10 August 2016

2016 Weird Al Huntsville Concert Report

The opening of "Foil"
It was Friday, June 17, 2016. My older boys were on a church trip to Germany, leaving my wife and I with the younger two. We'd hoped to leave them and a pair of friends who were babysitting at home while we had time for a leisurely dinner before the concert. This was not to be, however, and we wound up grabbing food from a Taco Bell drive-through before heading to the Von Braun Center Concert Hall.

The line ahead of us
We walked down from the parking deck about 20 minutes to show time, only to find a line going all the way back from the door to the sidewalk. It quickly grew to go all the way down to the corner after we got in line and it was obvious the concert would not be starting on time. It turned out they were having everyone go through metal detectors and that was the slow down. Possibly the recent shooting at an Orlando gay night club was to blame. But eventually we got in with plenty more people still outside behind us.

The line behind us
The concert started with "Tacky." Al was actually out back in a courtyard on the north side of the civic center. They had a video camera and screen set up so they could do a single shot of him walking/dancing/singing all the way into the venue. At one point he passed Jim West with his guitar in the hall. Also along the way were a couple of cheerleaders for the later "Smells Like Nirvana" performance and a guy that Al violently shoved down who then had to lay still until he was out of the shot. I'm curious whose job that is or if they select a fan from the VIP package for it. Seems too important to leave to that, though. Finally Al entered through a door on house right and went up on stage to finish the song to much applause.

At first many people remained standing. Ironically, I'd read a comment in the "Close Personal Friends of Al" Facebook group not many days before about how polite Al fans are, sitting down through most of his concerts. Some people had to stand back up because of those in front of them. Finally someone got the message through and everyone sat down.

"Word Crimes"
The concert went much as the previous ones I've been to have, but obviously with new songs from Mandatory Fun. The new part was an "unplugged" session where Al and the band sat down and sang some of his songs -- definitely parodies but I think some originals too -- to new tunes. I'd previously heard the new renditions of "Eat It" and "Gonna Buy Me a Condo" online, but the rest were new to me, so that was cool.

After the show, we went around back to see if Al would do an autograph session. I was a little dubious because of the new VIP packages that include a meet and greet before the concert. This concern turned out to be well-founded, as there was not a trace of Al or Bermuda near the band's buses the entire time we waited.

What we did get, however, was a lot of time with Rubén, Al's keyboard player. He regaled us with several tales. One was on how he got the job of being in Al's band. I forget the details, but apparently his audition was on a platform. Near the end, he fell off backwards, which was not supposed to be part of the act. Everyone went racing to check on him, only to discover he'd placed a lot of pillows to land on and had staged the whole thing. He's pretty sure this is why he was selected.

There were also lots of tales of concerts he'd attended in his youth that one could scarcely afford to attend today. (Even if all those artists were still alive and performing, although many are.)

Rubén talking to fans
At one point Rubén asked the small crowd who'd been to the oldest Weird Al concert. I quickly spoke up with "1987," Al's tour opening for the Monkees, which was the winner (even pre-dating Rubén as part of the band). He then spotted the shirt I was wearing from Al's 2000 tour. It featured the entire band with Rubén standing in the background holding a large janitor's broom. He explained that he'd come up with the idea for that shirt and that Al hadn't planned to include him in the shoot otherwise.

I used the opportunity to ask, "Do you miss the cone bra?" There was a period of time when Al and the band performed "Like a Surgeon" to the newer, middle-eastern arrangement of Madonna's "Like a Virgin," complete with Rubén wearing a fake boob top and messing around on a bed, although thankfully not as sexually as Madonna's 1990 tour. Rubén was selected because he was "the new guy" of the band.

He replied, "No. I had it put in my contract that I never have to do that again."

During our time with Rubén, Steve Jay did come by very briefly and thank us for coming. Jim West just waved to us as he was getting on the bus.

Finally, at I'm not sure what time, security came out and told us Al was already on his way to his next concert and both Al's management and the VBC would like us to leave. (One of the security people was actually a retired HPD officer I knew, but he didn't notice me.) I was skeptical of the statement Al had already left, but there was nothing to be gained by hanging around if they didn't want us to be there, so we went home. And in Al's defense, he did have a concert in North Carolina the next night. I'm 3 for 5 in seeing Al after his concerts now.

During the concert I'd come up with the question to ask Al if I saw him. Steve Goodie released a "Weird Al Country Medley" on the FuMP the previous month, saying he planned to present Al with a copy of it during his Nashville concert, which had been the night before. (A repeat of something Steve had managed to do the year before.) I was going to ask Al if he'd had a chance to listen and what he thought.

I messaged Steve this on Facebook the next day. It turned out he'd been unable to meet Al because the backstage guest list was restricted. I said that I was kind of glad I'd missed Al then, because I would have just looked stupid. Steve replied, "I know what you mean!"

19 May 2016

Hasbro applies for "Dire Wraiths" trademark

You may have seen the recent news from Bleeding Cool that Hasbro has trademarked the term "Dire Wraiths" for comic books. That's certainly an interesting turn of events and I am indeed curious if and how Marvel will respond. But they missed a big related item. Hasbro also filed an application for use of "Dire Wraiths" with action figures!

Yes, after all these years, we might finally get Dire Wraith toys for our Rom action figures to fight. But until such a thing actually comes to be, we'll just have to keep pretending our sister's Ken and Barbie dolls are shape-shifting scum.

20 April 2016

Find: Star Bird

Looky what I found! It's a Star Bird! "What's a Star Bird?" Sigh. You young whippersnapper. You make me feel old.

What's a Star Bird

The Star Bird was a cool electronic toy from the late 1970s. It was a contemporary of Big Trak and Rom the Space Knight. (Perhaps you've heard of Rom? If not, pick approximately every other entry in this blog since I started it in 2008.) In fact, Bing McCoy – the man that created the Rom concept – was also the mind behind this toy.

Mounted on the front are twin "lasers" that one can fire by pressing a button. The true gimmick, however, is the engine sound. It responds to the angle you hold the ship. Point it down and you're coming in for a landing. Point it up and you're taking off. Hold it straight and, um, you maintain altitude.

The patent for the toy looks amazingly close to the final product, so perhaps McCoy and his partners also came up with the other cool feature. You can take pieces off and reconfigure it! Pop the front off and engine out, reconnect, and you've got a fighter. The two tail fins come off as drone fighters. Slide the outer hull off the front and you've got a sleeker cockpit underneath. Eject the laser turret and its an escape pod. Oh, just go look at the instructions.

The Find

Sadly, one of the local comic book stores – in fact, the newest – was closing. Of course, Hit Comics opening less than half a mile from the biggest comic store in town, The Deep, probably wasn't a great idea to begin with. The owner had actually been doing collectible shows for a while before opening the shop and will continue to do so now that it's closed. He specializes in comic books and Star Wars toys and memorbilia, but has other collectibles, too. So when I saw on Facebook that the store was having a going out of business sale, I went to check it out.

I found a few comics to buy, but nothing I'd really been looking for. I had to talk myself out of buying a complete set of 7 Guys of Justice because I'd have wound up with far more duplicates than I would have filled in missing issues. It wasn't until I was checking out I spotted the Star Bird box behind the counter. GASP!

Two things were at play in my mind. First, it was invented by the same team that invented Rom. Second, my best friend in elementary school had one and I never did. (You'll probably never read this, but hi, Cody!) So I ask if I can see it. I haven't held a Star Bird in decades.

As you can see, the box is not in great shape. It was once sealed in packing tape which has since been removed, leaving those lovely brown marks. And some of the corners have come apart.

Inside I'm surprised to find what looks like a complete Star Bird. It even has the little gun for the turret that everybody – including, if I recall correctly, my best friend – lost. Wow! No instructions, but that's no big deal. Okay, how much? Twenty bucks. Amazingly, I talk myself out of whipping out my debit card and buying it. It's just a hunk of plastic. It'll just sit on a shelf forever. That money is more wisely spent on necessities than this.

That was Wednesday. Thursday I can see in my bank account the bonus from work pending as a deposit for Friday. Holy cow! It's a lot, lot, lot more than I expected. Guess where I'm going back to on Friday?

I do zero research on prices ahead of time. After years of dealing in classic video games of that era, I know a good deal when I see it. What I want to know is whether it's really complete or not, so I check on what pieces it's supposed to come with. When I go back on Friday, it's still there! I determine it is truly complete, so now it's mine!

I considered it, but didn't check the battery compartment before buying. There I failed because it turns out the 9-volt battery connector is torn up. I'm pretty confident I can replace it, though, I just haven't had time yet. I'm hoping that once that's done, I'll have a fully functional toy.

Post-purchase research on ebay confirms I got a great deal. I also discover that all the stickers are present and placed in the right spots, according to the instructions. The "Dock" sticker on the back of the ship's head is mauled and one sticker on the front has shifted at some point, but overall it's good. And my younger kids were impressed just looking at it when I brought it home. Can't wait to fix it and show them the electronics in action. But I want to keep from losing that little gun for the turret, so I'm afraid they're not going to get unrestricted access to it.