From the Foodies Fridge: The Best Diet Soda Pairings

Ever since the foodies took over the world we’ve been besieged with the concept of “food pairings”. Not content with insisting that food is only good when there’s some jizzy foam or liquid nitrogen in it, the foodies are now telling us what we need to drink with different foods.

The whole food pairing movement started with wine. Traditional rules like “red with meat, white with fish, Manischewitz with matzoh” were replaced with more sophisticated combinations like pinot noir with turkey or chateauneuf du pape with cheez doodles.

Next, foodie nation moved onto beer pairings, which is patently ridiculous because any beer pairs well with anything. I’ve railed at length about the unnecessary fancification of beer, so I won’t go into it further, but enough with the monocles and the doilies already. It’s beer.

But all of this talk about drink pairings is largely useless because most people only drink alcohol with approximately 38% of their meals. What about the other 62%?  Will someone please think about the children?

Therefore I have taken it upon myself to create drink pairings that will help all of us every day. I’m talking about which diet soda to pair with your lunch. (Please note that these pairings are based on the sodas that are available in my office fridge and my usual rotation of lunch choices.)

Sprite Zero is a very mild soda with notes of lemon and lime – limon, if you will. I like to pair a mild soda with a bold lunch choice, for example BBQ ribs from the Redbones food truck. (Please keep this between us because my wife will be totes mad if she catches me eating BBQ at work this early into resolution season.)

Diet Orange Crush also features strong citrus characteristics, but is a much more forceful flavor that can dominate the palate. Therefore I recommend a food that can both stand up to the soda and yield to the soda at the same time. Something like a caesar salad with blackened chicken works well, as your mouth will delight in the interplay between spice, sweet and crouton.

Diet Mountain Dew is almost the beer of sodas. It’s so delicious and universally appealing that it can work well with anything. Therefore I like to do the Dew when eating sad soup for one at my desk (soup flavor is optional). The key here is that sad soup for one is, by definition, sad and Diet Mountain Dew is, by definition, extreme. A palliative for the soul, Diet Dew can turn sad soup for one into slightly-less-sad soup for one.

Diet Coke is a girl’s soda now, so I guess it goes best with skipping lunch and shopping, because ladies be shopping, amirite? No? Okay, I’ll see myself out now.

Coke Zero is a manly soda for macho men with bad attitudes who are just itching for trouble. And when I’m ready to rumble I like to fight through the long-ass line at the Paradise Bakery and get a nice roast beef sandwich. Best of all, free cookie!!!! (Okay, scratch that last part, which in retrospect doesn’t sound all that manly. But seriously, free cookie!!!!)

Diet Ginger Ale pairs best with saltines when you have a bad tummy. Let’s be honest – Ginger Ale is more medicine than soda. Ginger Ale is one of those things like Mary Jane candies or “My Three Sons” that seemed okay in the ‘70s, but are clearly terrible in an era when we have more and better choices.

Speaking of bad tummies, remember that it’s NFL championship weekend which means that you’re going to want to avoid the Men’s room on Monday at all costs. Trust me, it’s a goddamn war zone in there this time of year. Remember, just because you don’t work on that floor doesn’t mean you can’t use their bathroom!

Diet Mug Root Beer is another strong flavor that is sweet, with a hint of smoke, peat and malt. Some fruit also comes through. Oh wait, I just copied that from some scotch tasting notes. Mmmm dirt! How delicious. But seriously, root beer is kind of crappy, so I don’t care what you eat with it. Subway is always good.

I hope that you found this exercise valuable and rewarding. Remember, choosing a beverage has nothing to do with drinking what you like. It’s all about listening to some stranger on the internet tell you what to do.

###

Handicapping the 2012 NFL Playoffs

The so-called experts will tell you that picking football games comes down to understanding schemes and match-ups. They’ll break down the magical “coach’s film” to identify tendencies and weaknesses. Then they’ll make their picks and still get more than half of them wrong.

I, on the other hand, am one of the last honest prognosticators in America. I will confess that I have no idea what schemes are. I don’t know what each player is supposed to do, beyond fat ones shoving and skinny ones running. I have no idea how people really play football because my Mommy wouldn’t allow me to play football.

That said, I’m still a great predictor of sporting event outcomes as a result of my proprietary system. This system involves me picking teams based on my ill-informed opinions of their home cities.

You can scoff all you want, but when I put the system in place way back in 2010 for the (boring football) World Cup I was right on just about every score, including an early prediction of Kim Jong-il’s death.

So, let’s get to it, starting with the Awesome Football Conference:

Cincinnati Bengals - I hate to begin on a down note, but Cincinnati hasn’t done anything good since God talked to Dr. Johnny Fever. Their most famous cuisine is crappy chili dumped on pasta. Their airport is actually in Kentucky. Think about that one – Cincinnati is so lame they have to borrow an airport from Kentucky.

Houston Texans – As a liberal New Englander I always struggle to say nice things about Texas, which isn’t really fair because what have they done to me except spawn the worst president in the history of everything? So I’ll just say that I really love those ‘70s Astros uniforms, which look identical to every outfit I wore in my elementary school pictures.

Tough call, but I’m giving this one to Cincinnati. At least they put beans in their crappy chili.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Now we’re talking! A tough blue-collar city that likes drinking American beer and making steel. My kind of city. I was a big Steelers fan in the ‘70s – not because I was a bandwagon jumper, mind you – but because I was a huge Village People fan.

Denver Broncos – Another great city, I’m a big supporter of Denver and the Boulder area. I like the sunshine, the thin air and the western vibe. The mountains are beautiful and the people are eerily friendly. Best of all, they keep all of their religious nutjobs corralled in Colorado Springs, so we don’t have to worry about any religious shenanigans at Mile High Stadium.

I’m taking Pittsburgh because Denver kind of sucks at football.

New England Patriots – it’s not really fair that the Patriots get to represent 6 and a half of the best states in the nation. New Englanders, in addition to actually inventing America, created just about everything important to our culture: basketball, witches, lime rickeys, candlepin bowling and the epic “Foreplay/Long Time” jam.

The Pats will beat the Steelers in the second round. Tom & Bill & Mitch 4EVA XOXOXO

Baltimore Ravens – Baltimore is where I first enjoyed soft-shelled crabs and dippin’ dots (they were way ahead of the curve on futuristic ice cream). They have a wonderful inner harbor and a not-so-wonderful everything else. The good news is that it’s a much safer city now that both Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell are out of the game (RIP Prop Joe).

Baltimore will take down Cincinnati in round 2. All in the game.

The Pats will beat Baltimore to claim the AFC crown yet again.

Moving on to the Not-awesome Football Conference:

Detroit Lions – As the home to my 3rd favorite sub-genre of soul music (deep soul is #1, Philly soul is #2, Motown is #3) I have nothing but respect for Detroit. Best of all, it’s close to Ontario!

New Orleans Saints – New Orleans is a city that I want to like more than I actually do, but zydeco music is annoying, beignets are over-rated, chicory doesn’t belong in coffee, baby jesus doesn’t belong in cakes and cajun/creole food is not so great. Then again, it is the home of the great Remy Etienne LeBeau aka Gambit.

Sorry ‘Kid’ ‘Rock’, but New Orleans will beat Detroit.

Atlanta Falcons – The Coke factory. The Aquarium. The Ted. MARTA. Nice weather. Waffle Houses every quarter mile. Atlanta is clearly the best city south of D.C. and north of Miami. Best of all, my parents live in the sexily-named town of Cumming.

New York Giants – New York is one of the world’s greatest cities, so I have nothing bad to say about it. I won’t even mention the pervasive pee smell. But I will point out that both of the New Jersey teams suffer from the same I-think-my-crappy-quarterback-is-actually-good disease. And yes, I’m still bitter about 18-1.

The South will (briefly) rise again as Atlanta takes down the Giants.

San Francisco 49ers – San Fran is a great city, as the hometown of Boz Scaggs must be. But it has surprisingly awful weather and if you drink too many Irish coffees at the Buena Vista you’ll have a really rough red-eye flight home.

San Fran will beat Atlanta in round 2.

Green Bay Packers – I was crushed (and a little nauseous) when I discovered that those cheesehead hats are NOT made of real cheese. I honestly have no idea what or where Wisconsin is, although I’ve heard that it’s closer to civilization (Chicago) then I previously thought. Beers and brats are good, too.

Obviously, brats beat beignets and beers beat hurricanes, so Green Bay will eliminate New Orleans.

San Fran will upset Green Bay to win the NFC title.

The Patriots will face off against the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVI.

There will be a lot of talk about Joe Montana and Tom Brady.

The Patriots will fall behind early and rally for the win.

People will be sad when they realize that they spent thousands of dollars to winter in Indianapolis.

###

Fun with Dreidels on Hanukkah

I’m not going to lie to you, folks: Hanukkah has a hard time keeping up with Christmas. We don’t have any seasonal music (although Jews wrote many of the best Christmas songs). We don’t have any animated specials (well, the Grinch is probably Jewish, but I’m not sure if that really helps).We don’t have any delicious and fun-shaped cookies (and latkes are really hard to sneak straight out of the freezer). Worst of all, we don’t even have a lovable mascot dropping off presents, and I’m starting to worry that Herman the Hanukkah Candle might never catch on.

On the plus side we’ve got 8 days of presents (great if you’re a kid, rough if you’re a parent or grandparent) and we can legally play with fire. But the best thing about Hanukkah is that it’s the only holiday with its own game: driedel. And I’m pleased to report that driedel (while no backgammon) is an excellent game.

Of course, the fact that we play the game for chocolate money isn’t exactly helping us overcome any negative stereotypes. (You know the one: that Jews like eating stale chocolate.)

To help my friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, enjoy this year’s holiday here are the rules for three exciting versions of driedel. Personally I prefer to spin the Waterford crystal driedel but if you don’t feel like spending $70 on a pro driedel you can probably pick one up at Walgreens for about a $1.

Classic Dreidel

  • Start with each player having an even number of chocolate coins (gelt)
  • Everyone antes up one coin and the youngest player spins first
  • If you get a Nun = nothing happens
  • If you get a Hay = take half of the pot (take the extra coin if there’s an uneven number)
  • If you get a Gimmel = take the whole pot
  • If you get a Shin = put a coin in the pot
  • When the pot is empty, everyone re-antes
  • When a player runs out of coins they’re out of the game
  • Please note that eating coins is legal but may hasten your exit from the game

Boozy Dreidel

  • Start with each player having a shot glass
  • Agree ahead of time whether you’re playing with beer (fermented grains), Manischewitz (sweet kosher wine) or Slivovitz (plum brandy). Please note that beer will make you sleepy, Manischewitz will give you a headache and Slivovitz will make you start talking like Jackie Mason (and then you’ll get a headache and fall asleep).
  • If you get a Nun = nothing happens
  • If you get a Hay = you take a shot
  • If you get a Gimmel = everyone takes a shot
  • If you get a Shin = you pick someone else to take a shot
  • The average game lasts about 3-5 minutes (non-Jews might last longer)

Baseball Dreidel

  • Start with each player picking a famous Jewish baseball player to represent, e.g. Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, Gabe Kapler, Oil Can Boyd, Kevin Youkilis
  • Whoever picks Sandy Koufax can’t play because it’s a Jewish holiday. Ha ha!
  • If you get a Nun = counts as an out
  • If you get a Hay = counts as a single
  • If you get a Gimmel = counts as a double
  • If you get a Shin = counts as a triple
  • Each side only gets one out per half inning (trust me, you need this rule)
  • Runners advance one base per hit
  • First player to 18 wins or you’ll probably be bored after 3 innings (just like real baseball)

Happy Hanukkah everybody!

###

Murder by Matlock: A Tale of Revenge

The last thing I saw was the glint off the metal and then everything went dark…

***

It started, like these things always do, innocently enough. It was a full flight. I didn’t ask for the center seat.  I didn’t want the center seat. I got the center seat anyway. It was one of those big planes with 3 seats on either side of the aisle. I’m not sure if it was a 737 or a 787 and, quite frankly, I think people who know those details are weird.

“A plane ain’t nothin’ but a big ol’ bus in the sky,” a man once told me, but that man was a bus driver and I always suspected that he drank himself out of flight school.

On my right was a youngish black woman clutching a stuffed panda: a foreboding omen to say the least. On my left was an oldish white man. He was dressed snappily in a jeans, button-down shirt, and sweater combination. Neither seemed like they would be a problem. Or at least they wouldn’t be a problem that I couldn’t handle.

Behind me was a family with two lap babies. I was under the impression that the TSA now limited us to one lap baby per flight, but feeling generous I didn’t call security to have the uglier baby evicted. Both babies were crying before takeoff. Luckily I’ve had 2 children of my own so I’m well schooled in the art of ignoring babies while judging their incompetent parents.

***

When I’m flying I usually do a combination of three things: 1) watch an old movie; 2) try not to think about going to the bathroom (I have a tragically small bladder); or 3) listen to music and enter a half-sleep/half-trance state. As the flight wasn’t long enough for a movie and I had just been to the bathroom in the terminal I opted for the trance state.

And then those damn babies started up again. Jerks! Even James Carr couldn’t drown out their stupid cries. I resign myself to writing and got out my teeny-tiny laptop.

***

An hour goes by. I’m pleased with my efforts. Captain Jack makes the announcement that we’re starting our descent so I start to shut down all of my stuff. And then it happens.

“What do you say you give me a chance at that armrest for the rest of the flight?” angrily barks the old man.

A thousand snappy comebacks immediately flash into my mind. But I’m in a good mood so I calmly reply, “I’m sorry. Was I hogging the armrest? Why didn’t you say something earlier?”

It starts to dawn on me that old man isn’t just peeved, he’s furious. I’m talking throbbing vein in the forehead furious.

“Grrrflurgh! Why do you think I was hanging out in the aisle the whole time?”

Was that true? Let me think about what I noticed about old man: full head of hair and nice clothes (good), reading the Financial Times (douchey), drank 2 Heinekens (questionable)… occasionally stood in the aisle! So it WAS true!

“I’m sorry, I think you’re overestimated how much I was paying attention to you. I was listening to music and writing. I figured your back was hurting or something. Here, enjoy the armrest.”

Old man grunted and that was the end of the story. Or so I naively thought.

***

Now I was too distracted to enjoy iPod backgammon. Did I hog the armrest? Was I in the wrong here?

First, let’s establish that I’m definitely big for the middle seat. I’m not seat-belt extender big, but it’s still not a comfortable fit. Obviously the old man and I both wished I was smaller, but that wasn’t going to happen over the course of a one-hour flight. It did, however, call into question my long-standing “you can’t gain weight on a business trip no matter what you eat or drink” theory.

Then again, I was writing the whole time – on a teeny-tiny laptop. Which meant that I was leaning forward and crunched in towards the teeny-tiny keyboard. I don’t think I was using the armrests at all. Maybe old man was just angry/crazy/drunk on pre-skunked beer?

Furthermore, who really owns the armrest? Old man has his left armrest all to himself. Black lady has the right armrest all for herself. What does middle seat man get? Nothing? Both? What’s the official etiquette for this situation?

The more I thought about the situation, the more that I realized I was probably in the right. I was prepared to roast the old man at his very next misstep. His ass was mine.

And then I noticed that he was sitting there and stewing, clenching and unclenching his fist like a very angry, very crazy, slightly drunk old man. Perhaps I shouldn’t mess with him after all.

***

As we disembark I grab a used piece of gum from my seat pouch, because I am a great guy that picks up after himself. Entering the terminal I look for a trashcan and spot one off to the left. I make a bee line for it and throw my rubbish away.

And then I spot him. Hovering over me and glowering. THE OLD MAN WAS STALKING ME! HE WAS CLEARLY GOING TO KILL ME!

Naturally, I have a macho reaction upon noticing him and let out a surprised yelp, which I cover up by saying, “sorry again about the armrest!!!!” And then I casually ran away.

His eyes! They burned!

***

On my way to the taxi line I ducked into a men’s room to relieve myself. (And to ditch to the murderous old man, obviously.)

I made it! I’m outside! I’m free! Old man is nowhere in sight and the taxi line is a mere 50 yards away.

“SWOOSH!”

A door on my left opens up.

And there he is, mad as hell and staring right through me.

I underestimated my foe. He deserves to win. I accept my fate.

***

The last thing I saw was the glint off the metal and then everything went dark…+

I gave the cabby directions and sped off to safety.

But I can still see the old man’s face.

And I can still feel his eyes on me.

And I know he’s still out there. Searching. Stewing. Clenching and unclenching. Patiently waiting for his revenge.

***

Learn from my mistakes people. Don’t use that armrest if you know what’s good for you.

###

Book Review: Chuck Klosterman’s “The Visible Man” (2011)

What is the point of reviewing books, records or concerts? I don’t mean why do people review things in general – obviously many people are paid to review things. I mean me in particular. Why do I bother to review things? I don’t get paid. I’m not a culturally influential person. In the grand scheme of things relatively few people read what I write and yet there must be some reason why I keep reviewing stuff year after year.

Perhaps I write about stuff that I like in order to associate myself with those creative endeavors. By reviewing things I create a relationship between myself and the object and that relationship helps to define my public persona. It helps me to show you, the reader, who I am, or who I want you to believe I am.

Or perhaps I write about things in an attempt to get the creator of the object to notice me, to realize that I get what they’re saying, and to convince them that we should become the very best of friends. And naturally I would want to write about Chuck Klosterman because I love Chuck Klosterman and I know that we would be BFFs forever if given the chance.

The only problem is that I actually have no idea who the real Chuck Klosterman is. I know who I think Chuck Klosterman is, based upon reading his work, but that’s merely Chuck Klosterman, the writer, as he presents himself to the world. The real Chuck Klosterman might be an entirely different person altogether.

Or perhaps I write reviews just because I like writing and I believe that the only way to get better as a writer is to write a lot.

Perhaps the answer is “D: all of the above”.

And now you’re wondering, what does any of this have to do with Chuck Klosterman’s latest novel “The Visible Man”?

Probably nothing and probably everything.

***

Chuck’s second novel follows his career as an essayist who seemingly writes about “low” culture but in actuality uses pop culture subjects in order to challenge people’s perceptions and thought processes. He is a brilliant thinker, a talented writer and a man, who by all accounts, is much taller than you would expect him to be. His first novel, “Downtown Owl”, attempted to capture the ennui of growing up and living in the Midwest. Or at least I think that’s what it was about because I have no idea what it’s like to grow up in the Midwest. It was an enjoyable read and my only criticism was that many of the characters sounded like Chuck, by which I mean they frequently possessed the same overly-analytical observational voice that defines Chuck’s essays.

“The Visible Man” does not suffer from this problem because all of the expected Chuck-ism* are now delivered through the voice of the antagonist Y____. This is a good solution because I love Chuck-isms and would be remiss if the book was completely devoid of them.

* A Chuck-ism is a trenchant observation about society, life or the human condition. In addition to making these observations Chuck also likes to employ footnotes, similar to the one you’re currently reading.

Here are a few example Chuck-isms from “The Visible Man”:

  • “Runners despise their house keys.”
  • “If an author wants to make a fictional character sympathetic, the easiest way to make that happen is to place them in a humiliating scenario.”
  • “This is why facebook caught on with adults: It’s designed for people who want to publicize their children without our consent.”
  • “It’s human nature to inject every old picture with positive abstractions.”

There are many more excellent Chuck-isms throughout the book, but you’ll have to read the book and find them yourself.

***

On the surface, “The Visible Man” is a sci-fi thriller about a therapist (Victoria Vick) who treats a man (Y____) who possesses a cloaking suit that allows him to observe people when they are alone so that he can study the “real” person. This narrative is delivered in the form of Vicki’s book proposal/manuscript about her relationship with Y_____. In other words, a novel that is a meditation on the “real” self versus public personas is delivered through a framework where the story is told indirectly, in the manner Victoria wishes to present her story to the world. This is a very clever trick, as the form of the book mirrors the central idea of the book.

And while the plot is basically a thriller (and an enjoyable on at that), the story really is a meditation on consciousness and the self. As Y_____ himself says, “The more I thought about this-and I thought about this a lot, for many, many years-the more it seemed like the only essential purpose of science was to define consciousness.”

So, is the “true self” the persona that we present to others, the person we are when alone, or the person that we want ourselves to be? Are we defined by our thoughts or our actions? Are perceptions of ourselves – or other’s perceptions of us – real or not? Who are we?

***

The funny thing about Y____’s scientific process is that he states that his goal is to merely observe people – never interact with them – in order to understand how people act when they’re alone. Of course this is entirely false because Y_______ continuously inserts himself in his subject’s lives. Perhaps he is the visible man because while he can’t be seen, his actions still have an effect on people. He is a living embodiment of the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle  – the theory that the act of observation affects to object being observed.

And this is most notable in Victoria’s life. The mere fact of her relationship with Y_____ changed her significantly even before he actually took any overt actions.

***

Of course, another reading of this book could be that Y_____ doesn’t exist at all and everything happens in Victoria’s imagination.

***

I now realize that this isn’t even technically a book review because I haven’t actually reviewed the book.

Oftentimes I feel like when people review things they judge them based on whether they think things are “important” rather than whether they’re enjoyable. “The Visible Man” is a novel. It is meant to entertain. When I review comedy I judge its success or failure based on whether it makes me laugh, as that is the primary purpose of comedy. I’m not concerned whether it’s breakthrough or legendary or important. I just want to laugh. For books I judge based on readability. A good book is one that you don’t want to stop reading until it’s finished. And “The Visible Man” is certainly that – it’s an enjoyable, readable novel.

But sometimes things do rise to the next level. Sometimes they contain ideas that make you think, that challenge your perceptions and stay with you after you’re done reading. And that’s the difference between “good” and “great”.

By that measure, “The Visible Man” is a great book.

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Concert Review: The Chris Robinson Brotherhood at the Somerville (MA) Theatre, 11/19/11

Eight Things You Should Know About The Chris Robinson Brotherhood

1) The brotherhood is metaphorical, not literal

There are no actual brothers in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The band is composed of Chris Robinson (vocals, guitar), Neal Casal (guitar, vocals), Adam MacDougall (keys, vocals), Mark ‘Muddy’ Dutton (bass, vocals) and George Sluppick (drums). The band started touring back in March of 2011 and has racked up an impressive hundred shows so far this year.

2) A lot of Black Crowes fans probably won’t like the CRB

The CRB (with the exception of Chris’s voice) sounds nothing like The Black Crowes. In many ways the CRB is the antithesis of the Crowes. The classic Crowes sound is loud, aggressive, rhythmically-driven, and tight. The CRB is mellow, spacey, melodically-driven and loose. The CRB is all about face-melting, not ass-kicking. In fact…

3) The CRB feels a lot like the JGB

While most people make the obvious Grateful Dead comparisons, the true reference point is probably the Jerry Garcia Band. When Jerry needed some spare cash, he’d grab John Kahn, Melvin Seals and whatever drummer was hanging around and they’d jam the shit out of Jerry originals and classic tunes from the rock and soul songbook. He was playing the songs he loved, they way he wanted to play them, and he hoped the fans would dig it. Same thing with the CRB.

4) The originals are amazing

The song rotation runs about 50 deep, with a nice mix of new originals, a handful of New Earth Mud/late period Crowes tunes and covers. The new songs are among the strongest that Chris has written in years. They possess strong melodies, nice transitions, ample room for jamming and lyrics that reflect a middle-aged perspective on life and love. “Star or Stone” could be a hit (if it was 1973), “Rosalee” is a great up-tempo jam, perfectly slotted as the first set closer. “Tulsa Yesterday” has a ‘Bird Song” vibe to it (which is a good thing). These are strong songs that have been road tested and I’d be excited about an album that contains: “Beware”, “If Your Wheel Don’t Roll”, “Rosalee”, “Reflections on a Broken Mirror”, “Star or Stone”, “Tulsa Yesterday”, “Tomorrow Blues”, “Vibration & Light Suite”, and “Star Crossed Lonely Sailor”.

5) The covers are for music geeks

The first soul musician I ever fell in love with was Otis Redding. Ironically, I never heard Otis do “Hard to Handle” when the Crowes broke through in 1990 with their famous cover version (I always thought it was a Dead tune). Now Chris is covering one of my all-time favorite Otis songs “That’s How Strong My Love Is” (which is really a Stax-era tune by OV Wright). I was thrilled to hear it in Somerville, and they did the King of Soul proud. The other covers on Saturday were “Crash on the Levee”, “Driving Wheel”, “Sugaree”, “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go”, and “It’s Late”. Chris is obviously obsessed with music and his cover choices show a depth of knowledge and a commitment to keeping the rock, country, soul and blues traditions alive. If you’re a music geek it’s a real treat to hear these tunes rescued from obscurity.

6) It’s all about the harmonies

The Achilles heel of every jam band is almost always the vocals, so it’s a real treat to hear a band that features not only an incredible lead singer but a great back-up singer in Neal Casal. Add in Muddy and Adam and you’ve got true four-part harmonies that take the songs to another level, like during the a capella section of “Ride”. I’d like to see them keep pushing the harmonies until they’re the frigging Beach Boys. And can someone please explain to me why they’re not doing “And We Bid You Goodnight”?

7) Neal & Adam are on fire

The unique thing about the CRB is that the sound is driven by having two lead instruments: Neal’s guitar and Adam’s keys.

I can’t say enough good things about Neal Casal (and I have previously when reviewing The Cardinals). I love his tone and his feel. I’m not a fan of guitar players who shred. I like guitar players who pick their spots, who build and release tension, and who take listeners on a journey with their solos, rather than trying to impress with their technical skills. Neal is a very emotional player and his tone is clean but not too thin. Best of all, he knows how to push the jam without ever losing the song.

Adam is a monster on the keys. Somehow a skinny little white dude lays down a fat groove that sounds like Merle Saunders. He’s got the jazz chops to jam, and the funk chops to groove. He kills it on tunes like “Vibration & Light Suite” but he also drops beautiful little solos on songs like “Driving Wheel”.

8) Actually, it’s all about the jams

The CRB is not a rock band. They don’t play any hits. Nearly every song contains a psychedelic spacey jam. The pace of tunes ranges from slow to mid-tempo. The show is nearly three hours. Every tune runs longer than 10 minutes. One of the songs has the word “suite” in the title. There’s no hidden agenda here – this is a jam band. So if you’re looking for a hard rock show, please look elsewhere. If you do come, please keep your phone in your pocket and save your chatter for the set break. Some of us are trying to connect with the universal consciousness.

###
19 November 2011 @ Somerville Theatre, Somerville, MA

- Set One -
LET’S GO, LET’S GO, LET’S GO
TOMORROW BLUES
CRASH ON THE LEVEE
STAR OR STONE
TULSA YESTERDAY
VIBRATION & LIGHT SUITE
THAT’S HOW STRONG MY LOVE IS
ROSALEE

- Set Two -
40 DAYS
TRAIN ROBBERS
LITTLE LIZZIE MAE
APPALOOSA
RIDE
I AIN’T HIDING
DRIVING WHEEL
SUNDAY SOUND
- encore -
SUGAREE
IT’S LATE

###

More concert reviews and music essays here.

I Am The Sexiest Man Alive

Bradley Cooper was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive for 2011, ending the under-appreciated reign of last year’s winner Ryan Reynolds.

Now some people might say that Ryan squandered his term, which ultimately resulted in his big summer movie The Green Latern flopping. I take the opposite position and say that The Green Latern flopped precisely because the combination of Ryan Reynold and Blake Lively was far too sexy for comic book nerds to embrace.

You see, what you norms might not realize is that comic book nerds are smart. They know that they’ll never win the affection of a Blake Lively so they aim a little lower and lust after someone like Alyson Hannigan from Buffy (i.e. someone who is still quite attractive but not super-hot). Of course comic book nerds have no chance with Alyson Hannigan, either, but don’t tell them that. I said they were smart, I didn’t say that they weren’t delusional.

Anyway, back to Mr. Sexy, Bradley Cooper, who is certainly sexy enough to wear the crown. I like me some Bradley Cooper and I certainly don’t begrudge him this prestigious honor.

What I do begrudge is the apparently rising standards of womenfolk in judging male sexiness.

Dig this. When I’m travelling alone I like to watch old movies. I do this because nobody else wants to watch old movies with me and because movies (just like music) were much better in the 1970s. Hell, everything was great in the ‘70s when I was too young to enjoy it. Then stuff sucked in the ‘80s when I was almost old enough to enjoy it. Then things were great again in the ‘90s when I was still young enough to enjoy it. The things got shitty again in the ’00s, but I was too tired from the stupid kids to care.

What was so great about movies in the ‘70s? Well aside from the excellent writing, direction and acting, the music was super-funky, the clothes were hideously awesome and people said hip things like “dig this”. But truly, the greatest thing about movies in the ‘70s (and earlier) is that fat middle-aged men were legitimate sex symbols.

You see, I can compete with a 50 year old William Holden. I’ll go toe-to-toe with Robert Mitchum wearing a dirty trenchcoat. Humphrey Bogart? He’s mine, all five and a half feet of him. I’m sure even Ernest Borgnine had his admirers. It was easy being sexy back then.

But I can’t compete with Bradley Cooper and his stupid hair and washboard abs and dazzling smile.

So there you have it.

Ladies, if you want to bring sexy back could you please lower your standards to 1970s level? Think of it like the Bush tax cuts. I’m not asking you to give up everything – just go back to a reasonable level when we were all happy.

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In Memory of Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney died today, and while it wasn’t terribly surprising (he was 92) it was still sad.

To many people, Andy had become a punchline. He was the cranky old guy with the crazy eyebrows that complained about everything.

But to me, Andy was an inspiration. He was the first writer that I ever truly loved. Even as a child I would read every book and column that he wrote. I tuned into the last 10 minutes of “60 Minutes” each week just to catch Andy.

I loved how Andy could wring so much humor and insight out of even the simplest things: a bar of soap, fruit, woodworking, technology. Andy possessed the rare ability to communicate ideas that connected with everyone, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs. While on the surface it seemed like he was merely complaining about the inconsequential, in truth he was a trenchant observer of the American post-war experience. His essays were as much about how we were changing as a culture as they were about how frustrating it was to find a good repairman.

His writing style was simple, bold and confident. Like Kurt Vonnegut, his ideas were strong enough to stand on their own and they didn’t need to be couched in fancy language designed to impress. He said what he meant, clearly and concisely, and he never talked down or pandered to his audience.

He also, quite admirably, didn’t ever seem to care what his readers thought of him or his work. He detested celebrity and avoided praise in publicity. Andy was the antithesis of today’s facebook society where everyone is chasing “likes”. Andy could give two shits less whether you “liked” him or not.

Andy knew who he was, where he came from, what he loved (his wife and kids, football, woodworking, his Underwood typewriter) and what annoyed him. He said some stupid things (don’t we all) but he always owned up to his mistakes. He never forgot where he came from or the experiences that shaped his life.

His accomplishments far transcend being a old crank on television: he wrote for ‘Stars & Stripes’ during World War II, he helped to launch the era of television journalism, and he became America’s foremost humorist and observer. He always made us laugh, he usually made us think and he frequently made us mad.

A long time ago my Dad once gave me a card that read “To the next Andy Rooney…” Even then I knew that my dream in life was to write funny little essays like my literary hero. But the truth is that no one – especially not me – could ever be the next Andy Rooney. He was truly one-of-a-kind.

Thanks Andy. You were the best.

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From the Vault: 2008 Halloween Candy Live Blog!

Well, it’s finally here…the greatest day of the year! As usual, my wife is out trick-or-treating with the kids and I’m home manning the door. The scary music mix is on the stereo and the faux-Rastafarian dreadlocks are on my head. I haven’t eaten any candy yet today so I’m ready for a full night of delicious treats.

The big news is that for the first time ever, I’ll be live blogging my candy reviews. Please note that the evening usually features three distinct phases: first, I’ll eat the candy that we bought to give out, next I’ll eat the candy that my 4 year old secures during the early shift and finally, I’ll eat the candy that my 8 year old scores on the late shift. My intention is to eat one piece of every kind of candy that enters the house, with the exception of generic candy and size variants.

Candy will be rated on my patented 4 point scale ™, with 1 being a “shit sandwich” and 4 being a “Butterfinger”.

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Twix: Featuring caramel, chocolate and cookie, Twix is a Gen X favorite, and for good reason. The cookie provides a lovely texture, the chocolate is tasty and the caramel is used judiciously, as it should be. A great way to start the evening. 4

Reese’s Crispy Crunchy Bar: Is this new? I’m a big fan of Reese’s, so I’m always up for another line extension from them. It’s like a cross between a Kit Kat and a Nestle Crunch. It’s okay but I’m not sure if I need the wafer AND the crunch. 2

3 Muskateers: Oh sweet nougat, I do love thee so. So light and fluffy, the 3 Muskateers bar is sophisticated, like a little bite of chocolate mousse. Give those 3 muskateers 4 stars! 4

Take 5: Perhaps the greatest candy bar invention in decades, Take 5 is pure genius: chocolate, pretzels, caramel, peanuts and peanut butter. The saltiness and hardness of the pretzel is a brilliant addition to the candy canon. Somewhere Milton S. Hershey is smiling. 4

Milky Way: It’s like a 3 Muskateers, but with caramel and the nougat is different (yes, it is. I once called the corporate 800# to find out in order to settle a pre-wikipedia bet. It is different nougat and I won the bet). But, I’m not a huge fan of caramel being the star of the show, so I’m not that big a fan of the Milky Way. 2

Milky Way Midnight: It’s the dark chocolate version of the Milky Way. The chocolate taste like the mounds chocolate. Interesting but not that great. 2

Snickers: Meh. Ever since I overdosed on peanuts on the South Beach diet (irony alert!) I’m not that big on whole peanuts. And the caramel again. I don’t feel that satisfied, either. 2

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: The sweetest plum. Chocolate. Peanut Butter. And I love how the top layer of chocolate is a little too thick. Fantastic candy. 4

Twizzlers Rainbow Twists: While I generally prefer the chocolate, it’s nice to mix it up sometimes with something different. But these are just weird. They taste like Kool-Aid packets. Blech. 1

Mounds: You know, I’m really not that big on either dark chocolate or coconut, but the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. That’s some good stuff. 3

Butterfinger: My childhood favorite candy. It’s one of a kind – peanut-y and chocolate-y with a unique texture inside. I absolutely adore Butterfingers. 4

(Must admit…11 bars into the taste test and starting to fade. Must press on and keep eating candy. America needs me. Perhaps a beer will help…)

Kit Kat: The original wafer candy, it’s light and crunchy and delicious. Plus, you get TWO of them! Woo hoo! 4

100 Grand: Chocolate, caramel and crispy, the 100 Grand is a little tough on the teeth. Like the US dollar, this one has been seriously over-valued. 2

Sour Skittles: Yeech, that’s just gross. They should probably leave the ‘sour’ to the ‘patch kids’. 1

3 Muskateers Mint with Dark Chocolate: Wow! I feel like I just brushed my teeth! It’s like a creamy After 8 mint. Actually, I never liked those too much. 2

Whoppers: Now I feel like I’m in a black and white movie. What is malted milk, anyway? Kind of good, kind of gross. It’s appropriate that there’s only 3 in pack – I’m not sure I could handle more than 3 in one sitting. 2

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I can’t believe it. A mere 16 candy bars and I’m toast. I have brought shame and dishonor onto my entire family. To be perfectly honest with you I would commit seppuku right now if my tummy wasn’t so full of mostly-delicious candy.

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(Originally written on 10/31/08. If you liked this you’ll find my Rating the Snack Cakes equally delicious.)