Thursday, December 30, 2010
So everybody was under a tacit agreement to keep things low-key this year, which is why is was a huge surprise when La Chiquita sprung out a couple of tickets--good ones, no less--to Prince's Welcome 2 America concert as her Christmas present to me. I like a lot of different kinds of music, but Prince is the only performer where I have every one of his albums. For a while in the late 1990s, I made sure to catch him whenever he performed within an hour's drive of where I lived (even though I don't drive), still, I hadn't seen his live show in more than a decade--a combination of fan-alienating moves on his part and life getting in the way on my side had slackened my enthusiasm. Although I kept buying the Man's albums, only a few of them captured my imagination for more than a couple of spins (mainly, Musicology and 3121).
Regardless, I was overjoyed with the gift, and full of anticipation for the concert. We arrived a little late, having stopped by my brother's house to visit with my sister-in-law's family and with the newest addition to our clan. When we got there, the first opening number was already in progress. Sadly, neither of us had eaten, so securing food was a priority on arrival. I thought briefly that we were missing Maceo Parker, but it turned out the first opener was Mint Condition--a nice enough band, but not quite worth passing out at a concert over.
We took our seats in time for Janelle Monae's set. The introduction was strange because her albums apparently have a high-concept mythology to them--somehow masks, zombies, and androids are involved--which would've required a pamphlet or something for the uninitiated to understand, but her stage skills were old school in a good way: big voice, sharp dance moves, good presence. There's a lot of Prince in that young lady (perhaps the first time that phrase has been uttered without a truckload of innuendo being rightfully attached). Still, the audience's reaction was tepid--much of the crowd was getting $10 beers and/or watching the Islanders/Penguins game on the MSG TV monitors. It's a thankless job, opening for Prince.
After a looong break, during which the MSG monitors played clips from a late '60s/early '70s stadium concert (looked like the LA Coliseum), the Purple One finally took the stage. The stage was in the shape of the name symbol Prince used during his Artist Formerly Known As Prince period, with a purple baby grand piano set up on "mouthpiece" side of the horn that transects the symbol. Here's a really crappy iPhone photo, for instructional purposes:
Prince started on the piano, opening with the intro to The Beautiful Ones before leaving his seat to sing the ballad on top of the piano, and then leaving the piano to roam all over the stage. The Beautiful Ones is a really unusual song to lead off with--neither a chart-topper nor an uptempo number, but the song definitely showed that the Man's pipes are as powerful as ever. From there, it was on to the hits: Let's Go Crazy wrapped around a full version of Delirious, followed by certified crowd-pleasers 1999 and Little Red Corvette, and then a semi-medley of Uptown, Cream, and Raspberry Beret.
Every musician reacts differently to performing live. Most try to garner the crowd's favor, from seduction to outright sucking up. Prince is one of the guys who reverses the process--the audience has to earn his favor. Sure, he'll make sure you're happy--then again, in his mind, your satisfaction was never in doubt. The question is, will you, the audience, return the favor? Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, the crowd definitely seemed to have won the Purple One's approval, making a ton of noise, filling in verses unbidden, and being enthusiastic in call-and-response, as on Cool, one of The Time's signature cuts. After a segwey back to hitsville for U Got the Look, Prince went back off the beaten path, teasing the intro to Question of U (from Graffitti Bridge) but launching into a song I didn't recognize, that most people seem to be calling Gingerbread Man, and which I assume is new. [One reason it's taken me so long to post this review is because of how skeptical I am about this song's newness, but I can't find a reference to it anywhere and no one else seems to have ID'd it either. I'm sure some Internet Dickwad ($0.25, Gabe & Tycho) will step up with "That's not new, I heard him perform it in Tokyo in '96! I though you said you were a Prince fan!" or it'll turn out to be an obscure cover. So be it--it's new to me.] The song, a hip thrusting slow jam in the mode of Scandalous or Do Me Baby, found Prince in a carnal mode we haven't seen so much of since he got all Jehova's Witness-y on us.
After that, the songs all started to sound like finales. You had a full version of Purple Rain, then a break, then a slightly off-kilter version of Kiss, then a break, then She's Always In My Hair, which moved cleanly into If I Was Your Girlfriend. Monae joined him onstage for If I Was Your Girlfriend, putting on a bravura performance where the two singers tag-teamed a single mike, which they passed back and forth like a relay baton while dancing up a storm, and not tripping over an audience member who seemed to have been brought on stage purely for the purpose of upping the degree of difficulty.
After another break, Prince came back for his first official encore, taking to the piano with little or no band accompaniment for a medley of Do Me Baby, I Wanna Be Your Lover, and How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore, and a full version of Sometimes It Snows In April. The second encore was more perfunctory, an opportunity to invite a lot of people from the expensive seats up to dance onstage, and to get Cyndi Lauper vamping impressively while Prince played Jungle Love.
For two people who never leave the house, La Chiquita and I have had a good year in concerts: we saw one of my favorite jazz performances a couple of months back when Chucho Valdes was in town, and this concert made a great capper for 2010. The only criticisms I could see were that Prince's band, while competent, wasn't going to make anyone forget the Revolution or even the early versions of the NPG, and that (with the possible exception of that Gingerbread Man song) every song was at least 19 years old. Strange, given that one of my complaints when I last saw Prince in concert was that performing the hits left room for little else, but I didn't mind the greatest hits format of this concert, or the exclusion of his catalog after Diamonds & Pearls. More than a nostalgia-fest, the concert felt a bit like a time machine--Prince looked, sounded, and danced like someone 20 years younger, the only concessions to middle age I could see were several strategically-placed teleprompters, and a little less abandon in the way he threw his body around the stage. But with my hands still vibrating at the end of the concert from an evening of nearly non-stop applause, I couldn't have cared what year it was--it felt like I was a kid again.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Thursday, August 05, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Back to Sunday's game. Mostly, I'll let the pictures do the talking here:
Phil Hughes, Sunday's starter, is either praying or communing with the rosin bag before throwing his first pitch. Either way, I hope he's asking the powers-that-be that he not turn out like Joba did.
Opposing Phil would be the Kansas City Royals, the miserable ruins of a once-proud franchise. Here's KC's catcher, the twice-washed-up Jason Kendall. He batted second in the lineup. Batting third? Wilson Betemit. Yes, that Wilson Betemit!
The bright point in the Royal's lineup was Scott Podsednik, another player who's had a few major league lives before winding up in KC. He had a career day, matching his high marks with two homers and 4 RBI. He would also make a spectacular catch in the eighth inning, which sadly I didn't catch on virtual film. Here, he's on base after his first-inning single, wearing some sort of sliding mitten on his left hand.
Royals pitchers focused on throwing inside all day. Here's newly-acquired Royal Sean O'Sullivan getting up close and personal with Derek Jeter in the first inning.
Of course, the big draw of the game was Alex Rodriguez's ongoing quest for his 600th career home run. Before each A-Rod at bat, we had the following scene of the ump trading in his regular set of balls for special marked balls, which could be used to verify the authenticity of homer number 600 should Alex manage to launch it in that at-bat.
During the game, Brother Jeff asked if the 600 milestone still meant anything. The answer is yes and no. It used to be that 600 homers meant you were closing in on Willie Mays--undisputed, authentic immortal, with only undisputed authentic immortals ahead of him. These days, it means you're closing in on Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. No disrespect to those two, but that air is not so rarified as it once was. Same thing with 500--it used to mean inner-circle Hall of Famers, now it's joining a club that has kinda-greats like Eddie Murray, Gary Sheffield, Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome. Sure, some of that has to do with steroids, but a bit of it is just the normal dilution that happens to once-"unreachable" sporting achievements.
On the other hand, as we saw a few years back, even with Palmeiro and Thome et al, 500 still matters. On Sunday, 600 mattered: people were obviously there hoping to see history. Every time Alex came to bat, you could see flashes popping, even though the early innings were played in bright sunlight.
Down 2-0 in the third, the Yanks ripped out a four-run outburst, started by a Curtis Granderson homer and RBI doubles by Jeter and Rodriguez. The weirdest play of the inning was this little squibber off the bat of Mark Teixeira.
It was a weak little grounder, but the Teixeira shift and Jeter heading home from third combined to make this an RBI single. Of course, it didn't hurt that the Royals' infield was basically three utility guys (Chris Getz at third, Mike Aviles at second, and Betemit at first) and Yuniesky Betancourt. (Want to make a Royals fan angry? Bring up Yuniesky Betancourt.) All the infielders had a bit of Bad News Bears in them on Sunday--bad throws, bad catches, butterfingers moments.
But even with the lead, Phil Hughes didn't put much pressure on the Royals. He didn't walk anybody, but he did allow a second home run, a blast from ex-pitcher Rick Ankiel that looked like it might have damaged the third deck. Sure, the first homer he allowed was a cheap foul pole job to Podsednik, but all game long, it didn't look like Hughes had his good swing-and-miss stuff.
Luckily, Granderson responded to Ankiel's homer with a second dinger of his own. In the fifth, with the score 5-3 Yanks, Rodriguez came to the plate again, with the Captain on first and two outs. What followed was a pretty good demonstration of what pressing looks like. The ball was going everywhere but fair.
There were foul balls off the ankle guard...
...there was some falling down...
...there was an awkwardly rinky-dink foul nearly straight up that luckily went out of play. All while the crowd was waiting with bated breath to see history happen. On the 2-2 count, Jeter got bored and stole second. All this ended with a weak grounder to Betancourt.
Luckily, the big rainstorm came on umbrella day at Yankee Stadium. J&R got big bang for their promotional dollar. There were no umbrellas for the grounds crew though, who had their hands full.
Sadly, during the rain delay, the Yankee Stadium screen's entertainment: (c) Failed miserably. Don't blame Swish, whose cooking segment was pretty decent, but it was sandwiched between obnoxious informercials for Yankee Stadium's various food stands and a freakin' documentary about Yankees fantasy camp. No one wants to watch scrubs with too much money play rec-league baseball--as Brother Jeff said, it's like watching watching someone's vacation photos, just you don't know them, and could give even less of a damn than you usually would. Did I mention, that as this was happening, Andre Dawson was at Cooperstown, being inducted to the Hall of Fame? Think a bunch of baseball fans would rather watch that, or a 48-year-old stock broker trying to turn two? Or any of the half-million documentaries in the YES network library? Three days later, I'm still steamed about this.
Two-plus hours later, the tarp came off. Only a small fraction of the crowd was still in the house, but those who stayed had one thought in mind: 600!
Before Rodriguez could get to the plate again, Brett Gardner worked some of his slappy opposite field magic to plate Robinson Cano in the sixth. Gardner, along with Cano and Swisher, has been key in picking up the slack left in the lineup by the Jeter, Teixeira, and Rodriguez's subpar performances. This season he's hit almost exactly what he hit in the minors; which was pretty much what he had to do to justify a regular place in the lineup.
Just when it looked like the Yankees would have to summon Mariano Rivera to close things out, the Royals bullpen spit the bit. Improbably, reliever Blake Wood, with a healthy assist from his thirdbaseman and manager, brought A-Rod to the plate for one more shot at the milestone. With the bases loaded and one out, Rodriguez was swinging easier than he had in his previous at bats. The faithful who were still in the stands could taste milestone coming...
...but it was not to be. In a huge anticlimax, Woods came up and in to Rodriguez hitting him on the hand. Alex was down on the ground for a while, and the remaining crowd let Woods and the Royals feel the hate. Ultimately, the Yanks put up a five-spot, though, meaning that instead of Enter Sandman, we got Chan Ho Park.
Or as I like to call him, Exhibit B in why the Yanks can't stand pat coming to the trade deadline. Park only managed to give back one run of the lead--and he had a helping hand from Jorge Posada's face mask and Rule 7.05(d)--but the righthander showed no velocity and just plain refused to throw strikes. Dave Robertson can only throw so many of the non-Mariano innings, and unlike the situations with the Yankees DH spot, there just don't seem to be any reliable internal options to make up for the way Joba and Park have stunk this season.
Anyway, so that was the game. Here's hoping that Alex can get the monkey off his back against grounballista Fausto Carmona tonight.
Monday, July 05, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Oh. That hurts.
I met up with Jay Jaffe (of Futility Infielder and Baseball Prospectus fame), Ben Kabak (of River Avenue Blues and Second Avenue Sagas) and Emma Span (contributor to Bronx Banter and acclaimed author of 90% of the Game is Half Mental) over at the Dram Shop in Brooklyn to watch tonight’s game. The Yankees led 2-0 by the time I arrived, and shortly after I got my first scotch, Juan Miranda went yard with a solo shot. At that point, I remarked “Who’d have thought that in May, in a Red Sox game, we’d have Cervelli, Thames, Miranda and Winn in the lineup, and it wouldn’t be panic time.”
I blame the scotch. I spoke too damn soon.
Of course, the lower half of the lineup wasn’t to blame. They’d driven in three runs, and contributed two hits and two walks coming into the top of the eighth. CC Sabathia passed a 5-1 lead to Joba Chamberlain, which should have been enough. Sadly, keyed by a poor Alex Rodriguez throw that dragged Mark Teixeira off the bag, Joba coughed up the lead in the eighth. Another big error--this time by Marcus Thames, playing right field--doomed Mariano Rivera in the ninth, although the Sandman contributed by being less-than-dominant for a second straight appearance. And then it was back to that lower half of the lineup, with a shot to tie the game, in the bottom of the ninth against Papeldouche (hat tip to Mr. Jaffe).
That didn’t work out so well. With the score 7-6 and the tying run on second, Cervelli bunted, Thames walked, Miranda hit a hard grounder back to the freakishly small-mouthed Papelbon, and Randy WInn--really? there’s no pinch hitter for Randy Winn?--whiffed. Game over.
On the surface, this loss was about how the Yanks suffered immediately from the decision to send Greg Golson down. You can’t hide Marcus Thames on the field, which is pretty much what you have to do to have Tex and Miranda and Thames in the lineup all at the same time. Maybe if Girardi had had Golson on the roster, someone whose glove is not decorative is playing right field, and the gork that handcuffed Thames gets caught. But the real problem right now is a bullpen with no reliable parts, from the best closer ever on down. Still, it’s just a split, and it’s only three games behind the Rays, and it’s only May. Just an opportunity lost.
Still, with Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson on the DL, and Javy Vazquez sporting an ERA north of eight, this isn’t a good moment for Brian Cashman’s offseason machinations.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
This time--unlike CC's effort in Tampa a few weeks ago--I steadfastly refused to communicate with anyone about the no-hitter in progress. No email to the Baseball Prospectus mailing list, no Twitter, not even text messages to my brothers (on that last one, it helped that the Yanks were in Oakland--the first time I felt like sending out a warning, it was already 11:30 PM on the east coast). When Oakland finally broke through with a hit, I didn't feel as bad as I did during CC's bid--mainly, because I couldn't shout curses at the TV with la Chiquita, her mom, and my sons all fast asleep elsewhere in the apartment, but also because of the way Hughes's no-no ended. Onetime franchise player Eric Chavez hit a hard grounder back to the mound, which hit the heel of Hughes's glove and then his chest. The final result was all a matter of instinct. If Hughes looks down after the ball hits him, he would have had a pretty easy play at first. Feeling the ball kick off his glove, Hughes looked up, and had no chance of making a play. It was a bad break, but understandable; Phil the Phenom shook it off and struck out the next batter before issuing a walk and leaving the game.
Watching from 3,000 or so miles away, I saw no evidence of the Phil Hughes changeup--and neither did Pitch FX. A couple of pitches had an atypical downward motion, but the gun readings were too high to call them changes. It's early, but this just might be a myth that we don't see again until March 2011. Then again, if Hughes pitches like he did in Oakland--pounding the strike zone with his fastball, getting batters to fish for the curve, using the cutter to keep them honest, keeping his pitch count low enough to get into the eighth inning--then it'll hardly matter at all.