Three for Thursday

1. Tonight marks the season finale of "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" This gem, which airs on the Sci-Fi Network (a network I'd never watched before and will likely never watch again), is easily the best reality show since "The Joe Schmo Show" (Season One). Everything about it is phenomenal, from the bizarre challenges to Stan Lee's heavily scripted speeches to the craziest bunch of bastards on television. There has been what seems to be genuine crying the last two weeks (though, really, I don't care if it's genuine or not--it's hilarious). And the only prize that I know of is that you get to be featured in Stan Lee's next comic book and, I think, a Sci-Fi Network movie. People are crying over that. I love it, even if my boy Major Victory was wrongly eliminated last week (Fat Momma should've gotten the axe). Luckily, he got one last shining moment, a cell phone conversation with his estranged 16-year-old daughter, who claimed to love and be proud of Pops, who was crying and wearing a shiny red spandex suit at the time.

Anyway, the finale's on at 9 p.m. Thursday night. I hope there's some sort of marathon so you can catch up (it's only a six-episode series). It's a completely ridiculous show. You'll love it.

I'm rooting for Feedback, who will surely cry again at some point during the finale, win or lose. Watch it.

2. Tonight also brings the conclusion of a much less successful endeavor, GSN's "50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time." Based on what's been on the countdown already, I've gotta think that the top two are "Jeopardy" and "Match Game," probably in that order. I guess I can accept that (I loves me some "Match Game," but it shouldn't be that high up; no way is it better than "The Price Is Right"), but I cannot and will not accept that "Lingo" is the 16th best game show of all time (higher than "Remote Control," "Super Password," and "Name That Tune," among others). Shame on you, GSN. You can't play favorites. But at least there's an explanation for that. "Deal or No Deal" at #26? Nonsense.

If you want to see the list for yourself, check out the Wikipedia entry. And if you want to watch the not-so-exciting conclusion, it's on Thursday night at 10 p.m. on GSN.

3. And this isn't related to Thursday, but I needed the alliteration: on Friday, Todd Snider and his merry band of men (and woman) will be the musical guests on the far-superior-to-Leno "Late Show with David Letterman." It's the same lineup as their appearance on Leno, but swap out Doug Lancio on guitar for Will Kimbrough, which, no offense to Mr. Lancio, makes this appearance even cooler. Check it out, OK? And buy "The Devil You Know" and "Americanitis" or suffer my wrath.


More Things Not to Do Near Me at a Concert

Adding to and expounding upon the thoughts already expressed on pp. 110-111 of Critical, But Stable , while also building on my concert experiences this summer, here are some more things that I don't ever want to see/hear again at a concert:

1. No ear-shattering whistles. Look, I’ve never really done a survey on this, but my guess is that performers don’t really care that you are capable of producing a whistle that can puncture an eardrum. I doubt there’s a moment when a musician is thinking, “Hey, this show isn’t going well. I hear no high-pitch whistling. Let’s not do the encore tonight, boys.” So, keep your fingers out of your mouth, hot shot.
2. Do not attempt to harass me into dancing. It’s not going to work. I’m not going to dance. I promise you. And just because I’m not dancing doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying the show. It means I don’t like dancing. Also, I probably don't like you. So, leave me alone.
3. When John Fogerty has just introduced Bruce Springsteen as a special guest, don’t ruin the moment by turning to me and saying in a real snotty voice, “I’m glad to see you finally got off your blanket.” I was sitting on the blanket because I knew people behind me were sitting, and since they were there before I was, I didn’t feel like standing up, blocking their view, and ruining the show for them, you stupid cow. And why are you so focused on me anyway? Am I more compelling than Willie Nelson and John Fogerty?
4. Do not talk throughout the show. I originally kept this to intimate acoustic shows, but I'm expanding it here. And this is a tough call for me, as I was once chastised by a concertgoer for talking to my friend Dan during a show. The show was, ahem, an Art Garfunkel solo show at Carnegie Hall (to make it a little more pathetic, I was 17, it was Valentine’s Day, and both Dan and I were—and, though I haven’t seen Dan in a long time, I’d say still are—heterosexual…oh yeah, and James Taylor was a surprise special guest). Toward the end of the show, the snooty gentleman in front of us turned around and in his best Thurston P. Howell III patrician snarl said, “Why don’t you just shut up?” I really don’t think we were talking all that much. Sure, we were making fun of Art’s wife and his vindictiveness toward Paul Simon, but we kept it mostly between songs. Our high-class friend disagreed. OK then. Lesson learned. Now you try. Also, even if you’re my friend, I don’t want to talk to you while the band’s playing. I bought a ticket to hear them, not you. You I don’t have to pay a cover charge to hear. Of course, if you wanna start charging, that’s your call.
5. Do not be disrespectful to any band on the bill. Ideally, the band you like would be paired with a similarly awe-inspiring band every time they played. Ideally, news that Corey Haim may have to cancel a convention appearance because of immigration problems wouldn’t have much effect on a 29-year-old man. But clearly we do not live in an ideal world. You don’t have to applaud every song by a band you don’t like, but don’t be an ass about it. Just find a spot far away from people and take a break while they play. And make a mental note to never see that band again.
6. If you're going to clap along, you're gonna have to stay on the beat.. It's not that hard. And if you find it hard, just don't clap. When you're clapping off the beat—whether you're just a little off or so wildly off that one wonders if you can even hear the music—you're just making everyone hate you. Also, a note to those who can find the beat: don't get all fancy and start throwing in sixteenth-note claps. You're not impressing me.
7. Stop it with the "Freebird" crap. It's not funny in a straightforward way. It's not funny in an ironic way. It's just not funny. Oh sure, someone's bound to laugh, but that someone is not someone worth knowing.
8. If the artist is introducing a song and you realize what song it is while this introduction is still going on, keep it to yourself. The concert isn't a game show, ass brain. No one cares that you can name that tune. There will be no pats on the back after you announce that the song Roger Daltrey has just said is "about a kid who's at home in the arcade" is "Pinball Wizard." So don't bother.
9. Under no circumstances are you to describe anything musical as "tasty." Music does not have a taste. Food has a taste. Get a new vocabulary, hippie.
10. If you insist on thrusting a mailing list in my face, don't be angry when I don't want to sign it. If I want to sign a band's mailing list, I'm capable of finding it. I really don't need someone shoving a clipboard in my face and asking me to give away personal information. But, hey, I appreciate your aggressive attempt at marketing. Good for you. Just don't yell at me and insist that when the show's over, I'll definitely want to sign the mailing list. And, when, after the show, it turns out that I still don't want to sign the mailing list, because I have no interest in being kept abreast of shows involving crappy attempts at being clever, don't call me "weird."

Thanks. See you at the show.


Don't mention the war

Summer is simply not summer without catching at least one show by 15-time Grammy winner and owner of the most carefully coiffed hair in polka Jimmy Sturr and the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra. And there is no better place to see that show than in the big tent at Hunter Mountain in Hunter, New York.

The big tent once played host to tons of big names every summer, from Bobby Vinton to Hank Williams Jr. to Carl Perkins to German überstar Heino, all of whom I saw at Hunter Mountain when I was a kid, though my memories of most of those shows are, for better or worse, a little hazy. But I do remember seeing Willie Nelson there and waiting patiently as he signed autographs from the lip of the stage for about an hour. And the only time I saw The Johnny Cash Show was in Hunter, too. And I think some guy from The Association gave me his phone number (I was, oh, about 14 at the time, probably) as he signed my program after the Rockstalgia festival in Hunter. But cherish is not the word I use to describe myself of that occurrence. I just thought you should know.

Anyway, the centerpiece of the festival season, even in the boon days, has always been the German Alps Festival. There was a time when it ran the entire month of July, but, well, things have changed. Now it's two days in August, there are only a handful of vendors, and they're so ill prepared that they can't stock enough sauerbraten, a criminal offense if ever there was one.

But one thing that hasn't changed is Jimmy Sturr and the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra, the star attraction of the German Alps Festival year after year and a guarantee that there will be a bunch of senior citizen asses shaking on the dance floor for a few hours.

For those who haven't read the literary masterpiece Critical, But Stable, Jimmy Sturr is a Grammy-winning machine who can rightly claim to be the modern-day king of polka (Frankie Yankovic still holds on to the all-time throne). His stage show, which, as the guy next to me during Set 1 (of four I took in over the weekend), could probably use some freshening up, but the devoted don't seem to mind that much.

The average show begins with, naturally, the theme to "2001: A Space Odyssey," starting with just Keith Slattery on keyboards and building as the rest of the eleven-piece orchestra takes the stage. Then comes "Rebel Rouser," after which the man of the hour bounds onto the stage and proceeds to lead the band in "Play Me Some Polka Music." Then it's off to the races, with the songlist usually determined, to some extent, by the crowd.

This particular weekend's best set was the evening set on Saturday, marked by Sturr inviting a bunch of guys and girls who looked to be my age and were wearing homemade "Jimmy Freakin' Sturr" t-shirts. It was all a good, fun, slightly inebriated time until one of the guys attempted to put his hat on Sturr's head. The man will let you up on stage, the man will let you sing into his microphone, but the man will not let you mess up his hair. It was the most uncomfortable moment of the weekend, unless you count the moment during Set 1 when I turned to my left and I noticed the guy in lederhosen was loudly singing "I Can't Stop Loving You" and looking in my general direction. What is the etiquette in that situation?

In addition to the usual star vocalists of the Orchestra, Fiddlin' Frankie Urbanovitch, Gennarose and sax player and Polka Hall of Famer Johnny Karas (the latter two above), Sturr also had the Calhoun Twins along for the weekend. The Calhouns are an old-time country music duo, which you wouldn't think would match up with polka. Of course, you're wrong. And, as proof, just go to any Jimmy Sturr show and count the times he says the phrase "a guy named Willie Nelson." Willie's guested on a few Sturr albums, and in case you didn't know that, you will have it seared in your memory by set's end. Country also pops up through covers of Gretchen Wilson's "All Jacked Up" (Set 2) and Frankie Urbanovitch's barn-burning rip through "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (Sets 1 and 4), which literally stopped the show for the weekend, as it was the last song played before the band packed up Sunday afternoon for another gig later that night.

The hardest-working band in polka business, people.

Another yearly highlight of the German Alps Festival is summed up in three simple words: "direct from Germany." Every year, there's at least one band imported from Deutschland for the occasion, and these bands are occasionally tough on the ears but always impossible not to look at. The prime example, of course, is the aforementioned Heino. Think of the awful things that come to your mind when you hear the phrases "German pop" and "German folk music." But then look at a picture of Heino and tell me that you wouldn't watch him put on a show.

Unfortunately, Heino hasn't been to Hunter Mountain in over a decade, maybe more. But filling the "direct from Germany" slot this year was die Bayrische 7 , a group of seven women dressed up in various attention-getting costumes, who, we are told, are the highlight of the Oktoberfest. The veracity of this claim is a bit suspect, as the same statement also made about 2004's direct from Germany group, Münchner Zwietracht, who were six guys dressed up in various attention-getting costumes. But, whatever the case, one thing is clear: Oktoberfest attendees love attention-getting costumes.

Of course, while I didn't notice many women ogling the members of Münchner Zwietracht, there were certainly a few men mesmerized by the bassist of die Bayrische 7, whose shirt barely made an attempt to cover her breasts during Set 2. I almost took a picture of the guys in the front drooling over her, but I chickened out. So instead I took pictures during one of the songs that featured the Alpine horn. You fill in the joke.

The ladies did a brisk business at the merch table. I made do with a free signed postcard.


But wait, there's more. There were also several dance demonstrations by the HSV Bavaria Schuhplattlers from West Haven, Connecticut, who never fail to (a) entertain or (b) bring back warm memories of the one truly good scene in "National Lampoon's European Vacation."

And there was also die Klosterjäeger (direct from Austria), who took it to the tables on Sunday to play the bells for the people.

Then they jammed in the pub with Alpine Squeeze.

The festival hasn't been the same since Ingo and Caroline called it quits, but the Schwarzenegger Connection attempted to rouse the masses at the Bier Garden stage with sets that mixed German tunes with some painfully bad country covers, including a version of "On the Road Again" that was so bad I almost cried. But they did occasionally get people up and dancing, including the all-time greatest dancing couple in the world, who I've seen at the festivals before and also, I think, at Polkapalooza in Atlantic City five years ago. Finally, I got a good picture.

See you next year.


Happy Todd Snider Day

There are but a handful of artists whose CD releases command the declaration of an official Tinsel and Rot holiday. In fact, let's establish the list right now as Bob Dylan (holiday but three weeks away), Marah, the Avett Brothers, and today's honoree, Todd Snider.

Todd's new CD, "The Devil You Know," has been available for digital download for awhile now (as avid watchers of the "Now Playing" section of this site no doubt know), but today is the official release date for the disc, Todd's first on a new label, New Door Records. And maybe this declaration loses some of its luster on the heels of my declaration of love for Huey Lewis and the News, but "The Devil You Know" may be the best CD I've heard this year (at the very least, it’s neck and neck with "Four Thieves Gone").

I've explained my devotion to Todd before here, so read up if you haven't. But in all my years listening to Todd, no other CD has sounded as good on first listen as this one. There are slamming rock tunes ("If Tomorrow Never Comes," "The Devil You Know") folky singalongs ("Happy New Year," "You Got Away With It (A Tale of Two Fraternity Brothers)", and brilliantly crafted songs that sound like short stories set to music ("Lookin' for a Job," "The Highland Street Incident," "Just Like Old Times"). Plus, you can learn about Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan in a song with a fiddle hook that won't leave your head for days ("Thin Wild Mercury").

Normally, Tinsel and Rot maintains a steadfast, "support your local independent record store/online merchant" stance when it comes to buying new CDs, but we're flexible here. So, if you're poor and/or miserly, Best Buy has "The Devil You Know" available for just $9.99 (cheap!), plus you get a bonus disc with your purchase. Hence, Tinsel and Rot grants you official dispensation to purchase the disc(s) at Best Buy. Then it's back to the independent record stores/online merchants, OK? In fact, why not go there and buy Will Kimbrough's "Americanitis"? That's a good one, too. And Todd plays harmonica on it. It will help you wipe away that icky Big Box feeling.

And in even more exciting news, Todd will make his debut on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (bad show, good exposure) Wednesday night to do the first single off the CD. Set your TIVOs or VCRs or whatever. Better yet, just stay up late. Trust me on this one.


Don't Need No Credit Card To Ride This Train

The news that I would be attending the Huey Lewis and the News/Chicago concert at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey, was greeted with responses that included the following:

* "I can't figure you out."
* "Did you lose a bet?
* "Hahahahahahahahahahaha"

I am used to this, and there was a time when I might have felt some shame at my concert selection. But no more.

(Well, OK, I'm a little ashamed at seeing Chicago. But at least they didn't sing "You're My Inspiration." Or at least I think they didn't. There were a few times when I heard that grating Lite-FM keyboard intro and I zoned out. In fact, I honestly thought that they did play "You're My Inspiration" until a post-concert conversation with my friend where he assured me they didn't. Whatever. They did play "25 or 6 to 4," though, which is good because it's the one Chicago song I unabashedly enjoy. Unfortunately--but wisely--it was the last song in their set. But I digress...)

I come here today to declare that, yes, I truly enjoy a great deal of the music created by Huey Lewis and the News. And I have seen Huey and the boys in concert three times, enjoying each show. I own a Huey Lewis and the News t-shirt that I wear in a very unironic way. I believe that "Four Chords and Several Years Ago" is an exceptional album, one that I listened to on my Walkman throughout my freshman year of college (need I say that freshman year didn't go well?). "Sports" is also a classic. I have a signed copy of it. And of "Picture This." And the 45 sleeve for "Jacob's Ladder."

And I am not ashamed.

Now, do I enjoy Huey Lewis and the News as much as I enjoy, say, Marah or the Avett Brothers? Clearly, no. My devotion to Huey and the boys is, admittedly, based largely on nostalgia and summers spent hearing the hits of "Sports" on the radio and listening to "Hard at Play" on walks down to Ralph's Ices. But there are plenty of bands of the 1980s that evoke a nostalgic fondness that I wouldn't pay money to see. I was a really big fan of the Glass Tiger song "I Will Be There," but I have very little desire to see whatever remains of that band. The same goes for Billy Ocean, though I reckon I could be persuaded to spend a little money on seeing him if I were guaranteed that he would sing "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" and "When the Going Get Tough, The Tough Get Going."

Huey Lewis and the News, though, they're the real deal. And if that ruins my credibility as a music fan, so be it. I just think it's foolish to dismiss a band I liked when I was a kid simply because time has passed and it is no longer cool to be a Huey Lewis and the News fan (was it ever cool? Maybe not). Your musical tastes are, of course, always subject to change, but they're always based on the foundation of all the music you hear in your life, starting with what you hear when you're young. And I happen to think that Huey Lewis and the News--the first band I probably ever considered "my favorite band"--is a pretty strong foundation. Their music isn't particularly profound, but it's not meant to be (or at least I hope it isn't). It's just straightforward, easy-to-hum pop music. Nothing particularly wrong with that. And it's got a lot of harmonica in it, which is always a good thing.

I will admit that the last HLN (dig that hip acronym) album was kind of a poopfest. And I sincerely doubt that the boys will produce another album that will interest me. But that's OK. If I ever achieve relevance, I'll be stunned if I'm able to maintain it for 25 years. Huey and the boys have earned some time to coast on the hits. I still like hearing "Power of Love," "Heart and Soul," and, yeah, "Hip To Be Square" (alas, not played in Holmdel). And I likely always will.

So long live Huey Lewis and the News! A pox on the haters! And on Chicago (the band, not the city)!


What I Liked About July

*The Green River Festival, Greenfield, MA
*"The Price Is Right Live!", Atlantic City, NJ
* Roger Hoover and the Whiskeyhounds doing "Look Out Cleveland" at Club Deep, Asbury Park, NJ
*Eddie Money's nonsensical monologue about "Saturday Night Live" at the Beach Bar, Atlantic City, NJ

*The release of Will Kimbrough's "Americanitis" CD (and t-shirt)
*Scott Avett's stage dive at the Bowery Ballroom, NYC
*My new air conditioner
*Huey Lewis and the News, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

*Major Victory on "Who Wants To Be A Superhero?"
*Watching a woman spit on a guy at an otherwise boring Little Feat show
*VH-1's "World Series of Pop Culture"
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places