Concert Review: Summerland Tour Kicks Off in Saratoga, CA

Five bands whose heydays were the 90s have joined forces to create one fun night of music. They are: Everclear, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Lit, and Marcy Playground.

One supposes the idea is that everyone of a certain age (I'm on the young side of this particular collective, but I still count) will know and remember at least some of these songs and bands and will probably enjoy pretty much all that is on offer. This was generally my experience at the concert. I love Gin Blossoms and really like Everclear and Sugar Ray, but before last night I couldn't have told you what Marcy Playground or Lit were known for. This led to many, "Oh! I know this song!" and "Oh! They play that song!" moments. Not entirely unpleasant, and it's always fun to be introduced to some new music among the favorites.

Our Hosts for the Evening: Art Alexakis and Mark McGrath

Marcy Playground started things off (the song you know by them if you don't own the album? "Sex and Candy"), always a tough spot to be in because of course the house isn't nearly full yet so it can seem like one is singing into a void. But they were really good (to me, someone who couldn't have identified them prior to last night), and the song off their new album was also very catchy in a way that made me actively think, I need to go check them out.

Marcy Playground (lead singer John Wozniak)

Then Lit came out—and bravo to the stage crew for the super-fast switch overs—and again, I wouldn't have known anything by them until they did that one song all people who listened to the radio in the 90s can identify ("My Own Worst Enemy"). They're not entirely my bag, but I didn't dislike their music, and anyway, that's what Summerland is about: a five-course meal of music, and there may be some dishes you like more than others, but it's all within the same family of cuisine so nothing is likely to really offend your palate.

Lit (the Popoff brothers)

To their credit, the bands were up front about the fact they were there to play their big hits, though I always find myself wondering how much they hate having to do that. Part of the job, I suppose. And very crowd pleasing. Gin Blossoms could have done a much longer set and still never have touched all their best songs; as it was, they did the standards: "Hey Jealousy" and "Follow You Down" and "Found Out About You" and "Allison Road." All great songs. But I'm really pleased they did "Miss Disarray" because I think No Chocolate Cake is a fantastic album that doesn't get nearly enough love.

I also enjoyed that Robin Wilson climbed over the seats to stand near me a couple times (the benefits of being third-row center).

Robin Wilson of Gin Blossoms

But as much as I love Gin Blossoms—they were my reason for attending Summerland, all the rest being bonus—Sugar Ray was the most fun act of the evening. Mark McGrath has clearly embraced his spot in the rock cannon, truly enjoys it and the fans, and that joy is infectious to the audience. I enjoyed the entire evening, but I enjoyed Sugar Ray most; they were the dessert tray for this particular buffet.

Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray

Rounding out the night was Everclear. No one else has a voice like Art Alexakis; the closest I could come to might be a shade off Tom Petty. The band turned in a solid performance, if more staid than the other bands, ending on the two biggest of their hits, "Wonderful" and "Santa Monica" (the latter still being my favorite of their songs, though overall I like the Songs From an American Movie Vol. 1 album best). They, too, played a new number that was really good, giving me the sense that everything old is new again.

Everclear's Art Alexakis

I appreciate the Summerland tour for reminding me what I liked—and still like—about this music and these musicians. More than mere nostalgia, these are great songs and great singers and great albums. As radio rotation grows increasingly bizarre in that new stuff is constantly consumed only to plateau at the same ten or so songs being played repeatedly, I enjoy finding new stuff to listen to . . . Even if it isn't technically "new." Summerland had me thinking, I need to go find that CD, and, I need to remember to put that back on my iPod. And yes, even: I need to pick up their new album. Which is the bottom line, perhaps, but what a fun way to reach it.


Books: St. Peter in Chains

I'm not going to review it because I wrote it. St. Peter in Chains is a novella, now available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle. I'm hoping to roll it out to other e-reading devices soon. But if you happen to have a Kindle, you can go here to pick up this little gem of a story.

In short, the novella is about intelligence agent Peter Stoller falling in love for the first time . . . and the ensuing consequences. A quick read that I characterize as a cross between Mad Men and a John le Carré novel in that it's a quietly intense book built more with character than plot.

Hope you enjoy it.


Movie Review: This Means War

Starring: Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon
Directed By: McG
Written By: Timothy Dowling & Simon Kinberg (screenplay), Timothy Dowling & Marcus Gautesen (story)
20th Century Fox
R; 99 min
2 stars (out of 5)


Let me just begin by pointing out that the spec script for this movie sold waaaay back in May of 1998, and at that time Marcus Gautesen was credited as the writer. Also, the original logline for the movie was something along the lines of it being about two men who share an apartment and rent the third room to this girl, over whom they end up fighting (and destroying half of New York, so I guess maybe they were also superheroes or something?) . . . Clearly a lot of rewriting went on in the decade and more between the script being sold and the movie being filmed and brought into theaters.

Whatever. The end result is what matters, after all, and This Means War is kind of a mess, the epitome of a not-too-bad idea poorly executed. Hardy and Pine actually have decent chemistry and would have done really well in a typical buddy movie. Meanwhile, the fundamental flaws in the story sink the ship.

For one: the wrong guy wins (I won't spoil it for you by saying which it is). I base this on the fact that one of the male leads is mostly honest, despite the underhanded dealings of spying on the girl and sabotaging his cohort's efforts, etc. The other male lead is far more despicable in that he actively fakes an interest in art and stray animals in order to garner the girl's affection. I can't really forgive, then, the fact that the biggest cheater gets the girl.

Then again, the girl isn't much of a prize. She's two-timing, after all, and while I allow some leeway—no one has mentioned being exclusive—she gets on her high horse about the whole thing when she finds out the two guys are friends. Um, sorry? You didn't mention to them that you were dating other guys, but they were supposed to tell you they knew each other? There's a big leap in logic there, in that the girl (her name is Lauren, btw) assumes because the guys were friends they also knew they were both dating the same girl. Maybe I'm atypical and/or don't know a lot about how guys work, but it doesn't necessarily follow in my world that my friends know every twist and turn of my love life.

This romantic farce is laid over a hollow-boned story of how the two CIA agent guys are being hunted by a baddie who's angry about his brother's death. In the most predictable fashion, the boys must save the girl. Then she picks her hero, and the odd man out ends up with a consolation prize (his ex-wife, now much more interested in him when she discovers he's not the travel agent she thought he was).

All in all, though the lead actors have very good chemistry, the movie itself is a loss. It's rote and not even funny in places where it should be. Next time get Tom Hardy and Chris Pine to date each other; it would work out better on all fronts.


Television: Shows I Used to Like but Keep Forgetting Ever Existed

Every now and then I'll see something that reminds me of an old television show. And not just the typical old television show, but some off-kilter, short-lived thing that I liked but no one else watched.

Case in point: I'm reading yesterday's Daily Variety and see Dominic Purcell. Sure, most people might think Prison Break, but that wasn't my first thought. Mine was: Remember that John Doe show?

Well, do you?

Probably not any more than you remember, say, Glory Days, which for me is inextricably tied to John Doe. Were they on at about the same time? I have no idea; maybe it's the settings or the tenors of the shows that were similar. My recollections of these programs are vague at best, seeing how these shows didn't last very long, and as the saying goes: I've slept since then. Several times.

It's a strange situation. These are shows I watched regularly and enjoyed, but they simply didn't last long enough to make more than the faintest impressions on my memory. Is it the difference between one season and two? Or is it the force of the actors involved? Because I remember American Gothic quite clearly, and it also didn't air for very long (but did win just more than one season, and had the incredible Gary Cole at its forefront). The Pretender, too, is vivid in my mind. And yet I can only hazily recall that Dark Shadows reboot from the 90's. Or Covington Cross. Or Black Jack Savage. If I hadn't collected so many magazine clippings as a pre-teen, I probably wouldn't remember any of them at all, even now.

What shows make your list of barest remembrances? Is there anything that sometimes lights your bulb? Or is it just me?


Music: "She's So Mean" by Matchbox Twenty

So this is the new MB20 single off the forthcoming North (out 4 Sept). I'll count it as catchy but the lyrics leave something to be desired. At least, what I can remember of them. The gist of the song appears to be that this girl is really pretty and a lot of fun, but she'll wreck your life so [the guy they're singing to?] should just dump her. Oh, and also: she's mean.

Fun! But mean. Hot! But mean. Scratches your records and stuff. Drinks too much rum.

Um . . . Okay.

I know I'm reading too much into this. I have a degree in cultural media studies; I've been designed to break things apart this way. And so I just can't dig this song as much as I'd like to be able to. Oh, it'll be stuck in my head for a while, sure, but . . . I'm looking forward to hearing some other stuff from the album. This one is middling.


Movie/Theatre: Frankenstein

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller
Directed By: Danny Boyle
Written By: Nick Dear (adaptation), Mary Shelley (novel)
National Theatre Live
3.75 stars (out of 5)


I'm not really looking at this in terms of a "review" so much as a meandering of thoughts. Over the past couple nights I've been to the local cinema, which showed first the "original casting" of this play, as filmed at London's National Theatre, and then (the second night) the "reverse casting." In an already rather heavy-handed adaptation, I find the gimmick of swapping actors somewhat precious and unnecessary in getting the point across, but so be it.

The original casting featured Cumberbatch as The Creature and JLM as his creator Victor Frankenstein. While I surely do understand the difference between acting on a stage and acting for the camera—I've worked in both media—I often have this terrible feeling Cumberbatch is showing off a bit. It works sometimes, for some characters, but can be a bit over the top at moments. The opening scene in which The Creature is "born" and learns to walk felt interminable as a result. But on the whole I'd say Cumberbatch did a fine job as a very physical actor in a very physical role.

Meanwhile, JLM played Frankenstein in such a straightforward way as to bring to my mind Colin Firth. (Since I like Colin Firth, this should be taken as a compliment.) Something about the way JLM acts cuts through the extraneous; I found the same to be true on the second night when he played The Creature. His acting brings clarity to the character, the events as they happen, the story as a whole. In places where Cumberbatch is showy, JLM is direct, which worked to the balance of the production overall.

And so on the second night, the birth of The Creature as portrayed by JLM seemed far less wearisome. But he also did not exude quite as much delight as Cumberbatch in his interpretation of The Creature discovering the world. But JLM's Creature showed more progress in movement and speech over the course of the play as a whole, as if the learning curve for the character had been brought to the fore; the intelligence is more evident.

On the flip side, Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein lent a humor to the character that JLM had not given him. Cumberbatch's delivery and timing were far more nuanced than JLM's had been.

I thought I would be able to walk away from both and say, "This one was better," but the truth is I would pick and choose parts of each to make the perfect show—a sort of theatrical Frankensteining.

As for the play itself, as I mentioned, I felt a bit as if I were being beat over the head with its themes of creator/creation, life, man, genius/monster, good/evil, and so forth. (To discuss it all would require a separate post.) Some of the dialogue was outright clunky. So while I can admire the stagecraft involved, I can't wholeheartedly admire the play. There is much to recommend it, but it wouldn't suffer for some finessing, either, though whether it's an issue of the writing or directing or both I'm not entirely sure. Would the same words in a less brute force display seem more appealing? Or do the words themselves need to be cut back a bit? Unclear. And it doesn't much matter what I say or think anyway, since the show was a hit and will surely live long on various stages in the future in one form or another.