Tuesday, November 29, 2016

New Ghostly Spinoff: Kindred Spirits

There's a new ghost show in town, Kindred Spirits with Amy Bruni and Adam Berry. They became one of the sub-teams on the long-running but sputtering-out show Ghost Hunters.

Ghost Hunters was the first and, for a time, biggest ghost-hunting show on TV. But the genre has proliferated, (the price of success, no?), and it's gotten complicated. Dramas have peeled off entire casts of GH. I'm exaggerating but people have come and gone since the show began its run. However, tongues really started to wag when Grant Wilson left. And a year or so after that, according to press reports. Amy and Adam left over disputes with the remaining founder of the show Jay Hawes.

Amy and Adam went on to form the show Kindred Spirits, which is a spin-off of sorts, albeit unsanctioned. I followed Ghost Hunters through Ghost Hunters International but I didn't love it (Why Ghost Hunters International sucks). I couldn't get into Ghost Hunters Academy at all. But when Adam Berry won the show, it was interesting to get to know him, usually paired with Amy Bruni, back on Ghost Hunters. This was after Kris Williams left the show for Ghost Hunters International. There are Ghost Hunters branded books but nothing yet on all the drama behind the scenes. I'm looking forward to reading about all that someday.

Recently the famous series had some unexplained and lengthy hiatuses after Grant Wilson left the show. The show finally reappeared this summer (2016) with the announcer introducing episodes as the “final season of Ghost Hunters,” an oddly played-down situation.

As an early adopter of this genre, I should feel bad about the end of the show except that I wrote this: Top 10 Reasons Why I Don’t Care If Ghost Hunters Comes Back, and the fact that so many other ghost hunters have won our hearts during those long absences of Ghost Hunters. Most successfully Zack Bagans and his motley crew from Ghost Adventures.

I go back and forth about Zack and his hyper-ghost-hunting shenanigans. but you can’t deny the fact that the people who come on their show seem a hellavalot more at ease than those who appear on Ghost Hunters. GA just seems like more fun at the end of the day, certainly more approachable. Hosting a show takes charisma and humor and self-deprecation, all things Zach has about enough of. He’s also pretty hard working. The show has tons of episodes and they’re constantly on air at the Travel Channel.

And then there's John Zaffis' The Haunted Collector. Not quite a spin-off of Ghost Hunters either, but one of their prior summer hiatus replacements, (when there was such a thing as a short GH hiatus). Zaffis has done a good job becoming the papa-bear of ghost hunting. The women on his show, (women are still a minority on these shows), are both very likeable. And I always enjoy the research component he brings to the show.

And then there are a plethora of other shows: hillbillies, people who only do institutions, Ghost Brothers (which I love too and hope returns soon), Dead Files, which is ridiculous with its prescriptions for chaos magicians and psycho-therapists for the dead, but is seemingly popular. There's even a sub-genre of celebrity ghost shows like the defunct Celebrity Ghost Stories, (modeled after Canada’s Ghostly Encounters with the half-hearted gravitas of Lawrence Chau), and its spin-off The Haunting Of with psychic Kim Russo.

After all this, Ghost Hunters seems ego-bound, uncomfortable in its own skin, and tone-deaf to the new “realities” of the genre.

But Kindred Spirits, on the other hand, aside from the muted title, (which may refer to the hosts, or the ghosts, or ghost who are related to us, or maybe even ghost hunters in general), feels naturally friendly but never silly, (Ghost Adventures can get silly). Adam and Amy are always trying to “get to the heart of it” which plays into the family focus of the show but also something about having feelings, allowing feelings, encouraging the feelings. People cry. Hugs happen. What a relief that feels like.

They’ve also incorporated the research component and you can watch them puzzling over ghostly clues throughout the show. In the first scenes they're always having a kickoff meeting over coffee and discussing aspects of the case. So like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys! There are rounds of thinking and problem solving. Adam has a thinking face. The focus is on the thinking and not the gadgets and all the playing with the gadgets (which is undoubtedly fun but has gotten a bit stale).

In these ways, the show feels like all the other problem-solving-based realty shows, (the cooking, fashion and surviving shows), and maybe this appeals to the nerds among us. But it also provides suspense and mystery to the show.

They also stay in one location for multiple days and so an investigation slowly evolves and you feel you get to know the homeowners who often join in on the final night’s work.

There are no night cameras. Who would have thought this would feel so refreshing? They use flashlights and electric lanterns. You can see color and texture again around the room and on their clothes.

Like all ghost shows, to one degree or another, this one makes tenuous leaps from the evidence to the conclusion. To its credit, Ghost Hunters did this less often than any other show, truth-telling during every wrap-up about how “we don’t really know what it is” but “stuff is definitely happening.”

After 12 years of ghost hunting, evidence never gets much more exciting than that. So a little friendliness and nuance helps a lot.

Read the poem about ghost hunting shows.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Back to the Prom: The 40th Anniversary Screening of Carrie

I had a blast at the 40th anniversary party for Carrie! The night was both illuminating and a hoot.

The Ace Hotel Theater hosted the event, which was a fundraiser for WeSpark, a cancer support charity. The event also promoted the release of Shout Factory's new collector's edition Carrie Blu-ray. Silver stars had been hung in the lobby to match the Carrie prom scene decor.  There was also a traditional prom photo opportunity. We arrived about a half-hour before the screening and waited on line at the bar, hoping to order a "Bloody Carrie" - the signature drink of the party - but they had already run out! I bought raffle tickets and we found seats in the orchestra section of the theater, which quickly filled up.

The 4K presentation of Carrie looked incredible. I hadn't seen the film on the big screen before. There was a definite crowd participation angle to the evening, as people laughed at most of Piper Laurie's lines and other classic moments. Sometimes they even shouted the lines before they were delivered, which bugged my friend who had not seen the film before (and who jumped at the ending!). At the start of the prom massacre, when Carrie shuts the doors and cuts the lights in the gym except for the red light, they flipped on some red lighting in the theater - it was very effective!

After the screening, there was a panel discussion, moderated by Bryan Fuller (writer of the 2002 Carrie TV movie). The panel featured Doug Cox (The Beak - the tuxedo T-shirt kid), Noelle North (Frieda, who was nice to Carrie at the start of the prom), Nancy Allen (WeSpark executive director and bad girl Chris), PJ Soles (Norma, who wore her red baseball cap everywhere, even to prom), Paul Hirsch (editor of many Brian De Palma films, co-editor of Star Wars, many more), and Piper Laurie (nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Carrie's mother).

Bryan did a great job moderating and involving everyone in the discussion. PJ Soles talked about her eardrum being ruptured by the fire hose during the filming of the prom massacre. She also revealed she had auditioned for Nancy's role, and De Palma offered her a small part after she didn't get it. De Palma suggested she wear the red cap. PJ's swagger, perhaps powered by the cap, convinced De Palma to put her in more scenes and create a role for her as Chris' best friend. PJ also said she drove Betty from Chateau Marmont to the set everyday because Betty didn't drive, and she thinks Betty advocated for her. She said Betty would put on eye makeup in the car each morning, although they would be getting makeup on the set, because she didn't want De Palma to see her without makeup. Nancy Allen talked about getting along great with John Travolta, despite the way they slapped each other around in the film. She said John's slaps were weak, but Betty Buckley didn't hold back.

Doug Cox said the tuxedo shopping scene was mostly improvised, and it was added at the last minute, after he had wrapped. Paul Hirsch talked about speeding up that scene and said he did it to avoid having a third jump cut in the scene.  Hirsch and several actors talked about De Palma's obsessive storyboarding. Hirsch illuminated some of the key scenes and talked about building tension. He said the rocks falling on the house at the end was meant to be an echo to an opening scene where Carrie is a child and summons flying rocks with her mind, but that scene ended up not working. PJ and Nancy disagreed about whether they were paid $625 or $604 a week. Piper Laurie said she didn't know how to interpret the script, but her husband told her that her role was comedic. When she began rehearsals, De Palma corrected this interpretation. It certainly has a campy quality and people laughed at most of her signature lines like "I can see your dirty pillows."

The actresses also talked about how they were somewhat duped into doing the nude locker room scene. De Palma had told them it would be so smoky that people wouldn't see much, yet you can see just about everything. Allen said that Amy Irving cried when it came time to shoot the scene, so she ended up not removing her bra. Hirsch said George Lucas had told him that he felt De Palma's choice to have that much nudity in the second scene of the film signaled the audience to brace themselves because anything could happen.

They also played a video message from William Katt who couldn't attend in person. He credited the film for launching his career. Without Carrie, there would be no Greatest American Hero!

After the discussion, Jackie Beat came out, looking fabulous in a sea-foam green floral gown and wearing large glasses reminiscent of Helen (Edie McClurg's character). Jackie auctioned some items including movie posters signed by all the panelists, plus John Travolta. Jackie also emceed the costume contest. My friend Scott made it to the finals in his blood-spattered suit, but eventually lost to a very credible Tommy Ross with an oversized curly blond wig and a bloody Carrie. Jackie was hilarious in dismissing people from stage, including a group of girls in matching pink bridesmaid dresses and two clever guys who wore shabby discolored pillows with a sign: "Dirty Pillows." There were a couple good PJ Soles imitators, including a drag queen who was wrapped in a fire hose. We felt dressing as Miss Collins, the gym teacher, was a missed opportunity.  The crowd was enthusiastic and many came dressed in 70s tuxes with ruffled shirts and puritanical long gowns.  The fun continued as DJs played some 70s tunes and the prom party rolled on in the lobby area.

WeSpark is a charity that provides counseling and supportive services to people who have been diagnosed with cancer. I hope they raised a lot of money with this fun event. It was one of those "Only in LA" events that keep me living here. And I have to say the bullying in the film seemed strangely appropriate for our current political climate.  I look forward to November 8 when we can plug it up!

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Adele - So Nice, I Saw Her Thrice!

During her eight-show run at Staples Center, I saw Adele two nights in a row. Even though the setlist remained the same, both shows were totally enjoyable. And I had seen her already earlier this summer at Glastonbury (I didn't know she would be headlining Glastonbury when I bought the LA tickets last December). Getting tickets wasn't easy - three of us tried right when the tickets went on sale and spent over an hour in the virtual waiting room cursing AXS, but we lucked out in the end. Note: this review contains spoilers.

I first saw Adele at the Greek Theater in 2011. I had just hopped on the “21” bandwagon and decided to go to the show on the spur of the moment, buying a single seat when a few tickets remained on the day of the show. I was really enchanted by her easy-going stage presence and chatter. Picking Wanda Jackson as an opening act solidified Adele as an old soul. Many of us sang along with the songs and all could relate to the tales of heartbreak that made the album such a sensation. Who knew that we’d have to wait five years for the next album and Adele would have surgery, find a soulmate and have a kid in the meantime, all before “25”?

I got the pleasure of seeing Adele at Glastonbury earlier this summer. I’m still working on a story about that festival, but I have to say Adele was one of the highlights. She had said she was afraid to play for such a huge crowd, but she held that crowd of 150,000 in the palm of her hand. She shared stories of her own Glastonbury experiences and her love of the festival. She was self-deprecating yet powerful. There is nothing to compare to being in a reverent crowd that huge, all of whom know the words to all the songs and don’t mind standing in the mud and rain for two hours just to be with her. This collection of her quotes from Glastonbury shows that she manages to be totally herself in front of the crowd, as if she were just out to happy hour with some girlfriends telling stories. 

I don’t think I’ll ever have another Adele experience like Glastonbury, but the Staples Center shows were still great. The first show was Tuesday, August 9, and we had good seats, on the club level with a side view of the stage.  So I was much closer than I’d been at Glastonbury where we stood pretty much in the middle of a huge field.  

Adele began the show ascending from below to a small stage toward the rear of the arena and performed “Hello.” She made her way to the main stage and sang “Hometown Glory,” utilizing the big screens behind her to show footage of London and then footage of LA to elicit the predictable screams of recognition from the crowd. After “One and Only,” she paused to chat a bit and let us know that she only had a couple upbeat songs and she would be playing them fairly quickly. And she reminded us that even though they sound upbeat, they really are just as depressing as her other songs. She then launched into “Rumor Has It.”

Another highlight was “Skyfall,” and she told the story of how she got to fulfill the dream of doing a Bond theme. I love the Bond themes and hers just soars. 

She moved to a smaller stage in front of the main stage with a few band members to perform a country version of “Don’t You Remember” that she said was influenced by her love of Alison Krauss. She also did a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” on that stage, and she asked everyone to turn the flashlights on their cell phones on to light up the room. It was a beautiful effect.

There were many breaks where she told stories and gave us a peek into her stream of consciousness thinking. We learned she loves LA, particularly the Bristol Farms grocery stores where she can find many of her favorite British food imports. She talked about how much she loves America and how she had fantasized about being American: "I always wanted a locker, a prom, and an accent." Seeing her two nights in a row, I heard many of the same stories, but it didn’t feel scripted. Her exuberance and ease with the crowd felt genuine. On the first night, she called up two gay guys who she had noticed were dancing very animatedly, and they invited her to their upcoming nuptials. On the second night, she called up three eleven-year-old girls who nearly fainted with excitement, and she apologized to their mothers for all the swearing she would be doing during the show. 

For the Wednesday show, I sat in the first row of the upper level toward the rear of the arena. While it was less of an immediate experience, I could see the screens better and appreciated the lighting and effects more from this angle.

Probably the most moving song was “Chasing Pavements.” Adele gave a long introduction about how this was the song that allowed her to break through in the US and she invited the audience to sing along. She had moved to the stage in the rear of the floor area and they dropped curtains on all sides of it and projected her image on the curtains which created a neat effect. She then delivered “Someone Like You” before closing the set from that stage with “Set Fire to the Rain,” while rain fell where the curtains had been hanging.  It was quite a dramatic close to the show.  

Of course, she returned for an encore, performing “When We Were Young,” and then giving us one final chance to dance to “Rolling in the Deep.”  Confetti rained down and the nearly two-hour show came to a close. Go see this show if you can. Her albums may be titled and centered on her specific ages, but she's a talent for the ages.  

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Friday, April 08, 2016

I Wanted More from "Everbody Wants Some"

When I saw the trailer for Everybody Wants Some, I couldn't have been more excited - here was a sorta sequel to my favorite Richard Linklater film Dazed and Confused, set in my favorite decade (the 80s) and featuring my favorite sport (baseball).  Perhaps my expectations were just too high because the film really fell flat for me.  I can identify a few issues:

  • Women's roles - There's only one female character in the film who actually gets a name and a little development as a love interest for our hero Jake. Still, she seems more like a muse than a fully developed character
  • Casting - Most of the actors are in their late 20s. With the mustaches, they look more like 30. They just don't seem convincing as college students. I find it hard to believe Linklater couldn't find enough quality actors in the 19-22 range for the roles.
  • Lack of depth - There's some attempt at philosophizing over the bong, led by the likable Willoughby (played by the cute Wyatt Russell, spawn of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), but it doesn't get deep at all. It seems to be included so the film can pretend to be aspiring to be more than "Porky's."
  • Lack of baseball - There's only one scene where the guys actually play baseball, and there's no game situation. We are shown their competitive spirit in other ways, such as ping pong and knuckles competitions. But baseball as a subject is ripe for philosophizing, as we've seen in films ranging from Bull Durham to Field of Dreams to Moneyball. Linklater, who played baseball himself, really does nothing with it.  The one scene I liked comes in the beginning where the All-American star hitter on the team tells the freshman pitcher, our hero Jake, that they'll never be friends because of his mistrust of pitchers. There could have been a lot more of that.
  • Unrealistic settings - There's a party thrown by the drama students that rivals some of the biggest corporate parties I organized or attended while working at Google, These corporate parties had huge art direction budgets. I just can't believe students would be able to pull that together, especially on the weekend before school actually starts. It just feels like it's thrown in for entertainment value. The party at the Moon Tower in Dazed and Confused was much more realistic.
  • Boring main character - Although cute and likable, Jake is something of a cypher. The title tells us "everybody wants some" but we have no idea what Jake really wants. He seems to want to get laid, but he doesn't obsess over it. He doesn't think about baseball at all. He kinda likes the female character with a name. It's all a bit wishy washy. 
Dazed and Confused was a triumph because even though it only took place on one night, it showed us a range of different characters who were able to find some common ground.  We learned a lot about different cliques, and characters were individualized.  American Graffiti is another film that covered the same ground, and did it well, also with a killer soundtrack. Everybody Wants Some has the great soundtrack, but, by focusing on just the jocks, and not really differentiating them from typical jocks, it fails to take things to the level of low-key profundity that these other films achieved.  

On the positive side, the soundtrack is killer. And there are a couple of outstanding performances: newcomer Temple Baker is hilarious as a freshman catcher who's not the sharpest pencil in the box, and Glen Powell as the smooth-talking Finn is poised to get the Matthew McCoughnahey breakout award. 

The film has some fun moments and some laughs, but I found myself bored and looking at my watch halfway through it. It's getting glowing reviews, but I think if people really think about it, they will have to acknowledge it doesn't live up to its predecessor or the promise of its topic and era.  

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American Idol: The Final Finale, Part II

Wow, that was such a fun finale - a total stroll down memory lane!  

Winner: Trent Harmon

I was really disappointed that La'Porsha Renae didn't win. Her story really moved me this season, and I felt she had the most presence and star quality. She's a true diva who channels Tina Turner and Mary J. Blige.  I'm sure she will have a career.  This felt sort of like when Kris Allen beat Adam Lambert. Somehow America's mainstream tastes prevailed and a talented white male singer beat a unique butterfly.  I don't feel it was a grave miscarriage of justice, because Trent is hella talented, no doubt.  But La'Porsha has that American Dream story and, as Kelly Clarkson pointed out, it would have been cool to have a woman be the first and the final winner.  Idol has had only 5 female winners, and 10 male winners. Yet the two biggest icons of the show (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood) are both female.

Some highlights from tonight's show...
  • Idols as Angels: I loved the opening number "One Voice" where Idols past and present filled the stage and all were wearing white. This felt like the Ghosts of Idols Past. 
  • Dunkelman is back! It was fun to hear a little repartee between Seacrest and Dunkelman again.
  • Sanjaya's wigs: While he didn't get to speak, we glimpsed Sanjaya in the audience twice - once with a huge Mad Max mohawk and once in a powdered wig.  
  • Simon, Paula and Randy: This was a fun reunion to witness. It wouldn't have been a satisfying finale without seeing these three and especially Simon, and he really did seem moved by it all. He's still looking good. We wrote these love haikus for Simon back in 2002. 
  • The Rocker medley: I loved seeing Bo Bice with short hair (unrecognizable, but he looks good), Constantine Maroulis, Caleb Johnson, James Durbin, and Chris Daughtry perform together. 
  • Idol Gives Back tribute: Harry Connick and Marley Fletcher, a kid from The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in the 9th ward of New Orleans, sang "What A Wonderful World" together, in a touching segment honoring the Idol Goes Back charity that has raised $185 million for underserved youth in the US and around the world.
  • 3 Divas Reunited: LaToya London, Fantasia Barrino, and Jennifer Hudson sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to remind us how much the show had gone downhill since they were The Class of Season 3.
  • J Lo the Showgirl: her segment was basically a commercial for her Vegas show. Well, I'm sold.
  • William Hung: Yes, they needed to go there. 

Old idols I was happy to see again...
  • Tamyra Gray: She looked fierce, singing "Sober" with Jordin Sparks and Kara DioGuardi and singing "Girl Crush" on her own.  She was one of the most memorable contestants from Season 1. We wrote a bunch of haikus about the contestants of Season 1 back in the day.  
  • Justin Guarini: Justin looks pretty handsome with the shorter hair. He can no longer be compared to Sideshow Bob.
  • Carrie Underwood: I have to admit I was too hard on her back when I wrote this screed about her after she won Season 4. She has grown a lot of personality since then. She always had the voice but I found her wooden.  Now her songs are sassy and smart.  And she even did a passable Stevie Nicks tonight, singing "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" with Keith Urban.
  • Constantine Maroulis: He's my all-time favorite Idol. I wrote these haikus about Constantine back in the day. 
  • Kelly Clarkson: Although her performance was taped due to her being unable to attend due to impending childbirth, it was still fun to see a hugely pregnant Kelly sing a medley of her many hits. 
  • Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo: Idol put them on stage together tonight but failed to mention they are married - missed opportunity to showcase a true Idol love connection. Diana is only 28 but something about her face and hair makes her look like she's in her 40s - can't really put my finger on it but she's always had that look. 
  • Taylor Hicks: He's my second-favorite Idol and I wish we'd seen more of him tonight, but how about that stylin' purple velveteen jacket?
I doubt this is really the end, but it's certainly been a great ride, especially those early years when it was all new and some true superstars were found.  

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

American Idol: The Final Finale, Part I

Tonight we said goodbye to teen dream Dalton Rapattoni. I am sad to see him go as I too found him dreamy, and he was the show's only rocker.  But I think Dalton will be just fine. He would be a great frontman for an indie rock band, or he could have a great solo career ahead of him. He got to sing his Idol song before he left. It was a catchy tune called "Strike a Match." 


So, our Final Two are Trent Harmon and La'Porsha Renae, and I don't think anyone would disagree that they were the two strongest singers in the Top Ten. So America got it right. They both sang three songs tonight.

Trent Harmon - Trent's Idol song is called "Falling." It was soulful and showed off his range. I always find these Idol songs somewhat forgettable. Next Simon Fuller chose "If You Don't Know Me By Now" for Trent. He was very confident and delivered the song with soul, feeling the lyrics. Keith said it was a great song for him. J Lo said he's going to give La'Porsha a run for her money and it may be the closest vote ever.  For the song of his own choice, he reprised "Chandelier" by Sia. It was so impressive how he hit the high notes. He was pitch perfect and got a huge ovation, Harry said he's making this the hardest decision in the history of Idol. Keith said his vocal transitions are amazing, J Lo said she knew he would be in the final two and that he deserves to win. 

La'Porsha Renae - La'Porsha's Idol song is "Battles." I preferred it to Trent's song as it was anthemic, and it fit her story. Simon Fuller asked La'Porsha to sing "A House is Not a Home," and she was terrific. It made me miss Season 1 when they did a whole theme week devoted to Bacharach songs. La'Porsha pulled back a bit and delivered it in a Dionne Warwick vein.  She looked terrific in a sparkly gown with jewels. J Lo said it was so beautiful. Harry said it was her most complicated song melodically. Keith said it was smoldering. For the song of her own choosing, she picked "Diamonds" by Rihanna, which she had sung in the Top Ten week. It really showed off her stage presence and the strength of her vocals.  She got a big ovation and the crowd chanted her name. She started to cry. Keith said she and Trent both chose black diamond runs and sailed down the hill. J Lo said she can't wait to go to a La'Porsha concert and cut loose. Harry asked who was the "you and I" she was singing about and she said it was her daughter, thus reminding viewers again of her dramatic backstory.

Prediction - I think La'Porsha is going to win, but the vote might be close. They both gave it their all tonight. I just think La'Porsha connects a bit more with the audience and has the brightest star quality. 

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Monday, April 04, 2016

KISS Unplug for the LA KISS Faithful

I've been a season ticket holder for the LA KISS since the team was founded three years ago, and finally I feel all the suffering with the mediocre team really paid off.  Being a fan of a losing team is nothing new to me - my family were season ticket holders for the football Cardinals when the team was in St. Louis. Plus, I grew up Catholic. So I'm good at suffering. 

In the first season, LA KISS season ticket holders were promised a full KISS concert, and the band delivered. But it took them a long time to figure out a date that worked with the arena and the band's touring schedule, and it ended up being a date when I had to travel for work. The team only won three games that year, but there was a lot of entertainment value, with tribute bands playing pre-game concerts and halftime, BMX stunt bike shows, dancers, and pyro. They had dancing girls in cages suspended from the ceiling. You could call it "the greatest show on turf" without even talking about the game. In the second season, there were management changes and a lack of effort. The owners rarely attended the games (but to be fair, they were on tour most of the season). There was no KISS concert, much less extracurricular entertainment at the games, very little schwag, but the team improved in the second half of the season and made the games competitive. They ended with a record of 4-14.  

In the offseason, management made a lot of moves under new CEO Joe Windham, including hiring a new coach, Omarr Smith, and acquiring many players from last year's champion San Jose Sabercats after that team went out of business (Arena Football is a shaky business).  And they announced some schwag items and the thing we were all hoping for - another KISS concert just for the season ticket holders.  And this time it would be unplugged, sans makeup and pyro! 

I had to skip the last day of the Association of Writing Programs conference to catch this show, but it was really no contest for me.  I had already had two days of the conference to be highbrow and then needed to indulge my lowbrow side.  We arrived at the Honda Center in Anaheim around 12:15pm and there were only about 30 people in line. The first two people in line had arrived at 8:50am.  The first 500 people would be able to watch the concert from the field. We had fun chatting with other fans in line until we were let into the arena around 1:45pm. We headed straight for the field and were able to get a second row centered standing position. The pair who had arrived at 8:50am were against the barrier right in front of us, and I was quite happy because the gal was much shorter than me so I would have a clear view. 

The band took the stage around 3:00pm and they were all wearing sunglasses except for Tommy. Gene and Paul were in jackets and jeans. They kicked off the acoustic show with "Coming Home" and continued with "Calling Dr. Love" and everyone sang along.  It was certainly surreal to be so close to the band, and in such an intimate setting.  Although we were on the football field in a big arena, there were only 500 of us, so it felt like a club show. The fans who came later were sitting in the stands. Paul hyped up what a great season it was going to be and thanked us all for being fans.  

As usual, Paul did the talking, and Gene was stoic.  Tommy sat for more than half the show and Paul made a big deal when he finally stood up. He also pointed out to the crowd that Tommy was single. When a fan complimented Gene's bass, Paul said, "He'll be glad to sell it to you." And Gene nodded that he would.  "How much for that pink pocket square, Gene?" Paul asked.  "One million dollars," Gene deadpanned.  Sure enough, I saw a sales kiosk for Gene's basses when I walked around the arena concourse later that day.  

Paul explained the origins of "Goin' Blind" while musing that they almost were 93 years old like the character in the song (Simmons is 66, Stanley is 64). "Plaster Caster" was a highlight for me, as I have always loved that song.  

The band sounded great, and it was fun to just enjoy the songs without all the theatrics.  We tried in vain to catch one of the many picks they threw. Thankfully a front row fan who caught a bunch gave us one after the show. 

Toward the end of the set, they attempted to cover "Take It Easy" by the Eagles in honor of Glenn Frey but they stumbled through it. Paul admitted they probably should have made sure they knew the words.  It was still fun to watch and a sweet tribute.  Drummer Eric Singer got a chance to sing on the final song "Beth." 

The show was a little over an hour, and I felt like I was in a dream.  I had only been this close to the band during signing events. My KISS fandom began at age 5 when I carried a KISS lunchbox to kindergarten, so this was really an incredible experience. 

The band came back and played two songs at halftime for all the fans in attendance: "Shout It Out Loud" and "Rock and Roll All Night." And the team really did look good and actually won the game!  We picked up our season ticket holder schwag - orange "LA KISS Corps" backpacks, designed by Paul, and the bags included lanyards and pins for each of the seasons we had been season ticket holders. Just like the bobbleheads they gave out the first year, the pins will be collectible, and that's what us KISS fans dig. 

It's a shame that only 6800 people attended the game, even with the KISS performance at halftime which should have been a great incentive. Hopefully it will be a good season and more people will come if they keep winning. I already feel like I got my money's worth.  And lord knows I've given KISS enough cash over the years to buy Gene a lot of pocket squares and probably a few basses! 

Check out all my photos from the concert

Visit the LA KISS website


  1. Coming Home
  2. Calling Dr. Love
  3. Hard Luck Woman
  4. C'mon and Love Me
  5. Love 'em and Leave 'em
  6. Mainline
  7. Christine Sixteen
  8. Goin' Blind
  9. Do You Love Me
  10. Nothin' to Lose
  11. Love Her All I Can
  12. Plaster Caster
  13. Got to Choose
  14. Take It Easy
  15. Beth

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Concert Review: Father John Misty - Opening Night in the OC

I've never seen so much PDA in a concert crowd as I did tonight at the opening show of Father John Misty's new tour at The Observatory in Santa Ana. The guy just exudes so many pheremones that he's like a giant living, breathing bottle of Axe Body Spray. People can't help but respond in kind. 

Tess and Dave opened the show and seemed like a likable and fun duo, although I only saw their last two songs.  They are also in Father John's band.

Misty strutted through most of his catalog to the delight of a crowd that hung on and sang along to his every word.  He had a couple technical problems and said it was due to it being the first night. At one point, he had to stall, so he encouraged fans that this would be the time to take cell phone pics if they must, and he posed like a rock god. He even took one woman's phone and took a selfie and handed it back. Many times he approached the folks in the front row, who must have waited many hours to nab those spots at the sold out show, and he grabbed their hands. Yes, love and lust were in the air. When someone yelled out "I love you" during a break in the action, Misty said he loved us too, but then qualified the statement to say perhaps it was just infatuation. 

The dude has a lot of sex appeal, although the songs are about love and marriage almost as much as boning. I'm not normally into skinny guys with beards, but tonight I made the connection of why I dig him so much. He reminds me of my soft rock heroes of the 70s - Dave Loggins, Harry Nilsson, Herb Alpert, Gordon Lightfoot, Bertie Higgins, Gerry Rafferty. His voice has that richness and perfect tone and the melodies have an easy listening vibe along with a sharp sense of humor. I heard one girl in the crowd describe him as being "like a dreamy Charles Manson." 

We were treated to two killer covers - "Because the Night" by Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith and "Kiss It Better" by Rhianna.

Misty played 90 minutes. He closed the set with a rousing rendition of "I Love You Honeybear" and then returned for a three-song encore. 

You can see the setlist here.  

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Friday, March 25, 2016

American Idol: And Then There Were Four

This compressed American Idol season is flying by, while I wish it would linger a bit. Tonight the Idols were mentored by Steve Van Zandt on classic rock songs and then by Sia on her songs. Sia let them see her eyes but this was blurred out for the TV audience.  

LaPorsha Renae -  LaPorsha's classic rock choice was "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi. Although she doesn't seem like much of a cowboy, she delivered a strong vocal, circled the stage with swagger, and hit the big note at the end. The judges felt it was an odd song for her, but J Lo said she could sing the phone book and it wouldn't matter. It reminded Harry of Tina Turner. They also complimented her braids, which she said took 15 hours to do. She did look awesome and she has such confidence now. It's been a great evolution to watch and if there's any justice she will win the show. Her Sia song was "Elastic Heart" and it was another good performance. J Lo said she is a fully realized artist and they just don't have much to say to her, but I wonder if the lack of effusive praise and the fact that she had to sing first tonight might cause people to forget to vote for her. 

MacKenzie Bourg - His classic rock song was "I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick. He slowed it down a lot and it kind of lost its rock edge, Keith hated the arrangement. Harry thought he could have sung it the same and kept it double time as the original was and would have kept the energy up more.  Mac's Sia song was "Titanium." This was a typical performance but he did stretch for a high note. Harry thought it was nice but it shouldn't all be about one note. Keith liked that he made it a singer/songwriter moment and stripped it down. I feel like Mackenzie is sticking with what he's good at but not stretching enough, and this may be his downfall. 

Trent Harmon - Trent's first song was "Sharp Dressed Man" by ZZ Top. He delivered it as a rock song with a bluesy edge. We got to see a more rocking side of him, and he got the crowd into it. J Lo said it was fungal - dirtied and muddied up.  Harry thought it was brilliant. His Sia song was "Chandelier" and it was impressive, with the high notes. Sia told him he picked her most difficult song. Keith thought it was exquisite. J Lo said he can do anything. Harry gave it 100 out of 100. The judges really laid it on thick for Trent. I think they want a Trent/LaPorsha finale. 

Dalton Rapattoni -  Dalton sang "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys, and I don't really view this as a classic rock song. However, it's one of my favorite songs and Dalton gave a heartfelt rendition and really connected with the audience. We've seen him rock quite a bit this season, so I won't hold the song choice against him. Harry said it was the most complex song he's sung so far and it showed his vulnerability. His Sia song was "Bird Set Free" and he wore a cool neon spatter paint jacket. He sounded a bit flat to me, but he sang with feeling and got choked up at the end. The crowd went wild. J Lo cried too and said everyone was cheering for Dalton's bravery. Keith said he pushes through his limitations. 

The Bottom Two were Sonika and Dalton and Sonika was sent home. This reinforces my feeling that the judges were wrong to save Sonika two weeks in a row. Now she was in the Bottom Three for three weeks straight and finally was sent home. I think she has a lovely voice but she just didn't connect with the audience well enough to motivate people to vote for her.  

I was definitely surprised to see Dalton in the Bottom Two.  I have been partially basing my prognostications on Twitter. Dalton and Mackenzie both have @ 130,000 followers.  LaPorsha and Trent have about 30,000, and Sonika had about 15,000.  With that huge advantage in Twitter fans, I felt Dalton and Mackenzie would sail through these middle of the competition weeks.  Of course, voters can become complacent. Dalton had a good week last week but he did mention his struggles with bipolar disorder and that may have unfortunately turned off some of his fans.  I also think he and Mackenzie are drawing from the same pool of teen/tween Tiger Beat type voters.  With that being said, I predict Mackenzie and Trent will be the Bottom Two next week and Mackenzie will go home.  It could be Dalton, but I think he will benefit from all of his fans being scared because he was in the Bottom Two this week and they will vote, vote, vote.  

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Friday, March 18, 2016

American Idol: Top 5 Revealed

Last night, American Idol revealed its Top 5 and Adam Lambert came back to entertain us. 

I've officially lost my patience with the judges' save. They haven't even told us the last couple of weeks that they would be continuing to save people, but last night they used their last save of the season to save Sonika Vaid. Sonika had been in the bottom last week and this week. In my view, that means America has spoken.  While she has a strong voice, she is clearly shy and just doesn't connect that well with the audience. She comes off a bit like a Disney princess.  In the conversation segments, she does seem more likable, but somehow there just isn't a big personality radiation when she sings. And yet, with a bottom two of Tristan Macintosh and Sonika, the judges saved Sonika for the second week in a row. Of the two, I'd say Sonika probably does deserve to be there more than Tristan, who is very young and not quite ready, but I still think America should have the final say by this point, as we are only a few weeks away from the end of Idol - forever! 

Here's a recap of the performances. The contestants had to sing songs suggested by America via Twitter and other social media outlets.

Trent Harmon - His first song was "Counting Stars" by OneRepublic. This seemed kind of uncomfortable for him, and afterward he admitted he didn't really know what was going on. J Lo felt he engaged the audience well. His second song was "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd and this was the perfect song for him. By the end, he had J Lo in tears, waxing rhapsodically about how she would miss the show for moments like this that showed the perfect collision of song and singer.  Trent cried too.  He's a talented and likable guy. We also learned he had a good friend who designed his guitar that died young, and he plays on to honor his friend. 

Dalton Rappatoni - America suggested Dalton sing "Numb" by Linkin Park and he delivered the tune with emotion but dulled the rock edge a bit too much.  Harry said he poured his guts into it, but the judges felt it was an uneven performance. His second song was "Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel and that was much more in his wheelhouse, allowing him to focus on the lyrics and deliver a haunting performance with lots of eye contact with the camera from those big dreamy eyes. Keith said he liked how Dalton connected with the words. Dalton reminds me of a Walter Keane painting and I just want to spoon with him, especially after we learned he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 9 and that his grandma runs a beauty shop where all the little old ladies are rooting for him while getting their shampoo n' set hairdos.  

La'Porsha Renae - Her first song was "Ready for Love" by India Arie and I thought it was good but not as mind-blowing as her usual performances. Harry thought it was phenomenal. Her second song was "No More Drama" by Mary J. Blige and she really brought it. This was the perfect song choice, especially after they played clips of her talking about emerging from her abusive relationship. She was in tears at the end and so was J Lo and probably many viewers at home.  La'Porsha poured her heart and soul into the performance and the judges were pretty much speechless. I feel this is the best of American Idol - finding someone as downtrodden as La'Porsha and giving her a platform to excel. If she doesn't win this show, it will be because of tons of tween girls voting for Dalton and Mackenzie, and it will be a damn shame.  But I'm sure she will have a career after this, no matter what.

Mackenzie Bourg - His first song was "Wild World" by Cat Stevens, and it was the perfect song for him. He could fit in well with my 70s easy listening heroes like Dan Fogelberg, Dave Loggins, Paul Davis, Al Stewart.  Harry said he was glad to see Mackenzie do something more up tempo. His second song was "Billie Jean." I thought the lyrics didn't hold up to the dramatic slow interpretation he gave the song, but the judges praised him for making it his own. J Lo said she was riveted. We also learned he has made a full recovery from congestive heart failure but it nearly killed him in high school and forced him to give up sports. So he found solace in music. 

Sonika Vaid - America asked Sonika to sing "Let It Go" by Demi Lovato, probably to instruct her to do as the song says and emote more. I thought her performance was too subtle and not bombastic like this song requires. But the judges liked it, and J Lo said Sonika is shy but fierce. Her second song was "Clarity" by Zedd and her performance was strong, but it still felt hollow. There's none of the emotion one feels watching La'Porsha, Trent, and even Dalton and Mackenzie to a lesser degree. Yet, she remains. 

Tristan Macintosh - Before being eliminated, Tristan sang "Independence Day" by Martina McBride and played the piano. It was a strong vocal but the judges felt it was very similar to her other performances and she needs to stretch more. Harry said she just needs to get older. Too bad he couldn't tell her to come back next year. 

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Friday, March 11, 2016

American Idol: Top 6 Revealed

Tonight our Idols were reduced to only 6, as the final season is adopting a fast and furious pace. The show began with duets.

LaPorsha Renae and Trent Harmon - "See You Again" - Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth - Very good duet - this was a lot of fun to watch. Trent sang higher than her. They had nice chemistry and good eye contact with each other. Both seemed so comfortable on stage. J Lo said it was magical.

Avalon Young and Sonika Vaid - "Rise Up" by Andra Day - Nice harmonies. They are Idol roommates, and you can tell they have a good rapport. Keith complimented Sonika's tone and Avalon's natural singing.

Dalton Rapattoni and MacKenzie Bourg - "I Want It That Way" by Backstreet Boys - The two heartthrobs took on a classic teen idol song, with Mac on guitar and Dalton showing his softer side. But it's pretty ordinary, and the judges peed all over it. Harry didn't think it was a good song choice because the lyrics don't make sense, and the guys admit they didn't understand what they were singing. Keith and J Lo felt they didn't change it from the original enough. 

Lee Jean and Tristan Macintosh - "Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith - Lee lamented that Tristan is taller than him, and they did seem a bit of an odd couple on stage together. It was nice to see Lee belt for a change. Harry thought it was boring and bland.

For the solo performances, they had to take songs from the American Idol songbook. This leaves it pretty open for about a zillion songs, but The Beatles were the most popular choice tonight.

LaPorsha Renae - "Come Together" by The Beatles - We learned that LaPorsha comes from a military family, and her dad said he was glad to admit he was wrong when he tried to push her into the military.  She wore a crazy leather jumpsuit with gold chains. She really has a star persona and a lot of Tina Turner in her. She showed she can convey a rock vibe along with the soul. J Lo said she gives us full diva every time she's up there. 

MacKenzie BourgYou Are So Beautiful" by Joe Cocker - Mac loved sports, but he got into the school musical after singing at a pep rally and being approached by drama teacher. He gave a tender and sweet performance and really feels the lyrics, but sometimes his twitchy faces get on my nerves. Harry said he couldn't have picked a better song. Keith said he made it seem brand new. J Lo said, "You're singing to some girl that every girl wishes she was."

Trent Harmon - "Stand by Me" by Ben E King - Trent said he doesn't want his family to come watch him unless he makes finale, and he kept his audition secret. Once again, he has cleaned up well and looks pretty debonair and delivers a strong, if not particularly original, performance. Keith said he can see a lot of growth in him over the competition. Trent's performance gave J Lo goosies - and there is no higher accolade she can give.

Tristan MacIntosh"A Broken Wing" by Martina McBride - Tristan's grandpa was the first to believe in her, and his health has been failing but he still recorded a video message to cheer her on. I found this performance capable but kinda dull. Keith thought it was the perfect song for her. Harry asked her what the second verse was about and her answer showed she had thought about it. Being an artist who sings timeless songs himself, Harry likes that the singers are thinking about the lyrics, and I like that he cares about that. 

Dalton Rapattoni "Eleanor Ribgy" by The Beatles - Dalton's mom was a high school punk, and he used to wear his mom's trench coat when he started performing. He gave this classic tune a metal edge, but with a string quartet. This is the Dalton I love - making it his own, working the crowd, belting a big finish. Keith said the theatrical side of Dalton brought out the darker side of the song.

Ryan revealed our Bottom 3: Sonika, Avalon, and Lee. And they got to sing for their lives.

Avalon Young"PYT" by Michael Jackson - Avalon as a kid was very much a tomboy (shocker!). She has OCD which causes facial tics but not when she sings. This was a good song for her, and she worked the crowd but was still a little stiff. Keith said he is so confused about why she keeps ending up in bottom three.  J Lo felt this was too typical of her usual performances. Harry said she needs more urgency.  

Lee Jean"Let it Be" by The Beatles - Lee was a shy kid, had to move around a lot, but when people discovered he could sing, he became popular. This was a heartfelt but awkward and pitchy performance. He seemed a bit like a deer in the headlights. The judges noticed the pitch problems and were disappointed. 

Sonika Vaid"I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston - Sonika has a family music tradition. Her mom performs in Bollywood. She picked a tough song and belted it like she wanted to stay. Despite her great voice, she still doesn't radiate much personality. Harry said it's a high risk high reward performance and she nailed it.  J Lo thought she did a good job, but was kind of lukewarm in her praise.

The judges kept Sonika in the competition, and I think that was the right choice. While Sonika needs to connect better with the audience, she does have one of the best voices on the show. Lee's voice is sweet but limited and he's only 16.  When Ryan asked how they were feeling, he seemed like he was making a closing argument for himself, stating how much he felt the song he sang and that it was for his late brother and he didn't care if he was pitchy.  I think it's better to just accept the judges' criticism, as it was warranted, and he didn't do himself any favors with the speech.  I think Avalon being in the bottom 3 for 2 weeks in a row, despite good judges feedback last week, shows that somehow she is just not totally connecting with America. She's definitely cool and talented, but maybe America doesn't love her tomboy style or doesn't find her convincing as a R&B artist. 

Prediction for next week - Sonika and Tristan in the Bottom 2, with Tristan going home. 

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Thursday, March 03, 2016

American Idol: Top 8 Revealed

Dalton Rapattoni - "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons - I'm so sick of this song, and I think many of us are. He worked the crowd well but didn't show us anything new and stayed pretty true to the original. It came off kinda karaoke and lacking in the originality of his other performances. Keith doesn't think it was a great song for him because he didn't tweak it. Harry said he reminds him of Billy Joe Armstrong. Harry felt Dalton wasn't as present in this performance and it lacked electricity. I'm sure Dalton will survive this minor misstep, because he's talented and dreamy!

Lee Jean - "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon - This was his most upbeat performance and it wasn't an Ed Sheeran song - but, unfortunately, it was just mediocre. I think he has a very limited range. J Lo said it was a great song choice, but he needs to stretch and let go. Keith didn't think it was a good song for him, but liked that he played guitar and had more energy.

Sonika Vaid - "Since You've Been Gone" - Kelly Clarkson - Sonika revealed that she's never had a boyfriend, but this good girl tries to act like a bad girl in this song and it doesn't really work. She showed more of a pop side and still belted enough to remind us she has one of the best voices on the show. She looked sexy. Keith said he wanted more attitude, "more angry girlfriend". Harry said it felt like she wasn't really feeling the lyrics. 

Mackenzie Bourg - "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" by Whitney Houston - Very clever song choice and he definitely made it his own. It almost had a calypso vibe. The crowd went wild. Keith thought it was really cool. J Lo felt that the switch-up worked but she wants him to let go more. She thinks both he and Lee are holding back. Harry said he could have gone further with making it his own, perhaps should have played acoustic guitar. 

La'Porsha Renae - "Halo" by Beyonce - We learned her hair is named Kokomo and that until Idol, only her mom and she had ever styled or cut it. In her sparkly gown and headband, she looked like some kind of space goddess or disco diva. It was a good song choice with a high degree of difficulty. She had great stage presence and looked at camera at the end the way Constantine used to, except not smarmy. J Lo said she is the one to beat and a hard act to follow. Harry said she is a master at arcing the songs. 

Trent Harmon - "When a Man Loves a Woman" by Michael Bolton - Trent looked slick with a new hair cut and suit jacket, almost as if Seacrest had styled him. The performance started out kind of ordinary but then he hit a crazy long note. Keith thought it was a good song choice but pointed out that worrying about his facial expressions can get in the way of emoting. J Lo had a vision during the performance, not of the Virgin Mary, but of Trent and La'Porsha in the finale.

Tristan McIntosh - "Go Rest High on That Mountain" by Vince Gill - She played piano. She had a breakdown in rehearsal and had to change her song after Scott Borchetta (who looks like a puffy Chuck Zito) critiqued her. This performance brought her back to what the judges liked her for originally, playing piano and being more in an Alicia Keyes mode, although country. Keith said it was a great song choice. J Lo said that was the Tristan that America fell in love with. Tristan revealed another reason to cry - her grandpa broke his back this week. Harry then made a joke asking if her grandpa had been carrying her piano at the time. Ugh. Too soon, Harry.

The Bottom 3 was revealed to be Olivia, Gianna, and Avalon. I really expected Lee and Tristan to be in the bottom 3. Gianna was my only correct guess, although I did rank Olivia fourth from bottom. I think some of the audience may be uncomfortable with Avalon's tomboy style, plus she didn't make a great song choice last week. Olivia had the curse of singing first and although the judges praised her to high heaven, the song wasn't that special.  Gianna has a great voice but her inexperience and youth shows. The Bottom 3 got one more chance to sing and the judges would then decide on one person who would stay. 

Avalon Young - "Earned It" by The Weeknd - Love the braid and her makeup is subtle enough that it doesn't change her style too much. This is a decent song choice. I like her better doing hip hop, but she does show some swagger here. The crowd loved it. Harry said she looks beautiful natural and shouldn't wear makeup if she doesn't want to. J Lo said she did what she needed to do, get back in her comfort zone.

Olivia Rox - "Trouble" by Pink - Cute outfit but the song reminds me of a cheerleading march.  She was energetic. Harry said the song didn't allow her to show much range. J Lo said we didn't feel like she really was "trouble". It wasn't believable. 

Gianna Isabella - "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keyes - Strong opening with only piano before the band kicked in, then it got a little more average. She seemed to feel the lyrics more toward the end, nice finish. She looked beautiful in a red pantsuit with a sheer cape. Keith's heart wanted a little more feeling. Harry said she has an incredible vocal gift.  

The judges saved Avalon which I think was the right choice. I think 2 more contestants get sent home next week and at this point I expect it to be Lee and Avalon, but everyone did pretty good this week so it's a tough call. 

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