Archive for the ‘Soundtrack of My Life’ category

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: 10th Anniversary Edition

November 28, 2013

If you do something ten years in a row, it’s definitely a thing.

Every Thanksgiving beginning in 2004, I’ve paused here in my little corner of the World Wide Wackiness to express my appreciation for 26 people, places, and/or things, one for each letter of the English alphabet. Truth to tell, there are so many people, places, and/or things sharing my universe for which I am grateful, that if I seriously attempted to make an exhaustive list, I’d be typing from now until next Thanksgiving, by which time my fingers would long since have snapped off. Therefore, this has become my yearly exercise in gratitude, with its arbitrary format allowing me both room to range and boundaries at which to stop.

The list you’re about to read marks my 10th annual Thanksgiving post. (You are going to read it, aren’t you? You might as well; you’re here already.) Much has changed in my life during the decade since I composed the first one. No doubt, much more will change if I’m privileged to write others in Novembers yet to come. If I’m granted those opportunities, I promise to be as grateful — for everyone and everything listed, and for so much more — as I am on this Thanksgiving Day.

On this particular Festival of Turkey, I am thankful for…

Auditions. I have a weird job. The overwhelming majority of my working life is spent performing for free, in hope that someone will pay me money instead. Most workdays, I spend hours standing or seated (I switch it up a lot) in front of a microphone, auditioning for voiceover projects. Once in a while, I book one. As much I live for those latter moments, I also can’t help but appreciate how cool it is that for a few hours every day, it’s my task to just play.

Bay Bridge. We got a new one this year, finally — nearly a quarter-century after the original was horrifically damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and three years after the not-yet-in-existence suspension span became the logo of the Golden State Warriors. The upgraded Bay Bridge will probably always play second fiddle to its more famous younger cousin around the corner, but it’s a beauty — and a treat to drive — nonetheless.

Crustaceans. Tasty giant insectoids that live underwater. I’m fond of all the edible species — lobsters, crabs, shrimp, langostines, crawfish, you name it. During our spring vacation in Australia,  the Pirate Queen and I dined on yet another variety that neither of us had ever tried: Moreton Bay bugs, prehistoric-looking creatures that resemble lobsters whose claws were snapped off, then were run over by a truck. Like their relatives worldwide, they sure were delicious.

Down Under. Speaking of Australia, we spent three incredible weeks touring the Island Continent and its next-door neighbor, the North Island of New Zealand. We saw a play at the Sydney Opera House, marveled at the mysterious sandstone monolith known as Uluru, explored a tropical rain forest north of Cairns, watched tiny penguins scurry ashore on St. Philip Island, enjoyed the view from two of the tallest towers in the Southern Hemisphere, and saw where the hobbits live. A spectacular adventure, and one that I should write much more about.

Enter the Dragon. The only motion picture to which I ever memorized every single line of dialogue. Throughout my teenage years, a poster depicting Bruce Lee in the film’s climactic fight scene graced my bedroom wall. In 2013, we lost Jim Kelly, who costarred alongside Lee as the irrepressible Williams. When Han, the villain of the piece, insists that Williams must prepare for defeat as well as victory, Williams replies with consummate cool, “I don’t waste my time with it. When it comes, I won’t even notice. I’ll be too busy looking good.”

Fountains of Wayne. When I need a quick pick-me-up, I throw on a tune by this power pop quartet from the Big Apple. Songs like “Denise,” “Maureen,” “Hey Julie” (my personal favorite), and the ubiquitous “Stacy’s Mom” never fail to put a grin on my face and some extra pizzazz in my step. The band’s name, incidentally, was cribbed from a garden ornaments store in Wayne, New Jersey.

Grandma. Not my Grandma, but The Daughter’s. With boundless patience and good humor, she shares her home with KM and her hyperactive canine companion Maddie. She graciously lets me drop in for visits, keeps me posted on goings-on in The Daughter’s life, and even hems a pair of pants for me on occasion. She’s not my mom, but after many years of dutiful service as my mother-in-law (she was my late first wife’s mother), she might as well be.

Heroes and heroines. Regular visitors here know that I own an extensive collection of original comic book superhero art. I started reading comics at age five, and from that time forward, the costumed characters who starred within those colorful pages became my fantasy friends. If you ask me why I love superheroes and superheroines, I can rattle off a litany of reasons. But the one that trumps all the others is this: It just feels good to be reminded that there are heroes in the world. The real ones don’t usually wear costumes. You know who you are.

iPad. It’s the device that serves up my VO scripts, delivers the news, keeps me in touch with friends and colleagues, and provides the occasional stress-alleviating game of virtual pinball. Thanks, Steve Jobs, wherever you are.

Jupiter Jones. The leader of the Three Investigators proved to my boyhood self that a smart chubby kid could be a hero. He proved it to Alfred Hitchcock, too. You could look it up.

KM, referred to more often here as The Daughter. The brightest, funniest, most thoughtful offspring any father could ever ask. I continue to be shocked and awed by the young woman she’s become. It’s unfathomable to me that she’ll be 25 next year. That’s the same number of years that I spent married to her mother KJ, who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2010, but left an indelible legacy in the daughter she birthed, raised, and continues to inspire.

LearnedLeague. It’s described by its creator and Commissioner, the honorable Thorsten A. Integrity, as “a creed, an ideal, a Weltanschauung.” I call it the universe’s greatest online trivia league, where some of the finest quizzers on Earth —  from Jeopardy! champions and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire winners to The Beast and The Governess from both the American and original UK versions of The Chase — assemble to do daily battle. An experience of knowledge warfare both adrenaline-pumping and humbling. Lately, more the latter.

Monterey Bay Aquarium. Endlessly fascinating and dazzlingly educational, it’s one of my favorite spaces to wander. Filled to bursting with phenomenal displays of ocean life, it’s as though Aquaman invited you to hang out at his house for the day.

Navigation apps. How did the directionally challenged among us get around before GPS? Maybe we didn’t. Some of us might still be out there, lost in the boondocks without a clue how to get home.

Oracle Arena, or as we like to call it during the NBA season, Warriors Ground. The oldest active arena in the Association is also the loudest, wildest, and — thanks to a long-overdue ownership change, leading to an influx of top-flight talent over the past couple of years — most exciting home court in basketball. With Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson bombing away from downtown Oakland, All-Star David Lee maintaining a seemingly nonstop streak of double-doubles, center Andrew Bogut finally healthy to anchor the middle, and key acquisition Andre Iguodala completing the puzzle, the boys in blue and gold come ready to rock the house.

PayPal, for making it quick and easy to do business online, and for keeping the Pirate Queen gainfully employed.

Speaking of whom… all hail the Queen of Pirates, who shivers my timbers without ever threatening to make me walk the plank. (I think she’s thought about it, though.) We are at once the classic Odd Couple and a perfect match. It would be impossible to envision the second chapter of my adult life without her.

Renaissance Faire. Seriously, who doesn’t love spending a day surrounded by merry folk in Elizabethan drag, spouting in pseudo-Shakespearean patois like the mighty Thor? (Which raises the age-old question: Why did a supposed Norse quasi-demigod talk as though he’d wandered in from a road company of Hamlet? Discuss.) I totally get into the RenFaire atmosphere — it’s among the best venues for people-watching to be found anywhere. Park me on a hay bale while blackguards and wenches regale me with sea chanteys and bawdy songs, and I’m as giddy as Puck on a midsummer’s night.

Solvang. Remember: Copenhagen is Danish. Solvang is Dane-ish.

Tropicana Las Vegas. After burial in the bowels of the cavernous MGM Grand, followed by drowning in the screaming miasma of Circus Circus, TCONA — that’s the Trivia Championships of North America, for the uninitiated — finally found a fitting home in its third year, at the Tropicana. Laid-back, comfortable, user-friendly, and conveniently located, the Trop provided the best experience yet for our annual Continental Congress of quiz nuts. I was thrilled to hear earlier this month that we’ll be back there again next summer.

Uluru. The emotional highlight of our Australian expedition, nothing prepared me for the power and majesty of what Westerners formerly dubbed Ayers Rock. Scientists describe it as an inselberg — Uluru is to the Australian Outback what an iceberg is to the Arctic Ocean, albeit on a far more imposing scale. As immense as the rock we can see is, there’s a good 80% more of it under the desert surface. It’s as though God were holding this ginormous stone at the creation of the world, set it down in the center of Australia while He busied Himself with other creative tasks, then left it there. You should go see it. But be warned — billions (and I do mean billions) of obnoxious flies share the site.

Vermeer, Johannes. The legendary painter’s masterwork, Girl with a Pearl Earring — sometimes referred to as “the Dutch Mona Lisa” — made a tour stop in our fair city this summer. I’ve seen the image dozens of times, but standing before the actual canvas in all its luminous wonder shook me to my shoes. I literally had tears welling in my eyes as I looked upon this sublime beauty. A true representation of the power of art.

The Walking Dead. Both the TV series that the Pirate Queen and I have grown to love, and the video game series that keeps many of my talented voice acting friends employed. I haven’t scored a role yet. But I’ll keep trying.

Xhosa. How can you not love a language that sounds like humankind communicating with dolphins?

Yams… because it’s Thanksgiving, and they’re yummy.

Zite, the news aggregation app that puts all the cool stuff right at my fingertips. What’s great about Zite is that you can give it feedback on every article it offers — I like this or I don’t like that — and it adjusts future filtering based on your input. You can also set specific subject categories, from ocean-broad (“Politics”) to pinpoint-narrow (“Hunter Pence”), and the app will make sure you get a bounty of content on that topic. There are plenty of apps that function similarly, but I’ve yet to find one that does the job as efficiently and as effectively as Zite.

And as always, friend reader, I’m thankful for you, who take the time to stop in here from time to time and peruse my drivel. I don’t use that word “friend” lightly. I appreciate your kind attention, and hope that my words continue to prove worthy.

May you and the people you love have much to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day… and may we all be here for the next one.

Comic Art Friday: Catch me now, I’m falling

November 22, 2013

I thought long and hard — well, okay, as long and hard as I think about anything; which, given the attenuated nature of my attention span, is not all that long or hard, really — about what to post on a Comic Art Friday that falls on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Given that I was a toddler on this date in 1963, I haven’t any emotional tale to share about where I was or what I was doing when the news broke. I only kinda-sorta-vaguely recall the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and those occurred five years later. Thus, no deep personal insight here.

As a Presidential history buff, it does strike me as interesting that Kennedy’s assassination resonates with us the way that it does. Kennedy wasn’t the first President to be assassinated. That dubious honor fell to Abraham Lincoln, as has been extensively memorialized in print and on film. Two other Presidents — James Garfield and William McKinley — were bumped off within the following 40 years. By the time of Kennedy’s murder, it had been more than 60 years since a President had been killed, and Americans had largely begun to think that we had advanced beyond that sort of business.

Of course, we had not.

Captain America, pencils by comics artist Ron Adrian

Perhaps by coincidence, the Kennedy assassination would mark the start of a turbulent era in American public life. The rest of the 1960s and ’70s would see the polarizing Vietnam War, the full impact of the civil rights movement, the Watergate scandal, the resignations of Vice President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon, and the Iranian hostage crisis. Politics in this country would never again be the same.

Ironically, it took a band of Englishmen to record one of the most provocative commentaries on this dark time in American history. In 1979, the Kinks released the album Low Budget, which featured a song entitled “Catch Me Now I’m Falling.” The lyrics read, in part:

I remember when you were down
You would always come running to me
I never denied you and I would guide you
Through all of your difficulties
Now I’m calling all citizens from all over the world
This is Captain America calling
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees
So will you catch me now I’m falling

That song reverberates through my synapses today as I think about the Kennedy assassination, and all that’s gone on in this country since then. We’ve fallen — and in my view, continue to fall — in many ways over this past half-century. And yet, by many other measures, we rise to levels that no other nation in the history of human civilization ever has.

Bizarre how that works.

I suppose that both our struggles and successes are to be expected, and are to some degree of a piece. We are remarkably accomplished as a people at making both good and bad, both love and hate, out of the same things; at finding unity in places that ought to divide us, while dividing ourselves over that which ought to unite us. Our greatest national strengths are often the cause of our most debilitating weaknesses… and vice versa.

I’m not entirely sure why that is. But that’s America for you.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: I wish I knew how it would feel to be free

August 30, 2013

This past Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Thinking about that historic event put me in mind of a classic song, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” Written in 1954 by jazz pianist Billy Taylor, the song was first recorded by Taylor in November 1963, just three months after Dr. King’s speech. Although dozens of artists have covered it since then — including a version by British pop singer Sharlene Hector that appeared in a Coca-Cola commercial a few years back — the best-known rendition of “I Wish I Knew” is the 1967 recording by the legendary Nina Simone.

As I sit here with Ms. Simone’s magnificent, inimitable voice resounding through my headphones, kindly take a moment to read and reflect on these lyrics, composed by Taylor and songwriting partner Dick Dallas.

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.
I wish I could break all the chains holding me.
I wish I could say all the things that I should say —
Say ’em loud, say ’em clear, for the whole round world to hear.

I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart —
Remove all the bars that keep us apart.
I wish you could know what it means to be me.
Then you’d see and agree that everyone should be free.

I wish I could give all I’m longing to give.
I wish I could live like I’m longing to live.
I wish that I could do all the things that I can do —
Though I’m way overdue, I’d be starting anew.

I wish I could be like a bird in the sky —
How sweet it would be if I found I could fly!
Oh, I’d soar to the sun and look down at the sea
And I’d sing ’cause I’d know how it feels to be free.

Like Dr. King — and like Billy Taylor, and Nina Simone — I long for the day when every person on earth can truly be free… free to be themselves, free to enjoy the wonders and blessings of life, free from hunger and want and pain and fear, free to be loved and accepted and embraced for their own individual uniqueness without reservation or qualification.

I don’t know that that dream will be fulfilled in my lifetime, or The Daughter’s lifetime, or even in this old round world’s lifetime.

But it sure would be sweet, wouldn’t it?

Free Spirit and Mister Miracle, pencils by comics artist Geof Isherwood

The Common Elements entry pictured above is entitled “Breaking Free,” mostly because it features Mister Miracle (whose real name is Scott Free) and Free Spirit, who was Captain America’s sidekick for a brief time in the mid-1990s. (Her real name is Cathy Webster, in case you’re keeping track.) Artist Geof Isherwood masterfully expresses the character’s feelings of liberation and joy in this gorgeous drawing. Every time I look at it, I feel just a little bit more as though I might know what it’s like to be free. That makes me smile.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

A final sting from the Scorpions

June 11, 2012

The Scorpions: Klaus Meine, Matthias Jabs, Rudolf Schenker, and Paweł Maciwoda

Let’s get this on the table right now: I wouldn’t describe myself as a huge Scorpions fan. (We’ll leave the issue of whether I would ever describe myself as a “huge” anything for another time.)

Back in my radio days, I always thought of the Scorpions as “that German metal band with the weirdly misogynistic album covers” — i.e., the Scorps’ 1979 release Lovedrive, which depicted a woman with bubblegum stuck to her exposed breast. And, to be bluntly honest, too many of the Scorpions’ lyrics sounded like they were written by someone for whom English wasn’t a primary language… which, come to think of it, is true. I dug a few of their hits — “The Zoo” is a fun, chugging rocker with a catchy hook, “Wind of Change” is as solid a power ballad as the genre allows, and come on, who doesn’t bang his or her head to “Rock You Like a Hurricane”? — but not enough to land the group on my list of top-rated acts. Liked ’em, didn’t love ’em.

When the Pirate Queen mentioned a few months back that one of her favorite bands from the ’80s was coming to town, however, I rallied to the cause.

And so it was that last Saturday evening we made our way down to Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheatre — or as I prefer to call it, Le Grande Brassiere — to check out the Scorpions on their final pre-retirement tour. (Considering that Scorpions lead singer Klaus Meine turned 64 last month, and the band’s founder and guitarist Rudolf Schenker will join him at that age in August… yeah, it’s probably about time to hang ’em up.) The Pirate Queen had been ill for several days with a nasty cold, but as she put it, “Either you or I would have to be on our death bed for me to miss the Scorpions… and if it were you, I’d see if someone could watch you for a few hours.” (She was kidding. I think.)

The show kicked off with Tesla, the hard-rocking Sacramento quintet who’d opened for the Scorpions on their 2004 U.S. tour. (I gleaned this factoid from the back of a passing T-shirt.)

Tesla: Let's get uncoiled.

A talented act who’ve knocked around the circuit for nearly 30 years, Tesla’s repertoire boasts a total of two hit records — a power ballad with the astoundingly original title “Love Song,” which climbed into the Billboard Top 10 back in 1989, and a cover of the Five Man Electrical Band’s 1960s classic, “Signs.” The band served up their duo of familiar tunes, surrounded by plenty of perfectly serviceable filler, during an entertaining hour-long set.

Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon

To Tesla’s credit, their performance held my interest throughout, even though I couldn’t have named more than the aforementioned two songs. Lead singer Jeff Keith probably had better voice back in the day than he displayed on this particular night, but his cigarettes-and-whiskey rasp was more than enough to do the job. (I don’t know whether Keith either smokes or drinks, but if he doesn’t, he might as well. He already sounds as though he’s pounding down a fifth of Jack Daniel’s and two packs of Marlboros daily.) I was highly impressed with Tesla’s guitar combination of Frank Hannon — who worked much of his fretboard magic on a double-necked Gibson — and Dave Rude; I’d gladly pay to hear these two gents rip it up anytime.

I’ll award Tesla’s Saturday show two-and-a-half tailfeathers on the Uncle Swan scale of a possible five. They get docked a half for Jeff Keith’s wearing of the ugliest shirt I’ve seen on a rock concert stage in 35 years.

Tesla lead vocalist Jeff Keith: Dude, what's up with that shirt?

When the Scorpions took the stage (after nearly an hour of technical set-up), I could tell immediately that we were in for a fun evening. From the thunderous opening riff of “Sting in the Tail,” the title track of the band’s final all-original studio album, the Deutschland destroyers grabbed the audience by the throat and never let up.

Scorpions Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine

Klaus Meine displayed a remarkably powerful voice for a man of his advanced years — I’m sure that a couple of the high notes soared a half-tone or so higher in decades past, but all in all, the diminutive vocalist (who reminded me of the late Ronnie James Dio, another powerhouse instrument packed into an impossibly tiny frame) sounded about as incredible as he did on any of the Scorpions’ albums.

Scorpions lead vocalist Klaus Meine: He looks bigger on screen.

Meine’s vocals surfed above a sonic tsunami generated by one of the tightest — and unquestionably loudest — ensembles I’ve seen in a while. The Scorpions have always boasted a guitar tandem among the best in rock, starting from the band’s origins, when rhythm guitarist Rudolf Schenker played alongside his brother Michael, one of the most capable artists in the history of the instrument, to Uli Jon Roth, who replaced Michael on the Scorpions’ early albums and helped create the band’s signature sound. Rudolf hasn’t lost a step that my ears could detect, and lead guitarist Matthias Jabs — who joined the band in the late ’70s, just before the hits started coming — continues his dominant presence as the Scorpions’ melodic engineer. (It’s no accident that the Scorpions transitioned from metal legends to mainstream rock superstars when Jabs entered the fray.) Among the fastest fretmen in the game, Jabs blasted out one scorching cascade after another before taking the spotlight near the end of the set for a blistering extended solo (dubbed “Six String Sting” on the setlist) that would have made many of his fellow guitarists lay down their weapons in homage.

Scorpions lead guitarist Matthias Jabs: He be jabbin'.

Not to be outdone, drummer James Kottak kept the fire burning all night, combining powerhouse bass drum kicks with flashy stickwork across his kit, perched on a moveable riser that at times towered 20 feet above his colleagues. The lone American in the band, Kottak also added background vocals on several numbers while never missing a beat. His “Kottak Attack” solo featured his own customized music video — starring the drummer himself in a surrealistic parody of several of the Scorpions’ album covers — that brought down the house.

Scorpions drummer James Kottak: Attacking.

The Scorpions’ farewell tour setlist compiles most of their chart-making hits, including “Send Me an Angel,” “Holiday,” “Tease Me Please Me,” my favorite “The Zoo,” and the set-closing “Big City Nights,” while adding a sprinkling of more recent works, such as “Raised on Rock” and “The Best is Yet to Come.” (Interestingly, the show contained not a single number from their first five albums, a.k.a. the pre-Matthias Jabs years.) The band saved three of its biggest crowd-pleasers — “Still Loving You,” “No One Like You,” and of course, “Rock You Like a Hurricane” — for the no-surprises encore.

Scorpions: One final sting before retirement.

Uncle Swan gives the Scorpions a well-earned four tailfeathers out of five, and wishes them well in retirement. Assuming, of course, that they actually retire. Old rock bands never seem to truly go away, even when it’s time… just ask the Rolling Stones.

One final question, though… are there really scorpions in Germany?

My funny Valentine

February 9, 2012

For those of you who’ve expressed an interest in my burgeoning voice acting career, here’s a little something I voiced recently.

It’s a promotional video for a Bay Area men’s chorus that delivers Singing Valentines. NIA Creative, an awesome marketing and production company, produced the project.

Fun stuff…

…and if you decide to purchase a Singing Valentine for your beloved, please tell ’em your Uncle Swan sent you.

You can still rock in America, even if you need a rocking chair

October 6, 2011

Way back in America’s bicentennial year (1976, for those of you who are either too young to recall or lousy at math), Jethro Tull recorded a concept album entitled Too Old to Rock and Roll; Too Young to Die. The record’s theme reinforced the notion that rock music is a young person’s game. (Remember The Who’s “My Generation” — “Hope I die before I get old”?)

Last evening, the Pirate Queen and I — along with several thousand fellow members of our chronological demographic — spent four blissful hours testing that theory, as ’80s rock fossils Night Ranger, Foreigner, and Journey cut loose with the hits at Sleep Train Pavilion in Concord.

The last time I attended a show at the aforementioned venue, it was a cold, stormy night almost exactly 20 years ago, when KJ and I huddled on the lawn in a pouring rain to hear local favorites Huey Lewis and the News. (Rock historians will recall that as the night music impresario Bill Graham died in a helicopter crash, on his way home from that very concert.) I don’t even think Sleep Train, the furniture chain that’s now the name sponsor of what used to be called simply Concord Pavilion, even existed then. I know this for sure — the long uphill trek from the parking lot to the amphitheater seemed less steep and distant when I was in my late 30s.

By the time we found our seats at ten minutes before the scheduled showtime, opening act Night Ranger had already taken the stage. (Apparently they neglected to make allowances for their now slower-moving target audience.) Still, we managed to hear 95% of a sharp-edged set that included the band’s most familiar tunes — “When You Close Your Eyes,” “Sing Me Away,” “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” and prom-night legend “Sister Christian.” The band also busted out a credible cover of Damn Yankees’ “Coming of Age,” a nod to the band bassist and singer Jack Blades co-founded while on hiatus from Night Ranger in the early 1990s. The set concluded with “(You Can Still) Rock in America,” complete with flags and red-white-and-blue graphics.

Of the evening’s three acts, Night Ranger most resembled the lineup most famous under the name. All three of the band’s founding members — Blades, drummer/vocalist Kelly Keagy, and lead guitarist Brad Gillis — were on stage, and in top form. Keagy even stepped out from behind his kit for the opening of “Sister Christian” (which he wrote for his younger sister). Blades remains the energetic frontman he’s always been, and Gillis’s powerful riffs found a worthy match in those of relative newcomer Joel Hoekstra.

Night Ranger’s kickoff performance earned an enthusiastic three-and-a-half tailfeathers out of a possible five from your Uncle Swan, even though I’ve never really been a huge fan of the band. The Pirate Queen’s assessment was more subdued — “too rock and roll for me,” she opined as the stage was being reset for Foreigner. (Yes, “too rock and roll” sounds oxymoronic to me, too.)

When Foreigner launched into their set with “Double Vision,” I whispered to the Pirate Queen, “There’s not a single member of the Foreigner I remember on stage.” (“I wish you hadn’t told me that,” came the terse reply.) Indeed, the only original member who’s still with the band — guitarist Mick Jones — has missed much of the group’s current tour due to health problems, leaving what basically amounts to a flashy cover band performing under the Foreigner logo.

Not that Faux-reigner doesn’t put on one heck of a show — they certainly do. Former Hurricane lead singer Kelly Hansen represents a total departure in both vocal quality and stage presence from Foreigner’s original vocalist Lou Gramm (to my sensibilities, Hansen both looks and sounds a lot like Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While he trades Gramm’s sweet tenor for a husky heavy-metal growl, Hansen’s a lot more fun to watch than the relatively laid-back Gramm ever was. (He also deftly handled a technical glitch when his wireless microphone went dead during the opening verse of “Head Games.” He probably thought someone was playing… oh, you’ll figure it out.) Hansen’s favorite foil, multi-instrumentalist and Tom Jones doppelganger Thom Gimbel, seemed to have a blast bouncing from rhythm guitar to saxophone (mostly notably for a ripping solo on “Urgent”). Mick Jones’s stand-in on lead guitar, Bruce Watson (formerly of Rod Stewart’s backup band), did a nice job handling the familiar Foreigner repertoire.

And familiar it was. I don’t think there was a single number in the entire Foreigner set that’s not still in heavy rotation on classic-rock radio stations everywhere. From “Cold As Ice” and “Dirty White Boy” to “Feels Like the First Time” and “Hot Blooded,” the Foreigner soundalikes tore through hit after hit in fine style. The only weak points came with the lush ballads “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and “I Want to Know What Love Is,” which simply aren’t well suited to Hansen’s vocal style, or vice versa. As is the band’s custom, they brought on a local choir — in this case, from a Concord high school — to back up the latter song. The kids were… well… cute.

The band saved my all-time favorite Foreigner number for the encore: “Juke Box Hero.” Hansen was back in his element for this crowd-pleasing crusher, which left the audience shouting for more — despite the cheesy computer graphics that looked like they’d been cribbed from an ancient Commodore 64 video game.

Uncle Swan gave Kelly Hansen and Faux-reigner a solid four tailfeathers out of a possible five for their rousingly entertaining set. The Pirate Queen enjoyed them too, despite the disappointing lack of original Foreigner personnel.

After waiting in interminable lines for the restrooms, we were ready for the night’s headliner. Journey grabbed the audience from jump street with the pounding, soaring “Separate Ways.” I was especially curious to hear how the band’s current lead singer, Arnel Pineda, would sound live. Any doubts I might have harbored vanished during the opening number.

Pineda, the Philippine native famously hired after guitarist Neal Schon discovered him singing Journey covers on YouTube — is the real deal. His phrasing isn’t as nuanced as that of Journey’s legendary former vocalist, Steve Perry (probably because English is Arnel’s second language), but Pineda has the same power and pure clarion tone. He’s also a nonstop dynamo on stage — running, dancing, leaping. I couldn’t believe the guy is in his mid-40s. I’m only five years older, and if I cavorted like Arnel for just two songs, I’d need a good night’s sleep and half a bottle of ibuprofen.

Schon blazed through his trademark solos in rare form. I’d swear he’s a tighter player now than when I last saw Journey live 30 years ago. Keyboardist, singer, and occasional guitarist Jonathan Cain and veteran bassist Ross Valory held down their roles as musical backbone and elder statesmen flawlessly. The band’s secret weapon is drummer Deen Castronovo, who’s played with everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Steve Vai. Castronovo brings a heavy-metal thunder to Journey’s pop-rock sound, lending their concert sound more punch and depth than I remembered.

I liked that Journey surrounded the expected hits — “Lights,” “Wheel in the Sky,” “Faithfully,” “Open Arms” — with some of their lesser-known songs from the band’s classic period, specifically “Stone in Love,” “Only the Young,” and “La Do Da.” I was okay with them salting in a couple of numbers from their new album (“City of Hope,” the first single from Eclipse, is a pretty decent song that compares favorably with the band’s vintage material), because you’ve always gotta be promoting. I longed for a few old favorites — “Anytime,” “Just the Same Way,” “Line of Fire,” and “Who’s Crying Now?” in particular — but by the time Journey plowed into its roof-raising two-song encore (“Any Way You Want It” and the inevitable “Don’t Stop Believin'”), I’d forgotten that I’d missed anything.

Journey scores a whopping four and one-half tailfeathers out of five for kicking it old school, but with Arnel Pineda’s fresh energy. (Uncle Swan docks Neal Schon half a tailfeather for that whole Michaele Salahi business. Y’know, just for the tacky factor.) The Pirate Queen proclaimed the entire show the best concert she’s seen in years, outside of Madonna. It’s tough to argue with Madonna.

Not all of the music from three decades ago holds up today — listen to any Kim Carnes lately? — but the arena rock of Night Ranger, Foreigner, and Journey still brings joy to my middle-aged ears. We had a great time reliving the glory days with this trio of iconic ensembles. It was well worth the interminable hike to and from the Sleep Train Pavilion parking lot, and a night of short sleep.

You can, in fact, still rock in America. Even if your lead singer is from the Philippines.

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 11 — “Life in the Fast Lane”

March 7, 2011

Artist: The Eagles

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: If there was ever any doubt that Joe Walsh is one of the most spectacularly gifted guitarists in the history of rock, the opening riff of “Life in the Fast Lane” should dispel said doubt.  And if there was ever any doubt that Walsh playing alongside Don “Fingers” Felder was one of the most potent two-guitarist combinations in the history of rock, the dueling break at the bridge of “Life in the Fast Lane” should kill that, too. Plus, the lyrics are classic L.A. cool.

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

He said, “Call the doctor — I think I’m gonna crash.”
“Doctor says he’s comin’, but you gotta pay him cash.”

Fun factoids:

  • “Life in the Fast Lane” represented one of Joe Walsh’s first musical contributions to The Eagles, which he joined shortly before the band recorded Hotel California, the album on which the song appears. According to legend, Walsh improvised his signature guitar part during an Eagles rehearsal, and his new bandmates Glenn Frey and Don Henley wrote the rest of the song around the riff.
  • Walsh replaced founding Eagle Bernie Leadon, who left the band in dissatisfaction with Henley and Frey’s changing musical direction, which gradually deemphasized Leadon’s preferred country/bluegrass-flavored style in favor of harder-edged rock. Leadon announced his departure from the band by pouring a beer over Glenn Frey’s head.
  • There used to be a roller coaster named “Life in the Fast Lane” at the short-lived Hard Rock amusement park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
  • Although I’ve followed the common convention of preceding the name with “The” — because it reads awkwardly to do otherwise — the band’s official name for legal purposes is simply “Eagles.” All of the band’s album covers omit the article as well. (I’ve been a fan for more than 35 years, but I never noticed this until I read Don Felder’s memoir, Heaven and Hell: My Life With The Eagles.)
  • My friend Donna loves The Eagles more than life itself. She just wanted you to know that.

Other songs by The Eagles that I could have chosen instead: “Already Gone,” “Hotel California,” “Victim of Love,” “Heartache Tonight,” “Those Shoes.”

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 10 — “Da Butt”

February 22, 2011

Artist: E.U.

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: There are songs that make you want to dance, and there are songs that absolutely compel you to dance. This is one of the latter. Straight from the opening drum riff and horn blast, “Da Butt” lays down a groove that forbids you to sit still. Even if I’m driving in the car when this song comes on, my hips immediately start undulating. (If you have a problem with that visual, that’s on you.)

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

When you get that notion
Put your backfield in motion!

Fun factoids:

  • Contrary to popular assumption, the band name E.U. does not stand for “European Union.” Instead, it stands for “Experience Unlimited.” The band’s use of the initials precedes that of the political organization (under its present name) by nearly 20 years.
  • E.U.’s musical style, go-go, enjoyed a brief explosion of popularity in the mid-to-late 1970s, primarily in the Washington, D.C. area. Go-go can probably be best defined as a merger of funk/R&B with Latin rhythm and percussion instruments. The genre’s best-known practitioner, Chuck Brown, scored with “Bustin’ Loose,” which experienced a resurrection when Nelly sampled it for his megahit “Hot in Herre,” and when the Washington Nationals baseball team adopted “Bustin’ Loose” as their unofficial theme song.
  • “Da Butt” is prominently featured in Spike Lee’s second feature film, School Daze. Although Spike has gone on to direct some of the finest American films of the past quarter-century — including Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, 25th Hour, and Inside Man — the goofy, irreverent, and admittedly uneven School Daze was my introduction to his work, and remains a personal favorite.
  • For the record, here’s the roll call of girls who “got a big ol’ butt” in the song’s bridge: Tanya, Shirley, Irene, Theresa, Sonya, Melissa, Tammy, and little Keisha. If you answer to any of those (or any other) names, and you too “got a big ol’ butt,” wear it proudly, girlfriend.
  • And I don’t care what you thought you heard — E.U. lead vocalist Sugar Bear (real name, Gregory Elliott) never, ever utters the phrase “do it in da butt.” Shame on you.

Other songs by E.U. that I could have chosen instead: “Buck Wild,” “Gimme That Beat,” “Shake It Like a White Girl.” (Avoid E.U.’s later material, which found the band trying to expand its audience by pumping out flaccid R&B ballads. Stick to their earlier go-go records, which are guaranteed to launch a dance marathon in your iTunes.)

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 9 — “China Grove”

February 10, 2011

Artist: The Doobie Brothers

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: Are you kidding? Have you not heard those opening guitar chords?

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

But every day there’s a new thing comin’
The ways of an Oriental view
The sheriff and his buddies with their samurai swords
You can even hear the music at night
And though it’s a part of the Lone Star State
The people don’t seem to care
They just keep on lookin’ to the East…

Fun factoids:

  • There really is a China Grove, Texas, down around San Antonio. It is not, however, a Chinese-American enclave; only 0.08% of the population is Asian. I think that’s, like, maybe two Asian guys.
  • Samurai — and their swords — are Japanese, not Chinese. In case you were confused.
  • The game show Don’t Forget the Lyrics! used the “China Grove” guitar riff as its theme music. Rickey Minor, now the bandleader on The Tonight Show, played the theme.
  • The Doobie Brothers were one of the first — and one of the relatively few, to this day — hard rock bands to include both white and black musicians in their lineup. To the best of my knowledge, however, there has never been a Chinese Doobie Brother.
  • On the other hand, several of the Doobies have performed and recorded with Japanese pop star Eikichi Yazawa, who might own a samurai sword or two.

Other songs by the Doobie Brothers that I could have chosen instead: “Listen to the Music,” “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me),” “Long Train Runnin’,” Jesus is Just Alright.”

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 8 — “The Boys of Summer”

February 8, 2011

Artist: Don Henley

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: Henley is one of rock’s best songwriters, as well as one of its most underappreciated vocalists. He’s in his element in both respects on this song, his most effective single outside of his work with The Eagles. (Coming up on Day 11, in case you were curious.) That insistent synthesizer riff, coupled with the stinging guitars by co-writer Mike Campbell (better known for his work with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), perfectly support Henley’s plaintive vocals. It’s one of the greatest summer anthems ever recorded.

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

Out on the road today
I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac
Little voice inside my head said,
“Don’t look back — you can never look back”
Thought I knew what love was; what did I know?
Those days are gone forever; I should just let ’em go, but…

Fun factoids:

  • Mike Campbell originally wrote this tune for a Tom Petty project. When the music didn’t fit into that album’s thematic sensibility, he shopped the demo track to Henley, who wrote the lyrics.
  • Henley based the lyric line quoted above on a vehicle owned by his Eagles bandmate, Joe Walsh.
  • The punk band The Ataris recorded a remarkably faithful (albeit three times faster) cover version.
  • Baseball fans know that the song’s title comes from a legendary 1972 baseball book about the Brooklyn Dodgers, penned by sportswriter Roger Kahn. Nearly 40 years later, The Boys of Summer remains one of the most powerful books ever written about America’s national pastime.

Other songs by Don Henley that I could have chosen instead: “Dirty Laundry,” “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” “I Can’t Stand Still.”

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]