The easy way to go about saying you went to a Beyoncé show is to gawk at the way people surrounding you interact with one another, how they smile, wave, twist and contort to every move the 32-year-old Houstonian performs onstage. How they attempt to mirror every strut she makes in those impeccable heels, and mimic those of her dancers, who during some numbers sway and frolic like ballerinas and during others jive and juke as though they're in a hole-in-the-wall club on a Friday night.
So on Tuesday night, back inside the Church of Carter (husband Jay Z takes the pulpit for his own sermon in less then ten days), Mrs. Carter gave Houston its second installment of the Mrs. Carter Show this year, albeit with a bit more flare and extensions than previously. I had seen a near-identical show inside New Orleans's Superdome, and watching her trim some of that down to a neat two-hour set, it seemed like she wasn't going for a knockout but would instead settle for a technical masterpiece.
There was no flourishing rendition of "Grown Woman," no anthem-esque demand of loyalty via "Bow Down." Instead, she toyed with octaves and call-and-response with "Why Don't You Love Me," a teasing ploy with "Naughty Girl" that felt more like a strip show inside a burlesque parlor than a solo effort. "Party" was played off by the chords of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature."
In a month in which the world has been reintroduced to the banality of R. Kelly, a live Beyoncé show reinforces sexuality and freedom above anything else. Her dancers are built the way Time magazine viewed women in the 1950s: buxom and glamorous. Her costumes tug on their inhabitants' cleavage, and her coos and ahhs during power ballads like "1+1" invite a number of partners to re-evaluate their late-night plans.
Watching her belt out what seemed like every dominant radio song of my high-school and college life, I felt as if I'd been pushing with Beyoncé in the same way plenty of her female fans had. "Irreplaceable" might sound silly, a neck-snapping trumpet of separation and independence, but there's more weight to it when you see at least 15,000 women echo every word as if they'd been there.
Same for "Survivor," one of those spit-in-the-face tracks from the Destiny's Child era, where it truly appeared her mythical "BeyHive" had become one and was waiting on a cue from its Queen to attack something: personal demons, strife, bill collectors, whatever.
Despite this, every Beyoncé show does have one wrinkle to it that makes it a bit different from every other. Tonight it was letting a little girl sing "Love on Top" until she couldn't any more, in addition to Bey's goofy, free-flowing vibe. As professional as she is, over this latest trek of the Mrs. Carter Show, her humor has definitely won folks over (via selfie-bombing and more), even when she's rapping like Future Vandross during "Diva."
And I'd be remiss if I didn't say "Love on Top" is still the happiest song in the history of mankind.
Christmas Time Is Here
Local musicians recall fond memories of the Peanuts holiday soundtracks.
Jesse Sendejas Jr.
When my kids were young, I didn't force them to play T-ball or try dance class or even go to school regularly. One thing I insisted on was that they sit with me at holiday time to watch the Peanuts specials I eagerly awaited each year as a boy.
I know they found Charlie Brown's blockheadedness boring. My daughter asked why she had to miss Lizzie McGuire to watch Snoopy when we had the Peanuts specials on video and could watch them any time we wanted.
"Because this is how you watch TV," I explained. "You wait all year for a special you've seen 20 times before to run again and watch it a 21st time."
At the time I didn't know it, but those specials helped develop my appreciation for music. Scored by the late jazz great Vince Guaraldi, the music is now as iconic as the Peanuts characters themselves. But don't take my word for it. I asked some of our town's musicians to weigh in on a handful of Guaraldi's best holiday-themed selections.
Jazz guitarist/producer Chris Cortez, Justin Nava from thelastplaceyoulook, pianist/composer Paul English and the merry gentlemen of Blaggards took the time to share their thoughts. Appropriately enough, many have holiday shows approaching.
"Christmas Time Is Here"
Chris Cortez recently teamed with the always-busy vocalist Tianna Hall for Noel, a collection of holiday favorites released on Blue Bamboo Music. He said they'll be performing music from the album at Sambuca on December 30.
"Christmas Time Is Here" is featured as a medley and appears by way of a neat interlude of sorts on "A Child Is Born" as arranged by Mark Piszczek. Cortez noticed the tempos were similar when performed as jazz waltzes, so one sort of melds into the other on the track, which begins with his acoustic guitar and Hall's vocal before giving way to full orchestration.
"That moment always gives me chills," Cortez says, "because nothing about the introduction suggests it's going to become this larger life force."
thelastplaceyoulook hosts its Fourth Annual Holiday Bash at Warehouse Live on Friday. But the (Santa) bearded ones were happy to discuss Guaraldi's legacy in advance of all that seasonal fun, which doubles as a release party for its EP, Rip It Out. (See "Playbill," p. 44.) Lead singer Justin Nava shared his thoughts on this song, which is featured in the Peanuts Thanksgiving special.
"Now that I'm a grownup and we can use the interwebs, I see what Vince Guaraldi looks like and I enjoy listening to this song, picturing Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec singing this in an ugly Xmas sweater," he says.
Nava was a little more philosophical with his take on "Christmas Time Is Here," saying it's the song "that makes you almost think these are sweet little children instead of metaphors for adult flaws."
Blaggards held their annual holiday toy drive last Sunday. Chad Smalley, bassist for the longstanding local Celtic rocker, says he's loved Guaraldi's holiday music since he was a kid and adds that A Charlie Brown Christmas is some of his favorite Christmas music.
"It's just one of those records that feels like home," he says, before handing over to bandmate Mike McAloon, who studied jazz at the University of North Texas.
"'Skating' is another amazing piece of jazz, Jerry Granelli's brushes keeping the upbeat waltz going and Vince Guaraldi's cascading piano riff," says McAloon as only a drummer could. "Again, they switch to a bebop small-combo sound for the piano solo. [Bassist] Puzzy [Firth] walks in threes and Jerry switches to the ride syncopating hits between the gaps in Vince's solo.
"It's a decidedly short track, but it captures the action of ice skating so perfectly," he adds. "I can't think of anything else to do while listening to it."
"Linus and Lucy"
Guaraldi was already a successful jazz artist before Lee Mendelson, the producer of the Peanuts TV specials, asked him to score for the televised cartoons. He set the musical tone for nearly 20 Peanuts specials and movies. Of all the songs, "Linus and Lucy" is arguably the best-loved and certainly the best-known. I'll step aside and let the experts tell you why.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas was decidedly ahead of its time and the decision to use a jazz trio for the soundtrack was a genius decision, keeping with the characters' moody personas," says McAloon. "Vince's piano on the track is very strong, holding the ostinato riff underneath the simple harmonized melody that opens the piece."
"It is a good improvisational vehicle, but the familiar melody appeals to everyone, even people who say they don't like jazz," adds Cortez, who has performed a guitar version of the song for more than 30 years. "It's a perfect example of great crossover songwriting, which is a common thread I find in all Guaraldi compositions. He was certainly a jazz musician, but his music reached out to a much wider audience, and in that sense he was a great ambassador for jazz music, bringing in new fans."
"I defy you to not try and dance like a Peanuts character to this song," offers Nava of thelastplaceyoulook. "I was always partial to the dude with the orange shirt who was slumped over and trying to get in with one of the twins, who looked way too happy."
Blow Up Your Video
Insane Clown Posse picks up right where Beavis and Butt-Head left off.
It turns out the murderous, crazed clowns from Insane Clown Posse have a side gig. Apparently, in addition to catching them holding court and downing Faygo at the yearly Gathering of the Juggalos, you can also catch them heckling the more "controversial" mainstream videos on cable's Fuse network.
Yep, you read that right. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, the dudes who brought you songs like "House of Horrors" and "Piggie Pie," have their own show critiquing videos by the likes of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, and it began its second season this past week. It's a bit confusing, but just go with it.
We admit that we're intrigued by the idea of Juggalo Nation's leaders playing video critics. Two grown men in their ICP makeup critiquing Miss Miley's twerking and calling out Robin Thicke — who better to do the job, really?
It really reminds us of a clown-makeup version of our teenage heroes Beavis and Butt-Head, so we can dig it. Except we think Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope need to think a bit more outside the box than Miley and sink their heckling clown teeth into these artists instead.
Come on. Riff Raff is kind of like ICP, only he considers himself to be a golden alien who raps about Versace. At least ICP raps about Faygo and killing people, right? His "Rap Game James Franco" video deserves some ICP-thrown shade, and a Butt-Head chuckle or two.
Bob Dylan is a legend, but let's be straight-up here. No one has a clue what he's saying anymore, but no one will say that! Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J are the perfect clowns to throw a little side-eye Dylan's way.
MDNA, anybody? Why so serious, Madge? She's the perfect target. Miss Madonna could use a little bit of humble-intervention, and we know just the clowns for the job.
Willie Nelson is virtually untouchable in the mainstream media, which makes it all the more necessary for two adult clowns to rag on him a bit. We'll always love him, but we bet we'd love ICP laughing at Willie Nelson just as much.
Another "why so serious" artist, Gaga has only gotten worse over the whole course of promoting new album ARTPOP. Someone needs to take the wind out of those overinflated, naked, yoga-worshipping sails, and considering that both Lady Gaga and ICP sport makeup in unnecessary ways, our clowns can probably handle that job just fine.
C'mon! He's old! Mick needs to stop gyrating before he breaks a hip. ICP knows this, and could help him out with a little bit of critiquing.
We get the feeling Sir Kanye is on the edge of a serious meltdown. He's losing it on dudes like Sway, who could easily school him in just about everything. Can you imagine what would happen if a couple of grown-ass clowns called him out? Yeezus could implode in a fit of well-heeled rage.
Ask Willie D
Lighten Up, Dad
A reader's father is driving him crazy with military-style discipline.
Dear Willie D:
My dad used to be a soldier in the military, so he has a zero-tolerance mentality. If he enters my room and see my shoes next to the bed instead oftucked away out of view, he will make me do 20pushups. I can watch TV only five hours a week and I'm not allowed to use the computer unless it's school-related. If I wear a collared shirt, I have to tuck it in. I'm 17 years old and I can't have a girl in the house unsupervised.
I hate when he's home because I can't be myself like a normal kid. When he's home the house is quiet and depressing. My mom is the complete opposite of my dad. She jokes around with me andwe laugh a lot. But as soon as my dad walks through the door, it's back to boot camp. Anytime I come home late from anything, I get grounded automatically for two weeks.
I'm sick of it. When I leave for college, it will be a long time before he ever sees my face again. Why does he treat his own kid this way?
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Don't take it too personally. Being a soldier is very stressful and hard. It shapes you to be meticulous and disciplined in every aspect of life. Your dad is probably a great guy; he just wants the best for you.
Sometimes parents love their children so much that the only way they know how to express it is to be super-strict so that their children don't fall into the traps of drugs, laziness, running with the wrong crowd and being irresponsible.
You've survived under your dad's rules for 17 years. You have only a few more months to go and you're done. In the meantime, just talk to your dad and tell him how you feel. There are all kinds of dads out there. Lenient dads are the coolest, but oftentimes it's their kids who become menaces to society.