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Friday, June 30, 2006


Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Date! Different Bat-Venue!

THIS JUST IN: That Burners gig on July 15 is switching venues to a place called Moby Dick Seafood Saloon in Lindenwold (down in South Joisey, from whence I sprang).

Voger (my bassist brother) and the Maestro (our genius keyboardist) hammered out the switcheroo this evening after we learned that the previously announced date might have to be postponed due to renovations at the previously announced venue. (I suppose these things happen at this rung of the show-business ladder.)

We decided that postponing the show wouldn't work, because after all, we're a bunch of middle-aged schlubs with careers and lives (well, I USED to have a life, anyway). So the boys went into overdrive to save July 15.

That's great for me, because I probably couldn't have done the postponement thing, schedule-wise. And I really wanted to sing with The Burners again. I'm really having fun on "Radar Love" and "All the Young Dudes" and "Perfect Strangers." These guys are smokin' -- I just have to jump around.

Voger says Moby Dick has a classy menu, but somewhere on that menu is the nigh irresistable phrase "Icy Beer, Spicy Crabs," so NATURALLY that's what we have emblazoned on our postcards, flyers and posters.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


I had a terrific experience at the Lauren K. Woods Theatre at Monmouth University in West Long Branch last night seeing "Da," the Tony-winning autobiographical play by Irish playwright Hugh Leonard. My "date" for the evening was Georgette, the lovely and funny wife of actor Bill Timoney, a star of this Shadow Lawn Stage production. Bill has been a friend of Kathy's and mine since the late '80s.

This was the first time I'd seen "Da," and I really connected with it, not just because of Leonard's beautiful words, but thanks to the cast, which was truly wonderful.

Ed Schiff as Da amazed me with his posture alone. My grandfather Henry Joseph Kelly, an Irish immigrant, was a groundskeeper all his life. It was back-breaking work, and he did it right up until he died at age 80. Schiff's posture, not to mention his thick white hair and worn heavy shoes, brought back my "Pop Pop," who I worked alongside for 10 summers (1969-1978) as his assistant groundskeeper. Schiff's dialect and humor likewise rang true.

Brendan Ryan and Bill Rogers were exhuberant; Briana Trautman-Maier was radiant; Linda Cameron reminded me of every Irish aunt I had; Kyle Bradford and Annette Hillary excelled in supporting roles. And Bill -- well, Georgette and I aren't being prejudiced. His charm and command carried the night as Charlie, standing there in his raincoat, reliving the joys and regrets of his life.

Another reason I enjoyed the production so much was the theater itself, which has an intimate layout not unlike the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. Performances of "Da" run through July 9 (732-263-5730 or 732-571-3483).


Sunday, June 18, 2006


More about The Burners' July 15 gig:

In stage patter at The Burners' first gig on July 29, 2002 (back when I WAS the singer in the band), I christened our keyboardist "the Maestro." It's a perfect nickname; it bespeaks his giant talent as well as his giant ego. I say that with love. I think my fellow Burners would agree that the Maestro has a bit of a Tony Montana complex.

At the last two practices, the Maestro wore open-toed sandals, and his toenails were painted maroon. Sound a bit fey? Something tells me anyone making that accusation would end up with his head in the toilet.

Years ago, when a former drummer tried -- tried, I say -- to ridicule the Maestro over the "Sopranos"-esque cigar he was puffing on, the Maestro said without pause: "First of all, (expletive). Second of all, this cigar? Cost more than your clothes." We all looked at the drummer in his shabby sneakers, jeans and T-shirt and reached the same conclusion.

Here's what I always say about the Maestro: He can play piano like Johnnie Johnson and organ like Jon Lord. Actually, that's pigeonholing him. He can play any classical piece, any prog-rock piece, any anything. A Burners show, truth be told, is a Maestro show. He never plays a song the same way twice. He's always on fire.

I once told him, "You're the second-best musician I've ever played with." He glared at me. I explained: "Ritchie Blackmore once told me to pick up a tambourine at a restaurant while he was playing." The Maestro seemed satisfied.


More about The Burners' July 15 gig:

Our drummer this time around will be an old friend named John Young. He and I have been in bands together since 10th grade. Back then, nobody called him plain old "John"; it was ALWAYS "John Young."

Many of my favorite John Young stories cannot be shared in polite company, but this one always gives me a chuckle, besides serving as a reminder of just how stupid and reckless we were.

Once in 1976, when we were high-school seniors, John Young, myself and two other friends, Tom and Joe, cut school.

That day, we were driving around in Tom's giant, rusty 1953 Plymouth Savoy. But here's how we were driving it: Tom sat in the driver's seat working the gas, clutch and brakes. I sat in the front-passenger seat steering. John sat behind Tom, reaching over his shoulder to do the shifting. (This old tub had "three on the tree," not "four on the floor.")

After splitting a dozen donuts, we decided to go on some swings in a park just off the road. Suddenly, a Channel 6 Action News van pulled over and began filming us. (We were four vaguely hippie-ish high-school seniors, so we probably looked a sight.) We hammed it up for the camera, but after the van pulled away, we realized that if that footage were to be broadcast that evening, our parents would know we cut school.

Next, we pulled into the parking lot of the Moorestown Mall and commandeered two shopping carts. We began to play "chicken" -- two guys riding, two guys shoving. That's when inspiration struck.

While John Young was in one of the carts, the rest of us got a brilliant idea, which we quickly communicated via whispers and hand signals. The plan: Tom and Joe would run to hold open the doors of a nearby cafeteria-style restaurant, while I shoved the shopping cart (containing John Young) INTO the restaurant!

"HEY! WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING?" John Young said as I began sprinting with the cart, but it was too late.

He careened into the restaurant. As a bonus, the cart had lodged itself into the cafeteria's railing, which poor John Young had a hard time getting his legs over. We rolled on the ground laughing as we watched John Young through the glass, struggling to get out of the cart while all these adults just stood there with their trays and watched.

You can't make this stuff up.




I've got a gig!

On July 15 -- a Saturday night, in deference to our imperious keyboardist (my bassist brother swears by Friday nights for peak attendance) -- The Burners will return to Barons Steakhouse on the White Horse Pike in Clementon, New Jersey.

The venue's motto: "Great steak at a great price."

To us South Jersey high-school idiots in the '70s, the White Horse Pike was our version of "the circuit." (Once again, location is king. If Bruce Springsteen had misspent his youth cruising the White Horse Pike instead of the Asbury circuit, HE'D probably be playing Barons Steakhouse on July 15.)

For this gig, I'm actually filling in; the group's regular singer will be in California, but the guys wanted to save the gig. I suspect it's because Budweiser is printing the posters, which makes us feel like the Rolling Stones. (Yes, we need to get out more.)

Being a fill-in has been fun. I had to learn a couple of songs from scratch. It's a challenging program. We're doing two originals; a Crowes; an Argent; a Tull; a Steppenwolf; a Golden Earring; two Bowies; two Motts; three Kanases; and our usual four or five Deep Purples. The following sentence is one of the most painful I have ever had to type. I'll be singing Van Halen's "Jump" and "Ice Cream Man." Oy!


Sunday, June 04, 2006


Some impressions of "X-Men: The Last Stand":

I'm not the only guy on Earth who would buy a ticket to see a solo Mystique movie. I'm also not the only guy who would volunteer to man the spraygun to turn Rebecca Romijn blue.

The cast is incredible. Put aside for a moment the lead ensemble (Romijn, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer). There is savvy casting in small roles. Yes, that's enchanting Shohreh Aghdashloo (Oscar-nominated for her unforgettable performance as the still-proud wife of an exiled Iranian general in "House of Sand and Fog") as a scientist. Yes, that's cool customer Bill Duke (the laconic detective of "Menace II Society" and "The Limey") as a presidential advisor. Yes, that's smarmy Anthony Heald (the slimey Dr. Chilton who lorded his power over Hannibal Lechter in "Silence of the Lambs") as an interrogater. Yes, that's comics legend Stan Lee (co-creator of the X-Men) manning the garden hose.

My favorite scene is when McKellen as Magneto stands in the center of a highway and shoos cars and trucks off the road with a faint wave of his hand. I love how game Sir Ian is in these movies. This guy ain't slumming. He seems to enjoy playing the flamboyantly costumed, melodramatic villain. He doesn't seem to mind that the Magneto helmet is not exactly flattering to his fallen face. He doesn't seem to be collecting a paycheck. Believe me, we geeks would know. (We still haven't forgiven John Goodman for his less-than-heartfelt Fred Flintstone.) When McKellan incites the downtrodden mutants in the woods, his voice sounds like that of a Shakespearean actor projecting to the back row -- winkingly so.

I love the idea that this is the final "X-Men" film. Imagine, a true trilogy, despite a franchise's earning potential. Wouldn't that be a thing of beauty in this, The Age of Grab, Grab, Grab? But an open-ended, post-credits scene indicated that boardroom fatcats are thinking: If We Make Another "X-Men" Movie, They Will Come.


Last summer, I watched "Batman Begins" and reported to inquiring friends that I liked it.

I did the same with "Fantastic Four" a few months later.

As time went by, I rescinded my endorsement of both films.

"Batman Begins," I concluded, took itself too seriously. I dig darkness as much as the next guy, but SHEEEESH.

I realize the aim was to exorcize, once and for all, the vile aftertaste of the Joel Schumacher administration, and to restore the franchise to the megabucks magnet it once was. But poor old Alfred the butler (Michael Caine, albeit in inspired casting) shouldered the entire humor burden for this movie -- a tall order.

"Fantastic Four" looked chintzy and had some fatal casting weaknesses. Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm? Yes. Jessica Alba as Sue Storm? Yes. Some Dude Whose Name I Can't Remember as Reed Richards? No. Some Other Dude Whose Name I Can't Remember as Dr. Doom? No. Yet Another Dude Whose Name I Can't Remember as Johnny Storm? Well, the kid did an OK job, but I could take him or leave him.

Other issues: Whose idea was it to put long pants on Ben Grimm? A bottom-liner, that's who. See, they didn't have to make Ben's legs look like orange rocks, thus stretching the makeup budget. And SPEAKING of stretching -- the stretching FX for Reed Richards were disgracefully uninspired, if not downright lazy, in this age of CGI miracles.

The best test of a comic-book movie is: Do you need to see it again? I won't feel deprived if I never see "Batman Begins" or "Fantastic Four" again. Although, sucker that I am, I'll probably pay to see their sequels.

The "X-Men" films is another story. I believe these films, all three of them, are intelligent and exciting science-fiction films with good writing, appropriate (as opposed to gratuitous) FX, amazing casts and even some resonant social commentary.

NEXT POST: Some impressions of "X-Men: The Last Stand."