Sunday, October 16, 2011

Concert Review: A Decade of Difference

The Clinton Foundation celebrated "A Decade of Difference" with a huge fundraising concert at the Hollywood Bowl (Oct 15, 2011). Celebrities still love Bill Clinton, and they were abundant on the stage to pay tribute to him on his 65th Birthday. Hilary and Chelsea were seated with him.

The show kicked off with a surprise set from Stevie Wonder! Good thing we were on time. Stevie and his band played "Overjoyed", "Superstitious", and "Signed, Sealed and Delivered." It was pretty amazing.

Celebrity presenters who introduced bands or clips about the foundation included Laura Ling (the journalist who was once jailed in North Korea), Jason Segal, Maria Bello, Ellen DeGeneres, Colin Farrell, and Ashton Kutcher.

Kenny Chesney played a few acoustic country tunes. Clinton later thanked him for making him not be the only person on stage that night with a Southern accent.

K'Nann was next up. I hadn't heard of him, but I found him really likable. He got the crowd going with a singalong for "Wavin' Flag" and Bono joined him on stage for a song. He grew up in Somalia and spoke about surviving the war there.

Then came Juanes, who I also didn't know anything about, but I dug his virtuoso guitar playing and rockin' tunes. Hailing from Colombia, he added to the global atmosphere.

The crowd got fired up for Usher. He opened with the Beatles' classic "With a Little Help from my Friends." He had his full band and back-up dancers. Everyone was on their feet for "Yeah" and "Caught Up." Even Hilary was gettin' down.


Many girls in strange outfits in the audience got on their feet to greet Lady Gaga. She and her piano were perched atop a strange treehouse-like structure. The atmosphere was electric as she played a slow version of "Born This Way" and then segued into the upbeat usual version, calling on a fleet of dancers and musicians.

She expressed sadness about Clarence Clemmons' death as she started to sing the song he played on - "The Edge of Glory" - and she suggested Bill come up on stage and play sax. I think we were all secretly hoping he would do that during some point in the evening, but no such luck.

Gaga was warm and entertaining and, of course, provocative. Fully blond, she said she was going to have a Marilyn moment, and I fully expected her to sing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President." Thankfully, she refrained. She did mention that we should all have "A Bill Romance" and then substituted that phrase into "Bad Romance." She flirted with both Bill and Hilary.

All out of breath from dancing, she panted through her own American Dream story, talking about being in a tiny apartment four years ago and dreaming that just one person would believe in her. I'm sure it sounds hokey, but after watching Gaga in the interview she gave at Google, I do think she's being genuine. I was impressed with her piano playing and singing, too. She whipped the crowd into a frenzy and President Clinton later quipped he thought Gaga might give him a heart attack.

After an intermission, they showed an amusing celeb-studded film about celebrities brainstorming for ideas for the foundation. Ben Stiller, Matt Damon, Sean Penn, Kristin Wiig, Ted Danson, Mary Steenbergen and Kevin Spacey were in the film.

Chelsea came out and gave a short tribute stating that her parents were her heroes, and she introduced President Clinton who talked a little about the foundation and thanked everyone who appeared that evening. I did cringe a bit when he jokingly referred to Laura Ling as "a girl I once picked up in North Korea." Some folks in the crowd began a chant of "Four More Years" while Clinton was speaking.

The show concluded with an acoustic set from Bono and The Edge. They kicked things off with "Desire" and then "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Bono described them as one half of the band U2, and there was some amusing fumbling as The Edge had trouble finding the drum track for "A Man and A Woman" on his Mac. Before launching into "Sunday Bloody Sunday," they talked about how President Clinton had united Ireland and his other contributions toward greater world peace. They brought out a string section. Bono said rock n' roll was such a male-oriented universe, it was nice to occasionally hire a string section because string sections often include girls. They played "Staring at the Sun", "One" (with a snippet of "Happy Birthday") and closed with "Miss Sarajevo" in which Bono did an admirable job with Pavarotti's opera solo.

It was a magical evening at the Bowl!

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House of Davids Estate Sale

The King of Hancock Park is selling his castle and all its contents. After driving by this house for years, I couldn't resist the chance to go inside and maybe get a souvenir.

For those not familiar with this story, Norwood Young, a former Star Search winner and R&B recording artist has a home called Youngwood Court, aka "The House of Davids" due to the fact he has placed 17 statues of David on columns in front of the house. The house has caused much consternation among the quiet, wealthy neighbors over the years. They disliked the accoutrements, the drive-by tourists, and the parties. Now Young is looking for a fresh start after publishing his autobiography last year that describes a lot of the pain that led to all the partying, plastic surgery, and excess.

The estate sale is running 2 weekends. I was there for opening day on Oct 15. I had read it would start at 9am and imagined people would be there even earlier, but I slept in and got there around 11:30am. There was a small line, and I realized that the sale hadn't begun. Some girls in hot pink outfits were setting up a champagne bar in the driveway. The gal in line behind me had an email that said the estate sale would be kicking off with a champagne and massage reception. 'Cuz that's how Norwood rolls.

I didn't realize it at the time, not being aware of what he looked like, but Norwood himself came out to tell the line they would be opening a few minutes late. And then Sharon Yost who was running the estate sale came out and explained we would be entering through a side gate to the backyard and would be expected to leave that way too. We were told to not partake of the champagne or free massages as those were for a separate event going on. Hmmph.

I was in the first group of 25 people to be let inside. Once in the backyard, I noticed the faded painting of Norwood on the bottom of the pool. Lots of statues were for sale, as well as a large variety of Christmas decorations. They were even selling picnic plastic cutlery and containers of margaritas salt. Yes, everything must go at estate sales, but it's a little strange when the person isn't dead.

Inside the house, I checked out the home theater, adorned with Norwood-centric artwork, including a strange 3D portrait of him as a lion that kind of resembled Ron Perlman in Beauty and the Beast. Lots of glassware was for sale on the bar. I noticed what would become my only purchase - Norwood glasses - adorned with a logo and images of David. A good souvenir for $10 each, and a fine addition to my wet bar!

Next up, there was the dining room. The lucite cocktail rounds are suspended from the ceiling, with track lighting on the floor shining up, and lucite dining chairs. There's an 8' tall sequined Michael Jackson glove that can be yours for $5000. The entrance hall had a white grand piano with a Norwood puppet on top of it, and 2 huge "Alice in Wonderland" chairs. They were $500 each. There were 2 bedrooms on the first floor with furnishing for sale. I don't know how to really describe the house's design aesthetic - "Nagel meets Elvis" maybe?

At first, we weren't allowed access to the upstairs Master Suite because Norwood was in there. Then he came down and greeted some of the guests and the reality TV crew. We could then take off our shoes and ascend the dirty white carpeted stairs to the master suite. It had a large sleigh bed and a nice balcony overlooking the pool.

Back downstairs, I watched Norwood's manager show off Norwood's bejeweled pimp cup to the reality TV crew, stating that Norwood would drink his tea from it. I took my glasses to the cash register and overheard someone asking the cost of the David statues. The clerk said she thought they were $1000 each, but the price was probably negotiable.

The price of the house is probably negotiable, too. Originally, it was listed at $2.4 million but now it's listed at $1.795 million. It's hard for me to imagine who will buy it. I'm not sure it's a tear down, but it would need a gut overhaul if purchased by anyone who didn't like marble floors and soiled white carpet. It's allegedly 7 bedrooms and 4800 sq ft on a third of an acre. Some rooms were closed off, but it didn't seem that big.

Next weekend, expect to see Norwood's clothes and kitchen stuff for sale. We were told they didn't have time to get everything sorted before this weekend. It's definitely worth the trip, and I bet there will still be a few Davids left for purchase.

While Norwood seemed upbeat, there was a strange, dark vibe in the house. I felt my previous celeb garage sale experience at Pam Anderson's sale was more fun. Maybe Pam's shabby chic furntiure is just easier on the eyes than a giant Michael Jackson glove?

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Concert Review: Tony Hadley / Men Without Hats

Tony Hadley /Men Without Hats
Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas, Nevada
August 20, 2011

Ahh, Fremont Street. It's not just a street; it's an experience. Deep fried twinkies! Daiquiris in footballs! A zipline! It's kind of like Orange County Fair meets Atlantic City meets the Star Wars cantina. But for one special night in August - Tony Hadley really classed up the joint!

Nina Blackwood is hosting a series of 80s concerts on Fremont Street this Summer. While the list had many awesome bands like ABC and Howard Jones, I picked Tony Hadley because I'd never seen him before. Of course, if I lived in Vegas I'd be there every weekend. Nina pulled up to host the show in a DeLorean. Over our heads, we noticed a large moon being circled by an MTV-esque moon man and Elliott and E.T. on a bike. T-shirts with slogans like "Fremont Say Relax" were being sold. This all put me in a great nostalgic mood.

Men Without Hats opened the show. Singer Ivan Doroschuk is the only remaining piece of the original band, but his voice was really all that mattered. He looked a bit like Bret Michaels in a black cowboy hat and leather pants. I got a bit bored during their set, since I only knew their two big hits, which they did dutifully play: "Pop Goes the World" and "Safety Dance."

During songs I didn't know, I got distracted by a strange love triangle - semi-drunk guy and girlfriend and really drunk and/or high man who could barely stand but wanted to dance with the girlfriend. The boyfriend seemed to alternate between yelling at the drunk guy and helping him stand up. I eventually decided they must all be roommates at the same crackhouse. I got more intrigued watching a group of high school kids near us who were screaming the whole hour for "Safety Dance" and when they finally got it, they actually formed a conga line and did the safety dance. You can see the kids dancing in this video - and you can see Elliot and E.T. riding around the moon above the stage - but you'll have to forgive the horrible audio courtesy of my iPhone. I promise it sounded a lot better in person.

Many people wandered off after Men Without Hats and a smaller but enthusiastic crowd greeted Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet. I got reintroduced to Tony recently watching one of the recent Glastonbury concerts on Palladia and was really impressed with his voice and song choices. He reminds me a bit of Tom Jones, in that he picks interesting and timely cover songs, puts his own spin on them and is a bit loungey. And he still belts his own classics with gusto.

Tony surprised the crowd with a cover of "Somebody Told Me" by the hometown boys The Killers. He went back in time with "It's a New Day" and back to the future with "Learn to Fly" by Foo Fighters. He got in the Vegas spirit with covers of "That's Life" and "Suspicious Minds." He also covered Duran Duran's "Rio" and U2's "With or Without You" which really brought me back to Live Aid, since all those bands were there. Spandau Ballet really had awesome outfits at Live Aid. The sax player looks like he's a Laker fan. (Check out my reflections on watching Live Aid as a kid vs watching it 20 years later.)

Tony played the big Spandau Ballet hits like "Only When You Leave," "Gold," and "True." The crowd sang along. He also delivered an emotional version of "Through the Barricades", explaining to the US crowd that the song was about the troubles in Ireland. He chatted a bit during the set and was utterly charming.

Poor Tony was sweating up a storm, wearing a suit in the 98 degree Vegas heat. But he never even took his jacket off. That's just how debonair he is! The Rat Pack would approve. He was sipping some whiskey on stage, so maybe that took the edge off. He seemed happy to be in Vegas and said he'd never played there. In fact, this is his first US tour since 1986! He played for about 90 minutes, which was more than I expected from a free concert. His band sounded great and also features drummer John Keeble who was also in Spandau Ballet. I had a totally awesome time. That much is indeed true.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

American Idol: Top 13 Address Their Icons

Well, I wasn't planning to watch Idol this year. The last few seasons had been so plodding. I wouldn't have kept watching them if I hadn't been wagering on it (and last year I won the pool!). And without Simon, I really felt the show would fail. But I have to admit, I've kind of enjoyed the judges so far, even if they don't really have very distinctive viewpoints or specific critiques. They have good chemistry. And the crop of talent this year is actually pretty impressive. Here's my thoughts on last night's show.

Lauren Alaina - "Any Man of Mine"

Young Lauren idolizes Shania Twain. She's got a booming voice, and she's likable. This song didn't really let her stretch but the performance was solid.

Casey Abrams - "With a Little Help From My Friends"

Casey let Joe Cocker possess him, and the results were very entertaining. This kid definitely doesn't look like an Idol, but I think he's the Taylor Hicks oddball of the season and he could go the distance. He's goofy and soulful, but he's also a damn good singer. Plus he brought the stand-up bass onto Idol - that was a first.

Ashthon Jones - "When You Tell Me That You Love Me"

Ashthon's very pretty and capable. She's got awesome hair, like her idol Diana Ross. I can't say she really stands out for me at this point. Barry Gordy came to see her. I wonder what he thought. The spelling of her name is hard for me to get over. It reminds me of when people named Thomas shorten their name and spell it "Thom".

Paul McDonald - "Come Pick Me Up"

This cat is part folky, part cheesy. He's hilarious to watch with his epileptic dance moves (again, I felt the presence of Taylor Hicks). His voice is unique. I can't say I love it, but it's something different. He's like Bob Dylan meets Barry Manilow. He sang a Ryan Adams song and J Lo admitted she didn't know who Ryan Adams was. His oddball qualities and alternative song choice may hurt him.

Pia Toscano - "All By Myself"

Pia went for the high degree of difficulty by tackling Celine, and she pulled it off really well. Her dress would have looked better without the strange drape in the back - seemed like a tail, like an unfinished Project Runway outfit. The girl really can belt it out. She'll be around for a while.

James Durbin - "Maybe I'm Amazed"

Yay for James! Last week he brought Judas Priest to Idol, which I thought was awesome. And now he tackled my favorite Paul McCartney song. James does evoke Adam Lambert but he's got his own style too - more rock, less theatrics. I love to see a little glam rock make a comeback. James has the touching story too - with his Asberger's and Tourette's issues, and young son. I'm rooting for him.

Haley Reinhart - "Blue"

I thought Haley's performance of the Leann Rimes song was too old-fashioned and kinda boring. Technically, it was fine, but her performances have left me cold so far.

Jacob Lusk - "I Believe I Can Fly"

I think Idol wants this kid to win, letting him come out with a full-on gospel choir. He's definitely talented, but I feel he oversings every time and tends to pick the cheesiest anthems like "God Bless the Child" and now this R. Kelly tune. And if you're wondering what spa Jacob is concierge at, it's Burke Williams since he mentioned the Hunter's Retreat in his spa spiel. What does a spa concierge do anyway? Get you theater tickets while you're being wrapped up in leaves and exfoliated?

Thia McGia - "Smile"

Even if Thia doesn't know who Charlie Chaplin is, she managed to pull of a good performance of this song (the Michael Jackson version). She's cute and young but not radiating a ton of personality yet. Still, she could be this year's Jasmine Trias and make it pretty far.

Stefano Langone - "Lately"

Stefano's took on a tough Stevie Wonder song and did OK with it. I thought the performance was somewhat cruise ship-ish, but the judges slobbered all over him. J Lo particularly seems to have a crush.

Karen Rodriguez - "I Could Fall in Love"

Karen brought a Selena tune to Idol, but she didn't sing with much verve. Her performance was so muted that I wondered if she might be ill (the producer made a comment about her needing to rest her voice before the show). She didnt seem to try for the big notes as she has in the past. I was disappointed, as I've been a fan so far, but I think she could be in danger.

Scotty McCreery - "The River"

Scotty is a bit of a one-trick pony, but it's hard not to like him when you hear that big Randy Travis voice coming out of the little kid. Here he tried a challenging Garth Brooks song and performed it really well. He's going to be around for a while.

Naima Adedapo - "Umbrella"

Naima is very pretty and unique. She definitely brings something new to Idol, and I was glad she got chosen to be a wild card. She didn't seem totally comfortable with this song, but her dance moves were fun and her reggae twist made it her own. I like her attitude.


Bottom 3 - Karen, Paul, Haley
Going home - Haley

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