Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wedding and Honeymoon

My recent lapse in writing has been for a very good reason: this past Saturday I married the love of my life, Constance Ann, in Charleston SC. We are in Asheville, NC this week enjoying married life during our honeymoon up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We've rented an absolutely enormous cabin in the mountains, and thanks to the recent gas shortage in the Asheville area, are making the most of it.

More news, updates, opinions, and of course Wisconsin sports news to come when I return to Seattle next week.

Okay, a little sports...I can't help it. The NL playoff race is in full swing, and extremely hot. With 5 games to play, the Brewers trail the Mets by 1 game for the Wild Card, while the Mets trail the Phils by 1.5 games for the NL, let's all pray for some Mets and Phils losses this week. I'm not saying I want the Cubs to BEAT the Mets, I just want the Mets to lose. But after last night's game, it looks as if the Cubs are doing all they can to keep the Brewers from making their first post season since 1982. Damn Cubs!

Adding to all of this, I promised the wife I'd not watch ANY baseball during the honeymoon...dammit. The Brewers/Cubs series is this weekend to wrap up the season...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Album Review: Death Magnetic

In the five years, three months, and one week since the release of Metallica's last studio album St. Anger in 2003, fans of the longtime metal band have had a sour taste in their mouth and an angry pit in their stomach after hearing what the band had to offer. A new sound, a new bass player, a sober lead singer, and band members with families all have contributed to the Metallica we see today. The metal scene isn't what it once was, but Death Magnetic takes true American heavy metal fans to a place they remember from their youth.

As I stood outside my local record shop this morning waiting for the doors to open and the neon sign to be lit, I found myself surrounded by quite a strange crowd. There were the usual, teenage angst-filled kids with their long hair, piercings, and black jeans. There were the college burnouts, still hungover from last night's "Thursday starts the weekend" party at school. There were guys like me, late twenty-somethings with crew cuts and cargo shorts and polo shirts. There were also the guys who were there from the very beginning: though more advanced it years, you could tell these guys had banged there heads for the tours during the '80's...they looked wrinkled, leather-faced, and the grey had found its way into their once proud manes.

Something about music brings folks together, and that was the only reason the group of us found ourselves in the same location.

I got home, shut the blinds, turned off my phone, and put in the hopes for some semblance of the band I fell in love with during the 90's had peaked, and it was time to dig in...

I can't say enough about the packaging...I'm sure much time was spent in designing the layout, and the truly unique approach they took this time. Along with the cover, each page in the booklet has the shape of a coffin missing from the middle...and it's tapered, adding depth. Along the edges of the hole is a high definition image of dirt, suggesting we are looking down into a grave. Each page then uses this coffin "hole" in its it the mouth of an old man, a large section of what could be interpreted as the Twin Towers, a section of a mother's womb, or the iris of an eye. As the listener pages through and makes his way to the end of the booklet, he realizes now that he is no longer looking down into a grave, but has turned around and is looking out of a a bright white light, on the page with aptly-placed lyrics for the song "The Judas Kiss".

Now, on to the music....

It's all back. The double kick drum. The shredding solos. The dual harmonic guitars. The speed metal.

And that's just the first song.

Death Magnetic smacks of music from time gone by. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett brings back elements of his solos from albums like Justice and Ride the Lightning, combining knowledge of complex classical arpeggios with the speed of early 80's thrash metal. On tracks "The Day That Never Comes" and "Unforgiven III", Hammett shows us what he is known for: knock-down, in your face solos with the speed of a '68 Shelby GT500. His agility on the fretboard once again shows itself during the well written, albeit abbreviated solos on the album. Unfortunately, gone are the days of 45-75 seconds solos on studio albums, when Hammett claims to have written solos to "show off". The downside to Hammett's genius on the guitar is that it is short-lived. With the exception of a select few tracks on the album, his solos have devolved into a short 10 or 15 second excursion that merely follows the established structure of a rock song...verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus. As shown in the band's 1992 video documentary "A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica", writing solos is a difficult task for Hammett and it shows loud and clear in this offering. Most of his work seems as a thrown together hodge-podge of lost triplets, confusing guitar effects, and over used sustained peak notes. With little grammy-worthy material to work with as far as songs go, Hammett does his best. Don't expect a Guitar World "Solo of the Year" Award this time around, however.

On his first studio album with Metallica since replacing Jason Newsted in early 2003, bassist Robert Trujillo shows his experience with the instrument. Well-guided riffs and deep, driving bass lines add to Death Magnetic's forceful approach. Given free reign on "Cyanide", the rarely-seen Metallica feature of a solo bass line adds to the song's appeal, giving it a more robust sound and an added element that carries it as the second single from the album. Not since "For Whom the Bell Tolls" has the band featured the bass in such a prominent role.

Drummer Lars Ulrich gives us nothing special on this album. His signature clever fills that graced the Metallica albums of the 80's have long since left his catalog of writing material. Rather, he decides to return to the element that gave the band it's speed metal label in its early days: the double kick drum. From the outset, Ulrich compliments the power-chord, palm-muted guitar lines with a double kick that gives the an impression of a machine gun, as I saw during their January 2000 concert in Minneapolis for the opening of their song "One"...breif 2-second blasts of double kick drum accompanied by flashing strobe lights...leading into the song about the terrible effects of war. Once a staple of his repertoire, Ulrich again adds this element in an attempt by the band to urge the listener to see past it's segmented, choppy presentation for the majority of the album's material and perhaps speed up the pace for an album that lacks continuity, filled with songs exceeding 7 or 8 minutes in length.

Lead singer James Hetfield ties it all together, and in the end, grabs this album a decent review. Though we shouldn't expect anything like Metallica's golden days, Hetfield can still sing like a champ, and hasn't gone the road of "drop-an-octave" singing due to his age. He can still sing the full range, and he shows it on Death Magnetic. Although the band attempts to force a few too many syllables into some lines, the lyrical composition is solid. A consistent, underlieing theme of death certainly keeps the album tied together, although it is done by lyrics only and not by the music. Hetfield plays with actual singing too, and not just metal singing. To top it all off, on numerous occasions we get the signature James Hetfield "enter-a-word-here followed by a strong ah!".

Don't go into this album expecting too much, and you won't be disappointed. Don't go into this album expecting Master of Puppets, and you won't be disappointed. As a stand-alone effort, I give the album a solid 7/10. As a Metallica album, however, it recieves a low 5/10. Track of the album has to be "The Day That Never Comes". Not only for it's building power, the anticipation, and the best lyrics of any song on the album, but because all parts run together smoothly, forming a great song. Easily the best solo on the album as well. Give the music video a quick watch on youtube as well, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Are you ready for some...horrible commentary?

What I originally thought to be a brilliant move by the fine folks at ESPN's Monday Night Football has officially turned into one of the worst failures in color commentary history.

We have witnessed a huge shift in sports coverage, thanks in large part to the American viewing public. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good looking sideline reporter as much as the next guy (see: Jillian Barberie). My personal favorite is FSN-Wisconsin's Trenni Kusnierek.

And let's not forget Tony Siragusa (who someone was kind enough to compare to his likeness).

But I digress. Okay, so we've established that the days of Keith Jackson and other Ted Koppel-esque broadcasters are coming to a close. Nowadays, the viewing public wants action, controversy, and of course, a little T & A doesn't hurt.

When Al Michaels and John Madden said goodbye to MNF, I knew we were in for a tough time ahead. I mean, who can replace a football genius like Madden, who was always johnny on-the-spot with such insight as "The team that scores the most points tonight, will ultimately win this game" and "Ok, so the quarterback does his job and throws the ball, and the running back does his job by running. It's that simple."

Hmm...who could replace about a has-been comedian that nobody likes, and who knows very little about sports in general, to add some color to the booth.

(Stage left: enter Dennis Miller with matching sportcoat and post-90's quasi mullet)

We don't really need to discuss his lack of humor, football knowledge, or ability to carry on a sports-themed conversation. Okay, so the Dennis Miller experiment didn't work. Now we have to find someone else to fill this role in the booth...

(Stage left: enter Tony Kornheiser)

Alright. Finally! Someone I enjoy. I love Pardon The Interruption, and whenever Tony is absent from the show I get bummed out, because he and Wilbon have a great on screen dynamic, and play off eachother's particular passions, favorite teams, and favorite sports. He couldn't possibly screw up Monday Night Football...

Wrong. Besides the countless times he mentioned Brett Favre (by the way, let me just say something. He personally said numerous times on PTI that Aaron Rodgers needs to have a great season to remove the whole "comparison thing" with Brett Favre...essentially putting the ball in Rodgers' court, saying he'd lay off as a commentator and give Rodgers his chance. Well, how can he do this if you CONTINUE TO COMPARE HIM TO FAVRE???), he failed to find a way to comment on Rodgers' play without comparing him to the great Brett Favre.

I wanted to share a few gems, a few "nuggets" of wisdom that couldn't possibly do anything BUT add to the net worth of this broadcast.

As you know, the NFL is honoring the late Gene Upshaw, former player and long-time president of the NFL Player's Association, but having the "GU" painted logo on the field this season, as well as having all players wear a "GU" patch on their jersey during all week 1 games. As I said, he worked with the NFLPA and helped players' rights w/ regard to contracts and collective baragaining agreements. On Upshaw, Kornheiser noted...

"A lot of people out there are making a lot of money because of this man..."

Really? That's great insight, Tony. Jew, is it? The man didn't contribute anything to the game of football besides garnering larger contracts for players? You're an idiot.

"I was an English major"

We know. That's why you're a well-known journalist. Nothing about being an award-winning journalist automatically means you make a great broadcaster. Or a good broadcaster. Or a mediocre...ok, I think you see where this is going. Stick to the papers and PTI, stay off my football games.

"If they [Packers] go any further back they'll be in Michigan"

Okay, almost funny. Lambeau field runs North-South, and the Packers were defending the North endzone at the time, so yes, geographically speaking they could have gone north to the Upper Penninsula of Michigan...okay, I'm nuking this one out. It wasn't funny, and Kornheiser is a moron.

"I call this the great gamble of the 2008 season. It's like John McCain picking Sarah Palin."

Hmm...somebody please tell me what football has to do with politics? And what percentage of the viewing public (including the entire state of Wisconsin, by the way, who were far more concentrated on ushering in a new era of Packers football and could care less about political satire right now) really cares what Tony Kornheiser thinks about John McCain and his choice for a running mate? We watch football to watch football, not to hear who the announcers are voting for in the upcoming general election.

Green Bay did not take a gamble in sticking with Aaron Rodgers and sending Favre packing. Brett Favre took a gamble by expecting the Packers to take him back after RETIRING. If your New York skull is too thick to understand this, get off the air.

Finally, someone told him to shut up, and I'll leave you with this last comparison of Aaron Rodgers to Brett Favre.

"That's Exactly the kind of pass Favre would have thrown. Does it remind you of him at all?" - Tony Kornheiser

"Yes, but you've got to let it go, Tony." - Ron Jaworski

Thanks Jaws.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Life Before The Strike #12

I found myself in "the stacks" of my local card shop again today, and wanted to share with you two of my finds. I had a few goals today:

1. Complete the '82 Topps Brewers team set
2. ATTEMPT to complete the '76 Topps 'Big Red Machine' team set
3. Find a Bob Uecker card. Not cheating (aka from the internet) but in an actual card shop

I was *mostly* successful with goal #1. I found the Rollie Fingers and Ned Yost cards I needed, but still haven't come across the '82 Topps Traded #89 Rob Picciolo. It's on eBay right now for a whopping $1.16, maybe I should just buy it...we'll see. That's the final card I need.

I found a few more of the '76 Reds players, including the two traded cards I needed, #208T Mike Lum, and #338T Bob Bailey. Now, another decision to be out the $ for the Johnny Bench card, #300. We'll see about that as well.

So, here is the find of the day...a 1967 Topps Bob Uecker. Not in excellent condition to say the least, 3 of 4 rounded corners, a weird white line on his face, and a cool little stain on the back...I'm telling myself it's a drop of '67 Schlitz, but I doubt it. was the only Uecker card in the entire shop, and a great addition to the collection. After all, Uecker himself claims that he led the league in "Go Get 'Em".
And the other find of the day...actually, it was an impulse buy that literally doubled the grand total price of my purchase from the day, but seeing as how it's a neat find, I had to buy it...

1979 O-P-Chee #8 Paul Molitor
I have the 1979 Topps Molitor, but when I saw the mirror O-P-Chee card I had to have it. I love these cards because they help with the education...I learned some more French today. On the back, it told me that Paulie is an "Arret-court"...which is french canuck for shortstop. COOL!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The NBA fails its fans...again.

Because I have to study for my Navy E-6 advancement exam I'll be taking early tomorrow morning, I am forcing myself to stay away from baseball cards tonight. Instead, I'll speak about the new NBA franchise...well, the old Seattle franchise/new Oklahoma City franchise.

For weeks we basketball fans have been anxiously awaiting the unveiling of the "mascot" name for the franchise that has recently moved to OK City. Speculators have figured out that it would most likely have something to do with the geographic area/history of the Oklahoma people, and the "heartland" region. The Oklahoma University "Sooners" have quite possibly a monopoly on regional history having anything to do with a mascot name...but other names, such as "Bison", "Wind", "Energy" have surfaced as front runners. Nobody had any idea how horribly the NBA would screw this one up, however.

Let's revisit the most recently named NBA franchise. When the Hornets moved to New Orleans, Charlotte was told they'd have a new franchise in a few years. The aptly-named "Bobcats" took over for the fine people of North Carolina. After all, there are a ton of bobcats in North Carolina. They walk the city streets much like the moose from "Northern Exposure". They are everywhere.

Now, return to today and the franchise that the NBA moved to Oklahoma City...which is a basketball hotbed, by the way. I don't know how I can possibly build this up anymore for disappointment, so I'll just say it. The new NBA team is the Oklahoma City...Thunder.

The Thunder?

Sure, we're all fans of "weather" nicknames. The WNBA team "Seattle Storm" has a rabid fanbase - well, not really. Their average home game attendance this past season was 8,099 fans (47% capacity). Before Shaq arrived in Miami, the Heat saw attendance below 75% capacity. I'll give you reference point: the smallest media market in Major League Baseball, Milwaukee, boasts a home attendance average of 38,006...91% capacity. 91%!! And the Brewers have never won a World Series in franchise history...nor have they even made the playoffs since 1982.

Good for the NBA to choose a nickname that will entice fans, gather them in huge numbers, and allow them to cheer on their team to victory. After all, I'm deathly afraid of Thunder! I mean, the entire significance of a team's nickname is to intimidate the other team. That is why we chose many Indian-themed names to be team mascots. Ferocity. Animals are a very popular theme to instill fear...Badgers. Wolverines. The Banana Slugs of UC-Santa Cruz.


Not only is it a weak name for professional sports team, but it follows in the vein the popular team trivia question for "Name all of the professional sports teams whose nickname does not end in the letter 'S'". I myself am a hockey fan, and my team is the Minnesota Wild. Have you seen our logo? What is that? It's an animal, I'm sure, but what kind of animal? This also opens the door for gramarical issues. How do we speak about the Wild? Is "Wild" singular or plural? "It's the royal 'we', man..." Know what I mean? DOES the Wild win, or DO the Wild win?


Let's talk about the logo for a second...ooooh, I'm afraid! So intimidating!What is it? I see a basketball, clearly...well, about 30% of one side of a basketball. I also see "OKC", which clearly stands for Oklahoma City. And it's got two lines going behind the "logo", clearly indicating the visible "Thunder" that one witnesses when caught in a THUNDERstorm.

Wait a second...we can't see thunder! We see the lightning, though! But that name was already taken (Thanks, Tampa Bay).

Why choose a nickname for a team that cannot be represented in visual form? Clearly, the NBA wants this franchise to fail much like they plan on the Charlotte Bobcats (oooh, scary) failing so they can move these franchises to the next trendy sports market that pops up in the future...or China! After all, NBA commissioner David Stern was over in Beijing for the olympic games, and he said that China is part of the "future of the NBA". In fact, 2 games are going to be played there early October between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors...two teams who now have absolutely ZERO players hailing from China. I can see the appeal. At least make the LA Lakers one of the teams (Kobe Byrant is the most popular NBA player in China) or Yao Ming (China's most famous basketball player).

So, what's the mascot going to look like? I admit, the "Philly Phanatic" clearly looks like absolutely nothing. What is a Philly, anyways? A female race horse, I thought. Must be wrong. A Philly is clearly a green monster with a huge nose and huge belly dressed in a baseball jersey.

May I recommend a few things, Mr. Stern? How about a big raincloud! Thunder comes from clouds! Or perhaps a lightning bold (shoot, already taken by Tampa Bay of the NHL). about, rain! A bucket of rain water would do! It could walk around posing for photos with little kids, and it could dunk basketballs during the halftime show.

Give me a break.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Hippie Coast is el Stinko.

This morning I had every intention of sleeping in on my day off, waking up with enough time to run to the store for my first 6-pack of some local micro-brew's attempt at an Octoberfest beer (after all, it's been 60 degrees or lower for the past 5 days and officially too cold for summer ales). I say attempt because hard as I may try, I've been unable to find a fall seasonal that tops Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest. Editor's side note: Editor's excitement is building as he anticipates his upcoming wedding and honeymoon in 3 weeks, during which he will be able to enjoy all the Leinie's he desires...

Having been stationed on either the East Coast ('03-'07) or the West Coast ('07-present), I've been unable to enjoy my favorite hand-crafted beers. It was only until after I left Charleston last year that Leinie's made it's way down in the form of 6-packs at the grocery store. I will admit though, there is one source of Leinie's here in Seattle, but it's at a Minnesotan-owned pizza pub north of the city, quite out of the way...and they only carry it seasonally, i.e. if it's june or july, they have Honey Weiss. That's it. Way to go, guys. I will say this though, they will never run out of Schlitz or PBR.

My main complaint about the West Coast (or as I like to call it, the Hippie Coast) is the television schedule. I never appreciated how perfectly-timed all programming is when you live in Wisconsin, or the Central Time Zone. Monday Night Football starts at 8pm, over by 11. Sunday football games start at noon and 3. Baseball games start at 1pm for day games, or 7pm for night games. How perfect is that!

Perhaps it's my desire to follow my Brewers, Packers, and Badgers while living away from Wisconsin that creates this discontent and frustration. Today's Brewers game starts at 11am...who watches baseball at 11am?? My lone comfort is found in the fact that it's noon in Wisconsin, which means I can open a beer. Night games are worse, I have to rush home from work to catch opening pitch at 4pm. I suppose I could shell out the extra $10/month for DVR, but when I am forced to pay $150 every summer to have the ability to watch all my Brewers games, $10 more is seemingly too much.

The worst part is when it comes to football. I've had to modify my entire relationship with God and worship schedule around the Packers schedule. If the Packers play the early game, I have to go to Mass saturday night, because the early game on Sunday starts at 10am. If they play the afternoon game, I can go to Mass sunday morning before the game starts at 1pm. Now, to be fair, God is a Packers fan and he understands my frustration. He's got NFL Sunday Ticket AND Tevo, though, so He never misses a snap.
To be fair though, living out West affords me two fine opportunities...I am able to watch the ENTIRE Monday Night Football game every single week, and I can watch the entire Football Night in America show on Sunday nights as well. I will miss that. Before moving out to Seattle, I don't remember the last time I was able to finish an entire MNF game.

There, that killed an hour. It's 10am now, and almost game time for the Brewers. Woo Hoo!!!