Warped

Apparently, today is one of those days.

You know what I’m talking about, right? A day where you feel perfectly normal and as rational as you ever do, yet the entire world around you is just a little bit off-kilter.

For example, you do something you’ve done every day, and it goes awry. Allow me to assure you that boiling water does not improve the flavor of crispy rice cereal, nor does cold milk make good tea.

The cup and bowl were in the same relative positions as always. If nothing else, muscle memory should have ensured that the liquids went into the correct vessels. And yet breakfast was a flop.

Fast forward a few minutes. I sit down in front of the computer and, as usual, hit the “minimize everything” key. Nothing happens. Hit it again. One more time. Stare at screen. Realize that nothing has happened because there are no programs running, thus there’s nothing to minimize.

* If you’re using Windows 10, that’s Windows Logo + D. Handy.

A little investigation reveals that Firefox and File Explorer aren’t running because the computer rebooted to install updates while I was eating breakfast. Doesn’t that usually happen in the middle of the night?

It can’t really be the entire universe that’s gone kitty-wumpus, can it? I mean, Occam’s Razor suggests that it’s more likely me than everything else.

And then I launch Firefox. It opens with the last page I had been looking at before I went to bed last night. And I discover that the BABYMETAL Reddit is swamped with reports that–well, take a look at this and tell me the universe hasn’t gone berserk.

OK, yes, it’s fairly common for high-profile Jpop groups to have TV shows. It’s not even unheard of in the US. Leaving aside made-for-TV groups like The Monkees and made-for-animated-TV groups like Jem and the Holograms (and what child of the seventies could forget Josie and the Pussycats, no matter how hard he tries,) real bands have made the jump to drawings before. Let’s not forget that there was an animated Beatles TV show in the late sixties.

So there’s precedent.

But. “The action-adventure will take viewers inside the magical world of heavy metal music as it comes under attack, and one lonely god, Kitsune, forms the warrior band BABYMETAL to save the day.”

Yes, it’s in line with BABYMETAL’s existing iconography, but at best, this has to be a finalist for the title of most peculiar premise in history. (I hesitate to say “lamest,” if only because I think The Banana Splits have that one sewn up.)

The whole portal fantasy aspect of the pitch makes me suspect that the animated parts of the show won’t be voiced by the band–there’s nothing new about that, either–and I do have to wonder what the ratio of live action to animation is going to be.

Not that anything is set in stone at this point. The project is “currently in development.” As we all know, that means there’s a conference room somewhere, with a bunch of animation studio executives on one side of a table, music industry executives on another side, both groups liberally flavored with lawyers, negotiating everything from story arcs to whether costumes can be reused from stage performances.

Heck, we don’t even know whether the plan is to go for TV or the Web. That room full of executives probably don’t know yet, either.

But, still. I think my universe is warped, like an LP left too near the radiator. Can I get an exchange, please?

Shameless Pandering

Hello and welcome to the hundreds of readers who came by to check out the BABYMETAL portion of Tuesday’s post. Thanks to all of you, Tuesday’s total of 303 page views is this blog’s best day ever, and the second-most popular post ever. Mind you, it’s got a long way to go to beat the most popular, but that’s beside the point.

When the daily traffic jumps by an order of magnitude, there’s really only one thing you can do: more of the same! So, for my regular readers who don’t care about BABYMETAL, come back tomorrow for the usual Friday cat post–and for those of you who don’t care for the cat posts, I promise I’ll have something not-at-all-cute on Tuesday.

But before I begin pandering to public demand, a brief public service announcement.

Tomorrow, July 29, is the last day to get the free Windows 10 upgrade. If you’ve been planning to do it, but keep putting it off, it’s time to stop procrastinating. I still suspect the free upgrade will return, but if you’re going to do it at all, don’t take the chance that you might miss out. For those of you who have upgraded, the Windows 10 Anniversary Edition is supposed to be released next week. Don’t be surprised if you see a really large download happening in the background.

Moving on.

More pictures from the July 14 concert in San Francisco. As before, these are my humble fan shots, not professional pictures taken with pro-grade equipment and the cooperation of the subjects. Don’t expect sharp focus or perfect framing and we’ll get along fine.

I mentioned on Tuesday that my camera had problems with the red lighting. And there was a lot of red. I wound up with several shots like this:
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And more than several that are vague, red blurs. But I rather like the way this one came out, in that it looks more like the result of a filter than a visit to the near-infrared.

This next one is one of the few cases of perfect timing I managed.
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Just enough red to accent the iconic pose, and–as you can see at the lower left corner–just before the infamous Left Arm of Doom swept away the view.

For all that I joke about my camera, I have to say that it has an excellent optical zoom.
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That was one of my top criteria in selecting it. Technology may have advanced in the five years since then, but as long as it keeps getting me shots like that one, I don’t see any reason to upgrade.

Shortly after that shot, I got this one:
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You know, I often think the band doesn’t get enough recognition. That’s usually the case, and not just in music: the headliners get all the credit, and the supporting cast just get paid. But sometimes a “thank you” is just as important as a paycheck.28-5
Thanks, guys. You done good.

I’ve got dozens more photos, but I’ll save them for some future occasion where I want to pull traffic this way.

For now, I’ll just say
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“See you!”

Four for the Price of One

I’ve had an unusually busy couple of weeks, even without GT’s contributions* to the excitement.

* GT is, by the way, doing well. He had the drain removed from his cheek Sunday. He continues to remove the Cone o’ Shame, but is making no effort to evade the other medical necessities (mostly warm compresses twice a day).

Maybe it won’t seem all that busy to many of you, but keep in mind that I typically go to maybe two movies–and less than one concert–a year. Add a couple of ballgames, and that’s pretty much it for my outside entertainment. Somehow, however, I found myself going to two concerts and two movies in two weeks.

All that makes for a priceless opportunity–four ready-made blog posts!–that I’m going to shamelessly squander. One post, four mini-reviews. Ready? Let’s go.

Saturday, 7/9: The BFG

Let’s be honest. The BFG is not one of Roald Dahl’s best books. It’s certainly not in the same league as the Charlie books or James and the Giant Peach*. Not even Fantastic Mr. Fox (no, there really isn’t a “The” at the beginning of the title). The end isn’t really an end, it just sort of fades out. The climactic confrontation nearly slips by unnoticed. And later events happen without much reference to earlier happenings.

* My personal favorite.

So the movie didn’t have a high bar to clear. But Spielberg–or rather, he and screenwriter Melissa Mathison–didn’t settle for a simple transposition of book to film. A single example of the improvements they made: In the book, there’s a minor argument between Sophie and the BFG which neither wins, and the subject is immediately dropped. In the movie, the BFG wins the argument by doing an endrun around Sophie’s better judgement. As a result, we get bagpipes and jet-propelled corgis.

Mathison and Spielberg added a few other callbacks to events earlier in the film, and as a result, the ending became more satisfying, dramatically and emotionally.

It was never going to be a major smash, but it deserves better than the reception than it’s currently getting at the box office.

Thursday, 7/14: BABYMETAL

You know I’m not going to diss BABYMETAL.

But I do have a couple of complaints, so let me get those out of my system first. Standing in line outside the venue was cold. Twainian levels of cold. Nobody’s fault, but the group’s management missed an opportunity: if they had moved the merchandise sales outside before the doors opened, they would unquestionably have sold a huge number of hoodies.

Once they opened the doors, it still took a long time to get inside–they were funneling the entire audience through a pair of metal detectors. From what we overheard, it was the first time they had used them, and their inexperience showed. Given the ongoing controversy over whether BABYMETAL is really metal, I wondered if they were going to turn away anyone who didn’t set off the detectors: “Sorry, kid, you’re not metal enough to attend this show.” I didn’t see that happen, but I also didn’t see it not happen.

The Regency Ballroom was kind enough to open the balcony so those who wished to avoid the mosh pit that consumed the entire main floor could do so. The balcony even had seats! Not that the seats mattered, because as soon as the first notes sounded, everyone stood up. Including the six-footer in front of me. I’ve got some lovely photos of the back of his head and arms.
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No, that shot really isn’t as perverted as his arm makes it look, but the rest of the shots he was in are so much more completely blocked that they don’t amount to much more than unintelligible blurs.

My apologies, by the way, to whoever was behind me. I hope you were taller than I am.

Still, I did get some good shots, especially when the lighting wasn’t so red it threw off the camera’s focus.
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OK, “good” by my standards. Stop laughing, Beth.

And no number of bodies could block the music.

I was able to let go of my brain and get into the experience–my first metal concert!–and wound up exhausted and sore-throated in a good way. All in all, I had a fantastic time, and yes, next time I find myself in proximity to a BABYMETAL show, I’ll attend. I’ll just make sure I have a better line of sight to the stage.

Tuesday, 7/19: Ghostbusters

Unlike many of the people my age who have, shall we say, firm opinions about the wisdom of a Ghostbusters remake, I came into the theater with an open mind. I saw the original when it came out, but I doubt that I’ve seen it more than twice since. Certainly not at all in the last decade. So I remember a couple of key scenes clearly, and I remember the movie as a whole as being funny. But I don’t consider it a cherished part of my youth, and I’m definitely not in a position to do a point-by-point comparison between the films.

Taken on its own, then, I found the new movie more than worth the time and ticket price. I don’t expect it to match the original’s multiple Oscar, Hugo, and Grammy award nominations, but it’s far from embarrassing itself, its actors, or its creators.

Seeing it so soon after BABYMETAL, I probably found the scenes at the metal show funnier than I might have otherwise, but they worked well enough even without that help.

Kudos to the crew for moving the big dance scene to the end credits instead of interrupting the flow of the story; the little snippet they used during the film was much funnier for being so abbreviated.

And the dialog flowed well. Writing humor is hard, and making it look easy is even harder*. That there were so few places where the humor missed is a major tribute to the creative team.

* Yes, I know I’m far from the first person to point that out. But it bears repeating.

Count me as one white male of a certain age who doesn’t think Ghostbusters‘ 2016 incarnation destroyed his youth, but does think it enhanced his certain-age-itude.

However, having said that, I will admit that if I had to guess which of the past couple of weeks’ entertainments is the one I’ll be least likely to remember fondly a few decades from now, it would be Ghostbusters.

Friday, 7/22: They Might Be Giants

No, you’ve never heard me blathering about my enduring love of They Might Be Giants. There’s a reason for that: I don’t have a deep passion for them. But Maggie is something of a fan, and I appreciate their sense of humor, so we grabbed the chance to catch their show in Berkeley.

A slight diversion: the show was originally supposed to be in March, but there were technical problems with the venue. The show was at the newly remodeled UC Theatre, and was supposed to be the theater’s grand reopening after a fifteen-year hiatus. Didn’t quite work out. But now that they’re fully operational, I love what they’ve done with the place. The UC used to be a movie theater–Maggie and I used to go there in its repertory days–and the remodeling handles the steeply angled floor brilliantly: it’s been divided into three flat sections, each with a low wall at the front. The first section is actually lower than the stage, which puts the performers’ feet at the audience’s chin level. Odd, but very workable for dancing. The middle section is about ten feet higher, giving it a perfect view of the stage, and the back section is another couple feet up.

But I digress. So what else is new?

The audience for TMBG was somewhat more sedate than BABYMETAL’s crowd, and we were lucky enough to be near the front of the line. That meant we were able to snag a couple of the small complement of chairs at the front of the middle section. It wasn’t until we were seated that I realized I had forgotten my camera. Fortunately, my phone did an acceptable job.
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An optical zoom would have been nice, but this is fine as a memory cue.

And, beyond the music, the show was memorable for one thing I’ve never seen before:
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I thought at first the sign-language interpreters were with the group, but apparently not–John and John had to ask the interpreters’ names before thanking them. Regardless, a nice touch, though I’d love to get an appraisal of how well they did: it can’t be easy keeping up with TMBG’s rapid-fire lyrics.

Good view, good music. And if I wasn’t as tired and hoarse as the week before, I did come out of the theater with hands sore from clapping. An evening well spent.

So that’s been my mid-to-late July. I could probably get used to those levels of excitement but I’m hoping for a slightly quieter August–at the very least, one without medical emergencies.

Not So Guilty

I’ve been remiss.

A year ago Thursday, I let you in on one of my guilty pleasures, BABYMETAL.

This time last year, they were a cult phenomenon, little known outside Japan. Not unreasonable for an idol band, however genre-atypical their music might have been. Those of us who had stumbled over the group wondered if they would survive. As I said, “It’s rare for an idol to have a second CD; the labels that control their “career” would rather promote a ne face who can sell the same merchandise again.” I also noted the notorious interchangeability of idols: it’s not uncommon for a group to last years, or even decades, with members aging out and being replaced by younger faces.

Well, part of the question has been answered. On April 1, BABYMETAL released a new CD. On the second, they kicked off an international tour in London. They made their American TV debut on The Lat Show with Stephen Colbert on April 5.

The media blitz is working. The Colbert appearance is currently the fifteenth most popular video on Colbert’s YouTube channel. Many of the concerts are sold out* and the new album, Metal Resistance is selling well: it debuted at Number 39 on Billboard’s “Top 200 Albums” chart and has been Number 1 on their “World Albums” chart for the past three weeks.

* Yes, I’m going to the San Francisco show. Silly question. Maggie and I are stocking up on earplugs, and are looking forward to seeing how they scale down their stadium-level show for a smaller–and less fireproof–venue.

How is the new album? Pretty damn good, actually. The girls’ voices have matured, and they come across as more confident and comfortable in their roles. There’s a good mix of styles, even the track I hated on first listen, “Sis.Anger,” is starting to grow on me, and the closing track, “The One,” is not only a hell of an anthem, but also an impressive earworm.

So signs are good for BABYMETAL to hang around for a while yet. If Amuse Management can resist the temptation to tinker with the membership, I may even feel justified in dropping that word “guilty”.

Will they resist? It’s true that as the girls age, they lose a bit from the “cute” side of their “Cute Metal” branding. Musically, that’s not a bad thing, but from an idol perspective, it’s a potential problem. On the positive side, there must already have been some discussion of tinkering to maintain the group’s image before they went ahead with planning Metal Resistance and the current tour. That would have been the logical time to make the change: bring in a new slate of younger performers and release a “BABYMETAL II” album–more of the same instead of trying something new.

Hopefully that decision will stick. I’d love to see BABYMETAL make the jump from metal idols to metal musicians, making room for a new crop of idols to take up “cute metal” and fill that guilty pleasure niche.

A Guilty Pleasure

Back to music, as I promised last week. But not back to Arlo. Oh, no, not at all.

I listen to a fair amount of folk rock, even more classic rock, some classical, and a smattering of other genres. Most of it is, I’ll admit, on the light side. Every so often, though, I get the urge to listen to something loud, mindless, and nonsensical. And there’s one group that fills that niche admirably: Babymetal. Pardon me. That should be “BABYMETAL“. Judging by their official website, all-caps is apparently part of the branding.

To understand BABYMETAL and why I consider them a guilty pleasure, you first need to understand the phenomenon of the Japanese Idol Singer. The idol industry–and make no mistake, it is an industry–is an endless stream of CuteYoungThings who can sing (a little), dance (a little more), and (usually) be trusted not to get caught doing anything scandalous. The idol is carefully designed to provide only the best in quasi-musical* entertainment.

* By which I mean that the point of an idol is to pack the hall and whip the fans into a buying frenzy. That the show is nominally a concert is secondary.

Granted, that doesn’t sound very different than the American pop industry. The thing is, American pop artists expect to have a career and at least pay lip service to the notion of doing “serious” music. In the idol world, the idols are largely interchangeable. It’s rare for an idol to have a second CD; the labels that control their “career” would rather promote a new face who can sell the same merchandise again.

And, just as the performers are interchangeable, so too the music. It’s carefully written to appeal to the broadest possible audience (read that as “the lowest common denominator”) and not offend anyone. In the case of BABYMETAL, that took the form of choosing non-threatening performers–what could be less threatening than three girls between the ages of ten and twelve?

So, pious claims of developing a new musical style (“Cute Metal”) aside, BABYMETAL’s comes straight from the idol tradition. The artists–one singer and two “designated screamers”–were selected from an existing idol group and had no previous experience, or even exposure, to metal. The backing band was originally a group of dancers who mimed playing instruments (shades of The Monkees!)

Much to the surprise of everyone involved, the group’s first video, “Doki Doki Morning“, went viral. Tours were arranged. The backing band was replaced by an assortment of well-known musicians from Japan’s metal scene. Their 2014 world tour included dates on the same bill with metal bands known even to non-metal fans, including Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth, giving them even wider exposure.

BABYMETAL’s popularity continues to climb, making them prime candidates to escape the obscurity that is normally the fate of the Japanese idol.

Ladies, gentlemen, and others, I give you my guilty pleasure, BABYMETAL. I hope they’ll be yours as well.