Sunday, December 25, 2005

Trans Siberian Orchestra at the Savvis Center, December 23, 2005

We're not talking jingle-bell rock here, I'll tell you what. We're talking dangling-balls rock wrapped up in holly and tied with a bow (ouch!). The TSO was TWO DAYS AGO and still I can not grasp hold of that freight-train of an experience.

Dangling balls. The wet dream of any big league hitter. A curve that's supposed to drop but doesn't. It sits up there like an ample bosom in a push-up bra, just waiting for some action. Catch a buxom pitch and BOOM, score. If the Trans Siberian Orchestra were a baseball player, they'd be someone like Reggie Sanders (I'll miss him in our line-up for sure), who is able to spot a dangler from the spin on the seams and then capitalize on it. The dangler in question last Friday? Christmas rock.

You can talk all you want about Mannheim Steamroller. They were the Jackie Robinson of the big touring Christmas Rock Extravaganza. But what I saw on Friday wasn’t as sissified as the Steamroller. Unlike them, who sound like the Moody Blues on Ex-Lax, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra were raised on Led Zep, Metallica, Heart and Sheryl Crow. They had fifteen people working for them full time, including, in no particular order, a hot British lady on electric violin, a handsome lead guitarist who played a Jackson Flying V, three sexy backup singers, a kick-ass drummer, a bassist who kept to the back – where bassists are supposed to be – but provided enough bottom end to tow the whole boat.

On this night, TSO were in top form. They’ve been doing this for years now, and by the time December 23 rolled around in St. Louis, they had mastered the set. Catching them at this point is akin to seeing a great baseball team in the first game of a world series: they’ve had the entire season to prepare themselves, to learn each others’ strengths and weaknesses, to devise a strategy. They were firing on all cylinders, hitting choruses like Clemens hits the outside corner of the plate. They quoted Yes’s “Roundabout,” moved from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” – OH MY GOD if you haven’t heard classical music on wailing electric guitar, you have’t heard classical music!!! – to Led Zeppelin’s “Rock ‘n Roll. They were so tight you could bounce a penny on them.

Oh Christmas! Oh Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

And we were in the FRONT ROW. We could see the twinkle in the back-up singers’ eyes. We laughed with them. We cried with them. We didn’t dance. We don’t dance. But we understood the feeling. We understood Christmas. We felt the rock. The Christmas Rock.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


OMG I'm about to jump out of my cleats. Tomorrow night is Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Savvis Center in St. Louis. I can not wait. What is xmas w/o TSO? Not much. Look at the numbers: $16 million in ticket sales in 2004. That same year they sold more than a million copies of their latest recording, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories." Last year's tour was, according to Rolling Stone magazine, one of the Top 20 money-making tours. That's a lot of money. Toss in the merchandising and I'd say TSO founder Paul O'Neill (not to be mistaken with the former treasury secretary who once traveled to Africa with the amazing Bono of U2) has got a pretty good gig here. Let's just hope he doesn't fudge it up tomorrow night.

We diehards call ourselves Siberians. Kind of like Buffett fans call themselves Parrotheads. Some Siberians structure their whole xmases around these shows. Last year's show kicks some high holy ass.

One good thing is that the concert's on home turf. I'll be able the weasel my way anywhere in the place. Fewer people know Tony La Russa in Seattle, so sometimes it's tough. But I know a few ushers at the Savvis. Ushers are not like umpires. Ushers can be bought and sold. Grease a few palms, next thing you know you're standing at the side of the stage watching Whitesnake kick out the fucking jams. The whitesnake is a beautiful snake. And David Coverdale straddlnig a mic stand is like watching Bob Gibson's stroke when he throws a slider. It's this thing to behold, a perfect melding of graceful physicality, ritual and consistency. Sorry for the diversion. I just think Whitesnake rocks. So does Bob Gibson. So does TSO!



Friday, December 16, 2005

Tony LaRussa does not pick fights

People ask me about religion all the time. I'm not much of a church goer. I'm more into Buddhism. Because of this, I'm more of a lamb than a lion. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and that line is right on the opposite side of Ted Nugent. Now, when I was younger and the Nuge was more about rocking than he was about killing harmless little creatures, I rocked "Wango Tango" and "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" just like any other woman loving man. But when he started putting bullets through squirrels' heads, I got fed up. Pick on someone your own size, Nuge-nuts. Sign this petition. Get the bastard off the air.

Private to Ted Nugent: I challenge you to a fight anywhere, anytime, any place. I'll even come to Detroit if it means wiping that kitten-eating grin off your face.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tuesday, December 13: Iron & Wine and Calexico.

People ask me a lot about the fans, and how they affect the players on the field. Most people say that a home crowd is a blessing, and usually it is. We got great fans in St. Louis, I'll tell you what. But take for example the participatory crowd "wave," where people stand and sit in unison.

When the crowd gets a good "wave" going around the stands, it's distracting. We get excited by the beauty of collective thinking. We're human. So when Mulder's on the mound, the pitch count's at 2-2 and all the sudden 50,000 people are participating in a wave, it's distracting for him. His heart starts pumping a little harder, and he tends to over-throw the ball. If you pay attention to successful waves and their affect on pitchers, you'll see a connection. More batters are walked during waves than during stillness. It is a fact.

Why am I talking about waves on Card Carrying Rocker, a rock blog?

Last night on a whim I decided to forego Krieger and Manzarek in SF and hit STL for some soft rock: Iron & Wine and Calexico at Mississippi Nights. The crowd had a detrimental effect on the concert. They kept shhhing and shushing every time a rumble of human voices arose. The shushes far outweighed the noise, and was more distracting to the bands than the noise itself.

Soft rock. What do we do about soft rock? Where do we put it? In a place like Mississippi Nights, crowds are have been Pavlov-ed into whooping it up. Whooping it up and Iron & Wine do not mix. Iron & Wine, despite having a full band, play quiet rock. They have nuance. Beer and nuance do not mix. Statistics have shown that the more beer a bar sells during a concert, the higher the decibal output. The higher the decibal output, the louder people have to talk, which raises the decibals, and so on and so forth. Then the band starts playing louder, and then what? Louder still.

I say we separate soft rock, which isn't really rock & roll, but simply gently ampified folk music. Put it in theaters or concert halls. Then the white-collars can enjoy their lite rock away from us, the real rockers.

Bob Dylan pulled a clever trick at his 1965 Manchester Hall concert -- the infamous "Judas!" show. As the rumbling and catcalling gave way to foot stomping and rabble-rousing, Dylan decided on a clever strategy. Between songs, he started mumbling really low. Quiet, almost a whisper. No one could hear what he was saying. He kept going, whisper whisper whisper. The crowd, confused, wanted to hear what he was saying. So they got quiet, and then quieter, until the room was a hush. Genius move on Dylan's part because it's counter-intuitive.

Now that's rock & roll.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Monday, December 12: A Day That Will Live in Infamy

I'm going to depart from routine here for a moment, so please bear with me. Departing from routine does not come easy for me. Routine stands as the bedrock that makes Tony Tony. Tony departing from routine constitutes an oxymoron akin to a "retarded poodle" or a "worthless single-malt scotch".

Finally, a caveat to anyone who reads this: It's not going to be pretty. (Note to parents of small children: Swearing alert!)

I hadn't intended to post today -- never any decent rock shows on Mondays, anyway. And besides, I was feeling low. Figured I'd spend a quiet evening with the dogs and Michael McDonald's The Ultimate Collection, a topnotch CD from the folks at Rhino (who, I might add, are among the top 3% of record companies -- which is to say they're the solid, reliable Mike Matheny of record companies, as opposed to, say, the nonpareil Carlton Fisk of record companies).

I could listen to "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)" every single day for the rest of my life and never tire of it. The man's a genius. But by Track 12 ("It Keeps You Runnin'"), I just couldn't take it anymore.

Matt Morris -- my Matt Morris -- a San Francisco Giant? Fuckety fuck fuck fuck fuck!

Alright. That's over and done with. Time to "turn the page". Tomorrow night: Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger's Riders on the Storm rock the Fillmore. You know where I'll be.

Neil Diamond, Sunday, December 11, St. Louis, MO, Savvis Center

One out of four attendees had a Christmas sweater on. That's 5,000 Christmas sweaters in one building. I wonder what the world record is. Christmas sweaters are like alternate road uniforms. The only black guy in the arena was Neil's conga man. But Bob Costas was there in a black leather jacket, which atoned for that deficiency. Sort of. There's only one word to describe Neil's performance: professional. I suspect he didn't sing "Solitary Man" because he's more of a team player in his advanced age. But he sang just about everything else, including my personal favorite, "Love on the Rocks." Women still swoon at the sight of Sir Neil, who's got to be in his sixties. Granted, he's a good-looking man, but he gives off a sexual energy I haven't really witnessed since I managed Edgar Renteria. Few people know that I attended this concert with an endangered baby mountain lion on leash. When Neil did his "Johnathan Seagull Suite," there were pictures of birds on jumbo screens on either side of the stage. There were also bird emblems on Neil's acoustic guitar. Cherry, cherry. My mountain lion went berserk at the sight of the birds, so we had to put him down. Lesson learned: Never take a baby mountain lion to a Neil Diamond show. Which begs the question: What about an adult mountain lion? Could he look at the bird pictures without wanting to attack Neil's guitar? I'm not sure I'm going to give myself -- or the lion -- a chance to find out.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Moody Blues, Sunday, November 13, Oakland, California, Paramount Theatre.

Concert number five. I'm as nauseated as I've ever been. I have a terrible headache. My head is pounding. I feel like throwing up, and I'm having trouble swallowing. And the beauty of it is, you want to feel like this every day. After doing this for three decades, I'm starting to understand aspects of the music that once baffled me — like how many minutes to take between second and third encores for maximum Bic lighter-age, or where to position the keyboardist onstage in relation to the bassist and drummer. Tonight, I took some excellent LSD during "Nights in White Satin" because I wanted to peak during "Ride My See-Saw," and they always play that six songs — fifty-four minutes — later. I know these things. I predict outcomes based on past performance. Still, the magic remains at the center of it all. Four guys rocking. Each working in relation to the others. A machine. A unit. Beautiful. Just beautiful rock & roll.

Jethro Tull, Friday, November 11, Oakland, California, Paramount Theatre.

Is there a more beautiful picture in all of rock & roll than flutist Ian Anderson, posing in a one-legged, foot-on-calf stand while tearing it up on the flute? The flute: In most hands, it's a utility instrument. In Anderson's hands, it's a mighty piece of steel. Know what it is? Foot position. Without a sturdy center, he's falling straight over. Fingers can't fly if he's unbalanced. Before Jimmy Page takes the violin bow to the Les Paul, he better have a consistent stance.

Def Leppard and Bryan Adams, Thursday, November 10, Sacramento, California, Arco Arena.

Song position. People ignore it, but I say you can't. Def Leppard played "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" in the eighth position tonight. That was odd. What's Joe Elliott up to? 78 percent of the time, Leppard follows "Heartbreak" with "Pour Some Sugar on Me." Pay attention to those numbers. You have to know, for example, that 97 percent of the time Journey follows "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" with "City of the Angels." The numbers are higher for Queen and "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions." I don't want to miss "Pour Some Sugar on Me."

The problem? I shotgunned three beers in the parking lot, and that was an hour and 23 minutes ago. I have no idea when that song's going to come now. I will need to piss in eight minutes, potentially during my favorite Leppard song. Based on percentages — and experience — I'm better able to predict outcome, and thus better able to know the best time to urinate. Unless it's a Springsteen concert. Then all bets are off.

U2, Wednesday, November 9, Oakland, California, Oakland Arena.

I'm a little worried about tonight. Larry Mullen looks to have a bad ankle. Without a steady ankle, rocking the kick-drum over the course of a 22-song set can wear Mullen down. A bum ankle on the drummer means more work for bassist Adam Clayton, who has to pick up the slack. On a song like "(Pride) In the Name of Love," bass drives Bono to take it higher. You need bass. The kicker? Clayton cut his thumb yesterday — drunken car-door slam — so he's going to have a hard time pounding the B-note. What's "Pride" without a heavy B? How does this affect Bono? What about the Edge?

Paul McCartney, Monday, November 7, San Jose, California, HP Pavilion

Unlike those surrounding me at concerts who lose themselves completely, I remain Tony LaRussa during a kickass concert. I may nod my head or tap my foot, but I don't dance. I can't afford to. Sure, I've studied McCartney. I've got his Portland setlist memorized. I know that he jammed "Blackbird," and that he's done that song nine times in the past twelve shows. But he didn't play it at Anaheim earlier in the week. What does this mean? If I start dancing, I might miss some subtle cue that will hint at the future direction of the concert. Plus, it's not just about tonight. It's the whole week of rock. If I blow my wad tonight, what shape am I going to be in for Tull?