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GALLERY: So long, 2014! Hello, new Transformers!

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Here are some new sh*te photies to start your new year right!

How did you spend your New Year’s Eve?  I spent it unconventionally, for me.  While Mrs. LeBrain snuck in some early evening Bingo, I went down to City Hall with my buddy Jason and his family.  Apparently, there was going to be a toy show and sale / 80’s retro night going on.  One of my favourite Transformers vendors in the whole wide world, B&K Collectibles, was going to be there!

There were a ton of people there.  Also present was the DeLorean from Back to the Future, and K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider.  Although I didn’t stick around to see him, Todd Bridges from 80’s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes was also on hand last night.  Yee-haw.

After the toy show I got Jen at Bingo and we headed home to watch the Leafs barely beat the Bruins.  I fell asleep well before midnight.

But…toys!

My two scores:  Transformers Masterpiece Smokescreen.  Similar to, but different from, Masterpiece Prowl.  I also snagged some snazzy new missiles for my Prowl figure, from third party company Before and After.  The kit includes the “Omega Launch” weapons which snap over Prowl’s normally teeny ones, and a decal sheet which I have not yet applied (if I do).

HAPPY 2015!

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REVIEW: Alcatrazz – Disturbing the Peace (1985)

ALCATRAZZ – Disturbing the Peace (1985 EMI, 2001 Light Without Heat)
Released as part of Steve Vai’s The Secret Jewel Box

This is the only Alcatrazz album I own.  The reason I own it is Steve Vai.  I’m a Steve Vai fan before I’m a Graham Bonnet or Yngwie Malmsteen fan.  Plus, this album was reissued exclusively in Steve’s stunning looking Secret Jewel Box (2001) as CD 2.   The collector in me wanted that box set and I was glad Steve was so thorough as to include collaborative efforts like this one in his box set.  According to Steve’s 2001 liner notes, Alcatrazz was one of his favourite band experiences and I think you can hear that.

Disturbing the Peace, Alaztrazz’s second LP, is very idea-heavy.  It’s dense musically and conceptually while still being straight-ahead rock music.  It’s the same trick Steve pulled on David Lee Roth’s universally acclaimed Eat ‘Em and Smile record.  Vai is credited as a co-writer on every track, except the instrumental “Lighter Shade of Green” on which he has sole credit.  Clearly, his input on the album is tremendous as it is literally covered with his fingerprints.  His style is all but fully formed (he had already recorded and released his experimental first solo album, Flex-able).  His guitar sound was certainly well on its way, and the way it shimmers with multiple layers is omnipresent on Disturbing the Peace.  Hell, Vai even recycles melodies from Flex-able, which he would recycle yet again on Passion & Warfare!

(Note:  I’m referring to the melody from Steve’s “Answers” from Passion and Warfare, which is also in “Wire and Wood” on Disturbing the Peace and “Little Green Men” on Flex-able.  While this is strictly conjecture, I assume this melody to be among the many that Steve “heard” in his lucid dreams that inspired the Passion and Warfare album.  Another such melody is “Liberty”, which was based on recollections of a lucid dream.)

There are some really great songs on Disturbing the Peace.  “God Blessed Video” (which had its own great video that featured Steve extensively) is a great example of the kind of powerful, melodic hard rock Graham Bonnet can produce.  It superficially resembles Rainbow’s “Death Valley Driver” (surely a coincidence) and has the same relentless drum stomp and chugging riff.  This is all left in the dust by Steve who anticipates his role as the “Devil’s Guitarist” from the movie Crossroads by stewing up an unconventionally wicked guitar solo.

The more straightforward metal of “Mercy” is credited to the whole band, also including Gary Shea (bass), Jan Uvena (drums) and Jimmy Waldo (keyboards).  That’s probably why it’s much more standard in construction.  Bonnet’s pipes get quite a workout, and Steve’s solo is jaw dropping.  The solo section here absolutely sounds like a prototype for Passion and Warfare.  “Will You Be Home Tonight” is steamy, a bit more laid back and heavy with atmosphere.  None of this prevents Bonnet from wailing, nor Vai for throwing down some space-age bluesy licks.  This kind of thing would come in handy for Whitesnake, later on.

The aforementioned “Wire and Wood” is actually the most Rainbow-like of the songs.  At times it almost sounds like a leftover from Down to Earth, but then Vai reminds us that this it was now 1985 and there’s a new kid on the block.  Side one closed with “Desert Diamond”, Steve Vai on Choral sitar this time.  This time I’m reminded of a similar gimmick on “My Little Man”, which Steve co-wrote for Ozzy’s Ozzmosis album.

“Stripper” is pretty far from lyrically sophisticated.  While “A dark and crowded room / Warm beer that’s stale” does set the scene, it’s not really a story that needed telling, I suppose.  Similarly, “Painted Lover” could not misconstrued as poetry.  “She just wants that hard stash, hot from your pocket.”  I’m sure, Graham.

It’s kind of weird hearing trashy lyrics like this sung over Steve’s schooled and intricate melodies and tricks.  It’s like the smartest kid in class helping out a less talented classmate or something.  Nothing against Graham of course, he’s had more hits than I have, so what do I know?

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“Skyfire”

Steve’s “Lighter Shade of Green” solo is a brief intro to “Sons and Lovers”, one of the most accessible hard rock songs.  It has a grand chorus, courtesy of Graham, the kind of thing he’s very good at.  “Skyfire” (surely named after the 1985 Transformers character, right?) is a very 1980’s sounding groove.  I like the fast chuggy parts, the strong melodies, and Steve’s guitar bits.  I also like that I’m going to start a rumor that it’s named after the Transformers character.  (It’s actually about a UFO that Graham sighted.)

The only song I kinda don’t like is the last one, “Breaking the Heart of the City”.  It’s here that I feel the Vai/Bonnet experiment fails somewhat.  It sounds like it wants to be dark, heavy, and ominous, but Steve is whimsical at times, space-y and too smart.  Meanwhile I’m feeling that the song needs something gritty, some more chug, a little bit of grind, you know?

After revisiting Disturbing the Peace, I now feel an urge to get No Parole From Rock ‘n’ Roll and compare.  Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen are polar opposites stylistically and it’ll be interesting to hear Yngwie’s version of Alcatrazz.

4/5 stars

Interestingly, Disturbing the Peace was produced by Eddie Kramer!

Part 225: Bait & Switch

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 225:  Bait & Switch

One Wednesday afternoon in 1997, I was working alone. A gentleman in his mid-20’s walked into my store. He browsed the hip-hop section and I asked him if he needed any help finding anything. He said no, and was pleasant enough. About 10 minutes later, he approached the counter to make a purchase.

I knew immediately there was a problem. In his hands was a used copy of Puff Daddy’s brand new smash hit album, No Way Out. It had one of our Bargain Bin stickers on it, priced at $5.99. However the album was a fairly new release, and any used copies we had were always priced at $11.99. I’d never put one of them in my Bargain Bin, ever at this point. You just didn’t throw a new release into a sale bin. As Puffy said, “It’s all about the Benjamins.”

I couldn’t rule out staff error, so I double checked. Each price tag had a stock number on it. That stock number told me the location of the actual CD; the discs were all kept safely behind the counter.

Sure enough, I referred to the stock number which led me to a completely different CD, one that was common for our Bargain Bin. It wasn’t staff error. This meant that somebody switched the Puff Daddy price tag with another CD, from our Bargain Bin.

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

“OK, I have a problem here,” I began, as gently as I could. After all, I had no way of knowing for sure that this guy switched the tags himself. It was probable that he would, very few people would switch a price tag and leave it. I could even see where the tag was peeled off and re-applied. “This CD isn’t actually $5.99. It’s supposed to say $11.99. It looks to me like someone switched the price tags. I’m not saying it was you…I’m sorry about this…but I can’t sell you this disc for $5.99. $5.99 is less than we actually paid for it.”

He shrugged. “That’s not my problem. You have to honor the price tag.”

“This price tag,” I countered, “links back to a CD by Hole. I can sell you that CD for $5.99, but not Puff Daddy. This is a brand new release, we never put new releases out in our Bargain Bin.”

Then he got fancy. “Are you familiar with the Bait & Switch law?”

I was. From Wikipedia:

First, customers are “baited” by merchants’ advertising products or services at a low price, but when customers visit the store, they discover that the advertised goods are not available, or the customers are pressured by sales people to consider similar, but higher priced items (“switching”).

“This isn’t a Bait & Switch,” I argued. “Somebody else switched the price tag. Like I said, this tag right here links back to Hole, not Puffy. I can sell you Hole for $5.99, for Puffy, you’d pay $11.99. Again, I’m not saying you switched it. But somebody did. I’m sorry about that but I can’t lose money on this CD because somebody switched a price tag on me.”

“Legally, you are obligated to let me have that CD for $5.99. You’re in violation of Bait & Switch laws. Do you want me to get the cops involved?”

I knew he wouldn’t do that. “You can do that if you want, but what’s to stop me from going over to Walmart, taking a price tag from a $2 bag of chips, and putting it on a CD myself? Would Walmart have to sell me that CD for $2?”

Cool as a cucumber, he just shrugged.

It was at that moment that my boss walked in.

“What seems to be the problem here?” he asked.

I explained the whole situation, how somebody switched the price tag, and how he wanted Puffy for $5.99. I explained how I was 100% certain of the situation, and how the stock code on the price tag led me to a $5.99 Hole CD.

One issue that I had with my boss was that he didn’t always stick up for store managers in situations like this. I could never predict if he would stick up for us or cave.  So what did he do? He apologized profusely and he rang in the CD for $7.99 or something like that. The customer was happy as could be, so polite.

He strolled out knowing he’d won. I wonder who he scammed next?

I walked over to the Puff Daddy section to see if I could find evidence of the missing but correct price tag. Sure enough, what did I find? A Hole CD, with a poorly applied $11.99 price tag on it, in the hip-hop section not far from Puffy. And what did that $11.99 tag’s stock code lead me to? The spot that the Puffy disc occupied.

An $8 scam was hardly going to break the bank, but I felt about two feet tall, because I knew I was right. I never let anybody else scam me in that way again.  But that’s another story…

Gallery: Linkin Park edition Soundwave Transformers figure!

A few months ago, I did a video review of one of my favourite Transformers toys, Soundblaster aka Soundwave.

Linkin Park must dig him too.  Check out this article at Seibertron.com, for a full gallery of Botcon 2013 photos of the official Soundwave – Linkin Park Edition figure! It’s really cool looking.  The set contains recoloured G1 Soundwave, Ravage, Ratbat, and Lazerbeak figures, all done up in gold.  According to the Linkin Park website, Joe Hahn is behind the colour choice.  Only 2000 will be made.

SEIBERTRONclick the pic to get to the gallery!

REVIEW: Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013)

ALICE IN CHAINS – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013 Capitol Records)

You know how in offices they have those phones with the little speaker in them, that plays the local radio station?  That’s how I first heard “Hollow” by Alice in Chains.  Not the greatest way to hear it.  I couldn’t hear the harmonies or the bass guitar.  The song came off as a dull drone and I didn’t like it. However Mandy Grant on 107.5 Dave FM said the album was lined up to be her album of the summer.  Then Tricky Nick gave it 5/5 and praised its genius!

Now it’s my turn to throw my hat in the ring.  I had no problem with Black Gives Way to Blue; yes it’s a sad album and we know why.  If anything I found some of the songs to be not memorable.  On the other hand, I found some of the softer material to be among Chains’ best.  Here, William DuVall does a great job.  I don’t get the sense that he’s trying to sound a certain way, but when he sings with Jerry it’s Alice in Chains.

CHAINS 3Onto The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.  Love the title, love the artwork, love the packaging, but we’ll get to that in a few moments.  It’s an album that reveals more and more as you listen to it.  It’s really well produced for one.  Sonically, this is the best album Alice in Chains have ever made.  But musically, it peels like an onion:  brief guitar interludes, dual guitar harmonies, bass hooks, vocal flare, all of this stuff and more comes through when you spend some time with it.

I think I’d like to invent a new genre here and declare this record to be “Progressive Grunge Rock”.  It has elements of both, which really isn’t too much of a leap as Chains have always comprised some great musicians.  Mike Inez was one of my favourite bass players from his Ozzy days, and Sean Kinney is very creative with his symbol work and weird time signatures.  Only 2 of the 12 songs are under 5 minutes; the album clocks in well over an hour.  Unbelievably, it doesn’t drag.  This is accomplished with a combination of well written memorable hooks, and a variety of song styles.  Some moments recall mellow things like Jar of Flies, others the “Dog” album.  There’s also a lot of riffing and soloing that is pure traditional heavy metal.

Many reviewers have mentioned that this album seems a lot brighter than Black Give Way to Blue and I’m in agreement with that.  Keep in mind this is Alice in Chains and they’re not turning in a sunny-happy-joy-joy album at any time.  There is however a certain jubilant quality to this album that is quite infectious.

I keep waffling between favourite songs.  All of these are contenders:

  • “Stone”
  • “Voices”
  • “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”
  • “Breath On a Window”
  • “Scalpel”
  • “Phantom Limb”
  • “Choke”

There aren’t any weak songs, but for me those 7 are all really exceptional.  I really love “Phanton Limb”.  It’s one of the most “metal” in some respects but it’s also one of the most unique.  Its riff is just mechanically punishing.  “Voices” is like Jar of Flies meets Cheap Trick or something.

The packaging is really cool but fragile.  Mine arrived with a slight crack on it.  It’s a coloured red jewel case, but with a function.  Remember how G1 Transformers used to come with those “Tech Spec Decoders”?  You had to use this red plastic “decoder” to read the stats on the robot’s packaging.  You could still sorta read it without the decoder, but Alice in Chains took it a step further.  You can only read the lyrics by inserting the appropriate page into the jewel case.  There are big red XXXXX‘s over most of the words making them very difficult to read.  When you put the page under the jewel case, it’s easy!

Having lived with the album for a week now, I concur with Mandy:  I think the love will grow, and this will be one of my albums for the summer, too.  The most important thing about The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is that it sounds like Alice in Chains.  There is nobody else out there that sounds like this.

5/5 stars

VIDEO REVIEW: Transformers Encore 21 Soundblaster / Wingthing / Enemy (Soundwave)

Enjoy this 7 minute video review including stop-motion animation.

COMIC REVIEW: Transformers #14 w/ Bruce Springsteen / “Brick Springstern”

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I’d like to dedicate this unusual review to Aaron who is the biggest Boss fan I know.

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THE TRANSFORMERS – “Rock and Roll-Out!”  (Marvel comics, issue #14, March 1986)

Written by Bob Budianski

Remember that one outdoor Bruce Springsteen concert back in March of ’86, when the Autobots saved the day?…No?

Well, clearly you weren’t reading Marvel’s original Transformers comic series back then.  Issue #14, March 1986, featured just such a mash-up, only with a slightly different twist.  While some real-life people, most notably Richard Branson, had appeared on the pages as themselves, Bruce appeared as the similar-monikered Brick Springstern (also spelled “Springhorn” on one page!), with his Tenth Avenue Band.  The band came complete with an afro-sporting Max Weinberg, and Clarence Clemons himself, going by his nickname the Big Man.

Brick’s songs included the smash hits:

  • “Dancing in the Night”
  • “Born in America”
  • Something referencing Margarita

…and presumably many more familiar sounding tunes!

In this issue’s tale, the Autobots are replenishing their ranks after the devastating events of issue #12.  Optimus Prime has revived “memory engrams” of five Autobots:  Hoist, Tracks, Skids, Smokescreen, and Grapple, and puts them in new bodies.  Optimus sends four of the five (holding Grapple behind, in order to build Omega Supreme, who appears in issue #19) out with Bumblebee on a training mission.

It is while getting gas on this mission that Skids discovers that he loves the music of Brick Springstern/Bruce Springsteen!  “This Springstern produces a most intriguing sound,” says Skids, as he sets his radio to the correct “coordinates”.  Soon, however, the Autobots discover that Decepticon commander Shockwave plans on harvesting the sound energy from that night’s Springsteen…err, Springstern concert for his own evil uses!  This unlikely plot serves to bring the Autobots closer to Springstern, by attending the concert themselves, in the parking lot!

Shockwave’s “energy siphon” actually removes the sound from the concert, converting it into “energon cubes”!  The audience isn’t happy!  Hoist disconnects the siphon, triggering a Decepticon attack!

The autobots transform into robot mode to protect the audience from Decepticons Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker.  Luckily the audience (improbably) thinks it’s all part of the show.  Hoist instructs Bruce…err, Brick, to keep playing music to keep the audience from panicking!  Brick and the Big Man launch into the next song, and the ploy works to keep the crowd enthralled and distracted from the missiles exploding over their heads.  Even the arrival of Shockwave, in the form of a friggin’ 40 foot long laser gun, doesn’t seem to alarm the crowd.  The Autobots defeat the bad ‘bots, and leave Brick to finish the concert.  The show must go on…

The plot is loaded with massive holes.  Earlier in the story, Autobot medic Ratchet is complaining that he doesn’t have enough spare parts, even gaskets, to keep the wounded ‘Bots from leaking to death.  Then, a page or two later, there’s five brand new bodies built for the new Autobots, aka new toys that Hasbro had to sell.  Then there’s the siphoning of the music from the concert to create energon, when the Decepticons could have just stolen the electricity itself.

Not a great issue, but since it introduced five new toys, as a kid I was happy with it.

2.5/5 stars

The comic has been reissued several times, notably by IDW As Transformers Generations #3, and again in the collection Transformers Classics #2.