TAMPA -- James Taylor shambled onstage Friday as if he were looking for lost car keys. He rubbed his bald head, gave a sheepish look at the 8,992 in the Amalie Arena crowd. Then he grabbed a beat-up acoustic guitar, took a careful seat on a stool and started cooing Something in the Way She Moves. Thus concluded the night's most gripping action sequence.
Oh, I'm just joshing all you touchy-feelies out there. No one came to JT expecting pyro; this was all about a big warm folk-pop group hug, the 66-year-old sensitive one still in fine soft voice and pastoral demeanor. The best place to hear the somber Bostonian sing is somewhere cozy, intimate -- like, say, your bathroom. But such is his soothing widespread appeal -- when he uttered the word "hippies" the place went crazy (well, politely so) -- the dude can still pack a large venue....
CLEARWATER -- He wiped sweat off his 70-year-old brow and looked up into the stagelights and pulled the why-not trigger: Randy Newman, feeling like this was a safe night, an understanding night at a sold-out Capitol Theatre, decided to play Rednecks. The 1974 song is a wickedly smart, wickedly wicked takedown of racism in both the guilty South and the magnanimous North, funny and frightening, catchy and controversial. Its hook is the n-word, "a disgusting word" the Rock Hall of Famer said, delivered in the guise of a character who doesn't know that what he's saying is both wrong and right. But Newman, one of the most complex pop craftsman of our time, "cares about songwriting and nothing else," so he decided to let 'er rip, let the art speak for itself.
And so it went for almost two hours Tuesday, the singing-composing icon alone at a baby grand, showing his sweet side (Feels Like Home), his Disney-Pixar side (You've Got a Friend in Me), his scathing side (Sail Away), a cadence that kept the capacity crowd off-balance but captivated. There aren't many talents who can pull off such a schizoid songlist, a head-swiveling onslaught from Buzz Lightyear to Lester Maddox, but this man can. His frog-croak voice sounded broken when he was 20, and, well, it sounds the same now, sweet but maligned. And his piano playing has the grace and aggression of a New Orleans saloon player at 2 a.m., lulling you into memories of lost loves, but keeping you bouncing, too....
11/11/14 Music & Concerts
Garth Brooks isn't rock-star handsome; he looks like a sales rep for La-Z-Boy. He isn't particularly interesting, either; in 1999, even he thought so, crawling into the guise of Australian alter ego Chris Gaines, a country staple going "pop" long before Taylor Swift gave it a whirl. But Garth's limitations never kept him from becoming one of the bestselling artists of all time, genres be darned. If anything, his phenomenal success is partly hinged on a common-schlub relatability....
Before we get to supposed savior Eugene Porter and the lies and deception he stored in his "Tennessee top hat" (my new fave term for a mullet), I have to be a total dude here and say this: I wanna party with Sgt. Abraham Ford! Sure, in Sunday's pretty dang awesome episode of The Walking Dead -- titled "Self Help' -- the fire-headed soldier who speaks only in T-shirt slogans ("I am stressed and depressed") showed an unhinged side. In fact, in a series of flashbacks (including one where he bludgeoned a Publix-aisle's-worth of people with a can of SpaghettiOs), Abraham might have lost his family because of his anger issues. Then again: Rosita in the library!! Wocka-wocka! Abraham can never complain about the zombie apocalypse again. NEVER.
Okay, okay, we have serious work to do here. Abraham's sole purpose has been to get the ape-draped Eugene, who claimed to know the classified cure to the zombie flu, to Washington, D.C. Saving the world and all that. The Rick Grimes & Co. crew was even fractured so Abraham, Eugene, vavoomish library-advocate Rosita, Glenn, Maggie and That Girl Whose Name I Can Never Remember could splinter off to the nation's capital, where scientific salvation was believed to be waiting. But alas, Eugene is a fraud...and an incredibly well-spoken Peeping Tom Pervo. But after the guilt of his deceit became too much (he sabotaged an escape bus early on), his big reveal was a doozy: "I am not a scientist. I don't know how to stop it." Commence a bloody beat-down by the mangled hand of the bamboozled Abraham, who now needs a new purpose to live. (Although, in a poignant coda, we learn that sniveling con-artist Eugene kinda-sorta saved Abraham, who was about to blow his head off over his dead family...and then he met the Mullet. Great storytelling there.)...
11/05/14 Music & Concerts
No one in the history of popular music has made us feel as good about ourselves, and as ashamed of ourselves, as Randy Newman. It's why he's in the Disney Legends club and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's also why, as he approaches his 71st birthday, the singer-songwriter-composer is still an acquired taste.
There are times when Newman, who will play the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater on Tuesday, absolutely adores his fellow man. You can hear it in his movie scores, especially that melange of ragtime, Wild West gallop and 1920s Old Hollywood glitz that drives Toy Story and six other Disney-Pixar blockbusters. ...
Truth be told, I wasn't quite sure how to start my recent interview with Phillip Phillips, who plays the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Nov. 11. I really hadn't watched American Idol in ages (he was the Season 11 champ); I liked his mondo hits Home and Gone Gone Gone just fine, but I wasn't sure those songs, neither of which he wrote, said anything about him, you know? Then I found out he was a rabid fan of The Walking Dead. Boom. Things took off from there. He's a cool dude. ENJOY OUR UNDEAD CHAT....
11/05/14 Music & Concerts
Phillip Phillips was the only person to survive his season on American Idol; week after week in the show's 11th campaign, the body count grew but the singer's molasses-thick Southern style — a vocal often compared to Dave Matthews', even by Matthews himself — kept him alive.
So perhaps that's why the Home-belting heartthrob would love to suffer a much different fate on another noted TV phenomenon: to see what it's like to bite the bloody dust right after the opening credits....
Before we get to my slam-dunk, can't-miss, get-yo-butt-to-Vegas predictions for Wednesday's 48th annual CMA Awards (8 p.m. on ABC) — which will no doubt be dominated by mad-grinning, thighs-aplenty hunkasaurus Luke Bryan — the No. 1 reason to watch "Country Music's Biggest Night" is for a promised hubba-bubba duet between Miranda Lambert and Meghan "All About That Bass" Trainor. That's a genius pro-curves crossover right there, and I adore both of them. (Ariana Grande and Little Big Town will also pair, but I'm kinda meh about that.) Oooookay, here we go. As anyone who's read me over the years knows all too well, I usually nail EVERY SINGLE ONE of my predictions, I'm like Nostradamus with this stuff. So you can carve these bad boys in stone. CLICK HERE FOR THE PREDICTIONS PROMISED LAND!!!...
11/03/14 Music & Concerts
Before we get to my slam-dunk predictions for Wednesday's 48th annual CMA Awards — which will no doubt be dominated by mad-grinning hunkasaurus Luke Bryan — the No. 1 reason to watch "Country Music's Biggest Night" is for a promised duet between Miranda Lambert and Meghan "All About That Bass" Trainor. That's a genius pro-curves crossover. (Ariana Grande and Little Big Town will also pair, but I'm meh about that.)...
So on Sunday's ep of The Walking Dead, we finally found out where Singing Beth went: to a HOSPITAL SEX PRISON! (Which reminds me of the time I had to go to a sketchy, dimly lit clinic in Las Vegas for kidney spasms, but you know, that's a story for another time.) Emily Kinney's tuneful waif, last seen being kidnapped in a religious limo with smitten Daryl in pursuit, woke up in a mysterious bed a la Rick Grimes way back when. Beth soon met the show's newest villain: tight-haired Officer Dawn Lerner, a wide-eyed cop/pimp/psycho with delusions of zombie-thwarting grandeur. Megalomanical Dawn was accompanied by Dr. Edwards, a seemingly benign sawbones with a sly penchant for survival. Welcome to Grady Memorial Hospital, the new Woodbury/Terminus, yet another not-so-safe-haven run by totally unsafe people....
Taylor Swift's fifth album, 1989, dropped on Monday, and immediately Tampa Bay Times archenemies/podmates Sean Daly and Michelle Stark launched into a debate: Is this her best LP yet? Commence bickering, you crazy kids...
SEAN: In short: yes. Easy answer is that the four best songs of her career are on here: Out of the Woods, Blank Space, How You Get the Girl, I Wish You Would. In longer: As you no doubt read and enjoyed in my full review of her album, Michelle, I praised T-Swizz for shifting focus from her love life (and essentially giving power to men and the media) to her music and herself. Hey, she's always been dominant and profitable, but now there's something new about her and her songs: a believable confidence and honesty. This is her first "pop" album, but marketing and hype aside, it's actually a conceptual vision, inspired by the synthy, rambunctious '80s and her newfound freedom. Her previous albums have beautiful work on them, of course. But they suddenly seem a bit cloying and affected compared to 1989. The real Taylor Swift just stood up.
MICHELLE: Sean, I have been preparing for just this occasion by blasting Swift's previous two albums on repeat in my car the past few weeks. First and foremost, that's how I judge whether I love her stuff: Can it withstand five listenings per day and me singing along at the top of my lungs? Speak Now and Red are stiff competition, and pop or not, I do think 1989 is on par with both of them. (One area it's immediately better: The beats on this thing are SICK.) Here's the thing. I don't care whether Swift wants to sing her lyrics over a synth beat or guitar strums. At this point, if it comes from Taylor Swift, I'm giving it a shot. She's her own genre. That's why 1989 doesn't read like Swift trying to copy her pop peers (though, yowza, Blank Space is the twin sister of Lorde's Team); 1989 is Swift wanting to do what everyone else is doing and, in making it her own, doing it a lot better than almost anyone else.
Alas, I'm not sure I can quite call this album her best. Swift's great strength is her songwriting, at once intimately evocative and epically universal, and if 1989 falters anywhere it's here. It's all a tad shallow compared to heavyweights Speak Now and Red (and Swift's catapult to fame Fearless!). And I cannot agree with your bold statement that those four songs are her best ever. Nothing on this album emotionally wrecks me like Speak Now's Dear John or Last Kiss ("I still remember the look on your face, lit through the darkness at 1:58"). Or Red masterpiece All Too Well (not exaggerating: I tear up every time Swift hits that bridge, "And then you call me up again just to break me like a promise"). Out of the Woods comes the closest to making me feel deeply, which is why for me it's the album's strongest song. (Blank Space is a close second: "Oh my god, look at that face / you look like my next mistake".) I don't think this is entirely to 1989's detriment. I'm glad Swift didn't just make another Red. This is her most ambitious (and fun!) work, and a good indication of where she's at in life. Trust me, there's a giant ocean of difference between being a 19- or 20-year-old girl and being a 24-year-old girl, and we're seeing that evolution here.
SEAN: Aw crap, just listened to Last Kiss again. That thing's bleepin' brutal. Is anyone in modern pop better at capturing the moments right before a breakup, that cinematic twilight time? Taylor OWNS that time. Not saying she enjoys things going awry, but she sure turns lemons into bittersweet lemonade. And it makes a lot of sense that you're so protective of Speak Now and Red. You're the same age, growing up with her, going through a lot of the same life twisteroos. Very cool. I'm older, so maybe that's why I responded to 1989's vintage inflections and over-the-top production. (Kudos to Fun.'s Jack Antonoff for the frenzy that is Out of the Woods.) She lives in New York now, and how poetic is that: She's a blond, beautiful, chest-pounding King Kong owning the city, the radio, the whole damn world.
MICHELLE: Indeed, Sean, I was born just one year before Taylor. And, if nothing else, 1989 is an eternal reminder of that. So, thanks for that, Swift! In all seriousness: The more I listen to the new record (onto my fourth listen of the day!), the more I dig it. I'm even going to defend the WHOA THIS SOUNDS LIKE THE '80S synth sounds of opener Welcome to New York (not sure I can defend those lyrics), and first single Shake It Off, which sounds shockingly out of place on this album after hearing the other 12 tracks, but is way too catchy to write off. I'm telling you, I get the most excited when it comes on during my Monday night Zumba class. And maybe that's the best use of 1989. Forget the deep lyrics: Let's all just throw our hands up and have a carefree dance party. You in, old man?
As testament to both her puppet-string skills as businesswoman and pop superhero, Taylor Swift's love life is now the least interesting thing about her. As her fifth album, the sugary yet conceptual 1989, was released Monday, the pride of Wyomissing, Pa., finally earns what she always wanted: more respect as an artist than a maneater.
In hyping the new record — whose title nods not only to her birth year but a Neo New Wave vibe (Madonna's in there, the Cars too) — the 24-year-old did two sly things. First, she said she hasn't dated anyone in a year. Secondly, she said she's not country anymore, opting for her first "pop" album. Both statements focused all attention on her music. She knew she had a winner with the rambunctiously crafted 1989, which features a litany of hot producers (Shellback, Max Martin) but is ultimately the playful, go-me vision of Swift herself. ...
10/27/14 Music & Concerts
Tampa Bay in a Minute video: For Sean Daly's take on the album in less than 60 seconds, click here.
As testament to both her puppet-string skills as businesswoman and pop superhero, Taylor Swift's love life is now the least interesting thing about her. As her fifth album, the sugary yet conceptual 1989, was released Monday, the pride of Wyomissing, Pa., finally earns what she always wanted: more respect as an artist than a maneater....
Is it wrong that I'm going to miss Gareth, arguably the best villain ever on The Walking Dead, more than Bob, easily the most romantic dude on AMC's hit bloodfeast? In the third (nail-bitingly streamlined) ep of TWD's fifth season, it turned out that the Bob Buffet, revealed in a final-scene shocker last week, was some seriously dirty dining. Sasha's beau was zombie-bit in the food bank -- a fact he revealed to the Terminus baddies after they snacked on his left leg. ("I'm tainted meat!" Awesome. Print the T-shirt immediately.) So we knew Bob wasn't making it to the end credits. He was such a sweetheart, too. Man, all of the good ones are eaten! Am I right, ladies?...
Zombies and human fallibility aside, The Walking Dead needs a true villain, a neo-mustache-twirler who's abandoned all shred of new-world reason. The One-Eyed Gov was megomaniacally eeeevil by his grisly end, and the show was better for it -- a Bad Guy that gooses the Good Guys. When Rick & Co. 'sploded Terminus and set out on a Road to Nowhere in the Season 5 premiere, I feared the show would once again wander and weave into a sloggish, too-many-plotlines pace. And blame it on my ADD, but Sunday's followup ep -- titled "Strangers" -- was a slow-builder for almost its entire length. Here we go againzzz. Then Gareth, the subtly creepola Terminus chief, showed up in the final frame...AND SNACKED ON BOB'S BBQ'D LEG RIGHT IN FRONT OF BOB! "You taste much better than we thought you would." Dannnggg!! I'm hooked and, oddly enough, hungry....