Views on pop culture through my eyes

Christmas Album Wish List

Are you ready for Christmas music? As a music fan, I enjoy buying new Christmas music every year from my favorite artists. Over the years, I have amassed quite a collection of Christmas albums — everything from Amy Grant and Cyndi Lauper to En Vogue and Kenny Chesney. This year brings new seasonal music from Fantasia, Gwen Stefani and Sia. It seems like every artist records a Christmas album (or at least a song) over the course of their career. Here are the artists I hope to hear Christmas music from in the near future:

 

Superstars

  • Madonna. She only did “Santa Baby” on the “A Very Special Christmas” album. Image if she brought her song craft to some Christmas originals. I would love it, but I have serious doubts she will ever do it.
  • Bruce Springsteen. He has a Christmas song too, but no album as of yet. I can’t think of any rock Christmas albums. A mix of old and new would be music to many Boss lovers.
  • Diana Ross. Sure, she did an album with the Supremes, and even a solo Christmas album in 1994 — but it was never released in America. Isn’t time it came out here, or she recorded new takes on Christmas classics. She could call on her children to help her out.
  • Janet Jackson. Wouldn’t you love to hear what Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Janet would do with a batch of holiday tunes? I am sure we would be dancing around the Christmas tree!

 

Current Pop Stars

  • Rihanna. She is one of the most consistent hit-makers of the last decade. She always find ways to surprise her fans with her music. I would love to see this happen.
  • Lady GaGa. Yeah, she isn’t as popular as she used to be — but she can still sing as evidenced by this year’s Super Bowl. She could do an album of very traditional songs with Tony Bennett, or a dance-pop Christmas album. I would be interested in both.

 

Country

  • Dierks Bentley. Hunky county star Dierks could do a bluegrass Christmas album or a modern country pop album. He would shine on the CMA Christmas special I am sure.
  • Carrie Underwood. Vocal powerhouse Carrie Underwood would be sure to be a bestseller, if she ever releases a holiday album. I am sure there would be a few spiritual songs on there. Another one that I could see being a #1 album.
  • Little Big Town. This group, that I describe as a country version of Fleetwood Mac, is known for their trademark vocal harmonies. A good mix of traditional songs plus a few new tunes too would be a winning formula.

 

Divas

  • Taylor Dayne. Taylor has one of the most distinctive voices of the 80-90’s. I could see her putting her own spin on some Christmas favorites. “Tell It to my Heart, Santa” could be a good title for one song.
  • Jill Scott. I heard she was great at the Hollywood Bowl this past summer. A soulful holiday celebration, with a few gospel tinged numbers would be great.
  • Angie Stone. Another big-voiced R&B diva. She has worked with Josh Groban in the past, and Justin Timberlake is a fan too. Imagine a Christmas duets album, that would be something different in the market.
  • Jennifer Lopez. Can you think of a Latin pop Christmas album? Neither can I. Just imagine all the guest stars she could pull in for the accompanying TV special… Pitbull, Enrique, Marc Anthony, Lin-Manual, and more.
  • Britney Spears. She’s only done 1 Christmas song in the past. How about a Christmas album to tie us over till her next all-new pop album? I would love to hear her take on holiday classics, and a few choice new tunes too.

 

80’s

  • The Human League. The ground-breaking new-wave group could bring something new to the table for sure. I would definitely be up for this.
  • Bon Jovi. Jon and the crew would definitely rock the holiday. Again, a mix of new and old songs would be just right. Maybe even call in former duet partner, Jennifer Nettles.
  • Belinda Carlisle. The voice of the 80’s girl band, The Go-Go’s. Plus she had a decent solo career too. Songs about Christmas in L.A., or maybe songs with some hippie-dippy vibes.
  • Duran Duran. Another big 80’s band. They could call in Mark Ronson or Nile Rodgers (both of whom they worked with before) to produce the album for them. I would love to hear them take on some original songs.

 

Boy Bands

  • Backstreet Boys. NSync did a holiday album back in the day, surprisingly BSB did not. It is never too late. Call up Max Martin and get this one going. I am sure it would sell well for them.
  • One Direction. With the members all enjoying varying degrees of solo success, it may be awhile before we get to this album. But they are good singers, and would definitely bring something different to the table.

And that’s my list! Did I miss anyone? Did I leave out one of your favorites? Please sound off in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

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Mary J. Blige in Concert
Saturday, September 2, 2017
Greek Theatre

Special guest: LaToya Luckett

Strength of a Woman Tour 2017

Merchandise purchased; T-shirt

Songs performed: (No, No, No (Part 1)/Bill, Bills, Bills/Say My Name (LaToya Luckett);
Love Yourself, The One, Enough Cryin’, I Can Love You, You Bring Me Joy, Reminisce, Real Love, You Remind Me, Be Happy, Love No Limit, Don’t Mind, Share My World, Everything, My Life, I’m Goin’ Down, Set Me Free, Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, U + Me (Love Lesson), Thick Of It, Not Gon’ Cry, No More Drama, Glow Up, Just Fine, Family Affair (Mary J. Blige)

mary-j-blige-soaw-tourComments: The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul returned to the music scene this year with her 13th album — Strength of a Woman. The tour of the same name touched down in the Southland with a stop at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. The album is considered a return to form and is her most personal project in years.

I’ve always wanted to see Mary live, but I wasn’t able to until this year. It was worth the wait! She has quite the song catalog between hits and album cuts. She’s one of those artists that has too many good songs to choose from. I liked “Real Love” when if first came out; but I didn’t really follow her career until “No More Drama.” That was the one that really made me a fan.

So I may not have known every song that night, but I knew probably 80% of the songs she performed. She is very relatable. She joked about how hot it was that night, and how she thought about coming out naked. She thanked her fans for being with her from the beginning, through the ups and downs with her career and personal dramas too (like her recent divorce).

The audience was definitely into the show and was on their feet more most of the evening. They also seemed to know the words to all of her songs too.

During the middle part of the show, Mary played songs that have been an integral part of her musical journey: “My Life,” “Share My World” and “Be Happy.” While I wasn’t familiar with “Share My World” — The other 2 are definitely Mary classics.

The new songs went over well with the audience. She commented on the fact that she has been unlucky in love — again something a lot of people can relate to. I was wondering how she can sing so many heart-wrenching songs like “Not Gonna Cry” and “Set Me Free” night after night. But it is probably a bit of a catharsis for her.

I do wish she had sang some of the songs from her 2 previous albums: “My Life II” and “The London Sessions.” But that’s OK — I did get the hits and then some. She was definitely worth the wait.

LaToya Luckett had an entertaining opening segment. She is one of the original members of Destiny’s Child before she was fired during the group turmoil. And she’s had some success on the charts on her own, mostly on the R&B charts. She sounded good and was thankful for her time in Destiny’s Child and wished the members well.

Thanks to Mary and her band for a fun concert.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Kilt-of-HorrorsSenior year here I come! My high school years were coming to an end. It had been a bit of a roller coaster these past 3 years. Tons of homework, changes to my body and my mind, and just trying to fit in. It is a lot to deal with at 17 years old!

Who am I you ask? My name is Andrew. I am a senior at Valley High. At times, I didn’t think I would make it this far. I thought I would be dead by now. I had a tough childhood and was often bullied by my classmates. They made my life a living hell for at least the first 2 years of high school. Then things seemed to calm down, after the fools got kicked out and their bad deeds caught up with them.

I took up weight lifting in my junior year and lo and behold my skinny frame started to fill in. My Dad stopped trying to make me into his clone and my Mom trusted me to do the right thing whenever I was out with friends.

On the recommendation of my childhood friend Shelley, I even took up track and field. I didn’t know how competitive I was! I always liked board games, but this was totally new to me! I won my first meet last January, and here I was now the captain of the relay team going into my senior year.

To the casual outsider, it looked like everything was going right for me. Except for one thing — I was gay. Would my family and friends still love me if they knew? Would I get taunted again, because of who I was during matches?

I told myself I was going to be OK. I just had to take that first step. I was to give a speech to the entire student body during Thanksgiving week. This would be my time — to own who and what I was. I even decided I needed a special outfit for the occasion. I looked online at my family history, and found out that I had some Scottish ancestry. I decided that I would order myself a kilt to wear for the occasion. It looked a bit rock and roll. It was what they call a hybrid, part Utility kilt and part tartan kilt. This was going to be part of my coming out day outfit.

The package arrived and it looked great with my boots and designer shirt. I finished writing up my speech and the weeks flew by, as I was busy with classes and after-school activities. Finally, the day arrived. It was time to give the speech. I dressed in my normal kakhis and school polo in the morning, and changed before I came out to give the speech. As I approached the microphone, there were a few gasps from the crowd, like huh? What is that guy wearing?

Dear fellow students,

It is a great time to be alive! Our teachers have been recognized for their outstanding leadership and our coaches are all come off of past winning seasons. We have given back to the community around us via feeding the homeless and cleaning up neighborhood playgrounds. Senior year has been a time of reflection for me and most of my classmates. I have been struggling with something my whole life. Despite looking to most like I got it made, I really don’t. I have been hiding a part of me, and it is time for me to break free and set the record straight. I am gay! (Again, a few gasps and laughs from the crowd.) But I am not going to hide who I am anymore. It is time for all of us, to be proud of who we are. I am proud to be a golden eagle! I am proud to be a student at Valley High!

The crowd erupted in rapturous applause! The haters were drowned out. I was free. Afterwards, my classmates kept coming up to me and congratulated me on how awesome and inspiring my speech was. The outpouring of love and support was amazing! I even got interviewed by the new editor of the school newspaper — Julio. He was a sexy latin guy who had just transferred from Colorado.

Before you know it Julio and I were dating. He had always loved men in kilts and here I was in the same class with him! It was wild that I could finally live my truth. What I didn’t know was that things were about to get weird for all of us at Valley High.

It all started at the first movie night of the AV Club. They were doing a salute to Leonardo Decaprio and the first movie up was “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Julio and I wanted to be there, but I was running late from work (did I mention I worked part time at a book store?). But from what heard, the lights went down in the auditorium, and a fire broke out in the control room.

People started screaming and running from the exits. Someone said they saw someone in a kilt running out the back door.

Luckily everyone got out in time, and there was only minimal damage to the school before the fire department showed up.

The next day rumors started circulating that I had tried to burn the school down. I told them I wasn’t even there as my boss pulled inventory on me that night, and I had to stay at work until 10 PM.

Now Julio had an interesting relationship with his parents. His Dad seemed cool and was a former athlete himself. His Mom, or should I say step-Mom, was another thing. She was always hard on Julio and seemed disappointed/sad when she found out that Julio and I started going out. She came from a strict religious background from what I was told, and that her Dad had died of AIDS.

Months flew by and why wouldn’t they… what with school, work and the track team. Before you know it was time for the big Spring Fling dance. I was able to talk Julio into getting a kilt to match mine for the occasion. The dance went off without a hitch thanks to the efforts of the School Spirit Committee. There were lights, lasers and a fantastic DJ who played all my favorite songs. Too bad the event had to end at 10 PM because it was on school grounds.

So when it was over there was a big group of us just shooting the shit in the parking lot after the event. Lots of seflies and funny pictures; talk of what we were going to do with the rest of the weekend; what was playing at the movies or streaming online.

Next thing we know this car come barreling at us out of nowhere! And the person who was behind the wheel was none other than my ex-girlfriend, Kristin. Did I forget to mention that I dated girls in the past?

I guess she is not taking to the new me like the rest of my classmates. Kirstin seemed cool after we broke it off last summer. She was busy with the cheerleading squad in addition to the School Spirit Committee.

Photos of me and Julio along with a patch of tartan cloth were found burning in a trash can near where Kirstin had parked her car. I reached out to her via text, but she didn’t respond.

Next week at school, I was assigned a big project in history class. I had to write a paper about the Renaissance. My history teacher was Mr. Thomas. I always suspected that he was a closet case. And I wasn’t the only one. He was very attentive to the guys in the class.

Between work, school and track team, there wasn’t much time for me and Julio. But he was busy too, and I knew we would find quality time together soon — There was a 3-day weekend coming up for us. Another day to unwind and let loose.

We were going to go to the Lady GaGa concert in the next town over. Unfortunately, our car broke down, and we had to crash at a cousin’s house that night instead of coming back to town.

We got back to town in the morning, after the car got fixed. What we didn’t expect was that the town was reeling from a brutal murder the night before. Fr. Magnus O’Flannery had been murdered in the confessional of the church. Fr. O’Flannery was one of those colorful characters who always had a story to tell. I remember him showing up at the local Scottish festival in his family tartan.

Back at school, Mr. Thomas was acting weirder than usual. In fact, he disappeared later that week. Someone said they saw him on a travel website buying a ticket to Bermuda.

Things sure had gotten weird the past couple of months. And why did it all seem to start happening after I started wearing kilts? So far I had avoided a school fire and being run-over. Who could have murdered Fr. O’Flannery? and was it connected in any way to Mr. Thomas running off?

Things quieted down for a few weeks. The police still had no clues in the murder. Mr. Thomas had been tracked down in Bermuda with one of the locals there. Seems he had made a love connection online and he went to be with them.

Graduation was right around the corner. I was almost done with high school. My parents were going to rent a limo for me that day, and Julio and some other friends were going to go with us in it. When we went to Julio’s house, his Mom said he wasn’t ready yet, and that we would have to go on without him.

WTF? How could he be late for his own graduation? We had coordinating kilts picked out for the occasion. And he usually texted me “good morning handsome” every day too. But today, I just got a text saying he didn’t sleep well. Something just didn’t seem right.

On the way to the graduation, Detective Sanders called and wanted to talk. He said he was closing in on the murderer, but had a few questions for me. Seriously, could I have any more drama in one day? I told the detective I had a few minutes to talk just before the ceremony (but he would have to make it quick).

Well, the time came for the ceremony to start and still no Julio. Things were definitely not right. The names started being called and I was still hoping he would show up. But then, I saw someone that shouldn’t have been there. It was Julio’s Mom! Why was she here? And where was Julio?

I texted my parents to find her in the crowd. She moved around the room, trying to avoid being seen. But I knew what I saw — she was here somewhere. The principal was getting close to my name … Andrew Taylor. I walked up on the platform, and and waved to my parents. As I was shaking the Dean’s hand, a shot rang out, and a bullet grazed my shoulder.

Could the day get any worse? Now I was in a school shooting. Everyone scrambled to get out of the building. And we were happy that there were no more bullets flying. It seems like someone had it out for me. The cops had the idea to check the school cameras and see if they could find any clues.

So far, we had a fire (and someone in a kilt) who ran away. Fr. O’Flannery? No, no way, he wasn’t up to running for a man his age. Then we had my ex almost run us over because she was jealous. And don’t forget the closest case, Mr. Thomas, who ran off to be with his internet boyfriend in Bermuda. His departure was still too close to Fr. O’Flannery’s murder for my taste.

Thank God the school had installed those cameras last year. The shooting itself was not on camera. But they did show who arrived last and who ran out first: Mrs. Lopez, Julio’s Mom. She had just moved to suspect #1.

Paramedics were called and took me to emergency. Meanwhile, my parents followed the cops to confront Mrs. Lopez. Mr. Lopez was out of town on business that weekend. She answered the door and did her best to get rid of the cops. But her story still didn’t add up. Why was she there on her own? Where was Julio? The cops started to look around the property. And in the backyard trash bin was a burned up kilt. And then they heard muffled screams coming from the back bedroom.

The cops busted the door down, and quickly were able to take Mrs. Lopez down. They got to the back bedroom to find Julio tied up to a chair. They got the gag off of him — “I always knew my step-Mom was nuts!” is all he had to say.

Pretty soon, my phone was blowing up with texts from Julio. Are you OK? I really missed being there with you at the graduation.

Mrs. Lopez was the missing puzzle piece. Seems she couldn’t stand her son being gay, what with what her father did to her. She dressed in drag to set the fire at school. And then she murdered the priest, cause he told her that she should move on and accept her son as is. She was there to kill me, as a way of showing her son that being gay is not a happy life. And that it always ends tragically.

Boy, was she wrong! My life was not tragic. I was full of life, excited for the future. And I was going to go about it being the real me. Armed with optimism, talent and a few kilts, I was ready to face my future. Now let’s hope college is not so dramatic!

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Summer-Fall Reviews Part 1

It’s that time again for some more entertainment reviews. This blog features TV shows and music reviews. Read on for what I have been enjoying (or not) this past summer.

TV

13 Reasons Why
Netflix bring you the story of Hannah Baker — a teenager who commits suicide. The story is told in 13 parts. She left behind 13 cassette tapes that give her 13 reasons why she did it. This is one of the best shows I have seen this year. It is one of the most realistic portrayals of high school that I have ever seen. The whole cast is fantastic, especially the 2 main leads. Yes, it deals with some heavy topics: bullying, sexual assault, slut shaming, amongst other topics. It is definitely a show that doesn’t shy away from things. I highly recommend it. You will be moved. Grade: A

Boy Band
ABC wants in the boy band business. The architects (coaches) are OK. Timbaland is the one whose praise I would want the most. Some of the guys were not good enough in the Top 30 and I was surprised they made it as far as they did. It will be interesting if a hit band comes from this show. I am a bit of a boy band aficionado having loved New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, NSync, 98 Degrees and more. The winners are now crowned, so we’ll see what happens. Grade: B-

World of Dance
The latest dance reality show just concluded it’s inaugural season. It is hosted by Jenna Dewan-Tattum and judged by Ne-Yo, Jennifer Lopez and Derek Hough. One of the cool things is there is a wide variety of dancers and styles, all in a battle for a $1 million dollar prize. You have large groups competing against soloists; duos and trios competing against solo kid dancers too. The public does not get to vote at all, which I found interesting. The show was renewed for a second season. Grade: B

CDs

Katy Perry — Witness
“Witness” is Katy’s 4th full length album and her first since “Prism” in 2013. The first single “Chained to the Rhythm” hinted at a new direction for her — something she called “Purposeful Pop.” Well, the single underperformed for her, and what we get is Katy’s least successful album (so far). It’s not a miss for her, but not her best by a long shot. The stand–out song for me is “Swish Swish” — It sounds like a hit. Lots of attitude and catchy lyrics. And some of the ballads are catching on with me like “Save as Draft” and “Miss You More.” No power anthems like previous releases. I wanted more, and I didn’t get it. Grade: C+

Lady Antebellum — Heart Break
Their first album since the band took a hiatus and some down time for solo projects and families. Their trademark vocal harmonies and hit songwriting are still here. They try on a bit of funk for the hit “You Look Good.” Not as good as “747” but still a solid country-pop album for them. Grade: B

Michelle Branch — Everything Comes and Goes
I loved this woman since her early 2000’s breakthrough and her work with Santana and the Wreckers too. So this has a country-rock feel to it similar to what she did with the Wreckers. Sort of mellow compared to her earlier stuff. Grade: B+

Mary J. Blige — Strength of a Woman
Mary is an artist that always tells it like it is. On her latest, she talks about her divorce, saying to her ex “There’s a special place in hell for you” on the song “Set Me Free.” Ouch! The album is solid, if a bit on the mellow side. There is one full-on dance song “Find the Love.” And her duet with Prince Charlez (“Smile”) is very nice too. Grade: B+

The Time — Ice Cream Castles
I knew I was going to see this group in concert this past summer, so I bought this album. It contains their 2 biggest hits featured in the movie “Purple Rain” — “The Bird” and “Jungle Love.” It’s pretty slim, only 6 tracks total, and one is basically an extended comedy skit called “Chili Sauce.” The rest are just OK. Grade: C

Big & Rich — Hillbilly Jedi
The country-rock duo delivers a solid set. It recalls some of their earlier work. They may have treaded water some on this, but it is still likable. Special guests include Bon Jovi and Cowboy Troy. Grade: B-

New Kids on the Block — Thankful
This EP was released in advance of their summer tour with Paula Abdul and Boyz II Men. Uptempo for the most part, it includes “Still Sounds Good” which is built around a sample of Nena’s “99 Luftballons.” Their vocals still sound good. Grade: B

Brett Eldredge — Brett Eldredge
The 4th studio album from Brett features the lead single “Something I’m Good At.” I like that one, but there are better songs on the rest of the album like “Super Hero” and “Crystal Clear.” Not sure this is the big breakthrough he was hoping for with this album. But overall, I enjoyed it. Grade: B

Maren Morris — Hero
She won a Grammy earlier this year for “My Church.” The rest of the album is just as good as that one. Country, blues, pop and soul are all featured on this album. She has really won me over on this one. I can’t stop listening to it! I highly recommend it! Other hits on here include “80’s Mercedes,” “Rich” and “I Could Use a Love Song.” Grade: A

Rascal Flatts — Back to Us
They are one of the most dependable acts out there. I can’t say I have ever heard a bad album from them. A solid mix of uptempo songs and ballads. Lauren Alaina (from American Idol) duets with them on 1 song. Grade: B

Sam Hunt — Between the Pines: Acoustic Mixtape
I have to say I hesitated to get this one. But after seeing his fantastic concert this past summer, I had to pick it up. It was released to the public after his breakthrough debut “Montevallo.” So this was recorded before that one, and features a lot of the same songs but in slightly different arrangements. The ones that are NOT on “Montevallo” are the most interesting songs here like “I Met a Girl” and “Saturday Night” (where he even full-on raps). Plus he covers a few of the songs he wrote for other artists like Kenny Chesney and Billy Currington. You can tell he was destined for bigger and better things. Grade: B+

That’s all for now. Be sure to look for a fall edition coming soon. As always, comments are kindly welcomed.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Kool & the Gang in Concert
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Hollywood Bowl

Special guests: Morris Day & The Time, Village People

Songs performed: Macho Man, San Francisco (You Got Me)/In Hollywood (Everybody is a Star), In the Navy, Y.M.C.A. (Village People); 1999, Get It Up, Cool, Gigolos Get Lonely Too, The Walk, D.M.S.R., The Bird, Jungle Love (Morris Day & The Time); Fresh, Too Hot, Open Sesame, Jungle Boogie, Hollywood Swingin’, Cherish, Sexy (Where’d You Get Yours), Ladies’ Night, Get Down on It, Celebration (Kool & the Gang)

Comments: Three veteran acts took the stage for an incredible trip down memory lane at the world-famous Hollywood Bowl: Village People, Morris Day & The Time and Kool & the Gang. They had the crowd dancing and singing-along all night long.

First up for the night was Village People. The group came out of the gay discos in the 1970’s and became stars of the era with their catchy singles and distinctive stage costumes. So you have a cowboy, an Indian, a military guy, a leather man, a construction worker and a cop (who is the lead singer). The people behind the characters may have changed (there are only 3 of the original members left in the group), but the songs still hold up. The crowd were on their feet from the beginning. There were even some people dressed in Village People costumes in the audience. I have seen them a few times over the years, and wish I could hear more from them. It would have been cool to hear “Go West” and “Liberation.”

Next up was Morris Day & The Time. They worked with Prince back in the day, and are considered to be some of his protégés. The group and Prince starred in “Purple Rain” as well as “Graffiti Bridge.” The opening video segment was a tribute to Prince, with stills from the movie and pics of Prince and Morris together. The band started playing an instrumental version of “1999” with the crowd singing along. Morris came out of the 2nd number. He brought out his son, Darren Day to sing with him on one song. He did very well, and he was good-looking too. The middle of the set had the band playing “D.M.S.R. (Dance, Music, Sex, Romance) from Prince’s “1999” album. The 2 biggest songs of their set were “The Bird” and “Jungle Love” — both featured in the movie “Purple Rain.” Morris still has some moves. He played the same cocky character as in the movie, with Jerome helping him out with a mirror so he could comb his hair. The band was good, but compared to the other 2 groups in the night, they are lacking in their song catalog.

The final act of the night was Kool & the Gang. The group was founded back in the 1960’s and named after the bassist of the group, Robert “Kool” Bell. We had seen them a few years back as the opening act for Gladys Knight. The group has only 4 of the original members left in the group, but like a lot of older acts, they have added new younger members to the mix. And those guys took the lead on all of the songs except a few of the ones from the 70’s like “Hollywood Swingin”. They stuck to the hits and the crowd loved every minute of it. From the old school funk of “Open Sesame” and “Jungle Boogie” to their more mainstream pop, R&B and disco hits of the 1980’s like “Too Hot” and “Get Down on It.” They were the only group of the night to play a new song — a tune called “Sexy” (which was just OK to me). They were aided by 3 female backup dancers, who added to the fun on a few numbers. “Cherish” was the one that had the people waving their cell phones in the air. And we can’t forget the band’s fantastic horn section, which is up there with those in Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire.

The crowd was definitely grooving on a warm summer night at the Bowl. Thanks to all for a great evening. I haven’t danced that much in a long time!

Sam Hunt: Country Hip-Hop

Sam Hunt in Concert
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Greek Theatre

“15 in a 30” Tour

Special guests: Ryan Follese, Chris Janson and Maren Morris

Songs performed: Wilder, Float Your Boat, Put a Label on It, Lose a Little Sleep, Tonight Tonight (Ryan Follese); Redneck Life, Who’s Your Farmer?, Everybody, I Love This Life, Name on It, Fix a Drink, Holdin’ Her, Truck Yeah, Buy Me a Boat, Ring of Fire (Chris Janson); Sugar, Just Another Thing, How It’s Done, I Could Use a Love Song, Once, 80’s Mercedes, Rich, My Church, Second Wind/Halo (Maren Morris); Leave the Night On, House Party, Raised on It, Saturday Night, Cop Car, I Met a Girl, We Are Tonight, It’s a Great Day to Be Alive, Don’t Rock the Jukebox/Ignition/Come Over, Speakers, Body Like a Back Road, Take Your Time, Ex to See, Make You Miss Me, Break Up in a Small Town/Drinkin’ Too Much

Merchandise purchased: T-shirt

Comments: Sam Hunt headlined the Greek Theater for two nights on his “15 in a 30” Tour. It was the first headlining tour since his broke through with his debut album “Montevallo” — a critical and commercial hit in 2014-15. The crowd was definitely pumped for him, and they proved it by singing along to all of the songs that night (and not just the choruses, but the verses too).

He came on stage around 9:30 PM and played an enthusiastic and engaging 1.5 hour set. He was dressed in a loose-fitting camo shirt, cargo pants, combat boots and baseball cap. Plus he has a neatly trimmed beard too.

When I describe his music to those not familiar with him, I describe it as country hip-hop. Yes, he sings, but at other times, he is more just sing-talking, or even rapping on some numbers. Plus there are some hip-hop flourishes and scratching in the music too.

He is currently riding high with his #1 country hit “Body Like a Back Road.” There is no new album to promote at this point, as he is taking his time with an official follow-up. He did though play some songs from his acoustic mixtape “Between the Pines.” And the crowd ate them up, and gave them just as good of a reaction as the songs off of “Montevallo.”

He started the evening with “Leave the Night On” from that album. He had a very nimble and capable band behind him that was able to recreate the sound of the records. The stage had 3 large horizontal video screens on top, that played background imagery to help accentuate the songs; as well as lots of lights and smoke effects too used throughout the night.

During the middle of the concert, he took time to do an acoustic segment and talk about his influences. He grew up in Georgia. He sites country music, especially Alan Jackson (Don’t Rock the Jukebox); as well as R&B influences like (Juvenile, Usher and R. Kelly). He even sang Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”. He talked about the power of music, and how the internet has changed everything for the music fan. He did not address the recent incidents in Virginia, but did say that he believes you choose your friends not by the color of your skin, but by the fact that you enjoy spending time with them. And that the younger generation is going to continue to break down more barriers in our society.

Sam also played a few of the songs he wrote for other artists, like Keith Urban (Cop Car), Billy Currington (We Are Tonight) and Kenny Chesney (Come on Over). He told the story of how broke he was and then he sold the song to Billy Currington. And he also said that he married the girl from the song “Cop Car” earlier this year.

He was humbled to be playing such a large venue and recalled when he played the Troubador in Hollywood just a few years ago. Sam is definitely an engaging entertainer. He roamed the stage like a hip hop artist and was bouncing around the it during the uptempo numbers. He did hit a few bum notes, but I credit that with lack of touring and not lack of talent.

The opening acts were all entertaining and got better as the night when on. First up was Ryan Follese. It turns out he is a former pop guy trying his hand at country. He was the lead singer for the pop-punk band Hot Chell Rae. And he even sang their hit “Tonight Tonight” as his final song.

Next up was Chris Janson. He put on a high-energy set that had the crowd on their feet. He is definitely of the “Bro-country” pack… as his songs about tractors, trucks and drinking proved. He is also a good harmonica player. I haven’t seen one around since the days of Blues Traveler. He also had a nice song for his wife and 4 kids. His voice was very strong — I would like to hear more from him. He included the hit he wrote for Tim McGraw — “Truck Yeah.”

And lastly was Grammy-winner — Maren Morris. I first saw her on tour with Keith Urban last fall. And she has only gotten better since then. She was wearing a sexy outfit, with a bare midriff and crop top. She performed hit songs and album cuts from her debut “Hero” (which is very good by the way). That album contains country, blues, rock and pop textures on it. She ended her set with “Second Wind” which she mixed with Beyonce’s “Halo.” She is definitely on her way to great heights.

Thanks to Sam and all of the performers for a fantastic evening at the Greek Theatre.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Summer Reviews Part 3

It’s that time again for some more entertainment reviews. Part 1 will feature movies and DVDs. Part 2 will feature TV shows and music reviews. Read on for what I have been enjoying (or not) this summer.

Movies

Detroit
The latest movie from Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow. This movie tells the true story of the incident at the Algiers Hotel in Detroit during the summer of 1967 — a period of racial unrest and rioting. This is sure to be remembered come Oscar time: writing, directing, and acting. It is sad that given the incidents in VA this past weekend that we have not learned anything in 50 years. I urge everyone to see this! Grade: A

Dunkirk
The latest movie from director Christopher Nolan is about the little known battle of Dunkirk. The Germans trapped 400,00 British and French soldiers on the beach in Dunkirk, France. This is the first movie I have seen this year that will be nominated for an Academy Award. It is that good. You are given different point of views as the action unfolds — on the beach, in a boat, in a war plane. It is very intense and shows the horrific events as they are happening. I can’t recommend it enough! Grade: A

Wonder Woman
The DC Universe finally gets it right! Gal Gadot stars as the title character in this origin story OF Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. The movie is set during World War I, and stars Chris Pine as the long interest. It has some parallels to the First Captain America movie (Set in the past, in love with someone who you can’t grow old with). It has exciting action sequences and an interesting storyline. I enjoyed myself! Grade: A-

Cars 3
The latest from Disney/Pixar brings back racing car Lightning McQueen and some of his friends from Radiator Springs. Lightning is feeling his age and starting to lose some races to a younger faster car. So after a crash, he regroups and begins training to reclaim his former glory. He has a personal trainer named Cruz, a female car who never got the chance to be a racer. One of the funniest parts is when Lightning ends up in a crash derby race. The movie is paired with the Pixar short “Lou” which was very cute and has an anti-bullying message. Grade: B

Despicable Me 3
The third (or 4th movie in the franchise if you count “Minions) brings back lovable former-villain Gru and his family. This time he is after a former-child star who has become a super villain named Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). He loves 80’s music, clothes and dancing. Gru finds out he has a twin-brother named Dru, who is still a villain. Gru and Dru team up to get back a diamond stolen by Bratt. The Minions want Gru to go back to evil and quit, only to end up in jail. This movie felt very disjointed to me, there are at least 3 story lines vying for your attention. It all seems to be an excuse for more toys and theme park tie-ins. Grade: C+

Spider-Man: Homecoming
The latest Spider-Man movie has Tom Holland taking over the role last played by Andrew Garfield. The subtitle to me was more “The Teen Years” than “Homecoming” unless they we’re going for homecoming dance. This is probably the most light-hearted take on the web-slinger I have seen. It plays like a teen show on the CW. Imagine being a teenager with incredible powers while navigating your high-school years: classes, dances, debate team, fitting in, selfies and more. Michael Keaton plays the villain, Vulture. And Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) is there as his mentor too. Grade: B+

War for the Planet of the Apes
The third in the latest series of Apes movies and supposedly the last. The movie takes place a few years after the last one; Caesar and his band of intelligent apes are living peacefully in the hills. Woody Harrelson stars as the Colonel — The leader of a military group that is hell bent on getting rid of all the apes. What is interesting about this movie is how serious the subject matter is — the perils of war, living with others (in this case apes) who are different than you. You have overtones of the Holocaust, black lives matter, gun violence, family dynamics and political extremes. This is not a forgettable special effects movie. I definitely recommend it. Grade: B+

 

DVDs

The Magnificent Seven
This remake stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt in this action western. I would file this in the “unnecessary remake” column. While there is a good cast and some decent action, it doesn’t really add up to much for me. Grade: C-

La La Land
The film that almost won the Best Picture Oscar is a movie you will watch again and again on home video. Come for the romance, the fantastic leads (Ryan Goslin, Emma Stone), great songs and dance sequences — in a movie you won’t forget. Plus they make my home city look awesome! There are hints at a sequel when you rewatch it. Grade: A

Inferno
Tom Hanks stars in the third movie based on the books of Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code). Hanks stars as Professor Robert Langdon. Felicity Jones co-stars. I was entertained by this movie. There are enough twists and turns to make it interesting. Grade: B-

The Light Between Oceans
Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander star in this drama based on the book by M.L. Stedman. The story concerns a young couple who live on a deserted island off the coast of Australia. The husband is a lighthouse keeper. After struggling to have child for several years, a boat washes up on the shore with a dead man and a baby. The couple decides to raise the child as their own, only to have their secret unravel as the truth comes out. Grade: A-

Bridget Jones’ Baby
Reneé Zellwegger is back as the title character in this 2nd sequel to Bridget Jones’ Diary. Love interest Colin Firth is back along with new suitor Patrick Dempsey — one of whom is the father of Bridget’s baby. This was a likable movie, and I had a few laughs. Grade: B

Queen of Katwe
This fact-based movie tells the story of Phiona — a young Ugandan girl who becomes a chess champion. Of course there are troubles along the way with her family. David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o are the girl’s mentor and mother respectively. I liked this movie, but found it a little dull too. Chess is not that exciting of a game. Grade: B-

Nocturnal Animals
Tom Ford directed and wrote the screenplay for this dark and engaging movie. It concerns a woman (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). She starts reading the book and gets wrapped up in the story that is told — of a family that experiences a terrifying act of road rage. The husband in the book story is also played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays one of the bad guys in the book story, and Michael Shannon (in his Oscar-nominated role) stars as a police detective in the book story too. This is one of the best movies I have seen in the past year. It is very intense and disturbing at times. It is highly recommended. Grade: A

Celine Dion “Taking Chances World Tour — The Concert”
This is the video for Celine’s last world tour between her 2 Vegas residencies. It is filmed in Boston. It is a good show, but my main criticism of this is the sound mix. You barely hear the crowd in the show and you half-way feel like you are listening to a studio recording when you listen to the CD that comes with it. I am ready for her to retire “My Heart Will Go On.” Grade: B-

Beyoncé “I Am… Yours: An Intimate Performance at the Wynn Las Vegas”
This is Queen Bey at the top of her game. Filmed back in 2009, this up close and personal show, was shown in an edited form on broadcast TV. The first half is her unplugged and the second half is with the full band. She puts on a high-energy show and you feel the excitement in the room when you play it. Includes 2 audio CDs too. I loved it! Grade: A+

Allied
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star is this war-time set movie. The stars play spies from different countries who fall in love and get married. Then the husband gets informed that his wife may be a secret spy for the Germans. I was bored with this movie. The stars try, but the script lets them down. Grade:C-

The Accountant
Ben Affleck stars as an accountant who is also a hitman with OCD. There are some great action sequences, as well as flashbacks to his life growing up (and why he is like he is). But it started to fall apart for me in the last third of the movie. They set up an interesting story but didn’t really know how to resolve it. Grade: B-

Patriot’s Day
Inspired by true events, this movie tells the story of the bombing of the Boston Marathon from a few years ago. Mark Wahlberg stars as a police officer who gets entangled with the events. He was there when it happened and helped the victims as well as helped to bring the brothers down. It includes footage at the end of real survivors from the event. Grade: A-

Stay tuned for the next installment that will feature TV and music reviews. As always, comments are kindly welcomed.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Now that it has been announced that American Idol is returning to TV, it got me thinking about what needs to be done to keep the show going. After a 15-season run on Fox, the show is coming to ABC for the 2017-18 TV season. That was a short break! The last episode aired on Fox on April 7, 2016. When it went off the air, and Ryan Seacrest said goodbye “for now” — I was predicting that it would be back in 5 years. So it is definitely coming back sooner than I thought it would. But it is a successful format, and it was still a Top 20 show, even if wasn’t making the headlines or the stars it once was.

0502-american-idol-logo-4

One of my suggestions was going to be to put the emphasis back on the contestants. You have to remember that when the show first came on, Paula Abdul was the only famous judge. And she was considered a has-been at that point. But ABC has already announced that Katy Perry has been hired as one of the judges, so much for that! I heard they wanted former contestants like Jennifer Hudson and Kelly Clarkson to be on the panel, but they are signed to The Voice as mentors. Chris Daughtry is one of the rumored judges also, but has not been confirmed yet. Ryan Seacrest is also confirmed to be coming back as host.

So here are my suggestions for the 16th season of American Idol:

  1. Get rid of the delusional contestants. It is one thing to have a good singer who blows the audition because of nerves. Or to be a good singer, but pick the wrong song to sing. It is another to have someone who has no talent take up valuable screen time like William Hung.
  2. Bring back the theme weeks of the early years. When you think back to the early years, years 1-4, the singers had to be versatile in a number of different styles and genres. Yes, it takes you out of your comfort zone. But for me, this really shows who the great singers are. Think of Kelly Clarkson doing Bette Midler or Carrie Underwood doing Heart. Those were star-making moments of the show.
  3. Connect the singers with some top songwriters. I want them to be able to write their own songs. If they could have Diane Warren or Justin Tranter give the contestants some help with songwriting that would be awesome. Imagine if the winner actually gets to sing his/her own coronation song. That would be great.
  4. Contestants can only go forward to Hollywood Week if it is a unanimous decision amongst the judges. None of this, 2 out of 3 saying yes and the person going through. There is a strong reason why that 1 person said No… and viewers at home probably agree with it.
  5. Be able to vote easily for up to 5 days after the original broadcast. Last time they let you vote on Google, which was cool. Plus voting by text and phone too. But most people watch shows at different times now. So those people should be able to vote on the results also.
  6. Bring back the results shows! I guess I was only one of the people that liked them. But I like the big group numbers and the duos and trios too. Half an hour would be fine.
  7. Get rid of the Ford commercials. You know those commercials that look like music videos with the contestants in them — but they are just ads for cars? I can’t say I would miss them.
  8. Bring back the Wild Card round. That was the round that brought Clay Aiken back to the competition after being cut. Someone good might have slipped through the cracks, and you would be giving them another chance to shine.
  9. Make sharing easy for each of the contestant’s performances. They should have a share button for Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, etc. The number of times a contestant is liked and shared should be counted in the contestant’s total for the week.

So those are my recommendations. What do think American Idol 2.0 is going to be like? I would love to hear your thoughts.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Pentatonix in Concert
Monday, July 3, 2017
Hollywood Bowl

Pentatonix-Bowl

July 4th Fireworks Spectacular with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins conductor

Special guest: US Air Force Band of the Golden West

Songs performed: Sing, Can’t Help Fallin’ in Love, Imagine, Take on Me, Hallelujah, Coldest Winter, Daft Punk, Michael Jackson medley, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Bohemian Rhapsody

Comments: Pentatonix, the a capella phenomenon, headlined 3 concerts at the Hollywood Bowl for their July 4th Fireworks Spectacular. I first became familiar with the group on the show “The Sing-Off” back in 2011. This was a reality competition for a capella singing groups. They won that season and have gone on to win 3 Grammys and sell out shows around the world.

I first saw the group in concert when they opened for Kelly Clarkson on her “Piece by Piece” tour in 2015. They also performed with her during the show also. They won the crowd over then, I knew they were on their way to being headliners.

The first part of the evening was just the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra under the conduction of Thomas Wilkins. They played a few numbers including “Yoda’s Theme” from “Star Wars” as well as the yearly salute to all the military branches. This the time when service members are encouraged to stand up and be acknowledged when their theme is played.

After a brief intermission, the Orchestra was joined by Pentatonix. Normally Pentatonix do all their shows with just them creating all the sounds. So it was a little different for them and for us — but in a good way. They did do the second song of the night, a capella — just to show the crowd what they can do. Their sound is so full, because they imitate the sounds of instruments with their vocals.

The show started with their original song “Sing” off their self-titled album. But the majority of the show was their interpretations of songs by other artists including those featured on their latest EP — “PTX, Vol. IV — Classics.”

That EP has their take on songs from Elvis, a-ha, the Andrew Sisters, John Lennon, Queen and more. They also performed their medleys of songs from Daft Punk and Michael Jackson as well. One of the more memorable numbers was a pop-operatic number sung entirely in Italian. We also got to hear Avi’s awesome bass vocals. Too bad he is leaving the group after this tour.

After “Take on Me,” the group exited the stage to make way for the fireworks. So the Orchestra was joined by the Air Force Band of the Golden West in a medley of patriotic tunes as fireworks exploded over the Bowl.

The group did come back after the fireworks for the finale of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was a rousing finale to another fun summer concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Thanks to Scott, Mitch, Kirstin, Avi and Kevin for an awesome show. I look forward to hearing more from you.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Jason Mraz in Concert
Friday, June 23, 2017
Hollywood Bowl

Birthday Celebration and Concert

jasonMrazSongs Performed: Let’s See What The Night Can Do, Make It Mine, The Remedy (I Won’t Worry), Common Pleasure, A Beautiful Mess, So You Think You Can Dance, Chocolate, Coming Undone, Try, Lucky, I Take the Music, I’m Yours/Three Little Birds, Details in the Fabric, You Do You, and I’ll Do Me, Browntown, Unfold, Might As Well Dance, Butterfly, You Matter To Me, Long Drive, 3 Things, Rise, Love Someone, Shine, 93 Million Miles/The Galaxy Song, I Won’t Give Up, Love Is Still the Answer

Comments: Jason Mraz celebrated his 40th birthday with a party and concert at the Hollywood Bowl. He first gained prominence with his debut album “Waiting for My Rocket to Come” back in 2002. Since then, he has released 5 studio albums, and a few live albums also. He has done world tours and played with top musicians. His most recent album was 2014’s “Yes!”.

I think it is pretty cool that an artist can celebrate their birthday at the Bowl. He had a party atmosphere going on with a carnival theme. There was a bounce house for the kids outside the venue; then inside there was a man on stilts and a juggler to greet you. As well as carnival games where you throw balls and swing the hammer. Jason came on stage and greeted the guests at 7:00 PM. He said how grateful he was for people coming out to celebrate with him. His friend took over and roamed the crowd (from the front to the back) getting people excited and interacting with them. Along the way, he made a few balloon animals too.

The show started at 7:30 PM, with Jason and his Superband taking the stage. His Superband included about 15 members including a horn section, a sitar player and a female trio called Raising Jane with whom he worked on “Yes!”. The show consisted of mainly tracks from his third and fifth albums. He did sing his breakthrough song “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” early in the show in a new reggae-tinged arrangement. His second album was completely ignored.

What you did get from Jason was a 3.5 hour show that consists of hits, album tracks, new songs and covers too. He had a great band — half of which was female. He had some inspired guest stars too. He brought out Colbie Caillat to sing with him on her song “Try” as well as on Jason’s song “Lucky” (which she appeared on the recorded version of). He brought out Sara Bareilles to sing “Long Drive” from the Broadway show “Waitress.” Both ladies were well chosen as they are female equivalents of his.

Though his most recent album “Yes!” wasn’t my favorite, I still believe in his artistry. In this day of corporate song-writing and cookie cutter artists, he stands out. He is someone who believes in love and in helping the planet. I have to admit I liked the songs from “Yes!” better in their live versions than on the album especially “Shine.”

During the middle of the show, he and his band played songs through the intermission — with instrumental versions of a few songs. I was glad that I could finally get to see Jason live. I had him on my list of artists yet to see. I would have liked some more of the earlier songs for sure, but I still feel that he put on a great show. His voice is very strong, and he is a good songwriter. I look forward to what he does in the future.

For the encore, he sang “I Won’t Give Up” (one of his best in my opinion) backed by a youth choir from a local school. The song describes the positive attitude and can-do optimism that we need more of in the world today. Thanks to Jason and his Superband for a memorable and entertaining evening.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

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