Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band, Nissan Pavilion

Had the pleasure of making the 50 minute drive out to Nissan Pavilion just outside of nowhere on Sunday night. I noticed that the Boss would be in town a couple weeks ago, but was very surprised to find a large number of tickets still on sale.

Of course, this was mainly due to the fact that he was touring on his new album, We Shall Overcome, a set of songs Pete Seeger used to do (he didn't write them) re-arranged for a 17 piece band. Like most fans, I was a bit skeptical, but for a mere $25 bucks (sans mandatory $7 donation to the Clear Channel Fund for Excellence), I was willing to give it a shot. My girlfriend and I got there early to tailgate a bit with friends, but the parking lot was noticeably subdued for a Boss show on a holiday weekend. When he went on about 8 pm, the pavilion was full but the lawn area (where we were sitting) was patchy at best.

Regardless of my skepticism, Bruce and his band did a fine job. Much like most radio country songs, you need not be familiar with this material (necessarily) to enjoy hearing it. His voice is easily one of the two or three most familiar in the American rock canon, and it translated quite well to the new material. He infused the songs with his trademark blue-collar passion and exuberance, squinting his eyes and wrinkling his brow as he delivered age-old, quintessentially American tunes like "Shenandoah", "Erie Canal", and the showstopping "Pay Me My Money Down" which had the crowd belting out the cyclical chorus well after the band left the stage.

If you can concede that "Americana" is a broad and vast but ultimately relevant musical genre, then we witnessed one of the finest mixtures of all that genre would encompass. If these songs
are -- at their core -- part of our folk tradition, they rely on heaping portions of country and rock. But what's more, no song goes untouched by the wonderful accents of gospel, jazz, zydeco, blues, and bluegrass. His four (maybe five, we were far away) piece horn section was dynamite, his fiddlers tasteful in their leads and licks, and everyone else rock solid. The nicest surprise? Marc Anthony Thompson -- aka "Chocolate Genius", released a couple Pitchfork-acclaimed albums and contributed a great cover of "Julia" to the I Am Sam soundtrack -- who added some wonderfully soulful vocal parts to Springsteen's familiar Jersey-gravelpit bellow.

Watching him on stage, one thing is immediately apparent: you are watching the greatest bandleader on the planet. The players are immaculately selected, the songs perfectly worked out. He has a gravitational presence on stage, cueing chord changes and solos within the band while also leading the audience through previously unheard material.

Now most people probably left slightly disappointed that he didn't play a single hit or old song. In fact, he didn't even play a song that he himself wrote. And, yes, I had a sneaking suspicion he would put that horn section to good use and whip out "Rosalita" or another, maybe a little rare, classic. But to do so would've undermined the image of the Boss that most people love: he's our unassuming, blue collar hero. His posturing isn't ironic, it's empassioned. And while he always seems grateful for his fans' appreciation of his music, it was apparent that this night was more about honoring some of the touchstones of the American songbook. In typically unassuming fashion, the Boss still isn't quite ready to place his own songs on that same level.

10 Days and Counting...

The World Cup is a mere ten days away. I am way, way behind on my country profiles, so I'll try to abbreviate some of them and make sure to hit all the biggies, but not leave out the interesting little guys either. Also, a lot of friendlies this past weekend and a big slate today, plus injuries and team announcements...

Poland 1 - Colombia 2. Freak goal from the Colombian keeper settles the game.

Czechs 1 - Costa Rica 0. Jan Koller returned to action but Tomas Rosicky was still out and Nedved didn't play in the Czech victory.

ENGLAND - I chose to do England because I don't really need to look anything up for them. England's a team everyone's talking about, and everyone will always talk about, so long as they're a part of the tournament. The second most romanticized team in the world -- "birthplace of football" and all that jazz -- this is a team that could reach the final or severely disappoint their very large (and international) fanbase. The talk nowadays is all about injuries. Can Wayne Rooney return from a broken metatarsal? Will Michael Owen return to fitness in time to lead the line up top?
But there are other significant questions as well. An all-star midfield cast of David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Joe Cole may be deadly on free kicks and score a number of spectacular goals, but which of those four will provide defensive cover for a good but occasionally shaky backline? Will soon-to-depart manager Sven-Goran Eriksson employ a deep-lying holding midfielder like Tottenham's rising star Michael Carrick? England play today against Hungary, and rumor has it that Eriksson may actually play Liverpool's Jamie Carragher in defensive midfield (as opposed to his more natural center back role).

In terms of their draw, I think most people are looking past Paraguay to a possible showdown with Sweden. This could be fatal. Paraguay is a solid team who's advanced past the group stage both of the past tournaments and given their Round of 16 opponents (eventual champs France in 98 and eventual runners-up Germany in 02) fits before losing 1-0. They allow very few goals but have some Europe-based attacking flair in Bayern Munich striker Roque Santa Cruz. I can see England, without Rooney's cutting edge, only getting a draw out of this game. Trinidad won't put up much resistance, and I think England finally gets over their slump (dating back to 1967) against the Swedes to top the group. The bottom line for this team is playing to their strengths. There is no need for the conservative play that has plagued the team in the past. No European team can match its midfield attack but a few teams could exploit them on the counter attack. How this balances out will likely determine their fate.
Best case scenario: Finalists. Could easily happen.
Worst case scenario: Out at the Round of 16 to Germany on penalties. Every England fan's recurring nightmare.

TUNISIA - Few people will expect much of Tunisia, playing in their fourth World Cup and their third consecutive. They've failed to win a game in their past two appearances, having two 1-1 draws (with Romania in 98 and Belgium in 02) to show for their efforts. But where the last campaign fell apart due to conservative tactics -- they needed a win vs. Japan to advance out of their group in 02 but packed the midfield and underwhelmed in a 2-0 loss -- but this time around they've got former French coach Roger Lemerre at the helm. Lemerre was an assistant for the World Cup winning side in 98 and head coach for the French team triumph at Euro 2000. He may not have the same artillery he had with France, but his team's pedigree is better than it was last time out. Brazilian-born Dos Santos is a legitimate goal-scorer and Rahdi Jaidi is of Bolton is a towering presence in the back and a threat on set-pieces. The real problem will be the supply line. They only have two goals to show for their past six games, and only one win (2-0 vs. Australia in the last Confederations Cup) since becoming the first African team to win a World Cup game (3-1 vs. Mexico in 1978). Can they find the quality in midfield to supply a decent frontline? Can they sneak a result against favored World Cup debutantes Ukraine? Their first game against Saudi Arabia will decide everything: anything less than three points and their chances at advancing are shot. Spain and Ukraine look most likely to advance, but you never know.
Best case scenario: Sneak into the Round of 16.
Worst case scenario: Another measly draw, two losses, and a quick trip home.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Walkmen with Mazarin and Nethers, 9:30 Club

Made it down to the 9:30 Club last night to catch homegrown boys the Walkmen. I got there towards the end of Nethers' opening opening set. They showed some promise and my friend remarked that the female lead singer had "a really good voice."

Mazarin came on about 9:30 to a half-full house. I had sampled a few tracks off their myspace page and read some promising reviews. But what tipped the scales was the presence of drummer Patrick Berkery of the Pernice Brothers and -- most importantly -- of one of my alltime favorite bands, Philly's now-defunct Bigger Lovers. The band played with little fanfare, inhabiting a similar sonic-space to other earnest, atmospheric guitar bands like Centro-matic and Band of Horses. Lead singer Quentin Stoltzfus has a Doug Martsch beard but sings with a detachment similar to the Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser, were he stoned and his voice soaked with reverb. It's all very unassuming stuff, but the band chugged along at a steady clip, its melodic -- if somewhat indecipherable -- songs accented by a little shoegazing. However, the unquestionable hero of the night was Berkery. Let it be noted that I am a biased, big time fan boy who worships the Bigger Lovers' debut, How I Learned to Stop Worrying, as one of the five or so best albums, ever*. Berkery would've been hard-pressed to do wrong by Stoltzfus's songs, but rarely (read: never?) have I seen a drummer add so much power, energy, and depth to a band. The fills were inventive but effortless, the volume perfect...hell, even the mild theatrics gave the whole act a visual appeal it would've otherwise been missing. I'm just gushing now, but, Mr. Berkery, if you're reading...will you come play drums in my band?

Anyway, there was also a headliner on this night, and the place was packed for the Walkmen's homecoming. We actually saw a few over-served girls get asked to leave, and when their friends weren't bumping up against us, they were distracting my buddy Smokey by making out a couple feet away (apparently I missed this). This was the second night of a June tour in support of their third LP, A Hundred Miles Off, and they played a good deal of that album. From what I heard last night, reviews calling the album a little more bland and not as gripping as the first two are true. They were loud and pummelling, but the nice change-up of "What's In It For Me?" was noticeably missing. The band's stage presence could use a little work too: I've never seen a packed house inspire less enthusiasm. The applause before the encore was half-hearted at best.

Which isn't to say that the show didn't have it's high points; in fact, these high points were quite high. New track "Louisiana" was a real gem, starting off breezy but switching gears a number of times and featuring a brief trumpet hook. I enjoyed "Lost in Boston" quite a bit (both songs available on their myspace page) as well, and, of course, they've got "The Rat" down pat. Drummer Matt Barrack looks like a cast-off from the School of Rock set, but he attacks his drums with such persistence that the double backbeat (a favorite of his too, apparently) is actually dictating my bio-rhythms this morning.

All in all, a good evening of performances. Could've been great, but it seems the Walkmen haven't quite figured out how to translate the push-pull, resignation-anger, back-and-forth of their recorded work into a great live show.

*As Berkery exited the stage, I yelled "Long live the Bigger Lovers." He pointed at us.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

USA 0 - Morocco 1: Breakdown

It took me a couple days to wade through the mindless midfield toiling and Morocco's unflinching commitment to sending as few players into attack as possible, but I finally finished watching the USA's first of three main tune-up games ahead of the quickly approaching World Cup.

If you didn't see the game, it wasn't one for the casual fan trying to "get into soccer". Morocco came out with a either a 5-4-1 or a 4-5-1 formation (depending on your perspective), and, though they made some headway early on, stuck to defending en masse for the better portion of the game. They created a couple chances -- one a header early in the second half created by a simply unacceptable marking job by the Americans -- but mainly stayed conservative and organized.

The USA, on the other hand, lost captain and midfield general Claudio Reyna to a hamstring injury -- the guy is always injured -- after fifteen minutes and then never looked like winning. He was replaced by the more defensive-minded Pablo Mastroeni, a bright spot. Our best couple chances were an Eddie Johnson header from a corner, a Bobby Convey right-footed drive from 23 yards, and a Landon Donovan shot from the edge of the penalty area that forced the Moroccan keeper into a good save.

And all that would've been fine; after all, I'm a career defender who sees nothing wrong with a 0-0 draw if neither team really deserved to score. It's definitely the cynic in me, but in a 0-0 game with less than a minute on the clock, I don't leave a single fullback one-on-one while I send everyone else forward. When Morocco cleared Donovan's very lame 90th minute free kick and sent the ball downfield, only poor Steve Cherundolo was there to cover. He misplayed the situation badly, coughed up the ball to the pressuring Moubarki who passed it to the wide open Madihi. Madihi controlled and knocked the ball over the onrushing Kasey Keller with ease for the winner. If it wasn't enough that Cherundolo was left to chase alone, it was an absolute travesty that Moubarki had time to take a touch look up to find a THREE-ON-TWO on the top of the Americans box, with only Mastroeni recovering to help out.

Most of the Americans were medicore -- fine in defense and possession, but offering little in attack. Comanche/soul player ratings:

Keller - 5. Did fine, went down a little early on the goal.
Pope - 6.5. Looked impressive back there, didn't lose any big battles.
Onyewu - 5.5. Is certainly not a right back and, should Arena play a 3-5-2 (see below), there's no real place for him. Looked much better at center back alongside Pope.
Cherundolo - 4.5. Would have been higher but mistakes like that will send the US home early in Germany.
Gibbs - 4.5. Was not particularly impressed with his play. Some quicker Moroccan attackers got too much separation from him.
Reyna - no rating. What's the deal with this guy? Why can't he stay healthy?
Donovan - 5. Was he out there the whole time?
O' Brien - 6. In 45 minutes, alleviated some concerns. We badly need this guy on the field.
Beasley - 5. Defended fine, fought hard, created next to nothing.
Wolff - 5. Not a winger, but looked sharper in the second half when he moved to a more central, advanced role. Still our best bet to partner McBride.
McBride - 4.5. Sub-par. It's been a long season for the Fulham man, and maybe he's a little worn down. Either way, we will not win a game in Germany if neither starting forward can muster a single opportunity on goal.

Mastroeni - 7. Probably more like a 6.5, but his effort and presence bump the score up. His fitness may not be ideal as his passing seemed lazy late in the game, but broke up countless plays and could easily figure into a starting lineup in Germany. Don't forget his clutch, composed performances in 2002.
Convey - 6. Looked pretty good to this viewer. Some dangerous serves, a decent strike with his off-foot, ran at players. Maybe worked himself a little closer to the picture. Looking forward to seeing what the ex-DC kid can do in the Premier League next year.
Johnson - 4.5. Had our two best chances. Put his header close, but wide and high (offensive headers down!), and badly sliced the rebound from Donovan's shot. Still, you get the feeling he is just one clean finish away from a scoring tear.
Dempsey - 4.5. Looked ready to attack but didn't get much of the ball. Doesn't offer enough width in a 4-4-2.
Ching - NR. Can't remember any touches, though he won a dangerous free kick.

Bottom line:
A performance even remotely resembling this one will get us, at best, a 1-0 loss again. Enough with the formation tinkering: we don't have the kind of backs that can handle a 3 back system. Eddie Lewis at left back will provide a considerable more attack from that flank, as well as solid experience. Onyewu and Pope are the center backs, without question, and, despite his terrible error, Cherundolo is still the right back. Eddie Johnson deserves a full runout to see what he can do with McBride. Can Beasley play on the right and Convey on the left? O' Brien and Reyna are no-brainers. If one isn't healthy, Mastroeni is the obvious choice.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More World Cup Team Profiles

31 left to go, so I thought I'd keep pluggin' away. I haven't decided how I'm going to organize it, but for the time being I'll just pick them at random.
Here are two more World Cup Contenders...

IVORY COAST - The former French colony (really "Cote d'Ivoire") is competing in the World Cup finals for the first time, despite its success at youth levels and much of its lineup competing in some of Europe's biggest leagues. Led by Chelsea targetman Didier Drogba, the Ivorians made a strong run in the African Nations' Cup this past winter, losing out to host Egypt in the final in a shootout. In fact, though Drogba is the most recognizable, defenders Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue were instrumental in Arsenal's run to the Champions League final, helping keep 11 clean sheets on the way. The Elephants -- as they're affectionately known -- are coached by World Cup veteran Henri Michel. Michel coached France to their best-ever World Cup finish (at the time) in 1986 in Mexico, then took Cameroon to WC94 and Morocco to WC98. Of all the African teams (four of the five are first-time WC participants), they look the most likely to impress. Unfortunately, they've been given a rough draw into Group C with Argentina, the Netherlands, and the recently-divided-but-still-competing-together Serbia and Montenegro. That said, if those teams overlook them at all, the Elephants are perfectly capable of getting some surprise results.
Best possible scenario: Second place in the group, and a winnable game against either Portugal or Mexico in the Round of 16. A la Senegal, a quarterfinal place is entirely possible.
Worst possible scenario: Three losses in the Group.

JAPAN - The Japanese return to the World Cup for the third consecutive time, having hosted and advanced out of the first round for the first time ever in 2002. They were a little unlucky to lose to Turkey in the Round of 16, and, with more of their players playing abroad and a favorable draw, this is a team with the potential to get to the knockout stages. Of course, calling any draw with the mighty Brazil "favorable" is iffy; regardless, with Australia and stingy but not-so-dangerous Croatia on the slate, they've got a chance. And if anyone in the group could upset the Brazilians, might it be Japan, coached by Brazilian legend Zico? Former Arsenal man Junichi Inamoto and Celtic midfielder Nakamura will have to create plenty of chances for a team that includes five strikers but no proven goalscorers. Their warmup friendly next Tuesday vs. Germany will be a good measuring stick and a decent result could build confidence. The Japanese qualified by topping their Asian qualifying group with Iran, Bahrain, and North Korea.
Best possible scenario: Round of 16 loss to Italy/Czechs/USA.
Worst possible scenario: Three straight losses in the group stages.

Coup du Jour

In the biggest summer signing so far, Champions League Runners-up Arsenal have signed Tomas Rosicky from Germany's Borussia Dortmund for an undisclosed fee rumored to be around 7 million pounds. For a peek at the dimunitive Czech playmaker's talents, go here (and note the ball he plays to fellow Czech Jan Koller at the 5:21 mark). Comanche/soul likes this signing, as Rosicky is still just 25 and should be accustomed to fast, physical play from his time in Germany. However, it goes to show how the 1997 European champs Dortmund have fallen, selling off a 25 year old star for 8 million pounds less than what they paid for him.

Also, a full slate of friendlies (scroll by day to see the rest of the week) this week sees most World Cup teams in action. The USA takes on Morocco -- a team dear to my heart from my time spent over there -- in Nashville tonight at 7 pm. The game will be televised live on ESPN2.

And finally, though we clearly don't have enough days left before the World Cup, I'll be profiling teams on here regularly, trying to get at least one a day. I'll assess their chances, their lineup, and make some predictions. Stay tuned.

Today's World Cup Contender:
GERMANY - The Germans have never really been a favorite team of mine. I enjoy the 1990 WC winners because they seemed to play with an attacking flair often absent for the team usually characterized as "methodical and organized". On that team, Matthaeus was the engine with Klinsmann and Voeller razor sharp with their finishing. They suffered through a rough patch in 94 and 98, losing to upstart Eastern European teams each time, but that rough period was sandwiched between a fairly impressive European Championship win in 1996. 2002's run to the final was a major surprise, but, as the German media is still quick to point out, they didn't really beat anyone en route (and haven't since they knocked off England 1-0 in Wembley in an early qualifier for 2002...you may recall they lost the follow up game at home, 5-1). To be sure, they can't be counted out. A relatively favorable draw-- Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador -- means they'll advance out of their group (no host has ever been eliminated in the first round), but will almost certainly have a tough knockout game waiting for them in England or Sweden. They've got a lot of youngters in the team, and new Chelsea signing Michael Ballack showed in '02 that he can carry the team on his shoulders. Bastian Schweinsteiger is the guy everyone's talking about now, and look for him to provide some spark in attacking midfield, possibly off the bench. Miroslav Klose is one of those strikers who always seems to score goals without looking like a particularly good finisher, but I think his goals and the drive of Ballack put them in the quarterfinals.
Best Case Scenario: Semifinals. Could happen with a little luck.
Worst Case Scenario: Second round. Falling to England or Sweden after dropping down to second in Group A.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Agree to Disagree, Agree to Disagree

Slate's founding Editor published a somewhat interesting piece on the political genius of John McCain. It's okay, I guess, but worth it most for his link to McCain's graduation speech at Columbia. He brings up some interesting points, before fading a little bit at the end. The central idea is that the debate over current polarizing political issues is a worthy and important one, and that the dialogue between right and left (and center, s'pose), should bring us together. Upon first read, his mention of the atrocities in Darfur is refreshing -- inasmuch as its nice to hear an American politician giving some public support for American involvement there -- but its a brief mention and, I think, could use a little more fleshing out. What exactly are we doing over there? What took us so long to start doing it? Our previous inaction isn't something McCain himself is totally responsible for, but while we're laying our individual cards on the table, he might as well give us his view of America's role in Sudan.

In his prior commencement speech at Liberty University, McCain covered similar terrain but, I think, did a good job of gauging his audience. Still, he's one big connection away from making the speech really stick. For example, he talks about how we turned our backs on Rwanda where nearly a million people were killed and how we're not going to turn our backs on Darfur (anymore) and let the same thing happen. Some tangible connection here -- Saddam as ruthless murdering tyrant and we as preemptive force -- would be helpful.

All in all, two speeches definitely worth reading, if just to follow the fine line McCain is walking between different demographics.

DC Summer Concert Preview

It's that time of year -- lawn chairs dusted off, five or six new coozies broken in, zero sight-line lawn tickets purchased. Comanche/soul is pretty excited about the concert lineup in the DC area this summer, so I thought I'd run down some of the highlights here. Check back for frequent updates as they get announced.

The Walkmen w/ Mazarin. May 25, 9:30 Club. Hometown boys return in support of their newest album, A Hundred Miles Off. Mazarin opens, joined by former Bigger Lovers' and current Pernice Brothers' ace drummer Patrick Berkery.

Pearl Jam w/ My Morning Jacket. May 30, Verizon Center. Pearl Jam's latest is supposedly a return to form, but there's still no denying it: there is no band more to blame for the rise of Creed. Still, MMJ in a big arena might be worth the price of admission.

Eels w/ The Spinto Band. June 11, 9:30 Club. Mark E. leads the Eels back out on tour after releasing a live album and DVD, done with a string section. Their last proper LP, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, was a bit watered down, but still had some great moments ("Going Fetal" and "Last Time We Spoke").

Cat Power and the Memphis Rhythm Band. June 14, 9:30 Club. Chan Marshall takes her Stax house band out on tour after being delayed due to an unnamed illness. Expect persistent stage fright, charmingly bad dental work, and probably the cutest girl in indie rock. Look for regular c/s reader Greg Lohmeyer front and center.

Dungen. June 14, Black Cat. Swedish psych group Dungen hit the District, very excited about this show, hope to be there.

Alejandro Escovedo w/ Marah. June 24, 9:30 Club. Maybe the best double bill of the summer: veteran cowpunk Escovedo, recovered from his bout with Hepatitis, hits the road again. Philly Springsteen worshippers Marah open.

The Futureheads w/ French Kicks. June 28, 9:30 Club. Sunderland's favorite acapella-post-punk quartet come back to the States for a summer club tour, in support of their sophomore album News and Tributes. Caught them in Minneapolis in early '05 and they're a very tight live band who did great covers of Neil Young's throwaway "Piece of Crap" and the Television Personalities' "Picture of Dorian Gray".

...more shows to follow, stay posted. Also, comanche/soul will be at the Nissan Pavilion on Sunday to see none other than the Boss himself as he takes his Seeger Sessions band on the road. 25 bucks for a lawn ticket seems like a hell of a deal.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Blank" is the new "Blank"

You know that phrase "brown is the new black", or the myriad variations of it? It seems like everything in style is the new something else (true or false? either way, a question for the ages) these days, with that phrase being thrown around constantly. I'd like to start compiling a list of similarly-structured phrases, so I'll start it off with some ones I've heard and/or came up with myself. Feel free to post comments or send them to me here.

Ethnic cuisine: Thai is the new Indian.
Tipping: 18 is new the 15 (percent). *Credit Greg Lohmeyer.
Artistic direction of the band Wilco: Audience participation is the new Jim O' Rourke.
Male Fashion: The pocket square is the new necktie.
Navy is the new black.
Music: Josh Ritter is the new Elliot Smith.
Lounge is the new Garage.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. Send your suggestions my way.

Whole Wide World...
TAJIKISTAN - formerly part of the Soviet Union, this Central Asian country imploded into chaos and Civil War after the breakup of the USSR, presumably to continue to feed the country's addiction to, well, chaos and Civil War. No, but seriously, pre-1991 there was no Civil War, just chaos. Now it's a struggling aluminum-producing state -- unfortunate to be landlocked between China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and longtime rivals Uzbekistan; ruled by a not particularly open-minded government; and stuck as the first stop on the drug trade from Afghanistan to the West.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bear eats Monkey in Dutch Zoo

I open with this strange news out of the Netherlands. Apparently a sloth bear ate a barbary macaque (more commonly known as a barbary ape) while visitors watched at a zoo in the Netherlands. Surprisingly, in the long and bizarre history of "the munchies" in Holland, no one had previously tried to eat a macaque.

President Bush spoke last night about some tough issues or something. I didn't watch; I was busy returning a quarter-full keg of Natural Light to the liquor store.

Here at comanche/soul we've become alarmed at most Americans' lack of knowledge about other parts of the world. With those map quizzes from middle school long forgotten, we've decided to remedy the problem through a new feature called Whole Wide World -- named after the sweet Wreckless Eric song (oft covered by the Bigger Lovers), not the Raffi sing-a-long.
Each installation will feature a country profile and a few links for your enjoyment.

Whole Wide World...
GUINEA-BISSAU - sandwiched between Senegal and Guinea on Africa's western coast, this small nation was a Portuguese colony until 1974. Its primary export is cashew nuts and it is in a veritable abyss of foreign debt. The capital (easy enough) is Bissau. Read more here. In the FIFA World Soccer rankings, Guinea-Bissau sit tied with Tonga at 186th.

Brazil coach Parreira announces his 23 man World Cup roster.

The Mavs knocked off the Spurs in OT last night in Dallas. Finals vet Steve Kerr explains how.
And in a bigger surprise (perhaps), Cleveland slugged out a second straight win against Detroit, 74-72. Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace had guaranteed victory, and continues to guarantee a series victory with things tied at 2 games a piece.

Duke Lacrosse's co-captain was indicted but claimed his innocence in a bizarre PR stunt, press briefing-type session yesterday. Dave Evans -- native of Bethesda and supposedly the son of a lobbyist -- appeared before the media and gave a slightly nervous, but mostly collected speech professing his innocence. This thing has gone on long enough already, but we're probably just getting started...and frankly, I can't stand it. The prosecution seems to have no evidence, but they keep indicting kids, one of whom has a nearly watertight alibi. On the other hand, when I have to watch guys like Evans quiver on camera, I'm merely reminded again of how much I hate Duke. Let's get to the bottom of this as soon as possible, then not mention the word "Duke" until their overrated team bows out meekly from the NCAAs again next year.

In music news...
Quasi-indie, faux-power pop supergroup the Raconteurs have announced tour dates. This after an Australian jazz group forced them to go by "The Saboteurs" whilst down under.

Pitchfork reviewed the still-unreleased sophomore LP from The Futureheads, News and Tributes. Don't know why they reviewed it three weeks before it comes out Stateside. A better Futureheads PR move would've been to review it just before its release and generate some buzz, kinda like that Seinfeld episode where George's girlfriend goes topless around Kramer, Jerry, and Elaine before George has seen her naked.

Stylus has a review of Grandaddy's swansong, Just Like The Fambly Cat.

Monday, May 15, 2006

World Cup 2006

With the start of the 2006 World Cup in Germany approaching just three short weeks away, I thought I'd turn comanche/soul's attention towards northern Europe and the world's biggest sporting event. While Brazil are clear favorites at this point, exactly who will compete against them is very much up for grabs. Some like Argentina to compete, with their Spanish-based core of Lionel Messi, Riquelme, Aimar, et al, but a South American team has only won one World Cup in Europe (Brazil, 1954 in Sweden). England's stock had risen -- right up until wunderkind Wayne Rooney's broken foot threatened to keep him out of the tournament (at best he will miss only the first two games). Germany, as hosts, should compete but on paper look much weaker than previous teams.

Greg Lalas (any relation?) of SI.com sees a few things coming out of this World Cup:
1. the decline of France as a soccer power and 2. the rise of Mexico and Spain as legitimate title contenders. Though he's marginally right in saying that France has been the definitive influence on world soccer in the past ten years, he misses a few key points. First and foremost, one of the two most feared, talented, and coveted players on the planet right now is French (Henry), and it looks as though he is just reaching the peak of his creative powers. Secondly, France's decline is nothing new. They failed to score a single goal in 2002 and went out to Greece in Euro 2004.

As for Spain, this is nothing to place any money on. Spain's potential and failure to live up to that potential are equally well-documented. I like a lot of their players -- Xabi Alonso, Xavi, David Villa, Casillas, Puyol -- but they always fail to develop the chemistry that their talents require. In other words, the jury's still out, but at least this Spain squad has some new faces.

In the case of Mexico, Lalas may be on to something big. Mexico has one of the strongest team spirits in the tournament. They play well together and I've never seen them be truly outclassed by a better opponent. They're comfortably above the second tier talent-wise, but always seem hungry for the respect given to the top tier of teams. Lalas comments that a few of their players are now plying their trade in Europe, but of the three, only Marquez has impressed me while Borgetti has barely stepped on the field at Bolton.

Like most World Cups (see Korea and Turkey as semifinalists in '02), it's all up in the air. But in case you're wondering, here's my World Cup breakdown, as of May 15:

Round of 16:
Germany v England
Netherlands v Portugal
Italy v Australia
France v Ukraine
Sweden v Costa Rica
Argentina v Mexico
USA v Brazil
Switzerland v Spain

England v Netherlands
Italy v France
Sweden v Mexico
Brazil v Spain

Netherlands v Italy
Mexico v Brazil

Brazil by a goal over the Netherlands.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Everybody's Workin' for the Weekend

Last day of a not-so-grueling week. The fanboys out there will be happy to see I posted twice in one week. Have a good weekend.

In the news...
Champion of the People, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher has been indicted by a special grand jury this morning. Besides generally sucking, Fletcher's posse cleaned house when they came into office, removing a good number of government workers from merit-based jobs and replacing them with party loyalists. Sounds pretty par for the Republican course if you ask me (cough, cough Michael Brown cough, cough), but this indictment could be big trouble in lil' Frankfort for Kentucky's first Republican governor since Louie B. Nunn was elected in 1967.

The always-interesting John Dickerson of Slate finds some peculiarities with declaring Hillary Clinton a Democratic shoo-in so early in the process. Is it a Republican conspiracy? Are they trying to handpick their opponent?

Quick world news recap: The situation in Sri Lanka has escalated, with international truce monitors intervening with the Tamil Tigers after two days of rebel attacks on Sri Lankan naval ships. An oil pipeline explosion in Nigeria has left over 150 dead and was likely caused by people drilling holes in the pipeline to steal oil. Places to cross off the family summer vacation list: Ethiopia, where bloody battles ensued yesterday in Mogadishu. The violent conflict pits "transitional government forces" more commonly known as warlords against radical Islamic leaders known as the Islamic Court Union. Now that's a marquee matchup of corrupt evil right there.

In music, etc...
Also on Slate, Josh Levin reviews Art School Confidential, a movie I still plan to see. Unfortunately, his review did nothing to encourage me.

The staff of Allmusic Guide once again breaks down this week's American Idol episode. For those that don't know, Chris was shockingly eliminated, while Katherine McPhee seemed to slide in to the next round by the skin of her pearly white, suburban teeth. Could it come down to Taylor and Elliot, the two least marketable of the final five? Comanche/soul sticks with Taylor's country-club R&B shtick...he can play my wedding any day.

Finally, a link to one of my alltime favorite Pitchfork pieces, The Days Rock Died by Rob Mitchum. Pretty damn hilarious if you ask me.

In the sports world...
Weekend soccer preview/wrap-up:
Liverpool take on West Ham United in the FA Cup Final, Saturday (10 am EST) at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. It's Liverpool's first FA Cup Final since triumphed over Arsenal 2-1 in 2001. Xabi Alonso's injury status is still up in the air.
Looks like AC Milan's Andriy Shevchenko, former European Player of the Year, wants a move away from the San Siro -- specifically to somewhere in the English Premier League. This, of course, is bad news for everyone except Chelsea.

NBA Playoffs back tonight - Heat and the Nets are back in Jersey tied 1-1. Clippers and Suns are in LA, also tied at 1 a piece.

ESPN.com does some more entertaining but mostly useless analysis on the baseball season so far (it's still just a month old, right?). The Cincinnati Reds are one of the big surprises, leading the division (and coming off an 11th inning walk-off homer win over the Nats last night), but any good Reds fan knows how little the first two months of the season mean. But if Griffey can get healthy, watch out...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Welcome back

Complaints have rained in lately regarding the infrequency of my posts. I apologize...I didn't expect this to be as incredibly popular as it has been so far.

On to the important stuff...
Frontline last night really turned my attention towards the developing (or, developed, as it were) crisis in Palestine. The election of the Hamas party to power has had serious diplomatic and economic consequences. With Gaza on the verge of financial collapse due to mounting debts and fuel shortages, a temporary band-aid has been put in place. The Frontline piece itself stuck to the usual Western media criticisms of the Palestinian cause, but it was hard to find much sympathy in a Hamas group that failed to see any value in continuing any sort of negotations with Israel.

Supposedly -- supposedly -- a Chicago school teacher is being investigated for making derogatory remarks about Mexican students. According to accusations made by middle school kids, she said that "all Mexicans were criminals" and were "only good for cleaning floors." Reasons I don't believe this story (yet): 1. They're middle school kids. 2. She taught in a Latino charter school. No one in their right mind would say such a thing while teaching in a Latino charter school in urban Chicago.

Slate articulated Monday how Nancy Pelosi may have blown the Dems' advantage ahead of November's midterm elections. Thanks Nance.

I actually feel sick when I read this story...poor little critters. NBC 4 -- by way of the DCist -- reports that 86 dogs and cats were removed recently from a home in Stafford, VA.

Good news everyone! It's official: Britney Spears and Kevin Federline are expecting a second child. Rumors had been swirling, but Spears made it official last night on David Letterman.

A collective exhale -- presumably of pharmaceutical-tinged smoke -- went out everywhere yesterday when Rolling Stones publicist Fran Curtis announced that Keith Richards had not suffered any more brain damage as an effect of surgery on May 9 following "a fall" last month in Fiji.

In sports...
The UEFA Cup -- European soccer's second most prestigious club tournament -- final will be played tonight in Eindhoven. English club Middlesborough face Spanish club Sevilla in what should be an exciting match. Middlesborough had to overcome three goal deficits in both the quarters and semis to reach the final. Those of you lucky enough to get Fox Soccer Channel can watch at 2:30 pm EST. Please do not tell me the score; I am taping it.

My boy Tayshaun Prince had 20 as the Pistons beat the Cavs to take a 2-0 series lead. Elsewhere the Mavs tied up their series with San Anton', 113-91.

Lexington Herald-Leader sportswriter John Clay breaks down the Kentucky Derby winners and losers. Strangely, the Derby festivities in Southeast DC this weekend went unmentioned.

In music...
Slate has two fascinating articles up now. John Cook looks at the bizarre controversy surrounding Stephen Merritt's supposed racism. To quickly break down the story, two disgruntled, irresponsible rock critics (including Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker) have labelled Merritt (of the Magnetic Fields) a racist because he does not like hip-hop and enjoys the song "Zippity-Doo-Da" from Song of the South. He even referred to him as a "cracker" on her blog, which -- and I may be wrong on this -- is itself racist, right? Most problematically, as Cook points out, Frere-Jacques's argument infers that racism and taste are correlated -- an assumption that is in some ways a distant-cousin to Fuzzy Zoeller's comments about Tiger Woods's 1997 Masters win (itself a racist comment).
Slate has also published a great article on the spread of "poptimism" in the face of rockism -- that is the championing of hip-hop and polished, true Pop (capital p) acts in the face of Rolling Stone-style rock fogeyism. Jody Rosen looks at such things as RS's creation of the canon, but also examines potential pitfalls of poptimism and why rockism (the celebration of the rock and roll style as the true form of popular music) can't be totally discounted.

This week marks the 1,500th consecutive week Pink Floyd's magnum opus (up for debate, I suppose) Dark Side of the Moon has spent on Billboard's Top 200 album charts. Bob Marley's Legend runs a distant second at 845 weeks. What makes this really exciting is that Roger Waters has agreed to take the album -- in its entirety -- out on tour with him this summer. Hopefully that will include his stop at the Nissan Pavilion on Sept. 23.

Modesto, California's own Grandaddy released their final album, Just like the Fambly Cat, yesterday. Jason Lytle and company announced this past winter that they would break up after a run that saw them develop into one of American indie rock's most consistent bands. Pitchfork says 6.8; allmusic gives (surprise) four stars.