Saturday Stew: Brooms and Music

Observation StewToday’s a headachy day, so let’s go straight to the clearing of links:

Later today, if I’m up to it and the Belkin router doesn’t bounce, a quick summary of the election a week from Tuesday. You probably didn’t know we have one (it is a special election), but we do.


Swingin’ Near the Sand

Coastal City Jazz Band - Aug 2013userpic=bbvdThis weekend wasn’t just theatre — it was also jazz. Although we wanted to go to the BBVD concert in San Juan Capestrano at The Coach House Saturday night, it was (a) too far away from Escondido, and (b) we already had tickets for Young Frankenstein. But that doesn’t mean we went jazz-less, for this afternoon saw us in Carlsbad for a concert of the “Coastal Cities Jazz Band“.

CCJB is a regional jazz band consisting of 17 members who enjoy the art of playing in the style of a big band/Jazz, and who are some of the finest musicians in San Diego County. The band consists of Vern Malec, Jim Reed, Chris Klich, Scott Drechsel, and David Hayes on Saxophone; Patrick Russo, Rick Evans, Don Sharp, and Marc Brandl on Trumpet; Greg Sorcsek, Mark Lewis, Scott Kyle, and Gary Adcock (the ring leader) on Trombone; and Hans Chamberlin, Jodie Hill, David Whitman, and Chris Montgomery as the Rhythm Section. Their program today include two guest performers: Andy Martin (who we’ve seen numerous times at the Pantages) on Trombone, and Michael Ruhl as guest vocalist.

The program featured a number of tunes, many arranged by Gordon Goodwin and Sammy Nestico. The specific songs were:

  • First Set: High Maintenance, A Night in Tunisia, I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing, Satin Doll, Teach Me Tonight, Mack the Knife, Surry with a Fringe on Top, Imagine What a Change Will Do, and Night and Day.
  • Second Set: Strutting with some Barbeque, Georgia on my Mind, Where or When, A Time for Love, On Green Dolphin Street, Londonderry Air, and Caravan.
  • Encore: Night Train

Alas, CCJB doesn’t have any albums out, so we’ll need hunt down some from their arrangers. All in all, it was a very nice program, and a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Dining Note: Found a great pizzeria in Carlsbad: Paradise Pizza. What’s nice about this place is that they make their own gluten-free pizza dough… meaning not only GF pizzas, but GF calzones and cinammon rolls. My wife was ecstatic. Their regular calzone was pretty good as well!


Music/Musicals in the News

userpic=theatre_musicalsToday’s lunchtime … ummm, make that dinnertime … news chum brings you some news about music and musicals:



Seminal Points: The ABCs

userpic=cyborgToday’s collection of news chum all fits in the categories of stories related to seminal inventions or time points:



Blues-iana in Santa Monica

Maria Muldauruserpic=folk-artistsWe don’t always go to the theatre. Point in case: Last night saw us in Santa Monica (which was about 20° cooler than the 103° in Northridge) to see a wonderful singer, Maria Muldaur at McCabes Guitar Shop.

It is hard to categorize Maria Muldaur, other than “good”. She started out singing Jug Band music with her then husband, Geoff Muldaur, in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. She hit the pop charts in 1974 with “Midnight at the Oasis“, but was part of the folk and jug band scene going back to 1963 and Greenwich Village. She had done 40 albums with a wide variety of musical styles, from New Orleans jazz to Blues to Big Band to Gospel. She was also part of the Grateful Dead as a backing singer (which explains the Deadheads at the show). I was first introduced to her in the 1970s when joined with Peter Yarrow on the song “Tall Pine Trees” on Peter’s first solo album, Peter. I was reintroduced to her when recording folk and blues album for my uncle, who had a few of her solo albums. I’ve since acquired a few more albums, so when I saw that she was going to be at McCabes, I got tickets.

Unlike Elton John, Maria’s performance was very simple. Maria (on tambourine), backed by her Red Hot Bluesiana Band (featuring someone whose name I’ve forgotten on guitar, Chris Burns on keyboards/bass, and Dave Tucker on drums). I didn’t record a formal song set, but here’s what I remember: (I Am) Woman • Me and My Chauffeur Blues • Long as I Can See You Smile • I’m Going Back Home • In My Girlish Days • He Calls That Religion • Don’t You Feel My Leg • Midnight at the Oasis • Please Send Me Someone To Love • It Ain’t The Meat, It’s The Motion • I’ve Done Made It Up In My Mind and Bessie’s Advice. Most of the stuff was from her first two albums and her two most recent albums.

In general, her vocal quality and performance quality was wonderful (although my wife noted that, in Midnight at the Oasis, she couldn’t hit the high notes that she used to be able to hit). Her voice has mellowed into a great blues voice, not as much of the pop voice it once was. Her backing group was great — I particularly enjoyed the keyboardist.

Maria is currently on tour in California: those in the Bay Area can see her on July 6/7 with the Jim Kweskin Jug Bag at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley.  She’ll also be in Sacramento.

Dining Notes: Discovered a new restaurant (to us) for when we go to McCabes: Lares Restaurant. Next to the classic Raes, Lares is an excellent Mexican restaurant, in walking distance to McCabes (meaning you only need to park once). We’ll be back the next time we go to McCabes.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Tonight bring Man of No Importance (Hollywood Fringe) at the Lillian.   July starts with a musical we had originally planned for Fathers Day weekend: Ionescapade” at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. That will be followed by “9 to 5 – The Musical” at REP East on July 14, and “Legally Blonde – The Musical” at Cabrillo at the end of the month. July will also (hopefully) see us as OperaWorks at CSUN. August is currently completely open due to vacation planning, although we may see a show at the Lawrence Welk Resort in Escondido at the end of the month (depending on price), or at another venue in San Diego.

Continuing the look ahead: September may bring Sarah Ruhl’s In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play at the Production Company/Secret Rose and “Blue Man Group” at the Hollywood Bowl, as well as “God of Carnage” at REP East. October is open, but should the Cabrillo production of “Kiss Me Kate” somewhere, as well as “Dirty Rotten Soundrels” at Actors Rep of Simi. November will bring “Play It Again Sam” at REP East as well as ARTS’s Nottingham Village (a one-weekend ren-faire-ish market). The fall should also bring a production of “Carrie – The Musical” by Transfer Theatre. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013/2014 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).



Entertainment Chum: Grand Park, Dr Demento, Surviving Risk, and Bad Reviews

userpic=televisionToday’s news chum brings you three articles all related to media and music, in some form:

  • A Grand Park. Last Sunday, we took Metro to the Ahmanson. When we got out downtown, there was this wonderful party going on in the new Grand Park.  There were people enjoying themselves to free music, kids rocking out on their dad’s shoulders. There were food trucks and kids playing in fountains. Only later did I find out what it was: Sunday Sessions at Grand Park. I must say that it was delightful, and it was really neat to see my city doing this.
  • Dr. Demento. Growing up, I regularly listened to Dr. Demento on KMET (followed by Flo’ and Eddie by the Fireside). The Daily News has a nice article on what the good doctor is doing today. It discusses the death of novelty records, and the ability to do anything “novel” on radio today. The doctor, not surprisingly, has moved to internet broadcasts. He’s using a paid subscription model, and I’m not sure novelty records would be enough to entice me.
  • Surviving Games. Here’s an interesting idea: Someone is bringing together reality TV stars from Survivor and Big Brother… to play boardgames. The notion, developed by a former Survivor player turned podcaster, is to take some of the top players and pit them against each other. This could be entertaining…. but the game they have chosen is Risk (bleh). To my eyes, it would be much more interesting to bring these people together and have them play Diplomacy. Watching these players take their skills at strategy and negotiation (as well as alliances) could be quite entertaining. I’ve always viewed Survivor as a real life version of that game. But Risk? That’s just dice rolling.
  • Bad Reviews. I’ve written in the past how bad reviews can be entertaining. Given that we have a new M. Night Shyamalan movie, expect to be entertained — not by the movie, but by the reviews. The LA Times says, of “After Earth”: “There is no small irony that this sci-fi action adventure is about surviving a serious crash. The scorched earth left behind by “After Earth” is sure to leave a scar on everyone involved.”. It gets better. How about: “Speaking of overkill, flashbacks, thousands of them, become things to be feared as much as any space alien.” Or perhaps “As Gen. Cypher Raige, Smith has never seemed stiffer, like Patton without the personality. It’s as if his Ranger suit were two sizes too small and he’s trying to just deal with it.” The reviews conclusion? “If you’re still wondering whether “After Earth” is a disaster, the question is not if, but how big?” If you were thinking that’s just one review, here’s what the Atlantic has to say: “So I feel it’s incumbent on me to note that with his latest offering, After Earth,the writer-director seems to have arrested his precipitous decline. This movie is no worse than his last two.”

News Chum Stew: Reusing Pens, Disney U, Rerecording Classics, and Herschel

userpic=observationsContinuing to catch up after vacation, I’ll take this morning to clear out the links of some miscellaneous articles. Still to come this weekend will be a sample ballot analysis, and (quite likely) a review of Fame at Nobel MS.

  • Disposable Pens. If you are like me, you accumulate pens from conferences and all those places that give them away as advertising promotions. Ever wonder what to do with them? A student at CSUN has an interesting use for them: he has created a non-profit organization called The Power of Pens that distributes writing utensils of any kind to developing countries where these are not easy to come by. The purpose of the organization is to provide utensils that will help educate children and adults who don’t have an exposure to pens or pencils. The organization relies on donors, varying from companies to people, who can spare a pen. Any type of writing utensil in any condition is accepted. They also look for volunteers to distribute the pens. This sounds like a great idea that needs more publicity. According to the article, those interested in donating or obtaining further information on the organization can send an email to; they also appear to have a Facebook page.
  • Disney U. Here’s an interesting waste of time: An artist has imagined animated Disney characters as university students. I have a number of quibbles with this, most notably that they all wrong to me. All the female characters have this “come hither” look (and the look is especially wrong for Belle), whereas the guys all look like surfers or slackers. What do you think? Do these look like college students to you, and do they look like the Disney characters would look if they went to college?
  • Under The Covers. A really interesting article from Slate looks at the practice of the original artists rerecording classic hits and passing them off as the original. Why is this done? Simple — royalties. In the original days, the artists earned nothing on royalties. Rerecording allows them to regain control of the royalties from the rerecording… which can be significant. This often happens on “Greatest Hits” albums, which I often thought were just cheap reassemblies of songs. Not always, it seems.
  • Seeing the Universe. The Herschel telescope is shutting down, and the Atlantic has posted five of their favorite images from Herschel. A lovely way to close out this post.

Music: Tintypes (1980 Original Broadway Cast): “Rich And Poor – Then I’d Be Satisfied With Life”


Saturday Night’s Alright, Alright When You’re With Elton John

Elton John - Million Dollar Pianouserpic=las-vegasI’ve never been the rock concert type. In fact, I can only recall one rock concert that I’ve been too — in the early 1980s (perhaps 1982), a girlfriend took me to see Dan Fogelberg. Other than that, it has either been concerts at McCabes, the Greek, the Hollywood Bowl, the Universal Amphitheatre, VPAC, or similar venues…  and with artists that are decidedly not rock stars — PP&M, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, BBVD, or various theatre artists. But when our daughter found out we were going to Las Vegas, she insisted that (a) we get tickets to Elton John at Caesars, and (b) we fly her out to join us for the concert.  As she has me wrapped around her finger, guess where we were last night? Yup. We were watching Elton John and his Million Dollar Piano last night at Caesars… and it was worth every penny!

I’ve always enjoyed Elton’s music. After all, I was in high school in the 1970s when his music was growing in popularity, and my college years were the height of the “Elton John in glasses” persona. I remember the stories of the flamboyant man, his glasses, and his costumes. But at the time, I only had one of his albums (“Blue Moves“). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to like his music a lot more. I’m not a fan at the level my daughter is (but then again, I’ve never been the type to go fan-boy for anything, so it may just be me), but I do now have a sizable collection of Elton’s music, and I enjoy it all — both the older and the newer stuff. I think he is one of the best artists of my generation, and is a truly talented musician. All of this was demonstrated last night — the man and his music were just great. This wasn’t the flamboyant Elton of old; this was a man comfortable with where he is in life and truly enjoying entertaining his audience. It created a level of comfort and family in the concert hall, and led to a perfect evening.

Elton John's PianoLet’s set the stage, at the center of which is Elton and his $1,000,000 piano. This piano is fully visual; it can show live or recorded video, animations and colors that follow the music being played using 68 LED video panels.  It is named “Blossom” after the late jazz singer, pianist and cabaret performer Blossom Dearie. Behind the piano on risers is the rest of Elton’s supporting band and his backup singers. The front of the risers are covered with more LED video panels, and the backdrop for the stage consists of even more LED panels. These all light up during the songs to reinforce the songs thematically, and sometimes all the panels were coordinated to provide stunning visual effects.

Unlike the early days of Elton, the man himself was not a visual effect. By that I mean that Elton did not have a flamboyant costume (just a suit with sequined shoulders, although he entered in a gold cape), nor did he wear outlandish glasses. He has moved beyond the need for such things — his music and lyrics more than make up for the lack of sequins.

The music he chose was primarily a rehash of his hits from the early days. I don’t believe he did any songs from the more recent side of his catalog. This made the audience happy as many of their favorites was there; still it would have been nice for him to introduce the audience to what he is working on these days. My supposition is that this is due to the venue — a concert stage in Vegas leads to a 90-minute intermission-less show designed to please the audience. Vegas — at least in Strip venues — is not conducive to a 3-hour two-act show that provides an in-depth review of the artists catalog, along with new unfamiliar songs. So what songs did Elton sing? Here’s the set list, along with my comments:

# Song Comments
1. The Bitch Is Back The graphics behind this number were an abstract walk down a castle corridor, with never ending curlicues and such. I’m not sure they added to the song.
2. Benny and the Jets  
3. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time) This song had spectacular space graphics.
4. Levon Elton noted that this song was gospel-inspired.
5. Tiny Dancer The background graphics for this song were of a ballerina.
6. Your Song  
7. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters This was done as a tribute to 9/11, and the background had all sorts of images of people (presumably reacting or survivors).
8. Better Off Dead  
9. Indian Sunset This is a song I like quite a bit; it was covered by Mary Travers on her 1971 album “Mary”. The percussion for this song (by Ray Cooper) was just incredible.
10. Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) This was one of the songs I hadn’t heard before. It is evidently rarely done in concert. It was done as a tribute to John Lennon and the projections included images of Lennon and the times he played with Elton.
11. Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road This song featured a fantastic back project that summarized Elton’s career (and included hat tips to his Broadway and movie scores). In doing so, it created the sense for me that the point he wanted to make was constrasting his life today with his life on the “Yellow Brick Road” of the flamboyant lifestyle and the drug life. He has put that behind him, and has moved to a new portion of his life.
12. I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues This was one of those songs that had abstract growing background graphics that I just couldn’t understand.
13. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me
14. Philadelphia Freedom This song had spectacular graphics of Philadelphia, it’s people, and animated vinyl records. A very 1970s disco feel.
15. I’m Still Standing This song also had great graphic, providing a good video retrospective of Elton in concert over the years.
16. Crocodile Rock This included audience participation on the refrain, and people dancing in the aisles. The video on the backscreen included live video of the performers and the audience.
17. Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting During this song, Elton invited the first few rows of the orchestra to join him on stage.
18. Circle of Life Stunning graphics (looking like CGI) of elephants in Africa.

Elton was backed by an excellent backing band and singers. The band consisted of Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic (who are the group 2Cellos) on cello; John Mahon on percussion; Kim Bullard on keyboard; Matt Bissonnet on bass; Ray Cooper on percussion; Nigel Olsson on drums; and Davey Johnstone on mandolin and guitar. The backup singers were Rose Stone, Tata Vega, Jean Witherspoon and Lisa Stone.

Technically, a lot of well deserved kudos go to the lighting designer, Patrick Woodroffe, and the screen content producer, Sam Pattinson. This is on top of all the technical work that brought the tour together. The linked article provides a detailed description of the set design, its meaning, and how all the elements came together for this particular show.

Elton John The Million Dollar Piano plays for one more weekend at Caesars, and then returns in September and October for more shows. Tickets are available through the Caesars box office.

Lastly, one note on observed theatre etiquette. We come from a background of attending live theatre — musicals, plays, opera, and such. As such, we have one behavior we know in the theatre — we watch and focus on the performance, we applaud appropriately, etc. The concert-goer etiquette appears to be different — there is a lot more screaming at the stage, and (despite the warnings from the ushers) there was loads of flash photography and video recording. As usual, the culture clash can be a bit jarring.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:   Currently, the rest of May is relatively quiet. Mother’s Day weekend has nothing scheduled. The following weekend brings “Falling for Make Believe” at The Colony Theatre. The last weekend of May brings “To Kill a Mockingbird” at REP East and The Scottsboro Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre. June brings “Priscilla – Queen of the Desert” at the Pantages, and (tentative) Sweet Charity at DOMA. July is currently more open, with “9 to 5 – The Musical” at REP East in the middle of the month, and “Legally Blonde – The Musical” at Cabrillo at the end of the month. August is currently completely open due to vacation planning. I’m also keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).