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

Steel Panther in Baltimore, MD

May 18, 2012

Originally published on The Baltimore Sun’s The Midnight Sun

Comedy clubs are littered with guys who can strum the guitar and tell jokes concurrently, but the key to a great musical comedy act is the strength of their musicianship. As with Weird Al and Spinal Tap, Steel Panther demonstrate talent comparable and at times superior to the acts they parody.

The ’80s glam-metal foursome formed in 2000 according to its bio (or in 1988 according to the “bio”) and since then have been regulars on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, where they perform a mix of covers and originals. The group’s national tours, however, predominantly feature original material from 2009’s “Feel the Steel” and 2011’s “Balls Out.” Thursday night’s 100-minute set at Rams Head Live highlighted the band’s professionalism and penchant for crotch jokes.

First, “American Idol” Season 10 fourth place finalist James Durbin opened the show with a surprisingly hard-rocking 40 minute set. Think a glam-rock Adam Lambert with more emphasis on the rock part.

Taking the stage at 10:45 p.m. in full costume, Steel Panther opened with the first two tracks from “Balls Out,” the space-age concept album that spoofs “In the Future” and “Supersonic Sex Machine.” The first of several breaks followed as the band bantered with one another between songs. Singer Ralph Saenz and guitarist Russ Parrish handled most of the emceeing duties. Though veterans of ’80s bands including LA Guns and Fight, the duo go by the stage names “Michael Star” and “Satchel.” Together with gender-bending bassist Travis Haley (“Lexxi Foxxx”) and drummer Daren Leader (“Stix Zadinia”), their act includes as much wink-and-nod hedonism and misogyny as their album cuts and the crowd responded to their jokes with enthusiasm nearly equal that of their songs.

Additional highlights included a rousing rendition of the power ballad “Community Property” and the band’s slowest song, “Weenie Ride,” for which Stix took center stage for keyboard duties.  For heavier fare, including “Just Like Tiger Woods” and “Turn Out the Lights,” the band shared choreographed head-banging that matched their Flying V guitars and later invited a dozen women on stage with them for a discussion of domestic policy and the forthcoming election.

Just kidding, they danced and took their tops off.

For the encore, Durbin joined the band for the lone cover of the evening, a spot-on rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine” during which the 23 year-old reality contestant’s vocals noticeably outshined those of Michael Star. Panther and Durbin’s impassioned take on the Guns ‘n’ Roses standard easily bested the half-hearted rendition Mile Kennedy performed with Slash two weeks earlier earlier.

The band’s parodies are also in many ways a tribute to ’80s rock. On the day that Van Halen announced the cancelation of most of their tour due to in-fighting, Steel Panther stands as a better tribute to the ’80s than many of the current bands from the big-hair era. Though they laughed at appropriate intervals, the crowd’s animated approval of each soaring guitar solo shows that they, too, came to rock out to the ’80s, albeit with a millennial-appropriate level of self-awareness.

Setlist:

In the Future Supersonic Sex Machine Tomorrow Night Fat Girl (Thar She Blows) Asian Hooker Just Like Tiger Woods Gold-Digging Whore Turn Out the Lights Community Property Eyes of a Panther Weenie Ride Party All Day It Won’t Suck Itself Death to All But Metal

Encore: Sweet Child of Mine 17 Girls in a Row

Slash in Baltimore, MD

May 4, 2012

Originally published on The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

The banner atop the stage during Thursday night’s tour-opening performance said it all. In size-72 font was the billboard for monosyllabic lead guitarist Slash, followed by a colorful size-48 font promo for his current lead singer-collaborator, Myles Kennedy. Below Kennedy’s name, in 12-point font was the name of their touring rhythm section, the Conspirators.

For their part, the Conspirators were a capable and enthusiastic group, tearing through a 19-song set that showcased Slash’s solo material and his work withGuns N’ Rosesand Velvet Revolver equally. Bassist Todd Kerns brought a particularly high-octane stage presence to Rams Head Live, working every part of the stage and providing standout backing vocals for the golden-piped Kennedy. Kennedy, too, was game. The 42-year-old rock veteran’s octave-scaling range was on full display throughout the evening.

That said, the setlist, the songs and the crowd reinforced what the sign suggested: this was a Slash concert. The crowd consisted mostly of fans who were around during Slash’s heyday and beer sales were no doubt brisk for this distinctly “of age” demographic. When the band took the stage at 9:45 (more than two hours earlier than Axl’s Guns N’ Roses showed up for their recent set at the Fillmore) 1,800 beery fans popped for Slash, who appeared in full regalia, wearing all black with his trademark long curls and tophat. Slash’s post-Guns song catalogue are all distinctly Slash, highlighted by recognizable bluesy guitar solos played atop fast-paced, straightforward rock riffs.

While the crowd cheered enthusiastically for each portion of the 19-song, 100-minute set, “Night Train,” the first of five Guns songs, got the most bodies moving. Kennedy, who at this point probably possesses greater vocal ability than Axl, hit every note of the Guns songs. However, his clean-throated high-range is in stark contrast to Rose’s raspy yowls. Songs such as “Night Train” and “My Michelle,” which tell tales about a seedy underworld of booze, drugs, and prostitution, don’t have the same dirty feel with Kennedy’s crisp vocal delivery.

Also interesting is the fact that the set pays nearly equal homage to Velvet Revolver as it does to GnR.  Surely, it is an easier task to replace the deep-throated Scott Weiland than it is to approximate Axl, and the crowd was happy to have four Revolver songs on Thursday night. Chart-topping ballad “Fall to Pieces” was a mid-set crowd pleaser.

For their part, the sold-out crowd responded enthusiastically all night. They were there to see a Hall of Fame guitarist, and even when his guitar died during “Back to Cali,” forcing the band to hit rewind and restart, he did not disappoint. A few times during the cover-heavy set, Kennedy looked like he didn’t want to be playing the replacement rock star the way he did in the movie “Rock Star.” During “Sweet Child of Mine,” he incited the crowd to do the wave with more than a hint of detached irony. Still, as the confetti rained down during closer “Paradise City,” Slash had put on another great rock show and Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators proved worthy touring partners, if not peers.

Set list

Mean Bone (Snakepit) Dirty Lil Thing (Velvet Revolver) Ghost Night Train (Guns ‘n’ Roses) Rocket Queen (Guns ‘n’ Roses) Back From Cali Sucker Train Blues (Velvet Revolver) Standing in the Sun Fall to Pieces (Velvet Revolver) Dr. Alibi Speed Parade (Snakepit) Watch This Starlight You’re a Lie My Michelle (Guns ‘n’ Roses) Just Like Anything (Snakepit) Sweet Child of Mine (Guns ‘n’ Roses) Slither (Velvet Revolver)

Encore: By the Sword Paradise City (Guns ‘n’ Roses)

Def Leppard, Poison, and Lita Ford in Columbia, MD

July 11, 2012

Originally published on the Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

At around 10 Tuesday night at Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, a pair of fans were relieving themselves of $12 margaritas and $10 beers when the following disagreement took place:

Fan No. 1: “Poison should be headlining this show, man. They’re better than Def Leppard.”

Fan No. 2: “No way. Def Leppard’s still got it! Poison is just collecting a paycheck.”

The importance of this conversation is not which fan is right (though for the record, I stand with and directly next to fan No. 2), but that this conversation is still taking place in 2012.

Twenty-five years after Def Leppard’s Hysteria album and 13 years, even, since Poison kicked off the ’80s amphitheater revival with its 1999 comeback tour, the veteran acts still refuse to either burn out or fade away.

Though neither Def Leppard, Poison, nor opener Lita Ford is likely to put out a new record that’ll go platinum (is that a word anymore?), their fans are willing to shell out $50 to spend a perfect summer evening dancing and fist-pumping to back catalogues and reliving decades past, when they did exactly the same, only with bigger hair and fewer bills to pay.

For the most part, the bands delivered as if Hammerjacks were still packing the house on a Tuesday night.

Ford took the stage for a short set at 7 p.m. Though the crowd had not yet filtered in and her four-piece band only had a tiny portion of the stage to work with, she proved she has shaken off any rust that may have accumulated during her lengthy break from performing in the late ’90s and ’00s. At 53 and incredibly fit, Ford donned a black leather jacket and leather pants that may have been the same pair she wore in her MTV heyday. She strapped on a gigantic white double-neck guitar for the sing-along “Kiss Me Deadly” and closed the set by singing both parts of her duet with Ozzy Osborne, “Close My Eyes Forever.”

Poison followed, opening with the traditional first song, “Look What the Cat Dragged In.” They ran through all of their hits, including “Unskinny Bop” and “Talk Dirty to Me” as well as two-and-a-half covers, Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band,” Loggins and Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and bits of Rick Derringer’s “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo.” These guys prefer to rock out to songs about rock.

Of course, Brett Michaels, 49, has also embarked on a second career as a reality TV star, and he was sure to plug an upcoming appearance on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” all but asking the female-dominated crowd to set their DVRs. Solo career choices notwithstanding, however, Poison is a band better suited to open a show like this than headline. The band simply doesn’t have the hits for a full headlining set, as a 50-minute performance sprinkled with covers, guitar solos and drum solos proved.

Def Leppard, on the other hand, has amassed a collection of singles that can rival any group of its era.  That’s why opening with a new song, “Undefeated,” was an odd choice. Typically, the new single marks an opportunity for fans to fork out a few bucks for another drink and find a bathroom mid-set.

But Def Leppard’s presence and command of the audience built from a relatively weak start to full steam by about the fifth and sixth songs, Hysteria’s “Animal” and “Love Bites.” Singer Joe Elliot, 52, a man who once admitted to shooting needles full of Jack Daniels, now looks like a distinguished British gentleman. Lead guitarist and apparent ab-roller enthusiast Phil Collen, 54, on the other hand, may have the same intense personal trainer as Lita Ford.

The band’s audio included plenty of reverb and layered vocals, but their acoustic miniset proved that they didn’t need flashy studio wizardry to keep the crowd happy. In fact, drummer Rick Allen, 48, who lost his left arm in a car accident in 1984, got one of the biggest pops of the night when he joined the band on the catwalk during the acoustic set to play a maraca.

The band churned out crowd-pleasers as the night drew toward its conclusion, closing with a string of chart-toppers that included “Hysteria,” “Armageddon It,” “Photograph” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”

For the encore, the band launched into “Rock of Ages,” without any mention of the play or the film that borrowed its name. Before leaving the stage at the conclusion of the 100-minute set, Elliott made a pact with the crowd, “Until next time — and there will be a next time — do us a favor: don’t forget about us and we won’t forget about you.”

Still rolling indeed.

Guns N’ Roses in Silver Springs, MD

February 23, 2012

Originally published on The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

Say what you want about Axl Rose’s erratic touring schedule and late-night performances, but when the man shows up for a gig, he sticks around for a while.  That was certainly the case at the Fillmore on Thursday night, where Guns N’ Roses took the stage just after midnight, playing a three-hour set of more than 30 songsfor what looked like an at-capacity crowd.

Openers Electric Sun handled the unenviable job of playing to a packed house of fans more engaged in prognostications about GnR’s enigmatic singer than in watching them.

For those wondering,

Axl’s hair: covered with a large hat, but at least not cornrowed

Axl’s weight: covered with layers.  Paunchy but not his paunchiest.

Axl’s face:  covered with sunglasses.  Lifted.

As the Chinese Democracy Tour begins its second decade (the band has been performing in the U.S. in support of the long-in-the-works album since 2001), Axl’s latest band includes an impressive stable of musicians.

Standouts include a guy named Bumblefoot, who looks like he may have wandered directly off a six-month hiking trek and into GnR, and former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, who has now been a replacement member of GnR longer than he was a Replacement.  Drummer Frank Ferrer was turned way down in the club mix, but his precision and force is more Matt Sorum than Stephen Adler.  DJ Ashba seems to have been brought in for his ability to wear a top hat and smoke cigarettes ala Slash.

The technical proficiency and sheer size of the band, now an eight-piece with two keyboardists and three guitarists, lends itself more naturally to big, busy songs like “Estranged,” which they brought out surprisingly early in the set.

After opening with “Chinese Democracy,” Axl got the crowd going with three consecutive Appetite-era songs – “Welcome to the Jungle,” “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” followed shortly thereafter by a funked-up version of “You’re Crazy.”

But oldies like “Rocket Queen” felt a bit hollow without Slash and Izzy’s loose blues rock or the swing original drummer Stephen Adler brought to the group.

The current group could have played to their strengths by venturing further into the back catalog of “Use Your Illusions” songs and digging out big, broad opuses like “Coma” and “Locomotive.” But instead, it built the set around “Appetite for Destruction” and “Chinese Democracy” songs, with a few instrumentals thrown in for good measure.

Newer songs – and by newer I mean songs that Axl tinkered with for 17 years before releasing “Chinese Democracy” in 2008 – sounded great, but even in an intimate setting there was an inevitable lull each time a “Democracy”-era song came on.

One exception was “Better” an  up-tempo encore inclusion with a full light show and harmonies that got the crowd buzzing.  But Axl knows where his bread is buttered, and so “Appetite” classics “Patience” and “Paradise City” closed the show as the house lights went on not long before sunlight started peeking into the morning at 3 a.m.

If Axl Rose doesn’t want to cash in on a reunion tour with Slash, he’d do well to stick to venues like The Fillmore, where he can pack in a full house of die-hards. Still, it’s clear that while he may not need his old bandmates to play a Guns N’ Roses show, he certainly needs their old songs.

Set List

Chinese Democracy

Welcome to the Jungle

It’s So Easy

Mr. Brownstone

Sorry

You’re Crazy

Estranged

Rocket Queen

Richard Fortus Guitar Solo

Live and Let Die

This I Love

Motivation – Stinson solo

Dizzy Reed piano solo – Baba O’Reilly

Street of Dreams

You Could Be Mine

DJ Ashba Guitar Solo

Sweet Child of Mine

Used to Love Her

Instrumental Jam

Axl Rose piano solo/November Rain

Bumblefoot

Don’t Cry

Civil War

Knockin on Heaven’s Door

Night Train

Madagascar

Better

Instrumental

Patience

Instrumental/Paradise City

Kiss and Motley Crue in Bristow, VA

July 23, 2012

Originally published on The Baltimore Sun’s The Midnight Sun

Thirty years after they first toured together, Kiss and Motley Crue are back out on the road, opening their 2012 summer tour on an intermittently stormy night in Bristow. But if Crue is officially the opening act on this tour, their bigger stage show, equal-lengthed setlist and more frenzied audience suggests otherwise.

Motley Crue’s stage show is a spectacle. Working with the carnival theme they’ve been experimenting with for years, this tour includes a huge stage production incorporating all of the classic elements of arock ‘n’ rollcircus and a healthy dose of vaudeville.

The band entered via the aisles in a druid-style ceremony, accompanied by roadies bearing Motley Crue flags. The show began with the eponymous single off the group’s latest album, “Saints of Los Angeles.”  Frontman Vince Neil’s stage presence may not be impressive enough to carry a show, but he’s barely noticeable mixed in with the lights, smoke, fire, dancing backup singers, and roller-coaster drum set that serve as a backdrop for Neil’s jazzercising routine and often strained vocals.

Motley Crue is one of those rare bands in which the rhythm section’s personalities are larger than the lead’s. This was evident during Friday’s show when Tommy Lee took the spotlight for a two-part drum solo, during which he played the drums while spinning 360 degrees and later picking up an audience member to accompany him.

Lee then played piano on “Home Sweet Home,” probably one of the most touching songs ever performed by a man dressed as a court jester. Bassist/songwriter/biographer Nikki Sixx, who looks like a touring member of Nine Inch Nails these days, took center stage with a flaming bass guitar during “Primal Scream.”

Despite debuting a new song (“Sex”) midset, Crue otherwise stuck to their classics during the 75-minute production, wrapping things up fittingly with one of their biggest hits and self-laudatory tributes to their own decadent legacy, “Kickstart My Heart.”

But if Motley Crue is representative of ’80s raunch and excess, Kiss is a genre in and of itself.

Though only half of the original band is represented in the current lineup, the group arrived in full makeup, platform shoes and cartoon regalia, as did many of their fans. Kiss’ LED-light stage show didn’t live up to the high expectations set by Motley Crue, and it’s a bit surprising that they didn’t add more to it in order to outshine their showy supporting act.

Taking the stage at 9:45 with their traditional opening song, “Detroit Rock City,” the band front-loaded hits into the first part of the set, following with “Shout it Out Loud,” “I Love it Loud,” and “Love Gun.”  Paul Stanley rode a zip-line to the middle of the pavilion for “Love Gun,” utilizing a temporary structure that brought him closer to the audience. Later, long-tongued bassist/reality tv star Gene Simmons spit blood during their new single, “Hell or Hallelujah,” released earlier this month.

Stanley and Simmons left the stage for a midset guitar and drum solo showcasing Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, current representatives of the Space and Cat Men. Highlighting their ’70s roots, the band interspersed bits of The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” into “Lick it Up.”

If you’ve seen Kiss before, you know what to expect from them, including the mega-hit encore “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Their show remains formulaic, but it’s a formula that has helped them maintain a legion of loyal fans and keeps them drawing as a major touring act 16 years after the band’s MTV reunion and resurgent comeback tour. Objectively, however, the metal lunch box heroes haven’t stepped up their touring act to match that of their Sin City-meets-Ringling-Brothers rock-‘n’-roll roadshow counterparts in the Crue.

Jay Trucker is a frequent contributor to Midnight Sun. He teaches at the Community College of Baltimore County in Dundalk and blogs occassionally at WNST.net. He last reviewed Def Leppard and Poison at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Wesley Case edited this post.

Motley Crue

“Saints of Los Angeles ” “Wildside” “Shout at the Devil” “Same Old Situation” “Looks that Kill” “Girl, Don’t Go Away Mad” “Sex” Drum solo (club mix and “Roller Coaster”) “Home Sweet Home (Tommy Lee on piano)” “Primal Scream” “Dr. Feelgood” “Girls, Girls, Girls” “Kickstart My Heart”

Kiss

“Detroit Rock City” “Shout it Out Loud” “I Love it Loud” “Love Gun” “Firehouse” “War Machine” “Shock Me” “Hell or Hallelujah” Bass solo “God of Thunder” “Lick it Up (‘Baba O’Reilly’ splices)” “Black Diamond”

Encore”Rock and Roll All Nite”

Parkside Sports Bar in Canton, MD

October 4, 2010

Originally published on The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

Canton bars fall into two basic types.  There’s the O’Donnell Square, sports-centric watering holes (Looney’s, JD’s Smokehouse, Claddagh’s), and there’s the low-key neighborhood haunts that exist in semi-obscurity on the streets between O’Donnell and Eastern.

Parkside Sports Bar is a little of both.  Located on the corner of Fleet and Milton, Parkside is a sports bar that’s off the beaten path, one that’s decorated almost entirely with Ravens regalia.

But does it offer anything new to the sports bar concept? Not yet it doesn’t. Nor does it feature the kind of charm that a comfy neighborhood bar needs to develop a loyal clientele.

There isn’t any food, for starters. While plenty of smaller bars do not have a kitchen (Baltimore Taphouse and Butte’s and Betty’s come to mind), a sports bar is generally a place to sip cheap brew and enjoy pub grub like nachos and wings.  It would seem that Parkside is missing half of the equation.

That leaves only alcohol as their draw, and that they have in large supply. The bar advertises $1.75 PBR drafts and $5.00 pitchers daily, and on Sunday, the special was $12 buckets of domestic bottles. There are also four taps, with Guinness and Shock Top available in draft in case you don’t want to spend your entire Sunday drinking the cheap stuff.

Parkside’s strongest feature is that it is more spacious than most corner bars.  There’s plenty of space between the bar top and the tables lining the window, so you don’t have to squeeze your gut just to get in the door. A second room in the back offers ping pong, cornhole, and Big Buck Safari.

But the bar’s size also highlights its shortcomings. A smaller bar can feel alive or even crowded with a dozen or so patrons, but a place as big as Parkside feels empty with just a few customers.  Maybe most of the crowd leaves after the game is over. With fans gone, even the disco ball at the back of the bar looked extra lonely with no one to bask in its glitz.

As the clock ticked down in the Eagles vs. Redskins game, only a few Philly fans sporting Michael Vick jerseys remained.  A speaker system blared the broadcast from several flatscreen TVs.  The speakers were easily audible from across the street, but inside, ESPN’s echo made the place feel unpopulated.

Parkside has some potential to be more than a hangout for ping pong players and PBR drinkers, especially given its size. But to attract a less transient crowd, the owners will probably have to do more to create a neighborhood atmosphere.

A sports bar on the square could get away with a disco ball, loud speakers, and cheap drinks.  Neighborhood bars have to do more to cater to a more loyal crowd.

Parkside is at 2501 Fleet Street. They are currently without a Web site.

Andino Once Again Fails to Capture AL MVP Honors

November 23, 2009

Originally published on Examiner.com

With 27 of the 28 first place votes, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer easily won the 2009 American League MVPAward on Monday.

Mauer, 26, earned his third AL batting title in 2009 and helped lead the Twins to a playoff berth despite the team having a payroll less than 1/3 the size of the New York Yankees’. Mauer hit .365 with a .444 on base percentage in 523 at bats. He also clubbed a career-high 28 home runs.

Mauer’s stellar defense in the battery was also key to the Twins’ late-season resurgence.

In his fifth major league season, Robert Andino once again failed to take home an MVP trophy. A former top prospect for the Marlins, Andino had trouble breaking into the bigs in Florida when the club acquired Hanley Ramirez. As a Marlin, Andino made limited appearances with the team each season from 2005 to 2008. His 78 big league appearances as an Oriole nearly match the 79 game appearances he made as a Marlin during four years of call ups.

Andino was traded to Baltimore from the Florida organization in exchange for pitcher Hayden Penn at the tail end of Spring Training in 2009. The Orioles brought Andino in to back up shortstop Cesar Izturis.

He filled in for Izturis dutifully when the starting SS missed some time over the summer with injury.  In 198 at bats, Andino hit .222 with an on base percentage of .274.

Andino also hit 2 home runs this season, matching his previous single season high.

Second place finisher Mark Teixeira and third place finisher Derek Jeter also failed to win the award.

Cover Songs – A Partial List of the Best

February 7, 2011

Originally published on chriscocca.com

Cover songs are forever. My guess is that the second song ever performed was a cover of the first. Some of these cover songs are inspired, many are horrifying. Artists who cover well-known songs are disadvantaged in that they are immediately judged against the original, though the instant recognition of a popular cover song often paves the way for radio play and concert sing-alongs. The best covers may pay tribute or put a new stamp on an old standard. The worst are soul-crushing cash-ins. Here are just a few of my personal favorites and least favorites. Feel free to add your own. But for the sake of my sanity, try not to defend Sheryl Crow.

Part II: The Gold

Heart – “Love Reign O’er Me”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQhAipNH0lM

This is my Johhny Cash “Hurt.”  That is, this is the cover in which I really liked the original, then fell in love with the cover and couldn’t even listen to the original without contempt any longer.

The Who may have been relatively embarrassing geezers at last year’s Super Bowl, but when I saw them in ’02, Roger Daltry still had the pipes to nail the “looooooooooovvvveeeeeee” crescendo as if his drummer and bassist were alive.  Then Ann Wilson had to come and just crush the whole thing.  Wilson’s voice adds a depth to the entire song that makes Daltry look like an imposter in comparison.

Sister Nancy Wilson tosses in just enough guitar feedback to keep the rock ahead of the classical in this version, and she can pull off hard rock posturing better than Pete Townshend these days.  But make no mistake about it—this song makes the list because of Ann’s voice.  She sells the feeling of the song as if she wrote it, and when the mixing board gives her a hand at the end, pushing the finale into the stratosphere, we’re all the better for it.  Catch Heart live and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Disturbed – “Land of Confusion” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6KXgjLqSTg

Nothing will ever terrify a child of the 80s the way Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” did.  With its deranged Reagan puppets that looked just enough like the actual Reagans to frighten pre-pubescents, “Land of Confusion” would be memorable even if the song weren’t.  And I’m still not sure why puppet Genesis is funny whereas puppet Reagans probably sent more kids into their parents rooms at night than the bogey man and Freddy Kreuger combined.

Disturbed, not a band one would typically consider subtle, succeed in their rendition by simply amplifying the heavy guitar licks of the original, which in turn makes the dystopic lyrics stand out more.  It helps that, unlike many of least favorite cover nominees, Distrurbed was not forced to heteronormatize the song by changing any he/she pronouns.  After all, this world “we” live in, and both man and woman will one day be subjected to the great flood the way the puppet Reagans were in ’86.

Disturbed singer David Draiman gives his typical tortured pet performance on “Land of Confusion,” barking through each line like a dog running to the end of a leash.  I’m sure this is enough to make many Phil Collins fans unhappy.  To be sure, Drummond’s growl scat is plenty annoying, especially when he’s offering the kind of mad at your dad garbage that Distrurbed often deals in, but when he adds asides like “ooh-ah-ah-ah-ah” or, as in “Land of Confusion,” “nyah-ah-ah” it kind of sounds like he’s possibly, maybe, just a little bit, making a gag of his over-the-top angsty rottweiler act.

He is joking, right?  Kind of?

Jeffrey Gaines – “In Your Eyes” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7WtavVdBCk

The history of “In Your Eyes,” at least, according to Wikipedia, says a lot about the song. Written by Peter Gabriel, the song was first released in 1986, then again in 1989 after it was featured in the movie Say Anything. Gaines recorded a stripped down version as a B side in 1992, then re-released two different versions of it in 2001. Herein lies the strength of the song, especially Gaines’ version—its timelessness. For this ballad about a guy who sees churches in eyeballs, Gabriel abandoned the giddiness that made 80s hits like “Sledgehammer” and “Shock the Monkey” a lot of fun, replacing it with heart-felt lyrics that are just complicated enough to not scream prom song. The original has some world music instrumentation and African yodeling (that exists, right?), which Gaines’ cover does not. See, this is the type of song that thrives on acoustic interpretation. Minus the bits of Toto-sounding keyboard and backup dancers, Gaines’ take lets his voice and the basics of the song do all the work. He proves that “In Your Eyes” does not need world music or exotic stage shows to succeed; its greatest asset is the core of the song itself.

Gaines stopped by my dear old alma mater while touring the college circuit back in ’98, and my then-roommate went to the show, hanging around afterwards just to get Gaines’ autograph for some girl he had an unrequited crush on. That night, I mistook his nightstand for the men’s room, spraying his Jeffrey Gaines autographed poster with recycled Natty Light. Sorry, Tom.

Best Bad Cover

Guns ‘n’ Roses –  “Sympathy for the Devil” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6UsdiJldmo

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an unabashed GnR diehard.  But I like their version of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” much more than their more revered covers like “Live and Let Die” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

What makes this surprising is that the band itself hates this cover.  Recorded for 1994′s Interview With a Vampire soundtrack, “Sympathy” is the last song released by Axl, Slash, Duff, and co.  The band hated each other so much at this point, they couldn’t even be in the studio together when they recorded it.  Slash said his own rendition of “Sympathy” (ok, his band’s; rumor is Slash’s guitar solo was redubbed by Axl loyalist Paul Huge) sounds like a band breaking up.

But that’s kind of cool, in its own way.  A band of junkies covers a song by an older band of junkies featuring Satan as narrator.  I’d say there’s a game of one-upmanship going on here, and Guns may have just topped the Stones in debauched sinfulness.  Take that one to heart, Keith and Mick.

Oh yeah, and Mick Jagger never could sing.  So there’s that.

Honorable Mention

Ugly Kid Joe – “Cats in the Cradle”

Not sure which list this belongs on, but it deserves mention.