October 21st: Sydney

The sky was overcast, so we decided to head to Koala Park. It took about an hour and a half, but it was worth it. We saw wombats, wallabies, and peacocks, and got to pet dingoes, kangaroos, and koalas. The dingo was very similar to my favorite dog, the husky. We also got to see baby koalas. We headed back to the city, and the markets at the Rocks. I picked up a hat and a belt made of Barramundi fish. On the way back, we stopped at Philip’s Foote for dinner, where you choose your meat, then barbeque it. We returned to the room to do some laundry. We returned to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair to see of they’d set off fireworks again, but no luck. I did get some photos of the Opera House at night.

[Originally published at GoHither.Net]

October 20th: Sydney

A beautiful, cloudless day beckoned us to the beach. First, Sharon had met a girl who was performing at noon at Fox Studios, so we walked over there. The girl, Sandy Klose, was performing as part of the Pacific Circle Music Conference. They gave us visitor’s passes, then we grabbed a bite to eat. They were running late, so we watched a band called Saratoga first. They weren’t bad, but Sandy was really good. She sang and played a standup bass. I liked her songs, and the way she maintained her stage presence when the low frequencies of her bass caused a speaker to fall on a plant.

Next, we caught a bus to Coogee Beach. We bought some homemade ice cream, then started the walk to Bondi Beach. The view was great, but after two and a half hours, my feet hated me. We had tickets for the Symphony, and couldn’t stay to enjoy the beach. We returned to Potts Point, changed, and headed to the Opera House. The performance was great, particularly Bernard d’Ascoli the blind pianist. At intermission we enjoyed the fireworks exploding nearly above us. On the way home, we stopped at the Fountain Cafe to check email and get a bite to eat.

[Originally published at GoHither.Net]

October 19th: Sydney

I was scheduled to skydive this morning, but steady rain dashed that plan (the previous two days had been overcast). We decided to take the ferry to the aquarium. The aquarium was fun, but we were a little depressed to learn that reef sharks could be up to seven feet long, and some of the little ones are aggressive. When we exited, the sun was out, so I called the sky diving place and they said to come right out, so we’re on the train now. That was something.

Phil, who also turned out to be my tandem partner, picked us up from the Liverpool about 2. It took about half an hour to get to Picton, where the Sydney Skydivers Centre is located. I had to wait for one girl to jump before I could jump. It looked fun, but I was getting a little nervous. I put on a jump suit and harness, and got goggles to go over my glasses. Phil gave me instructions on how to do the tandem jump, then we got in the plane and took off. It was very crowded in the plane with me, him, the pilot, Natasha (another girl who was jumping), and her instructor. We had to climb to 10,000 feet to jump, and as we rose through the clouds and the air got colder, I got a little more nervous. Still, I was determined to go through with it, and said nothing as Phil strapped us together.

When we were at the right altitude, they opened the door and the other two jumped. We were on our knees, and shuffled to the door. Phil put a foot on the strut, then I did, and he launched us into space. I didn’t have time for fear, to feel the cold, or even to scream for the scant few seconds we were in freefall. I could barely feel him hitting me on the shoulder in the signal to spread my arms and legs. Suddenly we bounced, and I knew that he’d opened the parachute. I could see the landing zone south of us, and I just sat back and enjoyed the magnificent view. It turns out that the reason they turn in midair is to slow down so that the wind doesn’t carry them past the landing area. It left me mildly queasy, the only bad part. It only took a couple of minutes to get close, then I tucked my knees up and he landed first, then I set down so hard I jarred my ankles. It was amazing and I think roller coasters will pale in comparison for me now.

We went to the Opera House to see if they had any standing room only tickets for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, but they were sold out. We went shopping so I could get some nice pants in case we went the next day. After we got back to the apartment so I could get the second battery for my camera, we decided to visit the AMP Centerpoint Tower to see the view and eat. The view was great, but we were too late for the restaurant. After we took the associated Sky Tour (which was quite amusing), we tried to find a place to eat, but everything in the Central Business District was closed by 10. We returned to King’s Cross, where we ended up on a side street at a place called the Iguana Cafe, where I had grilled octopus and a daiquiri like drink called a Red Corvette.

[Originally published at GoHither.Net]

October 18th: Sydney

We went our separate ways today. While Sharon did the bridge climb, I went to Fox Studios. The Simpsons had a reworking of the episode they visited Oz, plus some behind the scenes stuff. I expected a little more. Titanic: The Experience made up for it. From a waiting area, they draw back a curtain, and you walk up the gangplanks into the ship. You go to a big “Third Class” room, where the purser talks to you, pretending time passes until there’s a bang and the wall behind him opens and water starts pouring out. Depending on which line you are in, you exit right or left. To the right, you go into storage, then the boiler room. It’s very hot, and you “drown”, then exit up the grand staircase. To the left, you go up to first class, and beg the purser there to let you in. The boat is tilting now, and you rush out to the lifeboats. You board, and the ship sinks (it’s also so cold you can see your breath, adding to the realism. Other things to do there include the TV tour (it has a nice recreation of Mulder’s office), and the sound theater (32 channels of surround sound puts my 5 channels to shame).

I went back to the room (stopping by a market for some food), then returned to Fox for the Hodern Pavilion next door. I was pleased to see that Green Day hasn’t changed in the nearly six years since I last saw them. They played all the hits, and took requests off Kerplunk. They still try a medley of covers, and I was amused when Billie Joe asked if anyone liked Ozzy, then had to clarify, “I mean Ozzy Osbourne”. Afterwards, I was pleased to note that a fleet of buses was waiting to cart people back to the city.

[Originally published at GoHither.Net]

October 17th: Sydney

We bought travel passes at Central, then headed back to our room. We picked up breakfast items at a convenience store (we have a fridge in the room), then went back out for dinner. We decided on the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar, and I had an “American steak sandwich”, which was a steak between two slices of bread. Sharon had sauteed prawns, we enjoyed it. After that, it was time for bed. A good 12 hours later, we were finally on Sydney’s schedule. Unfortunately, the sky was overcast and we cancelled our plans to go to Manly Beach in favor of the Blue Mountains (The guy at the front desk said Sydney weather was unpredictable, and the Blue Mountains more so, so we might as well go today as any other). I write this from the train there, which will leave in another twenty minutes.

Things I know now from the train trip: collision=smash, Target and K-mart are everywhere (along with McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Century 21), pharmacist=chemist.

Now we’re on our way back, after four hours of walking. We got off the train, had a bite to eat at the Poppyseeds Cafe, and commenced walking. We walked to Cliff Drive and took a path to the Scenic Skyway. We took the skyway, then took the railway (world’s steepest) down and walked to see Katoomba Falls from the bottom. We took the railway up, then took the trail to Echo Point. We looked at the Three Sisters, then walked back to town, and are now headed back to Sydney. We went to Arun Thai for dinner, right next to the hotel. I had Tom Yum Goong (prawn soup; I liked the fresh jalapenos) and Ped Ob Num Paung (roasted duck; very tasty).

[Originally published at GoHither.Net]

October 16th: Sydney

I’m writing this from the Botanical Gardens. Sharon and I took a taxi from the airport, the hotel let us check in at 8am, so we showered (thank God) and changed. We are eating in a cafe in the Gardens, having taken pictures of the flowers, birds, and the Opera House. I had “wedges” for lunch. Turns out it’s not a sandwich, like I thought, but fried potato slices (I should have known when the cashier asked me if I wanted tomato sauce and handed me ketchup when I assented).

Now in Hyde Park. Saw bats at the Gardens, the Opera House, and the Circular Quay. We cashed some traveler’s checks, I picked up some tickets, and now we’re letting the jet lag make us nap.

[Originally published at GoHither.Net]

October 14th: Los Angeles to Sydney

The flight to LA is nice. I’ve never flown on a 777 before. I especially like the TV monitors in the back of the seats, and you can surf. LAX has funky columns outside that change color at night, and a restaurant that looks like a spider. The flight to Sydney is long. I haven’t been on a 747 either, but I don’t like it as much. It’s cramped, and I have a hard time sleeping. I watched Frequency (and For Love Of The Game to LA).

[Originally published at GoHither.Net]

Rush Animates the Capital Center

It might be expected that a group might start to slow down after 20 years together. That certainly wasn’t the case at the US Air Arena Tuesday as Rush showed that they can still rock with the best.

Candlebox started the evening, but was unable to get much out of the crowd. They had a great set though. They opened with “He Calls Home”, a great song about homelessness, and got better from there. They continued with “Change”, “Blossom”, and “Arrow” all from their debut album.

Kevin Martin’s vocals were clean for the most part, except for “Arrow”. He sounds like he’s singing, “Some On Ghetto” when the lyrics claim “Someone’s Got Arrow”. Easily half of guitarist Peter Klett’s solos sounded like Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, which may be unavoidable since Candlebox calls Seattle home as well. Sometimes his tone was unique, though on “Far Behind” his solo sounded like Jimi Hendrix. That was intentional though, as the band followed his lead into “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”.

The band ended with their latest single “You”, as familiarity finally brought some crowd response. The most response Candlebox got was when they mentioned Rush would appear next. The anticipation mounted as roadies cleared off Candlebox’s equipment.

The lights went out as the crowd screamed. Then the curtains on the screen above the stage parted as the strains of “Also Sprach Zarathrusta” (the 2001 theme for you Beavis and Butthead addicts) became evident, On screen appeared a scene in space of a giant bolt approaching a giant nut (reproducing the cover art from Counterparts, their current album). As the bolt screwed into the nut, the music reached its climax. Then the lights burst on and Rush went into “Dreamline”, the first single from their last album. Next was 1980’s “The Spirit Of Radio”, a favorite which had most of the crowd singing along, followed by “Bravado”, an intriguing song about achieving your goals no matter what the cost.

One of the best things about seeing Rush live is their visuals. The giant screen over the stage will show scenes that are often in synch with the songs. The visuals are usually taken from their videos, but not always, as the next song “Time Stands Still”, had entirely new animation. “Limelight”, from the legendary Moving Pictures album forced the crowd back on its feet again, where they stayed for a while.

Lead singer and bassist Geddy Lee mentioned the next song was about tortured love, so it had to be a country-western song. The band even made some tentative country riffs before ripping into “Cold Fire”, their latest single. Then Rush got into a more serious vein with “Nobody’s Hero”, a new moving song about ordinary heroes like the guy who passed away from AIDS and the girl who’s a victim of senseless violence.

Two songs that have rarely been performed recently followed: the fantastic “The Analog Kid,” from Signals, and the African influenced “Mystic Rhythms” from 1986’s Power Windows. The crowd was obviously unfamiliar with these, but quickly rose to their feet and dug in their pockets for the lighters as guitarist Alex Lifeson reached for an acoustic guitar and started the intro to 1977’s “Closer To The Heart”. A song urging everyone to get inspired by the spiritual, not the physical. It’s still appropriate today.

Rush has recently dropped nearly all use of synthesizers, and this was nowhere more evident as their next two songs, “Animate,” and “Double Agent,” both new. Anyone who thinks these guys are old needs to see Geddy’s furious bass-slapping, Alex wailing away on guitar, and Neal Peart thundering away on drums. “Double Agent” featured pyrotechnics, making this the first Rush tour to feature them. It was particularly effective as well. A verse like “Cross of holy fire” had a field of burning crosses on the screen with six burning fire pots on the stage.

“Roll The Bones” from the album of the same name, features a rap in the middle. Originally done by Geddy, then electronically processed, the band played to the video version since keeping synchronized that long would be a significant effort. “Stick It Out” also had a great video, which was indescribably better when scenes of the band were removed and just a man in dreadlocks (strongly resembling the lead singer of Counting Crows), balancing on a pole, remained. “Show Don’t Tell” from 1989’s Presto followed, with huge inflatable bunny rabbits.

Next was the definite highlight of any Rush show: drummer Neal Peart’s “The Rhythm Method.” Some drummers just bang on the drums a couple of minutes to show off. Not Neal. “The Rhythm Method” is a song that changes for every tour but certain elements remain constant, especially since he introduced his electronic xylophone. He can play riffs on it which he can then duplicate rhythmically on the drums. The crowd was roaring as Geddy and Alex rejoined him for the instrumental from Counterparts: “Leave My Thing Alone.”

The crowd volume increased as Alex once more unleashed his acoustic guitar for 1978’s “The Trees”, a song that’s even more true in today’s politically correct world. A fable that tells of the maples complaining because the oaks take all the light, and concludes with equality being enforced “by hatchet, axe and saw.” Then, as in 1981, the band surged into “Xanadu” from A Farewell to Kings. Based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”, Rush brings the story to life with a great light show and a killer tune. At the end of “Xanadu” the band segued into the rarely heard “Hemispheres”, performing “Part I: Prelude” as they closed their set.

Feet crashed into the floor as the crowd demanded an encore. Rush let them have it with a double shot from 1981’s Moving Pictures: the ferocious instrumental “YYZ”, and a fantastic version of “Tom Sawyer” to end the night.

This was my seventh trip to see Rush in concert. If you want to be entertained at a concert, you won’t be disappointed by them.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Kevn Kinney Rocks 9:30

The Nightclub 9:30 was considerably less crowded than usual for Kevn Kinney’s appearance there earlier this month. This was more than likely due to a last-minute schedule change as he was forced to do an early show on a different day.

Kevn is the lead singer of the Georgia-based band Drivin’ N Cryin’, but has just released his second solo album. His first solo tour saw him accompanied by Peter Buck of R.E.M., but this time around, he brought his brother, nevertheless still an accomplished accordion and guitar player.

Kevn focused on his two solo albums, Down Out Law and Macdougal Blues. New songs which were really done well were “Down And Out Law,” “Shindig With The Lord,” and “Never Far Behind.” Kevn did perform several Drivin’ N Cryin’ classics, including “Keys To Me”, “Honeysuckle Blue”, “Let’s Go Dancing”, and a stirring “The Friend Song”.

The best songs were those he interrupted in the middle to tell stories, such as “Macdougal Blues,” and “Hey Landlord (Meatloaf And Fish Sticks).” One story in particular, about trying to explain to his father about how he spent his rent money on a 26-foot bong, had the audience rolling. His brother was also amusing, especially the drinking song he started singing when Kevn took a piss break.

The Washington Post and The City Paper both trashed his album and blew their chances to see a great singer-songwriter in an intimate acoustic setting. I found I didn’t enjoy it as much as I do his full band, but it was a good performance.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Something to Crow About

You may have heard of The Crow. It’s a movie opening on Friday, May 13, notorious at this point because is the last film of star Brandon Lee. If you didn’t know, Lee (son of Bruce) was killed by a prop gun supposedly filled with blanks. This the last of a string of tragedies related to the film, but filming was nearly completed when Lee died and the movie was finished. The film will have an awesome soundtrack featuring Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots, The Cure, and Rage Against The Machine.

So what does it have to do with comics? Well, like The Rocketeer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Batman, it was initially created as a comic book. However, The Crow has about as much in common with regular comics as Nine Inch Nails do with elevator music. The Crow is a three-issue black and white comic book, completed over the span of several years. It is the apparent product of a lot of pain. Writer and artist James O’Barr doesn’t talk much about the inspiration for The Crow, but it obviously forms some type of wish-fulfillment for him.

As the story begins, a mugger kills an old lady and slips into an alley. He is confronted by a tall man dressed in black, face garishly painted like a clown, with a thin scar across his nose. He is the Crow. The mugger takes a shot at him, but the Crow has better aim and the mugger goes down. The Crow asks the mugger if he remembers a cold October night and a broken-down car. The mugger blanches with fear and the Crow kills him. The Crow dispatches several other criminals, as flashbacks show him without makeup, becoming engaged to a beautiful blonde.

In the second book, the Crow goes after a junkie who has been allowed to gather his allies. They take shots at him at point-blank range,but aren’t able to stop him and he kills them all. Via an extended flashback we learn that Eric (The Crow) and Shelly (the blonde) were out celebrating their engagement when the car broke down. Unable to fix it, they fell victim to a gang of armed men high on crack. For laughs, they shot Eric twice in the head and raped and murdered Shelly. By a twist of fate, Eric survives and vows revenge.

The two remaining members of the gang meet. The leader refuses to believe the stories, and the other one overdoses on morphine rather than face the Crow again. After the Crow kills more of the leader’s men, the leader gets nervous and hires about fifteen men for protection. The Crow shows up and cannot be stopped. The leader hops into a car and abandons his men as the Crow polishes the rest of them off. The Crow gets into another car and forces the leader off the road at the same spot as the original incident. The leader’s legs are broken in the crash and the Crow has his revenge. The Crow joins his girlfriend as the story ends.

The Crow is simply the most intense comic book I have ever seen. A fantasy come true, it is extremely violent, although there is some black comedy. If the movie is anything like the comic, it will be incredible. If you’re interested in getting The Crow, you can pick up a copy at Big Planet Comics in Vienna.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]