Sunday, December 24, 2006

Mo' Reissues

Yeah, per the anonymous comment, Pavement's "Wowee Zowee" should be on that reissue list. Even though it's not as essential as the previous two Pavement reissues, it is the one Pavement album most unfairly maligned (viva la backlash!) and therefore most in need of reassessment.

Another awesome reissue I forgot to mention was the Green Arrows' "4-Track Recordings," a great collection of a someowhat legendary but still, to most ears, obscure African band who groove so hard that even our neighbors' 7-year old son was dancing to it at a cookout over the summer.

There were a couple more I neglected to mention as well - like Rhino's "Rockin' Bones" rockabilly set - but maybe I'll get to them when I get back home.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Best Reissues of 2006

As usual, some of the best albums of 2006 were discs either of another era, collections or recently discovered lost treasures. Some of my faves?

Missy Elliott's "Respect M.E."
Karen Dalton's "In My Own Time"
Nick Garrie's "The Nightmare of J.B. Stanislas"
Josef K.'s "Entomology"
R.E.M.'s "And I Feel Fine - The Best of the IRS Years 1982-1987
The ongoing Cure and Depeche Mode reissues from Rhino
John Cale's "Paris 1919" (finally remastered)
Eno/Byrne's (somewhat altered) "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts"
Remastered Jesus and Mary Chain discography
Remastered first Pretenders album
Remastered Talking Heads discography
Fred Neil's self-titled first album

Not bad, huh? The best thing about the annual barrage of year-end lists is playing catch up with all the great stuff I missed during the winter doldrums. So I'll eventually post a list of my favorite new albums, plus others things I discover (or have discovered late) as well.

Snakes on a ... Whatever

I just saw the infamous and instantly forgotten "Snakes on a Plane," which is really no good. That much was a given from the second the title was announced. But unlike, say, the giddy b-movie "Anaconda," "Snakes on a Plane" is unfortunately not the good kind of no-good. Which is to say, it's just no fun, and illustrates the difference between silly and ridiculous. "Anaconda" was silly. "Snakes on a Plane" is just ridiculous, crass and craven in how it stuffs itself full of gratuitous violence (not even snake related!) in an effort to justify its R rating and also its premature manufactured hype.

I mean, suspension of disbelief is one thing. But a bad guy sneaking dozens of deadly, pissed off snakes onto a plane - including what appears to be a 30-foot anaconda? If you're going to go through the trouble, why not just blow the plane up? I mean, come on!

For my money, the best Sam Jackson b-horror flick is "Deep Blue Sea," in which he gets eaten whole right in the middle of one of his trademark righteously indignant speeches. Now *that's* funny.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Last night a friend gave me a great opportunity I couldn't pass up: tag along and see Pete Townshend play a small club.

I'm not the world's biggest Who fan, and even being generous, neither Townshend solo nor the Who collectively (at least what's left of them) has managed much of merit for the past, oh, thirty years. But all the same I've respected Townshend, obviously a very intelligent guy who has remained interested in new music and musicians. Call it vitality by proxy.

The closest I had ever come to seeing the Who was a couple of years ago when the band played a benefit at the House of Blues. I was set to cover it until Pearl Jam got added as the opening act, and the senior writer swooped back in to claim it. But I didn't fret. The band was down to a core duo at the time, what with the sudden hookers 'n' cocaine fueled Las Vegas death of bassist John Entwistle (a death barely mourned by Townshend or singer Roger Daltry, who long seemed to resent the ol' grump).

Anyway, this show: not really a Townshend show, but more a Townshend show than anything else. The host was Townshend's charming girlfriend Rachel Fuller, and each of these intimate appearances (which began in the U.K. and only recently began touring the U.S., to be webcast ) feature a rotating cast of special guests, plus a couple of regulars. One town got Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. Los Angeles got Billy Corgan and E of the Eels. But New York got “SNL” un-funnyman Jimmy Falon, so it's not all good.

Well, Chicago got Joe Purdy and Alexi Murdoch, both of whom were half-pretty good, half-banal, but pleasant enough. Boy, though, Simon Townshend - Pete's younger brother, by 13 years - was absolutely terrible, and the least talented relative of a very talented man I'd heard since seeing John Cash, Jr. play a set while his dad took a twenty minute break. He sang a crappy love song about scaffolding. Seriously.

Rachel was OK, in a middle aged Tori Amos sort of way (well, a bit older, considering the age of Amos). But Pete was in fine funny form. He just played a few songs on his own, plus helped out on a cover of the Everly Brothers "Wake Up, Little Susie." Of his own stuff he dug relatively deep to perform "Drowned" and "I'm One" (both from "Quadrophenia," my favorite Who album and the one I had brought Pete to autograph), plus "God Speaks of Marty Robbins" from the new Who disc "Endless Wire."

He also told a few great stories, the best being a Bob Dylan bit. Townshend remembers hearing Dylan the first time after he heard the Beatles, but also remembers Dylan being the first folk musician he encountered who was openly political, or at least showed that you could be political. Fast forward a few decades, and Pete bumps into Bob, and decides to ask a question he'd been harboring for years.

'Bob," asked Pete, "what is a folk singer?"

Dylan paused for a second before answering: "Pete ... a folk singer is someone with a good memory.”

"If you ever get to meet Bob Dylan," said Townshend, laughing, "don't ask him a question.

Of course, Dylan's cryptic answer is rife with different meanings, but Townshend took it literally. He explained how he had an excellent memory for everything *but* lyrics, which is why he carried around a binder of words to help him through the songs. Townshend also noted how great it was that Dylan was opening up after all this years with a few interviews, docs and books.

That's essentially what Townshend's doing with these shows, too: opening up, making himself available, taking a break from being a cog in the Who machine to do something casual and unscripted. When he wasn't on stage he was sitting more or less right next to me, which was surreal (and which reminded me of my friend Court's story of sitting uncomfortably next to Prince at a club).

The best line of the night came after a joker yelled out “Who’s the other guy?” when everyone on stage had been introduced but Pete. His response?

“I’m the one who writes the fuckin’ checks!

Cheeky, Pete, but oh so true.

Oh, yeah, almost forgot. I mentioned I got an autograph. That’s because these events come with a meet-and-greet, at least for those Who buffs who pay $300 a ticket. I felt a little guilty taking up even a second or two of his time while these guys waited with their reams of Who memorabilia, especially when I paid not a cent and the guy next to me paid $1000.

Friday, December 08, 2006

It Was Bound to Happen

Random people planning to blow things up willy-nilly, that is. Still, there's something kind of sad and actually quite banal about this allegedly foiled non-plot. My eyes were drawn to this paragraph in particular:

"Investigators said Derrick Shareef, 22, an American citizen from Rockford, was acting alone and never actually obtained any grenades. He was arrested Wednesday when he met with an undercover agent in a parking lot to trade a set of stereo speakers for four hand grenades and a gun, authorities said."

A set of stereo speakers !?!?

Wii is Nuts (UPDATE!)

Read this story about the perils of the new Nintendo console. Be sure to watch the movie, too.

Update: Lest anyone think I actually posted this as a warning, I didn't. I posted it because people are dumb, and really look dumb playing the new Wii..

Oprah Update

OK, Alma taped her Q&A with Al Gore on "Oprah," but it will now air on the "After the Show" segment that the Oxygen network broadcasts. Look for it sometime this Saturday, all you folks with Oxygen.

Good Riddance

The outgoing congress worked an impressive seven days fewer in 2006 than the notorious "Do Nothing" congress of 1948. And now, on their last day on the job, they've attempted to give themselves a raise. No shame at all.

In more fun news, tonight I'll be seeing one of my favorite bands, Low, at the Old Town School of Folk Music. And then tomorrow, believe it or not, I will be seeing the Who's Pete Townshend in a small club. It's a taping of his internet show In the Attic. All that and a cute little daughter. Ain't life great?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Set Your VCRs!!! It's Oprah Time!

Just a reminder to everyone: Alma will be appearing on Oprah tomorrow, December 5th. Yes, appearing. She'll be asking a question, live, of Al Gore.

In Chicago, "Oprah" is live at 9am, then rebroadcast later. Check your local listings to learn for sure when you can tune in and watch Alma's TV debut.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pasta Fresh

This afternoon, per Alma's suggestion, we decided to go out for pizza at one of out favorite neighborhood restaurants. We had hoped to try Spacca Napoli, but alas, that's not in our neighborhood, and it would have taken us longer to get there, eat and order than we had before Z.'s nap. So instead we chose Caponie's, which is down the street a few miles and, no, not pronounced "Capone's." Although it is in a highly Italian neighborhood and is decorated with a corny array of "Godfather"/"Sopranos" crap. Hey, it's their ethnicity! Let them do with it what they want, right?

Anyway, the pizza was spectacular. We got the specialty, the margharita, which was covered with crushed garlic and chopped basil, and had one of the best (thin) crusts I've ever eaten in Chicago. The cafe boasts one of the city's biggest - only? - brick oven, and Z. liked watching the pizza guy at work. She also like all the attention she got from the wait staff, who were more kid friendly than nearly any spot we've tried as of late. Z. loved the food and actually managed to make it out with more spaghetti in her stomach than on her shirt.

Afterwards we walked a block north to a place I'd been meaning to try for months: Pasta Fresh, which is pretty much what it sounds like, a fresh pasta shop where you watch the stuff being made while you wait. The service is wonderful and helpful, the hallmark of any good (as opposed to infamous) neighborhood place, and they helped Alma choose a sauce and a few varities of pasta to go with it. They also told her about storage and cooking times.

While I watched Z. run around the adjoining small grocery, Alma waited by the counter, where she absorbed the kind of exchange you just can't make up. A big guy began by complaining about how the ravioli was packaged for him.

"But it must be this way, because it is fresh, or it will be crushed," said the patient man behind the counter.

"What about those Sox hats? Can I buy one?

"No," said the counter guy in his heavily accented English. "They are just for decoration."

"What!? I'm a White Sox fan. How can you not sell one to me?!?"

"But they're not for sale," said the counter man.

"How can they not be for sale !?!? This is a store! Everything should be for sale!"

"Then you may buy one," said the counter man, no doubt just hoping to get the guy out.

"How much are you going to mark it up? I don't want to be ripped off!!"

"Please," said the ever-patient counter man. "You may have the hat, no charge."

Priceless, huh?

Pasta Fresh, by the way, is located in a strip mall whose sign hails it as the "Piazza Italiana," but every other shop in the strip is Polish. Or at least, is Polish now.