Monday, June 23, 2014

Two Worlds, One Cup

I did love the recent world cup game with the US and Portugal, to a point.  Hear me out.

Soccer's got 99 problems, but being boring ain't one.

That the game can be boring is way down the list of why American's don't care for soccer. We (and I) love baseball and that's the most boring sport there is.  Being boring has little to do with why this sport hasn't caught on in the US, though it's what every non-soccer fan will tell you.

The real reason Americans don't dig "futbol" is flopping.  Flopping is why I don't watch soccer.  Players fake injuries, ALL the time.  It's systematic, it's inherent in the strategy of the game.  Soccer players pretend to be hurt even more than NBA players which is saying something.  It is un-sportsman like behavior of the most craven kind.  It's really hard to stomach, professional athletes, incredibly skilled - rolling around like little babies until they get the call they want.  Then, back in the game with no consequences.

The lack of a replay rule to deal with these theatrics at this level of play is absurd. Also, that there is no replay rule for the easily reviewable but often controversial offside decisions is just flat out stupid.  Also also, that the game clock is unofficial and that it goes into extra time that the referee adds in his head is ridiculous, and is a lightning rod for controversy where there should be none.

And then there are problems with the antiquated World Cup format itself.  My dear Berkeley brethren, they of the soccer love, sent me this chart to help answer my questions regarding team USA's fate in advancing, after the Portugal game ended abruptly with the score tied.  (Apparently, this is also common, like hockey, they let the game end undecided.  Dumb, yes, even in the most crucial of games like say, oh I don't know, the biggest sporting tournament on the planet.)

First of all, I'm not really enough of a math genius to comprehend this absurdly intricate graphic - so there's that.  But look closely, yes, those are yellow boxes with the words "coin toss" in them.  So if the score of the Portugal/Ghana and US/Germany games fall in some random fashion, the fate of the potential champions of the world will be determined by a coin toss?  Really?

As a former youth sports official, I have twice actually run across rules that involve a coin toss to determine a winner.  One was a single day baseball round robin that had an odd number of teams.  The coin toss determined who would get a bye in the first round.  The players in this tournament were 12 years old.  It was a pre-season fun one day event.  Nothing but bragging rights at stake.

The other event was again, a pre-season event; a soccer tournament over a weekend, where they allowed ties in every game but the "championship" match.  If the teams were tied at the end of a game, the referee would toss a coin to determine who moved on.  These were 10 year old traveling teams, so they were All-Stars, but THEY WERE 10, and many of them were irritated at the random unfairness of this procedure.

Now we are on the world's biggest stage, with the very best players in competition for the most significant championship anywhere - and we're going to toss a coin.

And my friends wonder why this sport hasn't caught on in the States.

Bottom line, Americans like their play fair, and coin flips notwithstanding, the game of soccer itself is replete with antiquated rules and procedures which make it not so. Until the game rectifies these glaring problems, ie gets a uniform game clock, implements the replay rule at the highest levels and puts an end  to the acting shenanigans, soccer will continue to be a game for the rest of the world that just assumes that the system is inherently screwed up, while those of us in the land of opportunity know better.

Someone much more eloquent than me once said that the rest of the planet loves soccer because it is a sanctuary of serenity in a chaotic world, while Americans love football (our gridiron version) because it is a sanctuary of chaos in an otherwise peaceful and free country.  I know this is not entirely the truth, but it is pretty darn close to being correct.

To their credit, the American team has said they don't "flop" and that they don't include the concept in their strategy and approach to the game.  At least that's what they say.  I know the guy who got his face kicked in in game one wasn't faking. This makes it easier for me to root root root for the home team - though honestly, as a big a jingoist as I am, I wouldn't be too heart broken if the God forsaken country of Ghana had won.  I think they need it more than we do.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Billy Joel at the Hollywood Bowl, May 27

Okay - review time.

Billy is old, 65, and looks like he needs to take better care of himself. His voice, thankfully is about 90% of what it was - which is great for his age. He's also still an expert at the piano, though he bonks plenty of notes, it all works and seems effortless. He is a consummate professional musician and artist. He's also hilarious in between songs. He did a spot-on Elton John impersonation and sang a good chunk of "Your Song" before cutting himself off at the line "I don't have much money..." "Bullshit!" he exclaimed.

The band is as tight as I've ever heard at one of Billy's concerts, but theirin is part of the problem. Though technically far more perfect than the original line up, this bunch does not have the propulsion and energy, the emotion, wrought by drummer Liberty DeVitto and the other Long Island boys that Billy grew up with and played with until he got rid of them. I really miss those mooks and the passion that they brought. They were born and bred of Billy's music, and it really shone through. Don't get me wrong, the band now is very, very good - Mark Rivera and Crystal Talifero in particular have been with Billy a long time (the former since Nylon Curtain and the latter since Storm Front) and bring some of the old spirit. The two guitarists and the bass player are all tremendous vocalists, which really makes for a fat clean sound. Still, I pine for the immediacy and the energy of Billy's old gang. A smaller group, no horn section, but somehow more urgent than the polished veneer of the 2014 crew. Search YouTube for Billy Joel: Live from Long Island and you'll see what I mean.

Over the three shows at Hollywood Bowl I think the setlist on our night might have been the best. You can click on the "Related Concert Setlists" links for the 17th and the 22nd to compare and contrast. Yes, the shows were all very similar, but we got We Didn't Start the Fire and Uptown Girl, the other two nights did not. Uptown Girl was truly amazing - the vocals were phat! It was also great to see Billy strap on the old guitar for that old dentist drill of a song "We Didn't Start the Fire" - never one of my favorites, but it works very well live with 17000 people singing along word for word.

Songs we missed out on: "Pressure", "And So It Goes" and "Sometimes a Fantasy". I've seen Pressure live many times, ASIG is one of my favorites that I didn't get on the Storm Front tour. I've also seen "Sometimes a Fantasy" (on the Bridge tour) and I agree with the description of it as the least sexy song about phone sex ever. We also didn't get "The Ballad of Billy the Kid." or "Summer Highland Falls" both of which I still have yet to see live. No one got to hear "Goodnight Saigon" - which is fine, or "Angry Young Man" which is sad. It was the only song I really missed, even though I've seen it live more than a few times.

All for Leyna, Zanzibar, Where's the Orchestra, Everybody Loves You Know and Say Goodbye to Hollywood, all blew my mind as songs that I absolutely did not expect to hear over the course of the evening. I loved that Billy dug a bit deeper, as I think the bulk of his album tracks that were not singles are where the real gold is in the catalogue. Say Goodbye to Hollywood was actually a minor am radio hit, and on his greatest hits record, but I read in a review of Billy's concert at the bowl on May 17th that it was the first time he had played the song live in almost 30 years. He had retired the song long ago because it is at the top of his register - I'm glad he dusted it off for LA, it sounded great.

The venue was great, the sound was pristine, one of the best sounding concerts I've ever been to, and by far the cleanest Billy Joel show I've ever heard. The mix was awesome, the visuals were very good. The lights were what they needed to be and the occasional video footage worked beautifully with a very polished I-Mag camera operators and director. (IMag is the video image magnification, the video of Billy and the Band on the screens for those of us with 43 year old eyes and not in the $2500 seats).

All in all, it doesn't get much better than Billy, even old Billy who stays at the piano through Big Shot and You May Be Right - he did strut a little bit for It's Still Rock and Roll to Me, but stayed put in all the other songs that he used to run around to. Inevitable I suppose, and truly no less enjoyable in it's own context - just a reminder of his and our own mortality.