Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Zombies at the Saban Theater Beverly Hills
Reviewed by Anthony Servante


The GPS that took us from Chino Hills to Beverly Hills was full of crap. But I shut up and listened as the GPS voice directed us to the 101 Freeway to reach Wilshire Blvd, about six miles short of the Saban Theater, where The Zombies were playing. I would have taken the 10 Freeway to La Cienega Blvd and turned onto Wilshire, a few blocks from the venue. But the GPS was right in one regard: we arrived at 7:58 pm, one hour before the starting time for the concert. Plenty of time to find parking and huff and puff it to the theater.

The air on Wilshire was filled with the scent of rich, spicy barbecue sauce, coming from the Grill next door to the Saban. There was a hipster crowd inside drinking microbrews and nibbling on appetizers on tiny plates that could barely contain the baby back ribs. But I guess that was the idea--to make the servings look bigger. This was not the crowd for the concert. This was the crowd in search of a neighborhood to gentrify.

The crowd for the Zombies show were standing in two long lines: one to enter the venue; the other for the Will Call window. The line moved quickly. "Tickets for Anthony Servante," I said. The Asian twenty-something stared at me. "Left for me by Tom Toomey," I added. He went to the box marked "Tom Toomey" and pulled the envelope marked Anthony Servante. I checked the contents: two tickets and two back stage passes. Bingo.

Row L on the floor, seats 17 and 19. We were just off-center. The Saban Theater used to be a movie house and it showed. Gothic friezes and giant columns framed the stage. Tom Toomey was checking his guitars. Should I go over and say hello. No. The man is working. Getting his head into the concert 30 minutes away. He set down the guitar, looked around the stage, and walked off, stage left. My guest, my older brother, went for drinks and a snack. The lights blinked on and off, signaling the show would be starting in ten minutes. The lobby emptied and the theater seats filled to capacity. It was a sold out show. The balcony seating was about ten feet behind me, thirty feet overhead. I hate sitting under the balcony. Seen too many soccer disasters on TV. With my neurotic phobias in check, diet coke and popcorn in hand, my bro and I were ready for the show.

The Concert

The lights dimmed. Uncle Joe Benson, noted Rock Radio personality, came on stage and explained the night's festivities. The current version of The Zombies would play first, visiting songs from their new LP, Still Got that Hunger (2015), old hits, plus songs from Argent and Colin Blunstone's solo careers. There'd be an intermission, and then The original line-up of The Zombies (minus guitarist Paul Atkinson who passed away in 2004) would play Odessey and Oracle (1968) in its entirety, note for note.

With that, The Zombies took the stage to a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd and opened with "I Love You", (1965), written by Chris White, who would be honored by both versions of the band for his many hit songs and talent. The opener showcased Colin's strong vocals and Rod Argent's jazzy keyboards. The next song, "Can't Nobody Love You", also from 1965, gave new guitarist Tom Toomey a chance to turn in an edgy rhythm and blues spin to the song. "I Want You Back Again" from 1968 rounded out the early years before The Zombies turned to their new LP, Still Got that Hunger, for a selection of songs that still echoed from that 60s Beat and showed that yesteryear's music still sounds relevant today. The hits "Tell Her No", "Hold Your Head Up", "Caroline Goodbye" (from Colin solo LP), "You Really Got a Hold on Me", and "She's Not There" charged up the echoes from the new LP with some real blasts from the 60s/70s. Argent reminded us that Chris White wrote "Hold Your Head Up", for he is often mistaken for being the writer, and that the lyrics are not "Hold your head up, whoa"; they're "Hold your head up, woman", an important distinction in this era when women should hold their heads high.

After a thirty minute intermission that I spent in a line that stretched from the restroom upstairs, down the long stairwell, and into the lobby, I made it back relieved in more ways than one just in time for the second act.

Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White, Hugh Grundy, Tom Toomey, Darian Sahanaja, Steve and Jim Rodford, and Vivienne Boucherat comprised the reassembling of the original band and guest members. But, to be clear, the extra players were necessary to capture what Uncle Bob had promised earlier, that "Odessey and Oracle" would be played in its entirety, NOTE FOR NOTE. And that's just what we got. Argent even used an antique pump organ from the first World War for "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)". It was a hypnotic 35 minutes, 12 songs, from jazzy to pop to psychedelic (before the word was even born), and, as promised, every note was played. To wrap things up, the bands (all members from both Zombie incarnations) joined for a no-holds barred version of "She's Not There", where each member of the band was instructed to add something to the song that was completely new and unique to this night's playing of the song. It was a magical rendition that had the standing crowd of oldsters and hipsters and former hippies singing along and swaying to the upbeat.

And then it was over. The bands gathered and bowed and departed.

The After Show

Tom Petty was in the house. Backstage was chaos. People with backstage passes were seated as the theater cleared and the crowd of fans snapping selfies with Petty and The Zombies band members were herded to the lobby, which was more spacious and accommodating to the overflow of backstage invitees. As the crowd was moved from the backstage area to the seating area, I spotted Tom Toomey. When I got the chance, I introduced myself, told him that I couldn't wait to write the review for tonight's show, and had my guest take a picture with The Zombies' guitarist. I said goodnight and called it a night. It didn't look like order would be restored for at least another hour, or at least until Tom Petty left the building, which it didn't appear he planned to do anytime soon, so I hit the road.

Again, thank you to Tom Toomey for the tickets and backstage passes. This was a unique concert that could never be repeated in the same way again. I'm glad I was there. And may I be there again when The Zombies decide to make history once more.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sicario (2015)
Reviewed by Anthony Servante


After rising through the ranks of her male-dominated profession, idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) receives a top assignment. Recruited by mysterious government official Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), Kate joins a task force for the escalating war against drugs. Led by the intense and shadowy Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), the team travels back-and-forth across the U.S.-Mexican border, using one cartel boss (Bernardo Saracino) to flush out a bigger one (Julio Cesar Cedillo).

War Crimes is not an oxymoron to many people, many of whom believe that Military Intelligence is. At some point in our savage past, somebody thought that if mankind were to survive its own savagery, there must be rules to limit or protect the losers of the savage hunts or games. In swordplay and gun duels, you don’t attack your opponent in the back. The Marquis of Queensbury brought regulations to fisticuffs. Savagery became civilized, and still it is not considered oxymoronic. 

Dirty Harry-The Ultimate Anti-Hero

This is where the gray areas come in. The good guy in the white hat and the villain in the black hat have both been challenged by the person with the gray hat. In the 1960s and 70s, he was known as the anti-hero, itself an oxymoronic phrase. But after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, we honored our cops and firefighters as good guys, and the white hats made a brief comeback. However, with the questionable deaths of young men at the hands of police enforcers recently, the cops have fallen out of favor. Political Correctness and self-righteous activists manipulate the social media to erase any trace of loyalty to the white hats of heroes.

Heroes Fallen Out of Favor

Which brings us back to war crimes. In times of war, what is the function of rules? In one of my favorite quotes, “It’s like giving out speeding tickets at the Indy 500” (Apocalypse Now 1979). Yet soldiers do face criminal charges for breaking the rules of war. In the war on drugs, a question is raised: What if we change the rules to control the war rather than win it?

Shades of Justice

In Sicario (2015), starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro, the war on drugs is revisited. In the opening scene we see the F.B.I. find dozens of corpses in a “death house”; we also witness the booby-trap that kills two law enforcement officers on the scene in Arizona. Blunt’s character, squad leader, in invited to join a joint agency task force to fight the drug cartels on a different front, one that promises to be more effective than the traditional law and order procedures that pave the way to certain death for the good guys. She quickly learns that the bad guys don’t play by any rules and that’s why they are winning. Brolin points out that as long as 20% of the US population continues to buy drugs, the good guys will always keep losing. He offers an alternative.

The Good Guys?

Inglorious Basterds (2009), the premise was postulated: What if there were a squad of soldiers who would match the NAZIs in World War II atrocity for atrocity. The killers are good guys; they kill NAZIS, only more horrifically, until the German enemy fears the retaliations of this death squad. Brolin leads such a squad against the cartels, using the technology of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the D.E.A., with a handful of hand-picked “vigilantes” and agency “volunteers”. Blunt slowly learns about this squad’s activities as she acts as the movie audience’s eyes and ears; as she learns, we learn too. As she reacts with distain at the torture, betrayal, and lawlessness, we too react. We do not cheer the good guys, for they are not good, nor do we boo the bad guys, for they are not bad. In this world of gray warfare, it’s about control of the upper echelon of the cartels at the expense of the lower levels, even the corrupt cops and innocent bystanders. Collateral damage is part of the job.

Bloody Justice Basterd Style

And the job gets done. Blunt is torn between playing by the rules with anarchy as she is slowly swallowed by the monster that she tries to fight. It’s just a matter of time before she’s aiming her gun at the good guys and bad guys alike.

Emily Blunt Caught in the Middle

Benicio Del Toro plays a mysterious consultant for the Brolin death squad. His past begins to unravel as Blunt demands more intel on the squad she’s working with. Brolin gives her just enough info to quell her doubts, but the cumulative picture of the consultant grows more sinister as she gets closer to him. He saves her life, but does so to gain intel on the cartel. He’s a good guy with questionable motives. When we finally learn Del Toro’s role in the story, the war on drugs is a battlefield of grayness. Even as we know these tactics work, we must either turn a blind eye or join the monster. Del Toro suggests that Blunt find a little town where the law is still black and white, that this war is for wolves and she’d be eaten alive. Ultimately Blunt makes her choice, but either way she chose, we would be disappointed, for in a gray war, only the drug addicts win.

Ultimately, this is Del Toro's Movie

The cops in real life face this struggle every day. The civilians sometimes root for them when their hats are white, as they did after 9-11. But when the war turns gray, even the cops are as bad as the villains in the eyes of the finger-pointers who need the cops the most. Sicario is a reminder that we get the justice we deserve in times of drug trafficking, illegal immigration, and corruption in the government. It also reminds us that we get the heroes we deserve as well, oft-times in the villains themselves. Sicario is an epic tale of the war on drugs. Don’t go in expecting heroes and villains. You just may end up rooting for the wrong side.