Where Will You Meet Your Waterloo?

The Country Legends show at the American Music Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, can now join the robin and the opening of the buds on a ready-to-bloom tree as a sure sign that the drudgery of winter is firmly in the rearview mirror. When I find myself in the lobby of the theater watching the increasingly impatient elderly hordes complain about the lack of seats in the lobby and the unwillingness of theater management to open the theater doors, I know that spring has arrived and all will soon be bright and joyous again.

This year's lineup, as I have mentioned, didn't come close to measuring up to last year's, but there was still enough country goodness (aside from the stellar Cracker Barrel breakfast I ate across the street) to make the day worthwhile. And, as an added bonus, soon after the show started I discovered that the Joe West who was listed as the MC was, in fact, Joe West the Major League Baseball umpire. When I saw the name listed, I just assumed it was a different Joe West. Why would an umpire be emceeing a country show? Well, because he's also a singer. Really. He opened the show by singing Chuck Berry's "Promised Land." Now, how often have you seen an umpire sing a Chuck Berry song? Yeah, that's what I thought. Score one for me.

My picture taking was light this year, but I made sure I got this one just to make you jealous:

Jan Howard was the first nonumpiring legend to take the stage, and since she was once married to Harlan Howard, she gets a lifetime coolness pass. Her brief set (like Hippiefest, all sets were brief) sounded real good, though she lost points by closing with "Wind Beneath My Wings," a song I would hate no matter who sang it. But the old folks seemed to like it just fine, and since they outnumbered me by several thousand, I will cede to them.

I have no pictures of Jan Howard to share with you, nor do I have any pictures of the next man to take the stage, Freddie Hart. Sporting what I can only assume was a hairpiece (when I got close enough, I thought it would be impolite to stare), the brown-haired 80-year-old mainly stood in one place and sang, which, when it comes down to it, wouldn't be a bad lesson for most of Young Hot Country to learn. I came in largely unfamiliar with Hart outside of "Easy Lovin," which doesn't really knock me out (creepy opening lines: Easy lovin'/So sexy-lookin'). But he won me over with genuine humility and gratitude and my favorite kind of classic country song, a recitation ("Hank Williams' Guitar," sung/spoken from the perspective of said instrument).

Jack Greene was next, and he sure looked spiffy. Luckily, he can also still sing the hell out of his hits, including "There Goes My Everything" and the stone-cold (partial pun intended) classic "Statue of a Fool." He held the closing note like a champ, singing with the same evenness and cool of Ray Price a few nights before. Surprisingly, he seemed a little more frail and uncertain when I met him afterward, but I suppose a lot of 77-year-olds give off the same vibe. I had a chance for a photo with him but I got stuck waiting to take some guy's picture with Stonewall Jackson (he had done the same for me), so I just got this shot.

After the intermission, Stonewall Jackson took the stage for what was probably my second-favorite set (after Greene), partially because he did a Billy Joe Shaver song ("I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal"). Also, he had the song I most wanted to hear going into the day, the set-closing "Waterloo," which, while not much of a song when you look at it, has been stuck in my head for most of the last two weeks. It got the biggest crowd reaction of the day, which, in this case, means something slightly more than polite applause but less than full-throated delirium.

Stonewall (that's his real name, by the way) is currently suing the Grand Ole Opry for $10 million in a lawsuit that claims the Opry is guilty of age discrimination. I don't know how successful he'll be, but the lawsuit highlights the problem the Opry faces in a world where more respect is given to the new country acts (who, for the most part, either can't or won't commit to joining the Opry and getting people in the seats) than the classic country acts that made the Opry the cultural institution that it is. It'll be a tough road ahead for the Opry and its current members, which is why I make such an effort to see people like Stonewall Jackson, lest I don't get the chance to see them again so I can lean over a table awkwardly and take a picture with them.

The afternoon (I love shows that start at 2...I really hope I get the chance to be elderly) ended with the duo who replaced Porter Wagoner on the bill (which, through my random surveying of the pre- and postshow crowd, very few knew about), Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius. Helen Cornelius still sings real well, and I liked her version of "I'm Not Lisa," but, overall, she doesn't do much for me. Jim Ed Brown at least has "Pop A Top" to his credit, plus the hypnotic "The Three Bells," both of which were on the setlist. Plus, Jim Ed Brown is visually entertaining to me because he uses his guitar as little more than a prop. And I don't mean that he just straps it around his shoulder and idly strums along. No, he doesn't even bother putting a strap on it. He just pulls it to his chest, strums inaudibly for a few seconds, and then puts it back down to lean on until he gets the urge to strum some more. I guess it's his safety blanket. Whatever works.

I should point out that Helen Cornelius is the blonde. The gray-haired dame was just helping out with merch, I guess. She was one of the few older people who didn't start up a conversation with me that focused on how good it was to see a young person such as myself at a Country Legends show. Thirty never feels quite as young as it does in Lancaster. And it's nice to talk to old country fans about the people they've met and the cruises they've taken with Little Jimmy Dickens and Whisperin' Bill Anderson. In fact, the postshow autograph free-for-all/social hour was almost as enjoyable as the show.

And then the day in Lancaster ended with the smorgasbord at Hershey Farm. I kind of wish I was one of those people who can truly get his money's worth at a smorgasbord. But I'm not. Still, I think I did OK. And I talked to some old goats outside.

Shame on you if you didn't see that picture coming.


Just an Excitable Boy

Tinsel and Rot is nothing if not repetitive. Also, we repeat ourselves. So, in that spirit, we once again urge you to buy a Warren Zevon CD--particularly one of the three remastered CDs out today at a fine independent music store near you (and in other places, like big bad chain stores). Of the three, I would say that "Excitable Boy" is clearly the best, but, for reasons that I don't quite understand, that one retails for about $5-$7 more than the other two, "The Envoy" and "Stand In The Fire." Those two are on CD for the first time, so you might think that they'd be commanding more of your money. But that's thinking logically, and the music business is nothing if not illogical.

"Excitable Boy" has the greatest number of Zevon classics ("Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," "Werewolves of London," "Accidentally Like A Martyr," "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," the title track), "The Envoy" has two of my personal favorite Zevon songs ("The Hula Hula Boys" and "Aint That Pretty At All"), and "Stand In The Fire" captures a Zevon live show at the Roxy in L.A. So they all have their merits. I bought "Stand In The Fire" today, and I'll probably pick up "The Envoy" soon. "Excitable Boy" will have to wait for awhile.

You pick the one you want, OK?

Lancaster report will be up by tomorrow night.


Deus ex Sports Machina

A glorious era came to an end this weekend with the final telecast of "The George Michael Sports Machine" on Sunday. The show, which aired locally at 12:05 on NBC (after the godawful, vastly inferior "Mike'd Up"), was hosted not by the guy from Wham! but by a Washington, DC-based sports anchor who served as the operator of the Sports Machine, which held highlights of the day's sports action. So when George Michael pressed the button with the football helmet on it--bam, you got football highlights. He presses the button with the ball and glove on it--you got your baseball action. What I wouldn't have given to have my own Sports Machine. Still would be pretty cool, but I'm not sure I have the room.

The show was one of the reasons I looked forward to summers when I was a kid. Though it aired too late for me to watch during the school year, summertime meant I could stay up late and watch the Machine. And sometimes Michael would even throw some pro wrestling highlights in, something other sportscasters wouldn't dare. And he did the wrestling stories as if wrestling were real, which, as a young kid, was just the approach you wanted to see. You didn't need to see some creep telling you how all wrestling is fake. Oh, shoot. That just gives me a reason to share the greatest TV clip ever. Pardon the diversion.

George Michael is no John Stossel. And that made him and his Sports Machine even cooler. Although, to be fair, the Sports Machine itself was way cooler than George Michael.

The last "Sports Machine" of the month would be the one to watch, as the Machine would spit out the plays of the month, routiinely the greatest part of any end-of-the-month sportscast. There'd be some good athletic plays in the Sports Machine, but there'd also be plenty of "wacky" stuff that was comedy gold for a preteen. And if an episode of "Bob Uecker's Wacky World of Sports" fell on the same weekend as the end-of-the-month "Sports Machine," well, that was just about a perfect mid-'80s weekend for me.

"SportsCenter" just annoys me most of the time, as the anchors dish out crappy jokes and tired catchphrases at the expense of actually, you know, focusing on the highlights and telling you what you need to know. But people seem to love "SportsCenter," and "The George Michael Sports Machine" is generally derided for its cheesiness and now no longer exists, so I guess I'm the dumb one here. I kinda figured that was the case anyway.

Godspeed, "Sports Machine." Summer Sunday nights will never be the same.


Like a Band of Gypsies

After enduring another cancellation (Amy Helm at the Knitting Factory...I didn't have the energy to wait around another hour for Ruthie Foster's set), it was time for the Crown Jewel of March--the Last of the Breed Show with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price at Radio City Music Hall. I actually took the day off from work in the hopes of securing some autographs beforehand at soundcheck. Unfortunately, I didn't really think through my plan, because if I did, I would have realized that (a) from past experience, Merle Haggard doesn't do soundchecks, (b) Ray Price doesn't really have to soundcheck, and (c) since Willie wasn't playing with his band, he didn't really need to show up for soundcheck either. So, I basically wound up spending four hours next to a guy wearing a black bolero hat with a red feather coming out of it and answering questions about country music because I was voted the day's Expert on All Things Country (which I am decidedly not). And as I waited, Ray Price and Merle Haggard sat in their buses across the street and probably took a nap.

Someone please find me another hobby.

Anyway, it started to rain just after I made the choice to go grab dinner (a decision for which I was mocked by several collectors), so I did one last walk past the buses, where I found a crew member and a collector comparing their signed guitars. I'm intrigued by guitars with tons of signatures on them, so I ogled for awhile. As I did that, a woman was actually able to grab Merle's attention, and he came to the door of his bus to sign stuff. And so I finally got my Merle Hatch Show Print signed. So at least I had something to show for my four hours of standing against a wall. And I got Ray Price to sign stuff after the show. Hooray for me.

But even if I walked away with nothing signed, it wouldn't have made a difference. The seats I purchased through the Willie Nelson Fan Club were unbelievably awesome. Third row in the orchestra pit. And no one seemed to care if you took pictures. So I did. The only things that came close to ruining the seats were the two guys in the first row who snapped instead of clapping (c'mon, really?) and the woman next to them who strolled in during Merle's set and proceeded to make an ass of herself by (a) thrashing around and giving the devil horns whenever Mickey Raphael played the harmonica and (b) making out with her man for an extensive period of time toward the end of the show. She may have been drinking.

But even boorish behavior could not cloud the glory of sitting three rows away from Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price. Ray Price, whose voice somehow still sounds effortlessly elegant at 81, got things started with a set that was so smooth and strong that the show could've ended there and been worth the price of admission. After a quick intermission (which I spent waiting in line to buy a Willie Nelson for President T-shirt), Asleep at the Wheel did a few songs before shifting to their role as the backup band for the rest of the night. The Hag started off with three fiddle tunes, then moved through his best stuff (including "Big City," "Silver Wings," and "Sing Me Back Home") before Willie took the stage during "Okie from Muskogee." Soon, Ray Price came back out to join Merle and Willie, and, then, three rows and a section of stage away from me, three of the greatest men in country music sang a few songs together. Price sang the hell out of "Night Life," Willie sang around "Crazy," they all did "Roly Poly"...it was something to see and hear. Willie and Merle's voices may not have aged quite as well as Ray's, but they all have that country soul that Gary LeVox and Kenny Chesney couldn't buy with all their gold records. And to see three classic voices together on one stage was one of those moments you tuck away for the next time that things don't go so well, ready to remind you that no matter how bad things might get, there are still some times that balance everything out just fine.

Unfortunately, the good times at Radio City had to end, and before you knew it, it was "Whiskey River" time, the standard Willie signal that the show is coming to a close. Willie came back out to do "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," and then it was time to head back out into the New York City night.

Willie, Merle, and Ray just put out the "Last of the Breed" CD, and I like it just fine. But to see the three of them in concert, well, that's something else entirely. Glad I got to see it. Wish you were there.


Larry "Bud" Melman RIP

Calvert DeForest, better known as Larry "Bud" Melman, passed away Monday at the age of 85.

Just about every appearance he made on "Late Night with David Letterman" was gold, but his segment as a greeter handing out hot towels at the Port Authority Bus Terminal is definitely among the Top 5 Letterman Moments of All Time. It still makes me laugh uncontrollably. Whether you've seen it before or not, you need to watch it.

Thanks for the laughs, Calvert.


300 (Not About the Battle of Thermopylae)

For my money, there is no greater individual sports achievement than the 300 game in bowling. A pitcher can only get a perfect game if his fielders do a good job backing him up and the opposing batters are too slow to pick up on his pitches. A basketball player can only rack up points if his teammates get him the ball and the opposing team can't find a way to stop him. (Please forgive the gender specificity; inclusivity is unwieldy.) A golfer can have a really good round, but perfection in golf is mainly subjective, unless you somehow manage to shoot an 18.

But the 300 game is all about the individual. Twelve strikes, no room for subjective interpretation, just the bowler, the ball, and the pins. Knock all ten pins down twelve times in a row and you've achieved perfection.

And when you pull this off on live television, then it's extra cool. And that's what Horseheads, NY, native Ryan Shafer did this past Sunday on ESPN. Shafer's perfect game was only the 18th televised 300 game in the PBA's history, but the second this season (Tony Reyes had the other). Shafer's not the most exciting guy on the tour (and from the sniping I've seen from some bowling fans on the Internet [yes, I spend too much time on the computer], not one of the friendliest either), but if you grew up in Horseheads (near Elmira), you probably wouldn't be a ball of laughs either. And it doesn't take an exciting guy to make a 300 game exciting. Or maybe that's just my opinion. Then again, this is my blog, so it's as good a place as any to put forth my opinion.

Here's the home stretch of Shafer's game. The 11th strike is the one to savor.


Music: The Week That Was/The Week That Will Be (Vol. II)

The Week That Was

Well, I went 2-for-4 on shows this week, as the Hudson Falcons show was also cancelled because of the bad weather on Friday. And while I'm still a little bummed about missing the Pogues, I feel quite all right after the Levon Helm show at the Beacon Saturday night.

But first things first: Hippiefest. After toying with the idea of bailing on Hippiefest once the Pogues announced that Wednesday's show was definitely on, I decided to stay true to my original plan and head out to Newark. On the surface, trading a Pogues show for a Hippiefest show sounds like a horrible exchange, And, in fact, if you go beneath the surface, the same holds true. But I don't like to change plans. And I like NJPAC much more than I like Roseland. Go there someday. Remember the unofficial City of Newark motto: "Newark...It's Not So Bad."

Anyway, the most interesting acts of the show (aside from the drunk couple who occasionally sat next to me throughout the night) were Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad, Iron Butterfly, and Mountain. After taking the stage to an introduction stating that Grand Funk sold 25 million records (which drew the line of the night from the female half of the drunken couple: "Well then what the f&*k are they doing here?"), Farner kicked things off with the noted hippie anthem "The Loco-Motion" and then ran around the stage like a slightly less flamboyant Billy Squier for a few more songs, including "Some Kind of Wonderful." But the cherry on the top of the four-song set was "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home)," which Farner, who has that too-old-to-be-that-muscular Joe Piscopo thing going for him, dedicated to the troops. But it was an odd dedication. Went like this: "I want to send this song out to all the troops who are fighting overseas and protecting other countries' borders..."

I would like to interrupt this dedication to point out that this is where I started clapping. This is noted because of the rest of the dedication.

"...when they should be home protecting ours."

Now, maybe it was just oddly worded, but I got the feeling that I may have been clapping for an anti-immigration dedication. I was confused, but the people across the aisle were ecstatic and jumped to their feet. And I was even more confused when he left the stage and said, "And God bless what's left of America." Hmmmm...baffled.

Iron Butterfly was interesting only because there was a scheduled 20-minute intermission before their performance. So I was in the lobby for about five minutes when the lights dimmed, indicating it was time to return to your seats. I assumed that was a mistake, but they dimmed again about five minutes later. So I walked back into the hall and found the guy from Iron Butterfly at the organ and just starting the intro to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." I almost missed it. Close call. So, about 15 minutes later, the song ends and it's "Thanks! Good night!" Wow. That's got to be the best gig in the world. One and out. Thanks for the check. To their credit, they nailed it.

Mountain ended the show with a wildly entertaining set, highlighted, naturally, by "Mississippi Queen" and "Nantucket Sleigh Ride." Even if you didn't dig the music, watching Corky Laing on the drums was enough entertainment for you. He likes to bounce drumsticks off the drums and cymbals and into the crowd. Sometimes this worked, and sometimes he just hit guitarist Leslie West (who can still play damn good) in the back of the head. But it never stops being fun to watch.

So, all in all, hats off to Hippiefest. Probably could've lived without Mitch Ryder and Denny Laine (though the latter did do "Band on the Run," smash hit on the 1980s-era jukebox of either Eva's Farm or Donnie's Green Lantern in Purling, NY) and I doubt the show was better than the Pogues, but Mountain kicked ass and I can now tell my grandkids that I saw Iron Butterfly do "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." I suspect they will be amazed.

Viva la Hippiefest! And turn it up, man:

The Levon Helm show at the Beacon is the frontrunner for 2007 Show of the Year, and will be real hard to beat. It would have been a good show if Levon, who is beating throat cancer at the moment, sang a few Band songs. But not only did he dip liberally into the Band catalog, but he was backed by a killer band that featured Larry Campbell (formerly of Bob Dylan's band) and Jimmy Vivino (from the Max Weinberg 7) on guitar and Howard Johnson (the tuba player, not the ex-Met or the hotelier) anchoring a four- (sometimes five-) piece horn section. And then there were the special guests: Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Warren Haynes from the Allman Brothers Band, and, for the finale of "Take Me to the River," The Band's own Garth Hudson.

I would pick out the highlights, but the whole damn thing was pretty much a highlight. I'll try to narrow it down to the three highest of highlights. The first was Dr. John singing "Such A Night," which almost made me feel like I was at the Last Waltz for a few minutes. Then there was hearing Levon sing "Up on Cripple Creek," which was so damn good to hear coming out of his mouth that I felt spiritually moved (man, when did I start sounding like a Deadhead...too much Hippiefest). And, finally, there was the sight of a roadie frantically following Garth Hudson all around the stage, desperately trying to put a microphone near his accordion so, you know, people could hear it over the dozen or so musicians. The mad race to amplify the accordion finally ended with Garth behind the Hammond B-3, playing the organ with the accordion strapped across his chest. There is only one Garth Hudson. And only one Levon Helm. And for one night, they were back together on stage at the Beacon.

But wait, there was also Levon on the mandolin singing "Atlantic City," Allen Toussaint singing "Yes We Can Can," a damn fine opening set from Ollabelle, Larry Campbell sawing on a fiddle and playing it hot, Levon thanking his doctor from Sloan-Kettering (they're good people they are), "Chest Fever"... I could go on forever. You shoulda been there.

The Week That Will Be

MON 3/19--More Dr. John at the Housing Works Used Book Cafe, where he will be part of a discussion about the new Doc Pomus biography, Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus, written by Alex Halberstadt. Pomus had a hand in writing a dazzling number of classic songs, including "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Viva Las Vegas,"This Magic Moment," "Youngblood," "Teenager in Love," and "Sweets for My Sweet." And he was, by all accounts, a pretty interesting guy. Find out more at the reading, which will also feature the author, Pomus's brother Raoul Felder, and Ben E. King. FREE, 7 p.m., 126 Crosby St.

WED 3/21--Fresh from Saturday night's show at the Beacon, Amy Helm will open a show for Ruthie Foster at the Knitting Factory Tap Bar. I've heard good things about Ruthie Foster, but don't really know much about her. I've never seen Amy Helm outside of Ollabelle either, but these are no reasons to stop me from attending the show. And they won't. $12 in advance/$15 day of show, 8 p.m., 74 Leonard Street

THU 3/22--There is no show that has ever sent me in such a ticket-buying frenzy that I felt compelled to join a fan club just to get the first crack at tickets. But a show with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price had just such an effect on me. As soon as I saw word about the Last of the Breed Tour hitting Radio City Music Hall, I scoured through the Web until I found Willie's fan club, plunked down my $29.95, and got seats in the third row. Hot damn. I could not be more excited about this show. If it sucks, I'll be devastated. But I don't see how it could. With Asleep at the Wheel, $46.50-$81.50, 8 p.m., Radio City Music Hall, 1260 6th Ave.

SAT 3/24--It's time for the annual trip to the American Music Theatre in Lancaster, PA, for a Country Legends show. The trip became slightly less exciting when Porter Wagoner bailed last month. But then he added a show at Joe's Pub at the end of this month, and now all is well. This year's lineup, while nowhere near last year's all-time all-star show, is still passable, with Jack Greene heading the list for me, followed in order by Stonewall Jackson, Jan Howard, Freddie Hart, Jim Ed Brown, and Helen Cornelius. I'm bringing so many albums to get signed, it's stupid. Stay tuned for the photo recap. Seriously, you're not coming. Why should I list the particulars here?


Getting worried?

The readers and letter writers of "Dear Abby" have come through again. Do yourself a favor and check out Wednesday's column. In said column, you will find a lead letter that is flat-out crazy. To summarize, a guy's "getting worried" that his girlfriend's stepfather wants to take nude pictures of her. And the stepfather also wants the guy and his girlfriend to have loud sex so he can hear it. It occurs to the letter writer that this might be weird.

I am picturing this 18-year-old guy in Florida checking the newspaper every day, frozen until the printed word comes in from Dear Abby. Maybe he's shared this dilemma with other friends and they keep asking him if he's done anything about the whole stepdad-lusting-after-his-stepdaughter thing. "No, I'm waiting to hear what Abby says," he tells his friends."'Til then, we're just gonna ride this one out and see what happens. Don't want to make a move 'til Abby gives the go-ahead."

First, the Marlins, then the Devil Rays, and now this. That's officially three strikes for Florida.


Me gambling days are done

This evening, I successfully completed a rite of passage for any true music fan.

A Pogues show I had a ticket for was cancelled.

Apparently, Shane injured his leg in Boston three nights ago, and at around 6 p.m. today, it was decided that he couldn't go on with the show. Despite all logical inclinations, I'm kinda willing to believe that story, as I was outside Roseland around 5:30 and heard the band soundchecking ("The Sunny Side of the Street" and "Greenland Whale Fisheries") minus Shane (which I expected...I get the sense Shane isn't really a soundcheck kinda guy). And I saw them after soundcheck, had everybody except James Fearnley sign a "Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash" LP (including Terry Woods and Darryl Hunt, one of whom I forgot wasn't on the record and the other I knew wasn't on the record but took my pen and signed before I could stop him...whoops), and told them I was excited for the show. There were no hints that the show would be cancelled in less than an hour.

So I went to see some dude I went to college with play piano at Barnes & Noble, got some pizza, and came back to Roseland at 7:15 to find the show cancelled. Tickets are still available for tomorrow, but I think I'll pass in favor of getting $54 back in my wallet and take my chances on the "hippies" at NJPAC. If Cavaliere pulls out with a bum leg, I'll be furious.

Another reason why I'm leaning toward believing the whole shady cancellation story is because they're being up front about everything at the Pogues website. And the reason doesn't matter so much as long as the end result (cancellation) is the same.

Based on the soundcheck, though, I kinda wish the Pogues went on with the show minus Shane, or at least gave the option. They sounded damn good with what I think was Spider on vocals, and I would've been pleased enough with that. But maybe I'm in the minority on that one.

UPDATE (11 p.m.): I'm starting to think that the cancellation was worth it for the impressive, ongoing display of vitriol now at the above link. Crazy people never disapppoint. Thank God the Internet gives them a forum. I mean, I suppose I'd be upset if I had rearranged my life and I had never had a chance to see the Pogues before. But I think with any Shane Macgowan show, you pay your money, you take your chances.


Music: The Week That Was/The Week That Will Be (Vol. I)

The Week That Was in Music

TUE 3/6: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame releases "The Definitive 200," a list of the "200 ranked albums that every music lover should own." While scanning through the list, I find some predictably preposterous rankings (Santana's "Supernatural" at #13, Shania Twain's "Come On Over" at #21, Norah Jones's "Come Away With Me" at #27), but then hit upon the Definitive Stupid Selection of the Definitive 200, Jewel's "Pieces of You" at #64. Now, I happen to own that album (and two--count 'em, two--autographed Jewel books), but, you know, I think that my life would be pretty much OK without it. It's got some fine songs on it, but the title track is, well, pretty terrible. No, make that really terrible. Amazingly, this list puts "Pieces of You" 93 places higher than Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks." I gotta stop reading lists.

But, wait, other albums "more definitive" than "Blood on the Tracks": Kid Rock's "Rebel Without A Cause"; Phil Collins' "No Jacket Required"; Faith Hill's "Breathe"; Linkin Park's "Hybrid Theory"; the "Dirty Dancing" soundtrack; Kenny G's "Breathless"...I'm sorry... I can't do this anymore. Next topic.

WED 3/7: Thanks to a Christmas 2005 gift certificate (thanks Aunt Kathy and Uncle Gary), I was able to attend the Los Lobos/Taj Mahal show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ, for minus-five dollars (got the unused money back on the gift certificate). I generally like the Count Basie, as I have seen several fine shows there. However, I think all those shows took place during warm-weather months, for as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no heat running through the theatre. At all. And that's not good on a freezing-cold night in March.

But good music always warms me up, so Taj Mahal's opening set, while a tad bit too long for my tastes (mainly because I wanted to catch the 11:45 train home instead of the 12:35), slightly took away the chill. Then there was an unnecessary 30-minute changeover between sets. Didn't care much for that. Is it impossible to start tuning instruments offstage at some time during the opening set, especially when it's a mostly acoustic show with lots of stringed instruments?

Finally, a little after 10, Los Lobos took the stage. And almost immediately after the band takes the stage, some burnout yells out, "Bertha," the Grateful Dead song that Los Lobos frequently covers in their live rock-band set. This show, however, was advertised as an acoustic show, in support of the band's "Acoustic en Vivo" CD. It's a real good CD, consisting mostly of traditional songs and the more traditional-sounding songs from the Los Lobos catalog. I was looking forward to hearing those songs. I was not looking forward to, nor will I ever look forward to, hearing "Bertha."

But several of the brain-addled Deadheads really wanted to hear "Bertha," and they expressed their desire during what seemed like every quiet moment between songs. Now, Deadheads, really, what's the deal? You have nothing better to do on a cold Wednesday night than to go out to Red Bank, buy a ticket (which is something probably rare for you in your world of "miracles"), and yell out for a Grateful Dead song while a band tries to play something different from their normal show and maybe expose you to some songs and rhythms you're not used to? Can't you just stay home and listen to any of the 738 readily available live versions of "Bertha"? Is there not enough live Grateful Dead product to keep you satisfied? Were Ratdog tickets out of your price range?

Please stay away from the bands I like. I don't go to Phil Lesh shows and yell out requests for actual good songs. Show me the same respect.

Anyway, Los Lobos finally acquiesced and did play "Bertha," during which I contemplated going to the bathroom because I wasn't going to have time to pee and catch the 11:45. But I stuck around. And I even had time to catch the two encores, including "Guantanamera," during which Taj Mahal returned to play the maracas and add back-up vocals and David Hidalgo helped women up on stage to dance. And that's how the show ended, with several dozen women (and a few men) dancing on stage while the band played and I inched my way toward the door as the clock hit 11:35.

I made the 11:45 by about a minute. It was a good night.

THU 3/8: The Avett Brothers returned to the big city with a show at Rebel (formerly Downtime, sort of) in midtown Manhattan. It was tough to pass up the Charlie Louvin show at the Gramercy Theatre (though I did have time to score an autograph from Mr. Louvin beforehand, on a vinyl EP I bought in Cleveland), but I think I made the right call. Good to see the boys back in town, and good to see that Scott Avett was able to recover from the complete header he took during the second song ("Talk on Indolence"), during which he took out the high hat, his brother Seth's mic stand, a little bit of his banjo, and probably a chunk of skin off his elbow. Such is the price you sometimes pay for putting on a high-energy show.

Nicole Atkins joined the Brothers for a beuatiful "Swept Away," and the show ended with spirited runs through "I Killed Sally's Lover" and "Wanted Man" before the boys called it a night and Scott gave his elbow a rest. They'll be back on May 12 at Irving Plaza, in advance of the release of their new CD, "Emotionalism." Go.

The Week That Will Be in Music

MON 3/12 and TUE 3/13: Steve Earle and Allison Moorer are playing the jazzy Blue Note in NYC. I'm not sure if I'll go (three pricy shows in the next two weeks are probably gonna prevent me from hitting these shows), but if you've got some disposable income, maybe you should dispose of some of it for one of these shows. Steve Earle's still cool in Tinsel and Rot's eyes. For now. Two shows a night, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 at the bar, $35 for table seating (which is only available for the 10:30 shows as I write this).

TUE 3/13: The WFMU Marathon continues with Ted Leo's visit to "The Best Show on WFMU." And he says he'll be bringing his guitar and will do requests for pledges. Should be fun. And pledge-worthy. With Tom Scharpling and guest cohost Laura Cantrell. Check it out. 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. 91.1 FM or online.

WED 3/14, THU 3/15, and SAT 3/17: The Pogues come back for three shows at the tail end of a two-week U.S. tour. Even though last year's show was underwhelming, I still couldn't pass up the ($54) chance to see the Pogues again. I'm a sucker. Wouldn't you like to be a sucker, too? Doors at 6:45 p.m. each night. The Holloways open on Wednesday, Langhorne Slim opens on Thursday, and the Tossers open on Saturday. Saturday's sold out, though.

THU 3/15: Hippiefest at NJPAC. Featuring Felix Cavaliere's Rascals, Iron Butterfly, Mountain with Leslie West and Corky Laing, Denny Laine of the Moody Blues, Joey Molland of Badfinger, Mitch Ryder, and Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with hippies. I don't know if I'll go, but I thought I'd share that stupefying lineup with you. And, oh yeah, Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling is the MC. 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $27-$77. Seriously.

FRI 3/16: The mighty Hudson Falcons return to Asbury Park, this time at the legendary Stone Pony. You've read the tour recap, you've seen the pictures, now go see the band live and in person. Also playing: American Halo, The Hams, Crasher, and Chef George and the Short Orders. Doors at 7:30. $10.

SAT 3/17: It's Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble at the Beacon Theatre. It's also sold out (thanks for getting the tickets, Jon), but maybe you should make an effort to get a ticket. Levon's singing again, and there are special guests promised. Plus one of the "nonspecial guests" is Ollabelle. I am expecting a damn good time. And if you must bypass the Hudson Falcons (and I will dislike you for it), Levon and friends will also be at the Beacon on 3/16 for another sold-out show. 8 p.m.

Looks like a good week, no?


Radio Radio

* Now you can pledge to WFMU via that handy-dandy banner in the column on the left. Do it! And, yes, Tinsel and Rot put its money where its mouth is (even though a blog technically doesn't have a mouth) last night with a pledge during the "Best Show." Many thank-you gifts coming my way! Be cool like me!

*The legendary Charlie Louvin is scheduled to sit down for an interview with John Schaefer on "Soundcheck" Thursday afternoon. Mr. Louvin has a solo album (well, a solo album composed predominantly of duets) that just came out, and it has some mighty fine moments. Hear what country music royalty sounds like on the radio (or the Web) at 2 p.m. "Soundcheck" is heard locally on WNYC, 93.9 FM. Stream it here. And if you like what you hear, check out Mr. Louvin (and former WFMU superstar Laura Cantrell) at the Gramercy Theatre Thursday night. If you don't like what you hear, keep it to yourself.

*I will unfortunately not be seeing Mr. Louvin for a fifth time Thursday night. Instead, I will be seeing the Avett Brothers for the 20th time at Rebel. Why the big fuss at Tinsel and Rot over the Avett Brothers? Hear for yourself when they sit down with Vin Scelsa on "Idiot's Delight" on WFUV (90.7 FM) Saturday night. The show runs from 8 p.m. to midnight, and I don't know what hour the Avetts are due to appear. But Scelsa's show is usually a good listen anyway. You can stream it here.

And if you can't make Thursday's show, the Avetts will be back in town on Saturday, May 12, at Irving Plaza. Go. You'll have a good time.

OK then. Time to head off to Los Lobos and Taj Mahal in Red Bank. March is a fine month for music.


Let Freeform Ring!

I think by now Tinsel and Rot has developed a cult-like following (five people constitutes a cult, right?), and, as the leader of this cult, I will occasionally command you to do things. I kinda have to; it's in the cult rulebook. And, no, you can't have a copy of that.

Based on a random check of my royalty statements and one impromptu book signing party, some of you have already figured this out and purchased my book based on the subtle hints dropped here (like this one). Good for you. And thanks.

But now the time has come for you to do something for me again. But it's not just for me. It's for the good of music, for the good of free choice, and for the good of my beloved Jersey City.

The yearly WFMU Music Marathon started today and runs through Sunday, March 18. WFMU, for the uninitiated, is a listener-supported freeform radio station that broadcasts just a few blocks from where I type this in Jersey City. The station, which can be found locally at 90.7 FM and streaming on the Web at http://www.wfmu.org, has a show for nearly every musical taste (but, alas, not polka), and while not all of it's gold, there's enough brilliance to be found on a daily basis that the station deserves your money.

Of course, the most brilliant show would be the aptly titled "The Best Show on WFMU," hosted by the consistently hilarious Tom Scharpling and frequently featuring the comedic stylings of former Superchunk (and Marah) drummer Jon Wurster. Whether it's a dissection of the worst song ever (Neil Diamond's "Porcupine Pie") or a phone call from Wawa devotee and GG Allin fan Philly Boy Roy, the "Best Show" knocks it out of the park more often than any steroid-fueled monster in the majors (check out the archives at your leisure). The "Best Show" airs every Tuesday night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and is regularly full of so many laughs you should feel bad that neither Tom nor Jon gets paid a cent for the service they provide. Of course, you could rectify that by pledging to WFMU here. Your pledge will help keep both the "Best Show" and WFMU going, and that will almost certainly make you feel good. At the very least, it will make me feel good, which is what we're all here for when it comes right down to it.

A $50 pledge could get you this swell Pulaski Skyway t-shirt:

And for just $25 more, you can get the t-shirt and a DJ premium of your choice, most of which are pretty cool. I, of course, highly recommend the "Best Show"'s The Best You Can Do Is Be Worse Than The Best Show 2007 Victory Fun Pack, which will feature a new Scharpling and Wurster CD (as a side, non-Marathon related note, you can buy all the Scharpling and Wurster CDs here...but pledge too, OK?).

Then, there's also the cornerstone of the WFMU Music Marathon, the Annual Yo La Tengo Songfest, in which the Hoboken trio plays requests from the pledgers of America. This year's edition will be on Friday, March 16, from 8 to 11 p.m. It's usually pretty entertaining. Check it out.

And check out WFMU in general. I think you'll find something (and perhaps many somethings) that will tickle your fancy. And when you do, be sure to repay that fancy tickling with a nice pledge. It's the right thing to do.