Monday, July 20, 2009

Sing Us Some Songs, You're the Piano Men

Pardon the cheese, but it was a pretty good crowd for a Saturday over at Gillette Stadium this weekend. We were all in the mood for some melodies, and Elton John and Billy Joel had us feeling all right. Captain Fantastic and the Piano Man were there to play another of their joint shows, and despite any mockery I may have encountered for going, it was definitely worth it.

Elton and Billy's tour is officially called "Face 2 Face," but it could more accurately be called "Songs You Know By Heart" — to borrow the title of Jimmy Buffett's greatest hits album. As the duo winds its way through more than three hours of show — first together, then Elton for an hour, then Billy for an hour, then together again — you're reminded time and again why you fell in love with their music in the first place. Elton's one-two punch of "Tiny Dancer" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" was a perfect example. I'm not the world's biggest Elton John fan, but those two songs in order made me reconsider that stance. Likewise, it's one thing to hear Billy perform "Angry Young Man," but watching him pound the keys is an impressive sight, even after all these years.

And I say "after all these years" because both emphasized their classics — before many of his songs, Billy noted when in the 1970s they had been released. Elton's released plenty of albums since the height of his fame in the '70s and '80s, but I don't think he played much of anything from the '90s on. (Billy, of course, hasn't released an album of new songs since River of Dreams in 1993.) They also each played at least one deeper album cut that wouldn't be considered a mainstream hit; for Elton it was "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" or "Madman Across the Water," and for Billy it was "Zanzibar."

Anyway ... as much as these two guys have in common, the show was a study of contrasting styles. Whereas Elton's set was marked by pomp and power, Billy's was looser and more fun. Elton may have more musicianship, but Billy has more showmanship. One's a bitch and the other's a brawler. Billy was pre-occupied with flies and other bugs on the stage, while Elton seemed to have no such issues. Billy spoke with and interacted with the crowd, introducing every member of his band, and Elton mostly just played his music without saying much. Regardless, both seemed to be at the top of their game. These are two consummate pros, and together, they put on a great show.

Would I have been happier if I didn't have to hear "Candle in the Wind" or "Uptown Girl?" Sure. Was I bummed that they didn't play "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" or "Summer Highland Falls?" Yeah. ("My Father's Gun" was just a pipe dream.) But after listening to "My Life," "Levon," Rocket Man," "You May Be Right," and even "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," I was more than satisfied.

Billy and Elton have been doing these "Face 2 Face" shows for more than a decade and a half (I saw one at Giants Stadium in 1994), and I haven't seen either of them live since then — making this show feel like I was reconnecting with old friends at a reunion or something. Given the emphasis on classic hits, the show hasn't changed much, but that's alright: I like these guys just the way they are.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oh, the Places I'll Go

There was an article recently in GQ about how we've all lost our ability to get lost, thanks to GPS and other tools that show us where we want to go. Well, ironically enough, in the month or so that I've had an iPhone, I think I've gotten more lost than I ever have, because rather than just rely on directions I'd printed out, now I check and re-check the Google Maps app, re-calculating my route when I think I've made a wrong turn, over and over — which, of course, only makes it worse. On multiple occasions, including a couple when I was in Chicago recently, my reliance on the iPhone (and my stupidity) has actually taken me out of my way and sent me in some random direction because I wasn't following the map correctly. The old me had a very good sense of direction. The new, post-iPhone me is so tied to his device that he doesn't think for himself anymore.

But I digress.

This morning I had to drive out to Franklin, and rather than go the usual route that I'm used to going — Mass Pike to 495 — I decided once again to trust in the Google Maps app and go a totally different route, down 95 and on some side roads. The good news is that despite my skepticism that this would actually be an easy-to-follow route, not only did I get to Franklin quicker and more easily than had I taken the Pike, and not only did I only make one wrong turn on the way, but man, what a great drive it was! Until this morning, I had never been to Westwood, Millis, Medfield, or any of the other towns I traveled through, and on such a beautiful day, they were really nice. Sure, I didn't really get out and explore or anything (just cruised on down routes 109 and 115), but the drive made me want to get out and explore — and yes, get lost in — these towns. I really and truly enjoyed seeing somewhere new, and didn't even mind that I was stuck behind slow-moving cars both going there and coming home. This was a really nice area, and I'm already kind of looking forward to the next time I head on out there.

Point is, Google Maps isn't all bad. And if I stick to the directions and pay attention, who knows what other places it will take me to in the future.

Labels: ,

Monday, July 13, 2009

In or Aus?

Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat was so over-the-top good that his next film was bound to pale by comparison. Which is not to say that Bruno isn't funny or worth seeing; on both counts it is. But there's something about it that feels very "been there, done that," and most of the movie is maybe even a little too over the top to be believable in the same way that Borat was. And that's why I was a bit disappointed.

In Bruno, Baron Cohen plays the title character, a gay Austrian fashion reporter, who bungles coverage of a fashion show in Milan, is dumped by his boyfriend, and decides to come to America to be a famous movie star. About two-thirds of the movie focuses on Bruno in L.A., interviewing the likes of Paula Abdul, adopting an African baby, appearing on the TV show Medium, and basically being Bruno. There are some humorous things, but some of it feels fake/staged (like the Medium stuff), and that's just lame. It's not really until more than halfway through the movie when Bruno goes to Alabama and starts interacting with "real people" that the film reaches the level of Borat greatness.

Of course, if you've been watching the massive publicity blitz that Baron Cohen has been doing, both in and out of character, and you've seen the trailer and other clips, then you've already heard a lot of the better jokes. Which is alright, because there's some pretty wild stuff — definitely not for the homophobic at heart — that will surprise and amuse. Still, whereas Borat felt "real" and like a mockumentary, and found great humor in the interactions between Borat and his unsuspecting interviewees, Bruno feels more like an improvisational comedy where the star is trying too hard. In short, the novelty just isn't there this time. Bruno is a short movie — it runs just under 90 minutes — and it'd be nice to say a little goes a long way, but in this case, it's probably just enough. I'm going to give this one a B.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

It Never Lets Me Down

I say it every time I go there, but it's true: Chicago is my kind of town. And my trip over the past few days was definitely one of the best yet. Sure, I do some of the same things whenever I'm in the Windy City (hello, Bean), but I haven't had the same agenda twice. There's always something new and different to do. For example, although I'd been to the Sears Tower — ahem, I mean the Willis Tower — before, this trip I got to experience the Ledge, which you've seen me mention on this blog. Suffice it to say, it didn't disappoint. I mean, it's not like the Ledge is an action-packed thrill ride or anything — in fact, it's kind of just there, with no extra signage or anything — but it is pretty cool, and given that I went on a day with perfect weather, it made for a fun time and some great pictures. That was definitely a highlight of the trip.

Also a highlight was my first trip to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, where I saw the Cubbies beat the Milwaukee Brewers. It was a much more low-key experience going to a game at Wrigley, which I say because it was an afternoon game and though we had seats in the upper deck (section 516), Andrew and I moved around a bit and were able to sit in various seats in the field box and 100 levels. You can't do something like that at Fenway; there are too many ushers there, and the games are always sold out, with nary an empty seat to be found. Other "new" things for me this trip were a trip down the Chicago River on an architectural boat tour, experiencing the chaos of the Taste of Chicago, watching the fireworks on Yuntiff (i.e., the night before the holiday, on July 3), and a few trips on the El. And of course, I took plenty of pictures while I was there; you can see them here.

The reason I went out this week, though, was because I was invited to Andrew's wife Rachel's family's beach house on Lake Michigan ... in Michigan City, Indiana (which, I learned after the fact, is not a red state). There are many longstanding traditions at the house, including labeling your plastic cup and not getting another all weekend, the serving of Drunken Salami (i.e., salami that's been marinated for a couple months in Scotch and Russian dressing) and the awarding of a Salami King/Queen, and a great bonfire on the beach with family-bought and family-lit fireworks. It was an awesome time. You know how I feel about being in Boston on the Fourth, but I have to say, sitting there on the beach Saturday night watching all the fireworks going off (not just ours), and having a sing-along with the gang, after eating delicious barbecue, playing some beach volleyball, and watching an amazing sunset, I decided this was a perfect Fourth of July. (Though full disclosure: I had the Boston Pops' "Stars and Stripes Forever" on my iPhone and I played it around the same time they were playing it at the Hatch Shell.) And as if the weekend couldn't get any better, one other tradition is a stop at the local Dairy Queen on the way home. Yum. If you'd like to see pictures of just the Fourth of July weekend, click here (Note: it's a separate album from the other Chicago pics).

And now the vacation is over. As the song says, "Each time I leave, Chicago is / Tuggin my sleeve." True enough. Chicago is one town that never lets me down. I can't wait to go back.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Coolest Month of the Year

If you didn't already know, July is National Ice Cream Month. According to the International Dairy Foods Association and the International Ice Cream Association, we can thank Ronald Reagan for the distinction. (Seriously.) And, if you're marking your calendar, July 19 (the third Sunday of July) is National Ice Cream Day. So go out and get yourself a cone of your favorite flavor. And before you do, check out this classic NSFW Eddie Murphy skit.

Labels: ,

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Ain't Nothing Like the Fourth

I don't know where you are right now when you're reading this, but in Boston, it's hard to believe it's July 4 already. Maybe you've heard how awful the weather has been. Rain, chilly temperatures, very little sun. It's enough to make a person flee the city. Judging by the weather, we should probably only be in April, or early May. Definitely not halfway through the summer.

But let's forget all that for a day, shall we? After all, good weather or not, it's July 4th. The Fourth of July. Independence Day. One of my favorite days of the year (after my birthday and Christmas, probably number three). When it comes to July 4th, I'm a very traditional guy. I love barbecues, the Boston Pops, and fireworks (and a Red Sox win would be great too). In fact, few things reliably give me chills of happiness and bring a smile to my face like that moment during the annual Pops concert at the Hatch Shell when the Pops come to the end of "Stars and Stripes Forever" and the flag unfurls and the confetti flies and the first few fireworks go off. That, to me, is the Fourth of July in a nutshell, and it doesn't get any better than that.

So, no matter where you are today, no matter how good the weather is, I hope you have a very happy Fourth of July, and that come 10:20 p.m. or so (Eastern time), you'll be listening to the Pops do their thing and will enjoy it as much as I do.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 03, 2009

What's Good?

Because I see a lot of movies, people often ask me what they should see. Well, it's now halfway through 2009, and so far I've only seen 19 films. (By comparison, last year at this time I had seen 23.) Of those 19, there are four that I've given a grade of A or A– to: Two Lovers, The Girlfriend Experience, Star Trek, and Up. (Last year there were none.) So, next time you're looking for a good rental or trying to decide what to see in the theater, pick one of those four titles.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

On the Edge

The Ledge at the Sears Tower in Chicago officially opens today. I totally want to go and check it out. I mean, when you've gone skydiving and taken a trapeze lesson, how scary can it be to stand in a 1.5-inch–thick glass box that's extended out 4.3 feet from the Sears Tower's 103rd floor, 1,353 feet off the ground? If I get to do it, I'll let you know the answer to that question. In the meantime, here's a clip about the Ledge from yesterday's Today Show.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I've Got Five Years Left

This is going to make my parents sooooo happy.

According to a new study by the National Center for Health Statistics, for most Americans, the probability of being married by age 40 is more than 80 percent. In fact, for men, the likelihood of a first marriage by age 40 is 81 percent (for women, it's 86 percent). And to show that not everyone gets married so early, the study also found that men have only a 50 percent chance of being married for the first time by age 27, and just a 61 percent chance of being married for the first time by age 30. So, despite the common thought that most everyone I know is already married, the opposite may actually be true. It's nice to know I have a lot of company out there, and that like the saying goes, there are still plenty of fish in the sea.

Now, I'm not the kind of single person who sits around bemoaning his singleton status. Far from it. But it's nice to know that even though I'm 35, there's still a great chance that I could still get married before long. My parents needn't give up hope just yet.

Of course, I guess that means I had better start working on finding someone to marry now. Otherwise, I'll be in the other 19 percent.

(For more results from the study, click here.)