Sunday, March 8, 2015

Blackened Show Review

          Death Smiles at the Cubby Bear

Blackened: Mike Streicher, John Dent, Vince Ochwat, Kevin M. Buck
Okay. That horrible winter across the nation is just about over now. We can relax and get back to seeing more great shows, such as Blackened. So, let's rehash what their loyal fans may have missed during this frozen tundra of hibernation. Jim Snedeker, Lead Guitar is now a proud father and has retired form the group Blackened. On board now, is no other than legendary lead guitarist Kevin M. Buck.Die hard Metal Heads may remember Buck in local acts such as Blizzard of Oz and Battery. Now after battling sleep deprivation and a broken down tour bus, Kevin Buck is living the dream and the nightmares of performing with the ultimate Metallica tribute band in the Chicagoland area.  During our interview Buck said, "This feels great actually. I was lucky to have the guys in Blackened think that I was able to play this stuff. This really feels awesome."

Mike Streicher 
A few bass geeks will only have the inside information regarding the Morley Boost & Fuzz Pedal. But what they do not know is that bassist, Mike Streicher helped test the new prototype and was able to offer some outside field knowledge.  "The Power Fuzz Wah effects can be used independently or simultaneously, explained Stericher. After breaking a few switches and replacing some bulbs, Morley was able to work out the bugs, he adds to say. The fuzz section for the Cliff Burton Tribute Series was set up  only for instrument level playing. However, Mike Streicher was performing higher frequency levels and needed more punch. Shortly after, Mike Striker found himself at the convention center in Anaheim, California. Morley asked Striker to demonstrate the Fuzz Pedal in front of musical royalty, Mr. Ray Burton (Cliff Burton's father). To most bass players, this would be an honor.  It was an incredble honor to play Cliff's [Burton] songs for Ray, explained Streicher. "To have Ray be very happy with what I played and to quote Mr.Burton "You would have made Cliff proud," was an awesome experience. Ray Burton was very thankful of my involvement and has made me part of his family now. Overall, this was a humbling moment in my life," Mike Streicher expressed with deep admiration. 

John Dent
There are more humbling attributes in the hearts of Blackened. Always a warm welcome for their fans, Blackened pours out vibrant energy for their loyal spectators. Headlining at the Cubby Bear with all the Metallica classics such as Creeping Death, Seek & Destroy and Master of Puppets was just the beginning for these stage crazy fans. A huge mosh pit stirred up the excitement for awhile as laser lights and purple smoke filled this thunder dome with Death Smiles of doom for Blackened spectators. Next it was time to quiet the mood with Fade to Back. The roar of the crowd simmered to a silent whisper as John Dent (rhythm and lead guitarist) began to play the melodic intro. Furthermore, Blackened pumped out 90 minutes pure thrash music with other well-known hits such as One and Battery.  The Cubby Bear's structural foundation nearly crumbled as drummer, Vince Ochwat pounded the skins like a human wrecking ball. Frontman John Dent thanked his loyal fans for their energy and support that night.  There were no fights or arrests to report, The Cubby Bear's management had a level of professionalism that was outstanding as well. Blackened enthusiasts had their raging appetites fulfilled as they left with their heads full of booze, amplified sounds ringing in their ears, and going back to the front with a good time for all.

Highway Robbery in the United States

                      This is a Stick-up, Don't make this a Court Date!

Many of the most difficult issues drivers must face is traffic safety.  If travelers are not carefully paying attention to road hazards, they are diligently paying with cash or credit cards to obtain convenient ways for efficient travel.  Given the similarities between our tollways, turnpikes and interstate highways often require payment to travel these expressways. Such legalized extortion on United States highways and turnpikes may vary. Transponders are used to electronically collect money and can be found in states such as New York, Illinois, Oklahoma and California.

At first glance, crossing over the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge built in 1939,  drivers travel south on Interstate 678.  Road construction is nothing new, as vehicles slow to a snail’s pace and inch along toward the “Big Apple.” Unlike free roads that lead motorists into the city, travelers must open their eyes and their wallets for thruway agents ahead and pay the suggested added road tax.  A distinctive purple and white E-ZPass logo sign will warn a driver that they are about to be robbed. If you do not own an E-ZPass transponder the driver must have the money ready or face going to jail. Fees may fluctuate depending on the miles traveled. However, the state of New York offers basic annual packages starting at $88.00 with no minimum driving required.  That is approximately $8.00 per month with some restrictions on bridges such as, George Washington and Goose Island. Should the need to occur, To be eligible for E-ZPass® Plus you need to replenish your E-ZPass® account with a credit card. Next, the driver will be directed out of the Thruway gate and safely proceed back onto the roadway. 

No matter what time of day, Interstate 290 is bumper to bumper with cars and trucks coming and going into Chicago, Illinois.  This slow moving parking lot on I-290 is located in the heart of the windy city and vehicles will begin to move at the posted speed limit of 55 mph heading westbound. Traffic lightens and easier travel begins.  What may appear as a broken ramp meter, is actually the on ramp transition off Austin and Harlem roads.  Next, as the driver enters the I-90 transition heading toward Rockford, Illinois, tollway employees hired by elected officials await to take the travelers’ cash.  In the land of Lincoln free travel on the Interstates is only a fairy tale and is prohibited by law. I-Pass lanes are clearly marked with blue and white signs to inform toll users that a fare is required up ahead. “Toll rates can range from $1.50 to as much as $10.00,” depending on how far a motorist may travel (Office of the Illinois Secretary of State). Furthermore, if the toll user refuses to pay, the driver could in fact have their license revoked or suspended. Unlike New York and California that use an agency called the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) for their drivers, the State of Illinois has what is known as the Secretary of State, that issues driver’s licenses to their legal road users.  This government facility will keep a watchful eye. According to Acting Executive Director Michael King of the Illinois Tollway, “More than 80 percent of the 1.4 million daily drivers on the Illinois Tollway” enjoy the convenience of I-PASS, those who drive their roads, using surveillance cameras, law enforcement and other methods of payment for toll convenience (Office of the Illinois Secretary of State).

In California, there are a number of freeways that use the FasTrack system.  Freeway travelers have the option to use a carpool lane that allows access for registered credit card holders. This service may be use to commute faster and could be more productive for drivers.  FasTrak toll collections have a three point system. “As the vehicle enters the toll lane, sensors detect the vehicle. The two-antenna configuration reads a transponder mounted on the vehicle's windshield and a payment is electronically collected” (The Toll Roads).  For example, a commuter using FasTrack will notice a green and white sign with a digital fare required. Once a FasTrack user makes that commitment., they may enter the carpool lane. However, note that solo-driver FasTrak customers should not enter these express lanes when an HOV ONLY message is displayed on the roadways overhead. Law enforcement will not grant safe passage, should a motorist have the proper credentials for solo drivers using this roadway.  Drivers who do not possess a FasTrack pass mounted inside their clear windshield, can face heavy penalties and perhaps jail time for violating California state laws. However, should a FasTrack consumer need to calculate a fare to Irvine or Laguna Niguel, FasTrack has an online map to help out loyal customers. Despite that fact we need toll roads to get to work, for school and to see our families, many similarities can be found.  The I-Pass and E Z Pass can be used in states such as Indiana, Ohio, and northern parts of Pennsylvania. The transponders are nearly the same size, are mounted on the windshield and payments can be deducted from your bank or credit card.  Unfortunately, these two transponders are exempt from the Pike Pass, located in Oklahoma and only residents from that state have the privilege of using this electronic toll collection.   Exact-change bays and toll booth agents have the same attributes as the I-Pass and E ZPass Whereas the FasTrak is unmanned and more efficient.

Of course California and New York have the authority to place toll users out of service and jail time under vagrant laws. Furthermore, Illinois and Oklahoma can enforce a toll user with hefty fines and suspended driving privileges. These toll implications are still punishable by law. Some may argue that tolls are too expensive, and other say toll roads are needed to help with the upkeep. The toll roads have become a life-line in commerce, and should these roadways be disrupted, goods, services and the quality of life can be delayed

History has shown us that coach roads were once used and that beautiful young ladies lost their baubles to the trade of highwaymen. Outlaws were hunted down by the townspeople and victims would hang the bandits for the crimes committed. Today, drivers are being robbed by the towns themselves as greed has become the American way of life. Road taxes can be good if the money is used for the right reasons and not ill will toward gluttony. In time, there will be no one left to rob and hopefully corruption shall be punished like the highwaymen during the 1800’s, and justice shall prevail once again. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Spandau Ballet


A Last Dance for Romance in America

Spandau Ballet  Photo: Dave Hogan
The year was 1976 and frilly-frop shirts, big belts, big hair and big egos found its way into a London subculture environment.  A cult without a name had formed a social uprising and a name would be needed to feed these vain, narcissistic creatures at the Blitz Night Club. That name would be called The New Romantics movement.  Unlike Heavy Metal groups such as Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, which wanted to strike fear into the hearts of their audience. Heavy Metal music had implementing spooky music and creating evil mascots. Furthermore, The New Romantic music was more about flamboyant clothing, cosmetics and gender bending the rules in British cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and London.

In the United States during the Jimmy Carter days, the first ongoing music scene was assigned the Punk label shortly after the Hippy movement in the mid-1960’s.  In London Punk Rock was more geared toward anti-establishment views and a rebellious culture. When the synthpop dance craze hit California in the early 1980s, musical performers such as Boy George, Wham and Duran Duran were jockeying for position to win the hearts and minds of teenage consumers, only to sell records like candy in this bubblegum world of music. Spandau Ballet was yet another group that topped the record charts with their upbeat tempos and stylish dance lyrics. But before all the fame and misfortune, they were a house band called Roots at the Blitz Night Club located in North London, England. To Spandau, it was more about becoming popular and filthy rich with gross displays of disposable income. Music would be their golden ticket and every Tuesday night these “Soul Boys” would rock the house.  Boy George would work the coat room and Spandau Ballet would practice their craft with a vibrant new club scene for the elite New Romantics cult following. “I was in love with charisma, explained bassist Martin Kemp. It wasn't until much later when I watched Jail House Rock and at that point I wanted to be like Elvis, Marlon Brando and Bruce Lee. I could care less about the music and was in this for the ride,” he adds to say. In 2010, a world-famous band member from England was ready to pump the breaks and slow Spandau’s  lofty journey down. When the phone rang one night during Spandau Ballet’s television performance on the Johanth Ross show, Iron Maiden’s drummer, Nikko McBrain was on the other end wishing to speak with John Keeble. The first thing McBrain mentioned to Mr. Keeble was not at all about the sound, but in fact how fabulous they [Spandau Ballet] looked sitting on the sofa in their expensive suits. “You look like a band,” said McBrian swinging his big drum sticks. Keeble (Spandau's Drummer) responded back with an irate tone is his voice and replied to McBrain, “That body language means everything. Forget the songs, forget the music, this is all about being cohesive and being a band again. We’re Spandau Ballet – who the fuck are you?”  However, on the phone with The Evil Genius, was Martin Kemp calling from his LA Office to Chicago, He was a complete gentleman and spoke in a very pleasant tone. Mr. Kemp answered each question with concern and kindness in his British dialect as we chatted about Frank Sinatra, Humble Pie and the early days of bass playing, when this instrument control a solid riff as a lead performer. 

With Spandau, the music was not only timely. A canny mix of contemporary funk and heavy bottom dance grooves had become groundbreaking. Members Tony Hadley, (Lead vocals) Gary Kemp, (Lead guitar) Steve Norman (Percussion & Sax) and drummer, John Keeble contributed to the band’s success spearheading a new pop culture around the world. Most Spandau Ballet fans can become lost in a daydream drift back in time hoping a lover will never fade away, enjoying the good life, if only for a moment. Perhaps a high school prom, their wedding day or that romantic night with a fresh start of hope on New Year’s Eve.  Embracing their Soul Mate as one with songs such as “True,” “I’ll Fly for You” and “Gold,”  a hopeless romantic can  glide effortlessly, lost in twilight with only love in their eyes.  In addition to satiating Spandau Ballet and their cult’s appetite, the Music Video War had begun.  Duran Duran finished up their video shoot featuring Rio, using ice cream smiles and a wicked bass line performed by John Taylor.  Spandau Ballet had raised the bar, shooting their video titled: “Highly Strung”  in Hong Kong and Australia, costing over $450,000.  These two music videos were among the first to use 35 mm film and shot by professional directors from Hollywood, California during 1984.  “Those where crazy times,” said Kemp. "Today, you can shoot an hour long documentary with the money we used to shoot just a five minute video,” he added to say.  However, Martin Kemp was not just another pretty-boy filming music videos.
Martin Kemp

A new approach in motion pictures and television, Martin Kemp is no stranger to the Silver Screen.  Appearing in The Krays as a Heavy Weight Gangster, Who Wants to be a Millionaire Celebrity Series and Discovery Channel’s very own cable television show titled: Chop Shop. Kemp has maintained to stay in the spotlight for 30 years.  However, Mr. Kemp’s long run of success has not always been a pleasure cruise of beautiful girls, boat loads of money and champagne dreams. During 1995 while living in Los Angeles, California Martin Kemp had a good run working as an actor. Shortly after, while working on Television series in Canada Martin Kemp’s career sat as idled as painted ship for nearly half a decade.  “I was working on a show called the Outer Limits, explained Kemp. I remember them putting on this ball cap because I was playing a scientist that invented this pill that could give you everlasting life. That’s when they discovered a big lump on the back of my skull,” said Kemp.  That lump was a brain tumor that nearly took Mr. Kemp’s life and soon after, his movie career sunk like a lead balloon.  

Despite Spandau Ballet’s war on music royalties, battling brain Cancer and countless hardships- each member endured during their struggle with success.  A long time had slowly passed and Spandau Ballet had vanished into a murky fog bank of uncertainty, never to be seen again. During our phone interview, the group is now back on track with one last dance for their loving fans.  Preparing to shoot another music video, Martin Kemp had these inspiring words to share. “Positive mental attitude is important and for years I carried around this saying with me and that is, you must believe to achieve," Mr. Kemp stated. What he is trying to say is, that you need to believe in yourself and in other people to reach the goals that you wish to accomplish.