Thursday, August 16, 2018

Aretha

RIP to the single best voice of all time 


Friday, August 10, 2018

Most Popular Picture?

As you might expect, I have a multitude of thoughts about the Academy’s plan for an “achievement in popular film” Oscar….

* it really is incredible just how much The Dark Knight broke the Academy’s brain, isn’t it?  Who would’ve thought that this one specific snub would lead to such intense Oscar naval-gazing over the next decade.  Just like the Joker himself, the film became an agent of chaos that took an institution to its knees.

Just imagine a universe where enough AMPAS voters got over the idea of recognizing “a Batman movie” and put it on the Best Picture ballot.  If Dark Knight is nominated, the shift to 10 Best Picture nominees doesn’t happen, nor does the eventual shift to “between 6-10 nominees,” and likely nor does the “most popular film” idea.  Just a simple nomination would’ve been enough for the Dark Knight fans!  Nobody would’ve expected it to actually beat Slumdog Millionaire — that was a completely worthy winner, and while I’d say Dark Knight was the better film, it’s a small gap.  The issue was the giant, yawning gap in quality between Dark Knight and the other nominees (Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Milk, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button) which are in the “fine but forgettable” department at best, and in the “worst nominee of the last three decades” at worst.  I’m looking at you, Button.  It’s incredible that so much Oscar history would be different if, what, a couple hundred extra AMPAS voters at the time realized (like the rest of us did) that these four movies could easily be set aside without a second thought.

And now, with one fell swoop, the Academy seems to be preparing for a future where a) superhero movies will likely win virtually every year, and b) they won’t win anything important any year, since they’ll have been relegated to their own separate category away from the, ahem, “real” Oscars. 


* the issue here is that the Academy is focusing on fixing problems that either aren’t problems, or are unfixable.  They seem to be taking issue with the fact that, in recent years, the Best Picture award has been going to films that aren’t big box office hits, or that don’t have a lot of mainstream popularity.  These so-called “Oscar movies” are beating the more fan-favourite popcorn fare, which has been a criticism of the Oscars since the dawn of time.

However, the award is called “Best” Picture.  We can argue all day about what “Best” means in this context, but if take the simplest route and assume it means quality, we’re actually in a pretty strong streak of Best Picture winners.  One man’s opinion, of course, but Artist/Argo/12 Years A Slave/Birdman/Spotlight/Moonlight/Shape Of Water is about as strong a seven-year stretch as any in Oscar history.  There are only two in that list (Argo, Shape Of Water) that I don’t consider to be particularly good choices, though they aren’t bad movies by any means, and Shape Of Water is so weirdly outside-the-box for what a Best Picture can or should be that I applaud its selection based on sheer novelty about how the Academy’s tastes may be changing.  Whether by design, luck, changes made to diversify and broaden the AMPAS membership or a combination of the three, the tweaks to the Best Picture voting formula have led to some solid results.  Mediocre films are still getting nominated, sure, but they’re not actually winning.  And, while you can certainly argue that none of these seven were the actual BEST film of their year, they’re all at least respectable choices. 

Beyond just stronger winners, we’re also seeing generally better nominees.  Shape Of Water and Moonlight doesn’t get nominated pre-2008, let alone win.  Movies like Get Out, Mad Max: Fury Road, District 9, Her, Toy Story 3, and Up have been in the Best Picture race.  I’m willing to swallow the occasional “fine but forgettable” nominee if it means something else unique that might have an actual legit shot at winning is also in the field alongside it.

So ironically, the Academy is getting better at picking their Best Pictures, though they’re still unsatisfied because the Best Pictures aren’t in the cultural mainstream.  So now they’re making a decision that will quite possibly detract from that quality, leaving both Best Picture and possibly Popular Picture worse off.  Would something like Get Out, which has a case in both categories, end up splitting votes and get snubbed in both?  Would voters interpret the categories as Pure Oscar Movies and Pure Popcorn Movies, and we’re left with a world of only Imitation Games and Fast & Furiouseses in either slate?  Is Best Picture with its 90-year history still the be-all and end-all, or is this a case of when you have two winners, you really have no winners?


* the unfixable problem I referred to earlier is that the Oscar telecast’s ratings have been dropping significantly in recent years, so the Popular Picture concept is seen as a way of gaining viewer interest by getting their favourite movies onto the telecast.  I say this is unfixable since TV ratings are dropping across the board for everything, so the Academy and ABC may simply be fighting a losing battle. 

There’s also a mistake, I feel, in the belief that a nominee list that better reflects the average TV viewer’s movie tastes will lead to them watching the Oscars.  Now, I’m a movie geek who watches the Oscars every year regardless, so I’m just going by interpretation here, but in my view, casual viewers watch the Oscars for three main reasons — they’re a big event, it’s a chance to see a bunch of big stars in one place, and for the fashions.  Well, today people can catch up on the fashions in a five-minute slideshow on a thousand different websites the next day, you can see celebrities interacting literally anytime you want online, and today’s “big event” is tomorrow’s quaint tradition of the past.  The Miss America pageant also used to be a big deal, once upon a time.

The actual movies themselves have never seemed to really be much of a draw, as there is rarely correlation between popular nominees and heavy TV viewership.  The only instance I can think of when a hugely popular movie’s involvement in the Best Picture race raised interest in the Oscars was the year Titanic won — that was the highest-rated ceremony ever.  However, I feel safe in calling that an outlier since Titanic was literally the most popular movie ever made.  Consider that the second highest-rated Oscars ceremony ever was the year Gandhi won, and I’m pretty sure 50 million people weren’t tuning in because they yearned to see Ben Kingsley and Richard Attenborough get their day in the sun.  I mean, it’s not like the Peoples’ Choice Awards are a huge ratings bonanza.


* the latest edition of The Ringer’s “Big Picture” podcast covered a lot of the already-breaking criticism about this “popular movie award” idea, though the trio of Sean Fennessey, Amanda Dobbins, and Bill Simmons made a few very interesting points I’d like to repeat here.  Firstly, that this idea was floated by ABC, who is owned by Disney, who will now suddenly see its big franchises become the heavy favourites in this category going forward.  Basically, I wonder if Marvel’s Kevin Feige really got it wound up about wanting an Oscar.  Secondly, the Academy’s announcement might well only be a trial balloon, and one that could quickly be popped given the instant negative reaction.  Maybe this is really a third-dimensional chess move to sort of shame AMPAS voters into being more open to nominating “popular” mainstream fare for Best Picture, to which I say Darkest Hour was nommed just last year, so good luck. 


* back in 1927, the very first Academy Awards handed out two separate top prizes — “Outstanding Picture” and “Best Unique And Artistic Picture.”  The former went to Wings, a crowd-pleasing action/romance popcorn movie (did they serve popcorn at theatres in 1927?) about World War I pilots.  The latter went to Sunrise, widely acclaimed as one of the best films ever made.

It’s a fascinating thought experiment to consider how these categories would’ve looked over the years had the Academy stuck to this format, though they couldn’t have abandoned it more quickly.  By 1928, it was just a singular “Outstanding Picture,” which went to The Broadway Melody, widely anti-acclaimed as perhaps the worst Best Picture ever.  Furthermore, the Academy retroactively decided that Wings was the official “Best Picture” of record and more or less forgot it ever rewarded Sunrise, which is pretty hilarious given the film’s stature in cinematic history.  If you took pride in pretending you rewarded the best movie of any given year, wouldn’t you rather have Sunrise than Wings on your resume?

Thursday, August 09, 2018

A Smashing Good Time

There was the Sharon, Lois, & Bram concert when we were preschoolers.  And when we were slightly older kids, our parents took us to see Phantom and Joseph, if those count as “concerts” per se.  So it’s not exactly true that my brother and I have never been to see a concert together, though never at a proper rock show.  Finally, however, the time came — his beloved Smashing Pumpkins were back together* and touring again, and he talked me into tagging along with him to the show. 

* = minus D’Arcy “The Wreat One” Wretzky, who is more than done with dealing with Billy Corgan

The Pumpkins might’ve technically been my favourite band back in high school, or potentially even my first favourite band.  I’ve written before about how I didn’t really get into music at all until ninth grade, and since that was in 1995 at the height of the Pumpkins’ stardom, I hopped onto the bandwagon and listened to Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness ad nauseam.  That’s right, even the 5-6 tracks that everyone skips!  After that brief spurt of fandom, however, U2 came along for me, and then “Adore” was kind of a weak record, and that was basically it for me and Corgan & company.  I liked a few singles, I had no ill will towards the group, I’d just fallen out of interest.

It’s for this reason that I had to kind of be arm-twisted into attending this concert.  If anything, I was more interested in seeing opening act Metric, one of my current favourite bands.  The Pumpkins kind of felt like yesterday’s news, and I didn’t really have high hopes going into the show…

…and forget about that, since good lord was this concert wonderful.  Easily a top-10 live show experience of my life.  The “original” Pumpkins (Corgan, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin) were joined by a few side musicians and at least one other person who’d joined the band in the post-Original Four era, and they combined to rip through just about every notable track in the group’s discography.  The heavy focus was on the two classic records with 14 songs from MC&TIS and Siamese Dream.  There were also four covers, one new recording, and then 12 other tracks from the original Iha era, so nothing from Zeitgeist (no big loss, though “Tarantula” is a great song) and that other random disc I can’t even remember the title.

If you’re counting, this is a whopping 31 SONGS over THREE-PLUS HOURS.  What a marathon!  The band actually came out for a final encore and I was legitimately puzzled as to what they had left in the repertoire.  The answer ended up being “Solara” (their new single) and, of all things, a cover of Betty Noyes’ “Baby Mine.”  Sure, why not.

The show’s length explains why Metric were on promptly at 7pm just as the doors were opening at the Air Can….er, Scotiabank Arena.  This actually caused me to miss the first song or two, which was unfortunate, yet the rest of the set was excellent.  Heavy focus on their newest and, in many cases, unreleased material, and the quality sound bodes well for the next album.  This was my first Metric experience, believe it or not, despite them being one of my favourite bands for over five years now.  This technically counts as losing my Metric concert virginity, though I still feel I owe them a proper full concert at some point.  Their set: Love You Back, Risk, Dressed To Suppress, Breathing Underwater, Art Of Doubt, Gold Guns Girls, Now Or Never Now, Dark Saturday, Help I’m Alive.

And then onto the Pumpkins, bought forth by Corgan emerging from between two large panels at the back of the stage, which cracked open for a Twilight Zone-esque shaft of light effect.  The stage was pretty large, though often cut in half by these multiple panels, which acted as video screens, one big video screen, or ran through various images (i.e. shots from old Pumpkins videos and album liner notes) as well some videos that seemed to be shot specifically for the concert.  If you’re a fan of the Pumpkins’ general delicate goth aesthetic, this was definitely for you.

Though it’s hard to have an “odd” setlist when you basically just play everything, it was kind of an unusual setup.  There were a few outright pauses between songs, no transitions or anything, while the band set up instruments and some staging props for the next tune.  I saw the same thing with Radiohead at another recent show, which maybe worked a bit better with them given their music’s general ethereal quality, though with the Pumpkins it was a bit of a stall to have a hard-rocking number that got the crowd fired up, only to have a brief pause in the action.

(Speaking of that Radiohead show, you may recall my complains about my sore knees and back after four hours of standing.  No worries this time around, and my brother and I were comfortably seated in the arena’s upper level.  I was upset, however, by the fact that the Pumpkins’ general seating area was filled by proper seats.  “Where were these three weeks ago?!”, cried my aching body.)

The other criticism, as it were, was a bit of a mid-show lull.  Seemingly half the arena went for a bathroom & snack break during Iha’s “Blew Away” number,* and following that up with a couple of not-super-well-known Adore songs didn’t help with the momentum.  Stacking most of the biggest hits in the back half of the setlist meant for a great build, yet maybe if it’s me planning the show, I stick one of the megahits just before “Blew Away” to at least head into that slower period on a more of a high than “Soma” (a good song, mind you) could provide.

* = the band didn’t really have a full encore break until the very end, as they did take a couple of brief interludes while a video of a Vaudeville-style MC played.  Some internet research has discovered that the MC was played by, of all people, Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray and TV hosting fame.  This is one of the most head-scratching “of all peoples” of all time.

But those at the quibbles, in general this was just a blast of a show.  I knew the setlist would be focused on the older stuff, but I thinking it would be more or less a Siamese Dream/Melon Collie reunion tour, not a trip down memory lane of ALL the older stuff.  Everlasting Gaze!  Stand Inside Your Love!  Eye!  The freaking Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning?!  I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to hear Ava Adore, yet it was a delight, and honestly one of the crowd’s big favourites of the evening — that beat is just unreal to hear live.  It might be my favourite Smashing Pumpkins song.  My brother’s favourite, incidentally, is Cherub Rock.  Amusingly, he was so excited about hearing the song that he was somehow worried they wouldn’t play it.  I was like, “are you serious?”  Then again, Radiohead played maybe one of their five biggest songs at the concert I just attended, so maybe I have no point.

Kudos to the Pumpkins for this absolute crowd-pleaser of a concert that left everyone kind of exhausted and stunned at what we just witnessed.  The setlist!

1. Disarm
2. Rocket
3. Siva
4. Rhinoceros
5. Space Oddity (yep, a Bowie cover)
6. Drown
7. Zero
8. The Everlasting Gaze
9. Stand Inside Your Love
10. Thirty-Three
11. Eye
12. Soma
***interlude #1***
13. Blew Away
14. For Martha
15. To Sheila
16. Mayonaise
17. Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans
18. Landslide (yep, the Fleetwood Mac cover)
19. Tonight, Tonight
20. Stairway To Heaven (yep, a Zeppelin cover)
21. Cherub Rock
***interlude #2***
22. 1979
23. Ava Adore
24. Try, Try, Try
25. The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning
26. Hummer
27. Today
28. Bullet With Butterfly Wings
29. Muzzle
***encore***
30. Solara
31. Baby Mine (Betty Noyes cover)

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Mouse, Trapped

My interest in the UFC has severely waned over the last few years, though I'd be remiss if I didn't note Demetrious Johnson losing the flyweight title last night.  The "Mighty Mouse" has been the 125-pound champ literally since the division began in September 2012, and after a record 11 straight defenses, he finally got got.

The upset special was provided by Henry Cejudo, who Mighty Mouse easily knocked out in less than a round back in 2016.  That result, plus MM's general dominance, led me to assume that this would another easy victory, yet Cejudo made me and many others eat some crow.  It was, to be fair, a very close fight --- a split decision, with all three judges scoring the rounds 3-2 for one fighter or the other. 

As close as it was, I think the right call was made.  The difference here was that Cejudo was able to manage a few takedowns and more or less stifle Johnson with wrestling, even if Cejudo didn't really do much damage or threaten for submissions while he had the champ down on the ground.  If anything, Johnson might've actually impressed the judges more by making flashy escapes from the ground on a couple of occasions.  Still, it was enough to narrowly eke out the fight for Cejudo on pure octagon control --- Johnson was the better fighter in the standup game, yet couldn't capitalize to hand out much damage.  It was a rare instance of seeing MM actually look a bit flustered, as his strikes weren't having too much effect on Cejudo, and Johnson also couldn't really follow up with combos since he was worried about being taken down.

The fight was definitely close enough that a rematch seems necessary, though Johnson apparently suffered foot and knee injuries during the fight, so we might not see him in action for a while.  Cejudo challenged the bantamweight champ (T.J. Dillashaw) to a fight at 135 pounds, but slow your roll, Henry.  The UFC has developed an annoying habit of keeping legit contenders on hold in order to pursue superfights between champions and/or bigger names, so it wouldn't surprise me to see Cejudo vs. Dillashaw next, though why not have Cejudo actually defend the title first.  I can understand striking while the iron is hot, but let's be real, Cejudo/Dillashaw isn't exactly a barn-burner of a main event.  Johnson/Dillashaw even wouldn't have sold too many pay-per-view buys.  It's hard to be a draw in MMA these days unless your name is McGregor or St. Pierre, so why not at least give some other flyweight or bantamweight contender a chance to make themselves famous.

Is Demetrious Johnson the best fighter ever?  It's hard to say.  He gets a lot of obvious attention in pound-for-pound discussions, though he's hurt by the relative newness of the flyweight division.  Is he a big fish in a shallow pool, or, could his dominance actually be hurting his reputation?  It sounds weird, but Johnson beating everyone may make the division look weaker than it actually is.  When someone like GSP, Jon Jones, or Anderson Silva was tearing through their respective divisions, they were doing so against more established names, thus making their win streaks seem more impressive.

This has been your regularly-scheduled intermittent UFC report! 

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Does He Know The Lyrics?

"We'll tonight thank god it's them instead of youuuuuuuuu!"

Listening to "Do They Know It's Christmas" on the radio the other day*, it occurred to me for the thousandth time that Bono's lyric makes no sense at all.  His line is arguably the most memorable of the song, given that a) it's the lyrical climax, b) Bono really puts a lot of oomph into the delivery and c) Bono is one of the few in Band Aid who is still famous and even kind of relevant here in 2018.

* = why this song was playing in July is anyone's guess


Here are the full lyrics to the song, basically summarized as such: "Christmas is a great time of year but things aren't nearly as merry in Africa, so keep them in your thoughts and donate some money to provide food, while you're at it."  Perfectly lovely sentiment.  And then, right in the middle, here's Bono essentially throwing that sentiment under the bus by saying, in effect, "hey, better them than us, eh?"

Three theories…

1) The discordant line was meant to essentially sum up the western view of African suffering.  This is pretty dark for an Xmas song, but that's the point --- it's the jolt line in the middle of this celebrity charity sing-along.

2) I'm misinterpreting the line entirely and its intent is really the equivalent of "tonight thank god FOR them instead of you," as in, Band Aid are taking a moment to focus on the unfortunates rather than the happy one-percenters in the western world.  Bono is notorious for forgetting or altering lyrics (even to his own songs that he's been singing for decades) so perhaps he replaced the "it's" for the "for" and it just wasn't noticed during the recording process because…

3) …everyone was so drunk and/or high during the session that Bob Geldof just let the whole thing slide.  And then once the song was released they had to stick to it, to the point that Bono returned to sing the same line during the 20th anniversary version re-recorded with modern stars* in 2004.

* = Ok, well, modern "stars."  Not a lot of names jump out on that 2004 list as people who are still relevant today; it seems like most of the famous names (Paul McCartney, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood) stuck to the instrumentation, possibly so they could avoid having to sing a bizarre lyrics that people are still writing blog posts about years later.  Then again, the 1984 version featured the likes of members of Shalamar, Ultravox, Heaven 17 and Status Quo, so it wasn't quite as star-studded as one remembers.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Frasier Redux

"Frasier" is one of my all-time favourite shows. It has impacted my life to the point that some have even compared my personality to that of Frasier Crane himself, which is....well, not really a compliment, but whatever, you get the point, I love the show.

With this in mind, let me be perfectly clear about this --- the potential new incarnation of a "Frasier" TV series is not a good idea.

Now, it seems like the basic idea of this show steers clear of the most obvious pitfalls of a Frasier reboot.  For one, it wouldn't really be a reboot.  Dr. Crane would again find himself in a new city, surrounded by an entirely new supporting cast.  This is a wise move, as it automatically distances the character from "Frasier" (much in the way that the first spinoff distanced itself from "Cheers" by sending Frasier from Boston to Seattle) and diminishes audience expectations/fears that we'll see Niles, Daphne, Roz, and company all pop up on a regular basis.  Sadly, not John Mahoney, RIP.

So, a new Frasier show would be different than other recent relaunched sitcoms (i.e. Roseanne, Will & Grace) in that it wouldn't just be in the old cast in new stories, but rather one new characters in new stories, launched in a new direction in his life.  Just throwing it out there, but the kid who played Freddy Crane (Trevor Einhorn) is still an actor, with such credits as Mad Men and The Magicians to his name.  The most obvious scenario would be to have Frasier move in with Freddy in, say, Kansas City or some random midwest American city* and we get a revamp of the Martin/Frasier dynamic with Frasier now in the role of father constantly sparring with his son.

* Frasier's done Boston and Seattle, time to hit the Central Time Zone

But don't let my admittedly brilliant plot idea fool you, this show shouldn't happen.  I've recently begun to apply the metric of "does this really need to happen?" metric to any sort of sequel, reboot, spinoff, prequel, etc.  The answer, four times out of five, is just a flat-out no.  I guess you could broadly argue that entertainment by its very nature doesn't NEED to happen no matter how good, though then you're just a philistine. 

I ask you, does the world need to see 63-year-old Kelsey Grammer playing Frasier Crane making jokes about millennials?  Would any Frasier series be worth its salt if it didn't have the brilliant writers from the original series and/or Cheers working on the scripts?  Do we need to see the inevitable Niles/Daphne/Roz/probably Bulldog, Kenny, Gil, and the KACL gang cameos?  I say no.  Leave the memories alone.  Sometimes it's time to just let the blues keep calling without picking up the salad prongs.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Survivor Ratings: Wendell

While I did take all of May off, it’s pretty telling that I’m only getting around to my usual Survivor winner analysis two months after Ghost Island wrapped up.  It wasn’t my least-favourite season ever since it wasn’t overtly offensive or unpleasant to watch (here’s looking at you, All-Stars, or Worlds Apart, or Redemption Island), yet this was quite possibly the most bland Survivor series yet.  I suppose it’s a plus that Wendell Holland, one of the few players allowed to show a spark of personality, ended up winning, but man, was it ever an uninteresting journey.  Honestly, two months later, I had to rely on some reference material just to refresh my memory on what even happened during the season.

How He Won: The classic Survivor strategy of forming a tight, yet also multi-layered alliance.  Wendell’s chief ally from day one was Domenick, which rode through to the end of the game even though Dom took the obligatory shot at trying to eliminate Wendell before the final three (Wendell openly admitted he would’ve done the same to Dom had the positions been reversed).  Wendell’s greatest ally, of course, ended up being Laurel, as evidenced by the all-important tiebreaker vote, a.k.a. the season’s only unique and interesting moment.  It was legitimately fun seeing everyone’s shocked face when Jeff started reading the votes on the island, with the added bonus of Dom’s humourous “I have NO shot” expression when it was revealed that Laurel would be the tie-breaker.

But I digress!  Wendell benefited from the near-comical dominance of the Naviti tribe, who got out to the early numbers advantage over Malolo and then kept it throughout the entire game, no matter how many more new tribe swaps and re-alignments took place.  Wendell was only really in trouble once in the entire game — when the Malolo minority took advantage of the Dom/Chris schism on the third vote and got Morgan out of the game.  That could’ve just as easily been Wendell going out of the game at that point, though I’d guess his close connection to Domenick made the others wary of a possible idol.

Regardless, Wendell soon found his own hidden immunity idol and it was smooth sailing from there.  Thanks to Wendell and Domenick aligning with Laurel and Donathan from the Malolo minority, that gave them the added numbers to stay strong once Naviti started cannibalizing itself.  Bradley went even before the merge, The Chris Noble Experience ended at the merge vote, Desiree got herself booted when she tried to make her own move, and suddenly the Kellyn/Chelsea/Sebastian/Angela faction were outnumbered by Wendell, Dom, Don, and Laurel.

Now, since this season’s editing was absolutely as poor as could be, we never really got a sense of inner-tribe dynamics, or why some votes and relationships went the way they did.  At times it seemed like Kellyn was really tight with Dom and Wendell, and other times it seemed like they were rivals.  At times it looked like Kellyn and company might have their own sub-alliance going, but that never amounted to anything.  At times it looked like Chelsea might get more than five words in an episode, but nope. 

I’ve ranted at length about how the post-show interviews with the cast reveal way more of what actually happened on the island than the actual show itself, so I just feel weary at this point that Survivor insists on manufacturing narratives when some interesting narratives are already taking place.  Not to mention all the time spent on discussing vote-splitting, and idols, and all of the extra advantages on Ghost Island rather than more time spent on the personalities of the players playing the game.

In fact, it seems that the Survivor producers unwittingly created a dull season for themselves in their attempts to add more uncertainty to the game via Ghost Island.  Theoretically, all the advantages in play would’ve led to crazy blindsides and power shifts.  In practice, it seems like all the uncertainty led to very rote gameplay — you can’t blame Naviti for just keeping it simple and knocking out the opposing tribe given the threat of twists and advantages hanging over everyone’s head.  This certainly contributed to Wendell’s win.  Given that Wendell and Domenick were openly acknowledged early on as a strong power couple, you’d think an earlier attempt would’ve been made to break them up, but the Naviti crew was mostly focused on just controlling what they could and just going for the Malolo sitting ducks, and then the more overtly outspoken alliance members in Chris and Desiree.


Skillset:
Again, I blame the game-focused edit for not giving us too much of Wendell’s personality (aside from his critique of Chris’ rap skills), though he seemed to be a likeable guy who also had the challenge ability to protect himself in a couple of key spots.  Essentially, Wendell ended up playing a version of The Amber Strategy, teaming up with a more overtly aggressive alliance member and then using his good-cop vibe to get more votes than Dom the bad cop in the final tribal council vote.

That said, of course, it was as close as a vote could get.  Some of Domenick’s rougher edges were apparently hidden in editing, though on the show itself, he also seemed like a decent guy and a decent player.  It boggles the mind that, even though Wendell and Dom got a lot of airtime, I still don’t really have a great handle on this partnership and the specifics that each guy brought to the table.  Survivor did a much better job of building up the Chris/Domenick rivalry to a worthy payoff, but it couldn’t make a similar, season-long build of Dom and Wendell as these two major players headed for a collision in a historic final vote?  You’d think the idea of two somewhat alpha-male, somewhat “Survivor is about idols and blindsides” type of players going head-to-head would be Jeff Probst’s dream scenario, yet even this big collision didn’t deliver.


Could He Do It Again?
: As noted, Wendell basically never had to play from behind all season, so who knows how he’d fare if he had to face some prolonged adversity.  As with Sarah and Ben in the last two series, I’m finding it increasingly hard to actually gauge the quality of victories in these recent Survivor seasons due to the annoying preponderance of idols, advantages, vote steals, etc.  Wendell seems to have the overall skills to be a good player in most circumstances, though maybe he was actually just fortunate to be on the winning tribe, and teamed with a guy who had a bunch of idols and advantages.  Survivor wants to present itself as an Amazing Race-style game where a winner wins due to specifically doing A, B, and C, though the real reason players win jury votes (their personality and social game) is often set by the wayside.  We’ll revisit the topic in my next Survivor winner analysis, which will probably come about five months after the next season ends.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hot! Live! Music!

U2, "You're The Best Thing About Me"
U2 is playing an acoustic version of this song on tour, which seems like a misfire or maybe even a surrender, as the guys reportedly didn't feel they ever really nailed a full-band version.  To this, I say...um, remember LAST year's tour?!   

U2, "Summer Of Love"
This is the only time SOL (hmm, unfortunately acronym) has ever been played live, which also seem like an odd choice by U2.  If you're looking for something to fit into an acoustic slot in a concert, look no further.  This is, by the way, arguably my favourite track on Songs Of Experience, and there's an alternate reality out there where U2 released the version with Lady Gaga in a prominent co-vocal role and the song became a big hit.

U2, "Bad"
I really need to go through these H!L!M! posts at some point to see just how many times I've uploaded performances of "Bad."  It has to be a good half-dozen at this point, though this is the first with the utterly amazing "Heroes" tag at the end.  The actual song kicks in at 1:50, btw.

U2, "Magnificent"
After seemingly losing interest in this song even during its own tour, U2 somewhat inexplicably brought it back for a one-off performance with a new arrangement during the Innocence & Experience Tour.  I like the faster pace and more driving vibe, it really helps it take off as a live track.  At this rate, it'll re-emerge as a live staple around what, 2021?

Friday, July 20, 2018

This Decade's Radiohead Concert

Way back in 1997, just after OK Computer hit the shelves, Radiohead played a concert in (of all places) my hometown of London, Ontario.  This was the first “real” concert I’d ever attended, my parents taking me to go see Sharon, Lois & Bram as a four-year-old notwithstanding.  Fast-forward to 2008, and I saw Radiohead for a second time, this show taking place on a rainy night at the Molson Amphitheatre.

And now, almost exactly 10 years later, there I was at Radiohead concert #3.  This one was in the more comfortable environs of the Air Can…er, Scotiabank Centre,* though unfortunately, my actual comfort during the show was limited.  If Radiohead concerts serve as 2001-esque monoliths in my life as a concert-goer, we’ve hit the next step in my evolution.  We went from newbie, to seasoned music-watcher, to Too Old For General Admission. 

* = wow, it’ll take a while to get used to writing that  

After four hours of standing and sorta-dancing on concrete, my legs, feet, and back were absolutely killing me.  My friend M, co-attendee at the show, was also nursing sore feet due to an ill-advised choice of shoes, so we made quite the pair hobbling our way up the stairs after the concert was over.  Now, to be fair, it was our own fault we were in this predicament, as we’d gotten in relatively early and took up a prime spot about 35 feet away from the stage, dead-centre.  There was thus little room to really maneuver ourselves for any additional comfort, since we were packt like sardines in a crushd tin box amidst the many other fans wanting to get close to the stage.

I’ve spent this much time on my general physical condition since it couldn’t help but impact my enjoyment of the concert.  You know you’re hurting when the band comes out for a second encore and your first thought is “NOOOOOOO.”  Needless to say, however, my soreness shouldn’t take away from Radiohead still putting on a great show after all these years.

For something completely different, the opening act was Shye Ben Tzur, an Israeli musician whose material is sort of fusion of Israeli and Indian music.  He was joined by his backing band, the Rajasthan Express, and also….Jonny Greenwood, since what better way to prepare for a concert by playing another concert.  We weren’t even aware that there even was an opening act for the show, so this was a fun surprise, particularly as the band was fantastic.  They really got the crowd fired up and into the music, which often can’t be said for more familiar bands in more familiar genres. 

This tour might technically still be in support of A Moon-Shaped Pool, though Radiohead only played four songs off the album, including the rather surprising omission of “Burn The Witch.”  Judging from other setlists on the tour, Radiohead is basically just playing whatever they want on the tour, so you’re likely in for quite a bit of variance if you attend multiple shows.  The cool thing about Radiohead generally shying away from their most well-known past material (from OK Computer and The Bends) and not really having too many mainstream singles in the interim is that they could easily come out the next night and play 25 entirely different songs and put on just as satisfying a performance.  I mean, I personally could’ve done without all the King Of Limbs stuff aside from personal favourite “Lotus Flower,” but to each their own.

The stage was brilliant in its simplicity, with just one oval-shaped (or moon-shaped!) video screen lit with various different colour-filters, either showing multiple images of the band members in a sort of hive collage, or other vaguely computerized imagery, like radio waves, an EKG monitor, or the traditional Matrix-style green computer text during “The Gloaming.”

Radiohead has added a new member to their live concerts since I saw them last, as they now have an additional drummer on stage.  At first I thought Phil Selway was being phased out, or we were getting a guest appearance from Ringo Starr, though it ended up being another extra body who was more of a percussionist and other random instrumentalist rather than a strict drummer.  They didn’t really get too kooky with double beats or anything when Selway and New Guy were both drumming at the same time, either.  Frankly, I’m surprised Radiohead can replicate all their unique sounds on-stage with six guys, so requiring just one more extra person is still pretty impressive.

I’m highly looking forward to seeing Radiohead again in, say, 2028.  Needless to say, I’ll be watching from the comfort of an actual seat.

The setlist….

1. Daydreaming
2. Ful Stop
3. Myxomatosis
4. Morning Bell
5. All I Need
6. Videotape
7. The Gloaming
8. No Surprises
9. Airbag
10. Where I End And You Begin
11. Bloom
12. Feral
13. The Numbers
14. Like Spinning Plates
15. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
16. Bodysnatchers
17. Street Spirit (Fade Out)
—ENCORE #1 —
18. 2 + 2 = 5
19. Nude
20. Identikit
21. Lotus Flower
22. The Tourist
— ENCORE #2 —
23. Everything In Its Right Place
24. Idioteque
25. Karma Police