Monday, April 25, 2011

Goodbye Kings

I just watched the Kings get eliminated from the NHL playoffs, losing a heartbreaking Game 6 in overtime. The series was lost, of course, when the Kings collapsed in Game 3, choking a 4-0 lead away on their way to a 6-5 loss. Still, while the Vancouver Canucks --speaking of choking-- will always be my favorite NHL team, I've grown to love this edition of the Kings. They have some really good young talent, a good blend of veterans and younger players and a great coach/GM combo in Terry Murray and Dean Lombardi. If they can add some depth on the 3rd and 4th lines and some muscle on defense, they could go places in the next few years. At this point, I'm just glad they've made the playoffs two years in a row.

Go Canucks on Tuesday, I hope that Game 7 is as exciting as the game tonight was.



I love The Amazing Race. I've seen every episode in what is now their 18th season and while the format --teams of two who are somehow connected race around the world for a million bucks-- and the cliches that they love --teams that hate each other, fighting between teammates, the slick editing of "reality"-- are firmly in place and not going to change, I eagerly download the show on Sunday.

My favorite team of all is The Cowboys, brothers Jet and Cord McCoy. They are working cowboys, with Cord competing on the PBR circuit. Ever since the first time I was introduced to them, I've had the hots for Cord. Damn! Pale skin? Check. Nice body but not a grotesque pile of muscles? Check. Cute face? Yep. Red hair and piercing blue eyes? Oh. my. gawd! A bit of chest hair? Woo hoo! OK, it's really light and I couldn't find a good picture of his chest hair, but still. Add a terrific "Okie" accent and a sly sense of humor and I've just loved watching him for the two seasons he's been on The Race.

Alas, it all ended last night as Jet and Cord got eliminated (again). Unlike their first try, where they almost won, they seemed out of sorts this season. Although they won the 5th leg, they seemed to have trouble reading clues this time around and the other teams definitely didn't do anything to help them (a smart strategy as it turns out). Oh well, it was a great run on both editions that were in and did I mention that Cord McCoy is smokin' hot?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday astronomy blogging

(click to enlarge on a new page)
(copyright Matthew Spinelli)

I've been fascinated by astronomy since I was a kid living in Hawai'i, where the stars and constellations are quite visible away from the light pollution of Honolulu. This will be a regular feature highlighting interesting astronomical images from around the Internet.
I thought I'd start out with the most popular asterism in the Northern Hemisphere, the Orion complex (via the awesome and addictive Astronomy Picture of the Day). It's all there in this widefield view: the belt, the famous Horsehead Nebula, the Flame Nebula, M42, The Trapezium, Betelgeuse, Rigel. The Orion molecular cloud is next door in cosmological terms, a mere 1,500 light years.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Colts 2011 Schedule

Until the hooker from St. Louis first destroyed them, then moved them to her hometown, I was a Rams fan, along with a passing fancy for Bob Griese, erm, the Dolphins. Since then, I've been a free agent fan and since Peyton Manning ended up there, I've been an Indianapolis Colts fan. Last season was unreal, the injuries being both plentiful and damaging to key players, but the Ponies still made the playoffs.

The NFL released the 2011* schedules this week and it's an interesting slate.

  • September 11 @ Houston Texans
  • September 18 Cleveland Browns
  • September 25 Pittsburgh Steelers
  • October 3 @ Tampa Buccaneers (Monday)
  • October 9 Kansas City Chiefs
  • October 16 @ Cincinnati Bengals
  • October 23 @ New Orleans Saints
  • October 30 @ Tennessee Titans
  • November 6 Atlanta Falcons
  • November 13 Jacksonville Jaguars
  • November 20 Bye
  • November 27 Carolina Panthers
  • December 4 @ New England Patriots
  • December 11 @ Baltimore Ravens
  • December 18 Tennessee Titans
  • December 22 Houston Texans (Thursday)
  • January 1 @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The NFL schedule makers must have cum in their pants when they figured out that the opening Sunday of the season coincided with the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The NFL *loves* to wrap themselves in the flag and flaunt fighter planes as much as they can, so it's perfect.

Another opener in Houston, that didn't work out so well last year. Luckily, the Steelers game is at home, while it's too bad the Patriots game is in Foxboro in early December. Getting the Saints and Falcons in two out of three weeks is tough, but hey, they play the Browns and Bengals so it evens out.

My prediction: 11-5, bye in the playoffs.

* Contingent on the season starting on time, obviously

It was nice while it lasted

I'm sitting here watching Game 4 of the Kings v. Sharks series and the Kings have given up three goals in about six minutes. It looks like the disastrous collapse from Tuesday has taken its toll and the Sharks talent superiority is starting to assert itself.

Wow, Brad Richardson just scored for the Kings, 3-1 Sharks. That's just a tease, the Sharks will win tonight and then close out the series on Saturday at the Shark Tank. The Kings had an excellent season, one in which they had 10 straight road games because Staples was being used for the NBA All-Star game and the Grammy's. They need to get some scoring help on the 3rd and 4th lines and some bulk on defense, but this is a young team overall and full of potential.

A bit shocking to see that my "other" team, the OH SHIT the Kings just scored when a defenseman for San Jose tipped the puck in to his own net. BELIEVE BABY! (and ignore what I wrote previously). Anyways, surprising to see the Canucks getting schooled by the Blackhawks 5-0, in Game 5 after cruising to a 3-0 series lead.

UPDATE: Believing is for suckers, the Kings gave up two goals in the first 3:22 of the third period, 5-2 Sharks. *sigh*

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

öffnet den Schrein!

The greatest night I've ever had in an opera house was in 2003 when I was blown away by a production of Schreker's Die Gezeichneten at the Staatsoper Stuttgart. It was one of those magical nights that are like heroin to opera lovers, a night where a masterpiece --as Die Gezeichneten surely is-- meets superb singing, a great staging and a magician in the pit. I also attended a performance of the Der Schatzgräber mentioned in the linked review, but it was a horrible David Alden production only rescued by a superb musical performance.

I was reminded of that shattering performance of Die Gezeichneten today while reading James Jorden's (aka La Cieca) superb analysis of another Stuttgart production, Calixto Bieito's post-apocalyptic Parsifal. I'm a burned-out Wagnerian, tired of his musical long-windedness, characters I don't give a damn about and, well, Wagnerians. I do make the exception for Tristan und Isolde, easily in the running for sobriquet "Greatest Opera Ever Written" and Parsifal.

What I love about Mr. Jorden's piece is that he works from a premise that is alien to a lot of American opera-goers: taking seriously a production that isn't remotely set in the time and place specified in the libretto. This is a typical response, from operagirl40 at Parterre:

What absolute GARBAGE! The only one who should have been urinated on……….is the director!

Zzzzzzzzzzzz. I've had good (the Peter Sellars Malibu beach house Pelleas et Melisande here in Los Angeles) and bad (the Lenhoff "let's stare at 3 gray walls for 4 1/2 hours" Parsifal at ENO) experiences with so-called Regietheter, but give me something that makes me think over boring period sets and park-and-bark singers.

I'd love for the Bieito Parsifal to show up within 5,000 miles of me, but that's very unlikely, as is a DVD/download release.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

In Praise Of The Mamas and The Papas

As a quirk of history would have it, I was born in 1959, as the original rock n' roll movement was going through its death throes: Elvis in the Army, returning to civilian life to make mediocre records and a string of horrible movies; Buddy Holly and the extremely promising Richie Valens (and The Big Bopper too) dead in a frozen Iowa field; Chuck Berry was about to be convicted of transporting a 14-year girl over state lines "for immoral purposes" and sent to The Big House for almost two years; and others simply dead too young or past their prime.

When the greatest rock band ever --shut up, all your arguments are invalid and I'll gladly expound AT GREAT LENGTH WHY-- The Beatles burst on the American scene in early 1964, I was just becoming conscious of TV. By the time I had my own "first love" band in the form of The Pre-Fab Four aka The Monkees in 1967, I was a full-fledged music fan. It helped that my awesome Dad had big record collection of everything from Johnny Cash to Walter (later Wendy) Carlos' Switched On Bach to Stravinsky and two older sisters and an older brother who got all the latest releases.

Part of that mix was The Mamas and the Papas, one of the great vocal harmony groups in an era of great vocal harmony groups. If I was to name my favorite 20 songs, the M&P's Go Where You Wanna Go would easily make the list.

The harmonies, the lyrics reflecting that all-too-brief period in American (and British) life ca. 1964-1967 when it seemed anything was possible (Go where you wanna go/And do what you what wanna do/With whoever you want, babe), the wonderful Lou Adler/Bones Howe production, and for this bass guitarist, the wonderful bass line by the great Joe Osborn, it all adds up to 2:30 of aural bliss.

What blows me away is that John Phillips, the M&P's leader and songwriter, has a reputation as a great songwriter that lasts to this day based on maybe a dozen songs. Another favorite is autobiographical Creeque Alley (pronounced Creeky Alley), seen to great effect in this playful lip-sync job:

The Mamas and the Papas lasted a little under three years in their original run (I'll ignore the contractual obligation reunion(s)), breaking up amid drug abuse, members tending to sleep with one another and the usual "I'll be more successful as a solo act" hubris, but I just have to hear those golden harmonies on my favorite songs of theirs and it's pure musical bliss.

Plane Porn 1

Having grown up on Air Force bases, it's almost inevitable that I would develop an interest in planes. There's the coolest plane ever, the P-51; the thank-FSM-it-wasn't-ready-in-1940 ME262; the U-2; the X-15 and my favorite of all, XB-70 Valkyrie (via this great site):

The origins of the Valkyrie date back to the 1950's, when a supersonic long-range bomber was proposed. After a tortuous R&D phase, 2 of the finished design were built by North American Aviation (now Rockwell_International). Sadly, one of them was destroyed in a horrible midair collision during a freakin' photo op and ended up as a smudge on the floor of the Mojave Desert. The other is a still-popular tourist attraction at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. For a young son of an Air Force flight engineer, the XB-70 simply was what The Future was going to look like. Of course, history isn't really concerned with what 8-year old boys want!

Na na na na na na na na Hey Hey Goodbye!

Yes, it's barely two minutes in to Game 1 of a best-of-seven series, but I'm already putting a fork in the Los Angeles Kings chances winning this series. Dany Heatley scores :28 in to Game 1 and already the Kings are in a hole. With their top offensive player out, it was always going to be tough, but....crap.

UPDATE: Well blow me: 2-2 after the second period. No no no no no no, it's a total tease.

UPDATE II: Dammit. I don't know what's a step down from "heartbreaking" (which would be losing a Game 7), but to give up a goal :28 in and end up losing in OT is a perfect example.

It'll be interesting to see how the Kings react on Saturday: collapse or steal one in the Shark Tank?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Can we all get along?


It will have taken over 8 1/2 years, but Phish will finally deign to play a show in the second largest market in the country, the Los Angeles area (no, the Coachella Valley doesn't count) when they pull in to the Hollywood Bowl on August 8th for a one-niter. It's a great place to see a show and as a bonus, I can catch the Red Line and avoid the nightmare parking situation.

I'm tempted to go to the next two shows up in Lake Tahoe, but with the small capacity (7,200), it's going to be a tough ticket and I.....guess I'm getting old because I don't want to spend the money on a plane + hotel + transport to go to the shows, not to mention the hassles of traveling.

I'll settle for the Outside Lands festival up in Golden Gate Park, with Phish headlining on Friday the 12th and the awesome MUSE on Saturday the 13th. I'd love to see The Decemberists again, but knowing my luck (and lack of it), they'll probably play on Sunday, when I have to come home. Rumors persist that Phish will play a show on Saturday at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, but that would be a dilemma, conflicting with MUSE and all. I'm not even sure Outside Lands sell single-day tickets but it's a thought.

Here's hopin' that Phish plays The Curtain (With) [sound starts if you click through] at at least one of the shows I go to!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Of our elaborate plans, the end

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans
The end
Of everything that stands
The end
No safety or surprise
The end
I'll never look in to your eyes again

Can you picture what will be?
So limitless and free
Desperately in need of some strangers hand
In a desperate land.....


Some bad news on the operatic front from New York City: the New York City Opera is canceling their fall season. In my opinion, the very future of the company is in doubt. I've had some great nights at the New York State Theater David H. Koch Theater: their great production of Die Tote Stadt, a rare chance to experience Michael Tippett's A Midsummer Marriage, a terrific Cunning Little Vixen. Additionally, compared to the singer-centric mausoleum across the Lincoln Center plaza, NYCO has made some really out-there repetory choices that are right up my alley, the incredible Don Rodrigo and Bomarzo by Ginastera being the productions I wish I had a time machine for.

NYCO has been in crisis mode for at least the last five years. The whole Gerard Mortier debacle is too depressing to go in to detail about, and the George Steel era hasn't been a bed of roses either, handsome as he is.

From my perspective 3,000 miles away, the biggest, intractable problem that NYCO has/has had since 1964 is the fact that they play in a space not designed for opera, but for ballet. This apparently manifested itself in having a very flat sound coming off the stage so as not to amplify the dancers feet hitting the stage. There's no doubt that the New York City Ballet's George Balanchine had more clout than anyone at the NYCO, so it makes sense that the brilliant choreographer would get his way. The net result is that the theater is not really suited for opera, as Mr. Mortier made clear. The need to find a new space that is both acoustically appropriate (there was talk of building an opera house at Ground Zero, but that never got beyond the talking stage) and unencumbered by the need to accommodate NYCB's schedule is paramount.

Red Sux

No team that has started 0-5 has ever won the World Series.

UPDATE: Make that 0-6. Buwahahahahahaha. Next up: 3 games at Yankee Stadium. Go Yankees!

Go Kings Go!


Congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings for clinching a playoff spot for the second season in a row. Not a big deal, making the playoffs again? Considering how awful this team was for a long stretch of the 2000's, that a step in the right direction.

Now, it's true that my true NHL love is the Vancouver Canucks, they've been my favorite team since I saw them play at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in the early 70's, but to be honest, they're in Vancouver and the Kings are here, it's easier to root for the Kings.

There's still two big games left for the Kings against the Anaheim Ducks, with playoff seeding at stake.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ugliness in Chavez Ravine

I'm not a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, to put it mildly, despite living 15 minutes from their great ballpark. In the early 70's when I became a big baseball fan, I loved the Oakland Athletics because they had long hair, fought in the dugout, had loud psychedelic uniforms and a "don't give a f**k attitude" that 12-year old me just ate up. Of course, this fandom made me look like a genius when they won three World Series in a row. At the other end of the spectrum were the Dodgers, all wholesome family values (before that became an tired buzzword), clean-cut ballplayers and after 1976, the odious Tommy Lasorda, asshole in private and avuncular "I bleed Dodger blue" in public.

I've been to Dodger Stadium twice in the last five years and the reason is simple: it can be a really scary place to watch a baseball game. You'd get an affirmative about that from Bryan Stow, a Giants fan who attended the Opening Day game in Chavez Ravine, except for the fact that he can't say anything to anyone since he's in a freakin' coma after getting savagely beaten by two piece-of-shit Dodgers fans in the parking lot after the game. His crime: wearing a Giants shirt.

There's been much handwringing in the local media and on sports talk radio since the incident, but to be blunt, this isn't a surprise at all. I was at a Freeway Series game in Anaheim during the late 90's and it was the first time that a significant amount of Dodgers fans had shown up at the Big A, largely because it was a regular season game, not an exhibition like all Angels v. Dodgers tilts were before interleague play was introduced before the 1997 season. What do you know, there was a melee on the upper deck concourse involving about a dozen dudes in Dodgers shirts.

Fast forward to about four or five years ago and my buddy Dan and I were in the upper deck at Dodgers Stadium for another Freeway Series game. We spent the whole game having the gangbanger behind us threatening to kick our ass because we were rooting for the Angels and at one point, after about eight beers, he threatened to throw us off that upper deck. We acted like Dodgers fans and left before the game ended, something we haven't done in Anaheim since the early 80's.

Turns out that there's not much security in the Dodger Stadium parking lot after the game begins and even at the best of times, experts say that the security detail is understaffed. There's little doubt that people getting drunk at the games leads to problems so it's eye-rolling time to see that the team has scheduled several 1/2 Price Food & Drinks days, which include 1/2 price beer, for six games this season.

While I hope the Dodgers as a baseball team go 0-162 every season for the next zillion years, when it becomes dangerous to go to a game at Dodger Stadium, that's unacceptable.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Opera and orchestra scheduling blues

[NOTE: Items with an * are YouTube clips that have the sound start when you click the link]

For at least the last ten years, starting in February I start scouring opera company and orchestras' websites for news about their upcoming seasons. Once I get the information, I enter whatever seems vaguely interesting in to an Excel spreadsheet. Around June, when the last stragglers have announced their seasons (for some reason, the Staatsoper Stuttgart is always the last major company to announce their upcoming season), I see if there's enough interesting stuff in a 7-10 day period to justify the expense and hassle of a trip to Europe.

The last two seasons of doing this has been really depressing. If it weren't for the Deutsche Oper Berlin doing a string of rarities, I don't think I would have gone to Europe in early March. Yes, the chance to tick another Schreker opera off my list of ones I've seen, Irrelohe, was also a big factor, but the bastards at Oper Bonn canceled it a few days before I was supposed to hop on a train from Berlin to see it and replaced it with Turandot. It's clear that economic woes both in the United States and Europe have caused arts organizations to retreat to the safe and easy options, i.e. 8,000 La Boheme's a season. Since I have zero interest in baroque or bel canto operas and for most orchestral music before Beethoven, it's tough out there for someone who's dying to experience another production of Lear* or Die Soldaten* or to finally see a production of The Mask of Orpheus, The Second Mrs. Kong and the remaining five Schreker operas (I'm not counting the revision of Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin) on my Schreker to-do list.

Case in point: the aforementioned DO Berlin. They're usually good for at least three or four interesting pieces a year; my favorite recording of my favorite opera, Die Tote Stadt*, is a pirate recording from the DOB with Stephen Gould as an excellent Paul and Christian Thielemann conducting the hell out of Korngold's glorious score. I got the 2011-12 DOB schedule on Monday and I almost fell off my chair at work at how bad it is.

Of the seven new productions, five are of 19th century Italian operas (three by Verdi) and three of those will be in concert form. Janacek's Jenufa and Wagner's Tannhauser round out the new productions. Wow, one whole opera written in the 20th century, the Jenufa, and barely at that (it was complete in 1902, first staged in 1904). A double-bill of Felix Weingartner's Die Dorfschule (1920) and Carl Orff's Gisei, which was completed in 1912 when Orff was 17 and only premiered in early 2010, is listed as "Weitere Höhepunkte" (other highlights), whatever that means, along with a concert production of Candide. The real shock is that of the 21 revivals, SEVEN will be by Verdi, for a total of 10 Verdi pieces in a season of 30 operas. This is insane, full stop, it's not even the Verdi bicentennial, that's still two seasons away in 2013!

I'm actually starting to dread the 2013-14 opera season, as it will be the season that the Verdi and Wagner bicentennial's will be celebrated. Since the Verdi operas I enjoy can be counted on three fingers and the Wagner operas that I still listen to on two and 1/3, it's a depressing thought for someone whose tastes are far outside the mainstream to begin with to contemplate. Yes, 2013 is also the Benjamin Britten centenary, but I'm certain that people will do the overplayed Peter Grimes and the chamber opera The Turn of the Screw and consider their duty done. I'm hoping against hope that the incredible Deborah Warner Death in Venice that I saw at ENO gets revived and that Gloriana is done somewhere.

Oh well. At least Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic will be doing the incredible Gruppen and the fab Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna at the awesome Park Avenue Armory in June of 2012, though what on earth he wa$ thinking by $cheduling the Mozart in that cavernou$ $pace is a my$tery. In addition to that must-attend event, I'll finally get a chance to go to a production of Saariaho's incredible L'amour de Loin, at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. Mmmmm......Canadian guys........mmmmmm.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974, it's a scientific fact" - Homer Jay Simpson

[NOTE: Some of the links are to clips with sound that starts when you click on the link, you have been warned]

While I can't completely agree with Homer Jay --there's simply too many bands that I love that came after that time frame-- I've long believed that 1971-1973 was one of the peak years of rock. While searching for pictures of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, I came across the handbill above (from here). I think it's a fascinating snapshot of what it must have been like to be a music fan and have all those choices (I was 12, living on the Air Force base in New Jersey that my Dad was stationed at and still a few years away from regular concert-going).

The ELP/Mahavishnu Orchestra bill is what first caught my eye. Apart from the absurdity of having a weak edition of Blues Project on the bill, this fits in to a comment made by Yes bassist Chris Squire that I read years ago (and can't find now): Punk didn't kill prog rock, the Mahavishnu Orchestra did. His point was that when the MO first started regular gigging in 1971, they blew away a lot of musicians. He said that Yes began to think they had to play 8,000 notes a bar to keep up with the groundbreaking music the MO was playing. ELP certainly weren't immune to that mindset and they had the chops to pull it off.

The King Crimson listing is bittersweet, as their Winterland gigs were some of the last dates that the Fripp/Collins/Boz (RIP)/Wallace (RIP) band did before it imploded in a welter of bad vibes and non-communication. For years, this band was much maligned among prog geeks because the only aural evidence of its existence was the very poor Earthbound live album. Thanks to DGM Live, however, there's been a steady stream of evidence that this was a fine band, a worthy addition to the bewildering number of KC lineups.

Deep Purple must have been something to see/hear back then, the classic Gillan/Blackmore/Lord/Glover/Paice lineup still intact and reputedly the loudest band in the world at one time. They were touring to promote the recently released Machine Head, I wonder if Space Truckin' lasted 20 minutes yet?

Don McLean was still riding high off of the success of the "get off my lawn you damn hippie kids" vibe of American Pie and his glorious ode to Vincent Van Gogh, Vincent, to see him in the interesting looking Berkely Community Theater must have been wonderful.

The Humble Pie/Edgar Winter Group/Osibisa bill is especially strong. I love The Pie and their lead singer/guitarist/leader Steve Marriott, who left the fab Small Faces to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton (yes, the same). The Pie were on their never-ending tour, in this case promoting the recently released Smokin', while The Edgar Winter Group had just gotten started with their classic lineup of Winter/Montrose/Hartman (RIP)/Ruff, the awesome Frankenstein still in their future. I like what I've heard of Osibisa and hey, Roger Dean did some of their album covers, they can't be that bad, right?

Joe Cocker had accrued enough of an audience to play the Oakland Coliseum arena, but in retrospect, the buzz from Woodstock/Mad Dogs & Englishmen had started to run out, alcoholism and syrupy Top 40 stuff not far off. Then we have West, Bruce & Laing, featuring my first musical hero (and reason I became a bass player), Jack Bruce. They were one of the numerous "supergroups" that dotted the landscape in the late 60's/early 70's after Blind Faith and Crosby, Stills & Nash (&Young) lead the way (Beck, Bogert and Appice anyone?).

Sure, it's easy to get all nostalgic for this period in concert going, but I bet if I was 20 back then and showed this to some older hippie, he'd say "You kids today with your loud heavy metal so-called music! Back in MY day we had Hendrix, Cream, Janis, the Dead and the Airplane playing here all the time, now THAT was music!".