October 30, 2011

Coming Soon: The Cake Boss, Bakin' with the Boss Tour

My oh my, how we've had some mighty fine courses thus far to start the season. From k.d. lang to Sergio Mendes to Joan Rivers, the entertainment served on stage has been prime. So how about a little dessert? It only seems appropriate that the next course in the 2011/12 season features Buddy Valastro. That's right, The Cake Boss himself. He's coming to Austin as part of his Bakin' with The Boss Tour, where he will be hosting a live and interactive event up on stage.

Now, perhaps a few of you are asking, "who is this Cake Boss guy?"

Well, for the uninitiated, Buddy Valastro is featured in the hit reality television show "Cake Boss" on the TLC network. He operates Hoboken, New Jersey's own Carlo's Bakery, a family business. A far cry from the like of Jersey Shore, this show follows the ordeals of Buddy and his clan as they fulfill orders for some truly epic cakes.

And when I say epic cakes, I mean epic. cakes.

Yeah. When you're creating massive baked masterpieces like that, there are hazards involved that most of us could never imagine. No Easy-Bake Oven here, kiddos. Tribulations aside, the results are often nothing short of spectacular. Take this one, for instance, where an anniversary cake for Sesame Street doesn't just impress the crowd, but also one of the world's most well known purveyor of baked goods...

Is your sweet tooth awake yet? Mine sure is.

The show offers many different areas of interest. Some may gravitate to Buddy,who really is quite a character. Others may follow the drama inside a family business, and for the rest of us, we gawk at baked goods.

Myself, I must confess a weakness for cooking and baking shows. To paraphrase an old saying, the surest way to my eyes nowadays is through my stomach. Now that I reflect back for a moment, I guess it's always been this way. One of my earliest Saturday morning cartoon memories was this PSA...

To this day, those frozen juice blocks remain the pinnacle of my cooking ability. My cooking and baking skills are limited to bowls of cereal and slightly burned toast. Make no mistake, I would be fired by any cake boss with the utmost quickness. No wonder I gravitate to these foodie programs.

Those who can, bake. Those who can't... er, watch... and then eat.

As part of the Majestic Series during this season, this show promises to be a real delectable treat. Valastro will share stories about the show and his family, and even answer audience questions. Best of all, he'll give a live demonstation right there on stage. I have no clue what it may be, but I'm hoping it's enough to feed the whole audience.

So satisfy that sweet tooth and get ready or a unique event. The Cake Boss is coming, and I can't think of a better way for foodies and their families to spend an evening than to get baked with Buddy.

Buddy Valastro will be appearing live in his Bakin' with The Boss Tour at The Paramount Theatre on Thursday, November 10 at 7:30 p.m.

October 26, 2011

Coming Soon: Joan Rivers

"The only thing that's saving me is my age. Because I don't care. I've been up, I've been down. I've been fired, I've been hired. I've been broke. What are you gonna to do to me? Not like me? I don't give a damn."
-Joan Rivers

Over the years, I've heard Joan Rivers called a lot of things, and not all of them have been flattering. Her fearlessness, no-nonsense manner and raspy voice are distinctive, but can rub people with all the velvety touch of steel wool. In many ways, she's a comedic splinter, capable of getting under your skin, but never cutting deep or inflicting irreparable harm. Regardless of your feelings about her, one thing is certain. After being one of the first successful American comediennes (not to mention staying relevant for nearly 50 years), Joan's a certifiable legend. She's been a comedian, an actress, a talk show host, an author, a TV personality, a reality TV star, a red carpet commentator... and, through it all, an unflappable performer.

She emerged on the comedic scene from Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, and broke into show business writing for Candid Camera. Her big splash, however, came when she made her first appearance on The Tonight Show back in 1965 as a guest for host Johnny Carson. She appeared on the show numerous times over the years, and Rivers cites Carson as the person who provided her with "her big break."

In the 70s, Rivers was omnipresent. She would appear on TV on The Carol Burnett Show, Hollywood Squares, and other programs. Joan began to enter the big time, and soon everyone knew her trademark self-depreciating humor, delivered with that particular voice you would know anywhere.

The 1980s arrived, and the hits just kept on coming for Joan Rivers. Johnny Carson anointed her as the permanent guest host of The Tonight Show in 1983, and she became a full-fledged pop culture icon at that point. Always a comedian's comedienne, now everyone got to know her brand of humor. Although she remained inimitable, Joe Piscopo sure gave it a noble effort when she hosted Saturday Night Live.

Alas, things took a turn in the middle of the decade, Rivers and Carson had a falling out, and her own attempt at a late night talk show proved disastrous. She lost her husband to suicide shortly thereafter, and times were hard indeed.

Joan's comeback began with a daytime talk show, which won her an Emmy and ran for five years. Then, she and daughter Melissa Rivers in 1994 began their stint as red carpet interviewers for the E! channel. She introduced her snark to a whole new genreration as a red carpet commentator / reporter for the network, with an emphasis on the slash, I may add. Her wickedly funny criticism and dissection of celebrities were sharp as razors, and occasionally shaved soem personalities a little too close for comfort.

In the years since, Joan has kept her hands full. Despite entering her seventh decade, she hasn't slowed for one moment. Rivers has appeared on: Nip/Tuck, Drawn Together, QVC, Celebrity Apprentice, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louie, and The TV Guide channel. All the while still touring and performing with the vigor (and venom) of a young and hungry comedian.

In 2010, Rivers was the subject of a film documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, which was lauded by critics on the film festival circuit. It provided a rare glimpse behind the curtain, and is a candid portrayal of Joan as a real person in an unreal profession. Her looks may be timeless due to her freely admitted frequent trips to a plastic surgeon, but her longevity through her sheer will. One doesn't last as long in the business as she has through luck. In this clip, she's discussing her treasure trove of jokes over the years. No, really. It's an archive. Take a look:

Amazing to think she can still do these shows without showing down. After decades in an unforgiving profession, Joan has een highs, lows, and everything in between. Her life has had has had ups and downs, but she's still the same uncensored, uninhibited queen of comedy that you've either come to love or hate.

Joan's definitely lived her life on her own terms, and will continue serving her unique brand of acerbic humor on her own terms. Soon, this devilish whirlwind will come to Austin for one night only. It's a can't miss event, because when someone as fearless as Joan takes the stage, there's no 10-second delay, and no one knows what's gonna come out of that mouth next.

Joan Rivers will be appearing live at The Paramount Theatre on Thursday, November 3 at 8:00 p.m.

October 9, 2011

Coming Soon: Sérgio Mendes

When a theatre has a history as deep and vast as The Paramount, one comes to expect entertainment of a higher caliber. All this time, the venue has never disappointed. Heck, viewing superior talent just comes with the territory. But lest we become content, even The Paramount kicks things up a notch every so often by bringing in honest to goodness legends.

The next performer is just such a man and living legend: Sérgio Mendes.

A Brazilian musician with nearly 50 years in the business, Mendes is a pianist and pioneer in Latin Jazz and Bossa Nova. Originally trained as a classical pianist, he became influenced by jazz and began to play nightclubs and lounges. His reputation grew as he played with nearly every American jazz musician that toured through Brazil in the late 1950s.. After forming the Sexteto Bossa Rio in 1961, Mendes toured Europe and North America before finally moving to the U.S. in 1964.

After that, things really blew up for him. The Bossa Nova scene really took off, and Sérgio helped lead the way towards its prominence in the U.S. in the 1960s with his new group, Sérgio Mendes and the Brasil '66.

Even if the name doesn't ring a bell, surely you are familiar with the music. In fact, I'm willing to bet that you know this tune. It's a staple of the Bossa Nova era, "Mas Que Nada," released in 1966.

In the decades since, Sérgio hasn't slowed down one bit. He's recorded and released over 35 albums over his career, and is constantly striving to reach new audiences with the timeless sounds of Brazilian music and culture. The late 1990s saw a revival of the retro lounge music genre, and Mendes' riffs captured a whole new generation. Regardless, he is never afraid to evolve his music, and even infusing it contributions with modern artists. His latest album, Timeless, features an impressive lists of collaborators: Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, India.Arie, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Q-Tip, Stevie Wonder and Pharoahe Monch.

To underline his ability to evolve, here's a modernized version of "Mas Que Nada," this time with the Black Eyed Peas.

¿Impressionante, que no? Sérgio Mendes continues spreading the influence of Latin jazz, one set of ears at a time.

Doesn't this just want to make you just get up and dance? Go ahead, I won't tell anyone. But be sure and dave some of that groove thang for November. It's not everyday that someone of Mendes' caliber graces Austin, but when he does, it's only appropriate that he appear onstage at The Paramount Theatre. After all, legends play here.

Sérgio Mendes will be appearing live at The Paramount Theatre on Wednesday, November 2 at 8:00 p.m.

October 3, 2011

Coming Soon: Bela Fleck and The Flecktones

"I don't wanna celebrate the old days. We're here now. Let's go do something we've never done before."
-Béla Fleck

What comes to mind when you hear the word "reunion?" Perhaps the term has no vested interest for you at that moment; maybe you're too young to have attended even a high school reunion thus far. If so, let me share a not-so-little secret about them. What should be a celebration and a rejuvenation is often just not so. Instead, they're usually a tad preoccupied with past achievements. It can be a somewhat sad affair, a commemoration that is nevertheless tinted with the regret of nostalgia.

For music groups, their own reunions often fall into the same traps. It's rarely about starting a new chapter, and instead seems more preoccupied with cashing in on past success. Alas, it's also a general rule of thumb that the get-togethers are sub-par. Off the top of my head, the only two recent examples of reunion where hype matched the performance was The Police tour and the one-night-only Led Zeppelin reunion. Exemplary examples of this sort are exceedingly rare, because... well, let's be honest. The bands usually broke up for a good reason to begin with. All the money in the world won't right the ubiquitous "creative differences." I'm looking at you, The Monkees.

Why not let the sleeping dog lie, then? Because once in a blue moon the stars align and offer renewal rather than a recycling of old times. Case in point, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. These guys aren't driven by greed, but by promise. Although preforming for nearly a quarter of a century, the band deviated from its original members long ago, last playing together as that unit in 1991.

Now before I go any further, I know what some of you are thinking: Just who the heck is Béla Fleck?

A world renown banjo player, Fleck has participated in a wide range of solo and collaborative projects throughout his career. He has blended some musical genre lines and busted through many others. As a result, Béla has been nominated in more different Grammy categories than any other musician. He has won Grammys for his work with Asleep at the Wheel, Alison Brown and Edgar Meyer. The things Fleck can do with a banjo can defy belief. Fearless in his approach, Béla has even adapted classical selections for use with a banjo. One can witness the beautiful result as he plays Prelude from Bach Violin Partitia #3 on his own set of strings right here.

In 1988, he formed Béla Fleck and the Flecktones with Victor Wooten, Roy "Future Man" Wooten, Howard Levy and, of course, Fleck himself. Their music isn't easy to classify, but it is a fusion of bluegrass and jazz. In fact, they should create a whole new category just for them. The wide variety of influences in their body of work is the very reason why they have been Grammy nominated in such a spectrum of categories: instrumental, jazz, bluegrass, pop, spoken word, contemporary Christian, gospel, classical, and country (to name a few). In many ways they are musical chameleons, adapting to whatever inspires them.

Keyboardist and harmonic player Levy stayed with them during their first three albums, but departed the group after the 1992 album UFO Tofu. This year, Levy returned to the lineup and the original members have released a new album, Rocket Science. This is the first time in nearly 20 years that The Original Flecktones have performed together. Instead of using this as a cash grab opportunity, their purpose is simply creative in nature. They aim to push each other into new grounds, and that's quite a bold statement for such an innovative group that has blazed trails and blended genres for nearly a quarter century.

But don't take my word for it. Here, meet the band for yourselves...

Is this a glimpse of the future of the band? Or is it merely a one-time reunion tour? The Flecktones may not even know, but they're taking advantage of the rejuvenation and celebrating the progress they are able to make together. It's rare, it's inspiring, and it's something to behold with your eyes and ears.

Getting the band back together isn't rocket science, but it can be a challenge to do it for the right reasons. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones are their own guiding light, and this reunion is no mere time machine to the past. Instead, the guys have reunited to build their own rocket ship to move forward, reach new heights, and inspire new audiences in ways they've never imagined. We as listeners are merely along for the ride, but what a wonderful musical adventure it's going to be.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones will be appearing live at The Paramount Theatre on Thursday, October 13 at 8:00 p.m.

Coming Soon: k.d. Lang and The Siss Boom Bang

Are you ready? The time is right. Summer is now gone, and it finally took the cursed heat away with it. As we now enter October, all of us are ready to throw open our arms and fully embrace the autumn season.

The 2011-12 season at The Paramount brings the high-wattage star power early by featuring k.d. Lang as its first act this year, an inspired choice of an inspiring artist. She arrives this month and brings her band, The Siss Boom Bang.

A Canadian country crooner with pop appeal and mainstream success, k.d. Lang got her start in the mid-1980s. She won "Entertainer of the Year" by the Canadian Country Music Association for a duet with the legendary Roy Orbison, but that was merely the beginning of her accolades. She won her first Grammy in 1989 (Best Female Country Vocal Performance).

1992 saw Lang reach the stratosphere with her breakout hit, "Constant Craving." For this song, she won multiple Grammys (including Best Female Pop Vocal Performance), an MTV Video Music award (back when people paid attention to those), and legions of new fans. Her collaborations over the years have been wide, varied, and universally acclaimed.

Lang's passion also extends into her activism, where she champions for: gay/lesbian rights, animal rights, veganism, and free Tibet. She's also made some crossover appearances in film and television over the years ("Ellen," "Glee," "Dharma & Greg," "The Larry Sanders Show"), but her heart and soul still reside in her music.

Oh, and what incredible music it is, my friends. It begins and ends with that voice of hers. It's nuanced, emotional, and full of a certain smoky soulfulness tempered beyond her years. Reminiscent of Roy Orbison, and perhaps even Elvis himself, her vocals possess a haunting tone that makes her style unique and timeless.

For example, here's one of her latest tracks with the band, the sultry and sorrowful single entitled, "I confess."

That's just... amazing. Simply sublime.

Thinking of that timber, resonating within the walls of the theatre, gets my heart racing with an eager anticipation. It's the sense that I'm in for a special night. It's not everyday that one gets to experience such a subversive and truly alternate take on a genre often viewed as conservative, but through her talent k.d. Lang has made her music all her own. She's a natural and a living legend, and she's coming to Austin.

As the first notes from her and her band rise from the stage, the 2011/12 season will truly be kicked off with a bang. Well, perhaps I should say with a... siss boom bang.

k.d. Lang and The Siss Boom Bang will be appearing live at The Paramount Theatre on Wednesday, October 12 at 8:00 p.m.