Product Review: Donner DST-400 Electric Guitar

 

Donner DST-400 Electric Guitar

• Alder Body with Transparent Finish
• One DONNER Seeker Series Pro Humbucking Bridge Pickup with Coil-Split System; Two DONNER Seek Series Pro Single-Coil Middle and Neck Pickups
• AAA Canadian Maple Neck
• Satin Slim-C Neck Profile
• 9.5” Radius Fingerboard
• 2-Point Tremolo Bridge with Vintage-Style Saddles
• Vintage-Style Tuning Machines
• Includes Gig Bag, Strap, Cable, Set Up Tools

Our score 4.5 out of 5 stars

Since 2012 Donner Music has been making affordable, quality instruments for all level of musicians and they continue that with the release of their Seeker Guitar model. Based on the popular S-Style guitar The DONNER Seeker Series DST-400 sports a two-single coil, 1 tapped humbucker pickup configuration which offers players sonic flexibility capable of both traditional single coil twang and modern humbucking crunch all one instrument making it the perfect tool to express your musical vision without breaking the bank.

Construction-
I had been aware of the Donner company since the company’s introduction in 2012 however I had never tried one of their products until recently. Given the vast number of manufactures trying to enter the music gear market it can be a little daunting when trying to search for that new piece of equipment. Many companies offer lower to mid-priced options while sadly sacrificing tone and quality. I can safely say that the Donner DST-400 does none of those things. Right out of the box the instrument looked great. From its high-quality chrome parts and high gloss transparent teal finish to the satiny smooth neck I could tell this was not just another run of the mill sub $300 priced guitar. Aside from finding a small gap in the neck pocket, several dull frets and the rosewood fret board needing some oil the guitar structurally is solid and almost ready to go right out of the box

Sound-
Before plugging the DST-400 in I wanted to check out the guitar’s overall resonance. A feature common with budget line guitars is a thicker polyurethane finish which while providing a stronger finish can deaden some of the guitar’s natural resonance and tone. After just a few strums I was hooked as both single notes and chords rang out with impressive volume and sustain with an excellent level of clarity. Plugged in the DST-400 continued to accel. The single coil tone is what is to be expected as both the neck and middle position pickups provided a nice mid to low level sound with just the right amount of snappy treble twang. The bridge position humbucker can cover everything from over-driven sizzle to molten high gain and with the pull of the second tone pot you can expand your tone pallet even further as your humbucker is now a single coil allowing you to cover even more tonal territory without switching guitars.

Playability-
Even with higher end guitar models you must allot for a break in period. Frets need to be worked in, adjustments need to be made to various components and players must get comfortable with the over all feel of an instrument. My first sit down with the DST-400 was as though I had been playing this guitar for years. The neck had a nice smooth feel with no rough fret ends whatsoever. The 9.5” radius allowed for fast runs and effortless string bending. The body contours were all in the correct spots making sitting or standing feel very nature. The guitar is not overly heavy and is balanced nicely. The traditional control layout puts your volume, tones, and switch all with in easy reach while the polished, rolled edge, two-point bridge provides a nice resting spot for your palm. The only issues I came across here was that the pull knob to engage the humbucker coil tap can be a little difficult to operate due to the knobs lower profile and the fact that it is a pull pot as opposed to a push pot. The other flaw I noticed was based around the tremolo bar. I loved that it’s a simple push in bar and not a screw in type however the bar can get pushed down a little bit too far which results in less bridge travel due to the bar hitting on your control knobs. I as was able to remedy this issue with just pulling out on the bar some after which it seemed to stay in place without any problems.

The musical gear market can be very daunting. As more and more companies look to capitalize and expand their budget friendly offerings it can add to the confusion of where to start and who to buy from. I would highly suggest starting with the Donner brand. If you are looking for an S shaped guitar that offers high end features and top-notch craftsmanship all while not breaking the bank, then the DST-400 should be at the top of your list. The company may not have the name recognition like some other instrument makers but what they do provide is a comfortable, great sounding instrument at an affordable price.

For more information on Donner or to Purchase a DST-400 visit www.donnerdeal.com

Film Review: “Beautiful Blue Eyes”

 

 

  • BEAUTIFUL BLUE EYES
  • Starring:  Roy Scheider, Scott Cohen and Alexander Newton
  • Directed by:  Joshua Newton
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 30 mins
  • MovieFarm

 

When Roy Scheider passed away on February 10, 2008 he was in the process of completing a film he was working on called “Iron Cross.”  Though the film played some festivals, it was never released.  Earlier this year it was announced that the film, now titled “Beautiful Blue Eyes,” (a title suggested to the producers by Scheider) would finally hit theatres, opening this past weekend. 

 

Joseph (Alexander Newton) is a young man living in Nazi-occupied Poland.  Even though he is Jewish, he has a non-Jewish girlfriend, who he often visits at night.  One morning, after a night with his lover, Joseph returns to his home to find his family being taken away.  He goes with them but, when the opportunity arises, runs off, the sound of his family being executed behind him ringing in his ears.

 

  1. Nuremburg, Germany. Joseph (Scheider) has traveled all the way from New York City in hopes of making amends with his son, Ronnie (Cohen) he hasn’t seen in years.  Recently retired from the NYPD – Scheider excelled at playing cops – he visits the apartment building his son and family live in, where he meets his daughter-in-law, Anna (Calita Rainford) and his young grandson.  When Joseph and his son decide to go out, they pass an elderly man on the stairs.  Joseph is stunned as he is sure the man on the stairs (Berger) was a monster from his past.

 

Where to start?   I know when Scheider passed it was announced that there was still some of “Iron Cross” that needed to be filmed.  I’m not sure if that was ever done, or to what effect those scenes may have had on the finished film.  The film wants to be a thriller but is so jumbled in images and plot points that it is, sadly, sometimes hard to understand.  We have no idea what kind of cop Joseph was.  We get an occasional flash-back to his witnessing atrocities in Poland, only to have a quick cut to what appears to be a similar situation in New York.  But we don’t know if this means that Joseph was a brutal cop or just that occasionally something at work would trigger a memory.

 

Another thing that I really found odd was the entire reason that Joseph and Ronnie were estranged.  Joseph wanted Ronnie to follow in his footsteps as a cop, and Ronnie decided to move to Germany.  However, he is currently an actor PLAYING a cop on a television program so when he decides to help Joseph investigate his neighbor, he is fully trained in the art of surveillance and investigating.  I am a big fan of “NYPD BLUE,” but if I really need a cop, I’m not calling Dennis Franz.

 

Also confusing is the film’s use of subtitles.  Sometimes when the characters are speaking German, their dialogue is accompanied by subtitles.  But sometimes, it isn’t.  And it seems like there is another actor doing some of Scheider’s dialogue, especially in voice overs.  Again, I’m aware that the film as planned was never finished, and I’ve read that “Beautiful Blue Eyes” is approximately 30-minutes shorter then the version of “Iron Cross” that was shown.  Those edits may have helped to continuity of the story and made the film less puzzling.

 

Still, this film gives Scheider’s fans an opportunity to see him on the big screen one more time.  His performance is strong, a testament to the man who once told me that his most important role is the one he is currently working on.  His final performance was no exception.

 

Blu-ray Review: “Sniper: Rogue Mission”

 

Probably figuring they could oh-so-subtly cash in on some Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation traffic by sticking “Rogue” and “Mission” in the damn title, the NINTH Sniper movie isn’t really a Sniper movie at all. Which, frankly may work to its advantage by deviating from mundane action movie structures and for the fact that it was probably just damn dumb luck it landed here, toying foolishly with absolute parody vibes. With a score that’s a flip between Desperado and an Ocean’s Movie and almost zero action, as well as a weird comedy edge and the cinematography you’d expect from an enthusiastic teen film student who’d suddenly discovered his iPhone cam zoom, Rogue Mission is insanely low budget trash; an absolutely monumental train wreck of a production that is almost impossible to turn away from for its 90 minute duration. I found myself wanting to switch off the Blu Ray playback but I wanted to see where the film was going and how it will get there.
 
After stumbling onto some sex trafficking thing, former sniper turned terrible CIA agent soon becomes ex CIA agent, so he sits in the kitchen of some rando tech nerd (is there any other kind in movies) with his old enemy Lady Death, and a Homeland Security Agent who clearly isn’t required to do any actual work for a living, for, oh, around 71 minutes until it’s time to spend the remaining $46 of the budget on a ‘showdown’ that also won’t require him to use a sniper rifle (I’m being facetious here). It’s amazingly hard to rate Sniper: Rogue Mission. It’s like a 1/10 movie, but it’s more unintentionally entertaining than a hell of a lot of 5 and 6/10 movies out there. It’s so cheap, and noisy, and bad… that’s it’s actually good. It’s nowhere near a guilty pleasure, absolutely nothing about this film was intentionally good, but the madly misguided enthusiasm thrown at every single aspect of this production makes it wondrously hilarious to watch. It’s almost as if the nobody director behind it shot the film with absolutely no idea what he was handling. No idea of the franchise, the preceding films, the characters, the general plots these features follow, or anything. So much so that he convinced himself he was shooting a low budget heist flick, replete with some imaginative filmmaking techniques and the most ridiculous score of the year. Sniper: Rogue Mission’s ‘high’ points include a spectacularly bad alley fight, which has the score to something like Desperado playing out over it, and drops into John Woo slo-mo upon the explosion of… a thrown rubbish bag. It’s epic in its unintentional humour, with zooms all over the shop, like watching a rip-off of a Sergio Leone standoff at x10 speed. Not enough? Well how about fabled Lady Death – trained to be an assassin from childhood – and some goon having a pistol shootout from behind post boxes on opposing sides of a street. Somebody get this director a copy of Naked Gun! Wait, we’re not supposed to be laughing? See that’s the thing about Sniper: Rogue Mission, it halfway tries to take itself seriously, which only makes it more funny!
 
In the background, returning Sniper series actor Dennis Haysbert, former President Palmer of 24, and veteran from the underrated David Mamet-crafted The Unit TV series, tries his best to almost pull off the movie’s only good scene. A single dialogue-driven confrontation between old spies, across a bar table. It’s almost tense. The silence, the stares, Haysbert’s inimitable tones. Then they drop the needle and a random score kicks in so loud you’re immediately knocked backwards – before the scene is even over – and you’re abruptly reminded that this isn’t even going to get one good scene. But it we do get a whole clutch of terrible ones that are so bad that you’ll be on the floor laughing at them. If you can see it, for free, whilst heavily intoxicated, then that’s a surprisingly recommended way to spend your time.
 
In conclusion, the film is laughably terrible but at the same time, irresistibly ridiculous. Truly one of the worst films I’ve seen. If there’s one redeeming quality of Sniper Rogue Mission, it’s knowing what to expect on my 2nd viewing. Then I can adequately prepare by slamming down a six-pack first. 

Concert Review: Roger Waters: This is Not a Drill

 

 

Roger Waters: This is Not a Drill

T-mobile Center/Kansas City, MO

September 3, 2022

 

IN THE FLESH AND OUTSIDE THE WALL

 

Near the ceiling of the T-Mobile Center, the electronic signs warned patrons not to use offensive language and advised reporting people who engaged in that sort of discourse to management.

 

Thankfully, Roger Waters missed that note before hitting the stage last Saturday night. There were enough F-bombs to flatten Moscow.

 

Throughout his 2½ hour set, the former Pink Floyd bassist, lyricist, singer and driving force made his views on politics explicit. When some Pink Floyd fans lament the activist bent in his more recent music, it’s tempting to wonder if they had simply been using the Floyd for chemical recreation and missed Waters’ agitation in the words for “Us and Them” and the entire George Orwell-inspired album Animals.

 

At 78, Waters may be campaigning for the release of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during his performances, and his set seemed like a refutation of some of the themes he and his former bandmates explored in The Wall.

 

This was for the best.

 

Waters conceived The Wall because he was disturbed by how fame and massive area shows (like the one he was giving when I saw him) had separated Pink Floyd from their audience.

 

Nearly 4½ decades later, Waters seemed sociable. The slender Englishman bounced around the stage. He quoted Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City” and made a point of thanking fans who had held onto their tickets for two years. Covid ruined a lot of plans. He even left the T-Mobile Center marching through the crowd with the band. He repeatedly acknowledged that his shows were for the fans, and they clearly returned the love.

 

For a guy who has written tunes about grief, alienation and even the price of nuclear war, Water came off as contagiously giddy. Even when he briefly tripped over the words to one of his newer songs, Waters’ enthusiasm buoyed the entire night.

 

Opening with “Comfortably Numb,” the performance of the offering from The Wall missed David Gilmour’s soaring and then ominous guitars solos. Nonetheless, it still sounded captivatingly eerie.

 

That song came with unsettling images of bombed out rooftops and people mindlessly waking through lines as the walked through lines mindlessly. The screens would be raised and lowered at strategic moments and supplemented the newer songs to illustrate why Waters had written pointed tunes line “The Powers That Be” and “The Bravery of Being Out of Range.” He ran a slide show of unarmed people across the world who had died in police shootings. The list seemed even more urgent that night because it included Donnie Sanders, who had died here in Kansas City.

 

The screens also enabled Waters to add backstory to songs he was performing from Wish You Were Here. Waters still mourns original Pink Floyd leader Syd Barrett and slides of the band’s early lineup made the tunes even more poignant. Seamus Blake’s passionate sax solos on those tunes and on “Money” and “Us and Them” certainly helped. The rest of the band delivered a solid, tightly rehearsed set. Apart from “Comfortably Numb,” they followed Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright’s original playing on the Floyd songs.

 

The dancing animated pigs on “Money” made of up for any lack of spontaneity.

 

In addition, longtime fans were rewarded with the expected lasers, giant inflatable pigs and sheep and theatrics that recalled Alan Parker’s movie of The Wall.

 

When Waters broke into songs from Amused to Death or Is This the Life We Really Want, the crowd lost none of its enthusiasm. It probably helped that the enormous screens displayed a disclaimer letting anyone who objected to his takes on indigenous rights or police shootings to “f**k off to the bar.”

 

It’s a nod to his newer song “The Bar,” which deals with being able to freely discuss difficult topics. Waters clearly knows how to entertain (who doesn’t love giant, floating pigs?), and much of his outrage is sadly warranted. His songs may have launched a thousand bong hits, but if Bob Dylan, whom he cited in his show, can write “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Waters can warn us about the urgency of addressing nuclear war.

 

I attended the show as a guest of Kansas City Veterans for Peace, Chapter 97. I’m merely a former military contractor (a cubicle jockey) who doesn’t want troops being put into peril for a fool’s errand, and nuclear conflict certainly qualifies. Waters correctly cited Kansas’ Dwight D. Eisenhower, who repeatedly expressed many of the same concerns.

 

That said, I’d like to have a beer with him at a bar sometime. I’m not sure how we’d get along, or if alcohol would be conducive to the topics at hand. I have quibbles about Mr. Assange, but challenging subjects don’t get the attention they need when people simply shut up and sing.

Concert Review: “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips

 

 

  • “Weird Al ” Yankovic w/Emo Philips
  • Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts/Kansas City, MO
  • September 2, 2022

 

Roger Daltrey.  Tina Turner.  Robert Plant.  Freddie Mercury.

 

These amazing people possess some of the greatest and most powerful voices in the history of Rock and Roll.  To that list I humbly add Mr. Alfred Matthew Yankovic.  That’s right…”Weird Al.”

 

In a show that, except for the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” included only original songs – there was a brief medley of some of his more popular parody songs towards the end – Yankovic gave a show that I would put up against any concert I have ever seen.  After opening the show with “Fun Zone,” Yankovic reminded the audience that this was going to be a show that some fans have complained about, because he was doing the “funny” stuff.  He noted that “the name of the tour should have tipped you off.”  And he was right, as the show was billed as “The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.”  Not a lot of leeway there.  And while I secretly hoped he’d break out his new “Hamilton” medley, I went home utterly amazed at what I’d just witnessed.

 

True fans of Yankovic are, of course, familiar with his parody hits, but also enjoy his original tunes as well.  On this night, he interspersed several of his more popular originals – “One More Minute,” “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” and “The Night Santa Went Crazy” with an array of great tunes, some done much differently then their album versions.  “Dare to Be Stupid” was done like a 60s lounge song, while “Craigslist” could have easily been included on an album by the Doors.  He really let his rock chops loose when he introduced a song he claimed he’d written for the band Rage Against the Machine.  Apparently, the band didn’t record it, so he did.  The song, “I’ll Sue Ya,” brought the audience to its feet with its growling vocals and kick ass music.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the musicians accompanying Yankovic on stage were amazing, showing the skill, and tightness, of a band that had been together for over four decades!

 

Opening the show was comedian Emo Philips, whose comedy I was introduced to late at night while listening to Dr. Demento with my friends.  I always enjoyed his style of comedy and it was a true treat to have the opportunity to see him in person.  Speaking of Dr. Demento, early next week (September 14th) will mark the 42nd Anniversary of when I heard “Weird” Al live on Dr. Demento’s radio show introducing his first big parody song, “Another One Rides the Bus.”  Wow!  I should write a book titled “Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned from Dr. Demento!”

 

 

“Weird” Al’s “The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour” continues through the end of October.  Many shows are sold out, but if you’re thinking about going – and after reading this review,  why the hell aren’t you? – click HERE

 

SET LIST:  Fun Zone, Close But No Cigar, Melanie, Bob, One More Minute, Dare to Be Stupid,  Dog Eat Dog, Velvet Elvis, Craigslist, You Don’t Love Me Anymore, I’ll Sue Ya, Franks 2000” TV, Don’t Download This Song, The Night Santa Went Crazy, Skipper Dan, Good Old Days, Albuquerque.  ENCORE:  Psycho Killer, UNPLUGGED MEDLEY – Amish Paradise/Smells Like Nirvana/White & Nerdy/Word Crimes/Yoda.

 

Toy Review: Playmobil “Knight Rider” Car and Figures

 

“Knight Rider”

K.I.T.T./Figure Set
Playmobil

Our Score 4 out of 5 stars

“Knight Rider, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law. “Playmobil adds yet another classic vehicle/figure set to their ever-growing retro line of toys with the addition of everyone’s favorite talking super car “Knight Rider”. Joining the ranks of previously released vehicles and figures from such classic 80’s films as “Back to the Future “and “Ghostbusters” to television series such as “Star Trek” and “The A-Team”, K.I.T.T. and his dapper navigator Michael are right at home.

Much like every other kid who grew up in the eighties “Knight Rider” was easily one of my favorite shows. Long before Siri could answer all your questions with the click of a button there was K.I.T.T. The snarky, ever loveable mobile companion to the uber cool Michael Knight. Playmobil has captured all that charm and nostalgia with their latest release. Included in the easy to open, displayable packaging along with Michael Knight and Kitt are figures of Devin Miles and Dr. Bonnie Barstow who come with a bevy of accessories to help keep Kitt and Michael going. From Devin’s desk and computer to Bonnies mobile diagnostic lab and tool set this set spares no details. The Michael figure even comes complete with his communicator watch and signature upturned collared jacket. I mean how cool is that?! The real gem in the set much like in the television show is K.I.T.T. From its jet-black exterior to its highly detailed dash and tan interior to its removable roof, flip up headlights and rotating license plate Playmobil nailed it but, that’s not all! With a touch of the hood, you get six different voice and light sequences which only add to the products over all entertainment value. I believe my son and I had just as much fun cycling through the different voicings as we did playing with the set as you never knew what K.I.T.T. was going to say next.

Playmobil continues to outdo themselves with every release and the “Knight Rider” set is no exception. From its eye-catching packaging and easy assembly to the high level of detail included in each piece this set is perfect for both display and or play. Though we did find the front light to be a little too bright for extended play and the volume of the voice sequences to be quite a bit lower than in previous released vehicles we still had a blast playing with the set on its own and integrating it in with other Playmobil products. The easy to open packaging, detailed directions and solid build quality make for a great purchase that will last for years to come. Parents, pop that collar, que up your favorite episode from the television series, grab your youngsters and let “Knight Rider” and imagination do the rest.

 

“World of Warcraft” Legendary Game Review

All people have heard of the video game World of Warcraft. The history of the world’s development is one of Warcraft’s key characteristics. The narrative progressed, added to itself, and did not in any way contradict itself from one section to the next. Blizzard is paying close attention to this. We’ll take you on a quick tour of the game’s fundamentals today.

When the “Wrath of the Lich King” addon was released, it particularly gained popularity. This addon is still available today on older servers, and players adore it for the intriguing story it tells and the fascinating quests it offers. With the help of this addon, you can begin your World of Warcraft adventure. You may either boost your hero on your own or with the aid of boosting services where you can buy wow wotlk gold or conduct any other in-game purchase.

Character and Skills

The character editor is where the players go when they initially start the game. It allows you to design your special hero. There are numerous game races to select from and numerous ways to design a distinctive appearance. Humans, dwarves, night elves, Worgen, Pandaren, Draenei, Orcs, undead, Tauren, goblins, and blood elves are among the available races. Each group has distinct aesthetic and individual traits that ultimately influence the entire gameplay. This holds, for instance, for unique armor and weapons that are exclusively appropriate for particular races, however, the majority of the equipment is separated by classes.

After choosing the hero’s appearance and race, you must construct your class, which is a lot of work. There are a total of 12 classes available for selection. Each class has between two and four primary specialties, which are further broken down into 21 skills, and they can be upgraded as the difficulty of the game rises.

Players can also learn professions while simultaneously employing up to two basic skills and as many additional skills as they choose. It is also possible to advance within a profession and find new chances. They are separated into groups like mining and producing. In addition, it involves cooking, fishing, first aid, and archaeology. You can fish, make bandages and antidotes, look for artifacts, and cook meals with a variety of helpful features using the first three methods. As the player advances, he can change the outfits he wears and other aspects of his look, such as his hairdo, beard, and other features.

Types of servers in WoW

The WoW world itself is divided into continents. Players move freely between them. Each of the races has its original city in which the player appears. Players of other races cannot attack you there. In other places, PvP is always possible. There are 2 types of servers, and each of them has 2 subspecies.

Normal – divided into PvE and PvP servers. In the first case, battles between players are not possible, no one can attack you, but you can’t attack another player either. The second type is the PvP server, on the contrary, allows free PvP.

Role-playing – similarly to the first is divided into PvE and PvP servers, but differs from the first type as follows: in a general chat, you can only communicate about the world of the game and here you must engage in your main profession. Such restrictions allow you to immerse yourself more in the world of warcraft, “merge” with the character, and remember less about the real world.

PVP in WoW

There are several special battle modes. On some servers, you can fight in almost any part of the world, as on others, the player chooses whether to enable this option or not and somewhere there are restrictions at all. Usually, players are free to attack each other in separate regions of the location, but this can only be done by members of different factions. Mass battles can be on the battlefields – a limited area of location. The conditions of the battle can be different: for example, you need to capture a flag or certain points on the map. There are also battle arenas. These are special small maps where two small teams can fight against each other, usually from 2 to 3 people from the side. There is a division into several matches, according to the result of which the winner is determined, and this is followed by various kinds of awards.

The best teams get into the world rankings, which are divided by region. The team’s points and their place in the list are displayed there. Additionally, there is a prize pool that is divided among the teams that have won the top spots, so the ratings are made for a reason. Individual players are given their ratings, which can be broken down into areas like arenas and the battlefield.

Finally

Today, WOW features cutting-edge visuals, an engaging story, a sizable open environment, and a huge player base. A location to fight or just have fun is always available. That’s just the way it is—WOW is only available through paid subscriptions, so not everyone can afford it. The game has been around for more than 17 years, yet its appeal has not diminished. If you’ve never played this game before, this is at least one of the reasons you should try.

Concert Review: The HAPPY TOGETHER Tour

 

 

  • HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR
  • Kauffman Center – Kansas City, Missouri
  • August 21, 2022

 

Part two of my wonderful musical weekend!

 

What if I told you that you could see the Cowsills, the Vogues, the Buckinghams, the Association, Gary Puckett and the Turtles all in one night?  No, really!  They are all together on the most recent HAPPY TOGETHER tour, which made a stop in Kansas City this past weekend.

 

For those who may not know this, the Cowsills was a group made up of a mother and her musical children.  Sound familiar?  That’s right.  The Cowsills were the inspiration for television’s “Partridge Family.”  On this night, brothers Bob and Paul, along with sister Susan, opened the show with a set of the most popular songs.  They even threw in the theme to television’s “Love, American Style,” which I had no idea they’d done. 

 

The Vogues took the stage and opened with their classic “Five O’ Clock World.”  The group was in fine voice, with amazing harmonies.  The Buckinghams were represented by original members Nick Fortuna and lead singer Carl Giammarese, who was celebrating his 75th Birthday this evening.

 

Next up was the Association, who sounded as good on this evening as they did in their heyday.  Songs like “Cherish” and “Never My Love” filled the Kauffman Center, with the crowd signing along.  Next up was the amazing Gary Puckett.  I had seen him in 1986 when he opened for the Monkees.  He didn’t disappoint then, and he didn’t disappoint on this evening.  With his distinct voice, songs like “Young Girl” and “This Girl is a Woman Now” rolled over the audience.  Mr. Puckett noted that Carl Giammarese was 75 but that Susan Cowsill was 63.  He also noted that he had them both beat as he will be turning 80 later this year!

 

Closing out the night was the Turtles, whose hit “Happy Together” gives the tour its name.  A big bonus, for me anyway, was that Ron Dante was the lead singer.  Dante, who turns 77(!) today also was the lead vocalist on the biggest selling song of 1969, “Sugar, Sugar.”  Which means that I can legitimately tell people that I saw the Archies in concert!

 

The night ended with everyone one stage in a mini-medley of some of the night’s best moments.

 

The HAPPY TOGETHER tour continues through the year.  You can find tickets for it HERE.

 

SONG LIST:  Cowsills:  The Rain, the Park and Other Things, We Can Fly, Indian Lake, Love, American Style, Hair.  The Vogues:  Five O’Clock World, My Special Angel, Turn Around Look at Me, You’re the One.  The Buckinghams:  Don’t You Care, “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song), Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Susan, Kind of a Drag.  The Association:  Windy, Never My Love, Cherish, Along Comes Mary.  Gary Puckett:  Lady Willpower, Over You, This Girl is a Woman Now, Woman, Woman, Young Girl.  The Turtles:  She’d Rather Be With Me, You Baby, It Ain’t Me Babe, You Showed Me, Sugar, Sugar, Eleanor, Happy Together.

Concert Review: Boz Scaggs, Robert Cray Band, Jeff Leblanc

 

  • BOZ SCAGGS/ROBERT CRAY BAND/JEFF LEBLANC
  • Kauffman Center – Kansas City, Missouri
  • August 19, 2022

 

What an amazing weekend of music I just concluded.  Keep an eye out for my piece on the HAPPY TOGETHER show – this one is all about the night I got to listen to one of my all-time favorites and discovered a new one.

 

I had certainly heard of the Robert Cray Band, and was familiar with their biggest song, “Smoking Gun,” and I had known for years that Mr. Cray was the guitarist for Otis Day and the Knights in “Animal House.”  But I’d had no idea that he was a master of the guitar, with an amazing band to match him lick for lick.  I will mention here that my wife is a big fan and has told me for years that I didn’t know what I was missing.  She was right.  With Mr. Cray changing guitars for almost every song played, the music lept from his fingers and filled the sold-out Kauffman Center.  His band kept pace, with bass player Richard Cousins supplying the beat while changing instruments almost as much as Mr. Cray did.  The set ended with a bluesy rendition of Chuck Berry’s (You Never Can Tell) C’est La Vie.

 

After a short break it was time for headliner Boz Scaggs and his band to take the stage.  I’m old enough to remember when hits like “Ledo Shuffle,” “Lowdown” and “Look What You’ve Done to Me” – a great song to have on the turntable when you were “entertaining” a lady friend – were first released.  I played Mr. Scaggs’ “Silk Degrees” album constantly as a teenager and it was quite a joy to hear those songs – and others – performed live.   I just realized I may have confused our younger readers by using both words “turntable” and “album.”  Still the best way to listen to music.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your parents.

 

Besides the hits, Mr. Scaggs also played a selection of songs from his latest album, “Let it Roll.”  The mixture of old and new was well received by the audience, as was the rousing “Ledo Shuffle” sing-along.

 

The evening began with a short set from singer/songwriter Jeff Leblanc, who easily engaged the audience with his stories, including a folksy rendition of Al Green’s (or, if you’re my son’s age – Tina Tuner’s) “Let’s Stay Together,” which he introduced as a song he had to learn for a wedding.  A budding talent who I’m sure we will all hear more about sooner than later.

 

For upcoming shows, please click HERE.  

Kansas City Theater Review: “Sister Act”

 

  • SISTER ACT
  • STARLIGHT THEATER – KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
  • AUGUST 16, 2022                

 

Over the past couple decades there have been a number of Broadway musicals that have been based on popular films.  “Hairspray,” “The Producers,”  “Beetlejuice,” “Rocky,” and “Young Frankenstein” are just a small fraction of the shows that have hit the Great White Way – with new productions of “The Nutty Professor” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” currently previewing in smaller cities.  Some have gone on to Great success, while others have faded away.  One of the better ones has just arrived in Kansas City.

 

Based on the very popular 1992 film that starred Whoopi Goldberg, “Sister Act” is the story of lounge singer Delor1s Van Cartier (an excellent Tamyra Gray), auditioning to perform in a club owned by her gangster boyfriend, Curtis (Benjamin H. Moore) on Christmas Eve 1977.  However, despite her obvious talent, she is told she is “not ready” to play the club yet.  This does not phase Deloris, whose dream is to be a star.  She knows she has the talent and the desire.  She just needs the opportunity.  When Deloris accidentally walks in on Curtis and his henchmen immediately after they have killed someone, she runs to the police, who decide that the best thing to do is to hide Deloris where no one would think to look for her.

 

Smartly written, with a great score by multiple Oscar-winner Alan Menken and Grammy award winner Glenn Slater, “Sister Act” is a combination of laughs and music.  Ms. Gray brings a belter’s voice and a Catskill veteran’s comic timing to the role of Deloris and genuinely makes it her own.  Other outstanding turns by Mr. Moore, Anne Tolpegin (Mother Superior) and Susana Cordon (Sister Mary Robert) are accompanied by a supporting cast that keeps the show moving swiftly. 

 

If there was one drawback to the evening, it was one that had nothing to do with the performances.  In each city, local “celebrities” appear on stage in the silent role of the Pope and on opening night we were treated to Kansas City Mayor Quentin Lucas in all of his Papal glory.  Unfortunately, due to some local political issues, some idiots in front of the stage felt the need to stage a protest, causing security to escort them out and taking the fun out of the closing number. 

 

That aside, I highly recommend you catch “Sister Act” when it comes to your town.  It is, dare I say, a divine evening at the theater.

 

“Sister Act” runs through Sunday, August 21 at Starlight Theater in Kansas City. 

Kansas City Theater Review: “Anastasia”

 

  • ANASTASIA
  • Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri
  • August 11, 2022

 

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been obsessed with the fall of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. Whenever I see works for fiction and literature ignoring the facts, I simply assume it’s a day and go back to the books I have on my shelf like Edvard Radzinsky’s The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II.

 

It’s doubtful that anyone who watched the Starlight Theater’s current production of Anastasia expected a history less. Thankfully, the touring play consistently delivers eye candy worthy of a Faberge egg.

 

The musical from writer Terrence McNsally, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (the trio behind Ragtime) draws its inspiration from 1997 cartoon, so the visual pizazz is to be expected. Thanks to a series of backdrops and projection, the play can change location and time as easily as movies can.

 

The history be damned tale starts in 1917 St. Petersburg, just before the Russian Revolution and quickly moves ahead a decade where the renamed city Leningrad is abuzz because the heir to the Russian throne , the Grand Duchess Anastasia might still be alive.

 

The play never answers how she survived when the rest of her family perished, but the ambitious Deputy Commissioner Gleb (Ben Edquist) sees her as a threat to the fragile order of the new Soviet Union. Meanwhile, two struggling con artists Dmitry (Sam McLellan) and Vlad (Bryan Seastrom) think they can convince the still-grieving Dowager Empress (Gerri Weagraff) that just about any woman living in the streets of Leningrad could pass as her missing granddaughter.

 

The search for the proper imposter proves more difficult than anticipated even though Vlad himself has spent decades posing as an aristocrat. Their most promising candidate is a street sweeper named Anya ((Kyla Stone), who takes to Vlad’s instruction with astonishing ease. Ironically, the ruse may be easier for her because she’s an amnesiac, so the invented history might actually be true.

 

Because she projects the right blend of innocence and latent sophistication, Stone effortlessly anchors this current touring production. Her clear, confident singing voice certainly doesn’t hurt.

 

The late McNally has retooled the storyline of the animated movie in a manner that is both more logical and entertaining. The less said about the cartoon’s version of Rasputin, the better. Gleb makes a lot more sense as an antagonist and Edquist has just enough charm to make viewers tolerate how slimy and single-mined he can be.

 

The romance between Anya and Dmitry feels as if it were copied and pasted from another musical. It’s more fun to watch the wily Vlad woo a countess (Madeline Raube) than it is to watch the leads discover each other.

 

The weather on Tuesday night was pleasant, but occasionally motorcycles reminded me why the outdoors and musicals may not be the best of combinations.

 

At the same time it was rewarding to see the play in the Swope Park surroundings where the scenery could compete with the images on stage.

 

 

Film Review: “The Day the Music Died – the Story of Don McLean’s AMERICAN PIE”

 

 

  • THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED – THE STORY OF DON McLEAN’S “AMERICAN PIE”
  • Starring:  Don McLean, Garth Brooks and “Weird” Al Yankovic
  • Directed by:  Mark Moorman
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 34 mins
  • Paramount +

 

It’s one of the most popular and recognized songs in the world.  An 8-minute epic about the end of rock of roll, chronicling February 3, 1959.  The day the music died.  That song?  Don McLean’s masterpiece, “American Pie.” 

 

I’ve been in bars all over the world, from the good old USA to Europe, and I’ve never heard this song played without everyone in the place singing along.  The chorus is infective and the verses memorable.  But what was the impetus for the song?  And why is it even more popular today then the day it was released over 50 years ago?

 

“The Day the Music Died” gives an amazing insight into the mind of a songwriter so gifted that he was the inspiration for Roberta Flack’s Grammy Award winning song “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”  As a sidenote, I should mention that the tale of how that song came to be is worthy of a documentary film of its own.  Like many singer/songwriters of the late 1960s, McLean would spend  hours putting pen to paper, trying to put his thoughts to music.  A chance remembering of his time as a paperboy kindled a spark that has yet to be extinguished.  As the verses poured out of his mind, it only took McLean an hour to write the heart of the song, going back – as many songwriters do – to fine tune the verses until they sounded perfect.

 

 

Not only does the film take an inside look at the composition of the song, but also gives a glance back, and a nod to, a simpler time in rock and roll.  The three young musicians whose death registered so strongly with McLean – J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), Ritchie Valens and McLean’s musical idol, the great Buddy Holly – get their due here, climaxed by McLean’s meeting with Valens’ sister, Connie, whose heartfelt thanks to McLean for helping to immortalize her brother is genuine and moving.

 

I was 11-years old when “American Pie” was released, and I can still remember the local Chicago radio station playing it over and over.  I also remember one Sunday edition of the Chicago “Tribune” that included an in-depth look at the song, line by line, in an attempt to decipher the meaning behind the words.  Who was the Jester?  Was he talking about Vladmir Lenin or John Lennon?  And what exactly was a dirge?  Who knew, but they were being sung in the dark.

 

As I mentioned above, the song was over 8-minutes long (8:42 to be exact) and it was originally released as a two-sided single.  Though radio stations initially played just one side of the 45 rpm disc, listener requests caused them to play the entire song.  If you don’t count streaming sales (sorry Taylor Swift – anyone can download a song from a computer – in my day you had to leave the house and buy the record), “American Pie” remains the longest running song to hit #1 on the Billboard charts.  

 

 

As an added bonus, McLean explains the song’s title.  In the past 50-years I’ve heard all kinds of stories, among them that the plane that crashed, killing Holly and the others, was called “American Pie.”  Incorrect.  To my knowledge, the plane had no name.  In early 1995, famed disc jockey Wolfman Jack was promoting an upcoming appearance in Baltimore and taking listener’s calls.  I got in and asked him if he knew where the song got its title.  He said he did and would reveal the truth at his appearance.  Sadly he passed away before he could – if I’d had my way – whisper it in my ear.  Now I know.  I’d tell you, but then you’d be missing out on one hell of a story!

4K/Blu-Ray Review: “Morbius”

 

 

Sharing the same Universe as the recent “Venom” films, “Morbius” (known to Marvel Comics fans as Morbius: The Living Vampire) didn’t exactly light the world on fire commercially when it was released in early 2022. Criticized for its screenplay, performances, visual effects, and everything in between, it managed to eke out a tiny profit, but was nowhere near as successful as properties produced entirely by Marvel Studios. The film is meant to possibly set up a possible Sinister Six films (as evidenced by the awkward mid-credit scenes), but also lead into the world of Blade, with the possible inclusion of Spider-Man at some point. Nevertheless, Sony seems to have gotten off to an unfortunate start, releasing a series of films (Venom and Venom: Let There Be Carnage included) that don’t exactly match the quality of their Disney-owned counterparts. Even so, it’s good to see a franchise expand into different factions, much like the original comics, which went into a myriad of directions with multiple characters from varying storylines and universes. But at this juncture, Morbius is the least-accepted among the Sony-produced Marvel films.

 

Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a brilliant doctor and scientist afflicted with a blood illness that leaves him weak and unable to walk without assistance. He grows up in a hospital environment under the care of Dr. Nicholas (Jared Harris) alongside his friend and surrogate brother Milo (Matt Smith), who is also afflicted with the same disorder. He spends his life searching for a cure, revolutionizing medicine with the invention of synthetic blood, but it’s not enough. He eventually begins conducting secret, illegal experiments with vampire bats, making himself a guinea pig for testing. His experiments are a success, but the results transform him into a living vampire, equipped with superhuman abilities and a thirst for blood. Martine (Adria Arjona), a fellow scientist and close friend, discovers what Michael is doing and attempts to help him, but not before someone else steps in and helps themselves to the cure, performing the same feats and killing people in their wake. Hot on the trail are a pair of FBI agents, Rodriguez (Al Madrigal) and Stroud (Tyrese Gibson), and Michael must now focus all of his energies on undoing the effects of the cure while stopping whomever is framing him for murder.

 

The question at hand: Is “Morbius” as bad as the internet would lead one to believe? Of course not. It’s not the worst thing ever, but it’s not a home run either. It’s mediocre to poor for most of its running time, though it has some interesting ideas. But was this a case of a studio tinkering with their product to the point of nearly killing it prior to its release? Maybe. Judging by the multiple rounds of reshoots before it hit theaters, something certainly seems to have been amiss. It’s also not clear how much Sony knew about the outcome of Spider-Man: No Way Home since Morbius was originally meant to take place in the same universe. As evidenced by the end result, it doesn’t. Spider-Man is only mentioned once and Adrian Toomes’ character apparently had more interaction with Michael Morbius in the film’s first trailer. So was Marvel Studios up front with their Sony partners about the direction that the Spider-Man series would take? You be the judge.

 

In any case, “Morbius”is a terrible film for many people, so much so that internet trolls have inadvertently given the film a new life as a possible cult item. But whether it will reach the same plateau as the recent Cats film—similarly released, re-released, and adjusted by the studio before being laughed off of movie screens—remains to be seen. I personally found sections of the film to be mildly entertaining and others not so much, but it’s definitely not up to par.

 

“Morbius” was captured digitally in a variety of formats by cinematographer Oliver Wood (Die Hard 2, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Bourne Identity)  The film was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (which means it’s a digital film). The Blu Ray release isn’t quite as robust as its 4K Ultra HD counterpart, but it’s still strong. Because the film was shot in such high quality, the same excellent depth is on display. The CGI mostly blends with the live action elements, although a few sequences certainly stood out, including the opening moments of Michael standing outside of a cave filled with bats. Blu Ray detail is lessened in comparison to its 4K counterpart, but it’s still a great high definition presentation of the film.

 

The main audio option is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The Dolby Atmos track included on the 4K Ultra HD release is a knockout and more powerful than this standard DTS-HD option, but it’s still a muscular track in its own right. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise while the surrounding speakers are given plenty to work with, from quiet ambient moments to LFE-powered explosions and gun fire. Sound effects whiz by all around the sound stage while the score is offered an abundance of aural authority. In short, both soundtracks will give your system a great workout.

 

My conclusion, MORBIUS may be a good outing for die hard fans only, but for anyone else, it’s a sub-par film that truly has plenty of potential but fails to explore it. 

Film Review: “Bullet Train”

 

  • BULLET TRAIN
  • Starring:  Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron-Taylor Johnson
  • Directed by:  David Leitch
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 6 mins
  • Columbia Pictures

 

A train rushing through Japan at speeds in excess of 200 mph.  A mysterious briefcase.  Characters with colorful names like “the Wolf,”

“Lemon” and “the Hornet.”  Put them all together and you get a rapid-fire, action packed adventure.

 

Moving at a pace almost faster than the title implies, “Bullet Train” is a mashup of genre’s that can best be described as Guy Ritchie meets “Kill Bill.”

 

The plot revolves around the much desired briefcase and the people who are sent to protect it versus the people who are sent to steal it.  Pitt is one of the thieves, a man with a lot of talent when it comes to killing, but also a lot of issues.  He is in close contact with his handler, Maria (no spoiler here, sorry), whose soothing voice and sound advice keeps him in a mellow mindset. 

 

The other main characters are Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and his “brother,” Tangerine (an un-recognizable Aaron-Taylor Johnson.  Yes, the guy who played Kick Ass and John Lennon).  They spend the majority of their trip dealing with all of the issues that come with trying to protect your boss’ son – and when your boss is known as “White Death” you need to be on your “A” game – and keeping a who’s who of baddies from taking your prized briefcase.

 

The action is pretty much non-stop, with occasional moments of laugh-out-loud humor.  Whether it’s a brutal fight to the death in a designated “QUIET” car – loud noises quickly draw a “shush” from

an elderly passenger – or having to shoot your way around and oversized Anime’ character, the situations are preposterously absurd but amazing to watch unfold.

 

The cast seems to be having fun with their characters, only going over the top when the situation calls for it.  Otherwise things are handled with a deadly seriousness that should be afforded anyone dealing with someone known as “White Death.”

 

The film is beautifully photographed and the musical score helps set whatever mood is needed at any particular time.  This is definitely the“Train” to catch this weekend.    

Film Review: “Prey”

Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers and Dan DiLiegro
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Rated: R
Running Time: 99 minutes
Hulu

Just like the “Alien” franchise, I’m always a little surprised when another “Predator” movie comes out. It’s not that I don’t like the “Predator” franchise, (I’m actually a little bit too forgiving on its weaker elements) but I’ve always struggled to find other people who’ve watched the films or even enjoyed the films. It’s not hard to find people who’ve watched and treasured the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but now I feel a new generation is about to watch and treasure 2022’s “Prey.”

For “Predator” fans, the first question is going to be: “So is “Prey” a sequel, prequel or what?” The answer is uncertainty. The film takes place in 1717 in the northern Great Plains (Montana? Canada?), about 250 years before Scharzenegger and his crew of macho men gets torn apart by an unseen creature in the jungle. Naru (Midthunder) is an aspiring Comanche hunter, despite the eye rolling done by her fellow tribesmen, hunters and even her Comanche hunter sibling. All that’s about to change with the arrival of an invisible extraterrestrial who’s made Earth its hunting ground.

Just like the first “Predator,” “Prey” spends the first third of the movie building up our hero’s backstory and arc while showing us flashes of the invisible to the naked eye space monster slashing and shooting his way through wildlife. As previous “Predator” films have established, this isn’t just a bloodthirsty creature, it’s a being that enjoys the hunt; much like Naru. So, throughout the film, there is this anticipation and build-up towards these two fighting to the death. Until then, we have some interesting character development…and a lot of blood and gore to get through.

If there’s been one complaint about each film in the franchise, it’s the humans; never the trophy hunting creature. Thankfully the humans aren’t obnoxiously flawed sacks of meat or overstay their welcome, or in the case of 2018’s “The Predator,” has a subplot where autism is a superpower. Naru not only moves and flows with her tribe, but she encounters French fur trappers who are about as likable as a wasp in summer time. So, their deaths are ultimately enjoyable and welcome. In that regard, “Predator” and “Prey” are similar in that the humans we like remain alive while the disposable flesh and blood is given to the least likable of the bunch.

That being said, this is the first time the protagonist has been a woman, but you’d never know it from the way the movie ebbs and flows. Instead of calling attention to itself or virtue signaling, the film uses Predator mythos to explain why Naru is the perfect match for this galaxy traveling warrior. It also helps that she plays into the film trope of, “We can’t believe what the woman/child says or sees, right?” It also helps that she immediately recognizes the danger while each man in the film puffs his chest and charges ahead before being ripped apart, stabbed, shot or any other myriad of horrific ways to die. It reminds me a lot of Linda Hamilton’s work in the “Terminator” films. Not only do Naru and Sarah Connor radiate confidence, but they both prove their intellect and action-movie badassness each time they encounter their foe.

The one thing that’s kind of always fascinated me about the franchise, even in its highs and lows, is how much the directors and writers stay true to the creature itself, rarely rolling the dice on a bizarre character development, but instead attempting new things within the realm of logic for this fictionalized species. Director Dan Trachtenberg proves that he can provide an equal balance of substance and style, hopefully breathing life into a franchise that was nearly left for dead by director/writer Shane Black four years ago. Not only does Trachtenberg give us a neat origin story about the first Predator hunting expedition on Earth, but gives us hope that maybe, for once in this franchise, we’ll start to have a string of decent Predator films.