Friday, June 30, 2006

Largest Cities of the World - by population


1. Tokyo, Japan - 28,025,000
2. Mexico City, Mexico - 18,131,000
3. Mumbai, India - 18,042,000
4. Sáo Paulo, Brazil - 17, 711,000
5. New York City, USA - 16,626,000
6. Shanghai, China - 14,173,000
7. Lagos, Nigeria - 13,488,000
8. Los Angeles, USA - 13,129,000
9. Calcutta, India - 12,900,000
10. Buenos Aires, Argentina - 12,431,000

11. Seóul, South Korea - 12,215,000
12. Beijing, China - 12,033,000
13. Karachi, Pakistan - 11,774,000
14. Delhi, India - 11,680,000
15. Dhaka, Bangladesh - 10,979,000
16. Manila, Philippines - 10,818,000
17. Cairo, Egypt - 10,772,000
18. Õsaka, Japan - 10,609,000
19. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 10,556,000
20. Tianjin, China - 10,239,000

21. Jakarta, Indonesia - 9,815,000
22. Paris, France - 9,638,000
23. Istanbul, Turkey - 9,413,000
24. Moscow, Russian Fed. - 9,299,000
25. London, United Kingdom - 7,640,000
26. Lima, Peru - 7,443,000
27. Tehrãn, Iran - 7,380,000
28. Bangkok, Thailand - 7,221,000
29. Chicago, USA - 6,945,000
30. Bogotá, Colombia - 6,834,000

31. Hyderabad, India - 6,833,000
32. Chennai, India - 6,639,000
33. Essen, Germany - 6,559,000
34. Hangzhou, China - 6,389,000
35. Hong Kong, China - 6,097,000
36. Lahore, Pakistan - 6,030,000
37. Shenyang, China - 5,681,000
38. Changchun, China - 5,566,000
39. Bangalore, India - 5,544,000
40. Harbin, China - 5,475,000

41. Chengdu, China - 5,293,000
42. Santiago, Chile - 5,261,000
43. Guangzhou, China - 5,162,000
44. St. Petersburg, Russian Fed. - 5,132,000
45. Kinshasa, DRC - 5,068,000
46. Baghdãd, Iraq - 4,796,000
47. Jinan, China - 4,789,000
48. Wuhan, China - 4,750,000
49. Toronto, Canada - 4,657,000
50. Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) - 4,458,000

51. Alger, Algeria - 4,447,000
52. Philadelphia, USA - 4,398,000
53. Qingdao, China - 4,376,000
54. Milano, Italy - 4,251,000
55. Pusan, South Korea - 4,239,000
56. Belo Horizonte, Brazil - 4,160,000
57. Almadabad, India - 4,154,000
58. Madrid, Spain - 4,072,000
59. San Francisco, USA - 4,051,000
60. Alexandria, Egypt - 3,995,000

61. Washington DC, USA - 3,927,000
62. Houston, USA - 3,918,000
63. Dallas, USA - 3,912,000
64. Guadalajara, Mexico - 3,908,000
65. Chongging, China - 3,896,000
66. Medellin, Colombia - 3,831,000
67. Detroit, USA - 3,785,000
68. Handan, China - 3,763,000
69. Frankfurt, Germany - 3,700,000
70. Porto Alegre, Brazil - 3,699,000

71. Hanoi, Vietnam - 3,678,000
72. Sydney, Australia - 3,665,000
73. Santo Domingo, Dom. Rep. - 3,601,000
74. Singapore, Singapore - 3,587,000
75. Casablanca, Morocco - 3,535,000
76. Katowice, Poland - 3,488,000
77. Pune, India - 3,485,000
78. Bangdung, Indonesia - 3,420,000
79. Monterrey, Mexico - 3,416,000
80. Montréal, Canada - 3,401,000

81. Nagoya, Japan - 3,377,000
82. Nanjing, China - 3,375,000
83. Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire - 3,359,000
84. Xi'an, China - 3,352,000
85. Berlin, Germany - 3,337,000
86. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - 3,328,000
87. Recife, Brazil - 3,307,000
88. Dusseldorf, Germany - 3,251,000
89. Ankara, Turkey - 3,190,000
90. Melbourne, Australia - 3,188,000

91. Salvador, Brazil - 3,180,000
92. Dalian, China - 3,153,000
93. Caracas, Venezuela - 3,153,000
94. Adis Abeba, Ethiopia - 3,112,000
95. Athina, Greece - 3,103,000
96. Cape Town, South Africa - 3,092,000
97. Koln, Germany - 3.067,000
98. Maputo, Mozambique - 3,017,000
99. Napoli, Italy - 3,012,000
100. Fortaleza, Brazil - 3,007,000

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Concert: Jesse Cook, June 24, Winnipeg

Jazz Winnipeg Festival
Jesse Cook / Kyle Riabko
June 24, Winnipeg
Burton Cummings Theatre
Winnipeg, Canada
sold out: 1646

As I was walking to the Burton Cummings Theatre, I couldn't help but notice the number of couples heading to the venue, hand in hand. Usually, I don't see any hand-holding as fans head off to the rock and pop concerts that I have attended lately. This was going to be a prime romantic date night for many fans, no doubt.

MC Lisa Best mentioned that they had a special treat for us and we quickly became a soon-to-be nationally televised audience for a performance by Winnipeg's Easily Amused, a pop duo consisting of Keith MacPherson and Renee Lamoureux. MacPherson was a contender in Canadian Idol and they were being recorded by CTV for broadcast on the show. The song didn't make a lasting impression on me, but MacPherson was lively and fun. Whether or not he becomes the next Canadian Idol, I believe he impressed the audience. I'm also going to track down their CD, Simple Stuff.

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Easily Amused

Kyle Riabko is only 19 years old, but has been performing for half his life. The young blues-funk rocker puts on one heck of an energetic show. Like with the case of many artists, however, bringing his act to the next level where he can make a strong impression in the public's consciousness due to his songs and not due to his age, may be a while away yet. You can't help but root for a guy who tries so hard and who carries himself as a seasoned professional. His style of music would no doubt appeal to fans of blue collar music, such as Jeff Healy, among others, but what launched Healy's career into the stratosphere back in the late 80s wasn't so much his gee-whiz phenomenal virtuoso guitar playing - the best new axeman since Stevie Ray Vaughn, many people said, but his fantastic songs on his debut album. Songs like Angel Eyes and Confidence Man were distinctive and memorable. There are lots of great instrumentalists out there, but what elevates some into the national spotlight, are the songs. I haven't heard any of Riabko's CDs but if he played his best songs last night, he's still short of some truly memorable material. Easily Amused's Renee Lamoureux providing backing vocals on several songs.

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Kyle Riabko

Forty-one year-old Jesse Cook is one of the world's most beloved flamenco acoustic guitar players and performers. His show began with an exotic, middle-eastern sounding number, rich with atmosphere. It sounded like something you could hear on a movie soundtrack. His band consisted of a new drummer, percussionist Art Avalos who also employed a stand-up drum kit, Collin Barrett on electric bass player, violinist Chris Church a second acoustic guitarist in the form of Nicolas Hernandez. Cook spoke to the audience frequently, but usually did so with a touch of nervous humility.

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Chris Church, Nicolas Hernandez, Jesse Cook

The performance was flawless, with song after song of beautifully played music being rolled out one after another. Early in the set, Cook played two new but as yet unnamed tracks and was open to song title suggestions from the audience. The first song was melancholy in flavour and after they finished it, someone called out "Winter in Winnipeg" as the suggested title. This earned a lot of laughter from the crowd. Much more laughter ensued when it was suggested that to do a song title like that justice, you'd need an entire boxed set of music, given the long winters we have here. After each new song, he also motioned his arms up and down like a scale, to visually ask the audience to weigh in with their opinion, which, naturally, was totally in favour. Cook had them eating out of the palm of their hands the entire evening, but no one seemed to mind.

At one point, percussionist Art Avalos began to slap away at the box he was sitting on which resulted in an unusual solo of sorts. The box was miked for amplification and he played like a regular instrument, save for the last moments when he used the heel of one of his shoe to complete the solo. Needless to say, there was much applause. All the players were great, in fact. The violinist added an extra dimension to the sound. There appeared to be, to my ears, an unseen keyboardist offstage. While the violinist played, there was an obvious and long sustained bass note that didn't come from the 6-stringed bass guitar. That sound added bottom end and just made the violin's sound to appear to be very cinematic and ever so exotic.

How do you value music that is breathtakingly beautiful, flawlessly played and achieving thunderous applause, yet is difficult to tell apart? I could have sworn that the opening, catchy and distinctive notes on the first song he played, reappeared twice again in the set. When it's tough to tell the songs apart, suddenly, in my opinion, I'm at a crossroads. Either all the songs are easy to distinguish if you are a real fan and possess all his CDs and I'm simply not familiar enough with his recorded collection or, the amount of creative songwriting that goes into the music is actually dismally low, yet due to the attractiveness of the sound, this is easily overlooked by the audience. The material, for me, made me imagine a cookie cutter formula meant to generate songs. If there's little distinction between the compositions, then one must conclude that they are, in fact, not as strong as they could be and the music is, essentially, pretty sonic wallpaper.

During the first of the two encores, the group stood at the front edge of the stage with the drummer, percussionist and bass player hand-clapping, the two guitarists playing unplugged (which quieted down the audience significantly so everyone could hear) and the violinist, Chris Church, singing. It was a refreshing change of pace and resulted in possibly the strongest applause all evening. The band played five songs for the encores and could have easily played longer, if they continued to meet the audience's demands for more.

Despite my misgivings about the lack of distinction between the songs, or compositions really, Jesse Cook and his band put on one heck of show and more than gave the audience their money's worth. He's off to the Montreal Jazz Festival next week to film a live DVD.

Concert: Paquito D'Rivera Quintet, June 23, Winnipeg

Paquito D'Rivera Quintet / Robert Occhipinti Quintet
Jazz Winnipeg Festival
Friday, June 23, 2006
Manitoba Theatre Centre

As luck would have it, I bought a ticket in the afternoon and ended up in the front row for this show!

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Robert Occhipinti

Robert Occhipinti and his group are fairly unknown to me, but they have gained some notoriety in the Canadian jazz scene. His pianist, Hilario Duran, won a Juno and I believe Robert has, as well. Composer/producer Occhipinti is one of Canada's top bass players. I'm not as keen on straight-ahead jazz when the players are reading sheet music and this show helped me recall why. With sheet music, you get more structure and with more structure, the music just doesn't cook as much as I would have liked. Strong words, I know, to describe some of the finest talent around, but I know these players could have really smoked in a smaller group setting with far more spontaneous, combustible, playing. The benchmark for what I'm talking about was created by the McCoy Tyner Trio, earlier this week. Easily one the of most astonishing jazz performances that I've seen. As terrific the players were in Robert Occhipinti's band were, I wasn't elevated to that feeling of grandeur that jazz fans always seek - jazz heaven. I bought Occhipinti's cd Yemaya, which came out in 2005 and hope to get a better understanding of his music. He's also won Jazz Producer of the year twice now in Canada. I also bought a copy of Hilario Duran's latest cd. Rounding out Occhipinti's group were trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, saxophonist Phil Dwyer, and drummer Dafnis Prieto.

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Paquito D'Rivera is a very well known NY-based, Cuban-born sax player. The last time he was in town, if I recall correctly, he recorded an album with the Kerry Kluner Jazz Lab Band, at the West End Cultural Centre. Trumpeter Kluner, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, passed away a few years ago, but I was at this show, some 18 years ago.

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Paquito D'Rivera

Like the opening band, D'Rivera's group were superb players, but I didn't quite reach jazz heaven. In between songs, D'Rivera told stories about the inspiration behind the songs, paying tribute to Canadian Moe Koffman, among others. One of the songs was called Waltz For Moe, who D' Rivera fondly recalled with praise. At times, he swayed and danced a bit to the music which added to the non-serious atmosphere. As a special treat, they played a recently transcribed Dizzy Gillespie composition that was performed in Buenos Aires in the 1956 by the man himself. He wore a microphone, which allowed him to speak with amplification from anywhere on stage, but it also had the unintended feature of letting us hear every single inhale he took. For future shows, I'd recommend he not wear the mike. Paquito's show was a colorful palette of sound, with an emphasis on the rich musical tradition from Cuba and South America. Paquito does has a heavy accent but his charisma and jovial spirit is almost second to none in jazz. He's funny and very comfortable speaking in front of crowds, unlike a lot of players who keep their speaking to a bare minimum.

The audience really enjoyed both shows. Robert Occhipinti has a new legion of fans and Paquito has once again reminded fans why has been regarded as one of the most brilliant and entertaining saxophone players, for decades now.

My rating for this show is 4/5.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Concert: McCoy Tyner Trio , June 22, Winnipeg

Jazz Winnipeg Festival
McCoy Tyner Trio / Prairieair 7
Manitoba Theatre Centre
Winnipeg, Canada
June 22, 2006.

67 year-old McCoy Tyner will forever be known as one of the four guys in the ground-breaking John Coltrane quartet, many years ago.

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McCoy Tyner

The pianist plus bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt, put on a straight-ahead jazz show with such dazzling virtuosity and quality that I'm sure it will be talked about by local jazz fans for years to come.

I have never seen so much applause for a jazz bass player. Moffett slapped, bowed, tapped with a stick and spidered his way around the acoustic bass like no one I've ever seen. Drummer Gravatt had sensational miking on his kit. It thundered at times but also whispered during the quiet, delicate parts.

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Charnett Moffet

Tyner was a jugernaut on the grand piano. Close you eyes and you'd never guess his age or imagine that this same guy who slowly, softly sauntered onto the stage, could pummel away with such force and skill. As an improviser, he is among the best I've heard. Several of the long compositions he played weaved diverse piano styles, recalling different eras of jazz for me.

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Eric Kamau Gravatt

I can't find much to fault this show. When Tyner spoke to the audience, he often did so before the clapping dyed out, which made it touch to hear him, especially with his quiet, raspy voice.

Unfortunately, I missed the opening act, Prairieair 7, who are comprised of the cream of the crop of the local players, including guitarist Larry Roy, pianist Ron Paley, bassist Steve kirby, trumpeter Richard Gillis, Ken Gold on sax, Jeff Presslaff on trombone and Rob Siwik on drums .

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Phil Mickelson ruins US Open bid on the final hole

Oh, Phil!

From most perspectives, it looked like you had the US Open all sewn up. With three holes to go, you were up by two shots. You kept on missing fairways, but you managed to make miraculous shots to save par. You also had the New York crowd solidly in your favour. For a Californian, Phil-mania must have given you a boost in the other side of the US.

On the final hole, you only needed a par to win. So, what do you do? You whip out your driver and hit the ball so far left that it bounces off of the roof of the massive white hospitality tent. Why didn't you just take it easy and hit a couple of long irons into the green, in order to protect your lead? Or, at least drive with a fairway wood.

Your first shot near the hospitality tent hit a tree and gave you an advance of only a 25 yards. Instead of playing it smart, you went for the near-impossible shot. Why!! Your second shot from near the hospitality tent buried your ball in the sand, forcing a difficult shot that rolled across the green and into the fringe. Your final shot to tie missed from the fringe.

If you had to play it all over again, I bet you would have taken fewer chances and given yourself more opportunity to win rather than play so darn risky. As brilliant a golfer as you are, you need to try playing smarter when the stakes are so high. If it was just a fun round, I can see taking chances. I do it all the time, but this was the most difficult golf tournament in the world, on one of the toughest courses ever.

This tournament was notable because, of course, Tiger Woods missed the cut, his first missed cut in an major tournament in almost a decade. People have commented about they worry about Tiger's tee shots with the driver. He gets into so much trouble, with so many missed fairways. You can only go so far by not hitting most fairways. For me, a bad drive usually spells bogey or worse. I don't have the talent to consistently recover and save par. When will Tiger realize his weakness and make a change in his approach to the driver?

Mamaroneck, New York's Winged Foot Golf Club is an exclusive and elusive course.

Congratulations to 29 year-old Australian Geoff Ogilvy for his first major victory, at 5 shots over par. For sure, this US Open will be remembered by all the contenders who collapsed, most notably, unfortunately, Phil Mickelson.

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Concert: Bachman and Cummings, June 17, Winnipeg

Bachman - Cummings First Time Around Tour
Saturday, June 17, 2006
MTS Centre, Winnipeg
attendence: 5000

Opener Serena Ryder was an unknown for most people, however, in her first song, she showed off her controlled, gritty vocal prowess and won over the audience. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and harmonica, this singer-songwriter proved why she is up and coming sensation with her lively, spirited songs and crisp guitar playing. Of course, covering Neil Young's Heart of Gold in Winnipeg of all places was a sure-fire way to get everyone on their feet with applause. Her cover of Hank Williams' Lovesick Blues also resonated well with the audience.

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Half an hour later, at around 8:30, a video montage began to play featuring clips of the performers from the 60s and 70s, with plenty of laughter at the wild hairstyles of The Guess Who, etc. The band took to the stage with American Woman, with a complement of seven members. Suddenly, to my disappointment, everyone stood up. I opted to sit in the stands rather than take my chances on the floor, where your view can easily be blocked out by taller fans. I was about 15 rows back from the stage, in the second row from the ice. I really dislike having to stand, if I don't have to, and I was relieved to see that less than halfway through the opening song, people on the floor began to sit down, and then everyone else did as well. I suppose it wasn't realistic to have so many 50 to 60-something fans up on two feet for two hours. Joining Bachman and Cummings on stage were five additional players including a drummer, two guitar players, a bassist and a back up singer but I didn't recognize any of them.

Having seen The Guess Who back in 2000 at the Winnipeg Goldeyes Baseball Park, I assumed that Bachman and Cummings would still be equally as brilliant, almost six years later. They were. Bachman's solos were clean and mistake-free. The virtuoso is a giant among electric rock guitar players and showed no signs of being some thirty years beyond his rock heydays with Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Burton Cummings, ever the showman, absolutely dazzled on the electric piano. He also played a Fender Stratocaster and a flute (for Undun). He told the story of how they were in the CBC building on Portage Avenue when Randy suggested that Burton try a new instrument for the new song, Undun. Cummings walked down to the Yamaha store, brought back a flute and the rest is history. He mentioned how he previously played Sax in the Devrons for a few years and didn't realize that the fingering for the flute was the same. What made the show special were the stories told in between songs, giving some interesting historical context to the music, much of which is proudly apart of Winnipeg pop culture heritage.

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They noted that after their recent CBC television special, they received a ton of e-mail thanking them for playing the Sting song, Shape of My Heart. While not a favorite of mine, they decided to include only in the Winnipeg show, even though they commented that they only have two hours and couldn't play everything from their massive collective catalogues of hit material.

They spoke about songwriting at the Cummings' house at 152 Bannerman Avenue where These Eyes was recorded in less than twenty minutes. They credited the song with being responsible for their prolonged careers. Bachman talked about how he often wrote half a song and then took it to Burton to have the other half created. He said one day, he wrote 3/4 of a song in F and coincidentally, Burton also wrote one in F, 3/4 finished. They combined the two and came up with the classic No Sugar Tonight/ New Mother Nature, which they introduced as "two, two songs in one," aping the Trident gum commerical.

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Randy Bachman talked about the ledgendary jazz guitarist Lenny Breau who gave him lessons during Bachman's time in high school in Winnipeg and how he formulated the jazz endings he learned into a song. Breau moved to Winnipeg from the US and while he was a very fine and influential player who incorporated classical, country and flamenco styles into his own unique style, he passed away in 1984, before he could achieve the type of acclaim commensurate with his talent.

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Lenny Breau

Cummings introduced a song that he said he hadn't sang in twenty years, which ended up going to number one in Winnipeg, Fine State of Affairs, from his 1980 album Woman Love, which was rejected by his record company, Epic/CBS for US distribution since they didn't hear any hits on it. This was despite the fact that his previous
album, 1978's Dream Of A Child was the top-selling album in Canadian history, for a while, going triple platinum and allowing Cummings to headline football stadiums. Hearing the opening notes to Fine State of Affairs instantly recalled my love affair with AM radio when I was a kid as I began to get into music.

The Thunderbird tracks. Several years ago, Bachman invited Cummings to record some new material in the guitar player's tool shed in BC. Cummings drove up in an old, back Ford Thunderbird. Bachman put the session onto digital video tape since DAT machines weren't in existence. Over the years, Bachman lost his tape. Cummings lost
track of his, too. In 2004, Cummings called Bachman and asked if he wanted to buy the Thunderbird. Bachman agreed and it was shipped to him. He had the Thunderbird club restore the car for him. They came to him with a plastic bag with assorted small items that they found in the car, including pencils, paper and...the only known
copy of the tape. It's been released now as the Tunderbird Tracks on CD. I didn't quite catch the fact that the CD was available for sale at the merchandise table, so I'll have to track down a copy another way. It's not being sold through regular record distributors. They didn't play any of these tracks but curious fans will no doubt snap up the CD.

Cummings spoke about the first song he heard by a Winnipeg band that made it to number one locally, as it made it seem possible to him to have a career in music. That song was Tribute to Buddy Holly,recorded by Chad Allen and the Reflections, back in 1962. Cummings said that they were recording all the shows on the 17-date tour for a live album and that when the album comes out, fans will know that this song was recorded in Winnipeg as this was the only time they were going to play it.

It was interesting to not only see children's t-shirts but to actually seeing parents buying them for their pre-teens at a whopping $45 each! In an interview from, Bachman recalled seeing three brothers in the front row with a sign saying "You Rock!" He later met the father backstage who mentioned that there were no
t-shirts in children's sizes. They've rectified the absence of t-shirts for kids and tapped into a whole new market of people so flush with cash that they will indulge their kids with B&C memorabilia, just to have them share in their affection for the two stars and the music.

I have not seen as many older fans since the recent Alice Cooper show. Without a doubt, the average age was in the 50s, with many fans older than that. With Messrs Bachman and Cummings at ages 62 and 58, it was to be expected to see so many grey-haired bodies. Classic rock is enjoying a revival, especially among younger
fans who are realizing that far from being dinosaur music, classic rock is timeless because the best songs are really that good. Currently, the Bachman-Cummings Songbook, a remastered collection of 19 songs released in late April, 2006, is reining at the top of the Canadian charts.

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Guess Who bassist Jim Kale owns the name The Guess Who. He registered it when he realized that it was overlooked. In order to tour as The Guess Who, they would have to pay Kale a royalty, something they didn't want to do. Last year, a classic rock festival in the Canadian Maritimes wanted to book the Guess Who, but were told they couldn't. They asked for Bachman and Cummings and despite the trepidation regarding the name, the fans came out in droves. The fans clearly know who these guys are and while they may never tour as The Guess Who again, there is an upside to the new name - they get to perform a wider selection of music outside of The Guess Who catalogue.

Here's the setlist, as best as I could remember it.
American Woman
Albert Flasher
No Sugar Tonight/ New Mother Nature
Shape of My Heart (Sting cover)
Break It To Them Gently
Timeless Love
Hey You
Tribute to Buddy Holly
Hand Me Down World (Kurt Winter, writer)
Fine State of Affairs (1980, # 1 in Winnipeg.
My Own Way To Rock
Clap For The Wolfman
Star Baby
Lookin Out For #1
Prairie Town
You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet
Let It Ride
These Eyes
No Time
Share The Land
Takin' Care of Business

My rating for this show is 5/5.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Film - A Prairie Home Companion


Charming but tedious. Based on the real life radio show that was the inspiration for CBC Radio's popular The Vinyl Cafe.

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Tonight is the final episode of the long-runing live radio show, a variety show with mostly country and folk performers who often sing the sponsors' ads. The theatre was sold and is to be torn down to make a parking lot. Virginia Madsen shows up as an angel, but in reality, an angel of death. Tommy Lee Jones shows up as the company's man in charge of shutting down the theatre.

The performances are marvelous. Who knew that Meryl Streep could carry a tune and look like a real singer? Look for the real sound effects guy from the radio show. Some people have said that director Robert Altman has finally made a legitimate actress out of Lindsay Lohan, but I think she was fine in Mean Girls. Her performance here is all right but certainly not spectacular.

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Not much happens in the film, save for the behind the scenes ongoings of a live production. Plenty of fun live performances. The best performances are from the duo of Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John. C. Reilly), two singing cowboys who lace their songs with risque humour.

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So, why was this film made? Was it a cash grab on behalf of Garrison Keillor, who needs to retire someday? Was the charm of the real radio show strong enough to warrant some type of fictional film rendition?

Film - The Break-Up


I really enjoyed this film, even though it was at times painful to watch. Painful not because it was awful - it wasn't to me - but it was realistic at times. It's not a comedy, save for perhaps a black one.

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Vince Vaughn's character is the dominant, strong personality, fun-guy-to-hang-around with, type of person. He's oblivious to his failings and sees himself as working hard so that his GF won't have to work at all someday, totally clueless to the fact that she wants to have a career. He's a bit of a caricature, to be honest. We all know people like like this. When you are making plans to get together, you always end up doing what they want to do. They actually tell you what films they don't want to see, without caring what you want to see. You're too nice to protest that they never do what you want to do or even ask what you want to do.

Jennifer Aniston's character is worn out from having to bring a lot to the relationship only to feel neglected and taken for granted time and time again. She wants him to help with the dishes without having to ask him. He's very self-centred and she believes that breaking up with him will actually jolt him into changing his ways. What's that old, saying, "Women expect men to change, but they stay the same. Men expect women to stay the same but they change"?

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When they fight, it's tough to watch but easy to relate to. Neither one wants to move out of their co-owned condo, so they try to make the other person really uncomfortable. Both sides want to get back together but someone is going to have to change.

The ending wasn't pure Hollywood and it didn't seem far fetched. I thought the acting was actually well done. Overall, this film felt more bitter than sweet, and should be avoided by anyone wanting to see a cliched romantic comedy. This is also a good reason why it has done poorly at the box office.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Bright Eyes, June 10, Winnipeg

Bright Eyes
June 10, Burton Cummings Theatre
Attendance: 1,150

People were lining up for this show, the first Bright Eyes performance in Winnipeg, from around 5:30 pm. The floor seats were rush seating, which gave everyone the promise of seeing the band up close, so long as managed to show up early enough. They advertised the show starting at 7:30 which would suggest that the doors would open an hour early. Wrong! The doors opened around 6:50. As I briskly walked in, I noticed that the merchandise booth was completely empty. I confirmed with one of the security people that there was no merch on sale, which was a first for me. With the passionate crowd that showed up, surely they could have sold hundreds of t-shirts and hoodies.

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I managed to sit in an aisle seat in the fourth row. I chose that seat so that I would have easy access to the stage, when they allowed us to move up for a closer view. It was interesting to hear on the security staff indicate to the crowd who were about to storm the front of the stage that they would be clearing the floor after the opening act, Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals. Since all the seats on the floor were rush seating, that meant you would be giving up your seat to see the opening act, and then would have to find another seat when the floor was cleared. Several groups of people quickly realized the dilemma they faced and opted to return to their seat.

The mostly 20-something and younger crowd were in a good mood and gave opener Gruff Rhys a polite response as he performed alone with guitar, keyboards and quirky electronic devices designed to produce an atmosphere of bird sounds. Like Son of Dave, who I saw perform at the Winnipeg Folk Festival a while ago, Gruff would record himself as he sang and played instruments and then immediately play the recording back as he played and sang another part. It was fun and daring and easily won over the crowd.

After clearing the floor of fans, we sat and waited like caged animals for our chance to spring for the stage. All eyes for on the security for any sign that it was okay to fly out of our seats. There it was, a small nod after a woman approached the diminutive staff person guarding the aisle. Suddenly, there was a mad rush as bodies filled the path and sped by this guy, careful not to knock him down. I ended up inches from the stage, behind a couple of people. When the lights went down, I could hear screams of "Oh, my God!" from some of the excited female fans. Al of a sudden, we were squished together as one fan elbowed her way beside me with her small digital camera to get some closer shots of the band. We stood in front of the fiddle player, with Conor Oberst, the much celebrated singer-songwriter from Omaha, Nebraska being about ten feet away in a mostly un-obstructed view.

The six-piece took to the stage around 8:40 pm with intense, countrified-indie rock. The fiddle player, Anton Patnzer, was spastic as the music erupted from him. Towards the end of the show, I was surprised that he has Oberst didn't collide as they ran around the middle section of the stage. The fourth track began with fuzzy guitar tones and I knew it would be one of their best known songs, the gem Take It Easy (Love Nothing.) Oberst switched from acoustic to electric guitar a fair bit, often leaving the still playing instrument on a stand as it resonated out its final sounds.

Clearly, the songs of Bright Eyes are more in-depth, introspective and intelligent that a lot of the cookie-cutter pop that young people listen to these days. Conor Oberst has more in common with Bob Dylan and Neil Young than the typical musical spectrum that ends up on young people's playlists.

Fans shouted out requests so often that after one song, Oberst had to figure what to play next. He said that they were deviating from the set list. Oberst's closest connection to the audience came when he lowered the mike into the audience to allow some fans to finish singing the final chorus to Happy Birthday to Anton Patnzer. None of the band members shook hands with the crowd, which was probably just as well, since I could totally see tiny Oberst being pulled over the stage and onto the floor by the throngs of excited fans.

Conor Oberst's vocals wouldn't have won him a spot on American Idol, with his somewhat husky, shaky style, however, he excels at conveying emotions and telling stories. His songs are more stories than simple, easily digestible pop and Oberst seems to more talk you through the stories more than sing in a more traditional style. Regardless of this analysis, Bright Eyes' quality songs won over the fans and should have a lot more people asking who this band is. The show ended with two songs for the encore, with the first one being Oberst solo with an acoustic guitar, followed by a near-musical jam with the shaggy Gruff Rhys joining the band, with several people taking turns at lead vocals, for a sing-along.

Hopefully, the next time they play Winnipeg, they'll bring some merchandise. My rating for this show is 3.5/5. I probably would have rated it higher had I been familiar with more of the songs.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Film: The Omen (2006)

This remake wasn't necessary, given how close to the original it was. Many have suggested that if you can't improve on the original, don't bother making a new one. Director John Moore really didn't bring anything new to the film, although I wondered if he was going to with references to 9/11, the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia, and the European Union. Had Moore taken some liberties with the film, I wouldn't have watched the film as if someone was retelling an old but familiar story to me. The opportunity to inject imagination into the story has been lost.

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Having said that, this isn't a bad film at all. It starts out at a Vatican observatory where a new comet is discovered. The comet appears to be the final sign that fulfills Biblical prophesy about the emergence of the antichrist. The Pope and his council are told that they are truly now at the edge of Armageddon. The same day, Katherine Thorn, wife of a senior US diplomat, is in labour. Her husband anxiously awaits news, with the two of them having lost two children in birth already...

Julia Styles in real life, is approximately 14 years younger than her character's husband, Robert Thorn, played by Liev Schreiber. Schreiber seems to play cool, restrained characters with little emotion who are not easily rattled. Here, Robert Thorn ends up shedding tears, but doesn't do so with much rage.

Mia Farrow was very good as the creepy and anxious nanny Baylock, protector of Damian, with a dead look in her eyes. David Thewlis was also good as the photographer and relentless investigator. Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, who played Damian Thorn, the child fathered by you-know-who, was very unsettling. His silence was disturbing. Pete Postlewaite played Father Brennan, a wayward priest seeking redemption in Jesus, who was there in the hospital the night Damian was born. He knows everything about the child! Postlewaite played the role with a suitable amount of paranoia and urgency.

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There was plenty of suspense and intrigue in the remake. If you haven't seen the original and simply have a basic understanding of the story, you stand to jump out of your skin in a few scenes. One of the scariest scenes for me was the trip to the zoo, when the monkeys shy away from Damian while a massive age reacts quite a bit differently. I wonder if they will remake the two sequels. For now, fans of the series will simply see this film as a squandered chance to inject life into a true horror classic story.

My rating for The Omen (2006) is 3.5/5 and it rates this well more for the story than for the new interpretation of the classic story.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

DVD: North Country


This is the story of the first sexual harrasment class action lawsuit in the US and that alone made it worth watching. However, the film squandered its promise by attempting to manipulate our emotions with almost non-stop harassment scenes, which is not unilke how many people viewed the Oscar winner Crash. The lack of nuance surprised me, given how the film started out and the importance of telling this story. As one of the extra features in the DVD explains, women were working at the mine before, but it's when the young women began to work there, that the harassment became more prevalent.

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Single mom Josey Aimes returns to her hometown, a mining town, to stay with her parents and escape an abusive relationship. She ends up taking a job at the mine, and quickly becomes the victim of sexual harassment, along with another new young female recruit. It's relentless and unbearable but also quite surprising considering that her father also works at the mine. What men would deliberately bother the daughter of one of their co-workers?

Charlize Theron's performance is excellent. Frances McDormand and Sean Bean play small roles as a couple who are friends of Josey's. Woody Harrelson shows up as a local buy made hockey hero, then lawyer but the film doesn't shed much light on this interesting character. We know that he's single and not seeking another relationship at the time, but that's about it. Richard Jenkins plays her seemingly cold, dour father, and puts in a terrific performance. Sissy Spacek doesn't play a big role in the film as her mother, but the scenes where she fails to support her daughter hit hard.

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In one of the most gripping scenes, Josey addresses a meeting of the union members, who are openly hostile. Charlize Theron said that it was so intimating to do that when she was speaking and shaking, it wasn't acting at all.

By being zealous about showing us how the women's rights have been violated, the film's preaching ends up being it's weakness. I would have enjoyed this film more if they toned down the harassment scenes and focused more on character development. Like Under The Tuscan Sun, I had a feeling that this film was directed by a woman. Sure enough, the director was Niki Caro, best known for directing Whale Rider.

Government says all new PCs must be Linux-friendly

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By Jason Tan
Saturday, Jun 03, 2006,Page 1

The government-run Central Trust of China has mandated for the first time that all desktop computers purchased from now on must be Linux-compatible, demonstrating the government's desire to widen the nation's usage of open source software.

"It is a global trend that Linux is gaining wider adoption due to its lower costs and better adaptability," Mike Lin, a consultant at the Taipei Computer Association (TCA), told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Taipei-based Central Trust -- whose operations include banking, insurance, trade and warehousing -- is in charge of purchasing computers and other equipment for government agencies and schools.

Central Trust commissioned TCA to run compatibility tests on desktop PCs manufactured by bidding vendors to ensure their products are able to operate on the Linux system.

The new requirement is in effect as of the 11th tender, which began last month and runs through September, according to a report in the Chinese-language Economic Daily yesterday.

About 120,000 desktops will be procured during the 11th and 12th tenders, the report said.

"In the past, some of the procured computers did not support Linux, therefore this new mandate signifies the government's push to reduce reliance on the Windows operating system," Lin said.

Thirty-three desktop models from hardware vendors including Acer, Asustek, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard Taiwan, were certified Linux-compatible, while four models each from Gigabyte Technology and Synnex Technology International were still under evaluation, according to the newspaper report.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The UK Picks The Greatest 100 Albums of All Time

I don't take these lists too seriously, but they are fun in that they shed light on some albums that are sometimes overlooked, that do deserve a listen. I do credit the list with not being 100% predictable.

There are some surprises on the list, such as Jeff Buckley's Grace. I have the album and I've tried to turn friends onto it, but they just couldn't get into it. Neither could I. I'm also surprised to see The Killers' Hot Fuss in the list, as well as Coldplay's X&Y, The Artic Monkey's album, The Kaiser Chief's Employment and Razorlight's Up All Night, among others.

Missing from this list, as far as I am concerned, would be albums by The Kinks, Alice Cooper, Yes, Genesis, The Guess Who, Neil Young, Aerosmith, Bob Marley, Deep Purple, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, The Doors, Van Halen, Eric Clapton/Cream and XTC. There are many others, of course. I'm ecstatic that The Arcade Fire's Funeral made the list. That is quite simply one of the best albums that I've heard in years. I also would have inlcuded Sufjan Stevens' Illinois.

From The

The survey was put together by the book of British Hit Singles and Albums and with votes coming in from the around the world.

David Roberts, British Hit Singles and Albums editor, said the survey showed diversity and longevity.

"Usually these polls are full of records that people have only just bought because they are freshest in the mind," Mr Roberts said.

"But this poll shows that the truly great albums always have longevity. Only two albums in the Top 20 were released in the last five years, so the voters have clearly thought long and hard about their decision."

Greatest 100 Albums of All Time
(Filed: 01/06/2006)

Definitely Maybe named greatest album of all time

Here are the full results of the British Hit Singles and Albums and survey to find the greatest 100 albums of all time:

1. Definitely Maybe, Oasis

2. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, The Beatles

3. Revolver, The Beatles

4. OK Computer, Radiohead

5. (What's The Story) Morning Glory?, Oasis

6. Nevermind, Nirvana

7. The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses

8. Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd

9. The Queen Is Dead, Smiths

10. The Bends, Radiohead

11. The Joshua Tree, U2

12. London Calling, The Clash

13. The Beatles (The White Album), The Beatles

14. Abbey Road, The Beatles

15. Up The Bracket, The Libertines

16. Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols, Sex Pistols

17. Four Symbols (Led Zeppelin IV), Led Zeppelin

18. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, David Bowie

19. A Night At The Opera, Queen

20. Is This It, The Strokes

21. Hot Fuss, The Killers

22. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys

23. Grace, Jeff Buckley

24. The Holy Bible, Manic Street Preachers

25. Bat Out Of Hell, MeatLoaf

26. Appetite For Destruction, Guns N' Roses

27. Employment, Kaiser Chiefs

28. Rubber Soul, The Beatles

29. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac

30. The Libertines, The Libertines

31. Urban Hymns, The Verve

32. American Idiot, Green Day

33. A Rush Of Blood To The Head, Coldplay

34. Parklife, Blur

35. Thriller, Michael Jackson

36. The Wall, Pink Floyd

37. Automatic For The People, R.E.M.

38. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand

39. Tubular Bells, Mike Oldfield

40. Achtung Baby, U2

41. Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd

42. Exile On Main Street, The Rolling Stones

43. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel

44. Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin

45. Parallel Lines, Blondie

46. Brothers In Arms, Dire Straits

47. Blood On The Tracks, Bob Dylan

48. Hunky Dory, David Bowie

49. X&Y, Coldplay

50. Who's Next, The Who

51. Hopes And Fears, Keane

52. Parachutes, Coldplay

53. Arrival, Abba

54. Different Class, Pulp

55. The Velvet Underground & Nico, The Velvet Underground

56. Forever Changes, Love

57. What's Going On, Marvin Gaye

58. Let It Bleed, The Rolling Stones

59. Elephant, The White Stripes

60. Doolittle, Pixies

61. Absolution, Muse

62. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John

63. Sheer Heart Attack, Queen

64. Come On Over, Shania Twain

65. Sign 'o' The Times, Prince

66. Ten, Pearl Jam

67. Kasabian, Kasabian

68. Dookie, Green Day

69. Origin Of Symmetry, Muse

70. Hounds Of Love, Kate Bush

71. Blonde On Blonde, Bob Dylan

72. All Mod Cons, The Jam

73. Blue, Joni Mitchell

74. White Blood Cells, The White Stripes

75. Dog Man Star, Suede

76. Metallica (the Black Album), Metallica

77. Dare!, Human League

78. Closer, Joy Division

79. In Utero, Nirvana

80. Back In Black, AC/DC

81. Funeral, Arcade Fire

82. Up All Night, Razorlight

83. Ray Of Light, Madonna

84. Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen

85. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin

86. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, Arctic Monkeys

87. A Day At The Races, Queen

88. The Lexicon Of Love, ABC

89. Spice, Spice Girls

90. Violator, Depeche Mode

91. Final Straw, Snow Patrol

92. Electric Warrior, T. Rex

93. Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette

94. Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division

95. Kid A, Radiohead

96. Out Of The Blue, Electric Light Orchestra

97. The Smiths, The Smiths

98. Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix

99. Rage Against The Machine, Rage Against The Machine

100. Hotel California, Eagles

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