Thursday, September 30, 2010

All The Fun of The Fair

The Texas State Fair runs for about 21 days, last week of Sept to mid Oct approximately. It is renowned for its fried food (just about everything imaginable gets dipped in batter and fried), the midway, the exhibits, concerts, giant Ferris wheel, Big Tex, the UT-OU game, and so on. But the highlight for us last year were the pig races.

In a giant barn, four pigs race around a "U" shaped track, no doubt motivated by a big bucket of sloppy stuff at the end. Pure carnival genius. Each section of the crowd is obliged to cheer for a hog appointed to them by the MC. The pigs have names like "Snoop Hoggy Hog", "Squealy Nelson" and "Hammah Montana". Each race last about 8 seconds. Pigs can fly - when there is food at the end of the race. Great entertainment value, especially when the organizers threw a curve ball and had a pot bellied pig in one race - he was not very fast. It harkens back to different, simpler time.

And to my knowledge none of the piggies ended up as deep fried bacon - which is an actual item on the menu at the Fair. Last year we tried the deep fried butter - you could feel it congeal in your arteries... This year we decided for the sake of logevity to give the Fair a pass. Texas succumbed to the Sooners in the Red River Shootout and will probably fall out of the Top 25 for the first time in years. These little guys could have their own team - just don't tell them what the ball is made from.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Concert Review: Clash of the Titans 2010

Last Friday, those wholesome middle aged men from Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer rolled their wagons into Big D, the first stop on the second leg of the "Clash of the Titans" tour. Since I have a passing interest in all three and the $20 ticket price seemed just too good to pass up, I jaunted over to the Center in hope of a spectacle. It was all a bit under-whelming. There was maybe 3,000 in attendance in a venue that can hold three times that.

My unscientific research proclaimed the obligatory black t-shirts favored Slayer 70%, Megadeth 15%, Anthrax 2% and 13% other... Pantera was well represented. And the jackass wearing the Rod Stewart t-shirt? What can I say? He was beyond ridicule. Myself sported a rather fetching "Ride the Lightning" shirt which I have had for about 20 years and I am pleased it still fits and I got several compliments from the youngsters, one of whom proclaimed to me "I wish Metallica was here, man!". Well, me too, but James and Lars are pricks and so be it...

The center is an amphitheater, half covered / half open to the elements. Not a bad place at all with plenty of elbow room. It is adjacent to Fair Park and it was interesting to see the metalheads crossing paths with the fried turkey leg crowd heading into the Texas State Fair.

Anthrax came on at 7pm, played for 40 mins and were better than I hoped or remembered. Some minor mosh pit action and some low energy head banging. Grade: B

Megadeth played for maybe an hour and 15 mins, sounded great and while Mustaine is a bit of a prima donna (changing shirts, the ridiculous double-neck guitar), their set was solid and enjoyable. The first half was a bit bland for me, only later did I realize they had played Rust in Peace in its entirety. The second half was better - maybe because I knew Symphony for Destruction, Peace Sells... etc. Decent mosh pit, good crowd energy. Grade B+

And so it was on to Slayer. I have some of their stuff, a live CD and a few other bits and pieces and I was hoping they would burn up the stage. They didn't. I counted 38 Marshall amps. It was a sea of noise. I felt like I was inside the engine of a huge locomotive that was never greased and was overheating. About half way through, I moved back and sat on the grass near the rear of the amphitheater and the sound was significantly better. I could actually make out the lyrics and hear the bass. The first several songs focused on their new material Seasons in the Abyss, which I will not rush to buy based on the live performance. By the time I relocated they fired up Raining Blood, South of Heaven, Angel of Death and the show was much more enjoyable... I think for the most part the audience was pretty much riveted to their standing spots by the sheer jet blast of noise. There was no discernible slam pit and the metal heads were statue-like. Grade B-

Much better review than I could ever write is here -

So after a couple of the $12 beers and a perusal of the $40 concert t-shirts, I empathized with my young "And Justice For All" friend, wishing that grizzled old Metallica were part of the line up. While it was not the worst $20 I have ever spent, something was missing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Who is going to tell Jerry?

Per Yahoo News today, "Charlotte Motor Speedway and Panasonic announced Tuesday they are installing the world's largest HD video board along the backstretch of the track in time for next year's Coca-Cola 600... it proves that not everything is bigger in Texas, as the video board is bigger than the one at Cowboys Stadium, which replaced the video board at Darrell K. Royal Stadium at the University of Texas as the largest HD screen".

I am a sports nut and here is my two cents: big screens belong at the movies or at home, not in the stadium or at the race track.

Fifi and I first took in the grandeur of the new Cowboy Stadium (a/k/a JerryWorld) last summer at the Sir Paul McCartney concert. It is a palace. Other opportunities came when the Southlake High School football team made the playoffs. Let me tell you, that big ol' Texas size screen that runs from 20 yard line to 20 yard line. It is big ass. It becomes a distraction. Look at the photo below, if that sucker fell, a good chunk of the Carroll HS Band would be left rather bruised...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Good, The Bad

The good this weekend was The 39 Steps, a play put on by Stage West in Fort Worth. Fifi and I went to the Sunday matinee and left agreeing that it was an excellent performance and we look forward to seeing some of their future productions. In the Stage West performance, Lee Trull played Richard Hanny, the main character in what is one of Hitchcock's most well regarded films. Cheryl Lowber had three roles and what was most amazing was that Michale Corrolla and Mark Shum played a litany of characters; from policemen, to secret agents, to Scottish hoteliers. They pulled off a tremendous effort and the show was great value.

The setting at Stage West is intimate; the theater seats only about 200. We look forward to their 2011 season. Dinner at Joe T Garcia's in FW on the way home was the icing on the cake.

The bad this weekend was the Plano balloon festival. Hot air balloons may seem interesting - and I am sure they are if you are soaring above the Texas plains - but watching them inflate and remain tethered while occasionally firing their burners... well that is three hours of our lives we are never getting back. I am not sure that the thousands in attendance would agree with me - but are we that starved for something to do on a Saturday afternoon?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dragons, Frogs and Cowboys

Football reigns supreme in Texas. The Rangers are in first place and swept the vaunted Yankees this weekend, but the sports coverage will be dominated by football. We run with the herd on this one. Friday night we took in the Southlake Carroll Dragons home opener, where the high school team struggled a bit but managed to pull out a 31-24 win in overtime. Those four State Championships in the 2000's seem far away. I was impressed that even with the 1,600 new seats and an uneven start to the season, the Dragon home side was sold out and we ended up amongst the visitors - and we had plenty of company.

Saturday evening we endured the heat and sweltering humidity to pay our first visit the TCU campus and watch the # 4 ranked Horned Frogs take on Tennessee Tech. It was not much of a contest. The Frogs are for real again this year and ran out easy winners by 62-7, albeit against 1-AA opposition. It was a sea of purple at the Amon Carter Stadium and the alumni side where we sat seemed sold out. The student side had some empty seats but nonetheless, there was a great atmosphere. All the ladies in their purple dresses with cowboy boots were a hoot.

Sunday brings the pros and "America's Team" pays a visit to division rivals Washington Redskins. This one is on TV as I write and the 'Boys are down by three in the Fourth Quarter. Tomorrow the Jets make their 2010 debut and I hope they live up to the hype. The Defense should be solid but there are question marks about the running game (no Thomas Jones) and can Sanchez limit his mistakes.

Yes, football is in full swing and the progression over the weekend from High School to College to the NFL makes it all the more enjoyable.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Texas Tea

Yesterday, the boys and myself took a drive out west past Palo Pinto to the shores of Possum Kingdom Lake. We were doing some advance scouting for an upcoming camping trip. If Possum Kingdom sounds like a bizarre name - it is and it isn't. An early 20th century furrier who bought possum pelts used to refer to the local trappers as the "Possum Kingdom Boys". We did not see any possums but we did see dozens of pumpjacks, bobbing away and by golly reducing our dependence on foreign oil, if you buy into that kind of thing.

The wells reminded me of when we moved to Austin and gasoline was something like 85 cents a gallon. I met a guy then who at one time had worked in the oilfields in the Permian Basin out in West Texas. I was fascinated by the prospect of owning a share in a Texas oil well. We kicked the idea around but he advised that with oil under $10 a barrel (this was 1998) that many of the wells were just sitting idle. It was cost prohibitive to bring the crude to the surface at that price. And so my aspirations of being an oil baron were shelved. Of course, oil hit $126 a barrel in 2008 and is currently around $74 and based on the busy pumpjacks we seen, it is again profitable. I missed my chance to buy in at $8 and change... c'est la vie.

Possum Kingdom Lake looked cool and inviting in the afternoon heat but we may not end up camping there. It is a longer drive than I thought - over two hours from home. The lake itself is a result of a dam on the Brazos River and while I told the boys about John Graves and his famous book "Goodbye to a River", I doubt that much of it sunk in. In the 1950's, there were plans to build several dams on the Brazos and in 1957 Graves took a canoe trip down the river, hoping to see it in its pristine state before the valleys were flooded. The aforementioned book memorialized his trip. Ultimately, three dams were built on the longest river in Texas. The author is still alive, Texas Monthly interviewed him in the August 2010 issue.

While the boys may not recall much of my account of John Graves, they will undoubtedly remember the self proclaimed "World's Largest Wheelbarrow". It sits unexpectedly in a field just off the road - the nearest house in the tiny hamlet of Caddo is several miles away. Talk about a roadside curiosity. It must be about five feet high and serves no apparent purpose other than to get people to pull over and take a photo. It sure was quiet there though and somehow the giant wheelbarrow sort of fits right in.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

I don't often do album reviews, but when I do... Stay thirsty my friends.

Their first two Arcade Fire albums (do we still call them albums?), Funeral and Neon Bible, were quite good. Many of the songs had an edge, were catchy and let's face it, the band deserves accolades for working in non-traditional instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy, glockenspiel etc. into pop music.

Their third effort The Suburbs leaves something to be desired. It is borderline bland and a bit jaded. It could very well be the background music in the shoe department at Sears. Maybe that is the whole point? The 'burbs are often flat, stale and lacking standout features. It is not a bad album, but pales in comparison to its predecessors. And it is still better than 90% of the drivel we hear on the radio. And then, Levittown is better than Newark...

What is interesting is the "video" that the band made with Google Chrome for "We used to Wait". It brings interactive music to a new level. The song itself is vaguely memorable; the images of the scenes of the birds in full Hitchcock mode alighting on your house is harder to shake. And there's the rub: when the video is better than the song, something is amiss.