11.28.2014

NFL player's Ferguson post on Facebook goes viral

I caught this on Facebook this morning. It says everything I've wanted to say about Ferguson but couldn't find the words to articulate.

I sat saddened, angered and embarrassed Monday night as more violence broke out after the announcement of a grand jury's decision not to indict a police officer involved in the shooting death of a young man last summer

Thank you, Benjamin Watson for your words.

Here are some excerpts from his post ...
I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.

I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.
 

11.27.2014

To The Farm for Thanksgiving we go

Relaxing at The Farm tonight and warming by a fire on this Thanksgiving eve. Kates and her mom are in the kitchen, already preparing food for the big feast tomorrow. All the others are in their beds upstairs.

We arrived around 7 tonight after a mostly smooth drive. For once, we woke up ready to go this morning and were on the road on schedule. It also helped that Kates and I finished most of our packing Monday night with only some final items left to pack Tuesday night.

We left The ‘Ville around 9 a.m., and Kates gave Faye and Phoebe a “Frozen” present to help keep them occupied during the trip. Phoebe got a “Frozen” and math-themed marker board to practice her addition skills. She was good to go until Faye got her “Frozen” sticker book, and suddenly Phoebe’s gift want good enough. “I liked it for a moment until I realized I don’t like math!” she shouted through her tears.

We hit Des Moines around 11:30 with intentions of making a lunch stop and doing some shopping. But the first McDonald’s we stopped at didn’t have a Playplace, so we took a family vote and opted to do the shopping first and look for a kid-friendly McDonald’s later. … Our shopping destination was Trader Joe’s – which had been recommended to us by family and friends as if it was the Ikea of grocery stores, but I didn’t get that. We stocked up on some wine and snack foods, and the girls enjoyed pushing the kid-sized shopping cart – but mostly, to us, it was just like any other corner grocery store.

We found the McDonald’s about 10 miles down the road, ate our lunches and let the girls run off some energy on the Playplace. … By the time we were back on the road, it was almost 2 p.m., assuring that the sun would set before we arrived at The Farm.

Faye crashed and slept for most of the afternoon while Phoebe watched movies. That afternoon stretch through Iowa was the toughest we faced in terms of the weather conditions, with heavy snow flurries – but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

We made one more stop outside of Dubuque for gas and a bathroom break. … Just two stops with the girls – not bad at all.

At Phoebe’s request, we listened to The Monkees on the iPod for the rest of the way. … That was fun. I loved listening to The Monkees when I was growing up, and I’ve enjoyed watching Phoebe take to them as I’ve played some of their records during the last several weeks. Phoebe’s favorite song right now is “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day.” And Kates and I had a nice time singing the harmonies on classics like “Daydream Believer,” “I’m a Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

It’s always a relief when we come around the bend in the highway and see the farmhouse illuminated at the base of the bluff. … Until the girls unbuckle and scurry to greet anyone inside and saddle me with the task of unpacking the car and moving all of the baggage inside.

It was ok, though. I eventually made it inside to join everyone, too. We gathered for a refreshing chili supper …

Then, I rewarded myself with a nap on the couch, for which Chloe cuddled up next to me. 


Happy Thanksgiving to all and to all a good night!

11.24.2014

The American (and every other international pop star) Awards

It's been years since I've tuned in for the American Music Awards, and I got a good reminder why last night as I watched international stars like One Direction, Lorde and Sam Smith rack up the awards and appearances on the show. ... There's almost nothing significantly American about the awards show.

Nonetheless, I tuned it and was entertained by the performers I expected to entertain me and tuned out for the ones I don't care for.

Fortunately for Phoebe, Taylor Swift opened the showcase with "Blank Space," which allowed Phoebe to get in on some of the action before her bedtime. Taylor delivered a dramatic performance full of pyrotechnics that will have Phoebe talking about for days. ... And Taylor won the Dick Clark Award for Excellence. Grand.

My favorite performance of the night, though, was Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj knocking out "Bang Bang" -- and brought Taylor and company into the act at the seats. The women are ruling pop music right now, and I don't expect to tire of this song anytime soon ...




Rolling Stone recaps all of the performances here

Saturday Night Live: Weird but good

It's true "Saturday Night Live" has seemed weirder than ever this season. Aside from the Bill Hader episode, I've caught myself having serious doubts this fall about whether I'm getting too old to get SNL's humor any more.  

Then they bring in Woody Harrelson and Cameron Diaz -- two actors that don't normally have me scrambling for a place on the couch -- to host the last couple weeks. And -- surprise -- they turned out two of the more enjoyable episodes of the season.

Weekend Update has provided several laugh-out-loud punchlines, and the pre-recorded bits have been good, too.

Here are some favorite clips, first from the Nov. 15 episode with Woody Harrelson ...

New Marijuana Policy


Weekend Update, Part 1, including Leslie Jones on Crazy Bitches ... Jones is becoming the Lewis Black of SNL.


Weekend Update, Part 2

And from last weekend's episode with Cameron Diaz ...

Weekend Update, Part 1 ...


Weekend Update, Part 2 ...


Office Boss ...

11.13.2014

Kicking it with The New Pornographers

There’s something about attending concerts in Omaha during the fall. I’ve attended three shows there, and all of them rank among my favorites.

Jars of Clay. “Much Afraid” tour. Aksarben. 1997.

Ben Folds Five. “Reinhold Messner” tour. Sokol Auditorium. 1999.

This week, I added The New Pornographers to the list. For their “Brill Bruisers” tour. At the Slowdown.

Not only did I add it to my list of great – fantastic, really – concerts I’ve attended, I knocked The New Pornographers – one of my favorite bands ever – off my concert bucket list.

Of course, I’ve been eyeing the opportunity since it was announced last summer. I held out on buying a ticket to be sure my schedule would allow it and Kates was ok was it. Then I pounced on a $28 ticket Monday night and was good to go. … On a sidenote, I gained admission at the venue by having the ticket downloaded on my iPhone and a woman scanned the QR code – on my phone – as I came through the door. Two thoughts about that – it blows my mind that we can do that, but it saddens me that collecting ticket stubs will never be the same.

And, holy man, I got my money’s worth.

When it was over, I didn’t want to leave. As many of my favorite concerts go, it was an unbelievable experience for me to see all of those artists together, on the same stage and be in their presence was amazing.

For all of their talent and successes as individual artists, it was fascinating to watch the eight of them – Neko Case, Carl Newman, Kathryn Calder, Dan Bejar, John Collins, Blaine Thurier, Todd Fancey and newest member Joe Seiders – on stage as a cohesive unit. They’re a musical machine. ... Admittedly, I was relieved and overjoyed to see Case join them, knowing the indie star she's become and that she performs sparingly with the band. ... For a taste, check out their 2007 show at Webster Hall.


Take this from a Milwaukee radio station where they played a session today before performing at the Pabst tonight ... 
The New Pornographers – fifteen years on – have been slugging it out longer than most groups, indie, super or otherwise; longer than the Beatles, Pixies, Smiths or Nirvana held it together. Comprised of largely Canadians of superlative musical lineage (Destroyer, Limblifter, Neko Case, A.C. Newman) the band released their sixth album – BBrill Bruisers – in late August and it continued an upward trend as their highest reaching US chart position, cracking the US Top 20 Album chart – their third to crack the Top 40 album charts – but really, who cares about the charts these days?
What's most remarkable about New Pornographers is that this is a SIDE GIG, what's usually a lark, maybe good for an album or two (still awaiting the THIRD Raconteurs album?) has become an ongoing concern with a catalog packing more power-pop hooks than a tackle box over six delightful albums. And while their longevity is in itself notable, critical acclaim has been overwhelming, with a career Metacritic score just shy of 80/100; their first four albums were on Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Poll, the year-end aggregation of hundreds of critics. If the band was a human being, they'd be getting their learner's permit.”
Every song last night sounded fresh with new flourishes of guitar and keyboard melodies and vocal harmonies that differed from their recorded originals. If it hadn't been for the strict no-video policy Tuesday night, I would have an awful lot of video evidence to share.

They kicked things off with, not surprisingly, with “Brill Bruisers,” their head-banging rocker that also launches their newest album of the same name. Then they rolled through “Myriad Harbour,” “Use It” and “Moves” – four of my favorites right off the bat – and I knew quickly that I was in for a memorable night.

Every song felt more epic than the one before. And every song was upbeat, with the exception of “Adventures in Solitude,” which began with a luscious, twinkling arrangement featuring Newman on an acoustic guitar and Calder on the keyboard.

Bejar joined the band on stage only for the songs on which he sang lead vocals – “Myriad Harbour,” “War On the East Coast” and “Born With a Sound” being my favorites – but every time he did was like a shot of candy for the audience.

They ended the first set with a sped up “Mass Romantic” that was so delightful it was among my favorites of the entire night. (Check out this video of the band performing it in Colorado last month for a whiff of my experience) I’m including “Backstairs” – a perfect example of the band playing as a cohesive unit – on that list, too.

They played two encores, ending the first with “Bleeding Heart Show” – arguably their most popular song – which the crowd began begging to hear just a few songs into the show. Early in the first encore, Newman finally answered another request by leaning into the mic and saying, politely, “Just wait a few minutes.” When they did play it, it was just as fantastic as I had hoped I thought they were going to blow the roof off the place.

Here’s a review from the Omaha World-Herald with which I agree almost word for word …
What a tight band. Four slamming singers, two banging guitarists, drums, bass and two members on keyboards and effects made for a fantastic tour through the band's catalog with a heavy emphasis on its latest album, “Brill Bruisers."

Four-part harmonies with Case, Newman, Bejar and Calder permeated the band's bouncey power pop. And with the exception of Bejar, even when they weren't in the spotlight, members of the band stayed front and center.

Arguably the biggest indie star onstage was Case and she often sang backing vocals or banged a tambourine when she wasn't lead.
As the reviewer noted, I, too enjoyed watching the group of fans “at stage right who bopped around, jumped up and danced like mad for the entire set. They were having the time of their lives, and it was inspirational.” In fact, much of the crowd last night seemed to be having the time of their lives. If my mouth wasn’t agape with awe, I was smiling in a euphoric state.

I can’t agree, however, with the reviewer’s take on the opening band, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I hadn’t heard of them until last night, but think Duran Duran or INXS with a hint of Belle and Sebastian. There were few bright spots, and mostly their performance came across to me as pretentious, grating and forgettable. The lead vocalist and guitarist clearly was the decision maker of the group and seemed to take himself a little too seriously. To his left was the female vocalist who never touched an instrument, swayed her hips like a wind-up doll and was terribly pitchy. At stage right were a second guitarist and bass player who played along obediently. Only the drummer was somewhat interesting to watch.

After watching The Pains, it was more than a relief to see the New Pornographers come on and play such a great show.

In the moments of watching The New Pornographers, I had thought they played more of the “Bill Bruisers” album. Looking at the setlist now, they played almost half the songs on the new album, but I also would’ve enjoyed hearing “Fantasy Fools,” “Marching Orders” and “Wide Eyes.”

It’s only now – with my New Pornographers library playing on shuffle as I write this – that I am realizing all the great songs they didn’t play. I also would have enjoyed hearing “My Rights Versus Yours,” “All The Old Showstoppers,” “Go Places,” “All The Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth,” “Daughters of Sorrow,” “A Bite Out of My Bed,” “Your Hands (Together)” or “Jessica Numbers.” I would have been surprised to hear them play “Failsafe,” given its musical style compared to most of their stuff, but would have welcomed it, too.

I also can’t help but think, with last night’s New Pornographers show, about the concert streak I’ve been on for the last year and a half. A concert streak that I pin the start on Fun at Summerfest two summers ago. Since then? Guster at Summerfest on the Fourth of July. Ben Folds at the Kauffman Center with the Kansas City Symphony. Ingrid Michaelson at Summerfest. Nickel Creek at Kansas City’s Uptown Theater. And Tuesday night The New Pornographers.

 
Really, I could have listened and watched them perform for two more hours. Indeed, Newman, during a break late in the show, stopped and looked across the space, musing, “So many songs to pick from.”

Here’s the setlist:

1. Brill Bruisers
2. Myriad Harbour
3. Use It
4. Moves
5. War On the East Coast
6. The Bones of an Idol
7. Jackie, Dressed in Cobras
8. Another Drug Deal of the Heart
9. The Laws Have Changed
10. You Tell Me Where
11. Testament to Youth in Verse
12. Crash Years
13. Adventures in Solitude
14. Jackie
15. Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
16. Backstairs
17. Silver Jenny Dollar
18. Champions of Red Wine
19. Born With a Sound
20. Mass Romantic

Encore 1
21. Challengers
22. Dancehall Domine
23. The Bleeding Heart Show

Encore 2
24. Sing Me Spanish Techno
25. The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism


About that new album …

Aside from hearing the “Brill Bruisers” single and seeing them perform it on “The Late Show with David Letterman” ...



... my first listen of the album didn’t come until Monday night, via YouTube, while I was buying my ticket and getting myself psyched for the show.

I enjoy it so much, I bought the CD with little hesitation at the merchandise booth after the show. And I’ve been listening to it on repeat ever since. Indeed, it's a celebration album, and I hear ‘70s music influences all over the place, from ELO, to Fleetwood Mac, to ABBA and even The Carpenters. It’s officially my favorite New Pornographers album.

A great review from the folks at Paste …. (along with another good read about the making of it.)
Every one of their albums has been sequenced using the same precepts that Nick Hornby set up for mixtapes in the book High Fidelity: they start off with a corker of an opening track, rein it in on the next song and then move forward in incremental steps up or down in terms of energy to keep you (at least upon the first spin) guessing. What you listen closely for are the subtle shifts: the moments when Dan Bejar drops his toothsome power-pop gems into the mix, and how songwriter/leader AC Newman uses Neko Case’s pliable and powerful voice. Otherwise, the ride is comfortable and familiar. 

All of that is in full flower on Brill Bruisers: the crashing title track opens the album before ceding the path to the lighter, Case-centric “Champions of Red Wine,” which sidles into the rough and steady caress of “Fantasy Fools.” Eventually Bejar shows up in his typical spot at track four with the crackling “War On The East Coast,” and on and on, back and forth until track 13, the Sweet-like stomp of “You Tell Me Where” fades into the distance.

11.10.2014

Packers rule, Bears fans drool

So I finally had an opportunity to tune into my first Packers game of the season last night.

Just before halftime.

With the Packers beating the Bears.

42-0.

At halftime.
Rodgers showed the Bears for the second time this season that he is the epitome of an elite quarterback, worthy of every cent he earns. He directed one of the greatest statistical performances in NFL history. The easy degree of difficulty against the Bears' impotent pass rush and confused secondary won't be mentioned in the record book, but the results speak for themselves.
Before halftime, Rodgers completed 18 of 24 attempts for 315 yards and six — yes, six — touchdowns. His passer rating was 156.2.

The six first-half touchdown passes tied the NFL record, last achieved in 1969 by Daryle "Mad Bomber" Lamonica. The Bears' 42 first-half points allowed were the most in franchise history.
The Packers destroyed the Bears in one of Rodgers' most impressive games yet.

I’m so sorry I missed that first half.

The final was 55-14, and Mike McCarthy didn’t have “a whole lot to say” about it.

Meanwhile, in Chicago. Last night was pretty bad for the team that Chicago media were drooling over and punching playoff tickets for at the start of the season. Now the Bears have lost five of their last six games, and last night was the third time in their last 11 games that the Bears have given up 51 or more points. Their coach is oblivious.


Social media was a virtual riot during last night’s game.

Today, the Chicago media was having a field day.

While the national media are now predicting the Packers to land in the Super Bowl. That has a nice ring to it.

11.09.2014

Random conversation starters

Now that the World Series is over – I’m still having occasional “What could’ve been fits …” – I am refocusing my attention on other projects …

Like following the trendiest entertainment news and reading news features …

The “Star Wars” sequel has a title!

A fourth “Toy Story” is in the works!

The “Mean Girls” cast reunited!

* * *

A lot of stories are being written and shared this weekend to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here’s a fascinating photo essay of how the streets around the wall appeared then and now.

* * *

It’s inevitable every year around this time that Walmart breaks out the Christmas wreaths and radio stations bring out the Christmas music. I’m in the camp of Not yet!

I also agree almost completely with this EW write-up about Mariah Carey’s classic: I hate Christmas songs -- but I love "All I Want for Christmas Is You." I still vividly remember the season the song was released, turning the volume up every time it came on the radio and wanting to play it repeatedly once I laid it down on a cassette tape.

* * *

I saw this commercial for the first time during the World Series and got a kick out of it. I would totally do this.



* * *

My friend Laura sent me this star-studded take on one of my all-time favorite songs, "God Only Knows." (In case you're wondering, here's the who's who of who's in it.)



* * *

And still, I can’t keep myself from clicking and reading World Series leftovers like these …

11.06.2014

Girls still rule

I didn’t watch the Country Music Awards last night. … I’ve never watched the Country Music Awards.

But the CMAs' attempt to pop it up -- and the ladies' continued music dominance --  was all over social media this morning.

Meghan Trainor performed a country-fied “All About That Bass” with Miranda Lambert. But the clip I watched of it just made me cringe. So I'm not posting it here. … It’s ok. I still like Meghan a lot. Read this.

Ariana Grande also showed up to perform “Bang Bang” with Little Big Town. And it was fantastic. … Not to mention visually stunning.



As usual, Entertainment Weekly has the full run down of bests and worsts of the night.


So does Rolling Stone.


The women are still ruling the top of the charts, and Taylor Swift – who was nowhere to be found at the CMAs last night now that she’s a poppy New York girl – isn’t budging.

The girl is on fire. Consider
One of only 19 albums, ever, to sell a million in a week: The club of artists able to shift a million albums in seven days is a truly exclusive one. Swift is not new to that list; in fact, she was the last artist to sell a million in a week, when 2012’s transitional country-to-pop crossover album Red moved 1.208 million in its debut.

The first artist to score a trio of platinum-weekers: Selling a million albums in a week is an extraordinary feat. Doing it twice is elite; Backstreet Boys, ’N Sync, and Eminem each scored two. Three times is madness, and only Swift has done it: Her last two albums—2010’s Speak Now (1.047 million) and the aforementioned Red—debuted to seven figures. Now, with 1989, Taylor scores an improbable trifecta—and by the way, her opening sales actually increased slightly on each of the three albums.

Instantly the year’s second-best seller, and the top seller by a single artist: All year, from January through October, only one album had sold more than a million copies cumulatively—the unkillable Frozen soundtrack (3.2 million sold in calendar 2014). The next two top-selling albums, BeyoncĂ© and Lorde’s Pure Heroine, have sold just under 800,000 apiece in 2014. (Each sold additional copies in 2013.) With over a million sold in just its first week, Swift’s 1989 toppled both those ladies’ albums (by roughly half a million!) and now ranks second for the year, behind only the various-artists Disney soundtrack.

Only 2014 release to sell a million—not just in a week, TOTAL: Here’s the thing about Frozen, BeyoncĂ©, and Pure Heroine—they’re all 2013 releases still selling well in 2014. Among albums dropped since January, the best-seller to date is Coldplay’s spring release Ghost Stories, which has sold 740K. And that number is cumulative—Coldplay sold that much in 23 weeks. Put another way: Taylor’s album is platinum-level out of the box; no other disc released in 2014 has even crawled to platinum.