Monday, June 30, 2008

6/30/08 - On Disney & Musicals

I saw Wall-E on opening weekend, and predictably enjoyed it. I would rank it under the Brad Bird Pixar movies, but it definitely keeps to the ridiculously high quality bar that Pixar has set. In the ramp-up to the movie, as I was expressing to various people I knew how excited I was to see it, I had a long conversation with a friend of mine about Pixar and Disney and the way that the baton was passed sometime around Toy Story.

One thing that we discussed, which is one of the few lamentable results of the Pixar ascendancy and Disney decline, is the loss of having a mass-market musical released every year. One thing that I always really liked about Disney is that they maintained the musical model even as it fell out of favor just about everywhere in the marketplace. Granted, toward the end of Eisner's tenure their musicals became bloated and mediocre, but the Ashman/Mencken collaborations in the early '90s really benefited from such a well-accomplished songwriting team.

In fact, I think that the death of Howard Ashman really marked the decline of Disney's most recent golden age of animated movies. The lyricist to Mencken's melodist, Ashman was exceptionally talented at clever and (often darkly) humorous lyrics that captured character and delivered narrative with swift economy. The idiosyncratic nature of Ashman's lyrics really lent a particular and recognizable intelligence to the 3 musicals that he worked on: Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid.

For an idea of what kind of artistic worldview powered the Ashman/Menken duo, note that it was they who transformed the sub-B-grade Roger Corman movie Little Shop of Horrors into a hit off-Broadway play. Little Shop is a triumphantly successful musical, and much of the appeal is the wedding of such dark source material with the pop stylings that Ashman/Menken bring. It's the oldest trick in the book- marrying sweet, even bouncy melodies to dark lyrics, and they pull it off with aplomb.

"Dentist" stretches this tension to the breaking point - the song is, like most of the songs in the movie, an energetic doo-wop '60s style raver that sticks in the brain before it's even over (credit to Menken). The lyrics, though, are a loving depiction of successful channeling sadistic impulses into a modern career option. Steve Martin rampaging through the office as the greaser Orin Scrivella is hilarious but terrifying - the genius of the song and sequence is they way it plays grotesquely on power imbalance that exists in the dentist's chair - power equivalent to the S&M dynamic, according to the connect-the-dots line that Ashman draws in the lyrics.

Little Shop keeps its finger on the pop pulse, but just a short list of some of its plot developments show just what a trick it is to keep it on the line of mainstream accessibility (something that falls mostly on the songs and performances):
domestic abuse
murder ("Suppertime", "Feed Me")
sadism ("Dentist")
man-eating plants ("Grow For Me", "Feed Me"
drug abuse ("Now, It's Just The Gas" - stage version only)

So this is who Disney tapped for The Little Mermaid? Granted, Menken & Ashman are professionals, and it's not like they set out to sabotage the Mouse's artistic rationale, but the prankster spirit comes through in multiple places, even if there's nothing quite like the tour de force of "Dentist".

Oh, wait:

The Menken/Ashman fingerprints are all over this one - a queasy intermingling of violence and comedy, all set to a jaunty, hummable tune with clever lyrics like "Then I stuff you with bread/it won't hurt 'cause you're dead/and you're certainly lucky you are".

More than in hilarious trifles like "Les Poissons", though, Ashman's lyrical dexterity really reveals itself as crucial in the more serious songs, where his cleverness as a lyricist enable him and Menken to reach for genuine emotion without descending into the gooey, shapeless generalities of contemporary Broadway. In "Kiss The Girl", the swooning romanticism of the song's message is cleverly counterpointed with Sebastian the Crab's titanic ego - when he designates his instrument as "Words" with a proud bow, he announces his intention to seduce (by proxy), and then does so, with a vengeance. "Boy you better do it soon/no time will be better" perfectly captures Sebastian's bossy nature, while at the same time working with the reggae lilt of the melody to propel the scene's action.

It is this marrying of image, song, and narrative drive that makes good musicals so powerful. It is a mark of the difficulty involved that it's so rarely pulled off. After Ashman died, Disney had one last home run in the Lion King, but even though the soundtrack was successful and the movie absolutely destroyed the box office, it was clear that Tim Rice was no match for Ashman in the lyric department. Where "Kiss the Girl" is expertly and subtly voiced, "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" is ham-handed and cheesy, the mark of bad musicals since the form first sprang into being. Menken worked with a succession of lyricists after, but none gelled with his compositions like Ashman did for their astonishing run from Little Shop through Aladdin.

When Toy Story was released, it seemed blessedly free of bloat thanks to its non-musical nature. By that point, Disney musicals had ossified into a hard formula - you could pick the spots where you knew each type of song would show up. But now that Pixar's owned summer animation (with Dreamworks cravenly riding the bandwagon) for a number of years, I find myself mourning the loss of the Ashman/Menken musicals. A talent for causing things pain, indeed.

Monday, June 23, 2008

6/23/08 - Tragic lack of guitar solos in post-'91 rock hits

Listened to the new Girl Talk album all week, basically. If you haven't heard it yet, then don't waste any more time reading this missive about guitar music - go find it. I'll probably have more thoughts comprehensive thoughts later, but one thing that came about in the listening that I wanted to explore is the question of the guitar solo. Or perhaps I should say: the guitar solo? The question in question being prompted by the use in "Feed the Animals" of the guitar fills of "Jailbreak", the Thin Lizzy song.

Now, I love guitar solos. I'm a highly biased observer of music in this way. The idea of the guitar solo is so endemic the basic rock song structure that you can pretty much trace a straight line through from Chuck Berry to GNR, unbroken. The point on that graph are composed of solos. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always there. Like choruses, or songs about devil-women that are bad for your soul by being so goooooooooooood in bed, yowza!

Then, static clouds the signal around the time of the grunge explosion. After the smoke cleared, I can think of very few hit rock singles that really utilized the guitar solo. The temptation is to blame this on Nirvana, and, indeed, Cobain's reluctance to make the rock-star move and solo away post-Bleach surely made an impact on everyone following in the footsteps, but Nirvana hardly operated in a vacuum. The other high-impact grunge bands featured classic-rock inspired solos (Pearl Jam), metal-inspired solos (Soundgarden), and solos inspired by someone giving Billy Corgan a dirty look while he was in line at the post office (Smashing Pumpkins).

But looking at the post-grunge rock bands that took off reveals a glaring lock of solo action. Third Eye Blind, matchbox 20, and Collective Soul were the 3 titans of the charts in the post-grunge hangover (a painful triplet of oatmeal-ish pseudo-rock, to be sure), and as far as I can tell none of their hit songs had a solo. Is this really a case of everyone imitating Cobain, even though Mike McCready is probably still sitting in a studio finishing up the "Evenflow" solo? It seems like the spate of hit singles coming from the pop-punk end of things also contributed the development - the Offspring & Green Day had nary a solo to be found, instead hanging their hats on the reductive musical equations of the Ramones.

I think that this is the legacy of the 80s indie & punk scenes, where guitar solos were equated with the poofy LA metal bands that deployed them so frequently. So, as musical memes do, they came to signify something other than their original meaning: instead of to-be-lauded virtuosity they came to mean pompous head-up-ass posturing.

But man, this is the kind statement that only has to be made once, not over the course of a decade's worth of rock music. Short of Tom Morello, I can't think of another guitarist who put the solo imprinteur on his mainstream rock outfit. And, even more strangely, I have a hard time conjuring up any mainstream rock hits in the last 15 years or so with guitar solos at all to speak of. This seems like a vast opportunity lost.

I'll never forget going to see the White Stripes after the release of "White Blood Cells" at the Bowery. I had heard they put on a good show, but I was expecting hi-NRG amateur hour - after all, Jack White had consciously put no solos on the album, and the earlier albums had a little bit of slide work, and that was it. So when he proceeded to shred half of his songs to pieces I was practically catapulted out of the back of the establishment. The songs on the albums were blueprints - the man was creating buildings.

And, formally, I get why "Fell In Love With A Girl" doesn't need a guitar solo to make its point. But would Jimmy Page have let that song out the gate without a face-melter? Doubtful. Sure, you don't need 4 legs to have a table stand up, but that fourth leg really helps.

An arbitrary list of post-1991 songs that really could have used a guitar solo:
"Woman" - Wolfmother (organ solo? back to drawing board please gentlemen)
"Possum Kingdom" - The Toadies
"Mr. Brightside" - The Killers
"How You Remind Me" - Nickleback
"Fell In Love With A Girl" - White Stripes
"Hate To Say I Told You So" - The Hives
"Semi-Charmed Life" - Third Eye Blind
"Interstate Love Song" - Stone Temple Pilots
"Cannonball" - The Breeders

Thursday, June 19, 2008

6/19/08 Iron Man = awesome

I'm late to the bandwagon, I know, but I saw Iron Man last week and it's awesome. And its success as a movie ties back to the basic unsatisfying-ness of Indiana Jones that I attempted to outline a couple of weeks ago. I cried out for the necessity of a light tone in a summer blockbuster, and lo and behold this gem of a movie was sucking up box office left and right quite in front of my ignorant nose. Brilliant.

Well, the fact that a whole lot of people went to see it doesn't necessarily indicate quality or not - sometimes popular success has a lot to do with quality, and sometimes it doesn't. Especially when it comes to summer blockbusters, attendance is in some ways simply a function of obligation - we all know that summer movies are when Hollywood pulls out all the high-dollar smoke and mirrors, and the movies tend to accrue self-propelled momentum, like so many gargantuan snowballs starting avalanches. My friend Andrew once tried to put his incredulity re: this phenomenon into words, as he was attempting to grapple with the massive success of "Jagged Little Pill" (Alanis). He attempted the futile task of asking himself who the hell kept buying this thing once it had reached tipping point? Like, who was the 18 millionth person to buy "Jagged Little Pill", after it had already sat perched atop the charts for a year or more? Who was that person that had somehow not fallen into those 2 most obvious categories: 1) people who heard one of the ubiquitous singles and thought to themselves: "I simply must own whatever album this bewitching Canadian chanteuse is plying her her trade upon" or 2) "This blows. I can't wait until this pap is off my damn radio."? There were people who only decided to check the album out after single #13.5, simply because at that point it had accrued enough cultural momentum.

Also, that Santana album with "Smooth" on it.

Well, when it comes to Iron Man, I'm that person. I caught it at the tail end of the run, based on word of mouth from my friends and parents. I caught the steadily building opinion from those I talked to that this wasn't just a movie to go see because it's June and June = time for things to blow up at the movie theater; rather, this was a movie to go see because it was, well, quality filmmaking.

And it is. I had an inkling it could happen to me going in, but I can only imagine those lucky souls on opening weekend who saw the movie and felt it began to dawn on their brains: "This isn't just's...good...I'm laughing...empathizing...hmmm....processing..." A wonderful moment that I half-experienced, since I had been led to expect it.

In any case, why? This a movie that promotes not a vague sense of being impressed, but warm feelings of affection, but superficially it should do no such thing, being as it is Marvel comic adaptation #29323, directed by Jon Favreau. "Swingers" was great, but nothing in it really suggested future deft big-budge filmmaker for JF. Ah, but the Rosetta Stone could lay within the souls of Mikey and Trent, because what "Iron Man" brings in spades is tone. Tone, tone, tone.

Not for Favreau the leaden weights of expectation and history that so burdened Indy 4. The guy made a movie that is, despite the clear accumulation of special effects/set peices, quite light on its feat. The summer movies that stick are the ones with that fizzy but satisfying tone, where it's a genuine pleasure to step into the universe to get away from the sticky, oppressive heat outside for a few hours. Iron Man has that quality, a certain fleetness/lightness that keeps it fun to be around. Part of it is Robert Downey Jr.'s impressively charming turn as Tony Stark, part of it is the way Stark's character is written. He lives a life of aspirational fantasy; the zillionaire playboy whose enthusiasm for living rubs off on the audience. The trick that the screenplay pulls off is that Stark remains a fixating, enjoyable presence even as his motivations morph from the fizzy highs of women, cars, and money (easy things to glamorize) to Doing Some Good In This World (much harder to glamorize, but with Downey Jr. and a lot of silent movie-style comedy grafted onto neat-o robot special effects, Favreau's working with a few aces up his sleeve).

Downey, Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow all register as warm, real presences, no matter that the fit neatly into their prescribed categories as protagonist, antagonist, and romantic interest. Their interactions carry the relaxed, inviting bantering energy through some of the tenser and more effects laden sequences. It's a hard balance to make a light, funny summer movie with stakes that feel high enough the audience mentally throws in with the designated good guys, but Favreau sticks the landing.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

6/12/08 - A shoutout for the Boone Town Boyz

That's my brother (well, not in the still, but about halfway through)! And I couldn't be prouder. Wait until the strains of Big Boi rudely usher Mariah out of the picture, and you will see David in all of his glory. Which is not to denigrate Will and Charles, who hold up their end of the bargain in this clip. All three of these guys are much better kayakers that I will ever be; which is inspiring - I find a lot of satisfaction in watching people at the top of their craft.

Some things to note about this video that make it stand out from the glut of kayaking videos clogging up YouTube, and sure, I'm biased because of who's in it, so take these observations with as many grains of salt as you wish.

Unconventional musical choices: Most kayaking videos, or ski videos, or skate videos, or any other "extreme sports porn", uses aggro music to match the aggro nature of the activity being shown, because it's JUST. THAT. INTENSE. MAN.


The Boone Town Boyz show that rarest of commodities in extreme sports videos - a subtle sense of humor. Sure, there's plenty of dude humor floating around here, but it takes balls to set your exploits to "Touch My Body" by the estimable Ms. Carey, let alone lip-synch it in the car on the way to the river. Props, Will Stubblefield.

"The Rooster" makes for a little bit more mainstream choice, but the awesome quotient is raised a few notches by David's Rooster dance in his finest gentleman-of-leisure threads lit by an incandescently divine neon palm tree lamp. More dramatic - the dancefloor moves? Or the string of full-front-flip loops that David throws down in the playboat. I say it's a tie too close to call. Also, an impeccable display of editing to show the jump off of the table to kick of the segment on the heels of the laid-back "Touch My Body". Props, David Clarke.

Then, the piece de resistance. Not only have I never seen a kayak video scored to a mainstream country song in my lifetime, EVER; I have also never seen someone as devoted to his role as the tractor driving King Charles. Also, great cameo from the Farmer's Daughter. I was ready to go buy tickets to Tim McGraw after I had finished the video. Props, K. Charles.

Subtle humor- the name of the game. Check it out if you've got the time. And, oh yeah, the kayaking is pretty sick as well.

Monday, June 09, 2008

6/9/08 - As Feared, New Weezer = Aggressively Mediocre

Well, consider expectations met. Weezer's new album (idiotically titled "The Red Album" - someone please inform these guys that 3 self-titled albums is not clever, but rather carries the unmistakable stench of creative bankruptcy) is pretty bad.

Not bad in the way that the previous 3 were bad, which were soul-crushingly, agonizingly, terribly bad. This is more like the kind of bad where it becomes apparent that your favorite band is running out of ideas, and is no longer a band because of any pressing needs to communicate through music but rather is a band because, well, it beats working a desk job.

Some of the stuff on there is, as my friend Andrew observed, some of the best material they've put out since Pinkerton. "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived" picks up the punk rock opera thread from Green Day's "American Idiot" album, cramming in falsetto, overly dramatic monologues, tempo shifts, nods to "Simple Gifts" (yeah, "Simple Gifts, as in the song you may remember from middle school chorus...I know I do), and references to mages and magic spells. Unlike anything from albums 3-5, it's not burdened with crushing self-consciousness, and is rather a window into the peculiar workings of Rivers Cuomo's pop-musical mind.

"Dreamin" is a servicable song, 1/2 epic, 1/2 pop trifle, complete with verbal harmony breakdown at the end and a whole lot of ooh-ooh's. "Troublemaker" is catchy and dumb, with several lines that made me smile for real and a chorus that was stuck in my head for 3 days.
Closer "The Angel and the One" is decent, as well.

All of these are markedly inferior to "Pork and Beans", which is the kind of sledgehammer pop that marked Weezer as special all those years ago. "I don't care what they say about us anyway" is now "I don't give a hoot about what you think", and it's all backed up by that glorious 4/4 grind. It's also hookier by far than anything else on the album. Does it point its way toward a potential road to recovery?

Hardly. Depressingly enough, Rivers revealed to "Rolling Stone" that he wrote the song to fit an old riff from '98 that he never used. Hmmm, '98. Right around the time before his talent up and left, apparently. This was crushing news to me. It's gone. The man's a pop song architect now by occupation, not a regular geek with vague dreams of success and happiness gloriously unrealized.

Further evidence of creative bankruptcy - Rivers lets the other members of the band contribute songs to the album. In a long-ago "Alternative Press" article much was made of his dictatorial tendencies, so the fact that he's letting other people get songs onto his band's album surely shows improvement as a person, and I can always support that. But, man, listening to these songs gives me newfound appreciation for Rivers-the-asshole back in '96. Maybe it was just misguided quality control, because the non-Cuomo songs are terrible.

So, 6 songs from Rivers, with 1 great, 1 solid, and 2 decent. 4 terrible songs from the rest of the band. Talk about going out with a whimper instead of a bang. And I'm left to wonder again, what was it about Matt Sharp? Sharp was the most frustrated, had the biggest axe to grind of any of the non-Cuomo members of Weezer according to that long-ago article, and, if the results of the first 2 Rentals albums are any indication, dude had a legitimate gripe. Unlike the dreck churned out on "The Red Album", Sharp has a handful of songs to his credit that not only hit the quality bar set by the first 2 Weezer albums, but also share their unmistakable sonic instincts. It's not like he was churning out sub-Cracker forgettableness like "Thought I Knew" (thanks, Brian Bell, but no thanks), he was touching up songs like the fabulous "The Love I'm Searching For", which had plenty of that chugging melodic low-end drive that earned Weezer so many ducats (and continues to do so - "Pork and Beans" is apparently tearing it up on the charts).

But by all accounts, Rivers was a tyrant then, and dictated the sound of early Weezer with the zeal of a Fidel, so theoretically losing Sharp's bass & falsetto was just a matter of finding another warm body with the same instrumental abilities.

But theory apparently diverged from practice. Something about Sharp's presence or influence seems to have functioned as some sort of quality bar for Rivers, because the fall-off after he left the band is simply astonishing. I'll never know if it was Matt Sharp, or if his departure miraculously coincided with the complete erosion of Rivers Cuomo's musical instincts, but it's a question I ponder anew with each new crappy facsimile of past glory titled "Weezer" and labeled by color that comes down the pipe.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

6/5/08 - NBA Finals - Anyone but Kobe

Ah, the glorious freedom from the shackles of the bandwagon fan! For these entire NBA playoffs I have been cheering the downfall of Boston, mighty mighty Boston. But now that they are playing the Lakers...

Well, it may be overly traditionalist of me, but I can't stand Kobe Bryant. The other day I read that if he had gone to college, it would definitely have been Duke. That fact surprises me exactly zero percent. In fact, there is a large part of me that heaves a huge sigh of relief that I was spared the sight of Bryant and Coach K hoisting NCAA trophy together and embracing. Because, as has been observed ad nauseum, Kobe Bryant is just that good. The man really is a transcendent basketball player. And, as Kelly Dwyer has argued on the Ball Don't Lie blog over at Yahoo, one thing that should be respected about Kobe is that he has a great deal of respect for his own basketball gifts. He works at his game. He adds shots, spins, additional footwork, additional weapons to the arsenal the longer he plays. This is commendable. In some ways, there's nothing more frustrating than the person that refuses to take advantage of their own prodigious gifts. Kobe's got the gifts, and he has taken full advantage. By all accounts, he is one of the hardest workers in the NBA.

He is also, by my estimation, a pretty crappy human being. For a great courtside account of Kobe's courtside demeanor in Boston during Game 3, when things weren't going his way, the noted authority Curt Schilling's got the definitive word:

The key passage:

"Kobe. This one stunned me a little bit. Who doesn’t know Kobe Bryant right? I only know what I have heard, starting awhile back with the entire Shaq debacle. I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other on or about him other than to know that people feel he might be one of the 4-5 greatest players to ever lace it up. What I do know is what I got to see up close and hear, was unexpected. From the first tip until about 4 minutes left in the game I saw and heard this guy bitch at his teammates. Every TO he came to the bench pissed, and a few of them he went to other guys and yelled about something they weren’t doing, or something they did wrong. No dialog about “hey let’s go, let’s get after it” or whatever. He spent the better part of 3.5 quarters pissed off and ranting at the non-execution or lack of, of his team. Then when they made what almost was a historic run in the 4th, during a TO, he got down on the floor and basically said ‘Let’s f’ing go, right now, right here” or something to that affect. I am not making this observation in a good or bad way, I have no idea how the guys in the NBA play or do things like this, but I thought it was a fascinating bit of insight for me to watch someone in another sport who is in the position of a team leader and how he interacted with his team and teammates. Watching the other 11 guys, every time out it was high fives and “Hey nice work, let’s get after it” or something to that affect. He walked off the floor, obligatory skin contact on the high five, and sat on the bench stone faced or pissed off, the whole game. Just weird to see another sport and how it all works. I would assume that’s his style and how he plays and what works for him because when I saw the leader board for scoring in the post season his name sat up top at 31+ a game, can’t argue with that. But as a fan I was watching the whole thing, Kobe, his teammates and then the after effects of conversations. He’d yell at someone, make a point, or send a message, turn and walk away, and more than once the person on the other end would roll eyes or give a ‘whatever dude’ look."

So, even within the borders of the basketball court, he's the kind of guy that's just absolutely miserable to play with. Speaking as someone with minimal talent but a great deal of love for basketball, there is nothing worse than playing with someone with immense talent consumed by rage and/or selfishness. Sports are metaphor, sure, but they're also games, played at base, for fun. Nothing sucks the fun out like a tyrannical Kobe Bryant-type. It's more complicated when you're talking about getting paid to play ball, and organized team sport vs. pickup, but there's a kernel of fun there that, from a fan perspective, is not an insignificant part of it. It is what connects my experience clanking 15-footers at the local park with NBA players' slamming home tomahawks on breakaways.

But there are many NBA stars that might not be all that fun to play with. The razor edge of competitiveness is pretty crucial for success in that crucible, so some bark and bite is to be expected. Choirboy Chris Paul, one of my absolute favorites, famously punched Julius Hodge right in the balls because Hodge had apparently squeezed Paul's injured hand on an inbounds play outside of the view of the officials.

Kobe, though, seems like a jerk on the court who carries that over into the rest of his life. Dude was making his teammates cry back in high school for letting him down. And oh, yeah, the rape allegation. The charge was dropped, so I suppose I can't hold that against him 100%, but he then followed it up with a huge settlement, a press conference announcing he had cheated on his wife, and the gift of what looked like the hope diamond to his wife. Ugh. These are the kind of people whose success I expend no energy to with for, to put it lightly.

The man's a millionaire many times over. He's a champion. His teammates wear his signature shoes. He's beloved LA-wide. Success is in the books. So I don't think it's so bad of me to with for abject failure for Kobe Bean Bryant on the NBA Finals stage.

Especially in contrast to these Celtics. Halfheartedly rooting for the upsets, and then casting my lot for Rasheed necessitated looking past a lot of tragic narratives. Garnett, Allen, and Pierce are all various forms of long-suffering, and don't give off that smarmy sociopath vibe that Bryant does. They have endured loss (all 3). Garnett is criticized for his lack of clutchness. Allen is operating on prayers for ankles. Pierce has stuck with Boston through thick and thin, and been stabbed in a nightclub to boot. They may have the best record in the NBA, but a victory for Boston's 3 (and everyone else) would be a true triumph over adversity narrative. Kobe winning his Shaq-less title is just another validation for the Greatest Player Currently Playing to sink further into his own narcissism.

Monday, June 02, 2008

6/2/08 - When to go see live music - part 1

I saw a lot of live music in college and the year following. I've seen a lot less of it in the last couple of years, but the corresponding quality has gone way up. I was having this conversation with a friend the other day, about what kinds of bands I like to see live, and I figured I would set down my personal ground rules/guidelines.

1. Communal Experience

If it's the kind of music that everybody sings along with at the height of the party when it hits the jukebox at the bar, go see it. It was this rationale that led me to the Def Leppard/Bryan Adams show at Coney Island, which is probably in the top 10 moments of my life. As a card-carrying musical elitist for the bulk of my high school listening life and a devotee of the small rock club show since my initiation by way of a thundering Less Than Jake show at Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill, I had kind of missed out on the big arena show. As is true in most things, my brother David was a step ahead of me despite being years younger. He had the good sense to go see AC/DC rock Walnut Creek Ampitheatre, and had nothing but raves. As my musical tastes expanded throughout college, I reached the position where I was ready to get rocked, unapologetically, with lighters 'n' all, with what seemed like half of Brooklyn. Bryan Adams opened with a solid set of cheesy overly earnest rock, making sure to hit the high notes of his catalog (prompted a hilarous overheard gripe in the men's bathroom from a guy wearing a Ratt shirt, who was REALLY PISSED that the Lep had stooped to playing with someone as non-rocking as Bryan Adams). Our rock receptors warmed up by "Summer of 69", we were ready for the Leppard to rock us.

They did. Oh how they did. It was like being engulfed in a gigantic wall of pleasure. Every single note in the Def Leppard catalog is calibrated expertly to hit the caveman (or cavewoman) part of the brain that grunts: mmm. good. more. To hear this notes with thousands of other people at top volume while aided by copious amounts of Bud Light - well, let's just say I've never felt prouder to be an American. Yes, Def Leppard are British, but this was summer at Coney Island, damn it. I was ready to go fly a fighter jet right then and there. One of the guys I went to the show with had brought small packets of brown sugar, and during "Pour Some Sugar On Me" ripped them open and threw the sugar like wedding confetti over the dancing throngs in our section. I could have shed a tear for the beauty of the moment. And then he proceeded to start making out with a girl who looked like she was about 17, and the moment became about 3 times as wonderful.

So - if it's going to be a massive communal experience, it's an almost guaranteed good time. Don't be fooled and think this category applies to the yearly flash-in-the-pans that show up and everyone is into because they're new and it's the thing to be into - those shows are usually pretty terrible. The ones that I'm talking about are ones where the back catalog forms half of any given classic rock radio playlist (or the equivalent to whatever genre).

Some bands that fall into this category for me: AC/DC, Van Halen, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Violent Femmes, Weezer (even though they now release terrible music, although that can pretty much apply to every band in this category)

2. Live Energy.

If a band's music doesn't lend itself to high-energy performance, I don't go. This was a rule I put in place for myself after I saw a Spoon show. I like Spoon. They're a good band, with good songs for the most part. They're very tight. But they play low-impact indie "rock". They're not going to blow the doors down, nor are they interested in doing so. They're interested in exploring wiry guitar pop songs pared down to their base elements. All very interesting when I'm walking around the city with my headphones on. Boring and unremarkable in person. I had the same experience with Ryan Adams. I love a lot of Ryan Adams's stuff, but when I saw his solo show, I realized that I was just watching Acoustic Guitar Guy - a very talented version, but still. When he set up an electic guitar and played a solo version of "Like A Virgin", my resolve hardened. No more of this. So I try to see bands that have the prospect of a live show propelling high-energy songs even higher. These shows are even better in small clubs, when the energy packs down tight.

Bands that this rule applies to: White Stripes, The Hold Steady, Local H, The Hives.

These rules will not serve you wrong. "Hmm, should I see the Shins live?" you ask. The correct answer: "Heck no. I will go home, make myself some hot tea, fluff my loofah, run the bath, and turn on the shins to waft through the bathroom door as I relax."

"What about Stone Temple Pilots? They're doing a reunion tour, that seems kind of lame." Correct answer: "Where do I sign? They want money which means they'll play all the good songs off of 'Purple' at volume 20 and Scott Weiland will writhe like a crazy person and I will hold up a big 'Food and Gas Available' sign above my head during 'Interstate Love Song'."

Rules and examples. What more could a person ask for?