bit of this while I was flipping through channels yesterday. That was enough for me ...

a Hollywood Royalty: Oscar roundtable ... The only Oscar film Kates and I have seen is "Little Miss Sunshine" (... and I think Steve Carell was far more deserving of an Oscar nod than Alan Arkin ...). We'd better get cookin' ...

a The Shins' 'Wincing': A New Sound, but Not Dumbed Down ... They were wonderful on 'SNL,' sharp on Letterman on Tuesday night, and I spent most of this week with repeated listens of their first two albums. I spent parts of Wednesday streaming the new stuff on their MySpace page. And yesterday I punched my ticket to see them live in two weeks. Can hardly wait.

a America returns with old and new tunes ... These guys were pretty darn good in their Letterman appearance a couple weeks ago too.

a Here Comes Windows Vista -- Like It or Not

1.25.2007

Feelin' groovy

I went to the library after work today to pick up a few CDs I ordered: Abbey Road, the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Yas Out and the Scissor Sisters

“Ah, you have good taste,” the clerk said as she retreived the CDs. “Abbey Road, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out. And what‘s this one?”

“Scissor Sisters?” I said.

“Nope. Don't know them.”

“They’re a newer rock band.”

“I know some 80s bands but then I know I grew up with the best music.”

I nodded and smiled. We had made a connection. She continued ...

“I saw an ad in the paper today for a guy who was looking for 33s. And I thought well, should I get rid of my records, but it’s like saying goodbye to a child,” she said shrugging her shoulders and raising her arms. “And then I see some of these people that put the records in frames and hang them on the wall ... ”

She was talking so fast I didn’t have a chance to tell her I’m one of those people.

“… and then I figure well maybe if I wear out the records, at least I can get rid of those and still hold on to the album covers.”

All the while, I’m thinking if only I could lean in and tell her I talked with Peter Noone today...

* * *

… so my phone rang at exactly 1 o’clock. I took a deep breath and answered it.

“Hello, may I speak to Mark, please?”

It was Peter Noone. His voice was still blaring with that same youthful energy that comes through on all those Herman’s Hermits records. And, oh, that British accent …

I’ve cherished Herman’s Hermits’ music for as long as I’ve been able to control a car radio. Their “Greatest Hits” disc was one of the first I bought after I’d saved enough money to buy my first CD player. “I’m Into Something Good” remains one of my favorite songs of all-time. I even named the first of our pet hermit crabs Herman. And here I was today, talking to the voice of those hits. And next weekend he's bringing his act to the Genessee in Waukegan.

So how have you been? I asked.

“Good, I’m doing extremely well. It’s been a fruitful day,” he says, telling me about his fan club and the joy he takes in responding to letters. “… I think in my business, you have to do that …”

He tells me about splitting his time between Santa Barbara and London. And I ask if he’s ever been to Wisconsin …

“For some reason Herman’s Hermits play more in Wisconsin than any other state,” he says. “That’s where we started out. That’s one of the places we worked really hard … They were one of the places to discover us really. On our early tours we played in Chicago and then we’d play all over Wisconsin and over the world.”

By the time the Hermits got into something good with their first hit single in 1964, Noone was already a household name in England, something I hadn’t realized until I started my research. He’d become a recognizable child actor in the long-running British soap opera “Coronation Street” and other television series like “Knight Errant,” “Family Solicitor” and “Monro’s Saki Stories.” As a child he studied at St. Bede’s College and the Manchester School of Music and Drama.

His passion always was the music, he told me.

“What happened was I was at the school of music and then one day this guy came around from a local TV station looking for a boy who could play piano and sing a song and I got that job. And then I was in the union and once you were in the union, every time they were looking for a young boy – and I could play younger then myself … I was into the music and I just got jobs as an actor. I never wanted to be an actor … I was on ‘As The World Turns’ and around people where I had no idea you had to be talented to be in a soap opera … I thought I could do that and tour. Then I’d realize I’ve got 30 pages of script I have to learn.”

Noone was just 15 when he became the lead singer of Herman’s Hermits, and in 1964, the band joined groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies and The Yardbirds as British rock bands who were invading the U.S. charts. Though the clean-cut Hermits never approached the status of The Beatles or The Stones, they managed to sell more than 60 million records, with 14 singles and seven albums reaching gold status.

Their hits included “I’m Into Something Good,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter,” “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” “Silhouettes,” “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” “Just A Little Bit Better,” “Wonderful World,” “There’s A Kind of Hush,” “A Must To Avoid,” “Listen People,” “The End of the World” and “Dandy.”

So I asked Noone, what were some of your thoughts when Herman’s Hermits went big?

“What went through my mind is I think I was trying hard to impress the guys in the other bands and not to the point where I thought the most important thing was to have a hit … I was very young and I think probably in retrospect I was pretty arrogant. But I was also right. It all kind of worked for a long time … I didn’t need friends, I needed hit records … Consequently it all worked pretty well for 10 years until people lose focus and stuff like that …”

By now, I’m feeling really comfortable talking with Noone. The conversation is going as well as I could’ve imagined, and Noone seems genuinely interested in answering my questions.

So next up, one of the questions I was dying to ask: I’ve heard and read the Herman’s Hermits might have been “the big thing” coming out of Europe, had the Beatles not beaten them to it. I ask him if there was any rivalry between them.

Noone scoffs at the notion there was any rivalry, but reassures me it’s a pertinent question and says he’s glad I asked it.

“That is purely an America idea, there was never any competition. Everybody tried their own style. If we had tried to compete with The Beatles, you know what would have happened? We would’ve been gone in a week. We were quite content to be Herman Hermit’s. It was really a camaraderie …We all chose to be Herman’s Hermits. We did ‘Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.’ We probably could have done ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammeror ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la Da,’ but we didn’t … We let the kind be the kind that were the Stones … It wasn’t a rock ‘n roll league, and we were ranked No. 7 in the American League. Everybody liked each other. I tried to impress them and that’s what we did. We all recorded in the same studios, we heard their stuff, but if we were in the competition, they weren’t that interested …”

I was thrilled with his answer.

So what's your favorite Hermits song?

“ ‘There’s a Kind of Hush’ and ‘I’m Into Something Good.’ They both stood the test of time. When they were made nobody believed they would stay around …”

I was beyond thrilled to hear him say “Something Good” was his favorite. Mine too. Why, I asked.

“It’s just a perfect record to me. It was like a bunch of teenage boys made a record. It’s just absolutely a natural record. Not, let’s hope it’s a hit, that feeling … I can remember every minute of the recording session …”

What do you remember about the recording session, I asked.

“It was always extremely good fun. Everybody always said they liked Hermits sessions because they were always fun … We argued, but you’d have someone say idiot or something. We were all attempting to have hit records.”

Delving into some of the things I’d discovered in my research, I asked about “Mrs. Brown.” From what I’d read, it was another song the Hermits didn’t expect to be successful. And my editor wanted confirmation of a story he’d heard that about Hermits guitarist Derek Lekenby putting a handkerchief under the guitar strings to get the song’s signature banjo sound.

Not true, Noone said. It was an old touring tale (in fact, you can see a handkerchief under the strings if you watch this YouTube video closely), that got taller as years went by. The sound actually came from a Gretsch Country Gentleman with a damper on it. And Keith Hopwood played it.

“We threw it in because it was cute,” Noone said. “And Keith played it brilliantly …It was filler. We needed to fill up a long album … It was a song we learned from early on. And halfway through the recording session we were running out of songs. Mickey Most says ‘OK, we can hide it somewhere on the album.’ It was the same thing with ‘Silhouettes,’ we were just trying to come up with a song. Jimmy Page came up with that,” Noone says, singing the song's rolling guitar part.

I also was curious about “I’m Henry VIII.” I had read it too was a farce, a song some British crooner by the name of Harry Champion performed “with gusto” in 1910 or something. And the song apparently had a lot of verses, but the Hermits didn’t care to learn all the verses. So Noone spontaneously yelled out “Second verse same as the first …”

Noone answered: “It was an old Harry Champion song from 1911 or something. It was from all our grandfathers and it was one of those pop songs we had a reference to … There’s lot of verses and a whole story but we didn’t know all that and I just said second verse same as the first …”

He confirmed the story! Yes!

“ … It was just a laugh really, we were having a laugh. We thought this’ll be fun to stick on a record. Derek played the guitar solo and lifted the song into its Chuck Berry riff. It was his greatest moment in the music business … We were really singing the chorus but we didn’t know what the song was. It just sort of evolved and that was the best. All music should be like that and then it just evolved then. We thought it wasn’t really long enough, if we have thought ahead we could have found the second verse

So “Mrs. Brown” and “I’m Henry VIII,” were number ones in United States, and the songs weren’t released in Britain. Is it true you guys didn’t like either song?

Like the Beatles rivalry question, I get the sense I rubbed Noone wrong again, and he’s eager to dispel whatever I’ve heard.

“We thought ‘Mrs. Brown’ was a bad idea because we didn’t think it would represent Herman’s Hermits. We didn’t think it was a rock song and we thought of ourselves as a rock band at the time. But we liked it … That song was on a movie soundtrack. It gave it the opportunity to be played without being played on BBC. We knew how to manipulate the radio stations … One of Herman’s Hermits most played songs in Britain is ‘Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.’ People begin to stand up and cheer because they‘ve heard those more than any other songs. It was a radio hit.”

But the evolution of Herman’s Hermits slowed toward the end of the1960s,and Noone split from the band in 1971. He quickly returned to acting and performed in some of Great Britain’s major theaters. In the 1980s, Noone also reached Broadway, performing in “The Pirates of Penzance.” His performance was so well received, he continued to play Frederic in touring productions of the show.

I asked him to talk about his decision to leave the group in 1971.

“The band was having a bad time with bad music,” Noone said. “It just wasn’t a good time to be in a ’60s band. I left thinking we could leave and one day come back, and I didn’t want to go from Madison Square Garden to the Holiday Inn and that’s what was being offered. So I thought let’s stop it here then like Simon & Garfunkel we can come back and play one tour a year or something … What I didn’t realize is the others didn’t have anything else they could do. I didn’t realize I selfishly stopped the band for my one and I was able to work, I was busier than everyone. All the things I couldn’t do when I was in Herman’s Hermits I can do … I needed to do all that stuff. I left the band because I wanted to go on and be on Broadway …but you need some more talent, being able to sing ‘Mrs. Brown’ and ‘Henry the Eighth’ wasn’t an instant ticket into a Broadway show.”

These days, Noone and the band stay active, playing about 120 dates a year and reeling off hits from a catalog that reaches nearly 300 songs — in addition to charming fans of all ages.

I’m one of those kids who grew up listening to my dad’s 45s and that’s how I started to like your music, I tell Noone. How does that make you feel when you hear stories like that? How do you feel about Herman’s Hermits’ legacy?

“In retrospect, the music was much better than we thought we were doing - it’s nice that you can enjoy it. I think probably, I stepped behind it for years and when I came back I was able to appreciate it more … I came back, I had to listen to the records and learn the words again. It’s kind of sad really, we kind of have to sit down and listen to the recordings and see if we can recreate that and it’s hard to do that, to play it with the same spirit as in those days. It requires constant attention. On the other side it becomes a hybrid, we don’t want to be a Herman’s Hermits tribute band, we want to be the real thing. It’s a constant challenge to do that and retain the joy of the music. It requires an hour before the concert …”

What do you think of today’s music? Is there anyone that stands out?

“We appreciate everything. I’ve got a 20-year-old daughter … now it’s all encompassing. It’s really like my childhood, like Julie Andrews in one room and Little Richard in the other -- like today’s country western and the rap being Little Richard. My parents never designed my music …whenever I played, I went …now I go into my daughter’s room and I say, ‘that’s great, turn it up!’ It’s good to be a musician, you don’t want to look a like a chump and not know everything …I even like hip hop, I turn it up in my car!”

I ask if he’s working on any new material.

“Right now I’m just really touring my ass off … It’s not like the world is saying I wonder what happened to the Herman’s Hermits … What I’m trying to do is be one of those entertainers who go out and do great shows and have people be interested in whatever I come up with.”

So tell me a little bit about your show? What can people expect on Friday night?

“It’s Herman’s Hermits and parodies of other musicians like Davy Jones, Johnny Cash and parodies,” Noone says. “People sometimes think I’m an impersonator, it’s parodies … We have 300 songs and we’ll play our 10 biggest hits. It depends on what the other bands do, and where what they do puts me. If they’re slow and dreary, I go out and do the fast show. If they’re fast, I go do the slow show. It’s based on the energy of the show … It’s different every night fortunately in the music business.”

I’m ready to wrap up the interview and say good-bye. I ask Noone if he has anything else he wants to say.

“Do you got a Starbucks there?” he asks.

Yeah, we have two of them. You like Starbucks? I say.

“I like the idea of them and I do all my fan mail there. I take a laptop …”

Do a lot of people recognize you? I ask.

“ … I’m like Paul McCartney, I like people,” Noone says. “People don’t disturb me, I like that energy. I mean, I don’t want people sitting down and telling me their life story … but that’s one of the pluses of the music industry … the people who know me, they’re adults …”

I was out of questions and glanced at the clock, realizing Noone and I had been talking for 40 minutes. I thanked him for talking with me, though the words hardly expressed how thankful I really was. He tells me to try keeping the weather from getting too cold, and we say good-bye.

I hung up the phone, as a wide smile spread across my face and I leaned back in my chair.

“Ok, Mark, who was that you were talking too?” asks a cohort sitting behind me.

“Peeeeeeeter Noone,” I say, still smiling.

“Ah, you sounded like you were having a lot of fun,” she said.

I was. I did.

1.24.2007

Idol watching

Random thoughts on tonight’s Idol

Somebody needed to punch Ian Benardo and knock him into reality …

... I looooved that spunky Rachel Zevita, the opera student who looked like she was 12 years old. She belts out some Jeff Buckley, seals it with a little bit of "Get Here" and then sings some opera just for kicks at the judges' request ...

... God bless Sarah Burgess, who, in my mind, gave the most heartfelt audition of the night -- sobbing in front of the cameras as she told about lying to her father and skipping school so she could go to the auditions in New York to try following her dream. Then she gives a stand-up-and-clap-your-hands performance and punches her ticket to Hollywood.

... Then there were BFFs/hot chicks Amanda Coluccio and Antonella Barba. But don't let their looks fool you -- these girls could sing ...

... "The Days of our Idols" soap opera, violin music and all, featuring the desperate Ashanti was HA-larious!!

…And what’s with the half dozen Idol wannabes singing Selena's “Dreaming of You”!?! … and most of them were guys! I mean it’s a sweet song, but put on some pants men!

Other good reviews from:
a The Baltimore Sun
a TV Guide
a idol-mania.com
a Entertainment Weekly

Someday

Sharing a conversation that just occurred between Kates and I ... I think you can figure out who's who ...

"This weather sucks! I hate the cold! I hate it!"

"Tell me something I don’t -- "

"I hate it!"

"Wha, wha, wha."

"I hate it! … We need to buy some property in Arizona so we can live down there during the winter. We’ll stay through spring training and then we can come back up here when the baseball season starts."

"Guess we’re not going to be having any kids then. We can’t keep pulling them in and out of school."

"Yeah we can. It’s all about communication. We can make it work with their teachers and keep a good line of communication."

"Well, where am I going to teach. I can’t keep moving schools."

"You won’t have to. We’ll win the lottery and then you won’t have to work."

"I see."

Guilty TV

Forgive me for being slow to post this week. Once again, projects at work and on the side are absorbing my time ... and the whole bathroom renovation is proving to be a more-involved and time consuming task than we first thought ...

So I finally got around to watching Sunday night's Apprentice and You're The One That I Want, and I finished watching last night's American Idol over my lunch...

And I loved every minute of them ...

What can I say? They're my guilty pleasures on TV right now ...

And I used to talk endlessly about how much I hated reality television.

Yeah.

But seriously! What the heck was Michelle thinking, resigning from The Apprentice because she couldn't bear to live any longer in the woods!? Baby, the posh backyard of Trump's mansion -- even with the cold showers -- is not the woods ...

And I was sooo cheering for Kara and Ashley to make it to the finals of their Grease try-outs. I've had a soft spot for both of them since the beginning, but I guess it wasn't meant to me ... As for the Danny-boys, I'm not seeing a single one of them as Zucco ...

And why's everybody so strung out about the Idol judge's not so pleasant criticisms? This being my first season of watching Idol, I honestly expected it to be much worse ... My favorite from last night: Melinda Doolittle. She was, as Paula said, brilliant.

1.23.2007

Fine art


... a friend sent me a collection of photos and drawings today from an artist by the name of Julian Beever...

... I'd never heard of this guy, but holy cow! These are sweet ...

For more about him and his amazing work, check out his official site ...

1.21.2007

Super games!

... Wow. Talk about a great weekend for sports ...

Yesterday I caught my beloved Badgers pull out a thriller against Illinois, and then watched my beloved Jayhawks (with a little help from our DVR -- because we had to break for Frank Caliendo) choke (again!) against lowly Texas Tech ... ugh.

... And then those football games today!

... During a conversation the other day about the Bears-Packers game that ended the regular season, I asked a buddy if he was a Bears or Packers fan. He told me he's a Packers fan when they're not playing the Bears ... I liked his answer. I'm a Bears fan when they're not playing the Packers.

... and so in today's game, I was cheering hard for the Bears. But when the Saints took the momentum into halftime and came out roaring to start the second, I was beginning to think the Bears were going to implode all over again ...

Then they turned it into a route ... Chicago will be going crazy the next couple weeks, and it's going to be great!

Then there was that Colts-Patriots game ...

I would've been pleased with either team in the Super Bowl. The Patriots are a class act, and it's fun to watch them play so well year after year. On the other side of the ball, the Colts are flat out good, and I've had a soft spot for Peyton -- another class act himself -- and the Colts for a few years now ... But if you asked me straight-up who I was rooting for, I would have answered the Colts ...

So I was a little disappointed when the Colts slipped so far behind early. So much so that I pretty much tuned out the game ...

... Until I looked up late in the fourth quarter and realized the Colts actually had a chance at winning the thing! ... Peyton's final drive, and then that interception to end it -- Holy cow, what a finish!

So it's Colts-Bears. A classic cross-state rivalry ... Now I've just gotta figure out who I will cheer for ...

Good reads ...
a Bears fans celebrate
a Takeaways propel Chicago to first Super Bowl since '85




* * *


01.22.07 ... adding today's front page of the Indy Star ...

Sunday reading

Some of the interesting reads I caught this past week ...

Entertainment ...
a New year, new slogan for 'Heroes' ... Woo Hoo!
a Hero of the nigh: Unexpected hit lifts NBC to ratings tie
a Fey turns random into laughs on ‘30 Rock’ ... if you told me a couple months Kates and I would still be watching '30 Rock,' I'd have laughed you right out of our house. Well, here it is January, and we're still watching. Its looniness really is darn funny ...
a 'Idol' viewership goes up, up, up for Fox
a Madison teen advances to American Idol semifinals
a 'Lost' to conclude sooner than later ... Good thinkin!
a Spirit of '68, Animated & Kicking Off Sundance
a Reaching For the Moon At Sundance
a What I've Learned: Katie Couric ... Interesting. (... and while reading about Katie Couric, I discovered this one about ESPN ...)
a NFL TV makeover looks good now ... This whole thing with NFL games on the league's exclusive network is one of the worst decisions the NFL could make. They're alienating fans from coast to coast ...

Travel ...
a Cruise industry's dark waters
a Breathing life into a faded desert landmark

Politics ...
a What Would Jeb Do?
a On the Electronic Campaign Trail: Politicians Realize the Potential of Web Video

Miscellaneous ...
a What Shawn Went Through
a Who wants a deep-dish Olympics? ... We do! We do!! Kates and I are crossing our fingers harder than ever that Chicago can land the games! Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ... the other night we were talking about it and figured out we'll be 37 ... Whoah.
a Notice the Plus Signs at the New GM
a Hold Off On Net Neutrality

Another Saturday night

Weeks of waiting and anticipation came to a head last night.

Kates and I saw Frank Caliendo. Live. In Concert. At the splendid Riverside Theater in Milwaukee.

Any review I write would hardly do the justice of seeing his live show, so I’m going to kill myself putting a lot of thought into this post. I’ve never found it easy to give a full synopsis on a standup routine, because the jokes never come out the way they were told in the first place.

I will tell you Caliendo’s Bush impersonation was impeccable; it was every bit as good as I had hoped it would be. It seemed as though he spent more than half the show doing our fearless -- ?? -- leader. Caliendo poked fun at Bush’s facial expressions, like the constant smirk that he has on his face, or the face he makes when he enters a press conference looking as though he just heard a dirty joke backstage and wants to share it with the audience. Or the way Bush adds “ify” or “ificate” to words in an attempt to sound smarter (“We have to thinkificate hard about our strategy in Iraq”). And when Bush is trying to emphasize a point, he’ll bob his head -- like a turkey. As though he should be adding a “gobble, gobble” at the end of his sentences …

Caliendo touched briefly on vice president Cheney (comparing him to The Penguin) before transitioning into Bill Clinton impressions … “Bill Clinton could be standing up here right now and say anything, and we’d believe him,” Caliendo said. Then, switching into Clinton’s gravely voice and raising the signature thumbs-up, he says, “I am not here right now.”

Caliendo did Yoda. He did Al Pacino (which I didn't think was very good ...). He did Andy Rooney. He did Jeff Goldblum. He did Jay Leno.

But, of course, 99.9 percent of the audience was there to see him do his infamous John Madden impressions.

It seemed as though we’d already been watching him for hours when Caliendo finally said, “Well I’ve decided to not do any more John Madden impressions …” To which the crowd responded with a loud “awwwwwww …” To which Caliendo responded by acting as if his body was being shot up with a shotgun. HA-larious … And out came the Madden impressions.

As usual, Caliendo’s Madden routine was built around Madden’s supposed obsession with Brett Favre -- a notion that was even more entertaining considering Caliendo was performing to a Wisconsin audience -- and Madden’s knack for saying things that either don’t make any sense or are blatantly obvious (“If the quarterback throws the ball, and the receiver catches it in the end zone, it’s going to be a touchdown!”)

And before you know it, Caliendo is weaving all of his impressions together in laugh-til-you-cry conversations between Bush, Clinton, Madden and whoever else enters the room in his mind.

Admittedly, Caliendo did appear to be running out of material toward the end of the show, and the crowd seemed to be getting restless (… At one point, I envisioned a Michael Richards scenario unfolding as some audience members annoyingly yelled out impressions and garbled requests. But to Caliendo’s credit he reacted with patience and wit, at one point responding to a fan -- in his Madden character -- “There’s a guy that needs to let me do the rest of my show!” … ) Whether that was by design or not, we won’t know, but it also made for one of the funniest moments of the night as Caliendo suddenly stopped and sighed, “I’m tired.“ Then he layed down on the stage and, after a few moments of silence and staring at the ceiling, he raised his arm, still lying flat on his back, and began making hand puppets in the spotlights. And moments later he turned it into a Muppets impression, using his hand as Kermit the Frog singing “Rainbow Connection.” Again, HA-larious.

Finally, Caliendo ended with his comical impression of Robin Williams in “The Wizard of Oz.” Kates and I had seen it before on his Letterman gigs, but it didn’t fail in bringing a smile to our face again …

Check out these Frank Caliendo performances ...





* * *

Since we went to an early show, Kates and I caught a dinner afterward at The Chancery (Caesar salad, steak, homemade mashed potatoes, the best vegetable salad I’ve had … mmm, mmm, gooood!)

… And then we settled in for a viewing of “Friday Night Lights,” which I had to watch for a Sunday School Lesson …

Good film ...

But I guess I was expecting more of an exploitative look at Texas high school football … The film, of course, stars Billy Bob Thornton as the coach of the vaunted Permian Panthers High School football team in Odessa, Texas. The film, which is based on the book and true story of the 1988 Permian team, follows the team as the boys face the pressures and hopes of a community that’s expecting them to win the state championship. Most of the boys on the team know little else but football …

I thought the acting was wonderful and the scenes put you right smack in the middle of Odessa as it was in the fall of 1988. And I loved the shaky-camera, documentary feel of the film … I was, however, turned off by the overdramatic, repeated practice and game scenes of players slamming into each other, guys flipping over each other and all of it capped with the sounds of guys groaning. Classic football cliches -- squared.

But, every once in awhile you get a DVD where the extras are truly fun to watch and do their job in enhancing your perspective of the film. So was the case with “Friday Night Lights,” which offered a short documentary featuring actual game footage, photos, and interviews with the players and people that lived the story in 1988. It was great seeing and hearing from the real Boobie Miles, Mike Winchel and Don Billingsley, and the home video footage of their playing days elevated the mystique of their story ...

1.18.2007

Too much Joe Buck?

From today's Onion dispatch ...

The Onion

Americans Wondering What They Did To Deserve This Much Joe Buck

NEW YORK—According to sports fans across America, the near-ubiquitous presence of play-by-play broadcaster, pregame reporter, and post-game...

Global warming

From last night's Letterman show:

"Bush has the answer to global warming ... He's sending 20,000 troops to the sun."

Also ... Top Ten Signs You're Obsessed With "American Idol"

1.17.2007

More Idols

Just finished watching my second-ever American Idol ...

Watch out people, here come the Melakar kids!! ... My jaw dropped in the moments that Shymali started singing her luscious take on "Summertime," and then her little bro, Sanjaya, came out and did a mind-blowing version of Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." Plus, they get bonus points for being cute and spunky ...

And smooth-singin' Thomas Daniels wasn't so bad either ...

Idol chatter

... So I watched my first-ever episode of American Idol last night.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. For the last five years, I've been one of those who, as Nekesa Mumbi Moody described in an AP story yesterday, decried the show "as another vapid reality show attempting to create another vapid pop star ..." I couldn't stand the idea of the show.

Oh, the times, they are a changin' ...

Last year I purchased Kelly Clarkson's breakthrough album, loved it and then watched her win two Grammys for it. I got a copy of Carrie Underwood's album. On Monday I watched as Jennifer Hudson accepted her Golden Globe for Dreamgirls ...

And here I am succumbing to all the hype and falling in line with the rest of the Idol-heads.

After watching for the first time last night, I have to admit it was a little entertaining seeing how shameless and passionate some of the wannabe-contestants will be for a chance to make their dreams come true. Love 'em or mock' em, it's an amazing portrait of the culture and personalities that define America. Though, it's hardly my reason for watching the show ...

I guess I just want to be in on the making of another pop star. I'm suddenly intrigued by the chance to watch ordinary singers reach extraordinary heights. And, geez, with my love for music, I'm not sure why I didn't start watching the show years ago ...

Oh, yeah. I decried the show as another vapid reality show attempting to create another vapid pop star.

From last night's episode ...
Favorite meltdown: Though Jesse Holloway's falsetto on "My Heart Will Go On" and Jason Anderson's juggling performance and the guy who tried to sing "Dancing Queen" a la Nickelback were all good, my favorite was the very first -- Jessica Rhodes' awful rendition of Jewel's "You Were Meant For Me," (with Jewel sitting in the panel too!) was cutting edge ...

My Idol so far: How could you not like Madison's own Denise Jackson.

Idol reads ...
a Warhorses Make 'Idol' Fly
a 'American Idol' plots songwriting contest

1.15.2007

Golden wha!?

... We're almost two-thirds into tonight's Golden Globe Awards and very little has surprised me...

But 'Ugly Betty' for Best Comedy Series!?!? Are you kidding me!?!

"The Office," "Desperate Housewives" and what I've seen of "Entourage" and "Weeds" are 10 times more original and funnier than "Ugly Betty" ... and if you need any more proof, look at the clips that they showed tonight while the nominees were being read. The clip for "Ugly Betty" was a scene from the first episode showing Betty not saying anything, but simply running into a glass door and falling to the floor ...

Pleeeeeeeeeeease. Hardly funny because the stunt's been used in a million other comedy sketches, movies, TV shows and just about everything else played out on a stage.

... And now America Ferrera is winning for Best Actress in a Comedy Series!! ... Again, all four of the people she was up against -- Marcia Cross ("Desperate Housewives"), Felicity Huffman ("Desperate Housewives"), Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("The New Adventures of Old Christine") and Mary-Louise Parker ("Weeds) -- were more deserving ...

... At least America's speech is heartfelt, and I'll give it to her that her Betty Suarez is putting a new face on TV and inspiring young girls ...

But the show isn't that funny!!

Dang foreign press.

Super predictions

... I didn't get to see very much of yesterday's football games because I was too busy (and more interested) in other projects and business around the house... But I had the games on in the background and managed to at least catch the most important points -- Robbie Gould kicking a winning field goal for the Bears and Tom Brady bringing the Patriots from behind against the Chargers ...

In a column this morning, Dave Goldberg makes a case of a Patriots-Saints Super Bowl ... I'd prefer a Colts-Bears matchup, but with the Tom Brady mystique and the way the Bears are playing, Goldberg's on to something ...

1.14.2007

Sunday reading

... The Shins strong -- and overdue -- showing on SNL last night inspired me to pull out my Shins CDs this afternoon. Great stuff ...

Here's some good reading (and cartoons, courtesy of Cagle's Cartoons) that caught my eyes this past week ...

Entertainment buzz ...
a What does Oprah believe?
a It's Not All About the iPods, Oprah
a You'll likely read more about Britney in '07
a Comedy writers aren't laughing about 'Studio 60' ... I have to agree: It's a show about a comedy show, but the comedy in the show that the show is about isn't funny at all!! ... I so wanted it to do well, but at this point NBC would be wise to let it fade away ...
a Who's that 'Studio 60' nominee? ... whatever. I've admired Sarah Paulson long before Studio 60 came along ...
a Matthew Fox talks about his dark side
a Vieira Settles In, and 'Today' Gets Ready to Go Long
a Tween actress' sex scenes raise ire ... Oh, Dakota, why must you grow up so fast? Please don't become a ruined child star ...

Music ...
a Ain’t it odd? Song lyrics defy grammar rules music ... Get over it, English teachers. Alanis Morrissette's ironic is one of the greatest songs ever, whether you like it or not ...
a Will compact discs go the way of the LP? ... Whatever. I'm still buying them -- heck I'm still buying LPs. The sweet cover art, liner notes and that feeling of tearing off the wrapping -- like opening a new toy on Christma morning -- is a big part of what makes certain music so special and enduring ...


News & trends ...
a Theme party ideas for February's major events ... As cheesy as some of these suggestions are, these parties could be a lot of fun to host! Who's in?
a After laughter, action ... Great column. So true.
a Too Casual To Sit on Press Row? Bloggers' Credentials Boosted
a 1870s dead horse photo sparks mystery ... Great story!! from Sheboygan!!
a Is there a new calling for Apple? ... My friend Sean appears to be obsessed with the iPhone; his eyes looked as though they were going to pop out every time the mega-hyped gadget was mentioned this week. I, on the other hand, prefer to use my phone as a phone and for calling people only, thank you very much.
a Kathleen Parker: Clicking on death ... So true.


Baseball ...
a Suppan joins Brewers after dinner, $42 million contract ... Now let's hope he holds up. If he does, it could be a very good Brewers season ...
a Don't Expect Hall Call, Big Mac


1.11.2007

Thursday night comedy

... Great TV tonight!

The Office was faaaaaaan-tastic! ... Watching Dwight crash into the back of Jim's seat might have been one of the funniest things I've ever seen on The Office. I couldn't stop laughing for minutes!!!

Scrubs about as funny as it's been in awhile too ... Seeing a pregnant Jordan stomp down the hospital corridor a la the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was HA-larious!

... and it's good to see Grey's Anatomy has finally got its mojo back after the train wreck that was Izzy's mind-out-of-body experience with Denny. Meredith and Shepherd are back to being dreamy and fresh sparks are flying... Though Izzy is still slightly crazy for not cashing that multi-million dollar check of hers. Get over it already! When she was telling crooked spine girl about her bad fortunes and said her "finace dropped dead" I couldn't keep from rolling my eyes and thinking yeah, you're fiance for like, what, five minutes!?! ... and now, what the heck is Addison thinking, falling for Karev. Watching them almost kiss made me squirm almost as much as seeing Meredith and George making out last year ...

Ugh.

Rumours & Fascination

... So I couldn't take it anymore. Three copies of "Rumours" on vinyl, and today I finally broke down and got a copy of it on CD, even though I told myself when I started collecting vinyls that I would never buy an album I already had on CD or vice versa ...

... I also got a hold of "Legacy", the "Rumours" tribute album on CD ...

… And so my fascination with Fleetwood Mac, which has been building for a couple years now, continues …

… Growing up, I knew of them. I knew of Stevie Nicks. And I could sing “Landslide” word for word every time it came on the radio. Heck, “Don’t Stop” (I can't mention this song without referring to this live performance!) was on a mix tape my parents made me when I was young, and it’s become one of my all-time favorite songs.

But I never made any of the connections. Any references I heard or saw of Fleetwood Mac being a great band, especially when they had a small resurgence a few years ago with their “Say You Will” album, were pretty much shrugged off …

Until a couple years ago when I was working a late shift and returning from an accident scene. I’ll never forget it -- Pulling up to a stoplight. Listening to The Drive, which was then a new found favorite radio station of mine. And “Hold Me” comes on … I have vivid memories of being much younger and standing in our small town barbershop -- Denny’s -- with my brother and mom, sometime in the mid-‘80s. “Hold Me” came on the overhead stereo, and I’ve loved the song ever since. But again, never knew who sang it. So when it came on the radio again that night a couple years ago, I was filled with glee, and I hung on in hopes of hearing the DJ tell me, finally, once and for all, the answer. It was Fleetwood Mac …

Not long after that, I was listening to The Drive again, driving through the parking lot of our local DMV, and I heard “Never Going Back Again” for the first time. I was mesmerized by that song’s guitar picking, the bouncy melody and those fresh harmonies. Once again, I hung on to hear the DJ tell me the song was from, who else, Fleetwood Mac …

And not long after that, I was downloading Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits album. Only then did I realize that the super group was behind all these songs I’d come to know and love for as long as I’d been listening to a radio -- “Don’t Stop,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “Rhiannon,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Everywhere,” (I remember hearing that one for the first time at the barber shop too) “Little Lies” and on and on …

A couple months later, as if I didn’t feel low enough for not realizing what Fleetwood Mac has represented all these years, I was sorting through an old box of cassette tapes and discovered I’d had the green Greatest Hits album in my collection the whole time -- I inherited it in college from a professor and never gave it a listen. Like everything else, I’d shrugged it off …

Then, last year of course, I recovered my parents turntable and stereo system and began buying up vinyl albums. “Rumours” was one of the first albums I bought. I fell in love with it immediately -- and hard …

…It was released in 1977, but somehow remains timeless. It doesn’t sound anything like what you’d expect to hear on a ‘70s album, let alone a “break-up” album and it’s one of the few albums I can consistently listen to all the way through. Without skipping songs …

There's a reason why Rolling Stone has called it one of the greatest albums of all-time ...

The classics stand out, of course -- “Don’t Stop,” “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “You Make Loving Fun.” But I’ve been hearing all of those for years …

The real gems for me now are “Never Going Back Again,” which still blows me away every time, and the punchy lead-off track “Second Hand News,” along with its Side B counterpart, “I Don’t Want To Know.” And speaking of gems -- how about “Songbird” !? Kates and I got to know and love Eva Casidy’s version on the “Love Actually” soundtrack, so imagine my wonder when I realized it too was part of the “Rumours” album …

There’s a special dose of attitude, emotion and intensity within every song that pushes the album to such heights. It begs me to sing along. It begs me to dance. It always leaves me wanting more … and I can’t find any more words to describe it than those ...

Unfortunately, though, the "Rumours Legacy" doesn't hold a candle to the original -- which actually may be another testament to how great the original is ... Tonic's "Second Hand News" is, dare I say, as good as the original, and I like The Cranberries luscious spin in "Go Your Own Way" but the rest of the disc is a throw-away. Elton John does a decent "Don't Stop," but it's too much like Elton John and not like Fleetwood Mac. And while I love Shawn Colvin, her version of "The Chain" doesn't quite do it for me either. I mean, jeez, there's a lot of artists to love on this album -- The Corrs, Jewel, the Goo Goo Dolls (singing their version of "I Don't Want To Know") Duncan Sheik, Sister Hazel (heck, that's one of the reasons I got so interested in it in the first place) -- but they don't get it done ...

How disappointing is the Legacy album? I never want to hear Matchbox Twenty's dark, twisted version of "Never Going Back Again" again ...

1.10.2007

Catching up on TV

... Out of work for the afternoon, I finally caught up on my Sunday night TV ...

I watched the new Apprentice first ... and I liked it.

The last couple seasons of the show were getting so bad, Kates and I bailed out ... But I like the new twists. The first task of setting up a tent in the mansion's backyard was comical, and seeing the losing team try to camp out there was even more entertaining. Plus, Ivanka is surprisingly fun to watch. At the first shot of her sitting next to Daddy Trump, I was thinking, geez, this can't be good. Not only does she look ditzy, she looks like she's 14 years old! ... Then she opened her mouth and spoke. Man, that is one intelligent, head-strong woman ...

And all I gotta say about the first episode's main players: Martin is a pompous dope who deserved to be fired, but Frank -- holy cow -- is a bomb waiting to explode ...

Next up: "You're The One That I Want"

Aye.

I'm not hot on the fact that the leads of a Broadway musical -- Grease -- are being picked via a TV show ... but the judges/Broadway top dogs seem like they know their stuff, they know what they want and they're not giving into any pressure to pick someone on a thin notion that they make good TV -- that was evident when Billy Bush swayed the judges to give a wannabe Sandy a second chance audition, and the judges booted her just as fast as they did in her initial try ...

... Kudos to David Ian and the other judges for being far more respectful and straight with the hopefuls than the crew from American Idol will ever be ... But the drama of David telling the hopefuls " ... (long pause with dramatic music and shots of people staring at each other) ... You're not Sandy" is enough to make me scream ...

... I'm not head over heals for any of these shows. The problems is now I've watched the first episodes and I want to see how it all unfolds!

Typical

... So today I reviewed police reports about ...

... a 498-pound man found dead by the mother he was living with ...

... a 16-year-old caught taking and eating a 59-cent donut at a grocery store. The kid hadn't paid for the thing ...

... And this is the best one ...

Authorities were called by a guy who discovered more than $1,100 missing from his Hummer, which was left unlocked!! and parked in his driveway. The guy had left the cash in an envelope attached to the vehicle’s sun visor.

Idiot.

Talk about stuff to brighten your day ...

In The Fray

So The Fray came to town last night, with Mute Math, an up-and-coming elctro-alt-rock band from New Orleans ...

... I went into the show cautiously optimistic. Yes, The Fray is selling mongo numbers of their album. And yes, you can't turn on a TV right now without hearing 'How To Save A Life' on some hit show ... But see, I don't get what all the buzz is about The Fray. Almost all their songs sound the same to me, they don't do anything particularly out of ordinary and when Kates and I saw them in Chicago 13 months ago, before most people had heard of them, they were, well, kind of boring ... So I went into last night's show hoping that maybe a year on the road had allowed them to mature.

Mute Math, on the other hand, has a darn good thing going, and it's sad that as an alternative indie band they may never accumulate close to the amount of album sales or notice The Fray is finding ...

Above all, it’s not often you hear musicians expressing a desire for things to go wrong during their shows, but the fact Mute Math drummer Darren King wears a pair of duct-taped headphones shows the band is used to its equipment breaking down.

“Things going wrong is the best way to perform live; it’s a fine ballet with destruction,” Mute Math frontman Paul Meany told me during an interview a few weeks ago. “Some of our worst shows are when anything goes right. We just like to start throwing our songs out on the table in front of an audience.”

Mute Math, with its electro-alt rock sound, had a memorable 2006. In September, the band released their overdue debut album on Warner Bros. Records, and saw it land at No. 17 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers in its first week. They also drew thousands at the Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Van’s Warped Tour festivals. The band is already working on material for a sophomore album that could be in stores later this year or early 2008.

“It has been pivotal year,” Meany said. “We started the year not really sure what was going to happen. We started out putting the record out ourselves but then got in some label turmoil … Then one thing led to another. We were able to keep playing some shows and there was a domino effect.”

The seeds of Mute Math were planted in 2001 as a burned-out Meany was breaking from his Christian-rock band Earthsuit and King, a Springfield, Mo., native and Earthsuit fan, began sending elaborate musical tracks and demos to Meany. A long-distance collaboration ensued and Meany invited King to New Orleans for a weekend.

“I was listening to these CDs from this kid down in Springfield, Missouri and I was impressed,” Meany said. “In the beginning, I was thinking this would be a creative side project. But we wrote some songs and it wound up being something special.”

Over the next couple years, Meany and King began performing as a two-piece and kept writing songs, never sure of the direction they were heading. Eventually they added guitar player Greg Hill and recruited Roy Mitchell-C├írdenas, who played with Meany in Earthsuit, solidifying Mute Math’s lineup.

With the release of their Reset EP on the Teleprompt label in September 2004, the band launched an Internet blitz and began video-blogging their live performances. Word-of-mouth drew sold-out crowds to shows in Los Angeles, New York, Nashville and Houston, and Warner Bros. came calling, though the label let the band’s debut album lie in limbo for a year before finally releasing it last fall.

But if you hear electro-alt rock, and think of “some left-of-center experimental noise art,” Meany said in another interview, think again. The result actually is a diverse debut album that is at times loud and obnoxious, like on the guitar-heavy second track, “Typical,” and at other times beautiful and meditative as on “You Are Mine.” By incorporating elements of rock, industrial, reggae, '80s pop, jazz and rave on top of ambient vocals and catchy hooks, the band is ready-made for arenas and fist-pumping crowds across the globe.

But Meany prefers not to call the soaring Mute Math sound an accident. “It was really just throwing ourselves into creating, just making music that we both like, just throwing it on the table and seeing if we can make something that’s somewhat sensible,” he said. “Of course we wanted to try and challenge ourselves with the way we thought a rock band should look.”

Listening to the debut album, it’s easy to draw comparisons to U2, Linkin Park or even Enigma. But there’s another oft-made comparison that Mute Math gladly accepts -- the one that likens them to The Police. For someone who didn’t know better, it’s easy to mistake Meany’s grainy vocals for those of Sting on the fifth track, “Noticed.”

“I can’t deny that The Police played a strong role in the way that we look at music and in the way we structure it,” Meany said, noting Jimi Hendrix and The Who as other influences. “You think about how much great music has been compiled in the last 50 years, it’s almost humbling you can ever have a band that might work in the world of music. We’re doing our best to learn what each band did wrong or right and you just try to carve out a little notch for yourself and create some songs that might have some relevance.”

So about last night's show ...

The Fray had been playing for nearly an hour when they broke out their uber-popular single “How To Save A Life” as the finale of their set.

At the sound of the song’s first note, the sellout crowd that packed the arena unleashed high-pitch screams and became as animated as they’d been all night. A sea of illuminated cell phones and digital cameras bobbed above the heads, girls sang at the top of their lungs and it was as though most of the crowd had paid their $27.50 and traveled the miles just for that moment.

As the song wound to a halt, the band left frontman Isaac Slade to play the song’s twinkling piano melody and repeat the chorus. A few bars more and Slade took his hands from the piano, singing the chorus once more with the crowd. Then Slade went silent, letting the crowd shout the chorus themselves.

It was easily one of the most enduring moments of the show, before the band members blew kisses and waved good-bye. But the moment couldn’t save a predictable performance, which didn’t stray far from the sound and formula that’s made the Denver-based band so successful.

“How To Save A Life,” of course, skyrocketed The Fray’s profile in 2006 and it’s no wonder their shows are packing arenas. Since forming in 2002 and releasing their debut album, also titled “How To Save A Life,” in 2005, The Fray has become a mainstay on the Billboard charts with the album selling more than 2 million copies. The band’s first single “Over My Head (Cable Car) ” reached the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100, Pop 100 and Hot Digital Songs charts. The album’s title track also raced up Billboard charts and has been on Billboard’s Hot Digital Songs chart for 38 weeks, peaking at No. 1.

Their album also has earned the band two Grammy nominations and last week came news that “How To Save A Life” passed Coldplay’s “X&Y” as the most downloaded album of all-time.

The band, which consists of core members Isaac Slade (vocals, piano), Joe King (guitar, vocals), Dave Welsh (guitar) and Ben Wysocki (drums), and another guitarist who appeared last night but was never introduced, launched their winter tour at the local college and will go on to play 18 more dates across the United States before traveling overseas to Europe in mid-February.

Slade, who was front and center at his piano all night, arrived on stage with his bandmates to shrieking cheers and wasted no time getting into “Over My Head (Cable Car),” the single that helped launch The Fray buzz in late 2005. And the crowd hung on, raising cell phones and clicking digital cameras through the upbeat “She Is” and the catchy “All At Once.” But like the spotlight that’s shone so brightly on The Fray in the last 12 months will probably fade, so went the crowd’s excitement.

The band played a 10-song set that lasted barely an hour and included a nice blend of favorites from their platinum-selling album, in addition to some some new tunes, including “Absolute.” And during some of The Fray’s more upbeat songs, the floor bounced and shook, no doubt raising fears for some that they’d be the top story on the nighttime news: “Hundreds injured when floor collapses at rock concert.”

For some of the parents and and older fans, the surprise favorite of the night might have been The Fray’s punked-up take on The Beatles’ hit “Eleanor Rigby” midway through their set. Slade and King combined for a gorgeous a capella harmony on the song’s “Ah, look at all the only people” opening before the rest of the band burst in with their instruments. As I looked around, though, the scene was similar to the one that played out when James Blunt and his band struck up Supertramp's “Breakfast In America” -- the young fans were clueless.

At one point, Slade admitted to being a little rusty after a long Christmas break and it showed. The shaved-headed frontman rarely appeared to be having fun and, for the most part, his bandmates played like drones at his side. On top of Slade’s whiny and sometimes grating vocals, it was tough not to wonder whether his bottom was superglued to his piano bench. He did little to draw any crowd reaction, and barely interacted with the crowd — though he did utter a hard-to-understand gripe about the cold weather.
Yet, if the floor did cave on Tuesday night, Mute Math could have been blamed. The four-piece New Orleans band, which opened for The Fray, came close to blowing the roof off the building with a percussive rock spectacle that featured members jumping on instruments and on each other. So it was more than fair when Slade later gave them their due, proclaiming to the crowd that Mute Math is “one of the best live bands out there.”

With the crowd still spilling into the arena, Mute Math arrived on stage at exactly 7 p.m. and burst into “Typical,” the explosive second track on their debut album. Constant flashing lights, combined with the methodical drumbeats, sampling and that moving floor, must have made the crowd feel like they were at a rave.

The band’s goal to destroy things on stage was clear. While Meany seemed in his own world, bouncing around the stage with his keytar and then pounding on a keyboard, Darren King, strapped on headphones and all, was in another universe. The band poured unending energy into songs like “Chaos” and “Control,” as King beat any life left in his drum kit, slapping cymbals with his hands and reaching for a fresh pair of drumsticks after nearly every song.

As Mute Math’s 45-minute set drew to a close, Meany, King and bass player Roy Mitchell-Cardenas each picked up a pair of drumsticks and began slapping whatever objects were close — the keyboard, stage floor, microphone stands — as guitarist Greg Hill played with samples. All of it led made for a mind-boggling finale that had Meany doing back flips from his keyboard until he fell on King and the two crumpled to the floor.

“Thanks a lot everybody. We’ll clean up our mess now,” Meany told the crowd as the song ended and he got to his feet.

If only The Fray wasn’t so clean.

Mute Math set list
(There's a short Mute Math-produced video with clips of their show here -- watch for Meany jumping onto King in the last 10-or-so seconds!)
“Typical”
“Chaos”
“Plan B”
“Control”
“Noticed”
(an impromptu jam session)
“Reset”

The Fray set list
“Over My Head (Cable Car)”
“She Is”
“All At Once”
“Absolute”
“Dead Wrong”
“Heaven Forbid”
“Look After You”
(An acoustic guitar solo by Slade; he didn't announce the title)
“Trust Me”
“How To Save a Life”
(... There's a good Fray read here ... and a good Mute Math read here ... )