Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Favorite Concerts

(Full House is your pick for "worst sitcom ever". Thanks for voting.)

I have been fortunate enough to see a good bit of live music. Everything from Celtic to Classical to Ted Nugent! That was an experience, right T-Mac? Anyway here is the short list of my five favorite live shows. There are a couple I should give an honorable mention to first because they were also very cool.

First off I got to see Phish at Jazzfest in New Orleans 1996, or rather I heard them, because I couldn't really see over the sea of hippies in front of me. I would classify that as one of the most interesting concert-going experiences, but not the best, being so far removed and NOT doing any hallucinogenics. Plus I was a new fan of theirs so I only recognized maybe two songs before the encore- which was The Beatles ' A Day In The Life and that was fantastic!

I also really enjoyed seeing The Shins live because I like so many of their songs I just belted them out like a madman.

But my absolute favorite were these 5.......

Wynton Marsalis- MUW Columbus, MS early 90s

This is the only live jazz show I've ever seen and it was incredible. Besides Wynton himself what I remember most was the drummer who was this nearly anorexic looking little black guy who was killing that drum set. I've been into jazz ever since.

My Morning Jacket- Red Rocks 2008

I got to see My Morning Jacket open for Bob Dylan at Red Rocks about a year before and thought they were the perfect live act for that venue. Unfortunately our seats were a bit high and it was windy so that cut down on the listening experience for sure, plus it was an abbreviated set since they were the opener. When I got to see them headline we had decent seats and the weather was nice. I thought they were amazing. Jim James is not only a great singer but an intense showman wearing his cape James Brown-like when he's really "feelin' it". Musically they are obviously talented and like I said the perfect act for Red Rocks.

B.B. King- Bayfest, Mobile, AL 1999

I've seen B.B. twice now. The second show was a Father's Day gift from my wife and we saw him, Robert Cray, and Kenny Wayne Shephard at Fiddler's Green. That was also a great show even though The King of the Blues stays seated because that's what you do when you're over 80.

The first time I saw B.B. King was a surreal experience. I parked for free downtown (because it was so far away) and walked toward the show expecting to pay the full festival price to get in. I could hear Robert Cray playing the whole time and hoped I would be able to catch some of his act (which I didn't). When I walked up to the gate a woman I knew from work was standing there. She reached out and handed me a ticket, turned and went back through the gate like she had been waiting for me! I still don't believe it.

The concert itself was like segregation reversed, all of the black folks were seated, all of the white folks, "johnny-come-latelies", stood in the aisles. B.B. is one of those original old-school showmen. He puts on a concert the old-fashioned way. That is, his band, who are awesome, play for a good ten minutes warming up the crowd, just jamming. Then of course they pump up the crowd with a pep rally-like introduction of "the world's greatest blues singer". He enters to raucous applause. He stood for the opening song and then sat the rest of the way but his guitar playing had not lost anything. I almost cried at one point while he was soloing. It was that good. And the best part- it was FREE!

The Decemberists The Fillmore, Denver,CO 2007

This was the most fun show I've ever seen. The energy, the comedy, the music, all top notch. Colin Meloy really enjoys his job and makes the rest of us enjoy it too. As a bonus My Brightest Diamond opened up for them and it happened to be lead singer Shara Whorden's birthday. Then she sang backup for The Decemberists on a couple of songs. If you haven't ever seen these guys I suggest checking them out. There's no way you won't have a great time.

U2- Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA 2001
Pepsi Center, Denver, CO 2005

I can't decide which show I like more. The first one had an amazing set and I could see Bono from up high playing puppetmaster to tens of thousands. The second show we were on the floor about 20 yards from the oval walkway so we could see them up close and they did some stuff from Boy which was awesome. The only drawback to the second show was how mouthy Bono was. He was laying on the extra-curricular "save the world" stuff pretty thick. I just want to hear good music. Either way they put on the greatest show on earth. I can't think of any other band (besides Radiohead) I would rather see that I haven't seen. And I get to see them again in October! Can't wait!

(John Wayne is the "manliest man in movie history" on the latest poll)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Westerns I Love, Part 3: Tribute to The Duke

John Wayne, born Marion Morrison, has been dead for three decades but he is still the biggest movie star of them all. He made over 200 films but the genre he is most known for is the western. There are so many good westerns starring the Duke it is hard to narrow it down to just five, but I will give my opinion of the best here.

5. 3 Godfathers

Underrated John Ford classic with Biblical symbolism and one of Wayne's most interesting performances.

4. Rio Bravo

This popular Howard Hawks film spawned an identical film called El Dorado starring Robert Mitchum alongside The Duke. This one starred Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson who both sing and Walter Brennan in one of my favorite supporting roles of his.

3. Stagecoach

Aside from being the first great western, this John Ford classic was also responsible for bringing John Wayne out of his B-movie career for good. Ford knew how to direct Wayne like no other director and their historic collaboration produced over a dozen films, among them some of the best in American film history. Wayne's performance is small since this is more of an ensemble piece but his "less is more" acting was a departure from the campy westerns he had been making.

2. Red River

This is another earlier teaming of The Duke with director Howard Hawks. The story is Mutiny on the Bounty adapted for the cattle drive with Montgomery Clift in the role of Fletcher Christian and Walter Brennan once again in a fine supporting role. Wayne gives one of his most complex performances mostly as the heavy.

1. The Searchers

This was the pinnacle for John Wayne and director John Ford. Wayne plays his most conflicted character, Ethan Edwards, who must find his niece Debbie taken by Indians. The film was completely unappreciated at the time of its release and didn't receive one Academy Award nomination. Since then it has been included in numerous lists of the greatest films ever made and influenced the films of directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Sergio Leone and John Luc-Godard.

(Cinderella Man was voted "best boxing movie" on the latest poll)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Westerns I Love, Part 2

(in the latest poll Amadeus was chosen "best music biopic")

To save this from being an ongoing topic I will throw out some of my other favorites not highlighted: Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Along Came Jones, Winchester '73, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache, 3:10 to Yuma (both new and old), and The Magnificent Seven.

And here are some more I really love...

Destry Rides Again

Pure old school western entertainment. Jimmy Stewart plays one of his usual likable roles as the son of a famous lawman and curiously doesn't carry a gun. So of course the bad guys think he's a sucker and he proves them wrong by film's end. Marlene Dietrich , in one of her best roles, sings "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have". Brian Donlevy is also perfect as the smarmy villain.

High Noon

Often mentioned when the "best western ever" argument comes up. Not my all time favorite but certainly in the top five. Gary Cooper won his second Oscar for Best Actor as the sheriff left to fend for himself by an ungrateful and cowardly community. Grace Kelly plays his new bride and she was never lovelier. A young Lee Van Cleef plays one of the baddies.

The Big Country

William Wyler's grand sweeping drama is another one I get trapped watching at any point I find it. The acting is superb with Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, and Burl Ives. Much like Destry, Peck's character is an underestimated hero and gentleman.

The Gunfighter

Another Gregory Peck film and probably the most underrated and underappreciated of his career. Not as full of action as many westerns, but an excellent character study destroying the myth of western gunfighters. It's hard to believe today, but Peck's mustache was controversial at the time. The thinking was it would destroy his image since leading men were all clean shaven then. Either way it didn't affect his stellar performance.


Speaking of destroying myths, this is THE film demystification of the western genre. Clint Eastwood's film won him Best Director and Best Picture at the Academy Awards because of its very stark portrayal of the American west, NOT the Hollywood west. It contrasts the glorification of the gunfighter (excitedly pursued by the biographer of English Bob and then Little Bill) with the harshness of each murder in the film. There is no glory in killing which becomes evident to the young hired gun who accompanies William Munny (Eastwood) and Ned (Morgan Freeman). "I'm not like you" he says to Eastwood's character as he holds back tears.

This was the point in Eastwood's career that propelled him to become one of the greatest living directors. He examines the hardest parts of life with the utmost grace. Unforgiven may be his best example of that and his best film. And it is one of my favorites.

Next time I will discuss my top five Westerns starring the king of westerns, The Duke himself, John Wayne.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Westerns I Love, Part 1

It seems ironic now that when I was young (and Western TV reruns seemed to dominate the afternoon and weekend slots when I wanted to watch cartoons) I hated Westerns! Many years later I was introduced to John Wayne films and so began a quest over the next several years to watch every great Western possible. Now it is one of my favorite genres. I want to highlight some of my favorites in this genre. They range from the grand epics (The Searchers, and The Good , The Bad, and The Ugly) to the very simple (Shane)


Martin Ritt's underrated classic stars Paul Newman in one of his best (and also underrated) roles. The story based on Elmore Leonard's book is an absorbing character study taking prejudice head-on.

Open Range

I have said many times that Kevin Costner should only play cowboys and I suppose he should only direct Westerns as well. This is probably my favorite Costner film. It doesn't have the scope or substance of Dances With Wolves which won several Academy Awards including Best Picture but in its simplicity I enjoy Open Range much more. Robert Duvall is excellent as the Boss. Every line he plays seems completely genuine for his character in its stripped-down, folksy unpretentiousness. I think Costner was going for that "this-is-the-first-movie-about-the-west-ever-made" feel and I think he pulled it off pretty well.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Director Sergio Leone really hit his stride with this film. He had already made a smash hit with A Fistful of Dollars based on Kurosawa's Yojimbo but this new epic Western solidified Clint Eastwood as the "Man with no name" icon. Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef were never better.


Director Martin Scorsese has referenced Shane many times as a film that influenced him. I love this movie. So much so that if I see it playing anywhere I have to watch it to the end. This is Alan Ladd's best film, Van Heflin's best film, and Jean Arthur's best and LAST film. It is so dang simple it makes me angry I can't write something that good.


Speaking of films I have to watch to the end, I can't get enough of this one. Both entertaining (even to non-Western people) and historically accurate. As a matter of fact it has the most accurate film depiction of the gunfight at the OK Corral. I think Kurt Russell was absolutely perfect as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer is unforgettable as Doc Holliday- "I'm your huckleberry".