Twilight Zone

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Rabbit Ears”

AMERICAN DAD – “Rabbit Ears” (Episode 4, season 14)

It has been an exciting week for American Dad fans, as they devoured one of the weirdest episodes of the entire series, “Rabbit Ears”.  This is a series that did an entire episode in the form of a stage play.  Another was styled like an indi film and featured Zooey Dechanel as an overtly stated “manic pixie dream girl”.  This time, American Dad took off for The Outer Limits and ended up in the Twilight Zone.

There is no hint of the episode’s bizarre setting in the standard opening.  Stan, always up to something stupid, goes garbage picking on “big items” week, when people throw out large appliances.  He brings home a mattress infested with bed bugs and a giant, ancient television.  The Smith family are not amused, especially when Roger steals their attention as his latest persona:  a non-verbal newborn baby.  Then it gets weirder.

Sequestered in the basement with his mattress and television set, Stan sets up the antenna and gets nothing but static.  Then suddenly, Stan is woken from his slumber by the sweet sound of jazz, as a show finally comes in: “Nighthawks Hideaway”.

“Nighthawks Hideaway” intro with Alistair Covax

“Weclome Nighthawks, we’ve been expecting you.  The hour is late but the party is just getting started.  I’m Alistair Covax, your host for a sophistical little soirée with jazz, stimulating conversation, beautiful ladies…and more jazz.”

“What IS this show?” asks Stan.  It’s in black and white and clearly from the 1960s.

“Charlie, play some of those notes you know I like,” says Alistair to the jazz pianist.

Nothing on Google.  No record of the host Alistair Covax (Star Trek‘s Chris Pine) either.  Even TV Guide magazine says the show does never existed…but they know of a support group for people who claim to have seen Nighthawks Hideaway!  A show that does not exist…but multiple people have seen it.  Shades of Shazam/Kazaam!

Investigating the support group, Stan finds only one other attendee:  neighbour Al Tuttle (Richard Kind).

“There used to be more people, but one by one, they stopped coming,” explains Tuttle.

But what about the show?  “There’s only one episode!  And it re-runs over and over and over on channel 36!”

It’s even stranger than that.  “There’s only one episode…but it changes!  Little…differences in the show!  I keep track of them!”

That night, Stan notices something different on Nighthawks Hideaway.  Tuttle is in the show!  Not believeing his eyes, he knows further investigation is required.  Tuttle’s house is empty, but Stan finds his TV and notebook.  Here, Tuttle tracked differences from night to night.  The last page has the ominous note “I MUST GO IN.”

Stan studies the book and tracks the changes, night after night, in the basement on the old TV and finally discovers what happened to Al Tuttle.  And that’s when things get really Twilight Zone, and to go further would get into spoiler territory.

This episode “Rabbit Ears” was a truly fresh spin on a classic science fiction / horror theme.  Perhaps this style of storytelling is coming back into vogue.  There is a rebooted Twilight Zone now, hosted by Jordan Peele.  Regardless of trends, American Dad are still the masters of a specific type of surreal animated comedy.  The show is its own genre now, and “Rabbit Ears” is a clear indicator that its potential remains wide open.  Keep ’em coming.

5/5 stars

 

 

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REVIEW: Rush – 2112 (deluxe with 5.1 Blu-ray)

RUSH – 2112 (2012 Universal CD/Blu-ray 5.1 deluxe edition)

I received this deluxe CD/Blu-ray edition of Rush’s immortal 2112 for Christmas two years ago.  I meant to review it back then, but it slipped between the cracks.  Apologies.

The set includes: the entire album on Blu-ray in 5.1 surround sound, the entire album on CD, three live CD-only bonus tracks, hardcover packaging including a comic book, a new essay by David Fricke, and more.  Not to mention that the Blu-ray is a motion comic that combines the album with the included comic, seamlessly.

IMG_20141216_1454372112 was Rush’s fourth album.  It was make or break for Rush, and they went ahead and made an album with six songs, one of them being a side-long 20 minute epic!  That side would go on to be Rush’s best known epic, “2112”, which itself is subdivided into seven chapters (but not tracks).

Any truly epic album should open with an instrumental, and “Overture” is one of the best you’re likely to find north of the 49th parallel.  This regal anthem of guitars, bass and drums quickly leaps into action as an Iron Maiden gallop, long before Iron Maiden did gallop.  In this one brief intro, there are as many as four great timeless riffs.  It’s guitar riff nirvana.  All these musical themes will re-emerge later on in the “2112” story, but here they are condensed into one maelstrom of awesome.

The story is pretty simple, and is also nicely laid forth in the comic.  Our protagonist, who lives in the oppressive Solar Federation, has found an ancient guitar in a cave behind a waterfall.  He brings it to the Priests (of the Temples of Syrinx), to show them this wonderful discovery and the sounds it brings forth.  He is crushed to find that the Priests do not approve of this “music”!

Pretty highschool, right?  Maybe, but certainly no worse than what passes for Hollywood fodder today!

IMG_20141216_145411“The Temples of Syrinx” is chapter II of the story.  This is a ferocious metal assault, with Geddy in full-on scream mode, introducing the titular Priests.  They are the law, on this planet.  In my opinion, this is one of Rush’s finest musical achievements.  It’s heavy, concise and blazing fast.  In surround sound, I will admit I was expecting more.  The music fills the room in 5.1, but it’s not as enveloping as I had hoped.  It’s hard to specifically describe what’s missing.  Whatever it is, chapter III “Discovery” works better.  This takes place in the cave behind the aforementioned waterfall, and the water sounds have some depth to them.

“Presentation”, chapter IV, is when it all goes to shit for our protagonist.  It is here that he brings his newly discovered guitar to the Priests.  The motion comic makes it quite clear that the Priests do not approve!  “Yes we know, it’s nothing new.  It’s just a waste of time!”  The hero pleads with them, and tries to convince them that the world could use the music as a positive force!  But the Priest smashes the guitar on the ground and has no more to do with this nonsense.  “Another toy that helped destroy the elder race of man!” he claims of the guitar’s history.

“Oracle: the Dream” is chapter V, a mellow moment at first.  Then the character’s dream begins, and Geddy returns in full voice.  He dreams of change.  Alex’s guitars have a nice shimmer, as they fill the field directly in front and to the sides.   Waking from his dream, chapter VI is “Soliloquy”.  Like “The Dream”, guitars dominate.  Geddy’s pleading lead vocal is an album highlight, as is Lifeson’s Sabbath-y guitar solo.  It all ends in chapter VII: “Grand Finale”.  In a nice twist to the motion comic, Geddy Neil and Alex appear as characters from the invading and returned elder race of man!  The era of dominance of the Priests is over, as is side one.

“ATTENTION ALL PLANETS OF THE SOLAR FEDERATION!  WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL.”

The motion comic does not end here.  Each song from side two of 2112 receives its own panels, and the band appear in each one — a very cool touch that I did not expect.  “A Passage to Bangkok” was the lead track from side two.  This crushing anthem with an Oriental feel is one of Rush’s few drug songs.  In fact it’s the only one I can think of right now.  “Sweet Jamaican pipe dreams, golden Acapulco nights…”  Rush somehow had a way of making this all sound classy and cultured, and perhaps from their perspective it was.  In the comic appearance, the Professor has his nose buried in a book on a train, as he often did.  Once again I’m underwhelmed by the 5.1 mix.  I want to feel enveloped by the music, but I don’t get that as much as I’d like.  I do hear more of Geddy’s bass, and that’s never a bad thing.  I’m noticing licks I never picked up on before.

“The Twilight Zone” is a different song for Rush, as it has a slower sway to it.  Lyrically, I can identify several of the old Twilight Zone episodes that Geddy is singing about.  Can you?  I don’t think this will top anybody’s charts of Rush’s best lyrics, but it’s goofy fun and sometimes that’s enough.  A Zeppelin flavour inhabits “Lessons” which has the acoustic-electric mix that Zep mastered.  Likewise, the backing mellotron in “Tears” reminds me of John Paul Jones.  This is a mournful slow song, not at all what many people expect from Rush.

“Something for Nothing” ends the album on a solid hard rock note.  Thematically, it is full circle, as the character in this song also seeks answers in life.  Rush close the album on a furiously jamming note, ending with a song that has all the Rush trademarks rolled into one short ride.  If the last couple songs just didn’t have enough juice, then “Something for Nothing” ends it right.  Side 2 of 2112 isn’t perfect, it has its ups and downs, but this is an “up”.

The vintage live CD bonus tracks are all unreleased.  They include the first two parts of “2112”, and “A Passage to Bangkok”.  Geddy coyly says that this song “deals with foreign matter”.  I’ve no doubt!  Incidentally I’m of the belief that “Bangkok” is better live than on album. Having said that, the Exit…Stage Left version remains definitive.  Blu-ray bonus features include a goofy photo gallery of blow-dried haircuts, kimono, mustaches and concert shots.  Looking at these photos, I’m reminded that Rush were for all intents and purposes, just kids when they created 2112.  With that in mind, it’s pretty impressive.

As for this reissue, I’m not very blown away by the forgettable 5.1 mix.  Too bad.  It’s a blown opportunity.  On the other hand, I very much enjoyed the included comic.  I think it’s excellent, and geared straight to Rush fans.  So:

For the album: 4.5/5 stars
For the reissue:  3.5/5 stars
Average rating:  4/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live…Gathered In Their Masses (CD/DVD/Blu-ray box set)

NEW RELEASE

BLACK SABBATH – Live…Gathered In Their Masses (2013 CD/DVD/Blu-ray box set)

Any time a classic rock band releases new music and goes back on tour, there has to be a live album to go with it these days.  Actually, to be more accurate in the current age it’s more likely to be some kind of CD/DVD combo pack.  This deluxe of Live…Gathered In Their Masses contains 1 CD, 1 Blu-ray, and 2 DVDs.

The visual program opens with a collage of pre-gig ritiual.  The band arrive, and get ready in their own dressing rooms, the cameras offering a brief intimate glimpse.  Before too long, the air raid sirens of “War Pigs” brings us to the stage.  The Blu-ray looks absolutely gorgeous.  Every line on every face is visible, every grain on Tony’s Gibson SG, and the stage is gorgeously lit.  It’s a beautiful disc to watch in 1080p.  I couldn’t help myself; I sat there playing air drums, and putting my hands in the air when Ozzy commanded.  It was fun!

Ozzy hops about, but most exciting visually is unofficial member Tommy Clufetos.  I wonder if it’s intentional, but he definitely resembles a young Bill Ward circa 1976 (as long as he keeps his shirt on).  And Tony?  He smiles, a lot.  You would too if you’ve been through what he has I imagine!  Ozzy’s already dumped a bucket of water over his head before they get to the second song, a sludgy “Into the Void”.  I think the temptation is often to play this song a little faster live, but this version is very much in pace with the deliberately slow original.

My cell phone ring tone these days is that riff from “Loner”, one of the best songs from 13.  Unfortunately, the fact that this is a new song means Ozzy’s rivited to one place on stage, concentrating on the words, glancing at the floor.  Even so, Ozzy remains a mesmerizing presence.  Another bucket of water, and Ozzy’s the cheeleading frontman again.  The bonus interview on the disc, by the way, reveals why Ozzy really douses himself in water!  (You probably don’t want to know.)  “Snowblind” then erupts, Ozzy hitting the high notes with cracking but real voice!  (That’s the part that counts.)  Tony’s extended guitar solo is a stunner in itself.

The rain and tolling bells of “Black Sabbath” sound great on blu-ray, though I was hoping to hear more stuff going on behind me in the 5.1 mix.  “Black Sabbath” is the standard workout, no surprises here.  Likewise, “N.I.B.” is very much the traditional Sabbath version, even down to each note of Tony’s solo.  Ozzy somehow manages to still be menacing behind the mic.  “Methademic” is one of the new songs again, but oddly it’s a only bonus track on the deluxe versions of 13.  This is a song that resembles Dio-era Sabbath and would have sounded at home on Dehumanizer or The Devil You Know.  With Ozzy behind the mic, it’s still classic Sabbath.  I think it’s a great number, only weakened live by Ozzy struggling through the wordy lyrics.

Oz doesn’t seem to have trouble with the old favourite “Fairies Wear Boots”.  His wail of “Allllllright now!” looms, and out comes the water again!  “Symptom Of the Universe” then stomps on the stage.  This is the song that Clufetos can really sink his chops in.  He’s obviously not Bill Ward, but I like his interpretation of Bill’s parts.  They’re as close to the mark as any other Sabbath drummer’s parts, if not more.  Tommy gets an extended drum solo too, during “Symptom”, not bad for an unofficial member!  Mrs. LeBrain called the solo “Sweet!”

GATHERED IN THEIR MASSES_0004A drum solo naturally suits “Iron Man” to segue into.  “Iron Man” is wooden, Clufetos unable to cop Bill Ward’s loose feel.  It’s still “Iron Man”, a song Black Sabbath have probably played live at every show since ’72, but it’s not definitive.  Only when the song gets up to speed does it become the beast it should be.  Another new song, the deliberately vintage sounding “End of the Beginning” takes over, but it’s not the song I would have chosen to play at this point of the set.  Not only is it too similar to “Black Sabbath” but it slows the set down too much so close to the end.  It does pick up, but I feel it would have worked better closer to the start of the show.

Ozzy then teases out that they will only play one more song, unless the crowd goes “extra crazy”.  This “final” song is the storming “Children of the Grave.”  The audience bounces like a wave in sync with the classic tune, led by an energized Ozzy.  I detected some clever editing here to make it appear that Ozzy is jumping around more than he actually is, but that’s video.  One pretty thing about this song is the appearance of Tony’s old cream Gibson SG, paint cracked and chipping.  Blu-ray allows you to see every scratch in the paint.

The crowd goes “extra crazy” and then Ozzy says they’ll play one more song.  It’s “God Is Dead?”, the excellent first single from 13.  Clufetos nails the stuttering drum roll, but Ozzy’s back to reading lyrics off the floor, which is distracting.  But does anyone actually believe it is the last song; that they won’t play “Paranoid”?  Of course they play it, and the riff from “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” too.  It’s the quintessential closer, ending the concert as a party, not a session of pure doom!  Clufetos and Ozzy are quite animated on “Paranoid”, and of course Ozzy reminds the crowd that they are “number one”!  I just wish Tommy would pull up his pants.  Fuck, I wish I could fit into that size!

The DVD and Blu-ray versions contain three bonus tracks.  “Under the Sun” is a nice one to pull out of the hat.  Ozzy handles the difficult vocals without issue.  How does he do it?  You can hear his voice cracking from time to time; it sounds live.  “Dirty Women” is a personal favourite of mine.  This is an interesting version.  It’s the one that Spotify have as their own exclusive bonus track to 13.  I already had an audio copy of this bonus track, but Blu-ray is cool, too.  It’s a damn great rendition of a lost classic from Technical Ecstasy.  “Electric Funeral” is the big surprise, a song I don’t think I’ve ever heard played live.  Ozzy really struggles with the words on “Electric Funeral” but it’s a treat.

Elsewhere on the disc, there are more bonus features.  I have to say the Blu-ray menu is an annoying, repeating tolling bell.  Leaving the menu running unattended for more than 60 seconds is an excersize in testing your patience.  In the bonus features, the Sabbath interview is typically low key.  You know what to expect:  a difficult to understand Ozzy, and a soft spoken Tony, with occasional comments from Geezer.  There’s not too much here in the way of revelations.  Vegetable juice and food have replaced vodka and a line before the show, although Geezer still drinks wine.  How scandalous!  I don’t know who the interviewer is, but he’s very good at getting the band involved and in good humour.

Lastly there’s a feature called “Show Day”.  This is a behind the scenes look at the goings-on in the 24 hours before the show in Melbourne.  I love it!

Ozzy:  “You know what I was looking at, the old re-runs of the Twilight Zone.”

Geezer:  “You told me that about 40 times.”

Ozzy:  “Sorry.  Trying to make conversation.”

Tony:  (Laughs.)

Even Joe Perry and Steven Tyler show up backstage.  I enjoy watching Joe and Tony chatting…what a meeting of guitar greats in one room.

The packaging for this box set is loaded with goodies.  I always enjoy some complimentary guitar picks.  There’s one here from Tony, and one from Geezer.  There’s also a replica concert ticket, setlist, and a small poster.  Nothing to get too excited about, but when you buy an expensive box set it’s nice to get these added touches as a bonus.  There’s also two DVDs included with the same content as Blu-ray.  That’s extraneous to me, I may never play them, so they’re sealed.  I don’t have a problem with that, but I do wish they didn’t edit the CD version of the concert down to fit on one CD.  I’m pleased that the CD version contains all the new songs, but for the price of this set relative to the cheap cost of a CD, I don’t know why they couldn’t just make it a 2 CD set.  That part is disappointing.  When I buy a deluxe edition, I want the whole thing on CD.

That niggle aside, Black Sabbath Live…Gathered In Their Masses is worth:

4.5/5 stars