Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Trent Carlini Beats Getting Stoned In Vegas

          Sometimes you get lucky in Las Vegas, sometimes you don’t. The key is always staying within your budget.  You gotta remember you can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you get what you need.
         I wanted to see the Rolling Stones in Las Vegas on May 11th. I certainly did not want to pay the $150 face value of the cheapest ticket.  I’ve seen the band many times – twice at the MGM Grand Garden Arena – and the last time was at the L.A. Forum in 2006 for $65.  It was a terrific show with my good friends next to me and a fun tailgate party beforehand.  If that’s the last time I see the Stones I can live with it.
This poster was as close to seeing The Stones as I would get!
         Yet I came into some unexpected money and decided to make the drive to Vegas anyway.  After an afternoon at the pool I trudged over to the MGM in the 100 degree heat with $100 cash in my shirt pocket.  Usually I have no problem scoring a single ticket to a sold-out show, especially at the casinos who hold back seats for the big-spenders.  This was not your typical show.  Maybe because the Stones were celebrating their 50th anniversary and those who’d never seen them figured it was their last chance.  I’d never seen so many single people trying to buy a ticket who were older than me (and with more cash to spend.)  When the show started I realized it was time to go back to the hotel empty handed.
The "special guest" at the MGM Grand was Katy Perry, not one of my favorites!
         I chatted a bit with some guys who came out to have a smoke and they said the band sounded “good but not great.”  Then one of them offered me a ticket for $100.  Seemed like a lot of money since the Stones had already reeled off 4 to 5 songs.  Someone else said they’d buy it and I surprised myself by letting it go.  Half an hour later I was back in the pool sipping a Corona and wondering if I’d made the right decision.
         The next day was supposed to be my last in Vegas and it was a scorcher.  My car was running great but the air conditioning was on the fritz.  I knew I’d have to leave the next day around 8am to make the drive back to L.A. tolerable.  Since I had that extra $100 I went to the front desk and arranged to stay an extra day.  That took up half of the cash.

         The other $50 I ended up spending on a ticket to see Trent Carlini perform as “The King” at the LV Hotel.  One of my biggest regrets was never seeing Elvis Presley in the 70s when I went to at least a couple hundred concerts.  I’d never even seen an impersonator!   I’d heard Carlini was the guy to see in Las Vegas and the way to get there was the Monorail.
         What a treat that turned out to be.  Not only did the clean and cool monorail drop me off at the concert doorstep but it also provided spectacular views of the city skyline and The Strip.  Then Carlini put on a great show that exceeded my expectations.  He does not pretend to be Elvis although he wears all the right outfits and sounds just like him.  What makes his act unique is the dancing of Ashley Belle, a gorgeous woman who takes the stage alone during Carlini’s costume changes and joins him for innocent cavorting.  On “GI Blues” she wore a skimpy Army outfit and a grass skirt for “Blue Hawaii.”
Ashley and Trent put on a helluva show!
         Its Carlini’s show however and his love for Elvis and his music comes through in a big way.  Although he does plenty of hits there’s also some surprises.  My favorite had to be “Viva Las Vegas.”  It may not have been the real Elvis singing it but when he was done I really felt like I’d hit the jackpot. 
Trent Carlini 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Getting Lucky With The Who and Rod Stewart in Vegas

          I made a road trip to Las Vegas hoping to see an old friend named Rod Stewart.  Of course I don’t know him personally but I’ve seen him many times in concert.  In fact, it was his show in Santa Barbara in 1973 that helped me decide to go to college there.  I’ve listened to his music for over four decades since his days with the Jeff Beck Group and the Faces.  He is the ultimate showman but to me he seems like an old buddy.
         Rod is doing one of those residency shows at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace, the best concert hall in the USA.  I’ve seen Sting and Elton John perform there and I know there’s not a bad seat in the house.  So I paid $75 at the box office to sit in the upper balcony without complaint.  I knew it would be a great show because I’ve never seen Rod play a bad concert.
         This one became even better when an usher came up to me and asked if I wanted to sit downstairs near the stage.  Suddenly my $75 seat became a $200 one at no extra charge.  I ended up in the 20th row.  I’d been in Vegas for five hours and I’d already hit the jackpot!
         That’s why I prefer going to concerts in Las Vegas.  Not only
are the venues top-notch but tickets are always floating around since the casinos hold back some for their guests.  There’s really no such thing as a sold-out show in Las Vegas.
         Rod sang so many great songs that night including the obvious hits like “Tonight’s The Night,””Maggie May” and “Young Turks.”
My favorites were “Rhythm Of My Heart” and the surprising “Reason To Believe.”  On the rowdy “Sweet Little Rock n’ Roller” Rod roamed through the crowd slapping hands and posing for pictures.  Talk about a gracious performer.  His band was top notch, including some of the prettiest female musicians (not just back-up singers) that I’d ever seen on one stage.
         To finish things off, Rod sang the encore “Hot Legs’ while booting autographed soccer balls into the crowd!  Sticking to the rules he never used his hands and showed remarkable agility for a 68 year-old, holding the mike while fielding balls rolled and tossed to him from backstage.  He even did a few headers and some of his kicks reached the upper balcony!  That’s what I call showmanship.
         Two days later I decided to press my luck and walked over to the Hard Rock Casino on a freezing Friday night.  The Who were performing Quadrophenia there and I knew it would be a tough ticket at such a small venue.  The Joint at the Hard Rock is another great place to see a show and I’ve seen a few there: Ringo Starr, Santana and the Scottish band Travis.  This one was a $125 minimum face value ticket and I set my limit by bringing $100 cash with me.
         Arriving early I resisted the temptation to buy the first ticket offered for $80.  I knew from experience sellers get nervous right before show time.  So I made a little money playing video poker while keeping an eye on those milling about the entrance.  When I was ready to buy I found no takers.  I was about to give up when a guy came out of nowhere and offered me a balcony seat for $50.  I was so excited I almost spilled my beer on him!
As usual The Who put on a terrific show and it was great to hear all of Quadrophenia performed live.  Even better was knowing that I’d made the gamble to show up without a ticket and ended up finding one for less than half-price.  Talk about getting lucky!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Save The Santa Monica Civic!

            Did you make your New Year’s resolution? I made mine: to save the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium!
            The Santa Monica City Council announced plans to close the Civic by July 2013.  One of the few buildings that’s lasted over 50 years around here has now become just another financial burden facing the city.  Even though it played host to many Academy Awards shows and other events.  Unfortunately not much happens there anymore.  I’ve heard its too expensive to rent for concerts.  I’ve heard its out dated.  Bruce Springsteen just played the Sports Arena.  Nothing is more out dated than the Sports Arena.
            I saw Springsteen at the Civic in September 1976, driving down from UCSB with my girlfriend Patty.  It was a drive I made 18 times in five years and I remember every one of them.  Back then the Civic was big enough to draw the big names, but small enough to provide the intimacy that’s been lost in barns like the Staples Center.   
             I hope you’ve seen the recent DVD release of the legendary “T.A.M.I. Show” concert video.  Filmed in 1964 it has the innocence of Leslie Gore and Jan & Dean clashing with the brash Rolling Stones, rocking Chuck Berry and burning hot James Brown. Though the lineup was racially diverse, the audience was white kids wearing nerdy glasses.  They go crazy for everyone on the stage of an auditorium with a unique design.  That’s the Santa Monica Civic, one of the greatest concert halls in pop music history.  Its featured in the “T.A.M.I. Show” video and now its in trouble.
             It shouldn’t be. The Civic must be preserved even if they never have another show there. When I went in the 70s the vibe was loose in a smoky haze of dubious legality with crowds that looked a lot different than those at the “T.A.M.I. Show."  The Civic was where I saw The Kinks and David Bowie for the first time. Along with The Eagles, Loggins & Messina and a very young Peter Frampton opening for E.L.O.
            Back then bands would often play 7:00pm and 11:30pm shows on the same night. Such was the case when my buddy Alan and I decided to go see Traffic and Steve Winwood, riding high on the success of their popular “Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys” album.
            We checked the ticket booth to see if there were any last minute sales.  No luck.  We asked every single person standing outside but no one had a ticket to spare. We decided to stick around for the 11:30 show.  We went to the coffee shop at the hotel across the street and bided our time.
            Once again we couldn't find a single ticket for sale.  It was almost midnight when we decided to give up and go home.  On our way to the car a solitary figure marched toward us, shoulders hunched and long hair in his face. He told us he'd just split up with his girlfriend and was going to the show alone.  We offered him a total of $15.00 for the two tickets and he finally relented.  We found our seats in time to catch opening act Free with Paul Rodgers belting out their biggest hit "All Right Now.”  When Traffic came on stage I realized it was worth the wait. They were simply terrific.
            We had another reason to celebrate on that cold January night in 1973.  An agreement had been signed that day in Paris to end the Vietnam War. I had grown up in the shadow of the conflict and was almost old enough to register for the dreaded draft.  It truly was a memorable evening.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer at The Civic

The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

            The Civic must be saved. With the right management I know it can provide many more memorable nights.  I’m hoping the City Council makes the same resolution.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas With The Beatles

1964 started with the Beatles on Ed Sullivan watched with my family
           If you are a baby boomer like me your Christmas memories probably include something about the Beatles.  The band’s Christmas tradition in the USA kicked off in December 1965 with the release of one of their greatest singles: “We Can Work It Out”and “Day Tripper.” The picture sleeve (remember them?) of the 45rpm single depicted the boys looking cold and winter weary in their black coats but the music was both raucous and reflective.  Perfectly capturing the essence of the band.
            Then came “Rubber Soul, “ an album so good each of my sisters insisted on having their own copy.  So did I.  The music was more acoustic than electric, the title was mysterious and the songs absolutely gorgeous. Especially John Lennon’s poignant “In My Life” and Paul’s lovely “Michelle” the Grammy Song of the Year.
            At the end of 1967 The Beatles released “Magical Mystery Tour,” and of course it sounded nothing like their previous records.  I remember looking through the album’s picture book by the lights of the Christmas tree, trying to make sense of the strange photos taken from the movie of the same name.  This is a record I’ve grown to appreciate, especially side two. “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields””Penny Lane””Baby You’re A Rich Man”and “All You Need Is Love.” On one side of an album!  That’s a career for most bands.  
          The ultimate Fab Four Christmas present had to be “The Beatles,” the two-record opus commonly known as “The White Album.”  The kind of gift that had kids calling each other on Christmas day with a million questions. Why was the cover blank? Why had The Beatles stopped shaving? Was that Yoko Ono on the poster that came with the album?  What the heck was “Revolution #9” about?  How come “Back In The USSR” sounded like The Beach Boys?  Years later people still have questions about the album Bono of U2 called “the complete encyclopedia of rock and roll.”  He’s right.  There’s just about every style of music, from the country of Ringo’s “Don’t Pass Me By” to the acid rock of Paul’s “Helter Skelter.”  “Dear Prudence” might be the prettiest melody John Lennon ever wrote while George’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” left no doubt of his songwriting strength.
            “The White Album” was the hot topic when I returned in January 1969 to Raymond Elementary School in Fullerton.  The Beatles were at the top of their game but something seemed off.  We heard about their surprise rooftop concert in London and later the rumors of their impending breakup.  When “Abbey Road” came out in September everyone agreed it was their best album ever.  I personally think it’s the greatest album of all time.  It was also the last one they recorded together and a few months later the band imploded.
Greatest Music Group Of All Time
A Holy Grail for collectors: The Beatles Christmas Album

         Although it broke my heart, I knew deep inside they were doing the right thing by splitting up in 1970.  The Beatles as a band belonged to the sixties and the sixties belonged to the Beatles.  Their music, however, remains timeless.  With so much holiday cheer in their history its surprising to note The Beatles never recorded any Christmas music.  Unless one digs a bit deeper into their catalog and discovers the existence of “The Beatles Christmas Album.”  This LP was made available exclusively to members of The Beatles fan clubs in the UK and USA in 1970.  Quirky bits comprised of song parodies and musical skits that showed the band at their most unguarded.
         You might find a copy on eBay.  Its not available on iTunes.  Thankfully, everything else you could want by the Beatles is now available digitally. As the Beatles would say: Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

TV Fall Schedule Is Hard To Trust

Elizabeth Mitchell

Jason as Mitt is always a gas!

Recognize anyone on the latest "Survivor?"
    It's been a helluva entertaining year.  It started with a thrilling football Super Bowl followed by a riveting futbol Champions League finale.  Then the Grammys with Adele's return to the stage and the reunited Beach Boys return to touring.  England was all over the calendar with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics.  We survived three Friday the 13th's and a partial lunar eclipse, not to mention a Transit of Venus. Even a Perigee Moon in May, so big it gave me the creeps.  Outer space came down to Earth when the space shuttle Endeavour flew over my house last week.

    On the down side, a suicide (Junior Seau), a drug overdose (Whitney Houston) and unexpected death (Davy Jones) surprised the nation.  The NFL referee strike is ruining the integrity of the league.  Did I mention there's a presidential election in November?

    So it's hard to get excited about the upcoming Fall Television Schedule.  Especially after getting burned the last couple of years on highly touted shows that were abruptly canceled.  It bothers me to get hooked on a show, and then its gone without resolution.  Its already happened this year with "Alcatraz" on Fox.  Before that was "Flash Forward" and "Life On Mars", shows that started with good ratings which tapered off when ABC put them on an unexplained "hiatus."  I've learned to hate that word. It means the show is going to end after one year.  At least ABC gave the sci-fi series "V" a partial second season, allowing me to get a crush on Elizabeth Mitchell.

    Who is currently featured on the latest futuristic show to catch my eye: "Revolution" on NBC.  The premise is simple: something causes the electric power grid to shut off around the world.  It never comes back on.  Chaos and anarchy prevail.  15 years later a plucky band of survivors try to make their way through a devastated landscape.  Perfect setting for an arrow-shooting teenage girl (an obvious "Hunger Games" conceit) trying to find her kidnapped brother.  Obviously I like these kind of shows.  For some reason the networks keep bankrolling them.  Then they drop them like a toxic loan.  I hope they keep this one around long enough to tell us why things went wacky (something "Alcatraz" and "Flash Forward" failed to do.)

    Other new shows on my radar: "Vegas" with Dennis Quaid (CBS) because any series with "Vegas" in the title gets my attention.  "Last Resort" about a renegade submarine crew sounds interesting but its on ABC and I don't trust ABC.  Thank goodness CBS renewed "Person Of Interest" currently my favorite show which now has "Two And A Half Men" as a lead in, a show I will always watch as long as Jon Cryer is winning Emmys.  The best reality show "Survivor" has former baseball MVP Jeff Kent and TV star Lisa Whelchel and is off to a good start.  Saturday Night Live is always funny in an election year especially with Jason Sudeikis dong Mitt Romney.  There's even a behind the scenes show about my favorite soccer team called "Being Liverpool" that's been fun to watch.

    Throw in the NFL channel which has finally been added to my Time Warner Cable lineup and my TV will be busy this fall.  I'm just hoping the new shows I'm watching right now will be given a chance to find their audience.
     But I doubt it.      

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

London Olympics Had The Music, NBC Didn't!

Ray Davies singing "Waterloo Sunset" had him trending on Twitter all day long. NBC TV viewers did not get to see it!

The Who were not shown on the NBC prime time telecast! How do you leave out the Grand Finale?

Somehow The Spice Girls made it on the TV broadcast but MUSE did not!
    What's the deal with NBC? Talk about a love/hate relationship with your audience. They start out by showing some of the London Olympics live on the internet but not all of it. Especially the Opening Ceremonies. I mean, if you're gonna go for the gold then go all the way! There was so much grumbling that NBC changed their policy at the last minute and decided to show the Closing Ceremonies live on their web channels. Great idea since that topic trended all day long Sunday on Twitter and Facebook. They had people chirping during the day in the USA about the extravaganza as it happened live and then at night while NBC showed it on TV tape delay. Sounds like a win-win situation for everybody. So what's the problem?
    Seems like they cut out some of the best musical moments from the TV broadcast.  All day long I heard how great Ray Davies of the Kinks sounded singing his love song to London: "Waterloo Sunset." Ditto for Kate Bush singing the obvious Olympic anthem: "Running Up That Hill."  So I made rum and cokes and prepared to stay up until midnight PDT to hear those performances. I never saw them. Not only did NBC see fit to omit those great artists, they even left out Muse singing "Survival" - THE OFFICIAL SONG OF THE 2012 OLYMPICS!
    Hello? Ferris? Bueller? Anyone?
    Around 10:30pm when I realized I was not going to see the above songs I dozed off. I awoke to see some sort of sitcom on the tube. Later found out it was a pilot for a new NBC show called "Animal Practice." According to Twitter, it's now the most-hated sitcom on TV. Music fans who stayed up until midnight in California became outraged when NBC butchered the Who's performance at the Closing Ceremonies by making them sit through "Animal Practice" and the local news. Then returning to a promised "grand finale" which only included part of The Who's medley of "Baba O'Riley," See Me Feel Me" and "My Generation."
    It doesn't make any sense. NBC pays billions to televise the Olympics, does a good job for two weeks, then drops the baton on the final lap of the race.  I understand why they showed many of the athletic events on tape delay because they need the prime-time revenue advertising dollars.  I'm fine with that. I'm not fine with knowing the rest of the world was able to see Ray Davies and The Who and that the USA television did not get that chance.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Beach Boys Are Better Than Ever!

The 5 Beach Boys gather for "Add Some Music To Your Day" with Foskett in the shadows
Brian, David, Mike, Al
Thanks for the pass, Foskett!
Johnston, Foskett, Love, Jardine in 1984
    If you went to college I'm pretty sure you remember your first week on campus.  Whether orientation week was an endless parade of parties or diligent preparation for upcoming classes (yeah, right!), it was all new.  For most of us it was our first time living on our own, with choices to be made, both bad and good.
    One of the best choices I ever made happened on Sept. 26, 1974, a Thursday night at UC Santa Barbara.  I was a seventeen year-old freshman having the time of my life and looking forward to the Jackson Browne & Honk concert the following night.  Then a girl named Gina said a band was playing in front of a dorm so I followed her on my bike until I heard the unmistakable sounds of The Beatles' "Day Tripper."  In '74 college kids were not nostalgic about the 60s, we lived through them if only through the eyes of our older siblings.  Most local bands, like the ones I played with in high school, favored current Allman Brothers guitar rock over the complex vocal harmonies of the Fab Four.
    When the band known as The Reverie Rhythm Rockers finally took a break I was waiting for them with tons of questions. How did they get so good? Did they love The Beatles as much as I did? The guitarist with the big smile and perfect falsetto introduced himself as Jeffrey Foskett and I think we talked rock trivia between every break they took!
    It was the start of a long and fruitful friendship.  On Jan. 31, 1979, my band Norman Allan's first gig was opening for  Foskett's band the Death Eggz.  Foskett had to loan me a bass so I could make the gig! By then the New Wave/Punk invasion had convinced every cover band to write their own songs.  My band had a couple good ones, Foskett and partner Randall Kirsch had so many they got serious and changed their name to The Pranks, the perfect non-serious name.
    Then one day Foskett was asked to join the Beach Boys and invited me to a few shows where I took photos, some of which I sold to the band.  I still have my laminated photo pass and many cherished memories from those days in the early 80s.
    Why am I telling you this?  Because I just saw Jeffrey Foskett perform with The Beach Boys on their 50th Anniversary Tour and he kicked ass.  While everyone is excited to see the surviving members of "the boys" back on stage together, make no mistake.   Foskett is the 6th Beach Boy, whose duties include singing those famous high falsettos and handling the intros at the start of the show.  On stage Al Jardine called Foskett the "hardest working man in show business."  He was the reason I was at the show on May 26th 2012 at Fantasy Springs Casino outside of Palm Springs.
    For the casual fan it was a night of fun, fun fun.  For a hardcore fan like me with personal connections it was a night I saw my whole life flash before me.  From Jeff's wonderful spotlight on "Don't Worry Baby" which always reminds me of my three sisters, to the encore of "Kokomo" which takes me back to working as a DJ in Santa Barbara.  The tributes to Dennis and Carl Wilson had me near tears, since I got to spend time with both of them in the early 80s.  Their brother weighed 300 pounds when I first met him back then.  Now Brian Wilson is belting out classics like "Sail On Sailor" right in front of me and sounding damn good.  Who would've believed he'd outlive his younger brothers?
    This is the Beach Boys concert every fan wanted, not just the hits, but choice "album cuts" like "This Whole World" and the gorgeous "All This Is That."  Mike Love has never sounded better on the surfing and car songs, and kills on "Be True To Your School."  Jardine gets his obvious turn on "Help Me Rhonda" but also the surprise "Cottonfields."  David Marks plays the original guitar riffs with just the right touch of distortion.  The only thing missing was Bruce Johnston singing "Disney Girls," a song performed earlier in the tour.  The band is powered by drummer John Cowsill (I jammed with him and his dear departed brother Barry many times back in the 80s) and 8 other talented musicians.  They are tight, the harmonies are spot on, and they keep the songs coming at break neck speed.
    The Beach Boys played 44 songs that night, or 44 memories for me.  Almost as many years as I've known Jeffrey Foskett.  Even if you've never met a Beach Boy, you know The Beach Boys.  You need to see this tour because it may never happen again.
    The Beach Boys sing "All This Is That:"