The Best and Only Tolerable Christmas Song

It’s not a mere prediction but scientific fact* that by 2033 the Christmas Season will creep into late summer. As it stands, “Christmas” commences the moment the last bits of Halloween candy have been distributed, rendering Black Friday (and, to a lesser extent, its bastard siblings Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, Chapter Eleven Tuesday, etc ) the fulcrum on which the season swings and December 25th simply the end of a months’ long interest in all things Christmasy.

Radio stations have embraced Christmas encroachment accordingly, stripping those of us too poor, cheap, or indifferent to spring for satellite service of even the briefest car ride’s respite from holiday inanity by infusing their playlists with Christmas staples weeks before Black Friday Eve**.

Among the rubble of credibility-killing Christmas cash-ins, only one song retains the faint glimmer of dignity. It’s by a band that had a brief shining moment at the dawn of the MTV era and never charted in the Billboard Top 40.

Before we crown our winner, let’s consider the generations-spanning list of losers.

Traditional Christmas songs? As oldies often do, they tend towards the maudlin (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Blue Christmas) or downright creepy (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”).

Beginning with “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1958),” rock ‘n’ roll Christmas songs offered an alternative to the sad phonographic patter of Christmas standards. Yet, nearly without exception, rock Christmas songs offer little more than uninspired statements of the obvious, bored bellowing from egg nog-weary singers looking to make some extra coin.

Take Brenda Lee’s RAtCT***, a song that has been covered on record over 30 times by a list of artists that reads like a who’s who of the creatively devoid. Some notables: The Partridge Family, Amy Grant, Hanson, Jessica Simpson, Hannah Montana and the surviving cast of Glee.

Now, a song’s merit cannot be judged by the artists who choose to cover it but by its original content. In this regard, RAtCT set the standard for dodo-brained obviousness.

It begins with setting, a “Christmas party hop” where everyone is “rockin’ around” the tree. By the second verse, this party hops sounds like a regular ole family gathering: “We’ll have some pumpkin pie, and we’ll do some caroling.” Nothing wrong with either, but the verse adds nothing new to the holiday experience.

By the third verse, we’re already subjected to call backs to Christmas songs of yesteryear: “You will get a sentimental feeling when you hear, voices singing, ‘Let’s be jolly, deck the halls with bells of holly.’”

And so begins over a half a century’s worth of Christmas songs sporting the same painfully meek message: guess what? It’s Christmas.

It may have started the dopey Christmas fire, but RAtCT is far from the worst Christmas rock song. As rock got older, it felt obliged to join the Christmas party full-time and no artist, however talented, was able to present more than a hackneyed jab at that which we were increasingly aware–it’s Christmas time.

On “Wonderful Christmastime” (1979), Paul McCartney sounds downright desperate, first stating, “We’re here tonight, and that’s enough” before begging us “to lift a glass,ah, don’t look down.”

It doesn’t sound like Christmas is a wonderful time for the cute Beatle at all. In fact, it sounds like, in the disco era, at least, Christmas was quite a trying time for the future knight, who needs to gulp down a tall one just to avoid looking down from his emotional cliff. Perhaps Sir Paul should thus be forgiven for the song’s uber-silly scat impression of a children’s chorus, “ding dong, ding dong, ding dong, ding dong.” We’ll get through this together, Paul.

The perils of holiday cheer seem particularly trying for talented songwriters, McCartney being only one of them. In 1992, Tom Petty took a stab at the Christmas single with “Christmas All Over Again,” a ditty so wretched it was included on the Home Alone 2 soundtrack.

As the title suggests, the usually insightful songwriter’s insipid single sounds tired from the start. We begin with a defeated sigh (“Well, it’s Christmas time again”) and continue with an aversion to familial gathering (“Long distance relatives, I haven’t seen ‘em in a long time. Yeah, I kinda miss ‘em, but I don’t wanna kiss ‘em, no”). Oh but, Tom and his Heartbreakers do want to get touchy, co-opting the season for a pickup line: “And Christmas is a rockin’ time. Put your body next to mine.”

Cheap, lechy, and more than a little dark.

We can begin and end our conversation on Christmas rap songs with standard-bearer “Christmas in Hollis.” Like rap itself, “Christmas in Hollis” blasts onto the scene in its first verse with promises of something fierce before regressing into repetitive banality.

In the first verse, the future Reverend Run is chilling on Hollis Ave. on Christmas Eve when he spots an ill reindeer and thinks, “Oh my god, an ill reindeer.” Santa and reindeer quickly exit the Queens park, presumably to deliver presents to the good boys and girls around the borough, but not before the jolly guy drops a wallet that Run decides to return because stealing from Santa ain’t right.

Ignoring the fact that the post office is closed on federal holidays, Run returns home to mail Santa’s wallet back that night, but when he arrives he “bugged because under the tree was a letter from Santa and the dough is for me!”

If it ended after one verse, “Christmas in Hollis” would succeed in telling a Christmas narrative that is new and free from the droning “Guess what? It’s Christmas” palp that plagues the rock genre. Run’s story is unique, both in setting and in plot. Only once did Santa make the odd choice of testing the superstar rapper’s morality by dropping a wallet for him in the park. That this is not an annual event sets the song apart from other modern Christmas tracks.

Unfortunately, in the last two verses D.M.C. muddles the tune with cliché. Unlike Run, Daryl’s gifts were left under the Christmas tree. There’s also “snow on the ground, snow white, so bright.” And just as he does every year, the lesser half of the duo “bust[s] Christmas carols.” Yawn****.

Punk Christmas songs are such an oxymoronic concept they are hardly worth mentioning. A group of allegedly anti-establishment musicians pushing unit by using as subject matter the exact point where organized religion and crass commercialism meet? That’s 85 seconds of your life you’re not getting back.

Interestingly, the best and only tolerable Christmas song mixes rock, punk, and rap while spinning a tale of Christmas redemption that would make Tiny Tim proud.

In 1982, new wave quartet The Waitresses found modest success with the year’s 62nd most popular song “I Know What Boys Like.” Only later did the band’s 1981 four and a half minute “Christmas Wrapping” find its way onto the airwaves.

Thankfully, it has remained a holiday staple despite an ever-growing field of lesser holiday tunes by better known artists.

The track gallops along at a brisk pace, with singer Patty Donahue doing a barely rhyming flat line white girl rap a la Blondie while the rest of the Waitresses pound out an up tempo beat heavy on 80s saxophone.

“Christmas Wrapping” is unique in that it conveys a year’s worth of experience and the narrator undergoes significant change by the story’s end.

We begin with a “bah humbug” to kick off the first verse as our frazzled storyteller reviews her “busy blur” of the past year, one in which she’s had quarterly just-miss encounters with a guy she met at a ski shop the previous winter. She got his number, but barely had the time to speak with him. Plans to join him on his boat fell through and his car wouldn’t start when she was set to accompany him to a Halloween party*****.

For Christmas, the independent-minded narrator decides not repeat the mistake of Halloween, instead walking to the A&P to purchase “the world’s smallest turkey” for a solitary holiday. There, she bumps into the mystery man, also alone. Fate brings them together in the cranberry aisle, and they decide to combine tiny turkeys and spend the evening together.

Though a scrooge at the story’s start, the narrator has a new view of 1981′s Christmas by the end of the tale, signified by the changed chorus, which shifts from the dismissive “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, but I think I’ll miss this one this year” to the cheery “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, couldn’t miss this one this year.” Boom. Christmas magic.

With “Christmas Wrapping” we have a story with skeptical overtones that ends cheerfully and lyrics that are easy to decipher but difficult to duplicate rap-sung over a tune that is at once novel and nostalgic.

Only an unsung band like The Waitresses could produce this, the only tolerable Christmas song. Radio is only too happy to play half-assed drivel if it’s churned out by superstar acts, who in turn have zero incentive to put out a tune half decent tune.

As the season lurches mercilessly ever forward, Christmas is scheduled to reach the length of a full calendar year by 2113, at which time humanity and the robot people will be subjected to a ceaseless onslaught of holiday songs. Hopefully by then someone will create at least one more tolerable Christmas tune.

Good luck, Avicii.

————————————————————————

*Trust me, I got a hard B in Quantitative Research Methods
**A holiday the ancients called “Thanksgiving”
***Originally more of a country song but with the time-honored rock
traditional of prominently employing the word “rock,” RAtCT was
released the same year as Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock”
****Perhaps it was their inability to follow the inspired first verse
with anything worthwhile that caused Run D.M.C to argue with
producer and Santa-doppleganger Rick Rubin in a failed effort to
block the track’s release.
*****Remember, this is before Facebook, so the narrator is forced to
take him on his word as there would be no tagged pics of said guy
partying in his sweet Indiana Jones costume

Pearl Jam in Baltimore, MD

Unless you’re the kind of Pearl Jam fan who obsessively defends their latest output, catalogs their every recording, and would probably burn over 100 of their live shows if your computer could file over 99 in order (a roommate from the post- Riot Act, pre-self-titled era was one such fan), then every Pearl Jam song falls into one of three categories.  There are the songs you know, the songs you don’t know, and the songs you didn’t know you knew.  The band’s two hour and forty five minute set at the Baltimore Arena on Sunday night had plenty of each.  

My Pearl Jam story is a mostly typical one.  I fell in love with their first album in 1992, marked the release dates of their next two CDs on my trapper keeper calendar, dropped the “eremy” in my given name due to the omnipresence of their biggest hit, and largely gave up on them after No Code.  Thus, Sunday night’s experience was a nostalgic endeavor. 

Here’s the thing about nostalgia, though.  At an 80s rock concert, it is everywhere.  You are reminded of the absurdly un-PC lyrics and lifestyles of the bands from the hair era in everything happening on an often busy stage:  the fire, the strippers, the studded leather pants.  But Pearl Jam was always a band that leaned heavily on grunge’s punk rock ethos.  They were image conscious about being a band that doesn’t rely on image.  Therefore, a Pearl Jam concert in 2013 doesn’t have the markings of a nostalgic event.  That is to say, there is nothing happening on stage to remind you of the era when Tabitha Soren was a real force in electoral politics and The Real World was an interesting social experiment.  It was just six guys on stage, with very few props other than some green lights that looked like mosquito traps and a bit of scrap metal.  There was also at least one flannel shirt and a chain wallet but that seemed coincidental.

Early in the evening, Mr. Vedder noted that it was the twenty-three year-old band’s first concert in Baltimore.  Such are the hazards of having a crumbling little arena and fewer affluent zip codes than D.C.  The fans at the sold out show, however, were not by and large first timers.  They cheered ceaselessly, danced as white guys wearing baseball caps do, swayed during the slower songs, warbled “doo doot doot do do do” during “Black” and got a compliment from Edward V. for having high energy on a Sunday night.  Hardcore fans were happy to hear the rare cut “Hard to Imagine” early in the set and new songs from Lighting Bolt, such as “Lightning Bolt,” were greeted with warm enthusiasm and sing-alongs.  Vedder spoke of the recently deceased Lou Reed several times and worked multiple tributes to his legacy into the set.  The sentiment was not lost on the crowd, who upped their shouting when the band sprinkled “Walk on the Wild Side” (not originally a Motley Crue song, it turns out) into the end of “Daughter.” 

While it was great to hear the songs you know (“Elderly Woman Behind the Counter,” “Better Man,”) and forgivable if you went to the bathroom during the songs you didn’t know (“Present Tense,” “Yellow Moon”), the most interesting part of the show is recognizing the songs you didn’t know you knew like “Given to Fly” and “Nothingman.” Shoot, it’s easy to forget the name of the closer from set one until Vedder screams “reaaaarvieeewmeeeeeereeeerrr” around the 2:30 mark, but when he does it may as well be 1994, and you’re staying up late to watch Pearl Jam on Saturday Night Live because Hulu doesn’t exist. 

For the first couple of hours, there was a consistent trade off of punky uptempo tracks and mumbly ballads. This is the yin and the yang of Pearl Jam, then and now.  The first two singles off Lighting Bolt, both featured on Sunday, are the spunky “Mind Your Manners” and the warbler “Sirens.”  Things really took off, however, on the back end of the set, which featured four songs from Ten and two choice covers.  The band closed set two with “Porch” (you know “Porch” but you might not know you do).  When they came back, Vedder muttered something before launching into “Once,” and a solid cover of The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

During “Alive,” Vedder seemed to tire, perhaps not physically but of the chore of being a rock star.  Bono he is not.  This guy wants to create, wants to perform, wants to be in a band with three guys he’s been with for 23 years and the drummer from Soundgarden, but you can tell that he doesn’t want to be the guy who relies on back catalog hits.  He wears this feeling pretty openly.   Perhaps sensing his own waning enthusiasm, Vedder brought an animated superfan onstage to pogo around during grunge godfather Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” but even then, as Vedder aped the fan’s frenetic dance moves a few times to the crowd’s delight, it was worth asking the eternal Gen X questions:  Is he being ironic?  Are we all being ironic?  Meh, doesn’t matter.  You can play “Alive” earnestly or you can play “Alive” detachedly just so long as you play “Alive.”

Setlist (via setlist.fm)

    1. Encore:
    1. Encore 2:

Devil Horns Aplenty: The M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, MD

May 6, 2013

 On their own, some of the bands playing the 5th annual M3 festival at Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, can’t fill a bar, let alone an amphitheater.  But the draw of the M3 festival is in the homogeneity of the lineup.  This isn’t a “something for everyone” festival with various themed tents meant to appeal to the broadest swath of concert goers with disposable income.  This is a concert for people who like bands that wore aquanet and topped Dial MTV in the late 80s. 

And a lot of people still do.  From fans who remember when MTV played music and people made phone calls with their phones to a surprising number of teenagers wearing throwback gear, the M3 festival did brisk business on Saturday, despite a weaker lineup than in years past.  There was no Warrant, Winger, LA Guns, Whitesnake, Ratt, Cinderella, etc. and the main stage was headlined by a guy known more for reality tv than music in recent years.  Still, by 3 o’clock the pavilion and lawn were filling up and fans were mulling about the concession area, some sporting mullets not often seen in a union state.   This is a destination concert, and license plates from surrounding states dotted the parking lot, highlighting the rarity of an 80s glam festival in the Mid-Atlantic, even if there’s a long list of conspicuously absent Reagan era chart toppers.

Fans traveled between two stages, the main ampitheater stage and a makeshift riser at the back end of the gated area dubbed the “festival stage.”  Though the main stage could house more spectators, the “festival stage” offered fans closer access to the show in a standing room only fenced in plot of pavement. 

Below are some thoughts on the bands that performed in the mid-afternoon and into the night for day two of the M3 festival. 

JSRG

This is 4/5 of the all-female band Vixen, who lost a lawsuit to the other 1/5 for the rights to the band name.  But even if they had performed as Vixen, this group was never popular enough to draw a huge crowd.  The performance was fine and included a guitar-heavy version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and their signature hit “Edge of a Broken Heart,” but during their set many fans helped themselves to concessions or vied for sightlines at the second stage, where Great White were readying.

Great White

This is lead singer Jack Russell’s version of the band.  A recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Russell looked sober and sounded crisp during the short set.  Jack Russell is the only original member of Great White in this version of Great White, officially dubbed “Jack Russell’s Great White,” but he’s recruited a highly capable cadre of replacement players.  The band closed with their biggest hit, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” itself a cover of a 1975 song by British artist Ian Hunter.  Fans sang, swayed, and in some cases even played tambourines that apparently made it through security.  They were watching Russell’s band, a tribute band to his own band, performing a cover song.  It didn’t matter.  The song had a great video back in the day and everyone knew the words.

Loudness

Japanese metal band Loudness played the main stage, performing what was arguably the heaviest set for Saturday’s festivities.  Though they never experienced the success in the U.S. that many American 80s acts achieved in their home country, Loudness was a favorite at the 2012 M3 festival, and they came back to the states just to play this gig.  With 25 albums to pull from, Loudness had plenty of material to choose from and their ballad-free, guitar solo-heavy tracks were full of energy, but like JSRG, they’re another band that would have benefited from the up close and personal second stage.  Last year, Loudness snuck up on a crowd that didn’t know much about them and made a number of new fans.  This year, an upgrade to the main stage didn’t do them any favors, with the amphitheater creating a distance between the band and the people watching the show.  Though they were once again well received, the frenetic energy of their music wasn’t absorbed with quite the same fervor via the main stage, where their unfamiliar sound was more of a novelty.

Steel Panther

The only band that didn’t actually originate in the 80s (regardless of what their bio says), Steel Panther probably won a few converts on Saturday as well.   Lead singer Ralph Saenz and guitarist Russ Parish are 80s hair band veterans, but their homage to 80s excess is often misconstrued as demeaning parody.  Thankfully, songs like “Death to All But Metal” and “17 Girls in a Row” played to the crowd’s interest and fans saluted with devil horns aplenty.  Steel Panther is a comedy act, but with only 40 minutes to work with, they could have stuck to songs from their two albums of originals rather than bantering for 10 minutes during band introductions.  The shtick takes away from their show, and though they are selling an “act,” not just a band, they could abbreviate their talking points to a few quick quips s during shorter shows.

Firehouse

This band has remained largely unchanged since their early 90s heyday.  Perhaps their lasting popularity in Asia and South America (where they still headline large venues) has kept them together.  In the states, they’re mostly remembered for their ballads like, “When I Look Into Your Eyes” and wedding classic “Love of a Lifetime.”  For the ballads, singer C.J. Snare played piano, quickly jumping into heavier fare after each ivory-laden single.  Snare’s voice sounded solid and on key.  He sported a fully follickled head that didn’t match his facial hair, suggesting that he may not be the president of the hair club for men, but he is a member.  Most of Firehouse’s set was heavier than expected, with drummer Michael Foster filling up the rhythm section with copious amounts of double bass.

Twisted Sister

This was the surprise of the day.  Twisted Sister haven’t had a new album in over 25 years and they performed without their classic stage makeup, but the band, with all of its original members in tow, played more like a bunch of guys in their 20s than a crew on the verge of 60.  Lead singer Dee Snider sprinted up and down the amphitheater stage, singing rapid-fire lyrics without missing a note a la Vince Neil or audibly gasping for breath a la Axl Rose.  Twisted Sister had fun with their show too, mocking themselves for going on a “10 dates a year tour,” and later teasing an unplugged set with an acoustic guitar before smashing it to bits, cursing off unplugged music and the bands who “sell out” via the unplugged format, and charging back into hard-pounding songs from their classic catalog that also played heavier live than on record. 

The crowd ate it up.  Like Twisted Sister, they wanted to rock.  And rock they did.  With their original members, engaging stage presence, and a popularity that endures in part from the rarity of their performances, Twisted Sister could have easily headlined this year’s festival.

Brett Michaels

Brett Michaels was selling-shirts for his Pets Rock line of products at Pet Smart.  We left before his set.

Sassy Sandy adds some tambourine to "Once Bitten, Twice Shy"

Sassy Sandy adds some tambourine to “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”

The "M" in M3 stands for mullet.

The “M” in M3 stands for mullet.

 

Sevendust and Coal Chamber at Rams Head Live

One of the perks of fronting a band with goth-leaning tendencies (or Kiss) is the ability to freeze the aging process by slathering on ever-increasing amounts of makeup.  Coal Chamber frontman Dez Fafara certainly took advantage of the opportunity during Monday night’s performance at Rams Head Live, covering his face in white paint save for a blackened strip across his eyes.

But if Dez looked like the third member of Insane Clown Posse, his band’s performance otherwise remained unchanged, almost as though it was frozen in time since their last tour with the evening’s headliners, Sevendust, in 1998.

Without any new material to promote, the band pounded their way through a thirteen song set that relied exclusively upon their 10+ years old studio output.  The capacity crowd, many of whom were on hand to see Coal Chamber’s first area performance since reforming late last year, were partial to songs from the band’s debut, including Loco, Big Truck, and the set closer, Sway.  As ever, Coal Chamber’s bottom-heavy sound, coupled with Dez’s gravel-gargled screams, played heavier live than on record.  And while Dez has never really gone away, recording and touring for the past decade with Devildriver, guitarist Meegs Rascon and drummer Bug Cox came back with the same stage presence as they did 15 years ago, Meegs glaring dead-eyed at the crowd while Bug broke drum sticks at will as roadies stood by with back up. 

Coal Chamber’s newest member, Chela Harper, must have responded to the band’s craigslist ad requesting a female willing to wear dark makeup and pirouette while occasionally hitting a few bass notes.  A teeny bopper at best during the band’s heyday, she was clearly a hit with the mostly male crowd.

Compared to Coal Chamber, Sevendust’s post-90s output is a study in nu-metal contrast.  The Atlanta, Georgia five piece never went away, putting out 9 albums while consistently touring the club circuit.  With the return of guitarist Clint Lowery a few years back, the original lineup is the same as it was when the band formed in 1997. 

Unsurprisingly, songs from their debut album and follow-up Home saw the most devil horn salutes.  Five of the band’s thirteen song set came from the 1997-1999 era.  While he’s not jumping around the stage as buoyantly these days, singer Lajon Witherspoon’s vocals sounded rich and his gracious stage presence was a sharp turn from Dez’s painted jumping bean. 

The band tore through their 75 minute set, with bassist Vince Hornsby and a hooded Lowery showcasing for the crowd most energetically.  Along the way, they debuted 3 new songs from the recently released Black Out the Sun.  If their sales haven’t kept up since the last millennium, their sound hasn’t changed much.  The only disappointments of the evening were the piped-in backing vocals that were apparent during several songs (note: if you’re going to use backing tracks, at least keep your mouth near the mic when they’re in use) and the band’s decision to close with post Y2K encores on a co-headlining tour whose appeal is clearly nostalgic.  “Bitch,” “Waffle,” or the title track from Home could have sent the fans home happy. 

Still, if you were an angsty, testosterone-addled man child in the late 1990s or loved someone who was, this a tour worth grabbing your chain wallet and plunking down $30.  

coal chambersevendust

Deftones in Baltimore, MD

Originally published October 29, 2012 on The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

Shortly after 10 p.m., Deftones — the California five piece alt-metal band — hit the stage, opening with the title cut from 2010′s “Diamond Eyes.” Two more tracks from “Diamond Eyes” followed, the churning “Rocket Skates” and “You’ve Seen the Butcher.” The latter featured the band’s signature slow-burning to convulsive and back verse-chorus pattern, to which the crowd responded appropriately, shouting along to Chino Moreno’s vocals and surging toward the stage with the occasional crowd-surfer plunging forward to his eminent expulsion.
While new songs were well-received, two of the band’s oldest tracks, “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” and “My Own Summer” prompted more sing/shout-alongs and cell-phone waving than did the band’s newer material.
Veteran frontman Moreno, who played guitar intermittently throughout the evening, best commanded the crowd when free to roam the stage with only his heavily taped microphone. Wearing a red flannel shirt and baggy pants, Moreno catered to every portion of the crowd, perching atop amplifiers stage front before racing toward one end of the stage and back, occasionally wrapping the mic chord around his neck like a noose.
Guitarist Stephen Carpenter and Sergio Vega (filling in for Chi Cheng) seemed content to give Moreno most of the stage, rarely roaming out from their respective corners.  Along with drummer Abe Cunningham, the band’s sound is nearly as tight live as it is on record, even with a bassist who’s only been touring with them for a few years. Also, there was a guy on stage with a Mac computer. I suppose he is the DJ.
With few breaks between songs, the band raced towards a late set peak that included “Change (In the House of Flies),” “Passenger” and “Bloody Cape” before a brief break and an encore of “Bored,” “Root” and “7 Words.” Bad Brains vocalist H.R. (aka Paul D. Hudson), who joined the band for “Right Brigade,” returned to trade lyrics with Moreno on “Bored,” though his microphone was nearly too low to hear in the heavy mix. For “Passenger,” a song recorded with Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, Moreno encouraged audience participation to fill in the missing vocals.
The band’s platinum days may be behind them, but they show no signs of slowing down, either in the studio or on the road. With a new album, “Koi No Yokan,” due next month, Deftones’ current tour will  continue into 2013. Though they’ve often been lumped in with late ’90s mook-rockers, the act enjoyed a rare level of critical respect and have developed a dedicated fan base who came to the show ready for a night of well-worn songs that have yet to gather rust.
Before the Deftones, Scars on Broadway played a well-received set. The band features Daron Malakian and John Dolmayan of System of a Down. Accordingly, they sound like System of a Down minus frontman Serj Tankian’s distinct howl. If you hear a Scars on Broadway song and think one of the lyrics sounds like the tongue-twisting Mary Poppins tune “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” that’s because it is. The band presented a solid set but Malakian and company cannot replace the manic charisma of Tankian, and given the band’s similar dance-beats-meet-thundering-strings sound, it is hard not to make the comparison.

Deftones’ setlist: “Diamond Eyes” “Rocket Skates” You’ve Seen the Butcher Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) My Own Summer (Shove It) Poltergeist Rosemary Feiticeira Digital Bath

Draft Beer at Camden Yards

June 10, 2009

Originally published on Examiner.com

It was draft night at Camden Yards on Tuesday.  To celebrate, Ravens Examiner Tony Wisniewski and I spent the homestand opener indulging in the finest drafts available at Oriole Park.
And when it comes to drafts, we made sure we covered all of the bases.

Fans are still able to bring food and non-alcoholic beverages into Camden Yards, a perk that former O Brady Anderson was quick to point out when he came out of hiding to defend Peter Angelos in the pages of The Sun last week. 

And by hiding I mean roller blading in Malibu.

Anderson is correct in noting the rarity and potential value to fans that the right to carry in food brings to OPACY.  Of course, not since 1985 have Orioles fans been permitted to bring their own beer to the stadium.  Superfan “Wild” Bill Hagy famously responded to the outside alcohol ban by throwing his cooler onto the field and walking out of Memorial Stadium, never to be seen on 33th St or at Camden Yards, ever again.

In a nod to Baltimore tradition, Camden Yards does sell Hagy’s beloved Natural Bohemian, though it goes for a very modern price of $6.00 a can.

Along with the formerly local Natty, Camden Yards also sells the standard national “lite” brews that can be found in any ballpark in the country.  Coors, Miller, and Bud are available for $5.75 a draft at a 2 drink per person per purchase maximum.

Because the way to curb binge drinking is to prevent people from triple fisting it.  Surely, we’ve all heard some shirtless frat boy telling his buddy, “gee, I  would like to drink a lot during this game.  If only I could buy 10 beers from the vendor all at once instead of waiting until I’ve finished 2 before buying 2 more cold ones.  I mean, this guy only comes around with a gigantic box of beer for sale every 2 and a half minutes.  How am I supposed to get my buzz on!”

But when I go to The Yard, I often choose the beer path less traveled.  Microbrews such as Baltimore’s Clipper City are for sale at stationary vendors all over Camden Yards.  The brews are priced at only $1 more than their mass-produced, widely available counterparts, so why opt for a watery Coors Light when one can enjoy a locally crafted Old Scratch Amber?

The answer, I suppose, is that “cheap” beer and sporting events go hand and hand, and while the cheaply made Coors and Buds are no longer by definition cheap, they are considered central to baseball spectatorship.  The idyllic baseball viewing experience includes hot dogs, peanuts, and Bud, not hot dogs, peanuts, and Loose Cannon, which is a shame because I would prefer the latter.

Think about it.  Microbrewed beer comes in either a bottle or draft, and since Camden Yards does not sell glass bottles, microbrews can only be sold at beer stands and not by the mobile beer salespeople who circle every section of the park.

You can’t toss a buddy a draft beer and you’ll have to get up to buy one (or two, but no more than two…at a time).

But let me encourage you to make every night at Camden Yards draft night.  Take the extra few steps to the vendors at specially labeled “Microbrew of Maryland”  stands.   Get yourself a Copperhead Lager, Clipper City Gold Ale or Wild Goose IPA instead of a Bud or Miller.  They’re nearly the same price and since prices in the stadium are ridiculous all around, why not keep your cup filled with the good stuff?

Yellow Dog Tavern in Baltimore, MD

June 26, 2009

Originally published on Examiner.com

You may have heard about the microbrews available at Camden Yards and the O’s, bohs, and wing specials at Todd Conner’s.  If you can’t get to the park, and you want to enjoy the game with cheap beer and munchies that go beyond the typical sports bar fare, Yellow Dog Tavern on the corner of Potomac St and Foster Ave in Canton is also worth a try.

A sign outside of Yellow Dog promises $1 Miller lights during Orioles games.  I was dubious of the prospects of actually getting a $1 Miller Light on a Saturday because, having been to Yellow Dog a few times before, I knew it was far from a sports bar.

Yet when ma’ lady and I walked in during the top of the 5th inning, there was our bartender, smiling and telling us just as we sat down that Miller Lights were, indeed, $1.  Rotating taps and an assortment of microbrew bottles are also available for patrons willing to spend more than a single.  After a buck’s worth of cheap swill, I opted for a $5 beer sampler that led me to a pint of Bittberger, which was dry, delicious, and $6.

My companion stuck with a dollar draft, which is just a small part of her charm.

We were also given a menu of $3-$4 appetizers that were actually small plates (see, I told you it wasn’t a sports bar).  I opted for a $3 falafel platter that included 3 small pieces of spicy falafel and a garlic mayonnaise.  Yellow Dog doesn’t sell wings or chicken fingers, but I suppose one can find those sports viewing staples anywhere.  I haven’t eaten dinner at Yellow Dog yet, but they do sell fish tacos, ribs, salmon and a host of vegetarian friendly entrees.

I can personally vouch for the breakfast burrito served during Sunday brunch.  Brunch runs from 10-3 on Sundays, long enough to get you through half of a matinée O’s game.  You can order $3 bloody mary’s for the early game on Sundays, but you might want to wait until after you finish your burrito;  you’ll need two hands for that.

Yellow Dog Tavern isn’t an ideal setting to watch a game.  They have a nice HD flat screen over 40 inches wide at the front end of the bar, though it’s the only TV downstairs.   The bar is small and crowds easily and on this particularly balmy evening the air conditioning was apparently only working upstairs.  I was sweating generously, and not only because the O’s were battling the Phillies.

Yellow Dog is not your typical sports bar, but it has a few things that corporate cookie cutter sports chains like Buffalo Wild Wings don’t have: good food made from quality ingredients and a menu that ranges from burgers to mahi mahi.

Oh, and if your girlfriend doesn’t care about baseball–doesn’t care about the fact that Danys Baez surrendered a three run home run to a pinch hitting Ryan Howard and the Phillies came back only to see the Orioles spoil their come from behind with two  homers in the bottom of the ninth—they also have a nice selection of gossip magazines like People and Star to keep her happy.

Can you believe that Jon and Kate are splitting up?

 

How Will Your Favorite Oriole Celebrate Baltimore Beer Week

September 2, 2009

Originally posted on Examiner.com

According to The Sun’s Rob Kasper, one-time Oriole great Boog Powell is set to kick off Baltimore Beer Week on October 8th by tapping a keg of beer aboard the U.S.S. Constellation.
No word on whether or not Powell plans to share.
Boog, already known around town for his home run hitting and barbequing prowess, may be the only Oriole playing an official role in Beer Week, but his involvement got me thinking about how some current and former Orioles may celebrate the occasion.
Erik Bedard will drink 2/3 of his beer and call it a day.
Albert Belle will…hey, what’s it to you?  That’s none of your business.  Get out of his face.
Daniel Cabrera will try to shotgun a beer…and miss badly.
Cesar Izturis will put a nice glove on his beer.
Aubrey Huff will…you really don’t want to know.
Adam Loewen will promise to have a beer with you then ditch you for one of his hometown friends.
Jim Palmer will tell you everything about the beer making process in painstaking detail.
Felix Pie will drink half of his beer really quickly, then stop, change his mind, and try unsuccessfully to send it back to where it came from.
Cal Ripken will drink a beer every day for fifteen years, no exceptions.
Brian Roberts will try a beer once because his friends and roommates drink it, but he won’t like it or ever do it again…he swears.
Luke Scott will have trouble drinking a beer for months.  Then all of a sudden he’ll drink like 5 in a row.
Miguel Tejada will celebrate his 21st birthday for the 15th time.
Ty Wigginton …“I thought every week was beer week…?”
In other news, the Orioles All Star Adam Jones is injured and the club has lost yet another series to the New York Yankees.

 

Blue October in Baltimore, MD

April 2, 2012

Originally published on The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

Blue October’s Sunday night show at Ram’s Head live began with an acoustic set by the band’s lead singerand songwriter Justin Furstenfeld.  Striking an Aaron Lewis-esque look in baggy jeans and a baseball cap, Furstenfeld strummed a few open chords and added an electronic drumbeat for portions of the 30-minute set.

Towards the end of the solo set, Furstenfeld proclaimed that he was not, in fact, a guitarist and that his “sausage fingers” made playing a six-string a difficult endeavor.  Still, the audience didn’t come to hear a guitar virtuoso put on a clinic.  They came to hear Furstenfeld’s lyrics, nearly all of which are melancholy tunes about breakups that rely heavily on words that rhyme with “girl” and “heart.”

Between the solo performance and Blue October’s headlining set, fellow Texas band Girl in a Coma amped up the proceedings with a hard-rocking set that included a bar-room bluesy cover of Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.”  Signed to Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records, lead singer/guitarist Nina Diaz’s confident growls and snarls provided a real contrast to the bummed out musings of Furstenfeld.

But if the acoustic opener was Furstenfeld’s opportunity to whimper softly about his heartache, Blue October’s hour and a half set offered a much faster-paced form of therapy.  With a touring band that includes a viola/violinist, Blue October’s hour and a half set included six tracks off of 2011’s “Any Man in America.”  The album deals with Furstenfeld’s divorce and custody battle, though you wouldn’t know it by the merrily dancing fans who filled most of Ram’s Head on a Sunday night.

Once the headlining set started, Furstenfeld’s soft-spoken persona gave way to a charismatic frontman.  Dressed in black and sporting a colorful mohawk, Furstenfeld donned a guitar for more than half of a set, though only strumming it on occasion.  Instead, he left the majority of the instrumental work to his four-piece backing band, including his brother Jeremy Furstenfeld on drums.

The band was given a fuller sound by multi-instrumentalist Ryan Delahoussaye’s ability to multitask, handling the violin, keyboards, and  backing vocals, often within the same song.

The band’s biggest hits, “Into the Ocean” and “Hate Me,” both from 2006’s “Foiled” LP provided the most audible sing-alongs of the night, and Furstenfeld let the crowd handle some of the duties for the latter.

Still, the fans on hand didn’t come out just to hear a six-year-old single.  Most of the audience was familiar with the band’s entire catalog, which the group sped up to a live pace and added plenty of vocal reverb to fortify Furstenfeld’s vowel-heavy choruses.

As he worked every part of the stage, holding the mic with both hands while carrying a guitar strapped to his belly like some kind of defense mechanism, Furstenfeld was the rock and roll everyman, oscillating from reserved talk-singing verses to big choruses and back, all the while looking to his audience through heavily made-up eyes for approval.

And approve they did, cheering and giving slightly misplaced devil horns at appropriate intervals for the duration of the evening.

Setlist:

She’s My Ride Home

Say It

Sound of Pulling Heaven Down

Dirt Room

Kangaroo Cry

Into the Ocean

The Feel Again

For the Love

The Chills

The Flight

James

The End

Hate Me

The Worry List

The Getting  Over It Part

X Amount of Words

Heart in Baltimore, MD

August 2, 2010

Originally published on The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

’70s hard rockers-turned-’80s balladeers-turned classic rock mainstays Ann and Nancy Wilson brought their 2010 tour to Pier Six Pavilion Sunday night, with a well-rounded set list and pleasing performance.

Heart’s multi-generational fan base was on hand, including a sizable number of sidewalk freeloaders and boat-dwellers.

Just as sunset hit the Inner Harbor, Heart made their way to the stage for a 100-minute set that featured every song the casual fan wanted to hear as well as a number of lesser-known tracks …

From the start, it was obvious that Ann Wilson’s voice is still  in fine form, and Nancy Wilson is still full of rock ‘n’ roll front  woman spunk after 35 years in the business. The group tore through two  songs, “Hey You” and “WTF” from their 13th studio album, the forthcoming  “Red Velvet Car.”

Mid-set, they mixed in a faithful rendition of  “These Dreams” and a stripped-down take of ’80s megahit “Alone,” which  Ann noted came in at an octave lower than it was 25 years ago. It was a  sultry and full as ever. Change is good.

The group back loaded their set with ’70s classics “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You,” and  “Barracuda.”  Near the end of the show, it seemed like Heart had finished, and a few fans left. They  missed out on an encore that featured covers of Led Zeppelin and The  Who. Heart has a powerful rendition of “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

As  with most classic rock shows, last night’s Heart concert was not without its  cliches, including an unnecessary video montage of machine-generated  visuals. Fire! Black light! Flaming donuts (I think)! But the cliches  did nothing to take away from the power and professionalism of Heart’s  current incarnation and the ageless vocals of Ann Wilson. The Wilson  sisters have still got it