Friday, March 26, 2010

Review of the very first live performance of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Beethoven's Last Night"

For my 30th birthday, April and I went to Taft Theatre in downtown Cincinnati to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra kick off their first non-Christmas tour. We sat fairly close--some of the best balcony seats--close enough to clearly see the performer's faces, even with my poor eyesight. Our small crowd of about 2000 people was the first to hear TSO perform the entire "Beethoven's Last Night" album live. It's one of my favorite albums (in my top 20).

Their Christmas tours are played at much bigger venues, attract much larger crowds, and have more performers. The Christmas tours also dilute some of the TSO greatness, as they hire extra musicians so they can run an East tour and a West tour simultaneously.

Not so here. This was TSO at its finest. I've seen ex-Savatage members Al Pitrelli (guitar) and Johnny Lee Middleton (drums) perform several times during TSO's Christmas West tours, but this was the first time I'd seen ex-Savatage members Chris Caffery (guitar) and Jeff Plate (drums). Ex-Savatage producer/writer Paul O'Neill also made a brief appearance. I say ex-Savatage because, because although Savatage might not technically be dead, they haven't performed live or put out an album for ten years. TSO has largely replaced Savatage.

The band played the entire rock opera "Beethoven's Last Night," with a narrator explaining a bit of the story in-between songs. The narrator was good, but I knew the story well enough that I wish they would have left him out and stuck to the music. The music itself was incredible. Six talented vocalists, two piano/keyboard players, and an electric violinist added some additional flair to the traditional guitar/bass/drums. Jon Oliva, the heart and soul of Savatage, was missing in action--the songs he sang on this album were performed quite well by another vocalist. The other vocalists were also excellent, although I wish the song "Who is this Child" had been sung with less theatrics and more melody (and more like the version on the album).

I'm not sure how to explain how it is being in a concert like this. It's intense. I was grinning like a madman through half the songs. And when they finished the album, and after Al Pitrelli introduced the band members, they played a couple of Savatage songs.

The first, "Believe," is one of my top-ten songs. The only downside was that Jon Oliva wasn't singing it (although his replacement did a very good job). It's an intense gorgeous song. Originally released on Savatage's album "Streets: A Rock Opera," it was recently re-done for TSO's latest album, "Night Castle."
The other was an instrumental pulled mainly from Savatage's "Dead Winter Dead," the greatest album of all time.

And of course, lasers, projected pictures in the background, and stage fog all contributed to the atmosphere (although I personally think that lasers are overrated and should've been left out).

The concert lasted about 3 hours (although I did the math, and the actual time the band played music was only about 1.5 hours--the album, which is 1.25 hours, plus a couple of additional songs).

Overall, though, seeing the first live performance of this album (and hearing "Believe,") made this the best concert I've ever been to, and contributed to making this landmark birthday the best birthday I've ever had.

Monday, March 22, 2010

One of the reasons I'm happy the healthcare bill passed

A professional writer writes about writers and health insurance--and about the struggles writers and every other tiny business has had with the way America has done healthcare.
The last part of the article turns into a little bit of a rant against the Republicans, which a few of you might be offended about (personally, I'm not--the Republicans haven't put forth any serious attempts to solve healthcare since Richard Nixon, who would be denounced as a socialist/commie on talk radio today for his attempts at healthcare reform).
Anyway, read it, and skip the last few paragraphs if you're sensitive that way. This is something all aspiring writers and small business owners should be happy about.
The link.
And yes, he does look like a Tolkien dwarf.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cincinnati First, Salt Lake City Last

On the craziness scale, anyway.
I'm a bit surprised Cincy beat out cities on the coasts, though (especially after having lived in the Bay area).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Local Politics in Utah: Hall of Shame

For those who don't already know, both the Utah senate majority leader and the Utah house majority leader in Utah have had a spectacularly bad year.

The senate majority leader was given a DUI.

And the house majority leader admitted that in 1985, at the age of 30, he was in a hot tub with a 15-year-old. Both were naked. He claims there was no contact; she says differently. (Sounds a bit like Clinton's "I smoked marijuana but I never inhaled" line, except far, far worse). He paid her $150,000 for her silence as recently as 2002.

What's perhaps even more troublesome is that both major newspapers in Utah knew some details about the story since 2002--and kept quite about it. The Deseret News basically got a confession from him (it's unsure exactly how much the Trib knew, but they certainly new enough to investigate it further). The press is supposed to be a check on the government, but they dropped the ball here. And the other incredibly troublesome part--instead of calling him out for being a child predator, his colleagues in politics have shown him a great deal of support since the news broke out.

I'll let you find your own links--there may be new details about the story by the time you read this.

He should be on the national sex offender registry, not in a leadership position in Utah politics. The newspapers should have reported the story years ago, and his colleagues in Utah should do whatever they can to distance themselves from him.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

How to Fix Health Care

Health care in the US faces two major problems. It's expensive, and because it's expensive, for some it's out of reach.
The employer-based system we have right now doesn't work. It may have worked when it originated--when people stayed with the same job their entire lives. But times have changed, and our health care system needs to change with it in order to meet society's needs.

Here are the changes I'd like to see.

First, basic cost-effective health care for everyone. Essentially, Medicare for all, but (unlike Medicare), a system that actually cares about costs. Is medicine "A" 99.99% effective and costs $1000/day, and is medicine B 99.98% effective and costs $10/day? Currently, (as far as I understand) cost is not a consideration in determining care (at least for Medicare), and the (slightly) more effective yet (absurdly) more expensive product would be used. Obviously, if we are concerned about costs (and as health care rates continue to rise, we need to be), we need to make some adjustments.

Also needed is a clear, reasonable voice in every non-emergency test/surgery/procedure to say, "is this really necessary? Is there a cheaper way to do this that's just as good?" A huge amount of health care expenses goes to unnecessary surgeries and tests that may benefit the doctor and the hospital, but don't actually help the patient.

Also, clearly we need what Sarah Palin so (cough) eloquently and accurately (cough) referred to as "Death Panels." People should be encouraged to write living wills and should be encouraged to talk to their families and doctors about end-of-life options. While families and individuals have the right to pay for whatever they wish to, I'm not sure the government (or an employer, for that matter) should pay for 90-year-old Oma's terribly expensive open heart surgery, especially when Oma has liver cancer and isn't expected to live another year anyway. (I've seen several incidents of close to $1 million spent on people like Oma--that's probably taxpayer money there).

An additional possibility: a 10% to 30% copay on the first $10,000 or so, to keep things competitive and keep costs down (but still allow people access to health care when they need it). Medicaid assistance if a person can't afford the copay.

Private or employee insurance (to upgrade to more expensive care such as having your own room in a hospital, etc.) would still be available to those who can afford it. And people could pay out-of-pocket for any upgrade they want.

I think it's a politically moderate proposal, as likely to offend Democrats as Republicans. I also think it's what we need to cut health care costs down to what other people in the civilized world pay (ie--half as much as we pay).