Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Joywave, Bastille and why we can't have nice things

This one is going to be much shorter than most of my write ups. I had a bunch of things I wanted to talk about: The torturous, hip-hugging seats at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden; the usher with no sense of personal space who kept running into me; the millennial couple sitting in front of me who spent most of their date ignoring one another and staring at their phones; and the girl two rows in front of me who kept swaying into and out of my sight lines even when the music was no longer playing. There was all kind of fun to write about, and I was having a fairly enjoyable time in spite of all of them. But these days, you can't go out and enjoy anything -- football, a movie, a concert, anything -- without some twit injecting their personal politics into the situation and spoiling the evening.

So the briefest of recaps:

Joywave: This is a weird, geeky indiepop band from Rochester, NY. In comparison, to say, Glam Skanks, I should like these guys better. There's a lot of synth, and they have a weird sense of humor. Denise likes them because they incorporate a lot of that low, chunky, Trent Reznor-style synth in their music. But much like the Glam Skanks, I feel like the key element they're still missing is strong songs. I like "Tongues", and they did another one called "Content" that was pretty good. But beyond that, I thought most of their material was just so-so.

Bastille: They had a tremendous night musically, and most of the Manhattan millennial crowd stood up for the first song and never sat back down. Their sound was crisp, and vocalist Dan Smith sounded great all night. They also featured a guest appearance by Joywave on one song, and by a female singer who bills herself as The Dawn of MAY on three songs in a row.

I was having a nice night, singing along on my favorite Bastille song, "Things We Lost in the Fire", and generally enjoying the full set, which was broken down into four "Acts".

But somewhere along the way, Smith thought it would be cute to take a couple of shots not only at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but also at President Trump.

Now I wasn't aware that Nancy Pelosi had caved to the pressure of the far-left wing of her Party and decided to open an official impeachment inquiry into the President that day, because I spent the afternoon traveling to get to the stupid concert. But Smith, a British citizen, made sure to celebrate it with the Manhattan crowd. Now I wouldn't want to hear what he thought about President Trump if he was an American -- you're a singer, no one paid to come here to hear your keen political mind. But to come into someone else's country and slam their legally elected leader seems to me to be height of rudeness. I'm so sorry I gave up seeing Rick Wakeman at The Paramount last night to travel into the city and see them.

If I spend the money to buy tickets to your concert, take the time (and the expense) to travel there, to an uncomfortable venue that treats their crowds rudely (and frankly, this is true of most music venues these days, especially the Manhattan ones), and you use the occasion to insult me and my beliefs, then I have to be an idiot to keep coming back. (In this case, Denise bought the tickets, but you know what I mean.)

So, from that point on, I was done with them. And frankly, for the immediate future, I'm done with live music.

Denise and I have tickets to see Renaissance in a couple of weeks, and there's a Halloween concert and an Irish music concert we have tickets for in Patchogue. We've talked about seeing Mannheim Steamroller at the Tilles Center in December, and maybe we'll do that (and maybe we won't.) But for right now, I'm done with live music, and equally done with Manhattan. (We were literally stepping over sleeping bodies in the middle of the floor at Penn Station last night. It took DeBlasio a little more than one term to take the city, which Giuliani and Bloomberg had done an incredible job of cleaning up, and turn it back into a shithole.)

Since it's impossible to do anything nowadays without having somebody's politics shoved in your face, maybe I'll channel my extra time into my own political activism.

In any event, apologies to any of the readers of this blog who feel ambushed by reading this, as you know I usually try to keep my blog as free of politics as humanly possible. I'm not really sure what the future of this blog will be. I'll certainly write up those last couple of shows, and I've already been working on my Best Of the Decade lists. But maybe I'll close things down here at the end of the year. Or maybe the blog will morph into something else music-centered.

Either way, many thanks to those readers who have stuck with me (and my mad rants) over the years. As soon as I figure out where I'm going with all of this, I'll let you all know.

Monday, September 23, 2019

I Got Kidnapped, Part 2: Glam Skanks and Adam Ant

I won't lie, Friday night was a tough night. When we left Foxwoods, we stopped at Dunkin' Donuts on the way home. Denise hadn't eaten anything since dinner, but I'd had a bagel and a really over-sweet (and badly made) iced mocha at Juniors. I should have passed on getting anything else, especially since that Indian food was still rumbling in my stomach. But I'm dopey, like a goldfish that eats himself to death, so I got a bacon, egg and cheese croissant to add to the mix.

We went back to the motel and went to bed. But my stomach was a mess, my back was out of whack, and my feet were throbbing. I slept for about two hours, then got up to go to the bathroom. When I laid back down, my back started spasming, badly enough that I accidentally woke Denise up cursing. I found a somewhat comfortable position, and was afraid to roll over for the rest of the night. Meanwhile, I was up every couple of hours, slowly relieving myself of the Indian food situation. The bathroom took on a gentle, red glow, and I hoped they were sending in a Hazmat team in the morning.

Sleep helped a lot, and we both slept through the free continental breakfast that the hotel offered. We got up at 11 or so. I was better, but my whole body was sore.

Luckily, we had a lazy day planned for Saturday. We headed into Groton to a diner we had eaten at in the past to get breakfast. We passed it the first time, because the Best Western that we usually stayed at in Groton that served as something of a landmark for us had been bought out, and was now The Colony Bay (or something like that). But eventually, we backtracked and found it.

Breakfast was underwhelming. Mine wasn't too bad -- a mushroom and cheese omelette with sausage on the side -- but Denise's "Patriotic Pancakes" were served with strawberries that were well on their way to going bad, and my toast even tasted a little funky for some reason. Next time we're in town, we'll find someplace else to get breakfast.

After breakfast, we took a ride up King's Highway, which we'd never really checked out before. After a little while, Denise figured out that we were running parallel to I-95, heading in the general direction of the casino. She predicted that if we kept going, we'd eventually come to the roundabout where Mystic Pizza II sits, and she was right. We went that far, then turned around.

It was a quiet, laid back Saturday in Groton, and the drive was soothing. I checked in on both of our kids, and found that somehow they'd managed to survive the night without us. We headed back to the motel with the plan of going in the hot tub, and maybe, if the mood struck us, the pool.

We changed into our bathing suits and headed down. Unfortunately, they were doing maintenance on the pool area, so we had to wait a half hour

We went back to the room to kill some time. I spent 45 minutes or so listening to my mp3 player, while Denise played on her phone. This year marks the end of the decade, so I've been starting to think about my Best of the Decade lists. I might have my Top 10 Songs worked out.

When we went down to the pool area again, it was quiet. The only other people there were a father and a grandmother with two little boys: a child or about 7, who was swimming in the pool, and a toddler of about 3 who was leaning over and playing with the bubbles in the hot tub, while grandma sat close by.

I have to tell you that as sore and tired as I was, as much as I enjoyed the two concerts, the highlight of my weekend was that hot tub. As I slowly (and I mean very slowly -- I was moving like a hundred-year-old man) eased into the tub, it felt soooooo good. I wanted to stay in there forever. We soaked for twenty, maybe thirty minutes. When I got out, I tried the pool. But by the time I'd gotten hip-deep, I decided it was too cool. So Denise and I sat and relaxed by the side of the pool as we dripped dry.

After a little while, we heard a sound overhead that sounded like a herd of wild buffaloes trampling across the plains. I made a joke about the University of Connecticut football team doing jumping jacks in the room above us. But as we rose to start to leave, I saw the source of the noise. A pack of seven young boys, ranging in age from about five to eleven years of age, burst in and immediately infested the hot tub. They were followed by two rather beleaguered-looking women. I uttered King Arthur's battle cry from Monty Python and the Holy Grail -- "Run away!" -- and Denise and I skedaddled out of there and back up to our room.

We then made a plan to eat at Mystic Pizza II that night, and laid down for a nice two-hour nap.

By the time we got up, I almost felt alive again. As we drove back up King's Highway, we passed a place called "Gus's Pizza".

"Eff you, Gus!" I cried out. "We're going to Mystic Pizza!"

However, when we got to Mystic Pizza II, the parking lot was jammed, and there were people dressed as if they had just come from a wedding sitting outside, seemingly waiting for a table.

"We should have eaten at Gus's," I lamented. But Denise suggested that the people in the suits and gowns were probably there for a private party upstairs, and she was right. We went inside, and were soon seated. We each ordered a "grinder" (which is what annoying New England people call heroes), and were served shortly thereafter. There was a live musician playing, someone who grew up in Rhode Island but now lived in Nashville, but I didn't catch her name. I bet Denise that she knew Dave Isaac, though.

We ate quickly, so as not to be late for our concert.

So I guess it's time we actually talk about the concert, huh? Oh, OK.

As you've probably figured out from the title above, the headliner was Adam Ant. Denise was always a big fan of his, and I understand why. Besides the whole obvious male sex symbol thing, his music fits her taste. She likes a lot of low end in her music, and between the double drums and the use of a lot of bass, Adam fits the bill. I always found him a little silly (which also fits Denise's taste just fine), so he never really interested me. I didn't hate him or anything. But to give you some perspective, on my mp3 player, on which I currently have over 34,000 songs downloaded, I had exactly two Adam Ant songs: "Desperate But Not Serious", and "Strip". (And "Strip was downloaded fairly recently.) I'd have never in a million years have gone out of my way to see him. But since Denise's other arrangements had fallen through, I didn't want to make her go alone. So here we were.

Denise had also been supposed to see him play earlier in the week at the Beacon Theater -- Tim and Mandy had seen him there -- but that had fallen through also. So this was Denise's only chance to get her Adam fix.

At first, we thought just he and his were playing. But about two weeks ago, I had somehow learned he was scheduled to have an opening act -- an all-female band with the godawful name of the Glam Skanks. This sweetened the pot for me a little, as I was at least curious to see if they were any good. So far, opinions were mixed. Mandy and Tim hadn't been too impressed by them at the Beacon. But someone else on Denise's WLIR Group had posted that they really liked the band, enough to buy both of their albums after the show. So we were hopeful. (Well, I was. Denise, I'm not so sure about.)

As usual, I found and printed out recent setlists for both bands. At that point, I discovered that while Glam Skanks were only playing a fairly short eight-song set, Adam and his band were playing an intimidating full 28 songs, if you counted his encore. And I did.

We entered the main building (The Grand Pequot Tower) of Foxwoods, and made our way to the Fox Theater. We entered through the metal detectors, only to find out that we had to go back outside again to use the restrooms. (Who the hell designs these places?) So we did what we had to do, and entered again.

Tonight, we were sitting in two seats on the aisle way up near the top, on the left side of the theater. You had to go in, then back out a different door to get to the bar to buy water. As I watched Denise ascend through several levels of the ozone layer and into a section obscured by cumulus clouds, I asked the young usher if there was perhaps an elevator. She said that yes, she could take me to one. So I dashed off quickly to buy our waters, met Stormy the friendly usher back near the entrance, and let her take me by elevator up to the top of the arena. Then we surprised Denise by coming up behind her from the top. Denise and I both decided to drink as little water as possible, so we wouldn't have to go all the way back down and leave the arena to use the bathrooms until the end of the show.

The seats were a little tight -- this was an older facility than the one we had visited last night -- but the sight lines were nice and clear, and the fit was doable.

Gradually, some people started to file in. In front of us were two guys who definitely didn't seem like they'd be Adam fans. They were big, beefy fellows in their twenties, wearing well-worn T-shirts (one of which said "Welcome to the Jungle".) I wondered idly if they had mugged two little eighties gals and stolen their tickets. "Rock Lobster" played over the loudspeaker as the crew did a lazy sound check, and these guys made it very clear they weren't B-52s fans. But I guess it takes all types.

The arena was only about a third of the way full when the lights went down, and Glam Skanks took the stage. The vibe was totally different from the one the night before. Last night, there had been excitement from the get-go. Tonight, the sparse crowd seemed to be taking a wait-and-see attitude.

So here's my assessment of Glam Skanks. They're a four-piece all-female band who plays in what I would consider a classic hard rock style. They're an energetic, hard working group. The girls are all proficient at their instruments (the drummer in particular was banging her butt off), and the lead vocalist had a powerful and well-controlled rock voice. I liked them. They were four gals living the rock and roll dream and trying their best to entertain. Unfortunately, I wasn't blown away by their songs.

The band seemed a little afraid to engage in the beginning, instead trying to win over the crowd by playing with a lot of spirit and running around a whole bunch. As the theater filled out some, the singer, Veronica Witkin, made a few tentative attempts to talk to the audience. By a few songs in, she seemed comfortable enough to at least tell us a little about the songs.

They got their biggest reaction of the night with a nicely rocked up version of disco queen Donna Summer's song, "Hot Stuff". They also made one change to their setlist, switching out "Glitter City", the title track to one of their albums, for a song called "Bad Bitch", which some of the ladies in the crowd seemed to appreciate.

Overall, I wanted to like them better than I actually did. If they ever up their songwriting game, they're capable of a making it to a higher level. They definitely have some musical chops, and that likability factor is nothing to sneeze at. They really ought to change their moniker, though. The name "Glam Skanks" really isn't doing them any favors. They're really not a glam rock band, nor are they particularly skanky. The name really isn't very descriptive of who they are. You can find their setlist at

Between sets, I told Denise I wasn't going to try to follow Adam Ant's setlist tonight, and I think she got insulted. "Oh, just because it's Adam, huh?" she asked me accusingly. But it wasn't like I wasn't going to pay attention to his set, or take notes about it.

The reason I print out setlists is that when I'm pretty familiar with a band, it's easier just to follow along and check off what I know. Sometimes, like with OMD, I might hit a song I'm not sure about, and I'll ask Denise, "Was that one "Talking Loud and Clear?'" Or sometimes I can figure it out from a lyric. But with a 28-song set scheduled, I knew that this guy was going to be playing some deep cuts. And I'd be lucky if I knew a quarter of them. So I figured I was better off just to concentrate on listening to the music, and taking the occasional note, especially since I was pretty sure that someone would wind up posting a full song list on anyway.

At some point, Denise texted with Mandy and Tim, and learned that they were in the very front of the room (looked like first or second row) on the right side of the stage. They waved up at us, and we waved back.

"Ask them if they want switch seats!" I suggested, and Denise did. The only reply we got back from Mandy was "LOL." We took that as a no.

One thing I want to say about Adam before talking about the actual show is this: While I wasn't into his music much back in the day, there were things I liked about the guy. He clearly had a sense of style. More importantly, this was a man whose music the critics seldom, if ever, said a kind word about. But he managed to build a pretty happening career, and one that has lasted for four decades now, anyway. So if I entered this show as something less than a fan, I still entered it with respect.

Adam and his band soon took the stage to what I believe was the theme music from the old Roger Moore show The Saint. He came out wearing a hat that was more Australian cowboy than pirate, but he did have a pirate hanky sticking out of one pocket. There was a five-piece band behind him, including his traditional two drummers (but at times, one or even both of the guitarists drummed as well). Interestingly, though, there was no keyboard player (which probably has something to do with why I never got very into Adam's music.)

As soon as Adam and his band started playing, a pair of women in front of us (to the side of the two klunky guys) got up to dance, and Denise (and some of the other people around us) popped up as well. This time, Denise handed me her purse to hold rather than beating me into raw hamburger meat, and I took it gratefully.

I thought Adam's voice sounded a little weak at first -- not bad, or off key, just a little breathless. But I wouldn't rate him as a super powerful vocalist anyway -- that's not really his style -- and as the night wore on, he seemed to get stronger. He never stopped dancing, though, which I guess is another reason why the ladies love him. He moves in a very feline manner -- everything is circular motions, nothing threatening or straight ahead. At times, he reminded me of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow character. And while I know that Depp has said that he based a lot of the character on Keith Richards, as I watched this show, I wondered if a little of Captain Sparrow wasn't created with some Adam Ant in mind as well.

I also had the thought as I watched throughout the night that there were some similarities between Adam Ant and Alice Cooper. Not that their music sounds alike. But both are very theatrical performers, and both of them write songs that are very tongue in cheek. Alice's is obviously more horror themed, and appeals more to guys, while Adam's is more swashbuckling, and meant to appeal to the ladies.

This was billed as the 2019 Friend or Foe Tour, and Adam and his band played that album in its entirety from front to back, before moving on to various other songs from his long career.

I'll tell you the good and the bad of it. The good is that quite a bit of the show was very engaging, to the point where I picked out a number of other Adam Ant songs I need to add to my monster-sized mp3 catalog. The bad is that for someone like myself, who isn't really an Adam Ant fan, the set was just too damned long. If you were an Adam lover, chances are you were in heaven. But I was mostly checked out mentally by the twentieth song or so, and by the encore, I had lost my will to live. "Just finish," I begged, mentally. And by this time, even Adam looked tired.

If Adam and the gang would have played through the 21st song, "Strip," and then ended the night with "Stand and Deliver", the last song of their regular set, I'd have left the arena feeling I'd seen a solid show. It would have cut a half hour off of the running time. Hell, they could have even thrown the Glam Skanks an extra song or two. As it was, I left the venue drained and tired, feeling like I'd just been through an ordeal. Denise pointed out that if it had been The Who, I'd have much preferred 28 songs to 22. "But," I countered, "Adam Ant isn't The Who".

Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the show more than not. And I enjoyed how much Denise was enjoying it. But from my point of view, this was a case where less would have definitely been more.

Denise also pointed out that overall, the crowd was a little more standoffish than the crowd had been the night before. The people right in front of the stage were up and dancing, and there small pockets of dancers throughout the theater (including the group surrounding us). But on Friday night, it seemed as if most of the building was up and dancing, whereas for this show, the enthusiasm was a little more restrained. Tim and Mandy also reported that they felt that Adam's show at the Beacon a few nights earlier had been a better show. So maybe Adam is just wearing himself a but thin.

Adam Ant's setlist for the Foxwoods show can be found at www.geezAdamgiveitarestwillya?.com.

After the show, we made our way to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. Tim and Mandy had had enough, and had gone back to their room. As Denise and I ate, several members of the band made their way to the bar there, and presumably ordered food to be delivered to their rooms. Denise thought about asking them for a picture together, but she didn't want to disturb them. I'd have told them "Nice show," if I'd have passed them on the way to the Men's room, but they weren't there long enough.

Anyway, we gambled for a short time at the Smoke Free Casino. That, however, has been cut down to about a fifth of its former size, which I took to be kind of an F.U. message from Foxwoods to the non-smoking crowd. The next day, we found a tiny Denny's in New London at which to eat breakfast, then took the Orient Point Ferry back to Long Island. It had been a long weekend. The concerts had been good, but oh man, that hot tub! That was the best.

So that was the story of how I got kidnapped.

R.I.P. Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek (and Sid Haig)

I didn't want to let this pass.

I won't lie -- I wasn't a huge Eddie Money fan. Most of his hits were alright with me, the kind of thing you hear on the radio and don't think much about. But I did really like his collaboration with Ronnie Spector, "Take Me Home Tonight", and I loved that after a kind of traumatic past, Money was responsible for kind of luring Spector back into making music.

And as a fellow Long Islander (because Brooklyn is, geographically at least, part of Long Island) and a fellow New York City boy (I grew up in Queens), I'm proud of what Eddie Money accomplished in his career, even if much of it wasn't necessarily to my personal taste. And all of this is all the more so because I was part of that Long Island Music Hall of Fame Board of Directors that voted Money into LIMHoF's inaugural group of inductees in 2008. (Yeah, I know it looks like he was actually part of the second group of inductees. But we actually voted that whole initial group of 2006 and 2008 inductees in at the same time, and just broke them into two groups pretty much at random.)

So R.I.P Eddie Money.

Ric Ocasek is a different case. The Cars were actually one of my favorite twenty-or-so bands. They were one of the most important links between '70s rock and '80s new wave. I always hoped to see them live one day. Even after Benjamin Orr's death in 2000, I hoped that perhaps the other four members of The Cars would reunite at some point for one last tour. Obviously, now, that can never happen. (I guess the best you could hope for is that maybe Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes will hook up again someday with Todd Rundgren and company as The New Cars.)

Ocasek, of course, also had a decent little solo career, as well as a career as a music producer.

So R.I.P. Ric Ocasek.

They say these things come in threes. Let's hope that they're wrong. Unless you want to count Rob Zombie film star Sid Haig, who I also admired, and also wish a hard R.I.P. to.

I Got Kidnapped, Part 1: Berlin, OMD and The B52s

So yeah, Denise kidnapped me this weekend to a pair of '80s concerts at Foxwoods Casino. The Friday night show was at the Grand Theater in the Fox Tower (the newer and larger of Foxwoods' two main concert venues), and the Saturday night show was at the Fox Theater in the Grand Pequot Tower. (Confusing, right? It gets worse. I mentioned to one of the ushers how confusing the names seemed, and she told me that one night recently, it was even more befuddling. On that night, John Legend played at one of the venues, and Legends in Concert was featured at the other.)

Anyway, here's how it happened. I don't remember all of the machinations, but the gist of it is that originally, Denise was supposed to go for the weekend with one of her friends from her WLIR Facebook group. Then that person had to drop out. Then Denise drafted me to go. But after thinking about it, for a variety of reasons (that you know I'll get into), I asked her if she could find someone else to go with. She did. But then that person also had to cancel, so I was informed that I was back in. ("Please coach! Don't send me in!") (Btw, I'm not not naming names here to protect the innocent. I just don't even remember who she was going with.)

Here's why I originally didn't want to go. The #1 reason was leaving my son alone. He's been showing a little more maturity lately, but back when Denise originally planned the show, he was more touch-and-go with the judgment he was showing. I'm a terrible worrywart anyway, and the thought of leaving him alone for the weekend (and probably with access to my car) made me reluctant to go. (Actually, I think the car is what's been helping him to mature, though. He loves driving, and he knows that any mess ups or poor judgment mean loss of driving privileges. So his love of driving has been keeping him more on the straight and narrow.)

Also, I just didn't have the money. My agency took a salary cut near the end of last year, and we still haven't had full salaries restored, which is causing me to go more and more into debt every month. Not a great time for a casino vacation.

Then there were the concerts themselves. The B-52s are Denise's favorite band (along with Blondie), so we've seen them together at least eight or nine times. And we just saw OMD last year. (Although I'll admit, that was a great show.) Berlin was a nice sweetener, since I've only ever seen them once, and that was a couple of decades ago. But all told, given that I had seen them all at least once, I wouldn't have chosen to go out of town just to see them again. And as for Saturday's show -- well, I'll tell you all about in my next post. For now, suffice it to say it's an artist who Denise loves, but I never really had any interest in seeing.

And the fact that we wouldn't actually be staying at Foxwoods (because it's frickin' expensive!) was also an issue. These days, I wear out suddenly, and when I wear out, I just want to go to sleep. But when we hit the casinos, Denise almost always (always, actually) has more stamina than me. I like when we stay at Vernon Downs upstate, because when I'm done playing, I can just go up to the room without ruining Denise's good time. At Foxwoods, I wind up waiting around for her, which wasn't so bad when I was younger. But now, I don't want to conk out on a bench and wake up with no shoes, if you know what I mean.

And this time, there was also the matter of the tickets. Because Denise didn't originally buy them with me in mind, we didn't have the extra seat for either night, and she wasn't even sure we were on an aisle. Not knowing for sure we're going to fit comfortably into our seats always gives me a ton of anxiety.

And because we had tickets for concerts both nights, we wouldn't even have time for the thing we usually most like to do at Foxwoods (or at Turning Stone upstate) -- play high-stakes Bingo! For people with my body type and fitness level, Bingo is our kind of sport. Not very taxing, you might scoff. But you'd be wrong. Those of you who would say that have never played Marathon Bingo, or as I like to call it, "Death By Bingo"! Regular Bingo is a challenge in-and-of itself. The Warm-Ups and Early Birds usually start at 5PM and run until after 11PM. But Marathon Bingo runs an hour or two longer than that. The last time we tried it, I couldn't feel my butt cheeks for a week.

So anyway, no Bingo this time out. Unless we wanted to get up early on Saturday and play daytime Bingo. And that just wasn't happening.

As it turned out, most of these concerns turned out not to be the issues I anticipated. My son did reasonably well alone for the weekend (although he did manage to lock himself out of the house on Friday night. But he problem solved, and drove over to his sister's place to borrow her key, so I felt like he did pretty good.) Also, the seats did turn out to be aisle seats for both shows. And while they weren't necessarily the most comfortable, they were serviceable, anyway. I did spend too much money, but hey, that's what credit cards are for, right? (I have no idea why I'm always in money trouble.) And the other stuff I just dealt with.

What killed me, though, were two things I hadn't even figured into the equation.

The first was job-related. I work for the adoption agency from which Denise and I adopted our two children ten years ago. And at some point after we had originally spoken about the idea of going away for this weekend, one of the families I've been working with scheduled their Covenant Ceremony.

Now at our agency, the Covenant Ceremony is the climax of everything. It's the ceremony at which the prospective adopting parents make their final promises to their maybe-children that they will always love them, protect them, and be their family forever, and the children make their decision to put their faith in their new parents' honesty, and vow to forever be their children. In this case, as the parent's transition worker, it was the climax of nearly two-and-a-half years of work I did with this family. It's a very emotional evening, and a physically exhausting one as well, as I had to be there early to move everything around and help to set up the room for this ceremony, then help to put it all back together after everything was over. For the last Covenant Ceremony I took part in, it took me almost two days to start to feel human again after it was over. And this ceremony wound up being scheduled for 6PM Thursday night on the night before our trip.

The other factor that helped to exhaust me before the weekend had even begun involved my daughter. I mentioned in a recent post that her job is making her go for training every day in Huntington. Sometimes she catches a ride back and forth with a co-worker who is training with her, and she usually at least gets her rides home from her boyfriend. Given that I had to be in Little Neck for the Covenant Ceremony at 6PM on Thursday night, I was really hoping she wouldn't need me to drive her Thursday morning. But as many of you know, well, Murphy was an Irishman. And he had a law, not-so-coincidentally named Murphy's Law. So you can see where this is going.

I wound up driving my daughter to Huntington to leave her at her job on Thursday at 12 noon. At that point, all of my options were lousy ones, so I decided it made more sense to just continue on to Little Neck five hours early than to drive all the way back to Patchogue only to have to drive to Little Neck two hours later. So I took her to Huntington at noon, drove to Little Neck at one, had the Covenant Ceremony at 6, and got home aching and exhausted at about 9:30. Then, just for fun, I had to drive her back to Huntington the next morning. (We left at 7:20AM so I could get her there by 9). I dropped her off, got some bloodwork done on the way home, packed my bag for the weekend, and left the house with Denise at 11:30 to catch a 1PM ferry in Port Jefferson. My back hurt, my feet hurt, and I was emotionally exhausted. And the weekend hadn't even started.

The trip to Connecticut was blessedly uneventful. We caught the ferry into Bridgeport with no problem. We hit a little bit of traffic on I-95, but it could have been worse.

Denise and I have been going to the casino area of Connecticut for years, and when we do, we usually use the town of Groton as our base of operations. It's midway between Foxwoods and The Mohegan Sun, and when there used to still be Jai Alai in Connecticut and Rhode Island, it was convenient enough for that, too. This time, we were staying at the Ramada Inn, where we'd stayed at least once or twice before. The motel has an indoor pool, which I like, and it's connected to an Indian restaurant. I remember once when we stayed there, we had a hell of the time finding the place. This time, though, we found it right away.

We got to the motel at a little after three, which gave us a couple of hours to rest before grabbing dinner and heading out. We ate at the Indian restaurant. The food was delicious, and tired as I still was, we discussed the possibility of maybe eating there again tomorrow. The prospect of just moping around at the motel all day sounded pretty good to me.

We made it out to Foxwoods at a little after 7 for an 8 o'clock show. As it turned out, our seats weren't exactly on an aisle -- they were actually in a corner, against a wall. But because the concert hall is pretty new, the seats were nice and wide, so were able to make do. We were on the far left side of the auditorium, near the back of the floor section. (There was only one row behind us.) The biggest downside was that we were pretty penned in. Our bladders needed to hold up, because we couldn't get out on my side. This meant that if we needed to use the restrooms, or get something from the concessions stand, we'd have to climb over (and inconvenience) the 17 people to Denise's right.

We also couldn't see the full stage. There was a "BERLIN" logo on the video screen at the back of the stage, but all we could see was "LIN".

We found ourselves in the midst of a nice little enclave of music fans of about our age, and traded music stories and info, and camera photos of shows we'd attended, with the couple in front of us and the couple to the right of us. (And Denise found a pack of fans behind her who were planning to be on the '80s Cruise she'll be going on next March.)

At 8 on the dot, the lights went down, and Berlin took the stage. Now as usual, I had done my due diligence and printed out setlists for all three bands playing this show, so I knew what to expect. (I had also been listening to the new Berlin album Transcendance in preparation for the show. It didn't interest me much at first, but some of the songs have since started to grow on me.)

Berlin came out as a six-piece, which included original members Terry Nunn, David Diamond and John Crawford. Nunn was dressed in a some sort of black-sequined outfit, and looked good -- glamorous, and kind of sexy. (And why not? At four years younger than me, she's still a hot young thing.) More importantly, she also sounded really good, with a voice that was both strong and true.

The crowd gave Berlin a great response right away, which the band clearly enjoyed. They played their way through a (too short) eight-song set that included five of their classics, an AC/DC cover (of all things!), and my two favorite songs from the new album. Nunn even came out into the crowd over on our side as she sang "Take My Breath Away" from the soundtrack of the Top Gun movie, which was the band's highest-ranked single on the Billboard charts (at #1!) back in their heyday. Nunn looked legitimately touched by the outpouring of affection that she, and Berlin, received from this very-receptive audience.

The only negative to their set was that the sound was a little muddy throughout. Nunn's voice was pretty clear, but I really wanted the synth to be cranked more, especially for my favorite Berlin song, "Metro". (It did sound a little more distinct for my second-favorite track, "Masquerade".) Berlin's setlist can be found at

In between sets, Mandy and Tim from Denise's WLIR group came over by my wall to visit. They had gotten caught in some vicious traffic coming from Brooklyn (no ferry for them!), and as a result, they had missed the first three or four songs from Berlin's set. It turned out that they were sitting basically right behind us, in the first row of the next section back.

OMD was the next band to the stage. (I'm only going to spell out "Orchestral Manouevers in the Dark" this once for you. This write-up is long enough as it is!) Denise and I had seen them late in 2017 at Terminal 5 in Manhattan on their tour promoting their very tasty The Punishment of Luxury album. It was one of the best shows we saw that year.

This time out, though, the band had a different game plan, as they stuck almost entirely to their most popular '80s fare (with the exception of one song taken from their 2010 LP, History of Modern). Now I would have sworn that when we'd seen them in 2017, they'd played as a five-piece. But then I realized that I hadn't "seen them" much at all, as we'd had handicapped seats at the side of the room that night, and I couldn't really see a thing over the crowd. So anyway, they played as a 4-piece (all of them dressed in black), as usual.

This was another really strong outing by this band. They performed a full, 12-song set, that included one of my favorite songs of the '80s, "Tesla Girls", as well as other popular numbers such as "Enola Gay", "Secret", "If You Leave" and "Locomotion". This time out, I could see Andy McCluskey's dancing, which was pretty frightening. (And lest you think I'm just being mean -- perish the thought! -- he made fun of it himself). It was somewhere in between the movements of a person with severe neurological damage and a chicken, with maybe a little bit of Jerry Lewis thrown in for good measure.

The crowd danced up a storm during their set, including Denise, who (unbeknownst to her) pelted me mercilessly with the small purse flung over her arm as she swayed from side to side. She asked me later why I didn't tell her, but I figured it was better that she pummel me than the stranger sitting to her right. As it was, I sat watching fascinated throughout the set, as her purse repeatedly just missed the back of the head of the lady sitting in front of her (who was sitting leaned back throughout the night, nursing a broken foot.) She's a dangerous gal, my Denise.

OMD closed out their set with another of my favorites (and their oldest single), "Electricity". They then left the stage, to wild applause. You can see their full setlist at

At this point, I knew there'd be a bit of a break. OMD's equipment had been set up behind Berlin's, so the set-up time between those two bands had been relatively brief. But now they had to do a full set-up for the B's, so they ran a series of '80s music videos on the onstage screen. At this point, my bladder was doing reasonably well. However, I figured if I didn't go now, there was a chance I'd have to annoy everyone to go in and out to use the Men's room in the middle of the B-52s' set. So Denise and I decided to go together, so as to minimize the inconvenience. People (most of whom were our age) were very understanding as we climbed past them.

The line for the Men's room was immense, but moved pretty quickly. The line to the women's room moved less quickly.

At this point, I should tell you that I was dragging, and had been for the whole concert. I recognized that the bands were putting on a great show, and the crowd energy was right there to meet them. I, unfortunately wasn't. I was enjoying myself, but not nearly so much as I would have been if I hadn't had the hectic schedule I did on Thursday night and Friday morning.

The Indian food was also sitting like a rock in my stomach, and making me feel a little nauseous. (And Denise said the same). I don't blame the food for this -- I think it was delicious, and well cooked. But my system can't handle what it once could. Mentally, I revised my plan to revisit the same restaurant tomorrow night. I would choose something a little blander.

I visited briefly with Tim and Mandy as the set-up on stage continued. Then I waited for Denise, and we "Excuse Me"'d our way back across the row to our seats.

Not too long after that, the lights went down, and The B-52s took the stage.

Now the last time I saw the B's was last year at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. I hadn't really enjoyed them much that day, partly because a drunk doofus behind me thought that he was Keith Moon and our row of chairs was his drum kit, and partially because Cindy Wilson's throat that night had been raw humburger meat -- just painful to listen to. We've seen this band together a number of times over the years, and it seems like maybe two thirds of the time, Cindy has had vocal problems. (And on one or two the shows when she didn't, Kate Pierson did.) Tonight, happily, was a completely different story.

The B's played the show with a four-piece band backing Kate, Cindy and Fred Schneider. Cindy was in good voice tonight, Kate was in great voice, and Fred was ... well, Fred. They opened with one of my favorites, "Private Idaho", before playing Denise's favorite B's track, "Mesopotamia". She was a little disappointed, though -- she said that now that guitarist Keith Strickland has retired from touring, the song didn't have that little Egyptian riff he used to play that really makes the song for her.

(By the way, I should tell you that the keyboard on my laptop has a problem with the "B" key. Having two "B" bands in the lineup for this show -- Berlin and The B-52s -- is really starting to piss me off, as I have to go back and keep retyping their names. Can't wait for the Bastille show next Tuesday!)(Subtle Coming Attraction for you there.)

In any event, The B's continued their way through a very strong 12-song set before playing their two-tune encore. They made one change from the setlist I had printed out from last Tuesday's Washington, DC show, switching out "6060-842" for "Channel Z" (which was an upgrade as far as I was concerned.) They played most of the stuff you'd expect, including "Give Me Back My Man", "Deadbeat Club" (another of my favorites), "Roam", "Party Out of Bounds", "Strobe Lights", "Dance This Mess Around", and "Love Shack".

At one point, Fred disappeared from the stage for a full three songs, and I missed his contribution to "Deadbeat Club". When he was there, though, he was pretty actively engaged, playing a variety of hand instruments, including a tinkly little xylophone. And when he came back from his break, he was wearing a long blonde wig, sunglasses and a unicorn horn with unicorn ears to boot.

They started the encore with maybe my favorite B-52s song, the weird and eerie "Planet Claire". They then tore into their last number for the night, the obligatory "Rock Lobster". And towards the end of the song, a person came out dressed in a full lobster costume (kind of like a school mascot outfit if your school happens to be the University of Maine Lobsters or something.) The lobster then proceeded to dance around the stage for the rest of the song, and took a bow with the band. Fred then kindly led the lobster by the hand safely off of the stage, and I'm sure he or she couldn't see a thing from in there. Denise is really hoping they bring the lobster with them on the '80s Cruise.

You can find the B-52s setlist for the night at

We let out into the casino at midnight. It had been a full four-hour show. But it was a happy and satisfied crowd that left the theater.

At this point, Denise and I used the facilities once again. We then made a plan to meet up at 1AM, so Denise could play some slots.

Unfortunately, the Fox Tower of Foxwoods, where this show had taken place, has no non-smoking casino area (that I know of, anyway.) And the casino floor was smoky and disgusting, so I had no intention of playing.

Instead, I checked in with my son by text. (This was when I learned about the adventure of the lost keys.) I then bought some Pepto-Bismol tablets and a couple of waters (so Denise and I could take our night meds later) in one of their little casino stores. Killing time, I headed over to the Junior's Cheesecake stand, where I ran into Mandy and Tim grabbing some dessert. We compared notes briefly, and I left them to enjoy their treats. I then gimped my sore and tired body over to the hotel lobby, where I sat in the soft chairs for thirty minutes or so, eating my Junior's bagel and drinking an iced mocha while I waited to meet Denise.

We hooked up at 1 as scheduled, and headed back to our motel in Groton. By this time, I was one tired buckaroo.

By the way, if you happen to read this in time, all three of these bands are playing in Manhattan at the Central Park SummerStage on Tuesday night, September 24. They put on a great show. Denise is looking forward to seeing Berlin and The B's again on her '80s Cruise next March, although sadly, OMD won't be there.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of "I Got Kidnapped" later today.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Alex Wu and Trio

My sleep schedule has been all off lately. I usually sleep from about 4AM until 12 noon. This suits me just fine, as for more of my adult life than not, I've worked either nights or overnights. Now that I mostly work from home, I like being up late and doing a lot of my work during the quiet hours.

Over the last few weeks, though, I've had to alter my usual schedule, largely because of my daughter. She started her first real post-schooling full-time job a few months ago, and she knew from the beginning that at some point, they were going to be sending her to Huntington for training. She has her driver's license, and does fine driving locally. But she has a vehicle that's mostly held together with scotch tape and bubble gum, and she's still very nervous driving on parkways. She can do it at night, when there's not much traffic. But driving from the Patchogue/Bellport area to Huntington five days a week, mostly during rush hour traffic, is more than she can safely handle.

She has a friend who is training with her, but this friend doesn't drive or have her own car. At first, my daughter told me I wouldn't have to worry about it, as she'd be able to catch a ride with her friend's father or sister every day. I was skeptical about that, and for good reason. I figured that I'd better be ready, because sooner or later, she was going to ask me to drive her. As it turns out, her friend often spends the night at her boyfriend's house, and on the nights when she does that, he drives her to Huntington the next morning. And according to my daughter, he's a bit of a maniac -- not paying attention to the road, tailgating like crazy, and just generally terrifying her. (My daughter had a couple of accidents when she first started driving, so she's gotten kind of PTSD about these kinds of things.)

So like any good (wonderful, stupendous, magnificent!) father, I'd rather drive her myself and make sure she's safe than trust her to somebody who sounds a little risky. And truth be told, although I don't love getting up early, or spending all of that gas money, I do like having some time with her. Like a lot of young women these days, she basically lives with her boyfriend -- in fact, they're planning to get their first real apartment together within the next month or two -- so I value spending as much time with her as I can.

The downside of this, though, is that it's been playing havoc with my sleeping schedule. The last few weeks, I've found myself going to bed anywhere from 11PM to 2AM, waking up at 6 or 6:30, and trying to make up for the difference by taking afternoon or early evening naps. It's not really working. I'm tired a lot.

Anyway, earlier this week, I got an email from the South Country Library in Bellport advertising a free "Hispanic Heritage" concert at the library on Friday night. The artist was "Alex Wu and Trio", and was scheduled to feature music in a variety of styles, including flamenco, bolero, tangos, etc. The email also promised that "an authentic Hispanic dessert buffet" would follow the show.

Well, the price was definitely right, and the dessert buffet sounded pretty good, too. I don't know a hell of a lot about Spanish heritage music (for some reason, I was picturing salsa, although that genre was specifically not mentioned in the description.) But what I do know what I like. (I tend to like a lot of World Music in general -- Chinese, Indian, African, obviously Celtic). It sounded like a good way to spend a Friday night in a week where I was kind of low on cash. So I figured there was a 99% I'd give it a shot.

Friday was another one of those days when I woke up early. Sometimes my brain turns on in the morning, and I just can't get it to turn back off. This is especially true when I know there's already work in my mailbox. I had a long (and kind of ugly) home study sitting in my box that I'd made it three quarters of the way through the night before. But I'd stopped to eat dinner, and after that, I was just too sleepy to finish it. So when I woke up Friday, I decided to try to bump it off quickly before they sent me anything else.

My boss thinks my obsessive-compulsiveness is kind of funny at my job. I work like a maniac sometimes, trying desperately to empty my work folder, because for some reason (my crazy, obsessive nature), it just feels good to have that box completely empty. Of course, even on those rare occasions when I do empty it out, somebody sends me something else to work on within two or three hours anyway. So I'm like that guy in Greek mythology who keeps pushing his boulder up the hill only to watch it roll back down so he has to start all over again. I've always thought that that story was a great metaphor for life in general. That's just the kind of positive attitude I have. It's just a party being me.

Anyway, when I got up on Friday, I saw that the boys on Sputnik Music had also been really busy after I'd gone to bed the night before. As I mentioned here, I'm the host for the September Song of the Day list (and it looks like I'm going to be hosting October also). So I spent a couple of hours updating that before I even got back to my unfinished home study. (Luckily, my daughter has been temporarily working back in Patchogue for the last few days, so I didn't have to worry about driving her today.)

I worked on into the afternoon, and by 2 or so, I was tired again. I did the dishes and futzed around the house a little, making lunch and watching nonsense on YouTube. My plan was to lay down and take a nap at about 3, so I'd catch a few hours sleep before the concert. But somehow, it never happened. I did actually lay down at about 4:30 or so. But for whatever reason, my mind was just too active to fall asleep, so I was back up by 5.

I thought about passing on the concert, and if it had involved anything more complex than driving to the Bellport public library, I probably would have. But my drive to the library takes less than ten minutes, and I knew that the show (which had a 7PM start) couldn't really go past 8:30, because the library closes by 9. And to be honest, now that I've sworn off of album reviews for awhile, sometimes I struggle to find new material to keep the readers of this blog interested. So I decided to suck it up and go anyway.

My son brought my car back by 6:15. (I know that it puts a bit of a crimp in his social life when I actually need to use my own car, but I like to keep him on his toes -- I don't want him to feel that he's going to get to use it just anytime).

I grabbed a slice of pizza before heading to the library, because I didn't want to repeat what I will forever more think of as "The Bryan Ferry Error". Then I drove into Bellport, and found myself a spot in the library parking lot. (I would have gone later, but sometimes if there's a popular event there, the lot will fill up.)

As soon as they opened the doors to the downstairs area (at about 6:45 or so), I headed down and grabbed myself an aisle seat (kind of against the wall) in the front row. I listened as Alex and his vocalist finished their rehearsal, and watched the crowd file in. I'm always just a tad lonely when I go to these shows on my own, and I usually wind up texting someone in my family as I wait for the shows to start. (My kids usually totally ignore my texts, so it's kind of a solo thing, much akin to writing this blog.) This time, I texted Denise. Nothing very heavy, mostly just stuff  like "This crowd is all geezed out. I'm like the youngest one here." (Well, I was! In the youngest 10 percent, anyway.)

As I sat there, I thought to myself that I should have asked Denise to come with me. We used to go to all kinds of musical events together, everything from folk music shows to operas. But then again, sometimes after she's worked all week, she just likes to stay home and relax on Friday nights. And if she'd have really been interested, she would have probably mentioned it. (And I knew she was going out to one of her '80s dance parties on Saturday night, anyway.) I also thought I should have seen if Todd Evans wanted to come. We're always looking for local shows to go to together. I wasn't sure if this would have been his thing or not, but it would have made sense to ask. I think the reason I don't sometimes is because A. I don't even think of it until the last moment, or B. If I do ask Todd, or Rich, or anyone else to go with me, it sort of locks me into going if they say yes. And there's a part of me that always wants to keep that flexibility to blow off the show if I'm too tired (or lazy) that day. I guess that this is how people gradually become hermits.

As I waited, a library worker passed out a one-page program for the evening (bless his little heart!). It described the show as "Cantos de las Americas", and noted that the musicians for the evening would be Rachel Elezi, a classically trained soprano vocalist; Jordan Dodson, a classical guitarist; and Alex Wu, a pianist (and the person who had put the show together.) My first thought was that the act was misnamed -- if it's "Alex Wu and Trio", I would expect four musicians to be there -- Alex Wu, and three other people. In my mind, a whole story formed about how Alex had gone to the others and said, "I've got a great idea! How about if we call it 'The Alex Wu Trio'", and they'd responded, "Eff you, Alex! We're not naming the trio after you!" So eventually, they'd compromised on calling themselves, "Alex Wu and Trio." (I should bring a book to these things, or something, to fill the empty time. My mind is frightening when left to its own devices.)

The program was broken down into two main sections: Spain and Latin America. It featured a total of eight subsections, indicating eight different styles of Spanish and Latino music.

My knowledge of Spanish and Latino music usually divides into three frames of reference: Carlos Santana (and I told you about seeing him a few weeks ago), Reuben Blades, and Placido Domingo, each of whom I like. Yeah, I do know a little about other styles of Latin music. But it's a very little.

Here are some initial observations I made about tonight's musicians. 1. They were dressed more classically than not. Ms. Elezi (geez, I feel like the New York Times now) was dressed in a formal black gown, and both of the men were dressed in black pants and suit jackets (although they weren't wearing tuxes); and 2. I didn't get the impression that they played together in this formation all that often. When I entered the room, and Wu and Elezi were finishing up their rehearsal, they seemed a little loose. Elezi was trying to pin Wu down on something, like, "Well do I come in here or here?", and he was all like, "Whenever! Don't even worry about it." (I also noticed that the program was broken down in such a way that the three of them rarely performed together. Each of the men had solo numbers, and Elezi performed several selections with each of them individually. But they were only performing together as a trio in two of the eight sections of the evening's program, for a total of three songs.)

As for the crowd, 1. As I mentioned, they were old; 2. They were very white. For a concert celebrating Hispanic Heritage, there didn't seem to many Latinos actually in attendance, not even to scarf up those "authentic Hispanic" desserts; and 3. There were maybe 30 people there when the show started. This grew to a high of about 45 people during the performance. There were some empty seats in the back rows, but all in all, it wasn't a bad crowd for a Friday night.

The room was set up for the show with a fairly large open floor area at the front as a performance space, with a full-size piano more or less in the middle.

Wu opened the evening's entertainment by performing three solo numbers (and giving a little history before each one). These included a tango, a flamenco number, and a bolero-style song.

Now you've got to take this from where (or who) it's coming from. Which is basically an idiot. When I write about rock (or folk, or any of the genres I grew up on in the sixties and seventies), I'm in my element. I'm not a musician (by any realistic definition of the word), but I'm pretty knowledgeable about the history of the music, what it should sound like, etc. Within the genre of classical music, however, I'm skating on much thinner ice. I like a number of different styles of classical music, including opera, chamber music, etc. (On a cruise ship, I usually follow the classical trio around the ship, drinking tea and eating cucumber sandwiches and having a wonderful time.) But my knowledge here is at best at the level of a 5th or 6th grader whose parents have given them some minimal exposure to classical music since they were young. I know what I like, but in any kind of conversation with someone who really knows classical music, I'd only embarrass myself.

All of this is a prelude to saying that while Wu was the nominal leader of this group, I found him to be the least compelling of the three musicians. (And I write this banking on the thought that the poor bastard will hopefully never read this or have his feelings hurt by it, because how likely would it be? He's a Manhattan-based fellow who plays on Long Island every other year or so. I doubt that he, or any of his friends who'd be inclined to show him this write-up, are among the fairly select group that comprises Long Island Music Guy readers. He seems like a nice enough person, so let's hope that my supposition is correct. If it's not, my apologies Alex, old buddy.)

I don't think this was entirely his fault. My best guess (and remember, this is the guess of a classical music moron) is that the problem mostly rested with his instrument. The guitarist got to bring his own instrument with him, and of course the vocalist is kind of her own instrument. But Wu had to rely on the piano owned by the South Country Library. And while Wu wasn't hitting clunkers (that I noticed, anyway), the sound of the piano itself just wasn't that remarkable. It was OK. But that was it. It didn't have the full, rich, piano sound that I might have hoped for.

Anyway, the next portion of the show featured Elezi and Dodson playing together, and while maybe I was just hearing what I expected to hear to validate my own perceptions (idiot, remember?), it seemed like the crowd perked up to a new level here. Elezi's voice is absolutely gorgeous, and Dodson's style of classical guitar is subtle, but beautiful. Together, they played a Ladino lullaby (You up what "Ladino" means. She explained it, but I forget. I think it's a region in Spain.) entitled "Durme, Durme", and a song that was written by the poet Federico Garcia Lorca (which I think the progressive rock band Carmen might have based their most famous number "Bulerias" on, at least in part).

Next, Dodson left the performing area (they had a little room in the back that the three of them used to enter and exit the "stage"), and Wu came back out to join Elezi. Their two-song mini-set was one of my favorite parts of the evening, as they played "Cancion de la infanta", a sad number about the death of the Prince of Portugal due to a horsing accident, written by his Spanish widow (or fiancee, I think,); and a flirtatious piece called "Carceleras" from the zarzuela (the Spanish equivalent to an opera) Las Hijas del Zebedo. (My love of Placido Domingo did me well here, as thanks to him, I was familiar with zarzuelas in general, although not this particular one.) This piece was the highlight of the show for me.

At this point, Elezi and Wu left the performance area, and Dodson came out to begin the Latin American portion of the program, playing a jazzy little Bossanova number written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, the Brazilian composer who also wrote the more famous (at least here) "The Girl From Ipanema". He assured us that song's cheerful sound was belied by its lyrics, which featured lines that translated into English such as "Suffering has no end, but happiness does". (Sounds like my kind of guy).

Next, the full trio came out together for a pair of romantic pop songs, both of which I was familiar with, "Besame mucho", and "Cuando vuelva a tu lado" (which the English-speaking world knows as "What a Difference a Day Makes").

At this point, Elezi again left the stage, and Wu and Dodson teamed up for a track by that famous Hispanic composer Leonardo Bernsteino (I swear to God! This one cracked me up), and the song "America" from West Side Story. This was also a highlight of the night, although if I'd known ahead of time, I could have made it even better by slipping my son twenty bucks and letting him and his friends act out a little Jets vs. Sharks action in the area surrounding Wu's piano.

Anyway, somehow we moved on from there without the Trio playing such other Latino gems as "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina", with Wu doing another pair of solo numbers on the piano. These were a Caribbean-flavored song (from a Venezuelan composer), and an Argentinian Street Tango.

At this point, the trio reunited once again for the grand finale of the evening, none other than Placido Domingo's old favorite, "Granada". They then took their bows, to a nice round of applause from the audience. The show had lasted just a little more than an hour.

As they took their justly-earned cheers, I thought about that dessert buffet, and promised myself to go light so as not to ruin my weigh-in on Saturday morning at my Weight Watcher's meeting. I needn't have worried.

Because somewhere around the middle of the show, I'm pretty sure that someone from the library suddenly realized, "Oh crap! We promised these people an authentic Hispanic dessert buffet!" They then gave their lowest-level intern thirty bucks or so to run out to a bodega in Bellport, so as not to get hung by a battalion of hungry, sweet-toothed old white people.

That's the only explanation I can think for the lavish "dessert buffet", which consisted of a bag of small-sized muffins and two clear packages of plain-looking cookies, both of which were nicely displayed on plates (but which featured the packages prominently placed behind them, so we could see the Spanish-language description of the cellophane, and we'd therefore know that these were indeed "authentic Hispanic" deserts). These were placed next a large tray of glop which I won't even try to describe, plus a 2-liter bottle of soda and an even larger bottle of iced tea.

As the crowd swelled around the three musicians, I perused these Latino delights. Not being proud, I grabbed one of the plain cookies (the Hispanic equivalent of Stella Doros), and headed to the elevator. I then drove home, happily munching my galleta. (A little Spanish lingo for you there. Who says this blog isn't educational?)

All in all, it had been a pretty good night.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The show I didn't go to - Interpol, Morrissey

This year, when the summer concert schedules came out, I saw that Morrissey was playing at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. I wouldn't have normally been that interested.

For one thing, while the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium is a nice venue in which to watch a show, it's a physically difficult place for me to see one. This is because there is literally no parking anywhere near the stadium, meaning that Denise and I would have to take the Long Island Railroad to get there (and go through all the rigmarole of switching trains at Jamaica, etc.), and because once you walk the couple of blocks between the Railroad and the stadium, you then enter through a gate and make a long walk all the way around the perimeter of the stadium to get to the entry point. (And all of this is usually in the summer heat.)

The other reason for my disinterest was Morrissey himself. I happen to love The Smiths. They're one of my favorite bands. But let's face it, their former lead singer, Morrissey is a bit of a pinhead. He has a longtime reputation for being very temperamental, occasionally walking out of concerts in a snit when the crowd does something that displeases him, and sometimes not even showing up if he has a hangnail or a blister on his pinky toe. He's also not very fan-friendly in his choice of setlists. He wants to sing what he wants to sing, and let the tastes of the ticket-buying public be damned. And this isn't even taking into his account his love of making outrageous statements (at one point, he was advocating the murder of either the Queen or Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, I forget which), and he's also known for his militant veganism. I'm not someone who has a lot of patience with buying tickets to listen to a scold.

I've also found his solo career to be very uneven. I liked a lot of his earlier stuff. But the last album of his I listened to (I couldn't even tell you what it was, Denise had it in her car), was distinctly mediocre. His lyrics, which used to be fairly clever, and often pretty funny, seemed to have just become whiny. So I just haven't paid him much attention in the last decade, and have, instead, concentrated on enjoying the solo career of Morrissey's old bandmate, Johnny Marr.

But this summer's Morrissey tour had one very nice sweetener added to it that made me reconsider -- Interpol was the opening act. I won't say they're one of my very favorite bands, but they're a band I like enough that I always pick up their latest album. This is the case even though I find them to be a little uneven -- I liked their first two LPs better than anything they've done since then. But there's usually at least a few songs on every one of their albums that I like.

So when I saw that Morrissey and Interpol were coming around this summer, I gave serious consideration to buying a ticket.

Unfortunately for me, their New York stop was scheduled for the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, which, as I said, I usually hesitate to buy tickets for. And it was also scheduled on a Saturday on which I had an early morning staff meeting scheduled for my job. I have one of these meetings on the first Saturday of every month, and they wipe me out physically. This is because my usual sleep schedule tends to be roughly from 4AM to noon. So getting up at 7:30AM to get into Queens by 9 makes me useless for the rest of the day. So I decided to pass on this show.

Then one day, Denise came bouncing home from work to tell me she had gone ahead and bought tickets for the show. They were running a special where they were selling tickets for $25 a piece, so she had just gone ahead and bought four of them. At first, I was a little taken aback. Then, I started thinking that I really haven't taken any time off from my job since I first took it about two years ago. So I worked it out with them, and scheduled to miss the staff meeting and go instead to the concert that day.

Then I got screwed over by The Mets.

My job had scheduled an outing for everybody to go to a Mets game in mid-September. Then the Mets confounded everyone, went on a hot streak, and improbably got themselves back into playoff contention. So the nice Sunday afternoon game we had bought tickets for got turned into a Sunday night name when ESPN decided to make it the Sunday Night Game of the Week. This messed up our outing, as we had people coming from as far away as Albany. They offered us another date later in September. However, that game was scheduled for a late afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, which would have meant all of our Jewish employees would have probably had to have left the game early in order to be home in time for sundown. So eventually, we wound up with a game against the Phillies on September 8, the day after the Morrissey concert.

Now for me to do a concert at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium at this point in my life -- well, I can do it, but I really need the whole next day to recover. There was no way I could do the show at the Tennis Stadium, and then be back in Queens by 1PM the next day for a Mets game. I sounded out my son, to see how much he wanted to attend the game -- his interest had seemed a little tepid when I first asked him about the tickets. But he said that he really wanted to go.

At first, I was going to try to do both. But then I talked it over with Denise, and decided that if she could get friends who were interested in going to the concert with her, I'd skip the Morrissey concert. I was a little disappointed, as I'd have liked to have seen the show. But I was also relieved, as I know it would have been a physically difficult day. So I told my job I'd be there for that Saturday morning staff meeting after all, and Denise arranged to go to the Morrissey concert with LeeAnne from her WLIR Facebook group, LeeAnne's friend Roberta, and our old friend Rich Da Drumma.

As it turned out, I could have gone after all. Come Sunday morning, my son wasn't feeling well (possibly because he'd been up much too late the night before.) I could have probably guilted him into going to the game if I'd have tried. But I'd just learned the night before that the U.S. Open Tennis tournament was still ongoing (they used to finish the damned thing on Labor Day weekend, but I guess at some point in recent years they started letting it bleed into the next week.) So I knew that parking for the Mets game was going to be a zoo, and I was dreading it. So I let him sleep in at his request, and watched the game on TV. (As I'm typing this, the Mets just tied the game 4-4.)

It might be just as well. I don't know if I'm fit company to be around my workmates (and their kids) at a Mets game. I'm better than I used to be -- when the Mets played the Yankees in the World Series a few years back, I had to stop watching the games because I got myself so worked up, I thought I was literally going to have to go the Emergency Room. I couldn't breathe right, and my heart was pounding so fast, I thought I was having a heart attack. I had to watch the last two games in the series by watching a TV show with Denise, then switching to the game during commercials to check on the score. As I said, ever since then, I'm calmer than I used to be. But I still curse a lot when the Mets make a stupid play (and they make a lot of stupid plays). And I think if Mickey Callaway had put in Edwin Diaz to screw up another game, I just might have left the stadium in handcuffs. That's probably not something you want to do in front of your boss.

Meanwhile, Denise and her merry crew enjoyed the concert a lot. They took the railroad into Forest Hills, ate at a burger place nearby, then trekked into the stadium. They had the joy of taking that long walk around the stadium twice, as when they made the walk the first time, they were informed at the entrance that one of the women would have to go back and pay $5 for the privilege of checking her bag, because Morrissey had some kind of clause in his contract that said that people could only bring in small bags. (I seem to remember he's had some trouble in the past with people throwing things at him.)

Nevertheless, they had a cool, comfortable night weather-wise for an outdoor show. Denise reported that she thinks there might have been almost as many people there to see Interpol as there were to see Morrissey -- when Interpol was on, the crowd was really into them, and a lot of people were happily singing along.

However, she also said that Morrissey's set was really good. He was in fine voice, and apparently, for this show, anyway, he played nice with the crowd.

I looked at the playlist on, and I would have disappointed with the show. He performed very few Smiths songs -- just "The Joke Isn't Funny Anymore", and then "How Soon Is Now" as the last song of his encore. And he didn't perform a number of my favorites of his solo hits, including "The Last of the Famous International Playboy", "Ouija Board, Ouija Board", "Piccadilly Palare", and maybe most surprising of all, "Suedehead".

(Oops, the Mets just gave up three runs and let the Phillies go ahead. Pretty sure I'd have made a spectacle of myself and gotten fired by now!)

But Denise and her group enjoyed the show anyway. Denise had gone up on earlier in the week, and had made herself a playlist of the stuff he was playing, a lot of which she liked, so she was at least familiar with the material he was performing. And he did a number of interesting covers (some of which are on his most recent albums), including "Wedding Bell Blues" (which Laura Nyro wrote, but I always think of it as a Fifth Dimension song), "Lady Willpower" (an old Gary Puckett and the Union Gap song), and "Back on the Chain Gang" (a Pretenders cover).

Now I always say that if a star is going to perform a setlist that doesn't include most of their older and best-loved material, then they should be charging the ticket prices you'd pay to see an unknown band. But in this case, Morrissey did that. Paying $25 to see both Morrissey and Interpol is well worth the money, even if Morrissey did skip much of his best known material.

Anyway, you can find last night's setlists for both Interpol and Morrissey up on

So I missed both the concert and the Mets game. Am I regretful? A little. But I'm also relaxed and well rested -- I slept half of the day yesterday -- so I'm not all that sad after all.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

August 2019 Song of the Day

August was a weird month for the Sputnik Song of the Day Chart. We work on a spreadsheet that both records and averages out our ratings, and somewhere around the third week of the month, someone locked it. This seems to have thrown some of our usual participants, so the ratings haven't totally caught up yet.

This problem was compounded by the fact that The whole Sputnik Music website went down last Friday, and was offline for three days. At first I thought it was an accident -- it has happened in the past, but not for awhile. But now I think they just took it down for maintenance, and didn't let everybody know.

In any event, while I expect that some of these averages will go up or down a little, the essence of them will remain the same -- the highest rated song will remain the same, and ditto for the lowest rated song.

The theme for the month was "pandering", in so much as the object was to recommend songs that you believe would be scored highly by your colleagues.

Artist/song/link/overall rating given by Sput users (out of 5)/my rating (X=I rec'd it)

1. Radiohead - Paranoid Android - - 3.53 - 3.9
2. Gary Numan - My Name Is Ruin - - 3.01 - X
3. Underworld - Born Slippy - - 3.24 - 3.1
4. Pink Floyd - The Great Gig in the Sky - - 4.03 - 4.4
5. Portishead - Glory Box - - 3.83 - 2.4
6. Talking Heads - Crosseyed and Painless - - 3.70 - 3.2
7. The Rolling Stones - 19th Nervous Breakdown - - 3.60 - 4.0
8. The Saints - Know Your Product - - 2.85 - 3.5
9. Mazzy Star - Hallah - - 3.74 - 2.9
10. Lil Peep - Star Shopping - - 2.14 - 2.0
11. Matt Uelman - Tristram - - 3.40 - 2.7
12. Nirvana - Sliver - - 3.57 - X
13. Kate Bush - Running Up That Hill - - 4.18 - 4.2
14. Echo & the Bunnymen - The Killing Moon - - 3.94 - 4.7
15. Alice in Chains - Nutshell - - 3.17 - 3.6
16. River Tibor - West - - 2.31 - 2.8
17. Too Young to Go Steady - Video Hits - - 2.80 - 3.6
18. Sonic Youth - Schizophrenia - - 3.60 - 2.8
19. Matisyahu - King Without a Crown - - 2.75 - X
20. Desiigner - Panda - - 1.20 - 2.0
21. Funkadelic - Hit It and Quit It - - 3.53 - 1.9
22. David Bowie - Heroes - - 4.00 - 4.9
23. Nina Simone - My Baby Just Cares About Me - - 3.74 - 3.2
24. Queens of the Stone Age - Song for the Dead - - 3.56 - 2.9
25. Sparks Vs. Faith No More - This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us - - 2.60 - 3.6
26. Ghost - Square Hammer - - 3.06 - 3.7
27. Joe Higgs - (I'm the Song) My Enemies Sing - - 2.80 - 2.2
28. Church of the Cosmic Sun - Evil in Your Eyes - - 2.63 - 3.0
29. Agent 5.1 - Afro - - 3.25 - 3.7
30. Goldfrapp - Utopia - - 3.43 - 3.1
31. I Break Horses - Winter Beat - - 3.43 - 3.9

My recs for the month were on the 2nd, the 12th and the 19th (Gary Numan, Nirvana and Matisyahu).

The highest rated song by the group was Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill", while my highest rating went to David Bowie's "Hero".

The lowest rated track overall was Desiigner's "Panda". While I didn't like that one either, my lowest score went to Funkadelic's "Hit It and Quit It".

Again, I invite you to listen to each song and see what you think. Did we nail them, or did we miss the boat?

Monday, September 2, 2019

Leslie Mendelson, The Who

I've gone on the record numerous times on this blog and elsewhere, saying that I believe that The Who is the greatest band in rock and roll history. But I almost didn't go to this show. Here's the deal.

About a year ago, I started hearing rumors that Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey would be reuniting in 2019 for a tour and a new album. I had mixed feelings. I love this band dearly, and I hoped that they wouldn't do anything that would damage their legacy.

Let's face it -- post the death of John Entwistle, Daltrey and Townshend's work together has been sparse. As far as recordings go, it's basically consisted of the LP Endless Wire, which I liked (but not as much as some people), and a couple of other odd songs, the best of which was probably 2004's "Real Good Looking Boy". They have done a few tours together in the last decade, but with both Keith and John gone, I guess I just didn't have the heart to see them. (I'd seen them at Giant Stadium in 1989, and again at MSG in 1996.)

Now they've fooled me before, but when I heard about the 2019 tour, I considered it as something of a "last call". Townshend is 74 years old now, and Daltrey is 75, and even though they've done probably half a dozen (or more) farewell tours over the years, one of these days, they're going to have to bow down to Father Time, just as we all will.

But even so, when tickets for the 2019 tour first went on sale in the area, I didn't jump on them. And in my heart, I think this is the reason: I was afraid they were going to embarrass themselves. A lot of the old bands from the '60s and '70s are still touring (in some form), and many of them have held up decently. Just in the last year, I've seen Yes, Procol Harum, Renaissance and Strawbs, and each of them gave creditable performances. True, they might have lost a step over the years, but they're still capable of performing an entertaining show.

This isn't always the case, though. This summer's Royal Affair Tour, featured nice performances by Yes and Asia. But John Lodge's voice has deteriorated significantly, and the mercifully short set by Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy, with Arthur Brown on lead vocals, was absolutely cringeworthy (due mostly to Brown). Gordon Lightfoot toured last summer, and I almost bought tickets, until at the last minute, I went up on YouTube to hear what he sounds like these days. I discovered that it wasn't good. The worst example of being embarrassed by time, though, was the Leslie West concert I attended about a year ago. Leslie's in a wheelchair, having lost a leg to diabetes, is severely hard of hearing, has enough vision impairment that he couldn't see his setlist, and often couldn't remember his lyrics. And he even sadly admitted that he was jealous of the guitar player from Mazarin, because West can no longer play as well as him. This was purportedly why Keith Emerson committed suicide. He was scheduled to go back out on tour, but felt that his musical ability had decayed so severely that he was going to humiliate himself.

Even Jethro Tull, probably my favorite band ever, has reached a point where I won't go and see them anymore. Ian Anderson's voice has been shot for more than twenty years, but for most of that time, he's still managed to find a way to make his shows entertaining. But by his last album, the godawful The String Quartets from 2017, his vocals had degraded to a point where he can't even hide it on a recording. I love him, but I just can't watch him anymore. (And if he comes around in a year or two, and I go back on that and buy a ticket, don't throw it back in my face you bastards! I'm conflicted, OK?)

So all of that was just a (typically) long-winded way of saying if I went to see The Who, and they embarrassed themselves, it would just hurt my heart too much.

Still, there was this little itch in my brain, saying maybe you should see them. Maybe they've got something left. And this might very well be your last chance.

Then a few months ago, I saw that Pete Pardo posted a video on YouTube on his Sea of Tranquility channel about going to see The Who. And wonder of wonders, he said it was a pretty good show. It was right at the beginning of their tour, and he said that Pete looked a little uncomfortable. But Roger was in almost peak form, and the band was supported by an orchestra, which lent some real life (and a bit of a new twist) to the songs. This was enough for me.

I started to look to see what kind of seats might be left for their Jones Beach show. But within a day or so of seeing the video, something magical happened -- The Who announced a brand new date at Madison Square Garden for Labor Day Weekend. I dived in, and bought a pair of tickets as soon as they went on sale. I wasn't sure if Denise wanted to go with me or not. But if I had to, I'd go by myself.

Now Denise isn't much of '70s bands gal. She's had no interest in Yes, or Procol Harum, or Strawbs. But there are some '70s bands she likes. She likes Renaissance (probably even a little more than I do), and she's come with me to see Jethro Tull and/or Ian Anderson several times. And she also actually likes The Who. We even saw them together at MSG in 1996, when they performed the two rock operas back to back (and threw in a handful of their other hits, as well.) So being as it was a Sunday night show, and she was off for Labor Day on Monday, she said yes.

I was psyched as the date got closer. I wrote about seeing Santana last weekend, and that was fun. But by far, my favorite Woodstock moment, as we celebrated the festival's 50th anniversary this summer, was Pete Townshend dropkicking Abbie Hoffman's drug addled ass right off the stage when he ran out and tried to commandeer a mic during their set. Peace, love and music my pretzel nuggets! We're the f'ing Who, mate! (If you read this blog regularly, you know I'm an angry guy. And The Who has always made great music for angry guys!)

Then, as if I needed any extra enhancement for this show, two days ago I got a nice surprise. Madison Square Garden sent out a preparatory email for the show, listing The Who "with special guest Leslie Mendelson". Excellent!

For those of you who aren't familiar, Leslie Mendelson is a local Long Island gal who has put together what seems to be a pretty happening little career in music. When Denise's band was still active in the late '90s or so, Leslie was the lead singer of a very popular local jam/funk band called Mother Freedom. I don't think I actually met her at the time (or ever, actually), and I never saw the band (unless I caught them in the Long Island Music Festival one year, which is possible. Those semi-final round shows used to string eight or more bands together in a night, and I saw a bunch of them. So as you might imagine, these days, they've become a bit of a blur in my brain.)

Then, after MF broke up, Leslie started her solo career. She released her first solo album, Take It As You Will, in the early 2000s. I liked it, and I used to play it on my radio show on WUSB.

I didn't hear of her for many years after that (and I erroneously thought she had moved to Los Angeles). But in 2017, she released a new LP called Love and Murder. And there was one track on it in particular, called "Jericho", that I absolutely fell in love with. It's a quiet song, and it might not jump out at you at first listen. But it's got an elegance about it, and I find it exquisitely beautiful, enough so that it made #4 on my Top 20 Songs of 2017 list.

So here it was, a local Long Island (now Brooklyn, but that's still geographically part of Long Island) gal, opening for The freaking Who! I was super excited for her, and full of Long Island pride. Then I looked it back, and discovered that she'd also opened for The Who when they played MSG this last May. And she also put a single out last year in collaboration with Jackson Browne. So Ms. Mendelson has some things happening in her life.

As I like to do when I have a concert that night (especially when it involves going into the city), I took a fairly light day yesterday. At about 4PM, Denise gave our son $20 to order a pizza. (And I reluctantly left him my car keys, with visions of him cruising all over Suffolk County in my head. I don't think he actually does this, but in my imagination, he's a total party animal the second we walk out the door.) Then we jumped into her car, and headed over to the Ronkonkoma LIRR station.

We timed it perfectly, and caught the 4:39 train into Penn Station. I won't say that the whole train was rowdy, but there were definitely some Who fans on board who had already started fueling up, if you know what I mean, for the concert. (We saw these same guys at midnight waiting for the train to go home. It was a pretty amusing "before and after" picture.)

We pulled into Penn Station a little after 6PM. Showtime was 7:30, and the doors were supposed to open at 6:30. Unfortunately, the last couple of times I attended a show at Madison Square Garden, they didn't actually open the doors until 15 or 20 minutes after they said they would. This is a problem for me, because I just can't stand in a line that long. I'd do better if I had my cane with me, but I've had problems with some venues not wanting to allow a cane into a concert. (I suppose if it was one of those metal things you get at a medical supply store, they'd have to. But I use a wooden walking stick as a cane when I need one, and it's touch and go as to whether the powers-that-be at any given venue is going to give me a hard time about it or not.)

So we decided to grab some food instead of getting right onto the line. Neither of us had brought a bag with us -- we were traveling light -- so I knew we'd be able to go through the shorter "bag-free" metal detectors lines outside.

We went up to the mid-level of Penn Station, and found a Friday's restaurant. I think it inhabits the same space as a former Penn Station restaurant we kind of got held hostage at a couple of decades earlier when we went into the city to see Phantom of the Opera. (As we were eating dinner that night, a number of police officers entered and wouldn't let anyone leave the restaurant. They said there was a standoff with a person who had a gun over by the Amtrak window. After about a half hour, they led us all out, and had us exit the area towards 7th Avenue, walking single file along the wall. It turned out that the perpetrator was actually just an 18-year-old girl who was threatening to shoot herself. They got the gun away from her, and got her some help. But we didn't learn any of that until afterwards, so it was a little harrowing. You've got to love New York. Phantom was great, btw.)

Again, there were a few somewhat loud people at the bar at Friday's who were nice and liquored up for the show. I wandered if this was going to be an issue later, but the crowd actually turned out to be no more rambunctious than at your typical rock concert.

We left the restaurant a little after 7, and for once, breezed into the Garden. We took the escalator up (and up, and up), and got off at the top level. We then used the facilities, bought a couple of $6 (you thieving bastards!) bottles of water, and headed for our seats.

Now by this time, I didn't actually remember where the seats I had bought were, except that they were on the aisle, and they were in the upper level. We didn't have the extra seat tonight, because these tickets were fairly expensive. I was hoping that the people on Denise's other side wouldn't be big people like us, and that we'd fit in the seats OK. But I figured if there was an issue, I'd head over to the customer service booth and try to get transferred to the handicapped section, the way we had done for Fleetwood Mac.

Well, it turned out we were pretty high up. Very high up. In fact, we were only five or six rows from the top of the arena. We hiked up the stairs slowly. I wasn't too bad (at this point), but Denise's knees were bothering her, and the climb wasn't doing her any good. Then, when we got to the seats, I learned I'd made a key error. I'd bought two seats that were in a row by themselves. But unfortunately, there was a solid wall right up against the inside seat. And the damned seats were tiny, very tight, and with very little leg room. Denise sat down on the inside, and when I sat, she had almost no room. As for me, I had to hang my legs in the aisle to give her any leg room at all.

I was tired from the climb, but I wasn't sure if we could watch the entire concert this way. So after trying to cool off for a minute or so, I asked Denise if she wanted me to go to customer service. She was noncommittal about it (she's not a trouble maker like me). But after another moment or so, I decided I'd better try.

I hiked back down the stairs, and told her if I was successful, I'd come back and wave her down. (I had no intention of climbing those stairs again.)

I asked the usher, who was an older, brusque individual, and learned that the customer service was by Gate 27. (We were at Gate 8. Of course.) So I made my way over there, as quickly as I could, as it was close to showtime.

It didn't go so well. There was a large group in front of me, and by the time it was my turn, I learned that they had just given out the last handicapped seat. ("You didn't buy a limited access ticket," the fellow in charge gently upbraided me. Dude, the website makes it almost impossible to figure out how to do that, or I would do it every time. I really don't enjoy having to try to make these last second trades, nor do I enjoy the uncertainty of traveling to a concert never sure if I'm going to be able to use the seats I paid for or not.)

He left it off by telling me that he'd come over and get me after The Who went on if anything had opened up. He then had the girl at the desk take my last name and section number. But they had no interest in taking my row or seat numbers, so it was pretty obvious I was never going to see him again. And I never did.

It's kind of a Catch-22. If you want to get into the arena in time to avail yourself of help from customer service before they run out of seats, you have to be willing (and able) to stand on that long line waiting for them to decide to let you in. For less expensive concerts, like Bastille or Three Days Grace/Disturbed, you can deal with the issue by buying an extra seat. But some shows are too expensive to do that.

In any event, I ambled back over to my section, by this time very tired and sweaty, and dreading the climb back up to my seats. To improve my mood, the usher gave me an attitude about reentering my section. I think I would have cursed him out or gotten into an argument with him, but by this time, I was too exhausted.

(Denise and I have already tickets to see Bastille in the smaller MSG arena later this month. This time, we do have the extra seat. I think that might be the last time I go to the Garden. They're overpriced, and not very friendly.)

I got back up to the seat right before the lights went out and Leslie Mendelson went on. She played as part of a duo with a guitarist, Steve McEwen.

The first two songs of her short, 7-song set were quiet numbers, "Hardest Part" and the gentle, pretty "Jericho." The guy in the row behind me complained grumpily to his wife that Leslie was "boring," as the woman tried to shush him. I hate grumpy guys. (Heh.) I wondered if this ADHD buffoon understood that it made sense to have an acoustic duo as the opening act, as they had to have someone who could easily set up in front of the equipment for a band and a 40-something-piece orchestra. At least the promoters didn't do what I've been complaining about recently, which was to have some guy up there singing along to canned prerecorded music. I understand that the Garden is a little cavernous for an act like this, but at least we were getting honest-to-God live music.

In any event, the rest of Mendelson's set was a little less intimate and more upbeat (and included her playing piano on a couple of numbers), which placated the curmudgeon. (I don't mean me, I was with her all along. I mean the other curmudgeon.) She seemed to go over pretty well with the audience in general, too. It didn't hurt matters any when she explained to the crowd that she was a Long Islander. Grumpy old Mr. Wilson behind me liked that she did a brief Dr. John medley, "Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time/Such a Night." He also seemed suitably impressed when she performed the Jackson Browne collaboration, "A Human Touch". So in spite of his early complaints, by the end of her set, she'd even won him over. Her full setlist can be found at www.yougohometowngirl!.com.

After that, there was an excitement in the air as we waited for The Who. Now one thing I should tell you beforehand. The first leg of this current tour, the "Moving On!" tour, began in early May of this year, and ran through July 6 at Wembley Stadium in London. The guys then took the summer off, and this was to be their first show back after that. So I was aware going in that on the one hand, they'd be well rested, but on the other, they'd probably be rusty.

The Who took the stage at somewhere around 8:30, to tumultuous applause. Besides Pete and Roger, the band consisted of Pete's brother Simon on rhythm guitar, Loren Gold (he's a guy!) on keyboards, Jon Button on bass, Zak Starkey on drums, and Billy Nicholls on backing vocals. The first violinist of their orchestra, a mischievous-looking young Asian woman named Katie Jacoby, is also listed as part of the regular band. (I saw some info on her somewhere, and she's a hoot. From what I understand, she's been a huge Who fan since she was a teenager, and convinced her high school band to learn a couple of Who covers for their halftime shows, or something like that. She had this huge grin on her face all night, and is obviously overjoyed at getting to take the stage every night and play with her idols.)

Delirium ensued, as Pete, Roger and the boys (and girls) played the first couple of chords of the "Overture" from Tommy. What followed was a 6-song Tommy sampler that concluded with "We're Not Gonna Take It."

The band then started to play some of their other hits from over the years, starting with "Who Are You."

Now I'll be honest. You could hear that things got a bit muddy at times. Pete apologized several times throughout the evening, saying he wished the band was in their top form for the night, which they seemingly had been at the Garden show in May. (He seemed especially bummed by that because the crowd was so supportive -- as he put it, "I can feel the love.") And to add to the negatives, Pete blew his voice out fairly early. He sounded pretty good on the Tommy stuff, but by the eighth song of the night, he had to suck on a throat lozenge (or something) just to battle his way through "Eminence Front." (He also had a rough night physically, as some time later in the evening, he tore a fingernail off doing one of his patented guitar "windmills".)

Nevertheless, it was a pretty great night. Usually, when Denise and I go out to a show together, we're watching a couple of '80s bands where she knows the words to almost every song, and I'm the one who doesn't recognize the deep cuts. For this show, while she'd heard most of the songs before (except for two new ones coming out on the album being released in November), I was the one singing along on every song. Hell, when I was a teenager, I used to sing two performances a night of Tommy (along with the album) while exercising in my living room, and squeeze in a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar in between them. (Yeah, I was a lonely kid.)

After the tenth song (one of the new ones called "Hero Ground Zero"), the orchestra was dismissed for awhile, and The Who played the next several songs with just the rock band. This was actually one of the best parts of the night. They blasted through "Substitute", "The Seeker" (which they hadn't been playing in the last leg of the tour, at least not for the last few shows), and one of my favorites, "You Better You Bet". They then did an acoustic version of "Won't Get Fooled Again" (with just Pete and Roger), followed by a chilling version of "Behind Blue Eyes" where Jacoby and a cellist joined them.

At this point, the full orchestra came back for another new song, which Pete announced as "Big Cigars". (This has led to an all-out war on, where a group of pinheads insist on changing the name of the song to "Guantanamo", which is a song from a Pete Townshend solo album. But since Pete announced the effing thing as "Big Cigars", I'm going to assume that he knows the name of his song better than they do.)

And following that, the band launched into a 7-song sampling from Quadrophenia. (This included a keyboard solo transition between "The Rock" and "Love, Reign O'er Me" where Gold snuck in a snippet of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind".) By this time, even Roger's voice was a little ragged in his lower register, although he could still belt out a scream with the best of them. (I think he may have been straining himself a little to help compensate for Pete's vocal problems.)

There was one big moment left, as The Who and company ended the show with a roaring production of "Baba O'Riley" that found the crowd happily singing along. (And I've got to tell you, Katie Jacoby was just going wild on the violin part of this song, and loving every minute of it!)

As they took their bows, Roger joked that age had taken their charm and their good lucks, but nothing could impact the greatness of Pete Townshend's songs. Very true.

So has The Who lost a step? Maybe. But to me, they started out on so much of a higher level than 99% of the bands out there that they could afford to lose a step or two. If you get a chance to see them between now and the end of their tour, should you? Absolutely. I suspect that a lot of the issues they had tonight were mostly about rust from having taken the summer off, and that they'll be back in full fighting shape by the end of this week.

For my Long Island readers, The Who have one more show in the area at the Jones Beach Theater on September 15. It's probably sold out by now, but if you can find a way to wrangle a ticket somehow, I suggest you do it. They've still got plenty left in the tank. And who knows if this is their last time through these parts or not.

Anyway, I'd say my highlights of the night included "Substitute", "Behind Blue Eyes", "You Better You Bet" and "The Punk and the Godfather". (And it was also pretty sweet to get to hear Leslie Mendelson play "Jericho" live.) Denise was a little disappointed that they didn't play "My Generation", but she realized the band could have easily put together an entirely different 24-song setlist that still would have been great. The Who's setlist for the night can be found on www.Hey!Pinhead!