Saturday, March 31, 2007

Wheel of Time : Knife of Dreams

Knife Of Dreams (Book 11 of "The Wheel of Time")
Rating : B+

I've been a fan of Robert Jordan's WoT series since I wandered into the local Walden's Bookstore years ago and found them handing out *FREE* copies of the first half of Book One. Smart marketing there.
Now, 11 books and nearly 10,000 pages later (which Jason tells me works out to and estimated 2½ million words), I'm still hooked on it.
KoD is, as always, a superb narrative of the various characters in Robert Jordan's world. If there is a criticism, it is the usual one - you can tear out the first half of the book and not miss any plot-advancement. Elayne's been trying to win the Lion Throne of Andor for a couple books now; she still is. Mat's been trying to figure out women (specifically, Tuon) for two books; he still is. Perrin has been planning how to rescue his wife Faile for three books at least; he still is. About the only "progress" to the story in the first half of KoD is following Egwene as she sets about to undermine Elaida in the White Tower, all while being spanked thrice daily in an attempt to rehabilitate her.
But if the first half drags with regards to the overall plot, the second half more than makes up for it. All of the above sub-plots are resolved (except for Egwene/Elaida); and Rand withstands yet another attack of 10-gazillion trollocs (how DO they always seem to know where he is?), only to lose his left hand in an encounter with Semirhage. To boot, there is reason to believe Moiraine will make an encore appearance in the next Book.
Speaking of which, we are promised by Robert Jordan that the next book (tentatively titled "A Memory of Light") will finish the saga, even if it takes 1500 pages. Alas, RJ has some very serious health problems at present (see the Wikipedia entry on him for details), which makes the slated release date (early 2009) for aMoL quite problematic. It has long been my fear that RJ might "pull a Tolkien" and shuffle off this mortal coil before finishing WoT.
So we'll give KoD a "B+" rating, taking off points mostly for the plot-dragging over its first half. It's still an excellent book.
In light of Robert Jordan's health problems, and the fact that aMoL won't be released until 2009 at the earliest, it seems appropriate to start taking odds whether the various WoT characters will or won't be still alive come the end of Book 12. I'll periodically post these individuals/odds, along with how *I* would resolve each character's fate, if I were Robert Jordan. However, do not expect my answers to be overly reverent. ;-)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Within Temptation - The Heart Of Everything

Within Temptation : The Heart Of Everything

Rating : ***** *** (out of 10*)

Another very fine effort from the Dutch Symphonic Metal band, Within Temptation. What you think of it will depend a lot on what you think of their last two CD's - Mother Earth and The Silent Force.
THoE harkens back to early WT stuff. It's more "hard rock" and less symphonic - and even less Metallic - than TSF and ME. So is this a "regression" or a "return to our core values"? The answer is in the ear of the beholder.
WT has finally signed with an American distributor, so we may at last be able to find their CD's and videos in the record stores. And it is rumored that they will be doing a US tour with Lacuna Coil later this year. If so, I'm sooo there, even if I have to fly over to Los Angeles.
The only drawback to this album is the song-order. The first three tracks are quite "rock-ish" and take some getting used to. You don't get much symphonic metal until Track 4 (Our Solemn Hour), but from there through Track 10 (The Truth Beneath The Rose), it's classic WT. The final track, Forgiven, is a mellow ballad that feels a bit out of place on a WT album.
One gets the feeling that this CD's raison d'ĂȘtre is to break into the American Metal market. If so, it's a good effort. Move over, Evanescence. Its time the US gets treated to some superb European Metal.

Friday, March 23, 2007

4 Years

Happy Anniversary, Dubnutz. You jerk.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mashed Metaphors & Smooshed Similes

From on March 14th. Norman Ornstein, political expert at American Enterprise Institute, on the congressional investigation into the recent firings of seven US attorneys...
"Some of it is like peeling back layers of an onion. It may lead in other directions".
Uh, Norman. Don't give up your day job to become a writer.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Phoenix (Gay) Pride Parade - 2007

The Phoenix Gay Pride Parade will be held on Saturday, 14 April, 2007. Parade starts @ 11:00 AM, and goes up 3rd St. For more details, visit the Arizona Pride website at :

We went last year for the first time. It was a blast, despite Liz getting all the beads and invitations to gay bars. You're virtually guaranteed a curbside seat, which means it's a great photo-op. Also, it is a good lesson in cultural diversity. The crowd was 90% gay, so we got to see how it feels to be in the minority for a change.

Taylor Dayne and En Vogue are scheduled to play at the festival, which runs Sat. & Sun. and commences right after the Saturday morning parade. I don't know the show times for TD and EV.

Last year, we only made it to the parade. Perhaps this year, we'll expand our cultural awareness even more by going to the festival.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hello 90°F

Contrary to popular belief, Phoenix does indeed have four seasons. This year, Spring was from 11:15 AM to 4:45 PM last Tuesday.

Monday, March 05, 2007

T5CE - #1 : Pink Floyd (09/17/72)

Top 5 Concerts Ever : #1
Pink Floyd - Big Surf - 17 September 1972

Anyone who has ever seen a Pink Floyd concert will surely include them somewhere in their top 5 concerts. For me, this was the best concert ever, although its probably a tie with the Springsteen concert listed below.

This was the first of three times that I've seen PF. See the Elton John listing below for comments about Big Surf.

The circumstances were similar to Bruce. PF's most-recent album was Meddle, which recieved extensive local air-play by KDKB. But nationwide, the Boys of Floyd were still relatively unknown. That would change in another year or so, when Dark Side Of The Moon came out.

So once again, we have a crowd of 5,000-10,000 or so. 99% of which are psychedelicized and partaking of the sacred weed. Camped out on the beach of Big Surf, coming on, grooving in cosmic unity, and listening to Pink Floyd. Who did mostly stuff from Meddle of course, but IIRC, they also played some tracks from the upcoming DSoTM.

HIGHLIGHT : Their closing number was 'Echoes' from Meddle. And just as they got to the really spacy part of the song, wouldn't you know it - a storm blows in. Talk about cosmic timing.

I still can see David Gilmour's waist-length hair blowing at a 45 degree angle as the front hit. And 10,000 hippies sighed a collective "Ooooooo" in contented amazement, and swore this was a sign from God that Pink Floyd was the best band ever. The storm kept coming, the song kept getting spacier, and just when you thought it couldn't get any better....

....the first drops of rain hit. And Pink Floyd packed up their guitars and announced that the concert was over.

And 10,000 hippies howled their protest for PF ruining their best psychedelic trip ever.

And, in a scene hauntingly similar to the "Danny O'Keefe incident detailed below, PF came back on-stage to explain things. And it went something like this...

"Look, mates. Its raining! We play electric guitars up here. If we stand out in the rain, we're gonna get electrocuted. 'Echoes' was the last song of the evening, so you haven't missed much of the concert anyway."

I suppose that's perfectly logical to a crowd not under the influence of chemicals, but we of course felt that it was quite okay for Pink Floyd to sacrifice their lives, as long as they finished the bloody song!

Alas, PF was adamant in their desire to go on living, and thus ended the concert. Still, that perfect synchronization of weather effects with the song Echoes can never be repeated.

LOWLIGHT : Well, not the incompleted finale. But there was this couple, obviously wasted, who kept wandering through the crowd, screaming, "Reds! 'Ludes! Anybody got some Reds? Anyone got any kind of downers?" At the top of their lungs. IIRC (and I wasn't in a particularly good state to remember correctly), someone finally gave them something halfway thru the concert just to shut them up. Still, the incident somwhow fit nicely into the cosmic harmony of the concert.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

T5CE : Bruce Springsteen (27 July 1974)

Top 5 Concerts Ever : #2
Bruce Springsteen - Celebrity Theater - 07/27/74

Thanks to Google and the Internet, the exact date for this concert can be tracked down.

The concert took place more than a year before Bossamania hit the USA with the release of the album Born To Run. Springsteen had released two awesome albums so far - Greetings From Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent, & The East Street Shuffle. But he was largely unknown. Except in four cities - Philadelphia, Cleveland, (I forget the third), and Phoenix.

Phoenix was gaga over him, thanks largely to KDKB giving heavy play-time to those two albums. Originally, only one concert was scheduled for 27 July, but it sold out quickly, and a second one was added - on the same night. When's the last time you heard of a rock group doing two shows on the same night?

For those of you unfamiliar with Celebrity Theater, it is a small venue - maybe a couple thousand seats max. The stage is in the middle, and slowly rotates, which means every seat in the house is a great seat, although everyone at some time is looking at the back of the band.

The audience was stoked, stoned, and ready to rock. Bruce had his classic "East Street Band" line-up, including Clarence Clemons (sp?) on sax. And what a show it was! Solid, steaming rock-&-roll for two hours. I was at the early show, and to this day, I don't see how BS&tESB managed to have enuf energy for a second concert.

HIGHLIGHT : The opening number that night was the 60's rock/Motown classic - "And The (S)he Kissed Me". Its never appeared on any Springsteen album, but it left the whole audience with their jaws on the floor, and the band had us eating out of the palms of their hands for the rest of the night.

LOWLIGHT : The opening act was a folk singer named Danny O'Keefe, who did a 45 minute set of his songs, solo, and on acoustic guitar. I'm sure Mr. O'Keefe is a fine act, but the crowd was ready to party, not sink into reflective meditation on some thought-provoking lyrics.

We booed each song, and screamed for Bruce! About halfway thru the set, O'Keefe put down his guitar, took the mike, and said something like this :

"Look. I am being paid by Bruce Springsteen to do a 45 minute set of music. I am contractually-bound to do so, and indeed I will do so, whether you are booing me or not. All the screaming in the world won't bring Bruce out here one second earlier. Now you can boo if you like, but I am going to play my scheduled set anyway".

Of course, we booed that too. Now, 23 years later, I have to issue an apology to Danny O'Keefe for our inhospitable actions that night. Maybe I'll pick up a used Danny O'Keefe LP at Rockaway Records (now called 'The Rock Zone') as penance.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

T5CE - #3 : Beat Farmers (ca 1990)

Top 5 Concerts Ever : #3
The Beat Farmers - ca. 1990 (downtown Tempe)

The Beat Farmers were a San Diego-based band that gained considerable popularity in the SouthWest, but not much beyond that. They combined good Springsteen-esque rock-&-roll with a country-&-western flavor. They have an entry in Wikipedia, so refer there for a better history of them.

I first crossed paths with the BF's when a friend gave me a copy of the 1987 album pictured above, "The Pursuit of Happiness". It is awesome from beginning to end. "Viking Lullabies" is also a fantastic album, and if you want to get a feel for a BF concert, pick up "Live, Loud, and Plowed". All are available at Amazon.

We got to see them somewhere around 1990. They played outside, in downtown Tempe. If there was an admission fee, it was cheap - maybe $10 or so. For that price, we took 8-year-old Jason along. This may have been his first concert.

The heart & soul of the BF was Country Dick Montana, who played the drums and was one of the three lead singers in the band. You haven't heard Kenny Rogers' "Lucille" done full justice until you hear CDM's version (which can be found on the LL&P album).

HIGHLIGHTS : Any and all songs where Country Dick was the lead singer.
Also, in the middle of one of his songs (and he usually left his drums and came to the front of the stage when he sang lead vocals), Country Dick apparently got thirsty, so he hopped on the shoulders of someone in the front-row if the audience, who piggy-backed him over to the concession stand and bought him a beer. Meanwhile, the rest of the band just kept playing the song melody, and waited for him to get back, beer-in-hand, and still on piggy-back, to finish the vocals.

LOWLIGHTS : None at the concert. But on 08 November, 1995, Country Dick Montana died (onstage) of a massive heart attack at the age of 40, bringing to an end one of the best obscure rock-&-roll bands of all times.