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Allright already, here’s my iPad post

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

I have been notified by the blogging authorities that I am in violation of Blog Law #865309, subsection 2, paragraph iii, which clearly states that anyone running an active blog on or about January 27, 2010 must post their thoughts on Apple’s new iPad product within 48 hours of Steve Jobs’ announcement or face severe ridicule in the tech-geek community. Because of my failure to do so, I have hereby been sentenced to provide tech support to my entire extended family at all hours of the day and night for the foreseeable future.

In posting this now, I am throwing myself on the mercy of the courts, in hopes of earning myself some time off for good behavior.


Now, where were we? Ah yes, the iPad. First of all: Wow. Wicked cool. Seriously. I mean, DAMN! You don’t get more Star Trek than that. Come on! Check out the picture to the right – those Personal Access Display Devices (or P.A.D.D.’s) they used on the show might as well have been iPads, and that was back in the early 90′s. As always, Apple gets props for turning science fiction into retail electronics. If the Blackberry was the Tricorder, than this thing is the P.A.D.D..

I suspect a lot of people will spend a lot of time (and a considerable amount of money) gawking at how cool it looks. But eventually, you need to turn it on and actually, you know, use it for something. On that score, at least for now, I’m still impressed. After all, who are we kidding? It’s a 10-inch iPhone/iPod Touch. All those people who insisted they were comfortable watching a full-length feature film on a 4.5″ x 2.5″ screen can finally admit that yes, a 9.6″ x 7.8″ is much, much nicer, thank you very much. Same goes for viewing pictures, playing video games and browsing the web. After all, that “pinch and spread” technology is very cool and all, but reading a content-rich web page would be much nicer if we didn’t have to do quite so much pinching.

There is a new wrinkle here in iBooks, and while the interface is Apple-style cool, there’s the little sticking point of eInk vs. LCD screen. As pretty as the iPad’s screen is, it can’t be as easy on the eyes as eInk, putting iPad at a disadvantage in the eReader category. I don’t think this is insurmountable, though. If people like what the iPad can do, they might accept a slightly inferior eBook reader to avoid buying (and carrying around) two devices. And, as I said in my review of the Amazon Kindle, the other eBook readers don’t even attempt to do what the iPad can do.

That said, if iBooks is the new wrinkle, then the new crease is the presence of content-entry apps, specifically the iWork suite and Mail. That keyboard that would pop up for texting/e-mailing on your iPhone is almost full-size now, and so Apple is placing a (small) bet that people will use the iPad to create content, not just to consume it. Here, I think they wade into dangerous territory. The “wow” factor will fade quickly when you have to get your presentation done, and if Keynote is much easier to use on the MacBook than it is on the iPad, people will revert back awfully quickly. Also, and I know I speak blasphemy here, there’s still the small problem of Microsoft Office’s 80% market share in this space. Those of us who haven’t entered Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field can still plug our iPods, iPod Touches, and iPhones into our Windows PC’s, but there’s no way we’re doing the budget spreadsheet in Numbers, and then sending it to our boss who expects Excel. If they want the iPad to truly replace the laptop, they’re going to need to reach out with the olive branch and get Microsoft to write iPad specific versions of those programs. (No, I’m not holding my breath).

Then there is the matter of what isn’t there. I’m surprised, for instance, that the iPad cannot function as a phone. If you’ve got 3G capability (optional), the iPhone OS, a microphone and speakers/a headphone jack, isn’t phone functionality just another app? Or is Apple suggesting that we buy (and carry around) an iPad and an iPhone? Dubious. Also, I’m reading where Safari for iPad doesn’t support Adobe Flash? Didn’t Steve Jobs tell us we’d have the “whole web in the palm of our hands?” This is kind of like the semi-secret “no, it doesn’t do cut & paste yet” thing with the original iPhones. I’m looking for a flash-enabled browser in the very near future. I’m sure other gotcha’s like this will dribble out once the iPad actually gets in the hands of users, but for now, those are the two that surprised me the most.

Conclusions?

As things stand today, if someone were to buy me one as a gift, I’d gladly give it a permanent home in my laptop bag, where it would replace my (old and aging) iPod and probably also my Kindle. It would provide me with a good portable photo frame, video player and web browser, none of which I have today. I don’t think I’d use it for e-mail (except maybe an occasional one-off, blackberry style) and I’m pretty sure I’d never use the iWork apps. For those reasons, if I’m spending my own money, I’d probably save the $300 and buy an iPod Touch, which does OK as a photo frame, video player and web browser, and doesn’t make me pay for all that extra stuff I’d never use.

But that’s today. In the near future, I fully expect someone (be it Apple or a competitor) to take the ball from here and run with it. And if a similar device were to become available for less money, running the apps I’m used to using, and making it just as easy to create on a tablet as it is on a laptop, then I am so there.

One last thing: the name. There are two problems with it. The first is somewhat localized in the American northeast (specifically, Boston) where the word “iPad” and the word “iPod” sound way too similar for everyone’s liking. More globally, though, I join pretty much everyone in the world in wondering if there are any women who work in Apple’s marketing department. Or at least any men who might have remembered this from back in 2006:

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Tech Talk | 9 Comments »

ISBS Review: The Amazon Kindle

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

I realize that this probably would have been more useful before Christmas, but I’ve been using the Amazon Kindle for about a month now, and I’ve finally found the time to write up a review. So, if you didn’t get one for Christmas and you’ve got stuff to return at Amazon, maybe this will help you out.

One sentence: The Amazon Kindle is surprisingly good at what it does, but surprisingly stubborn in its desire to only do that one thing.

More than one sentence: When I read a book on the Amazon Kindle, I quite often forget that I’m not reading a real book, sometimes to the point where I reach for the upper-right corner of the page to turn it, rather than pushing the “Next Page” button. Reasons for this include screen resolution, form factor and simple design.

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Categories: ISBS Reviews, Tech Talk | 2 Comments »

ISBS Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Live at Giants Stadium – October 3, 2009

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Good evening, New Jersey!

Last night at Giants Stadium, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band put on a three-hour extravaganza that proved conclusively that adrenaline can power a rock & roll band every bit as much as an electric guitar.

Billed as his farewell to Giants Stadium (a new Giants Stadium is nearing completion in the parking lot next door, and will open for business with next year’s football season), Bruce and the band powered through twenty-eight songs (setlist), providing the required momentum for the near-perpetual motion machine that is his loyal fan base.

Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Words about Music | 5 Comments »

ISBS Review: Drink, Play, F@#k

Friday, February 20th, 2009

It happened three times.

I’d be sitting on a train, reading Drink, Play, F@#k: One Man’s Search for Anything Across Ireland, Vegas, and Thailand by Andrew Gottlieb, and a woman on the train would smile at me and sigh just a little. Then she’d get a closer look at the cover. The smile would degrade into a frown of confusion, and finally come to rest as a smirk of contempt. The third time, the woman in question was actually reading her copy of Eat, Pray, Love: One woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. I’m telling you – there might be five men on the entire planet that have read that book, and four of them read their wives’ copy while no one (including their wives) were looking. The prospect of finding a man reading it on a commuter train was a source of great fulfillment for these women, cruelly dashed by the clever cover art of Paul D’Innocenzo.

When I first saw Drink, Play, F@#k… in the bookstore, I chuckled to myself, but wrote off buying it because I figured it was a parody of Eat, Pray, Love…, and most of the humor would be lost on me (given that I’m not one of the five men discussed earlier). But then Martin Wilson, the book’s publisher, saw my blog post on the topic, and sent me a free copy. And so, with my ego properly stroked and my motivations properly aligned, I read it. And I’m here to tell you that I fully enjoyed it, even though I still have no idea (or desire to learn) what Eat, Pray, Love… is all about.

Drink, Play, F@#k… concerns Bob Sullivan, a thirty-something New York businessman who’s wife of eight years leaves him for another man. In an effort to rid himself of the pain this caused, Bob decides to quit his job and spend a year cavorting around the world. His trip is divided neatly into three, four-month jaunts – to Ireland, where he drinks heavily, to Vegas where he plays everything from craps to golf, and to Thailand where he, well…you can read the title.

Bob establishes up front that his true love in all of this, his metaphor for life if you will, is the roulette wheel. So much so that the book is divided into 38 small chapters – twelve in each country, plus two introductory chapters (the zero and double-zero). I’ve always liked books that are organized this way – you can pick them up, read an entire chapter, and walk away feeling like you accomplished something in less than five minutes. Not that I put this book down too many times…

Before you think I’m gushing just because I got a free copy of the book, I should tell you that my hopes were not high in the beginning. The first twelve chapters (Ireland) were supposed to be about drinking. As it turns out, only eight of them were. The other four were rants about Bob’s ex-wife, intended to explain to us just how hurt and pissed off he was about his wife’s infidelity and general whininess. One of them is even dedicated to clarifying that his wife is not the “evil, crazy bitch” that the other three chapters clearly show her to be. The other eight chapters were indeed about drinking, but that’s really about it. Bob drinks with a redhead named Giovanna. He drinks with his friend Colin. He drinks in exotic locations. And while he’s drinking, well, not much happens. I was beginning to think that the entire book was going to be a plotless platform for this fictional guy to bitch about his cheating ex-wife.

Then Bob went to Vegas. Here, me meets his “guru,” Rick, and together, they have several, honest-to-goodness adventures. There are the requisite “win a lot of money” and “lose a lot of money” stories that you’d expect from a Vegas trip, but also some clever bits on a golf course and even a helicopter ride with a hot waitress in the Grand Canyon (want to know more? Read the book!). By the time Rick sends Bob off to Thailand to get laid, I was thoroughly hooked.

In Thailand, as promised, there is plenty of sex. But along the way, the adventures continue. Bob meets some interesting characters, not all of which turn into sexual conquests, and eventually redeems his Ireland stories with a nice tie-in to the first section that I won’t reveal here.

When all was said and done, I walked away feeling completely satisfied with the story. It was a quick read, cleverly written, and with enough plot twists to keep me interested throughout. This is the kind of book I’ll probably throw into a beach bag a few years from now and read again, because I’ll remember it as a good read, but forget the details of what happened.

…and also to see the looks on the womens’ faces when they realize what I’m (not) reading.

Categories: ISBS Reviews | 4 Comments »

ISBS Review: Rosie Live! – Dead on Arrival

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Last Saturday, I summarized all of the bad reviews that Rosie O’Donnell’s new variety show, Rosie Live!, received on it’s premiere (and, as it turns out, finale) show. At the end of the post, I off-handedly commented that I’d really like to see the show now, just to see how bad it was. And then Jason egged me on. So tonight, I put myself through watched it.

First of all, let’s be clear: the show deserved every bad review it got. It was truly awful. And, since I watched it with an eye toward what made it so bad, I think I’ve got it figured out: Rosie simply cannot get out of her own way.

Did you ever go to a local comedy club? You know, the kind where there’s an emcee who does a few minutes of stand-up to warm up the crowd, then introduces the next act, then comes back and does some more stand-up, then introduces the headliner, then reminds you to tip your waitresses and says goodnight? OK, did you ever truly hate the emcee? I mean, has he/she ever been one of those people that just rubs you the wrong way as soon as he/she takes the stage? To the point where even if you enjoyed the comedian, when you saw the emcee you thought, “Ugh….this guy again?!?” If you know what I’m talking about, then you know what Rosie Live! was like.

Every time Rosie was on stage, the material was cringe inducing. The comedy bits were lame, poorly rehearsed, and ill-timed (Example #1: “Oh, let me see who’s at the door. Why, it’s Jane Krakowski! <at which point, Rosie opens the door>. Example #2: “Wait a minute, was that the doorbell? <NBC chimes sound – bing, bong, bing…> Why, yes it was!”). And her singing was, as it always is, barely passable.

But here’s the thing: even that wouldn’t have killed the show. The main problem was that Rosie was in all but four of the numbers – a pair of tap-dancing twins, an acrobatic act that called back Ed Sullivan’s spinning plates (now with Segways!), and two musical guests – a jazz singer who’s name I’ve instantly forgotten and Alanis Morrisette. In every other case, Rosie inserted herself for no apparent good reason. As such, major talent like Liza Minelli, Jane Krakowski, Kathy Griffin, Clay Aiken, Harry Connick Jr. and Gloria Estefan had no room to shine. They either performed with Rosie as an anchor around their waists, or walked on and off stage, barely performing at all. Clay Aiken made a lame joke about how both he and Rosie were gay, but didn’t sing a single note. Harry Connick Jr. plugged his Christmas CD, sang a few bars of a Christmas song, and was then ushered off the stage by Rosie so the show could move on. If you go back and read the list of names I just mentioned, you can’t help but admit that the lineup is pretty impressive (not every performer appeals to everyone, but remember – this is supposed to be a variety show. That’s the point).

The intervening comedy bits (like the comedy club emcee coming back on to introduce the next act), were poorly written and inclusive of popular TV personalities (Alec Baldwin, Conan O’Brein, and others). I’d have even given these a pass because I remember the old Bob Hope specials, where he’d do the exact same thing. A master comedian like Bob Hope (or Johnny Carson, or Dave Letterman) can be funny to watch even when the jokes are dying. But Rosie just couldn’t pull that off. It didn’t help that she started the show by talking about how overweight she was and then grabbing her own breasts. This theme carried throughout the comedy sketches, as guest after guest made reference either to her cleavage or her weight. The closing number, with Gloria Estefan, was a song entitled “I’ll Eat Tomorrow,” and contained dancers wearing giant food costumes (think: Beauty and the Beast – the stage show) and Rachel Ray walking on stage with a giant (fake) turkey.

The bottom line: the great variety shows of the past featured their hosts, but they weren’t about their hosts. The purpose of the show was to showcase the guests, and the host existed to weave it together. This show was an on-stage tribute to Rosie herself. With four exceptions, everything was by Rosie, about Rosie, with Rosie or for Rosie. When it ended (and before she read the reviews), I’m guessing Rosie was pretty happy about how it all went. Unfortunately, no one else in America agreed.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Primetime TV | 6 Comments »

ISBS Movie Review: High School Musical 3

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

If you haven’t been living under a rock lately, you know that this weekend marked the debut of High School Musical 3, the third installment in the wildly successful Disney series. This was the first of the three that debuted in theaters (the other two living exclusively on The Disney Channel until, of course, they made their way to DVD). With two children in my house, ages 8 and 5, it was mandatory viewing this evening (my kids happen to be boys; if they were girls it would have been mandatory last night after school, or at least this morning – which is why I saw several neighborhood Brownie troops heading into the theater this morning when I went to buy advance tickets).

Asking a G-rated movie aimed primarily at pre-teen girls to live up to this kind of hype is asking a lot. It’s a true credit to this film to say that it handles the task admirably, although there are most definitely some flaws. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

First, the plot: the gang from HSM1 and HSM2 return for their senior year. Unlike the other two movies, this edition starts with the East Side High Wildcats basketball team winning it’s championship game. With that neatly out of the way, the group begins considering their future. Some, like Troy (Zac Efron) and Chad (Corbin Bleu) have obvious default choices – the University of Albuquerque (the local U. and Troy’s dad’s alma mater) already have their lockers picked out. Others, like Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) have selected their college, but have more complex choices to make, like whether to attend a college honors program that pulls her out of high school early enough to miss the school’s spring musical and it’s senior prom. These two events (but really the musical, as per the title) become the focus of the movie. The musical’s theme, “Senior Year” serves as a multi-faceted plot device that allows each character to consider his/her future through what he/she performs in the show, etc. In fact, in a scene that bends reality a bit [NO SPOILERS HERE - I PROMISE], the musical’s finale actually consists of the school’s drama teacher revealing each student’s plans for the following year, sometimes to the complete surprise of the student himself/herself.

In terms of a review, the best I can do is this: this movie constantly teeters on the brink of ridiculousness, but never actually crosses the line, leaving audiences (even the parents) feeling good at the end. Enough so that we forgive quite a bit of forced dialog, awkwardly wedged-in song cues, and the occasional bout of over-acting. The actors do a fine job with what they’re given, although quite a few of them have grown up significantly since the last movie, a fact that is conveniently ignored throughout the film, of course. The leads, Efron and Hudgens, are clearly being groomed for other, non-Disney roles, as they appear much more grown-up and edgier this time around. And the music? The music has become a genre of it’s own. It’s the kind of music you could hear totally out of context and say to yourself, “that sounds like a High School Musical song.” Surprisingly, it took the writers untill the graduation scene in the third movie to actually write a song called “High School Musical,” and it’s title is so jarring that even the kids winced a bit when the cast launched into it.

But whatever flaws the movie has are very much beside the point. When the lights went down at the beginning of the picture, the audience in the theater burst into spontaneous, anticipatory applause. The applauded after several of the musical numbers as well. And my kids? In typical Disney fashion, my kids’ reaction was exactly what Disney was hoping for. The older one sat mesmerized throughout the film, memorizing every detail and pointing out subtleties in the plot (“Mommy, if Gabriella goes to college in California and Troy goes to college in New Mexico, they won’t get to see each other so much anymore”). The younger one smiled ear-to-ear throughout the film and then, as if struck by lightning, turned to me during the finale and said, “Daddy, is this the last High School Musical movie ever on the entire earth?” Well, son, they’ve graduated now, so unless someone’s writing “College Musical 1,” then yes – this is the end. His reaction: “Can we buy the DVD tomorrow?”

Bottom line: if you (and/or your kids) enjoyed the first two films, then this truly is required viewing. It’s Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith without all the complicated whining about how the writer/director didn’t satisfactorily tie up all the loose ends. You will leave the theater tapping your toe, feeling good, and satisfied that the story reached a proper conclusion. Then, you’ll get in your car and realize that it’s High School Freakin’ Musical music that you’re humming, and immediately click over to your hard rock playlist to clear your palette.

Or at least, that’s what I did…

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Movie Talk | 1 Comment »

ISBS Review: South Pacific on Broadway

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

As an anniversary gift, my in-laws bought us tickets to see the latest revival of South Pacific, currently playing at the Lincoln Square Theater in New York.

For those who don’t know (I didn’t until tonight), South Pacific was written in 1949 by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein.  It tells the story of two couples who meet while stationed in the South Pacific during World War II.  The first is comprised of Nellie Forbush, a young army nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Emile de Becque, a well-travelled Frenchman who moved to the islands after a run-in with the law in his hometown.  Despite their many differences, they fall in love and plan to marry, until Nellie learns that Emile has two children by a local, Polynesian woman who has since died.  Nellie has an adverse reaction to the race of Emile’s former lover, and her racism causes her to end the relationship.  The second couple is Lieutenant Joe Cable, a clean-cut boy from Philadelphia, who falls in love with a local Tonkinese girl, Lyatt, but ultimately refuses to marry her because of what the people at home would think of the mixed marriage.  From there, the war intercedes to separate each pair, and the two women deal with the guilt, fear, regret, and unrequited love that comes from these initial, racially-motivated decisions.

Along the way, South Pacific delivers some classic Rodgers and Hammerstein songs that you have likely heard before – “Some Enchanted Evening” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta my Hair” (the latter most likely from a 70′s-era Clairol commercial that extolled, “I’m Gonna Wash That Gray Right Outta my Hair”).  There are also songs that will sound familiar, but you might not recognize right out of the gate, such as “Bali Ha’i” and “A Cockeyed Optimist.”

With all of that going for it, I’m sorry to report that I found this performance of South Pacific to be an extremely well done staging of a mediocre musical.  In other words, while the singing, acting, music, dancing, etc. were spectacular – a wonderfully talented cast – I was surprised to find that such a well-known, time-honored show like South Pacific had so many problems when it came to storytelling.

At it’s core, the issue is the mix between exposition/character development and meaningful plot points.  The first act is an hour and forty-five minutes long, and is mostly a light-hearted, good-natured romp.  We get to know and like all of the characters during this time, as they laugh and joke with each other over matters of life and love.  The first hint of trouble in either of the two main relationships doesn’t come until literally five minutes before intermission, when Nellie reveals that she won’t marry Emile because he slept with a Polynesian woman.  When the house lights come on, I found myself wondering why it took so damn long to make such a simple point.

Early in the second act, the other shoe finally drops, as we learn the Lt. Cable won’t marry Lyatt either, for similar, racially-motivated reasons.  Then, inexplicably, the members of the army base launch into a fun-loving, raucous Thanksgiving Day celebration show, complete with a very funny drag skit, where one of the men dons a coconut brassiere and plays coy with a nurse dressed in a man’s sailor uniform.  While entertaining, this extended diversion takes away whatever momentum the rather serious-minded main plot had developed.  At this point, the show turns darker (literally and figuratively), as our light musical comedy with occasional bouts of social consciousness suddenly becomes a war story – complete with maps, secret radio transmissions, and panic-stricken women left to wait nervously while their men risk their lives at war.

I won’t ruin the ending, of course, but I will tell you that whatever commentary the authors sought to make about racism and the choices we make in our lives could easily have been made quite strongly in roughly half an hour.  Interspersing that story throughout two and a half hours of tangentially related music and fun watered it down to such a degree that this audience member, at least, walked away unsatisfied.

One last side note:  after the curtain calls, a quote appears on a large screen, describing how the men and women in the South Pacific during World War II would one day fade into history, much like those at Shiloh or Valley Forge have already done.  It occurred to me that in 1949, when the show debuted, the memories of World War II were so fresh that such a notion was likely a sobering one.  Reading the quote in 2008, when it’s prediction has essentially come to pass, I was impressed by how the same quote could be so sobering to two different generations for almost diametrically opposite reasons.

Alas, if only the show’s message had hit home as strongly.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, New York, New York | 3 Comments »

ISBS Review: Billy Joel at Shea Stadium – The “Last Play at Shea”

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Billy Joel brought the house down last night. Or, at least, he played to a house that someone else is bringing down later this year.

It what can only be described as an amazing display of talent, guts, and stamina, Billy Joel rocked Shea Stadium last night for more than three hours, steamrolling through his unparalleled music catalog with the determination of a prize fighter in a championship bout. The show had everything, including selections from Joel’s well-known “Greatest Hits” albums, several obscure tracks that he rarely plays live, and a host of other musical surprises that sent the crowd reeling over and over again.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

The stage at Shea Stadium was a bit of a departure from Joel’s standard arrangement. The grand piano was still front and center, of course, but the lack of audience members behind him meant the absence of the typical keyboards and runways that allow him to move about the stage during the show. In their place was a full string section at backstage right, and what has evolved over the last few years into a full-strength horn section at backstage left, complete with trumpet/flugelhorn, trombone, and several saxophones. All of this was flanked by several large viewing screens, designed in the shape of the New York skyline, so folks in the upper deck would have a chance to see Joel at more than a microscopic scale.

The show began with the Shea Stadium announcer asking the crowd to “please rise for our national anthem” in true baseball style. Joel has performed the national anthem at various recent World Series and Superbowl games with, shall we say, “mixed success.” This time, though, on his “home turf” with his very own grand piano and his very own sound system, he delivered a rich, full performance of the song. My hopes were high.

Then the video screens came on. Joel looked completely exhausted. His face was flushed and dripping with sweat, and he was rubbing down his entire head with a towel while frequently drinking out of a coffee mug and spritzing his tongue with artificial saliva to stay hydrated. The first few songs, which included Miami 2017,
Angry Young Man and My Life were separated by conversations with the audience, during which Joel was obviously catching his breath and towelling down for the next song. While his voice was still rich and strong, his body language on stage made me wonder whether he’d survive the evening, let alone put on a lengthy, energetic show.

But then, to quote some of his lyrics, Joel seemed to “get his second wind.” He launched into a few rarely performed songs – Everybody Loves You Now,
The Entertainer, and Zanzibar, featuring the absolutely mind-boggling trumpet/flugelhorn talents of Carl Fischer. I don’t know if it was the fact that the sun had set at that point and the night had cooled off a bit, or maybe the energy from the Shea Stadium crowd boosted his adrenaline, but from that point on, Joel seemed to get younger and more energetic with every song. By the time he got to
It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me and You May Be Right, he was standing on the piano and shadow-boxing with the mike stand like he did back in the ’80s (OK, that’s too generous – how about like he did in the early ’00s?).

The hits kept coming, and Joel took special care to make each one a showstopper. He turned Innocent Man into a church spiritual, and Captain Jack into an all-out gospel celebration. The video work behind We Didn’t Start the Fire, showing all of the various historical people and events mentioned in the lyrics, enhanced the song tremendously. Goodnight Saigon was extremely poignant, given the presence of a dozen or more veterans from various branches of the military who joined him on stage to sing, “We said we’d all go down together.” That song ended with chants of “USA! USA!” from the crowd, a la the 1980 Lake Placid Hockey Team’s heroics. The aforementioned string orchestra put an amazing shine on songs like
Goodnight, My Angel and The Ballad of Billy the Kid, and the horn section turned
Big Man on Mulberry Street into a romping, big band jazz number.

In my January, 2006 review of his Madison Square Garden Concert, I said, “There were far fewer piano riffs/solos than there had been in years past, but what he did play sounded great, even if it wasn’t as dramatic as it used to be.” Not anymore. Joel’s keyboard was on fire last night, especially on songs like River of Dreams,
Root Beer Rag, and Don’t Ask Me Why. All told, Joel performed a whopping thirty-four songs over a period of three hours and fifteen minutes, including at least one cut from each of his twelve studio albums. The full set list is here.

But none of that is what everyone is going to be talking about.

Song #10 was New York State of Mind, an obvious choice for a hometown concert. Halfway through, Joel surprised the crowd by introducing fellow New Yorker, Tony Bennett, who joined him on stage to reprise the duet from Bennett’s 2006 album, “Duets: An American Classic.” Bennett, who will turn 82 years old in three weeks, hit the ball out of the park (sorry…). His voice was booming, and his enthusiasm sent the already excited crowd around the moon. When he yelled “New York! The Greatest City in the World!”, one could imagine the stadium coming down several months ahead of schedule.

But Joel wasn’t finished. The show contained three more guest stars, including John Mayer, who played the guitar solo on the rarely-performed This is the Time, Don Henley, who played his hit, Boys of Summer, in honor of Shea’s last season of baseball, and John Mellencamp, who played his hit, Pink Houses.

Joel also recognized Shea Stadium as the home of the iconic Beatles concerts of the mid-60′s. He wove Hard Day’s Night into his own River of Dreams, and ended the pre-encore show with Please, Please Me. During the encore, he said, “I’d like to thank the Beatles for letting us use their room! [They were] the greatest rock band that ever was and ever will be!” and then launched into She Loves You, as the video screens around the stage switched to black & white for the full effect. Given the cavalcade of stars we’d seen that evening, I was half-expecting Paul McCartney and/or Ringo Starr to join him on stage (and, in fact, I’m reading rumors this morning that they may be there at the second show on Friday night). Actual Beatles or not, I can tell you that while he was singing She Loves You, my eyes were transfixed on the pitcher’s mound, where the Beatles stood more than 30 years earlier, in front of a similarly screaming crowd. As a rule, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I could almost see the Fab Four appear on the mound, and the effect sent chills up my spine.

She Loves You was followed by Piano Man, which afforded us all the opportunity to hear 60,000 New Yorkers singing along (and sometimes instead of) Billy Joel on what has become his signature sign-off. As an extra bonus, he tossed in Souvenir after Piano Man, in what struck me as a nod to his advancing years, and the distinct possibility that this could be the last Billy Joel show any of us ever see. All I can say is, if that turns out to be the case, this was a hell of a way to go out.

A picture postcard
A folded stub
A program of the play
File away your photographs
Of your holiday

And your mementos
Will turn to dust
But that’s the price you pay
For every year’s a souvenir
That slowly fades away

Every year’s a souvenir
That slowly fades away

UPDATE: Pictures from the show now posted here.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Words about Music | 6 Comments »

ISBS Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen at Continental Airlines Arena, October 9, 2007

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Watching Bruce Springsteen perform is like watching a freight train run at full speed. While standing on the track. In front of the train. Without earplugs.

At 58 years old, Bruce is still the hardest working man in rock & roll. He hit the stage with a hard rocking Radio Nowhere, and basically played straight through for more than two hours. And when I say played straight through, in most cases I mean he actually played straight through. A song would end, “Mighty Max” Weinberg would rattle the drums over the last chord, the crowd would go wild, and then Bruce would run to the back of the stage, grab a new guitar from a roadie, run back to the microphone and yell, “1, 2, 3, 4!” and off they’d go into the next song. The energy required to maintain this pace showed in Bruce’s perspiration, but not in his music. Every hard rocking tune was loud and electrifying. Bruce’s emotions ran from exhilaration (Candy’s Room) to anger (Livin’ in the Future) to fun (Dancing in the Dark) to unadulterated soul (American Land).

The E Street Band did its part, to be sure, and while the sound was amazing, I’d say their body language ranged from “keep up with him if you can!” to “man, I’m getting too old for this…” Of course, I can’t say I blame them. The only true weakness in the band is Bruce’s wife, Patti Scialfa, who’s voice is really not strong enough to be doing duets with her husband on slower songs. But who am I to deny Bruce a little nepotism? After all, it’s his show…

As to the setlist, I was once again impressed with Bruce’s abilities as an artist and as an entertainer. Here’s a man who released his Greatest Hits disc in 1995, and now, twelve years later, he can put on a 23-song show that uses only four of those greatest hits, and with nary a complaint from the crowd. It also speaks to his confidence in his new disc, Magic, from which he played eight of the eleven tracks. Bruce Springsteen has clearly never heard the term “filler.”

Some other reviews of the show that I’ve read this morning called out the crowd as being more subdued than previous crowds. And while it’s true that Bruce did say, “Philly was louder than you guys” at one point, I think it’s relevant to note that the average age at the show probably pushed into the high thirties. Philadelphia was probably louder because it’s more of a college town, and so Bruce probably draws a younger and more energetic audience. Ironically, here in New Jersey, where Springsteen exists somewhere between “Icon” and “Supreme Being” status, his shows are as much about nostalgia as they are about the music.

Whatever your agenda, though, you come away from this show fully satisfied, vicariously exhausted, and with a not-so-insignificant degree of hearing loss. And that, as they say, is rock & roll.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Words about Music | No Comments »

ISBS Concert Review: Jimmy Buffett at Madison Square Garden

Friday, September 21st, 2007

When I was seventeen, a friend and I went to Florida to hang out at beaches and stare at girls. At one point, we found ourselves in a small beachside bar in Tampa, where we set ourselves up for a few hours with a nice view, some food and drink and a lot of sun. I remember that particular bar because there was a guy there in a Hawaiian shirt with a guitar, a stool, and a microphone. The first thing we heard him say was, “How ’bout a little Jimmy Buffett?” Then he played a Jimmy Buffett tune. Then he said, “How ’bout a little Jimmy Buffett?” and played another Buffett tune. Then he did it again. And again. And again. And…well, you get the idea.

Tonight, twenty years later, I had myself a Cheeseburger in Paradise (actually at the Hard Rock Cafe, but let’s not pick nits) and set myself up in a seat in Madison Square Garden to listen to “a little Jimmy Buffett.”

What a fun show. It’s important to focus on how much fun it was, because focusing on anything else can get a little depressing.

So let’s focus on the fun, shall we? Buffett came on stage barefoot, riding a bicycle, and wearing a turquoise t-shirt and yellow shorts. His attitude was as relaxed as his attire. He did not stop smiling the entire show, chatted with the audience between songs (and sometimes even during songs), occasionally stepped away from the microphone to kick a beach ball or two back into the audience, and genuinely seemed to be enjoying the evening. There were no teleprompters for lyrics or between-song banter as I’ve seen in other shows. This is a man who’s doing something he loves, and revels in that fact at all times. At one point, when the entire Coral Reefer Band had left the stage, leaving him alone with his guitar to serenade us with Boat Drinks, he commented that he was standing alone, center stage at Madison Square Garden. He said, “It took me a long time to get here, and I’m going to enjoy every second of it.” Nothing sums up the general tone & feeling of the show more than that single statement.

He played many of the Jimmy Buffett tunes you’d expect – Cheeseburger in Paradise,
Boat Drinks, Come Monday, Changes in Latitudes, Volcano Rock, Margaritaville, and others. Unlike the guy at the beach bar in Tampa, though, he also played a few songs by other artists, including Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again, Van Morrison’s
Brown-Eyed Girl, and Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days (a version which proved, incidentally, that The Boss’ music should never, ever be played in Buffett’s signature beach-party style). The entire set list is here.

The Coral Reefer band was outstanding, especially his two guests – Sonny Landreth on slide guitar and Billy Payne (founder of Little Feat), who did a tribute to New York on the keyboard, mashing together songs by various well known New York artists, culminating in a rousing version of Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken.

Throughout the show, the giant monitors on the sides of the stage alternated nicely between shots of Buffett and the band on stage, and what was basically Jimmy’s home movies – shots of him sailing, surfing, and partying with his fans, including the occasional Parrothead flashing her breasts to the camera. Like I said before, what a fun show…

Here’s the thing, though: Jimmy Buffett is sixty years old. And (there’s really no nice way of saying this) he can’t really sing anymore. For many of the songs, especially the slower ones, he half sang, half spoke the lyrics, particularly at the end of a sentence where he was obviously running out of breath, or where the melody called for a note that was uncomfortably high for him.

It was a shame, but to be honest, it really didn’t matter. Because the fact is this: Jimmy Buffett, standing on stage at Madison Square Garden, half-singing Margaritaville while 16,000 fans sing it back at him at the top of their lungs makes for a pretty awesome sound on its own. It’s as if his presence and his voice are close enough to the original to allow people to hear it in their heads, and that’s really all they need. Well, that and a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt, preferably one with a parrot on it.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Words about Music | 3 Comments »

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