Thursday, December 27, 2012

Concerts - 2012

One of the things I wanted to take advantage of in 2012 was the opportunity to see as much live music as reasonable. I did a pretty good job of that.

Eric Johnson and a Fender Stratocaster
The year started with an amazing Eric Johnson concert at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville in January. Then there was Willie Nelson at the Keswick in May. Both of these were firsts for me, and great shows.

There was a gap after Willie, but the Fall and Winter were good, with Rush at the Wells Fargo Center (3rd time) and Asia at the Keswick (2nd time, but 29 years after the first time) in October, and the Moody Blues in Atlantic City in November.

In December there is one more show ahead, with Little Feat coming to the Scottish Rite auditorium in South Jersey on Saturday evening. This is another band from long ago that I have always liked, but have never seen live. Dave saw them earlier this year at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and raved about them. He bought the tickets to this show and had extras, so I will be gladly tagging along. Feats don't fail me now!

From a concert-going perspective, if every year could be like this I would be very happy indeed. Going into 2013, I will renew my commitment to seeing as many bands as I can, especially as so many of the groups that I like are getting up there in years and there may not be that many chances left to see some of them.

In 2013 I plan to take advantage of any opportunities that come along, but high on my list would be seeing Yes again if the stars align... And Eric Clapton...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Day 2012

As always, Santa has been good to us this year. And the kids were kind as well, with Grace not waking up until 8am, at which time the festivities began.

Julia's favorite music is the soundtrack to Les Miserables (go figure), and with a touring company coming the Academy of Music in a week or so and the movie version starting today, this Christmas season for her has been all about wanting Les Miz stuff. She wasn't disappointed. Santa managed to get 3 tickets for the matinee downtown a week from Saturday, along with all sorts of books, CDs, videos and movie tie-in materials. She was in heaven. As I write this at 2:30 in the afternoon on Christmas day, she and Amp are at the movies. She doesn't even know she is also getting a Nintendo 3DS xl later, which will also make her very happy.

Grace got a kitchen set for her American Girl doll collection, some other doll odds and ends, an Otter Box to protect her already cracked iTouch, One Direction CDs, and a bunch of little things.

Amp got some clothing, a nice pair of boots, some music (Bruno Mars) and a few other things.

I was fortunate to get some music (all Asia; Phoenix and "XXX", and a live one from 2009), a couple of books (digital photography and a nice guitar how-to), as well as a new guitar toy; a Dunlop Crybaby wah pedal with power supply and extra cords. I need guitar toys like a need a hole in my head, but they are fun and I enjoy playing around with them. Perhaps some day my ability will come close to catching up to my purchases. Probably not, but you never know. One can dream...

I write this while killing some time waiting for 4pm to roll around so I can get an 8 lb standing rib roast into the oven. Nothing says holiday like a huge hunk of medium rare red meat.

Like Thanksgiving, it is also worth taking a moment to reflect and be appreciative of all that we have. We are more fortunate than most, and I recognize that. Very fortunate indeed.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

It's mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve 2012, and it's turning out to be a pretty lazy day. My wife's sister and her family are staying with us for a few days, which is nice, as it gives us a chance to be together and for Grace to play with her cousins. Later tonight we will head over to Anthony and Cathy's (our second family) and spend some time with them before coming back and getting the girls into bed.

Tomorrow will be presents in the morning, a late brunch, grazing on all sorts of goodies throughout the day, and then a nice heavy dinner of a standing rib roast to end the day with a food coma. My Mom and brother Chris are going to Brother Dave's house, which we will miss out on this year because of company. We'll have to catch up with them over the next few days.

Work has been crazy in December, and the down time is especially welcome. There will be some checking of the Blackberry this coming week but not too bad. I'm not going back into the office until January 2. The time with family will be nice.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Quality Time

It's nice to be able to spend a good chunk of time at home with family and friends over the holidays, and to be able to indulge my passion for cooking.

Grace is my constant companion in the kitchen these days, and I am thrilled that she is showing an interest in learning how to cook alongside me. She is my mixer, my stirrer, and where it makes sense, my slicer/chopper.

I am trying to make her understand that flames on the range are dangerous, as are boiling liquids, hot ingredients and sharp objects like knives. But I am also trying to teach her that accidents can be prevented by having the appropriate training in what to do, understanding how everything works in the kitchen and in the cooking process, and being respectful of the dangerous items. And proper adult supervision of course. She is a very attentive student and is very careful about things like where her long hair is, what is hot and what is not, etc. She's also learning a lot about ingredients, cooking methods, and what goes well together.

We have a lot of fun together, and it is great that she is the one asking me to be involved, rather than me asking her to help out with something that doesn't interest her. She makes me proud.
10 inch razor sharp chef's knife with proper technique

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dave Brubeck, Rest In Peace

I learned with great sadness that Dave Brubeck, one of the greatest jazz pianists (and musicians) of all time, died yesterday at the age of 91. I am a big fan of jazz music in general, and especially the era of the pioneers in the 1950's and 1960's. Brubeck would be front and center among the pantheon of giants from that era: Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Chet Baker, etc. Having played trumpet for many years, I have always had a special fondness for the great jazz trumpeters, but the melodic beauty and technical complexity of Brubeck's playing always struck a chord with me. A quick peek at the CD collection shows that I own at least 7 of his albums. Certainly the Time Out album containing Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk must rank as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. Most people wouldn't recognize the name (song or artist), but if you hummed the music from the Infiniti car commercials from a few years back, just about everyone would recognize the tune. And this is after Time Out sold a million copies on vinyl 50 years ago, and merited a jazz musician unparalleled commercial success. A quick read through some of the articles that a Google search turned up today helped drive home the point of how tremendously influential Brubeck was, and I am not enough of an expert to be able to judge that, but what I do know is that he created some truly wonderful music that sounds as fresh and alive today as it did the day it was composed. Farewell Dave.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Moody Blues, Atlantic City NJ, Fri Nov 30, 2012

As has been well-documented here in the past, The Moody Blues are one of my favorite bands, if not my favorite band of all time. I have seen them more times live than any other band by far (at least a dozen times beginning in 1982 at the Spectrum; Rush and Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler are a very distant second at 3 times each if memory serves). We were sitting around our kitchen table with Anthony and Cathy one evening a few months back when I got an email notification that they were coming to Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City. Anthony said that they were a band that he had always wanted to see, and I said that given their ages he should see them sooner rather than later. Before the evening was over, much to my surprise (and pleasure), we had four tickets to the concert, a pair of hotel rooms, and plans to do an overnight trip to see them.

Consequently, by 3pm on Friday, brother Dave's Darling Wife was at my house to stay with the kids overnight, and the four of us were on the road to AC. We arrived at Caesar's at around 4:30 after a quick and uneventful drive, freshened up, and then wandered around the casino killing time before our 6:15 dinner reservation. We wandered through the gaming areas (most of which I find fascinating, but don't know the rules), checked out some of the shops, and settled in for a drink at a place next to the restaurant.

Dinner was at Buddakan, a Steven Starr asian fusion place, and it was absolutely fabulous. All four of us appreciate good food, and this was a meal to remember. We all agreed to try the chef's tasting menu, and out of the 4 appetizers, 4 entrees and 3 desserts, ten out of the eleven selections were fantastic. And the one that wasn't fantastic was still perfectly fine, just not memorable. Especially memorable were the edamame ravioli, the asian "caesar" salad, the king salmon and the horseradish crusted filet. Even the side dishes of wasabi mashed potatoes and grilled eggplant were out of this world (ok, make that 13 dishes not 11).

By the time dinner was over, it was time to make our way to the "Circus Maximus" theater for the concert. I was very excited, but also a little apprehensive, to be honest. My heroes were getting pretty well up there in years, and I was unsure as to how they would sound. Since this was Anthony and Cathy's first show with them, I hoped they'd sound good. The theater was small, perhaps a few thousand seats, and was completely sold out. By my count, we were in the 21st row, a little off to the left of center. Great seats. The band took the stage a few minutes after the 9pm show time, and launched into a setlist that, having researched it on the internet ahead of time, looked to be a greatest hits show (not surprisingly).

Having seen them the number of times that I have, there is a lot of live experience that I have to draw on by way of comparison, and my initial impression was that they sounded good from an instrumental standpoint, but that Justin Hayward's voice sounded strained. I don't know how to describe it exactly, but I just got the sense that he was struggling somewhat. I began to believe that this was true when they began to skip some songs compared to the expected setlist that I had written down from shows earlier in the week. One of the things about the Moodies is that they tend to be very predictable on tour, rarely straying from that tour's setlist on a night to night basis. If the prior shows' posted lists can be trusted, they ended up skipping 5 of the intended 20 songs, making for a fairly brief hour and a half show.

The exact setlist they did perform was (and you can bet the house on the accuracy of this...):

  1. Gemini Dream
  2. The Voice
  3. Steppin in a Slide Zone
  4. You and Me
  5. Tuesday Afternoon
  6. Peak Hour
  7. I Know You're Out There Somewhere
  8. The Story in Your Eyes
  9. Your Wildest Dreams
  10. Isn't Life Strange
  11. Higher and Higher
  12. I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)
  13. Late Lament / Nights in White Satin (actual YouTube performance video linked)
  14. Question (video the night before)
  15. (Encore) Ride My See Saw (video also the night before)

If the prior shows' setlists are to be believed, they dropped 3 songs between Tuesday Afternoon and Peak Hour (Gypsy (video from the night before), Nervous, and Say It With Love), as well as two songs later in the show (The Other Side of Life, and Driftwood). I have to admit, these drops disappointed me. Having seen the band as many times as I have, and taking into account the fact that they generally play a very similar list these days, it is the few nuggets from days gone by that they add in that are the special treats for me. For this show, I was looking forward to Gypsy, Nervous, and Driftwood. I hadn't heard any of these 3 songs live since the 1980's (as best I can remember), and hearing them again after all these years would have been the icing on this particular cake. Each of these, as they were skipped, was a tiny little dagger in the heart. Gypsy is a great up tempo song from the late '60's that has always been a favorite of mine, Nervous is a very good song from 1981's Long Distance Voyager album, and Driftwood is one of Hayward's best (but lesser known) love songs (from the "reunion" Octave album of the mid '70's). On the plus side, Peak Hour (1967) and You and Me (1972) were both old chestnuts that were a live first for me.

My overall impression of the concert, once I had some time to reflect, is that it was a good show. Not great by any means, but good. Anthony and Cathy said they loved it, which is also worth something. That being said, I had a hard time not comparing it to all the other shows I had seen from them before, and this made it hard not to feel a touch of melancholy. There were some songs where they sounded great (Nights in White Satin among others was certainly a highlight), but also some where they sounded more like a remembrance of what they have been. Perhaps this is unfair, but life, and the aging process, isn't fair.

Writing this reminds me of a couple of appropriate lines from Moodies songs. In the poem Late Lament, which leads into Nights in White Satin, Graeme Edge says "...senior citizens wish they were young...". And in Never Blame the Rainbows for the Rain, Hayward says "...the last whispered wish of age is to live it all again". Amen.

I should remind myself to see the glass as half full. Justin Hayward is 66, John Lodge is 67, and drummer Graeme Edge is 71. And they are still touring, sounding pretty good, and making me feel young. So there is something to be said for that. Something pretty important.

If they come around again, I'll be there...