Monday, December 27, 2010

Resolutions for 2011

While it's true that the failure rate of New Year's Resolutions is notoriously high, I've decided this year to give them a shot. Because of the failure rate, I'm putting these out there so that on one hand, I have them all in written form (which means no moving of the goal posts as we get rolling into 2011), and on the other, others can see what I've set out to do. This means that it's easy to check up and make sure I'm keeping on keeping on towards completing these goals in 2011.

Commitment to my Body
1. 2010 saw my long sought after goal of breaking back into the 150s (158.9 lbs) finally reached. Now that I've proven I can cut fat, I want to add muscle. By the end of 2011, I'd like to add five to ten pounds of muscle onto my frame.

2. To accomplish my previous goal, I'm committing to exercising five days a week. This can be done either by working out at the Gracie gym (BJJ, boxing, muay thai), Anytime Fitness (weight lifting or treadmill), or by running out on the trail.

3. Instead of running on fumes by the end of the week, I'm going to try and get at least seven hours of sleep a night, with the ultimate goal of getting as close to eight hours a night as possible.

4. While my diet is much better than it used to be, there is still room for improvement. In 2011 I want to cut down on the amount I eat out, and when I do eat out, I want to pick healthier meal options. I also am going to work harder to ensure that I eat a healthy breakfast, and incorporate more fruits and vegetables into my daily fuel intake. I also want to add probiotics and some additional vitamins into my daily regiment.

5. I am sick of wearing glasses. At some point of 2011, I want to finally commit to getting contact lenses so I no longer have to wear my glasses.

Commitment to my Mind
6. I want to learn how to meditate. Combined with this, I want to try going into an isolation tank.

7. Each night before I go to bed, I want to read for at least fifteen minutes.

Commitment to my Future
8. I need to figure out what I want to do with my future in teaching and take active steps in accomplishing whatever I decide to pursue (endorsements or certification in other states).

Commitment to Others
9. I want to volunteer some of time to help out somewhere, probably at an animal shelter.

10. I don't let the people in my life who matter to me know that they do so nearly enough. I want to improve on that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"And I Would, Could You?" - BLACKDIAMONDSKYE tour at the Charter One Pavillion, Chicago on 9.16.10

Usually, if a concert falls during a weekday while the school year is going on, I have to count myself out. It's just too much of a pain to run home from work, get into the city, and then inevitably get home way too late to go and have to teach again the next day. However, when I heard about the BLACKDIAMONDSKYE tour, I had to reconsider. It's rare that every band on the tour is either a band that I want to see (Deftones) or really want to see (Mastodon and Alice in Chains). It's also rare that every band on a tour is touring on an album that was either on my best of the year list (2009- Crack the Skye and Black Gives Way to Blue) or will be (2010- Diamond Eyes). The show was taking place at the Charter One Pavillion, which is one of my favorite spots to catch a show in Chicago (seriously, the skyline hugs the stage, and there are literally no bad angles in the whole place), which was another selling point. When I noticed that Ticketbastard was dropping their services fees for tickets purchased in June, it was the final straw. Three killer bands touring on killer records for $45? Sign this guy up.

The show started promptly at seven with Mastodon taking the stage. I was introduced to Mastodon back in 2005 or 2006 by my guitar teacher at ISU. Josh basically told me, "You WILL listen to Mastodon, and you WILL like it." Thankfully, the band's music is so skull crushingly awesome, it didn't take long before I was geeking out big time on the foursome straight out of Atlanta. Mastodon is a pretty unique band. They write songs that are long, complex, jump time signatures, and involve all sorts of random influences (banjo rolls, chickin' pickin', etc.). Their albums are about topics such as Moby Dick (the absolute metal masterpiece that is Leviathan), or a paralyzed teenager who learns how to travel time through his mind and goes back to meet Rasputin (my Album of the Year for 2009- Crack the Skye). Needless to say, there are some, ahem, alternative plants that go into the creation of their albums.

I was really excited to see Mastodon, and they sounded really good, but honestly, I was a little disappointed by their live show. I don't know if it was because they were still playing during the daylight, but there just wasn't the same vibe that I was anticipating. The band members, with the exception of bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, didn't really move around much. This isn't surprising, as their are a lot of complex guitar parts in their songs, but it really didn't help the show. They played for about 45 minutes, which honestly felt like longer, because their songs do kind of blend together (which is awesome on an album, but not so great live). They also didn't play my favorite song, "Blood and Thunder." That was a big let down. I'd probably still catch Mastodon again if they were playing a club and headlining, as I think they'd probably be better in the dark with a full lighting rig and a longer set (like when they played Crack the Skye in its entirety). I was happy to see them live finally, but they didn't blow me away like I was anticipating.

Next up was Deftones. Going into the show, I wasn't a huge fan of them, besides a few songs I had heard on the radio ("My Own Summer (Shove It)" and "Change (In the House of Flies)"). I had, however, picked up their latest album, Diamond Eyes, and immediately thought it was an excellent record. My excitement to see them had grown pretty quickly in the weeks leading up to the show, as I continued to listen to the record.

Deftones certainly did not disappoint. It was apparent as soon as they came on stage that they were there to deliver, and they did. Vocalist Chino Moreno, was all over the stage, jumping up and down, off a platform, and even into the crowd at one point. Guitarist Stephen Carpenter was throwing down on seven and eight string guitars. This was the first time I had heard an eight string guitar live, and it was crushing at concert volume. Bassist Sergio Vega also was really active on stage. Overall, they were really good live. I can't say that I liked every song (I'm not a huge fan of some of the older stuff), but it was a very entertaining set, and I would see them again without a doubt.

Highlights of Deftones:
-"Diamond Eyes" was a great opening song
-"You've Seen the Butcher" is quickly becoming one of my favorite songs. Something about it just screams sex... and the eight string riffing sounds perfect.
-"Sextape" is a great song, and the disco ball was a nice touch
-The lighting rig was really cool, and worked well, but was a touch too bright. A few points it was literally blinding, and would cause my vision to "green out" after the lights went off.
-The lead singer from Rise Against came out for part of "The Passenger." That was an unexpected surprise.
-Stephen Carpenter has some killer guitars. I especially liked seeing the Louis Vuitton and the pink/purple/white ESP Horizons


Headlining the BLACKDIAMONDSKYE tour was the recently reformed Alice in Chains. I've liked Alice for a long time, and I was excited when they got back together a few years ago. William DuVall, while not quite Layne Staley, does a hell of a job. As far as the Seattle bands of the early 90s, Alice in Chains has always been my favorite, as I felt like they were the most "metal" of the grunge bunch. I also consider the Dirt album a metal masterpiece.

It took a good chunk of time to clear Deftone's gear off of the stage and get Alice in Chain's stage set up. This normally wouldn't have been an issue, but it was getting surprisingly cold out on the lakefront. After what felt like (and may have been pretty close to) 45 minutes, the introductory music started, and as soon as it was finished, the opening chords of "Them Bones" kicked right in. It was apparent from early on that Alice was going to be worth the wait. The stage was set up with a pretty elaborate system of lights and screens that really gave the show a psychedelic overtone. There were microphones all over the stage, which allowed both DuVall and guitarist Jerry Cantrell to move around throughout the show while still laying down vocals. Speaking of Cantrell, his playing and vocals were flawless throughout. The whole band just seemed like they were having fun during the entire show. They played a largely greatest hits set, but there was enough of the new album that it felt like a proper representation on a tour. The new material fit in perfectly, Black Gives Way to Blue really is a great album.

Highlights of Alice in Chains:
-The stage was really well done, especially considering it took less than an hour to set up.
-The sound was excellent, with the exception of DuVall's microphone not being on for the first verse of "Again."
-The guitar tones were slamming. Whoever the tech is, he did a great job micing up.
-The setlist throughout was excellent. Great mixture of old and new.
-The encore of "Man in the Box" and "Would" was killer.


Overall, the BLACKDIAMONDSKYE tour was well worth the cost, even though Mastodon left a little more to be desired.

*None of the pictures in this post are mine. They are from the show I attended, but I found them on the internet.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

20 Albums on an Island: July 2010 Edition

This is an activity that I've done a few times over the years, and it's always interesting to see what does and doesn't change over time. The basic idea behind this is that you're stuck on an island. This island has the ability to power a record player/ CD player (suspend reality), but you only have access to 20 albums. These albums must have been commercially released (no home made greatest hits) in some form. Greatest hits are acceptable, as long as they were commercially available at some point in time (even though it's a cop-out to go to them).

Here we go, in no particular order.

Master of Puppets


Ride the Lightning


...And Justice For All


Faith No More,
Angel Dust


Nine Inch Nails,
The Downward Spiral


Nine Inch Nails,
The Fragile


Black Label Society,
Sonic Brew


Tool, Ænima




The Best of Pantera: Far Beyond the Great Southern Cowboy's Vulgar Hits*


Devin Townsend,
Ocean Machine: Biomech




Crack the Skye


Black Sabbath,
We Sold Our Soul For Rock 'N' Roll*


Guns 'N Roses,
Appetite For Destruction


Joe Satriani,
The Electric Joe Satriani: An Anthology*




Ozzy Osbourne,
The Essential Ozzy Osbourne*


White Zombie,
Astro-Creep: 2000 - Songs of Love, Destruction, and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head



*this is a greatest hits style album

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Prying Open My Third Eye"- Tool at the Sprint Center, Kansas City on 6.25.10

In the fifteen or so years following my introduction to Tool (which probably came with the song "Sober," which either on the radio or the music video leaves a strong impression), my thoughts on the band have shifted numerous times. There were periods that I loved the unique sound and thought provoking nature of the band, and there were also times that I found those same things utterly pretentious. What had not changed for a long time was that Tool was very high on the list of bands that I wanted to see live. I had heard from a variety of sources that their concerts were excellent, and certainly worth the cost of the tickets. Because of the reclusive nature of the band (they release an album roughly every five years), as well as their usual touring schedule
revolving more around "mini-tours" than full blown tours, there were not many opportunities to see them live. I missed their 2009 show in Chicago due to it being during Lalapalooza. I have no urge to sit through a day of crappy bands to see one band (nor do I wish to pay for those 20 crappy bands). Thus, when I saw Tool's 2010 tour schedule, I was at first disappointed to see no Chicago date, but happy to see a date in Kansas City. Although Kansas City is 500 miles from Chicago, I have family down there, and is also home to my favorite food on the planet. No friends were willing to make the drive, but my dad was willing to go down to Kansas City, so it was set. I snagged a ticket the moment they went on sale and I was ready to rock. I was going to see Tool, and I was going to see Tool right up and close, as my seat was in the eighth row.

My seat in the Sprint Center was stage right, directly in front of the PA. I was going to be right in front of Adam Jones, Tool's guitarist's, rig. I had forgotten my Hearos (ear plugs that don't cut clarity as much, only decibels), so I was a little nervous about the effect on my ears, but I won't lie- I was excited that I would really be feeling the music. After killing some time drinking a beer, eating a hot dog, and telling someone that I would not buy them a beer (sorry honey, you didn't look 18, much less 21, no matter how many times you assured me you were and had just lost your ID), it was time for the opening band, Wovenhand ("Down in Yon Forest"), to take the stage. I had never heard of them, and while their songs sounded similar to each other, and the band members didn't really move around much, they were pretty good. Tool certainly isn't afraid of putting bands that are very different than them on stage as openers. They played for about a half an hour, and then it was time for Tool to hit the stage.
In the last decade or so, Tool's stage show has gotten more elaborate as they've reached further into progressive music and moved away from straight forward metal. Tool has always been about expanding one's mind (this show was one of the times I actually wished that I indulged in substance use, as it seemed many around me were, and with hindsight, my mind would have probably been blown) and thus expanding one's knowledge and understanding of the body/mind/soul. They clearly had a large budget for this tour, as there was a large LCD screen that ran behind the stage, two large video screens on the corners of the stage, two other displays, a screen that ran behind the stage, and an elaborate lighting rig that was able to move up and down between songs. At precisely 9:00, an outlined version of Timothy Leary's face appeared on the LCD screen and began with, "Think for yourself, question authority. Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are or where we're going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities: the political, the religious, the educational, who have attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing, forming in our minds their view of reality. To think for yourself, you must question authority, and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable, open mindedness, chaotic, confused, vulnerability to inform yourself. Think for yourself, question authority." What a great summary of Tool. As this was going on, the band had gotten on stage, and it was time for the first song, "Third Eye" to really kick in.

Many of the criticisms that were aimed at the band after the show are some of the same points that I felt were strong points about the show. It is true that the vocalist in the band, Maynard James Keenan, spent most of the show in the shadows right in front of the LCD screen. It is also true that the rest of the band members don't really move around much. It can also be said that the video show and lasers accompanying the songs, especially later in the set, overpowered the band members on stage. While I can understand people making those criticisms, I feel like they're missing the point of Tool. Tool has always been reluctant to show themselves in their videos, and they try to make the music the central focus of the show. I felt like the video show and the lasers added to the show, as they really immersed one in the song. The videos were synced, so they hit their key marks right when the song hit the key moments. The sound was crushingly loud (my whole body was vibrating on any part involving double kick drums), but it was mixed really well. I could clearly hear each band member clearly in the mix. Tool played for almost exactly two hours, and their set list consisted of:

-Third Eye* (Part 1 and Part 2)
-(-) Ions
-Eon Blue Apocalypse
-The Patient
-46 & 2

*video taken from the tour I saw

Highlights of the show:
-Being that close to the stage, the video screens dominated my vision, which was completely immersive.
-Having the music videos playing was really cool, it really brought the multiple ways to hear a song together.
-Maynard's bull horn with a microphone attached to it is pretty cool. I want one.
-Danny Carey's drumming was killer all night... that guy can play his ass off.
-Maynard's quote before "Intolerance"- 'Raise your hand if you're under 19. How about 20? This song is older than you are. For those of you 25 and younger, don't be so high and mighty, you were only five.'
-"Lateralus" with Wovenhand's drummer onstage as well was epic. The ending was amazing.

While this show did not top the Nine Inch Nails Wave Goodbye mini-tour shows of August 2009, it easily ranks in my top five concerts that I've seen. Tool was great live, and I look forward to seeing them again.

**The pictures in this post are from the show I saw, but I did not take them.
***The paintings are by Alex Grey, an artist that Tool has been associated with for a long time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Pit: Best Black Sabbath Frontman- Ozzy Osbourne or Ronnie James Dio


-The History:
In many people's view (mine included), Black Sabbath are the originators of metal. They were the first to bring all the elements that are now known as heavy metal (ie. downtuned guitars, heavily distorted amplifiers, lyrics about dark topics, etc.) together into one cohesive band. The importance of Black Sabbath in regards to heavy metal literally cannot be overstated. They wrote the template and have been putting out crushing records since 1969. Even today, while many Sabbath records sound aged technologically speaking, they are still crushingly heavy. The song "Black Sabbath" is, to me, more menacing and evil than anything that shock rockers like Marilyn Manson or the black metal bands from Scandinavia have ever laid down on track. While Black Sabbath has released 19 (including the one as Heaven & Hell, because, let's be honest- it's Black Sabbath) studio albums featuring six different lead singers, their best material clearly centers around two of them: Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio. Because of the less than pleasant exit that Osbourne had from the band in 1979, as well as the striking difference in styles between the two singers, debate has raged in the metal world for the last 30 plus years as to who really is the best Black Sabbath frontman.

-The Sides:

  • Ozzy Osbourne: Ozzy was the lead singer in Black Sabbath for eight albums. While the last two (Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die) are widely panned, the first six are considered metal classics. The highlights of Ozzy's years in Sabbath include the songs "Black Sabbath," "War Pigs," "Children of the Grave," "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," and "Hole in the Sky." At least three of the albums he sings on as the original Black Sabbath vocalist are considered essential metal listening (Paranoid, Master of Reality, and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath), and three more that easily could be as well.
  • Ronnie James Dio: Following Ozzy's exit in 1979, Black Sabbath recruited Ronnie James Dio to replace him. Whereas Osbourne became famous due to his time in Black Sabbath, Dio was already well known from him time in Richie Blackmore's (Deep Purple guitarist) band, Rainbow. Dio released two albums in his initial run with Sabbath, as well as a third in the early 90s, and finally, one more in 2009 (under the Heaven & Hell moniker). Unlike Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio wrote a majority of his own lyrics. Dio's highlights in Black Sabbath include "Children of the Sea," "Heaven and Hell," "The Sign of the Southern Cross,""Falling of the Edge of the World," and "I." The first two albums Dio recorded with Black Sabbath ( Heaven and Hell and The Mob Rules) are widely considered classics.
-The Verdict: Ozzy Osbourne
The important part about this debate, to me, is that the argument is about best FRONTMAN, not best singer. If the debate centered around the best singer, there is no argument that Ronnie James Dio would be the winner. His voice was far superior to Ozzy's even before the effects of time (and on Ozzy's part, heavy drug abuse) came into play. While Dio was a great frontman in his own right, Ozzy just fits Black Sabbath better in my opinion. His lack of a quality voice actually benefits many of the songs, considering their less than happy topics (war, death, evil, etc.). It really adds an element of grit that otherwise would not be there, and the vocals complement the distorted tones of Iommi's guitar and Butler's bass (especially on the early records when they were cooking amps). Dio's voice, while excellent, sometimes leads Sabbath into a zone that borders on cheesy. Off the stage, Ozzy Osbourne's legendary consumption of a variety of substances, combined with his unpredictable behavior while on them, certainly helps to cement his image as a true "metal" frontman. While this is not a desirable trait (drugs are bad, kids), and it did lead to his exit from the band, it helped push Sabbath as a band on the edge, which is what heavy metal should always strive to be.

Ultimately, Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio sounds like a different band than it did with Ozzy Osbourne, and we as listeners should be happy for the sheer volume of classic music that either vocalist made with the band. Black Sabbath is a truly legendary band, and any listener of heavy music should be thankful that either vocalist was there to lay down the amazing songs that they did.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Albums That Blew My Mind: "The Downward Spiral" by Nine Inch Nails

Like many people in my age range, my first exposure to Nine Inch Nails’ music was the video for “Closer,” (uncensored version here) which even in its censored version was one of the most disturbing music videos I had ever seen. It became kind of infamous during middle school, largely because of beating heart, spinning pig head, the bondage stuff, and of course, the chorus. While I thought it was a cool song (what middle school aged student isn't going to think a song about sex that uses naughty words is cool?), I didn't really pay too much attention to it.

This was the case until the my freshman year of high school (1999, or NIN_eteen NIN_ety NIN_e, as the case could be), when NIN released The Fragile (which will get its own Albums That Blew My Mind post in due time). After seeing the video for "We're In This Together," and picking up a copy of The Fragile, I knew I wanted more Nine Inch Nails. This led to a brief battle over if I could purchase the album (the lyrics to "Big Man With a Gun" did NOT go over well), but I eventually persisted and was able to buy a copy.

Upon first listening, I immediately noticed a feeling of discomfort. I was used to heavy music (although, admittedly at the time, I was big into the rap-rock mix), and even Nine Inch Nails' late 90s sound, but this album was somehow different. It just sounded... unclean. The music itself was just a layered wall of sound that sounded like skin scraping against concrete. The mix was complex and sounded evil . The lyrics dealt with dark topics (addiction to drugs, control through sex, suicide, etc.). This was certainly a different beast than any other album I owned at the time. Even the album art seemed dirty. The pictures were of death and decay. The album was recorded at the house where Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family... this thing was certainly not a family friendly record.
So, as a person who doesn't do drugs, isn't depressed, and by all accounts is relatively "normal," why does The Downward Spiral blow my mind, considering the paragraph written above?

I think to a certain extent, a lot of people like delving into the "dark" areas that they normally wouldn't want to go, and The Downward Spiral does a great job serving as a guide into the world of self destruction. There are many who believe the album follows the story of a protagonist who strips away each layer of his addictions, and as he does, he slips further into madness. This is the first half of the album, ending with "Big Man With a Gun." As "A Warm Place" starts and the second half begins, the man decides to kill himself, and after having one last encounter with a whore, shoots himself in the head. As the final track, "Hurt," plays, the protagonist reflects on what has happened as he bleeds out. I find this an interesting take on what is going on because it makes sense following the lyrics and tone of the album, but at the same time is never explicitly stated.One is able to take the album on its surface is they choose to do so, but they can also delve deeper into the meaning if they want to.

I especially love this album because of the amazing musicality in it. Trent Reznor may not be the greatest at playing any of the instruments present on the album, but he is a master at layering sound and dissonance into a fantastic sounding product. One can listen to the songs, and they work, but when one really begins to pay attention to EACH thing going on during the tracks, that is when the songs really begin to shine. There are a surprising number of instruments, samples, and distortions going on at any given time. Because this album is industrial, many of these samples are not true instruments (for example, a gunshot is used as a drum in "Mr. Self Destruct"). To take such chaos, and turn it into a cohesive product is no easy task.

It's hard to say why Nine Inch Nails and The Downward Spiral struck and continues to strike such a strong chord with me. In high school, I can see why the antisocial nature of the songs and the darkness would have appealed to the outsider that I was, but now at 25, I am a completely different person, and yet I still come back to this album on a regular basis (I've bought three copies on CD thus far). I was beyond excited when I found out that The Downward Spiral was played in its entirety on a few of the Wave Goodbye shows. Maybe one day in the future, I'll get the chance to hear it live.
Some songs to check out:
-"Eraser" live in 1995
-"March of the Pigs" music video
-"Hurt" from a Hurricane Katrina benefit concert (Trent lived in NOLA for years)
-"Heresy" live in 2009
-"Mr. Self Destruct" live in 2009 from the final "Wave Goodbye" club shows

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Concert Review: Scale the Summit/DTP/Cynic/BtBaM @ The House of Blues 1/24/10

This was a tour that I was excited about as soon as I heard about it, but for the first time, it was for the opening bands, not the headliner. I've been a Devin Townsend fan for about five years now, but had never been able to make it to a show when he was in Chicago with either The Devin Townsend Band or Strapping Young Lad. In those five years, Townsend had become one of my favorite musicians. I've gotten into Cynic and Scale the Summit fairly recently, but both were touring on really good albums and both had some serious potential to put on a great show, so I was really excited to see them too. Between the Buried and Me wasn't really on my radar, so I figured if they were good, it was just a bonus. If not, I had no complaints about dropping $27 ($15 plus Ticketbastard fees.... yes, I'm serious) just to see StS, DTP, and Cynic at the House of Blues.

We got to the House of Blues about 4:30, doors opened at 5:00, and we were inside by about 5:10. I saw Black Label Society in 2005 at the Chicago House of Blues, but I had forgotten how small it was. With as small as the floor is at the HoB, we decided just to stand back in the corner of the main floor. That way we weren't near the moshpits (I can't stand moshing... what's the point?) nor right next to the PA, as I was just getting over some ear ringing and didn't want to have that happen again. After making two quick trips to the bar (including the soon to be traditional shot of Jagermeister), we were ready for the show to begin. The House of Blues has a no camera policy, so no photos from this one.

Scale the Summit began promptly at 5:30. They're an instrumental band from Austin, Texas. They played for a half an hour, and were great. All the members in the band (two guitars, bass, and drums) are pros on their instruments. I don't remember the songs that they played (I listen to their albums while I'm working, so I'm not conscious of song titles), but I was impressed. They do some really intricate harmonies, and both guitarists are very capable of soloing. They didn't have a ton of stage presence, but that is to be expected considering the style of music.

Up next was The Devin Townsend Project. Under normal circumstances, Devin Townsend could have easily headlined this show. However, with his two years out of the touring business, he wanted to get back into it slowly. Devin is a goof, and I'm not sure that the people in the audience who weren't familiar with him were quite ready for it. He started off his set by saying that the audience was in for "30 straight minutes of pure, unadulterated nerdcore," before going into to a heavied up version of Disruptr (from another show). After that, the band went into Supercrush! with Devin handling the verses, and singing it flawlessly (studio cut). He did this because Anneke Van Giersbergen, who sang on the album, didn't go on tour. One of the things that Devin likes to do is make fun of the crowd (and the stereotypical metalhead), and it was at this point that he pointed out that "there were 10 men to every man" in the crowd and that the next song was dedicated to the "Ladies.... all six of you out there." This was Kingdom (studio cut), which had myself and Bruno looking in amazement at each other on how good the drums sounded. It was easily the most brutal drum sound I've ever heard live. They cut right the mix and were loud, but crystal clear. The guy on the mixing board was AWESOME! Next was Truth (live in '99), which got me chuckling with some of the faces Devin was making during it and also got the hair on my arms to stand up when the "Hallelujahs" kicked in midway through. He played part of OM and finished his thirty minutes with By Your Command (studio cut), which was pretty cool. I thought that The Devin Townsend Project would be great, and they certainly did not disappoint.

Next up was Cynic. Cynic's music is a really hard to explain, and they're even harder to explain live. Their music is really technical and they have two vocalists: one who sings into a kind of vocal processor and another who does death metal style vocals. It's a really strange combination that's very unique. I don't remember the setlist, as the lighting, the music itself, and the atmospheric quotes floating through the PA really just mellowed me out for their set, even when it was heavy. Cynic is the kind of band that I'd imagine would be great to see with one's mind "expanded," if one was into that kind of thing. I do remember being asked by the band to do some yoga midway through their set. The sound was absolutely killer during Cynic as well (either this tour brought along a hell of a sound man or the HoB employs a great one). Everything was crystal clear throughout. I was really blown away by how good they were live, and I would love to see them again. Because even the studio cuts don't really show how they are live, here are two live clips from other shows on the tour: Evolutionary Sleeper and Nunc Fleuns/The Space For This

During Cynic's set, there were some people who wanted them to go heavy the whole time, including one person who kept screaming, "Slayer!" I thought it was strange until Cynic finished, when I saw most of the older part of the crowd leave the front area, and a bunch of younger kids fill it up quickly. This younger group was obviously going to be more rowdy. That, combined with the thought of getting back to Union Station for the 8:40 train (the next train didn't leave Chicago until 11:40) had us thinking that we may skip early if we didn't like Between the Buried and Me. All it took was three minutes of BtBaM and we were out the door. I don't really want to waste the space writing about them, as I want the memory to be Cynic headlining the show. It's the first show that I've been to where there was almost two different demographics there to see the opening bands and the headliner. It was a strange combination. After the awesome sets by DTP and Cynic, BtBaM was not going to cut it for me.

Overall, it was a really good show that highlighted some of the bands on the periphery of the metal world. I'm glad that shows like this still happen. Hopefully The Devin Townsend Project and Cynic will come back in the near future as headliners, so we, the audience can get a full length set from both of these great bands.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why Does Discussing College Coaches Make Me Feel Like I Need To Take a Shower?

What a couple of weeks it's been for coaches of major college programs. Here's my takes on all the big comings and goings:

-Brian Kelly (left Cincinnati for Notre Dame): I don't really have a problem with Kelly leaving Cincinatti for Notre Dame. ND, as much as I dislike it (Overrated U, in my book), is still one of the premiere coaching jobs in the game. With Kelly's background, it must have been especially appealing. My issue is with the timing. He really left his players at Cincinnati hanging for the Sugar Bowl, which was not right. I don't fault them at all for rallying against him (really, Coach, announcing you're leaving at the season victory banquet wasn't a good choice). He should have waited. I understand there is a lot of work to do in South Bend to move on from the Weis years, but you can't tell me it couldn't have waited until the second week in January. He built Cincinnati into a big football program, and I don't understand why he wouldn't want to coach his last game there against Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow, and one hell of a Florida team.

-Mike Leach (fired from Texas Tech)/Mark Mangino (resigned amidst pressure from Kansas)/Jim Leavitt (fired from USF): I have some mixed feelings on these firings. If what they're accused of doing is true, then it is fair that they're gone from their coaching jobs. There's no place in football for sadism in punishment, especially at an age when a coach is still supposed to be a mentor to his players. That being said, football is a violent, draining sport that does require some harsh drills and practice methods. There needs to be a quality middle ground between playing through pain and going too far.

-Pete Carroll (left USC for the Seattle Seahawks): I actually have no problem with Carroll leaving USC. I question why he would want to leave USC for the NFL, especially when LA has no pro team, but he is leaving USC in better shape than he found it. My only concern is that he's bailing right before the hammer comes down on the athletic program because of the Reggie Bush/OJ Mayo/other player mishaps. My feelings on this one may be changed once the NCAA speaks on the matter.

-Lane Kiffin (left Tennessee for USC): I understand that Kiffin has connections to USC that preceded his attachment to Tennessee, but Kiffin has proven to be a tool with this move. Bolting after one season isn't cool, especially with the way he sold himself to UT last year. This jams his recruited players, and may jam the whole school if any sanctions come down from Kiffin's numerous recruiting violations. Kiffin also leaves with UT's defensive coordinator and their head of recruiting. With signing day only a few weeks away, Tennessee is going to be in a huge jam in the ultra competitive SEC. The news that they've been trying to get some Tennessee players to follow them to USC doesn't help either. Can someone explain to me what Lane Kiffin has done to be this desirable by so many football programs?

Monday, January 11, 2010

And In Other Shocking News, This Morning the Sun Rose in the East...

January 11th, 2010 will now be known in the sports world as the day that Mark McGwire finally discussed the past and admitted his past steroid use. McGwire now joins the list of seemingly every MLB superstar in the last 20 or so years to end up admitting using illegal substances (regardless of the MLB and MLBPA's policy at the time, one cannot argue that these drugs were being used for a lawful purpose), or at the least be implicated in doing so. Although the NFL is by far my favorite sport (and this fact in and of itself will put an air of hypocrisy over the next few paragraphs), I still do hold a spot in my sports heart for baseball, which is why, although I was not in the least surprised, it still made me a little sad to hear the confession today.

The two most important issues related to PEDs and baseball in my opinion is the validity of records set while using them, as well as whether Cooperstown should be closed down for PED users. While the popular opinion seems to be to asterisk every record set since the late 1980s, and shut down Cooperstown for players from the Steroid era (or at the least mention that they may have been on the juice), I don't think that either option is viable or correct. I'm sure that we will never know the true extent of the use of PEDs in baseball. How many pitchers that McGwire faced were juicing? What, exactly, constitutes a PED? Big leaguers were notorious users of amphetamines, and many still pop Ritalin because of their "ADD." Steroids clearly make one stronger, and do help the body recover from injury quicker than one would otherwise, but baseball at the professional level still requires an ungodly degree of hand-eye coordination. Steroids can help, but the raw skill needs to be there.

Baseball at the very least dragged its feet (and at the worst allowed this to go on knowingly); now it's time to sleep in that bed. Barry Bonds owns the single season home run record, which is set at 73. Not McGwire's 70. Not Maris' 61. Not Ruth's 60. Bonds also owns the career record, not Aaron. Like it or not, this is fact.

In regards to Cooperstown, my argument is closely aligned with the above. We can't play judge and jury of the past. Steroids are a blight on the game, and do cheapen numbers, but then again, many white players from the years pre-Robinson never had to face the best of the Negro Leagues, which cheapens their numbers as well. The above mentioned point about amphetamines is valid here as well. I'm not sure that speed isn't a more effective PED than many of the steroids on the market available to players today (HGH especially). Cooperstown should remember the best players and moments from the game of baseball (including the all time hits leader, Pete Rose, but that's another rant for later on down the road). Like it or not, both the best moments and players indisputably will involve steroids at some point in time. It's as clear to me as the "flaxseed oil" that Bonds used that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Roger Clemens does as well. McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro don't, but that has nothing to do with their use of performance enhancing drugs.

My final thought on this is that we, the fans, deserve some of the blame. I can legitimately claim ignorance on the home run race of '98, because I was 13 at the time, but we as a collective whole should have known. Men don't increase in strength and muscle mass (especially the shredded look that the sluggers gained) naturally as they age into their late thirties. Heads don't grow past puberty. Neither do feet. All time power numbers shouldn't be set by players nearing twenty years in the big leagues. Shame on us, the fans, for putting our heads in the sand in the name of the long ball. Even more, shame on us now for acting self righteous about it when it was our almighty dollar that created the market for it in the first place. We chide baseball for allowing drugs in the game, while at the same time we clap our hands every fall Sunday as men get bigger and bigger, yet faster and faster.

I just hope that Albert Pujols really is as real as he claims to be, but don't judge me for being skeptical.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Fantasy Team Doesn't Have Anyone Named Manning or Brees (But There Certainly Are Some Tight Ends)

When someone asks me who I've got starting on my fantasy team, I'm thinking:


Not this:


Now, before I begin to rant about this, let me say that I have no inherent dislike of fantasy football. At its basis, I like the idea. I play Pigskin Pick'em, and I like to gamble on football (never involving money of course, as sports gambling is illegal in Illinois). Both of the above mentioned methods, as well as fantasy football, are nice ways to care about a game that one otherwise wouldn't. Being the fan of a small market team in the midst of a clear rebuilding phase while living in the third largest media market in the country that I am, I need all the help I can get to care about most of the football games that I see on a normal Sunday. What has been grinding on me the last few years is how fantasy football has integrated itself into the game to such a level that it has seemingly become the focus for far too many people.

My biggest complaint is that people are now cheering for stats and players, not the team. I have literally been sitting at a bar watching the early slate of games (my Chiefs almost always play at noon) and seen people wearing a jersey of one team paying attention to every other game because they had fantasy players in that contest. I've seen other people get mad at the quarterback of the team they came in representing because he didn't throw the TD pass to the receiver on their fantasy team. That borders on insane in my eyes. I don't care how the Chiefs win (and they sure haven't been doing much of that lately), all I want on a Sunday afternoon is the W. I don't care if the touchdown came from a J. Charles run or a Chris Chambers catch. All that matters is the win.

ESPN has gotten in on the game too. Mike & Mike have a brief segment every week discussing if one should start or sit players, and there is a show that airs Sunday that does the same on ESPN2. Really, ESPN, is this necessary? Please stick to reporting on the games based on reality.

Now, I wouldn't fault you if you felt that the above two reasons for my dislike of the "dedicated" fantasy football type were just me whining. The thing that really annoys me is when there is a debate about if something that happened in the real NFL game was fair to the owners of that player/squad in fantasy football. Two examples from this season are Peyton Manning being sat in week 16 (championship week for most fantasy leagues) and Maurice Jones-Drew's intentional knee at the one yard line to burn clock time instead of running in the score. I can remember debate on ESPN about both of these decision's impacts on fantasy football, and MJD even went so far as to apologize to his fantasy owners. This is where is really crosses the line in my book. There are plenty of reasons to be mad about Manning being benched (trust me, I sure am), and I can even understand the logic of wanted MJD to never let up on a run, but to be bad because it kept fantasy points off the board? As Chad Ochocinco would say, "Child, please!"

With all this being said, I'm sure I would enjoy playing fantasy football if I ever gave it a shot. If you're one of the people who runs a fantasy squad and keeps your sports priorities straight, nice work. I'm sure fantasy football is only going to get bigger, and eventually I'll come to at least comprehend how it could supercede rooting for a real football team, but for now, the "dedicated" guilty of the above mentioned complaints are giving me at least one reason to be glad the regular season is over.