Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Best of the Colbert Report DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Stephen Colbert, the former Daily Show correspondent and current host of The Colbert Report, recently announced he was running for president in 2008, but only in his home state of South Carolina and as both a Democrat and a Republican. To coincide with his presidential bid, Comedy Central is releasing The Best of the Colbert Report – a nearly three-hour collection of highlights from the show on November 6.

The Colbert Report parodies political talk shows like The O’Reilly Factor, and Colbert’s character is a hybrid of conservative political pundits ranging from Bill O’Reilly (whom he refers to as “Papa Bear”) and Sean Hannity. Colbert is vain (his desk is shaped like a “C”), smug, and distrusts books because they “have no heart.” In the very first episode, he said, “Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I want to say it happened in 1941, that’s my right.”

It is this belief that led Colbert to coin the phrase “truthiness” – Merriam-Webster’s 2006 Word of the Year. Featured on the DVD in a segment called “The Word,” “truthiness” is to know something in your gut, in spite of what logic and reason may say. Another segment of “The Word” featured the term “Wikiality,” based on Colbert’s love for the Web site Wikipedia. Wikiality is truth by consensus. If enough people believe it, it must be true. These words form the core of Colbert’s belief system and make for some humorous moments on the show.

Another popular segment of The Colbert Report is Better Know a District, where Colbert vows to interview members from every congressional district in the country. Several highlights are included, including an interview with John Hall from New York – a former member of the band Orleans who wrote the song “Still the One.” Colbert mistakes him for a member of Hall and Oates and can’t understand why Hall, a Democrat, would object to George W. Bush using “Still the One” in his reelection bid. Also included is an interview with Robert Wexler of Florida. Wexler ran uncontested, and, as such, Colbert tries to get him to say things that would otherwise lose him the election, such as “I enjoy cocaine because…” or “I enjoy the company of prostitutes for the following reasons…”. Colbert never breaks character and is brilliant throughout.

The DVD also includes highlights of Colbert’s Green Screen Challenge, in which he filmed a light saber routine in front of a green screen and asked fans to submit their own videos of Colbert in action. One video was even submitted by George Lucas, billed on the show as George L.

After losing the Emmy Award for "Best Performance in a Variety, Musical Program or Special" to Barry Manilow, Colbert’s character pouted and Manilow appeared on the show. Even after Manilow agreed Colbert should have won the award, they proceeded to sign and have notarized a revolving biannual custody agreement for the Emmy Award, and then sang a duet on “I Write the Songs.”

O’Reilly even makes an appearance, promoting his book, Culture Warrior, which Colbert shows to the audience with a 30%-off sticker covering O’Reilly’s face.

It’s this irreverent humor, along with a dead-on parody of talk show hosts that take themselves too seriously that makes The Best of the Colbert Report a winner – and that’s the “truthiness.”

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Concert Review: Van Halen – Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI – 10/20/07

Written by General Jabbo

Van Halen returned to Detroit Saturday at Joe Louis Arena for the first time in 23 years with original singer David Lee Roth at the mic and for the first time ever without founding bassist Michael Anthony.

In the long Van Halen soap opera, Anthony had a falling out with the Van Halen brothers around 2002, when he joined Sammy Hagar during his joint tour with Roth. This was seen as breaking ranks with the brothers as both Roth and Hagar were out of the band at that point and therefore mortal enemies of Eddie and Alex Van Halen.

Anthony toured with the band on their 2004 tour with Hagar, but only because Hagar refused to do the tour without him. When that tour finished amidst rumors of fighting and substance abuse problems for Eddie (he did a stint in rehab this year), Hagar was once again out and Eddie saw a perfect opportunity for him to take Anthony with him.

Enter Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s 16-year-old son. Turns out, during all those years when Eddie was locked away in his home studio, he was grooming Wolfgang to be the new bassist in Van Halen.

Wolfgang rehearsed with the brothers for over a year when they decided they wanted to take the show on the road. Problem is, they didn’t have a singer. David Lee Roth, whose recent gig as a radio personality fizzled and whose recent solo career wasn’t doing much better, needed Van Halen. Likewise, the band could ill afford to bring in a fourth singer, especially considering their third singer, Gary Cherone, was not accepted by a majority of fans. With Hagar on the outs again, Roth was the only option.

The band announced their tour earlier this year, but postponed it soon after as Eddie entered rehab, suspiciously around the time the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Only Hagar and Anthony attended the event. However, when tickets went on sale in August for the tour, fans who had waited 23 years to see the band’s charismatic original front man at the helm would soon get their wish.

In the first of two Detroit shows, the band played to about an 80 percent full house, opening with their cover of the Kinks’ classic, “You Really Got Me.” Roth was a little low in the mix for the first several songs, but that got sorted out and he sang and performed well, punctuating his vocals with Elvis-style karate moves. He described the new lineup as being three quarters original, one quarter inevitable.

Eddie played with great intensity and passion – a far cry from the hit-or-miss nature of the 2004 tour, which was marred by sloppy playing and band fighting. He had a lot of interaction on stage with his son, high-fiving him a few times (and missing cues as a result) and he had some timing issues during “Hot For Teacher,” but for the most part, Eddie was the Eddie of old – playing well, smiling, running and jumping around.

For having big shoes to fill in replacing fan-favorite Anthony, Wolfgang did an admirable job. He doesn’t have the dexterity on bass, vocal ability or stage presence of Anthony, but he didn’t bring the show down either. Roth took it upon himself to educate him in the ways of rock and roll, saying, “Look out there, that’s Detroit.”

The biggest star of the show was drummer Alex Van Halen. He played as well as he ever has and, more importantly, kept the band together when some songs started falling apart.

With a band as volatile as Van Halen, and with no definite plans to continue after the tour ends in December, fans wanting to catch a glimpse of the (mostly) original band should do so while they still have a chance.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Robert Plant/Alison Krauss - Raising Sand CD Review

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Raising Sand
Rounder Records

Written by General Jabbo

For those who only know Robert Plant as the primal screamer behind such Led Zeppelin classics as “The Immigrant Song” and “Whole Lotta Love,” his pairing with bluegrass star Alison Krauss may come as a surprise.

Zeppelin wasn’t all about bombast though. For every “Black Dog,” there was “That’s the Way.” For every “Rock and Roll,” there was “Gallows Pole.” Indeed, Plant’s roots are as much in country, blues and folk as they are in rock and roll and heavy metal. Always one to experiment musically and a professed fan of Krauss, Plant phoned her several years ago to express interest in working with her. It wasn’t until their duet at a Leadbelly tribute at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame though that they considered recording an album.

That album is Raising Sand. Produced by T Bone Burnett, with songs selected by Burnett with input from Plant and Krauss, Raising Sand is a diverse mix of blues, country, folk and roots rock songs from a wide range of writers, including: Tom Waits, Gene Clark, Phil and Don Everly, Little Milton Campbell, Mel Tillis and Sam Phillips.

The combination works to great effect, with Plant and Krauss sharing lead vocals on a number of songs, including a fun romp through the Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On),” a bluesy take on “Rich Woman” that would be at home on Plant’s Mighty Rearranger disc and a version of Mel Tillis’ “Stick With Me Baby” brimming with the hope and optimism of a couple in love against all odds.

The solo tracks work too, highlighted by Krauss’ haunting takes on Phillips’ “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” and Waits’ and Kathleen Brennan’s “Trampled Rose.” Plant’s emotional reading of Clark’s “Polly Come Home” and a heavy take on Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin’” are highlights as well, with Plant’s and Krauss’ musical worlds colliding on the latter with its country fiddles over Zeppelinesque guitars.

Plant even covers himself, with a stripped down version of “Please Read the Letter” from 1998’s under-appreciated album with Jimmy Page, Walking into Clarksdale. A song of breakup, Krauss’ harmonies offer the woman’s perspective – as if they were both reading the same letter.

Backed by a crack band including Marc Ribot, Norman Blake, Mike Seeger, Jay Bellerose, and Dennis Crouch, Raising Sand sounds at once familiar and new. Two forces in their own right, Plant and Krauss combine to make something fresh and exciting. With rumors of a tour, the possibilities of Plant and Krauss reinterpreting each other’s catalogs makes this pairing even more intriguing. If Raising Sand is any indication, theirs could be the must-see tour of 2008.