Category Archives: Pop Culture

Concert-Going Veteran Finally Sees A Legend

Guest contributor Michael Noble returns with a review of rock legend Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour’s stop in Sacramento, CA.

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I’m a veteran of more than a few hundred rock concerts over the years.

BTO, The Police, Bruce Springsteen, U2, David Bowie, The Clash, Peter Gabriel, Queen, Devo, AC/DC, Depeche Mode are a handful of the big boys who come to mind immediately; The Cure, Crowded House, The Cramps, Tears For Fears, The Pretenders, Thompson Twins, Grizzly Bear, The Pixies, Love And Rockets, The The, and Adam And The Ants are a few others who made lasting impressions.

Some of the more adventurous outings featured Flock Of Seagulls, Tones On Tail, Polysics, Wall Of Voodoo, Dread Zeppelin, Haunted Garage, The Tubes and, most recently, Psychostick. Woven within them all, are hundreds more individuals and bands and shows and benefits of mind-boggling number, a couple of which I’m certain I’ve forgotten. I’m sure I’ve witnessed close to 500 events in person. And let me tell you: There were days I woke up ridden hard and put up wet after a show. (Indiana Jones said it best: “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”)

But of all those adventures I’d never before seen Elton John.

That changed last night.

His “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour was in town (the “town” being Sacramento), the tickets for the event had been purchased back in 2017. The showcase venue was the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento, the relatively recently opened arena (2016) housing the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. With a seating capacity well over 16,000 seats for concerts, the Center did a nice little job of filling up for the night – not quite to capacity but damned close.

Going into the show, I fully predicted a retrospective sampling of John’s storied songwriting history. (And he did not disappoint.) But I was expecting more from the man and the band, regardless of the fact the dude has hit his 70 year mark. (More than a few of his band members, too, are a bit long in the tooth, some having played with him since the 1970s.) Did he still have the chops? How long would the show last? And could his voice hold out for however long the show commenced?

John set the tone for the evening by launching into the familiar strains of “Bennie And The Jets” which, of course, got the crowd clapping in unison. After that rousing beginning, however, things went downhill quickly with “All The Girls Love Alice” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.” Let me explain:

It wasn’t the song selection by any means. It was the unfamiliar, goofy arrangements he decided to use. His odd rendition of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” actually had me cocking my head dog-like with its funky queerness; John’s almost off key singing didn’t help matters. And this is something that would continue throughout the evening, I was to discover. Several more tunes (“Rocket Man,” “Crocodile Rock” and especially “Sad Songs” and “The Bitch Is Back”) unapologetically tested the audience’s listening range. But isn’t that part of the concert going experience? You never know what you’re going to get, right? And, after all, they can’t all be gems.

But with the evening’s fourth song came the highlight of the show: “Border Song.” Not only did he execute it brilliantly, he offered a tale about its infancy back in 1970 when it was originally released and how, as a young man with a young band, he discovered the song covered unexpectedly by none other than The Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who did very well with her version. (Side Note: John shares a birthday with Franklin, a nice little piece of trivia there.) The song has always been a favorite of mine in my history of Elton John Marching And Chowder Society appreciation. It was a pleasant surprise to hear it. Early in the show John formally apologized to the audience in the event he didn’t get to some folks’ preferences given the abundance of tunes in his song repository.

Now, while there was often song quirkiness to break up the evening, some of the more pleasant aspects of the night hovered around the extended piano riffs and copious band pronouncements during several songs. The crowd was treated to “extended versions” of tunes courtesy of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” the latter already clocking in as a long composition in its original form. There were a couple more examples, but these two in particular were unexpected highlights.

And, yes … there was of course the cheesiness of “Philadelphia Freedom,” “I’m Still Standing” and “Crocodile Rock” – all with ditzy arrangements – to round out the mix and get the crowd jauntily clapping in rhythm. (I’ve never been on board with those particular fluffy songs. It’s a personal thing.)

But, when all was said and done, Elton John turned in an overall worthy two and a half hour concert for the 15,000 or so in attendance. Not bad for someone turning the page on 71 years in a couple months. And while his voice didn’t hit the highs and lows of younger days, he more than made up for it with his enthusiasm and appreciation at being the center of attention. There seemed to be a palpable genuineness to the man whenever he stood and took in the applause of the crowd.

Was I happy to have finally seen him? Yes, regardless of the sometimes weird warbles with which he constructed some songs. (I even plunked down $75.00 for a poster and tour program, well worth it to this concert-attending yahoo.) I mean, come on: The dude’s an icon. He’s a legend. He’s been appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. For his charitable work, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. And, most of all, he’s a major player in music, making up a big part of the fabric of rock and roll history.

See him if you can. His Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour is worth the effort.

The Evening’s Set List

Set 1:

Bennie And The Jets
All The Girls Love Alice
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
Border Song
Tiny Dancer
Philadelphia Freedom
Indian Sunset
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be A Long, Long Time)
Take Me To The Pilot
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Levon
Candle In The Wind

Set 2:

Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Burn Down The Mission
Believe
Daniel
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
The Bitch Is Back
I’m Still Standing
Crocodile Rock
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

Encore:

Your Song
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.

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Great Album Retro Review: The Blurred Crusade By The Church

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One of my favorite bands from the 1980s produced this, one of my all-time favorite albums. The album is The Blurred Crusade, released in 1982, and it was recorded by Australia’s guitar-based alt-rock band The Church. It was their second album.

There’s an adage in the music industry that asserts artists have a lifetime to write their first album, but then only a year or two to write their second. The adage is meant to explain why the sophomore efforts of so many recording artists seem to drop off in quality from their freshman work. The adage may have some merit, but not in this case.

The Blurred Crusade is a brilliant album that improves on the band’s first release, Of Skins And Hearts (1981). This album is more focused and cohesive. It’s also more of a full band effort than their first album, which was more influenced by lead singer/bassist/songwriter Steve Kilbey. The guitar work of Peter Koppes and Marty Wilson-Piper is fantastic and flows so well together. And it’s jangly guitar. I love jangly guitar!

This is one of those albums that is best listened to from beginning to end. I strongly suggest that’s how you experience it.

The Tracks:

Almost With You – Holy smokes! What an outstanding opening track. If I were asked to suggest which song of The Church’s early career best defines their sound, this would be the one. Great guitar interplay, great pace, Kilbey’s deep voice, with plenty of that ethereal feel for which the band was (and still is) known. It’s my favorite track.

When You Were Mine – There’s that big 80s drum sound going on throughout the album and it’s quite noticeable here in Richard Ploog’s drumming. This is one of their rockers!

Field Of Mars – Wilson-Piper takes lead vocal on this trippy, ethereal track. I’m not sure what the lyrics mean, but so what? Most of The Church’s songs are more about the feel of the lyrics than the literal meaning. I’m sure there’s some meaning in here, but why ask why?

An Interlude – Written by the entire band, we once again get plenty of jangly guitars and trippy, albeit few, lyrics as the song builds in intensity, backs off, and builds again. The intermittent use of the hushed female vocals is a nice touch on this mostly instrumental track.

Secret Corners – A brief track that is a nice little breather to cap off the first half of the album.

Just For You – This track opens with a little theatrics. Kilbey is heard strumming away on an acoustic guitar and humming when he is interrupted by a knock on the door. He responds to the knock and opens the door to the beginning of this song. It’s a great love song, but there’s a better one yet to come.

A Fire Burns – Some good buzz to the jangly guitar on this track. Good riff.

To Be In Your Eyes – This is the better love song I was referring to earlier. It’s really good. “I want the person inside me to be someone I’d recognize, if he was in your eyes…” Nice line.

You Took – An epic track that takes the listener on quite a musical journey. Slowly building at first, but then it rocks threw most of its eight minutes, it culminates with the lyric that became the album’s title. This was always a show-stopper when played in their live sets.

Don’t Look Back – A gentle, mostly acoustic, track to wrap up such an excellent album.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Remembering Pete Shelley (1955-2018)

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In the fall of 1983 I started my first year attending art school in St. Paul, MN. I had graduated high school the previous spring and I still carried much of my high school baggage with me, including a more mainstream taste in music. By the end of that first year, I had almost completely cast off my liking of what I then considered the trivial, trite, treacle of Top 40 radio. I had embraced the music that would come to be known as alternative.

I had a friend from high school who joined me in the exploration of punk, post-punk, industrial, and goth. We were completely open to hearing this underground music.

Sometime in the summer of 1984, the two of us were at a record store rummaging through a bin of discount priced albums on cassette. My friend grabbed a copy of Gary Numan’s Pleasure Principle (1979) and I scarfed up the album A Different Kind Of Tension (1979) by a band called Buzzcocks. I liked the name of the band and thought the cover art was intriguing and it was cheap, so I bought it.

We put our new music into my friend’s car stereo and went for a cruise around town. There are few things more enjoyable than hitting the road, windows down, and the stereo cranking good tunes. And, on that day, we both agreed that my purchase was pretty kick ass.

The Buzzcocks were one of the first of the UK punk bands to form in the 1970s. They infused punk sensibilities into infectious, danceable, driving pop songs. Their influence was far-reaching. In fact, the BBC said that the Buzzcocks’ influence can be heard in the music of such bands as Husker Du and Nirvana. To that I would add Naked Raygun and Green Day.

I was so excited by this band. But, they had broken up in 1981. Darn it! My timing was off.

However, Pete Shelley, the principle songwriter and singer of the band, had embarked on a solo career, continuing to produce danceable pop with a punk attitude and synthesizers. In 1986, he came to Minneapolis to perform at the legendary nightclub First Avenue & 7th Street Entry.  My friend and I jumped at the chance to see him.

As I recall, there wasn’t a large crowd, but those who were there got a damn good show. At the front of the stage was about a dozen or so guys, myself included, just completely going bonkers for the music. Slam dancing, pogoing, skanking, and sweating to the point of exhaustion. Shelley started the show with his solo track Telephone Operator and then played a set mixing in plenty of Buzzcocks tunes with his solo work. It was glorious!

He finished the set then he and his band came back on stage to give us an encore of two or three great songs. He left the stage again, but we wouldn’t have it. The crowd was so jacked up we demanded he return to give us more. He did.

He launched into a reprise of Telephone Operator and we loved it!

In 1989, the Buzzcocks reformed. They toured extensively and produced several new albums. They came through Minneapolis many times and you bet I was there. Slam dancing, pogoing, skanking, and sweating to the point of exhaustion.

Pete Shelley died last Thursday (12/6) of an apparent heart attack. He was 63. Too young.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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TV Guide: Some Bought It For The Pictures

My hiatus continues as guest contributor Michael Noble returns with a tribute to TV Guide and how it had more than one use.

TV Guide S&H

Why?! Why won’t I see those documentaries?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was head to the grocery store with my mother, especially in the middle of the week. Wednesdays and Thursdays were prime days for those treks. Because that was the time of the week the new TV Guide hit the newsstands.

You see … I collected them. With one in my anxious little hands, I scoured from cover to cover for pictures and listings of upcoming horror, monster, and science fiction programs. And, if I was lucky, those listings would be accompanied by a picture or photo of the upcoming program.

The most prized were those of the giant monsters (known as “kaiju”): Godzilla, Rodan, Gamera, King Ghidorah and the like. The thrill of finding new images was electric and it didn’t happen very often. But when it did, I used to carefully cut out the pictures and laminate them and take them to school to share with friends.

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This little exercise was huge among the lot of us. You see, not only did I provide a service to some of the kids who didn’t get TV Guide – those few whose parents didn’t believe in purchasing a program listing just to have it tossed out with the following week’s trash, poor souls – but we used to gawk and swoon and comment over the latest, glorious black and white quarter-page shot of Godzilla looming over a soon-to-be-destroyed Tokyo.

And let me tell you, it was a massive competition among us acquiring those pictures and showing them off. Week in and week out, the first kid to display his TV Guide treasures was pretty much the cock of the walk at school going into the weekend. You jutted out your chest and strutted the playground with an exaggerated confidence on a Friday knowing you were the only one with a Baragon or Ebirah tucked away in your pocket.

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The masked Mr. Sardonicus.

Of course, the Universal monsters and other horror nightmares were prized acquisitions as well. In fact I think TV Guide was the first place I saw an image of the hideous Mr. Sardonicus and his ghoulish mask offering that bedtime’s nightmares. (Note: My first glimpse of Mr. Sardonicus sans mask was in Famous Monsters Of Filmland years later. And I could see why that particular image wasn’t showcased in the Guide. Middle of the night horror visions, indeed!)

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Yikes!

You can well imagine as the years went by the group of us collected fine examples of creatures and horrors galore, each one carefully guarded and displayed during recess and weekend sleep overs. I still have my assortment safe in a box somewhere with my glow in the dark Aurora model parts, Odd Rod bubble gum cards and other treasures.

The 1970s were good times with some pretty fond memories …

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.

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The Man Has Died. Stan Lee (1922-2018)

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Last December, with the input of a few friends, I had written a post commemorating Stan “The Man” Lee’s 95th birthday. Today I’m writing a brief post to acknowledge The Man’s death and his impact on my life.

I was a Marvel kid in the 1970s, when I started collecting comic books. All of my comic collecting friends were at the time. Although, I grew to appreciate DC Comics later in life, I’m still a Marvel kid at heart. Marvel Comics were just so much more exciting than DC Comics. The artwork was better. The action was better. The characters were better.

The characters were better, in large part, because they were so much more relatable than DC’s. Marvel characters had real world, often mundane, problems. Spider-Man had to figure out how to defeat Doc Ock and protect Aunt May, all while keeping his identity secret and his homework done. OK, I wasn’t fighting super-villains, but I did have homework. That relatability was one of Stan’s greatest contributions to comic books. His characters were people.

I’m aware there have been criticisms against Stan for what appeared to be his desire to be thought of as the sole creator of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, and a whole litany of other exciting super-heroes. But I think those criticisms are a little unfair. Later in his life, he was certain to acknowledge the massive contributions of such creative giants as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in those extremely creative years in the early 1960s. (And, let’s face it, without Stan Lee, how many of us would have ever heard of Kirby and Ditko?)

Stan Lee had a “gee whiz” kind of quality to his personality. He could seem a little hokey at times, but his optimism and exuberance were undeniable. It was that personality that made him the perfect cheerleader for Marvel Comics and for comic books in general. And that cheer-leading was an equally important facet to his contribution to the world of comic books, super-heroes, and, eventually, tent-pole super-hero movies. The Man not only changed comic books, he had a hand in changing Hollywood.

Throughout my youth, I would spend hours and hours reading, looking at, and studying comic books, most of them Marvel. Comic books inspired me to keep drawing, when other kids gave up and moved on to other things. I became an artist, a cartoonist. No, I never did get work drawing comic books, but no matter. It was comic books, Stan Lee’s comic books, that put me on the road to gaining this skill.

For that and the thousand of hours spent battling Dr. Doom with The Fantastic Four, or Ultron with The Avengers, or Magneto with The X-Men, I am eternally grateful to Stan “The Man” Lee.

Packing Peanuts!

No. Make that…

Excelsior!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

(This post has been corrected and updated on 11-16-18.)

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This Month’s Great Cover Has A Lantern Jaw

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Just look at that!

In the January, 1993 issue of Superman (#75), our hero from the planet Kryton had died defeating what seemed to be an unstoppable foe: Doomsday. In the months that followed, as Superman lay “dead,” four characters stepped in to fill his sizable shoes. They were Eradicator, Superboy, Cyborg Superman, and Steel. Eventually, the real Superman rose from the dead (hardly anyone stays dead in comic books for very long) to take up the task of once again fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

This month’s great cover is from Superman: The Man Of Steel #25 (September, 1993). It was drawn by Jon Bogdanove and inked by Dennis Janke. Bogdanove had started working for Marvel Comics in 1986, then he hopped on over to DC Comics in 1991 and became part of the team that created the Man Of Steel title in an expansion of the titles featuring our hero from another world. Then, in the wake of Superman’s death, the team created a new hero named Steel to take over the title.

1993 was part of th23188at awful time period when comic book art began to drown in unnecessary linework. Lines! Lines! Lines! Marvel and Image Comics led the way in this era in which some artists forgot to leave room for color, adding more and more lines, while some inkers also abandoned the use of varying line weight to show the shape of things. Look at the cover of The Incredible Hulk #341 (March, 1988), drawn and inked by Todd MacFarlane, one of the artists who issued in this flood of undisciplined linework. Now, imagine there’s no color, it’s a black and white line drawing. Without the color it would be difficult to tell just what the hell is going on. So many unnecessary lines, which all have more or less the same weight to them.

Compare MacFarlane’s cover to this month’s great cover. Bogdanove and Janke use plenty of lines for shading, but the lines are disciplined. They are loose in their execution, but they are placed right where they are needed. There are thick and thin lines. They make sense. You can tell exactly what is going on. And they leave room for color, which was masterfully provided by Janke.

I love a good close-up and Bogdanove and Janke nailed this one. This, my friends, is how you draw an angry, determined, about-to-kick-your-butt Superman!

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

Correction (12-5-18): I had the scope of the Superman: Man Of Steel title wrong. When the series started in 1991 it featured Superman. I had originally indicated the series was created to fill the void of the missing hero. The correction has been made.

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Horror Incorporated Didn’t Need A Host

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“Lurking among the corpses are the body-snatchers, plotting their next venture into the graveyard…”

Those were the first words that welcomed Twin Cities viewers to the weekly night of terror offered by the local TV station KSTP, back when I was a kid in the 1970s. The show was called Horror Incorporated.

There were many such creature feature offerings on local television stations all over America in those days. Our horror movie showcase was a little different than most. Ours had no host.

No Vampira. No Ghoulardi. No Mister Lobo. No Sir Graves Ghastly. No Doctor Creep. No Sharon Needles. No Grimsley.

No host.

But my research does show that Horror Incorporated did indeed, however briefly, have a couple of hosts. First was Dr. Paul Bearer (get it?) in the early 1970s. There also appears to have been a second host in the mid-70s, who went by the name Graves. Neither host lasted very long. For the majority of its run from the fall of 1969 until sometime in the later 1970s (I’m not certain when it ended) there was no host.

And having no host was good, because…

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Not a great Dracula.

In the 2000s, the show was revived with hosts. There were two attempts at a revival, in fact. I don’t know which came first, but one was hosted by Count Dracula, who stood in front of a green screen and did a not so great Bela Lugosi impression. He would make puns and tell a few facts related to the featured horror movie. He would then tell viewers to “OBEY!” and come back next week. Lame, but the actor did his best with what he had to work with.

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Not the Addams Family.

The other attempt had a small cast of young actors doing sort of a take off on the Addams Family. In fact, the main character, Uncle Ghoulie (center in above photo. No, not the wolf!), was a cross between Gomez Addams (as played by the great John Astin on the ’60s TV show) and Svengoolie, a current and longtime horror show host. They did skits and tried their best to insert humor into the proceedings. They had varying degrees of success.

Neither incarnation lasted long.

I might have a bit of nostalgic bias here, but I prefer no host. That’s the way I saw the Friday night creature feature when I was a kid. There was no silliness, except what might have been in the movie. The way that version was presented was to absolutely creep you out. You were supposed to be scared. It set the tone for a scary movie. And if they had a good one to show, one with Lugosi or Karloff, perhaps, the viewer would be in the proper mood for a scare and not a giggle.

The show featured a simple open and close which often times were far more frightening than the featured film. They consisted of a sparse set: Black with only a coffin in a spotlight. And, of course, there was fog. The lighting would change from harsh white to yellow, blue, purple, green, red. There were sounds of creaking doors, shrieks, groans, and cries of anguish. And then the lid of the coffin would begin to open and two pale, claw-like, almost skeletal, hands would come into sight. The occupant was rising from his coffin to head into the night in search of blood… I’m guessing.

And there was the voice-over provided by Jim Wise, who was also working for KSTP radio. He sounded excellent as he welcomed viewers to that week’s “excursion through Horror Incorporated…” Chills! Good old-fashioned, blood-curdling chills, folks!

When the feature was complete, the scene returned to the coffin. This time its occupant was returning from a night of terrorizing innocents. And the voice-over told us…

“Next week, I will be back again with another venture into the chamber of horror. Come along for another experience through the unknown, into Horror Incorporated.”

Now just try to get some sleep, kids!

You can watch the opening and closing at this link. See if you don’t agree that it is very effective. Also, visit The Horror Incorporated Project. It’s a fun site that really helped me in my research.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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